Environmental and Indigenous activist and community leader, Saw O Moo, was reportedly shot in Karen State, Myanmar on the 5th of April.
Indigenous state activists mourning the killing of community leader Saw O Moo, who actively advocated for Indigenous Karen land rights, forest self-governance and peace. On the 5th of April, Saw O Moo was shot by Myanmar military, or Tatmadaw, when he was riding a motorbike with a soldier from the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA), an armed ethnic group fighting for autonomy. According to the Irrawaddy newspaper, the Tatmadaw does not take responsibility for the killing of Saw O Moo, because both men were identified as rebel fighters, dressed in civilian clothes, who were suspected of being involved in planting mines and sabotage attacks. The Mutraw (Hpapun) township Emergency Assistance Team (MEAT) urges the president to take immediate actions to protect displaced people and ensure the safety of humanitarian workers.
According to Saw Soe Doh, working for the MEAT, “Saw O Moo is just a Karen Indigenous community leader,” who unfortunately gave the KNLA soldier a lift home on his motorbike. He was returning from a meeting to organize humanitarian aid for approximately 2,000 displaced people. According to a tribute by the Karen Environment and Social Action Network last week, “Saw O Moo’s death is yet another casualty of ongoing fighting that has broken out between the Burma Army and the Karen National Liberation Army. The Burma Army broke the Nationwide Ceasefire agreement in order to seize territory and to construct a road for military operations through Indigenous Karen people’s ancestral lands.”
The MEAT rightly pointed out that this shooting is not only breaking the ceasefire agreement, but in fact represents major human rights violations. After this incident, local observers and Indigenous community members demand rightly that humanitarian workers should receive more protection when they operate in armed-conflict zones. They demand that the government implements policies and procedures that prevent such incidents from reoccurring and stops any further confrontations. This includes finding cooperative strategies with how to include Indigenous voices in the road-building decision making process.
Saw O Moo has joined with NGOs and local people in calling for the creation of Salween Peace Park, which is a ‘bottom-up’ initiative by the Karen people to protect their land, culture and wildlife. This area includes 5,400 square km and protects the Sunda pangolin and the Asiatic black bear, which are both threatened by the Hat Gyi hydroelectric project and mercury pollution from goldmines. The peace park has never been recognized by the government, which is between the KNLA and the state military. Although there is a nationwide ceasefire agreement signed in 2015, recent tensions between KNLA and Burma’s military are said to have displaced more than 2,000 local people.
Director of Equality Myanmar, U Aung Myo Win writes “Protection of human rights defenders working in armed-conflict zones is really necessary, as there could be arbitrary arrests and killings…As the conflict zones lack the rule of law, we have heard of civilians and rights defenders being arrested as well as arbitrary killings, such as the case of the freelance journalist Ko Par Gyi.” He argues that Myanmar lacks the laws and political mechanisms to protect rights activists, “therefore, it is as if armed forces in these areas have a license to freely kill civilians, humanitarian workers and right defenders.” Furthermore, there is a sense that the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission (MNHRC) is lacking the capability to deal with complaints related to the armed-conflict zones. According to U Aung Myo Min “we can now send our complaints to the MNHRC, but the question remains as to whether we will see any effective action taken in such cases.”
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