The Karen Human Rights Group (KHRG) is a grassroots Karen-led human rights organisation, established in Karen State during 1992 and now operating across rural eastern Burma. With eighteen years of experience, and twice nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize (in 2000 and 2001), KHRG is now recognised internationally as a leading authority on major issues such as internal displacement and forced labour in Burma. We work directly with rural villagers who are suffering abuses such as forced labour, systematic destruction of villagers and crops, forced relocations, extortion, looting, arbitrary detention, torture, sexual assault and summary executions. The vast majority of these abuses are committed by soldiers and officials of the State Peace & Development Council (SPDC), Burma's ruling military junta. Our aim is to support villagers in rural Burma, by helping them develop strategies to resist abuse and by translating their testimonies for worldwide distribution, accompanied by supporting photos and documentary evidence.
Our commitment is not to any organisation, but to the villagers whose voices are far too often ignored. To this end, our reporting follows their perspective on human rights: a more holistic view that requires an understanding of how different factors and abuses combine, rather than the incident-based legal perspective favoured internationally. Though KHRG often operates in or through areas controlled by a variety of armed groups, including the SPDC and non-state armed groups like the Karen National Union (KNU)/Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) and Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA), KHRG is independent and unaffiliated. Our focus is on human rights abuses by the SPDC and other groups in rural Karen areas, but KHRG also documents abuses against other peoples in Burma whenever firsthand information is available.
International attention on the human rights situation in Burma has increased, most recently due to the May 2008 cyclone which hit the Irrawaddy Delta, and the arrest and trial of an American for entering the home of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in May 2009. International attention is poised to return to Burma as the country hosts elections in 2010. This means, however, that attention is likely to remain on national-level political issues such as calls for the release of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and other political prisoners. Meanwhile, the rural villagers who make up over 80% of Burma's population suffer regular, wide-scale, and often violent abuse. Lack of attention on their plight allows the SPDC to continue abusing them with impunity, and lack of knowledge about the situation encourages ineffective policy responses. When Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was 'released' for the fourth time in May 2002, for instance, the event was used as a smokescreen for a new wave of human rights abuses in rural areas by the Burmese military. Focus on elections in 2010 may function as a similar smoke screen: mass forced labour and forced relocations, arbitrary detention, torture, rape, summary execution, villagers shot-on-sight, looting, extortion from villages, systematic destruction of the village economy and lifestyle and of ethnic cultures, forced conscription into the Army, religious persecution, and other abuses continue in rural eastern Burma.
One of the fundamental lessons learnt by KHRG in our documenting and reporting experience over the last 15 years has been that while villagers in Karen State are victims, they are not helpless. Our research indicates that villagers regularly claim their rights and deploy a variety of strategies for coping, confronting, and resisting the demands and abuses they face from more powerful actors. Traditional narratives describing the human rights situation in eastern Burma, meanwhile, present Karen and other villagers in Burma as passive 'victims,' ignoring the day-to-day ways they respond to and resist abuse. This frames villagers as helpless and incapable of changing their own situation without outside intervention, facilitating their continued exclusion from political processes such as ceasefire negotiations, aid programming, refugee repatriation negotiations, and from controlling the relief processes which are supposed to help them.
Addressing such faults and deficiencies in international responses to the human rights situation in Burma is one of the main functions of our work. The Karen Human Rights Group was one of the first organisations to document abuses in detail, and continues to be one of only a few that do so systematically. It is the only organisation, meanwhile, that supports this documentation with a focus on villagers' responses, and they way these responses can be supported. Our documentation is distributed worldwide to human rights organisations, United Nations (UN) agencies and rapporteurs, including regular information and evidence submissions to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), other international agencies, various governments and embassies, Burma activist groups, aid organisations, academics, journalists, and others. All our reports and photos are available on our website (www.khrg.org), which presently receives approximately 40 to 50 thousand visitors per month. KHRG received the 2001 Science for Peace Award (Canada), the 1995 Peacefund Canada Honour Award, and was twice nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize (2000 and 2001) and for the John Humphrey Freedom Award (1998).
Contributions are always needed and welcome, whether to cover office and mailing costs, logistical costs, or equipment and field operating costs. For information on how to contribute or other inquiries, we can be contacted by email by using our contact page.
 This area, which KHRG sometimes refers to as "Karen State," is an extensive area in eastern Burma (Myanmar) that includes all of what the SPDC now defines as Kayin State, as well as portions of Kayah and Mon states in addition to eastern Bago Division and parts of Tanintharyi Division. Kayin and Kayah states and Tanintharyi Division were formerly spelled Karen, Karenni and Tenasserim, respectively.
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