Chapter 1: Overview of the work of the Truth and Justice Committee

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 Overview of the work of the Truth and Justice Committee

The Truth and Justice Committee of the ABSDF (TJC) was formed on January 8, 2012 to carry out an inquiry into the incidents of 1991-92 in the ABSDF-Northern Camp.


The TJC aimed to investigate these incidents in order to establish the truth about what happened, acknowledge the suffering experienced by the victims and survivors, and to contribute to a national process of reconciliation by addressing the human rights abuses that occurred within ABSDF.

The Committee had four objectives:
  1. To collaborate with all persons involved in order to establish an objective historical record of the incidents
  2. To provide victims of human rights abuses with some measure of satisfaction from having their suffering acknowledged
  3. To foster understanding and solidarity among members and former members of ABSDF
  4. Through truth-seeking and acknowledgement, to take a step toward accountability for the perpetrators of the incidents
An official apology letter of the ABSDF delivered to a father

Scope of Work

According to its mandate, the Committee investigated human rights abuses and the context in which they occurred. The TJC specifically focused on the following violations:
  • Killings
  • Torture and ill-treatment

The Committee focused its work solely on incidents that took place within the ABSDF-Northern Camp (Kachin State) between 1 August 1991 and 31 May 1992.
While the TJC considered issues of accountability, it did not have powers to determine whether an individual was legally responsible for a human rights violation or not.

The TJC recognizes that the issue of spy allegations is central to the incidents that took place in the ABSDF-Northern Camp. It was beyond the scope of the TJC’s work however to determine the validity of spy allegations.

Structure

The Committee consisted of the following persons:
  1. Myint Oo (Team Leader)
  2. Kyaw Lin (Coordinator)
  3. Thant Chein Myint (Member)
  4. Aye Lwin (Member)
  5. Nan Yin (Member - but she later resigned because of other job commitments.)
Meeting with the survivors

Methodology

The Committee members had three main tasks: documentation, outreach, and report writing.

The Committee began its work by informing victims, survivors, and other potential interviewees about the objectives, scope, and mandates of its work. It publicized its work among ABSDF members, and held meetings with survivors in Rangoon and Mandalay. These meetings were crucial to clarifying the Committee’s truth seeking role, and managing the expectations set out by both survivors and the Committee itself. 

The selection of  interviewees for the victims, survivors and family members of those killed were solely arranged by representatives of the ABSDF – Northern. Survivor networks in Rangoon and Mandalay referred the Committee to survivors and family members across the country. The Committee also followed up on names given to them during interviews.

The Committee accessed potential witnesses and those involved with violations through ABSDF network and investigations.

The TJC took a trauma-sensitive approach to engaging interviewees. Given the emotional nature of the incidents, the Committee respected the choice of each person (survivors, witnesses or alleged perpetrators) to participate – or not participate in the process.

The Committee interviewed 64 people in total, including 35 survivors, 4 witnesses, 10 family members of those killed, 3 key leaders of the ABSDF HQ at the time, 5 out of 8 ABSDF – Northern leaders who got involved in the meeting that decided the executions of the 15 members on February 12, 1992, 1 Battalion Commander of the ABSDF – Northern, and 6 political colleagues of the those killed.

The TJC conducted face-to-face interviews in a variety of locations such as Pegu, Mandalay, Rangoon, Katha, Laiza, and Kyaikto in Burma; and Mae Sot and Chiang Mai in Thailand. Several interviews were also conducted via Skype and email with people living overseas in the United States and Australia. Each interview was recorded with sound recorder and/or video. A consent form was provided to each interviewee for their approval to use the data in the report.

The TJC strove to be independent and impartial in its pursuit of the truth. It sought to collect and present information from people involved in all aspects of the 1991-92 incidents. This included offering those allegedly responsible for violations the space to defend themselves against allegations, and to explain their motivations.

The Committee focused primarily on first-hand accounts gathered through interviews. It also looked at official ABSDF documents (i.e. Constitutions, policy documents, and press releases). The Committee did not use secondhand accounts, personal reflections, or media articles.

Limitations and Challenges

The Committee faced a number of challenges in carrying out its work. The first of these was that it had to wait until the ABSDF formally signed a cease-fire agreement with the government in order to be able to travel inside to conduct interviews and gather data. This only took place in August 2013 resulting in a delay for the report.

The biggest challenges faced by the TJC team were interviewing and gathering data from those potentially involved in, or those who had witnessed violations. The TJC found it especially hard to access members of the Intelligence Unit of the ABSDF – Northern, who are believed to have been present and instrumental in almost all of the interrogations that took place. The TJC made numerous inquiries but was unable to locate any member of the Unit.

Other alleged perpetrators also remained out of reach, notably two high-ranking persons who the TJC believes initiated the 1991-1992 incidents. The TJC’s request to conduct an interview with Than Chaung in the government prison was unsuccessful. Myo Win was killed in action in 1992.

Due to its limited resources and time frame, the Committee regrets that it was not able to interview all victims, survivors and families.
Another challenge of the TJC’s work was the passage of time since the events took place. Interviewees sometimes struggled to remember details and dates of events that had taken place over two decades before. 

Despite these challenges, the ABSDF Truth and Justice Committee aimed to carry out its work with dedication, and with the best interests at heart of those who suffered during the 1991-92 incidents in the ABSDF-Northern Camp. Nonetheless the TJC acknowledges that because of these challenges there may be some questions that are unanswered by the report.

We believe that this initial effort by the ABSDF to come to terms with the injustices and violations of the past will contribute to a national effort to transition to a genuine democracy. Recognition and acknowledgement of human rights abuses is a beginning, not an end.