In an interview with the Kachin News Group (KNG) earlier this week, Dwe Bu (also spelled Doi Bu), an ethnic Kachin lawmaker from Burma’s Lower House (Pyithu Hluttaw) representing the Unity and Development Party of Kachin State (UDPKS), again publicly called for the scrapping of a law that government authorities have used to arrest dozens of alleged members or supporters of the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO).
Article 17/1 of the Unlawful Association Act has according to human rights groups repeatedly been used by government authorities to arrest dozens of civilians since June 2011 when armed conflict resumed between the KIO and the Burma's military. According to human rights groups many of those arrested actually have little or no ties with the KIO.
Estimates of the number of accused KIO members jailed under Article 17/1 vary significantly, Dwe Bu says at least 29 people have been detained for allegedly violating the act, while other estimates put the figure at more than 100.
When the KIO and government authorities reached a ceasefire in 1994 the KIO stopped being on the list of Burma's unlawful organizations which also included the Karen National Union and Burmese Lawyers Council. In October 2010 following the KIO's refusal to transform its armed wing into a border guard force Burmese state media again returned to the practice of calling the KIO insurgents, signaling an official shift in government policy towards the KIO.
It is unclear however when exactly the KIO was again added to the list of unlawful organizations. During recent peace talks between the KIO and government negotiators, Railway Minister Aung Min reportedly claimed that Article 17/1 had already been lifted for the KIO, however the act is still being used to jail Kachin civilians say human rights activists.
In an interview with KNG earlier this week Dwe Bu noted that the Article 17/1 was highly problematic for the Kachin population. “It was lifted during the ceasefire period but is now being applied again without a public announcement from the President” she said.
"There are so many unlawful things occurring in Kachin State right now," she added.
On June 17 Lahtaw Brang Shawng, a displaced Kachin farmer living in a refugee camp near Myitkyina was arrested by authorities under Article 17/1. According to Brang Shawng's family after his arrested he was tortured severely and forced to make a false admission of guilt.
Dwe Bu told the Kachin News Group that Brang Shawng’s arrest was “unjust” and he needs to free. Dwe Bu says she is currently collecting data about what she says are the many unlawful things that have occurred in Kachin State. She plans to submit this information to parliament in the near future.
Dwe Bu, who serves as a member of the parliament’s Internal Peace Making Committee, says she hopes parliament will ultimately repeal the Article 17/1.
Dwe Bu has also come out in favor of a bill aimed at protecting the rights of Burma's ethnic nationalities that was submitted on July 27 by her fellow MP T. Hkun Myat, a member of the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (UDSP) from northern Shan state's Kutkai Township.
"Lack of ethnic political rights creates the non-stop armed struggles we’ve been facing. We have high losses as a result of the long, unending war. The new bill needs to be approved. Right now, we are supposedly entitled to self-determination, but in reality we don’t have any" she told KNG.
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