The Shan Human Rights Foundation (SHRF) was established in 1990 by Shan activists along the Thai-Shan border, to document and expose the human rights abuses being committed by troops of the Burmese military regime in Shan State, Burma.
At that time, there was almost no active civil society in Shan State, due to decades of military dictatorship and civil war. The Burmese military regime had deployed large numbers of troops throughout the state, and also organised numerous local proxy militia forces to fight against the various ethnic resistance armies. This had resulted in a climate of fear, and complete impunity for military abuses. SHRF started by issuing occasional short reports of human rights abuses, and in 1996 produced its first detailed report on the mass forced relocations in Shan State (“Uprooting the Shan”). In 1997, it began producing monthly reports on human rights abuses. Its updated report on forced relocation in 1998 detailed how over 300,000 villagers had been driven from their homes, and was instrumental in raising international attention and aid for the refugees fleeing from the forced relocation to Thailand.
In 2002, SHRF and the Shan Women’s Action Network (SWAN) issued a joint report compiling 173 cases of sexual violence, most of which had been reported in the SHRF newsletters from 1996-2001. This report, “Licence to Rape”, was the first detailed documentation exposing the systematic use of rape by the Burmese military, and led to widespread international condemnation of the regime.
During the past few years, SHRF has been closely monitoring the impact on rural Shan communities of the policies of Burma’s new, quasi-civilian government, particularly its ongoing ceasefire negotiations with various armed ethnic groups. Apart from reporting on ongoing abuses by the military authorities in its monthly newsletter, SHRF has also released urgent updates when serious large-scale violations have taken place. In 2013, SHRF released several updates on Burmese army abuses during fighting in remote areas of northern Shan State (in violation of an existing ceasefire agreement with the Shan State Army-North).
SHRF fulfils an extremely important civil society role in this critical political juncture: monitoring whether the Burmese government is adhering to its ceasefire agreements and respecting the rights of ethnic communities. By exposing violations, SHRF aims to ensure the peace process is conducted in good faith, and that policy reforms necessary to protect local communities are implemented.
Mission and goals
- To strive for human rights and restore justice to victims;
- To promote democracy in accordance with the desire and will of the people, and establish a popular government based on democratic principles;
- To strive for unity, equality and cooperation;
- To strive for world peace, freedom and prosperity.
- Publication of the 2002 report “Licence to Rape” brought to the attention of the international community the systematic use of sexual violence by the Burmese military. This led to widespread international condemnation and increased pressure on the regime towards democratisation.
- Documentation of abuses in Shan State has led directly to provision of humanitarian aid to displaced populations. For example, in 1996, when tens of thousands of refugees fled to Thailand after the mass forced relocations in Shan State, there was no awareness of the scale of the abuses, and no provision of aid. After SHRF published reports on the forced relocation, international agencies began providing aid to the refugees (who were not officially recognised by Thailand). In 2011, when the Burmese army broke the ceasefire with the Shan State Army-North in central Shan State, displacing over 300,000 villagers, human rights updates and maps of displacement by SHRF led to international aid groups providing aid to these IDPs.
- Although the Thai government continues not to recognise refugees from Shan State, advocacy by SHRF and other Shan community based groups has ensured that one group of over 600 refugees in northern Thailand has been granted refuge (in northern Chiang Mai province) since 2002. Reports and advocacy by SHRF and other Shan CBOs with Thai civil society and the Thai Human Rights Commission have ensured that this group has not been pushed back into Shan State by the Thai authorities until today. SHRF also joined other Shan CBOs in advocating against plans by an international peace support initiative to return those refugees to an unsafe location in Shan State in 2012.