Myanmar's campaign of shelling on the state of Kachin violates the laws of war [HRW press release], Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] said Friday, the same day the government announced a ceasefire. President Thein Sein [BBC profile] ordered the ceasefire [BBC report] after the country's parliament unanimously passed a motion [Reuters report] on the matter. HRW is calling on the government of Myanmar to grant humanitarian agencies access to tens of thousands of ethnic Kachins displaced by the fighting. "Burmese President Thein Sein needs to order his army commanders to respect the laws of war and end unlawful attacks on civilians," said Phil Robertson, HRW's deputy Asia director. "Both the Burmese army and the [Kachin Independence Army (KIA)] should take all necessary precautions to keep the tens of thousands of civilians in and around Laiza from harm's way." A ceasefire deal reached 17 years ago [Al Jazeera report] between the KIA and Myanmar's government broke down in June 2011. KIA is the military branch of the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), which seeks to govern Kachin and obtain the rights and autonomy afforded to it in the 1947 Pagalong Agreement [text].
In recent months Myanmar has taken steps to reform its human rights records but has also faced criticism for not doing enough. Earlier this week Myanmar repealed a law [JURIST report] that was used by the nation's military junta to impose long prison sentences on dissidents. The law banned protests against the national convention and allowed for prison sentences of up to 20 years for writing or delivering speeches that pose a threat [AP report] to Myanmar's peace and stability. Also this week HRW [advocacy website] called on authorities in Myanmar to drop criminal charges against nine peaceful protesters [JURIST report] who were demonstrating without a permit in Rangoon in September on International Peace Day. Myanmar began releasing political prisoners [JURIST report] including political dissidents and former military intelligence personnel in November in conjunction with US President Barack Obama's visit to the nation. Myanmar officials in September announced amnesty for 514 prisoners [JURIST report], identified by activists to be several political detainees and foreigners. That same day, HRW publicly demanded the immediate release of all remaining political prisoners in Myanmar and called for a lifting of travel and other restrictions on those who are freed.