More than a year after a coup, Myanmar is “caught in a downward spiral of violence,” the U.N. Human Rights Office said in a report Tuesday, calling for urgent action to protect the freedom and livelihoods of those living under military rule in the Southeast Asian nation.
In her first report to the U.N. Human Rights Council (HRC) since the military seized power on Feb. 1, 2021, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said that junta rule in Myanmar has led to “a significant regression in the enjoyment of human rights encompassing the full gamut of civil, political, economic and social rights.”
She said the military has engaged in violence and abuse as part of a widespread and systematic attack directed against civilians — including by conducting air strikes on heavy populated areas, using people as human shields, and committing acts of torture and murder — that may amount to crimes against humanity.
The report, which was requested by the HRC to investigate accountability for alleged violations of human rights in Myanmar, said that brutal repression of the junta’s opposition, violent resistance to the coup, and several ongoing armed conflicts have left the country in turmoil. It said military rule had created an environment in which no meaningful dialogue can take place.
International efforts to deescalate the violence have yielded few results and announced ceasefires have failed to reduce armed conflict, while authorities regularly conduct raids on dissenters, and humanitarian operations are denied access to the people in most need, the report found.
“Action is urgently needed to stem the pace at which individuals are being stripped of their rights, their lives and their livelihoods,” Bachelet said.
“These dynamics must change dramatically to create the basis for political discussions or a negotiated solution,” she added, noting that the public is calling for a return to democratic system that guarantees their freedoms and can deliver justice for past crimes and rights violations.
Since the Feb. 1 coup last year, security forces have killed at least 1,676 civilians and arrested more than 10,000 others — mostly during peaceful anti-junta protests, while “hundreds if not thousands” have been subjected to torture, the report said, citing reports by rights groups.
Reports have emerged of troops committing widespread acts of arson, looting, rape and murder during its offensives in the country’s remote border regions, where it has encountered strong resistance from armed ethnic groups and members of anti-junta People’s Defense Force paramilitary groups. More than 440,000 people have been displaced by armed clashes over the same period, and 14.4 million are in “urgent humanitarian need.”
Additionally, the junta has implemented few of the measures the U.N. has called for to protect the rights of minorities, including the Muslim Rohingya, more than 700,000 of whom fled across the border from Rakhine state into neighboring Bangladesh amid a military crackdown in 2017. The Hague-based International Court of Justice is holding hearings to determine whether it has jurisdiction to judge if atrocities committed by Myanmar’s military against the Rohingya constitute a genocide. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Rohingya still face official discrimination, restrictions on freedom of movement, access to health and education services, and limited job opportunities in Myanmar.
Based on the report’s findings, Commissioner Bachelet called on the junta to cease all violence against Myanmar’s population, according to the so-called “five-point consensus” it agreed to with fellow members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in an emergency meeting in April last year, and to release all the country’s political prisoners.
Bachelet urged all parties in the country to cooperate with U.N. and ASEAN special envoys in the pursuit of broad-based dialogue, to facilitate access to aid groups, respect human rights and comply with international humanitarian law, and cooperate with international accountability mechanisms.
She also called on the international community to protect individuals crossing international borders, support referral of the situation in Myanmar to the International Criminal Court and ensure that any political solution to the existing crisis eschews amnesties for serious rights violations. Other nations should also take immediate action to prevent the supply of arms to the Myanmar military and apply targeted sanctions on junta economic interests, she said, as well as encourage businesses in the country to cease working with military-affiliated entities.
Lastly, Bachelet called for a strengthening of the U.N.’s ability to “respond to human rights-related crises and undertake all necessary efforts to ensure a coherent, strategic response in Myanmar,” with the purpose of bolster rights protections “in a mutually enforcing manner.”
The U.N. report came after authorities in Myanmar’s Yangon region carried out a series of arrests of anti-junta protesters over the weekend, including two girls aged 13 and 16. The girls, who were among three people detained as security forces wielding iron rods shut down a protest in Mingalar Taung Nyunt township on Sunday, suffered broken teeth and ribs, sources told RFA’s Myanmar Service.
A day earlier, police arrested a university student named Kyaw Htet Aung along with three of his friends and accused them of possessing explosives connected to a bomb blast that had occurred in the area. A friend of the students said all four were beaten as they were detained.
Junta Deputy Minister of Information Zaw Min Tun could not immediately be reached for comment on the arrests.
In the seat of Sagaing region’s Kalay township, a continuous protest of military rule reached its 400th day over the weekend, with participants decrying their loss of rights and a reversal of progress made in five years of administration by the deposed National League for Democracy (NLD).
A leader of the protest, which began on Feb. 7, 2021, and has endured despite several crackdowns by authorities, said it will not stop until their freedoms are restored.
“We realized after the NLD came to power, that we have certain rights. Even though [their rule] wasn’t that long, I think we had fully enjoyed those rights,” said the protest leader, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
“That freedom and human rights we had enjoyed for five years is what we are asking for now. Nothing more. We’ll be happy with those rights that we had under the NLD government.”
Kalay residents said at least 15 people have been killed and more than 80 arrested in connection with protests in the town.
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