Myanmar: UN rights office ‘deeply disturbed’ over intensifying violence against protesters

17 March 2021

The UN human rights office (OHCHR) said on Tuesday it is “deeply disturbed” that the crackdown on peaceful protesters in Myanmar “continues to intensify”, with a soaring death toll on the streets, increasingly aggressive use of lethal force, arbitrary arrests, and reports of torture in custody. 

At least 11 people were killed on Monday and 57 over the weekend, marking the bloodiest days since protests started last month. 

Among the dead, are a group killed during a violent crackdown in the Hlaing Tharyar township in Yangon by security forces, after unknown actors set fire to factories which were either operated or part-owned by Chinese investors, OHCHR spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani said. 

“There are many more reports of further killings that we have not been able to corroborate yet”, she added, noting that confirming information is “becoming increasingly difficult” due to the martial law and communication blackouts imposed in several places where people have been killed and displaced. 

Ms. Shamdasani added that OHCHR has so far confirmed that at least 149 people have been killed as a result of unlawful use of lethal force since 1 February, when the military overthrew the civilian Government. 

She also noted that arrests and detentions continued throughout the country, with more than 2,084 people remaining arbitrarily detained. In addition, at least five deaths in custody have occurred in recent weeks, with at least two victims’ bodies showing signs of “severe physical abuse indicating that they were tortured”. 

The spokesperson also went on to note that under the martial law – declared by the military in several townships in and around Yangon and Mandalay – military law would apply to civilians with both stricter curfews and subjecting offenders to military tribunals without the right of appeal. 

“We are deeply disturbed that the crackdown continues to intensify, and we again call on the military to stop killing and detaining protestors”, Ms. Shamdasani urged. 

“As the High Commissioner has stressed, all those with influence have a responsibility to take measures to bring an end to this State violence against the Myanmar people.” 

‘Profound concern’ for migrants 

The UN International Organization for Migration (IOM) also voiced deep concerns over the impact of violence on migrants in the country. 

“Migrants are among the most impacted by the ongoing political crisis”, IOM said in a statement on Wednesday. 

The fear of insecurity triggered the desperate return of hundreds of thousands of migrants to their communities of origin in search of safety and security
– IOM 

The weekend’s violent crackdown in the industrial township of Hlaing Tharyar, which hosts the largest population of internal migrants in Myanmar, triggered “desperate return” of hundreds of thousands of migrants to their communities of origin in search of safety and security, according to the agency. 

“IOM expresses profound concern over the escalating use of force by military and security forces against peaceful protestors and reaffirms its longstanding and firm commitment to support migrants and the vulnerable, and ensure that humanitarian and life-saving assistance reaches those most in need.” 

The UN agency noted that together with its partners, it will continue to do its utmost to ensure essential support reaches migrants and migrant-sending communities across Myanmar despite the challenging circumstances. 

UNICEF/Kaung Htet
According to WFP, food prices have risen sharply since the start of the political crisis in Myanmar. Pictured here, a grandmother washes vegetables to prepare a meal at her home in the country’s Shan state. (file photo)

Alarm over rising food and fuel prices 

Meanwhile, rising food and fuel prices present a looming threat to the poorest and most vulnerable communities in Myanmar, as supply chains and markets are starting to feel the impact of the ongoing political crisis, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) warned. 

According to the agency, while the price of the staple, rice, rose by about 3 per cent on average in monitored markets across the country, some townships reported spikes of as high as 20 to 35 per cent, between mid-January to mid-February. 

“These initial signs are troubling, especially for the most vulnerable people who were already living meal-to-meal”, Stephen Anderson, WFP Myanmar Country Director, said. 

“Coming on top of the COVID-19 pandemic, if these price trends continue they will severely undermine the ability of the poorest and most vulnerable to put enough food on the family table.” 

Between January and February, prices of other essentials, such as palm oil also rose about 20 per cent in areas around Yangon, while that of cooking oil and pulses increased by 11 to 27 per cent and 15 per cent, respectively, in Rakhine province. 

Similarly, the price of fuel increased by 15 per cent nationwide since 1 February, raising concerns about further food price hikes, WFP said. In northern Rakhine, the price of petrol rose by 33 per cent and diesel by 29 per cent. 

‘Near paralysis’ of banking sector 

The UN agency also warned that the rising food and fuel prices are compounded by the near paralysis of the banking sector, slowdowns in remittances, and widespread limits on cash availability. 

In order to ensure life-saving monthly cash and food distributions continue for over 360,000 people – mainly internally displaced and living in camps – WFP said it is building a contingency food stock, which would allow a switch from cash to in-kind food assistance, in case cash availability continues to be limited, or market supply is constrained. 

“WFP reiterates the call of the UN Secretary-General for the will of the Myanmar people expressed in recent elections to be respected”, Mr. Anderson said. 

“At WFP, we know all too well how hunger can quickly follow when peace and dialogue are sidelined.” 

UNICEF/Minzayar Oo
As of the start of 2021, about one million people are in need of humanitarian aid and protection in Myanmar. Pictured here, an IDP camp in Myanmar’s Kachin province. (file photo)

Concerns for humanitarian programmes 

Humanitarians in Myanmar also reported that aid operations have been disrupted by the military coup on 1 February. 

Across the south-east Asian nation, more than 1 million people – identified at the beginning of the year as needing assistance – still need help. Efforts to resume critical programmes have been hampered by difficulties in communication, transportation and supply chains, as well as shortages of cash for operations.  

There are also concerns that the ongoing crisis could disrupt COVID-19 testing capacities and vaccination programmes as well as other essential services, including safe pregnancy and childbirth and could have serious, even life-threatening implications, especially for the most vulnerable and disadvantaged communities. 

 

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