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Human rights ‘catastrophe’ in Myanmar: UN calls for urgent action  

People across ethnic and religious divides hold vigil in Yangon, Myanmar.
Unsplash/Zinko Hein
People across ethnic and religious divides hold vigil in Yangon, Myanmar.

Human rights ‘catastrophe’ in Myanmar: UN calls for urgent action  

Human Rights

Urgent action is needed to prevent the situation in Myanmar from escalating into a “full-blown conflict”, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet warned on Thursday.   

Ms. Bachelet’s alert came in a new report from her office OHCHR, which details widespread violations by the military against the country's people, some of which may constitute crimes against humanity or war crimes.  

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Crisis escalating towards civil war 

With the spiral of violence that has rocked Myanmar since February showing signs of escalation “into a widespread civil war”, the UN rights chief called for more action on the part of the international community.  

Speaking at the Human Rights Council in Geneva, she noted that clashes now “occur regularly” between civilian fighters and Government forces in many areas of the country, “where conflict has not been seen in generations”. 

Presenting the new report on Myanmar to the Council, Ms. Bachelet explained that it detailed many serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law.  

Economy in freefall 

The country is also facing an “economy in freefall”, and the devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic; “a human rights catastrophe that shows no signs of abating”, she highlighted.  

Recent reports from the World Food Programme (WFP) warn that millions are facing growing food insecurity, amid poverty, political unrest, and economic crisis.  

Human rights violations  

Mentioning that military authorities have perpetrated the vast majority of human rights documented since the coup of 1 February, the report highlights that there has been “heavy use of lethal force and mass arrests”.  

It documents violations of the rights to life, liberty and security of the person; the prohibition against torture; the right to a fair trial; as well as the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.  

The report, covering the period from February until mid-July, was based on interviews with over 70 victims and witnesses to human rights violations, as well as remote monitoring, credible open sources, and meetings with a range of informed stakeholders. 

Since the coup, more than 1,120 people have been killed. Military authorities have also arrested over 8,000 people, and at least 120 have reportedly died in custody. 

Intensification of military activity 

Ms. Bachelet added that “there is no sign of any efforts by the military authorities to stop these violations nor implement previous recommendations to tackle impunity and security sector reform,” underscoring the urgent need for strong accountability measures.  

There are also reports of increasing fighting between the military and ethnic armed groups since the coup, displacing thousands, particularly in Kayin, Shan and Kachin State, where the military has carried out indiscriminate airstrikes and artillery barrages, killing civilians, the report added.  

“The national consequences are terrible and tragic, and the regional consequences could also be profound," Bachelet highlighted.  

Calling on the international community to redouble its efforts to restore democracy in Myanmar, Ms. Bachelet said it was essential to prevent the civil conflict from escalating further.