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Myanmar: Cycle of ‘human rights violations and abuses’ continues, warns Bachelet

A displaced child in Kachin State, Myanmar.
OCHA/P. Peron
A displaced child in Kachin State, Myanmar.

Myanmar: Cycle of ‘human rights violations and abuses’ continues, warns Bachelet

Human Rights

Still suffering from the devastating consequences of the February 2021 military coup, the UN rights chief said on Tuesday that the people of Myanmar remain “trapped in a cycle of poverty and displacement, human rights violations and abuses”.

“What we are witnessing today is the systematic and widespread use of tactics against civilians, in respect of which there are reasonable grounds to believe the commission of crimes against humanity and war crimes”, High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet told the Human Rights Council.

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‘Dire situation’

Since last year’s coup, at least 1,900 killings by the military have been reported, the UN has registered one million internally displaced people (IDPs), and some 14 million remain in urgent need of humanitarian assistance.

The humanitarian situation is dire,” said Ms. Bachelet. The military coup has “crippled Myanmar’s economy”, millions have lost their incomes, the national currency has plummeted, and prices have surged.

“Nevertheless, my Office continues to monitor and document the scale and magnitude of violations on the ground,” she assured.   

Meanwhile, violence has intensified, with scant civilian protection by the military.

Residents in the south-eastern states of Kayin and Kayah, the north-western state of Chin, and the central regions of Sagaing and Magway have been detained and sometimes forcibly disappeared or used as human shields.

And the military has violated international humanitarian law – including by burning entire villages, residence and schools – and destroyed food stocks and other basic supplies.

Despite the repression and violence, “the strength and resolve of Myanmar’s people, who continue to reject and resist the military and their attempts to assert control,” has impressed the UN official, who noted however, they are “met with the continued use of arbitrary arrest and detention”.

Since 1 February 2021, more than 13,500 people have reportedly been arrested for opposing the Burmese military once again seized power.

And a military spokesperson recently announced it would carry out four death sentences.

“I urgently call on military authorities to refrain from such a regressive step which would not only violate the right to life but will further set back prospects for political reconciliation,” said Ms. Bachelet.

Persecuted Rohingya

The military has continued to “use hostile and derogatory language to threaten and marginalize” the mostly-Muslim Rohingya in Rakhine state, hundreds of thousands of whom were forced to flee to Bangladesh in 2017, “and to implement strict discriminatory limitations on their movement,” said the High Commissioner.

In the past weeks, over 300 Rohingya Muslims have been arrested for traveling, what they call, ‘illegally’ outside their communities and hundreds have been prosecuted and sentenced to prison terms up to two years for exercising their basic right to freedom of movement.

Taking only what they can carry, thousands of Rohingyas flee the violence in Myanmar’s northern Rakhine State and seek shelter in the Bangladeshi border district of Cox’s Bazar.
WFP/Saikat Mojumder
Taking only what they can carry, thousands of Rohingyas flee the violence in Myanmar’s northern Rakhine State and seek shelter in the Bangladeshi border district of Cox’s Bazar.

‘Hanging in the balance’

Despite that, the lives and future of Myanmar’s people are “hanging in the balance”. She said it was “disappointing” that international efforts to rein in the military’s recklessly violent approach, have been largely ineffective.

The protection of civilians is an absolute imperative, and access must be granted for vital humanitarian assistance to reach all communities.

“Today I call for sustained and concrete action by all parties to stem the violence. The targeting of civilians and the burning of villages must stop now,” she stated.

End impunity

Underscoring the need for a climate conducive to political discussions, Ms. Bachelet maintained that any solution must be built on “broad-based consultation with all stakeholders in the democratic movement and with ethnic minority groups”. 

“I urge all Member States, particularly those with the highest-level access and influence, to intensify their pressure on the military leadership,” she said, also calling for support in pursuing accountability for ongoing and past human rights violations, alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Myanmar’s future depends on addressing the root causes of this crisis,” the High Commissioner said in closing.

Prevent ‘a lost generation’

A new report published by the UN-appointed independent rights expert for Myanmar on Monday, reveals the extent of the military’s abuses against children.

“The junta’s relentless attacks on children underscore the generals’ depravity and willingness to inflict immense suffering on innocent victims in its attempt to subjugate the people of Myanmar,” said Tom Andrews.

“States must take immediate coordinated action to address an escalating political, economic and humanitarian crisis that is putting Myanmar’s children at risk of becoming a lost generation.”

Young girls in a displaced persons camp in Myanmar collect water from a well.
UNOCHA/Z. Nurmukhambetova
Young girls in a displaced persons camp in Myanmar collect water from a well.

Clear evidence

He pointed to the evidence showing that the children were not only being caught in the crossfire of escalating attacks but were often the targets.

“I received information about children who were beaten, stabbed, burned with cigarettes, and subjected to mock executions, and who had their fingernails and teeth pulled out during lengthy interrogation sessions,” stressed Mr. Andrews.

“The junta’s attacks on children constitute crimes against humanity and war crimes. Junta leader Min Aung Hlaing and other architects of the violence in Myanmar must be held accountable for their crimes against children.”

Ukraine-level response needed

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For the sake of Myanmar’s children, the expert implored Member States, regional organisations, the Security Council, and others to respond to the crisis in Myanmar “with the same urgency they have responded to the crisis in Ukraine.”

He urged coordinated action to alleviate the children’s suffering by increasing pressure on the junta and for States to take stronger action to inhibit its ability to finance atrocities.

“States must pursue stronger targeted economic sanctions and coordinated financial investigations. I urge Member States to commit to a dramatic increase in humanitarian assistance and unequivocal regional support for refugees,” said the Special Rapporteur.

‘Scandalous’ lack of support

The report describes the impact of the military coup on children’s human rights and details the alarming, underreported violence being perpetrated against them. 

In a campaign of violence that has touched every corner of the country, soldiers, police officers and military-backed militias have murdered, abducted, detained, and tortured children.

“It is scandalous that the international community has committed only 10 percent of the funds required to implement the Myanmar Humanitarian Response Plan 2022, causing lifesaving programmes for children to be shelved,” he said.

End the suffering

Over the past 16 months, Myanmar’s military has killed at least 142 children; displaced 250,000; and detained over 1,400 arbitrarily, according to the report.

Meanwhile, 142 children have been tortured and at least 61, including several under three, are reportedly being held hostage.

The World Health Organization (WHO) projects that 33,000 children will die preventable deaths this year because they have not received routine immunizations.

Mr. Andrews called the lack of Security Council action a moral failure with profound repercussions.

“World leaders, diplomats and donors should ask themselves why the world is failing to do all that can reasonably be done to bring an end to the suffering of the children of Myanmar,” he concluded.