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UN rights expert urges global action to halt Myanmar junta atrocities

Rains lash an internally displaced persons camp in northern Myanmar. (file)
© UNICEF/Minzayar Oo
Rains lash an internally displaced persons camp in northern Myanmar. (file)

UN rights expert urges global action to halt Myanmar junta atrocities

Human Rights

The UN independent human rights expert on Myanmar called on the international community on Tuesday to take strong, coordinated action to protect civilians from ongoing atrocities committed by the military junta’s forces.

In February 2021 the military overthrew the elected Government in Myanmar arresting hundreds of officials, political leaders and activists, including President Win Myint and State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi.

The takeover triggered an intensification of armed conflicts with separatists and opposition forces across the country, including indiscriminate air strikes which have killed numerous civilians.

There have been mass killings of detainees, including dismemberment and desecration of corpses, reports of rape and the deliberate burning of entire villages.

In the latter half of 2023, several armed resistance groups united in an alliance against the regime, attacking several key junta strongholds, pushing back the military and forcing soldiers to surrender.

Killings and suffering continue

Special Rapporteur Tom Andrews told members of the Human Rights Council – the UN’s paramount rights body – that despite some opposition successes, the junta remains “extremely dangerous”.

The killing of civilians continues with sophisticated, powerful weapons of war obtained from abroad,” he added.

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Over the last five months, there has been a five-fold increase in airstrikes against civilians. Across the country, about 2.7 million people are displaced and 18.6 million – including six million children – require humanitarian aid.

“Now the junta has begun a program of forced military recruitment, at times abducting young men on the streets. This is pushing young people into hiding, or to flee the country, or to join resistance forces – young people who are unwilling to be drafted into the junta’s campaign of brutality,” Mr. Andrews said.

Among the worst affected are members of the minority Muslim Rohingya community, who continue to be attacked and persecuted. Several hundred thousand Rohingya were forced to flee their homes in Rakhine state due to a widespread military operation in 2017, seeking refuge in neighboring Bangladesh.

Impacts beyond Myanmar

The Special Rapporteur said the actions of the junta are impacting not only the people of Myanmar but also the region and the wider world.

Thousands of desperate people continue to flee into neighboring countries, while junta fighter jets have violated the airspace of Myanmar’s neighbors, bombs have landed across borders,” he said.

“International criminal networks have found safe haven in Myanmar, which is now the top opium producer in the world and a global center for cyber-scam operations that enslave tens of thousands and victimize untold numbers of people around the world.”

Violence must stop

He warned that the response of the international community to the developments in the Asian country using appeasement and engagement with the junta without conditions, is not working.

The “inevitable conclusion” is that for engagement to succeed, certain prerequisites are imperative, chiefly that the violence must stop.

“For this to become a reality, the international community must undermine the junta’s murderous campaign by denying it the weapons and the money it requires to carry on this campaign,” he said.

Mr. Andrews called for the “immediate convening” of a coalition of States to establish coordinated, targeted sanctions to protect Myanmar’s people.

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

Tide is turning

In addition, he highlighted three crucial steps, which must be taken urgently. These include ensuring humanitarian aid reaches those in desperate need, ending impunity for war crimes and crimes against humanity, and investing in Myanmar’s transition.

“I urge support for those who are building a political framework that enfranchises Myanmar’s rich and diverse population, while affirming human rights, equality and justice as the pathway to peace,” he said.

The tide is turning in Myanmar and it is turning because of the courage and tenacity of its people. It is time for the international community to pay attention to Myanmar and take the strong, coordinated action that will enable them to seize this moment,” Mr. Andrews concluded.

Independent human rights expert

Appointed by the Human Rights Council in 2020, Special Rapporteur Tom Andrews is tasked with impartially assessing, monitoring and reporting on the human rights situation in Myanmar.

Special Rapporteurs serve in their individual capacity, independent of the UN system and national governments. They are not UN staff and draw no salary.

The mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar was first established in 1992 under the then Commission on Human Rights and extended annually.

Special Rapporteur Andrews addresses the Human Rights Council.