Myanmar: UN expert says current international efforts failing, urges ‘change of course’
New York: The UN independent rights expert on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, told the UN Human Rights Council on Wednesday that conditions inside the country following the 1 February military coup have worsened, urging a “change of course” to prevent further human rights abuses and deaths.
According to Special Rapporteur Tom Andrews, since its power grab and overthrow of the democratically-elected Government, the junta and its forces have murdered more than 1,100 people, arbitrarily detained more than 8,000, and forcibly displaced more than 230,000 civilians, bringing the total number of internally placed persons in Myanmar to well over half a million.
Mr. Andrews described how junta-controlled military forces have killed protesters in the streets, murdered civilians in their homes, beaten individuals to death and tortured people to death while in detention.
This has been carried out through bombings, rocket-propelled grenades and automatic weapons, he said. Entire villages have also been attacked using airstrikes, sieges and mass arson and civilians have been forced to serve as porters and human shields.
Children not spared
As of July, the junta had killed at least 75 children ranging in age from 14 months to 17 years, the rights expert said.
These children were hit by junta driven vehicles, shot by junta forces or killed by junta artillery shells. Mr. Andrews also told the Council he had received credible reports of children being tortured, including two boys who were starved and then had their legs burnt with iron rods.
Civil and political rights in Myanmar have also been systematically destroyed by the junta, Mr. Andrews said. Freedoms of expression, of association, the right to privacy, access to justice, and a free press have also been dismantled.
According to Mr. Andrews, the junta is increasingly relying on the use of collective punishment, including the abduction of family members of those who have been issued arrest warrants, but who police and military forces are unable to locate.
The rights expert said he had received credible reports that at least 177 individuals were arbitrarily detained when the initial target of a raid had successfully eluded arrest. These victims include very young children as young as 20-weeks old, he said.
Rohingya in danger
The junta also continues to deny the existence of the Rohingya ethnic minority, Mr. Andrews said, denying them citizenship, freedom of movement and other fundamental rights.
The same commanders who oversaw the mass atrocity crimes committed against the Rohingya in 2017 are now overseeing the military junta, putting more than 600,000 Rohingya living in Myanmar in danger.
The right to health is being undermined by the junta’s assault on the health care system, Mr. Andrews warned.
Junta forces are harassing, arbitrarily detaining, torturing and killing healthcare providers in retribution for the leadership that many provided to the civil disobedience, he said.
Medical doctors have informed him of military raids on charity and make-shift health facilities, destroying, damaging or confiscating medical equipment, while abducting, beating, and arbitrarily detaining their colleagues.
Junta forces attacked healthcare workers or facilities in at least 260 separate incidences from 1 February to 25 August 2021. The junta has outstanding arrest warrants for 600 healthcare workers, forcing them into hiding.
Many continue to treat patients clandestinely despite the enormous personal risk, he added.
The expert urged governments to support the people of Myanmar’s own boycotts against the junta, by imposing stronger coordinated economic pressure and an arms embargo.
“People throughout Myanmar from all walks of life are engaging in what can accurately be described as ‘citizen sanctions’ - boycotts of products produced by military-owned companies as well as the payment of energy bills and taxes,” he said.
“By some accounts, the public’s widespread refusal to pay utility bills and some taxes have cost the junta an estimated $1 billion in revenue.”
Mr. Andrews highlighted the civilian-led “People’s Defense Forces” (PDFs), which have formed in parts of the country, noting that the opposition National Unity Government has declared a “defensive war” against the junta and its forces.
Relying primarily on homemade, improvised weapons, Andrews said the armed groups were engaging in protection and ambush operations, while up against one of the largest militaries in the world that has responded with “indiscriminate attacks on entire villages and towns”.
The independent expert, who was appointed by the Human Rights Council, called for greater humanitarian aid for the more than three million Myanmar people who have been left in desperate need by the takeover.
“The international community must make a stronger commitment to ensuring lifesaving aid reaches those in need,” he said. “Myanmar civil society organizations who are saving lives need and deserve our support. The 2021 UN Myanmar Humanitarian Response Plan has received only 46 percent of requested funds to date. We can and should do better.”
As “the voice of human rights, the conscience of the UN”, Mr. Andrews called on Council members to “give voice” to the plight of the besieged people of Myanmar and become “a catalyst for action”. “Now, more than ever, the people of Myanmar need strong, targeted and coordinated action by the international community.”