DELIVERED BY Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
Since my last update to this Council in February this year, the human rights situation in Myanmar has continued to rapidly decline. Still suffering from the devastating consequences of the February 2021 military coup, 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.
Since February 2021, at least 1,900 killings by the military have been reported. The humanitarian situation is dire. One million individuals have been registered by the UN as internally displaced while some 14 million remain in urgent need of humanitarian assistance.
The military coup has crippled Myanmar’s economy, with millions losing their jobs or sources of income in the last year. The value of the national currency has plummeted, and prices of essential goods have surged.
Internet shutdowns imposed by the military across large parts of the country, and the harassment and prosecution of journalists and individuals reporting on human rights have severely limited information flows and civic space.
Nevertheless, my Office continues to monitor and document the scale and magnitude of violations on the ground.
Despite the commitments made by the military to ASEAN, senseless violence in Myanmar has intensified, with scant provision for civilian protection or respect for international human rights and humanitarian laws by the military. Recent military operations in the south-eastern states of Kayin and Kayah, the north-western state of Chin, and the central regions of Sagaing and Magway have amplified the suffering of civilians.
Local residents are often detained, and in some cases may have been forcibly disappeared or used as human shields. A well-documented tactic of the military is the burning of entire villages, residential buildings, schools, houses of worship, and other objects specially protected under international humanitarian law. Some estimate over 11,000 such sites have been burned since the attempted coup began last year. Food stocks and other basic supplies have also been destroyed.
At the same time, the military continues to apply its so-called “four cuts” strategy to punish the local civilian population and to alienate those who refuse to accept their attempted seizure of power.
I am deeply troubled by reports which indicate that the Tatmadaw is trying to militarize whole communities, by expanding its allied local militia organizations, and formalizing military control of police forces. My Office has also received reports that they have launched an initiative to enlist local fire-fighters, Red Cross workers and other public service groups into the security apparatus.
In the face of such repression and violence, I respect the strength and resolve of Myanmar’s people, who continue to reject and resist the military and their attempts to assert control. Daily peaceful protests throughout the country and efforts to boycott services provided by military-run governmental institutions remain ongoing after almost 500 days.
These peaceful expressions of dissent, however, are met with the continued use of arbitrary arrest and detention. Since 1 February 2021, more than 13,500 people, including politicians, media professionals, lawyers, civil society leaders and other members of civil society, have reportedly been arrested for opposing the Tatmadaw’s purported seizure of power. More than 10,500 remain in detention.
Former detainees have reported the frequent use of torture and ill-treatment in military bases, police stations and other places of detention. Arrest warrants have allegedly been issued against another 1,900 individuals.
In a recent concerning development, a military spokesperson announced the intention of executing four death sentences, including of two prominent democracy activists. Myanmar has not carried out court-ordered executions for approximately 30 years. 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.
In Rakhine State, the situation is critical, with the Arakan Army and Tatmadaw seemingly on the verge of renewing armed conflict. Since last November, there have been regular ripples of violence between the two parties and public verbal exchanges have been increasingly hostile.
Members of the Rohingya Muslim community are caught in the middle. There have been no concrete and systematic efforts to work with the Rohingya to solve the longstanding human rights abuses, discrimination and exclusionary practices that have plagued their communities for decades. Added to this, conditions in Rakhine State remain far from adequate for Rohingya who fled to Bangladesh, or for those who have been living in internal displacement camps in Myanmar for 10 years now, to return to their homes.
Instead, the military has continued to use hostile and derogatory language to threaten and marginalize the Rohingya and to implement strict discriminatory limitations on their movement. In the past weeks, over 300 Rohingya have been arrested for traveling, what they call, ‘illegally’ outside their communities. Hundreds have been prosecuted and sentenced to prison terms up to two years for exercising their basic right to freedom of movement.
On 21 May, another boat capsized near the coast of Pathein township, just south of Rakhine State, resulting in at least 17 deaths, many of whom were children. UNHCR has reported that since the beginning of the year, at least 630 Rohingya have attempted desperate sea journeys to escape violence, the vast majority women and children.
The lives and future of Myanmar’s people are hanging in the balance. It is extremely disappointing to note that international efforts to rein in the military’s recklessly violent approach have been largely ineffective. The ASEAN five-point plan seems to have produced limited results to date since its adoption in April 2021. I urge ASEAN and its members to continue engaging with all relevant national stakeholders, including representatives of the National Unity Government and of civil society.
Additionally, the military has been allowed to veto efforts to generate dialogue and political engagement. The National Unity Government of Myanmar - established by democratically elected leaders and with the vast support of the people - has been excluded from discussions.
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. The protection of civilians is an absolute imperative, and access must be granted for vital humanitarian assistance to reach all communities.
Any solution to this crisis has to be built on broad-based consultation with all stakeholders in the democratic movement and with ethnic minority groups. A climate in which productive political discussions can take place to advance this priority is urgently required.
I urge all Member States, particularly those with the highest-level access and influence, to intensify their pressure on the military leadership. Available measures include placing increased restrictions targeting military-controlled financial holdings and business interests, and limiting their access to foreign currencies to restrict their ability to purchase military equipment and supplies.
I also call for continued support to the efforts underway to pursue accountability for the ongoing and past serious human rights violations, as well as alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity, through all available tracks.
Myanmar’s future depends on addressing the root causes of this crisis. Its people deserve a return to democracy, an end to impunity and the immediate cessation of the systemic discrimination that has persecuted minorities – in particular the Rohingya - for decades. They are counting on this Council’s support.
Source: UN Human Rights Council