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Protests against the Feb. 1 coup by Myanmar's military continue. Protests against the Feb. 1 coup by Myanmar's military continue.   (AFP or licensors)

Myanmar crackdown resembles crimes against humanity - rights expert

The brutal response of Myanmar’s military junta against peaceful protesters resembles crimes against humanity, an independent United Nations rights expert told the UN Human Rights Council on Thursday.

By Robin Gomes

Calling for a united global response, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar, told the UN Human Rights Council that “the people of Myanmar need not only words of support but supportive action”.  “They need the help of the international community, now.”

Special Rapporteur, Thomas Andrews pointed out that a statement by the UN Security Council on Wednesday expressed deep concern about Myanmar's situation, condemned the violence and voiced support for a democratic transition.  Such words are “welcome, but ... are wholly insufficient,” he said.

Threshold of crimes against humanity

Andrews stressed that a growing body of reporting indicates that Myanmar’s security forces are committing acts of murder, imprisonment, persecution and other crimes as part of a coordinated campaign, directed against a civilian population, in a widespread and systematic manner, with the knowledge of the junta’s leadership - thereby likely meeting the legal threshold for crimes against humanity. 

Credible reports indicate that, as of Thursday,  Myanmar security forces have murdered at least 70 people.  “More than half of those murdered were members of Generation Z, or young people under the age of 25.”  He said the count of arbitrary detentions since the 1 February coup had topped 2,000, and violence against protesters, including against those sitting peacefully in their homes, is steadily increasing.

Surge in violence against ethnic groups

Without mincing words, the UN rights reporter said, “The country of Myanmar is being controlled by a murderous, illegal regime.” “Its current leadership perpetrated the atrocity crimes that are the focus of the charge of genocide before the International Court of Justice,” he said, adding, “the crimes against Rohingya people have continued”.  Throughout 2020, Myanmar security forces engaged in torture, murder, and enforced disappearances of Rohingya, killing at least 33, in violation of the International Court of Justice’s Provisional Measures Order.

Since the coup, the Myanmar military has attacked and forcibly displaced several thousand members of ethnic nationalities from their homes.  “There is growing evidence that this same Myanmar military, led by the same senior leadership, is now engaging in crimes against humanity," Andrews said, citing murder, enforced disappearance, persecution, torture and imprisonment against basic rules of international law.

“The people of Myanmar are desperate,” he said. “They are upholding and defending the highest principles of this body and the United Nations, including their commitment to non-violence.  But these principles, and their very lives, are under vicious attack,” Andrews added.

Violence on women

In another report on Friday, UN-Women, the UN agency dedicated to protecting women’s rights, voiced deep concerns over “targeted and disproportionate” violence against peaceful women protesters.  In addition, women in detention are also reportedly experiencing sexual harassment and violence.  UN-Women reported at least six women lost their lives in the protests and close to 600 women, including young women, LGBTIQ+ and civil society activists have been arrested. 

UN-Women Executive Director, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka called upon "Myanmar’s military and police to ensure that the right to peaceful assembly is fully respected and that demonstrators, including women, are not subjected to reprisals”.  She also called on the security forces to respect the human rights of women who have been arrested and detained, and called for the immediate release of all detainees.

UN-Women also expressed concerns that the ongoing crisis could disrupt essential services, including safe pregnancy and childbirth and could have “serious, even life-threatening implications”, especially for the most vulnerable and disadvantaged communities.

12 March 2021, 15:00