By Robin Gomes
The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has lamented that since the February 1 coup, there have been no signs of a letup in the brutal crackdown by Myanmar’s military authorities on its opponents in a bid to consolidate their hold on power.
Rupert Colville, the spokesperson of the UN’s human rights office briefed journalists on Tuesday on the situation in Myanmar, saying according to credible sources at least 782 people have been killed as of 10 May. Since the military coup on February 1, security forces have been continuing to use “unnecessary, disproportionate and lethal force, to suppress demonstrations and other forms of public participation”. “At the same time, there is no weakening of the resolve of the civil disobedience movement and other facets of opposition to the coup leaders.”
Gross rights abuse continue
“While much of the world’s attention has been on the number of peaceful protesters and bystanders killed by the security forces,” Colville said, “the authorities continue to commit other gross human rights violations against the people of Myanmar.”
Daily raids on private homes and offices are continuing, with more than 3,740 people in detention, whose fate is unknown. “These are situations that may amount to enforced disappearances,” Colville said. The vast majority of those arrested, he alleged, have not been brought before a judge, while most of the 86 people prosecuted thus far have been tried in secret, with limited or no access to any form of legal counsel.
Military’s coercion tactics
Over the past month, the military has issued over 1,500 arrest warrants targeting civil society activists, trade unionists, journalists, academics, public personalities and online voices. As a result, many of them have gone underground. Security forces have been rounding up relatives to coerce those wanted to surrender themselves to the police.
Since the coup, a nationwide protest, strike and civil disobedience movement has roiled the nation, demanding the release of Suu Kyi and the restoration of democracy.
Colville said, “The military authorities are also stepping up their efforts to pressure civil servants back to work,” by dismissing, removing or suspending more than 3,000 of them, nearly 70 percent of whom are women. 990 university professors, researchers and assistants have been suspended in the last few days for failing to report to work. “There are reports that up to 11,000 more educational workers were suspended on Monday.”
The UN human rights office also expressed deep concern for people fleeing persecution, especially human rights defenders and journalists.
Meanwhile, Myanmar’s crisis has re-ignited the conflict between the military and some of the ethnic armed organizations, particularly in Kachin and Kayin states. Many of the civilians caught in the fight have sought refuge outside the country. Coville said Myanmar’s neighbours should provide protection and support to these people.
Appeal to ASEAN
The UN is urging for greater involvement by the international community to prevent further deterioration of the human rights situation in the country. Coville noted that Myanmar’s military has shown no sign of abiding by the five-point plan agreed at the April 24 meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). He called on the group “to react quickly and to intensify its actions to ensure the military keeps to these commitments and to hold them accountable for failing to do so”.
Pope Francis has made several appeals for dialogue in order to resolve the crisis in the southeast Asian nation. He has expressed his solidarity with the people, especially the young, in their demand for the restoration of democracy for peace, prosperity and the common good of the country. In yet another move, the spiritual leader of the world’s Catholics will celebrate Holy Mass on Sunday, May 16, in the Vatican, for Myanmar Catholics living in Rome.