Update on the Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar
Statement by Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
48th Session of the Human Rights Council
23 September 2021
Since my last update to this Council, the human rights situation in Myanmar has deteriorated significantly as the far-reaching impacts of the military coup continue to devastate lives and hopes across the country. Conflict, poverty and the effects of the pandemic are sharply increasing, and the country faces a vortex of repression, violence and economic collapse.
The military’s iron grip on power faces resistance from large segments of the society. Weapons of war continue to be deployed in towns and cities to suppress opposition. Over 1,100 individuals have reportedly now died at the hands of the security forces since the coup.
Over 8,000 individuals – including children – have been arrested since the coup, with over 4,700 remaining in detention. Most are held without any form of due process, and lack access to legal counsel, or even the ability to communicate with their families. We continue to receive reports from multiple locations of interrogation techniques that amount to ill-treatment and torture, and have credible information that more than 120 detainees have died in custody – some within 24 hours of their arrest.
Over 260 attacks on health-care facilities and personnel have been reported since February, including targeting and shooting medical personnel, ambulances and hospitals; arbitrarily detaining medical professionals; military occupation of hospitals; and confiscation of medical supplies such as COVID-19 vaccines and oxygen. These attacks gravely compound the humanitarian consequences of the violence and a surge in the COVID-19 pandemic.
Our report A/HRC/48/67, which is before you today, documents many serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, including violations of the rights to life, liberty and security of person; the prohibition against torture; fair trial guarantees; freedom of expression, and freedom of peaceful assembly. Several of these violations may amount to crimes against humanity committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack against the civilian population – or, to the extent arising in armed conflict, war crimes.
Faced with this overwhelming repression of fundamental rights, a movement of armed resistance is growing, alongside the peaceful protests that have taken place for seven months. Local self-defence groups have taken up arms, and many have joined a growing so-called Defence Force movement. Earlier this month, the interim President of the National Unity Government – which comprises representatives elected in 2020 who oppose the coup – issued a call for nation-wide armed uprising against the military.
Armed clashes now occur regularly in many heartland areas where conflict has not been seen in generations. In recent weeks, the Tatmadaw has been conducting offensives in Magway and Sagaing Regions and in Chin State, reportedly killing villagers and burning houses.
In border areas that have faced conflict for many years – including Kachin, Shan, Kayin, and Kayah states – some ethnic armed organisations have assisted People’s Defence groups and, in some instances, have conducted joint military operations with them.
The Army has launched offensives and reprisal raids against villages perceived to be the bases of people’s defence forces or ethnic armed groups, including artillery barrages and airstrikes against civilian areas. Hundreds of individuals have been killed and injured, and many have been forcibly displaced amid escalating humanitarian needs for food, water, shelter, and medical care.
I appeal once again to all armed actors to respect human rights and ensure that civilians and civilian structures are protected. Use of airstrikes and artillery in residential areas, and any form of military operation that targets health centres, places of worship, schools or other protected structures must immediately cease.
These disturbing trends suggest the alarming possibility of an escalating civil war.
I urge action by members of this Council to actively support a political process that engages all parties to this crisis, including the National Unity Government, civil society, and representatives from the ethnic minority communities, especially women.
ASEAN’s initiative should urgently be accompanied by other influential Member States, using a mix of incentives and disincentives to reverse the military coup and desperate spiral of violence.
I encourage all parties, especially the military, to allow unrestricted access to facilitate humanitarian assistance, including vaccination efforts and other forms of health-care that should be made available in a non-politicized manner. Medical personnel must be protected, not targeted – and local community groups should be the primary instrument of delivery.
To create conditions for peace and dialogue, there must be immediate release of all political prisoners, including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and other civilian leaders.
Accountability remains crucial to any solution going forward. The human rights violations crimes being committed by the Tatmadaw today are built upon the impunity with which they perpetrated the shocking campaigns of violence against the Rohingya just four years ago – and also against many other ethnic minorities over decades.
It is crucial that the perpetrators of the most serious international crimes, including potentially genocide, are duly held to account. In this regard, the expanded work of the Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar, with its ongoing mandate over current events, has become even more important. Steps taken by the democratic opposition to engage the International Criminal Court and other bodies may also open new avenues for accountability. I also hope that many more military personnel will grasp that their own futures will not be served by following unlawful orders to commit international crimes.
Myanmar’s stability and path to democracy and prosperity have been sacrificed over these last months to advance the ambitions of a privileged and entrenched military elite. Many people who seek only to safeguard democracy and human rights have lost their lives. The national consequences are terrible and tragic — the regional consequences could also be profound. The international community must redouble its efforts to restore democracy and prevent wider conflict before it is too late.