By: Mariah Abdel-Aziz
At the Center stage:
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet on September 23, 2021 warned of a “human rights catastrophe” in Myanmar, and called on international leaders to do more to prevent the conflict from becoming worse.
“The national consequences are terrible and tragic —the regional consequences could also be profound,” Ms. Bachelet said in a statement. “The international community must redouble its efforts to restore democracy and prevent wider conflict before it is too late,” she added.
Decoding in detail:
With the spiral of violence that has rocked Myanmar since February showing signs of escalation “into a widespread civil war”, the UN rights chief called for more action on the part of the international community.
Speaking at the Human Rights Council in Geneva, she noted that clashes now “occur regularly” between civilian fighters and Government forces in many areas of the country, “where conflict has not been seen in generations”.
Her warning came in a new report issued by the UN Human Rights Office, detailing widespread violations made by the military, the Tatmadaw, against the people in Myanmar. The report said Myanmar was facing a “human rights catastrophe that shows no sign of abating”.
The UN scorned the use of lethal force and mass arrests of protesters since the military coup on February 1.
“Serious violations have been committed — of the rights to life, liberty, and security of person, the prohibition against torture, the right to a fair trial, as well as the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of peaceful assembly,” the statement said.
The report, covering the period from February until mid-July, was based on interviews with over 70 victims and witnesses to human rights violations, as well as remote monitoring, credible open sources, and meetings with a range of informed stakeholders.
The UN chief also cited reports that indicate that security forces have used interrogation techniques amounting to torture, including beating detainees, depriving them of food, water, and sleep.
“Military authorities have also arrested over 8,000 people, including elected officials, protesters and journalists during arrests and raids,” the UN said. “At least 120 people have reportedly died in custody, and some have been denied access to medical treatment”(UN, 2021).
It also cited an increase in military activity, along with greater resistance by armed groups in the country in recent weeks. Over 800 people have been killed since the military coup, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.
“Fighting between the military and ethnic armed groups has also increased exponentially since the coup,” the statement said.
In addition to the crisis spurred by the military coup, Myanmar has also faced many challenges in managing the coronavirus pandemic.
The country has recorded more than 452,000 infections since the start of the pandemic and over 17,000 deaths. However, the real figures could be higher.
Myanmar’s people have clearly and universally rejected the coup and the military junta. Will international governments, donors, and aid agencies do the same?
Six months after the 1 February coup, the country is locked in a humanitarian and COVID-19 crisis.
“Myanmar’s humanitarian needs are overwhelming, but they cannot be met by engaging with the same perpetrators of the grave human rights abuses that relief aid intends to address”(Ohmar, 2021).
Among people receiving aid or COVID-19 support, any collaboration with the junta could be perceived as an endorsement – undermining trust and confidence in humanitarian organizations. There is also a real danger that aid delivery can provide cover for soldiers entering previously hard-to-reach territories, or that the military will hoard aid and COVID-19 supplies, as has already been reported.
It is morally imperative that donors and humanitarian aid organizations stand with the people of Myanmar. A principled way to meet Myanmar’s substantial humanitarian needs is by directly supporting community-based civil society organizations – especially those that have operated cross-border during the country’s decades-long civil war against ethnic populations. Coronavirus support, in particular, should be coordinated with the Covid-19 task force recently formed by ethnic health organizations and Myanmar’s government-in-waiting, the National Unity Government.
What these groups need at this critical time are funding and resources: Cross-border community-based organizations have been largely abandoned by international donors over the last decade. During this period of supposed political reform in Myanmar, the international community shifted its funding to government-approved channels – despite insufficient and insincere changes, a failing peace process, and an intensifying civil war.
This strategy essentially cut off conflict-affected ethnic populations from life-saving aid, while strengthening centralized infrastructure and reinforcing the Myanmar military’s occupation of ethnic lands.
This aid shift disregarded the very communities whose political predictions were right: The Myanmar military had enshrined its political power in its army-drafted 2008 constitution, and was not undertaking a transition to democracy as it had claimed.
The catastrophic aftermath of the Myanmar coup is the biggest test in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations’ (ASEAN) history, said Amnesty International today, calling on the regional bloc to prioritize protecting the human rights of people in Myanmar and prevent the situation deteriorating into a human rights and humanitarian crisis.
The organization is also urging the Indonesian authorities and other ASEAN member states to investigate Senior General Min Aung Hlaing on credible allegations of responsibility for crimes against humanity in Myanmar. As a state party to the UN Convention Against Torture, Indonesia has a legal obligation to prosecute or extradite a suspected perpetrator on its territory.
“The Myanmar crisis trigged by the military presents ASEAN with the biggest test in its history. The bloc’s usual commitment to non-interference is a non-starter: this is not an internal matter for Myanmar but a major human rights and humanitarian crisis which is impacting the entire region and beyond,” said Emerlynne Gil, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for Research
Moreover, the Indonesian authorities are duty-bound to investigate Senior General Min Aung Hlaing and other Myanmar military officials who may join his delegation to Jakarta.
The extensively documented allegations against Myanmar’s coup leader, by the UN Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar, Amnesty International and many others, must be investigated. The Indonesian authorities and other ASEAN member states cannot ignore the fact Min Aung Hlaing is suspected of the most serious crimes of concern to the international community as a whole.
In a statement to the UN Human Rights Council on 11 March 2021, the UN Special Rapporteur on Myanmar, Tom Andrews, noted that the repression of peaceful protests since the coup likely meets the threshold of crimes against humanity.
The military junta has terrorized Myanmar, committing war crimes and crimes against humanity with total impunity. They have killed hundreds, arrested thousands, and launched renewed attacks – including airstrikes- against civilians in the country’s ethnic states.
Military rule is the root cause of Myanmar’s human rights and humanitarian crises. EUNACR suggested that who could only achieve its permanent end, and the establishment of a federal democracy is the people of Myanmar. International aid agencies can support the people of Myanmar struggle by ensuring that the country’s vast humanitarian needs are met in a principled way.
It proclaimed that the Myanmar military appears to be operating with the assumption of total impunity. The situation today is the direct result of a broader failure by the international community, including the ASEAN, to hold the Myanmar military to account for its past crimes.
If not stopped, the violations committed by the Myanmar military will result in escalating violence and conflict, worsening inequality, hunger, and mass displacement, including into ASEAN Member States – all amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Amnesty International urges the ASEAN and its Member States to work together and take immediate action to protect the people of Myanmar, prioritizing their human rights and to end impunity,” said Emerlynne Gil.
Amnesty International Organization, (April 23, 2021): “Myanmar: Human rights must be top priority for emergency ASEAN summit”. Retrieved from: https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/press-release/2021/04/myanmar-human-rights-must-be-top-priority-asean/
Ohmar, K (July 28, 2021): “There’s nothing neutral about engaging with Myanmar’s military”, The New Humanitarian. Org. Retrieved from: https://www.thenewhumanitarian.org/opinion/2021/7/28/theres-nothing-neutral-about-engaging-with-myanmars-military
United Nations News, (September 23, 2021): “Human rights ‘catastrophe’ in Myanmar: UN calls for urgent action“, UN News Global Perspective Human stories. Retrieved from: https://news.un.org/en/story/2021/09/1100922?utm_source=UN+News+-+Newsletter&utm_campaign=99be57b3a4-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2021_09_24_12_20&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_fdbf1af606-99be57b3a4-107865001
Deutsche Welle, (September 23, 2021): “UN warns of ‘human rights catastrophe’ in Myanmar”. Retrieved from: https://www.dw.com/en/un-warns-of-human-rights-catastrophe-in-myanmar/a-59283087