Leading United Nations and human rights experts are calling on the international community to end its support for Myanmar’s brutal military rulers who, they say rely on “systematic control tactics, fear, and terror” to maintain their iron grip on power.
Volker Türk, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, opened an interactive dialogue on the situation in Myanmar at the U.N. Human Rights Council on Thursday, saying that “The situation has become untenable.”
He said “it is impossible to imagine that the people of Myanmar can endure more suffering. Yet the country continues its deadly freefall into even deeper violence and heartbreak.”
Myanmar’s military junta mounted a coup Feb. 1, 2021, overthrowing the country’s democratically elected government. Since then, the country’s economy has been on a downward spiral, the voices of civil society have been strangled, political dissent has been crushed, and more people have taken up arms in response to the military’s brutal and wanton attacks against the population.
“Entire villages are razed and burned to the ground, collectively punishing civilians, by depriving them of shelter, food, water, and life-saving aid,” said Türk.
“Since the coup began, the military has scorched at least 70,000 homes across the country, 70 percent of which were in the Sagaing region. Over 1.5 million people have been forcibly displaced with minimal access to humanitarian aid,” he said.
The U.N. human rights office said that 3,747 people have died at the hands of the military since it took power and 23,747 people have been arrested. Officials say they believe the “true number of casualties is likely to be far higher.”
The junta has denied targeting any civilians, claiming it carries out operations against “terrorists” who want to destabilize the country.
U.N. rights chief Türk called for an immediate end “to this senseless violence” and for the release of the 19,377 political prisoners detained throughout Myanmar.
“I also appeal to all countries to cease and prevent the supply of arms to the military and to take targeted measures to limit access by generals to foreign currency, aviation fuel and other means that enable attacks on Myanmar’s people.”
He called on the international community, the U.N. Security Council, The Association of Southeast Asian Nations, and all member states to use their influence “to exert maximum pressure to end this crisis.”
Thomas Andrews, U.N. special rapporteur on the human rights situation in Myanmar, agreed with the high commissioner’s “very sobering update on the deteriorating conditions in Myanmar.”
In an impassioned speech to the council, Andrews vividly painted a picture of a country in torment; of a country where he said hundreds of children have been killed and imprisoned as political prisoners; of a country where more than 660,000 children are displaced by conflict and 5.8 million children require humanitarian assistance.
He said the people of Myanmar need and deserve action by U.N. member states to save their country.
“I am worried, however, that the political will that is necessary to sustain this action could be waning,” he said. “That some governments appear ready to move on, to accept the junta’s illegitimate claim to power and focus their attention and resources elsewhere.”
He said it is imperative that this trend be reversed. He called on the international community to deny the brutal military rulers of Myanmar the weapons and money they need to keep their population in thrall.
He said it is critical that the international community deny the junta the legitimacy it needs to pursue its repressive policies with impunity.
“Time and again, we have seen the military propagandize any engagement with foreign diplomats or international bodies. The junta would like to signal to the people of Myanmar that it is a respected member of the international community and, like it or not, is here to stay,” he said.
While the Human Rights Council, the Security Council, and the General Assembly have all condemned the coup, Andrews said some regional governments appeared ready to engage the junta as if it were the legitimate government of Myanmar, “as if it were not murdering its own people.”
The special rapporteur also criticized the international community’s failure to help the victims of human rights violations and atrocities.
“No group has suffered more from the military’s brutality than the Rohingya Muslim minority. In 2016 and 2017, genocidal attacks led by the military forced approximately 700,000 to cross the border into Bangladesh, literally running for their lives,” he said.
He noted that international support for the Rohingya has dropped to such an extent that a million people living in a cramped, overcrowded camp in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar are “forced to survive on rations valued at 27 U.S. cents per day.”
Andrews said, “We are at a critical juncture in Myanmar and it is time to refocus and reengage on the Myanmar crisis.” He urged states to develop a coordinated strategy and action plan “to undermine the junta’s capacity to continue its attacks against the people of Myanmar by denying it weapons, money, and legitimacy.”
High Commissioner Türk agreed, noting that the path out of the crisis was to hold the military accountable for the grave human rights violations and other breaches of international law occurring under its watch.
“I urge the Security Council to refer the situation to the International Criminal Court,” he said. “Any political solution to this protracted emergency must include accountability.”
Myanmar did not participate in the interactive dialogue as the United Nations does not recognize the legitimacy of the government.