The UN’s rights chief on Thursday warned of a “full-blown” civil war in Myanmar along with the impact of a sharply increasing COVID-19 pandemic and economic collapse, urging action from the international community.
Michelle Bachelet was addressing the Human Rights Council after the release of a new report that detailed widespread violations by the military – the Tatmadaw – against Myanmar’s people, some of which, she said, may constitute crimes against humanity or war crimes.
“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,” said the UN high commissioner for human rights.
“Conflict, poverty and the effects of the pandemic are sharply increasing, and the country faces a vortex of repression, violence and economic collapse.”
The report noted an economy in freefall and the devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic as “a human rights catastrophe that shows no signs of abating.”
More than 8,000 people, including children, have been arrested since the Feb. 1 coup in the country, with over 4,700 remaining in detention, Bachelet said, adding most are held without any form of due process and lack access to legal counsel or even the ability to communicate with their families.
Reports of torture
The rights chief said her office continues getting reports from multiple locations of interrogation techniques that amount to ill-treatment and torture, and it has credible information that more than 120 detainees have died in custody – some within 24 hours of their arrest.
“There is no sign of any efforts by the military authorities to stop these violations nor implement previous recommendations to tackle impunity and security sector reform,” Bachelet said.
“This underscores the urgent need for strong accountability measures. It also runs in the face of commitments made to ASEAN leaders to cease the violence and begin a constructive dialogue among all parties,” she added, referring to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
She urged the council to actively support a political process that engages all parties, including the National Unity Government, civil society, and representatives from the ethnic minority communities, especially women.
The report covers the time from the coup until mid-July and is based on interviews with over 70 victims and witnesses to human rights violations, remote monitoring, credible open sources, and meetings with a range of stakeholders.
“When peaceful protests began nationwide in February, military authorities initially used less-lethal weapons in an unnecessary and disproportionate manner and conducted neighborhood raids, creating an atmosphere of terror,” said the report.
“But the tactics swiftly evolved into systematic, targeted killings and relying on lethal force - including semi-automatic rifles and snipers against protesters. More than 1,120 people have been killed since the coup,” it added.