Oral update on the human rights situation in Myanmar to the Human Rights Council
Opening statement by Nada Al- Nashif UN Acting High Commissioner for Human Rights
I welcome the opportunity to provide you with this oral update on the human rights situation in Myanmar, further to Human Rights Council resolution 49/23.
Since the last update to this Council in June, the people of Myanmar have been caught in a rapid downward spiral, with growing suffering, fear, and insecurity.
Urgent action is needed to reverse this catastrophic situation and to restore peace, democracy, and sustainable development.
The Myanmar military’s offensives throughout the country are designed not only to target its opponents but also to punish any communities it deems to be supporting them.
Military tactics increasingly involve indiscriminate attacks and weaponry. The growing use of air power and artillery during the monsoon season is significantly impacting civilians and residential areas. In Magway and Sagaing regions as well as Kachin, Shan, Kayah, and Kayin states, residential buildings – as many as 30,000 - schools and other civilian infrastructure have been burnt to the ground during military ground operations.
In an emblematic incident documented by OHCHR, on 11 August military forces attacked an armed group presence in Yin Paung Taing village in Sagaing region with jets and helicopters, and then raided the village. Over 100 villagers were arrested, alleged to have been used as human shields and porters by the military. After three days of intense fighting, villagers, including women and children, were found dead, and 20 of those arrested are still missing.
In another airstrike in Let Yet Kone village in Sagaing on 16 September the military targeted a school and a nearby monastery killing at least six children and injuring many others, including teachers. Eyewitnesses reported that 11 wounded people, including nine children and two teachers, were taken away and remain missing.
Since February 2021, at least 2.316 people (including at least 188 children) have been killed. Widespread fear and insecurity among the civilian population has forced over 1 million individuals (of whom, 45,500 into neighboring countries) to leave their homes and now live in precarious conditions without access to food, medical assistance, and other basic services. The humanitarian crisis now brings fears of starvation, with the military largely denying humanitarian access, including recent orders to halt humanitarian operations in northern and central Rakhine State.
Over 15,607 people have been arrested with some 12,464 remaining in detention. The death toll of people in custody is steadily rising. At least 273 persons have died in formal detention settings, such as prisons, detention and interrogation centers, and police stations as well as at least 266 reported deaths following raids and arrests in villages, at least 40 of whom were reportedly killed with headshots.
Family members reported seeing signs of physical abuse, ill-treatment, or suspected torture, despite being informed that the death was a result of natural causes. There are 111 reported cases of people being burned, either alive or after being executed, in what appears to be a tactic of summary executions and attempts to destroy evidence of crimes.
Myanmar’s military-controlled judicial system has also been weaponized to execute opponents. The military executed four individuals, including a former member of Parliament and a democracy activist, following a secretive military court trial, in violation of fair trial standards and rule of law principles. These executions, which are the first in about thirty years, represent an important indicator of the regression of human rights in Myanmar and the military’s complete disregard for international law.
OHCHR has also documented that the military has arrested and charged at least 10 lawyers who were defending people charged with spurious, politically motivated offences.
Since February 2021, civic space has been decimated. The military’s announced plans to create a register and impose a new tax on mobile phones will increase the risk of surveillance, further imperilling human rights defenders, journalists and members of the pro-democracy movement. It will also increase the cost of accessing the internet for ordinary people and further restrict freedom of expression and access to information. Just days ago, the military also announced that expressions of solidarity on social media to the National Unity Government and Peoples’ Defense Force, including by posting a “like” or an emoji, risked up to 10 years’ imprisonment.
The relative stability experienced in Rakhine State since the start of the coup has proved very short lived. My office has received reports of killings, injuries, arbitrary detention and mass displacement of civilians resulting from clashes between the Myanmar military and the Arakan Army in several townships of Rakhine and Chin State and along the border, with reported cases of shelling into Bangladesh.
Minority communities especially Rohingya and Kaman Muslims are particularly vulnerable, with the military imposing new restrictions on delivery of humanitarian aid and essential goods in large areas of Rakhine.
Last month marked the fifth anniversary of the military’s 2017 campaign of violence against the Rohingya, involving the killing of thousands and pushing over 740,000 Rohingya to Bangladesh. During the former High Commissioner’s visit to the refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar last month, Rohingya refugees shared their hopes of being able to return home when the conditions permit. However, conditions for safe, dignified and sustainable returns are not yet evident. The international community should support Bangladesh in providing protection, education and livelihood opportunities for the refugees, while continuing to pursue international accountability efforts.
Despite widespread international condemnation, Myanmar is yet to address the root causes of Rohingya persecution. Rohingya are deprived of citizenship rights and civil documentation, limiting their freedom of movement, and access to health and education services. They face daily extortion by camp authorities, village administrators, police, and military.
Most Rohingya in Rakhine live in desperate poverty, driving them, at high risk, to flee Myanmar, often paying large sums of money to human traffickers. United Nations figures indicate that informal attempts to leave and arrests for travelling without authorization doubled in 2022 compared to the previous year. Rohingya are often deprived of adequate legal representation and coerced into accepting guilt in order to avoid longer sentences.
The cycle of violations must end.
Unfortunately, diplomatic efforts have so far yielded limited results. I hope the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Myanmar’s recent visit to Myanmar and Bangladesh can build momentum. ASEAN must also reinvigorate its efforts to bring humanitarian support and promote a resolution to the crisis, in consultation with the people’s representatives, and with support from regional powers.
I reiterate calls to the military to cease violence, including by imposing a moratorium on executions, to free all political prisoners, to ensure access to humanitarian aid and return Myanmar to democracy based on respect for human rights and the rule of law.
I also urge this Council to consider strengthening OHCHR’s existing documentation mandate in order to enhance monitoring of the situation and support accountability efforts, including the work of the Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar.