Myanmar in “deadly freefall” into even deeper violence - UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
06 July 2023
- Delivered by Volker Türk, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
This Council has heard report after report on the human rights situation in Myanmar.
With each successive update, it is almost 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.
A regime imposed by generals for the last two and a half years has snatched away the optimism that Myanmar’s people once held for peace, democracy, and a more prosperous future.
Civilians live at the whim of a reckless military authority that relies on systematic control tactics, fear and terror.
Civilians also bear the devastating brunt of the grotesque violence, including against older people, people with disabilities and infants.
The situation has become untenable.
We see a spiralling economy, worsening the poverty already endured by much of the population.
Natural resources are being exploited at dangerous rates, causing irreversible environmental harm.
The voices of civil society and journalists are being strangled.
Arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances and torture continue unabated.
And the country’s minorities again face brutal attacks by the military in border regions, with increasing numbers of people crossing international frontiers in search of safety and protection. More than one million Rohingya remain in neighbouring Bangladesh where they live in the world’s largest refugee camp in deplorable conditions. The conditions for their return to Myanmar are still non-existent. The military continues to carry out atrocities in their home state of Rakhine, where they are denied citizenship.
Credible sources indicate that as of yesterday, 3,747 individuals have died at the hands of the military since they took power, and 23,747 have been arrested. These figures represent the minimum that can be documented and verified - the true number of casualties is likely to be far higher.
Every day, the military’s ruthless so-called “four cuts” strategy continues to wreak destruction.
Entire villages are razed and burned to the ground, collectively punishing civilians, by depriving them of shelter, food, water, and life-saving aid. Since the coup began, the military has scorched at least 70,000 homes across the country, 70 percent of which were in Sagaing region. Over 1.5 million people have been forcibly displaced with minimal access to humanitarian aid.
Incessant airstrikes and artillery shelling are destroying homes and stealing lives. In the first six months of this year, my Office reported a 33 percent increase in indiscriminate airstrikes compared to the first half of last year, with rising attacks on civilian targets, including villages, schools, hospitals and places of worship.
On 11 April in Pa Zi Gyi village in Sagaing region, up to 168 civilians, including scores of women and children, were killed in an air attack.
Artillery attacks have also dramatically increased, with over 563 this year, representing already 80 percent of the total attacks last year. My Office also continues to document repeated violations of the most brutal forms: sexual violence, mass killings, extra-judicial executions, beheadings, dismemberments, and mutilations.
This constitutes a complete disregard of the principles of international human rights and international humanitarian law.
And it displays an utter contempt for humanity.
The report I present to the Council today focuses on the systematic denial by the military of life-saving humanitarian aid for civilians. They have put in place a raft of legal, financial, and bureaucratic barriers to ensure people in need do not receive and cannot access assistance.
This obstruction of life-saving aid is deliberate and targeted, a calculated denial of fundamental rights and freedoms for large swathes of the population.
This is being done in a situation where one-third of the entire population requires urgent help – including access to adequate housing, enough food and water, or employment.
In mid-May, when Cyclone Mocha made landfall with devastating effect in Rakhine, Chin, Magway and Sagaing, the military actively prevented independent needs assessments, and obstructed access to information. They suspended all travel authorisations in Rakhine State, eventually allowing distribution of aid to resume if it was not cyclone-related.
Importantly, all disbursements of Cyclone Mocha-related humanitarian aid remain frozen unless delivered by the military apparatus. They have threatened legal action against anyone reporting figures different to theirs on the number of Rohingya deaths, fixed by the military at 116, but believed to be higher.
To date, because of lack of access, it has not been possible to confirm the number of Rohingya deaths and those of members from other communities.
I deplore the direct attacks on humanitarian staff. Local organizations, which provide the vast majority of humanitarian aid, face the greatest risks in carrying out their work. Up to 40 humanitarian workers have been killed and over 200 arrested since the coup.
The already fragile health system is now in disarray. Despite the efforts of grassroots organizations, a de facto ban on transportation of medicines and other medical supplies across large parts of Myanmar has resulted in lack of access to medical assistance.
15.2 million people are in need of urgent food and nutrition support. The price of food rose 177 percent in 2022, and the continued violence, land-grabbing and high risk posed by mines and unexploded ordnance has resulted in a marked decrease in food production.
The need for unhindered humanitarian access throughout Myanmar has never been more urgent. I call on Member States to fund the Myanmar Humanitarian Response Plan and to provide direct and flexible funding for local organisations on the ground that are desperately trying to reach people in need.
In line with Security Council resolution 2669 I repeat the call for an immediate end to this senseless violence.
Without delay, I also urge the authorities to release the 19,377 political prisoners detained throughout Myanmar, including deposed President Win Mynt and State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi.
The path out of this crisis must be anchored in accountability for the grave human rights violations and other violations of international law that are occurring. I urge the Security Council to refer the situation to the International Criminal Court. Any political solution to this protracted emergency must include accountability.
Regarding the one million Rohingya in Bangladesh, voluntary repatriation can only occur when conditions for safe, sustainable, and dignified returns to Myanmar are in place and when the full range of their rights will be respected and upheld. The Rohingya themselves must be at the centre of decision-making. Returns must only take place with their fully informed and truly voluntary choice.
For its part, the international community must continue to provide support to host communities, including and notably in Bangladesh, and adequate protection for all people who are crossing international borders.
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.
This Council needs to consider how to bring to light the business interests that support the military and keep them afloat.
Among the numerous crimes perpetrated against the people of Myanmar, I was outraged to hear of the arrests of over a hundred people by the military on 19 June. Their crime was buying, selling, carrying, or wearing a flower to celebrate Aung San Suu Kyi’s 78th birthday.
It is difficult to imagine that Myanmar’s people – who just two and a half years ago were looking forward to a better future – are being stifled by an oppressor which regards bearing a flower as a criminal act.
For decades, the people of Myanmar have faced repression and isolation. But they have never stopped calling for their fundamental rights to be respected, nor have they ceased to make great sacrifices for a democratic future.
I stand in solidarity with Myanmar’s people. I honour their extraordinary strength, spirit, and resilience as they endure day after day of crisis.
I want to emphasise that the Rohingya are an integral part of Myanmar’s people and the future of the country.
I remind the international community, the Security Council, ASEAN, and all Member States with influence over Min Aung Hlaing and the Tatmadaw of their responsibility to exert maximum pressure to end this crisis.
It is of the utmost urgency that we restore all conditions necessary for Myanmar’s people to find a way out of the heartache, and to live their lives in freedom and safety.