Two Years of Entrenched Impunity in Myanmar: A Call for Effective Coordinated International Action – Myanmar
February 1, 2023 marks the second anniversary of the military coup in Myanmar. Two years ago, the military junta annulled the November 2020 election result, overthrew the civilian government, arrested elected leaders and used excessive force to repress the civil disobedience movement. Since then, the military has committed crimes against humanity and war crimes with impunity. The security forces, commanded by General Min Aung Hlaing, killed over 2,901 civilians, including 282 children. The military has weaponized sexual violence and torture against pro-democracy activists and unlawfully arrested and detained over 17,500 people in Myanmar. According to the Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar (IIMM), women and children have been severely affected by the mass atrocities committed by the military junta. The military junta executed four civilians in July, in clear violation of international human rights law and the country’s 34-year-old moratorium on the death penalty. Military court has sentenced more than 142 people to death in closed trials amid serious concerns about due process, independence and impartiality.
The military’s assault on ethnic communities and religious minorities, particularly Christians and Muslims, continues unabated. In violation of international humanitarian law, military violence against civilians routinely includes raids, torching of educational and religious buildings, targeted killings and enforced disappearances. In December, the Myanmar military destroyed more than 150 civilian homes in the Sagaing region in a scorched earth campaign. In October, the military carried out airstrikes at a concert organized by the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) in Hpakant Township, Kachin State, killing at least 80 civilians and injuring more than 100. The military also deliberately use internationally banned weapons such as cluster munitions, which kill indiscriminately and cause widespread human suffering. In addition, despite the international ban, the military has continued the deliberate use of anti-personnel mines in and around villages and communities, killing and injuring civilians, including health workers and aid workers. Artillery shelling of civilian areas and conducting airstrikes, facilitated by companies supplying aviation fuel to the Myanmar military, have resulted in death and destruction of civilian property.
The military’s brazen disregard for civilian life is aided by the unhindered sale and transfer of arms and ammunition by UN member states. According to the Special Advisory Council on Myanmar (SAC-M), the supply of raw materials, parts and components, machinery and technology by companies (including state-owned companies) benefits the military in the manufacture of weapons. The piecemeal application of sanctions by a select group of countries in the absence of a UN resolution has emboldened the military junta and facilitated atrocities against civilians.
The humanitarian blockade imposed by the military has worsened the situation on the ground over the past year, preventing the movement and distribution of essential goods and services, including food and medical supplies, for the population. Recently passed regulations governing the registration of non-profit organizations further restrict the scope of operations and risk criminal penalties for helpers. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), more than 15.2 million people in Myanmar are food insecure and 17.6 million people are expected to need urgent assistance.
In Rakhine state, despite an informal ceasefire, conflict between the Arakan army and the military junta escalated last year, displacing thousands. More than 600,000 Rohingyas still live there de facto Detention camps in Rakhine State without regular basic services. Increasing restrictions on the Rohingya’s freedom of movement, access to healthcare and livelihood combined with arbitrary arrests and detention have prompted thousands, including women and children, to flee by sea. There was a 360 percent increase in such escapes compared to the previous year. At least 348 people died or went missing at sea in 2022, according to UNHCR.
The Myanmar military’s abject failure to respect and follow the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) five-point consensus has repeatedly demonstrated the futility of the deal. The inclusion of military officials in ASEAN meetings also emboldens senior junta leadership. The rampant violence in Myanmar has the potential to threaten regional stability and challenge the relevance and effectiveness of the regional bloc. The State Administrative Council’s (SAC) push to hold “free and fair elections” in August 2023 is an attempt to gain legitimacy and risks further deepening the crisis.
The UN Security Council’s passage of the long-overdue Chapter VI resolution, while a welcome step, failed to impose targeted sanctions on the junta and a comprehensive arms embargo on Myanmar. UN member states must take coordinated action against the military, rather than simply shifting responsibility to ASEAN.
The Asia Justice Coalition expresses its grave concern at the crimes committed by the Myanmar military and the inaction of the international community. It demands:
– The Myanmar junta to immediately end all violations of international law, including torture, targeted killings, enforced disappearances, and release all those arbitrarily detained, quash wrongful convictions and quash death sentences.
– The military to stop ongoing attacks and military operations across the country.
– The military junta should enable safe, fast and unhindered humanitarian access.
– ASEAN to revise the five-point consensus and set out a concrete and time-bound action plan, bar Myanmar from all its meetings, and assist UN member states in enforcing sanctions and a global arms embargo.
– The UN Security Council imposes a binding global arms embargo, including a ban on security assistance, arms sales and transfers, dual-use technology and the suspension of jet fuel supplies.
– The UN Security Council imposes targeted economic sanctions on junta leaders, military companies such as timber, oil and natural gas companies.
– The UN Security Council should urgently refer the situation in Myanmar to the International Criminal Court for a full investigation.
– UN member states to impose targeted economic sanctions on the military of Myanmar, ensure effective implementation and prosecute sanctions violators.
– UN member states and international companies to stop the supply and transfer of arms, including raw materials, machinery and technology, to the Myanmar military.
– Neighboring countries, including India, Thailand, Indonesia, Bangladesh, to develop a comprehensive regional response to the refugee crisis, to provide protection, assistance and humanitarian and legal assistance to all refugees fleeing Myanmar, and to authorize cross-border emergency assistance for internal needs of displaced persons in Myanmar.
– All countries must use all avenues and diplomatic channels at their disposal to seek justice and accountability for the people of Myanmar, including civil and criminal lawsuits based on the principle of universal jurisdiction.