NEW YORK (22 October 2021) – Myanmar could be on the eve of an even greater human rights catastrophe and loss of life amid reports the military junta is deploying tens of thousands of troops and heavy weapons to northern Myanmar, a UN human rights expert warned the General Assembly today.
“These tactics are ominously reminiscent of those employed by the military before its genocidal attacks against the Rohingya in Rakhine State in 2016 and 2017,” said Tom Andrews, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar. He said he had received information that large numbers of troops were moving into restive regions in the north and northwest.
“We should all be prepared, as the people in this part of Myanmar are prepared, for even more mass atrocity crimes. I desperately hope that I am wrong.”
Andrews urged States to deny the military junta the money, weapons and legitimacy that it needs to continue to hold the people of Myanmar hostage with systematic human rights violations and brutal attacks. He pointed to the recent release of thousands of political prisoners as evidence that pressure on the junta works.
“ASEAN’s announcement that the junta will not be welcome at its upcoming summit strikes at the heart of the junta’s third need — legitimacy . . . Without pressure, without denying the junta that which it needs from the international community, none of the detainees would have been released,” he said, stressing that in addition to denying legitimacy, more must be done to cut the junta off from weapons and money.
Andrews today presented the findings of his annual report to the General Assembly, stating that since the coup, the military junta has engaged in probable crimes against humanity and war crimes.
He reiterated the global call that the Security Council impose an arms embargo on Myanmar and stressed the need to significantly increase financial pressure on the junta, as many in Myanmar are doing with boycotts.
“To date, sanctions have not impacted the ability of the junta to continue to seize State revenues and foreign exchange to enrich its leaders and fuel its attacks on the civilian population,” he said. “The single largest source of revenue for the junta is the oil and gas industry. I encourage Member States to follow the call of several hundred civil society organizations within Myanmar who have called for Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise to be sanctioned.”
Andrews also conveyed a stark message to the General Assembly that he has received from scores of people inside Myanmar: “Many, I dare say most in Myanmar, have come to believe that the world and this body, do not care. Over the last several months they have experienced a steep downward trajectory, including increased human rights violations and attacks by the military junta while, at the same time, they have witnessed a grossly disproportionate response by the international community.
“I come before this venerated body today conveying a simple plea from the people of Myanmar: care about this unfolding catastrophe and then translate that care into meaningful action.
“Targeting these three needs of the junta — weapons, money, and legitimacy — while increasing humanitarian support to the people of Myanmar, is urgently needed and I believe the best means for the international community to support the people in Myanmar.
“There is global responsibility to address this crisis, and it is insufficient to pass it off to those who lack the will or the capacity to take the requisite action, particularly given the scope of the atrocities that are ongoing.”
Andrews reported that since the coup, junta-controlled forces have murdered over 1,100 people, displaced a quarter million, arbitrarily detained over 8,000 people, where many were tortured, including dozens who were tortured to death. He highlighted credible reports he received of junta forces even torturing children.
The Human Rights Council-appointed independent expert said that over 100 journalists lost their freedom, and the junta has attacked and harassed doctors, nurses and other health care professionals — even as Myanmar has suffered through a pandemic. He also said junta forces have abducted and imprisoned family members of those being sought by security forces, including very young children.
Mr. Thomas Andrews (United States of America) is the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar. A former member of the US Congress from Maine, Andrews is a Robina Senior Human Rights Fellow at Yale Law School and an Associate of Harvard University’s Asia Center. He has worked with the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs and parliamentarians, NGOs and political parties in Cambodia, Indonesia, Algeria, Croatia, Serbia, Ukraine and Yemen. He has been a consultant for the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma and the Euro-Burma Network and has run advocacy NGOs including Win Without War and United to End Genocide.
The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Comprising the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, Special Procedures is the general name of the Council's independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.
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