GENEVA (10 February 2021) – A UN human rights expert today expressed alarm at reports of the use of lethal force by security forces against protesters demonstrating against the military coup in Myanmar.
Tom Andrews, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, said all members of the security forces, regardless of rank, had an obligation under international law not to use excessive force, and that they risked being prosecuted if they did so.
“Myanmar military personnel and police need to know that ‘following orders’ is no defence for committing atrocities and any such defence will fail, regardless of their place in the chain of command. International crimes are manifestly unlawful.
“I am alarmed at the increasing levels of force against peaceful protesters,” he said. “People are frightened but also determined. It is imperative that security forces stand down before there are more casualties of protesters who are exercising their fundamental rights to freedom of expression and association.”
During the first week of the coup, hundreds of arbitrary detentions were registered, including members of the National League for Democracy, civil society members and protesters. The whereabouts of many remain unknown and some are being held in incommunicado detention. It is also believed that many activists and human rights defenders have gone into hiding.
“Security forces, including commanders, soldiers and other security personnel have a moral, professional and legal obligation to protect the people of Myanmar, not provoke or assault them,” said Andrews.
“As protesters take their message peacefully to the streets of Myanmar, I remind all security officials and officers that they must not use excessive force against peaceful protesters,” he said.
“Officers, regardless of rank, can be held criminally liable for international crimes, including crimes against humanity involving killing, enforced disappearances, arbitrary detentions and torture. This exposure to criminal liability extends through the entire chain of command, from the highest levels of the military to foot soldiers and police officers, and everyone in between.”
*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, he has a Washington DC based consulting practice, Andrews Strategic Services. 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, has run advocacy NGOs including Win Without War and United to End Genocide, and is a Robina Senior Human Rights Fellow at Yale Law School.
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.
UN Human Rights, country page – Myanmar
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