11 March 2021
Madam President, Distinguished members of the United Nations Human Rights Council,
One month ago, I addressed this body in a special session on the crisis in Myanmar. At that time, ten days after the illegal military coup d’état had begun, I reported that the junta had murdered one individual and arbitrarily detained over 200. In the written report that I filed last week, I documented a total of 23 murders. Credible reports indicate that, as of today, Myanmar security forces have murdered at least 70 people.
Madame President, those murdered were fathers, sons, mothers, daughters, husbands, and wives. They were educators, they were engineers; they were students, they were many ages, but more than half of those murdered were members of Generation Z, or young people under the age of 25.
It is a horrible truth that as soon as I issue a report, the number of murders and arbitrary detentions in Myanmar become outdated. The junta is detaining dozens, sometimes hundreds, every day. As of last night, the total number of arbitrary arrests and detentions since 1 February had risen beyond 2,000, and the violence against protesters, including violence against people sitting peacefully in their homes, is steadily increasing.
In addition to the murders and detentions, there is extensive video evidence of security forces viciously beating protesters, medics, and bystanders. There is video of soldiers and police systematically moving through neighborhoods, destroying property, looting shops, arbitrarily arresting protesters and passersby, and firing indiscriminately into people’s homes. There is shocking video of the aftermath of attacks, including fatal gunshot wounds to the heads of protesters, and video of soldiers dragging or carrying away the dead bodies of their victims.
As I documented in my report, the junta has systematically destroyed legal protections, from freedom of expression, assembly and association, to the right to privacy. It has given itself the authority to invade people’s homes without warning; removed habeas corpus, or the right to appear before a judge to determine whether an arrest is lawful; criminalized any criticism of the junta (even making it illegal to call the junta a “junta”); enabled sweeping surveillance authorities; decimated the free press; banned most trade unions; instituted nightly, countrywide Internet outages; and banned gatherings of more than five people.
Madam President, the country of Myanmar is being controlled by a murderous, illegal regime. Its current leadership perpetrated the atrocity crimes that are the focus of the charge of genocide before the International Court of Justice. And as I document in the annex to my report, the crimes against Rohingya people have continued. Throughout 2020, Myanmar security forces engaged in torture, murder, and enforced disappearances of Rohingya, killing at least 33, in violation of the International Court of Justice’s Provisional Measures Order.
Since the coup, the Myanmar military has attacked and forcibly displaced several thousand members of ethnic nationalities from their homes.
It should come as little surprise that there is growing evidence that this same Myanmar military, led by the same senior leadership, is now likely engaging in crimes against humanity, including the acts of murder, enforced disappearance, persecution, torture, and imprisonment in violation of fundamental rules of international law.
Of course, a full investigation and a trial before a court of law are required to formally find crimes against humanity. And I know that the Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar is collecting evidence on this point right now, but I implore all of you to look at the facts currently available, in light of international legal precedent finding crimes against humanity.
Crimes against humanity require one or more prohibited criminal acts “committed as a part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population, with knowledge of the attack.”
A growing body of reporting is making it increasingly clear that these murders, imprisonments, enforced disappearances, and other acts against the people of Myanmar are:
- part of a coordinated campaign rather than a series of isolated events;
- directed against the civilian population rather than combatants;
- widespread in their frequency—with over 2,000 people arbitrarily detained—and with people murdered in at least 28 townships throughout the county;
- well organized, with coordinated efforts by police and military pointing to higher-level command and control. In other words, this attack on the people is “systematic” rather than accidental; and,
- being carried out with the knowledge of senior leadership. Indeed, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, the leader of the junta, has repeatedly commented on the attacks and the junta issued a warning on state media of the “loss of life” if protests continue. Protests indeed continued, and more peaceful protesters lost their lives.
Madame President, if we accept that there is a strong likelihood that the Myanmar junta is engaged in atrocity crimes against its own people right now, as we sit here, what do we do about it?
Knowing, as we do, the price of international inaction, what action must be taken immediately?
Yesterday, the UN Security Council released a statement expressing their deep concern about developments in Myanmar. They condemned the violence against peaceful protesters and expressed continued support for a democratic transition.
These words are welcome. But, they are wholly insufficient.
Madame President, the people of Myanmar are desperate. They are upholding and defending the highest principles of this body and the United Nations, including their commitment to non-violence. But these principles, and their very lives, are under vicious attack.
The people of Myanmar need not only words of support but supportive ACTION. They need the help of the international community, now.
I realize that not every nation is prepared to act. But, the reluctance of a few nations to act should not prohibit the coordinated action of those that are. The coordinated actions of nations working together will be the most effective actions. Various governments have imposed various sanctions against the military junta in Myanmar. This is welcome, but sanctions will only be truly effective if they are unified and coordinated.
Today, I am therefore urging member states to commit to taking strong, decisive, and coordinated action as a coalition of nations - an emergency Coalition for the People of Myanmar.
Upon forming, I urge this coalition of member states to consider five immediate steps:
- Stop the flow of revenue into the illegal junta’s coffers. This can happen now. Multilateral sanctions should be imposed on both senior junta leaders and their major sources of revenue, including military owned and controlled enterprises and the Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise.
One and a half years ago, the Independent International Fact Finding Mission on Myanmar concluded that no business “should enter into an economic or financial relationship with the security forces of Myanmar, in particular the military, or any enterprise owned or controlled by them or their individual members, until and unless they are restructured and transformed…”
Since the coup, some businesses stepped forward and cut ties with the junta, and they are highlighted in my written report. However, many continue to engage in business with military owned enterprises. If companies won’t willingly disengage, member states should compel them through sanctions.
Myanmar’s natural gas projects will generate an estimated $1 billion in revenue this year. Without sanctions, the illegal military junta in Myanmar will be able to use these funds to support their criminal enterprise and their attacks on innocent people. More than 400 civil society organizations in Myanmar share my concern as reflected in a joint statement calling on the international community to ensure that oil and gas revenues are used only for humanitarian purposes or held until the legal control of the resources of the Government of Myanmar can be established. The emergency Coalition for the People of Myanmar should enact sanctions that include the Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise to ensure that oil and gas revenues do not flow to the junta.
- Coalition member states should outlaw the export of arms to the Myanmar military. Forty-one countries have already imposed some form of arms embargo against the Myanmar military. What is needed is a coordinated embargo that will end the sale of weapons and the transfer of dual-use technology to Myanmar. This can save lives.
- Member states that have universal jurisdiction laws should initiate investigations of these ongoing crimes and make preparations to file charges against Myanmar’s senior security officials.
- Stop the flow of humanitarian and development aid through the junta. Work directly with local civil society and aid organizations whenever possible.
- Finally, I urge Member states to deny recognition of the military junta as the legitimate government representing the people of Myanmar precisely because they are not.
These are but some of the actions that nations, working together, can take to fulfill our collective responsibility. Others can be considered. But what is critically important is that Member states coordinate their actions and work together in a coalition committed to standing with and for a people under attack.
Despite the widespread and systematic atrocities that the Myanmar military and Police Force are committing daily, the people of Myanmar continue to rise up from every corner of the nation as a diverse yet powerfully unified whole. They are doing so to demand democracy, human rights, an immediate end to the violence and an end to the illegitimate junta. The nonviolent civil disobedience movement, or CDM, is effective and growing, drawing its organic power from the unflinching commitment of the Myanmar people. Myanmar has never appeared to be more unified.
But, they need our help and they need it now.
Madame President, I sincerely hope that the international community will rise to the occasion of this historic moment by following the lead and inspiration of the people of Myanmar, by coming to their aid as a coordinated and committed whole.
They deserve no less.