New report finds evidence the military is using battlefield weapons and conflict-hardened troops against protesters.
The United Nations Security Council has condemned the escalating violence in Myanmar and called on the army to show restraint in its response to peaceful protesters, as the United States imposed sanctions on two children of junta leader Min Aung Hlaing.
In a statement issued on Wednesday following days of talks that sometimes broke down, the 15-member council said it “strongly condemns the violence against peaceful protesters, including against women, youth and children.
“The council calls for the military to exercise utmost restraint and emphasizes that it is following the situation closely.”
Language that would have condemned the February 1 coup and threatened possible further action was removed from the UK-drafted text, due to opposition by China, Russia, India and Vietnam.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he hoped the statement would push the military to realise it “is absolutely essential” that all prisoners are released and that the results of a November election are respected.
The army has justified the coup by saying that the election, won by Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy in a landslide, was marred by fraud – a claim rejected by the electoral commission. The junta has promised a new election, but has not said when it might take place.
Guterres acknowledged that Myanmar was not a “perfect democracy” before the coup.
“It was still heavily under military control in many aspects, which makes this coup even more difficult to understand, especially the accusations of electoral fraud by those that were largely in control of the country,” he said.
The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, an advocacy group tracking arrests since the military seized power, said on Wednesday night that more than 60 people had been killed since the protests began. Some 2,008 people had been detained with 1,689 still in custody, it said.
While welcoming the Security Council statement, rights groups monitoring the situation in Myanmar said more action was needed.
“It is a welcome development to see the Council finally take action on the situation in Myanmar,” said Grant Shubin. Legal Director at the Global Justice Center in New York. “But let’s be clear – this is the bare minimum. It must be treated as a starting point. Strong condemnations and calls for adherence to human rights are important, but the people of Myanmar aren’t asking the international community for statements. They are asking for concrete action to stop the military’s violent assault on democracy.”
In a statement on Wednesday, the US Treasury Department said it had sanctioned two adult children of Min Aung Hlaing, the army chief who led the coup.
The sanctions, in response to the coup and an intensified crackdown on peaceful protesters who oppose it, involve Aung Pyae Sone and Khin Thiri Thet Mon, as well as six companies they control.
“The leaders of the coup, and their adult family members, should not be able to continue to derive benefits from the regime as it resorts to violence and tightens its stranglehold on democracy,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement.
“We will not hesitate to take further action against those who instigate violence and suppress the will of the people. These sanctions are directed at those responsible for the coup, in support of the people of Burma.”
— soe zeya tun (@soezeya) March 11, 2021
The new sanctions come amid growing calls for accountability.
This week, Myanmar police officers who fled to India recounted how they were ordered to fire on demonstrators.
Tha Peng, a 27-year-old police lance corporal, told the Reuters news agency that he was ordered to shoot at protesters to disperse them in the town of Khampat on February 27. His superiors told him to “shoot till they are dead”, Tha Peng said.
The Myanmar military has said it is acting with restraint in handling what it has described as demonstrations by “riotous protesters”, whom it accuses of attacking police and harming national security and stability.
On Thursday, Amnesty International released a report accusing the military of going on a “killing spree” by using battlefield weapons against protesters and deploying combat units that have been accused of human rights abuses to cities including Yangon and Mandalay.
“These are not the actions of overwhelmed, individual officers making poor decisions. These are unrepentant commanders already implicated in crimes against humanity, deploying their troops and murderous methods in the open,” the report said.
“The military authorities must immediately cease their deadly onslaught, de-escalate the situation nationwide, and release all those arbitrarily detained.”
On Wednesday, Myanmar security forces stormed a compound housing striking railway workers and surrounded hundreds of anti-coup protesters in two locations in the main city of Yangon.
Reuters reported that more than 100 people were arrested at the two sites.
“Some of [the protesters] were severely beaten,” a local rescue worker told the AFP news agency.