A new task force was launched on Monday to investigate evidence of human rights violations in Myanmar five months after the military removed elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi and plunged the Southeast Asian country into turmoil.
The British-government funded project, Myanmar Witness, said it would be sharing information with the United Nations’ Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar, which is probing suspected crimes in Myanmar.
The initiative comes as Western countries seek to increase pressure on Myanmar’s military rulers over accusations of human rights abuses, with the United Nations saying more than 880 people have been killed by security forces since the coup – a figure the military says is exaggerated.
“Myanmar Witness will independently collect, preserve, process, investigate, verify and review incidents of possible interferences with human rights,” the group said.
It said it would encourage submissions from civilians and also independently verify incidents on social media – where Myanmar citizens have posted pictures and videos that appear to show killings, assaults and other abuses.
Myanmar Witness said it had already uncovered and verified evidence of Myanmar army reprisals, shelling of civilian areas and religious buildings, and indications of an intention to harm, if not kill, demonstrators.
Western countries and rights groups have condemned what they brand atrocities by security forces in Myanmar.
The military authorities have said they only use force when necessary to counter threats to national security.
Violence since the coup has driven more than 230,000 people from their homes, according to the United Nations.
The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, which has been tracking the post-coup crackdown, says at least 888 people have been killed by security forces since February with nearly 5,200 in detention.
The military has disputed the figures, but has not given its own estimates.
It has claimed its power grab was necessary because of alleged fraud in last November’s election, won by Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party in a landslide. Its claims have been dismissed by the electoral commission.