Myanmar crisis deepens, UN envoy warns of ‘catastrophic toll’
More than 13.2 million people do not have enough food in Myanmar and 1.3 million are displaced, UN envoy says.
United Nations special envoy Noeleen Heyzer has condemned an air raid by Myanmar’s military in northern Kachin state that killed as many as 80 people, as she warned that a human rights and humanitarian crisis in the military-ruled country is exacting “a catastrophic toll on the people”.
Heyzer told the UN General Assembly’s human rights committee on Tuesday that more than 13.2 million people do not have enough to eat in Myanmar, 1.3 million are displaced, and the military continues to bomb indiscriminately, burn homes and buildings, and kill civilians.
Making her first briefing at the UN in New York since she visited Myanmar in August and met the head of the military government, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, Heyzer said resistance to military rule was continuing in the country.
“There is a new political reality in Myanmar: a people demanding change, no longer willing to accept military rule,” she said.
Heyzer said she had made several requests during her meeting with Myanmar’s commander-in-chief, including ending aerial bombardments and the burning of civilian infrastructure.
She also called on the general to release all child and political prisoners, place a moratorium on executions, ensure the wellbeing of the country’s imprisoned former leader Aung San Suu Kyi, and allow the return of more than one million Rohingya refugees who have fled to Bangladesh.
Much of the international community, including Myanmar’s fellow members in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), have expressed frustration at the hard line that Myanmar’s military has taken in resisting calls to end the violence.
In a statement on Wednesday, the ASEAN chair, which is currently held by Cambodia, cited the recent bombing of Myanmar’s largest prison and the air attack on a celebration in Kachin state’s Hpakant township on Sunday night, which is reported to have killed as many as 80 people.
“We are deeply saddened by the growing casualties, and the immense suffering that ordinary people in Myanmar have endured,” the bloc’s chair said, adding the violence was undermining efforts to implement a peace “consensus” agreed between ASEAN and Myanmar’s general last year.
“We, therefore, strongly urge utmost restraint and immediate cessation to violence,” said the statement, which called for all parties to pursue dialogue.
ASEAN foreign ministers are due to meet on Thursday to discuss the crisis.
A group of 457 Myanmar civil society organisations has called in an open letter for ASEAN leaders to scrap the peace plan it agreed with the military rulers of the country and to instead work with civilian leaders and the country’s shadow National Unity Government (NUG).
The NUG includes members of the parliament returned by voters in the November 2020 election – before the military’s February 2001 coup – as well as representatives from the country’s different ethnic groups, including those fighting the military.
The New York-based Human Rights Watch said on Tuesday that the Myanmar military’s air strike on the Kachin gathering on Sunday amounted to “crimes against humanity” and should be referred to the International Criminal Court (ICC).
Between 300 and 500 people were said to have been attending the celebration to mark the founding of the Kachin Independence Organisation when Myanmar military jets dropped four bombs on the gathering. Those killed included Kachin military officers and soldiers, musicians, business owners, and many other civilians.
“We really need to see the UN Security Council step up,” HRW’s Manny Maung told the Associated Press.
Maung called on the international body to pass a resolution that enforces an arms embargo and said that “at the very least” the atrocities should be referred to the ICC, given that it was “evident that war crimes are happening”.