UN accuses Myanmar army of war crimes, torture, killings

In its first broad human rights report since Myanmar’s coup, UN says army has shown flagrant disregard for human life.

Smoke and flames billow from vehicles set alight in Hpruso township. Dozens of civilians were killed in the December, 2021 attack
The UN report said it was based on interviews with many victims of abuse and witnesses [KNDF via AP]

Myanmar’s military has engaged in systematic human rights violations, many amounting to war crimes and crimes against humanity, the United Nations said in its first comprehensive human rights report since last year’s coup.

Security forces have shown a flagrant disregard for human life, using air raids and heavy weapons on populated areas and deliberately targeting civilians, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said on Tuesday.

Many victims were shot in the head, burned to death, arrested arbitrarily, tortured, or used as human shields, she said in a statement on the report, which urged “meaningful action” by the international community.

“The appalling breadth and scale of violations of international law suffered by the people of Myanmar demand a firm, unified, and resolute international response,” Bachelet said.

The military has said it has a duty to ensure peace and security. It has denied atrocities have taken place and has blamed “terrorists” for causing unrest.

The military has failed to consolidate power after its overthrow of Aung San Suu Kyi’s elected government in February 2021 triggered a backlash of a kind not seen in decades.

Western countries have imposed broad sanctions on the military and its businesses after anti-coup protests were lethally suppressed by troops, with thousands of people arrested and many prosecuted, including Aung San Suu Kyi, who has since been convicted of crimes that include incitement.

‘Systemic attacks’

The UN report said it was based on interviews with many victims of abuse, as well as witnesses, whose accounts were corroborated with satellite imagery, verified multimedia files and open-source information.

The army has met sustained resistance in the countryside from militias allied with the deposed government. The UN report said troops had carried out mass killings in the Sagaing region, with some victims found dead with their hands and feet tied.

In Kayah State, burned bodies of women and children were found, some in positions indicating they had tried to escape and were burned alive, it said.

The report found detainees were tortured during interrogation, including suspension from ceilings, electrocution, injection of drugs and some subjected to sexual violence, including rape.

“We have really been able to identify a pattern over the past year, which indicates that this is planned, coordinated, systemic attacks; that there are clear indications that they would amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity,” UN human rights office spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani told reporters in Geneva.

“This is the clearest yet indication of the commission of these crimes.”

In the past year, the military has year scolded the UN and its independent experts for interference and what it calls reliance on distorted information from partisan groups.

The report said that at least 1,600 people had been killed by security forces and their affiliates, while more than 12,500 people had been detained.

At least 440,000 others have been displaced and 14 million are in need of urgent humanitarian assistance, the delivery of which has largely been blocked by the military in new and pre-existing areas of need, said the report.

Myanmar’s human rights record had been under the spotlight even before the 2021 coup.

The majority of the country’s Rohingya Muslim minority was forced to leave in 2017 after being persecuted by the Myanmar military in a campaign that involved the burning of Rohingya villages and the killing of civilians.

At the time, the UN labelled the actions of the Myanmar military “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing”.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies