War crimes committed by Myanmar’s military, including mass executions and sexual violence, have become “increasingly frequent and brazen”, a team of United Nations investigators said.
In a report published on Tuesday, the Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar (IIMM) said there was “strong evidence that the Myanmar military and its affiliate militias have committed three types of combat-related war crimes with increasing frequency and brazenness”.
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The Southeast Asian country has been ravaged by deadly violence since a coup deposed leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s government in February 2021, unleashing a bloody crackdown on dissent that has triggered fighting across swaths of the nation.
The report, which covered the period between July 2022 and June 2023, cited “killings of civilians or combatants detained during operations”, as well as torture and horrific sexual violence.
“Every loss of life in Myanmar is tragic, but the devastation caused to whole communities through aerial bombardments and village burnings is particularly shocking,” said Nicholas Koumjian, head of the IIMM.
“Our evidence points to a dramatic increase in war crimes and crimes against humanity in the country, with widespread and systematic attacks against civilians, and we are building case files that can be used by courts to hold individual perpetrators responsible.”
‘Highest level of cruelty’
The IIMM was established by the UN Human Rights Council in 2018 to collect evidence of the most serious international crimes and prepare files for criminal prosecution.
While the team has never been permitted to visit Myanmar, it said it had engaged with more than 700 sources and had collected “over 23 million information items”, including witness statements, documents, photographs, videos, forensic evidence and satellite imagery.
The team – already cooperating with the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court – said it “plans to accelerate its collection of evidence of the most serious international crimes”.
The investigators said they were particularly looking for “linkage evidence” demonstrating the responsibility of specific individuals, especially high-level officials.
The IIMM report explained that military commanders have a duty under international law to prevent and punish war crimes committed by those under their command.
“Repeatedly ignoring such crimes may indicate that the higher authorities intended the commission of these crimes,” the report said.
It highlighted evidence of the use of child soldiers by “various armed actors”, and said it was seeing “more and more evidence concerning torture, sexual violence and other forms of severe mistreatment at numerous detention facilities”.
The evidence indicated that such crimes were “being committed with the highest levels of cruelty and harm to the victims, including rape with objects, other forms of humiliation, mutilation, gang or serial rape and sexual enslavement”, the report said.
The IIMM said it was also investigating rampant sexual violence committed during the bloody crackdown on Myanmar’s Muslim Rohingya minority that in 2017 resulted in the displacement of nearly a million people.
“Sexual and gender-based crimes are amongst the most heinous crimes that we are investigating,” said Koumjian, saying these were “pervasive during the Rohingya clearance operations.”
The military has previously denied atrocities have taken place, saying it is carrying out a legitimate campaign against “terrorists”.