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Myanmar: Concrete UN Security Council Action Needed

Human Rights Catastrophe Intensifies Since December Resolution

A man sits in front of a house in Shan State that was destroyed during fighting between Myanmar security forces and the Ta'ang National Liberation Army, January 10, 2023.  © 2023 Sipa via AP Images

(New York) – The United Nations Security Council should build on its December 2022 resolution on Myanmar by adopting tangible measures to hold the junta accountable for ongoing abuses, Human Rights Watch said. The council will hold a session on Myanmar on March 13, 2023, and hear reports from Noeleen Heyzer, the UN secretary-general’s special envoy on Myanmar, and Retno Marsudi, Indonesia’s foreign minister and head of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) office of the special envoy on Myanmar.

Security Council members should consider the December resolution on Myanmar, which denounced the military’s rights violations since the February 1, 2021 coup, as only a first step to reinvigorate global scrutiny of the junta’s atrocities. The council should take meaningful actions under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, including instituting a global arms embargo, referring the country situation to the International Criminal Court, and imposing targeted sanctions on junta leadership and military-owned companies.

“Myanmar’s junta has demonstrated it’s impervious to statements of condemnation or concern,” said Louis Charbonneau, UN director at Human Rights Watch. “Its disregard of the Security Council’s December resolution shows the need for a new resolution imposing strong measures like an arms embargo and targeted sanctions for senior military officials and companies linked to the military.”

Since December, junta security forces have killed at least 263 people through artillery shelling, airstrikes, and arson attacks on villages, as well as torture, rape, and executions in custody, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP). The authorities have arrested at least 486 people and sentenced at least 401 over the same period, including teachers, monks, doctors and nurses, lawyers, National League for Democracy (NLD) legislators and party officials, and aid workers.

Most of the convictions have carried sentences of between 10 years to life in prison under “terrorism” or “incitement” provisions put in place or expanded by the junta to broadly criminalize the opposition movement.

The junta has committed widespread and systematic abuses against the civilian population – including extrajudicial killings, torture, and wrongful imprisonment – that amount to crimes against humanity. Many attacks on civilians and villages are apparent war crimes. Since February 2021, security forces have killed more than 3,000 people and arbitrarily arrested over 20,000.

In February, the junta extended its manufactured state of emergency for an additional six months before declaring martial law in 40 new townships across a number of states and regions, transferring all executive and judicial power to the head of the relevant regional military command.

The December council resolution called for “full, safe and unhindered humanitarian access,” expressing deep concern at the “increasingly large numbers of internally displaced persons and dramatic increase in humanitarian need.” However, the Myanmar junta is increasing blockages on humanitarian assistance to prevent aid from reaching populations in need as a form of collective punishment. Since the resolution was adopted, military operations in the southeast and northwest have displaced more than 150,000 civilians, bringing the total number of people displaced since the coup to 1.3 million. Armed clashes have affected almost 80 percent of the country’s townships.

The December resolution contained numerous references to ASEAN, which adopted a “five-point consensus” in April 2021 in response to the Myanmar coup. Junta chief Sr. Gen. Min Aung Hlaing has since rejected each point of the consensus while exploiting the international community’s deference to the regional bloc. As this year’s ASEAN chair, Indonesia should reroute the bloc’s approach to more effectively isolate the Myanmar junta while soliciting ASEAN support for additional Security Council measures and cooperation with other countries’ efforts to block the flow of revenue and arms to the junta.

“The generals have embarked on a scorched earth policy in an attempt to stamp out opposition,” Volker Türk, the UN high commissioner for human rights, reported earlier this month. “The military, emboldened by continuous and absolute impunity, has consistently shown disregard for international obligations and principles. Urgent, concrete action is needed to end this festering catastrophe.”

Security Council members, in light of the junta’s flagrant noncompliance with the ASEAN five-point consensus and December resolution, should use today’s session to identify concrete steps to counter the grave abuses and violations of international human rights and humanitarian law being inflicted daily.

“The UN special envoy and Indonesian foreign minister should make clear to Security Council members that the junta’s killings, torture, unlawful arrests, and war crimes demand more targeted action,” Charbonneau said. “Cutting off the junta’s supply of money and weapons is a critical next step to stanch the atrocities being carried out every day in the country.”

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