Deep fears of violent crackdown in Myanmar

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has voiced “deep fears” of a violent crackdown on dissenting voices in Myanmar, where the military assumed all powers and declared a state of emergency after overthrowing the civilian government and arresting top political leaders, on Monday. 

“Given the security presence on the streets in the capital, Nay Pyi Taw, as well as in other cities, there are deep fears of a violent crackdown on dissenting voices”, High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet said in a statement on Monday. 

“I remind the military leadership that Myanmar is bound by international human rights law, including to respect the right to peaceful assembly, and to refrain from using unnecessary or excessive force”, she added. 

High Comissioner Bachelet also called on the international community to “stand in solidarity with the people” of Myanmar at this time. She also urged all nations with influence to take steps “to prevent the crumbling of the fragile democratic and human rights gains made by Myanmar during its transition from military rule.” 

Many international organizations, countries and civil society leaders also condemned the military’s actions. The UN Security Council is scheduled to meet on Tuesday to discuss the situation in Myanmar.  

Since Monday’s events, dozens of individuals – including political leaders and elected parliamentarians – have been arrested or confined to their homes. Many journalists and human rights defenders are also reported to have been attacked or harassed. 

The military takeover followed days of escalating tensions between the military and the government following the November 2020 elections, which was won by Aung San Suu Kyi-led National League for Democracy (NLD) .  Ms. Suu Kyi along with President Win Myint are among the leaders detained by the military.

The polls were only the second democratic elections in Myanmar since the end of nearly five decades of military rule. The first elections, in 2015, were also won by NLD. 

Concerns for the Rohingya community 

There are also concerns over the situation of the minority, mainly Muslim, Rohingya community, who in the past have faced violent persecution by the military. About 600,000 Rohingyas are said to remain in the country’s Rakhine state, including about 120,000 who are effectively confined to camps. 

In 2017, over 700,000 Rohingyas were forced to flee their homes and seek refuge across the border, in Bangladesh, following widespread attacks by Myanmar’s security forces, in retaliation for attacks on remote police outposts by armed groups alleged to belong to the community. Their return, remains uncertain. 

Strong international response ‘imperative’ 

Tom Andrews, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, urged the international community to show resolve in denouncing the military’s actions, and to ensure those responsible for the country’s past human rights violations are held accountable. 

“Decisive action is imperative, including the imposition of strong targeted sanctions, and an arms embargo until such time as democracy is restored”, the independent rights expert said in a statement on Monday. 

“The onus is, thus, on the international community to hold the Tatmadaw [the Myanmar military] responsible”, he stressed. 

A dark shadow ‘once again’ 

Mr. Andrews went on to note that the the seizure of military power cast a dark shadow “once again” over the country, and that “the generals have created a climate of fear and anxiety.” 

He demanded democratic order be restored immediately, power returned to elected authorities, and all detainees released. 

“We also call on the Tatmadaw to avoid any use of force against protesters or civilians, and to respect the rights of the people of Myanmar to peacefully protest and express their opposition”, the expert said. 

The Special Rapporteur is part of the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Independent of any government or organization, Special Rapporteurs work on a voluntary basis. They are not UN staff members and do not receive a salary.  

The mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar was established by the then Commission on Human Rights in 1992. It was broadened in 2014 and 2016.