World, Asia - Pacific

UN rights chief warns of 'full-blown' Myanmar conflict

Michelle Bachelet urges states to take immediate, decisive measure to halt Myanmar's junta slaughter of its people

Peter Kenny   | 13.04.2021
UN rights chief warns of 'full-blown' Myanmar conflict

GENEVA

The UN human rights chief said Tuesday she fears Myanmar is heading to a "full-blown Syrian-type conflict" as she urged immediate and decisive international steps to halt the military junta's slaughter of its people.

"We have witnessed yet another weekend of coordinated bloodshed in many parts of the country, including the reported mass killing of at least 82 people in [the southern city of] Bago between Friday and Saturday," said Michelle Bachelet in a statement read by rights office spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani.

"The military seems intent on intensifying its pitiless policy of violence against the people of Myanmar, using military-grade and indiscriminate weaponry," Bachelet was quoted as saying at a twice-weekly UN press briefing.

She urged states to take "immediate, decisive and impactful measures" to push Myanmar's military leadership into halting its campaign of repression and slaughter of its people that has followed its Feb. 1 putsch.

"There are clear echoes of Syria in 2011. There too, we saw peaceful protests met with unnecessary and clearly disproportionate force," said Bachelet.


Spiral of violence

The Syrian state's brutal and persistent repression of its people led to some individuals taking up arms, followed by a downward and rapidly expanding spiral of violence all across the country, Bachelet stressed.

She noted that the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights had warned in 2011 that the international community's failure to respond with united resolve could be disastrous for Syria and beyond.

The past 10 years have shown just how horrific the consequences have been for millions of civilians.

"I fear the situation in Myanmar is heading towards a full-blown conflict. States must not allow the deadly mistakes of the past in Syria and elsewhere to be repeated," said Bachelet.

Over the weekend, credible reports indicate that Myanmar armed forces, known as the Tatmadaw, opened fire with rocket-propelled grenades, fragmentation grenades, and mortar fire in Bago.

Shamdasani noted that security forces also reportedly prevented medical personnel from helping the wounded, as well as charging relatives a "fine" of around $90 to claim the bodies of those killed.

"Some individuals are also now resorting to the use of makeshift or primitive weapons in self-defense," she said.

The rights office said clashes between the military and ethnic armed groups have also intensified in several locations in the Kachin, Shan, and Kayin states, where the military has been employing airstrikes that have killed and displaced civilians.

"As arrests continue, with at least 3,080 people currently detained, there are reports that 23 people have been sentenced to death following secret trials – including four protesters and 19 others who were accused of political and criminal offenses," said Bachelet.


Mass arrests

"The mass arrests have forced hundreds of people to go into hiding, and reports suggest that many journalists, civil society activists, celebrities, and other public figures are being sought, many simply because of the dissent they have been expressing online," Shamdasani noted.

Wireless broadband and mobile data services were cut indefinitely on April 2, leaving the vast majority of people without access to vital information and communication sources.

"Meanwhile, the country's economy, education, and health infrastructure have been brought to the brink of collapse, leaving millions of Myanmar people without a livelihood, basic services, and, increasingly, food security.

"States with influence need to urgently apply concerted pressure on the military in Myanmar to halt the commission of grave human rights violations and possible crimes against humanity against the people," added Bachelet.

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