Jun 12, 2021 - World

UN human rights chief condemns military buildup in Myanmar

Myanmar security forces detaining protesters in Yangon in May 2021.

Myanmar security forces detaining people while searching for protesters who participated in an anti-coup demonstration in Yangon in May 2021. Photo: STR/AFP via Getty Images

The United Nations' high commissioner for human rights on Friday condemned the ongoing military build up in parts of Myanmar, warning that escalating violence between the military junta and armed minority groups threatens to produce an "even greater loss of life."

Why it matters: Michelle Bachelet said the junta, which came into power by overthrowing Myanmar's democratically elected government in February, is “singularly responsible” for the “human rights catastrophe” unfolding across the country.

Context: Since claiming power, the junta has killed hundreds of people participating in anti-coup demonstrations and has arrested thousands more.

  • Elected lawmakers who were unable to take their seats in parliament because of the coup asked ethnic minority groups in Myanmar's borderlands to form an army to oppose government armed forces.
  • Government forces in response have launched attacks on territory controlled by the minority groups.

What they're saying: “As I had feared, armed conflict and other violence are intensifying in many parts of Myanmar, including Kayah State, Chin State and Kachin State, with the violence particularly intense in areas with significant ethnic and religious minority groups,” Bachelet said in a statement.

  • Citing credible reports, Bachelet said Myanmar security forces have used heavy weaponry like airstrikes against civilians and civilian buildings while fighting the armed minority groups.
  • She said the reports also indicated that security forces have used civilians as human shields, shelled homes and churches and blocked civilians from receiving aid by attacking humanitarians.
  • “More than 108,000 people have fled their homes in Kayah State over the last three weeks alone, many into forest areas with little or no food, water, sanitation or medical care. These are people in urgent need of humanitarian assistance."

The big picture: The human rights chief added that the escalation in violence is contrary to the commitments the junta made to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, a 10-member regional bloc that is attempting to end the crisis through a consensus plan.

  • “Myanmar’s military, the Tatmadaw, have a duty to protect civilians. The international community needs to unify in its demand that the Tatmadaw cease the outrageous use of heavy artillery against civilians and civilian objects and respect the principle of distinction."
  • "The newly formed 'people’s defence forces' and other armed groups must also take all feasible measures to protect civilians," Bachelet said.

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