STORY: UN Human Rights Spokesperson Jeremy Laurence and James Rodehaver on Myanmar
LANGUAGE: English/French / NATS
ASPECT RATIO: 16:9
DATELINE: 27 January 2023 GENEVA, SWITZERLAND
At the bi-weekly press briefing on Friday, Jeremy Laurence Spokesperson for the UN Human Rights Office, made the following comments on Myanmar.
“Two years after the Myanmar military launched a coup against the democratically elected government, the country has sunk deeper than ever into crisis and has undergone a wholesale regression in human rights,” said Laurence.
“By nearly every feasible measurement, and in every area of human rights – economic, social and cultural, as much as civil and political – Myanmar has profoundly regressed,” the spokesperson said, reflecting on the spiraling crisis since the attempted coup of 1 February 2021.
“Despite clear legal obligations for the military to protect civilians in the conduct of hostilities, there has been consistent disregard for the related rules of international law. Far from being spared, civilians have been the actual targets of attacks – victims of targeted and indiscriminate artillery barrages and air strikes, extrajudicial executions, the use of torture, and the burning of whole villages,” said Laurence.
“According to credible sources at least 2,890 people have died at the hands of the military and others working with them, of whom at least 767 were initially taken into custody. This is almost certainly an underestimation of the number of civilians killed as a result of military action,” the spokesperson said.
A staggering further 1.2 million people have been internally displaced, and over 70,000 have left the country - joining over one million others, including the bulk of the country’s Rohingya Muslim population, who fled sustained persecution and attacks over the past decades.
Credible information indicates that over 34,000 civilian structures, including homes, clinics, schools and places of worship, have been burned over the past two years. Myanmar’s economy has collapsed with nearly half of the population now living below the poverty line.
Regional leaders, who engaged the military leadership through ASEAN, agreed a Five-Point Consensus, the High Commissioner said that Myanmar’s generals have treated with disdain.
“Two of the critical conditions that were agreed - to cease all violence and to allow humanitarian access - have not been met. In fact, we have seen the opposite. Violence has spiraled out of control and humanitarian access has been severely restricted,” Laurence said.
The High Commissioner pointed to other measures that would be crucial to a political foundation for resolving the crisis: the release of all political prisoners, including State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and President U Win Myint, as called for by the UN Security Council; inclusive dialogue with all parties -- involving both the ASEAN Chair and the UN Special Envoy; and allowing the UN Human Rights Office meaningful access to the country to monitor the situation independently and impartially.
“Restoring respect for human rights is a key to ending this crisis, to end this situation where Myanmar’s generals are trying to prop up through brute force a decades-old system in which they answer to no-one but themselves,” said Laurence.
In its first year of independence, Myanmar was among the first Member States of the United Nations to vote in favour of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Sadly, as we mark 75 years since the Declaration’s adoption, the military is actively engaged in violating its fundamental values, principles and rights enshrined in it,” he said.
“How can a military that purports to defend the country have brought their own people – from all parts of Myanmar’s rich and diverse society – to such a point of desperation?” Laurence said.
“Last month, the Security Council united to adopt a path-breaking resolution that demanded an immediate end to the violence, among other urgent steps. Now it is time for the world to come together to take common actions to stop the killing, protect the people of Myanmar, and ensure respect for their universal human rights,” he said.
At the briefing joining remotely James Rodehaver, who heads the Myanmar Team at the UN Human Rights Office, “I would just indicate that 767 out of that number of verified deaths, the 2,890 deaths, that that's 28%. So 28% of the people that we know for certain. We can put a name and a place to their death. 28% of them have died in the custody of the military. And that tells quite a story, I think. So many people think of this conflict or of this crisis in terms of the protesters that were shot and killed on the streets. But then there's another story that you can find and tell just from those being taken into custody.”
“First of all, by cutting off communications, the first thing that happens is, is that civilians in a particular village, they don't get advance warning that a military force is moving in. So, it greatly increases the chances that they are caught in the middle. If the military movement is targeting an armed group – so, then what happens is the armed group gets engaged and is stuck, and civilians are stuck in the middle. What has happened in many cases are that the military then rounds up civilians that are caught in the middle and uses them as human shields,” Rodehaver said.
“And we have several testimonies regarding that. But then, you know, the other factor in all of this is that those people who, you know, do get free, you know, they flee into remote, even remoter areas with even less ability to make contact or to travel freely or safely away from the areas where they're hiding in rather rough and awful circumstances,” he said.