Atrocities by Myanmar’s military could be war crimes, says rights group

Myanmar’s army has massacred dozens of civilians and used people as human shields, Fortify Rights says

Maroosha Muzaffar
Tuesday 15 February 2022 14:46
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<p>In this file photo taken on 16 October 2021, members of the Karenni Nationalities Defence Force take part in training at their base camp in the forest near Demoso in Kayah</p>

In this file photo taken on 16 October 2021, members of the Karenni Nationalities Defence Force take part in training at their base camp in the forest near Demoso in Kayah

The Myanmar military has “massacred civilians, used human shields, and committed other atrocities” in the country’s eastern Karenni state, according to a new report by human rights agency Fortify Rights that says the abuses may amount to war crimes.

The report was published on Tuesday, a day before Asean foreign ministers are due to meet for their annual retreat.

The research documents information related to the murder of at least 61 civilians in Karenni State by the Myanmar military, according to Fortify Rights. The group said that it documented attacks on churches, residential homes, camps for displaced people and other non-military targets that took place in Karenni state — also known as Kayah — between May 2021 and January 2022.

The report “draws on firsthand testimony from 31 eyewitnesses, survivors, internally displaced persons, religious leaders, humanitarian and civil-society workers, members of armed resistance groups, and others” during that period, Fortify Rights said.

The organisation added that the military’s acts “may amount to war crimes” and recommended that Asean member states support a global arms embargo on Myanmar military junta.

Ismail Wolff, regional director at Fortify Rights, said: “The Myanmar junta is murdering people with weapons procured on the global market, and that must stop. Clear and definitive action is needed to compel the Myanmar junta to rethink its attacks on civilians.”

Mr Wolff added that the “UN Security Council must urgently impose a global arms embargo on the Myanmar military, and it would be strategic and sensible for Asean to support it.”

“The junta is not a government; it’s a criminal enterprise and doesn’t belong at the Asean table,” Mr Wolff added. “It would be dangerous for Asean to give Min Aung Hlaing and his junta any political legitimacy.”

The report added that since 1 February last year, the military junta’s attacks have forced an estimated 170,000 civilians in Karenni State to be displaced. This is more than half of the state’s estimated population of 300,000, according to the Karenni Civil Society Network.

According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, national internal-displacement figures “reached a new high of 441,500” people displaced since the coup, with approximately 91,900 displaced in Karenni State and 56,200 displaced in neighbouring southern Shan State as of January 31, 2022.

The statement from Fortify Rights said that “UNHCR previously noted that [a] substantial proportion of Kayah [Karenni] State’s 300,000 population is now displaced”.

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