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UN High Commissioner calls for global attention to escalating suffering in Myanmar

UN High Commissioner Türk highlights Myanmar’s human rights crisis: Over 554 deaths since October, 1,600 in 2023. He urges global action, accountability for military, and restoration of civilian rule.

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UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk on Tuesday (30 Jan) detailed the deepening human rights crisis in Myanmar three years after the military coup. Türk underscored the dire need for global attention to the escalating suffering in Myanmar.

“Amid all of the crises around the world, it is important no one is forgotten. The people of Myanmar have been suffering for too long,” Türk stated, highlighting the deteriorating situation since the end of October last year. The Myanmar military’s aggressive response to setbacks, including “waves of indiscriminate aerial bombardments and artillery strikes,” has significantly worsened the crisis.

Verified reports indicate that over 554 people have died since October, with the total civilian death toll in 2023 exceeding 1,600, a 300-person increase from the previous year.

The number of political arrests has reached nearly 26,000, with 19,973 individuals still detained, many reportedly facing torture without the prospect of a fair trial. In the past three years, about 1,576 individuals have died in military custody.

Türk described the military’s actions as a targeted punishment against civilians, stating, “Military tactics have consistently focused on the punishment of civilians who they view as supporting their enemies.” This includes attacks on medical facilities and schools, breaching international humanitarian law standards.

The communication and internet services have been disrupted in 74 townships, including most of the 17 townships in Rakhine State, adding to the challenges faced by civilians in conflict zones.

Türk emphasized the need for measures to warn civilians of impending conflict, stating, “Indiscriminate shelling and airstrikes underline the lack of measures to protect civilians on the ground, including disruption of basic communications that would help warn civilians in advance of fighting so they could get out of harm’s way.”

In Rakhine State, where violence resumed in November, the Rohingya community has suffered significantly. Türk noted, “There have now been several reports of Rohingya deaths and injuries amid the military’s shelling of Rohingya villages.” The January 26 clash in Hpon Nyo Leik village, resulting in at least 12 Rohingya civilian deaths and 30 others wounded, underscores the severity of the situation.

He noted that the Arakan Army allegedly positioned its troops in and around this Rohingya village anticipating the military’s attacks. The military repeatedly shelled the village, destroying infrastructure.

Highlighting the obligations of conflict parties, Türk asserted, “Parties to armed conflicts must take constant care to spare the civilians and civilian objects, in the conduct of military operations.”

He also drew attention to the plight of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, embarking on perilous sea journeys due to inhospitable conditions and lack of regional support.

Türk called for increased international efforts to hold the Myanmar military accountable, referencing the International Court of Justice’s directive for Myanmar to prevent acts of genocide against the Rohingya. He stressed, “This crisis will only be resolved by insisting on accountability for the military’s leadership, the release of political prisoners and the restoration of civilian rule.”

Urging UN Member States to implement targeted sanctions against the Myanmar military, Türk emphasized the need to limit their capabilities and adherence to international law. He commended the resilience of Myanmar’s civil society and democratic movements, advocating for their inclusion in the restoration of democracy and human rights in Myanmar.

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