KANCHANABURI: A total of 131 illegal migrants from Myanmar were caught near the border in Sai Yok district on Saturday morning while waiting for transport to take them to workplaces.
A patrol of soldiers from the Lat Ya Task Force, local police and officials found a large group of people hiding in a forested area in Ban Thung Chang village of tambon Sri Mongkhol at around 6am.
The group comprised 72 men and 59 women, all Myanmar nationals. Health workers were sent to check their temperatures and all were normal.
The detainees told officials that they had travelled from Dawei, Yangon, Mawlamyine, Bago and other Myanmar townships to work in Thailand. They walked along natural trails at night to enter Thai territory before hiding in the forest to await transport to other provinces.
They said they were destined for jobs in Bangkok, Samut Sakhon, Kanchanaburi, Chon Buri and Prachin Buri. They were to pay between 17,000 and 20,000 baht each to job brokers upon arriving at their destinations.
All of them were handed over to Sai Yok police to be charged with illegal entry and deported.
The number of migrants crossing into Thailand from Myanmar has been rising steadily in recent weeks as the economy in their home country deteriorates, nine months after a military coup. On Thursday, 101 job seekers from Myanmar were caught after they crossed the border into Sai Yok district.
The UN Country Team in Myanmar remains “deeply concerned over the humanitarian impact” of the country’s ongoing crises stemming largely from the military coup in February, the UN Spokesperson said on Tuesday.
Updating journalists at the daily media briefing in New York, Stéphane Dujarric cited humanitarians in saying that “conflict, food insecurity, natural disasters and COVID-19” have left some three million women, children and men in urgent need of life-saving assistance and protection.
“This includes one million people who were in need at the start of the year, plus an additional two million people identified as needing help after the military takeover on 1 February”, he said.
At that time, following a general election in which Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party won by a landslide, the military seized control of the country and declared a year-long state of emergency.
As protesters took to the streets, security forces imposed curfews and other restrictions, leading to widespread alleged human rights abuses, thousands of arrests, and hundreds of deaths.
Displaced and vulnerable people
Since then, clashes between Myanmar Armed Forces, different ethnic armed organizations and people’s defense forces have left some 219,000 people newly displaced, said Mr. Dujarric.
This comes as a recent wave of COVID-19 has exacerbated the dire humanitarian situation. At the same time, floods in Rakhine and Kayin states, have left tens of thousands without water and sanitation.
“The UN once again calls on parties concerned to ensure that aid can be scaled up to reach people affected by the continued armed conflict”, said the Spokesperson.
Despite conflict and COVID, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and its partners have been able to reach more than 33,000 people with water and sanitation supplies.
Mr. Dujarric also said that UNICEF continues to help nearly 150,000 internally displaced people and others in Kachin, Northern Shan, Rakhine and Sagaing.
Meanwhile, the agency on Monday posted a detailed account of the deteriorating situation in Mindat – located in the southern Chin state of western Myanmar – which has been under martial law since May.
According to a UN humanitarian report, Mindat is one of the worst affected places in the country, with residents there urgent need of support.
Amid continuing armed clashes and a devasting third wave of the pandemic, UNICEF told the story in a blog post of Hay Mar and her husband, who, like many others, decided to flee the violence, forced to leaving behind some of the most vulnerable – including elderly relatives, and heavily pregnant women.
“My mother-in-law could have run with us, but she said she didn’t want to. She wanted to stay in her home”, said Hay Mar.
The family fashioned makeshift shelters in the forest, which left them with little protection from the monsoon rains.
Future of uncertainty
Two weeks after Hay Mar and her family left, she began to worry about her mother-in-law.
With her three children in tow, she decided to return to the town.
Although her youngest was petrified as they re-entered, she said that he is now slowly showing signs of overcoming the trauma and is returning to the lively boy he once was.
While Hay Mar is happy to see positive changes in him, she is unsure how long this period of peace and calm will last.
Like most of the other children in Mindat, her 12 and 17-year-olds have been out of school for almost two years – first because of the pandemic and then due to the life-threatening security crisis.
“If we live in this situation, how will my children grow? I’m very worried about their future. I just want to live in peace”, she told UNICEF.
Khin, a 59-year-old rice farmer, faced a distressing choice at the height of Myanmar’s monsoon season three months ago: sell a cow, a prized asset for agricultural households, or go hungry.
She sold the animal for half its value. The proceeds went to buy food for her family and inputs for her small rice farm in the Dry Zone – a drought-prone region in the country’s centre where farmers and agricultural experts say falling income and rising costs are worsening hunger.
“We’re just eating whatever is available,” Khin told The New Humanitarian by phone.
Months after the 1 February military coup, poverty and food insecurity are soaring in Myanmar’s Dry Zone and Ayeyarwady Delta regions – the country’s agricultural heartland – sparking warnings of a hidden crisis in the making as farming households struggle out of view of most humanitarian aid plans.
Khin blames her family’s plight on political instability since the coup and a devastating third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. Costs for critical inputs such as fertiliser have soared, but crop prices have fallen.
“I’m very worried because I have no idea where to go or how to survive if things worsen,” she said. “Other farmers are in the same boat.”
The coup has upended lives across the country, exacerbated its numerous conflicts, and sent the economy into free fall. The Asian Development Bank recently predicted Myanmar’s GDP would shrink by 18.4 percent this year. The currency lost 60 percent of its value in September, Reuters reported, putting even more pressure on food and fuel prices.
The economic crash is worsening food insecurity across the country. However, the Dry Zone and Delta regions are traditionally off the aid radar, mainly because they are not in border conflict zones where humanitarian needs have typically been the most pressing.
Yet poverty is rapidly rising. The percentage of Delta households considered “extremely poor” rose from 18 percent last year to 30 percent in July, according to the Washington-based International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI). A recent paper predicts that 60 percent of Myanmar’s “newly poor households” in the coming months will be in the Dry Zone and Delta.
“Aid agencies are still mostly working in more remote conflict-affected areas, albeit with some shift to urban populations obviously made poorer by COVID and the political situation,” said Derek Headey, a senior research fellow at the institute.
“But there is a lot of new poverty in the Delta and Dry Zone too, and these are major agricultural production centres and large population areas. So we’re very concerned there’s an emerging crisis in these zones that’s going under the radar.”
In interviews with The New Humanitarian, nearly a dozen Myanmar Delta or Dry Zone farmers, or aid staff who work in these areas, said that families were dipping into savings and selling long-term assets to make ends meet.
Some farmers said they’re not sure how they will continue to feed themselves over the long term. Many are taking on greater debt, while cutting back on food.
“Rising input prices and falling output crop prices [are] a double whammy that is squeezing farmers tighter and tighter,” said a Myanmar development worker who has spoken to hundreds of farmers since the coup.
Myanmar farmers and aid workers who spoke to The New Humanitarian requested that their full names not be used for fear of the military.
Under the radar
The Dry Zone and Delta regions are crucial for Myanmar’s overall food security, accounting for more than 80 percent of Myanmar’s cropped area, according to IFPRI. The two areas together account for about a third of Myanmar’s population.
But in the coup’s aftermath, more farming families are joining the ranks of the newly poor.
Aung, 45, who grows rice, maize, and pulses in the fertile Ayeyarwady Delta in the country’s south, said farmers are squeezed because traditional sources of credit – such as seed and fertiliser companies and banks – are not available.
“We can’t get loans or borrow money, which means you have to sell what you have. So we have to be very frugal,” he said. “Everything is more difficult this year.”
Kyaw, a 49-year-old farmer in Sagaing Region, part of the Dry Zone, said he has resorted to pawning and selling his wife’s jewellery to buy food for his family of eight.
“We’ve been surviving by farming and working as hired labour, but it’s not enough,” he said. “We’re now using up leftover rice from the previous years, and our savings and gold.”
Others have it worse, he added: “In some homes, they no longer have old stocks of rice left. We are trying to help each other.”
Analysts say there is an urgent need to expand food assistance to rural families in the Dry Zone and Delta.
“To overlook the food-insecure rural households in the Delta and Dry Zones would be to overlook almost half the food-insecure rural households in Myanmar,” said Duncan Boughton, a professor of agricultural, food, and resource economics at Michigan State University who was also part of the team behind the IFPRI paper.
Stephen Anderson, Myanmar country director for the World Food Programme, said the UN agency is trying to find out more about the situation in these major farming regions.
“We would be ready to step in in those instances where we see acute food insecurity developing. If there are needs, we’re ready to consider them,” he said.
The February coup has already pushed humanitarian groups to expand food aid, though the military junta continues to impose heavy restrictions. A UN-backed response plan, revised in July, tripled the number of people targeted for food security assistance – including expanding food distribution to urban areas of Yangon, Myanmar’s main commercial centre.
As in many aid operations, however, donor funding has fallen short.
“We’ve received more funding now than we had in all of last year, it’s just that the needs are outstripping the available funding,” Anderson said.
Violence and the coronavirus
Humanitarian needs are growing in areas that have typically been spared the brunt of Myanmar’s conflicts, but post-coup violence is still escalating.
In some areas, there are regular clashes between the junta’s troops and local resistance forces who have teamed up with ethnic armed groups that have been fighting for autonomy for decades. Bombings and targeted assassinations in major towns and cities are becoming more common.
Kyaw, the 49-year-old farmer, said soldiers have been raiding many villages in his part of Sagaing, looking for residents suspected of being members of the local resistance forces.
“I can’t even explain how cruel they are,” he said. “Whenever they come, they just arrest whoever they see. So now everyone flees when they come.”
COVID-19 is adding to the farmers’ woes. Positivity rates have dropped from 37 percent in late July to 6 percent in mid-October, but the virus continues to spread. Healthcare delivery has been severely constrained since the coup; only about 15 percent of the population have received a COVID-19 vaccine dose – well below rates in most other countries in the region.
Labourers are falling ill, said Yin, an office worker from a farming family in southern Mandalay Region, which forms part of the Dry Zone.
“A lot of people said they came down with the flu but the illness sounds very similar to COVID-19 because people were losing their sense of smell,” she said.
“In our villages, planting is still being done by hand, so it was really difficult for farmers to hire people, and it means you cannot finish preparing the land or planting in time,” she added.
The rising food insecurity and poverty in the Delta and Dry Zone could have far-reaching repercussions in Myanmar, which has a largely rural population and relies heavily on the agricultural sector, said the development worker.
Poverty and food are immediate worries. But the farmers struggling today also need help to adapt to longer-term threats exacerbated by climate change – more volatile floods and drought, erratic rains, and more risks from pests and crop diseases.
“That critical support and focus on the environment has fallen off the radar,” the development worker said.
“I would ask aid agencies to not abandon Myanmar at this time, even though it might be tempting since it is such a difficult operating environment,” she added.
Khin Mai Aung shares how Buddhists and other allies can support Myanmar’s activists and Civil Disobedience Movement in the aftermath of the February 2021 military coup.
As Myanmar spiraled into chaos after a February 2021 military coup, the international Buddhist flock and other friends of the country who had been heartened by its transition to semi-democracy watched with mounting concern. To be sure, Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, has been backsliding on civil liberties for a few years – with an exodus of over 700,000 persecuted Rohingya Muslims, an alarming rise in religious nationalism, surging discrimination against ethnic and religious minorities, and targeting of political opponents with arrest.
But in the months since the coup, a widespread and rapid erosion of order and security has engulfed Myanmar, with scores of peaceful protestors gunned down, internet shutdowns, large scale targeting of journalists and media institutions, and a looming threat of all out civil war. The people of Myanmar – Buddhists and religious minorities, Bamar as well as ethnic minorities – collectively face a singular threat, the barbaric junta which has ruthlessly taken power despite a resounding loss in last year’s elections.
As international observers reflect on how to support Myanmar’s Civil Disobedience Movement of boycotting government workers and brave protesters taking to the streets, Burmese community groups within the country’s diaspora and international Buddhist organizations have sprung into action. Partnering with vetted intermediaries in Thailand and Myanmar, these groups are dispersing aid in grants and in kind support on the ground within Myanmar.
The Clear View Project, a Buddhist nonprofit that funds social change and relief efforts from a socially engaged Buddhist perspective, is one such organization. In partnership with the International Network of Engaged Buddhists (INEB), Clear View has conducted fundraising for relief projects, including for telecommunications equipment like SIM cards, personal protective equipment for protestors, medical and funeral expenses, and financial support for government workers boycotting the junta.
Clear View and INEB are also launching a new initiative specifically to support monks and nuns in the Civil Disobedience Movement. While these religious figures have not been categorically targeted, this initiative is directed at assisting those who participated in protests, some of whom are in hiding to avoid arrest. Clearview is also working with partners to organize a “Burma Spring” virtual film festival benefit in June 2021 to raise additional funds to support Myanmar activists. As of late April, Clear View and INEB had raised about $24,000 for their collective efforts, and donors can designate their preference for use of funds.
Hozan Alan Senauke of the Clear View Project recommends that American allies can also make a difference by lobbying the United States “to apply pressure on Thailand [to advocate] for humanitarian treatment of displaced people, for opening its borders, and for not repatriating them – that’s a place that via the State Department we have some agency.”
Clear View’s sister program, the Buddhist Humanitarian Project, provides targeted support to Rohingya refugees. Over the past few years, it has raised over $50,000 to support Rohingya in refugee camps and local communities. It has continued these efforts since the coup, especially as fires ravaged several camps in Bangladesh this year. Such support is critical as Rohingya refugees remain in squalid camps and are at risk of COVID without sufficient personal protective equipment, as the world’s attention has turned to the coup and conditions inside Myanmar. One bright point, Hozan Senauke points out, is that after the coup “the whole nation of Myanmar is a tuning itself into the Rohingya issue [and broader concerns about] the government and military’s brutal discrimination toward various ethnic groups.”
Buddhist temples and secular community organizations affiliated with the Myanmar diaspora and its allies have also stepped up efforts to support the people of Myanmar. Mutual Aid Myanmar is a non-partisan volunteer organization consisting of activists and academics that is raising money to disperse humanitarian aid in Myanmar via trusted civil society groups. Like Clear View and INEB, their support covers funds for food, healthcare and shelter for now unemployed Myanmar government workers in the general strike against the junta. Mutual Aid Myanmar’s vetted local partners remain anonymous for their protection. Mutual Aid Myanmar has raised and distributed an impressive $275,000 for these purposes since the coup.
Other community-based efforts have focused on non-material supports, community education, and relationship building. The Baydar Collective is a network of youth activists from the Myanmar diaspora based in North America, named after the baydar (hyacinth) flower, which is associated with resilience and resistance. According to Ashley “Aye Aye” Dun, a graduate student at Brown University and a member of Baydar’s steering committee, Baydar’s goal is to “unite people in the Myanmar diaspora to talk about the ways that ongoing events in Myanmar affect our diasporic communities, because it directly affects us too through our families, relatives, and friends in the country struggling in the resistance.”
Baydar is hosting a virtual reading series focused on topics ranging from analyzing implications of the Myanmar opposition’s new constitution (the Federal Democracy Charter), discussing ethnic and religious divides in Myanmar and its diaspora, and examining parallels between anti-Chinese sentiment in Myanmar with the recent surge of anti-Asian violence in the United States. To celebrate Asian Pacific American heritage month in May, Baydar is launching a virtual art circle where members of the Myanmar diaspora will come together to discuss current events, socialize, and participate in drawing and art activities. Baydar has also supported activists in Myanmar though social media campaigns and public information dispersal, and plans to build coalitions with other Asian American activists and communities of color in the United States.
Aye Aye Dun reports that one critical way for Buddhists abroad and other supporters to support Myanmar’s resistance is to attend local anti-military protests, which Burmese Buddhist monks often attend. She believes “these events are a valuable opportunity for interfaith unity.” She also pointed to strategic boycott efforts – for example recent efforts to target Chevron, an American corporate investor in Myanmar which has actively lobbied against more aggressive sanctions on the country’s military.
More abstractly, and directed at the longer term, Aye Aye Dun suggests that allies can also focus on simply educating themselves more generally about the heterogeneity of resistance in Myanmar and its diaspora. In addition to providing direct support, allies can gain a more nuanced understanding of Myanmar’s ethnic and religious diversity and the country’s historical and sociopolitical context. They can also learn about how supporters of democracy within and outside Myanmar deploy their resistance in myriad ways, taking into account safety concerns within the country for themselves or relatives left behind. “A more sustained relationship to support Myanmar’s prodemocracy efforts requires us to always keep learning” about the situation and dynamics on the ground, says Aye Aye Dun, and “this is something we are trying to do at Baydar.”
While the situation in Myanmar is dire and likely to be protracted, these fundraising, support, and education efforts can foster a modicum of hope regarding the spirit of the people of Myanmar and its diaspora, and the diligent efforts of its diverse allies working to lift up and champion those on the frontlines of Myanmar’s Civil Disobedience Movement.
More information about the efforts described above – which are not affiliated with Lion’s Roar – is listed below in alphabetical order.
Baydar Collective is a group of young people in North America from the Myanmar diaspora that conducts community education on the heterogeneity of anti-military resistance (and how it is shaped by intersecting differences in ethnicity, religion, class, gender, and sexuality), promotes the work of vetted United States nonprofits to support the people of Myanmar, highlights issues affecting the diaspora of Myanmar, and builds affinities and coalitions with other Asian American activists and activists of color.
Buddhist Humanitarian Project provides aid and support for Rohingya communities in Myanmar, Bangladesh and India. It is an initiative organized by the Clearview Project, in order to call upon the global Buddhist community to take a stand against violence inflicted upon the Rohingya and to support Rohingya refugees.
Clear View Project provides Buddhist-based resources for relief and social change, promotes dialogue on issues of socially engaged Buddhism, and supports communities in need, both internationally and within the United States. A successor of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship’s Burma Project, the Clear View Project has worked in Myanmar for many years including supporting activism leading up to the 2007 Saffron Revolution and throughout the country’s political and economic reforms since 2011, supporting political reforms and community development.
International Network of Engaged Buddhists is an autonomous organization under the Bangkok-based Sathirakoses-Nagapradeepa Foundation, and includes both organizational and individual members from more than 25 countries across Asia, Europe, North America and Australia. From this diversity, INEB promotes an understanding of socially engaged Buddhism which integrates the practice of Buddhism with social action for a healthy, just, and peaceful world.
Mutual Aid Myanmar provides humanitarian support via resources to unemployed general strike workers in Myanmar in the form of food, healthcare and shelter. Mutual Aid Myanmar and verified partner organizations provide this aid in kind and via small cash stipends. Partner organizations are vetted by their Board of Directors and are part of local civil society networks.
A sailor from Myanmar died after a fight with fellow crew members on a foreign ship off the coast of Taiwan, reports said Saturday (Jan. 2).
The incident occurred on the New Progress, a tanker registered in the Cook Islands, while it was sailing in international waters off the coast of New Taipei City, CNA reported. As a result, Taiwan has no jurisdiction over the case, according to the Coast Guard Administration (CGA).
When the ship reached a point 31 nautical miles (57 kilometers) from New Taipei’s Shimen District Friday (Jan. 1) evening, a fight broke out and Wai Phy Aung, 27, was stabbed. As his condition deteriorated rapidly, the crew called in assistance, and a helicopter flew him to Taipei Songshan Airport.
However, the man was declared dead after his arrival at the hospital, CNA reported. The tanker dropped anchor in the port of Keelung on Saturday morning.
The CGA said though it did not have jurisdiction over the incident, it would assist with the investigation if the shipowner requested.
The two nations will pay special attention to prosecuting gender-based violence against Rohingya, including rape.
Canada and the Netherlands will formally join The Gambia’s legal bid to hold Myanmar accountable over allegations of genocide against its mostly-Muslim Rohingya minority in a move described by observers as historic.
In a joint statement on Wednesday, Canadian Foreign Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne and his Dutch counterpart Stef Blok said the two nations were intervening in the case before the International Court of Justice in order “to prevent the crime of genocide and hold those responsible to account”.
Calling the lawsuit “of concern to all of humanity,” Champagne and Blok said Canada and the Netherlands would “assist with the complex legal issues that are expected to arise and will pay special attention to crimes related to sexual and gender-based violence, including rape”.
More than 730,000 Rohingya fled their homes in Myanmar’s Rakhine state in August 2017, crossing the border into neighbouring Bangladesh where they now live in crowded refugee camps after the military launched a brutal crackdown in the western state.
Myanmar says the military action was a response to attacks by Rohingya armed groups in Rakhine. United Nations investigators concluded that the campaign had been executed with “genocidal intent”.
Champagne and Blok said in filing the case at the UN court, The Gambia “took a laudable step towards ending impunity for those committing atrocities in Myanmar”.
The New York-based Global Center for Justice welcomed the move by Canada and the Netherlands, calling it “nothing short of historic”.
Akila Radhakrishnan, the group’s president, said: “Just as important as their intention to intervene is their promise to focus on gendered crimes of genocide like sexual and gender-based violence, which was central to the atrocities against the Rohingya.”
She added: “Too often, gendered experiences do not translate to justice and accountability efforts and leave the primary targets of those crimes – women and girls – behind. This is an important step forward to address that gap and Canada and the Netherlands should be applauded for this move.”
Rohingya groups also welcomed the move, and urged others to follow their lead.
“Slowly, but surely, the net is closing in on Myanmar’s leaders – they will not get away with this genocide,” Tun Khin, president of the Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK said in a statement, describing Canada and the Netherlands as being on the right side of history.
“It is imperative that other states, including the United Kingdom, now stand on the right of justice for the Rohingya and other ethnic and religious minorities in Myanmar,” the statement added. “Justice is a core demand of all Rohingya people and particularly important for those inside the camps of Cox’s Bazar who have been forced to flee their homeland and live as refugees in a foreign state.”
Myanmar’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi attended the initial hearings at The Hague in December last year, calling on the 17-judge panel to dismiss the case. Rejecting the genocide claims, she warned the UN judges that allowing The Gambia’s case to go ahead risked reigniting the crisis and could “undermine reconciliation”.
The panel in January ordered Myanmar to take emergency measures to protect its Rohingya population, pending the fuller case.
Myanmar will now have to regularly report on its efforts to protect Rohingya from acts of genocide every six months until a final ruling is made, a process that could take years.
Although ICJ rulings are final and binding, countries have occasionally flouted them, and the court has no formal mechanism to enforce its decisions.
UN investigators say Facebook played a key role in spreading hate speech that fuelled the violence against Rohingya.
The head of a UN investigative body on Myanmar said Facebook has not released evidence of “serious international crimes”, despite promising to work with investigators looking into abuses in the country including against the majority-Muslim Rohingya.
Nicholas Koumjian, head of the Independent Investigative Mechanism on Myanmar (IIMM), told the Reuters news agency the social media giant was holding material “highly relevant and probative of serious international crimes” but had not shared any during year-long talks.
He declined to give details of the material the IIMM had asked for.
Facebook did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Myanmar is facing charges of genocide at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) over a 2017 military crackdown on the Rohingya that forced more than 730,000 people to flee into neighbouring Bangladesh.
Myanmar denies genocide and says its armed forces were conducting legitimate operations against armed fighters who attacked police posts.
UN investigators said Facebook had played a key role in spreading hate speech that drove the violence.
The company says it is working to stop hate speech and has deleted accounts linked to the military, including senior army officials, but preserved data.
The UN Human Rights Council set up the IIMM in 2018 to collect evidence of international crimes in Myanmar to be used in future prosecutions.
“Unfortunately, to date, the Mechanism has not received any material from Facebook but our discussions continue and I am hopeful that the Mechanism will eventually receive this important evidence,” Koumjian said on Monday.
His comments followed a move by Facebook last week to block a bid by the Gambia, which brought the genocide case against Myanmar at the ICJ in the Hague, to obtain posts and communications by members of Myanmar’s military and police.
The social media giant urged the US District Court for the District of Columbia to reject the demand, which it said would violate a US law that bars electronic communication services from disclosing users’ communications.
In a statement last week the company said it could not comply with the Gambia’s request but was working with the IIMM.
Facebook has objected to a request from Gambia, which has accused Myanmar at the World Court of genocide against the Rohingya Muslim minority, to release posts and communications by members of Myanmar’s military and police.
The social media giant urged the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on Tuesday to reject the demand, which it said would violate a U.S. law that bars electronic communication services from disclosing users’ communications.
Facebook (FB.O) said the request, made in June, for the release of “all documents and communications” by key military officials and police forces was “extraordinarily broad” and would constitute “special and unbounded access” to accounts.
Gambia Attorney General Dawda Jallow told Reuters he was being briefed on the issue but could not yet comment.
The case before the United Nations’ International Court of Justice in The Hague accuses Myanmar of violating the 1948 U.N. Convention on Genocide. Myanmar authorities say they were battling an insurgency and deny carrying out systematic atrocities.
More than 730,000 Rohingya Muslims fled Myanmar’s Rakhine state in August 2017 after a military crackdown that refugees said including mass killings and rape. Rights groups documented killings of civilians and burning of villages.
In 2018, U.N. human rights investigators said Facebook had played a key role in spreading hate speech that had fuelled the violence. Facebook has said it is working to block hate speech.
On Thursday, a spokesperson said Facebook “stands against hate and violence, including in Myanmar”.
Instability in northern Shan state is increasing the forced displacement of locals, along other rights abuses.
The expansion of military operations by the Myanmar Army and increase in troops in northern Shan state has resulted in growing instability and an escalation of human rights abuses. The involvement of the Myanmar Army and ethnic armed organizations (EAOs) engaging in regular combat has contributed to the forced displacement of local people, as well as other human rights abuses including torture, indiscriminate shelling, death, and arbitrary arrest and detainment. These actions show a lack of commitment to the already faltering peace process and dialogue on meaningful reconciliation. All armed actors must uphold the right to life and resolve their differences through peaceful negotiation and nonconfrontational channels, as well as ensure a safe space for rights defenders appealing for justice to be upheld.
On May 10, 2020, the Myanmar Army announced a unilateral ceasefire agreement to focus on the response and containment of COVID-19. Since declaring the ceasefire, clashes in Shan state have steadily increased between the Myanmar Army and Shan armed groups including the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS-SSA), the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA). The fighting increased significantly in June 2020, with civilian safety and security at risk, as allegations of human rights violations are mounting against the armed groups. The Myanmar Army is accused of forcing a young man to guide them and then indiscriminately shooting at villagers’ homes, killing a 60-year old man and injuring a 55-year old woman on June 29. The day before, an elderly civilian from Kyaukme township was brutally beaten when the Myanmar Army arrived at his village and others fled. The RCSS-SSA is also accused of raping a young Ta’ang women and failing to cooperate with civil society organizations seeking justice. Against the backdrop of the conflict, there are over 500 villagers displaced in Kyaukme who need emergency food supplies and face restrictions on movement as a result of the pandemic.
Protests following the increase in violence in Shan state saw over 15 000 civilians calling for accountability for the injustices committed by the Myanmar Army. Shan parliamentarians reported the cases to the Myanmar National Human Rights Council, specifically to urge an investigation. In response, the Myanmar Army retaliated with reprisals against those who had led the protests by charging them under Section 19 of the Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Law and Section 18 of the Communicable Disease Prevention Law. Of additional concern is that the conflict in northern Shan state is not being taken seriously by the National League for Democracy (NLD) government. Their silence shows a continued lack of interest by the NLD to speak up against human rights abuses taking place against civilians.
While human rights defenders being challenged for their advocacy is nothing new, it is unacceptable that the right to peaceful protest continues to be criminalized in Myanmar. The Myanmar government must take seriously calls for much needed reforms that would strengthen protection of rights defenders, including enacted changes to the Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Law. This law has long been used to target activists. It should be amended in line with international standards on freedom of expression, which includes being able to hold opinions without interference as stipulated in Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
As seen not only in northern Shan state but also in Rakhine and Chin states, civilians are killed, tortured, and detained on the presumption of guilt or affiliation to rival groups. It is time for strengthened government protection mechanisms for victims of human rights violations and local leaders and organizations on the ground who regularly face harassment and intimidation in their calls for accountability. The Myanmar government must publicly recognize that mass human rights violations have been committed, apologize for those violations, and accept that victims deserve reparations.