Tom Andrews, the United Nations special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, has said that conditions for Myanmar’s 54 million people have gone from “bad to worse to horrific” since the military seized power last year.
Speaking to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, Andrews said the international response to the crisis caused by the February 2021 coup had “failed” and that the Myanmar military was also committing war crimes and crimes against humanity, including sexual violence, torture, deliberate campaign against of civilians, and murder.
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Andrews was addressing the council on Wednesday, a day after it emerged that at least 11 children had been killed in a helicopter attack on a school in north-central Sagaing where the armed forces claimed anti-coup fighters were hiding.
Myanmar was plunged into crisis when Senior General Min Aung Hlaing arrested re-elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi and seized power on the day the new parliament was due to sit.
People took to the streets in mass protests and began a nationwide movement of civil disobedience to which the military responded with force, leading some civilians to take up arms. More than 2,300 people have been killed since the coup and thousands arrested, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, a civil society group monitoring the situation.
Andrews told the Human Rights Council that 295 children were among those in detention, while at least 84 political prisoners were on death row.
The military caused outrage in July when it hung four pro-democracy activists, including a prominent former member of Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy, marking the first use of the death penalty since the late 1980s.
Earlier this week, the head of the UN team investigating human rights abuses in Myanmar also spoke to the Human Rights Council, telling member states that the scope and scale of alleged international crimes taking place in Myanmar had “broadened dramatically”.
Nicholas Koumjian of the Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar (IIMM) told the council that incidents following the coup were now also a “major focus” of its investigations.
Senior generals and those with links to the military have been hit with western sanctions, as well as some of the military’s own businesses, while some international businesses have pulled out of the country.
In response, the generals have deepened ties with Russia, which has also been isolated over its invasion of Ukraine.
Given the situation, Andrews said the international community needed to take “stronger, more effective action to deprive the junta and its forces of revenue, weapons and legitimacy”.
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which admitted Myanmar as a member in 1997, has been leading diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis, but the generals have ignored the five-point consensus that was agreed in April 2021.
As a result ASEAN has barred military appointees from its annual summit, but earlier this week Malaysia’s Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah said the group needed to consider whether more needed to be done and whether the consensus should be “replaced with something better”.
Saifuddin has also argued that ASEAN should engage with the National Unity Government (NUG) set up by the elected officials who were pushed from power, drawing an angry rebuke from the Myanmar military.