Six months after the violent military takeover in Myanmar on 1 February 2021, millions of people are still protesting the junta’s power grab and hoping for a return to the democratically elected civilian government. However, as the violence continues on the streets of Myanmar, democracy seems a distant hope. Min Aung Hlaing, the junta’s army general, has recently extended Myanmar’s emergency rule to August 2023 and named himself the country’s prime minister.
In his speech addressing the people, he stated that he will hold a “free and fair multi-party election” in the future yet also referred to the party previously in charge as “terrorists” making the chances for a true fair election very slim. However, even with possible elections in its future, Myanmar continues to suffer the fallout of the political conflict.
Crimes against humanity
Compiling evidence over the last six months, Human Rights Watch has recently stated that the actions committed by Myanmar’s military junta against its people amount to crimes against humanity. Under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC), crimes against humanity refer to acts such as murder, rape, torture, forced disappearance or imprisonment “when committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population, with knowledge of the attack”.
According to research by the Human Rights Watch, since the coup, Myanmar soldiers and police have killed over 900 protesters and bystanders which included 75 children. Furthermore they have forcibly disappeared over 100 people, tortured and raped an unknown number in custody, and arbitrarily detained thousands of its people. Brad Adams, Asia director of the Human Rights Watch stated:
“These attacks on the population amount to crimes against humanity for which those responsible should be brought to account.”
This is not the first time that Myanmar’s military has been accused of committing crimes against humanity. Between 2012-2013 and once again in 2017, Human Rights Watch documented the abuse and ethnic cleansing of Myanmar’s ethnic Rohingya population.
Ramanathan Balakrishnan, the UN News top aid official in Myanmar and Acting Humanitarian and Resident Coordinator, in a recent interview has pointed out the concerning number of people being uprooted from their homes in Myanmar as a result of the military violence. He stated that over 200,000 people have been displaced and that “There has been an increase in the price of basic commodities for many people” going on to state that “…this has also resulted in a reduction of the nutrition value of the food basket that people usually take as they substitute their regular food with cheaper, more readily available items”.
He went on to say that as the constant military clashes worsen the socio-economic situation of the country, more and more people are being forced into a humanitarian space every day. Furthermore, recent climate disasters have exacerbated the displacement as nearly 50,000 people needed to be evacuated as a result of heavy rainfall and flooding in the states of Kayin, Mon and Rakhine. Yet, as thousands more were pre-emptively relocated to a safer location, the climate crisis is not the only strain on Myanmar’s citizens.
The Covid-19 crisis has hit Myanmar particularly hard as thousands of new cases are being reported and covid related deaths have been soaring since mid-June. As patients are struggling to access oxygen and basic healthcare, Myanmar has reported 300,000 cases of Covid-19 and 9,300 deaths. However, these numbers are speculated to be much higher due to the extremely limited testing available. In response to Myanmar’s healthcare crisis, Ming Yu Hah, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for Campaigns has commented:
“The spread of Covid-19 in Myanmar compounds the existing humanitarian and human rights crisis in the country. It’s a stark example of the Myanmar military’s ruinous mismanagement and its enormous human toll.”
Military management of the pandemic has only exacerbated its effects. In Min Aung Hlaing’s speech, he referred to the spread of the virus as a “tool of bioterrorism” used deliberately by those opposing the coup to spread “fake news and misinformation via social networks”. His government’s inadequate Covid policies have resulted in less than 3% of the population being fully vaccinated against Covid-19.
To make matters worse, many of those protesting the military rule in Myanmar are healthcare workers, leading to the arrest of dozens of medical personnel while many more are in hiding to avoid arrest and arbitrary detention.
The effects of Myanmar’s healthcare crisis are felt particularly in its prisons. Myanmar’s military detention facilities are detrimental to the right to health even under normal circumstances, however the increased number of people being detained and the lack of life-saving medical treatment has left thousands extremely vulnerable.
What comes next?
In order to put an end to the abuse faced by the people of Myanmar, Human Rights Watch has called on the United Nations as well as the European Union and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), to strengthen and coordinate international sanctions placed against Myanmar’s military and the State Administration Council (SAC) junta leadership.
Sanctions would include a global arms embargo as well as reducing the junta’s gas revenues which are the military’s largest source of foreign currency income. Furthermore, Human Rights watch has requested that the US, EU, and UK should block payments to the junta from foreign-financed oil and gas projects which would restrict the junta’s access to foreign accounts while still maintaining the supply of gas and electricity to the country.
It is vital that Myanmar’s junta is sanctioned internationally for its crimes against humanity since its people have been suffering for six months and will continue to do so without urgent action.