BANGKOK — The main opposition organization in military-ruled Myanmar on Wednesday urged the United Nations Human Rights Council to act strongly to restore democracy in the Southeast Asian nation, saying that the international community should put sanctions and other pressures on the country’s generals.
The council, at its meeting in Geneva, received a similar appeal from Thomas Andrews, the U.N. special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar.
A report submitted a day earlier by U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said evidence suggests Myanmar’s military rulers bear responsibility for abuses constituting crimes against humanity and war crimes. The army seized power a year ago from the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi and since then has ruthlessly sought to suppress the widespread opposition to its rule.
The National Unity Government said it would like the international community to take action against the military, including sanctions and prosecutions under international law. The group, established by elected Myanmar lawmakers who were not allowed to take their seats, considers itself the country’s legitimate administrative body though it is forced to operate underground. Initial efforts are underway to bring the issue to the International Criminal Court.
Andrews, in a report covering much of the same ground as Bachelet’s, noted “the strong and swift action taken by (U.N.) Member States on behalf of the people of Ukraine and implores the international community to act similarly to protect the people of Myanmar. They too are under siege by a brutal and relentless military attack.”
Although many Western nations have imposed sanctions against Myanmar’s military rulers, wider international pressure on them has been forestalled by Russia and China, who provide the generals with diplomatic and material support.
The report from Bachelet’s human rights office accused Myanmar security forces of showing “a flagrant disregard for human life, bombarding populated areas with airstrikes and heavy weapons and deliberately targeting civilians, many of whom have been shot in the head, burned to death, arbitrarily arrested, tortured or used as human shields.”
It charged that the tactics of the military — known as the Tatmadaw — including targeted shots-to-the-head and immolation of victims, “suggest that such conduct is not misconduct or misbehavior of a few, but rather the result of instructions handed down through the command structure to use lethal force targeting civilians.”
“Taking into consideration the extent, type, and level of atrocity of Tatmadaw’s actions, it is highly improbable that soldiers acted independently outside the chain of command.” said the report.
The alleged crimes include killings, forcible transfer of population, imprisonment, torture, persecution on political grounds and enforced disappearances.
“The appalling breadth and scale of violations of international law suffered by the people of Myanmar demand a firm, unified, and resolute international response,” Bachelet said.
The report says that more than one-fifth of the more than 1,500 deaths credibly attributed to the actions of the security forces were people who died in detention, “either from lack of adequate medical attention to victims’ injuries suffered consequent to crackdowns and raids, or as result of cruel and inhuman treatment and torture especially during interrogation.”
In cases where the victims’ bodies were returned to their families, they exhibited signs of abuse.
In addition to repressing its opponents in the cities, the army is conducting large-scale offensive in the countryside to wipe out home-grown militias opposed to military rule.
The offensives are conducted with airstrikes, helicopter gunships, artillery, and mortars, and are reported to include “indiscriminate attacks often in populated areas, in flagrant disregard for human life and property,” according to the report.
“It has been well-documented that arson is a hallmark of Tatmadaw operations, mostly perpetrated after villagers are displaced,” it said.
The report also contains rare criticism of the forces opposed to military rule, noting their alleged involvement in forced and child recruitment as well as land mine use.
It also gives attention to 543 people who since last May “have reportedly been killed due to their perceived support of the military.” It said the victims include at least 166 local administrators appointed or linked to the ruling military council or their family members, 47 members of the pro-military Union Solidarity and Development Party, and 214 alleged military informers.
“It is not possible to attribute most of these deaths to particular actors, but anti-coup armed elements claimed responsibility for 95 incidents,” it said. The National Unity Government disavows such actions and also claims to abide by international laws governing armed conflicts.