The international community is failing the citizens of Myanmar, a U.N. human rights official said Wednesday as he called for a coordinated imposition of oil and gas sanctions on the military junta ruling the country.
Speaking to the U.N. Human Rights Council, Thomas Andrews, the special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, proposed several courses of action to ameliorate the crisis in the country.
"Oil and gas sector revenues are a financial lifeline for the junta and are estimated to be close to what is needed for the junta to maintain the security forces that are keeping them in power. They should be stopped," Andrews said.
Five months ago, the Myanmar military toppled the country's democratically elected government. Since seizing control, the ruling regime, officially known as the Tatmadaw, has responded to a popular uprising with force, killing nearly 900 people.
Several world powers, including the U.S. and the European Union, have imposed sanctions on Myanmar since the February 1 coup. Last week, the U.S. government announced its harshest set of economic sanctions, targeting military officials and companies tied to the Tatmadaw.
Sanctions have had little impact so far, Andrews said, and he repeated his proposal to form a collective of countries called the Emergency Coalition for the People of Myanmar.
"Over the last five months, we have witnessed what happens when there is a lack of strong, coordinated international action," Andrews said. "We therefore know with virtual certainty that if the international community continues its current course, things will continue to deteriorate for the people of Myanmar."
Increase aid, investigate crimes
The proposed coalition could weaken the Tatmadaw's power by limiting access to revenue, oil, gas and weapons, Andrews said. He added that such a coalition of states could increase humanitarian aid by bypassing the junta and working with members of the ousted government, investigate violent crimes committed against civilians and deny the Tatmadaw any international recognition.
Andrews' call came with a warning that some protesters in Myanmar have lost faith that the international community will step in and have begun retaliating against the junta with militias, sabotage and attacks directed at military officials.
"This trend could escalate quickly, and the junta's pattern of the use of grossly disproportionate force in response will likely lead to an even greater loss of life," he said.
The people of Myanmar have staged mass protests against the regime since February. In response, the Tatmadaw has arrested over 5,000 citizens and forcibly displaced hundreds of thousands of others, according to the U.N.
The military has even started to arrest family members in place of individuals with outstanding arrest warrants who can't be found, Andrews said.
Many of the Tatmadaw's actions can be explained by its "four cuts" strategy, which entails targeting civilian communities thought to harbor opposition members and cutting them off from food, funding, intelligence and recruits.
Andrews called the junta's actions "crimes against humanity."
Tatmadaw leaders also announced on Wednesday a stay-at-home order for parts of Yangon, the largest city in Myanmar, citing health concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Around 1.5 million people are currently banned from leaving their homes for nonmedical reasons.
According to Andrews, 26% of Myanmar people tested for COVID-19 are positive. By comparison, the positivity rate in the U.S. currently sits around 2.5%.
Only 3.2% of the country's 54 million citizens have been vaccinated.
"The public health system is in tatters and many are unwilling to get vaccinated in a junta-run operation," Andrews said. "Myanmar is at grave risk of becoming a COVID-19 superspreader state, impacting untold numbers of people both inside and outside of its borders."