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'Tide Is Turning' Against Myanmar's Junta, UN Special Rapporteur Says

FILE - Anti-coup protesters gesture with a three-fingers salute, a symbol of resistance to the military junta, during a police crackdown in Thaketa township, Yangon, Myanmar, March 27, 2021.
FILE - Anti-coup protesters gesture with a three-fingers salute, a symbol of resistance to the military junta, during a police crackdown in Thaketa township, Yangon, Myanmar, March 27, 2021.

Myanmar’s ruling junta “is losing” its war against a coalition of domestic forces but still remains highly dangerous, according to a U.N. special rapporteur on the human rights situation in that country.

“The tide is turning in Myanmar because of widespread citizen opposition to the junta and mounting battlefield victories by resistance forces,” said Tom Andrews, who presented his latest report to the U.N. Human Rights Council on Tuesday.

At a briefing for reporters Wednesday, Andrews said the junta is losing territory, bases, and troops, and losing its capacity “to promote the fiction that it is in any way legitimate” or that it can unify the country by force.

“The junta now controls less than half of Myanmar and has lost tens of thousands of troops to casualties, surrender, or defections since it launched its military coup over three years ago,” he said.

Andrews added that Myanmar’s military, “while desperate,” remains extremely dangerous and has escalated its punishing assault on the civilian population.

“The past five months have seen a fivefold increase in airstrikes against civilian targets,” he said, noting that the number killed or injured by landmines “more than doubled last year.”

Since the junta toppled the country’s democratically elected government on February 1, 2021, thousands of people have been killed, tens of thousands arbitrarily arrested and detained, and millions displaced.

In response, supporters of the ousted democratically elected government led by Aung San Suu Kyi have joined forces with a collection of ethnically based militias to fight against the brutalizing, repressive leadership, with increasing success.

A terrible toll

The special rapporteur is calling on states to stop exporting the sophisticated, powerful weapons Myanmar is using to kill civilians, warning that the violence and chaos in Myanmar could spill over into the region and the wider world.

“Thousands of desperate people continue to flee into neighboring countries. Junta fighter jets have violated the airspace of Myanmar’s neighbors, bombs have landed across borders,” he said.

Underscoring the dangers of appeasing and supporting the junta, Andrews noted that criminal networks “have found a safe haven in Myanmar.”

“Myanmar is now the top opium producer in the world and a global center for cyber-scam operations that enslave tens of thousands and victimize untold numbers of people around the world,” he said.

The junta’s military crackdown and its abusive treatment of the civilian population have exacted a terrible toll.

The Burmese human rights organization The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners estimates more than 4,500 people have been killed and over 26,000 arrested, most of whom remain detained.

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, OCHA, reports 2.7 million people have been displaced and 18.6 million people in Myanmar, including 6 million children, need humanitarian assistance.

“When I began my service as special rapporteur, before the coup, that number was 1 million,” Andrews said.

'The unfathomable'

To make matters worse, he said the junta has begun a program of forced military recruitment, “at times abducting young men on the street.” Others are going into hiding or fleeing the country.

“Particularly hard hit are the besieged members of the Rohingya community who are now being subjected to ongoing bombardment by junta forces. But, unlike most in Myanmar, the Rohingya are prohibited from moving to safety,” he said.

“Now, the junta is trying to force young Rohingya to do the unfathomable — join the very military that is committing these relentless attacks and that committed genocide against their community, forcing hundreds of thousands over the border into Bangladesh.”

In August 2017, nearly 1 million Rohingya Muslims fled to Cox’s Bazaar, Bangladesh to escape persecution, violence, and serious human rights violations in Myanmar’s Rakhine state.

They live in what is known as “the world’s largest refugee camp” in overcrowded conditions, with little access to education and no ability to earn an income, leaving them vulnerable to exploitation and serious protection risks.

The United Nations describes the Rohingya as “the most persecuted minority in the world.”

Myanmar’s military junta has denied the Rohingya citizenship and sees them as foreign interlopers.

Andrews has called on the international community not to turn a blind eye to the horrors that are ongoing in Myanmar. He said strong, concerted international action is required to stop the killing of innocent civilians and bring down the illegitimate leaders.

He said impunity for war crimes and crimes against humanity in Myanmar must end. For that to happen, he said, “Those who are responsible for atrocity crimes in Myanmar must know that they will be held accountable.”

Myanmar was unable to respond to the special rapporteur’s report at the U.N. Human Rights Council because the United Nation does not recognize the de facto military rulers as a legitimate government.