Myanmar army inflicting collective punishment on civilians, blocking access to food funds: UN envoy
UNITED NATIONS:The UN Special Envoy for Myanmar told the UN General Assembly Thursday that the impact of the military’s February 2021 takeover of the South East Asian country has been “devastating,” with violence continuing “at an alarming scale.”
On 1 February, Noeleen Heyzer, the Special Envoy, said the military had extended its state of emergency and intensified the use of force to include more aerial bombing, the burning of civilian homes, and other “grave human rights violations to maintain its grip on power.”
Myanmar has been mired in chaos and violence since the military rejected the November 2020 election results and overthrew the democratically elected civilian government on February 1, 2021.
Since then, human rights groups say thousands of civilians, including many children, have been killed or arrested in a crackdown. The military has also arrested, tried and sentenced de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi, and other high-ranking officials from the ousted National League for Democracy party.
In her grim assessment of the situation, the Special Envoy described the spread of Martial Law to 47 different townships, and the empowering of citizens deemed loyal to the regime, by allowing them to carry guns.
Atrocities, beheadings, and the mutilation of rebel fighters’ bodies have been recorded, together with escalating violence in ethnic areas, Ms Heyzer said.
“We just received reports that 28 civilians were killed by the military at a monastery in Southern Shan state this weekend.”
She said that despite the brutal repression, widespread and popular resistance continues, by any means possible, across much of Myanmar.
“A generation that benefited from Myanmar’s previous opening up, especially the youth, is now disillusioned, facing chronic hardship and many feeling they have no choice but to take up arms to fight the military rule.
Heavy fighting has spread to areas previously unaffected by the conflict, she added, putting more civilian lives at risk and further complicating humanitarian operations to save lives amid the fighting.
She said a “four cuts” strategy put in place by the regime, “which seeks to block access to food, funds, information and recruits – continues to target civilians as collective punishment.”
Ms. Heyzer said the opposition National Unity Government was continuing to point to the brutality of military forces, while also warning resistance militias not to themselves, “perform inhumane acts.”
“With both sides intent on prevailing by force, there is no prospect for a negotiated settlement”, the special envoy added.
The conflict has meant humanitarian needs have risen steadily, with 17.6 million Burmese in need of humanitarian assistance, more than 1.6 million internally displaced, and an estimated 55,000 civilian buildings destroyed since the coup.
She said it was critical, that a Myanmar-led process, reflective of all voices – especially women, youth and minorities – be allowed to decide the country’s future.
“Sustainable solutions for the Rohingya people must be built into the design of a peaceful, inclusive and democratic Myanmar”, she added. “Their voices have to be integral to decisions about their own future."
Ms Heyzer reminded the member states that more than five years since the forced mass exodus across the border into Bangladesh by the mainly Muslim Rohingya, hundreds of thousands of refugees continue to face extreme hardships.
Earlier this month, another massive fire ripped through a Rohingya refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, affecting 15,000 and the World Food Programme (WFP) has announced it needs to reduce rations for refugees this month due to a severe funding shortfall.
Ms Heyzer urged member states to support the 2023 Joint Response Plan for the Rohingya Humanitarian Crisis, which stands at $876 million, adding that “now is not the time for donor fatigue”.
She concluded by saying that despite tragedy and deep uncertainty in Myanmar, “there is unprecedented solidarity that has emerged in the country".
“I know that this General Assembly will renew its commitment to supporting the will of the people, including the Rohingya, to build a peaceful, just and democratic union of Myanmar for all.”