Myanmar is a ‘failed state’ and the crisis is growing exponentially, a UN special rapporteur for the country has warned, urging countries to pass the same unified resolution that followed the invasion of Ukraine .
“The same kinds of weapons that kill Ukrainians kill people in Myanmar,” Tom Andrews, special rapporteur on the human rights situation in Myanmar, told the Guardian in an interview, citing Russian arms supply to the junta since the coup. two years ago. The junta relies heavily on Chinese and Russian aircraft and has increasingly resorted to airstrikes in an attempt to suppress determined resistance forces.
The international response in Myanmar has been inadequate and some countries continue to allow the junta’s atrocities, Andrews said, calling for an arms embargo.
“It’s indescribable what’s happening and what’s incredibly frustrating is the fact that, for most of the world, it’s not happening,” he said.
Instead, the world was “watching a train wreck,” Andrews said. “Myanmar is a failed state, it is failing and it is happening before our eyes.”
He spoke ahead of a report, to be presented to the Human Rights Council next week, which details how people who have fled Myanmar face “the risk of arrest, detention, deportation, refoulement on land and at sea” as well as the obstruction of their access. to the UN refugee agency, UNHCR.
Myanmar was thrown into chaos in February 2021 when the military arrested the country’s leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, and seized power. The coup provoked widespread opposition, including both a peaceful civil disobedience movement and armed resistance. The conflict has escalated over the past two years, spreading across large parts of the country, including once-peaceful regions, where members of the public have joined advocacy groups to fight back against the military.
The army – which the analysis has shown has lost ground to the resistance despite its superior weaponry – has increasingly deployed airstrikes, including against schools and medical facilities, as well as scorched earth, in an attempt to stop the resistance.
“As it becomes more dangerous for their troops to operate in the field, they have resorted to these gunships, fighter jets that drop bombs on villages and even centers for displaced persons. [camps for internally displaced people who have been forced to flee]“, said Andrews.
Myanmar’s military has previously denied committing atrocities and says its operations target “terrorists”.
A report by the special rapporteur last year said that Russia, China and Serbia were supplying arms to the junta. A recent investigation by Myanmar Witness also revealed that the military relied heavily on Russian or Chinese air assets for its attacks.
Andrews said he recently spoke to a father whose home was destroyed by the military. The father had taken his family to a center for displaced persons; only for it to be bombarded. Her two daughters, aged 12 and 15, were killed.
The junta launched airstrikes in 10 of the country’s 14 administrative divisions in the last six months of 2022, according to Myanmar Witness, with such attacks occurring almost daily.
Given its reliance on Chinese and Russian aircraft, the junta sought to publicly align itself with the two countries after the coup. The military, led by Min Aung Hlaing, is “fawning Russia”, Andrews said. “He flew to Moscow, he praised Putin, they are of course tracing and securing the weapons they use to commit these atrocities.”
However, Andrews said other countries are able to take stronger strategic measures to prevent the junta from accessing resources. While many Western governments imposed sanctions, more coordination was needed, he said.
An arms embargo and measures to prevent aviation fuel from reaching the military should also be adopted. He did not suggest sending arms to support the resistance, but rather measures to prevent arms or resources from reaching the junta.
Andrews also backed calls for the UN Security Council to pass a resolution that will refer the situation in Myanmar to the International Criminal Court.
Countries have a moral imperative to do “everything possible to wrest from the junta the means by which they continue to attack their people”, Andrews said. It is also in the interest of the international community, especially neighboring countries, to act, he said.
“Myanmar is a very important country, it is a nation of 54 million people, located on a very important part of the world between India and China. You have already seen the impact of the instability that exists. Thousands and thousands of people every month are running for their lives every month across the border in the region. »
In a report to be presented to the Human Rights Council on March 20, the special rapporteur said neighboring governments have forcibly returned people – including military deserters and children – to Myanmar despite the risk of imprisonment, torture or even execution.
According to the UN, the number of people in need of humanitarian assistance has skyrocketed from 1 million before the coup to 17.6 million in 2023.
“The economy has imploded, you have half the people now living in poverty. You have the collapse of the education system with millions of children not having the opportunity to go to school. health system has collapsed,” he said. “Things are bad and they are getting exponentially worse.”
Some in Myanmar, while praising the support Ukraine has received, wondered why the international response to the atrocities in their country was so different, Andrews said. He said he did not have the answer, adding that some nations continue to allow the junta’s crimes.
“There is a moral imperative not to turn our backs on people who show extraordinary courage in the fight for their country and their future,” Andrews said.