The U.N. special rapporteur for Myanmar warns that unless the international community changes how it deals with the military junta in that country, the already catastrophic situation will only get worse.
“There's no coordination, there's no strategy. There's no focus. And as a result, these don't add up to any kind of a coherent whole,” Tom Andrews told VOA of the various sanctions and arms embargoes imposed by some countries.
The humanitarian situation has rapidly deteriorated in Myanmar since the military ousted the country’s democratically elected government in February 2021. The power grab took place following days of tension between the military and the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD), which won the November 2020 elections. The military refused to accept the results, alleging massive election fraud.
Since its takeover, the military leadership has sought to suppress protests and silence critics, jailing journalists, members of civil society, human rights defenders and political opponents.
“Thousands and thousands of people have been killed. Tens of thousands have been detained,” Andrews said. “Many of them are children. People have been tortured, including children. And we see that the brutality of this military junta knows no bounds.”
Last month, a military helicopter opened fire on a school in the northwestern Sagaing Region, killing 13 people, including seven children. Earlier this week, the military bombed the site of a concert where hundreds were celebrating the anniversary of the founding of the Kachin Independence Organization. At least 50 people were killed.
Andrews, an independent human rights expert whose mandate comes from the U.N. Human Rights Council, delivered his annual report Wednesday to the General Assembly committee that deals with human rights.
He singled out Myanmar’s civil society, human rights defenders and journalists as “heroes” who are risking their lives to document atrocities and deserve international support. The junta, he said, has committed crimes against humanity and war crimes.
There was no response to Andrew’s report from Myanmar’s military rulers, who are not currently represented at the U.N. When Andrews presented his report, the representative for Myanmar’s democratically elected government, which still has U.N. credentials, spoke and echoed the special rapporteur’s findings.
Andrews recommended that countries form a coalition to implement a coordinated strategy to deprive the military of arms and fuel for their aircraft, financing, and the legitimacy the junta seeks.
That includes not assisting or recognizing planned elections next year, which he said the military wants to use to solidify its hold on power. Andrews said a free, fair and inclusive vote would be impossible in the current conditions.
“You cannot have an election when you incarcerate, torture and execute the opposition,” he said. “You can't have an election where it's illegal to criticize the junta. This is outrageous. So, it's important that governments not give any kind of legitimacy to this fraud by providing any kind of assistance whatsoever.”
Foreign ministers from regional bloc ASEAN are holding a special meeting Thursday on the situation in Myanmar. In April 2021, the 10-member bloc came up with a "five-point consensus" to end the fighting and move to dialogue. Myanmar military chief Min Aung Hlaing agreed to the package of proposals but has failed to implement it.
The special rapporteur said he was encouraged that there has been some criticism within ASEAN members about the five-point consensus and that there is discussion of new strategies.
Andrews said he had not been able to establish contact with ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi or President U Win Myint, who have been jailed by the junta. He does have ongoing engagement with the national unity government. As for contacts with the military leadership, he said he had sought entry into Myanmar but had been rejected.