UN Expert Warns Myanmar Coup Regime Likely Perpetrating 'Crimes Against Humanity'

As soldiers and police on Thursday continued their brutal crackdown against pro-democracy demonstrators in Myanmar, United Nations special rapporteur Tom Andrews said the military regime that seized control of the nation last month has likely committed “crimes against humanity.” 

“Myanmar is being controlled by a murderous, illegal regime.”
—Thomas Andrews, 
U.N. special rapporteur

Describing what he called the “horrible truth” of mounting killings and arbitrary detentions, Andrews said in an address to the U.N. Human Rights Council that “Myanmar security forces have murdered at least 70 people” and arrested more than 2,000 since the February 1 coup

“Those murdered were fathers, sons, mothers, daughters, husbands, and wives,” said Andrews, a former Democratic congressman from Maine. “They were educators, they were engineers, they were students, they were many ages, but more than half of those murdered were members of Generation Z, or young people under the age of 25.”

Andrews cited “extensive video evidence of security forces viciously beating protesters, medics, and bystanders,” and of soldiers and police rampaging through neighborhoods while “firing indiscriminately into people’s homes.”

Meanwhile, said Andrews, “the junta has systematically destroyed legal protections, from freedom of expression, assembly, and association, [and] to the right to privacy” while empowering its forces “to invade people’s homes without warning.”

Andrews said the regime has also suspended habeas corpus, “criminalized any criticism of the junta… enabled sweeping surveillance authorities, decimated the free press, banned most trade unions,” and proscribed “gatherings of more than five people.” 

“Myanmar is being controlled by a murderous, illegal regime,” asserted Andrews, adding that “its current leadership perpetrated the atrocity crimes that are the focus of the charge of genocide before the International Court of Justice,” a reference to the mass killing, repression, and expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims since 2017. 

“The crimes against Rohingya people have continued,” said Andrews. “Throughout 2020, Myanmar security forces engaged in torture, murder, and enforced disappearances of Rohingya, killing at least 33.” 

However, Andrews’ main focus was on the anti-coup crackdown. He accused the junta of “likely engaging in crimes against humanity, including the acts of murder, enforced disappearance, persecution, torture, and imprisonment in violation of fundamental rules of international law.”

These crimes, said Andrews, are being committed as part of a coordinated campaign “directed against the civilian population” and “with the knowledge of senior leadership.” 

“The people of Myanmar need not only words of support but supportive action,” Andrews stressed. “They need the help of the international community, now.”

Andrews urged U.N. member states to sanction the junta’s senior officials and military-owned enterprises, outlaw arms exports to the regime, charge its leaders under applicable universal jurisdiction laws, suspend developmental aid to Myanmar, and deny recognition of the illegitimate coup government. 

His remarks came amid reports that junta forces killed nine more protesters Thursday.

Junta leaders refuted Andrews’ allegations. Following his address, Chan Aye, the permanent secretary of Myanmar’s foreign ministry, told the Human Rights Council that junta forces “have been exercising utmost restraint to deal with violent protests.”

Amnesty International, however, on Thursday published a damning report and video documenting the regime’s deadly repression.

“These Myanmar military tactics are far from new, but their killing sprees have never before been livestreamed for the world to see,” said Joanne Mariner, Amnesty’s director of crisis response. 

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