Myanmar’s military junta is systematically abducting the relatives of people it is seeking to arrest, including children as young as 20 weeks old, according the UN special rapporteur for the country.
Tom Andrews told the UN Human Rights Council on Wednesday that conditions in the country had continued to deteriorate and “current efforts by the international community to stop the downward spiral of events in Myanmar are simply not working”.
His speech was followed by the release of a report by the UN Human Rights Office on Thursday, which warned of a “human rights catastrophe” and said abuses perpetrated since the coup may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity.
The military and its forces have killed more than 1,100 people, according to the UN report. It details systematic, targeted killings by the junta, including the use of semi-automatic rifles and snipers against pro-democracy protesters. Weapons designed for military confrontation, such as grenade launchers and artillery shells, have also been used against protesters and fired into residential areas, it said.
“Victims of security forces often sustained wounds to their heads and torsos, indicating that they were targeted for maximum harm,” the report said.
As of July, the junta had killed at least 75 children ranging in age from 14 months to 17 years, according to Andrews. The military, he added, was routinely abducting family members when it is unable to locate individuals it is seeking to arrest.
“I have received credible reports that junta forces have arbitrarily detained at least 177 individuals when the initial target of a raid had successfully eluded arrest. These victims include very young children as young as 20 weeks old,” he said.
More than 8,000 people have been detained since the military seized power on 1 February. The junta, which faces widespread public opposition, has arrested anyone who has challenged its rule – from elected politicians, to activists, medical workers and journalists.
Most are held without any form of due process, and lack access to legal counsel, or even the ability to communicate with their families, according to the UN Human Rights Office report.
“We continue to receive reports from multiple locations of interrogation techniques that amount to ill-treatment and torture, and have credible information that more than 120 detainees have died in custody – some within 24 hours of their arrest,” said Michelle Bachelet, UN high commissioner for human rights, in a speech to the UN Human Rights Council on Thursday.
“Conflict, poverty and the effects of the pandemic are sharply increasing, and the country faces a vortex of repression, violence and economic collapse,” Bachelet said.
In response to the coup, peaceful protests and a civil disobedience campaign spread across the country. A growing armed resistance movement has also emerged, with civilians taking up arms to defend their areas from military repression. Bachelet warned of “the alarming possibility of an escalating civil war”.
Over recent days, virtually the entire population of a town in western Myanmar, home to 7,500 people, were forced to flee, after clashes between the military and its opponents, according to media reports.
The Global New Light of Myanmar, which is controlled by the junta, said the military was ambushed by “some 100 terrorists” while patrolling Thantlang in Chin state, near the border with India.
Residents started to flee on Monday after soldiers “began to randomly shoot out the windows” of houses in the town, according to a resident who spoke to AFP anonymously.
“Almost everyone has left,” he said, adding he was sheltering in a nearby village with about 500 people, and that several hundred had already headed towards India.
Another resident said she travelled for three days with her elderly parents to reach India after soldiers bombed her house and fighting escalated around the town.
“I never thought of running from my own house even after the military bombed it … but as things got worse … I finally had to flee,” she told AFP on condition of anonymity.
The independent outlet Myanmar Now reported that soldiers shot dead a Baptist pastor, who had gone outside to extinguish fires. His body was discovered with his left ring finger missing, the chair of the Thantlang Association of Baptist Churches said, adding that he believed troops had stolen his wedding ring.
The junta spokesperson Zaw Min Tun dismissed such reports as fake news. He said 20 homes and a government building had been destroyed in a fire after a clash on 18 September.
Attacks on junta troops have increased after Myanmar’s self-declared parallel government, which was set up by pro-democracy politicians, announced a “defensive war” against the military earlier this month.
There are now more than 230,000 civilians who have been displaced as a result of the junta. Speaking to the Human Rights Council, Andrews called for greater humanitarian aid for the more than 3 million Myanmar people who are in need of assistance.
“The international community must make a stronger commitment to ensuring lifesaving aid reaches those in need,” he said. “Myanmar civil society organisations who are saving lives need and deserve our support. The 2021 UN Myanmar Humanitarian Response Plan has received only 46% of requested funds to date. We can and should do better.”