Myanmar’s military guilty of war crimes including use of human shields and mass killings, rights group says

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The Myanmar military kidnapped civilians and forced them to work as human shields, deliberately attacked residential areas including places of worship, and carried out massacres, according to a new report from the prominent rights group, Fortify Rights. 

“The report only touches the surface when it comes to  deadly actions from the Myanmar military,” Ismail Wolff, Regional Director, Fortify Rights, told Thai Enquirer by phone.

“We’ve also seen huge civilian displacement due to Myanmar military attacks and human rights violations against civilians in Karen State,” he said citing the newly released report.

The report, titled, “Ongoing War Crimes in Karenni (Kayah) State, Myanmar: May 2021 to January 2022,”  found that new attacks in eastern Myanmar may amount to war crimes.

Ismail said that in December 2021 and January 2022, the Tatmadaw carried out increased attacks on civilians in Karenni State (Kayah), killing men, women, and children. The military has targeted civilian-populated areas with shelling from both artillery and airstrikes.

It’s been just over a year since the Myanmar military, known as the Tatmadaw, overthrew the country’s democratically elected party in a coup on February 1, 2021. The power grab ignited mass protests and sprung armed resistance throughout the country. 

At least 1,500 people have been killed since Feb 1, and hundreds of thousands of civilians have been forcibly displaced from the increased fighting nationwide. 

Ismael added that the Tatmadaw’s targeting of civilian populations amounts to war crimes. 

The report also found evidence of additional mass-atrocities, including attacks on civilians, including women, and children, and the use of indiscriminate air strikes.

Researchers included additional details surrounding the “Christmas Eve massacre.” At least 40 civilians were killed in the attack in Karenni state on December 24, including a child, and two humanitarians from Save the Children. 

A medical doctor in Myanmar whose name was withheld for security reasons, told Fortify Rights that conducting the autopsies on the discovered bodies was “almost impossible” as they were so thoroughly burned. But five bodies, belonging to women and a girl under the age of 15 years old, were able to be identified.

“Some had their mouths stuffed with cloth, so we were pretty sure these people were gagged,” the doctor told Fortify Rights. “Almost every skull was fractured and badly cracked, we could gather enough evidence to say they were burned to death alive.”

Nadi, 26, a member of the Karenni Nationalities Defense Force (KNDF) who uses a pseudonym, was with one of the first groups to discover the victims’ bodies. He told Fortify Rights that he heard explosions and gunshots, and saw the presence of Myanmar military forces in the area. 

“When I saw [the bodies], I couldn’t believe my eyes,” Nadi said. “They were brutally killed. The corpses were so gruesome. Some of them were even hard to identify [as people]. No hands, no legs, nothing,” he said.

Aid workers are among those arrested and injured as they were providing assistance to the villagers, researchers found. 

Ismail said that the international community needs to come together to stop the continued atrocities perpetrated by the military. He added that more action needs to be taken in order to cut off resources to the junta. Once resources are choked off, the Tatmadaw “will be significantly impacted.”

“The military is not backing down,” Ismail said.  “And unfortunately, the situation continues to deteriorate. I don’t think we’ve seen enough action from the international community.”

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