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The Myanmar military has continued to roll out a deadly campaign of violence in the last few months according to a new report by Amnesty International. Researchers documented the killing of innocent civilians, detention of thousands, and the displacement of tens of thousands in eastern Myanmar.
Amnesty International, one of the world’s leading human rights organizations, released a new report on June 1, titled, “Bullets rained from the sky”: War crimes and displacement in eastern Myanmar.
The report revealed that after the coup of Feb 1, 2021, Myanmar’s military, also known as the Tatmadaw, has ramped up its attacks targeting civilians in both Karen and Karenni states. Researchers found that the military employed both ground and air attacks, torture, extrajudicial executions, and the systematic razing of villages and townships.
The new report is the latest in a long line of documentation that has spotlighted human rights abuses perpetrated by the Tatmadaw. Since the Feb 1, 2021, coup, local human rights organizations have meticulously unveiled a spike in similar crimes, including airstrikes on civilians and the shelling of villages. Since the coup, the military has killed at least 1,876 people and arrested over 10,000 others.
“The world’s attention may have moved away from Myanmar since last year’s coup, but civilians continue to pay a high price. The military’s ongoing assault on civilians in eastern Myanmar has been widespread and systematic, likely amounting to crimes against humanity,” said Rawya Rageh, Senior Crisis Adviser at Amnesty International.
“Alarm bells should be ringing: the ongoing killing, looting and burning bear all the hallmarks of the military’s signature tactic of collective punishment, which it has repeatedly used against ethnic minorities across the country.”
Amnesty International researchers outline a climate of terror in which the Tatmadaw continues to use airstrikes on civilians in Karen and Karenni states, not far from the Thai border. The organization documented at least 24 attacks by artillery or mortars between December 2021 and March 2022 that killed civilians.
In one case, researchers reported the killing of an entire family in Ka Law Day village, Hpapun Township, Kayin State, when an airstrike hit their home as they were eating dinner. The attack killed seven people, including a woman who was pregnant.
“When that fighter jet was flying toward us in a nose-down position, I was numb… When they fired the rocket, I got myself together and realized I had to run [to a bunker]…” a witness told Amnesty International. “We were shocked to see the dust and debris come towards us… There is a two-story building… The family lives upstairs and the downstairs is a mobile phone store. This building collapsed and it was also on fire.”
The human rights watchdog also found that the Tatmadaw targeted anyone perceived as part of the resistance, in many cases detaining, then torturing, forcibly disappearing, or extrajudicially executing suspects resistance fighters. These kinds of killings could amount to war crimes, the rights group said.
Commenting on the attacks on villages, a military defector told Amnesty International that the airstrikes were aimed to cause fear and terrorize civilians.
“They don’t have any particular reason [for burning a specific house]. They just want to put the fear in the civilians that ‘This is what we’ll do if you support [the resistance fighters].’ And another thing is to stop the supply and logistics for the local resistance forces… [Soldiers] took everything they could [from a village] and then they burned the rest,” the defector said.
Hundreds of thousands of civilians have been displaced since the attacks. Some estimates coming out of United Nations predicts as many as as 1 million people may have been displaced.
Over the last six months, thousands of Myanmar refugees have intermittently fled to Thailand to escape the violence. Living conditions on the Thai side are difficult and refugee settlements have been dismantled by the Thai authorities on multiple occasions.
“The military’s ongoing crimes against civilians in eastern Myanmar reflect decades-long patterns of abuse and flagrant impunity. The international community — including ASEAN and UN member states — must tackle this festering crisis now. The UN Security Council must impose a comprehensive arms embargo on Myanmar and refer the situation there to the International Criminal Court.”