Geneva, Switzerland — Myanmar’s military rulers now see civilians as their adversaries and are making war on the country’s people, undermining their ability to live, the United Nations said on Friday.
Two years on from the February 1, 2021, coup the situation is a “festering catastrophe”, said UN human rights chief Volker Turk, adding that the junta was operating with “complete impunity”.
In a report examining the two years since the takeover, the UN Human Rights Office said at least 2,940 people had been verified as killed, of which nearly 30 percent died in detention.
However, the true death toll is likely to be much higher.
James Rodehaver, head of the office’s team in Myanmar, said the armed forces were now actively fighting on around 13 fronts.
“The military is stretched increasingly thin,” he told a briefing in Geneva, so has relied increasingly on air power and shelling to clear the way for ground forces, with more than 300 airstrikes in the last year.
The report documented deadly air strikes on schools and hospitals.
Nearly 80 percent of the country’s 330 townships have been affected by armed clashes, the report said.
“There has never been a time and a situation in which a crisis in Myanmar has reached this far, this wide throughout the country,” said Rodehaver.
“In the past, the conflicts have been more isolated in the ethnic states. Now it’s reaching even the Bamar heartland.”
UN reports indicate that nearly 39,000 houses nationwide have been burned or destroyed in junta operations since February 2022, “a more than 1,000-fold increase compared to 2021”, the UN rights office said.
The junta and its affiliates have made 17,572 arrests since the coup, it added.
The junta is using a so-called “four cuts” strategy: an attempt to cut off resistance food, communications, ability to recruit and access to money, said Rodehaver.
“What they’re doing now is they are treating Myanmar’s people as their opponent and adversary,” he said.
“You have a military making war against its own people.
“They have really created a crisis that’s resulted in a loss, a regression in every human right, and that includes the basic ability to live and to have an economic future.”
Turk said Myanmar’s generals, “emboldened by continuous and absolute impunity”, had embarked on a scorched earth policy to stamp out opposition.
“There are reasonable grounds to believe that the military and its affiliated militias continue to be responsible for most violations, some of which may constitute crimes against humanity and war crimes,” he said.
The report said two years of violence had taken a “tremendous toll” on the people, crippling public institutions and hollowing out the economy.
The UN reported that since February 2021, more than 1 million people have been displaced.
Meanwhile, 25 million people, nearly half the population, live in poverty and 17.6 million need humanitarian assistance.
“The military has brought the country into a perpetual human rights crisis through continuous use of violence, including killing, arbitrarily arresting, torturing, forcibly disappearing, prosecuting and sentencing opponents,” the report said.
The junta has indicated it intends to hold an election this year, despite the unrest.
“It is difficult to currently conceive how such a process could constitute a free and fair expression properly reflecting the popular democratic will,” the UN report said.