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Protesters regroup after police fired warning-shots and use water cannons during a protest in Mandalay
Protesters regroup after police fired warning-shots and use water cannons during a protest in MandalayImage: AP/picture alliance

Myanmar: UN rights body spotlights human rights violations

February 12, 2021

The United Nations' leading human rights body has highlighted the Myanmar junta's "dubious" arrests and the firing of live ammunition. However, the protests go on.


The United Nations' top rights body opened an urgent session on the Myanmar military coup on Friday, amid calls for sanctions against the junta.

The UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) has no power to impose sanctions, but it can act as a vehicle to train international attention to human rights violations.

What did the UN Human Rights Council say?

  • More than 350 people in Myanmar have been arrested since the February 1 military coup
  • Some of those arrested, including officials, activists, and monks, face charges on "dubious grounds"
  • There are growing reports and photographic evidence that "Myanmar security forces have used live ammunition against protesters"
  • There was evidence that the military had given "draconian orders" against freedom of expression
  • There has been a growing presence of soldiers on the street

'The world is watching'

The UN's deputy human rights chief Nada al-Nashif said the international community must make clear the coup and subsequent crackdown were unacceptable.

"The world is watching," al-Nashif warned. "Draconian orders have been issued this week to prevent peaceful assembly and free expression, and police and military presence on the streets has grown progressively over the last several days.

"Let us be clear: the indiscriminate use of lethal or less-than-lethal weapons against peaceful protestors is unacceptable," she said.

However, al-Nashif stressed it was important that any sanctions against the regime should be targeted against "specific individuals who are credibly alleged to have violated the people's rights."

The US has already announced new sanctions that target junta leader Min Aung Hlaing and other top generals.

Woman shot in head

Amnesty International told DW on Friday that it had evidence that security forces had used live ammunition.

A woman was critically injured after being shot in the head at a protest in Naypyitaw on Tuesday.

"The incident in question in Naypyitaw, the capital, was filmed. We were able to geolocate where the incident took place. We saw that they were using a locally made clone of an Uzi weapon," Kayleigh Long, a researcher covering Myanmar for Amnesty International, told DW. "The shells would indicate it was light ammunition and not rubber bullets." 

"That is, as far as we can tell, the first use of live ammunition against protesters. We've also seen them using water cannons and other disproportionate force in trying to quell the protests."

Renewed protests across country

Demonstrations against the coup continued unabated on Friday with tens of thousands of people reportedly turning out.

While demonstrations in the country's largest city Yangon remained peaceful, there were reports that those elsewhere had resulted in clashes with police.

After its arrest of the country's de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi last week, the junta has proclaimed a state of emergency lasting a year. It had promised to hold fresh elections, but with no precise offer of a timeframe.

While the coup has triggered widespread international condemnation, China — a regional and economic ally — has declined to criticize the generals that presided over it.

Myanmar, a former British colony then known as Burma, was under military rule for five decades following a 1962 coup. While Suu Kyi's five years as the nation's effective leader have represented a brief period of relative democracy, the country's authorities have continued to apply repressive colonial-era laws and engage in ethnic conflict.

rc/aw (Reuters, AFP, AP)

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