Japanese Ambassador to Bangladesh Ito Naoki on Monday (November 14, 2022) said it is unlikely to see a full-scale Rohingya repatriation anytime soon due to the situation in Myanmar at this moment. "It'll be very difficult to see repatriation of Rohingyas in full-scale soon. Unless you see the improvement of situation in Myanmar, it'll be very difficult for us to see their repatriation to Myanmar," he said. They Ambassador said Japan is communicating with the Myanmar military and Myanmar needs to halt violence, release detainees and restore the democracy there. He, however, said they may be able to start pilot repatriation at this moment, not full-scale repatriation of Rohingyas to their homeland. Read more: Russian FM Lavrov’s Visit: Dhaka to focus on energy cooperation, Rohingya issue Bangladesh is now hosting over 1.1 million Rohingyas in Cox’s Bazar and Bhasan Char and not a single Rohingya was repatriated over the last five years. "More than five years have passed. The situation is very unfortunate. Repatriation is of course the priority," said the Ambassador, adding that they are ready to work with the government of Bangladesh for repatriation of the Rohingyas. Unfortunately, he said, the situation in Myanmar will not allow the early repatriation of the Rohingyas. The envoy said this is a crucial challenge for the international community. Read more: Bangladesh seeks OIC’s help to continue Rohingya genocide case Japan has been cooperative to Bangladesh government and appreciates its efforts and generosity, he added. The Ambassador was responding to a question at an event titled “Meet the Ambassador” held in a Dhaka hotel. Centre for Governance Studies (CGS) hosted it in collaboration with the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) Bangladesh. Zillur Rahman, Executive Director of CGS moderated the programme. Read more: EU announces € 3m for Rohingyas in Bhasan Char
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet has urged the international community to intensify pressure on the military to stop its campaign of violence against the people of Myanmar. She also urged the international community to insist on prompt restoration of civilian rule, and accountability for violations committed by security forces. "We continue to document gross human rights violations and serious violations of international humanitarian law on a daily basis, including repression against protesters and attacks against civilians that may amount to crimes against humanity and war crimes," said Bachelet during a press conference in Geneva on Thursday. Read: I can understand PM Hasina’s pains: Bachelet August 25 marked five years since more than 700,000 Rohingya women, children and men were forced to flee Myanmar for Bangladesh – and Myanmar’s human rights catastrophe continues to worsen, with the military (the Tatmadaw) maintaining military operations in Kayah and Kayin in the southeast; Chin state in the northwest; and Sagaing and Magway regions in the Bamar heartland. The use of air power and artillery against villages and residential areas has intensified, she said. "Recent spikes in violence in Rakhine State also seemed to indicate that the last fairly stable area of the country may not avoid a resurgence of armed conflict," said the UN rights chief. She said Rohingya communities have frequently been caught between the Tatmadaw and Arakan Army fighters or have been targeted directly in operations.
Soldiers in the Myanmar military have admitted to killing, torturing and raping civilians in exclusive interviews with the BBC. For the first time they have given detailed accounts of widespread human rights abuses they say they were ordered to conduct. "They ordered me to torture, loot and kill innocent people." Maung Oo says he thought he had been recruited to the military as a guard. But he was part of a battalion who killed civilians hiding in a monastery in May 2022, reports BBC. "We were ordered to round up all the men and shoot them dead," he says. "The saddest thing was we had to kill elderly people and a woman." The testimony of six soldiers, including a corporal, plus some of their victims provides a rare insight of a military desperate to cling to power. All of the Myanmar names in this report have been changed to protect their identities. The soldiers, who recently defected, are under the protection of a local unit of the People's Defence Force (PDF), a loose network of civilian militia groups fighting to restore democracy. The military seized power from the democratically elected government led by Aung San Suu Kyi in a coup last year. It is now trying to crush the armed civilian uprising. On 20 December last year, three helicopters circled Yae Myet village in central Myanmar, dropping soldiers with orders to open fire. At least five different people, speaking independently from each other, told the BBC what happened. They say the army entered in three separate groups, shooting at men, women and children indiscriminately. "The order was to shoot anything you see," says Corporal Aung from an undisclosed location in a remote part of Myanmar's jungle. Read: Genocide against Rohingya: Bangladesh welcomes ICJ's rejection of Myanmar claims He says some people hid in what they thought was a safe place, but as the soldiers closed in they "started to run and we shot at them". Cpl Aung admits his unit shot and buried five men. "We also had an order to set fire to every large and decent house in the village," he says. The soldiers paraded around the village torching houses, shouting, "Burn! burn!" Cpl Aung set fire to four buildings. Those interviewed say about 60 houses were burnt, leaving much of the village in ashes. Most of the villagers had fled, but not everyone. One home in the centre of the village was inhabited. Thiha says he had joined the military just five months before the raid. Like many others, he was recruited from the community and says he was untrained. These recruits are locally referred to as Anghar-Sit-Thar or "hired soldiers". At the time he was paid a decent salary of 200,000 Myanmar Khat (approximately 100 USD) a month. He remembers what happened at that house vividly. He saw a teenage girl trapped behind iron bars in a house they were about to burn down. "I can't forget her shouting, I can still hear it in my ears and remember it in my heart," he says. When he told his captain, he replied, "I told you to kill everyone we see". So Thiha shot a flare into the room. Cpl Aung was also there and heard her cries as she was burnt alive. Read: Myanmar denies genocide, again describes Rohingyas as 'Bengali community' "It was heartbreaking to hear. We heard her voice repeatedly for about 15 minutes while the house was on fire," he recalls. The BBC tracked down the girl's family, who spoke in front of the charred remains of their home. Her relative U Myint said the girl had a mental health condition and had been left in her home while her parents went to work. "She tried to escape but they stopped her and let her burn," he says. She was not the only young woman to suffer at the hands of these soldiers. Thiha says he joined the military for the money but was shocked by what he was forced to do and the atrocities he witnessed. He speaks about a group of young women they arrested in Yae Myet. The officer handed them to his subordinates and said, "Do as you wish," he recounts. He said they raped the girls but he was not involved. We tracked down two of these girls. Pa Pa and Khin Htwe say they met the soldiers on the road as they tried to run away. They were not from Yae Myet, they had been visiting a tailor there. Despite their insistence that they were not PDF fighters or even from the village, they were imprisoned in a local school for three nights. Each night, they were repeatedly sexually abused by their intoxicated captors, they say. "They blindfolded my face with a sarong and pushed me down, they took off my clothes and raped me," Pa Pa says. "I shouted as they raped me." She pleaded with the soldiers to stop but they beat her round the head and threatened her at gunpoint. "We had to take it without resisting because we were scared that we would be killed," says her sister Khin Htwe, trembling as she speaks. The girls were too scared to get a proper look at their abusers but say they remember seeing some in plain clothes and some wearing military uniforms. "When they caught young women," remembers the soldier Thiha, "they would say, 'this is because you support the PDF' as they (raped) the girls." Read: UN court rejects Myanmar claims, will hear Rohingya case At least 10 people died in the violence in Yae Myet and eight girls were reportedly raped over the three-day period. The brutal killings which hired soldier Maung Oo took part in occurred on 2 May 2022 in Ohake pho village, also in Sagaing region. His account of members from his 33rd Division (Light Infantry Division 33) rounding up and shooting people in a monastery matches witness testimonies and disturbing video the BBC obtained from the immediate aftermath of the attack. The video shows nine dead bodies lined up including a woman and a grey-haired man lying next to each other. They are all wearing sarongs and t-shirts. Signs in the footage indicate that they were shot from behind and at close range. We also spoke to villagers who witnessed this atrocity. They identified the young woman in the video lined up next to the elderly man. She was called Ma Moe Moe, and was carrying her child and a bag containing pieces of gold. She pleaded with the soldiers not to take her things. "Despite the child she was carrying, they looted her belongings and shot her to death. They also lined up (the men) and shot them one by one," says Hla Hla, who was at the scene but was spared. The child survived and is now being cared for by relatives. Hla Hla says she heard soldiers boasting on the phone that they had killed eight or nine people, that it was "delicious" to kill people and describing it as "their most successful day yet". She says they left the village chanting "Victory! Victory!" Another woman saw her husband killed. "They shot him in the thigh, then they asked him to lie face down and shot his buttock. Finally they shot his head," she says. She insists he was not a member of the PDF. "He was really a toddy palm worker who earned his living in a traditional way. I have a son and a daughter and I don't know how to continue living." Maung Oo says he regrets his actions. "So, I will tell you all," he says. "I want everyone to know so they can avoid falling into the same fate. All of the six soldiers who spoke to the BBC admitted burning houses and villages across central Myanmar. This suggests it is an organised tactic to destroy any support for the resistance. It comes as some say the military struggles to maintain its multi-front civil war. Myanmar Witness - a group of open source researchers tracking human rights abuses - has verified more than 200 reports of villages being burnt in this way over the past 10 months. They say the scale of these arson attacks is rapidly increasing, with at least 40 attacks in January and February, followed by at least 66 in March and April. This is not the first time Myanmar's military has used a scorched earth policy. It was widely reported against the Rohingya people in 2017 in Rakhine state. The country's mountainous ethnic regions have faced these kinds of assaults for many decades. Some of these ethnic fighters are now helping to train and arm the PDF in this current civil war against the military. The culture of impunity in which soldiers are allowed to loot and kill at will, as described by the soldiers, has occurred for decades in Myanmar, Human Rights Watch says. People are rarely held accountable for atrocities allegedly carried out by the military. But Myanmar's military is increasingly having to hire soldiers and militias due to defections and killings by the PDF. Some 10,000 people have defected from both the army and the police since the 2021 coup, according to a group called People's Embrace, formed by former military and police personnel. "The military is struggling to maintain its multi-front civil war," says Michael Martin from the Centre for Strategic and International Studies think tank. "It's running into personnel problems both in the officer ranks and the enlisted ranks, it's taking heavy casualties, problems with recruitment, problems getting equipment and supplies and that's reflected by the fact that they seem to be losing territory or control of territory in various parts of the country." Magway and Sagaing regions (where the above incidents happened) were one of the historic recruitment grounds for Myanmar's military. But young people here are instead choosing to join the PDF groups. Cpl Aung was clear about why he defected: "If I thought the military would win in the long term, I wouldn't have switched sides to the people." He says soldiers do not dare to leave their base alone as they are worried they will be killed by the PDF. "Wherever we go, we can only go in the form of a military column. No-one can say that we are dominating," he says. We put the allegations in this investigation to General Zaw Min Tun, the spokesperson for Myanmar's military. In a statement, he denied that the army has been targeting civilians. He said both of the raids cited here were legitimate targets and those killed were "terrorists". He denied the army has been burning villages and says that it is the PDFs who are carrying out arson attacks. It is hard to say how and when this civil war might end but it seems likely that millions of Myanmar's civilians will be left traumatised. And the longer it takes to find peace, the more women like rape victim Khin Htwe will be vulnerable to violence. She says she no longer wanted to live after what had happened to her and considered taking her own life. She has been unable to tell her fiance what happened to her.
As many as 1,096 Rohingyas left Ukhiya camps in Cox’s Bazar on Tuesday in the 13th phase of relocation to Bhasan Char island in Noakhali. The Rohingya men, women and children left for Chattogram from the Ukhiya Degree College field at 12pm. Read: 10 diplomats visit Bhasan Char Shamsuddauja, additional refugee relief and repatriation commissioner, said these Rohingyas are being relocated in the 13th phase and process is on to send others who will agree to go to Bhasan Char. “They are scheduled to reach Bhasan Char Wednesday afternoon,” he added. Read: UNHCR sees clear improvement of conditions, services in Bhasan Char In 12 phases, around 24,578 Rohingyas were shifted to Bhasan Char in December 2020. Bangladesh is currently hosting over 1.1 million Rohingyas in camps in Cox’s Bazar and Bhasan Char. Most of them came since August 25, 2017, when the Myanmar military launched a brutal offensive targeting the Muslim ethnic minorities.
Myanmar’s shadow civilian administration called on the United Nations’ top court Monday not to allow the country’s military rulers to represent the Southeast Asian nation at hearings into a case accusing the country of genocide against the Rohingya ethnic minority. Four days of hearings into the Myanmar military’s deadly 2017 crackdown on the Rohingya are scheduled to open Monday afternoon at the International Court of Justice amid a dispute over who should represent the country in court. Representatives of Myanmar are scheduled to address judges to outline why they believe the case that was filed by the African nation of Gambia, representing a group of Muslim nations, should be dropped. Read:Argentinian judiciary to open case against Myanmar military over Rohingya genocide But members of Myanmar’s National Unity Government, urged the court not to accept representatives of the military rulers. “We do not believe that the International Court of Justice will want to allow the military to appear before them as if they speak for the Republic of the Union of Myanmar,” said the unity government’s foreign minister, Zin Mar Aung. “It would be a most profound injustice to the Rohingya if the military were to be both their abusers and have any voice in the court.” The shadow administration said it has contacted the court to withdraw Myanmar’s preliminary objections to the case, but it remains to be seen whether the court will recognize the unity administration. The shadow administration is made up of a diverse group of representatives including elected lawmakers who were prevented from taking their seats by the military takeover. It says it is the country’s only legitimate government but no foreign government has recognized the unity group. The dispute at the world court in The Hague reflects a broader struggle in the international community over whom to accept as Myanmar’s legitimate rulers in the aftermath of the coup. Southeast Asian foreign ministers held their annual retreat last week without their counterpart from Myanmar, who was blackballed from participating but allowed to attend online as an observer. The military launched what it called a clearance campaign in Rakhine state in 2017 after an attack by a Rohingya insurgent group. More than 700,000 Rohingya fled into neighboring Bangladesh and security forces were accused of mass rapes, killings and torching thousands of homes. In 2019, lawyers representing Gambia at the ICJ outlined their allegations of genocide by showing judges maps, satellite images and graphic photos of the military campaign. That led the court to order Myanmar to do all it can to prevent genocide against the Rohingya. The interim ruling was intended to protect the minority while the case is decided in The Hague, a process likely to take years. Read: Rohingya genocide continues after Myanmar military coup: BROUK Former pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi represented Myanmar at the 2019 hearings, but she now is imprisoned after being convicted on what supporters call trumped-up charges. Last year’s military takeover in Myanmar sparked widespread peaceful protests and civil disobedience that security forces suppressed with lethal force. About 1,500 civilians have been killed, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners. Akila Radhakrishnan, president of the Global Justice Center, said this week’s International Court of Justice hearings “are laying the groundwork for accountability in Myanmar — not only for the Rohingya, but for all others who have suffered at the hands of the military.” The International Court of Justice rules on state responsibility for breaches of international law. It is not linked to the International Criminal Court, also based in The Hague, which holds individuals accountable for atrocities. Prosecutors at the ICC are investigating crimes committed against the Rohingya who were forced to flee to Bangladesh but have not yet filed any indictments.
A court in Myanmar sentenced ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi to four more years in prison on Monday after finding her guilty of illegally importing and possessing walkie-talkies and violating coronavirus restrictions, a legal official said. Suu Kyi was convicted last month on two other charges and given a four-year prison sentence, which was then halved by the head of the military-installed government. The cases are among about a dozen brought against the 76-year-old Nobel Peace Prize laureate since the army seized power last February, ousting her elected government and arresting top members of her National League for Democracy party. If found guilty of all the charges, she could be sentenced to more than 100 years in prison. Suu Kyi’s supporters and independent analysts say the charges against her are contrived to legitimize the military’s seizure of power and prevent her from returning to politics. Monday’s verdict in the court in the capital, Naypyitaw, was conveyed by a legal official who insisted on anonymity for fear of being punished by the authorities, who have restricted the release of information about Suu Kyi’s trials. Read: Tortured to death: Myanmar mass killings revealed He said she was sentenced to two years in prison under the Export-Import Law for importing the walkie-talkies and one year under the Telecommunications Law for possessing them. The sentences are to be served concurrently. She also received a two-year sentence under the Natural Disaster Management Law for allegedly violating coronavirus rules while campaigning. Suu Kyi was convicted last month on two other charges — incitement and breaching COVID-19 restrictions — and sentenced to four years’ imprisonment. Hours after that sentence was issued, the head of the military-installed government, Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, reduced it by half. Suu Kyi’s party won a landslide victory in a 2020 general election, but the military claimed there was widespread electoral fraud, an assertion that independent poll watchers doubt. Since her first guilty verdict, Suu Kyi has been attending court hearings in prison clothes — a white top and a brown longyi skirt provided by the authorities. She is being held by the military at an unknown location, where state television reported last month she would serve her sentence. The hearings are closed to the media and spectators and the prosecutors do not comment. Her lawyers, who had been a source of information on the proceedings, were served with gag orders in October. The military-installed government has not allowed any outside party to meet with Suu Kyi since it seized power, despite international pressure for talks including her that could ease the country’s violent political crisis. It would not allow a special envoy from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, of which Myanmar is a member, to meet her. The refusal received a rare rebuke from fellow members, who barred Min Aung Hlaing from attending its annual summit meeting. Even Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, who took over as the regional group’s chair for this year and advocates engagement with the ruling generals, failed to meet her last week when he became the first head of government to visit Myanmar since the army’s takeover. Read: Myanmar military reverts to strategy of massacres, burnings The military’s seizure of power was quickly met by nonviolent nationwide demonstrations, which security forces quashed with deadly force, killing over 1,400 civilians, according to a detailed list compiled by the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners. Peaceful protests have continued, but amid the severe crackdown, an armed resistance has also grown, to the point that U.N. experts have warned the country could be sliding into civil war. “Throwing a plethora of criminal charges at Aung San Suu Kyi ... reeks more of desperation than confidence,” said Mark Farmaner, director of Burma Campaign UK, a democracy promotion group. He said in an email interview after her first convictions that the military “massively miscalculated” in thinking that it could prevent protests by arresting Suu Kyi, her fellow party members and veteran independent political activists. “A new mass movement was born which doesn’t depend on a single leader. There are hundreds of small groups organizing and resisting in different ways, from peaceful protest, boycotts and armed resistance,” Farmaner said. “Even with more than 7,000 people arrested since the coup, three times the average number detained under the previous military dictatorship, the military have been unable to suppress dissent.” Suu Kyi was charged right after the military’s takeover with having improperly imported the walkie-talkies, which served as the initial justification for her continued detention. A second charge of illegally possessing the radios was filed the following month. The radios were seized from the entrance gate of her residence and the barracks of her bodyguards during a search on Feb. 1, the day she was arrested. Suu Kyi’s lawyers argued that the radios were not in her personal possession and were legitimately used to help provide for her security, but the court declined to dismiss the charges. Read: Myanmar public urges gas sanctions to stop military funding She was charged with two counts of violating coronavirus restrictions during campaigning for the 2020 election. She was found guilty on the first count last month. She is also being tried by the same court on five counts of corruption. The maximum penalty for each count is 15 years in prison and a fine. A sixth corruption charge against her and ousted President Win Myint in connection with granting permits to rent and buy a helicopter has not yet gone to trial. In separate proceedings, she is accused of violating the Official Secrets Act, which carries a maximum sentence of 14 years. Additional charges were also added by Myanmar’s election commission against Suu Kyi and 15 other politicians in November for alleged fraud in the 2020 election. The charges by the military-appointed Union Election Commission could result in Suu Kyi’s party being dissolved and unable to participate in a new election the military has promised will take place within two years of its takeover.
When the young farmhand returned to his village in Myanmar, he found the still smoldering corpses in a circle in a burned-out hut, some with their limbs tied. The Myanmar military had stormed Done Taw at 11 a.m. on Dec. 7, he told the AP, with about 50 soldiers hunting people on foot. The farmhand and other villagers fled to the forest and fields, but 10 were captured and killed, including five teenagers, with one only 14, he said. A photo taken by his friend shows the charred remains of a victim lying face down, holding his head up, suggesting he was burned alive. “I am very upset, it is unacceptable,” said the 19-year-old, who like others interviewed by the AP asked to remain anonymous for fear of reprisal. The carnage at Done Taw is just one of the most recent signs that the Myanmar military is reverting to a strategy of massacres as a weapon of war, according to an AP investigation based on interviews with 40 witnesses, social media, satellite imagery and data on deaths. The massacres and scorched-earth tactics — such as the razing of entire villages — represent the latest escalation in the military’s violence against both civilians and the growing opposition. Since the military seized power in February, it has cracked down ever more brutally, abducting young men and boys, killing health care workers and torturing prisoners. The massacres and burnings also signal a return to practices that the military has long used against ethnic minorities such as the Muslim Rohingya, thousands of whom were killed in 2017. The military is now accused of killing at least 35 civilians on Christmas Eve in Mo So village in an eastern region home to the Karenni minority. A witness told the AP that many of the bodies of the men, women and children were burned beyond recognition. But this time, the military is also using the same methods against people and villages of its own Buddhist Bamar ethnic majority. The focus of most of the latest killings has been in the northwest, including in a Bamar heartland where support for the opposition is strong. More than 80 people have died in killings of three or more in the Sagaing region alone since August, according to data from the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, or AAPP, a group that monitors verified arrests and deaths in Myanmar. These include the deaths of those in Done Taw, five people in Gaung Kwal village on Dec. 12 and nine in Kalay township on Dec. 23, part of a trend that has made Sagaing the deadliest region in Myanmar. The military is also reprising a hallmark tactic of destroying entire villages where there may be support for the opposition. Satellite imagery the AP obtained from Maxar Technologies shows that more than 580 buildings have been burned in the northwestern town of Thantlang alone since September. The violence appears to be a response to the local resistance forces springing up across the country, but the military is wiping out civilians in the process. In Done Taw, for example, the military moved in after a convoy hit a roadside bomb nearby, but the people killed were not part of any resistance, another villager told the AP. “They were just normal workers on the betel-leaf plantation,” the 48-year-old welder said. “They hid because they were afraid.” For the investigation, the AP spoke to dozens of witnesses, family members, a military commander who deserted, human rights groups and officials, along with analyzing data on deaths from the AAPP. The AP also reviewed satellite imagery and dozens of images and videos, with experts checking them against known locations and events. The numbers likely fall far short of actual killings because they tend to happen in remote locations, and the military suppresses information on them by curtailing Internet access and checking cell phones. Read: Myanmar court postpones verdicts in 2nd case against Suu Kyi “There are similar cases taking place across the country at this point, especially in the northwest of Myanmar,” Kyaw Moe Tun, who refused to leave his position as Myanmar’s United Nations envoy after the military seized power, told the AP. “Look at the pattern, look at the way it’s happened….it is systematic and widespread.” The military, known as the Tatmadaw, did not respond to several requests by phone and by email for comment. Three days after the Done Taw attack, the state-run Global New Light of Myanmar newspaper dismissed reports of the slayings as “fake news,” accusing unidentified countries of “wishing to disintegrate Myanmar” by inciting bloodshed. “The nature of how brazen this attack was is really indicative of the scale of violence we can expect in the coming months, and particularly next year,” said Manny Maung, a researcher for Human Rights Watch. Just in the week of the Done Taw massacre, the military killed 20 more people in Sagaing, the AP analysis shows. And on Dec. 17, soldiers killed nine people, including a child, in Gantgaw township in the neighboring region of Magway, a witness told the AP, confirming AAPP data. Troops brought in by helicopter occupied the village for two days, and those who fled returned to find, identify and cremate rotting bodies, the witness said. The movement of troops suggests that violence in the northwest is likely to pick up. Two military convoys of more than 80 trucks each with troops and supplies from Sagaing have made it to neighboring Chin state, according to an opposition group. And a former military captain told the AP that soldiers in Chin State were resupplied and reinforced in October, and the army is now stockpiling munition, fuel and rations in Sagaing. The captain, who goes by the nom de guerre Zin Yaw, or Seagull, is a 20-year military veteran who deserted in March and now trains opposition forces. He said he continues to receive updates from friends still in the military and has access to defense documents, several of which he shared with the AP as proof of his access. His identity was also verified by an organization of military deserters. “What the military worries about most is giving up their power,” said Zin Yaw. “In the military they have a saying, if you retreat, destroy everything. It means that even if they know they are going to lose, they destroy everything.” The Tatmadaw overthrew the enormously popular Aung San Suu Kyi in February, claiming massive fraud in the 2020 democratic election that saw her party win in a landslide. Since then, the military and police have killed more than 1,375 people and arrested more than 11,200, according to the AAPP. One of the earliest mass killings took place on March 14 in the township of Hlaing Tharyar in Yangon, the biggest city in Myanmar, according to a report this month from Human Rights Watch. Witnesses said that security forces fired on protesters with military assault rifles and killed at least 65, including bystanders. As the military’s tactics have turned increasingly brutal, civilians have fought back. Opposition started with a national civil disobedience movement and protests, but has grown increasingly violent with attacks on troops and government facilities. In May, the opposition National Unity Government announced a new military wing, the People’s Defense Force, and in September declared a “defensive war.” Loose-knit guerrilla groups calling themselves PDF have since emerged across the country, with varying degrees of allegiance to the NUG. An early example of the military unleashing its battle-tested tactics on majority Buddhist areas came just 23 miles up the river from Done Taw in Kani township. In July, images circulated of massacres in four small villages that Myanmar’s ambassador to the United Nations called “crimes against humanity.” Four witnesses told the AP that soldiers killed 43 people in four incidents and discarded their bodies in the jungle. On July 9, soldiers in trucks rolled into Yin village in Kani, launching an attack that would leave 16 dead, according to three witness accounts. The soldiers started shooting and sent people fleeing. Troops surrounded a group in the nearby jungle, said one woman who was captured with her brother. She was set free, but would never see her brother alive again. When she returned with others three days later, they discovered his body on the forest floor, already rotting in the heat and showing signs of torture. “We all live in fear,” said the woman, who like the other villagers asked to remain anonymous for safety. “We are worried that they might come back during the night.” One 42-year-old man said a search party of 50 villagers found three separate clusters of bodies. Some appeared to have been dragged to death along rocky ground with ropes or with their own clothes. The bodies had been pillaged for gold. “There were some fleshly remains and the odor was so foul,” the villager said. “We couldn’t even get close because of the smell.” The village is now terrorized into silence, he said, listening for the next attack with their bags packed and the normal rhythms of life frozen in fear. Another Kani resident told the AP that when soldiers approached his village of Zee Pin Twin on July 26, he fled into the jungle. He returned to find his home broken and blackened by fire. Precious goods were stolen, and important documents, food, and other belongings like wedding photos lay in a smoldering heap. Two days later, villagers with search dogs found 12 bodies, some buried in shallow pits in the jungle. A villager told the AP that they saw bruises and other signs of torture on the corpses, and that one man’s hands were tied with military boot laces and his mouth gagged. The descriptions match photographs and videos of burned and brutalized bodies given to the Myanmar Witness monitoring group. “When there’s image and videos (in) three separate events…it’s very hard to deny,” said Benjamin Strick, head of investigations for the Britain and Thailand-based group. The AP could not independently verify the grisly images, but they also match incident reports collected by the AAPP. John Quinley, a human rights specialist with Fortify Rights, said the group believes the violence in Kani and in Sagaing is a “direct result” of PDF operations there. “The Myanmar junta’s strategy is to try to create an environment of terror and try to silence civilians and also try to drive out the PDF,” Quinley said. That strategy may not be working. Resistance has only stiffened, according to the Kani villagers. “The whole village plays a role,” one man said. “Some women make gunpowder; people do not work; all the villagers somehow take part in the revolution.” Another described a few shattered survivors in a village unified by hatred of the military. “I am not afraid anymore,” he said. “Instead of dying fleeing, I will use my life for a purpose.” Thousands of army desertions have been reported, although usually of lower ranks, said Quinley from Fortify Rights. Read:Save the Children says staff missing after Myanmar massacre “These atrocities are happening to everyday people, you know, engineers, university students, businesspeople,” he said. “And so I think there’s a growing solidarity movement across religious and ethnic lines.” The Tatmadaw has the advantage of airpower and automatic weapons. But the opposition in Sagaing and Chin state relies on knowledge of the terrain and the support of locals, some lightly armed with muzzle-loaded home-made traditional guns. “They just modify their skills of fighting to the defensive war and guerrilla warfare,” said Aung Myo Min, the NUG’s minister for human rights, in an interview from Europe. The army’s attacks in Sagaing are thought to be the opening salvo in a campaign to stamp out resistance in Myanmar’s northwest, called Operation Anawrahta. Anawrahta was an 11th-century Buddhist king who established a Burmese empire, and the name carries a special meaning to the military, said the deserter, Zin Yaw. “That means they are going to brutally crush the people,” he said. More than 51,000 people are already displaced in seven Sagaing townships, including Kani, and another 30,200 in Chin State, according to the United Nations’ Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian affairs. “What we’re seeing in Sagaing is really interesting, because we’re talking about the Bamar heartland that basically should be the core foundation of this military,” said Maung of Human Rights Watch. “It’s telling how worried the military is of its own people.” There are now growing signs that the military is turning its focus on Chin state. Chin fighters claim to have killed dozens of soldiers, according to social media analysis by Myanmar Witness. As fresh soldiers have flowed into Chin state, residents have reported troops putting down protests with live rounds and brutal beatings. A teacher in the town of Mindat said many fled early on, but she was determined not to be forced out. Then the military fired artillery into the town so the “houses would shake like an earthquake,” she said. Her cousin, a member of the PDF, was killed by a sniper and his body boobytrapped, the teacher said. That evening, villagers tried to move the body from a distance with a stick. The body blew up. “We didn’t get back a body,” she said. “Instead we had to collect pieces.” She fled to neighboring India in October. A half-day’s drive west from Mindat lies Matupi, a town with two military camps that is now bereft of its young people, according to a college student who fled with her two teenage brothers in October. She said the military had locked people into houses and set them alight, hid bombs in churches and schools, killed three protest leaders she knew and left bodies in the middle of roads to terrorize people. Yet the resistance has spread, she said. “People are scared of the military, but they want democracy and they are fighting for democracy,” she said from India, where she now lives. “They are screaming for democracy.” Thantlang, a town near the Indian border, has also been emptied of its people after four months of heavy fighting, according to the Chin Human Rights Organization. Drone footage shot by the group in October and December and seen by the AP shows fires raging inside buildings and charred churches, collapsed schools and ruined homes. The footage matches fires detected by satellites and interviews with villagers. Rachel, a 23-year-old who had moved home to Thantlang in June to escape the COVID pandemic in Yangon, said residents started hearing explosions and gunfire in the distance. The sounds gradually got closer starting in September. As the shelling hit the town, she and others hid on the ground floor of their local church for four days, she said. She then fled for a nearby village. But she sneaked back into town on Dec. 3 to gather belongings. While she was in her home with three friends, small arms fire and explosions suddenly erupted outside. She felt a hot burn as a bullet tore into her torso. Two of her friends bolted, leaving her alone with a cousin who has trouble walking due to a birth defect. She told him she was going to die and asked him to leave. But he stayed, wrapping her scarf around her stomach to stem the bleeding. The two managed to get to her motorbike, and her cousin held her with one hand as he drove with the other. A local doctor determined that the bullet had hit her cell phone and then gone into the left side of her stomach. “I think I would have died there if it had not hit the phone,” said Rachel, who asked to be identified by one name only for her safety. The following day she got across the border to Mizoram in India. In an interview with the AP from Mizoram, she said she would return home despite the danger to look after her ailing 70-year-old mother. In the meantime, the farmhand who told the AP about the Done Taw massacre is defiant. He had been passively supporting the PDF before, but is now vowing to avenge the killings of his neighbors. “I have just decided to fight until the end for them,” he said. “I will do whatever I can until I die or until I am arrested.”
In sentencing Myanmar’s iconic democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi to prison, the country’s generals have effectively exiled her from electoral politics. But that doesn’t mean the Southeast Asian nation is back to square one in its stop-start efforts to move toward democracy. In fact, a younger generation that came of age as the military began loosening its grip on politics and the economy and has tasted some freedoms is well positioned to carry on the struggle. A de facto coup on Feb. 1 pushed Suu Kyi’s elected government from power, throwing the country into turmoil. But erasing the gains of a decade of opening up has proved more difficult. People took to the streets en masse almost immediately and have continued sporadic protests since then. As a military crackdown on demonstrations grew increasingly violent, protesters moved to arm themselves. Within days, a mix of old and new guard, including elected lawmakers who were prevented from taking their seats by the takeover, announced a shadow administration that declared itself the nation’s only legitimate government. It was very consciously assembled to be a diverse group, including representatives of ethnic minorities and one openly gay member, unusual in socially conservative Myanmar. It, not Suu Kyi, who was arrested in the takeover, has been at the forefront of the opposition — and has garnered significant support among the general population. While no foreign government has recognized the so-called National Unity Government, U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan met virtually with two of its representatives. And it has accomplished a kind of standoff at the U.N., which delayed action on a request by Myanmar’s military government for its representative to take its seat. The country’s current delegate has declared his allegiance to the unity government. Read: Saudi suspect in Khashoggi killing arrested in France “The coup and its aftermath are not so much the end of a democratization process in Myanmar as they are proof that democratization has actually taken hold of the younger generation,” Priscilla Clapp, who served as the U.S. chief of mission in Myanmar from 1999 to 2002. “In fact, the coup may ultimately prove to be the dramatic end to the older generation of leadership in Myanmar.” The pro-democracy movement now faces the challenges of continuing to resist military rule, keeping up international pressure for restoring an elected, civilian government, and consolidating support from ethnic groups that have long fought the central government. Suu Kyi, whose pro-democracy efforts won her the Nobel Peace Prize, and her allies have played important roles in the past, even when sidelined or jailed by the generals. On Monday, the 76-year-old was convicted on charges of incitement and violating coronavirus restrictions and sentenced to four years in prison, though that was almost immediately reduced to two. She faces other charges that could see her imprisoned for life. But the younger generation may be better placed to carry the mantle anyway. Unlike their elders, younger people in Myanmar, especially those in the cities, have spent most of their lives without having to worry about being imprisoned for speaking their minds. They have had access to mobile phones and Facebook and grew up believing the country was moving toward greater, not less democracy. They also seem more willing to reach out to Myanmar’s ethnic minorities. Not only did the unity government include ethnic minority officials in its Cabinet, but it sought out alliances with the powerful ethnic militias, which are fighting for autonomy and rights over their resource-rich lands. “Even as they are fighting against the military takeover, they are debating among themselves to determine the outlines of a new form of a more democratic and ethnically diverse political system,” said Clapp, who is also a senior adviser to the U.S. Institute of Peace and the Asia Society. “This did not happen with earlier rebellions against military rule before the people had experience with democratic institutions that gave the public a voice.” Read: Biden-Putin square off for 2 hours as Ukraine tensions mount Suu Kyi’s own reputation abroad was deeply marred by her seemingly condoning, or at times even defending, abuses committed by the military against the Muslim Rohingya minority while her government was in power. She disputes allegations that troops killed Rohingya civilians, torched houses and raped women. The unity government has also been criticized for seeming to neglect the long-oppressed Rohingya, and it remains to be seen how its uneasy alliance with ethnic groups will play out. But Suu Kyi’s handling of the Rohingya is just one element that complicates her legacy. An icon of resistance during her 15 years under house arrest, Suu Kyi agreed to work alongside the generals after she was freed. It was a gamble that left Myanmar’s fledgling democracy in limbo, with the military keeping control of key ministries and reserving a large share of seats in parliament. Some overseas admirers were disappointed that during its time in power Suu Kyi’s government used British colonial-era security laws to prosecute dissidents and critical journalists, in part of “an ongoing pattern of silencing dissent,” said Jane Ferguson, a lecturer at Australian National University. In seizing power, the military claimed there was massive fraud in the 2020 election that saw Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy win in a landslide. It said that justified the takeover under a constitution that allows it to seize power in emergencies — though independent election observers did not detect any major irregularities. Critics also assert that the takeover bypassed the legal process for declaring the kind of emergency that allows the army to step in. Security forces have since quashed nonviolent nationwide protests with deadly force, killing about 1,300 civilians, according to a tally compiled by the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners. Despite the risks, the verdict against Suu Kyi, who remains popular, provoked more spirited protests. In the city of Mandalay on Monday, demonstrators chanted slogans and sang songs popularized during pro-democracy protests in 1988. “In Yangon, we are seeing local residents resume banging pots and pans late at night in protest,” said Jason Tower, Myanmar country director for the U.S. Institute of Peace. “These types of moves by the junta are also a key driver and motivation for local people to join people’s defense forces.” Those forces, which began as a way to protect neighborhoods and villages from the depredations of government troops, are also being supported by the opposition unity government that hopes to turn them into a federal army one day. In the meantime, the military will keep trying to “terrorize the public into obedience,” said Christina Fink, a professor of international affairs at George Washington University. “They have done so successfully in the past, but this time the opposition is more widespread and takes many different forms so it has been much harder for the regime to achieve its goal.”
The Argentinian judiciary has taken a step to open a case against the Myanmar military – including Min Aung Hlaing and much of the current junta’s senior leadership – over the genocide against the Rohingyas, Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK (BROUK) has said. The Second Chamber of the Federal Criminal Court in Buenos Aires confirmed on November 26 that it would launch a case against senior Myanmar officials under the principle of universal jurisdiction, which holds that some crimes are so horrific that they can be tried anywhere. BROUK first petitioned the Argentinian judiciary to open such a case in November 2019. “This is a day of hope not just for us Rohingya but for oppressed people everywhere. The decision in Argentina shows that there is nowhere to hide for those who commit genocide – the world stands firmly united against these abhorrent crimes,” said Tun Khin, President of BROUK. Read: Growing violence in Rohingya camps can spread beyond borders, PM warns ASEM summit The Second Chamber of the Appeal Court reaffirmed in its resolution that “the gravity of the facts and the violation of ius cogens norms permit that those facts are investigated in our country”. “We applaud the Argentinian judiciary for showing the courage and moral leadership to take up this case. Justice for decades of dehumanising and killings of Rohingya in Myanmar is now within reach,” Tun Khin said. “This is not just about accountability for Rohingya, however, but for everyone who has suffered under the Myanmar military’s brutal reign. This includes the thousands killed, injured, tortured or disappeared since the coup in February this year.” The case relates to crimes perpetrated against the Rohingya by Myanmar authorities in Rakhine State for decades. In 2017, the Myanmar military and its proxies launched a vicious campaign in the region, committing the worst atrocities and driving close to 800,000 Rohingya to flee across the border into Bangladesh. The case includes the particular situation of six women who were raped, tortured and in many cases their husbands and children killed during that genocidal campaign in Rakhine State. International justice efforts The case in Argentina is the first universal jurisdiction case concerning the Rohingya genocide anywhere in the world, but not the only international legal process against the Myanmar authorities. Read: Myanmar to take back Rohingyas gradually, hopes Foreign Minister As mentioned above, the ICC in November 2019 approved an investigation into Myanmar for crimes against humanity against the Rohingya. The Gambia in November 2019 launched a case against Myanmar for violating the Genocide Convention with the International Court of Justice (ICJ). In January 2020, the ICJ imposed “provisional measures” on Myanmar as part of the case, essentially a legal injunction ordering the end to genocidal practices against the Rohingya. “There is no question that the Myanmar authorities are feeling the pressure of the many international justice efforts that are under way. The architects of the genocide against the Rohingya can and should soon face a Court of Law. We urge the international community to redouble efforts to bring about justice and ensure that this momentum is not lost,” said Tun Khin.
The head of the U.N. body investigating the most serious crimes in Myanmar said Friday that preliminary evidence collected since the military seized power on Feb. 1 shows a widespread and systematic attack on civilians “amounting to crimes against humanity.” Nicholas Koumjian told U.N. reporters that the Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar, which he heads, has received over 200,000 communications since the army takeover and has collected over 1.5 million items of evidence that are being analyzed “so that one day those most responsible for the serious international crimes in Myanmar will be brought to account.” Also Read: Xi vows to continue expanding opening up, sharing development opportunities, promoting economic globalization In determining that the crimes against civilians appear to be widespread and systematic, he said investigators saw patterns of violence -- a measured response by security forces to demonstrations in the first six weeks or so after the military takeover followed by “an uptick in violence and much more violent methods used to suppress the demonstrators.” “This was happening in different places at the same time, indicating to us it would be logical to conclude this was from a central policy,” Koumjian said. “And, also, we saw that particular groups were targeted, especially for arrests and detentions that appear to be without due process of law. And this includes, of course, journalists, medical workers and political opponents.” Myanmar for five decades had languished under strict military rule that led to international isolation and sanctions. As the generals loosened their grip, culminating in Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi’s rise to leadership in 2015 elections, the international community responded by lifting most sanctions and pouring investment into the country. Also Read: 10 dead in India Covid hospital fire The Feb. 1 military takeover followed November elections which Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party won overwhelmingly and the military rejects as fraudulent. Since the takeover, Myanmar has been wracked by unrest, with peaceful demonstrations against the ruling generals morphing first into a low-level insurgency in many urban areas after security forces used deadly force and then into more serious combat in rural areas, especially in border regions where ethnic minority militias have been engaging in heavy clashes with government troops. Christine Schraner Burgener told The Associated Press shortly before her 3 ½ year term as the U.N. special envoy for Myanmar ended on Oct. 31 that “civil war” has spread throughout the country. The U.N. investigative body was established by the Geneva-based Human Rights Council in September 2018 with a mandate to collect, consolidate, preserve and analyze evidence of the most serious international crimes and violations of international law committed in Myanmar. Koumjian, an American lawyer who served as an international prosecutor of serious crimes committed in Cambodia, East Timor and Bosnia, was appointed by U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres as its head in 2019 with instructions to prepare files that can facilitate criminal prosecutions in national, regional or international tribunals to prosecute genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. Also Read: 8 dead, several injured at Astroworld Festival in Houston Koumjian said his team has been collecting evidence from a wide variety of sources including individuals, organizations, businesses and governments, and the evidence includes photographs, videos, testimonies and social media posts “that could be relevant to show that crimes happened and who is responsible for those crimes.” The investigative body has received information from social media companies, which he wouldn't name except for Facebook because it had made its cooperation public. “We began engaging with Facebook as soon as we were created in 2019, and they have been meeting with us regularly,” Koumjian said. “We have received some, but certainly not all, that we have requested. We continue to negotiate with them and actually I am hopeful that we are going to receive more information.” He said the Human Rights Council specifically instructed the investigators to cooperate with the International Criminal Court's probe into crimes committed against Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslim minority and the case at the International Court of Justice brought by Gambia on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation accusing Myanmar of genocide against the Rohingya. “So we are sharing documents with those proceedings,” Koumjian said. The court actions stem from the Myanmar military’s harsh counterinsurgency campaign against the Rohingya in August 2017 in response to an insurgent attack. More than 700,000 Rohingya fled to neighboring Bangladesh to escape what has been called an ethnic cleansing campaign involving mass rapes, killings and the torching of homes. Koujian said: “All we’re doing is collecting evidence of the very worst violence, hopefully sending a message to perpetrators: `If you commit this, you run the risk that you will be held to account.’”