Myanmar demands greater focus urges UN rights chief, three years after coup

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“Amid all of the crises around the world, it is important no one is forgotten. The people of Myanmar have been suffering for too long,” Volker Türk said ahead of the anniversary of the coup on 1 February.

He explained that fighting between the military and armed opposition groups has resulted in mass displacement and civilian casualties, with the regime “launching waves of indiscriminate aerial bombardments and artillery strikes” after recent setbacks on the battlefield.

Rise in deaths

Sources have verified that over 554 people have died since October, while the number of civilians reportedly killed by the military rose to over 1,600 in 2023, an increase of some 300 from the previous year. 

Overall, nearly 26,000 people have been arrested on political grounds. The majority, 19,973, remain in detention. Some reportedly have been subjected to torture and abuses, and with no hope of a fair trial, some 1,576 individuals have died over the past three years while in military custody. 

“Military tactics have consistently focused on the punishment of civilians who they view as supporting their enemies,” Mr. Türk said. “As a result, the military has routinely targeted civilians and protected objects under international humanitarian law, especially medical facilities and schools.” 

Concern for Rohingya community

He said Rakhine state has been especially hard hit since fighting restarted there in November, with the mostly Muslim Rohingya community particularly affected. 

Meanwhile Rohingya refugees living in dire humanitarian conditions in camps in Bangladesh “are again risking desperate and dangerous journeys by sea, finding few ports or communities in the region willing to accept or welcome them”. 

Accountability and sanctions 

Mr. Türk said the crisis in Myanmar will only be resolved by insisting on accountability for the military’s leadership, the release of political prisoners and the restoration of civilian rule. 

I urge all Member States to take appropriate measures to address this crisis, including to consider imposing further targeted sanctions on the military to constrain their ability to commit serious violations and disregard international law, limiting access to weapons, jet fuel and foreign currency,” he said.

Invest more in human rights

Separately, Mr. Türk also called for a significant increase in funding for his office this year, warning that it remains woefully short of the funds needed to better promote human rights around the world.

Speaking to UN Member States in Geneva, he appealed for $500 million to support the work of rights office, OHCHR, amid immense challenges globally.

“Right now, we are living through profoundly divided times,” he said, pointing to concerns such as spiralling conflict in many parts of the world, climate impacts, rising disinformation and an increase in hunger, poverty and inequality.

Last year, OHCHR’s advocacy contributed to the release of more than 13,000 detainees. Staff also undertook some 3,664 human rights monitoring missions and monitored at least 1,088 trials, among other accomplishments.

Member States and other funding partners donated $283.2 million in voluntary contributions to the office last year. 

“Yet, we are still falling drastically short of the funding we need to provide human rights solutions that are more effective and wider reaching, solutions that we desperately need in today’s world marked by breakneck pace shifts and persistent, urgent challenges,” he said. 



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