World Must Hold Myanmar Junta Accountable for Crimes Against Humanity

By William J. Furney

Where is Aung San Suu Kyi, and does anyone care?

The thousands taking to the streets of Myanmar, risking their lives and losing them — including more than 114 who local media reported were shot dead by the military on Saturday, children as young as 4 among them — certainly do. 

The de facto leader of the troubled Southeast Asian nation of 54 million people vanished at the hands of the junta when it seized power in a coup on February 1 after the military leaders’ displeasure at the result of a democratic election last November that gave her party a landslide victory. 

Junta leader General Min Aung Hlaing dared to tell the nation in an address on Saturday to mark Armed Forces Day that his forces would protect citizens and work towards democracy, even as state media reported a day earlier that democracy protesters would be shot “in the head and back” and democracy had been in place before the brazen power grab. 

“They are killing us like birds or chickens, even in our homes,” Thu Ya Zaw, a resident of the central city of Myingyan, was quoted as saying by the Reuters news agency.

It’s estimated that more than 400 protesters have been killed by the military since the junta seized control of the country and didn’t only push Suu Kyi aside but locked her up, in parts unknown. Other officials of her National League for Democracy party — what’s that you were saying about striving for democracy, General Min? — are also being held. 

“The military celebrated Armed Forces Day by committing mass murder against the people it should be defending,” UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar Tom Andrews said in a tweet following the latest deadly act of aggression by the junta towards the people of Myanmar.

He said the protesters had been responding to the military show of force and bullets “with powerful weapons of peace” and called on “the world to respond in kind, with and for the people of Myanmar”. How, exactly? I replied but didn’t get an answer. 

It’s typical of an impotent United Nations whose entire reason for being is to stop conflict from erupting in the world but when it, frequently, does, the global body does little about it other than to make bland statements. 

Equally unsurprising, the junta are not taking calls from the media. 

The United States ambassador to Burma (the old name for Myanmar that’s still in use), Thomas Vajda, has plenty to say about the silencing horrors that are occuring at the hands of the military, however. 

“On Myanmar’s Armed Forces Day, security forces are murdering unarmed civilians, including children, the very people they swore to protect. This bloodshed is horrifying,” he said in a brief statement.

“These are not the actions of a professional military or police force. Myanmar’s people have spoken clearly: they do not want to live under military rule. We call for an immediate end to the violence and the restoration of the democratically elected government.”

The European Union Delegation to Myanmar said: “This 76th Myanmar armed forces day will stay engraved as a day of terror and dishonour. The killing of unarmed civilians, including children, are indefensible acts. The EU stands by the people of Myanmar and calls for an immediate end of violence and the restoration of democracy.”

And the United States military said in a joint statement with the defence chiefs of Australia, Canada, Germany, Japan and others that it condemned the use of lethal forces by the Myanmar military and security services against the unarmed protesters. 

“A professional military follows international standards for conduct and is responsible for protecting — not harming — the people it serves,” it said. “We urge the Myanmar Armed Forces to cease violence and work to restore respect and credibility with the people of Myanmar that it has lost through its actions.”

It won’t come as a surprise to anyone of sentient mind that the countries propping up the murderous Myanmar junta are global bad-boys China and Russia, both of whom, extraordinarily, have a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. This led to China and Russia blocking UN Security Council condemnation of the Myanmar coup early last month. 

And so, just like the Uighur and other apparent abuses carried out by authoritarian and dictatorial China, and the human-rights trampling of Russia, the Myanmar junta is able to turn a blind eye to the international outcry over its latest killings.

Suu Kyi, who spent 15 years under house arrest over the course of more than two decades, is perennially too popular for her own good; she will be hoping the International Criminal Court in the Hague launches an urgent investigation into the generals’ crimes against humanity that are certainly not alleged. 

  • Title image, showing armed troops in the southeast town of Kyaikto in Myanmar, is by a citizen journalist, via Myanmar Now.

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