A new report, “Caught in the middle”: Abuses against civilians amid conflict in Myanmar’s northern Shan State by Amnesty International, details the harrowing conditions of civilians arbitrarily arrested, detained and tortured by the military.
It also highlights the abusive tactics used by ethnic armed groups as they confront the military and each other to exert control in the region, said the international rights group.
“The Myanmar military is as relentless and ruthless as ever, committing war crimes against civilians in northern Shan State with absolute impunity,” said Nicholas Bequelin, Amnesty International’s Director for East and Southeast Asia. “Soldiers – and more importantly commanders – are subjecting civilians to the military’s hallmark brutality in the absence of any form of accountability.”
Amnesty International have documented war crimes and other military violations against ethnic Kachin, Lisu, Shan, and Ta’ang civilians during two field missions to the region in March and August 2019.
Violations have continued even after the military announced a unilateral ceasefire, since lapsed, in December 2018. A recent escalation of fighting in the region – which the government has linked to illegal drug trafficking but which ethnic armed groups attribute to ongoing military offensives – has brought new reports of violations.
Meanwhile, progress on the country’s stalled peace process looks unlikely as all sides gear up for general elections in 2020.
Villagers often flee to makeshift displacement sites such as churches and monasteries, where they stay until the fighting moves to a different area. These short-term displacements can make it difficult for humanitarian workers to access people in need, made worse by government and military restrictions on humanitarian access.
Even those who flee are not safe, with an alarming increase since 2018 in the number of civilians killed or injured by landmines or improvised explosive devices.
Amnesty International is calling on all sides to respect international humanitarian and human rights law, protect civilians, and ensure humanitarian access. Armed groups must end acts of violence and intimidation against civilians and take all feasible measures to avoid civilian-populated areas.
“Those responsible for war crimes should face justice, all the way up to Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, the Myanmar military’s Commander-in-Chief. Fighters and commanders in ethnic armed groups should also be investigated and held accountable for war crimes,” stated Bequelin.
“For too long the UN Security Council has stood by as civilians were abandoned to a ceaseless cycle of violence. It is time for the Council to stop dragging its feet and refer the situation in Myanmar to the International Criminal Court,” he added. (Source: Amnesty International)