United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees

CSW welcomes the announcement of an almost four-month ceasefire by the Burmese military, known as the Tatmadaw, from 10 May until 31 August in order to contain and prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the country.

The ceasefire was announced in a statement issued by the Tatmadaw on 9 May and came after repeated calls for a ceasefire by international and domestic civil society organisations and actors. Just hours before the announcement Burma’s Cardinal Charles Maung Bo had called once again for the military to halt the conflict, stating that the ongoing coronavirus crisis “is a time to put hatred and weapons aside and face the common enemy that is attacking all humanity.”

The Tatmadaw has been responsible for widespread violence against religious and ethnic minorities in Burma during conflicts that in some cases have continued for over 70 years. The group currently stands accused of genocide in relation to an offensive against the Rohingya people in Rakhine State which began in August 2017, and of crimes against humanity and war crimes against minorities in Kachin and Shan states.

Recent months have seen a shocking rise in Tatmadaw attacks. In April the military bombed villages in Paletwa Township in Chin State, killing civilians and destroying homes and churches. Increasing attacks against the majority-Buddhist Rakhine people have also been reported.

At the start of May, the outgoing United Nations Special Rapporteur for human rights in Burma, Yanghee Lee, warned of new “war crimes” and “crimes against humanity” by the military emboldened by special powers intended to help control the spread of the coronavirus. “We find bodies that have been decapitated,” she said. “These are the highest, the most heinous and gravest crimes of international law.”

CSW’s Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said: “CSW welcomes the long overdue announcement of a ceasefire by the Burmese military. The Tatmadaw has a long history of violent attacks on religious and ethnic minorities in Burma, and a track record of breaking ceasefires. We urge the military to fully uphold the ceasefire, ensuring the protection of civilians across the country. We also call on the international community to maintain intense scrutiny of the situation in Burma, taking further steps to ensure that justice is served for crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide.”

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