9 February, 2021
To: Member and Observer State of the United Nations Human Rights Council Regarding the Urgent Situation in Myanmar
Subject: Open Letter from Civil Society Organizations calling on the Council’s immediate action to ensure the protection of demonstrators
We are writing to express our deep concern over the safety of the peaceful demonstrators in Myanmar and urge you to take immediate action to ensure their protection and their fundamental right to freedom of peaceful assembly, expression and information.
On 8 February, 2021 tens of thousands of people in towns and cities across Myanmar participated in a general strike. Led by students, workers, civil servants, activists and people from all of Myanmar’s diverse ethnic and religious minorities, it was a day marked by peaceful assembly, expression, and determination to oppose the Myanmar military’s illegitimate coup d’état. It was the biggest day of protest since the morning of the coup on 1 February.
However, we are deeply concerned that the military is planning to retaliate using violence, unlawful arrest, and intimidation. As the protests gained momentum, on 3 February, an internal memo was issued by the Mandalay District Police Commander’s Office instructing police to shoot protesters using riot-control weapons. The police have made what appears to be excessive use of water cannons against peaceful protesters injuring several people, while rubber bullets have been fired in the capital city of Naypyidaw today.
As of 8 February, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, 170 people, including MPs, students, activists, artists, filmmakers, monks, and civil servants have been arbitrarily detained and some forcibly disappeared in relation to the coup. We are also concerned that military aligned actors might instigate violence to justify a crackdown. This has been a long-standing tactic used against demonstrations in Myanmar. Often dressed in the red garb of protesters, footages of these pro-military actors in conversation with riot police behind police lines have been recorded, while pro-military counter demonstrators have been trucked into downtown Yangon. Thus, while the police and military reaction has largely been restrained so far, signs are ominous.
This is compounded by the declarations of Martial Law in several townships in Yangon, Mandalay, and throughout parts of the country imposing a curfew between 8pm and 4am, and banning gatherings of over five people.
While the restoration of the Internet after the initial shutdown of Internet services, followed by restriction against Facebook, Messenger, Whatsapp, and other communication services as well as use of some VPN has allowed those from inside the country to communicate with the world, it is to be feared that the military might return Myanmar to darkness by imposing an Internet shutdown.
These restrictions on people’s fundamental freedoms and the illegitimate coup d’état are being led by a brutal military, headed by its Commander-in-Chief, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, who stands accused of committing grave international crimes, including war crimes, crimes against humanity and the crime of genocide. Lest not it be forgotten, the Myanmar military has violently cracked down upon every mass demonstration in the country’s history. There is no reason to suggest that 2021 will be any different.
Thus, it is with great urgency, that we the undersigned organisations call on the Member and Observer States of the UN Human Rights Council in your upcoming 29th Special Session on the human rights implications of the crisis in Myanmar to pass a Resolution calling for:
In addition, we call for the Resolution to urge the Myanmar military regime to:
Refrain from using violence, and arbitrary arrests against protesters and respect people’s right to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly;
We further call on UN Member States to consider imposition of strategic and targeted sanctions against the Myanmar military as an institution, including military-owned and controlled companies and their substantial business associates in accordance with the recommendations of the UN Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar.
Please accept the assurance of our highest consideration.
For more information, please contact:
Khin Ohmar, Chairperson, Progressive Voice, [email protected]
Ahmed Adam, Programme Manager, UN Advocacy, FORUM-ASIA, [email protected]