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Myanmar: UN expert says current international efforts failing, calls for “change of course”

September 22nd, 2021  •  Author:   UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar , UN Human Rights Council  •  5 minute read
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Three million people in desperate need of aid 

GENEVA (22 September 2021) – The UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, Tom Andrews, told the UN Human Rights Council today that conditions in Myanmar following the 1 February military coup have worsened and urged a “change of course” to avert further human rights abuses and deaths.

“The fact is, current efforts by the international community to stop the downward spiral of events in Myanmar are simply not working … a change of course is necessary,” he said.

The military junta and its forces have murdered more than 1,100 people, arbitrarily detained more than 8,000, and forcibly displaced more than 230,000 civilians, bringing the total number of internally placed persons in Myanmar to well over half a million, Andrews said. Children have not been spared. As of July, the junta had killed at least 75 children ranging in age from 14 months to 17 years.

The UN expert told the Council that the military junta is now systematically abducting family members of those who have been issued arrest warrants, but who police and military forces are unable to locate. “I have received credible reports that junta forces have arbitrarily detained at least 177 individuals­ when the initial target of a raid had successfully eluded arrest. These victims include very young children as young as 20 weeks old,” he said.

He reported that the junta has curtailed civil and political rights in Myanmar, dismantling freedom of expression, freedom of association, the right to privacy, access to justice, and a free press. The right to health was being undermined by the junta’s assault on the health care system and health care professionals.

“I have spoken directly with medical doctors who, in between caring for patients, told me of military raids on charity and make-shift health facilities, destroying, damaging or confiscating medical equipment, while abducting, beating, and arbitrarily detaining their colleagues,” he said, adding junta forces had attacked healthcare workers or facilities in at least 260 separate incidences from 1 February to 25 August 2021.

Andrews urged governments to support the people of Myanmar’s own boycotts against the junta by imposing stronger coordinated economic pressure and an arms embargo.

“People throughout Myanmar from all walks of life are engaging in what can accurately be described as ‘citizen sanctions’ – boycotts of products produced by military-owned companies as well as the payment of energy bills and taxes,” he said. “By some accounts, the public’s widespread refusal to pay utility bills and some taxes have cost the junta an estimated $1 billion in revenue.”

Andrews reported on civilian-led “People’s Defense Forces” (PDFs), which have formed in parts of the country and highlighted that the opposition National Unity Government declared a “defensive war” against the junta and its forces. Relying primarily on homemade, improvised weapons, Andrews said the PDFs are engaging in protection and ambush operations, while up against one of the largest militaries in the world that has responded with “indiscriminate attacks on entire villages and towns”.

The independent expert, who was appointed by the Human Rights Council, called for greater humanitarian aid for the more than three million Myanmar people who have been left in desperate need.

“The international community must make a stronger commitment to ensuring lifesaving aid reaches those in need,” he said. “Myanmar civil society organizations who are saving lives need and deserve our support. The 2021 UN Myanmar Humanitarian Response Plan has received only 46 percent of requested funds to date.  We can and should do better.”

As “the voice of human rights, the conscience of the UN”, Andrews urged Human Rights Council members to “give voice” to the plight of the besieged people of Myanmar and become “a catalyst for action”. “Now, more than ever, the people of Myanmar need strong, targeted and coordinated action by the international community.”


Mr. Thomas Andrews (United States of America) is the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar. A former member of the US Congress from Maine, Andrews is a Robina Senior Human Rights Fellow at Yale Law School and an Associate of Harvard University’s Asia Center. He has worked with the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs and parliamentarians, NGOs and political parties in Cambodia, Indonesia, Algeria, Croatia, Serbia, Ukraine and Yemen. He has been a consultant for the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma and the Euro-Burma Network and has run advocacy NGOs including Win Without War and United to End Genocide.

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Comprising the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, Special Procedures is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

UN Human Rights, country page – Myanmar

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