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The Road to Civil War: the evolution and escalation of the war in Myanmar

November 29th, 2022  •  Author:   Myanmar Witness  •  3 minute read
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Executive Summary

This report maps out verified evidence and credible open source reporting of atrocities against civilians since the coup last February. It shows a dramatic escalation over time in violence and human rights abuses.

The country-wide effort by the SAC to break the democracy movement has led to increased levels of violence and resulted in the pro-democratic movement growing stronger, gaining more followers, support and fighters on the ground.

Open source data and verification gives a unique overview of the conflict in Myanmar. Through the analysis of footage uploaded to social media, as well as satellite imagery and other available data, Myanmar Witness has been able to document how the conflict has spread geographically, drawing in an increasing array of armed groups and actors.

Immediately following the coup, peaceful protests in urban areas were met with worsening violence. In five separate incidents investigated by Myanmar Witness, more than 100 people were detained and more than 310 were killed.

As protests moved out of the cities so did retaliation against civilians. Open source data collected and verified by Myanmar Witness confirms that a step change in military operations led to the destruction of many homes in Myanmar’s northwest.

Deliberately setting fires in villages to suppress opposition has risen steadily, month-on-month. In the eight months leading up to May 2022 over 200 fires had been verified by Myanmar Witness. People, as well as their properties continue to be set alight in horrific incidents.

While the burning and other atrocities continue, the use of airstrikes appears to mark the latest evolution of the conflict. The use of airstrikes on civilians and civilian infrastructure, once unprecedented, is now common. The Myanmar Witness arms and investigations teams  regularly verify the use of military aircraft in civilian areas, evidence of destruction which indicate aerial assault, and the delivery of combat aircraft from Russia. Russia’s ongoing supply of helicopters and aircraft, for the transport of troops and launching airstrikes, have become a critical enabler of Myanmar’s current military operations.

After 18 months of escalating violence and the emergence of a clear trend of ongoing atrocities, on 25 July 2022, Myanmar’s SAC gave the order to execute four democracy activists. This development raises concerns for the lives of many pro-democracy activists still behind bars. It also shows how SAC continues to respond to dissent.

What began as suppression of protests has become a situation bearing the atrocities of a civil war waged by an authoritarian power with little regard for its people. At each point in this escalation of violence, civilians are bearing the biggest toll, at the hands of the Myanmar military.


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