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Guidance Note on the International Protection Needs of People Fleeing Myanmar

May 3rd, 2024  •  Author:   UN High Commissioner for Refugee  •  4 minute read
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  1. Political reforms starting in 2010 led to the establishment of a mixed military-civilian government in Myanmar in 2011, as the country embarked on a transition to democracy after decades of military rule. 1 General elections held in 2015 were a milestone in the transition process. 2 At the same time, the military retained significant political power through the 2008 constitution, which reserved key ministries and parliamentary seats for military appointees.3 The complexities of Myanmar’s political landscape were underscored by persisting ethnic conflicts, human rights abuses, and challenges to minority and nationality rights, culminating in 2016-2017 in large-scale violence and human rights violations against members of the stateless Rohingya ethnic minority, forcing hundreds of thousands of them to flee their homes. 4
  2. The victory by the National League for Democracy (NLD) in the 2020 general elections was contested by the military based on allegations of electoral fraud.5 On 1 February 2021, the military deposed the NLD government, declared a state of emergency, and assumed all judicial, administrative, and legislative powers through the State Administration Council (SAC).6 An alliance of NLD politicians, activists and representatives of several ethnic minority groups formed an alternative National Unity Government (NUG) in exile.7 While segments of the population took to the streets and engaged in a civil disobedience movement against these developments, the military clamped down on the protests.
  3. The state of emergency imposed by the military in February 2021 remains in place, following a series of six-month extensions, most recently on 31 January 2024. Under a Martial Law Order issued in March 2021, civilians can be tried by military tribunals for a wide range of offences committed in the townships
    where martial law applies.
    9 As of March 2024, martial law applies in 61 out of 330 townships, affecting more than 8.2 million people. 10 According to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, as of March 2024 the killing of more than 4,603 civilians by the military had been documented since February 2022 while more than 20,000 individuals remained in detention for political reasons. 11 Some detainees have been sentenced to death. 12 Some of those detained have allegedly been subjected to torture and other forms of ill-treatment, including beatings and gender-based violence, which in some cases has resulted
    in the death of the individuals concerned.
  4.  In the last quarter of 2023, the conflict involving the military, ethnic armed groups (EAGs), and People’s Defence Forces (PDFs), the military wing of the NUG, significantly escalated, impacting regions in the northeast, northwest, southeast, as well as Rakhine in the west. 14 Some of the EAGs, notably the Three Brotherhood Alliance and their allies, launched simultaneous military operations across various fronts, leading to intense clashes with the Myanmar military.15 In November 2023 the year-long informal ceasefire between the military and the Arakan Army collapsed, triggering heightened hostilities. 16 Urban
    areas faced heavy fighting, with shelling and aerial bombardment resulting in civilian casualties, 
    disruption of essential services, and significant displacement. 17 In central Myanmar, the PDFs have intensified their attacks on the military, while the Arakan Army has seized military bases in western areas neighbouring India and Bangladesh, and Karen groups have launched attacks on critical highways vital for cross-border trade with Thailand. 18 By December 2023, fighting between the military and EAGs and PDFs persisted across much of the country. 19 Civilians have borne the brunt of the violence, with the military targeting civilians and civilian infrastructure using indiscriminate aerial bombardments and artillery strikes. 20
  5. On 10 February 2024 the military announced the entry into force of the People’s Military Service Law (PMSL), first adopted under military rule in 2010. 21 According to the law, male citizens aged 18 to 35 and female citizens aged 18 to 27 are subject to mandatory conscription for up to 24 months, extendable to 5 years during a state of emergency. 22 “Professional” men and women, encompassing doctors, engineers, technicians, as well as individuals with any form of specialized expertise, can be conscripted up to the ages of 45 and 35 respectively. 23 While the law provides for some exemptions and grounds for postponement of military service, those who evade military service are subject to prison sentences of up to five years or a fine or both. 24 The military announced that the first round of conscription would start after the Thingyan festival in mid-April 2024, prompting many persons within the age brackets specified in the PMSL to attempt to leave the country.25 By the end of March 2024 there were reports of individuals being called up and lists of potential conscripts being prepared by local administrators.26 Even before the announcement of the entry into force of the PMSL, forced recruitment by the military was already reported to be widespread, including through kidnapping of civilians. 27 The army is reported to use villagers as porters and human shields.

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