SINGAPORE: The extended state of emergency in Myanmar reflects a decline in the ability of the military junta to control the country, a United Nations (UN) human rights expert said.
Myanmar’s military regime extended the country’s state of emergency by another six months on Wednesday (Feb 1), the anniversary of the 2021 military coup.
Junta leader Min Aung Hlaing said multi-party elections must be held, but did not provide a timeline for the polls, which cannot be held during a state of emergency.
Mr Tom Andrews, the UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Myanmar, called the situation in the country a human rights catastrophe, and called for a coordinated global response to support the people of Myanmar.
HUMAN RIGHTS CATASTROPHE
He said “the election was going to be a sham”, and the international community must come together to reject its legitimacy, whenever it is held.
“You cannot have a free and fair election when you arrest, detain, torture and execute the opposition (and) when you arrest journalists for doing their job,” Mr Andrews told CNA’s Asia First.
“The state of emergency reflects a decline in the ability of the military junta to control the country.”
Mr Andrews said there is a “massive civilian movement against the junta”.
He added that if the international community can help by “denying recognition of a sham election” as well as “deny them the resources they need to replenish their stocks and weapons”, then the violence could be ended before more people are killed.
“It’s a catastrophe in terms of human rights,” said Mr Andrews, noting that 1.1 million people have been displaced and more than 38,000 homes have been destroyed so far.
“To put it in perspective, it’s projected that in 2023, 17.6 million people in Myanmar – a little less than a third of the entire population – is going to be in need of humanitarian aid. Contrast that with the year before the coup, a total of one million people were in need of humanitarian aid,” he said.
The junta is also destroying access for humanitarian aid convoys bringing aid to those in need, by attacking clinics and centres for internally displaced people (IDPs).
“I spoke to a man who lost two daughters aged 12 and 15. His home has been destroyed, his village destroyed. He took his family to what he thought was safety in an IDP centre, but both of his girls were killed in their sleep because a bomb was dropped by the junta military on the IDP centre,” shared Mr Andrews.
COORDINATED INTERNATIONAL RESPONSE
He said the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) will play a critical role in addressing the Myanmar crisis.
“We know that countries like Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei (and) the Philippines have been critical. They’ve reduced their diplomatic contacts with the junta,” he said.
Mr Andrews said the regional bloc’s attempt to broker an end to the violence through the Five-Point Consensus has been “disrespected” by the junta.
Shortly after signing it in April 2021, junta chief Min Aung Hlaing said he only recognises the consensus as “suggestions that he will consider following once he subdued his opponents”.
“So this is the kind of junta that we’re talking about. (One) that disrespects international law, that’s violating human rights, committing war crimes and crimes against humanity systematically and disrespecting its neighbours and ASEAN,” said Mr Andrews.
He said that while military aid to counter the junta’s weapons is an option, a broader coordinated effort by the international community to deny the junta access to weapons would be more impactful.
This would follow the model of the ongoing coalition effort to support Ukraine against Russia’s invasion.
Countries such as Canada and the United Kingdom have announced a halt of aviation fuel into Myanmar, to “make it more and more difficult for the junta to fly those planes”, noted Mr Andrews.
This is along with an effort to prevent resources used to produce weapons from getting into the country.
PURSUIT OF DEMOCRACY
For now, the country’s National Unity Government, which won an overwhelming majority of seats in Parliament in the 2020 elections, are doing everything they can to deal with the crisis.
“They are working to support clinics to get humanitarian aid over the borders. They are working with a network of NGOs (non-government organisations) and CSOs (civil society organisations) that are providing humanitarian aid. They are working underground around the efforts of the junta to stop it. They are making heroic efforts to support the people of Myanmar,” said Mr Andrews.
He added that there are countries in the world that have successfully transitioned from a military dictatorship to a democracy, such as South Korea and Indonesia, and they can provide a model for Myanmar’s military chiefs.
“I think all these lessons can be brought to bear,” he said.