Security forces in Myanmar have killed at least 1,600 people and detained more than 12,500, since the military coup last year, the UN rights office said on Tuesday.

In a new report warning that serious rights abuses uncovered in Myanmar may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, appealed to the international community to take “concerted, immediate measures to stem the spiral of violence” there.

The report’s findings indicate that military and security forces bombarded populated areas with airstrikes and heavy weapons, and deliberately targeted civilians.

“The appalling breadth and scale of violations of international law suffered by the people of Myanmar demand a firm, unified, and resolute international response”, the UN rights chief underscored.

Gross rights violations

The report, released for the 49th regular session of the UN Human Rights Council, upheld that Myanmar’s military and security forces have shown “a flagrant disregard for human life,” explaining that many have been shot in the head, burned to death, arbitrarily arrested, tortured or used as human shields.

Lauding the determination of Myanmar’s people opposing the coup, she called on the international community to do all it can to resolve the crisis and hold perpetrators of gross violations of international human rights law accountable. 

Detained, displaced and murdered

Covering the period since last year’s 1 February military takeover, the report is based on interviews with more than155 victims, witnesses, and advocates, whose accounts were corroborated using satellite imagery, verified multimedia files, and credible open-source information.

And yet, its findings represent only a fraction of the violations and abuses Myanmar’s people have been subjected to during the violent nationwide crackdown.

Besides the killings and mass detentions, at least 440,000 have been displaced with 14 million in need of urgent humanitarian assistance, the delivery of which has largely been blocked by military forces.

Mass killings

The report found reasonable grounds to believe that the army, officially known as the Tatmadaw, conducted widespread and systematic attacks against civilians in patterns of conduct that may amount to crimes against humanity.

In July, soldiers in Sagaing Region killed 40 individuals in a series of raids and villagers found some of the victims’ remains with their hands and feet still tied behind their backs.

In December, soldiers in Kayah State burned the bodies of up to 40 men, women and children. Locals described discovering their remains in several trucks, with bodies found in positions indicating that they had tried to escape and were burnt alive.

“Meaningful action by the international community is urgently needed to stop yet more individuals from being stripped of their rights, their lives and their livelihoods,” said the High Commissioner.

Abhorrent suffering 

Detainees reported facing torture and other forms of ill-treatment during lengthy interrogations in military detention centres across Myanmar.

The OHCHR report includes alleged crimes of ssexual violence, including rape; detainees being suspended from the ceiling without food or water; being forced to stand for extended periods while in solitary confinement; electrocution, sometimes alongside injection of unidentified drugs; and forcing Muslim prisoners to ingest pork.

While most of the gross human rights violations documented were carried out by security forces, at least 543 individuals – including local administrators, their families and alleged informants – were also reportedly killed due to their perceived support of the military.

Anti-coup armed elements claimed responsibility for 95 of the incidents.

Standing strong

Despite spiralling violence however, the UN human rights chief attested that “the will of the people has clearly not been broken.”

“Throughout the tumult and violence of the past year…they remain committed to seeing a return to democracy and to institutions that reflect their will and aspirations.”

Michelle Bachelet, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (file photo)

UN Photo/Laura Jarriel

Michelle Bachelet, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (file photo)