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Myanmar Military Must End Crackdown and Release Prisoners: Physicians for Human Rights

The Myanmar military must immediately release political prisoners, restore communications networks, and abide by international human rights law, Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) said today.

In a reported coup d’état early Monday, the Myanmar military (known as the Tatmadaw) declared it would take charge of the country for the next year, while jailing State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, President Win Myint, and scores of other civilian officials, human rights defenders, journalists, and activists. Phone, internet, and television services were reportedly shut down. Domestic and international flights were grounded and armed forces have reportedly blocked roads and restricted movement in the capital and other major cities.

“We are deeply alarmed by the mass arbitrary arrests and detention of civilian leaders and human rights defenders in Myanmar, as well as the apparent communications blackout in the country. The military should immediately deescalate the situation and respect the human rights of all those now in custody while facilitating their immediate release, as well as safeguard the rights of the broader public. This includes restoring freedom of movement and access to communications networks,” said Karen Naimer, PHR director of programs.

“Given the violent track record of the Tatmadaw – a well-documented perpetrator of atrocities – we are particularly concerned for ethnic minority communities in Myanmar, who have been subjected to decades-long campaigns of violence, abuse, and brutality. There is a real and imminent risk of a spiraling human rights crisis in the country, as the ceasefires and agreements with ethnic minority groups brokered by Myanmar’s civilian-led government in recent years, including the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement, may not hold. Time and time again, the Tatmadaw has demonstrated that it has no regard for accountability, the rule of law, or fundamental human rights, especially when it comes to minority communities throughout the country,” said Naimer.

The Tatmadaw has a vast and extensively documented history of human rights violations against civilians. In 2011, PHR documented evidence of crimes against humanity by the Tatmadaw in Chin state, with civilians in the region reporting forced labor, sexual violence, torture, extrajudicial killings, child labor, and other abuses. In 2017, the Tatmadaw instigated widespread and systematic violence against the Rohingya, an ethnic minority in Myanmar’s Rakhine state, which displaced more than 720,000 Rohingya, most of whom were forced to flee to Bangladesh. Previous military coups in the country have also resulted in widespread abuses and extrajudicial killings.

“The Tatmadaw is obligated to abide by international human rights law and refrain from the use of excessive or arbitrary force. While we continue to call for accountability for past crimes committed by the military and other actors in Myanmar, a first step for the Tatmadaw is the immediate release of civilian officials – many of whom were democratically elected in November – as well as human rights activists and others detained in this destructive and appalling crackdown on dissenting voices in the country,” said Naimer.

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is a New York-based advocacy organization that uses science and medicine to prevent mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. Learn more here.

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