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UN rights chief warns of 'alarming' risk of civil war in Myanmar

  • 23 Sep 2021

Time running out for other countries to step up efforts to restore democracy and prevent a broader conflict in Myanmar, says Michelle Bachelet.

Smoke rises from smouldering houses in Kinma village after residents said military troops burned the village, Pauk township, Magwe division, central Myanmar, on June 16, 2021. ( AP )

Myanmar is facing the alarming prospect of an escalating civil war as an uprising against the military junta widens, the UN's human rights chief has warned.

Michelle Bachelet told the United Nations Human Rights Council on Thursday that time was running out for other countries to step up efforts to restore democracy and prevent a broader conflict.

Myanmar has been in turmoil since Aung San Suu Kyi's government was ousted by the military in February, sparking a nationwide uprising that the junta has tried to crush.

Attacks on troops have increased since lawmakers ousted by the generals called for a "people's defensive war" earlier this month.

READ MORE: Report: Myanmar violence escalates as civilians pick up arms

Brewing armed resistance 

Bachelet said the human rights situation had deteriorated significantly as the effects of the coup "devastate lives and hopes across the country".

"Conflict, poverty, and the effects of the pandemic are sharply increasing, and the country faces a vortex of repression, violence, and economic collapse," she said.

Faced with the "overwhelming repression of fundamental rights", the armed resistance movement was growing.

"These disturbing trends suggest the alarming possibility of an escalating civil war," she said.

Bachelet urged countries to support a political process that would engage all parties, saying the ASEAN regional bloc and influential powers should use incentives and disincentives "to reverse the military coup and desperate spiral of violence".

"Myanmar's stability and path to democracy and prosperity have been sacrificed over these last months to advance the ambitions of a privileged and entrenched military elite," she said.

"The national consequences are terrible and tragic – the regional consequences could also be profound. The international community must redouble its efforts to restore democracy and prevent wider conflict before it is too late."

READ MORE: Myanmar’s shadow govt calls for defensive war against junta

Casualties in hundreds 

Bachelet said more than 1,100 people had now reportedly died at the hands of the security forces since the coup, while over 8,000 others, including children, had been arrested and more than 4,700 still in detention.

The rights chief said her office continues getting reports from multiple locations of interrogation techniques that amount to ill-treatment and torture, and it has credible information that more than 120 detainees have died in custody – some within 24 hours of their arrest.

READ MORE: Millions in Myanmar are on the brink of famine: UN

"There is no sign of any efforts by the military authorities to stop these violations nor implement previous recommendations to tackle impunity and security sector reform," Bachelet said.

"This underscores the urgent need for strong accountability measures. It also runs in the face of commitments made to ASEAN leaders to cease the violence and begin a constructive dialogue among all parties," she added, referring to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

The former Chilean president urged all parties – but especially the military – to allow unrestricted access to humanitarian aid, and called for the immediate release of all political prisoners.

She called for all armed forces to protect civilians and said the use of air strikes and artillery in residential areas must cease immediately.

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