Myanmar’s military leader Min Aung Hlaing has been accused before the International Criminal Court (ICC) of committing crimes against humanity for overseeing, as army chief, a deadly crackdown on protesters and activists opposed to the February 1 coup.
In a submission on Friday, the Myanmar Accountability Project (MAP) urged The Hague tribunal to open a criminal investigation “into the widespread and systematic use of torture as part of the violent crackdown against the protest movement” in the Southeast Asian country.
A United Nations Rapporteur in July characterised the military government’s tactic against dissenters “as a brute force terror campaign”.
“The leader of the illegal coup is criminally responsible for the security forces under his command committing mass atrocity crimes,” MAP Director Chris Gunness said in a statement.
“The prospects of a conviction are good and we believe that grounds for issuing an arrest warrant against Min Aung Hlaing are overwhelming.”
Since the coup, at least 1,305 people, including more than 75 children, have been killed due to the military crackdown on anti-coup protests as of Wednesday, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), a rights group tracking deaths and detentions. At least 10,756 people have been arrested.
The increasingly violent military response to demonstrations has also prompted protesters to arm themselves, triggering more violence.
On Wednesday, UN Spokesperson Stephane Dujarric reported more bloodshed, accusing security forces of shooting villagers, including five children, in the northwest Sagaing region and burning them alive in retaliation of recent attacks on the military.
“We strongly condemn such violence and remind Myanmar’s military authorities of their obligations under international law to ensure the safety and protection of civilians. Those individuals responsible for this heinous act must be held to account,” Dujarric said during his regular briefing.
On Thursday US State Department spokesman Ned Price said the US was “outraged by credible and sickening reports” of the incident.
“Appallingly, this is not the first time we have seen reports of the Burmese military using such tactics to oppress the people of Burma,” he told reporters, referring to the country by its old name. “The military’s widespread use of horrific and brutal violence underscores for us the urgency of ending the Burmese military’s culture of impunity by holding military actors accountable and restoring Burma’s path to inclusive democracy. ”
Social media posts on Thursday also reported more violence, including burning of homes and the shooting of at least one civilian in Mon state.
‘Widespread, systematic torture’
Only a terrorist can commit such beastly acts against its own people.
Kyi myin daing township, Yangon https://t.co/8btsxH1y8B
— Yanghee Lee (@YangheeLeeSKKU) December 6, 2021
(Warning: tweet shows graphic content)
MAP said that the evidence of violence they had gathered, as well as the recent incidents, show that the use of torture in Myanmar “is widespread, systematic and the result of state-wide policies.”
“This clearly meets the threshold of crimes against humanity,” the statement said.
“Our submission to the ICC sets out a powerful case for criminal responsibility for these crimes going all the way up to Min Aung Hlaing himself,” Gunness said.
MAP’s allegations have been supported by recent preliminary findings of the UN’s Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar (IIMM) that recent attacks on civilians amount “to crimes against humanity”.
According to Nicholas Koumjian, head of the UN investigating body, more than 219,000 items of information have been collected since the coup to support the allegations.
In a recent briefing to the Human Rights Council, he argued that “evidence shows security forces acting in a coordinated manner across different regions, systematically targeting specific categories of persons, such as journalists and medical professionals.”
“More than ever, there is a need to end impunity,” Koumjian said.
In the first six weeks following the coup, the UN investigators also found “an uptick in violence and much more violent methods used to suppress the demonstrators”.
“This was happening in different places at the same time, indicating to us it would be logical to conclude this was from a central policy,” Koumjian said.
One such incident was detailed in a Human Rights Watch report published earlier this month.
The report said that the killing of at least 65 protesters on March 14 in Yangon, Myanmar’s biggest city, was planned and premeditated.
HRW said that security forces deliberately encircled and used lethal force against crowds calling for the reinstatement of the democratically-elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi.
The military has said its power grab was necessary because of fraud during the November 2020 parliamentary polls. But independent observers have reported no evidence to support the claim.
The elections were won by the National League for Democracy party of Aung San Suu Kyi in a landslide.
The generals mounted their coup hours before the new parliament was due to sit and arrested Aung San Suu Kyi.
On Monday, she was sentenced to four years of detention in an undisclosed location after a trial in a closed court on various charges widely dismissed as politically motivated. A few hours later, the generals reduced the sentence to two years.