A United Nations human rights expert has called for an investigation into possible “war crimes and crimes against humanity” in Myanmar’s Rakhine and Chin states.
Yanghee Lee, outgoing U.N. special rapporteur in the country, said the military “continues to escalate” attacks in Rakhine State, targeting the civilian population.
She said the Myanmar military, emboldened by special extended powers intended to help contain the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, has been carrying out “war crimes” against ethnic minorities.
“Calls for a ceasefire have gone unheeded,” she said in a statement released by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on April 29.
She said the military’s actions against the civilian population of Rakhine and Chin states “may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity.”
Lee reported that recent air and artillery strikes in civilian areas in Rakhine and neighboring Chin State have killed and injured scores of adults and children.
She accused the military of preventing some of the injured, especially men suspected of having links with the insurgents, from accessing urgent medical care.
Schools, houses, and a Buddhist temple have been burned or destroyed, even an entire village of up to 700 homes, said Lee.
“In one artillery attack on April 13, the [military] killed eight civilians, including at least two children,” she said.
The U.N. expert also said the military has caused disappearance, arrest, torture, and have been accused of killings of dozens of people.
She said the military has also blocked aid from reaching areas that are affected by the conflict.
Lee said accountability was critical to ending the conflict in the region, adding that the military, “having faced no accountability … continues to operate with impunity.”
“They are now targeting all civilians in the conflict area, with people from Rakhine, Rohingya, Mro, Daignet and Chin communities being killed in recent months,” said Lee.
She said the alleged crimes “must be investigated in accordance with international standards, with perpetrators being held accountable.”
An armed conflict has raged in Rakhine and Chin states since December 2018 between the Myanmar military known as the Tatmadaw and the insurgent Arakan Army.
More than 157,000 people have been displaced, and hundreds including women and children killed and wounded since the conflict started.
Lee said the Arakan Army has also conducted hostilities “in a manner that has had negative impacts on civilians, including kidnapping local officials and parliamentarians.”
The Arakan Army is a Rakhine armed group and the armed wing of the United League of Arakan. It is the largest insurgent group in Rakhine State.
The group has since declared a unilateral ceasefire to give way to initiatives to address the new coronavirus pandemic.
Lee called on the United Nations to step up its efforts to protect civilians in Rakhine and Chin and ensure that there is not another systemic failure like in 2017.
The human rights expert said Myanmar and its security forces must abide by the International Court of Justice’s provisional measures and its own directive to respect the Genocide Convention.