February 9, 2021

Open Letter from Civil Society Organizations calling on the Council’s immediate action to ensure the protection of demonstrators

Dear Excellencies,

We are writing to express our deep concern over the safety of the peaceful demonstrators in Myanmar and urge you to take immediate action to ensure their protection and their fundamental right to freedom of peaceful assembly, expression and information.

On 8 February, 2021 tens of thousands of people in towns and cities across Myanmar participated in a general strike. Led by students, workers, civil servants, activists and people from all of Myanmar’s diverse ethnic and religious minorities, it was a day marked by peaceful assembly, expression, and determination to oppose the Myanmar military’s illegitimate coup d’état. It was the biggest day of protest since the morning of the coup on 1 February.

However, we are deeply concerned that the military is planning to retaliate using violence, unlawful arrest, and intimidation. As the protests gained momentum, on 3 February, an internal memo was issued by the Mandalay District Police Commander’s Office instructing police to shoot protesters using riot-control weapons. The police have made what appears to be excessive use of water cannons against peaceful protesters injuring several people, while rubber bullets have been fired in the capital city of Naypyidaw today.

As of 8 February, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, 170 people, including MPs, students, activists, artists, filmmakers, monks, and civil servants have been arbitrarily detained and some forcibly disappeared in relation to the coup. We are also concerned that military aligned actors might instigate violence to justify a crackdown. This has been a long-standing tactic used against demonstrations in Myanmar. Often dressed in the red garb of protesters, footages of these pro-military actors in conversation with riot police behind police lines have been recorded, while pro-military counter demonstrators have been trucked into downtown Yangon. Thus, while the police and military reaction has largely been restrained so far, signs are ominous.

This is compounded by the declarations of Martial Law in several townships in Yangon, Mandalay, and throughout parts of the country imposing a curfew between 8pm and 4am, and banning gatherings of over five people.

While the restoration of the Internet after the initial shutdown of Internet services, followed by restriction against Facebook, Messenger, Whatsapp, and other communication services as well as use of some VPN has allowed those from inside the country to communicate with the world, it is to be feared that the military might return Myanmar to darkness by imposing an Internet shutdown.

These restrictions on people’s fundamental freedoms and the illegitimate coup d’état are being led by a brutal military, headed by its Commander-in-Chief, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, who stands accused of committing grave international crimes, including war crimes, crimes against humanity and the crime of genocide. Lest not it be forgotten, the Myanmar military has violently cracked down upon every mass demonstration in the country’s history. There is no reason to suggest that 2021 will be any different.

Thus, it is with great urgency, that we the undersigned organisations call on the Member and Observer States of the UN Human Rights Council in your upcoming 29th Special Session on the human rights implications of the crisis in Myanmar to pass a Resolution calling for:

  • An urgent enhanced monitoring of the fast-unfolding human rights crisis in Myanmar, including by immediately sending a delegation to Myanmar to monitor the situation on the ground and report back to the Council and other relevant bodies;
  • Enhanced and robust regular reporting on the situation of human rights in Myanmar to the Council and other relevant bodies;
  • Increased resources for the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar to effectively document and report on urgent human rights developments;
  • The establishment of a comprehensive response to ensure long-term federal democratic and human rights change in the country, including by ensuring support towards constitutional change that would bring the military under civilian control and ensure accountability for grave human rights violations.

In addition, we call for the Resolution to urge the Myanmar military regime to:

  • Refrain from using violence, and arbitrary arrests against protesters and respect people’s right to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly;
  • Immediately and unconditionally release all those who have been arbitrarily detained;
  • Allow unfettered Internet access, including on all mobile phone networks and lift all restrictions on access to media sites, social media platforms, VPN and refrain from imposing any further restrictions against use of Internet;
  • Immediately allow all humanitarian aid and health support to resume their work unimpeded;
  • End all violations of international humanitarian and human rights law in ethnic and ceasefire areas, and that all civilians are protected, including by lifting all barriers to humanitarian assistance and ensuring the non-interference of aid to ethnic areas.

We further call on UN Member States to consider imposition of strategic and targeted sanctions against the Myanmar military as an institution, including military-owned and controlled companies and their substantial business associates in accordance with the recommendations of the UN Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar.

Please accept the assurance of our highest consideration.

  1. Action Committee for Democracy Development
  2. Albany Karen Community
  3. ALTSEAN-Burma
  4. ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights
  5. Asia-Pacific Solidarity Coalition (APSOC)
  6. Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
  7. Australian Karen Organisation
  8. Backpack Health Workers Team
  9. Burma Campaign UK
  10. Burma Human Rights Network
  11. Burma Medical Association
  12. Calgary Karen Community Association (CKCA)
  13. Canadian Burma Ethnic Nationalities Organization (CBENO)
  14. Center for social integrity
  15. Chin Human Rights Organization
  16. Civil Rights Defenders
  17. Eastern Pennsylvania Karen Community
  18. Edmonton Karen Community Youth Organization
  19. Enlightened Myanmar Research Foundation (EMReF)
  20. Equality Myanmar
  21. European Karen Network
  22. Freedom and Labor Action Group
  23. Initiatives for International Dialogue (IID)
  24. International Karen Organisation
  25. Kachin Women’s Association Thailand
  26. Karen Affairs Committee
  27. Karen Community London
  28. Karen Community of Canada
  29. Karen Community of Czech Republic
  30. Karen Community of Finland
  31. Karen Community of Hamilton
  32. Karen Community of Ireland
  33. Karen Community of Israel
  34. Karen Community of Kitchener & Waterloo
  35. Karen Community of Leamington
  36. Karen Community of Lethbridge
  37. Karen Community of North Carolina
  38. Karen Community of Norway
  39. Karen Community of Ottawa
  40. Karen Community of Regina
  41. Karen Community of Rochester
  42. Karen Community of Saskatoon
  43. Karen Community of Syracuse
  44. Karen Community of Thunder Bay
  45. Karen Community of Toronto
  46. Karen Community of Windsor
  47. Karen Community of Winnipeg
  48. Karen Community Society of British Columbia
  49. Karen Environmental and Social Action Network
  50. Karen Human Rights Group
  51. Karen Office of Relief and Development
  52. Karen Organization of America
  53. Karen Peace Support Network
  54. Karen Refugee Committee
  55. Karen Society of Buffalo
  56. Karen Student Network Group
  57. Karen Swedish Community
  58. Karen Teacher Working Group
  59. Karen Thai Group
  60. Karen Women’s Organization
  61. Karen Youth of Norway
  62. Karen Youth of Toronto
  63. Karen Youth Organization
  64. KNU Concerned Group
  65. Korea Karen Organization
  66. Korea Karen Youth Organization
  67. Network for Human Rights Documentation Burma (ND-Burma)
  68. Oversea Karen Organization Japan
  69. Philia_mm Students Group, Australia
  70. Progressive Voice
  71. Rainfall Feminist Organization
  72. Salween Peace Park
  73. Swedish Burma Committee
  74. US Campaign for Burma
  75. Utica Karen Community
  76. Women’s Peace Network

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