Myanmar’s military and rebel groups are both committing gross rights abuses against civilians caught in the middle of government offensives against several armed groups in the north of the country, Amnesty International says.
Civilians are being subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention and torture by all sides, according to Caught in the middle: Abuses against civilians amid conflict in Myanmar’s northern Shan State, a new report released by the rights group last week said.
“The Myanmar military is as relentless and ruthless as ever, committing war crimes against civilians in northern Shan State with absolute impunity,” said Nicholas Bequelin, Amnesty International’s Director for East and Southeast Asia via statement.
“Soldiers — and more importantly commanders — are subjecting civilians to the military’s hallmark brutality in the absence of any form of accountability.”
The rights group documented alleged war crimes and other military violations against ethnic Kachin, Lisu, Shan, and Ta’ang civilians during two field missions to the region in March and August.
Civilians accused one military unit in particular — the 99th Light Infantry Division —- for being responsible for many violations.
The unit have been implicated in some of the worst atrocities committed against the Rohingya Muslim minority in Rhakine State since August 2017 and other violations in the north of the country, the report said.
“Wherever the 99th Light Infantry Division is deployed we see similar patterns of abuse and the commission of horrific crimes unfold. This highlights the urgency of international action to hold Myanmar’s military — not least its senior generals — accountable,” Bequelin said.
Myanmar soldiers have committed serious human rights violations during an escalation in fighting over the last year, particularly in the north of Shan State, despite the military declaring a unilateral ceasefire in the area in December 2018, according to the report.
It says soldiers are detaining civilians from Kachin, Shan, Ta’ang and other ethnic communities — mostly men and boys — who are often tortured or endure other forms of ill-treatment after being accused of having links to armed groups such as the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) based solely on their ethnicity.
The military has also fired indiscriminately in civilian areas, killing and injuring civilians and damaging homes and other property, the report says.
Detainees were also held incommunicado for up to three months and denied access to family and lawyers, the report added.
Armed groups such as the KIA and the Ta’ang National Liberation Army were also targeting civilians, Amnesty said.
Men and boys were being subjected to forced labor as porters, carrying fighters’ belongings in combat zones, the rights group added.
“Armed groups are responsible for heinous abuses against civilians, including abductions, forced labor and beatings,” Bequelin said.
Thousands have been forced to flee their homes in the last year as the fighting moves closer to villages, he said
The rights group called all sides to stop targeting civilians.
“Those responsible for war crimes should face justice, all the way up to Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, the Myanmar military’s commander-in-chief,” said Bequelin.
“Fighters and commanders in ethnic armed groups should also be investigated and held accountable for war crimes,” he added, calling on the U.N. Security Council to refer the situation in Myanmar to the International Criminal Court.