Myanmar’s shadow National Unity Government (NUG) said Friday that it had documented more than 400 serious human rights abuses nationwide in the nearly nine months since the military seized power and intends to seek justice for the victims through both domestic and international courts.
NUG Human Rights Minister Aung Myo Min told RFA’s Myanmar Service that since the Feb. 1 coup, more than 1,000 people have been killed as the result of suspected torture in police custody, amid an ongoing crackdown on anti-junta activities.
Not only was brutal violence used against street protesters in large cities like Yangon and Mandalay, he said, but the military has also stepped up its response to anti-junta groups in rural areas by burning down resistance camps and killing scores of villagers in Magway region, as well as Chin and Kayah states.
Aung Myo Min said that since the NUG Ministry of Home Affairs and Justice launched a website on Aug. 12 inviting people to report human rights abuses, it had gathered information on more than 400 “serious human rights abuses,” which it has referred to the United Nations Human Rights Council and the International Criminal Court (ICC). He said justice for the abuses will be sought through domestic courts “as soon as the situation allows.”
“What we have gathered now is not just for the ICC. The information will be used when people win the Spring Revolution, and the country regains a proper rule of law and a strong judiciary,” he said.
“It will be used to prepare reports for the U.N. as the complaints contain strong evidence [of junta brutalities]. When Myanmar gets a chance to become a member of the ICC, we intend to use it to take legal action against the perpetrators. It will be used in every process to find truth and justice.”
Aung Myo Min said the NUG had received several complaints from within the country and that the most serious human rights violations were confirmed after interviewing victims by telephone.
The ICC, based in The Hague, is the only international criminal tribunal that can prosecute individuals convicted of genocide and crimes against humanity. In order for the ICC to prosecute human rights abuses by a military or government, the country must be a signatory to the Rome Statute.
The Rome Statute, which established the ICC, was signed on July 1, 2002, and currently has 123 member states. Forty-two countries, including Myanmar, have yet to sign the treaty.
Aung Myo Min noted that on July 17 the NUG had sent a letter to the ICC calling for the court to prosecute the junta for crimes since its prior rule of the country in 2002, adding that his shadow administration would sign the Rome Statute if necessary.
Nearly nine months after the military’s Feb. 1 coup, security forces have killed 1,186 civilians and arrested at least 7,036, according to the Bangkok-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP)—mostly during crackdowns on anti-junta protests.
The junta says it unseated the National League for Democracy government because, they claimed, the party had engineered a landslide victory in Myanmar’s November 2020 election through widespread voter fraud. It has yet to present evidence of its claims and public unrest is at an all-time high.
Seeking to file
A man who has been sentenced to death in absentia after being charged with involvement in a murder in Nya Ward, in Yangon’s North Okkalapa township, told RFA that he would file a complaint with the ICC against the military regime if he could.
“I have heard about this option, but I don’t know how to contact anyone. I want to file a complaint if possible. We want to complain about the destruction of our homes, the looting of all our belongings and the indictment against us,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“We didn’t have a chance to defend ourselves [in court] and they just handed us the death sentence one-sidedly. There are a lot of people who have died and others who are in hiding. We want them to get pay-back for what they have done to us.”
A resident of Kinma village, in Magway region’s Pauk township, said he would file a complaint with the ICC against the military for not only burning down the entire village but also for looting and the killing of its inhabitants.
“We have to file a complaint. They not only took away our food, other belongings and destroyed our houses, but they also set fire to the school. If individuals could file a complaint, we would produce all the evidence along with photographs,” said the man, who also declined to be named.
“The killings were not just ordinary killings. Three men were taken away and blown up with an explosive. Two men on a motorcycle, who were passing by, were shot dead and burned along with their vehicle. Nyunt Shwe, who stayed behind in the village, had his hands tied and was set on fire.”
Human rights experts say that what is happening in Myanmar following the military coup amounts to war crimes that can be reported to the ICC because they constitute a form of genocide and crimes against humanity.
But asked by RFA about NUG’s efforts to report human rights abuses to the ICC, junta spokesman Maj. Gen. Zaw Min Tun denied that the military was knowingly involved in such actions. He acknowledged that “there could be some violations by local security forces,” and said such incidents are “being tackled with existing local laws.”
“The military as well as the government is taking action in accordance with existing laws on terrorist activities and riots. No action can be taken beyond the existing law,” he said.
“We acknowledge some of the incidents. There may be a few cases where members of our security forces lose control of their emotions … These things happen in controlling riots or violence. These incidents happen everywhere in the world. So, whether they file complaints or not, we have to take action according to the existing laws of our country.”
Nikky Diamond, a Myanmar doctoral student studying law and politics in Germany, told RFA that victims are entirely within their rights to file complaints with the ICC through NUG.
But he urged the NUG to ensure that its website for collecting documentation on rights abuses is safe and secure.
“This is of paramount importance—if the junta feels threatened and knows that people are trying to send information, the complainants might be in great danger,” he said.
“NUG needs to implement measures to provide these people with protection, working hand in hand with international groups. Some of the victims are very important witnesses. If they stay in the country, they will not be safe. If they are well-protected, they will be of great support to the ongoing litigation process.”
Human rights activists also point out that the ICC will only be able to prosecute effectively if evidence is strong and say individual testimonies will be crucial to the process.
The ICC and the International Court of Justice (ICJ) have been arenas where Myanmar’s previous government and some generals stand accused of “forced deportation” of more than 700,000 Rohingya Muslims in 2017 to neighboring Bangladesh as the military targeted the minority community in Rakhine state.
Thousands of Rohingya perished as a result of the 2017 violence, which included indiscriminate killings, mass rape, torture, and village burnings. The hundreds of thousands who fled to Bangladesh now live-in massive displacement camps.
Former State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi’s deposed government dismissed the ICC, arguing that the court has no jurisdiction over Myanmar, while she appeared at the ICJ in late 2019 and defended the country in a suit brought by Gambia accusing Myanmar of violating the 1948 Genocide Convention during the 2017 violence.
The ICJ ordered Myanmar to take measures to protect the Rohingya and document evidence of the Rakhine atrocities, but the ruling was shrugged off by the Myanmar government.
Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.