Escalation of Airstrikes and Civilian Casualties in Myanmar: A United Nations Report
Soaring Number of Airstrikes Post Coup
According to a recent report by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNOCHR), the military junta in Myanmar has significantly escalated the use of airstrikes against civilians. The report indicates that the junta has launched a staggering number of 988 airstrikes between February 2021 and July 2023. This escalation has resulted in the death of a minimum of 281 individuals.
Instilling Fear in Civilians
The frequent use of airstrikes has infused an aura of fear amid civilians who are now terrified of being bombarded in their homes, schools, and hospitals, and even during public gatherings. The report accentuates the noticeable shift in targeted areas, with a significant surge in central regions of the country.
Heavy Fighting and Displacement
Artillery fire and frequent airstrikes have led to heavy fighting in multiple states and regions of Myanmar, particularly in the Northwest and Southeast. As a consequence, civilian casualties and displacement continue to rise, exacerbating the already dire humanitarian situation in the country. The report highlights a particularly devastating airstrike attack in the Sagaing Region that resulted in the killing of more than 170 people, including civilians.
As a result of the escalating conflict, more than 1.8 million people across the country have been displaced as of April 2023. This includes approximately 1.5 million people who were displaced following the military takeover in February 2021. The UNOCHR has called for an immediate cessation of all violence and unrestricted humanitarian access to all parts of Myanmar.
Politically Motivated Murders
The study also finds that politically motivated murders, not collateral killings in armed clashes, constituted the dominant form of violence against civilians in both urban and rural areas in the 20 month period following the coup. This trend was particularly true in regions populated by the ethnic Burman majority and in the two major cities of Yangon and Mandalay. Sixty-seven percent of the reported civilian fatalities were politically motivated murders.
The International Response
The Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar argues that the international community is not doing nearly enough. A minority of Member States and non-State entities continue to provide the junta with weapons, materials to manufacture weapons, or revenue that is being used to commit war crimes and crimes against humanity. The international community could also do better in supporting the hundreds of thousands who had been forced to flee Myanmar.
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