From the report ‘Bullets raining from the sky’: War crimes and displacement in eastern Myanmar It appears that the Myanmar military has subjected citizens of the Karen and Karenni populations to collective punishment through widespread air and land attacks, arbitrary arrests that often ended in torture or extrajudicial execution, and systematic looting and burning of villages.
The military coup on February 1, 2021 resumed violence in the states of Kayin and Kayah. The violence escalated between December 2021 and March 2022. Hundreds of civilians were killed and more than 150,000 people were displaced.
“The world’s attention has turned away from Myanmar since last year’s coup, but civilians are still paying a high price,” said Amnesty International’s Rawya Rageh. Myanmar is widespread and systematic, and its possible crimes against humanity. “
“The alarm bells should ring: killing, looting and burning are well-known tactics for Myanmar’s military to collectively punish people. These tactics have often been used against various ethnic minorities across the country.”
Rising violence after the coup
Armed ethnic groups in Myanmar, including the states of Kayin and Kayah, have been fighting for more rights and autonomy for decades. The fragile ceasefire that has been in place in both states since 2012 has been broken after the February 2021 coup, and new armed groups have emerged. The army cracked down on civilians.
Some of these attacks appear to be deliberately aimed at civilians. They served as collective punishment for people who supported armed groups or the uprisings after the coup. In other cases, the military fired randomly at civilian areas where military targets were also located. Direct attacks on civilians, collective punishment and arbitrary attacks, in which civilians are killed or wounded, are violations of international martial law and are war crimes.
Attacks on civilians must be widespread or systematic in order to qualify as crimes against humanity. In the Kayin and Kayah states, they are both. The crimes committed include murder, torture, forced transfer and persecution on ethnic grounds.
Myanmar’s military often fires long-range explosive weapons into populated civilian areas. Dozens of witnesses told Amnesty International about the attacks, which lasted for days. Between December 2021 and March 2022, Amnesty International documented 24 artillery or mortar attacks. Civilians were killed or wounded, and houses, schools, clinics, churches and monasteries were destroyed.
For example, on March 5, 2022, the military attacked the village of Ka Law Day in Kain’s Hpapun Township while families were eating. Seven people were killed, including a woman who was eight months pregnant. A relative recounted how he sat in the house all night with the corpses around him for fear of being hit by further shelling before he could bury the dead the next morning.
Many people described how the military used fighter jets and attack helicopters, and how scary they were. People could not sleep at night for fear of air raids or had to flee to shelters in shelters or caves.
In the first three months of 2022, Amnesty International documented eight air strikes on villages and a camp for IDPs. The attacks in the eastern part of the country killed nine civilians and injured at least nine others. Houses and religious buildings were destroyed. In almost all attacks, only civilians were present.
On February 23, around 6 p.m. 18.00, a fighter jet attacked the village of Dung Ka Mee in Demoso Township in Kayah. Two civilians were killed and several others were injured. Amnesty International questioned two witnesses, a relative of one of the deceased and an emergency worker. They said there had been no fighting that night and that the nearest armed group base was more than a mile away.
A 46-year-old local farmer who saw the attack said the military plane flew over three times, firing weapons and rockets.
“When that fighter jet flew towards us with its nose down, I was frozen. When they fired the missile, I realized I had to react and I ran away [naar een bunker]… We were in shock and saw all the dust and dirt coming towards us … There is a two storey building … The family lived upstairs and downstairs is a mobile phone shop. The building collapsed and caught fire. ‘
A 40-year-old farmer saw the remains of a neighbor’s body:
“We could not even put them in a coffin, we put them in a plastic bag and buried them. People had to pick up the body parts and put them in a bag.
Another attack on January 17, 2022 around noon. 1 at the Ree Khee Bu refugee camp killed a man in his 50s as well as two sisters aged 15 and 12.
The report reveals how Myanmar’s military arbitrarily detained citizens based on their ethnicity, or because they were suspected of supporting the anti-government movement. Prisoners were often tortured, ‘disappeared’ or executed out of court.
Three farmers from the village of San Pya 6 Mile in Kayah State disappeared on January 6, 2022. Their bodies were found in decay in a puddle latrine about two weeks later.
The brother of one of the victims told how he identified the men through their clothes and their teeth. When he tried to get the bodies along with others, they were shot at by soldiers. They could not return to bury the men until a month later.
On December 24, 2021, a massacre took place that triggered rare international outrage. Soldiers stopped at least 35 women, men and children in various vehicles in the village of Mo So in Kayah state before killing and burning their bodies. Doctors examining the bodies said many of the victims were tied up, gagged and had wounds indicating they had been shot or stabbed.
Amnesty International reiterates that this incident should be investigated as a case of extrajudicial killings. Such executions in armed conflict are war crimes.
Witnesses have also described Myanmar’s military shooting at civilians, including those attempting to flee across a river along the Thai border.
Looting and burning
As before, villages were systematically looted and burned in military operations. This also happened in the eastern states of Kayin and Kayah. Witnesses from six villages said items such as jewelry, money, vehicles and animals were stolen before houses and other buildings were set on fire.
Four men fleeing the village of Wari Suplai said they saw houses burning up from a meadow after most of the villagers fled on February 18, 2022. They told Amnesty International that the fires lasted for days and destroyed more than two thirds of the houses ..
“It’s not a house anymore. It’s just ash – black and charcoal … It was all my savings. It was destroyed in minutes,” said a 38-year-old father of two young children.
Amnesty International analyzed data on fires and satellite images. It shows that villages in Kayah were burned down, some several times. The fires show military operations from village to village in February and March 2022.
A deserter from the Army’s 66th Light Infantry Division, who was involved in operations in the state of Kayah until October 2021, told Amnesty International that he saw soldiers looting and burning houses:
‘They have no specific reason [om een bepaald huis plat te branden]† They just want to scare the citizens with that “this is what we do when you [de verzetsstrijders] supports. “In addition, they will stop the supply and logistics to the local resistance fighters … [Soldaten] took everything they could [uit een dorp] and burned the rest. ‘
On the run
More than 150,000 people were displaced by the violence. Among them, one-third to one-half of the entire population of Kayah State. In some cases, entire villages have been evacuated, and in some cases, civilians have had to flee several times.
Displaced people live in appalling conditions, with little food and poor health care – including the enormous psychosocial impact of the conflict – and the military continues to block the flow of humanitarian aid. Aid workers say malnutrition is on the rise and it is becoming increasingly difficult to reach displaced people due to persistent violence and military restrictions.
Donors and humanitarian organizations must significantly increase their assistance to civilians in eastern Myanmar, and the military must lift all restrictions on assistance.
The ongoing crimes against humanity in eastern Myanmar follow a pattern of beatings and deep impunity that has lasted for decades. The international community – including ASEAN and the UN – must address this crisis now. The UN Security Council must impose a comprehensive arms embargo on Myanmar and refer the situation to the International Criminal Court.
The report is based on research conducted between March and April 2022. Amnesty investigators also spent two weeks in the Thailand-Myanmar border region. They interviewed 99 people, many of them witnesses and survivors of attacks and three deserters from Myanmar’s army.
In addition, the researchers analyzed more than a hundred images and videos of human rights violations showing damage, destruction and use of weapons. They also studied satellite imagery, fire data and open source flight data from military aircraft.