The U.N.'s rights office and humanitarian organizations on Thursday condemned violent crackdowns on anti-junta protesters and the rising death toll in Myanmar amid peaceful countrywide demonstrations following the deadliest day in more than a month since the military coup seized power from the democratically elected government.
The U.N.’s rights office (OHCHR) said Thursday that it had verified 54 deaths since the coup began on Feb. 1, though the actual figure could be higher.
“It is utterly abhorrent that security forces are firing live ammunition against peaceful protesters across the country,” Michelle Bachelet, U.N. High commissioner for human rights said in a statement on Thursday.
More than 1,700 people, including lawmakers, activists, elections officials, rights defenders journalists, civil servants, teachers, and health care workers, have been arbitrarily arrested and detained over participation in protests or engagement in political activity since the coup began, with at least 700 detained on Wednesday alone, said the U.N. human rights office.
At least 38 people were killed on Wednesday — the bloodiest day of the protests — and more than 100 were injured at rallies throughout Myanmar, said Christine Schraner Burgener, the U.N. secretary-general’s special envoy for Myanmar, at a briefing the same day.
An RFA tally of the deaths confirmed that 39 people had been killed.
Myanmar police appear to be using 9mm submachine guns along with live ammunition against demonstrators, she said.
Schraner Burgener said that in discussions with the army, she warned military regime leaders that U.N. member states and the Security Council might take “strong measures” against them, to which they replied, “We are used to sanctions, and we survived the sanctions time in the past.”
“I also warned they will go in an isolation,” she said at the briefing, to which they responded, “We have to learn to walk with only few friends.”
The March 3 killings followed extreme violence on Feb. 28 when security forces killed at least 18 people, according to the U.N.
Much of the violence on Wednesday took place in Myanmar’s largest city, Yangon, where police were caught on CCTV using the butts of their rifles to beat four volunteer medics who were helping wounded protesters and shooting out the windows of their ambulance.
At least five children have been killed, at least four severely wounded, and over 500 arbitrarily detained by security forces since protests began last month, according to the U.N. Children's Fund UNICEF).
“UNICEF condemns in the strongest possible terms the use of force against children, including the use of live ammunition, and the arbitrary detention of children, and calls on security forces to immediately refrain from violence and to keep children and young people out of harm’s way,” said a statement issued by the agency on Thursday.
ICRC calls for restraint
Security forces have ramped up the level of violence in recent days, firing live rounds at protesters, using stun grenades, spraying tear gas, damaging property and vehicles, forcibly entering and ransacking homes, and detaining people arbitrarily. They also are increasingly targeting heath care workers and volunteer medics assisting the injured.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said Thursday that it is closely monitoring developments in Myanmar and is seriously concerned about the growing number of violent deaths in recent days.
“At times when demonstrations remain frequent and widespread, and when numbers of people killed or seriously injured are rising, the ICRC is calling on all for restraint in Myanmar,” a statement issued by the humanitarian organization said.
International rights groups also criticized the growing violence against peaceful protesters.
“Myanmar’s security forces now seem intent on breaking the back of the anti-coup movement through wanton violence and sheer brutality,” said Richard Weir, crisis and conflict researcher at New York- based Human Rights Watch, in a statement n Thursday.
“The use of lethal force against protesters rescuing others demonstrates how little the security forces fear being held to account for their actions,” he said.
Despite the heavy violence, anti-junta protesters were out in force again on Thursday in the cities of Yangon, Mandalay, Naypyidaw, Pathein, Kalay, Dawei, Mawlamyine and Hpa-an.