More incidents of violence against civilians by government forces were reported in Myanmar than anywhere else in the world during the first six months of 2022, according to a US-based group that compiles data on conflicts in developing countries.
The Armed Conflicts Location and Event Data Project (ACLED), a partner organization of the United Nations, said in a report over the weekend that it had recorded 668 incidents of violence against civilians by government authorities in Myanmar from January to June this year. It ranked Myanmar at the top of a list of nations that included Afghanistan, Yemen, Kazakhstan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, China, Ethiopia and Iran.
The majority of the violence “involved direct attacks with small arms on individuals who are unarmed and not participating in demonstrations” against the military’s coup on February 1, 2021, the group said.
ACLED documented more than 11,000 reported deaths in Myanmar during the same period, mainly as a result of fighting between the military and anti-junta armed groups. Explosions and remote violence, as well as violence against civilians, were also the main causes of death, it said.
The group also counted more than 6,000 political protests in Myanmar during the first six months of the year.
“With much of the country in active rebellion against the takeover, the military has failed to consolidate control, resorting instead to extreme violence,” ACLED said. “Armed struggle against the junta continues as anti-coup demonstrations continue.”
ACLED said violence by state forces against civilians occurred in all 14 states and regions of Myanmar in the first half of 2022.
“Civilians are shot at checkpoints, tortured in prisons and killed after fighting in villages,” it said.
“Children have also been targeted, as have family members of anti-coup activists. In several cases, the military has desecrated the bodies of those killed, cut off body parts and set corpses on fire.”
ACLED warned that political violence and protest trends seen at the start of 2022 “are likely to continue into the second half of the year.”
“As the military suffers further casualties and fails to gain control of significant parts of the country, it will continue to target civilians with extreme acts of violence. Resistance to the coup – both armed and unarmed – shows no signs of stopping,” it said .
Reacting to ACLED’s report, Thein Tun Oo, the executive director of the Thayningha Strategy Studies Group, a group of former military officers, blamed the civilian deaths on the armed resistance.
“There will be deaths as long as they hide among civilians,” he said, referring to members of the anti-junta People’s Defense Force (PDF) paramilitary group, which the regime has labeled a terrorist organization.
“No matter how many instructions are issued by the higher authorities, soldiers fire at the place where the bullets are coming from. As a result, the people caught in between are harmed. This is inevitable.”
But political observer Than Soe Naing chalked up the high civilian death toll to the junta’s use of asymmetric warfare in the conflict.
“The PDF forces came from the civilians. Many people die and are injured because the military offensives use airstrikes and naval attacks [in addition to ground forces],” he said.
“The only way to reduce these casualties is for the PDF to surrender or totally wipe out the junta forces.”
Kyaw Zaw, spokesman for the office of the president of the shadow National Unity Government (NUG), Duwa Lashi La, told RFA that the junta is committing some of the worst war crimes on earth and “will definitely pay the price.”
“Those who gave the orders are also responsible,” he said. “You can’t run away from your crimes.”
Kyaw Zaw pointed to a September 16 helicopter attack on Let Yet Kone village in Sagaing region’s Depayin township that killed 19 people, including six children, as an example of how “there is no army as brutal as Myanmar’s.”
Meanwhile, he said NUG is working to provide the people of Myanmar with as much protection as possible.
But Kyaw Win, director of the Burma Human Rights Network, called on NUG to do more to make the international community aware of the violence Myanmar’s civilian population is being subjected to.
“NUG must work more closely with the international community. It must be more efficient. It must bring additional resources into the country,” he said. “Right now, [the junta] already bullies and kills as many people as it wants.”
According to the Burma Human Rights Network, the military kills more than 100 civilians a month in Myanmar, and Kyaw Win said “thousands” have died in the 19 months since the coup.
Thailand’s Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma) said authorities in Myanmar have killed at least 2,311 civilians and arrested nearly 15,600 others since the coup – mostly during peaceful anti-junta protests.
NUG president Duwa Lashi La put the death toll at more than 3,000 in a speech marking the anniversary of the armed resistance earlier this month.
Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.