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U.N. human rights chief calls on Myanmar to restore civilian rule

Armed anti-riot police stand guard as demonstrators flash the three-finger salute, a symbol of resistance, during a protest against the military, in Naypyitaw, Myanmar. Photo by Stringer/EPA-EFE
Armed anti-riot police stand guard as demonstrators flash the three-finger salute, a symbol of resistance, during a protest against the military, in Naypyitaw, Myanmar. Photo by Stringer/EPA-EFE

Jan. 29 (UPI) -- As the one-year anniversary of the Myanmar coup nears, U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet is urging the international community to pressure the country to return to civilian rule.

"I urge governments -- in the region and beyond -- as well as businesses, to listen to this plea," Bachelet said in her appeal to the international community Friday. "It is time for urgent, renewed effort to restore human rights and democracy in Myanmar and ensure the perpetrators of systemic human rights violations and abuses are held to account."

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Since the Feb. 1 coup, the military's effort "to crush dissent has led to the killing of at least 1,500 people," she added.

The U.N. Human Rights Office has also documented daily human rights violations.

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At least 11,787 people have been arbitrarily detained for peacefully protesting the coup, with 8,729 remaining in custody, and at least 290 dying in detention, many likely due to torture, according to the U.N. figures.

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The U.N. office has also documented village burnings, including places of worship and medical clinics, mass arrests, summary executions and use of torture, amid "assumed support of armed elements," in clashes between civilian militant groups and military forces.

Areas of highest intense military activity include the Sagaing region, and Chin, Kachin, Kayah and Kayin states, according to Bachelet's address, which noted that the U.N. human rights office would publish a report in March detailing the human rights situation since the coup.

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While the coup has drawn near universal condemnation, Bachelet said the response has been "ineffectual and lacks a sense of urgency commensurate to the magnitude of the crisis."

Bachelet added that the current human rights crisis was "built upon the impunity with which the military leadership perpetrated the shocking campaign of violence resulting in gross human rights violations against the Rohingya communities of Myanmar four years ago -- and other ethnic minorities over many decades beforehand."

"As long as impunity prevails, stability in Myanmar will be a fiction," Bachelet said. "Accountability of the military remains crucial to any solution going forward -- the people overwhelmingly demand this."

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The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the crisis from the coup with projections that nearly half of the population of 54 million may be driven into poverty this year.

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"Members of Myanmar civil society have told me first-hand what the impact of the last year has been on their lives and those of their families and communities," Bachelet said. "The people have shown extraordinary courage and resilience in standing up for their basic human rights and support each other. Now the international community must show its resolve to support them through concrete actions to end this crisis."

The Myanmar military took over the government and detained its civilian leader, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, and other high-ranking democratically elected officials, in the coup.

Suu Kyi was sentenced earlier this month to an additional four years in prison for illegally possessing walkie-talkies and violating COVID-19 health restrictions. She was also given a four-year sentence last month on a different pair of convictions, a term that was later reduced to two years.

Protesters have demanded that Suu Kyi be released along with other members of the National League for Democracy Party.

The military, also known as the Tatmadaw, made unsubstantiated claims of fraud after November 2020 general elections, in which Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy won a landslide over the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party, picking up 396 of the 476 contested seats in parliament.

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The country's election committee, independent observers, and numerous Western nations, have refuted the claims of election fraud.

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