Myanmar (Burma)

29 February 2024
Risk Level: Current Crisis

Populations in Myanmar are facing crimes against humanity and war crimes perpetrated by the military following the February 2021 coup.


Since the February 2021 military coup and prolonged states of emergency, the military – known as the Tatmadaw – has compounded the human rights and humanitarian crisis in Myanmar (Burma). Hundreds of thousands of people participated in peaceful protests and strikes against the re-imposition of military rule, while numerous civilian militias – known as People’s Defence Forces (PDFs) – formed as part of an armed resistance since the coup. The Tatmadaw has detained thousands of people accused of resisting the junta and targeted civilian areas with airstrikes, scorched earth campaigns and other attacks, particularly in the anti-military strongholds of Magway and Sagaing regions and Chin, Kachin, Shan, Kayah and Karen states. At least 4,416 people have been killed by the military and anti-junta groups, while 2.6 million people have been displaced since the coup. According to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, at least 1,600 civilians were killed in 2023 alone, a 400 percent increase from 2022.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has documented a two-fold increase in junta airstrikes since April 2022. Aerial bombardments have indiscriminately targeted schools sheltering civilians and rights groups have documented the destruction of at least 107 religious buildings, including 67 churches, since the coup. The High Commissioner has reported other abuses by the junta, including the systematic denial of humanitarian aid to civilians, intentional blocking of humanitarian access, abuses against humanitarian workers and burning alive, dismembering, raping and beheading civilians unable to flee attacks. The Women’s League of Burma has also documented conflict-related sexual violence, including incidents where women were gang-raped by soldiers and raped at checkpoints.

The military has charged members of the National Unity Government (NUG) – a coalition of democratic opponents formed in opposition to military rule – with high treason and pronounced that the NUG and PDFs are terrorist organizations. Although the junta has announced several mass prisoner releases, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar has said that at least 19,000 people remain detained.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) agreed to a “Five-Point Consensus,” which called for a cessation of hostilities, among other steps, in April 2021, but subsequent regional pressure has been limited. In September 2023 ASEAN announced the creation of a troika mechanism for Myanmar, comprising of the current, past and future chairs of the organization. In December 2022 the UN Security Council (UNSC) passed the first and only resolution on the human rights crisis, demanding an end to the violence and calling for political prisoners to be released. Numerous governments have attempted to restrict the junta’s capacity to commit crimes through a variety of measures, including by imposing extensive targeted sanctions on its leaders, military-affiliated companies and others who enable their crimes. Some states have also suspended development funds, imposed arms embargos, banned dual-use goods for the military and the supply of aviation fuel to Myanmar, among other measures.

Prior to the coup, in August 2017 the military launched so-called “clearance operations” in Rakhine State with the purported aim of confronting the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army. During those operations the majority of Myanmar’s Rohingya population were forced to flee, bringing the total number of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh to over 900,000 people. In 2018 the UN Human Rights Council-mandated Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar concluded that senior members of the military, including General Min Aung Hlaing, should be prosecuted for genocide against the Rohingya, as well as for crimes against humanity and war crimes in Kachin, Rakhine and Shan states. Despite ongoing risks underscored by the UN and international human rights organizations, the junta and Bangladesh have promoted a “pilot repatriation program” for Rohingya to return to Myanmar.

Several processes are underway to investigate and potentially hold perpetrators accountable for crimes against the Rohingya. This includes the UN Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar, an International Criminal Court (ICC) investigation and a trial at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) initiated by The Gambia accusing Myanmar of violating its obligations under the Genocide Convention. Cases have also been brought forward under the principle of universal jurisdiction in Argentina, the Philippines and Türkiye.


On 27 October a coalition of ethnic armed groups launched “Operation 1027” against the junta, capturing military outposts in Shan, Kachin, Sagaing, Magway and Kayah states. Other groups have subsequently increased attacks, including some PDFs and the Arakan Army in Rakhine State, breaking a year-long informal ceasefire with the junta. Fighting has been reported in over two-thirds of Myanmar, including Kayin State and Kokang and Bago regions. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the fighting has killed at least 554 civilians and displaced over 800,000. At least 74 townships, including most of the 17 townships in Rakhine State, are experiencing partial or total internet shutdowns. Multiple rounds of Chinese-brokered ceasefires have yet to hold.

In December Canada, the European Union and United Kingdom (UK) separately sanctioned entities and individuals associated with the junta. On the third anniversary of the coup, the UK, United States, Canada and Australia levied new sanctions on individuals and enterprises related to the junta, including those involved in the procurement of aviation fuel and arms.


Impunity for past atrocities has enabled the military to continue committing widespread and systematic human rights violations and abuses against civilians, particularly those from ethnic minority populations and those who are perceived as unsupportive of the junta. The Tatmadaw’s use of surveillance technology and internet shutdowns has facilitated the commission of atrocities. Operation 1027 is the most significant challenge to the junta since the coup and may prompt an intensification of indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks, heightening the risks for civilians.

Military forces perpetrated pervasive sexual and gender-based violence during the Rohingya clearance operations and appear to be continuing this pattern of abuse in their conduct against those perceived as resisting the junta.

Divisions within the UNSC and ASEAN have hampered the development of a coordinated international response to atrocities in Myanmar, further enabling ongoing abuses. Although many states have imposed sanctions on junta officials, individuals and entities supporting the junta, Canada is currently the only state with comprehensive sanctions blocking the shipment of aviation fuel to Myanmar. Moreover, despite these sanctions, fuel and arms continue to be shipped into Myanmar, including from entities based in countries imposing sanctions.

The coup, ongoing hostilities and a lack of trust complicate the prospects for the safe, dignified and voluntary repatriation of Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh.


    • Impunity for decades of atrocities perpetrated by the military.
    • History of institutionalized persecution and discrimination against ethnic minority groups.
    • The military’s continued access to weapons, aviation fuel and money, providing the means to perpetrate atrocities.
    • Indiscriminate attacks on civilian infrastructure while targeting anti-military strongholds.
    • Increasing desperation of the junta to quell armed resistance and the effects of Operation 1027 in other regions of the country.


The UNSC should impose a comprehensive arms embargo and targeted sanctions on Myanmar and refer the situation to the ICC. China, Russia, India and others must halt weapons transfers to Myanmar’s military. All UN member states, regional organizations and the UNSC should impose economic sanctions on Myanmar’s oil and gas sector and block the military’s access to aviation fuel. Foreign companies should immediately divest and sever ties with all businesses linked to the military.

The military junta should not be diplomatically recognized as the legitimate representatives of Myanmar. ASEAN member states should condemn the Tatmadaw and increasingly engage with the NUG.

More states should formally intervene in the ICJ case. All those responsible for atrocity crimes, including senior military leaders, should face international justice.


Sign up for our newsletter and stay up to date on R2P news and alerts

Follow us on social media


Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect

Ralph Bunche Institute for International Studies
The Graduate Center, CUNY
365 Fifth Avenue, Suite 5203
New York, NY 10016-4309, USA

Phone: +1 212-817-1929 |
R2P Resources & Statements