Myanmar’s (Burma) military – also known as the Tatmadaw – announced on 25 July that it had executed two democracy activists, as well as two other men, marking the first known executions in the country since 1988. Accused of violent resistance against the military, all four men – Phyo Zeya Thaw, Kyaw Min Yu (also known as Ko Jimmy), Hla Myo Aung and Aung Thura Zaw – were sentenced to death by military tribunals during closed, politically motivated trials. Since the February 2021 coup, over 100 people in Myanmar have been sentenced to death, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners. The executions indicate a grave escalation in the Tatmadaw’s repression.
The executions received widespread condemnation from the international community, including from UN Secretary-General António Guterres, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and several governments, among others. The UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, Tom Andrews, said, “these depraved acts must be a turning point for the international community. What more must the junta do before the international community is willing to take strong action?”
The executions occurred amidst growing evidence of mass atrocities perpetrated by the military throughout the country, including the scorched earth campaign in the northwest. Last week, the military killed at least ten people and burned approximately 500 homes during a raid on a predominantly Muslim village in Sagaing Region – a resistance stronghold. The victims’ bodies were found burned beyond recognition with their hands bound. Amnesty International also recently reported that the Tatmadaw is “systematically” laying antipersonnel landmines in a “massive scale” in and around at least 20 villages in Kayah State. The military has reportedly laid landmines in homes, on farmland and on church grounds, threatening the lives and livelihoods of civilians in contaminated areas. The military’s use of banned landmines likely amounts to war crimes.
The international community – especially ASEAN and the UN Security Council – has a responsibility to respond to the deepening crisis in Myanmar with more than just words. The military should heed the calls of High Commissioner Bachelet by reinstating Myanmar’s de facto suspension on the use of the death penalty. All political prisoners and others arbitrarily detained must be immediately released. Member states must stop providing arms and weapons to Myanmar and support efforts to hold those responsible for atrocities to account.
On 20 July the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) released a report on the human rights situation in Afghanistan since the Taliban militarily took over the country on 15 August 2021. UNAMA’s findings reveal that the Taliban de facto authorities are responsible for a wide range of human rights violations, including arbitrary arrests and detentions, incidents of torture and ill-treatment, excessive use of force and extrajudicial killings. These violations appear to be perpetrated on a systematic and widespread basis.
The Taliban have systematically targeted certain groups. According to the report, those most impacted were former government officials and military personnel despite promises of an amnesty. The report highlights that government officials and military personnel were victims of 160 extrajudicial killings, 178 arbitrary arrests and detentions, 23 instances of incommunicado detention and 56 incidents of torture and ill-treatment. The Taliban also perpetrated scores of human rights violations and abuses against persons accused of affiliation with armed groups, such as the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant-Khorasan (ISIL-K) and the National Resistance Front. At least 163 media workers and 64 human rights defenders were affected by similar violations since 15 August.
The report documented 2,106 civilian casualties, including 700 killed and 1,406 wounded, since the Taliban takeover. The casualties are primarily attributed to ISIL-K as a result of targeted attacks against ethnic and religious minority communities, in particular Hazara Shi’as, Shi’a Muslims and Sufi Muslims. ISIL-K perpetrated these attacks mostly with improvised explosive devices in places of worship, education and other civilian areas.
The deterioration in upholding human rights and protecting civilians has been exacerbated by broader restrictions on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly, expression and opinion, as well as sweeping restrictions on women’s rights to fully participate in public and daily life. According to UNAMA, the erosion of women’s rights in the past eleven months is “one of the most notable aspects” of the Taliban’s rule to date. Markus Potzel, Acting UN Secretary-General Special Representative for Afghanistan, stressed, “it is beyond time for all Afghans to be able to live in peace and rebuild their lives after 20 years of armed conflict… The people of Afghanistan, in particular women and girls, are deprived of the full enjoyment of their human rights.”
Taliban de facto authorities must uphold all obligations under International Human Rights Law, as well as guarantee the equal protection and promotion of human rights of all Afghans. The Taliban must investigate the patterns of human rights violations documented by UNAMA and take immediate steps to prevent future violations, including holding perpetrators accountable. The Taliban should also allow the international community to provide assistance in meeting all these obligations.
On 21 July clashes broke out between armed groups in Libya’s capital of Tripoli, killing at least nine civilians, including three children, according to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF). The sporadic fighting took place in several populated areas across Tripoli, resulting in damage to civilian infrastructure and homes. UNICEF condemned the fighting, emphasizing that “all children in Libya deserve to live their lives in peace and without the constant threat of violence.” Two days later, brief skirmishes broke out between rival armed groups along the main coastal highway on the outskirts of the city of Misrata.
The armed clashes in Tripoli and skirmishes in Misrata are the latest escalation amidst a prolonged constitutional and political stalemate. After successive rival governments vied for control of the country for several years, during March 2021 a provisional government was established. Presidential elections initially scheduled for December 2021 were postponed indefinitely due to security concerns and fundamental disagreements surrounding aspects of the elections. Protests broke out across the country in early July, with demonstrators expressing their frustration over ongoing political divisions and increasing prices of basic commodities in Tripoli. Some protesters set fire to the parliament building in the eastern city of Tobruk on 1 July.
Cycles of political deadlock following the overthrow of former President Muammar Qaddafi have repeatedly devolved into armed conflict that has had a devastating impact on civilians in Libya for over a decade. The UN Human Rights Council-mandated Fact-Finding Mission on Libya has alleged that war crimes and crimes against humanity have been committed in Libya during these cycles of violence since 2016 by all parties to the conflict, including third state parties, foreign fighters and mercenaries.
The latest confrontations in Tripoli are heightening tensions and increasing the risk of atrocities. On 25 July Martha Pobee, UN Assistant Secretary-General for Africa in the Departments of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs and Peace Operations, warned that the stalemate was prolonging a highly volatile security environment and human rights abuses. According to Assistant Secretary-General Pobee, there is a risk of escalation as armed groups mobilize behind their preferred political leaders and military activity has increased in the western region.
The international community must continue supporting Libya’s transition. Political elites in Libya should heed the calls of their people and demonstrate responsible leadership by addressing the key drivers of the political stalemate and allow for elections to be held as soon as possible.
Ralph Bunche Institute for International Studies
The Graduate Center, CUNY
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