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Atrocity Alert No. 251: Myanmar (Burma), Afghanistan and Central African Republic

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Atrocity Alert is a weekly publication by the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect highlighting situations where populations are at risk of, or are enduring, mass atrocity crimes.

THREE MONTHS SINCE MYANMAR’S MILITARY COUP, THE DEADLY CRACKDOWN CONTINUES

Last weekend marked three months since Myanmar’s military, headed by Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing, overthrew the civilian-led government. According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, 769 people have been killed by the security forces since 1 February and at least 3,696 people are in detention for resisting the coup.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) held a high-level summit on 24 April to discuss the crisis in Myanmar and agreed to a “Five-Point Consensus” which includes an immediate cessation of violence, constructive dialogue among all parties, appointment of a special envoy to facilitate mediation, provision of humanitarian aid and a visit by the envoy to Myanmar. The military issued a statement two days later, indicating they would only consider ASEAN’s proposal “when the situation returns to stability in the country.” Since then, the security forces have continued their deadly crackdown.

On 30 April the UN Security Council (UNSC) was briefed by the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy on Myanmar, Christine Schraner Burgener, and the Second Minister of Foreign Affairs of Brunei Darussalam, Erywan bin Pehin Yusof, who currently Chairs ASEAN. The UNSC issued “press elements” after the meeting, welcoming ASEAN’s efforts regarding Myanmar and calling for an immediate cessation of violence and the release of detainees.

Despite ASEAN’s “Five-Point Consensus” and four statements by the UNSC, neither body has imposed any binding measures on Myanmar’s coup leaders. Meanwhile, the security forces continue to kill civilians, including at least eight people during protests on Sunday. Conflict between the military and ethnic armed groups also continues to escalate, particularly in Kachin and Karen (Kayin) states. According to the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, an estimated 40,000 people have been displaced due to clashes between the military and the Karen National Liberation Army, as well as from airstrikes on civilian areas. An estimated 5,000 people have also been displaced in Kachin State due to renewed violence between the military and Kachin Independence Army.

On 5 May the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect released a joint statement along with over 200 civil society organizations from around the world, calling on the UNSC to urgently impose an arms embargo on Myanmar’s military regime. Dr. Simon Adams, Executive Director of the Global Centre, said that, “it is essential for the UN Security Council to finally adopt a resolution and impose a comprehensive arms embargo on Myanmar. Not one more bullet, bayonet or rifle should be sold to Myanmar’s Generals for them to wage war against their own people. This coup and these atrocities must end.”

DESPITE PEACE TALKS, ATTACKS ON CIVILIANS INCREASE IN AFGHANISTAN

On 30 April a car bomb detonated in Pul-e Alam in Afghanistan’s eastern Logar province, killing at least 30 civilians and wounding over 100 others. The improvised explosive device (IED) detonated as guests were breaking their fast during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. The UN Secretary-General, UN Security Council and UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan all condemned the attack. Just days later, on 3 May, another bomb exploded near a school in Farah province causing 21 civilian casualties, including 10 children. No one has claimed responsibility for either attack.

Afghanistan remains one of the deadliest places in the world for civilians, with 1,783 killed or maimed in various attacks so far this year. IEDs have frequently been used to target civil servants, journalists, human rights defenders and politicians, resulting in dozens of casualties every week. While the Taliban have been blamed for most attacks, they deny responsibility.

The recent bombings come at a particularly perilous time. Intra-Afghan negotiations that began last September in Doha, Qatar, have stalled. While Turkey, Qatar and the UN have agreed to co-convene a high-level peace conference in Istanbul after Ramadan in order to complement the Doha talks, the Taliban have not yet agreed to participate. Despite the intra-Afghan peace talks, civilian casualties have increased by 38 percent since the negotiations began.

Meanwhile, the 1 May 2021 withdrawal date for the estimated 3,500 remaining United States (US) forces in Afghanistan – agreed upon last February by the US and the Taliban – has been delayed by US President Joe Biden until 11 September. The Taliban have warned that this delay will result in further violence.

After decades of civil war and international military intervention, Afghanistan is at yet another historic crossroads. The Taliban, Afghan security forces and all international military forces must ensure the protection of civilians and strictly adhere to international humanitarian and human rights law. Intra-Afghan talks should include meaningful representation of women, ethnic and religious minorities and civil society. Avenues for justice and the rights of victims should also be prioritized.

370,000 CHILDREN DISPLACED BY ONGOING CONFLICT IN THE CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC

According to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the Central African Republic (CAR) remains one of the worst places in the world to be a child. Due to ongoing armed conflict, at least 370,000 children are currently internally displaced in CAR – the highest level of child displacement since 2014.

Violence in CAR has intensified since December when a coalition of armed groups launched an offensive to disrupt national elections and seize control of the capital, Bangui. While the offensive was repelled, the resulting fighting forced thousands of people to flee as parties to the conflict perpetrated widespread human rights violations and abuses.

Almost 3,000 children have been forcibly recruited by armed groups so far this year. UNICEF’s Representative in CAR, Fran Equiza, said that, “we are extremely concerned about the fate of the thousands of children who, after seeing their lives turned upside down by conflict and violence, may now experience the additional trauma of being forced to join and live among armed actors, to engage in combat, putting both themselves and the lives of others at extreme risk.”

The escalation of violence in CAR has also resulted in schools being closed, occupied, or damaged in 11 out of the country’s 16 prefectures, affecting half of all school-age children. The risk of recruitment to armed groups, as well as sexual and gender-based violence, is especially acute when children are displaced or out of school. Attacks on schools are a grave violation of the universal rights of children and may also constitute a war crime.

The CAR government, with support from MINUSCA – the UN peacekeeping mission – must continue to prioritize the protection of children and rigorously prosecute all those who perpetrate abuses against them.