Myanmar: Military must restore democracy, allow people to protest and express themselves, say UN experts

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GENEVA (26 February 2021) -- UN human rights experts* today called on the Myanmar military to immediately end the violent crackdown on countrywide peaceful protests against its coup and allow free expression.

"The people of Myanmar have the right to protest peacefully and express their discontent with the military coup," the experts said. "We call on the military to refrain from using force against peaceful protests, stop using live bullets against protesters immediately and respect their right to peaceful protest," they added.

Myanmar has seen hundreds of thousands of peaceful demonstrators take to the streets to oppose this month's military takeover and the removal of the civilian government. At least five protesters have died while many human rights defenders have been threatened and gone into hiding.

The experts also expressed concern that at least 700 people had been detained since the coup, including high-profile leaders of the civilian government. Some are being kept under house arrest with no outside contact and in most cases their whereabouts are unknown. The lack of official charges or acknowledgement of detention is also disturbing, they said.

"The arbitrary detention and harassment of those voicing their dissent or organising and participating in peaceful protests must immediately end," the experts said.

"We are very concerned that journalists covering the protests have been arbitrarily detained and military personnel are reportedly using slingshots to fire pellets at journalists. Deliberate attacks on journalists and their arbitrary detention are serious violations of international human rights law and must immediately stop."

The experts noted that the military junta has unlawfully passed or is planning to pass a worrying series of regulatory measures that would entrench the control of the regime over the flow of information through the internet and strip individuals of their human rights.

"These vague and overly broad provisions would give the military unfettered power to censor dissenting voices on social media, disrupt the internet at will and access user information with no restraint or regard for their right to privacy," said the experts.

Endorsing earlier calls from the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, the experts urged the military to restore democratic institutions, and ensure that all those detained for exercising their human rights are immediately released and not subjected to any harm while in custody.

"The progress of the last decade on democratisation, human rights and the existing dialogue processes initiated with minorities and indigenous peoples, albeit small, must not be lost," the experts said.

"We warn the military junta that those who are responsible for repression and killing of peaceful protesters as well as the detention of government officials and journalists will be held accountable before international jurisdictions".

The experts called on the international community to continue to push for the respect of the will of the people of Myanmar and for the peaceful return of the power to the civilian government. They further recall that business enterprises, including state-owned enterprises, have a responsibility to respect all internationally recognised human rights wherever they operate.