Internet Blackout And Crimes Against Humanity In Myanmar
Myanmar has been under extreme duress since the China-backed military, known as the Tatmadaw, overthrew the democratically elected government on February 1. The criminal coup d'etat has sparked nationwide anger, strikes, protests, and the emergence of anti-junta armed resistance movements and militias. The coup also collapsed the education system, the economy, and the health sector. The collapse of the health sector has led to the Covid-19 pandemic to spiral out of control.
According to a report by the UN rights office, more than 1,120 people have been killed in a nationwide crackdown by the junta on pro-democracy strikes and protests, with more than 8,000 detained and at least 120 reportedly killed in custody. Violent destruction by the junta has displaced more than 230,000 civilians, pushing the total number of internally displaced persons in Myanmar to over half a million.
Crimes against humanity
According to Michelle Bachelet, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, “Conflict, poverty and the effects of the pandemic are sharply increasing, and the country faces a vortex of repression, violence and economic collapse.” Bachelet's office has documented serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, including violations of the rights to life, liberty, and security of person; the prohibition against torture; fair trial guarantees; freedom of expression; and freedom of peaceful assembly. Many of these violations may constitute crimes against humanity as they are being committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack on civilians.
The junta has also cut off mobile internet access and most Wi-Fi services to 11 townships in Chin State and Magway Region. The affected townships are Gangaw, Htilin and Myaing in Magway Region, and Falam, Kanpetlet, Matupi, Mindat, Paletwa, Tedim, Thantlang and Tonzang in Chin State. Hakha, the capital of Chin State, still had internet access on Saturday morning, according to locals. Since September 14, the internet connection has been cut off in Myingyan and Mogok in Mandalay Region; Taungdwingyi in Magway Region; and Ayataw, Butalin, Kani, Pale, Taze, Ye-U and Yinmabin in Sagaing Region. Hpakant in Kachin State has suffered an internet blackout since August, according to local reports. The total of townships without internet access to 22.
The internet blackout echos other instances where the junta cut off the internet prior to a military offensive. It is speculated that the junta shuts off the internet to prevent civilians from finding information about battles and junta losses. The armed resistance groups nationwide are unaffected by the blackouts. War against the junta has broken out in at least five different regions and states on Thursday, after the legitimate but ousted democratic government, called for a "people's defensive war" against the junta. Recently, fighting broke out between the junta’s troops and the CDF a resistance group in Thantlang. The junta proceeded to attack civilian infrastructure, including churches and homes. Junta soldiers are also accused of engaging in the brutal murder of a local pastor and several gang rapes of women and children. The junta is also systematically abducting the relatives of people it is seeking to arrest, including children as young as 20 weeks old. As of July, the junta has murdered at least 75 children ranging in age from 14 months to 17 years.
According to the UN, “Victims of security forces often sustained wounds to their heads and torsos, indicating that they were targeted for maximum harm,”
What needs to be done
Western countries have condemned the junta and imposed targeted sanctions, however, a tougher stand must be taken. A tougher stand against the junta should include an arms embargo and military intervention from regional and western countries. Bachelet said Myanmar had failed to deliver on its agreement with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to cease violence and start dialogue. In recent international maneuvers, the U.S. has reawoken the QUAD alliance to combat Chinese influence and invasion. The junta is currently backed by China and Russia in its anti-democracy killing spree. A multinational effort to reduce the junta's air capabilities and artillery is needed in order to assist the ongoing armed resistance movement and help establish humanitarian corridors outside of the junta's authority.