BNN, 25 December 2021
“These actions designed to instill fear and tighten their control on the country are actually having the opposite (effect).” – Tom Andrews, UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar
“If the junta thinks that it is going to gain the ground, terrorizing the people. Just the opposite. And it is getting worse and I think may be lost on the military of Myanmar,” said Tom Andrews, UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar.
In this exclusive interview with Htet Aung Kyaw, BNN, Tom Andrews talked about the worsening situation in Burma after Military Coup on February 1 last year.
BNN: We have talked about the Rohingya who fled to Bengladesh in 2017. Now I’d like to talk about the situation in Burma after military coup at 1st February. According to AAPP, Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, over 1,300 civilians were killed by military and, over 11,000 were arrested. How do you see the current situation?
Tom Andrews: It’s bad. It’s showing no sign of getting any better. I am very concerned about troop deployment /build-up in Chin State, Sagaing and other areas in which we’ve seen the increased activities. The junta shows no sign in taking and providing Myanmar people with any relief on its assaults, and the level of brutality, that is involved in its assaults, is just horrific.
I mean, part of it is a way to try instill fear into the people of Myanmar, terrorize the people of Myanmar so that they can try to control the situation, through fear. But what’s actually happening from my reading and my conversations with those in the country is, these acts of brutality and the build up of those military forces and the treating of the Myanmar people as the enemy.
Most militaries, the role of military, for most countries, is to protect people, to be guardians of the country. But in Myanmar, it is just the opposite. The military are attacking the people of Myanmar.
So it is the bad situation. And it is getting worse and I think it may be lost on the military of Myanmar. These actions designed to instill fear and tighten their control on the country are actually having the opposite (effect). It is outraging people more and more and it is steeling their resolve, firming up their resolve in their opposition. And so if the junta thinks that it is going to gain the ground, terrorizing the people, just the opposite.
BNN: Yes, some cases are very severe. For example, the BBC reported a mass grave in Ka-ni in central Burma. May we know your reaction?
Tom Andrews: Just horrible. Just horrible. I mean it’s a remarkable reporting. It’s difficult to get that kind of information.
The junta are like bat group. They thrive in the darkness. They do everything they can to prevent the truth from getting out. They harass and arrest reporters and putting them in prison for the crime of doing their job.
It is just horrific to see this kind of brutality. I mean, the clip of the little girl crying because of the discovery of the body of her grandfather, was heart (breaking). And the disovery of more and more bodies, they were obviously tortured. And then the description of the woman of the village and said that the junta came in and they separated the men and women and then they proceeded to begin their torture. Family witness torture of the family members. This is a pattern that we have seen throughout the country almost the stock and trade of this military, to brutalize.
And I heard the stories when I was in Bangladesh of people who recounted very similar stories, of the military surrounding villages, separating men and women and then just commting horrofic, horrific mass attrocity crimes.
So it’s terrible. It’s heart breaking when you see these children and the trauma that they suffer. It’s almost unspeakable what the heartlessness of this regime.
But the important point here is, this is not done by an errant commander or a few soldiers. This is sysyematic. It’s by design. And therefore it is in my view, clear crime against humanity. Better being committed the evidence of this is widespread. The evidence of torture of people and victims. They are not just killed, they are tortured. They are not just tortured, they are often time done in view of the family members so they try to inflict as much pain and suffering on the people of Myanmar as much possibly they can. Just horrific.
BNN: Yes, these are crimes committed systematically by the military. It’s been over 11 months since the military coup. What can the UN and the international community do more for Burmese people?
Tom Andrews: I think we can do a lot more. You know. Ideally the UN Security Council which takes action which will be a strong resolution passed. There will be a strong package of economic sanctions, weapon embargoes, reference to the international criminal court, so that those responsible for these atrocities could be held fully accountable. But we are not going to see actions by the security council at least any time soon.
What that means is, in my view, that those countries who are willing to act, should act in a stronger fashion and a more coordinated fashion than they are right now. So for example, there are various countries with various degrees of sanctions, various types of sanction.
What I think is necessary is to take those nations. Sit down and take a look at the revenue streams going into the junta.
Identify the largest groups and then target them for systematic, coordinated sanctions so that all the countries of the world are willing to impose the sanctions. Do so in a coordinated focused way so that they have the biggest possible impact, the same with arms embargo. Making sure that weapons and do use technology, technology that can be weaponised, if you will, can all be targeted.
Other mechanisms, unversal jurisdiction laws. those can be used. But I think what’s required is this kind of action that we have yet to see because it’s the only thing that’s going to have any chance of working. You are not going to be able to use reason or a moral argument with the junta. I think the only thing that you going to be able to do is to say this is not just sustainable. We are not going to allow you to get away with it. Your revenue stream is flowing into your pocket which means to the most to them. It’s going to be cut off. ‘And unless and until we do that kind of tough focused coordinated sanctions, I think this regime’s going to continue with its reign of terror on the people of Myanmar.
BNN: Many activists critize the UN, you have already known it, that UN is giving just voice, statement of concern but not action. So they armed themselves to protect. There are bigger arm struggle in Burma now. As an UN official, what do you want to say to the young people?
Tom Andrews: I want to say that I feel terribly sorry for all, for the hell that you are experiencing. Horrific. The hardship, the horrific attacks, the threats, the terror that’s been imposed on you at the hand of this brutal military regime. But I also want to tell you that you are a great source of inspiration. Your courage, your tenacity, your commitment to standing up to this terror. It’s trully awe-inspiring. So you are not alone. We are there. We are focused on what’s going on in Myanmar. The world needs to pay, in my view, greater attention. The world owes you stronger action.
The future of Myanmar is in your hands. But you need harder, you need the support of the international community in order to be successful. And I as one individual and there are many, many of us outside of Myanmar, are committed to doing everything that is possible to provide with the support you need and deserve to prevail.
Yes I know it is frustrating. I know this takes time. But we are working. We are committing ourselves to action and we are following your example of working hard and standing up, being tenacious and creative. You have my deepest admiration and appreciation and know that you are not alone.
BNN: Finally, what is your view on the future direction of Burma amid those crisis? Is there any posible negotiation by the international community? Or is it heading to a civil war? What is your suggestion to those who are involved in the revolution and the international community?
Tom Andrews: I think we need to make it clear that this assault on the people of Myanmar is not sustainable. And they are simply not going to be able to get away with it. Until they understand that, I think, a little prospect of this downward spiral of change in any time soon.
Listen, when that coup occurred, the reforms that were overturned, as modest as they might have been, they were created not because the junta decided one day that it wanted to create openess, transparency, to get moving in the direction of democracy because they thought that it was the right thing to do. They did it because they felt they had to. They did it because of pressure by the international community.
So we know that pressure has in it. What we need to see is stronger, more focused, more intensive pressure in order to overcome this huge obstacle that the Myanmar people are facing. So that is what I think needs to happen. And until it does, well let me put in a more positive way, when it does, when we can achieve that kind of intensity and focus, then I think that we are going to see the kind of progress that the Myanmar people need and deserve.