Alleged mass killings, torture: Myanmar's shadow government compiles evidence for international legal channels
SINGAPORE: Throats sliced. Genitals cut off. Eyeballs dug out.
In the last 12 months, witnesses have detailed these accounts of mass killings and torture seen in bodies dug up from mass graves in parts of Myanmar.
Even though street protests have died down across the country – with most sizzling into flash mobs – heavy fighting in Myanmar has intensified.
And many people have said they live in constant fear.
Now, villagers continue to flee from military air strikes and actively avoid being caught in the crossfire between the Myanmar army and local resistance forces.
There are also clear signs that the Myanmar army has reprised its hallmark tactic of destroying entire villages where there may be support for the opposition.
Security analysts say such acts force villagers to flee, thereby exposing any resistance fighters who may be hiding in their midst.
The Myanmar army has regularly denied committing such atrocities.
During their regular media briefings, the military would often pin the blame on resistance fighters or People’s Defence Force, formed by the pro-democratic National Unity Government (NUG), Myanmar's de facto shadow government.
The Myanmar army, or Tatmadaw as it is known, often say its soldiers exercise maximum restraint and minimum force.
But increasingly, the NUG is starting to hold online media events to shed light on these atrocities.
CHRISTMAS EVE MASS KILLINGS
One of them details mass killings in Kayah State on Christmas Eve where about 35 people, including women and children were killed and burned in various vehicles.
Witnesses said some were even torched alive.
During that media event, the NUG lined up witnesses including doctors who did autopsies on the bodies as well as victims’ families to give their testimonies.
The NUG also aired drone footage showing the extent of the damage in Kayah State – a group of burnt-out vehicles with completely charred corpses inside them.
Witnesses said some bodies were too brittle to be moved intact.
Founding member of Special Advisory Council for Myanmar Chris Sidoti, an international human rights and law expert, said the situation in Myanmar is bad and getting worse.
“The Myanmar military really is a terrorist organisation and there’s no other way to describe it,” Mr Sidoti said.
Even after two high-level meetings between Myanmar army chief Min Aung Hlaing and Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen in January, violence in the country has yet to cease.
Less than two weeks after the leaders met in early-January, Cambodia voiced serious concern over Myanmar’s violence, saying that it could jeopardise the outcome of Mr Hun Sen’s visit.
One of the outcomes hailed by both sides as positive during the two-day meeting, was a ceasefire.
The Myanmar army had extended a truce with ethnic armed organisations till the end of 2022, though it specifically left out the fighter forces from NUG.
“The truce is a joke,” Mr Sidoti said.
“It has never been intended to apply to all of the violence taking place in Myanmar. But even in its limited scope, applying to the ethnic armed organisations, it is not being honoured by the military itself.”
Meanwhile, both sides look set to press on with their cause, with neither side backing down.
Many civilians have shed their urban identities and taken up arms in the jungle to train and fight against the Tatmadaw.
In urban areas, soft targets such as government buildings, security checkpoints and police stations continue to be targeted with bomb blasts.
In some cases, resistance forces reportedly assassinate those who they suspect are spies of the military.
“I don't see violence as a solution to any problem,” Mr Chris Sidoti said.
“Having said that, the NUG has only ever talked about violence as a defensive mechanism.
“The NUG is not having air raids and bombing towns and villages. It's not slaughtering people in that dozens of civilians who are bound and then set on fire.”
The NUG said it is currently collecting evidence of the Tatmadaw’s mass atrocities and to date, it has 400,000 photos and videos.
NUG’s spokesperson Dr Sa Sa said with this pool of evidence, NUG will parcel them out to different legal channels to seek redress, including to the International Criminal Court (ICC).
However, Myanmar has not accepted the ICC’s jurisdiction thus far, until the NUG declared in September last year that it would do so.
The ICC has not responded to NUG’s declaration.
Singapore Institute of International Affairs chairman Simon Tay said: “The NUG right now doesn’t have enough people recognising it as Myanmar’s government to go through the legal process of accepting ICC.”
The NUG is also banking on the universal jurisdiction process.
The principle behind universal jurisdiction is that some crimes are so severe that any court in the world would have the power to hear those cases.
Currently, a court in Argentina is applying universal jurisdiction to hear cases of abuses against the Rohingya people.
“What it means is that any court in the world could try the commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing for the war crimes and crimes against humanity,” Mr Chris Sidoti said.
“If he's convicted (there), Argentina could apply for extradition - to actually have him taken from wherever he happens to be to Argentina, to answer the sentence of the court. But each country will have its own oppressive processes for doing this.”
But Mr Sidoti said such processes will take years.
ASEAN, the United Nations and other countries can meanwhile continue to rally calls for an end to violence.