As political violence in Myanmar continues to escalate, reports are emerging that police are using live ammunition against protesters. Among other reports of police crackdowns, a 19-year-old woman is in the hospital in critical condition with a gunshot wound to the head, a wound some experts believe to have come from a live bullet.
Reports of live ammunition being used prompted a quick response from UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Nada Al-Nashif, who condemned “the indiscriminate use of lethal or less-than-lethal weapons against peaceful protestors” as “unacceptable.” The BBC elaborated further on the alleged shooting, which left 19-year-old Mya Thwe Thwe Khaing in critical condition. The police claimed that only rubber bullets were used against protesters, but several experts disagreed. BBC forensics experts Kate Mewins stated that “The manner in which she falls suggests a small arms ammunition shot to the head, rather than an impact/shock that would result from a non-lethal projectile.” An unnamed doctor in the Naypyidaw hospital, meanwhile, said that Khaing and 20-year-old Soe Way were being treated with wounds consistent with live ammunition.
These troubling reports come against the backdrop of large-scale measures which the new Myanmar government has undertaken following the removal of Aung San Suu Kyi from office on February 1st. Use of water cannons and rubber bullets has been widespread, according to Human Rights Watch, as well as strict curfews and a crackdown on internet consumption. These developments, referred to by Al-Nashif as “Draconian,” represent another worrying step towards escalated political violence in Myanmar, but Al-Nashif expressed some hope: “The High Commissioner and I greatly admire the conviction of the demonstrators – many of them young people and women, from diverse ethnic backgrounds – who have peacefully marched and participated in other activities to oppose the coup and the crackdown. It is they who represent Myanmar’s future.”
If Myanmar is to have a future, the will of the people – young and old, ethnically Burmese and otherwise – must be exercised democratically and peacefully. The UN took a step in the right direction by calling on the new government to cease their violence on protestors and open up the internet to the populous. However, the situation calls for an even more full-throated response from the international community.
Perhaps the most worrying aspect of the coup in Myanmar and subsequent crackdown involves the fate of the Rohingya minority, who have been subject to mass killings at the hands of Myanmar’s military since 2017. “Neither the military nor Aung San Suu Kyi has done anything to restore our rights, alleviate our sufferings and bring those who tortured the Rohingya to justice,” stated refugee Hossain Ahammad in a BBC interview. The military takeover portends nothing good for the Rohingya, the long-oppressed Muslim minority, hundreds of thousands of whom still reside in Myanmar in addition of hundreds of thousands more refugees in Bangladesh and abroad.
Some observers have expressed that the situation may represent a turning point in Myanmar’s politics. The Rohingya, long subject to hatred from government and common folk alike, have found common ground with the largely Buddhist anti-government movement. However, at the moment power is at the hands of the military, an unelected body prone to violence and suppression. The UN, the United States, and the international community at large must side with Myanmar’s people over its military junta.
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