U.N. rights expert says Myanmar death toll hits 70, seeks sanctions

Stephanie Nebehay
·2-min read
People lay down flowers and candles at the spot where the protester Chit Min Thun died during an anti-coup protests in North Dagon Township in Yangon

By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (Reuters) - The United Nations human rights investigator on Myanmar said on Thursday the military junta had "murdered" at least 70 people since its Feb. 1 coup, committing killings, torture and persecution that may constitute crimes against humanity.

More than half of those killed were under the age of 25, Thomas Andrews told the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva.

More than 2,000 people have been unlawfully detained since the military seized power and the violence against protesters is steadily increasing, he said.

"The country of Myanmar is being controlled by a murderous, illegal regime," said Andrews.

"There is extensive video evidence of security forces viciously beating protesters, medics, and bystanders," he said. "There is shocking video of the aftermath of attacks, including fatal gunshot wounds to the heads of protesters, and video of soldiers dragging or carrying away the dead bodies of their victims."

Chan Aye, permanent secretary of Myanmar's foreign affairs ministry, said that authorities have been focused on maintaining law and order.

"The authorities have been exercising utmost restraint to deal with violent protests," he said.

In the debate, the United States urged all countries to "press the military to refrain from violence against peaceful protesters and restore power to the democratically-elected government".

China and Russia - which have close ties to Myanmar's military - called for steps toward reconciliation, while also upholding the principle of non-interference in internal affairs.

Andrews, a former member of the U.S. Congress, speaking by video message from Washington, D.C., said that basic rights to freedom of expression and assembly were being denied in Myanmar.

He called for imposing multilateral sanctions on the junta leaders and on the military-owned Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise, whose revenues from natural gas projects were set to reach $1 billion this year.

"Sanctions will only be truly effective if they are unified and coordinated," Andrews said.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Michael Shields, Mark Heinrich and Peter Graff)