People holding a vigil in Yangon, Myanmar. Photo credit: Unsplash / Zinko HeinSEOUL, May 13 (IPS) – On a particularly bloody day in March, Myanmar’s security forces shot and killed at least ten children, some of them only 6 years old, while violently attacking peaceful protests. Since the military took control of the country three months ago, more than 50 children have been killed, countless others injured, and more than 900 children and youth arbitrarily detained across the country.
Security forces have also occupied more than 60 schools and university campuses, compounding the education crisis for nearly 12 million children. This week, as we celebrate 100 days since the Myanmar military took control of the country, the chaos and devastation are showing no signs of slowing.
The Myanmar military’s apparent disregard for children’s life is nothing new. Known as the Tatmadaw, in 2016-2017 they forced hundreds of thousands of Rohingya civilians, most of them children, into Bangladesh. I had called this “the hallmark of genocide”.
Year after year, the UN Secretary-General has documented Tatmadaw’s serious abuses against children across the country, including killing and mutilation, sexual violence and attacks on schools and hospitals. Currently, many schools and hospitals have been seized by the Tatmadaw. At least three high schools were bombed in the past month, according to groups in Karen state.
As a former UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Myanmar and a founding member of a new Special Advisory Council for Myanmar, I have seen firsthand the devastating impact of Tatmadaw’s brutal tactics on the lives of children.
I’ve seen children who survived being thrown into the fire by the Tatmadaw. It made me feel cold when a mother told me to leave her baby who had been thrown into a river because she had to keep her other children safe during her exodus to Bangladesh. I have heard many similar testimonies.
Since 2003, the Secretary-General has added the Tatmadaw for the Recruitment and Service of Children to his “List of Shame” – an appendix to his Annual Report on Children and Armed Conflict, identifying those responsible for serious violations against children. The listing is an important accountability tool as it identifies the perpetrators, attracts the attention of the UN Security Council and opens the door to engagement with the UN to end abuses.
In June 2020, Secretary-General António Guterres removed the Tatmadaw from its list for recruiting and using children, despite the United Nations documenting 205 cases in the same report in which the Tatmadaw had recruited or used children in its ranks in the previous year.
After years of reporting human rights concerns in Myanmar, I can safely say that despite Myanmar’s pledges to cease recruiting and using children in conflict, the Tatmadaw has never ceased the practice. A regular soldier was also known to have had to recruit two children to leave the Tatmadaw because the deadlines for service were vague.
Yanghee Lee at the time, the secretary general said he had delisted the Tatmadaw because recruitment “continued to decline significantly” and efforts to prevent new hires and release remaining children from their ranks were ongoing. He also said that the delisting was conditional and that failure to cease recruitment and usage would result in a re-listing. The premature removal of parties like the Tatmadaw from the list – and this was not an isolated incident – jeopardizes the credibility of the list, a critical mechanism for protecting children and making their perpetrators accountable.
Removal from the list appears to have encouraged the Tatmadaw to commit even more violations. In the first half of 2020, the Tatmadaw deployed 301 boys in support functions such as maintaining military camps and digging trenches. And in October 2020, two boys were killed after a Tatmadaw unit allegedly used them as human shields in an incident publicly condemned by the UN.
As protests continue across Myanmar, armed conflicts between military and ethnic armed groups are escalating. Children are at even greater risk, so the Security Council must act urgently to stop the military on its trail. Instead, the Council seems to find it difficult to reach consensus as China and Russia oppose strong measures such as an arms embargo.
The delisting of the Tatmadaw in 2020 was inexplicable and unjustifiable given the conduct of the military. Now Secretary General Guterres has the opportunity to correct the record. In a few weeks he will publish his 2021 report and the list of perpetrators.
He should put the Tatmadaw back on the list for child recruitment and use. Given the military’s utter disregard for children’s rights, this is a concrete action he must take to hold the Tatmadaw accountable for their crimes against children.
Yanghee Lee is a professor in the Department of Child Psychology and Education at Sungkyunkwan University in Seoul. She is a former Chair of the Committee on the Rights of the Child and a former UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Myanmar.
(2021) – All rights reserved