Myanmar Junta Behind Hundreds of Enforced Disappearances: Rights Group

By Paul Eckert
Share on WhatsApp
Share on WhatsApp
Myanmar Junta Behind Hundreds of Enforced Disappearances: Rights Group Mourners view the body of Su Su Kyi, who was shot in a car on her way home from work at South Korea's Shinhan Bank, during her funeral at Yayway cemetery in Yangon, April 2, 2021,

Myanmar’s military regime is detaining hundreds of politicians, journalists, activists, and protesters under terms that constitute “enforced disappearance” under international human rights law, a U.S.-based watchdog group said Friday.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) said civic society figures and others have been taken away during nighttime raids on homes without notification to families or legal justification since the ouster of Aung San Suu Kyi and her elected government two months ago.

“Myanmar’s military junta has forcibly disappeared hundreds of people since the February 1, 2021 coup,” HRW said in a report from Bangkok.

Those arrested by security forces include many people suspected of joining anti-coup street demonstrations or supporting the widespread Civil Disobedience Movement throughout the country, the group said.

“The military junta’s widespread use of arbitrary arrests and enforced disappearances appears designed to strike fear in the hearts of anti-coup protesters,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

“Concerned governments should demand the release of everyone disappeared and impose targeted economic sanctions against junta leaders to finally hold this abusive military to account,” he said in a statement.

An enforced disappearance occurs when state agents arrest or detain an individual, but refuse to acknowledge they’re being held or conceal the fate or whereabouts of the person, HRW said.

“Forcibly disappeared people are commonly subjected to torture or extrajudicial execution. Families must live with the uncertainty of not knowing if their loved ones are dead or alive, and worrying about their treatment in captivity,” the report said, adding that the practice can amount to “crimes against humanity.”

According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), a Thailand-based NGO that tracks deaths, injuries and arrests under the junta, 2741 people have been taken into custody in the two months since the coup and 543 people have been killed in violent crackdowns.

The AAPP says, however, it expects the death toll to rise as it confirms more cases, and HRW quoted the outfit as saying in could “confirm the location of only a small fraction” of recent detainees they have identified.

The HRW report cited interviews with family members, witnesses, and lawyers of several of 16 people feared to have been forcibly disappeared since the coup:

  • Mya Aye, 55, an activist and member of the National League for Democracy (NLD), in Yangon was taken away Feb. 1 by security forces who showed no arrest warrant. His family said authorities still had not told them where he is was being held or granted him access to a lawyer.
  • Prominent activist Nyi Nyi Kyaw was arrested March 6 at the funeral in Mandalay of a slain protester without providing any information to his family, who went into hiding out of fear they may be targeted.
  • Soldiers raided office of Kamayut Media in Yangon on March 9, taking away the media outlet’s co-founder, Han Thar Nyein, 40, and editor-in-chief, Nathan Maung, 45. Their families still have not been informed of their whereabouts.


HRW noted that often families “have only received information informally about the location of their family member, such as when newly released detainees notify family members or lawyers that they had seen a person who had been detained.”

RFA has confirmed that three NLD members have died in military regime custody since the coup. In each case, the men were arrested and later their families were called by police to view their bodies.

In the latest known case, Kyaw Kyaw, an NLD official in Naypyidaw, was arrested on March 15 and his family was called on March 30 to inspect his body before cremation. Family members and close friends said in Facebook posts that Kyaw Kyaw died after being tortured.

On Feb. 10, Tom Andrews, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, said in a report that during the first week of the coup, “hundreds of arbitrary detentions were registered, including members of the National League for Democracy, civil society members and protesters.”

The report said some were being held in incommunicado detention, while many activists and human rights defenders had gone into hiding.

Long before the Feb. 1 coup, Myanmar’s military has been accused of mass enforced disappearances, targeting in particular ethnic minorities detained during wars in the country’s border regions, where many groups have militias that have been fighting the army for decades.

Last August, the International Federation for Human Rights petitioned the United Nations to take up the cases of “hundreds, if not thousands, of Rohingya men, women, and children are still missing and are presumed dead,” their disappearance during the Myanmar military’s campaign that drove some 740,000 of the Muslim minority across the border to Bangladesh.

“Enforced disappearances are a heinous crime, not least because of the anguish and suffering caused to family and friends,” HRW’s Adams said.

“Myanmar’s security forces have continually flouted any respect for human rights, but they should know that they will be held accountable for the disappearances of these individuals and for the sa


Add your comment by filling out the form below in plain text. Comments are approved by a moderator and can be edited in accordance with RFAs Terms of Use. Comments will not appear in real time. RFA is not responsible for the content of the postings. Please, be respectful of others' point of view and stick to the facts.