Myanmar schools caught in the crossfire: Myanmar Witness

Myanmar Witness has just published an important report on the threat to schools in Myanmar, a report welcomed by the UK Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office.

Documenting damage to Myanmar’s education system since the 2021 coup, Myanmar Witness has documented 174 distinct incidents of violence affecting educational institutions in Myanmar since February 2021. Schools have been damaged by airstrikes, weaponry, and fire, with some hit multiple times. These events have caused significant infrastructure damage, impacting children’s education in the short and long term.

Myanmar Witness’ analysis draws from two primary datasets: the primary dataset (113 incidents), and a drone-specific dataset (61 incidents). The data reveals a steady increase in reported incidents affecting schools since February 2021, peaking in March 2024. The trend is consistent with data from the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data (ACLED) on school infrastructure. Additional sources, including the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack (GCPEA) and United Nations Human Rights Council (UN HRC) analysis, also indicate a rise since the coup.

The Myanmar military is implicated in 90 of the 113 cases documented in the primary dataset, with just under half resulting in major damage or total destruction to school infrastructure. In contrast, People’s Defence Force (PDF) linked incidents generally caused less harm to educational infrastructure.

Sagaing Region has the highest number of incidents impacting school infrastructure (36 incidents, 33% of dataset), followed by Shan, Kayin and Kayah (11 incidents each, 10.1% of dataset, respectively) reflecting their status as major conflict zones. The drone specific dataset also indicates 36.8% of drone incidents occurred in Sagaing.

Myanmar Witness has assessed the varying levels of damage inflicted upon schools in their primary dataset, as well as examining damage to the surrounding areas (villages and towns).

A total of 31.5% of schools sustained major damage, potentially rendering the schools inoperable, while 9% were completely destroyed (primary dataset). The high percentage of incidents affecting surrounding areas suggests schools may not have been the main target. Thus, damage to schools could be the result of collateral damage during conflict.

Myanmar Witness has collected 64 reports of fatalities and 106 reports of injuries, though very few deaths have been verified due to challenges in verifying and geolocating user-generated content of the victims.

A number of these incidents may be linked to military use of school buildings, though Myanmar Witness cannot fully verify these claims. Regardless, these actions impact educational facilities, reducing access to learning materials and resources for students. Myanmar Witness recommends that international lawyers investigate these events to determine the status of these school buildings as protected sites under international law.

This report presents the available data on incidents affecting schools in Myanmar, highlights the frequency of such events in the context of the ongoing conflict, and seeks to hold those responsible to account. Myanmar Witness also compiled case studies that provide an insight into the trends uncovered during this investigation. Myanmar Witness says it will continue to monitor and report on incidents that impact on educational infrastructure in the country.

The UK Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) echoes the main theme of the Myanmar Witness report.

An FCDO spokesperson said: “The data is clear: schools are being destroyed, civilians seriously hurt and educational opportunities further suppressed in Myanmar.

“Schools are meant to be a place of safety and opportunity, not collateral in a conflict. ASEAN is critical to finding a path to peace in Myanmar. We again reiterate our call to all parties, particularly the Myanmar military, to refrain from airstrikes, safeguard civilians, and protect civilian infrastructure.”

The UK says it is committed to holding those responsible in Myanmar to account and has provided £3.5m to Myanmar Witness since 2021.

The UK has also provided £800,000 to the Independent Investigative Mechanism on Myanmar (IIMM) to ensure justice for victims of serious international crimes in Myanmar and hold the perpetrators to account.

The UK has helped support over 270,000 children access education, including 135,000 female students between June 2023 – November 2024.

Mizzima News

Human Rights Situation weekly update (July 15 to 21, 2024)

Human Rights Violations took place in States and Regions from July 15 to 21, 2024

Military Junta Troop launched airstrikes and dropped bombs in Mandalay Region, Tanintharyi Region, Shan State, Kachin State, and Mon State from July 15th to 21st. The Military Junta Navy attacked heavy artillery on the villages along the Ayeyarwady River in Singu Township, Mandalay Region. Political prisoners from Insein Prison, Yangon Region, were relocated to Thayawaddy Prison and Kyaikzagaw Prison, Bago Region.

Over 40 civilians died, and nearly 20 were injured by the Military’s heavy and light artillery attacks within a week. Over 30 civilians were arrested, and over 10 were killed by the arrest of the Military Junta within a week.

Myanmar junta abducts, tortures and kills five civilians in Sagaing Region’s Tumaya Village

Myanmar junta forces abducted and killed five residents of Tumaya Village in the western part of Mingin Township, Sagaing Region on the night of 16 July, according to the Student’s Revolutionary Force (SRF).

Among the deceased were two women, accused of providing information to the revolutionary forces.

The victims were identified as U Win Swe (50), U Tin Win (60), Ko Chit Ko (38), Ma Hla Lay Ngwe (38), and Ma Myo Myo Win (35). Another resident, Ko Too Naing, survived the tragic incident and is currently receiving medical aid from the SRF.

“They were killed after it was claimed that they had provided information to the revolutionary forces. When they were preparing to go to bed at their respective home, they were abducted by the Military Council at night,” said an SRF spokesperson.

Ko Too Naing, a survivor of the incident, recounted the brutality of the attack.

“They were mercilessly killed, with their bodies slashed repeatedly with knives. My wife was tortured and killed in front of me. I also endured severe torture, with numerous knife wounds. I was left for dead when they believed I had passed out,” he said.

The SRF reported that the bodies of those killed were cremated and buried on 17 July with the help of the defense forces and local residents.

Tumaya Village, home to approximately 100 households, is under the control of the Military Council Army and is near the Military Council Army stations in the neighbouring villages of Ingyintaung, Minyaw, and Thaegyikone. Most of the villagers are farmers, with some being members of the Pyu Saw Htee under the Military Council, who threaten to kill those not aligned with the military.

Mingin Township has 36 joint military camps of the Military Council Army and Pyu Saw Htee. The Military Council Army has raided and torched 37 villages in the township. Despite the recent violence, the military situation is currently calm, according to the Mingin-based People’s Defense Forces.

Mizzima News

30,000 civilians trapped by conflict in Myanmar’s Lashio

Tens of thousands have already fled the town in Shan state amid fighting between Kokang rebels and the military.

Around 30,000 civilians are trapped in the largest town in northeastern Myanmar’s Shan state amid intensified fighting between the military and ethnic Kokang rebels, residents and aid workers said Thursday.

The Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army, or MNDAA, is part of an alliance of three ethnic minority insurgent forces known as the Three Brotherhood Alliance. The alliance launched an offensive last October, codenamed Operation 1027 for the date it began, and pushed back junta forces in several regions.

After a five-month ceasefire ended on June 25, the MNDAA and allied forces attacked junta camps in Madaya, Singu and Mogoke townships in Mandalay region, and Hsipaw, Kyaukme, Nawnghkio and Lashio towns in Shan state to the east.

MNDAA forces began targeting military outposts in Lashio – a town with a population of just over 130,000 – on July 3, and more than 50,000 people have since fled their homes amid heavy shelling that caused civilian casualties, residents told RFA Burmese.

But some 30,000 residents remain trapped in the town, mostly because they lack the financial wherewithal to escape, they said.

“With children, we do not have enough money to flee from the armed conflict,” said one resident who, like others interviewed for this report, spoke on condition of anonymity due to security concerns. “So, we … must keep living inside the town. It is also expensive to rent a car to flee.”

The resident added that Lashio is dealing with a scarcity of commodities and rising prices, while shops are closing daily.

A 100-year-old man in Lashio told RFA that he couldn’t leave the town because of injuries to his head and leg caused by shelling. He now depends on food supplies from relief groups, he said.

“I have received food from relief groups as most shops in Lashio are closed,” he said. “[Junta] airstrikes took place yesterday. All the houses near the [military’s] Light Infantry Battalion No. 507 headquarters were completely destroyed.” 

The elderly resident said that three of his neighbors were killed by heavy weapons fire and had to be buried in a trench.

According to Lashio residents and relief groups, around 30 civilians were killed and another 30 were injured by artillery attacks from July 3-17.

In need of aid

A relief worker in Lashio confirmed to RFA that many people are trapped in the town because they can’t afford to abandon their homes, while those who have taken refuge in nearby towns are facing various difficulties.

“Many people want to leave the town, but they have no money,” said the worker, noting that most are trying to reach Myanmar’s second largest city Mandalay, 280 kilometers (175 miles) to the southeast, or southern Shan state’s capital Taunggyi, 345 kilometers (215 miles) to the south. 

“They are trying to sell their motorcycles to cover the cost of moving to other areas.”

Residents who fled Lashio cross the Dokhtawaddy river near Sin In village, Hsipaw township, Myanmar, July 10, 2024. (RFA)
Residents who fled Lashio cross the Dokhtawaddy river near Sin In village, Hsipaw township, Myanmar, July 10, 2024. (RFA)

The relief worker noted that many of his colleagues had already left Lashio amid the fighting, although a contingent was trying to return from neighboring Hsipaw township to assist trapped residents.

Of the more than 50,000 residents who have already fled, many have relocated to Kutkai, Nam Lan, Taunggyi, Mandalay, and the commercial capital Yangon, a displaced resident who made his way to Taunggyi told RFA. However, some have been trapped en route, while others are now destitute in their towns of refuge.

“We fled our homes without enough money, and we expect to face many problems in the long run,” he said. “We have no jobs or income in these other towns.”

The Lashio resident said that rent is on the rise in Taunggyi, due to the rising number of internally displaced persons, or IDPs, arriving in town.

Lashio residents flee their homes due to armed conflicts between the military and ethnic Kokang rebels in Shan state, Myanmar, July 9, 2024. (RFA)
Lashio residents flee their homes due to armed conflicts between the military and ethnic Kokang rebels in Shan state, Myanmar, July 9, 2024. (RFA)

Attempts by RFA to contact MNDAA spokesperson Li Kyar Win and the junta’s Shan state spokesperson and economic minister Khun Thein Maung for updates on the conflict, went unanswered Thursday.

The MNDAA announced on Tuesday that it had arrested 32 junta soldiers, including a deputy company commander, during fighting near Lashio.

Translated by Aung Khin. Edited by Joshua Lipes and Malcolm Foster.

RFA News

Human Rights Situation weekly update (July 8 to 14, 2024)

Human Rights Violations took place in States and Regions from July 8 to 14, 2024

Military Junta Troop launched airstrikes and dropped bombs in Sagaing Region, Mandalay Region, Tanintharyi Region, Shan State, and Rakhine State from July 8th to 14th. The Military Junta used the political prisoners as human shields in Thandwe Prison, Rakhine State, and 2women political prisoners died from the heavy artillery of the Military Junta. The Military Junta had limitations of visiting the prison, torturing and feeding unhealthy foods to the prisoners in Pathein Prison, Ayeyarwady Region. The Military arrested the civilians for the Military Service in Ayeyarwady Region and Mandalay Region.

Over 40 civilians died, and almost 60 were injured by the Military’s heavy and light artillery attacks within a week. 3civilians were injured by the Military’s landmine.

More political will needed for international courts to bring Myanmar junta to justice

Despite cases moving against the Myanmar junta in international courts more political will and resources are needed to bring the junta to justice, according to advocacy group, Progressive Voice
It said that the processes around international accountability for the crimes committed by the Myanmar military inched forward in the past week, as Argentina’s judiciary moves closer to issuing arrest warrants under universal jurisdiction for those responsible for the Rohingya genocide in 2017. Additionally, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) approved seven countries to join the genocide case against Myanmar.
Progressive Voice believes that while such processes have the unique potential to give a form of justice to victims and survivors, not just of the Rohingya genocide but of the plethora of crimes committed by the military against the people of Myanmar, more political will and resources are needed for such mechanisms to really work for those who need it most and end impunity for good.
Following the Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK (BROUK) petitioning Argentine courts in 2019 to open an investigation into genocide and crimes against humanity against the Rohingya, and the Argentine judiciary opening a case in 2021, the Argentine Prosecutor has petitioned the Argentine Court to issue arrest warrants for numerous Myanmar military and government figures.
Welcoming the latest development, BROUK President Tun Khin stated, “Today we are one more step closer to finally seeing the first ever arrest warrants for Min Aung Hlaing and senior members of the Burmese military.”
However, the Prosecutor’s petition for arrest warrants has a broader scope than BROUK’s recent request of predominantly Myanmar military personnel, to include civilian leaders Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and then-President U Htin Kyaw.
BROUK has therefore called on the Argentine Court to consider “whether issuing arrest warrants for Aung San Suu Kyi and Htin Kyaw serves the best interests of justice at this time.” The Argentine Court will now decide whether and how many of these arrest warrants will be issued.
Adding to the developments in Argentina is the ICJ’s decision on 3 July 2024 to allow the Maldives, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, the Netherlands, and the UK to join the case against the State of Myanmar for genocide, originally brought by The Gambia in 2019. This ruling allows these countries to submit observations and interventions in the ongoing ICJ case.
Such incremental developments may not bring immediate justice to the Rohingya, but they are a step forward in establishing publicly and symbolically the culpability of the military in some of the most horrific crimes committed in Myanmar, according to Progressive Voice.
It added that it is important to note that such mechanisms are not just for the Rohingya. Indeed, the UN-mandated Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar’s 2018 report—a foundational document for many of these accountability processes—recommended that the generals of the Myanmar military be investigated not just for genocide committed against the Rohingya.
It also recommended investigations into war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by the military against other ethnic communities in Rakhine State, including the ethnic Rakhine, as well as in Kachin and northern Shan States.
Myanmar’s rights-based civil society groups, including Progressive Voice and partners, were at the forefront advocating to the United Nations for the establishment of these mechanisms, and also engaged and collaborated with the mechanism thereafter.
Advocacy and campaigns to hold the Myanmar military to account under international law are therefore not new.
Prior to the military-led pseudo-democratic transition that began in 2011, border-based democracy and human rights groups campaigned for the establishment of a commission of inquiry for the systematic human rights violations and international crimes by the Myanmar military throughout the country. The campaign was supported by international allies, such as then-Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar Tomás Quintana and two of his predecessors.
In 1997 and again in 2022, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) established Commissions of Inquiry (COIs) that found the military had engaged in “widespread and systematic use of forced labour” and heavily imposed “far-reaching restrictions…of basic civil liberties and trade union rights.”
Such international moves towards accountability show that there is a will to address the systematic human rights violations and violence that affect the whole population of Myanmar. Ensuring justice for the Rohingya who have been victims to one of the most serious of international crimes—genocide—will also mean securing justice for all peoples of Myanmar who have suffered from heinous international crimes by the same perpetrators, the Myanmar military, according to Progressive Voice.
It says that there is no denying that international accountability mechanisms are slow, riven by politics, and face legitimate criticisms of hypocrisy given that powerful nations and their allies that commit war crimes are rarely brought to account in such courts.
Yet Progressive Voice believes that their power in establishing truth when domestic accountability is completely impossible, and in pressuring the international community to take more effective and rightful action, such as coordinated targeted sanctions or diplomatic isolation, has value.
International accountability mechanisms also add momentum to people’s legitimate movements to end dictatorship and seek justice and accountability such as Myanmar’s Spring Revolution. The prospect of arrest warrants being issued against Min Aung Hlaing or INTERPOL issuing a Red Notice for him brings a sense of justice for people.
Moreover, it becomes that much harder for international entities to partner with a military that has been convicted of genocide under international law, as their involvement with this military would mean being complicit in or aiding and abetting its crimes.
Progressive Voice says that ultimately, the Myanmar people’s revolution will be won on the ground, by the hundreds of thousands of men and women, young and old, who have made huge and sometimes the ultimate sacrifice for their country.
It will not be won by a remote court in the Netherlands or Argentina.
Yet these processes to achieve justice can give an extra dimension of pressure on the military junta, as well as the sense that its violently constructed world is caving in, all the while catalyzing discourse and policy on ending impunity.
Progressive Voice believes it is important therefore that the international community provides political, technical, and financial support to the universal jurisdiction case in Argentina; States Parties to the Rome Statute refer the crisis in Myanmar to the International Criminal Court under Article 14; and more countries join the ICJ case.
These processes are a significant component of the multi-faceted movement for federal democracy in Myanmar and one path to finally end the impunity that military has enjoyed for so long and prevent recurrence of mass atrocities.