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UN official urges action to prevent a lost generation of children in Myanmar

The international community must “reengage and refocus” on Myanmar to head off a looming crisis that may leave a “lost generation” of children, who have already suffered incredible deprivation since the country’s February 2021 military coup, a United Nations human rights official said on Tuesday.

In a 40-page report titled “Losing a Generation: How the military junta is attacking Myanmar’s children and stealing their future,” Tom Andrews, the U.N. special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, says the military regime has systematically abused children since taking power.

Soldiers, police officers and military-backed militias have murdered, abducted, detained and tortured children in a campaign of violence across the Southeast Asian nation, the report says.

Military attacks have displaced more than 250,000 children, the report says. More than 1,400 youths have been detained and at least 61 are currently being held hostage. The report says that 142 children have been tortured — beaten, cut, stabbed, burned with cigarettes, deprived of food and water — since the military seized power from the democratically elected government.

“The junta’s relentless attacks on children underscore the generals’ depravity and willingness to inflict immense suffering on innocent victims in its attempt to subjugate the people of Myanmar,” said Andrews, a former member of the U.S. Congress from Maine from 1991 to 1995, in a statement. He was appointed to his U.N. role in May 2020.

An estimated 7.8 million children remain out of school because of the conflict. As many as 33,000 minors could die preventable deaths this year because they have not received routine immunizations, according to the report.

Andrews called on U.N. member states, regional organizations, the U.N. Security Council and other U.N. agencies to significantly increase humanitarian assistance and regional support for refugees. Countries should also implement stronger economic sanctions and coordinated financial investigations to diminish the military’s ability to remain in power.

The parties must “respond to the crisis in Myanmar with the same urgency they have responded to the crisis in Ukraine,” the special rapporteur said.

“The junta’s attacks on children constitute crimes against humanity and war crimes,” Andrews said. “Junta leader Min Aung Hlaing and other architects of the violence in Myanmar must be held accountable for their crimes against children.”

There was no immediate response from the State Administration Council, the formal name for the junta regime.

In Geneva, Switzerland, on Tuesday, Michelle Bachelet, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, urged member states to step up pressure on the Myanmar junta amid ongoing reports of violence and human rights violations.

“[T]here are reasonable grounds to believe the commission of crimes against humanity and war crimes,” Bachelet said.

“What we are witnessing today is the systematic and widespread use of tactics against civilians in respect of which there are reasonable grounds to believe the commission of crimes against humanity and war crimes,” she told the current session of the Human Rights Council.

Bachelet called on U.N. member states to take sustained and concrete action to end the violence against civilians and minority groups.

“I urge all member states, particularly those with the highest-level access and influence, to intensify the pressure on the military leadership,” she said, citing measures such as increased restrictions on the regime’s financial holdings and business interests and limiting its access to foreign currencies to restrict the purchase of military equipment and supplies.

“I also call for continued support to the efforts underway to pursue accountability for the ongoing and past serious human rights violations, as well as alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity through all available tracks,” she said. “Myanmar’s future depends on addressing the root cause of this crisis.”