Open Call to All International Actors: “Do more to stop internet shutdowns shrouding torchings and killings in Myanmar”

For months, the Myanmar military has systematically imposed internet shutdowns to facilitate an aggressive scorched-earth campaign across the nation. Internet, mobile, and landline connections are cut in an impending sign of a military attack — and as shutdowns reign for days on end, entire villages, schools, places of worship, and personal property are torched, villagers killed, and food and other necessary supplies destroyed.

Internet shutdowns have fortified the military’s oppressive “Four Cuts” strategy — a military campaign to indiscriminately destroy anything or anyone deemed to support the raging popular resistance movement on the ground.  As places continue to be wiped out amidst communications blackouts, the international community and companies tasked to enforce the junta’s orders have remained largely silent. This must change.

Internet shutdowns have been imposed across regions where resistance against the military has been most intense, and where arson attacks by the junta have been most widespread as both punishment, and cover for atrocities. In one of the worst-hit regions of Sagaing, internet, mobile and landline connections have been shut down since late 2021, with access only available intermittently for a few hours every few days. Out of 34 townships in Sagaing, eight are facing regular internet blackouts, while the other townships have access only to 2G connections.  Reports indicate that more than 22,000 sites including residential and religious buildings have been burned down between February 1 to May 2022. Homes have been raided by soldiers, property destroyed, and burned bodies reportedly found “shot in the head” and “tied with cables.” Regional shutdowns have been reported and continue across the regions of Magway and Mandalay, and states of Chin, Kayah (Karenni) and Kachin, where intense fighting between military and resistance forces is ongoing. This is all being perpetrated with impunity amidst recurring internet shutdowns, now in place in at least 54 townships across the country.

As shutdowns continue indefinitely, people are not only impacted by active conflict, but struggle to lead daily lives. Those attempting to leave their homes have no means to find out information to help keep themselves safe, such as where attacks may be launched or where road bombs may be laid. People who wish to find out how their friends, family, or loved ones are coping cannot communicate with them. Transport of essential supplies is blocked to villages, as drivers are unable to discern safe routes for travel. People are unable to transfer or receive funds as they are cut off from mobile payment services. Amidst a pandemic, people have no way to share health information or receive medical attention, in violation of their right to health, and risks of gender-based violence are exacerbated. Meanwhile, children who were already unable to receive in-school education because of ongoing school boycotts and burnt down schools are now cut out of online means of learning, leading to an increasing number of school dropout cases and reported cases of child abuse through forced  child marriages. Humanitarian actors and many journalists who remain in the country struggle to monitor and report on the ongoing human rights violations and provide essential aid, while UN experts have highlighted challenges to their gathering of evidence of human rights violations.

This situation on the ground will only deteriorate unless international actors continue to keep global attention on Myanmar and push back strongly against aggression by the junta.  The military must not be allowed to perpetrate crimes with impunity under the cloak of darkness, and governments and companies must push back.

Governments must:

  • Continue to prioritize the situation in Myanmar as a matter of policy and publicly condemn crimes and rights violations committed by the military;
  • Take active and effective measures to push for accountability for violations, including through engaging international fora, including at the United Nations, and supporting civil society efforts for accountability through international, regional or domestic mechanisms;
  • Provide financial and technical support to human rights defenders, journalists, and civil society members — including digital rights activists and people living outside of Myanmar particular, network providers and mobile companies to continue essential work documenting, reporting on and advocating against ongoing human rights abuses; and
  • Continue to pressure the Myanmar military to respect, protect and fulfill human rights.

Telecommunication companies must:

  • Comply with their human rights obligations and take speedy, targeted, and efficient steps to protect individuals against rights violations they may be implicit in facilitating with the military;
  • Design and implement processes to enable the remediation of adverse human rights impacts on their users,  local stakeholders and staff in-country;
  • Provide the utmost level of transparency to users about any changes, restrictions, or other effects to services they may experience;
  • Adopt country-sensitive policies and practices that identify, assess and address the heightened human rights risks in conflict-affected and high-risk regions;
  • Secure and preserve evidence that shed light on government abuses and that can be used for accountability;
  •  Regularly disclose in public reports the actions taken to perform human rights due diligence to prevent and to mitigate the potential adverse human rights impacts from the company’s operations;
  • Engage regularly and transparently with civil society and human rights defenders in developing protective mechanisms and regulations to prevent rights violations;
  • Engage  with civil society in a meaningful and effective manner in accountability proceedings to compensate and remedy rights violations already committed and facilitated by companies — including through the complaints process of the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises;
  • Engage with civil society actively and at all times seek all possible ways to provide information on military orders for shutdowns or notifications to curtail communications, particularly network providers and mobile companies; and
  • Publicly affirm support for the democracy and fundamental rights of the people of Myanmar and for the rule of law.

The coup in Myanmar is both physical and digital — and shutdowns are being abused by the Myanmar military to enforce silence. It is imperative we speak up.

Signatories:

Access Now

Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI)

Ananda Data

Anti Dictatorship in Burma – DC Metropolitan Area.

Article 19

Athan

Ayeyarwaddy Youths’Union

Blood Money Campaign

Burma Human Rights Network

Burmese American Millennials

Burmese Canadian Network

Burmese Muslim Association (BMA)

Campaign for a New Myanmar

CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation

Check us for Safety(Ahlone)

Chin Leaders

CPRH Support Group, Norway

Dawei Youth’s Revolutionary Movement Strike Committee

Democratic Youth Council (DYC)

DigitalReach (Southeast Asia)

Freedom for Burma

Free Rohingya Coalition

Foundation for Media Alternatives

General Strike Committee of Nationalities (GSCN)

Global Movement for Myanmar Democracy (GM4MD)

Heartland Initiative

Helping Hands for Burma (H2B)

HTY Scout Channel

Information & Scout News (Hlaing)

Insein Scout Channel

Institute for Policy Research and Advocacy (ELSAM)

Interfaith Youth Coalition on Aids in Myanmar (IYCA-Myanmar)

Justice for Myanmar

Kamayut Scout Channel

Kayan Internally Displacement Supervising Committee (KIDSC)

Kyaikhto Basic Education Students’ Unoin – KBESU

Kyauktada Strike Committee (KSC)

Kyimyindaing Scout Channel

Lanmadaw,Latha & Pabedan Scout Channel

Legal Initiatives for Vietnam

Los Angeles Myanmar Movement – LA2M

Manushya Foundation

Mayangone News

Minority Affairs Institute-MAI (Myanmar)

Muslim Youth Network

Myanmar Deaf Peoples

Myanmar Emergency Fund

Myanmar Unity Movement UK

NOK Information & Scout Echo

North Dagon & East Dagon News

OCTOPUS (Youth Organization)

Open Net Association

Open Observatory of Network Interference  (OONI)

Reporters Sans Frontìeres

Save Myanmar – USA.

Siit Nyein Pann Foundation

Sisters2Sisters

South Dagon Scouting Infos (SDG)

Southeast Asia Freedom of Expression Network (SAFEnet)

Spring Revolution Interfaith Network-SRIN

Spring Revolution Myanmar Muslim Network-SRMMN

Students for Free Burma (SFB)

Support Group for Democracy in Myanmar (The Netherlands)

Tamwe Nway Oo Channel

Thaketa & Dawbon Scout Channel

US Advocacy Coalition for Myanmar (USACM)

We Love Motherland-MM(Malaysia)

Yangon Revolution Force – YRF (Soft Strike Community)

Youth Scout For Democracy (YSD)

Zeegwat News

Z Fighter News

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