Open call to all international actors: Do more to stop internet shutdowns shrouding torchings and killings in Myanmar

Content note: this statement contains references to violence, murder, and potential war crimes.

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 punishments 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, were burned down between February 1 and 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 the 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 a 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 journalists who remain in the country struggle to monitor and report on the ongoing human rights violations and provide essential aid. At the same time, UN experts have highlighted challenges to gathering 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 firmly 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 on 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 sheds 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 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 the rule of law.

 

The coup in Myanmar is both physical and digital — and the Myanmar military is abusing shutdowns to enforce silence. We must speak up.

 

Signatories:

  1. Access Now
  2. Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI)
  3. Ananda Data
  4. Anti Dictatorship in Burma – DC Metropolitan Area.
  5. Article 19
  6. Athan
  7. Ayeyarwaddy Youths’Union
  8. Blood Money Campaign
  9. Burma Human Rights Network
  10. Burmese American Millennials
  11. Burmese Canadian Network
  12. Burmese Muslim Association (BMA)
  13. Campaign for a New Myanmar
  14. CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
  15. Check us for Safety(Ahlone)
  16. Chin Leaders
  17. CPRH Support Group, Norway
  18. Dawei Youth’s Revolutionary Movement Strike Committee
  19. Democratic Youth Council (DYC)
  20. DigitalReach (Southeast Asia)
  21. Freedom for Burma
  22. Free Rohingya Coalition
  23. Foundation for Media Alternatives
  24. General Strike Committee of Nationalities (GSCN)
  25. Global Movement for Myanmar Democracy (GM4MD)
  26. Heartland Initiative
  27. Helping Hands for Burma (H2B)
  28. HTY Scout Channel
  29. Information & Scout News (Hlaing)
  30. Insein Scout Channel
  31. Institute for Policy Research and Advocacy (ELSAM)
  32. Interfaith Youth Coalition on Aids in Myanmar (IYCA-Myanmar)
  33. Justice for Myanmar
  34. Kamayut Scout Channel
  35. Kayan Internally Displacement Supervising Committee (KIDSC)
  36. Kyaikhto Basic Education Students’ Union – KBESU
  37. Kyauktada Strike Committee (KSC)
  38. Kyimyindaing Scout Channel
  39. Lanmadaw,Latha & Pabedan Scout Channel
  40. Legal Initiatives for Vietnam
  41. Los Angeles Myanmar Movement – LA2M
  42. Manushya Foundation
  43. Mayangone News
  44. Minority Affairs Institute-MAI (Myanmar)
  45. Muslim Youth Network
  46. Myanmar Deaf Peoples
  47. Myanmar Emergency Fund
  48. Myanmar Unity Movement UK
  49. NOK Information & Scout Echo
  50. North Dagon & East Dagon News
  51. OCTOPUS (Youth Organization)
  52. Open Net Association
  53. Open Observatory of Network Interference  (OONI)
  54. Reporters Sans Frontìeres
  55. SAFENet
  56. Save Myanmar – USA.
  57. Siit Nyein Pann Foundation
  58. Sisters2Sisters
  59. South Dagon Scouting Infos (SDG)
  60. Spring Revolution Interfaith Network-SRIN
  61. Spring Revolution Myanmar Muslim Network-SRMMN
  62. Students for Free Burma (SFB)
  63. Support Group for Democracy in Myanmar (The Netherlands)
  64. Tamwe Nway Oo Channel
  65. Thaketa & Dawbon Scout Channel
  66. US Advocacy Coalition for Myanmar (USACM)
  67. We Love Motherland-MM(Malaysia)
  68. Yangon Revolution Force – YRF (Soft Strike Community)
  69. Youth Scout For Democracy (YSD)
  70. Zeegwat News
  71. Z Fighter News

 

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