UN investigators have reported mounting evidence of crimes against humanity committed in Myanmar since the military takeover in February last year.
The United Nations' Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar (IIMM), which was established by the UN Human Rights Council in 2018, warned in its annual report on Tuesday that over the 12 months to the end of June, "the scope of potential international crimes taking place in Myanmar has broadened dramatically."
"There are ample indications that since the military takeover in February 2021, crimes have been committed in Myanmar on a scale and in a manner that constitutes a widespread and systematic attack against a civilian population," the report said
The investigation team said women and children were particularly being targeted. Children in Myanmar had been killed, tortured, and arbitrarily detained, including in their parents' stead, it said. The report found that they had also been subjected to sexual violence and conscripted and trained by security forces and armed groups.
"Sexual and gender-based crimes, including rape and other forms of sexual violence, and crimes against children have been perpetrated by members of the security forces and armed groups."
The investigation team said it had collected nearly three million "information items," including interview statements, documents, photographs and geospatial imagery. The evidence it had collected indicated that "several armed conflicts are ongoing and intensifying on the territory of Myanmar."
Other experts had already warned that war crimes and crimes against humanity were being committed in Myanmar. The latest report cautioned that more and more regions were becoming engulfed in armed conflicts.
Meanwhile, IIMM chief Nicholas Koumjian said the investigators were focusing in particular on crimes that are "amongst the gravest international crimes, but they are also historically under-reported and under-investigated."
"Perpetrators of these crimes need to know that they cannot continue to act with impunity," he said.
Koumjian also highlighted the ongoing plight of Myanmar's persecuted Muslim Rohingya minority, five years after a bloody crackdown that sent hundreds of thousands fleeing across the border into Bangladesh.
"While the Rohingya consistently express their desire for a safe and dignified return to Myanmar, this will be very difficult to achieve unless there is accountability for the atrocities committed against them, including through prosecutions of the individuals most responsible for those crimes," Koumjian said.
Early last year, the military toppled the government under civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been detained since her overthrow. The junta has waged a bloody crackdown on dissent, with the violence leaving more than 2,100 civilians dead and nearly 15,000 arrested, according to a local monitoring group.