A report by a Norwegian research group on civilian deaths in the 20 months after the military coup

Myanmar Spring Chronicle – June 14 Scenes

MoeMaKa, June 15, 2023

A report by a Norwegian research group on civilian deaths in the 20 months after the military coup

The report “Counting Myanmar’s Dead: Reported Civilian Casualties since the 2021 Military Coup” released by Norway’s PRIO (Peace Research Institute Oslo) Research Group recently revealed that more than 6,000 civilians died in the twenty months between the military coup of February 1, 2021, and September 30, 2022. The report is the first to be published by a foreign-based research group and includes civilian deaths of alleged informers and collaborators of the military council committed by groups such as the PDF and urban guerrillas.

In the last 2 months, the press release of the military council stated that more than 5,400 people, including members of the USDP party, administrators, non-CDM civil servants, monks, nuns, and children, have died at the hands of the PDF.

In the publication, Research Professor Emeritus Stein Tønnesson and Myanmar researcher Dr. Min Zaw Oo from PRIO (Norwegian research group), have highlighted the civilian casualties after the military coup. The main perpetrators of these deaths are the military council, and on the other hand, to a certain extent, the perpetrators are armed groups with various names commonly known as PDF, urban guerrillas, and some armed groups. This report, which aims to highlight civilian deaths who are neither combatants nor members of armed organizations and who do not take part directly in hostile actions, regardless of political stances, will not please supporters of the NUG, PDF, and urban guerrilla groups. This topic has been controversial among supporters of the Spring Revolution, many of whom do not consider the killing of civilians with the presumption as military targets to be a matter of urgency.

In the news, the armed groups often provide reasons for killings, such as the administrators being informants to the military council about anti-coup resistance people, non-CDM civil servants giving information to the military council about CDM employees, those for arrogantly bullying their subordinates, those for bribing the public, etc.

When a news media asked the Secretary of the Ministry of Defence of the National Unity Government regarding the report, he replied that there were no killings of civilians, but killings only because of being designated as military targets.

The National Unity Government has already established a “Code of Conduct” for the People’s Defense Forces since their formation in May 2021. When asked about these figures or the incidents of civilian killings, they generally say that they are working in accordance with the Code of Conduct, but they do not explain in detail how they are applied, why those village or ward administrators, hundred-house heads, or those who do not take part in CDM, such as education staff, etc., are designated as military targets. Another point is that if there are civilian deaths that are not committed by the military council in cities and rural areas, it is not clear whether the groups that commit killings are affiliated with the National Unity Government or not.

The killings in the cities are carried out by their own decision, by deciding to kill according to their own military target criteria or, in the propaganda word of being pillars of the military council. The political word “Pillar” is a radical propaganda term used by communist armed groups, and in the 1960s and 1970s, it was a propaganda term used to accuse those who disagreed with policies and did not support them in places like Bago Yoma. It is a word that cannot be related/associated with policies such as human rights and democracy.

It is not easy to know which urban guerilla groups are connected to which organization, or which group is providing assistance according to security. They are not organized with administrative orders and responsibilities like the armed forces to follow the Code of Conduct, so it is not easy to hold them accountable for the killing of civilians. In the long run, the National Unity Government, which led the Spring Revolution, will have to take overall responsibility in terms of policy.

In the summary of the PRIO report, “Our data shows that the human toll of the conflict is higher than previously reported, and while the junta is clearly the main killer, anti-junta forces also have large amounts of blood on their hands,” said Stein Tønnesson, Research Professor at the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO) and the co-author of the study. It is becoming necessary to precisely define civilians as military targets rather than deciding them by looking at the political side they follow.