1 Dec 2022
Evidence of mass killings in Myanmar September 2021-2022
Since the February 2021 coup, the Myanmar military has sought to maintain its control across the country, with often brutal tactics. There is a clear pattern of retaliation against local communities in areas of resistance to the military coup, where PDF groups may be active.
Myanmar Witness (MW) has investigated and verified footage relating to seven incidents in which over 100 civilians and persons hors de combat were reportedly killed by the Myanmar military between September 2021 and September 2022. 20 of those killed were under the age of 18. The seven events outlined in this report reveal the modus operandi of the Myanmar military.
Figure: Map of Myanmar depicting the events in this report which have been partially or fully verified by Myanmar Witness between September 2021 and September 2022. Number of deaths are as reported by eyewitnesses and official reports.
The killings were reported to be retaliation by the Myanmar security forces for local People Defence Force (PDF) activity in the surrounding area. They took place in the context of raids against villages in areas where PDF forces were active, or in the aftermath of PDF attacks against military forces in the local area.
The report sets out Myanmar Witness’ verification of seven separate reports of extrajudicial killings allegedly committed by the Burmese military. These include reports of up to:
18 dead in Myin Thar, Gangaw Township, Magway, September, 2021 (partially verified)
11 dead in Don Taw, Salingyi Township, Sagaing, December 2021 (fully verified)
35 dead near Moso, Hpruso township, Kayah, December 2021 (fully verified)
6 dead in Thit Sein Gyi, Wetlet township, Sagaing, January 2022 (fully verified)
6 dead in Yay Yo, Loikaw, January 2022 (fully verified)
37 dead in Mon Taing Pin, Sagaing, May 2022 (fully verified)
6 dead in Kan Pyar, Myinmu Sagaing, June 2022 (fully verified)
It is important to note that this list is not exhaustive of all mass killings or violence in the country during this time frame. The examples included in this report are those which have been partially or fully verified by Myanmar Witness.
According to eyewitness testimony, those killed were either civilians, or (in two cases) civilians and a small number of men with light arms who had stayed to protect villages from attack. With the exception of one case involving Border Guard Force personnel, all the bodies in the footage verified by Myanmar Witness were in civilian clothing. The majority were reported to be unarmed. Arms not linked to the military were visible in only one piece of footage linked to the killings. In three incidents, it was reported that those killed were internally displaced people (IDPs) who had fled fighting.
Figure: A cluster of spent cartridges at the scene of the incident. Close-up of the packaging shows the text "Manufactured in defence equipment factories.
Many of those who were killed were brutally injured, had their hands bound, and in some cases the bodies were burnt beyond recognition. Footage allegedly found on the phone of a member of the Myanmar military reveals the pride of soldiers, as they recount the number of people they killed, by slitting their throats.
In six of the cases, attacks appear to target men and boys. The vast majority of reported deaths were male. All identifiable corpses in footage verified by Myanmar Witness were male. In the seventh case, women, children and aid workers were among the casualties.
In six of the seven incidents, those killed were reported to be under military arrest at the time they were killed. In two cases, Myanmar Witness verified footage showing individuals or bodies bound with rope at the scene of the incident. In three other cases, the bodies were too badly burnt to visually determine whether they were bound, as reported by local residents and in post mortem evidence. In the sixth case, verified footage was consistent with eyewitness reports of civilians being shot in the back.
Figure: Uninformed individuals alleged to be the BGF members who were shot lie with what looks like rope tied behind their backs, close to a bottle of brake fluid. Moso Christmas Eve Killing case study.
In four of the incidents, bodies in footage verified by Myanmar Witness showed serious injuries, including those consistent with bullet wounds. In the other three incidents, eyewitnesses and medical professionals who examined the bodies reported severe injuries, but the bodies were too badly burnt to visually confirm these reports through examination of available footage.
Figure: Names of dead individuals from the Don Taw incident as reported to the National Unity Government by the Triple Two PDF group.
In six of the incidents, Myanmar Witness verified fires at the location of the killing, where bodies and/or buildings (including homes, agricultural buildings and a religious compound sheltering IDPS) and vehicles were burnt. This is consistent with the pattern of fires being used against communities in Myanmar, as documented in Myanmar Witness’ report Burning Myanmar and on Myanmar Witness’ Fire Map.
Figure: Drone images of separate fire points on the road, each emanating smoke. Moso Christmas Eve Killings case study.
Videos from one incident shows a group of soldiers detaining men in civilian clothing. The same soldiers are then seen standing over corpses and boasting about violently killing ‘dozens of individuals’. In a second case, Myanmar Witness verified images of spent ammunition compatible with standard-issues military rifles, photographed next to packaging from Myanmar military defence equipment factories. In the other cases, verified footage is consistent with eyewitness accounts of military involvement and reports of military operations in the area at the time.
Figure: soldiers standing over the bodies of executed civilians. Images blurred by Myanmar Witness for privacy reasons. Mon Taing Pin case study.
Figure: indication of matches in imagery connecting the same individuals to the footage of detained men. Facial features match across the images, but have been blurred for privacy reasons. For further analysis, see Myanmar Witness’ forthcoming report on the Mon Taing Pin massacre.
These incidents of mass killing and violence, while inexhaustive, provide an insight into the modus operandi of the Myanmar military. It provides further evidence to support the Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar (IIMM)’s conclusion that ‘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 the civilian population’... including “crimes against humanity of murder …and intentional attacks against the civilian population”.
While Myanmar Witness was not able to definitely attribute any of the killings to the military, verified footage is consistent with eyewitness accounts of military involvement. Civilians were overwhelmingly impacted by these attacks, with women, children, IDPs, and aid workers among the casualties.
Violent deaths and the use of fire has been a trend reported on in multiple investigations. Myanmar Witness will continue to monitor attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure within Myanmar.
For the full report, download the pdf.