The United Nations human rights investigator on Myanmar said on Thursday the military there has murdered, beaten and unlawfully arrested protesters since it seized power in a coup on February 1 and called for wide-ranging punitive sanctions.
Thomas Andrews urged the UN Security Council to impose a global arms embargo and targeted economic sanctions on the military rulers and refer alleged atrocities to the International Criminal Court for prosecution.
States should impose sanctions on the Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise, now controlled by the military and its largest source of revenue, he said in a report to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.
The UNSC is due to discuss the situation on Friday in a closed meeting.
The UN investigator’s statement came after police broke up demonstrations with tear gas and gunfire in several cities across Myanmar.
Protesters had returned to the streets undeterred by the bloodiest day yet in a crackdown on opponents of last month’s military coup.
The UN said 38 people had been killed during Wednesday’s demonstrations, far more than the 23 believed to have been killed up until March 1.
The military seized power alleging fraud in an election won by Aung San Suu Kyi’s party last November. The army has defended measures to quell protests and said it will not let Myanmar’s stability be threatened.
Activists said they refused to accept the military rule and new elections promised by it, voicing determination to press for the release of the detained Aung San Suu Kyi, 75, and recognition of her election victory.
“We know that we can always get shot and killed with live bullets but there is no meaning to staying alive under the junta,” activist Maung Saungkha told the news agency Reuters.
Police opened fire and used tear gas to break up protests in Yangon and the central town of Monywa, witnesses said. They also opened fire in the town of Pathein, west of Yangon, and used tear gas in Taunggyi in the east, media reported.
Big crowds gathered peacefully for rallies elsewhere, including the second city of Mandalay and in the historic temple town of Bagan, where hundreds marched carrying pictures of Aung San Suu Kyi and a banner saying: “Free our leader”, witnesses said.
A spokesman for the ruling military council did not answer telephone calls seeking comment.
The UN human rights chief, Michelle Bachelet, called on the security forces to halt what she called their “vicious crackdown on peaceful protesters”.
She said more than 1,700 people had been arrested, including 29 journalists.
“Myanmar’s military must stop murdering and jailing protesters,” Bachelet said in a statement.
Meanwhile, hundreds of people attended the funeral of a 19-year-old woman shot dead in Mandalay on Wednesday, who was photographed wearing a T-shirt that read “Everything will be OK”. After her death, the slogan went viral as a symbol of defiance.
On Wednesday, police and soldiers fired live rounds with little warning in several cities and towns, witnesses said.
“Myanmar’s security forces now seem intent on breaking the back of the anti-coup movement through wanton violence and sheer brutality,” said Richard Weir, a researcher at Human Rights Watch.
Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party said in a statement that flags would fly at half-mast at its offices to commemorate the dead.
The US State Department said Washington was “appalled” by the violence and was evaluating how to respond.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Thursday he was horrified by the escalation of violence and killing of protesters.
The European Union suspended support for development projects to avoid providing financial assistance to the military, officials said on Thursday. The support in past years has involved more than 200 million euros ($240.7m) in separate programmes often running for four years.
Myanmar’s generals have long shrugged off outside pressure.
The United States has told China, which has declined to condemn the coup, that it expects it to play a constructive role. China has said stability is a top priority in its strategic neighbour.
At least 19 Myanmar police officers have crossed over into India, fearing persecution for disobeying orders, a senior Indian police official told Reuters.