U.N. investigators seek evidence of criminal orders by Myanmar junta

Anti-coup demonstrators march in Nyaung-U, Myanmar March 17, 2021 in this image obtained by REUTERS

GENEVA (Reuters) - A U.N. team of investigators on Myanmar appealed on Wednesday for people to collect and preserve documentary evidence of crimes ordered by the military since a Feb. 1 coup, in order to build future cases against its leaders.

More than 180 protesters have been killed in the southeast Asian nation by security forces trying to crush a wave of demonstrations since the junta seized power, says activist group the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.

"The persons most responsible for the most serious international crimes are usually those in high leadership positions," Nicholas Koumjian, the head of the U.N. team, said in a statement.

"They are not the ones who physically perpetrate the crimes and often are not even present at the locations where the crimes are committed.

"To prove their responsibility requires evidence of reports received, orders given and how policies were set."People with such information should contact the investigators through secure means of communication, he added, citing apps such as Signal or a ProtonMail account.

On Tuesday, the U.N. human rights office condemned the use of live ammunition against the Myanmar protesters, saying, "We call on the military to stop killing and detaining protesters."

Myanmar has been in turmoil since its military ousted the elected government of Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi on Feb. 1, detaining her and members of her party, drawing wide international condemnation.

The U.N. investigators are collecting evidence of the use of lethal force, unlawful arrests, torture, and detentions of people whose families are not told of their whereabouts, an illegal practice known as enforced disappearance, the statement said.

The Geneva-based Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar was set up by the U.N. Human Rights Council in Sept. 2018 to consolidate evidence of the most serious crimes and violations of international law committed in Myanmar since 2011.

Koumjian has worked in courts prosecuting figures including former Liberian President Charles Taylor and former Cambodian President Khieu Samphan and his chief ideologist of the brutal Khmer Rouge Nuon Chea, the statement said.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

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