YouTube Removes Burma Army Channels; UN to Meet on Crisis

YANGON, Burma—YouTube removed five channels run by Burma’s military (also known as Myanmar) for violating its guidelines, it announced Friday, as demonstrators defied growing violence by security forces and staged more anti-coup protests ahead of a special UN Security Council meeting on the country’s political crisis.

YouTube said it is watching for any further content that might violate its rules. It earlier pulled dozens of channels as part of an investigation into content uploaded in a coordinated influence campaign.

The decision by YouTube followed Facebook’s earlier announcement that it has removed all Burma military-linked pages from its site and from Instagram, which it also owns.

The escalation of violence by security forces has put pressure on the world community to act to restrain the junta, which seized power on Feb. 1 by ousting the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi.

Large protests against military rule have occurred daily in many cities and towns. Security forces escalated their crackdown this week with greater use of lethal force and mass arrests. At least 18 protesters were shot dead on Sunday and 38 on Wednesday, according to the UN Human Rights Office. More than 1,000 people have been arrested, the independent Assistance Association for Political Prisoners said.

Protests continued in the country’s biggest cities, Yangon and Mandalay, and elsewhere on Friday, and were again met by force from police.

Armed police stand guard on a major street to prevent anti-coup demonstration in Yangon, Burma, Friday, March 5, 2021. (AP Photo)

Many cases of targeted brutality have been captured in photos and videos that have circulated widely on social media. Videos have shown security forces shooting people at point-blank range and chasing down and savagely beating demonstrators.

The United States called the images appalling, the UN human rights chief said it was time to “end the military’s stranglehold over democracy in [Burma],” and the world body’s independent expert on human rights in the country, Tom Andrews, urged Security Council members to watch the videos before their closed-door consultations on Friday.

While many abuses are committed by police, there is even greater concern about military forces being deployed in cities across the country that are notorious for decades of brutal counter-insurgency tactics and human rights abuses.

In Yangon, members of the army’s 77th Light Infantry Division have been deployed during anti-coup protests. The 77th was also deployed in Yangon in 2007 to suppress anti-junta protests, firing upon protesters and ramming them with trucks, witnesses told Human Rights Watch.

The 99th Light Infantry Division has also been deployed, including in Mandalay. It is infamous for its counter-insurgency campaigns against ethnic minorities across the country, including spearheading the response that led to a brutal crackdown that caused more than 700,000 Rohingya Muslims to flee from Rakhine state to Bangladesh. It also has been accused of war crimes in Shan state, another ethnic minority area, in 2016 and early 2017.

Mandalay Anti-coup protesters
Anti-coup protesters hold signs as they gather in Mandalay, Burma, Friday, Mar. 5, 2021. (AP Photo)

Any kind of coordinated action at the UN will be difficult since two permanent members of the Security Council, China and Russia, are likely to veto it.

Even if the council did take action, UN special envoy to Burma Christine Schraner Burgener cautioned this week it might not make much difference. She said she warned Burma’s army that the world’s nations and the Security Council “might take huge strong measures.”

“And the answer was, ‘We are used to sanctions and we survived those sanctions in the past,’” she said. When she also warned that Burma would become isolated, Schraner Burgener said, “the answer was, ‘We have to learn to walk with only a few friends.’”

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations has urged a halt to violence and the start of talks on a peaceful solution in Burma.

The 10-member regional grouping, which includes Burma, is constrained from enacting serious measures by a tradition of acting by consensus and reluctance to interfere in each other’s internal affairs.

However, one member, Singapore, was outspoken on Friday in criticizing Burma’s coup.

“It is the height of national shame for the armed forces of any country to turn its arms against its own people,” its foreign minister, Vivian Balakrishnan, said in Parliament.

But he also warned that the approach favored by some Western nations, of pressuring Burma’s generals with sanctions, would not be effective. The United States, Britain, and several other countries have already started to use that approach.

“Despite all our fervor and earnest hopes of reconciliation … the keys ultimately lie within [Burma]. And there’s a limit to how far external pressure will be brought to bear,” he said.