Protesters use slingshots during a clash with security forces in the Thaketa Township of Yangon, Myanmar, 28 March 2021.
Protesters use slingshots during a clash with security forces in the Thaketa Township of Yangon, Myanmar, 28 March 2021.

A report released today by the Peace Research Institute Oslo finds that at least 6,000 civilians were killed in the first 20 months following Myanmar's military coup in 2021. This is significantly higher than reported by international bodies, including the United Nations.

"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.

The report, 'Counting Myanmar's Dead - Reported Civilian Casualties since the 2021 Military Coup,' uses the Township-based Conflict Monitoring System maintained by Myanmar Institute for Peace and Security, and two other datasets as the main sources for compiling figures.

It found that the Myanmar military, police and affiliated militia were responsible for over 3,000 reported civilian deaths between 1 February 2021 and 30 September 2022. In the same 20-month period, anti-coup resistance groups killed over 2,000 civilians, and unspecified perpetrators killed at least 1,000 civilians. The actual totals are no doubt higher since many killings have likely gone unreported.

In addition, the study found that politically motivated murders, and not collateral killings in connection with armed clashes, constituted the main form of violence against civilians in both urban and rural areas in the 20-month period after the coup. This was especially true in regions populated by the ethnic Burman majority, including the two major cities of Yangon and Mandalay.

At least 67 percent of reported civilian fatalities were politically motivated murders. Four regions – Sagaing, Magway, Mandalay and Yangon – have seen the highest number of civilian deaths due both to the repression in the first six months after the coup and to targeted political murders in subsequent months.

The military regime plans to hold a general election in the second half of 2023, where the National League for Democracy, which won the elections by a landslide in 2015 and 2020, and other important opposition parties will not be able to partake. The risk of election-related violence is high. There have already been reports of conflict incidents, and of threats against civil servants working on behalf of the regime's election.

"Civilians in Myanmar are bracing themselves for a steep escalation in violence. There is huge potential for politicide, with large-scale retaliatory killings, if the civil war escalates to a next level. This report should set off alarm bells to world bodies like the UN and ASEAN," warned Dr. Min Zaw Oo, a Global Fellow at PRIO and director of the Myanmar Institute of Peace and Security, the lead author of the report.

The study recommends that the UN improve its system to observe and document the murder of civilians in Myanmar, in accordance with Security Council Resolution 2669, regardless of the perpetrators' political affiliation. This resolution demands the cessation of all violence and encourages restraint and the reduction of tensions. The report also urges all sides to the conflict to begin a dialogue on protecting civilians.

For more information or to arrange an interview: