The United Nations has recently released a report highlighting the dire humanitarian crisis in Burma (also known as Myanmar). According to the report, more than 17.6 million people in the country are in need of humanitarian aid. The report, published by the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), has shed light on the military regime’s systematic suppression of civil society and its refusal to provide essential aid to civilians since the military coup in February of this year.
The report describes how the military junta has established a pervasive system of control over the civilian population, emphasizing the urgent need for measures to protect the fundamental rights of the people. It warns that the intentional obstruction or denial of humanitarian assistance may constitute war crimes such as torture, willful killing, starvation, and collective punishment in the context of armed conflicts.
The military regime seized power from the elected civilian government, led by Aung San Suu Kyi, on February 1, 2021, which resulted in widespread protests and clashes between the army and ethnic minority insurgents across the country. Disturbingly, the report states that at least 3,452 people have lost their lives at the hands of the military and its affiliates as of April this year, with over 1.5 million people internally displaced. Additionally, the military has arrested approximately 21,807 individuals, and of these, 154 now face death sentences.
The OHCHR’s Burma team chief, James Rodehaver, has described how the military junta has instilled a “climate of fear” among civilians through the use of heavy weaponry on civilian areas, airstrikes, the burning of villages, and the placement of landmines to prevent displaced persons from returning home. Moreover, the military has systematically targeted medical facilities and workers, burned food and medical supplies, and destroyed crops and seed stores.
In a May report, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Burma, Tom Andrews, revealed that the junta had procured weapons and equipment from companies operating in Russia, China, Singapore, Thailand, and India. The report states that Russia supplied aircraft and helicopters used to bomb civilian populations, implicating these countries in the Myanmar military’s unlawful activities.
Furthermore, aid workers in Burma have been subjected to numerous risks, including arrest, harassment, and death. The OHCHR estimates that between 13 and 40 aid providers have been killed in military attacks. Ambulances and medical facilities have also been targets of attacks, further exacerbating the humanitarian crisis.
The report also exposes the military’s strategy of strictly controlling international humanitarian workers’ ability to distribute aid after allowing them to enter the country. Delays in the issuance of visas and travel authorizations are employed as tools to dictate the time, location, and functions of those entering Myanmar. Indonesian President Joko Widodo reported an attack on a convoy of ASEAN officials delivering aid to Burma in May, further highlighting the dangers faced by those providing humanitarian assistance.
The UN report calls for immediate action to address the humanitarian crisis in Burma, including the protection of civilians and the facilitation of unimpeded humanitarian aid access. It highlights that the military’s actions not only violate human rights but may also constitute war crimes. The international community must respond urgently to address the dire situation and hold the military regime accountable for its actions.