Violence Continues Amid Coronavirus Pandemic

April 24th, 2020  •  Author:   Progressive Voice  •  7 minute read
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“As the whole world is taking measures to protect against the coronavirus pandemic, the targeting of innocent civilians in southern Chin State, through the use of airstrikes and other military operations, is causing tragic and unnecessary loss that amount to war crimes. It must end immediately.”

Statement from 141 Organizations and one individual

All around Myanmar[1], whether Shan, Rakhine, Karen, Ta’ang, Rohingya, Chin or Kachin, people are facing horrific human rights violations at the hands of the Myanmar military. Although this violence is not new, the military’s continuation of its violent rampage in ethnic areas instead of showing political will and accepting the ethnic armed organizations (EAOs) call for a nationwide ceasefire to fight the coronavirus pandemic is seen by local observers and those familiar with Myanmar as taking advantage of the lack of scrutiny due to the pandemic, which will surely continue until the rainy season makes military operations difficult. To make matters worse, the government is acting as a shield for the military committing such violations.

The latest situation in Rakhine State and the conflict between the Arakan Army (AA) and the Myanmar military has intensified, leading to airstrikes, with innocent villagers paying the price. On 13 April, 2020, airstrikes near the Rakhine State capital, Sittwe, killed eight civilians, including a nine year old boy. Just a few days later, the Myanmar military arbitrarily arrested 39 civilians on suspicion of being members of the AA. The conflict is also impacting southern Chin State, where armed clashes and airstrikes by the Myanmar military have killed at least 28 ethnic Chin civilians. Since intense armed clashes erupted nearly 18 months ago, 160,000 people have become displaced in Rakhine and Chin States. To make matters worse, the government continues to block internet access in nine townships in Rakhine and Chin States in spite of repeated calls from Myanmar civil society and the international community. Meanwhile the military-run news outlet, Myawaddy, is spewing fake news and propaganda in an effort to obfuscate the actions of the military after the aforementioned airstrikes that killed eight innocent people.

The situation in Rakhine State is on top of the crisis for the Rohingya, a million of whom are living in refugee camps in Bangladesh after fleeing waves of genocidal violence of the Myanmar military in 2016 and 2017. Those who do remain in Rakhine State live under the threat of violence, have had their villages and communities burnt to the ground, and are fearful of being caught up in the current conflict between the Myanmar military and the AA. While relations with each other are still tense, both major communities in Rakhine State – Rohingya and Rakhine – continue to suffer.

Other ethnic groups in Myanmar are also facing human rights violations committed by the same unaccountable institution – the Myanmar military. In Shan State, while the ethnic armed organization (EAO), the Restoration Council for Shan State (RCSS) was conducting COVID-19 awareness raising and monitoring activities, they were attacked by the Myanmar military. Additionally, the Shan Human Rights Foundation has documented other attacks and incidences of forced labor in Shan State in the past few weeks. Also in Shan State, Ta’ang community-based organizations (CBOs) have documented 18 cases of arbitrary arrest, torture, and forced labor of Ta’ang civilians by the Myanmar military. Meanwhile, in Karen State, the ratcheting up of tension as the Myanmar military continues to forge ahead with the construction of a strategic road, is provoking armed clashes with the Karen National Union, displacing villagers, and inflicting human rights violations on local people as a new briefer by the Karen Peace Support Network points out.

A statement by over 140 civil society organizations – local, regional, and international – called for an end to armed conflict and the protection of civilians. Referencing the ongoing airstrikes by the Myanmar military in the conflict with the AA, the statement expressed, “As the whole world is taking measures to protect against the coronavirus pandemic, the targeting of innocent civilians in southern Chin State, through the use of airstrikes and other military operations, is causing tragic and unnecessary loss that amount to war crimes. It must end immediately. These war crimes are a blatant contravention to the Geneva Conventions and are destroying communities. We urge the immediate end to all attacks that target civilians and to protect the lives of innocent people.” Despite calls locally, regionally and internationally, the Myanmar military has not stopped its violence. As it launches its last push with greater intensity in the closing weeks of the dry season before it slows down, a stronger and more concerted effort is needed to stop this military might and bring this fighting to an immediate end to save more lives. The world may not be watching as closely due to the pandemic, but the violence and destruction that the Myanmar military is causing against ethnic communities throughout Myanmar and its devastating impact only means that the ongoing processes of accountability are all the more important.


[1] One year following the 1988 pro-democracy uprising, the former military junta changed the country’s name from Burma to Myanmar overnight. Progressive Voice uses the term ‘Myanmar’ in acknowledgement that most people of the country use this term. However, the deception of inclusiveness and the historical process of coercion by the former State Peace and Development Council military regime into usage of ‘Myanmar’ rather than ‘Burma’ without the consent of the people is recognized and not forgotten. Thus, under certain circumstances, ‘Burma’ is used.

Resources from the past week


Statements and Press Releases

Joint Statement on Safety of Journalists and Access to Information During the COVID-19 Crisis

By 41 Countries

မြန်မာနိုင်ငံ၏ လက်နက်ကိုင်ပဋိပက္ခအတွင်း ကျရောက်နေသော အရပ်သားပြည်သူများအား ယခုချက်ချင်း အကာအကွယ်ပေးရန် အရပ်ဘက်လူထုအဖွဲ့အစည်းများမှ တိုက်တွန်းတောင်းဆိုခြင်း

By 140 Organizations and One Individual

Civil Society Organizations Calls for Immediate Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict in Myanmar

By 141 Organizations and One Individual

Myanmar: Release Jailed Rights Defenders and Activists

By Amnesty International

မြန်မာ – ထောင်ကျခံနေရသော လူ့အခွင့်အရေးကာကွယ်သူများနှင့် တက်ကြွလှုပ်ရှားသူများအားလွှတ်ပေးရန်

By Amnesty International


By Assistance Association for Political Prisoners

Statement on 2020 Presidential Pardon

By Assistance Association for Political Prisoners

Prisoner Pardon: Aung San Suu Kyi Keeps Political Prisoners In Jail

By Burma Campaign UK

UK Must Take Urgent Action to Support IDPs and Refugees from Burma

By Burma Campaign UK

Let Kaman IDPs Return To Their Homes

By Burma Human Rights Network

15 Civilians Killed by Burma Army Artillery and Airstrikes in Western Burma

By Free Burma Rangers

IKO Statement Regarding Bamar Tatmadaw’s Shooting and Killing of Innocent Rakhine Civilian Populations

By International Karen Organization

Urgent Appeal to the United Nations and International Governments

By International Arakanese Community

မြန်မာနိုင်ငံ၏ ကိုဗစ်နိုင်တင်း ( COVID19) ကပ်ဘေးအပေါ်တုန့်ပြန်မှု ခွဲခြားဆက်ဆံသည့်စံနှုန်းများ ထင်ထင်ရှားရှားဖြစ်ပေါ်နေ

By Karen Peace Support Network

COVID-19 Response in Burma Exposes Glaring Double Standards

By Karen Peace Support Network

“States Responses to Covid 19 Threat Should Not Halt Freedoms of Assembly and Association” – UN Expert on the Rights to Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and of Association, Mr. Clément Voule

By Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

Press Briefing Note on Myanmar/Bangladesh – Rohingya

By Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

Headman and His Son Arrested, Forced to Guide Burma Army in Mong Ton, Eastern Shan State

By Shan Human Rights Foundation



“I Will Not Surrender”: The Criminalization of Human Rights Defenders and Activists in Myanmar

By Amnesty International 

ကိုဗစ်နိုင်တင်း (COVID-19) ကပ်ဘေးကာလကြား တိုက်ခိုက်ခံနေရသည့် ကရင့်နှလုံးသည်းပွတ်နယ်မြေများ – မူတြော်ဒေသအတွင်း ဗမာ့တပ်မတော်၏ အသစ်တဖန် ထိုးစစ်ဆင်တိုက်ခိုက်မှုများ ရပ်တန့်ရန် KPSN မှ အရေးပေါ်တောင်းဆိုချက် ထုတ်ပြန်ခြင်း

By Karen Peace Support Network 

Karen Heartlands Under Attack: Amidst Covid-19 Crisis KPSN Calls Urgently for a Stop to the Burma Army’s New Offensive in Mutraw

By Karen Peace Support Network 

Freedom of Movement in Rakhine State

By Independent Rakhine Initiative

Progressive Voice is a participatory, rights-based policy research and advocacy organization that was born out of Burma Partnership. Burma Partnership officially ended its work on October 10, 2016 transitioning to a rights-based policy research and advocacy organization called Progressive Voice. For further information, please see our press release “Burma Partnership Celebrates Continuing Regional Solidarity for Burma and Embraces the Work Ahead for Progressive Voice.”