U.S. and International Governments Must Act Immediately to Address the Mounting Health and Human Rights Crisis in Myanmar
In response to reports of widespread human rights abuses by the Myanmar military and security forces during the bloodiest crackdown against protesters to date during the ongoing coup — including attacks against health workers, indiscriminate firing into crowds of protestors, and extrajudicial killings — Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) issued the following statement:
“The wholesale disregard for human life by Myanmar’s military forces is horrifying,” said Jennifer Leigh, an epidemiologist serving as PHR’s Myanmar Researcher, who has collected and analyzed information and reports from doctors and medics in Myanmar. “What I am seeing and hearing is nothing short of a deliberate campaign to target and obstruct health workers who may in any way be connected to the civil disobedience movement (CDM). Without immediate action and accountability from regional actors and the broader international community, we should expect more bloodshed and abuse from the Myanmar military. We’ve seen this story before: same perpetrator, heinous new crimes,” added Leigh, who has researched health and human rights issues in Myanmar for 13 years, including the crimes against humanity the Myanmar military committed against the Rohingya.
Over the last 24 hours alone, at least 114 people have reportedly been killed by Myanmar security forces, including doctors and children. PHR has confirmed the identity of at least one doctor killed and one doctor arrested for providing care to injured civilians, and has heard several unconfirmed reports of medical workers who have been threatened, injured, and killed by the armed forces. Reports also suggest that security forces have killed dozens by firing live ammunition indiscriminately into crowds of protestors, targeting individuals with sniper fire, and deliberately using lethal force against individuals who pose threat – all violations of international human rights law.
“The military junta is murdering the people of Myanmar for nothing more than their demands for human rights, freedom, and democracy, just as it had done back in 1988 and 2007, and continuously through its systematic targeting of the country’s ethnic minority groups,” said Sandra Mon, a PHR expert and epidemiologist from Myanmar at the Center for Public Health and Human Rights (CPHHR), Johns Hopkins University. “As someone who lived through the Saffron Revolution, and based on close personal monitoring of the events of the last 24 hours, I know that the killings, the arbitrary arrests and detentions are significantly worse than publicly available reports suggest. The numbers available are very much estimates – many more are feared dead or detained, but identification has been challenging due to the telecommunication blackouts imposed by the military and increasingly regular attempts by security personnel to confiscate bodies of killed or injured civilians. What the outside world sees is only the tip of the iceberg of the Myanmar military’s campaign of terror against anyone perceived to be affiliated with the anti-coup movement,” said Mon.
PHR previously reported on the Myanmar military’s abuses of health care workers and health infrastructure, including the military’s occupation by force of Myanmar’s public hospitals. At least 36 public hospitals continue to be occupied by the military in an apparent attempt to identify patients and health workers affiliated with the civil disobedience movement, and force Myanmar’s health workers to work in threatening, hostile work conditions under the military’s control. Private health facilities have also been warned to abstain from providing care to peaceful protesters without the junta’s prior knowledge. Myanmar’s COVID-19 immunization and treatment efforts have been significantly disrupted due to the military’s active targeting of the country’s health workforce and abuse of the health care system. While the Ministry of Health and Sports, now under the military’s control, has resumed its public vaccination campaign, widespread mistrust and fear of the junta has prevented many – including those from the medical community – from seeking vaccinations. PHR has previously urged the U.S. government and other international actors to immediately take actions to protect and offer support to the people of Myanmar, and advance accountability for the human rights abuses committed by the Tatmadaw before and during the coup.
PHR urges the U.S. government and the United Nations to immediately take the following actions to address the health and human rights crisis in Myanmar:
- Bolster diplomatic, aid, and assistance efforts to ensure that individuals in Myanmar who are being targeted – health workers, in particular – have an immediate viable option to seek safety and protection in Myanmar, in a third country, or in the United States. This must include expanded emergency response protection—including extending safe haven in the U.S. embassy for urgent protection cases – and an expedited humanitarian parole option with suspended application restrictions for targeted individuals who need to be immediately relocated. Diplomatic efforts must be focused on securing access to healthcare for detainees, especially those with urgent or acute health issues.
- Negotiate expanded cross-border and in-country aid distribution, and support structures for refugees, with relevant regional partners, including Thailand.
- Finalize and implement an expanded set of sanctions on the Myanmar military so that it cannot secure funding through alternative means. Priority should be placed on countries that have supported the military such as Russia and China and regional actors, including member countries of the Association for South East Asian Nations.
- Reiterate the United States’ commitment to justice and accountability for the Tatmadaw’s human rights abuses, and press other countries – in particular those in the region – to make similar public commitments, or refrain from blocking efforts to pursue accountability.
Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is a New York-based advocacy organization that uses science and medicine to prevent mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. Learn more here.