20 June 2021
Prioritize the provision of humanitarian aid through local civil society and community-based organizations
On the occasion of the World Refugee Day, 488 civil society organizations call on the United Nations and international community to ensure that provision of humanitarian aid is not weaponized by the junta in their campaign of terror against the people of Myanmar. To avoid this, the UN agencies, international donors and humanitarian organizations must prioritize the provision of humanitarian aid through local civil society and humanitarian organizations, ethnic service providers, including cross-border aid, to best support those affected by the humanitarian and human rights crisis unfolding in Myanmar as a direct result of the military’s brutal attacks following its unlawful coup attempt on February 1. The groups also call on countries neighboring Myanmar to protect the rights of refugees fleeing the military’s violence.
Over a quarter of a million people have been displaced in ethnic areas since the start of the Myanmar military’s failed coup. The military junta has repeatedly impeded the delivery of humanitarian assistance to those in need. They are thus using the dire humanitarian situation of those who have been displaced to weaponize humanitarian aid, withholding it as part of their campaign of terror.
Under international humanitarian law, all parties to the conflict must “facilitate the free passage of humanitarian assistance.” Contravening this, the military has blocked humanitarian aid from being delivered to many ethnic areas while deliberately destroying people’s food storage including in Karen, Kachin, Karenni, Chin and Shan States. The most salient case was the 8 June burning of rice, medicine and other essential humanitarian aid, as well as the vehicle carrying the aid that was on its way to Pekhon Township where some of the 100,000 Karenni IDPs have been sheltering. “Willfully impeding relief supplies” as a tactic of starvation is considered a method of warfare and is a war crime. In addition, the military has targeted and intimidated humanitarian aid workers and volunteers, killing, injuring, arbitrarily arresting and torturing those who work on the frontlines.
COVID-19 has added another layer of insecurity in the already deteriorating human rights and humanitarian crisis, as rising cases lead to lockdowns in towns across Myanmar. The military had been weaponizing COVID-19 to crack down on prodemocracy activists, human rights defenders and journalists prior to the coup. In keeping with this pattern, the junta has seized on the opportunity to leverage the administration of vaccines to crack down on the Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM). Worsening the humanitarian crisis compounded by COVID-19, in Hpa-An, Karen State, junior doctors have been urged to leave the CDM in order to receive their second dose of the vaccine. They received their first dose before the coup but refused to take the second vaccine under such conditions.
Meanwhile, activists and supporters of the Spring Revolution, as well as ethnic people who are under threat from the military’s airstrikes and artillery shelling continue to attempt to escape the military’s violence but have not been able to seek refuge in neighboring countries of Thailand and India. In Thailand, refugees who seek temporary refuge have been unable to access the assistance of the UNHCR and INGOs. Instead, they have been sent back to Karen State where they continue to face the threat of attacks by the Myanmar military.
Let us be reminded on this day that the current mass human rights and humanitarian crisis unfolding in Myanmar was triggered and has been shaped by the brutal, violent, unrelenting, murderous, and oppressive actions of the Myanmar military. This is the same military that committed genocide against the Rohingya in Rakhine State and has been committing war crimes and crimes against humanity in ethnic areas for decades. The extreme and heinous violence has been committed by one side, led by a criminal who must be tried and held to account for grave international crimes. It disheartens those who have made immense sacrifices to protect and promote the values and principles of humanity when humanitarianism is used to mask the absence of action to address the root causes and hold accountable the perpetrators of the humanitarian crisis. Lending legitimacy to this junta is counterproductive to ending this humanitarian crisis and goes against the wishes of those who are sacrificing so much to resist and can even further embolden and enable this junta to carry on with its terror acts.
The United Nations and international community must focus its work on assisting local CSOs, particularly the ethnic service providers, to address the current human rights and humanitarian crisis. The neighboring countries and ASEAN must protect the people fleeing from Myanmar to seek refuge and cooperate with the UN and international community. The regional CSOs’ support and solidarity in this struggle has been vital and strengthens our resolve to continue to resist the brutal military junta.
On World Refugee Day, we must listen to the voices of refugees worldwide and recognize and strengthen their agency and the role of those displaced inside Myanmar and outside, the local hosts and ethnic service providers that continue to assist them, often at great personal risk. The current unfolding crisis in Myanmar may be one of the biggest challenges they have faced. However, they have served the needs of their communities under the iron fist of previous military rule and decades of offensives by the same military, and now they continue to uphold the values of humanity, dignity, and rights with courage while having to endure immense suffering. As neighboring countries refuse to take in refugees, turning them away at the border without adequate assistance, it is the local CSOs who have stepped in to fill the void, despite limited resources and constraints placed by the military. They deserve nothing less than our full support and genuine partnership.
We call on the United Nations and international community to:
Signed by 488 civil society organizations including:
Note: Due to serious security concerns, names of 401 local civil society organizations who endorsed and signed this statement cannot be disclosed. The signed CSOs work on range of humanitarian, human rights protection, and rights-based issues in Myanmar.
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