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Myanmar: UN expert warns of “perfect storm” over COVID, calls for urgent international help

July 14th, 2021  •  Author:   Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights  •  4 minute read
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GEVEVA (14 July 2021) – The UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar called for emergency international engagement to address a “perfect storm” of factors that are fuelling the deepening COVID-19 crisis in Myanmar.

“An explosion of COVID cases, including the Delta variant, the collapse of Myanmar’s health care system, and the deep mistrust of the people of Myanmar of anything connected to the military junta, are a perfect storm of factors that could cause a significant loss of life in Myanmar without emergency assistance by the international community,” Tom Andrews said.

“The highest attainable standard of health is one of the fundamental rights of every human being and that right is being denied to most within Myanmar. The international community must act.”

Andrews reiterated his call made at the Human Rights Council in Geneva on 7 July for an “Emergency Coalition for the People of Myanmar” to, among other things, provide emergency humanitarian aid to the country.

“The junta lacks the resources, the capabilities, and the legitimacy to bring this crisis under control,” he said. “The crisis in Myanmar is particularly lethal because of the pervasive mistrust of the military junta.

“The international community must help facilitate a non-junta, non-political body to coordinate a COVID response initiative that includes a vaccination programme that the people of Myanmar will trust.

“Member states, international organisations, regional bodies and non-government organisations that are willing and able to provide much needed aid must do so before untold numbers perish and Myanmar becomes a super spreader of this deadly virus.

“The junta must also account for the $350 million in COVID aid the International Monetary Fund provided the people of Myanmar just days prior to the coup d’état.”

Andrews highlighted the acute need for greater amounts of life saving aid to treat COVID. “There is a major lack of capacity including oxygen support to treat those suffering from the virus,” he said. “People are dying because of a shortage of medical resources and trust.”

Andrews expressed particular concern for vulnerable populations, including those held in Myanmar’s overcrowded prisons.

“Myanmar’s prison population, including the thousands of political prisoners who have been arbitrarily detained since the coup, are in grave danger. Prisoners, particularly those with underlying conditions could see their detention become a death sentence,” he warned.

“Myanmar’s neighbours are well placed to help and have a self-interest to do so, but there is no time to waste. Those with influence on junta leaders must immediately seek to secure their cooperation. The UN and others in the international community are positioned to provide immediate assistance to confront this rapidly deteriorating crisis.”


Mr. Thomas Andrews (United States of America) is the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar. A former member of the US Congress from Maine, Mr. Andrews is a Robina Senior Human Rights Fellow at Yale Law School and an Associate of Harvard University’s Asia Center. He has worked with the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs and parliamentarians, NGOs and political parties in Cambodia, Indonesia, Algeria, Croatia, Serbia, Ukraine and Yemen. He has been a consultant for the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma and the Euro-Burma Network and has run advocacy NGOs including Win Without War and United to End Genocide.

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Comprising the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, Special Procedures is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

UN Human Rights, country page – Myanmar

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