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At Least 252 Reported Attacks and Threats to Health Care in Myanmar During Six Months of Military’s Crackdown

August 10th, 2021  •  Author:   Physicians for Human Rights  •  5 minute read
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At least 252 attacks and threats against health workers, facilities, and transports have been perpetrated in Myanmar from February 1 to July 31, 2021, according to an analysis based on open-source reports conducted by Insecurity Insight, Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), and Johns Hopkins University Center for Public Health and Human Rights (CPHHR).

The country’s armed forces and police reportedly committed the vast majority of attacks amid ongoing protests against the military coup. In addition to the military’s attacks on civilians and demonstrators, health workers have been targeted for providing medical care to injured civilians and other health workers have been attacked for their participation in the Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM), which is protesting the military takeover. Violence against health care is increasingly derailing Myanmar’s COVID-19 response and vaccine roll-out, the research brief finds.

Within the 252 total incidents that took place across Myanmar during the first six months of the military’s coup and crackdown (February 1 to July 31, 2021), Insecurity Insight, PHR, and CPHHR highlight reports of:

  • 190 health workers arrested
  • 37 health workers injured
  • 25 health workers killed
  • Hospitals raided at least 86 times
  • Hospitals occupied at least 55 times
  • 17 incidents impacting COVID-19 response measures

The incidents referred to are based on the dataset 01 February – 31 July 2021 Violence Against Health Care in Myanmar Data, which is available on the Humanitarian Data Exchange (HDX).

For the purposes of this research brief, one incident can comprise multiple types of violence or threats such as those above. For example, in one reported incident in Kyauk Kone township in Yangon city on February 27, 20 health workers were arrested and four were injured. The brief does not include incidents of violence against patients.

While the vast majority of attacks and threats against health care have been perpetrated by Myanmar’s armed forces, non-state actors also reportedly committed violence against health care in May and June. Of the 252 total incidents, 234 are attributed to Myanmar’s armed forces (State Administrative Council/SAC or the Tatmadaw) and 15 to non-state actors. The increase in attacks by non-state actors was driven in part by escalating conflict between the military and local ethnic militias in recent months, particularly in the Chin and Kachin states.

The research brief highlights reports that staff from the World Health Organization , non-governmental organizations (NGO), and international non-governmental organizations  have been threatened and forced to return to work by the military council. Most of them were either working from home or had stopped working due to the current security situation. There are reports that the SAC is trying to replace NGO workers believed to be close to the CDM with government appointees.

“Myanmar’s COVID-19 response is on life support – yet another consequence of the military’s unconscionable violence against health workers and facilities,” said Jennifer Leigh, an epidemiologist serving as PHR’s Myanmar researcher. “Six months into the coup, the military’s war on medics rages on. By brutalizing medical professionals during a pandemic, Myanmar’s junta is escalating its COVID-19 catastrophe and violating long-standing international principles of protection of health care, including the obligations of health professionals to care for the sick and wounded without interference.”

The research brief highlights a range of violence that has marred the country’s COVID-19 response. For example, personal protective equipment and oxygen supplies were confiscated for exclusive use by the military in Chin, Kayin, and Yangon. Throughout July, the military reportedly assaulted four civilians for transporting an oxygen tank in Mandalay, arrested three civilians retrieving oxygen and nine volunteers assisting with fills, and killed one civilian in search of oxygen. In one incident on July 13, 2021, security forces opened fire on crowds of civilians queuing in line for oxygen cylinders in Yangon.

COVID-19 centers have been raided and, at least two, closed down. A COVID-19 facility in Mandalay was raided and its medical equipment seized for alleged COVID-19 violations. Two COVID-19 treatment centers in Sagaing were destroyed by military shelling.

“Tragically, Myanmar has endured more reported attacks and threats against health care in 2021 than any country on Earth,” said Christina Wille, director of Insecurity Insight. “Myanmar’s surging COVID-19 crisis increasingly threatens other countries in the region and the global community. We call on all United Nations (UN) Member States to act to ensure the full implementation of Security Council Resolution 2286 and adopt measures to enhance the protection of and access to health care in situations of armed conflict. All people in Myanmar should benefit from unhindered delivery and distribution of COVID-19 vaccinations, medication, and supplies.”

Insecurity Insight, PHR, and CPHHR used an open-source methodology to compile incidents noted in local, national, and international news outlets, online databases, and social media reports. The incidents reported are neither a complete nor a representative list of all incidents. Most incidents have not undergone verification by Insecurity Insight, PHR, and CPHHR. Data collection is ongoing and data may change as more information is made available. However, the data offers a snapshot of how Myanmar’s military is persecuting health workers and targeting facilities amid its broader crackdown on dissent.

The research brief makes several recommendations to UN Member States, urging the international community to ensure the full implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 2286, adopted May 2016, which strongly condemns attacks on medical personnel in conflict situations.

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