According to campaign group Progressive Voice the international community risks allowing the junta to weaponise aid by putting all aid through the junta and ignoring the National Unity Government and other anti-junta forces, despite the atrocities committed by the junta.
The situation on the ground for the people of southern Shan State has rapidly deteriorated in the past few weeks as the military junta ramps up their assaults and creates mass displacement.
Similarly, those on the other side of the Irrawaddy River in Sagaing Region are facing a non-stop barrage of arson attacks by the junta.
Meanwhile, the failure of the international community, particularly ASEAN and the UN Security Council, to reckon with the military junta, is costing lives and exacerbating human suffering in Myanmar.
According to Progressive Voice in Sagaing Region, towns and villages buttressing the Irrawaddy River have been deliberately burned to the ground and shelled, including the shelling of a Buddhist monastery and demolishing a mosque, as the junta continues its scorched earth campaign.
Nearly 6,300 houses have been burned in the past two months by the military junta in 19 townships in Sagaing Region alone. A time-worn tactic of the junta’s physiological warfare is to burn homes, livestock, crops, places of worship and to massacre civilians and burn their remains.
Tayawgyin Village, Yinmabin Township was set alight by the junta on 15 and 24 May, with local people fleeing for their lives. A villager from Tayawgyin said “They set fire to 25 houses the first time. Another 15 homes were set on fire yesterday. We cannot understand why they did that. It is just plain cruelty to the people.”
Similarly, Tin Maw village, Kanbalu Township was burned on 17 May, with 500 baskets of paddy burned and villagers forced to flee and pitch makeshift tents in the nearby forest. One member of the local PDF group explained to Radio Free Asia that the junta burns villages “…when they could not fight the PDFs, they would burn any house they came across.”
Meanwhile, the junta has expanded their clearance operations and airstrikes in southern Shan State since mid-May.
Over 20,000 have been displaced from offensives in Moebye and Pekhon Townships. It is now the start of the rainy season when road access is treacherous and temporary shelters are unable to withstand the elements.
In an IDP camp in Pekhon, southern Shan State, 700 IDPs fled the junta’s attacks in their village for the deep cover of the jungle but are struggling with limited supplies and medicine, unstable shelters and no vehicle access to the camp. All have had to abandon their homes, crops and livelihoods after the junta’s shelling and airstrikes.
Overwhelmingly, more than 200,000 people are now displaced in Karenni State and the Karenni/southern Shan State border area.
In response to the continued and rapidly worsening humanitarian crisis, ASEAN’s intergovernmental disaster management wing (the AHA Centre) and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA) are preparing to conduct needs assessments and delivery programs for humanitarian aid – an outcome of the 6 May closed-door Consultative Meeting on the ASEAN Humanitarian Assistance to Myanmar.
Crucially, this plan was decided and is proceeding with the exclusion of Myanmar’s key stakeholders – the National Unity Government (NUG), ethnic revolutionary organizations and local humanitarian and civil society organizations.
Under this plan and by the structure of the AHA Centre, it is solely partnering with the junta’s Task Force, who has the ultimate decision on where aid is distributed and who can facilitate distribution.
Exasperatingly, the plan completely ignores the fact that the military junta is the root cause of this crisis and continues to commit atrocities against the people for which the aid is intended for.
In a statement, the NUG and three long standing ethnic armed revolutionary organisations from Karen, Karenni and Chin States resoundingly objected to the plan for failing to conduct consultations with essential local stakeholders, and allowing for a plan that would enable the junta to weaponize aid and whitewash its atrocities.
In a press release supporting the above statement, the Chin Human Rights Organization (CHRO), Karenni Civil Society Network (KCSN), Karen Peace Support Network (KPSN), Progressive Voice and ALTSEAN-Burma called on UN OCHA and the AHA Centre to cease partnering with the junta and pause their assessment immediately, or risk being complicit in the military junta’s weaponization of aid and atrocity crimes.
The groups stressed the need to consult and work with local organizations, with Naw Wahkushee representing KPSN remarking that “To distribute aid without inclusion of local stakeholders in decision making and implementation, undermines the efficacy of aid provision and denies agency to local actors – representing a continued colonization of aid in Myanmar.”
Despite decades and decades of cycles of conflict and displacement, particularly in ethnic regions resulting from the aggression and militarization by the Myanmar military, international humanitarian organizations and UN actors have not shifted from partnering with the junta, even when this results in the junta weaponizing aid for their own strategic political and military gain.
These organizations continue to apply the same model of humanitarian aid distribution and engagement in Myanmar, even though they are aware they are contributing to the harm.
No more was this evident than during the Rohingya genocide, where an independent UN-mandated Rosenthal report determined the UN’s engagement in Myanmar leading up to and during the Rohingya genocide, was a “systemic failure”, “dysfunctional” and that UN actors were silent about ongoing atrocities being committed against the Rohingya, so as not to threaten their access to the government and Rakhine State.
These systemic failures remain unresolved by the UN, and in the current humanitarian crisis is causing irreparable harm to people on the ground.
While people are fighting for their lives on the ground in Myanmar, the UN Security Council is faltering and unable to reach a consensus on Myanmar, failing to discharge their duty to uphold global peace and security.
Russia and China blocked the issuing of a statement expressing concern about violence, the serious humanitarian situation and the limited progress on brokering peace through ASEAN’s Five-Point Consensus. Civil society groups have called on ASEAN to move beyond the Five-Point Consensus, which after over a year has failed to yield results and is no longer relevant in the current context in Myanmar.
Without addressing the root cause of the political crisis in Myanmar, the humanitarian crisis will only continue to worsen.
Progressive Voice believes that the international community’s failure to holistically address both the humanitarian and political crisis, through a coordinated response to hold the junta – the main perpetrator of suffering – to account under international law, is only serving to protract the humanitarian crisis.
Increased targeted sanctions on the junta’s leadership, business and crony allies must be applied, as well as a global arms embargo and cutting off access to jet fuel.
Progressive Voice says that the people of Myanmar, their representatives and trusted local humanitarian organizations must be consulted and included in decision making and implementation – channeling the agency of local people over the distribution of aid within their communities.
The message is very simple: UN OCHA and AHA Center must refrain from becoming complicit in the junta’s violations of international law, instead of relying on outdated notions of neutrality and impartiality, they must focus on human rights protection, localization of aid, and ensuring ‘do no harm’ as the guiding principles of engagement in Myanmar.