International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) Regional Director for the Asia Pacific Christine Cipolla visited Myanmar last week for meetings with State Administration Council ministries, including the Ministry of Defence, the Ministry of Home Affairs, and the Ministry of Health. The meetings followed up on key humanitarian concerns and requests expressed by ICRC President Peter Maurer during his visit to Myanmar in June 2021.
During the meetings in Nay Pyi Taw from June 15 to 18, the Regional Director discussed ICRC’s humanitarian response and expressed deep concern about worsening armed conflicts and other situations of violence in states and regions across the country, as well as the escalating toll on civilians.
At times when working conditions for the ICRC are increasingly challenging and access to hundreds of thousands of people in need of urgent help remains very limited, the Regional Director called for the facilitation of humanitarian responses in Chin, Kayah and Kayin States, as well as in Magway or Sagaing regions, including in areas where ethnic armed organizations are present. Regarding Rakhine State, she also emphasized that after more than eighteen months without major clashes and while COVID-19 preventive measures are being progressively lifted, restrictions over humanitarian access that have been in place since early 2019 should be re-assessed.
“Many communities displaced by violence are in dire need of basic necessities – such as food, water and shelter – and have no access to healthcare and other essential services. Parties to the conflict must do their utmost to facilitate the rapid and unimpeded passage of neutral and impartial humanitarian relief,” the Regional Director said. “I reiterated ICRC’s offer to do more for those people most in need in both old and new areas of conflict, as ICRC is one of the few organizations able to work in today’s very difficult security environment and who enjoys the trust of all sides”.
During her visit, the Regional Director also called for the earliest possible resumption of ICRC and family visits in prisons, both suspended by Myanmar authorities in March 2020, following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic worldwide.
“Capitalising on the recent improvement of the COVID-19 situation and at a time of growing concerns and distress of families of detainees, I asked for the gradual resumption of our humanitarian visits and underlined the importance of allowing families to be in contact with their loved ones in prison as soon as possible,” the Regional Director said.
The ICRC regrets that no agreement on these two points was found yet with the detaining authorities but remains determined to continue its action in support of people detained and their families.
In the framework of ICRC’s bilateral and confidential dialogue with all parties to the conflicts, the Regional Director also shared the ICRC’s view on issues pertaining to respect of International Humanitarian Law and other applicable standards on the use of force by armed and security forces.
Finally, the ICRC Regional Director met with the leadership of the Myanmar Red Cross Society (MRCS) to discuss further cooperation and coordination at a time of growing humanitarian needs. She emphasized the importance of building on the complementarity of the ICRC and the MRCS respective mandates, expertise and capabilities to assist more people, particularly in hard to reach areas. In the current polarized environment, both organizations reiterated their commitment to uphold principled humanitarian action and to act in line with the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement’s Fundamental Principles of impartiality, neutrality and independence.