UN’s Chronic Failures Must End

September 25th, 2023  •  Author:   Progressive Voice  •  7 minute read
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There is also nothing neutral about UN agencies working with perpetrators of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity – committed across decades – for the sake of “gaining access”.

While the people of Myanmar are bravely resisting the military junta’s brutality, UN agencies are lending legitimacy and support to the junta, which emboldens it to continue atrocities against the people of Myanmar. More than 31 months into the failed coup, the UN continues to focus on gaining approval or “access” to those displaced by the military’s onslaught of violence through the very perpetrators that are causing the humanitarian catastrophe. This approach, often masked in defense of the humanitarian principle of neutrality, not only undermines the work of frontline humanitarians and their incredibly brave work, but is a failed approach that does not translate into concrete support for those displaced by the junta’s atrocities.

A recently leaked agreement indicates that the UN International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), which claims to advocate “for the protection of children’s rights,” has co-signed two undisclosed projects with the military junta, allocating more than USD 3 million for junta-controlled humanitarian aid. At this point, the UN should not need any reminder that the junta is the very source of violence against the whole nation. To partner with the junta in such a way, the UN not only participates in the junta’s propaganda parade to claim legitimacy, but also worsens its complicity in the junta’s war crimes and crimes against humanity. One needs to ask: why is UNICEF – in addition to the long list of UN agencies – signing agreements with the junta as the “Government of Myanmar” when no UN resolutions ever recognized it as such?

The level of the UN’s unethical endorsement of the military junta goes to the top. The latest UN parade in Naypyidaw involves Head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), Martin Griffiths, being leveraged as propaganda by the junta in its attempt to gain international recognition and legitimacy. His visit severely lacked substantive achievements to guarantee life-saving humanitarian aid reaching the mouths of those who need it. This came after a growing list of UN agencies signing multiple memoranda of understanding, taking up the same immoral and extremely harmful position, including the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the UN International Organization for Migration (IOM).

The secret deal of UNICEF – whose reputation was severely damaged among Myanmar people for paying monthly rental of USD 87,000 for an office owned by the family of a former military official – came despite the well-documented report of the junta’s “intentional obstruction or denial of humanitarian assistance” which constitute war crimes. UN humanitarian agencies claim to apply a neutral, non-political approach in Myanmar’s current multidimensional crisis, but the reality is far from it. There is nothing neutral about aid not reaching those in direst need. There is also nothing neutral about UN agencies working with perpetrators of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity – committed across decades – for the sake of “gaining access”. By partnering with and being used as propaganda by the military junta, these UN agencies are actively taking sides with the perpetrator. The incoherent leadership and harmful strategy at the top UN level, as suggested in the Rosenthal report following the Rohingya genocide, are fueling this dangerous approach.

The UN collaboration with the illegal and brutal junta does not only represent an unethical issue, but it further escalates the crisis on the ground. If aid is channeled through the junta, it will not reach displaced communities and the most vulnerable as the junta lacks the authority to grant access to these areas. This is because people have been sheltering from the junta’s violence in self-administered areas of the democratic resistance movement and receiving emergency assistance from local humanitarian frontline responders. On the other hand, the much-needed aid that goes through any sort of partnership with the illegal junta will inevitably be blocked, confiscated, manipulated and weaponized for its political and tactical advantage. One of the latest examples of the junta’s weaponization of humanitarian aid was its malicious restriction of aid to affected communities in Rakhine State and nearby areas in the aftermath of Cyclone Mocha.

As recently pointed out in a joint statement regarding the Head of OCHA’s visit to Myanmar, signed by 514 Myanmar, regional and international organizations, UN agencies “can no longer afford to rehash failed models of humanitarianism, and thus tacitly giving credence and status to the illegal military junta.” Instead of partnering with the murderous junta, the root cause of the immense human suffering across the country, UN agencies – as well as other humanitarian organizations and donors – must engage with the National Unity Government (NUG), the legitimate government of Myanmar, Ethnic Resistance Organizations, civil society organizations, ethnic service providers, and grassroots frontline humanitarian responders to effectively deliver aid to the most vulnerable populations in need.

These are the actors who have proven records of effective aid delivery based on their knowledge, experience and, most importantly, the trust of affected communities. Only by supporting locally led humanitarian resistance, will UNICEF and other UN humanitarian agencies be able to undertake effective missions, ensuring due diligence and do no harm principle towards displaced communities. “How many children have to die before world leaders take action?” asked a survivor of the Pa Zi Gyi massacre. For how long will UN agencies keep partnering with the murderous junta, openly or not, before deciding to side with the people of Myanmar? It is time for all UN agencies to learn this hard lesson, take a moral and ethical approach across the UN’s architecture, and drastically change their approach – people’s lives depend on it.


[1] One year following the 1988 pro-democracy uprising, the former military junta changed the country’s name from Burma to Myanmar overnight. Progressive Voice uses the term ‘Myanmar’ in acknowledgement that most people of the country use this term. However, the deception of inclusiveness and the historical process of coercion by the former State Peace and Development Council military regime into usage of ‘Myanmar’ rather than ‘Burma’ without the consent of the people is recognized and not forgotten. Thus, under certain circumstances, ‘Burma’ is used.

Resources from the past week


Statements and Press Releases

UK aid cuts to Rohingya now at 85%

By Burma Campaign UK

Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK welcomes decision of France to join ICJ case

By Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK

Advocates Challenge MTI Energy’s Human Rights Record in Myanmar

By EarthRights International

MTI Energy ၏ မြန်မာနိုင်ငံရှိ လူ့အခွင့်အရေးမှတ်တမ်းများကို Advocates များမှ စိန်ခေါ်ခြင်း

By EarthRights International

U.S.: Increase Efforts to End Junta Atrocities in Myanmar, Ensure Accountability

By Fortify Rights

Statement on International Day to Protect Education from Attack

By Karen Human Rights Group

Karen Women’s Organisation Condemns Burmese Military’s Continued Airstrikes and Indiscriminate Shelling of Civilians in Kawthoolei, Southeast Burma

By Karen Women’s Organisation

Statement to the Human Rights Council by Mr. Nicholas Koumjian, Head of the Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar, at the 54th Regular Session of the Human Rights Council

By Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar

Joint Statement Bangladesh – France : Partnership for Peace, Prosperity and People

By President Office of France



Coup Watch August 2023: Junta Again Denies Genocide on 6-year Anniversary

By ALTSEAN-Burma, Asia Democracy Network, Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development, Burma Human Rights Network, Initiatives for International Dialogue, International Federation for Human Rights, Progressive Voice, US Campaign for Burma and Women’s Peace Network

Specific Instance Request to the National Contact Points of Canada and the United Kingdom under the Specific Instance Procedure of the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises

By Earthrights International

Report of the Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar

By Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar

Summary of SAC human rights violations in Karenni State and Pekhon Township (Aug 28- Sep 10, 2023)

By Karenni Civil Society Network

Progressive Voice is a participatory, rights-based policy research and advocacy organization that was born out of Burma Partnership. Burma Partnership officially ended its work on October 10, 2016 transitioning to a rights-based policy research and advocacy organization called Progressive Voice. For further information, please see our press release “Burma Partnership Celebrates Continuing Regional Solidarity for Burma and Embraces the Work Ahead for Progressive Voice.”