A Red Cross to Bear

April 5th, 2024  •  Author:   Progressive Voice  •  7 minute read
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“providing humanitarian aid through MRCS is showing an indifference to the suffering of the people because MRCS is working for [the junta] that deliberately targets [Myanmar’s] people.”

Karen National Union (KNU)

On 25 March 2024, the Thai Red Cross Society handed over 4,000 small relief bags to the Myanmar Red Cross Society (MRCS) in the border town of Mae Sot, Thailand. This is part of an initiative of Thailand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs which aims to provide aid to internally displaced persons (IDPs) affected by conflict in Myanmar. The aid, intended for 20,000 of the approximately 750,000 people displaced in Karen State, was delivered to IDPs in three areas: Paingkyon, Nabu, and Tha Ma Nya (Do Yin) Townships in Karen State. Yet any initiative that partners with the Myanmar military junta and its auxiliary, the Myanmar Red Cross Society (MRCS)—which is part of the junta’s security apparatus—will not only be weaponized by the junta to further its political aims, but will also pose increased risks for the human security of those IDPs who are amongst the most vulnerable populations targeted by the junta.

Particularly problematic in this initiative is the MRCS as the implementing agency in Myanmar. Since 1996, the MRCS has been incorporated into the Myanmar military’s structure, and current members of the MRCS’s Executive Committee are former military personnel. MRCS members have previously been used as military and police informants, carrying out household checks for overnight guests and conducting surveillance. The MRCS’s continued closeness with the military was evident just a few days after the aid handoff, with the MRCS attending the Armed Forces Day parade in Naypyidaw on 27 March. For several years, the MRCS did not attend the event, with its former Chair, Dr. Tha Hla Shwe, stating in 2015 that it should stick to humanitarian work.

But since the attempted coup, the MRCS has been increasingly weaponized by the military junta. In 2021, over 400 Myanmar civil society organizations condemned the MCRS’s attendance at that year’s Armed Forces Day parade, stating that the action led to “a serious loss of confidence among Myanmar civil society and the public at large.” In March 2022, a leaked directive from the military junta outlined plans for MRCS members to be part of a “public security force” that will “deal with terrorist actions”—another tactic of the junta’s terror campaign against the population of Myanmar. Thus, despite local stakeholders welcoming the aid itself, the initiative’s close cooperation with the very entity that has created the humanitarian crisis and weaponized aid is dangerous, as it poses further risks to the most vulnerable populations.

Moreover, there are many other areas in more dire need of humanitarian assistance that the junta and its auxiliary, the MRCS, cannot access as the junta simply does not have control. These are areas where the junta has unleashed airstrikes, heavy artillery attacks, and scorched earth policies in its futile attempts to make local populations submit to its control. For example, after the Karen National Liberation Army and its Mon allies seized Kawbein Police Station on the border of Karen and Mon States on 26 March, the junta retaliated with a barrage of shelling from its warships on the adjacent river, setting the village ablaze. Around one third of the houses in the village were destroyed, and fire engines were blocked from entering the village. Even as Thailand’s aid was being delivered, the junta threatened and intimidated the people, flying a fighter jet over the IDP site in Paingkyon Township, one of the three areas receiving aid, as highlighted by the Karen National Union (KNU).

Besides, utilizing an auxiliary of the military junta—which, as should not be forgotten, created this crisis and is weaponizing humanitarian aid—contravenes international humanitarian law (IHL) because it deprives of aid the populations most in need, while serving the junta’s political and military interests. Furthermore, it contradicts the ‘do no harm’ principle and risks breaching IHL by providing sensitive information for the junta’s tactical advantage, putting displaced communities at increased risk of junta attacks. As the KNU pointed out in their position statement regarding the aid initiative, “providing humanitarian aid through MRCS is showing an indifference to the suffering of the people because MRCS is working for [the junta] that deliberately targets [Myanmar’s] people.”

Given that delivering aid through junta auxiliaries puts lives in danger and allows the junta to continue weaponizing aid, there is an urgent need for an alternative way of delivering humanitarian assistance. Such alternatives exist in the networks of local, cross-border community-based organizations that have been delivering aid to conflict-affected displaced communities for decades. These local organizations have the access, networks, capacity, and, most importantly, trust of the affected communities to deliver life-saving assistance that the junta, its auxiliaries, and international aid organizations that rely on the junta simply do not.

It is vital, therefore, that the international community directly supports locally led humanitarian aid initiatives by frontline humanitarian responders, including those who partner with stakeholders that govern and administer areas where IDPs are taking refuge. These include ethnic resistance organizations, the National Unity Government, ethnic interim governance bodies, and people’s administration entities, as well as civil society groups and frontline responders. Not only is this politically viable and technically feasible to ensure that aid reaches as many IDPs as possible, but it is also morally and ethically imperative not to partner with the very actor that is creating Myanmar’s humanitarian catastrophe in the first place.


[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

Reports on Myanmar Military’s Anti-Rohingya hate Speech Campaign and Myanmar Authorities’ Failure to Investigate and Punish Sexual Violence Committed Against Rohingya

By Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar

IIMM ၏ စိစစ်သုံးသပ်ချက် အစီရင်ခံစာများ ထုတ်ပြန်ခြင်း

By Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar

India Air Force And Public Sector Undertakings Are Supplying Military Equipment To War Criminals in Myanmar

By Justice for Myanmar

KNU Statement Regarding the Royal Thai Government’s Humanitarian Aid Delivery

By Karen National Union

Special Envoy of ASEAN Chair on Myanmar welcomes successful pilot project of humanitarian initiative between Thailand and Myanmar during his meeting with Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs of Thailand

By Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of Thailand

Humanitarian assistance from Thailand to the people of Myanmar distributed at three pilot areas in Kayin State

By Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of Thailand

Statement of the New Mon State Party (Anti-military Dictatorship) on the Burning of Dhammasa Village in Kyaikmaraw Township Due to Artillery Shelling by the Terrorist State Administration Council

By New Mon State Party (Anti-military Dictatorship)

Second Forum on Defection and Defiance Movement: Addressing Challenges and Forging Strategic Solutions

By People’s Goal

Formation of Convening Committee for the Emergence of a Rohingya Consultative Council

By Rohingya Consultative Council

Statement: No. (7/2024)

By United League of Arakan (Arakan Army)



Explosive Violence in February 2024

By Action on Armed Violence

Efforts to Investigate and Punish Sexual and Gender-Based Crimes Committed against Rohingya: Evidence Analysis

By Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar

Anti-Rohingya Hate Speech on Facebook: Content and Network Analysis

By Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar

Myanmar Emergency Update (as of 4 March 2024)

By UN High Commissioner for Refugees

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.”