People-led Aid Cannot Wait

June 14th, 2024  •  Author:   Progressive Voice  •  7 minute read
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“Some bodies had no heads, some had no limbs. Some were disfigured. There were large piles of human flesh.”

The Myanmar military junta’s atrocities know no bounds, as the ever-desperate junta incurs severe losses across the country and unleashes horrific attacks on civilians in response. In the span of 10 days in Rakhine State, the junta committed two brutal massacres of ethnic Rakhine civilians, killing more than 100 people. In Sagaing Region, the junta bombed a wedding ceremony and five days later, a monastery, killing at least 36 people in total.

On 29 May, at least 200 junta troops raided Byine Phyu Village in Sittwe Township, Rakhine State. According to eyewitnesses, the junta troops ordered civilians out of their homes, gathered them near the central market, and sorted the men from the women and children—blindfolding the men and forcing them to remove their shirts. Then, the junta troops brutally tortured and murdered at least 76 men, with knives, gunfire, and beatings, and then incinerated most of the bodies. The junta also abducted hundreds of the surviving men, driving them away in military trucks.

For the two days following the massacre, junta troops and then police held the women and children captive, denying them food and water, as well as raping and abducting women and girls. At least five girls or young women are still missing. On 31 May, police forced the women, children, and other remaining villagers to leave Byine Phyu. Those civilians left behind a village in ruin—over 80 homes and a monastery burnt down by junta troops, and homes ransacked for valuables.

Soon after, on 4 June, the junta began launching an all-out attack on Singaung Village in Thandwe Township, Rakhine State, forcing villagers to flee for their lives. Through ground, air, and naval forces, the junta pummeled Singaung with airstrikes and shelling for multiple days, killing dozens. In tandem, the junta has also been forcing civilians from several rural villages to move to Sittwe Town, Rakhine State’s capital, threatening Byine Phyu-like massacres if they refuse, as the junta prepares to use ethnic Rakhine villagers as human shields to defend its base in Sittwe.

The junta’s abhorrent attacks on the civilians of Byine Phyu and Singaung were in clear retaliation for its severe losses to the Arakan Army (AA). In Byine Phyu, junta troops demanded civilians reveal AA supporters’ whereabouts, and in Singaung, villagers were accused of having connections to AA. In blatant violation of international humanitarian law, the junta is committing these mass killings of civilians as a form of collective punishment.

The same week in Sagaing Region, the junta bombed a wedding ceremony on 3 June in Mataw Village, Mingin Township, just as the newlyweds were posing for photos. This junta airstrike killed more than two dozen people, including at least six children, and injured dozens more. Most attendees were locals, who customarily join all village social events. Meanwhile, the junta had blocked local roads, preventing any victims from being taken to hospitals. The only means of medical response was basic first aid from local medics. Describing the gruesome aftermath, one villager told The Irrawaddy, “Some bodies had no heads, some had no limbs. Some were disfigured. There were large piles of human flesh.” Afterwards, the junta fired artillery shots into the village, forcing 2,000 people from six nearby villages to flee.

Five days later, also in Sagaing Region, the junta bombed a monastery in Let Pan Tan Village, also known as Thabyay Thar, in Sagaing Township. With this airstrike, the junta killed more than a dozen people, including at least two Buddhist monks, and injured more than 20 others. One eyewitness told Radio Free Asia, “There are quite a lot of people who got severely hurt and had their arms or legs severed…There isn’t enough medicine for everyone.” As in Rakhine State, the junta is violently targeting civilians as collective punishment against the people’s democratic resistance movement, of which Sagaing Region is a well-known stronghold.

With entire communities displaced and whole villages in ruin, the humanitarian needs of Myanmar’s civilians have never been greater as the junta continues its war of terror against the people with complete impunity. Across the country, the junta systematically impedes the delivery of aid by blocking roads and waterways, targeting aid workers, and denying aid agencies “access” to areas where the junta itself has no control. It is abundantly clear that aid through the junta cannot reach vulnerable, displaced communities in the direst need.

The international community must immediately end all partnerships with the junta and shift its aid approach to directly support locally led initiatives through forming equal and meaningful partnerships with trusted local frontline humanitarian responders, including civil society organizations, community-based organizations, and their partners. Delivering aid to the most vulnerable populations in Sagaing Region and other parts of central and upper Myanmar is possible through these locally led initiatives.

Coordinated and concerted global action is also urgently needed to stop the Myanmar military’s heinous international crimes. Without further delay, the UN Security Council must adopt a binding resolution under Chapter VII of the UN Charter that includes targeted economic sanctions against the junta and a comprehensive arms and aviation fuel embargo. The resolution must also refer the crisis in Myanmar to the International Criminal Court or establish a special criminal tribunal on Myanmar. Ultimately, the junta’s mass atrocity crimes will not end unless and until the perpetrators are held accountable under international law.

[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.

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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.”