UN human rights office: Myanmar’s humanitarian crisis has reached ‘alarming levels’

Myanmar’s human rights situation has deteriorated to “alarming levels,” according to a report published by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) on Friday. The report states that, because Myanmar’s junta has prioritized their own needs over those of the people, “[u]rgent and concrete steps are needed to ensure essential needs of all people are met, including food and healthcare, and to respect, protect and fulfil peoples’ fundamental rights.”

Since the February 2021 military coup, the junta has opposed humanitarian workers, often restricting their access, and impacting their ability to deliver aid. The report found that these military actions had a “a profound negative impact on Myanmar’s health system.” Compounding the issue, Cyclone Mocha, which struck the region in May, left an estimated 1.6 million civilians in, “dire need of assistance.” The UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator Ramanathan Balakrishnan described the access denial as “unfathomable” and warned of an increase in food insecurity and water-borne diseases as a result.

The report also highlighted that the restrictions on humanitarian assistance could amount to a breach of international law. Under Rule 55 of the International Committee of the Red Cross’s Customary International Humanitarian Law Database, “[P]arties to a conflict must subject to their right of control, allow and facilitate the unimpeded passage of impartial humanitarian relief.”  Instead, the OHCHR found that the junta has taken actions to “control and limit life-saving humanitarian assistance/relief.” On top of that, the junta has directly attacked the healthcare system through documented destruction of medical supplies, including burning ambulances, hospitals and arresting patients seeking medical care.

As a result of this, the report documents an estimated 1.5 million people who have been internally displaced, and approximately 60,000 civilian structures which have reportedly been burnt or destroyed. The report claims that, since February 2021, at least 3,452 people have died at the hands of the military and its affiliates, 21,807 individuals have been arrested, 5,839 were convicted without any respect for the rule of law, and 154 were sentenced to death.

This report comes in the wake of recent calls by UN expert Tom Andrews for a new strategy and Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) action to end the crisis in Myanmar.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk is expected to present the report to the Human Rights Council next week.