UN Reports ‘Massive’ Humanitarian Crisis in Burma, Military’s Restriction to Aid Access

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UN says Burma’s military rulers have been instilling a climate of fear to subjugate civilians.

The United Nations released a report on June 30 revealing a “massive” humanitarian crisis in Burma, also known as Myanmar, where more than 17.6 million people need humanitarian aid.

The report, published by the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), states that the military has been suppressing civil society with “all means at their disposal” and depriving civilians of humanitarian aid since the military coup in February 2021.

According to the report, the junta has established “an all-encompassing system of control” on civilians, and that urgent steps are needed to protect the fundamental rights of the people.

“In the context of armed conflicts, intentional obstruction or denial of humanitarian assistance may further constitute war crimes such as willful killing, torture and other degrading treatment, starvation, and collective punishment,” it stated.

The military regime ousted an elected civilian government led by Aung San Suu Kyi on Feb. 1, 2021, sparking protests and clashes between the army and ethnic minority insurgents in Burma.

At least 3,452 people have died at the hands of the military and its affiliates as of April this year, and over 1.5 million people were internally displaced, according to the report. About 21,807 people were arrested, of which 154 face death sentences.

‘Climate of Fear’

James Rodehaver, chief of OHCHR’s Burma team, said the junta had created a “climate of fear” to subjugate civilians by using heavy weaponry on civilian areas, launching airstrikes, torching villages, and using landmines to prevent those forced to flee from returning home.

In this photo, provided by the Karenni Nationalities Defense Force (KNDF), smoke and flames billow from vehicles in Hpruso township, Kayah state, Myanmar, on Dec. 24, 2021. (KNDF via AP)

“Another thing that they have done regularly has been to burn food stores, crops, and seed stores, to destroy medical facilities, and to target medical workers,” Rodehaver said in a statement.

Tom Andrews, the United Nations special rapporteur on Burma, revealed in a May report that the junta procured weapons and equipment from companies operating in Russia, China, Singapore, Thailand, and India.

“Russia supplied the Yak-130 aircraft that dropped the bombs and has supplied Mi-35 helicopters that were used to gun down civilians,” the report states.

These arms transfers were made with “actual knowledge of the Myanmar military’s unlawful activity,” given that they occurred amid the widely reported bombing of civilian populations in Burma, the report states.

Attacks Against Aid Workers

Meanwhile, OHCHR spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani said that aid workers are consistently exposed to risks of arrest, harassment, or even death. Ambulances and medical facilities were also attacked.

The OHCHR estimated that between 13 to 40 aid providers had been killed in military attacks in Burma.

This photo taken on Feb. 14, 2022, shows Burmese refugee children who fled a surge in violence as the military cracks down on rebel groups, looking on at a camp in Nawphewlawl near the Burma-Thailand border in Kayin state. (STR/AFP via Getty Images)

In November 2021, the military raided a clinic in Kayah State, arresting four doctors, 13 nurses, and one volunteer while also confiscating medical supplies and food rations.

“The military has operated as if those providing aid are helping those opposed to their rule, rather than respecting their need for protection and facilitating their access and assistance to the civilian population in a time of crisis,” Shamdasani said.

The report also claims that the military would strictly restrict and control the ability of humanitarian workers to distribute aid after allowing them to enter the country.

“Delays and denial of visas have become a tool for the military to decide the time, locations, and functions of those entering the country,” the report reads.

“Once in the country, travel authorizations are required for movements of international staff and distribution of humanitarian assistance. For both visas and travel authorizations, valid organizational registration is required,” it added.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo said on May 8 that a convoy comprising officials from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) was attacked in a “shootout” while delivering humanitarian aid to Burma. Widodo did not provide further details regarding the attack.

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