Myanmar: Political Unrest Stalls Humanitarian Agencies’ Response to Vulnerable Communities

536 views | Akanimo Sampson | March 1, 2021

Political unrest in Myanmar is impacting the ability of humanitarian agencies to respond to the needs of vulnerable communities, including internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the country’s conflict-affected areas. 

Last October, UN agencies in the troubled country expressed ‘sadness’ and ‘shock’ over the killing of two boys, allegedly used as human shields by security forces in northern Rakhine province, earlier that month. 

The two boys were killed in a cross-fire between Myanmar’s military, known as the Tatmadaw, and the separatist Arakan Army.

The incident occurred on October 5, in Buthidaung township – a hotspot for army abuses against children for non-combat purposes, since mid-2019, the UN agencies said in a statement.

The children were part of a group of around 15 local farmers, all of whom were allegedly forced to walk in front of a Tatmadaw unit to ensure the path towards a military camp was clear of landmines, and to protect the soldiers from potential enemy fire.

On the way, fighting broke out between the Tatmadaw and the Arakan Army, after which the two boys were found dead with gunshot wounds.

The incident occurred within the 12 months of the delisting of the Tatmadaw for underage recruitment in the UN Secretary-General’s Annual Report on Children and Armed Conflict (CAAC) of 2020, agencies noted.

In the statement, the UN agencies – co-chairs of the UN Country Taskforce on Monitoring and Reporting on Grave Violations against Children in Myanmar (CTFMR) – called for a “full, transparent, and expedited investigation of the incident” and for anyone responsible for the use and for the killing of the children to be held accountable.

“This egregious incident serves as a stark reminder that children are put at risk of being killed or injured whenever they are associated with armed forces and groups in any capacity or function, regardless of the duration of their association”, the agencies said.

The UN agencies also voiced “deep alarm” over an alarming increase of reports of killings and injuries of children in Myanmar.

More than 100 children were killed or maimed in conflict during the first three months of 2020, amounting to more than half of the total number in 2019, and significantly surpassing the total number of child casualties in 2018.

“As Myanmar tackles the resurgence of COVID-19, we urge all parties to the conflict to intensify efforts to ensure children are protected from all grave violations, to ensure access to humanitarian assistance and services, and to exercise maximum restraint in the use of force where civilians are present,” they urged.  

Adopted unanimously by the Security Councilresolution 1612 on children and armed conflict mandates the United Nations to establish UN-led taskforces in countries where there is verified evidence that grave violations against children are being committed by parties to a conflict, either by armed forces and/or by armed groups.

Through a monitoring and reporting mechanism, the taskforce documents, verifies and reports to the Security Council on the six grave violations: killing or maiming; recruitment and use in armed forces and armed groups; attacks against schools or hospitals; rape or other grave sexual violence; abduction; and denial of humanitarian access.

In Myanmar the the taskforce was established in 2007 and is co-chaired by the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator and the UNICEF Representative to the country.

However, factors such as closure of banks, interruptions to payments and cash withdrawal systems, and reported increase in price of basic commodities like food and fuel in some areas, have affected relief efforts, according to a bulletin issued by the Office.

Changes in counterpart entities and interlocutors, as well as access issues have also affected programmes. 

Relief actors are working to resume activities that have been paused in some parts of the country and the humanitarian community is committed to stay and deliver support to those in need, the bulletin noted, citing the UN Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator.

“The UN and its partners have, for many years, been responding to humanitarian needs caused by conflict and natural disasters in Myanmar. It is our absolute intention to continue this work also under the current circumstances”, Ola Almgren said earlier this month.

According to OCHA, separate from the political strife, about one million people – affected by conflict and natural disasters – are in need of support and protection. Of that number, about 945,000 have been targeted for assistance through 2021, as outlined in a $276.5 million Humanitarian Response Plan, launched in January.

However, only $693,000 – less than 0.3 per cent of the amount needed – has been raised.

Humanitarian access ‘remains constrained’ 

The Office said that humanitarian access, which was already challenging before the military takeover on 1 February, “remains constrained” due to safety concerns and administrative procedures, such as travel authorizations.

Access to parts of Shan, Kayin and Bago region have been affected due to clashes, while at least a third of the displacement sites and half of the host communities in Rakhine state cannot be reached due to insecurity, OCHA added, reiterating the importance of safe and unimpeded access to deliver a timely and principled humanitarian response.

UN officials as well as bodies, including the Security Council, have also highlighted the need to ensure safe and unrestricted humanitarian access to all people in need.

‘Deep concerns’ over increasing detentions 

On Thursday, Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesperson for the UN Secretary-General, voiced “deep concerns” over an increasing number of people held in detention in Myanmar, and called for their immediate release.

At least 150 people are reported to have been arrested in protests in capital Nay Pyi Taw on 22 February, he said at a regular press briefing at the UN Headquarters, in New York.

“The UN team is currently tracking more than 900 political and state officials, activists and civil society members – including journalists, monks and students – now being detained. And of course, we call for their immediate release”, he added.

Mass protests have grown steadily across Myanmar since the military takeover, which followed escalating tensions between the government and the military over the November 2020 elections, which were won by Ms. Suu Kyi-led National League for Democracy (NLD).  

Dujarric also announced that the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General on Myanmar will be briefing an informal meeting of General Assembly on Friday, which is expected to start at 10 am (EST; GMT-5).

The informal meeting follows a request from a group of member states, according to Brenden Varma, Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly.

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