HEALTH IS A HUMAN RIGHT How the Myanmar Junta is Violating Humanitarian Principles in their COVID-19 Response

In addition to a vengeful campaign of human rights violations committed by state-backed forces, the COVID-19 pandemic is threatening to increase the death toll in Myanmar. Health care workers working to control the spread of the pandemic and treat patients are being locked up by the junta. Myanmar needs health care workers now more than ever. Their expertise is critical to providing life-saving solutions. Yet, the military is choosing to preserve their self-interests instead of helping the country’s heroic health professionals 

Since the military junta seized power in a coup on February 1, disorder and chaos set the tone for their illegitimate rule. The junta’s disregard for life amounts to crimes against humanity. In their pursuit for power, security forces have ruthlessly killed and tortured over 900 innocent civilians since the military coup. They have arrested and detained senior health officials and created a climate of fear for press freedom and civil rights. The growing threat of the pandemic and its impacts on civilians is being described as the ‘perfect storm’ by the United Nations.1 There are currently over 200,000 cases of COVID-19 in Myanmar, and the numbers continue to rise daily. Aside from the ever-present tyranny of the state, citizens do not have access to life saving supplies, including oxygen and personal protective equipment. 

The demand for health supplies has also driven the market price up, posing yet another threat to Myanmar’s overwhelmed health care infrastructure. Civilians across the country are lining up in front of pharmacies waiting to purchase painkillers, cough medicine and multivitamin pills, all of which are in short supply and have nearly doubled in price. Face masks are in low supply with prices ‘beyond the reach of everyday people.’2 Funeral services are overwhelmed as hundreds of bodies are being registered daily at cemeteries and crematoriums. The majority are dying from a lack of oxygen.3 The National Unity Government expressed concern at the junta’s approach in handling the increase in cases in a statement which stated, “Myanmar people who are now going through the third wave of the pandemic, are seeing their health entitlements being denied by the regime.”4 

In this short briefing paper, the Network for Human Rights Documentation (ND-Burma) will draw upon the four humanitarian principles which refer to healthcare as a human right. In this context, the failings of the military junta will be highlighted. In their lack of response to the pandemic, they are willingly leaving behind the most vulnerable in society. While the military council is not a humanitarian agency, they’re still equipped with the tools and resources to respond with concerned urgency. Health is a human right. But in Myanmar, the junta is stripping this right to access healthcare, treatment, and resources. 

Burma Condemns Myanmar’s Handling of the COVID-19 pandemic in new briefing paper: “How the Myanmar Junta is Violating Humanitarian Principles in their COVID-19 Response”

The Network for Human Rights Documentation – Burma Condemns Myanmar’s Handling of the COVID-19 pandemic in new briefing paper: “How the Myanmar Junta is Violating Humanitarian Principles in their COVID-19 Response”

28 July 2021

Since seizing power in a coup on 1 February 2021, the people of Myanmar have been forced to defend themselves amid the growing instability and state chaos. The COVID-19 pandemic is the latest battle civilians are facing. In a new briefing paper, “How the Myanmar Junta is Violating Humanitarian Principles in their COVID-19 Response,” the Network for Human Rights Documentation-Burma (ND-Burma) finds that the junta is failing to respond effectively to the pandemic, and have violated humanitarian principles meant to ensure effective remedies during emergencies. The military cannot be trusted to allocate funds or resources to the general public.

Rather than work to meet the needs of the thousands of COVID-19 patients who are dying in their homes and in crowded hospitals, the junta is arresting healthcare workers and denying life-saving medical supplies in urban and rural areas. The pandemic response has been complicated further by internal conflict fueled by the military junta. Ceasefires have been violated and urgently needed aid is being intercepted by junta soldiers. Their behavior is in direct violation of the humanitarian principles, which refer to healthcare as a human right. In failing to adhere to principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality, and independence, the junta is failing the people.

ND-Burma calls on the junta to relinquish their illegal hold on power. Combined with a lack of will power and intention, the junta has proven they cannot be tasked with coordinating an inclusive humanitarian response. With lives quite literally on the line, there is no time to waste. The international community must act swiftly by intervening to ensure the most vulnerable are protected and that health workers can do their jobs safely, and with dignity.


Media Contact

Moon Nay Li


ND-Burma is a network that consists of 13-member organisations who represent a range of ethnic nationalities, women and former political prisoners. ND-Burma member organisations have been documenting human rights abuses and fighting for justice for victims since 2004. The network consists of nine Full Members and four Affiliate Members as follows. 

Full Members:

  1. All Arakan Students’ and Youths’ Congress 
  2. Assistance Association for Political Prisoners
  3. Association Human Rights Defenders and Promoters 
  4. Future Light Center 
  5. Human Rights Foundation of Monland
  6. Kachin Women’s Association – Thailand
  7. Ta’ang Women’s Organization
  8. Ta’ang Students and Youth Union
  9. Tavoyan Women’s Union       


 Affiliate Members:

  1. Chin Human Rights Organization
  2. East Bago – Former Political Prisoners Network
  3. Pa-O Youth Organization
  4. Progressive Voice

Pregnant woman among three reported injured by naval attacks in Sagaing

Soldiers rode boats along the Chindwin river and fired guns and artillery at villages along its banks, residents said 

Junta soldiers injured three people, including a pregnant woman, and destroyed several houses during attacks on villages in Sagaing Region last week, locals told Myanmar Now.

Troops travelled down the Chindwin river on boats during a two day assault in Kani Township, coming ashore to fire guns and heavy artillery at villages sitting along the riverbank.

Locals said soldiers from nine military boats attacked the villages of Sar Pho Gyi, Nat Gyi, Yinyein, and Thit Khat on Friday and Saturday.

The pregnant woman, who is 30 years old, was shot in the leg trying to escape when soldiers fired guns at one village, said a Kani local who volunteered to help rescue those injured.

“The military started shooting at the shore. The pregnant lady got shot in the leg while trying to flee. She’s seven month pregnant now,” the volunteer said.

The volunteer and another local said a house and three motorcycles were burned down in the town of Kani, while two houses in Yinyein and a house from Thit Khet were hit with artillery shells.

There were also reports that two men were injured when soldiers came on land and rampaged through Nat Gyi on Saturday morning, and the village was hit with around 20 shells, the residents said.

The attacks were likely a response to ambushes by People’s Defence Force fighters against military boats, said a Kani-based political activist.

“There were some occasions where People’s Defence Force troops shot at the military vehicles from the shores of the Chindwin river. I think the military was trying to scare off the civilians on the shore,” he said.

Thousands of people living along the riverbank have fled their homes since the attacks and are in need of food, medicine, and shelter, the residents said.

The junta has not commented on the attacks.

Earlier this month villagers found the bodies of 15 men in Kani who appear to have been the victims of a military massacre after they were captured and tortured by soldiers.

Kani emerged as a hotspot for anti-coup protests after the military’s February power grab, and some of its residents have since taken up arms in response to murderous crackdowns by the junta.

Weekly Update on the Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar Post-Coup (July 19-25)2021

The Myanmar junta is continuing to deprive and deny civilians access to COVID-19 prevention, including medicine, vaccines, oxygen and more. In addition, internal conflict is still rampant in ethnic ares. Urgently needed medical supplies are being blocked and civilians are paying the price. The junta is not equipped to respond to the COVID-19 crisis. International intervention is urgently needed! More in our weekly update

Urgent Diplomatic Release on Insein Prison Strike

23 July 2021
At around 8 am this morning, anti-dictatorship chants were heard from inside Insein Prison, Yangon Region. The protest began in the women’s detention block annexe to Insein Prison. This block detains female prisoners arrested for pro-democracy protests and the CDM movement. The protest has now spread across the prison and some staff have joined. Currently, junta forces are storming the prison compound and confiscating all of the prison staffs’ weapons. Some of these staff have confirmed to us military vehicles have entered the prison compound.
The situation COVID-19 situation has been deteriorating in the two female detention blocks, but the prison authority has only given treatment to those in special cells and prison hospital. The protest reportedly began because prisoners have not been provided with medical care, and neither have prison staff been given protection from COVID-19. These events follow an announcement by the director of Yangon Imprisonment Department they plan to release more than 1000 inmates from Insein Prison on 22 July who were incarcerated for narcotics and theft.
In September 1990 dozens of political prisoners in this same Insein Prison as today staged a hunger strike to demand the military transfer power to the democratically elected National League for Democracy. In the brutal crackdown that followed, over 40 prisoners required hospitalization and six were reportedly beaten to death. Prison guards had played songs over loudspeakers from security towers to drown out the sound inside and outside the compound’s walls, of the prisoners screams, the guard’s verbal assaults, and sound of beating bodies. In response, the SLORC said “internationally-recognized batons” had been used and that only three prisoners had been “slightly injured”.
AAPP has great concern the protests in Insein Prison will be viciously suppressed and there will be a massacre and rampant use of torture. Like-minded governments must apply pressure on junta officials to protect the lives of these pro-democracy supporters and secure their release from arbitrary detention.
In Solidarity,

NLD Leader U Nyan Win Dies of COVID-19 While Detained by Myanmar Junta

By THE IRRAWADDY 20 July 2021

U Nyan Win, a central executive committee (CEC) member of the National League for Democracy (NLD) and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s long-time personal lawyer, died of COVID-19 on Tuesday, while being detained by the Myanmar military regime.

The 79-year-old was arrested on the morning of the junta’s Feb.1 coup and subsequently held in Insein Prison, where he caught coronavirus. He was moved to intensive care at Yangon General Hospital on July 11. 

He is one of the first political prisoners to die of COVID-19, as Myanmar struggles with a spike in infections and fatalities from a devastating third wave of coronavirus. 

U Nyan Win joined the NLD in 1988, soon after the party was formed following the 1988 pro-democracy uprising.

He was elected as a member of parliament representing Mon State’s Paung Township in the 1990 election, which the previous military regime refused to recognise. He was also a personal attorney for detained State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi during her previous periods of house arrest. 

“He was like a parent to us,” said Ko Kyaw Wunna, the secretary of the NLD’s Central Research Committee. He was arrested many times, but released without being imprisoned, “but this time, he gave his life”, he added. 

Ko Kyaw Wunna worked closely with U Nyan Win for nine years. He described him as “a legal expert who had a good heart, was quiet but disciplined, friendly with the media and committed to the NLD party since its formation”.

U Nyan Win is survived by his wife and a daughter. His wife has been suffering from

Alzheimer’s disease for nearly a decade and family friends are also worried about her health. 

While acting as a spokesperson for the NLD, U Nyan Win also led the party’s electoral campaigns in the 2012 by-elections and the 2015 and 2020 general elections. He was always outspoken about the undemocratic, military-crafted 2008 Constitution. 

As tensions between the NLD and military chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing intensified after the 2020 election, U Nyan Win anticipated that the military would launch a coup, according to Ko Kyaw Wunna. 

“As a legal expert, he said the coup could happen, but that the military cannot seize power under its 2008 Constitution and that, if they did so, they would face a backlash one day in accordance with the law. He did not expect that the coup would last as the country’s economy has nose-dived due to the COVID-19 situation,” said Ko Kyaw Wunna. 

On Feb. 1, the NLD’s senior leadership, including the whole CEC, was detained by the junta just hours after the coup and the detention of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. U Nyan Win’s whereabouts were unknown until March 6, when his family heard that he had been moved to Insein Prison.

Subsequently, he was charged with sedition under Article 505(b) of the Penal Code in regard to NLD statements issued on Feb. 7 and Feb. 13.  

Daw San Mar Lar Nyunt, U Nyan Win’s lawyer and a family friend, worked with him for 32 years and said that he was healthy when she met him earlier this month.  

U Nyan Win had been diagnosed with cardiomegaly, an enlargement of the heart, which is often a sign of heart disease. He also had gout and gastric problems. 

More than 2,100 people have died of COVID-19 since Feb. 1, according to the junta-controlled Ministry of Health and Sports. But the actual death toll is believed to be far higher due to the under-reporting of coronavirus fatalities.

Insein Prison, which holds some 13,000 prisoners, was locked down on July 8 to curb the spread of coronavirus and trials of the detainees have been suspended. Coup leader Sen, Gen. Min Aung Hlaing said on Sunday that there are 315 COVID-19 victims inside prisons across Myanmar and 190 of them are still undergoing treatment, while five people with underlying conditions have died. However, he didn’t disclose how many of those infected are political prisoners. There have been reports of other political detainees being infected with coronavirus.

919 civilians had been killed and 6,828 arrested during anti-regime protests as of Monday. Over 5,000 people are still being detained, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners. 

Irrawaddy News