At least 415 attacks and threats against health workers and health infrastructure in Myanmar were perpetrated during the one year since the country’s coup and the ongoing crackdown, according to a new report by Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), Insecurity Insight, and the Johns Hopkins University Center for Public Health and Human Rights (CPHHR). February 1 marks the one-year anniversary of the Myanmar coup d’état and the military’s ensuing crackdown on civilians, which has been characterized by targeted violence against health workers and obstruction of health care services, in gross violation of international law.
“Our Health Workers Are Working in Fear”: After Myanmar’s Military Coup, One Year of Targeted Violence against Health Care,” based on open-source information, documents and analyzes trends in violence against health workers and facilities during the military crackdown since the coup, highlighting:
- A total of 415 attacks on health care
- 286 health workers arrested or detained
- 128 health facilities attacked
- 30 health workers killed
“In the year since Myanmar’s coup, nurses and doctors have been in the military’s crosshairs. Armed forces have harmed and intimidated health care workers, raided COVID-19 clinics and blocked vital humanitarian aid, resulting in the decimation of the Myanmar health system amid a pandemic,” said Lindsey Green, program officer for PHR and a report co-author. “Without immediate action from the international community to pressure the Myanmar military to end the bloodshed, Myanmar’s besieged health workers and civilians will enter a second year of a health and human rights catastrophe.”
The data featured in the new report covers February 1, 2021 through January 10, 2022. Researchers from the CPHHR, Insecurity Insight, and PHR used an open-source methodology informed by the Berkeley Protocol on Digital Open Source Investigations. The incidents reported are neither a complete nor a representative list of all incidents. Data collection is ongoing and data may change as more information is made available. However, the research provides a snapshot of how Myanmar’s military is persecuting health workers and targeting facilities amid its broader crackdown on civilians in the past year. The underlying data set can be explored at Humanitarian Data Exchange on a global map on threats and violence against health care.
Attacks on health care have become a prominent feature of the country’s coup d’état. Today, Myanmar is one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a health worker, with more reported attacks against health care in Myanmar in the past year than in any other country on Earth.
While the highest number of monthly incidents were documented amid nationwide protests in March 2021, there has been a gradual increase in reported attacks from September 2021 through early January 2022, amid escalating armed resistance across the country and crackdowns by the Myanmar military.
The new report also analyzes how forms of violence against health care have evolved alongside wider events happening in the country over the 12 months since the coup, including the nationwide protests, the Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM), the disastrous third wave of COVID-19, and the declaration of a people’s defensive war.
The report shows how, today, the people of Myanmar are facing gravely diminished access to routine and emergency health care services, with ongoing and egregious deliberate targeting of health care by the Myanmar military and other armed actors.
Mandalay Medical Cover, a volunteer medical organization, provided a statement alongside PHR to the UN Human Rights Council about the impacts of violence against health care:
“Our healthcare workers are working in fear. We are being oppressed, we are forcefully arrested – as are our family members if we cannot be found – and are being prevented from providing proper medical care, resulting in permanent damage to patients and the loss of many lives…. By effectively and forcibly preventing doctors from providing essential medical care to these people, many lives which could otherwise have been saved are unnecessarily lost.”
Attacks on health workers violate human rights and are grave breaches of international law. The researchers offer a series of detailed recommendations to the State Administration Council, Myanmar military (Tatmadaw), National Unity Government, ethnic armed organizations, People’s Defence Force, and the international community.
PHR is calling on the Myanmar military-led State Administration Council and Tatmadaw to immediately cease the targeting of health care workers with warrants and arrests for participating in the CDM and peaceful protests or for their provision of health care, as well as to immediately release people arbitrarily detained. All parties to the conflict must adhere to the provisions of international humanitarian and human rights law regarding respect for and the protection of health services and the wounded and sick, and regarding the ability of health workers to adhere to their ethical responsibilities of providing impartial care to all in need.
PHR is calling on international actors to provide COVID-19 vaccines, medical aid, and broader humanitarian support to the people of Myanmar through flexible mechanisms that recognize the evolving nature of conflict dynamics and difficulty in reaching all people in need. This should include support for cross-border delivery of humanitarian aid (along borders with China, India, and Thailand) to reach those in need who cannot be reached otherwise.
PHR is also calling on the United States Congress to pass the BURMA Act, which calls for the authorization of humanitarian assistance and targeted sanctions with respect to human rights abuses perpetrated by the Myanmar military. In addition to the February 2021 coup and ongoing crackdown against civilians, Myanmar security forces also perpetrated atrocities against the Rohingya people, which resulted the exodus of more than one million people from Myanmar to Bangladesh.
As the one-year anniversary of the coup is marked on February 1, the human rights and health crisis continues to grow in Myanmar, with escalating conflict, increasing numbers of internally displaced people and refugees, and the effective collapse of the public health care system.
“The impacts on the people of Myanmar of the military coup d’état and attacks on health care over this past year are incalculable and will continue to have implications for many years to come – especially as these attacks continue unabated,” the report states.
Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is a New York-based advocacy organization that uses science and medicine to prevent mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. Learn more here.