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Myanmar Military Must End Excessive Use of Force against Protestors, Detention of Health Care Workers

In the midst of a violent military coup threatening democracy and the rule of law, the Myanmar military is reported to be engaging in excessive use of force against protestors and attacking health care workers, exacerbating a fragile human rights situation. In response, Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) issued the following statement:

“We are appalled and dismayed by reports that protestors in Myanmar, including doctors and other frontline health care workers, are being arrested and detained by the Myanmar military for exercising their rights to gather and peacefully protest government abuse and injustice. Equally concerning are reports that security forces are using excessive force and crowd-control weapons to harm anti-coup protestors. All protestors – including doctors and other health care professionals – have human rights and may not be lawfully arrested or detained without adequate due process, or threatened by excessive use of force at the hands of the military.

“Security forces have a responsibility to protect; they violate human rights when they resort to excessive force and abuse of crowd-control weapons. Recent reports of the Myanmar military’s use of rubber bullets, water cannons, and live ammunition against civilian protestors –  including reports of the horrific attack on Mya Thwe Thwe Khaing, who was shot in the head during anti-coup protests and remains hospitalized in critical condition – are direct violations of international law. Pursuant to applicable international human rights law, security forces must act with restraint and any use of force must be minimized, targeted, proportional, and directed at de-escalating violence.

“PHR fervently condemns any and all attacks against health care workers, including the unlawful detention of doctors and other medical personnel. Deliberately impeding health care workers in carrying out their duty and right to treat those in need – regardless of politics, race, or religion – is a breach of international law.

“During the COVID-19 pandemic, medical professionals in Myanmar have risked their lives to fight the virus. The coup has not only spurred civil disobedience protests by health care workers, thwarting health care delivery, but has also jeopardized Myanmar’s public health response to the pandemic, as well as hopes of receiving COVID-19 vaccine assistance from other governments. As large demonstrations continue, the threat of COVID-19 only grows stronger – compounding a public health crisis with the mounting human rights crisis in Myanmar.

“The coup d’état and crackdown by the Myanmar military  – also known as the Tatmadaw – is abhorrent, but unfortunately not surprising. The Tatmadaw has a long history of human rights abuses against the people of Myanmar, including its campaign of crimes and human rights atrocities against the Rohingya, which Physicians for Human Rights has documented and corroborated.

“Physicians for Human Rights demands that the Tatmadaw immediately cease any further arrests of doctors, medical workers, human rights advocates, and any other individuals for whom there is no evidence of criminal acts, and release all who are being detained without cause. PHR also calls on the Tatmadaw to immediately cease the use of excessive force and crowd-control weapons against civilian protestors and demands that all responsible actors be held accountable for reported injuries sustained by demonstrators. We will continue to push for justice and accountability for all human rights abuses committed by Myanmar security forces.”

In an earlier statement responding to the Myanmar military’s coup d’état, PHR condemned mass arbitrary arrests and detention of civilian leaders and human rights defenders in Myanmar, as well as the apparent communications blackout in the country. The organization called for the immediate de-escalation of the situation, the prompt release of political prisoners, and the restoration of communications networks.

PHR reprises its call to the international community to hold the Myanmar military and other responsible actors accountable for the campaign of widespread and systematic violence against the Rohingya ethnic minority in the August 2017 “clearance operations” that forced more than 720,000 Rohingya into neighboring Bangladesh. The Tatmadaw has an egregious history of human rights violations against civilians, including perpetrating forced labor, sexual violence, torture, extrajudicial killings, child labor, and other abuses in Chin state, which PHR documented in 2011. These efforts are more critically important as the perpetrators of these grave violations increase their political power within Myanmar.

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.

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