On Saturday, May 15, 2021, the Myanmar military – known as the Tatmadaw – launched a coordinated attack against the town of Mindat in Myanmar’s western Chin State. This latest crackdown was precipitated by several weeks of sustained fighting between the Tatmadaw and civilian defense forces in Mindat, formed in March in response to increasing military violence against civilians participating in the peaceful nationwide anti-coup resistance. Following an imposition of martial law on the grounds of insurgency, the siege of Mindat has been characterized by indiscriminate deployment of heavy weaponry by land and air, widespread use of forced labor and human shields, and active obstruction of delivery of basic humanitarian necessities for civilians, including food, water, and access to medical care and supplies.
In response to escalating violence against civilians in Mindat, Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) issued the following statement:
“The reports out of Mindat, including the Tatmadaw’s blocking of humanitarian and medical aid and access to clean water, expose the horrifying reality of ongoing violence against tens of thousands of civilians in Mindat by the Myanmar military. These actions further echo the unconscionable actions and severe breaches of international human rights law perpetrated by the Tatmadaw since the group seized power in a February 1 coup d’état. Physicians for Human Rights is appalled by the Myanmar military’s unlawful implementation of martial law in Mindat, who has pushed civilians into Mindat’s surrounding jungles to escape detention, and the reported obstruction in access to clean drinking water.
“Through an unlawful and violent campaign to seize power, directly violating security forces’ responsibility and duty to protect, the Tatmadaw continues to violate the basic human rights of Myanmar’s people. Mindat civilians, mostly men, who have reportedly been forced into the forested areas around Mindat, have little to no access to shelter, water, food, or medical care. Their forced absence has left women and children in Mindat vulnerable to the brutal tactics of war deployed against the Rohingya and other ethnic minorities by the Myanmar military, including sexual and gender-based violence, which PHR has long documented and corroborated.
“This new wave of violence in western Chin State has further contributed to the displacement of tens of thousands of people, both internally and across the Indian border. The escalating crisis critically compounds already strained access to humanitarian and medical aid experienced by internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Myanmar. Medical personnel are reportedly unable to reach IDPs in Mindat without coming under artillery fire by the Tatmadaw, and are prevented from tending to patients in critical condition due to a lack of safe medical facilities available for emergency surgeries. PHR condemns the Myanmar military’s obstruction of critical medical and humanitarian aid, and the impediment of medical personnel’s duty to administer care to civilians desperately in need.
“Physicians for Human Rights demands that the Tatmadaw immediately cease attacks against the Mindat community, reestablish access to clean water and medical supplies, and end the obstruction of medical and humanitarian aid, which is in grave violation of international human rights law. As well, PHR calls on international and regional actors, including the United Nations Security Council and the Association for Southeast Asian Nations, to urgently negotiate an agreement to establish a safe and secure demilitarized humanitarian corridor into Mindat and other similarly afflicted territories across Myanmar. PHR emphasizes the acute need for humanitarian and medical personnel to fully access affected civilians without encumbrance, as is necessary to provide health care to the sick and wounded, to deliver humanitarian aid more broadly, and to ensure the safety and security of surrounding communities.
“The latest human rights violations demonstrate that ongoing sanctions and justice and accountability efforts are not sufficiently serving as deterrents. International actors that have been leading the effort to advance targeted sanctions against perpetrators of these abuses – such as the United States and European Union – should build a broad, international coalition comprised of governments and businesses in support of a sanctions regime that will prevent the Tatmadaw and other security forces from accessing resources to continue perpetrating abuses against the Myanmar people.”
Dr. Maung,* a volunteer surgeon based in Mandalay and a PHR medical partner, said that he had spoken with medical colleagues on the ground in Mindat who have reported on the dire need for immediate medical aid. “Several patients are in need of emergency surgery. Without it, they won’t survive for long. Surgeons are traveling from Mandalay to try and assist the wounded, but first they must be able to transfer the patients to a safe zone, as there is little they can do in the jungle,” he said.
In a statement responding to the Myanmar military’s coup, PHR condemned mass arbitrary arrests and detention of civilian leaders and human rights defenders in Myanmar, and called for an immediate de-escalation of the situation, the prompt release of political prisoners, and the restoration of communications networks. Following escalating violence directly after the coup, PHR additionally condemned attacks against protestors and the reported detention of medical professionals.
PHR reprises its call to the international community to hold the Myanmar military and other responsible actors accountable for its August 2017 campaign of widespread and systematic violence against the Rohingya ethnic minority in “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 Myanmar’s ethnic territories, including Chin State, which PHR documented in 2011. International efforts to quell the violence are critically important as the perpetrators of these grave violations increase their political power and continue to operate with impunity within Myanmar.
*Dr. Maung asked that we use only his surname for security reasons.
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.