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Wave of new warrants, arrests, and attacks on Myanmar health workers must stop: PHR

The Myanmar military has escalated its arrests and attacks on health workers amid ongoing protests against the country’s military coup, Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) said today.

Health workers across Myanmar have reported a rise in warrants for the arrests of their colleagues, including at least 160 since April 13, with more expected in the coming days. The Myanmar military has targeted health workers across the country, some for participating in the Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM) which is objecting to the military coup, and others who are merely providing medical care to injured protestors and bystanders. 

On April 20, the military announced that all health workers who have been charged will be disbarred from medical practice and international travel and the licenses of several private health facilities were revoked for alleged ties to CDM medics. PHR has also received worrisome reports of non-medic civilians who have been arrested and charged with treason simply for possessing over-the-counter medicines and firstaid supplies. 

A physician in the city of Mandalay, Myanmar told PHR:

“Our colleagues have been threatened and arrested throughout the day and night, even though we are not involved in politics and have been dedicated purely to medical care. Ambulances have been taken into custody along with the crews and rescue workers. Sometimes even patients are taken into custody while they are in critical condition. We cannot freely provide health care. Now the military is seeking the list of all the doctors and medical personnel in our team so that they can arrest them anytime, anywhere – even in our houses when we are with our families. The same things are going on in Yangon and in cities and towns throughout the country.”

Sandra Mon, a PHR expert and epidemiologist from Myanmar at the Center for Public Health and Human Rights (CPHHR) at Johns Hopkins University, said:

“The Myanmar military’s persecution of health care professionals is unacceptable. The military has issued arrest warrants for doctors across the country on accusations that appear to be based on unfounded speculations about their involvement with CDM. The continued invasion of medical facilities – both public and private – is alarming, as it is intimidating civilians from seeking care. We have received several reports so far of individuals with dire medical needs dying due to not receiving urgent care. The systematic stripping of the health workforce by this junta, in the middle of a pandemic no less, only worsens existing disparities in Myanmar’s fragile health system, and sets it on a path to cripple entire generations in the years to come.”

Earlier this month, PHR and 20 other organizations sent an open letter to U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, urging the Biden administration to take immediate additional actions to address the public health and human rights crisis in Myanmar.

Jennifer Leigh, an epidemiologist serving as PHR’s Myanmar researcher, said:

“The Myanmar military is violating international law when it targets, arbitrarily arrests, and attacks health workers, who are providing nondiscriminatory care for the injured and sick. The health and human rights crisis in the country is in a downward spiral. It is imperative that the international community advocate for and act to protect health workers and their ability to provide medical care during this emergency. We stand in solidarity with Myanmar’s besieged medics.”

On Monday, experts at CPHHR and PHR convened to discuss the increasingly severe attacks on health care workers, the impact of the coup on COVID-19 mitigation efforts, and the threat of health system collapse in Myanmar. A recording of the online briefing is available here.

*CORRECTION: An earlier version of this press release mistakenly referenced reports of at least 160 arrests of health workers since April 13. PHR has received reports of at least 160 warrants for the arrests of health workers since April 13.

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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