Backpack medics released

PHR welcomes the recent release of two Backpack Health Worker medics who were abducted by the Burma Army in Karen State, Burma in October of last year. The Backpack Health Worker Team is a community-based organization that provides medical care to civilians in war-torn Karen State and many other areas inside Burma.

The two medics, a male and a female, were abducted by BurmaArmy Light Infantry Battalion (LIB) 212 when they were responding to anemergency case of postpartum hemorrhage. According to eyewitnesses, the medicswere unarmed and could be identified as health workers because they werecarrying medical equipment and supplies. The medics were not able to reach thepatient, who died without treatment. PHR worked with local and international partnersto press the US government to push for the medics’ release.

The abduction of the two medics is one example of systematicattacks on civilians in Karen State. Medics from Backpack and otherorganizations in Karen State have long faced threats by the Burma army—fromarrest to landmines to shoot-on-sight policies in free fire zones. In an areawhere the government not only neglects to provide healthcare, but activelyattacks civilian villages, community-based medics are the only source ofhealthcare for the civilian population. Threats to medics undermine theirability to work and create disastrous consequences for those in need of medicalcare.

The actions of LIB 212 were in clear violation of the principleof medical neutrality, which requires the protection of medical personnel from attack,interference, and intimidation. The international community should demand that theBurmese government allow civilian medics to operate unimpeded in all areas ofthe country. Medical neutrality and civilians’ right to health should bediscussed during ceasefire talks that have recently begun between the KarenNational Union and the Burmese government. Backpack Health Worker Team has lostnine medics and one birth attendant to gunfire or landmines in the last tenyears. We must ensure that they will lose no more.

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