COVID-19 Op-ed

Right to Life, Liberty, and Security under Double Woes in Myanmar: Coronavirus and Tatmadaw

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Saw Lin
Htet
Student, Asia Pacific
MA Human Rights and Democratisation
Global Campus of
Human Rights Asia Pacific
Institute of Human Rights and
Peace Studies, Mahidol University

Despite the aim of Myanmar National Human
Rights Commission Law 2014 (Article 3 (b)) to create a society where human
rights are respected and protected under the Universal Declaration of Human
Rights (UDHR), the Myanmar Government still refuses to fully abide by its
mandate. By this refusal, it overtly disrespects the right to life, liberty,
and security of a person that is universally acknowledged according to
Articles 3 and 5 (protection from torture, or cruel, inhuman, or degrading
treatment or punishment) of the UDHR (OHCHR, 2020). Ironically, Articles 353
and 367 of the Myanmar Constitution 2008 claim to guarantee the life,
personal freedom, and security of every citizen.As of this writing, Myanmar
has registered 180 confirmed Covid-19 cases, 6 deaths, and 3,983 cases
currently under investigation. Furthermore, within only ten days from 2 May
to 11 May, 44 people were killed and 78 severely wounded in Rakhine and Chin
states because of the armed conflicts with the Myanmar Army. As a result of
the conflicts, more than 150,000 people were displaced in Rakhine and Chin
states alone.Since 2012, about 20 ethnic armed groups fighting for equality
and self-determination have been in peace talks with the Government, and half
of them had signed the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement for political dialogue.
Although the Arakan Army has negotiated with the Government, no talk has
taken place between the parties since February 2020. The Arakan Army declared
a month-long ceasefire in April along with two other ethnic minority forces,
but the Myanmar military and the Government rejected the ceasefire (BBC, 2020
and Bangkok Post, 2020).On the contrary, on 23 March 2020, the Myanmar
government declared the United League of Arakan (ULA) and its armed wing, the
Arakan Army (AA), as a terrorist group and unlawful association. To follow
through, during March and April, the Army launched attacks to kill at least
23 civilians in Western Myanmar.Concerned with the worsening situation, on 23
March, the UN Secretary-General called for a global ceasefire to combat
Covid-19 because the Burma Army attacks all regardless of the nationality or
ethnicity or differences of the targets (UN, 2020). On the same day, the
Myanmar government officially registered its first Covid-19 case. On 26
March, the Karen National Union (KNU) welcomed the UN Secretary-General’s
call for a global ceasefire to eradicate the virus. KNU also urged the
Government of Myanmar to work in coordination and cooperation with KNU’s
Department of Health and Welfare to respect Article 25 of the Nationwide
Ceasefire Agreement (NCA).Naw Hser Hser, General Secretary of Women’s League
of Burma, said ironically, “When people are combating the Covid-19
pandemic, the Myanmar Army is escalating its attacks against the ethnic armed
groups in Rakhine, Chin, Karen, and Northern Shan State.” To make
matters worse, on 20 April, some gunmen attacked a World Health Organization
(WHO) vehicle transporting Covid-19 surveillance samples in Rakhine State,
Myanmar, killing the driver and injuring a government official. Although both
the Myanmar (Burma) Military and the Arakan Army are active in this area,
both denied involvement in the attack (BBC, 2020). The UN Secretary-General
strongly condemned the attack and called for a full and transparent
investigation to bring the perpetrators to justice (UN, 2020).Although the
conflicts have displaced more than 150,000 civilians and killed and injured
more than a hundred, the Myanmar State Counsellor still pays tribute to the
Tatmadaw troops fighting ethnic groups in Rakhine and Chin states. The Myanmar
military continues to target civilians, including five Rakhine civilians from
Ponnagyun in Rakhine State who were beaten and tortured by the Myanmar Naval
personnel on 7 May. The Myanmar Military might have  committed war
crimes and crimes against humanity in Rakhine and Chin states, said the
departing UN Human Rights Envoy for Myanmar (Bangkok Post, 2020).To mitigate
this worsening situation in Myanmar, the Government and Military should issue
a nationwide unilateral ceasefire and focus on combating the Covid-19
pandemic. A member of the government Peace Commission confirmed that the
Arakan Army was invited to join the campaign against the Covid-19 contagion,
according to the Myanmar Times on 9 May. In a discriminatory manner, on 9 May
the Myanmar Military declared a ceasefire from 10 May to 31 August but
excluded ethnic groups in Rakhine State announced as terrorists. Betraying
this ceasefire’s spirit, in Southeast Myanmar, the Burmese Army forcibly
closed the Covid-19 screening post set up by KNU’s Health Department in
Doothathoo (Thaton) District, which is controlled by the Myanmar Army and
KNU. Similarly, on 17 April the Myanmar Army forcibly closed a COVID-19
screening post in Karen State earlier. On 6 May, the Myanmar Army burned a
KNU Covid-19 screening post in Mutraw District in Karen State and launched an
armed attack on the same day.Currently, the UN Security Council is planning
to discuss the violence and Covid-19 in Myanmar through diplomatic sources.
Eventually, the Myanmar Military admitted that the Burmese Army personnel
beat some villagers and detainees. The right to life, liberty, and security
are under immediate threat and the Government is involved. On the one hand,
the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission should take action according to
its mandate. Although they face limitations during the Covid-19 pandemic, the
UN, Joint Ceasefire Monitoring Committee (JMC), Civil Societies, and media
must raise human rights issues louder to promote the right to life, liberty,
and security of every person in Myanmar. The Government should recognize the
ethnic health organizations’ role to combat the Covid-19 contagion and should
stop military attacks to respect the “no one left behind”
policy.References:Bangkok
Post, 2020. Myanmar Military May be committing new war crimes: envoy.  on 29 April. Available at: < https://www.bangkokpost.com/world/1909992/myanmar-military-may-be-committing-new-war-crimes-envoy>
.BBC, 2020. Coronavirus: WHO worker killed in Myanmar collecting
samples.  21 April. Available at: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-52366811
.OHCHR, 2020. Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  Available at: < https://www.ohchr.org/en/udhr/documents/udhr_translations/eng.pdf>
.UN, 2020. Covid-19: UN chief calls for global ceasefire to focus on ‘the
true fight of our lives.’  23 March.
Available at: https://news.un.org/en/story/2020/03/1059972
.

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