COVID-19 THIRD WAVE SURGING: R2P emergency humanitarian health intervention possible?

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When the people of Burma or Myanmar have already given up hope for Responsibility to Protect (R2P) humanitarian intervention by the UN and international community to save them from the tyrannical military junta rule following the coup on February 1, a ray of hope now seems to be appearing on the the horizon in the form of emergency health intervention.

Current member of SAC M
Current member of SAC M

On July 16, Special Advisory Council for Myanmar (SAC-M) issued a statement titled, “The People of Myanmar Need Urgent Assistance as the Junta Weaponises the COVID-19 Crisis”.

The main thrust of the statement is: “The international community must urgently respond to Myanmar’s crippling COVID-19 crisis and get life-saving assistance across borders into the country through the democracy movement’s networks.”

In clear text: “SAC-M is calling for the urgent opening of supply lines across Myanmar’s borders, from Kachin state in the north to Karenni and Karen states in the east and Chin state in the west. Humanitarian assistance must be directed through ethnic administrations, civil society organizations and service providers whose networks can reach those in need in the more remote states as well as Myanmar’s central towns and cities.”

“The junta allowed COVID-19 to run free. The coup it launched in February has failed. The junta has not established ordinary government structures and it is unable to do so. The only viable way of dealing with the COVID-19 crisis in Myanmar is to deal with the democracy movement,” said Chris Sidoti of SAC-M.

“Since launching the coup, the junta’s forces have killed, detained and threatened medical professionals, attacked ambulances, clinics and social workers, destroyed and looted medical equipment, and occupied hospitals. They seized oxygen cylinders as the COVID-19 crisis escalated and blocked factories from refilling people’s oxygen cylinders.”

SAC M report
SAC M report

The statement heaped the blame on ASEAN and as well the UN, stating: “ASEAN resolved to provide humanitarian assistance over two-and-a-half months ago as part of its five-point consensus,” said Marzuki Darusman of SAC-M. “It is unacceptable that ASEAN only acts at the pleasure of the junta while so many lives are being lost. There is no excuse for ASEAN, UN agencies or any other actors to delay. There are ways to get assistance directly to the people now.”

“The junta is weaponising COVID-19 for its own political gain by suffocating the democracy movement and seeking to gain the legitimacy and control it craves. The generals are not partners for the delivery of aid. They are murderers who will be held to account for their crimes,” said  Yanghee Lee of SAC-M, the former UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, who held the mandate from 2014 to 2020.

On July 18, the NUG Prime Minister Office wrote an appeal and request to UN Secretary General, international organizations, national governments, and to all people of good will for urgent humanitarian assistance for the people of Myanmar during the escalating COVID-19 crisis.

Urgent request for humanitarian assiment to UNSG
Urgent request for humanitarian assiment to UNSG

The statement writes: “Since the failed military coup on 1st February 2021, 912 people have died and over 5,277 have been detained, including children and many healthcare workers by armed forces acting on the orders of the illegitimate and unlawful military council. There are now more than 945,000 people in need of aid and more than 336,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) since the coup, and at least 6.2 million people have experienced food insecurity.”

“A third wave of COVID-19 has rapidly spiraled out of control with a death toll that is increasing daily under the mismanagement of the coup council,” according to the statement.

It mentioned the military council report of 190 deaths and 6194 new cases on 16th July alone. Hospitals are said to be running out of beds and refusal of treatment on Covid patients are reported, besides there are growing reports on shortage of oxygen and blatant, inhumane seizure of oxygen production facilities by security forces.

“Myanmar will likely become a nexus for the regional spread of COVID-19, potentially including new variants, if the international community does not act now. Myanmar’s crisis is on the cusp of becoming a resurgent regional and global health crisis. This is no longer just a domestic issue of one country. We therefore request a robust and well-designed intervention from the international community,” warned the statement

According to junta’s  Ministry of Health and Sports announcement of July 18, during 24 hours from 14,492  laboratory analysis 5,285 were found positive, which amount to 36.47 percent infection. And during the 24 hours 231 deaths were registered because of COVID-19. In Myanmar to date 5,000 have already died officially but the real count may be a lot more according to the responsible healthcare workers.

Perspectives

Given the near failed state scenario of the country, the hitherto unresponsive call for R2P intervention should be given a second thought, as this isn’t just power struggle between the military junta and the ethnic-democratic opposition camps but a wholly new dimension of containing corona virus pandemic.

In normal circumstances, the so-called international community could just sit back by passing the ball either to the ASEAN to which Myanmar belongs and thus is the task of this regional organization; or hide behind non-interference and territorial integrity norms so as not to get involved on which many see it as an “internal problems” like China and Russia have argued.

But the NUG proposed third party intervention to fight the pandemic getting the approval of the junta and also to accommodate the NUG in the process may be a way out, if there could be a give-and-take. However, at the time the junta and NUG are competing for international recognition in the UN, so it is hardly unlikely to have a positive outcome from this approach.

Perhaps, the SAC-M outright lobbying to disregard the junta and instead use the border-crossings of the ethnic states, (Arakan and Chin states in the west, Kachin State in the north, Shan State in the east, Karenni, Karen and Mon states in the southeast) to deliver emergency aids in fighting the pandemic through the third countries may be easier to implement.

Now the international community and UN would need to weigh the pros and cons strictly from containing the pandemic point of view by looking at whether Myanmar is now breeding a new type of corona virus strain, faster and deadlier like India’s Delta strain; if R2P type of emergency healthcare intervention may be necessary to isolate the possible Myanmar strain which may now have developed; and last but not least, whether it is worth saving the people when they could still be saved to prevent the country from becoming a fully-fledged failed state.

Once the US had tried to deliver a noble deed 13 years ago to the people of Myanmar.

In June 2008, during Cyclone Nargis, the US sent four Navy ships with necessary equipment and provision to help the people of Burma, where nearly 140,000 people were killed and severely affecting 2.4 million more.

The US offer to help was rejected by the then military government of Than Shwe.

This time around the corona virus pandemic is killing the people again, may be even more devastating than the Cyclone Nargis. Perhaps the US should refresh its good will and noble deed of 2008 again to help the people of Myanmar, who are in dire need to survive the pandemic onslaught.

The US-led R2P humanitarian intervention, strictly to contain and fight the pandemic, will be definitely welcomed and even China and Russia may be in an awkward position to disrupt such mercy actions for they will look really bad in public opinion if they do.

But for the moment, no one knows for sure whether the desperate call for help from Myanmar will be heard this time or it will fall on deaf ears again like it used to be.

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