International experts call for urgent UN-mandated action, as ethnic health organisations and the NUG form a task force to increase international cooperation to fight the pandemic
The declaration from the group of independent experts comes as Myanmar faces a major public health crisis resulting from the junta’s mismanagement of the response to the third wave of Covid-19. In recent weeks, the country’s healthcare system has collapsed, doctors have been arrested, and oxygen banned from distribution except by authorities under the military’s control.
“The situation has become a humanitarian disaster of such proportions that an international presence of health and medical personnel has become critical,” SAC-M member and former member of the UN Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar (FFM) Chris Sidoti said in the statement.
The experts—which also include former FFM chair Marzuki Darusman and former Special Rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar Yanghee Lee—said the intervention must be mandated by the UN Security Council as a joint initiative with ASEAN, since Myanmar’s infection rates are both an international and regional threat.
In an online press conference hosted by ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights on Thursday, Yanghee Lee noted that a Security Council resolution on Myanmar’s Covid-19 emergency would be the UN body’s first concerning the country, and that it was “way too late.”
She emphasised that international humanitarian actors involved in an intervention must not engage with the military coup council, which SAC-M blamed for “deliberately fuell[ing]” the current crisis.
“The junta must not be considered a partner for the delivery of aid,” Lee said in the press conference. “They should be recognised as murderers who will be held to account for their crimes.”
The intervention should instead rely on cooperation across all UN agencies under a delegation led by UN Secretary General António Guterres, and involve a ground force of international and local health workers, she explained.
“We need a lot of medical professionals and health workers mandated by the UN to enter Myanmar, so that the medical professionals now in hiding can come out and join hands to be able to deliver services,” Lee said, suggesting that the mandate would be difficult for the junta to refuse.
SAC-M described cross-border assistance as “vital” for the inclusion of ethnic health organisations, the National Unity Government (NUG) and those participating in the Civil Disobedience Movement in the humanitarian response, the statement said.
The NUG’s health ministry and ethnic health organisations announced on Thursday that they had jointly formed the Covid-19 Task Force in order to “prevent, mitigate and control the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic.”
A major task force priority will be international cooperation in order to procure Covid-19 vaccines as well as assistance and equipment related to implementing a vaccination scheme, according to the announcement.
“The task force was formed for more effective collaboration on [curbing] the pandemic,” the task force’s spokesperson Padoh Mahn Mahn told Myanmar Now. “We will connect with UN agencies to seek the required assistance.”
Serving as the clinical lead of the task force is Dr. Cynthia Maung of the Mae Tao Clinic on the Thai-Myanmar border, with the NUG’s health minister Dr. Zaw Wai Soe in the position of deputy lead.