In late March/early April 2018, Watchlist visited Myanmar to conduct outreach to local civil society organizations working on child rights and protection, as well as to examine current concerns affecting children’s rights in conflict-affected regions of the country. In particular, Watchlist collected information about the denial of, and increasing restrictions against, humanitarian access to affected populations.
In recent months, international headlines have focused largely on the dire human rights and humanitarian situation of Rohingya civilians fleeing what the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has called “widespread, systematic and shockingly brutal attacks […] by the Myanmar security forces” – known as the Tatmadaw – in Rakhine State. In its March 2018 report to the UN Human Rights Council (HRC), the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar described accounts it had received of children and babies who were killed, boys arrested, and girls raped.
In recent months, the security situation has also deteriorated in other parts of the country, notably Kachin and Shan States. As the HRC-mandated Fact-Finding Mission has noted, there are certain patterns of violations against civilians that display notable similarities in the way military operations are conducted in different regions of Myanmar, including Rakhine, Kachin, and Shan. One of these patterns is the denial of humanitarian access to conflict-affected areas.
On its visit to Myanmar, Watchlist spoke with numerous local and international humanitarian actors who described increasing restrictions on humanitarian access. As violence and conflict have escalated in several regions of the country, civilians, including children, have been killed, seriously wounded, and displaced, resulting in an increase in humanitarian needs. These needs are further compounded by restrictions on access to affected populations.
International humanitarian law requires the Tatmadaw and all ethnic armed organizations that are party to the conflict to take all feasible measures to protect civilians and civilian objects, as well as to ensure safe and unfettered access to humanitarian assistance for all those affected by conflict. The denial of humanitarian access is one of the six grave violations against children identified and condemned by the UN Security Council. It is the only grave violation that is currently not a trigger for listing in the annexes of the UN Secretary-General’s annual report on children and armed conflict (CAC). However, the denial of humanitarian access is of growing concern, as it is increasingly being used as a tactic of war in a number of countries included on the CAC agenda.
Watchlist’s research in Myanmar contributes to its broader body of research on attacks on health care and their impact on children’s health. Later this month, Watchlist will publish a report on attacks on health care in South Sudan, including the connection to denial of humanitarian access. To learn more about Watchlist’s thematic research examining the impact on children of attacks on health care, click here: https://watchlist.org/about/report/.