Entrusting Myanmar’s junta with aid distribution creates ‘more opportunities for injustice,’ civil society organisation says

A Kachin civil society organisation has called on international humanitarian agencies to ensure that no aid is delivered through the military regime that ousted the elected civilian government in a coup early last year.

The Kachin Women’s Association Thailand (KWAT) released a report titled “New Threats from the Air” on Wednesday, outlining the crisis created by the Myanmar military’s airstrikes on villages in Kachin and northern Shan States and the abuses committed by its troops in those areas.

The 28-page report documented crimes perpetrated against communities in those areas from November 2021 through April of this year, a period during which Myanmar has been in turmoil, with widespread military offensives and armed resistance campaigns being waged throughout the country.

Ongoing fighting between the military and ethnic armed organisations or recently formed People’s Defence Forces (PDFs) has newly displaced more than 5,700 villagers in Kachin and northern Shan States in the last six months, according to KWAT’s report. 

According to UN figures released on Tuesday, the number of persons internally displaced (IDPs) since the coup stands at nearly 700,000, bringing the total number nationwide to more than one million. Tens of thousands of people from Myanmar have also fled to neighbouring countries such as Thailand and India. 

The mass displacement and growing unmet needs of IDPs has raised questions about the most effective and ethical ways in which to deliver emergency support to wartorn communities.

Regional bloc ASEAN issued a decision in early May declaring that humanitarian aid be distributed in Myanmar through junta-controlled channels. 

In a joint statement released on Monday with the civilian National Unity Government, three ethnic armed organisations—the Karen National Union, Karenni National Progressive Party, and Chin National Front—condemned ASEAN’s move as endorsing “an ill-informed and exclusive humanitarian process” that would “weaponise” aid in the country. They called on the bloc to redesign the scheme to include all stakeholders. 

KWAT also called on international donors not to allow aid intended for the Myanmar people to legitimise or subsidise the coup regime. 

“If aid is handed over through the military, they will use it to prolong their power and put people who are already suffering in a hostage-like situation,” KWAT spokesperson Moon Nay Li told Myanmar Now.

She said that the delivery of humanitarian aid through junta-controlled channels simply “must not happen,” insisting that such funds and assistance allocated under military supervision would not be distributed transparently and could even further enrich the armed forces.

“The military could use those funds to buy weapons to kill more civilians, which means it would be paving the way for more opportunities to perpetrate injustices,” she said.

KWAT emphasised that humanitarian aid to IDPs could alternatively be delivered through existing cross-border channels to ethnic administrations and community-based organisations. 

For this to happen, Moon Nay Li explained that international non-governmental organisations and UN agencies would need to adapt their partner requirements and distribution policies to accommodate the current emergency context, rather than conforming to the junta’s demands. 

She pointed out that local ethnic administrations and civil society organisations have had years of experience managing such deliveries during the military offensives that raged in ethnic states in the decades prior to the coup, and they have continued to reach communities using cross-border channels over the last year.

“Refusing to adapt their policies will put the military in more control and the safety of the IDPs will become more severely threatened,” Moon Nay Li said.

WFP staff members distribute aid to internally displaced people in Loikaw, Karenni State in May (UN Myanmar/ Facebook)

In addition to the areas of displacement outlined in KWAT’s publication, there has been widespread upheaval in Myanmar’s heartland, including in Sagaing, Magway and parts of Mandalay regions. There, military arson campaigns aimed at crushing resistance strongholds have forced thousands of people from their homes. 

To the east, in Karenni (Kayah) State, two-thirds of the population have fled their villages amid indiscriminate shelling by the Myanmar army in civilian areas, including at IDP camps. 

According to a Karenni Civil Society Network report published on May 11, around 197,000 people from Karenni State have been displaced since the coup. 

Both locals and the Karenni State Consultative Council (KSCC) have also maintained that recent aid provisions arranged for the state by the UN and ASEAN along military-controlled routes were not delivered in full to IDPs in need. 

Anders Graugaard, Head of Mission of the Danish Embassy in Myanmar, and WFP Myanmar’s Country Director Stephen Anderson, visit an IDP camp in southern Shan State in May (UN Myanmar / Facebook) 

Locals reported that IDPs were denied emergency support if they were unable to show household registration proving their prior residence, noting that many of those who fled their homes were not able to gather such documents before their departure amid junta attacks.

They also highlighted the presence of a growing black market in the region for rice, beans and other food supplies intended for IDPs. 

In a statement on Wednesday, the World Food Programme (WFP)—the UN’s food assistance agency—said that it had launched a relief operation for IDPs in Karenni State in May and that its teams were in the capital of Loikaw distributing aid. The agency reported that it had provided assistance to at least 80,000 IDPs in and around the city. 

“While we fully respect the right of beneficiaries to make personal decisions on the use of their entitlements, WFP takes any unauthorised commercial selling of our humanitarian food assistance extremely seriously,” the agency said.

Banyar, a KSCC spokesperson on issues concerning humanitarian aid, remarked that the IDPs who have access to the assistance provided through military-controlled channels are those living in areas still under the junta’s administration. 

“The IDPs sheltering in areas controlled by the military council will only be in Loikaw, which is only a few thousand people. The military has control in urban areas,” Banyar told Myanmar Now.

Those displaced to rural areas under the control of ethnic governance bodies and resistance organisations were unable to procure the same support, he noted. 

In their report, KWAT urged the leaders of Myanmar’s neighbouring countries to create safer environments for civil society organisations and local ethnic administrations to carry out the delivery of cross-border aid so that the needs of all displaced communities could be met.

“Due to the lack of such support, the IDPs are blocked between two hostile sides. They can neither run to the other side [of the border] nor come back to the Myanmar side because the military is shelling,” Moon Nay Li said. “They no longer have any place to move.” 

Esther J contributed to this report.

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