Humanitarian aid urgently needed in Myanmar

Humanitarian aid urgently needed in Myanmar
Destroyed buildings after fighting by Yevhen Sukhenko, via Pexels, 2022/May 16th


Pauliina Majasaari

Human Rights Researcher

Global Human Rights Defence


On November 16th, 2023, the Myanmar military forces (Tatmadaw) conducted two attacks in the town of Pauktaw, Rakhine State of Myanmar, with horrifying consequences on the civilians living in these towns.[i] Tens of thousands of persons were forced to flee their homes, had their homes destroyed, and resulted in multiple deaths and injuries of civilians.

Rising tensions have been present between the Myanmar military forces as well as three ethnic armed organisations, The Arakan Army of the Arkanese ethnic minority, the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army of the Kokang ethnic minority of Han-Chinese and the Ta’ang National Liberation Army of the Ta’ang ethnic minority, which have been spiralling out of control since October 27th 2023.[ii] The organised non-state armed forces have been conducting coordinated attacks on military posts under the name of ‘Operation 1027’ to act in offence to the Tatmadaw, which are being referred to as the heaviest clashes since the coup in 2021.[iii] In 2021, The Tatmadaw declared a state of emergency in Myanmar and overthrew the newly elected government of the National League for Democracy as the majority party, invalidating the results of the election.[iv] For many years the Tatmadaw has been holding dominant political control over the country, however it nearly lost its dominant position within the 2020 elections.[v] The mentioned military takeover led to nationwide protests and demonstrations which resulted in many deaths of civilians.[vi]  

The Fourth Geneva Convention protects civilians within armed conflicts.[vii] According to the common Article 3 to the Geneva Conventions, within armed conflicts that are not of international character, acts, such as violence to life and person, taking of hostages, and humiliating and degrading treatment towards persons not actively taking part in the hostilities are prohibited.[viii] In the morning of November 16th, Myanmar’s military started by firing from air into the town of Pauktaw and after told all civilians to leave within an hour.[ix] Not all were able to flee within the given timeframe, especially some elderly and disabled people.[x] According to witnesses, the second, afternoon, attack was more gruesome, the military was firing from air and sea as well as inside the town.[xi] Those who took refuge in an nearby compound, were later found by the military and arrested, while some were shot to death.[xii] Over the next night, the arrested civilians were forced to stay in the heavy rain all night and being locked into the compound with no food or water.[xiii] Therefore, a violation of the common Article 3 is present, as the Tatmadaw soldiers were acting with violence towards the civilians which has led to the loss of life, the civilians were kept as hostages as they were arrested without cause and kept locked inside a building with no possibility to escape, and lastly withholding water and food and exposing the civilians to extreme weather conditions, amounted to inhumane and degrading treatment.

Based on concerns raised by the international community in relation to the violent attacks conducted by the Tatmadaw, it is necessary to call on the State of Myanmar to stop the atrocities taking place towards the civilians and to abide by the rules on protecting civilians within non-international armed conflicts for being a State party to the Fourth Geneva Convention.[xiv] Additionally as stated by various actors on the international level, Myanmar is urged to allow humanitarian aid to be delivered to the civilians who have been forced to flee their homes and having little to no access to healthcare, food, water or shelter.[xv]


[i] Amnesty International, ‘Myanmar: Military should be investigated for war crimes in response to ‘Operation 1027’’ (Amnesty International, December 21st 2023) <> accessed February 15th 2024.

[ii] ibid.

[iii] ibid.

[iv] Angela Clare, ‘The Myanmar coup: a quick guide’ (Commonwealth of Australia, July 2nd 2021)  <> accessed February 15th 2024.

[v] ibid.

[vi] ibid.

[vii] Geneva Convention relative to the protection of civilian persons in time of war (adopted 12 august 1949, entered into force 21 October 1950) 75 UNTS 287 (Fourth Geneva Convention).

[viii] Fourth Geneva Convention, Article 3 (1) (a) – (c).

[ix] Amnesty International, ‘Myanmar: Military should be investigated for war crimes in response to ‘Operation 1027’’(Amnesty International, December 21st 2023) <> accessed February 15th 2024.

[x] ibid.

[xi] ibid.

[xii] ibid.

[xiii] ibid.

[xiv] Volker Turk ‘Myanmar: High Commissioner details severe violations amid shocking violence’ (UN Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner, March 6th 2023) <> accessed February 15th 2024.

[xv] Lisa Hastert, ‘5 things you need to know about Myanmar’s humanitarian crisis’ (European Commission, January 31st 2024) <> accessed February 15th 2024.