Letter to U.S. Secretary of State Blinken on the Human Rights Crisis in Myanmar

April 7, 2021 

To: Antony Blinken, Secretary of State 

CC: Jake Sullivan, National Security Advisor; Linda Thomas-Greenfield, U.S. Ambassador to the United  Nations; Jeff Zients, White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator; Samantha Power, USAID  Administrator Nominee  

Secretary Blinken: 

We write as concerned human rights organizations, humanitarian organizations, medical professional  associations, labor organizations, and refugee rights organizations to urge you to take immediate  additional actions to address the public health and human rights crisis in Myanmar. 

It has now been two months since the Myanmar military executed a coup d'état to overthrow the country’s  democratically elected government, prompting widespread peaceful protests demanding a return to  democracy. The military’s security forces have responded with an increasingly brutal crackdown defined  by some of the worst human rights violations imaginable: unlawful and arbitrary arrests and detentions,  torture, and extrajudicial killings. This includes the bloodiest crackdown yet: more than 110 civilians reportedly killed in just a few days by security forces, among them children as young as five years old.1 

Myanmar’s health care workers, in particular, have been systematically targeted by the military for  participating in the civil disobedience movement and providing care to injured protestors.2 Many health  care workers have been forced into hiding, kidnapped in night raids, or detained arbitrarily pursuant to  spurious charges.3 4 More than 100 medical students and health care workers have reportedly been  arrested since the start of the coup.5  

The military has escalated its assault on Myanmar’s health care system by forcibly occupying at least 36  hospitals in an apparent attempt to arrest injured protestors, or health care workers who are providing  care to them.6 7 Doctors have been threatened with arrest if they do not return to health facilities under  

military control, and some providing care in military-occupied hospitals have reported being hampered by  fear of threats and attacks.8 9 Among the abuses, security forces have opened fire at a hospital’s maternity  ward, stormed several hospitals and forcibly evacuated the patients and health workers, and opened fire  on protestors at a hospital, injuring a hospital worker.10 11 12 Health workers who provide care to injured  protestors in charity or private hospitals and clinics outside of military control have been brutally beaten,  shot at, tracked, arrested, and detained.13 14 

Since February 1, at least 510 people have been killed and at least 2,574 have been detained by the  Myanmar military, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, in an apparent effort to  quash the civil disobedience movement and coerce people to return to work.15 The military has also denied  access to independent doctors and potentially lifesaving, critical treatment for those in detention, a  violation of international law.16 17 A dire and desperate situation has only gotten worse as reports have  surfaced suggesting that Myanmar military and security forces have engaged in extrajudicial killings  through sniper fire, indiscriminate shooting into crowds, torture of detainees, and airstrikes in residential  areas. 18 19 20 

The military’s crackdown is also generating a public health crisis with potential regional and international  impact. By occupying hospitals by force and by persecuting health care workers and public health officials,  the military has critically impeded Myanmar’s health care system – including its COVID-19 testing,  treatment, and immunization efforts.21 22 As public health experts have noted, the COVID-19 virus does  not stop spreading at national borders.23 Inadequate vaccine coverage in Myanmar and disruptions to  local disease response mechanisms could seriously compromise global COVID-19 containment efforts if  immediate action is not taken.24

The most pressing needs right now are for protection for protestors and human rights defenders – including health care workers – who are being targeted, and access to independent monitoring and health care for those in detention. We urge the United States to immediately launch a global effort to offer  additional protection, support, and services to people being targeted in Myanmar and to refugees who  have fled the country. It is also critical that you work with other global leaders to exert the necessary  pressure to secure access to detainees for independent health care providers.  

We appreciate your ongoing effort to identify and sanction members of Myanmar’s military responsible  for abuses and urge you to lead an effort to build a global coalition in support of targeted sanctions and  potential effective arms embargoes so the military cannot continue perpetrating human rights abuses with  other sources of weapons and funding. Similarly, we urge you to provide a surge of humanitarian aid and  assistance – including for health services such as COVID-19 vaccination efforts – to help the people of  Myanmar without bolstering the military. The United States should place a particular focus on securing  the cooperation and support of regional partners that have unique capacity and influence – such as  member states of the Association for South East Asian Nations – to advance these global human rights  and humanitarian responses. 

Importantly, you must continue to speak out – loudly and often – against the human rights violations that the Myanmar military is committing against the people of Myanmar, including its health care workers. It is critical that you use the full authority of the United States government to bring the military’s brutal  crackdown to an end and advance justice and accountability for the full scope of international crimes  committed against the people of Myanmar. The leaders of Myanmar’s military have for many years  demonstrated that they are willing to commit widespread and systematic human rights violations to stay  in power. There is no reason to believe that they will stop now, unless the international community, with  your leadership, acts to stop them.  


American Medical Student Association 

American Public Health Association 

Burma Task Force 

Crane Center for Mass Atrocity Prevention 

Doctors of the World USA 

Fortify Rights 

Global Justice Center 

Human Rights Watch 

Imamia Medics International 

Insecurity Insight 

Institute for Asian Democracy 

International Campaign for the Rohingya 

Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health 

Justice for All Canada  


No Business With Genocide

Physicians for Human Rights 

Refugees International 

Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights 

The Center for Victims of Torture 

Unitarian Universalist Service Committee 

1 Blake Montgomery, “Five-Year-Old Boy Killed in One of Myanmar’s Deadliest Days Since Coup,” The Daily Beast,  Mar. 27, 2021, https://www.thedailybeast.com/... including-children.  

2 Adam Lalley, “From COVID-19 to the Coup, Myanmar’s Doctors Are Risking Their Lives,” The Diplomat, Mar. 15,  2021, https://thediplomat.com/2021/03/from-covid-19-to-the-coup-myanmars-doctors-are-risking-their-lives/. 3 Zaw Zaw Htwe, “Myanmar Medics in Hiding as Regime Targets Hospital-Led Disobedience Movement,” The  Irrawaddy, Feb. 19, 2021, https://www.irrawaddy.com/news... hospital-led-disobedience-movement.html. 

4 “Myanmar coup: Neighborhood groups block night arrests,” DW, Feb. 13, 2021, https://www.dw.com/en/myanmar coup-neighborhood-groups-block-night-arrests/a-56557135. 

5 Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, “Daily Briefing in Relation to the Military Coup,” Mar. 29,  2021, https://aappb.org/?p=13942. 

6 Irwin Loy, “Myanmar’s post-coup healthcare breakdown,” The New Humanitarian, Mar. 25,  2021, https://www.thenewhumanitarian.org/news/2021/3/25/myanmars-post-coup-healthcare-breakdown. 7 “Myanmar’s democracy and health on life support,” The Lancet, vol. 397, no. 10279, (Mar. 20, 2021):  1035, https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(21)00656-5/fulltext.  8 Nu Nu Lusan, Kyaw Hsan Hlaing, and Emily Fishbein, “Medics risk lives to treat injured in Myanmar anti-coup  protests,” Aljazeera, Mar. 3, 2021, https://www.aljazeera.com/news... injured-in-anti-coup-protests. 

9 Adam Lalley, “From COVID-19 to the Coup, Myanmar’s Doctors Are Risking Their Lives.” 10 “Myanmar coup: Week from March 18 to March 31, Suu Kyi appoints six lawyers,” Nikkei Asia, Mar. 18,  2021, https://asia.nikkei.com/Spotli... junta. 

11 “Junta troops open fire on fleeing protesters at Yangon’s Asia Royal Hospital,” Myanmar Now, Mar. 28,  2021, https://www.myanmar-now.org/en... hospital. 

12 “Myanmar Junta Occupies Schools, Hospitals And Shutters 5 Media Outlets in Fresh Clampdown,” Radio Free  Asia, Mar. 8, 2021, https://www.rfa.org/english/news/myanmar/fresh-clampdown-03082021172256.html. 13 Nu Nu Lusan, Kyaw Hsan Hlaing, and Emily Fishbein, “Medics risk lives to treat injured in Myanmar anti-coup  protests.” 

14 Nandi Theint and Nicola Smith, “’I might get killed just for doing my job’: Myanmar medics set up secret clinics to  avoid brutal military,” The Telegraph, Mar. 29, 2021, https://www.telegraph.co.uk/ne... killed-just-job-myanmar-medics-set-secret-clinics/. 

15 Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, “Daily Briefing in Relation to the Military Coup.” 16 “Deputy Bank Governor’s Location Unknown Since Military Detention: Wife,” The Irrawaddy, Feb. 9,  2021, https://www.irrawaddy.com/news... detention-wife.html. 

17 Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, “Daily Briefing, Detention and Fatality List in Relation to Military  Coup,” Mar. 13, 2021, https://aappb.org/?p=13649. 

18 “Myanmar’s military on ‘killing spree’ against protesters: Amnesty,” Aljazeera, Mar. 11,  2021, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/3/11/myanmar-juntas-systematic-killing-spree-targeted-protesters. 19 Luke Harding, “Outrage in Myanmar after activist allegedly tortured to death,” The Guardian, Mar. 15,  2021, https://www.theguardian.com/wo... opposition-activist-in-myanmar. 

20 Tassanee Vejpongsa, “Thousands flee Myanmar airstrikes, complicating crisis,” Associated Press, Mar. 29,  2021, https://apnews.com/article/mya... 


21 “Rapid Response: Re: Covid-19: Military coup in Myanmar sees virus response crumble as doctors are arrested,” The BMJ, vol. 372, no. 704, (Mar. 12, 2021), https://www.bmj.com/content/372/bmj.n704/rr-0. 22 Irwin Loy, “Myanmar’s post-coup healthcare breakdown.”

23 Alex Berezow and Josh Bloom, “Closed borders will not keep out more infectious forms of COVID,” USA  Today, Jan. 31, 2021, https://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion... closing-borders-column/4290527001/. 

24 “Myanmar’s democracy and health on life support,” The Lancet.