Mar 17, 2021
Mar 17, 2021 by members
International Financial Institutions (IFIs) and States must work directly with civil society and other stakeholders on COVID-19: collaborating with the junta on public health would jeopardize Myanmar’s COVID-19 response, legitimize the junta, and harm public health in the long term.
On 17 March 2021, 225 Myanmar civil society organizations, international groups and individuals addressed the following open letter to the international community, and in particular, to International Financial Institutions (IFIs) and States:
We are writing to urge IFIs and State donors to work directly with civil society, including ethnic health services, to ensure effective and sustainable response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Given the military’s (Tatmadaw’s) active undermining of the COVID-19 response last year, and the illegal junta’s ongoing attacks on community resources essential to the COVID-19 response, it is clear that any aid to entities under the junta’s control would constitute an attack on Myanmar’s public health.
The Tatmadaw undermined Myanmar’s COVID-19 response before seizing power, and continues to do so now, escalating attacks on peaceful protesters and civil society, targeting health workers and facilities and engaging in armed conflict in ethnic areas. It has actively suppressed COVID-19 efforts by civil society and Ethnic Armed Organizations (EAOs). The primary impediment to pandemic response in Myanmar is not a lack of funding, but the junta itself.
On 17 February 2021, we urged you in a letter to halt lending obligations, suspend disbursements, pending grants and loans across all sovereign and non-sovereign operations, until conclusive confirmation that these do not legitimize military rule. At best, funding the regime to provide healthcare—rather than supporting civil society and EAOs—would legitimize and fund the junta, force health care workers, civil society and the public to engage with it, and undermine Myanmar’s Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM). More realistically, funding to the junta would not be used on public health. The Tatmadaw’s actions make clear it is not concerned about people’s health or COVID-19 suppression in Myanmar—funding will not change this.
The CDM is a choice by millions of people, including large parts of the public health and medical communities, not to engage with the regime. An estimated 50,000 of 110,000 Ministry of Health and Sports staff have joined, including 70% of its Yangon headquarters. 357 of Myanmar’s 1,162 public hospitals are closed. Statements from Myanmar health care workers highlight that a return to military dictatorship would be more harmful to public health than the pandemic. The impact of COVID-19, as a public health concern, should be seen in context; Myanmar has recorded approximately 3,200 COVID-19 deaths; the same number die in Myanmar from tuberculosis every 6 weeks.
Recommendations in relation to the COVID-19 response:
Background on COVID-19, CDM and Tatmadaw actions
Myanmar’s chronic underfunding of social services means that most people rely on informal providers—civil society has been invaluable throughout the pandemic, providing food and monetary aid, medical equipment, and accessible, translated information. The junta has hindered this by raiding CSOs offices, detaining CSOs staff, and imposing movement restrictions, excessive curfews, and internet shutoffs.
CSOs that coordinated with the government on pandemic response, nutrition, gender-based violence, and other activities now refuse to work with the junta. Health workers initiated the CDM and have refused to work for the junta. Medical staff are refusing second doses of vaccines, fearing that the junta will force them to work for it if they return to the hospital.
The Tatmadaw has shown it is not concerned about people’s health or COVID-19 suppression in Myanmar:
Background on IFI Loans
As of February 2021, the following project finance (combined amount of current and pipeline projects with IFI commitments via loans, grants, guarantees, financial intermediaries, other financing modalities), support to COVID-19 response, and other financial transactions have been noted:
Development finance and related country partnership strategies can only succeed if supported by:
(1) the rule of law;
(2) functioning democratic institutions;
and (3) protected rights of people, rights defenders and free media.
In contrast, the military coup d’état beginning on 1 February conferred full legislative, executive, and judicial powers unto the Tatmadaw—and specifically its leader, General Min Aung Hlaing. He and the Tatmadaw have long carried out atrocity crimes and rights abuses, documented by theIndependent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar, and subject to scrutiny at the International Criminal Court andInternational Court of Justice.
Lenders should comply with their own policies and commitments, such as the World Bank’s Environmental and Social Framework; or ADB’s safeguard policies on involuntary resettlement, indigenous peoples, and the environment. They should also comply with responsible business practices, such as the OECD’s Responsible business conduct for institutional investors and the UN’s Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, which require investors to identify potential adverse impacts and use leverage to influence recipients. At the very least, lenders should fulfil the objectives outlined at the 2020 Finance in Common Summit, which include promoting sustainable, inclusive and equitable development.
Oversight and risk assessment as contemplated in the above-referenced frameworks (and others) should raise the following critical issues, at a minimum:
For civil society engagement and further questions, please contact:
Executive Director, Bank Information Center
Campaign Coordinator, IFI Watch Myanmar
 In a letter publish in the Lancet, Myanmar medical professionals said: “50 years of previous military rule failed to develop our health system and instead enshrined poverty, inequality, and inadequate medical care.”  The World Bank, United Nations, and European Union announced an innovative model for disbursing aid to Lebanon that pools funds into a mechanism that empowers civil society and disburses funds directly to nongovernmental groups and businesses rather than the unaccountable government.  For further information, see ALTSEAN-Burma (11 Mar 2021) Burma/Myanmar: Junta’s attacks on civil society & health workers are killing domestic COVID-19 response  Covid-19 and conflict in Myanmar briefing paper series, No. 2, The Asia Foundation