Opinion: Myanmar activists are attacking the wrong target | Opinion | DW

A brutal helicopter attack on a school in Myanmar’s hotly contested Sagaing state last Friday killed 14 people, 12 of them children. This is not the first time since the coup in February 2021 that the Myanmar military has violated international law and the rights of children.

After the attack, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) posted a message on Twitter offering condolences to the parents and families who lost their children.

The tweet was slammed by activists and organizations such as Justice for Myanmar for not naming the perpetrators — the Myanmar military — who carried out the attack.

The NGO Save the Children has also come under attack in recent days for similar reasons.

It’s necessary to underline that the deadly helicopter attack is undoubtedly the military’s fault. At the same time, the state-controlled Myanma Alinn The newspaper reported that security forces had gone to check the village after receiving information that resistance fighters from the People’s Defence Force were hiding there.

The UNICEF statement that many details are still unclear is therefore undoubtedly accurate.

It is clear that children must be protected, and UNICEF is right to call on all parties to the conflict to do so.

Most recently, the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack (GCPEA) released a report showing that educational facilities were being illegally used for military purposes by both the Myanmar army and the resistance forces.

UN bashing

This is not the first time the United Nations and others have been caught in the crossfire of activists. When Noeleen Heyzer, the UN special envoy on Myanmar, visited the country in August 2022 and met army chief Min Aung Hlaing, the head of the Myanmar junta that seized power in February 2021, many accused her and the UN of wasting time and needlessly lending legitimacy to the coup plotters.

DW Asia editor Rodion Ebbighausen

Following the sharp censure, Heyzer felt compelled to release a statement saying that “UN engagement does not in any way confer legitimacy” on the military government.

In an article for the Democratic Voice of Burma, Paul Greening argues against direct UN involvement in Myanmar, saying that it does more harm than good. The UN insists that it is not involved in politics, but in a place like Myanmar, everything is political , including humanitarian aid, he writes. That is not wrong. But it is also true that humanitarian aid is not exclusively political.

If a starving child receives food aid and does not starve to death, it is good, even if the military has previously politicized the delivery of food or exploited the situation and pictures with a UN representative for propaganda purposes.

Caught between the fronts

So, is the United Nations, and agencies like UNICEF, really the right target for the activists’ anger?

I don’t think so. In the massive humanitarian crisis that has hit Myanmar, any help and any humanitarian commitment that can alleviate the suffering of the people should be welcome.

Any organization that wants to be active in all parts of the country and not just in the border regions, will have to come to terms with the military.

It is not helpful to demand from everyone and every organization a commitment to the revolution and a boycott of the military. If hatred of the military and the desire for its destruction takes precedence over the protection of children, this will only increase the suffering of the people in the country.

Some aid organizations are now not only afraid of the ruthless brutality of the military, but also worried about the hostility of the resistance forces. They rightly fear getting caught between the fronts.

The revolution dreamed of by the majority in the country can only be successful if there is space left for humanitarian aid.

This article was originally written in German.

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