July marks the sixth month of the State Administration Council and the month when the country was hit by the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. The government, together with public health service personnel, is making strenuous efforts to prevent, manage the pandemic, and provide medical treatment. Myanmar starts another round of vaccination against COVID-19 from the end of July. Those over the age of 65, health workers, COVID volunteers, monks, nuns and others on the priority list are scheduled to be vaccinated. The Tatmadaw medical corps and volunteers are also working on the frontline of the pandemic as there continues to be a shortage of health workers due to the government health staff who had abandoned their patients and their positions due to the civil disobedience movement.
National and subnational coordination meetings were held on COVID-19 prevention, control and treatment activities. These led to policy decisions, such as those on the systematic implementation of lock-down measures, such as the closure of offices and schools, the provision of medical oxygen to meet the needs of the country, the establishment and expansion of quarantine centres for medical treatment, and vaccination programmes to control the transmission of infection.
Policy guidance by the Head of State
Chairman of the State Administration Council Senior General Min Aung Hlaing has taken the key role of leading the country’s efforts to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic through mechanisms set up for this purpose. Various structures and entities have been set up from community level up to State and Region, and at the national level. COVID-19 committees involving both government representatives and civil society actors have also been set up in large cities. These are all overseen and coordinated by mechanisms in each State and Region, which take their policy guidance from the national level coordination body.
At the first national coordination meeting on the COVID-19 emergency held on 9 July, the State Administration Council Chairman emphasized health education of the public, provision of treatment and health care, and cooperation with social welfare organizations and volunteers. He also underscored that no limits would be placed on budget. The meeting also discussed effective actions to provide the required oxygen, transport patients to facilities and conduct COVID-19 vaccination.
The second national coordination meeting on the COVID-19 emergency held on 12 July focused on systematic planning and preparation for the large numbers of quarantined cases, the preparation of isolation facilities, the provision of medical oxygen and other health care system needs for the public.
At the third national coordination meeting on the COVID-19 emergency on 18 July, the State Administration Council Chairman highlighted his appreciation of the high level of preparedness of the systems for coping with the surge of COVID-19. There were now 1,934 facilities for more than 69,000 people at military and public hospitals, and another 1,114 facilities for 46,000 positive patients. The efforts by the public to follow COVID-19 public health rules and regulations were also appreciated since participation by the public is needed to combat the third wave of COVID-19 and reduce infection rates. The meeting also discussed the prevention of infections among health workers and government employees, and the provision of medical services, oxygen and other medical supplies in the remote areas of the country.
At the fourth national coordination meeting on the COVID-19 emergency on 23 July, the State Administration Council Chairman spoke about health personnel who had joined the civil disobedience movement. He noted that these doctors and nurses had not returned to their positions although he had invited them and requested them to help in the country’s response to combat the pandemic and that this should cut across all political divides. Some had taken up the government’s offer and returned to public service, but others had not. He again issued a request to all doctors and nurses to cooperate with the government. He also urged the social welfare organizations to cooperate in the acceleration of vaccination programmes.
The fifth national coordination meeting on the COVID-19 emergency on 26 July took up the issue of rolling out vaccination programmes systematically according to the pre-defined priority groups, the opening of new COVID-19 centres, treatment centres, and provision of medical oxygen supplies. At another meeting held on 27 July, the SAC Chairman discussed measures to accelerate the COVID-19 prevention, control and treatment efforts, the preparations for the arrivals of vaccines, and messages to the public to maintain good health and nutrition throughout this period.
On 6 July, Union Minister U Wunna Maung Lwin attended the Special ASEAN-Russia Foreign Ministers’ Meeting. He presented Myanmar’s efforts to make progress towards the sustainable development goals, the work undertaken in cooperation with partners to revive the economy, notably through the development of the tourism industry, and other future plans.
Myanmar media interviewed Associate Professor and expert on Myanmar Affairs Ms Kseniya Alexandrovna Efremova from the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO), one of the top universities in Russia, Central and Eastern Europe, and Vice -Chairman Mr Bulochnikov Anatony Mikhinovich of the Russia-Myanmar Friendship Association. They spoke about the current political affairs of Myanmar, good bilateral relations with the Russian Federation, and potential socio-economic cooperation on Myanmar state media.
The government has also been active in all ASEAN-led initiatives. The Union Minister for Foreign Affairs joined the ASEAN-US Foreign Ministers’ Meeting held through virtual channels on 14 July. During the meeting, the Union Ministry expressed appreciation for the support of the United States in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. He urged all parties to continue to support the Initiative for ASEAN Integration (IAI).
The Union Minister for International Cooperation attended the 11th Mekong-Ganga Cooperation Foreign Ministers’ Meeting held on 21 July and pledged to fully cooperate under the Mekong-Ganga Cooperation Framework. Government officials from the concerned ministries concerned attended the 54th ASEAN Tourism Authority Meeting and relevant meetings, the ASEAN Supreme Audit Institution Senior Officials’ Meeting, and the 21st ASEAN Senior Officials’ Meeting on Transnational Crime and other international meetings.
Rejection of attempts to intervene in domestic affairs
Over the past few months, the government has been setting out in public the evidence of the NUG’s support for the bombing, maiming and killing of innocent civilians. Nonetheless, the UN and some western embassies have ignored government statements and continue using fake news on social media and promoting the NUG terrorist group.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs released a statement pertaining to the baseless remarks made by Mr Stephane Dujarric, Spokesperson for the United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres on 29 June 2021. These remarks were apparently based on the UN Country Team in Myanmar, who have not even verified the real facts and take as their source the unsubstantiated accusations and fake news on social media. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs also objected to the recognition of the website of the terrorist group NUG. It called on the UN not to release one-sided remarks without verification and to take a balanced approach towards the verification of sensitive information with the relevant ministries before issuing statements.
Moreover, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs released another press statement on 9 July that objected to the proceedings in the Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on Myanmar at the 7th regular session of the UN Human Rights Council, held in the absence of the representative of the country concerned, Myanmar also rejects the statement made by the Special Rapporteur as interference in the internal affairs of a sovereign state.
Myanmar also issued a press release on 13 July, which again categorically stated that U Kyaw Moe Tun had been terminated from his position as Ambassador/Permanent Representative of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar to the United Nations since February 2021. Therefore, any statement or participation by U Kyaw Moe Tun at the various forums of the United Nations is neither official nor representing the Republic of the Union of Myanmar. He has been charged with high treason and official letters to this effect have been sent to the relevant countries and organizations not to recognize him as the Permanent Representative of Myanmar.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs also issued a statement to reject the resolution A/HRC/47/L.11 tabled by the States Members of the United Nations that are members of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation Organization (OIC), entitled “The situation of human rights of Rohingya Muslims and other minorities in Myanmar.” The Myanmar government disagrees with this resolution, which was adopted by the 47th Session of Human Rights Council in Geneva on 12 July.
On 7 July, the Myanmar Ministry of Foreign Affairs strongly condemned the assertions made by Zaw Wai Soe from the terrorist group NUG in an interview with France 24 TV channel on 1 July. In that interview, Zaw Wai Soe had requested international countries to provide the necessary assistance to the Myanmar people for “self-defence”. This shows that he is defending terrorist acts against innocent civilians by making such remarks, and trying to instigate further violence, since the NUG-supported terrorists are currently targeting civilians in killings, bombings and attacks. Zaw Wai Soe will be prosecuted in accordance with the laws on terrorism. France 24 TV should not promote such attempts to solicit funding for NUG.
On 30 July, the ministry released a statement condemning the efforts to sow divisiveness and attempts to interfere in the internal affairs of Myanmar while the country is fighting against the COVID-19 pandemic together with the people like other international countries. At the Arria formula meeting on Myanmar held at the initiative of the United Kingdom on 29 July, participants engaged in discussions with members of the terrorist group NUG. Myanmar strongly condemned these discussions based on one-sided information.
Peace and the Rule of Law
The Tatmadaw extended its unilateral declaration on the suspension of military operations across the country from 1 to 31 July, and again from 1 August to 30 September. The suspension of military operations across the nation will apply except to cases where the security and administrative machinery of the government and national defence measures are being threatened or sabotaged.
The Special Appeals Court, together with the Chief Justice of the Union, passed judgement on four exceptional criminal appeal cases and heard four special civil appeal cases on 5 July. Moreover, the State Administration Council released an order to withdraw some ongoing criminal cases. Following this, court proceedings in those would be dropped and the defendants must be released. Altogether, a total of 4,297 defendants were released.
Investigations by the Union Election Commission
The Union Election Commission released its findings on the voter lists and ballot papers used in the November 2020 elections for four townships of Kachin State and one township of Kayin State on 5 July, another 18 townships of Kachin State on 6 July, and seven townships of Kayin State on 7 July.
In its statement of 8 July, the Union Election Commission cited its findings of massive electoral frauds committed at polling stations in the 315 townships where the 8th November 2020 Multiparty General Election was conducted and also noted that the voting irregularities were identified as intentionally committed fraud by the previous authorities. Investigations showed that in total, there were 11,305,390 names in the voter lists that are potentially fraudulent. This represents 29.54% of the total voter lists provided by the former Union Election Commission. On 10 July, the Union Election Commission issued the statistics of the voter lists finalized by the previous Union Election Commission of those who allegedly voted in the 2020 General Election. This included so-called voters without any citizenship scrutiny card, so-called voters who appeared in the voter list three times and above with the same citizenship scrutiny card number, so-called voters included in the voter lists twice with the same citizenship scrutiny card number, voters of age under 18 years, implausibly large numbers of so-called voters of age 100 years and above.
From 23 July onwards, the Commission released its findings of the respective regions and states in July. Subsequently, on 26 July 2021, the present Union Election Commission issued Announcement No. (2/ 2021) on the Annulment of Results from the 8 November 2020 Multiparty General Election, based on the evidence that the said General Election was not in compliance with the Constitution of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar, the Union Election Commission Law and the respective Hluttaw Election Laws, and that the 2020 General Election was not a free and fair election.
COVID-19 prevention and response
As Myanmar struggled with skyrocketing new infections, the State Administration Council advanced a raft of new coronavirus prevention measures in July, including acceleration of immediate response, preparations for COVID-19 centres, implementation of stay-at-home measures in respective regions and states, granting import licence exemptions for COVID-19 medical supplies and facilitating their import at border trade points daily.
Throughout the month of July, responding to disease patterns, the government issued stay-at-home orders progressively for the residents of 85 townships in regions and states as well as in Nay Pyi Taw Union Territory, in order to break the chain of COVID-19 transmissions. Public announcements were broadcast throughout neighbourhoods to urge the people to abide by the health guidelines issued by the Ministry of Health.