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Backpack medics released

on January 23, 2012

PHR welcomes the recent release of two Backpack Health Worker medics who were abducted by the Burma Army in Karen State, Burma in October of last year. The Backpack Health Worker Team is a community-based organization that provides medical care to civilians in war-torn Karen State and many other areas inside Burma.

The two medics, a male and a female, were abducted by Burma Army Light Infantry Battalion (LIB) 212 when they were responding to an emergency case of postpartum hemorrhage. According to eyewitnesses, the medics were unarmed and could be identified as health workers because they were carrying medical equipment and supplies. The medics were not able to reach the patient, who died without treatment. PHR worked with local and international partners to press the US government to push for the medics’ release.

The abduction of the two medics is one example of systematic attacks on civilians in Karen State. Medics from Backpack and other organizations in Karen State have long faced threats by the Burma army—from arrest to landmines to shoot-on-sight policies in free fire zones. In an area where the government not only neglects to provide healthcare, but actively attacks civilian villages, community-based medics are the only source of healthcare for the civilian population. Threats to medics undermine their ability to work and create disastrous consequences for those in need of medical care.

The actions of LIB 212 were in clear violation of the principle of medical neutrality, which requires the protection of medical personnel from attack, interference, and intimidation. The international community should demand that the Burmese government allow civilian medics to operate unimpeded in all areas of the country. Medical neutrality and civilians’ right to health should be discussed during ceasefire talks that have recently begun between the Karen National Union and the Burmese government. Backpack Health Worker Team has lost nine medics and one birth attendant to gunfire or landmines in the last ten years. We must ensure that they will lose no more.

Places: Burma