UN continues to work towards security and justice for all, as COVID-19 changes crime patterns and introduces new challenges

The UN in Myanmar has come together as one to support COVID-19 preparedness and response. The next in a series of articles highlights UNODC's contribution.

Efforts to address drug and crime challenges have been impacted as a result of the evolving outbreak of COVID-19, as transnational organized crime groups have shifted their trafficking routes and means of doing business. At the same time, new corruption risks have emerged, and there are reports of many crimes, such as intimate partner violence, increasing as a result of lockdowns and curfews.

In Myanmar, UNODC is working to mitigate the impact of these challenges through working in close coordination with government counterparts and partner UN agencies to respond quickly to the still changing situation.

The particular focus of UNODC has been on assisting the most vulnerable. In Myanmar, one of the groups most vulnerable to the risk of COVID-19 is the prison population, as the virus is highly contagious and prisoners are living, working, eating and sleeping in close proximity to each other. In an effort to reduce prison overcrowding, nearly 25,000 prisoners – or 25 per cent of the total prison population in Myanmar – were granted presidential pardons and released from prison in April. UNODC, UNDP, UNICEF and UNAIDS came together, under the Resident Coordinator’s Office, to send a letter acknowledging the pardon and expressing continued support.

To follow up on the letter, and to support this unprecedented release, UNODC supplied release packages for pardoned prisoners, which included essential information related to COVID-19, such as safe family reintegration and travel in the context of a pandemic, as well as basic personal protective equipment (PPE). UNODC further supported Myanmar’s Chief Medical Officer and the Prison Department to develop, both short and medium-term plans for strengthening logistics to increase preparedness for COVID-19 in prisons, and provided much- needed PPE, including masks, sanitizer and thermometers, to all prisons in Myanmar.

“The work of our drugs and health team with the Myanmar Prisons Department since the COVID-19 pandemic began has been nothing short of outstanding. Their ability to organize release packages and the distribution of PPE to prisons across Myanmar is a testament to the strong working relationships UNODC has formed with Government counterparts over many years,” said Marie Pegie-Cauchois, UNODC Officer in Charge for Myanmar. “The prisoner release was an important step as well, and one that was facilitated by UN agencies working together closely alongside the Myanmar Government to prevent the spread of COVID-19.”

Supporting frontline border offices from the risk of the pandemic

Through the Border Liaison Network supported by UNODC, PPE has also been provided for frontline border officers at 13 land border crossings. UNODC provided the Myanmar Police Force (MPF) with 20,000 surgical masks, 200 pairs of goggles, 8,000 pairs of disposable gloves, 160 protective suits and 60 contactless temperature scanners, which will be central to efforts to keep border checkpoints operating optimally upon their reopening, while also keeping officers and those crossing the border safe from COVID-19.

UNODC further identified that COVID-19 brought with it unique corruption risks, and that ensuring equitable access to services and maintaining accountability were of particular importance during the crisis.

In response, UNODC worked closely with the Myanmar Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) to support a national awareness raising campaign on the importance of integrity and ethics. Additionally, UNODC developed guidelines for ACC investigators which provided a crucial roadmap for restarting investigations which had slowed during the health crisis. UNODC further coordinated with the private sector through a collaboration with Eurocham, hosting a webinar on business integrity and the COVID-19 pandemic, ensuring crucial information was able to reach key private sector actors across Myanmar.

Raising awareness about and helping to prevent and respond to Gender-Based Violence in face of COVID-19

UNODC has also responded to reports of certain crimes increasing as a result of lockdown and curfew orders. One such case has been intimate partner violence, as reports have suggested increased incidence across much of Myanmar. In response, UNODC and UNFPA have come together to launch an advocacy campaign, highlighting that those facing violence at home can leave, even during curfew and lockdown orders, and directing survivors to the police and other essential service providers. This campaign is being featured in social media advertising (Facebook, Twitter), as well as in three national Myanmar newspapers.

To complement these efforts, 25,000 handbooks will soon be delivered to the Myanmar Police Force, providing them with accessible information on how officers can respond effectively to incidents of gender-based violence during a pandemic, how to communicate with the public about COVID-19, and how frontline officers can stay safe while on the job.

UNODC stands with the people of Myanmar and other UNODC agencies to say we believe in the “United Nations in Myanmar - together with all, for all”. UNODC will continue to work to respond to COVID-19 alongside the rest of the UN in Myanmar, and to seek security and justice for all.

UNODC Myanmar
Handover of Personal Protective Equipment to the frontline border offices.
UN entities involved in this initiative
Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS
United Nations Development Programme
United Nations Population Fund
United Nations Children’s Fund
United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime