Militarization, human rights violations and community responses as determinants of health in southeastern Myanmar: Results of a cluster survey

William W. Davis, Luke C. Mullany, Matt Schissler, Saw Albert, Chris Beyrer

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Background: The Myanmar army and ethnic armed groups agreed to a preliminary ceasefire in 2012, but a heavy military presence remains in southeastern Myanmar. Qualitative data suggested this militarization can result in human rights abuses in the absence of armed engagements between the parties, and that rural ethnic civilians use a variety of self-protection strategies to avoid these abuses or reduce their negative impacts. We used data from a household survey to determine prevalence of select self-protection activities and to examine exposure to armed groups, human rights violations and self-protection activities as determinants of health in southeastern Myanmar. Methods and findings: Data collected from 463 households via a two-stage cluster survey of conflict-affected areas in eastern Myanmar in January 2012, were analyzed using logistic regression models to identify associations between exposure to state and non-state armed groups, village self-protection, human rights abuses and health outcomes. Close proximity to a military base was associated with human rights abuses (PRR 1.30, 95 % CI: 1.14-1.48), inadequate food production (PRR 1.08, 95 % CI: 1.03-1.13), inability to access health care (PRR 1.29, 95 % CI: 1.04-1.60) and diarrhea (PRR 1.15, 95 % CI: 1.05-1.27. Direct exposure to armed groups was associated with household hunger (PRR1.71, 95 % CI: 1.30-2.23). Among households that reported no human rights abuses, risk of household hunger (PRR 5.64, 95 % CI: 1.88-16.91), inadequate food production (PRR 1.95, 95 % CI: 1.11-3.41) and diarrhea (PRR 2.53, 95 % CI: 1.45-4.42) increased when neighbors' households reported experiencing human rights abuses. Households in villages that reported negotiating with the Myanmar army had lower risk of human rights violations (PRR 0.91, 95 % CI: 0.85-0.98), household hunger (PRR 0.85, 95 % CI: 0.74-0.96), inadequate food production (PRR 0.93, 95 % CI:0.89-0.98) and diarrhea (PRR 0.89, 95 % CI:0.82-0.97). Stratified analysis suggests that self-protection strategies may modify the effect of exposure to armed groups on risk of human rights violations and some health outcomes. Conclusion: Militarization may negatively affect health in southeastern Myanmar, and village self-protection activities may reduce these impacts. As southeastern Myanmar opens to international health and development interventions, implementing agencies should consider militarization as a determinant of health and design interventions that can mediate its effects. Such interventions should take into account existing self-protection strategies, seek to provide support where possible and, at all times, take care not to unintentionally undermine them.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number32
JournalConflict and Health
Issue number1
StatePublished - Oct 6 2015


  • Agency
  • Burma
  • Human Rights
  • Militarization
  • Myanmar
  • Protection
  • Public Health
  • Resilience
  • Self-Protection

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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