It’s been one full year since Myanmar has come once again under military rule. Since the February 1, 2021 coup, the poverty-stricken Southeast Asian nation has attracted international media attention, but for the wrong reasons. The country, with a 60 million population of varied ethnicities, continues to witness public protests against the junta, counter military operations forcing hundreds of thousands of villagers to leave their places and live in makeshift shelters with minor children, having all kinds of difficulties ranging from hunger to illness to safety and security.
Regular incidents of killing of protesters, comprising the party workers of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi-led National League for Democracy (NLD) and other outfits, detention and arrests of anti-junta agitators, including media persons, threatening of lawsuits by the military personnel against the anti-Tatmadaw front-runners, and other ways of harassing the common citizens (including the burning of villages) have become the order of the day in this Buddhist majority country (also known as Burma to the western world).
Many prominent political leaders, including President U Win Myint (who is around 70 years old) and State Counselor Suu Kyi (76), have been put behind bars. The pro-democracy icon has been punished by the military courts (where civilian courts have little relevance) with many years of imprisonment against unfounded corruption charges. More trials are probably waiting for Nobel Peace Laureate Suu Kyi, as the Min Aung Hlaing-led junta believes that she possesses the potential to emerge as their political enemy number one.
Suu Kyi, who still enjoys wide support among the Burmese people irrespective of their ethnicity, was earlier put under house arrest for almost 15 years by the Than Shwe-led military regime. She was released in 2010, and later the determined lady established her prominence in electoral politics and a semi-democratic regime was installed in Naypietaw, the new capital of Myanmar, even though she was barred from becoming President following restrictions in the military-drafted constitution.
Within the last 12 months, as claimed by various agitating groups, Myanmar has witnessed the killing of over 1,500 civilians, including children and women, by security personnel across the country. The military crackdown has resulted in the arbitrary detention and arrest of over 12,000 individuals (nearly 9,000 remain in junta detention centres to date, where at least 290 died in detention, seemingly after torture).
More than 150,000 toddlers became homeless after fleeing their villages with ill-fated parents. Many of them left for neighbouring countries like Thailand and India. It excludes another few hundreds of thousands of Rohingya children, who had to flee their native places after the Burmese military’s crackdown before Covid-19 (also the coup) hit the country, and they mostly arrived in southern Bangladesh.
Unconfirmed reports claim that nearly 1,000 personnel belonging to Tatmadaw also lost their lives during the offensive of the People’s Defence Forces (a term referring to the group of anti-junta armed agitators) in different localities. Incidents of armed clashes continue to grow with more intensity across the country. The military even launched indiscriminate aerial offensives and continued arson in the populous villages.
Lately, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres commented that he stands in solidarity with the people of Myanmar and for a return to an inclusive, democratic society. The multiple vulnerabilities of all people across Myanmar and its regional implications require an urgent response, said Guterres, adding that humanitarian access to people in need is critically important for the UN and its partners to continue to deliver on the ground. Moreover, armed forces and all stakeholders must respect human rights and fundamental freedoms, asserted the UN chief.
Earlier, on December 6, 2021, the UN General Assembly unanimously adopted the recommendations made by the UN Credentials Committee to defer the decision on who would represent Myanmar at the UN. It dishonoured the credentials of the Myanmar military regime and rejected the junta’s appeal, allowing U Kyaw Moe Tun, the current Permanent Representative of Myanmar, to continue representing the country at the influential global forum.
The Burmese Generals, who grabbed political power last year, claiming fraudulence in the November 2020 general elections (where Suu Kyi-led NLD emerged victorious and was about to resume functioning as a new government from 1 February, just before it was ousted), initially declared emergency and then promised to bring back a multiparty democracy with fresh elections by 2023. Simultaneously, the Generals tried to attain recognition from various powerful and democratic nations around the world.
On the ground, a National Unity Government, formed by Parliamentarians (mostly NLD lawmakers) continues trying to garner public support and assurance from the international community. Not to speak of other outside political forums, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has failed to support the Unity Government. Shockingly, the chair of ASEAN (Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen) even recently visited Myanmar and met with its dictator Min Aung Hlaing.
Hun Sen’s official visit to Myanmar and his meeting with the Burmese dictator attracted strong reactions from the pro-democracy forums in the region. Charles Santiago, Chairman of ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR), asserted that the “joint statement released by Hun Sen with Min Aung Hlaing was a misguided and dangerous attempt to deceptively portray a breakthrough. It is a brazen attempt by these two coup leaders to hijack ASEAN for their own authoritarian purposes, undermining the Myanmar peoples’ fight for democracy and human rights,” added the Malaysian Parliamentarian.
Speaking to Asia Sentinel, an exiled Burmese activist pointed out that Hun Sen “should know better, having lived through the Khmer Rouge genocide, than to act as an accomplice to the Myanmar junta that is accused of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes.” Khin Omar, founder of Progressive Voice questioned, “Has Hun Sen forgotten the millions of Cambodian people who suffered through their own genocide?”
She also added that Hun Sen and the junta’s attempt to deceive the world that they are making progress to resolve the situation is blatantly dishonest, and Myanmar’s people are not fooled by it. “Hun Sen’s hijacking of ASEAN through its chairmanship should not facilitate the continuation of the junta’s own killing fields against the people of Myanmar. This is unacceptable,” asserted Khin Omar. She also emphasized revamping the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission, which is still functioning under the control of military Generals.
Days back, the Women’s League of Burma expressed concern over the arrest of Thin Thin Aung, one of its founder members, who also once raised multimedia organ Mizzima News along with her husband Soe Myint. Some 125 journalists were also detained from different parts of Myanmar and over 40 are still behind bars. At least three Burmese journalists (photojournalist Ko Soe Naing, reporter Sai Win Aung and editor Pu Tui Dim) have lost lives because of the military atrocities in the recent past, informed Mizzima editor Myint.
The ant-junta agitators, on various occasions, have been urging the international community to impose a complete arms embargo on the military rulers along with the restriction on aviation support to them. They also appealed to various democratic nations like Japan, Australia, India, Malaysia, South Korea, etc to cease financial trades with the Burmese junta. Some other nations like China and Thailand, which have invested in Myanmar oil and natural gas sector, are also approached by them to rethink their business interests with the junta. Moreover, the pro-democracy activists appealed to the USA and France to ensure sanctions on Myanmar’s oil & gas revenues.
Myanmar’s powerful western neighbor, India, has not made any strong comments against the junta, except for New Delhi recently making a statement saying that it is disturbed by the developments in Myanmar and also the imprisonment of Suu Kyi. Meanwhile, many families from the Chin province of Myanmar crossed over to Mizoram in the far-eastern part of India. Mizoram has already given shelter to over 60,000 Chin refugees in various hilly localities, and the local government in Aizawl continues to support them in humanitarian causes.
Nava Thakuria is a Guwahati-based journalist (located in northeast India) whose focus areas remain socio-political developments taking place in neighboring south and southeast Asian nations like Bhutan, Tibet (China), Myanmar, and Bangladesh.
Suggested citation: Nava Thakuria, One Year After Military Coup, Myanmar Heads Nowhere, JURIST – Professional Commentary, February 16, 2022, https://www.jurist.org/commentary/2022/02/nava-thakuria-military-coup-myanmar/.
This article was prepared for publication by Viraj Aditya, a JURIST staff editor. Please direct any questions or comments to him at firstname.lastname@example.org