In the nearly three years that have passed since Myanmar’s coup d’état, the global media has shifted its attention to other crises, from the sudden withdrawal of Western forces from Afghanistan to Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. But despite a lull in headlines, the turmoil that resulted from the coup remains life-altering for the generation of young activists who have been displaced by the shattering of democratic ideals.
Myanmar’s military — the Tatmadaw — staged a coup d’état on February 1, 2021, detaining top government officials, including Aung San Suu Kyi and President Win Myint. The military claimed that the election results were fraudulent, but independent observers have dismissed these claims. The coup has sparked widespread protests and civil disobedience, with many people calling for the release of the detained leaders and the restoration of democracy. According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, a human rights organization dedicated to justice in Myanmar, more than 4,000 people have so far been killed by Myanmar’s military junta since the coup, and upwards of 24,000 have been arrested, charged or sentenced.
For JURIST, coverage of the Myanmar coup is personal. Despite the risks, Myanmar law student correspondents – most of them women – covered the coup for JURIST from its beginning and have kept reporting in its aftermath. In a bid to keep the crisis in the public dialogue, we have conducted a series of interviews with some of the law students and young lawyers whose lives have been affected by Myanmar’s tumult, ranging from law students who fled abroad to save their futures and continue their studies to those who put down their textbooks and went into the jungle to take up arms against the junta as part of the pro-democracy resistance. Their accounts reflect the full range of emotional responses, from despair to anger to hope.
The interviews, which will be published in a series of articles, explore the challenges and opportunities facing young people in Myanmar as they navigate a country in political turmoil. This is the third interview in a seven-part series, with links to all that have been published so far below. Please note that our interviewees’ names have been kept private to protect their security unless otherwise noted.
Interview 1: ‘Surviving is sometimes the only way to live in Myanmar’
Interview 2: ‘I truly believe our lives will be brighter after the revolution’
Interview 3: ‘The coup has made me both tougher and more compassionate’
Interview 4: ‘The fact is, I cannot bear to live under oppression’
Interview 5: ‘We will win. We will restore democracy’
Would you briefly introduce yourself? What was your life like before the coup?
I am a law student who was studying at the University of Mandalay before the coup. But now I’m protesting the junta by refusing to go to university so long as the military retains control of the country. Before the coup, I had dreamed of graduating, getting into an LL.M program, and getting a good job afterwards since I got only one year left to finish my bachelor degree. But now it seems like I have to start all over again since I don’t have the desire to resume my formal education at a military-run-University.
What are you doing now, two and a half years after the coup?
Well, we’ve been through a lot in the past three years. First, there was COVID-19, and then the military coup. I’ve witnessed and experienced the aftermath of these crises, which have shaped who I am today. I’ve become tougher and learned not to take things for granted. Most importantly, I’ve become more compassionate towards all people in conflict zones.
While my formal education has been disrupted, I’m still educating myself by taking online courses. I’m currently studying law and political science in an online certificate program at the National University of the Union of Myanmar-Global Campus (NUMM). I’m also learning video editing. I plan to apply for as many scholarships as possible to study abroad.
As a law student, do you think the international community is showing enough support for the people of Myanmar? What more could they do to help?
Absolutely not. Perhaps the world works this way because there is only talk and dialogue, but still no effective action. Meanwhile, the military junta continues to carry out arson, mass killings, arbitrary arrests, sexual violence, torture, and military attacks on civilians in conflict zones.
Therefore, the international community should first prioritize providing necessary humanitarian aid to all the people who are suffering the brutality of the military junta. I know that the military is preventing them from doing so, but the international community must put more effort into this.
Second, the international community should focus on universal jurisdiction over crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court and expedite the process. This is not only the case for Myanmar, but for all countries where perpetrators of crimes against humanity are getting away with it.
What are your thoughts on the Civil Disobedience Movement as a law student when the military junta is pressuring all university students to go back to classes?
How far can we endure these circumstances? How far can we go? I know this is a lot for many students, especially since jobs in Myanmar are highly prioritized for people who have graduated or achieved a degree. And some students have the responsibility to take over the financial responsibilities of their families.
But what is the alternative to attending military-run schools?
One option is to self-study the things you are interested in and make a living out of it. Another option is to apply for international scholarships to resume your formal education.
However, applying for scholarships is like finding a needle in a haystack, and it can be expensive for students who are not financially stable, such as paying application fees.
Therefore, I hope that there will be more international scholarships or some arrangements from the international community to help students resume their formal education in the future.
What do you think about the leadership of the National Unity Government as a parallel government of Myanmar?
I would say that the National Unity Government’s (NUG) leadership is not very effective. As I mentioned above, while many people in conflict zones are suffering from the brutality and inhumane acts of the military, the NUG has not been able to provide or arrange necessary aid for them. Similarly, the NUG has not been able to provide students with the necessary resources to resume their formal education. The NUG has so far only provided online education, which is an informal education, and most of its focus is on the needs of elementary students, not university students. Additionally, the security of students who join the NUG’s online education program is not guaranteed, as there have been cases of student privacy information being leaked. I admire what the NUG is trying to do, but they still need to put more effort into these areas.
Do you intend to keep pursuing legal education after the revolution?
I surely do. Most importantly, I would like to focus on public legal education, which is what I have been doing with my time since the coup. I make videos aimed at spreading legal knowledge in an easily digestible way for non-experts.
What inspires you to keep persevering despite the countless difficulties you’ve endured since the coup began?
In all honesty, I don’t want to continue under the old, military-designed system. In my opinion, this is the only way to get out of the system and endeavor to implement a new one.
Do you have any parting words for law students and lawyers across the international community?
I would say that solidarity is so important because we, the youths, are the ones who will shape the future of the world. I would just add to anyone out there reading this: Please stand up against any and all injustices happening in the world.