In the past few months, tensions have risen in Myanmar after the detention of Aung San Suu Kyi along with other high level government figures, with the military taking control of the country in a coup. A state of emergency was declared. Armed forces are backing the opposition who demand for a rerun of the vote following Suu Kyi’s win of the general election, they claim there was widespread fraud in the election results. The country experienced widespread communications and internet blackouts, soldiers began patrolling the streets in Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city, and banks closed. If residents flicked on their television, the only TV channel they could access is the one owned by the military (Myawaddy channel) with other news channels blocked.
The democratically-elected figureheads were detained in the capital, with a news anchor declaring on the Myawaddy channel that Min Aung Hlaing, army chief had assumed power. In the announcement, it was confirmed by the military that leader Suu Kyi and other National League for Democracy (NLD) senior officials were detained. This was in response to the ‘alleged voting irregularities’ of the election in November. Aung San Suu Kyi was placed under house arrest for 15 years and was released in 2010. During those years under house arrest, she transformed ‘from a national figure into a global icon of democracy‘ and won the Nobel Peace Prize. Five years after her release from house arrest, the country had its first free elections in 25 years as military rule ended. Suu Kyi’s NLD won. For the international community, this was seen as a victory with democratic values overthrowing ‘the forces of authoritarianism.’ However Suu Kyi was in a precious situation as ‘the constitution which abolished the military junta maintained for the generals a huge amount of power and influence.’ Between the periods of 1962-2011, ‘successive military regimes ruled Myanmar‘ with the authoritarian regimes asserting power and control ‘over the people through fear and brutality.‘ After the military rule ended, Myanmar changed drastically with more foreign investment, more social freedoms and an increasing middle class. For instance, SIM cards ‘are now cheap and ubiquitous’ in contrast to a decade ago when they cost $1,000. In major cities, dramatic transformations have occurred, although their is still ethnic divisions, conflict, economic and inequality issues. However, Suu Kyi was denounced overseas as she deemed reports of ethnic cleansing and genocide conducted by military forces in the state of Rakhine were perpetuating “misinformation” and she blamed the regions problems on “terrorists.” This is problematic as almost a million Rohingya have fled horrific crimes inflicted upon them by the military as some were subjected to torture, extrajudicial killings and gang rape.
Nationwide peaceful protests were triggered after the coup with many demanding for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi ‘and the restoration of civilian rule.’ A crackdown from security forces occurred with soldiers ‘opening fire on unarmed protesters’ with at least 50 people being killed as a result. Now more than 500 unarmed citizens have been killed the according to estimates. The death toll is estimated to be 536 deaths according to a local monitoring group with the youngest victim known to be just six years old. Defense chiefs of various nations issued a joint statement condemning the violence inflicted upon civilians by the military with countries such as Japan, Australia, UK and the US being among the signatories of the statement which said: “A professional military follows international standards for conduct and is responsible for protecting – not harming – the people it serves.” In Myanmar, the UN’s envoy ‘has warned of the risk of an “imminent bloodbath” as the crackdown against pro-democracy protests’ escalates.
Many have been looking towards China to intervene to de-escalate the situation. Between Myanmar and China, their relations have been referred to as “kinsfolk” which was initially used in the 1950s. However, complex dynamics have existed between the two countries. In the late 1940s, mutual recognition was subsequently followed by better relations in the 1950s and in 1960, a border treaty was formed. However, in the 1960s, the political atmosphere changed with ‘Beijing’s support for the Burmese Communist Party and China’s intention to export its own revolution.’ In 1967 Yangon, anti-Chinese riots occurred. However, relations between the two countries improved when the NLD formed a government. Suu Kyi was seen as a reliable and stable partner. China and Singapore were the main commercial partners and leading providers of foreign direct investment for Myanmar. China, along with Russia on February 2, ‘blocked strong wordings of condemnation by the UN Security Council on the coup‘ however, 2 days later on February 4 Beijing, in agreeance with a statement which expressed concern about the “..declaration of the state of emergency imposed in Myanmar by the military and the arbitrary detention of members of the government including State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi”. China should care about the Myanmar crisis and that is because instability is undesirable for China’s Belt and Road Initiative project, with Myanmar putting ‘a spoke in the wheel of the central idea of the BRI – connectivity.’ China can do a few things to help to situation, although ‘it won’t issue rebukes’ and ‘won’t back UN sanctions’ or ‘support external intervention,’ it can condemn actions like ‘the use of live ammunition’ on civilian protestors by stating it is “not acceptable.” China could also advocate for the lifting of the state of emergency prior to February 2022.
The Australian government is also addressing the issue by making changes with it diplomatic ties to Myanmar and is ‘redirecting humanitarian aid’ as a result of the military coup. Marise Payne, Foreign Affairs Minister has expressed the government’s concern over the increasing death toll in pro-democracy protests and increasing violence inflicted upon civilians.
There are a variety of human rights abuses occurring against peaceful pro-democracy protesters under the military rule in Myanmar. There are some small ways we can create change. Here is a link where you can sign a petition to put pressure on the Australian government to take action to pave the way to creating opportunities for multilateral targeted sanctions.
I hope the situation in Myanmar improves and that the democratically-elected leader Suu Kyi can resume her rightful role and be released from detention. Although she is not perfect, she seems to be the leader who can restore some stability for the country. Residents in Myanmar have the right to be safe and protected while protesting peacefully, however unfortunately brutality inflicted upon peaceful protesters is not unheard of and is a practice undertaken by many military forces across the globe. Hopefully with increased international pressure with various global leaders condemning the actions of the military in Myanmar, change can occur.
Below I’ve included some extra resources as well as some twitter posts from the UN Secretary-General and the Special Envoy of the UN Secretary-General on Myanmar.