By Sakeena Rajpal, GLOBUS Correspondent
It has been just over a year since the military took over control in Myanmar on the 1st February 2021, denying their people of democracy and freedom. Over this time, the destructive impact of the military coups’ brutal and terrorising power on the country is evident. According to the IRC (International Rescue Committee) and the AAPP (Assistance Association for Political Prisoners) over 14 million people need humanitarian aid, more than 1,500 people have been killed, and at least 12,000 individuals of all ages and professions have been unjustly arrested and detained, subject to horrific torture and conditions. Economic and social security has crumbled since the coup with poverty and the prices of fuel and food surging – not to mention the almost non-existent control against Covid-19. It is no surprise that the military coup has been labelled a “failed coup” by many, both in and out of Myanmar. Yet, international aid seems to have evaporated, despite it being widely acknowledged that the military is effectively waging war on the country and its people. The UN doctrine of “affirming the responsibility of nations to shield populations from egregious crimes” has clearly been forgotten – as well as UN Sustainable Development Goal 16 of “promoting peace, justice and strong institutions” being neglected too.
It is no doubt that the people of Myanmar feel internationally abandoned in their fight for democracy and freedom of speech. Yet many citizens continue to support the Civil Disobedience Movement aiming to disrupt the junta. Despite the military’s current threats, a “silent strike” took place across the country on the 1st of February 2022. Markets and shops across Myanmar’s busiest streets were left virtually empty and abandoned. Whilst this strike and many other forms of resistance have been effective in expressing defiance against the military junta, many civilians are now becoming increasingly afraid to leave their houses in fear of being shot or detained. The violence and brutal tactics used by the military to force compliance is well known to only worsen into the second year of a military coup.
In a joint statement released by foreign ministers, and on behalf of the European Union, on the first-year anniversary of the coup, countries reinforced their “support” and “call” on the military regime to work with ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) “to support a peaceful resolution in the interests of the people in Myanmar”. How effective this is going to be is certainly questionable, particularly since there is conflict amongst ASEAN in whether to include Myanmar in its summit, after they failed to implement a five-point consensus including halting violence and “allowing dialogue”. And whilst sanctions have been imposed on some of Myanmar’s military leaders by the US, UK, and Canada, members of the resistance in Myanmar and human rights groups say that this is simply not enough. Furthermore, this January, oil and natural gas companies Chevron and Total announced to withdraw from a source of natural gas off the coast of Myanmar, which is arguably a major source of income for the military. Whether or not this will be a significant enough deterrent is yet to be decided.
The weak provision of international aid given so far leaves Myanmar in an extremely unsteady future, with the anniversary only seeming to mark the future of more bloodshed and violence. Whilst it is encouraging to see some action taking place, (for example, the UK government warning British companies against the provision of aviation fuel to Myanmar), it is not enough. Brad Adams, (Asia director of Human Rights Watch) asks the poignant question of “how many more people does Myanmar’s military have to detain, torture and shoot before influential governments act to cut off the junta from its flow of money and arms?” There is a desperate need for “humanitarian corridors” and “no fly zones” so that aid can be distributed. Other pledges have been to prosecute the generals of the military junta in the international criminal court. But when will this happen?
In the meantime, what does need to be celebrated and recognised in this anniversary is the incredible resilience and unity shown so far by the people of Myanmar. Despite being left to struggle on their own, activists in Myanmar comment on how they “have never seen this kind of unity in our history”. This is particularly noticeable by the three-finger salute adopted by civilians and activists from Thailand to Myanmar, representing the fight for freedom, resistance, and solidarity for democracy. And while this strength is incredibly admirable, we must not forget how the youth of Myanmar are sacrificing their dreams and careers by resisting the military coup. But as each day passes without significant intervention, the future of Myanmar’s youth slips further and further away.