By: Penelope Giesen
Myanmar Continues its fight against oppression
On February 1, 2021, there was a military coup in Myanmar, which a country in southeastern Asia, bordering India, China, Thailand, and Laos. This coup halted the nation’s first quasi-democracy that had previously held power since 2015, led by Aung Sung Suki. Aung Sung Suki is widely considered to be a controversial figurehead who successfully transformed Myanmar into a democracy after a long history of military dictatorship, yet whose leadership has been marred by ethnic violence and potential unethical alliances with the military now in power.
Since the coup, there has been widespread civil disobedience against the oppressive policies put in place by the military government in power, the Tatmadaw. These immediate policies included seizing control of infrastructure, suspending international and national flights, stopping internet access in most major cities, and closing the stock market and major banks. All of these measures were justified under claims of a “constitutional” state of emergency declared by the military. Though these protests started peacefully, they quickly turned violent and sparked ruthless retaliation by the government. On February 20, 2021, two unarmed protesters were killed, including a 16-year-old boy, prompting millions to go on strike two days later. The retaliations have escalated with the military, killing 600 and maiming, injuring, and torturing thousands more on March 27, 2021. This incredible violence inspired an armed resistance by the Burmese people, who call themselves the People’s National Defense, and they engage in jungle gorilla warfare against the Tatmadaw. Despite facing rampant food insecurity and constant threat from the Tatmadaw, the People’s National Defense is determined to fight for liberties and the freedom that had once existed. Yet this army is underfunded, and many have been pushed up into the remote hills where they must combat hunger, poisonous snakes, and dengue along with their families when the Tatmadaw systematically burns villages that are home to these resistance fighters. Despite these challenges, the horrific conditions don’t diminish the determination of the resistance, which has been further galvanized by their shadow government calling for a revolution by armed insurrection on September 7, 2021. Many of the Burmese people have a complicated relationship with the armed resistance in support of their former democratic government given the atrocities inflicted upon ethnic groups in the nation such as the Rohingya Muslims. In a state of disorder and terror, it is hard to distinguish what is being fought for, but some believe that this fight for liberty is a turning point for the Burmese people as it is uniting all Burmese people in a fight for liberation. Thet Swe Win, a Burmese human rights activist, notes the Tatwondow’s terrorization of Burmese people in villages and urban areas has “opened people’s eyes to the rights abuses other ethnic groups have long been facing”. As a result, people have started to broaden their horizons for the liberty they are fighting for.
This armed coup and ensuing resistance had caused the death of at least 1180 armed resistors and civilians, the destruction of innumerable villages and homes, and displacement of at least 176,000 people internally with an additional 22,000 to other countries. The Tatmadaw has been documented using tactics against Myanmar’s civilian population such as burning villages, looting properties, torture, and mass arrests. This is in addition to the hundreds of thousands of Burmese refugees such as the Rohingya Muslims that have fled ethnic terror for decades. Many of these refugees flee with their families to India, which is an arduous journey that involves spending days in the woods without food or water and having to cross the Tiau River that separates the nations. And there are growing concerns that neighboring countries such as Thailand will begin to turn away refugees at the border.
What can be done to help?
The humanitarian crisis in Myanmar is multifaceted and severe. Civilians, members of the rebel army, and refugees all are in dire need of support. There are many approaches that could be taken to support these groups, including: donations to various humanitarian aid organizations, advocacy to local representatives and the federal government of increased sanctions, and blockades, and establishing a “no-fly zone” over Myanmar. Some reliable organizations that could be donated to include: The International Rescue Committee (which has been supporting Myanmar since 2008), Save the Children (which supports children in dangerous situations around the world and specifically provides support to children and families in Myanmar that have been affected by the deadly violence occurring). In addition, donations to the Civil Disobedience Movement will provide support to Burmese people participating in protests against their authoritarian government. In addition, support to the Burmese people could include contacting your country’s relevant diplomatic and government representatives to ask for increased sanctions on Myanmar in solidarity with the protestors trying to weaken and destabilize the military in control. Another method of support could involve exerting pressure on our government to support the Secretary General’s special envoy on Myanmar, per Christine Schraner Burgener’s request in her speech to the UN press conference on October 21, 2021. Her request noted that international leadership not accept the Tatmadaw as a legitimate established government as they are responsible for the majority of the instability and violence in the nation.
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Image Source: New York Times October 26, 2021