FPI / February 21, 2023
By John J. Metzler
The military junta which seized power in Burma, aka Myanmar, two years ago remains in power but is increasingly challenged by both its own citizens and targeted economic sanctions. Now a wave of international political pressures is steadily growing to force the junta from power and presumably create conditions for the return of a democratic government.
“Two years ago, the military deposed a democratically elected government in an unconstitutional coup,” the UN’s Special Rapporteur Thomas Andrews told delegates adding, “The unrelenting violence that it unleashed on the people of Myanmar has created a widespread human rights, humanitarian, and economic crisis and galvanized nationwide opposition.”
Andrews stressed, “the military coup was illegal and its claim as Myanmar’s Government is illegitimate.” He called for a “new, coordinated international response to the crisis,” which is imperative, to oust the regime’s ruling State Administration Council (SAC). Moreover the Special Rapporteur urges member states to reject the sham elections the SAC is planning to hold later this year in a move to restore a veneer of legitimacy.
Speaking to correspondents, Thomas Andrews decried “a vacuum of leadership when it comes to Myanmar.” The crisis merits much more attention from the world community. He conceded, the “failure of we, as an international community, to address the crisis.”
The human toll since the coup has been devastating; at least 2,900 civilians have been killed and another 17,000 detained. More than 17.5 million people, about a third of the country’s population, require humanitarian aid in 2023, compared with 1 million before the takeover. More than a million people have been internally displaced within Myanmar.
The World Bank reported that 40 percent of the population lives under the poverty line.
Significantly a five point peace plan promoted by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) the influential 10 state regional grouping, has set a political roadmap for the return of democratic government in Myanmar. The plan has been shunned by the junta. In the meantime Myanmar’s military has been barred from ASEAN meetings.
Countries like Singapore and Indonesia have reduced engagement with the military and press for a genuine political solution to the crisis. Other states like Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand “have engaged more” with the regime diplomats assert. Indonesia’s current chairmanship of ASEAN, according to Andrews is “very crucial” given the proactive role of the Jakarta government in pressing to solve the crisis.
A former British colony strategically situated in Southeast Asia, resource-rich Burma borders mainland China and Thailand. Though having a majority Buddhist population among its 55 million people, there are Christian and Muslim minorities who have long opposed and been oppressed by the central government.
The UN’s Human Rights Chief Volker Turk stated unambiguously, that since the military coup, “By nearly every feasible measurement, and in every area of human rights, economic, social and cultural, as much as civil and political, Myanmar has profoundly regressed.”
The Human Rights Chief added, that since the coup two years ago, “the military has imprisoned the entire democratically elected leadership of the country and detained over 16,000 others, most of whom face specious charges in military controlled courts, in flagrant breach of due process and fair trial rights.”
Volker Turk emphatically called for “the release of all political prisoners, including State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and President U Win Myint,” leaders of the ousted National Unity Government.
The Chinese-backed Myanmar military also known as the <em>Tatmadaw</em> remains a shadowy force combining political control and suffocating oppression along with running a corrupt business empire. As long ago as 1962, the Beijing-backed Burmese military seized power and ruled the country through a socialist regime largely without interruption until 2011. Since that time, civilian governments with military acquiescence and meddling controlled the country.
Tragically back in 2017, Burma’s then democratically elected government condoned the mass deportation of the Muslim minority population in Rakhine state. Nearly a million people fled to neighboring Bangladesh.
The People’s Republic of China remains the primary supplier of military material and political support for the Myanmar regime. Beijing’s former Foreign Minister Wang Yi visited Burma last year promoting Beijing’s controversial Belt and Road initiative. Currently China is building a Special Economic Zone and developing the deep water port of Kyaukpyu in contested Rakhine state. Situated on the Bay of Bengal, strategically the move allows Beijing to have a naval base facing rival India.
While the U.S. and Western states have tightened sanctions on Burma far too little attention remains focused on this strategic land to solve the simmering crisis.
John J. Metzler is a United Nations correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He is the author of Divided Dynamism the Diplomacy of Separated Nations: Germany, Korea, China (2014).
Free Press International
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