Trust Needed to Build a Foundation for an Inclusive Nation
National reconciliation and peace seems far from sight as government accuses the ethnic armed organizations of conspiring to attack in Naypyidaw, the modern capital of Myanmar, while ethnic communities in frontier regions continue to be oppressed and denied the space to celebrate their histories and heroes.
In a confidential memo sent to government officials on 16 September, 2019, which was shared widely on social media, the Director General of the Political and Security Department of the President’s Office warned government officials of a possible attack in the capital city of Naypyidaw and urged officials to enhance their security. Coinciding with the leak of the confidential memo on social media, the US, UK and Canada also sent out security alerts warning of potential attacks. The letter stated that the Ministry of Home Affairs, which is under the control of the Myanmar military, reported the Chin National Front (CNF) and the Karen National Union (KNU) – both signatories to the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement – and some members of the Northern Alliance were conspiring to carry out an explosion in Naypyidaw.
The KNU issued a statement refuting these allegations, while the CNF pointed out that the government should have confirmed the information with CNF stating, “it’s wrong that the letter has been widely circulated outside…I assume its intent might be to damage the reputations of the CNF and other ethnic armed groups.” Such allegations not only exposes the failures of the peace process, but also highlights the Bamar-dominated government and military’s lack of trust and fear mongering against ethnic armed organizations that continue to persist.
The scepticism towards the government’s genuine will to build trust with ethnic communities was also felt in Yangon, where over 300 Karen people and other supporters gathered in front of the court this past Friday to call for the immediate release of Naw Ohn Hla and the two Karen youths. The three have been charged under article 20 of the Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Law for organizing a “Karen Martyr’s Day” – an annual day commemorating the Karen heroes. Supporters held up the Karen national flag, while some sang the Karen national anthem in front of the court holding placards that called for the Myanmar government to ‘give genuine peace’, ‘give equal rights to ethnic nationalities’, and ‘stop oppression against ethnic people’. The KNU central committee member Pado Mahn Nyein Maung also spoke on the case stating, “This case will have much impact on the ongoing peace process, national reconciliation, confidence building and general harmony. By doing like this, not only ethnic Karen people, but also all other ethnic nationalities have much distrust and scepticism in the government.”
Meanwhile in Chin State, a bronze statue of General Aung San – the father of the State Counsellor, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, who founded the Myanmar military with the support of the Japanese Imperial Army prior to its occupation of Myanmar – has arrived in its capital Hakha amid wide local opposition of such initiatives throughout ethnic areas in Myanmar. Residents of Chin State, a Christian minority state, have experienced long and oppressive religious and ethnic discrimination under successive Bamar-dominated governments. Many ethnic communities, including those in Chin State, see these statutes of General Aung San as a form of subjugation that promotes the idolatry of only the Bamar hero in total disregard for ethnic leaders and heroes. As the Chin Youth Network stated, “Chin youths see that the NLD government is trying to build the Gen Aung San statue in ethnic regions with the intention to dominate Burmese racism among local ethnic people.” In addition, the Karenni youth who have been imprisoned for protesting the Aung San statute in Karenni State staged a demonstration in the prison, calling for an end to mental and physical torture of political prisoners as they are currently restricted from seeing their family, kept in a cell and barred from going outside during the day.
As the election approaches, the National League for Democracy (NLD) has established an Ethnic Affairs Committee, conceivably in order to boost the number of ethnic people in its party and to compete with ethnic political parties rather than forming alliance with these parties. Arresting and charging ethnic human rights defenders and activists for celebrating their own historical figures while erecting a statue of a Bamar hero without the consent of the local ethnic communities will not win them votes, advance national reconciliation or forge a path towards federal democracy. Rather it leads to resentment and further division and ultimately the NLD will suffer at the ballot box. As the world begins to look to the election in Myanmar next year, the international community must remain vigilant in ensuring that the rights of ethnic communities are respected, protected and promoted. Unless their voices and concerns are met with positive reaction by the dominant Bamar politicians and the military leaders, including actions to build trust and genuine political will to establish a federal democratic Myanmar, the ethnic communities will continue to suffer the ongoing grave violations and oppression, and peace will remain elusive for the Myanmar society as a whole.
 One year following the 1988 pro-democracy uprising, the former military junta changed the country’s name from Burma to Myanmar overnight. Progressive Voice uses the term ‘Myanmar’ in acknowledgement that most people of the country use this term. However, the deception of inclusiveness and the historical process of coercion by the former State Peace and Development Council military regime into usage of ‘Myanmar’ rather than ‘Burma’ without the consent of the people is recognized and not forgotten. Thus, under certain circumstances, ‘Burma’ is used.
Resources from the past week
Statements and Press Releases
By Arakan Rohingya National Organisation, Burma Human Rights Network, Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK and Rohingya Women Welfare Society
Statement Concerning Directive to Enhance Security, Issued by Political and Security Department of Union President Office, and Sent to All Union-level Organizations, Union Government Ministries, and Spreading All Over Social Media
By Karen National Union
By Shan Human Rights Foundation
By Conflict and Health
Progressive Voice is a participatory, rights-based policy research and advocacy organization that was born out of Burma Partnership. Burma Partnership officially ended its work on October 10, 2016 transitioning to a rights-based policy research and advocacy organization called Progressive Voice. For further information, please see our press release “Burma Partnership Celebrates Continuing Regional Solidarity for Burma and Embraces the Work Ahead for Progressive Voice.”