Despite millions of dollars that have been poured into the peace process in Myanmar since it began under former President Thein Sein, failures of the process are tangible in the increasing displacement, casualties, and deaths of ethnic civilians as a result of the ongoing civil war between the Myanmar military and ethnic armed organizations. Not only have the “peacemakers” floundered to bring about peace, now their inaction to hold the perpetrators of grave crimes to account is once again failing the people of Myanmar and victims of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes committed by the Myanmar military.
Such failures were laid bare in a statement issued by Sawangwongse Yawnghwe, grandson of Myanmar’s first President, Sao Shwe Thaike, and a renowned artist who announced that he is withdrawing his work from EU-funded exhibition “Everyday Justice” featuring art, film and stories showcasing perspectives of justice. The artist withdrew his work in light of EU’s “hypocrisy” and failure to take action despite well documented international crimes committed by the Myanmar military.
The artist protested the EU ambassador to Myanmar, Kristian Schmidt, opening the art show featuring his art as the EU has continued to rent the ambassador’s residence from the family of the former dictator General Ne Win. Elaborating on the issue he stated, “That a Western diplomat thinks it’s acceptable to rent the Ady Road property owned by former dictator General Ne Win’s family illustrates the moral and ahistorical vacuum the EU enjoys.” Sao Shwe Thaike, Burma’s first President and Sawbwa – a hereditary ruler – of Yawngwe in Shan State was dragged away by General Ne Win’s troops on the night of the coup in 1962 and murdered in detention eight months later. In addition, the artist cited EU’s decision to continue renting an office space in Hledan Centre, owned by Asia World, a conglomerate that has donated money to the Myanmar military and has been “accused by the U.S. Government of involvement in laundering money for the Tatmadaw [the Myanmar military]” according to a report by the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar (IIFFMM).
The statement also pointed to Ambassador Schmidt’s appearance at the anniversary event of the Union Enterprise for Humanitarian Assistance, Resettlement and Development in Rakhine (UEHRD), set up by the Myanmar government. The UEHRD has been carrying out development projects in Rakhine State on the very ground where Rohingya villages were razed, financed by companies with enduring links to the Myanmar military, whitewashing evidence of grave crimes.
Moreover, conflict between the Myanmar military and the Arakan Army (AA) continues unabated in Rakhine State where civilians once again bear the consequences. Most recently, mortar shells killed at least one Rohingya and wounded several people in Rakhine State. The shelling has set houses ablaze, not only of Rohingya homes, but also homes of Rakhine civilians. In a separate incident, a pregnant Arakanese woman, Daw U Khin Than, was shot by the Myanmar military soldiers on patrol while returning home from selling fish.
The conflict in Rakhine State has spread to Chin State where the AA and the Myanmar military have been engaged in fighting since late 2018. The Arakan Army has recently detained Chin civilians in addition to a Chin MP, Hawi Tin who is currently being held incommunicado. The Arakan Army has rejected the calls from Chin civil society for his immediate release, calling the MP a “stooge” of the Myanmar military, accusing him of “creating trouble among races.” The Myanmar military has a long and successful track record of employing divide-and-rule tactic, pitting ethnic groups against each other as a tactic of war preventing ethnic groups from unifying against them.
The promise of the nationwide ceasefire agreement, the 21st Century Panglong conferences and peace process has sputtered to a halt. War crimes and crimes against humanity that are being committed against ethnic communities by the Myanmar military is at its worst, eclipsed by the genocide against Rohingya. Millions in donor funding has been plummeted into this process which is aptly captured by Sawangwongse Yawnghwe’s work “Peace Industrial Complex”, featuring complex diagram of foreign actors, ethnic armed organizations, government institutions, placing the Myanmar military at the root of the conflict. Taking a step back to view the diagram and all the complexities that has led to the long-postponed peace, it is also a subtle ridicule of the self-importance of “peacemakers” who are obsessed with flow charts and analysis of the systems of peace. Organizers of the art exhibition and the EU should be humbled by his art and fully recognize the mistakes they are making in this country – including the hypocrisy of contributing to “peace-building”, while giving EU tax-payers money to families of a former dictator and military-linked businesses who continue to fund the ongoing genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.
Recently, Britain’s aid ministry, the Department for International Development has told its partners to review their supply chains in Myanmar and ensure that UK money is not spent on military owned companies. Such move is welcomed, but more concrete and substantial steps must immediately be taken, including supporting a UN mandated global arms embargo while implementing targeted sanctions on military companies. For UK, this must start with supporting the international criminal accountability processes. Countries, including the EU, must heed the recommendations of the IIFFMM and act now to hold those who have committed heinous crimes in Myanmar to account. The international community must remember that victims and people of Myanmar, and global citizens for humanity are watching – they will not stay silent and will continue to speak out and take the stand against such hypocrisy in order to ensure that all those complicit in grave crimes are held to account.
 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 Youths Union – Japan
By Chin Human Rights Organization
By Yangon CSOs Network
By Yawnghwe Office in Exile
By Burma Campaign UK
By Freedom House and Free Expression Myanmar
By Transnational Institute
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.”