Making Peace a Priority

July 17th, 2020  •  Author:   Progressive Voice  •  10 minute read
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“NLD might be good for the ethnic Bamar people. But for ethnic minorities, NLD does not do well and rather it has contributed to a lot of human rights violations in ethnic areas,”

Maung Saungkha, Athan

As the election set for 8 November, 2020 quickly approaches, many ethnic and religious minorities are reflecting on the promises made by the National League for Democracy (NLD)-led government at the previous election, specifically the commitments made to represent and recognise the self-determination of ethnic peoples through realising federalism, transitioning to democracy by amending the 2008 military-drafted Constitution, and a robust commitment to end decades-long conflict and foster lasting peace through the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement. However, almost five years have passed since the previous election and the NLD-led government has been unable to deliver on these promises, and in many instances has contributed to exacerbating the human rights situation for ethnic and religious minorities.

The warning signs are already signalling that this year’s election process may not be free and fair, given the ongoing conflict, internet blackouts, internal displacement, and suppression of voices within ethnic areas of Myanmar. Additionally, the voting rights of religious minorities are also at risk during this election cycle, Rohingyas are unable to run for office and have been disavowed of voting rights due to citizenship laws. Most ethnic Rakhines, and other minorities in Rakhine State, may be unable to vote due to conflict between the Myanmar[1] military and the Arakan Army. In addtion, some Muslim communities in other different parts of Myanmar may have their voting rights challenged due to their citizenship being stripped or downgraded due to the 1982 Citizenship Law. Meanwhile, it is also very likely that tens of thousands of IDPs from ethnic Kachin, Shan, Ta’ang and Karen communities will be unable to access the polling booth.

A further additional challenge is COVID-19, which has hampered ethnic parties making adequate preparations for their election campaigns, and yet the government is intent on soldiering ahead with the date of 8 November in spite of this and the above concerns. Meanwhile, as the governing party, the NLD has already begun their election campaigning, taking advantage of the pandemic by using the government’s powers and exceptions to travel and gather, while other political parties cannot do so due to COVID-19 social distancing measures.

Between 25 to 29 June, 2020, more than 700 villagers fled from an offensive operation by the Myanmar military against the Restoration Council of Shan State/Shan State Army in northern Shan State. The Shan Human Rights Foundation says the conflict resulted in villagers being injured, beaten and fearing for their lives. This offensive operation also resulted in the extrajudicial killing of Loong Suu, a farmer from Pang Gaen village, who was shot at point-blank range by the Myanmar military troops while he and his wife attempted to escape the troops searching the village. Many villagers who became caught in the crossfire took refuge in two nearby monasteries, risking contracting COVID-19 due to cramped conditions. One villager from Aggyi asked about the incident and said, “We villagers are not their (Burma Army) enemy. They should not beat and mistreat villagers like this…. This is the fourth time in my life that I have had to run to escape from fighting.”

On 10 July over 15,000 people in Kyaukme township in northern Shan State gathered to demand justice and accountability for the killing of Loong Suu and crimes perpetrated by the Myanmar military during the offensive operation. In response to the mass demonstration, Myanmar military announced they intended to lay charges against three of the protest organizers – U Sai Than Maung, U Jotika and U Aria – under the Section 19 of the Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Law and Section 18 of the Communicable Disease Prevention Law. A group of 36 Shan Community Groups have called for the charges to be immediately and unconditionally dropped and urges the international community to put pressure on the Myanmar government to hold the Myanmar military to account for ongoing crimes against ethnic minorities and to end impunity for decades of atrocities.

While conflict rages on in ethnic areas, attempts have been made to reinvigorate the stalled peace process between the Ethnic Armed Organizations (EAOs) and the Myanmar military during a two-day Joint Ceasefire Monitoring Committee meeting held on 7 and 8 June, 2020. During the meetings, representatives from the government and 10 EAOs agreed to the agenda for the fourth session of the 21st Century Panglong Conference in August, eager to cement their positions before the election. This meeting included the Karen National Union and Restoration Council of Shan State, both recently returning after temporarily withdrawing from the peace process in 2018, after talks became deadlocked and in response to ongoing conflict in ethnic areas. These successive conferences have failed to address the root-causes of conflict and the grievances of ethnic minorities, which has created resentment and mistrust towards the NLD. Additionally, NLD continues its unwillingness and inflexibility in challenging the Myanmar military’s positions or face the reality that no substantial results can be achieved while the Myanmar military is expanding its military campaigns, through further intensifying conflict in Rakhine, Chin and northern Shan States.

One persistent and unaddressed issue raised by ethnic communities surrounds systems of land tenure, resource management and historic land-grabbing. Currently, there are numerous ongoing disputes between the Myanmar military and farmers across Myanmar, particularly in ethnic regions. One recent dispute has surfaced in Pa-Oh Self-Administered Region of Hsihseng in southern Shan State, where 1,900 acres of land was confiscated by the Myanmar military in 1996. Farmers assert the Myanmar military did not inform them the land was confiscated, nor was any compensation paid for the land taken. Farmers planted corn on 15 acres of the disputed land, which has been destroyed by unidentified perpetrators earlier this month, causing immense financial hardship for farmers.

Signs are beginning to appear that lost faith and trust in the NLD-led Government’s ability to deliver on previous election promises made to ethnic minorities will translate into lost support at the upcoming election. “NLD might be good for the ethnic Bamar people. But for ethnic minorities, NLD does not do well and rather it has contributed to a lot of human rights violations in ethnic areas,” human rights activist Maung Saungkha told Khit Thit Media, who is currently facing charges for pointing out the internet blackout in Rakhine State. Voters in ethnic areas appear to be shifting their support from the NLD to ethnic parties, which are forging alliances amongst themselves to create a bloc. Without the full support of ethnic peoples, it will be difficult for the NLD to secure a landslide victory, as they did in 2015. Ultimately, the message from ethnic communities is one of disillusionment and frustration with the current political landscape, as the NLD-led government has failed time and again to produce meaningful change and lasting peace.

If the international community will stand up for free and fair elections, they should put pressure on the Myanmar government to broker a truly genuine nationwide ceasefire and allow for people in ethnic areas to exercise their democratic right to vote without fear, including ensuring the participation of vulnerable minority populations, such as the conflict affected IDPs and refugees. The NLD government should reinstate the voting rights of Rohingyas in Rakhine State and allow for absentee voting for Rohingya outside Myanmar, including the refugees in Bangladesh Cox’s Bazaar refugee camps, in Malaysia, Thailand and elsewhere.


[1] 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

Myanmar: Indiscriminate Airstrikes Kill Civilians As Rakhine Conflict Worsens

By Amnesty International

The Global Community of Arakanese is Appealing to the Government of Singapore to Stop the Forcible Deportation of Arakanese

By Arakan American Community, Canada Arakanese Community, European Campaign for Arakan and International Campaign for Arakan

Myanmar: Review of Human Rights Record Underscores Need for Reforms

By Article 19

Myanmar: Indiscriminate Airstrikes Kill Civilians As Rakhine Conflict Worsens

By Amnesty International

နိုင်ငံတကာ ကော်ပိုရေးရှင်းများ အနေဖြင့် ရခိုင်မြေတွင် ပဋိပက္ခတိုးပွားစေသော မီးလျှံများကို ရပ်တန့်ချိန်သင့်ပြီ

By Arakan Oil Watch

New Briefer: Time for International Corporations to Stop Fuelling Conflict in Western Burma

By Arakan Oil Watch

Over 500 Civil Servants Stranded in Paletwa Town

By Chin Human Rights Organization

Ensure Voting Rights, Restore Citizenship Rights for Rohingya: National Elections Scheduled for November 8

By Fortify Rights

Global Arakanese Community Calls on UN Security Council to Enforce ICJ Provisional Measures to Protect Civilian Population and to Adopt a Resolution to Investigate War Crime and Crime Against Humanity into Myanmar Army and to Punish Perpetrators

By Global Arakanese Community

Bangladesh: Move Rohingya from Dangerous Silt Island

By Human Rights Watch

Military Conflict of Interest Corrupts Myanmar Govvernment’s Investigation of Hpakant Jade Mining Disaster

By Justice For Myanmar

The United States Provides $16.5 Million in Assistance to Myanmar to Respond to COVID-19

By U.S. Embassy in Burma



Joint Submission to the UN Universal Periodic Review (37th Session of the Working Group): Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons

By 14 Civil Society Organizations

Joint Submission to the UN Universal Periodic Review (37th Session of the Working Group): Freedom Of Expression, Information and Assembly in Myanmar

By 14 Organizations

Joint Submission to the UN Universal Periodic Review (37th Session of the Working Group): Hate Speech and Shrinking Democratic and Civil Society Space

By 16 Civil Society Organizations

AASYC Submission to the UN Universal Periodic Review: Human Rights Violations in the Armed Conflicts in Arakan, Burma/Myanmar

By All Arakan Students’ and Youths’ Congress

ပဋိပက္ခပွားစေသော မီးလျှံများ – ရခိုင့်ဘဝများကို လောင်မြိုက်နေသော ရင်းနှီးမြှုပ်နှံမှုများ

By Arakan Oil Watch

Fuelling Conflict: Investment Exacerbating Turmoil in Western Burma

By Arakan Oil Watch

Joint Submission to the UN Universal Periodic Review (37th Session of the Working Group): Myanmar National Human Rights Commission

By CSO Working Group on MNHRC Reform

Submission to the Universal Periodic Review of Myanmar: Human Rights Watch

By Human Rights Watch

Joint Submission to the United Nations Universal Periodic Review: The Peace Process and Armed Conflict in Myanmar

By Network for Human Rights Documentation – Burma

Hitting Where It Hurts: Impacts of COVID-19 Measures on Myanmar Poor

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.”