It has been over one week since the Myanmar military staged its illegitimate coup. Resistance is growing and so is the crackdown from the military junta. In this tumultuous time, however, inspiration is being drawn from the determined will of the people as well as the diversity of the protests that includes students, workers, the LGBT community, academia, civil servants, ethnic and religious minorities and many more. It is hoped that this broad based coalition of networks can be a platform for not just the overthrow of the Myanmar military, but sweeping political reforms and constitutional changes that protects the human rights of all people of Myanmar, recognizes ethnic people’s right to self-determination in a genuine federal democratic system, and finally ending decades of civil war and militarization.
The Civil Disobedience Movement #CDM has been a glorious mix of tradition, innovation, colour, inter-generation and defiance. The nightly cacophony of sound as residents across the country go onto the streets, onto their balconies and lean out of their windows to bang pots and pans draws on a tradition that represents chasing evil out of their homes. The three-fingered salute – originally from the Hollywood movie, the Hunger Games, and appropriated by protesters in neighbouring Thailand in recent months – has been widely used as a symbol of opposition. Civil servants such as medical workers, teachers, academic staff and others joined protests and strikes, proudly wearing their uniforms and their representative flags. There have been cases in Mawlamyine, Magway, and Loikaw where police officers have gone over to join the protesters. Creative artwork, some beamed onto the sides of buildings at night, has flooded social media.
Flags and colours representing Myanmar’s diverse ethnic groups have also been present, both in central cities of Myanmar and in ethnic areas including Shan, Kachin, Mon, Karen, Karenni, and Chin. Many ethnic people voted for Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in the hope that she could amend the 2008 Constitution, negotiate a genuine peace, and work towards a federal democracy in which ethnic equality and self-determination can be achieved. Thus, for many people the protests are not just about a return to the status quo of a quasi civilian government headed by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi with key levers of power still held by the Myanmar military, but for deeper, more substantive political reforms. For example, the three demands of the Karen Youth Network are to end military dictatorship, repeal the 2008 Constitution, and establish a genuine federal democratic union. A protest on 11 February in Karen State drew thousands to demand the end to militarization and the withdrawal of Myanmar military troops from their homeland. The Rohingya, who despite the genocidal wave of violence that drove most of them to Bangladesh committed by the same military that was defended by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi at the International Court of Justice, have also protested the coup in the refugee camps in Bangladesh.
Yet the resistance to the military, while peaceful and diverse, has not faced peace. Rather, it has faced threats, intimidation, and violence at the hands of the authorities. On 9 February, a 19 year old woman, a peaceful protester, Ma Myat Thwe Thwe Khaing, was deliberately shot by the police from afar in Naypyidaw, and she is in critical condition and on life support in the hospital. Video footage shows her being targeted and aimed at while she was standing peacefully with her friends. Another protester, So Way, was also shot in the chest. Water cannons and rubber bullets have also been fired on protesters. Agent provocateurs, dressed like protesters, have been seen talking to police while truckloads of pro-military protesters have been sighted driving around Yangon. Protesters are being arrested while raids on leaders, activists and human rights defenders are done in secret during the night. In ethnic areas, the military has beefed up its presence. In several townships in Yangon, Mandalay and other areas, orders have been issued imposing a curfew between 8pm and 4am and banning gatherings of over five people. Meanwhile the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces and leader of the coup, Min Aung Hlaing, gave a TV address on the evening of 8 February, reiterating claims of election fraud and attempting to reassure foreign investors that it will be business as usual.
While the coup is shocking and incites anger among the people, it is also an opportunity for the structural changes that rights-based Myanmar CSOs and ethnic communities, particularly those affected by conflict, have been advocating for decades, whether the country was led by Aung San Suu Kyi’s NLD quasi-democratic government or the military regime. The Myanmar military, while begrudgingly conceding limited power in the centre, has never stopped committing war crimes, crimes against humanity, or even genocide in ethnic areas. The people of Rakhine State, Rakhine or Rohingya, of Karen, Kachin, or Shan State, have experienced the worst of the Myanmar military’s violence, destruction and forced displacement throughout Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s NLD-led Government. As the Karen Peace Support Network pointed out in a statement, “The military-crafted, centralized governing structure could never be a foundation for sustainable peace and development in Burma.” The international community also has a role. It must learn from its mistakes of the past, listen to ethnic communities and grassroots organizations and initiate a comprehensive response to support long-term federal democratic and human rights change in the country, including constitutional change. It must impose targeted sanctions against the Myanmar military and military-linked businesses and associates – such as those the US has announced, albeit in need of further targeting and sanctioning – and pursue all avenues of justice and accountability for the grave human rights violations the military has committed. By working together against the common enemy, the current loose coalition of the diverse peoples of Myanmar, with support from the international community, can affect genuine change. In spite of the belligerence of the Myanmar military’s recent actions, a movement for a genuine transition can commence.
 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.
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.”