Solidarity and Unity Will Defeat the Junta
Protests against the military junta have continued with force for over a one month throughout Myanmar. This past two weeks has seen heightened levels of violence and bloodshed against peaceful protesters at the hands of the Myanmar military, police, pro-military thugs and military appointed local administrators. The examples of unprovoked attacks on protesters are numerous, daily and all across Myanmar. During past two weeks, two protesters were shot dead, six seriously injured and many others sustaining injuries at the Yadanarbon Shipyard in Mandalay, from live ammunition and rubber bullets. In another incident caught on video in Mandalay on 19 February, a young disabled man was beaten with batons across his face and upper body by soldiers and police – spurring condemnation from 60 disability focused civil society organizations. In Yangon on 25 February, pro-military thugs terrorized by-standers and protesters with wielding knives, bars and slingshots – seriously injuring three people while police watched on. Video footage shows a man being stabbed and beaten near the Sule Shangri La, while women, children and elderly bystanders flee for safety.
The ferocity of the violence peaked over this past weekend, with brutal and senseless killings of at least 18 unarmed peaceful protesters and seriously injured dozens throughout Myanmar. Full details surrounding those shots is still coming to light, with reports of people being killed in Yangon, Mandalay, Dawei, Bago, Magwe, Pakokku and Kyaukse. Three of those killed in Yangon include Nyi Nyi Aung Naing (23), Hein Htut Aun (23), Zin Lin Thu (20), and middle school teacher Tin Nwet Yee (59). Parts of Yangon resembled a war zone, with only one side armed and on the offensive against peaceful protesters. The military and police employed ruthless tactics to suppress anyone peacefully expressing their opposition to the junta, using tear gas, stun grenades, rubber bullets and shooting live ammunition into crowds of people without any respect for human life.
Protesters are not the only targets of violence. Journalists are increasingly being harassed, beaten, shot with rubber bullets, tear gassed and arrested – with 13 journalists being detained during the weekend crackdowns, with a total of 25 journalists being arrested between 14 February and 1 March. This reflects a deliberate and aggressive policy by the military junta to silence journalists reporting on the coup and their violent attacks against peaceful protesters. In Naypyidaw on Wednesday 24 February, journalists reporting on the protests were arrested, threatened at gunpoint, had their equipment confiscated and were injured. According to Radio Free Asia, during the round-up of protesters, the commanding officer of the military shouted, “Get those reporters!”. On Friday 26 February, the military briefly detained Yuki Kitazumi, a Japanese journalist covering protests in Yangon along with other Myanmar journalists. He was released soon after but other Myanmar journalists are being kept in detention. In the same incident, a journalist was targeted by police who came at him with a baton – a photo of this was captured and circulated widely on social media. Freedom of the press is a fundamental tenet in democracy and crucial in Myanmar at this time to document the actions of the junta. Former Myanmar Press Council member Myint Kyaw states that the military is attempting to impose “effectively a news blackout”. Myint Kyaw and fourteen other members of the independent Myanmar Press Council have resigned over military directives telling the media how to cover the coup, saying they are unable to ensure press freedom and safety of journalists. A joint statement by over 30 independent media outlets have condemned directives of the junta to restrict free press and pledge to continue to report independently and freely.
These unprovoked attacks underscore the intentions of the military to use extreme force against peaceful protesters and journalists without any concern for their lives. It is a craven attempt by the military to demoralize protesters, to grip at their unlawfully obtained power and a desperate scramble for any scraps of legitimacy. Holding bravely to their convictions is the Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM), general strike committees, workers, students and the general public who are resisting peacefully, calling for the release of prisoners, the end of the military regime, abolishing the 2008 military-drafted Constitution and establishing a genuine federal democracy.
Amid the military-sanctioned violence, protesters and civil society call on the international community to show solidarity with protesters by taking concrete actions to support their cause to end the junta once and for all. In an open letter, 137 civil society organizations called on the UN Security Council (UNSC) to pass a resolution for a global arms embargo with a robust monitoring and enforcement mechanism to ensure states end arms transfers to Myanmar. The letter pointedly reiterates the decades of grave atrocity crimes committed by the Myanmar military with arms sold to them, which the UNSC has the power to end through an embargo. A follow up letter to the UNSC, signed by 468 civil society organizations reiterates these calls and further stresses the need for the UNSC to immediately dispatch a delegation for enhanced monitoring and intervention. Myanmar’s Ambassador to the UN, Kyaw Moe Tun, also bravely called upon the international community to take the strongest possible action to restore democracy in Myanmar in an address to the UN General Assembly – rebuking and rejecting the military’s authority and at great personal risk. In another display of solidarity, international trade and workers’ unions have pledged their support behind Myanmar unions involved in the CDM and general strike and asked international brands to provide job security and wage payments for their protesting employees. This was in response to the Industrial Workers’ Federation of Myanmar’s request for international brands to condemn the coup and ensure that business activities do not contribute to human rights violations and aid the military. The military has declared most of the country’s unions and labor organizations illegal, however strikers do not recognize the legitimacy of the military to make such declarations and refuse to work under the military junta.
In another effort to support protesters to end the junta, over 200 civil society organizations urge International Financial Institutions (IFI) to halt lending to Myanmar entities until it is determined they do not legitimize military rule. Additionally, they urge IFIs to recall all loans to military junta businesses (Myanmar Economic Corporation, MEC, and the Myanma Economic Holdings Limited, MEHL), military-linked businesses, and military cronies. The World Bank has halted payment requests on Myanmar since the coup, but concerted effort and further concrete actions from all IFIs and private entities, including the IFC, to end dealings with the junta and not to give any legitimacy to the junta is essential.
While impunity is rife and accountability for these grave human rights abuses and violence against protesters is not possible at this time, it is therefore imperative that international actors – individual states, IFIs, private companies, the United Nations, the UNSC, European Union and ASEAN – unify in solitary behind the Myanmar people’s anti-military coup movement to aid their cause and take concerted actions to end the military junta. Of particular importance is the UNSC’s broad powers to implement targeted sanctions against the junta leadership and businesses, impose an arms embargo and to send a monitoring and intervention mission to protect the people of Myanmar. They must push the military junta to cease violence and further bloodshed, release all detained and return the country to the elected government and the people. The time to act is now. The more time that passes without concerted actions targeted against the junta, the further emboldened the military will be to continue waging war against the people’s peaceful movement, resulting in more violence against protesters, journalists and members of civil society.
 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.”