During Bloody Days and Fearful Nights, Support is Urgently Needed To Protect People’s Lives
The military regime’s brutal and deliberate attacks and crackdown on the peaceful demonstrations across Myanmar has taken yet another violent turn, with dozens dead on 3 March, the most fatal day yet. Despite facing unspeakable violence, including a massacre in North Okkalapa, the protesters return to the streets, day after day, showing their unbroken will to end military rule. It has been over a month since the coup, and there have been over 50 deaths, yet the international community has not done enough to support the people’s movement and take action to reject the military junta.
On 3 March at least 38 protesters died at the hands of the Myanmar military, taking the total to over 50. In towns and cities across Myanmar, including Yangon, Mandalay, Dawei, Mawlamyine, Monywa, Myingyan and Myitkyina, live fire was used by the police and the military against unarmed demonstrators, creating terror. One of the most striking and emotional images recorded so far is of 19 year old Kyal Sin, whose Chinese name is Deng Jia Xi and is also known as Angel, at the frontlines of the protest in Mandalay, helping her comrades while wearing a t-shirt with the words ‘Everything Will be OK.’ She was shot in the head moments later and tragically died. In North Okkalapa Township, semi-automatic machine guns were used to fire into the crowd, killing at least eight people in this township alone on the 3rd of March, while many more were injured. Shocking footage shows the police savagely beating medics whom they have just detained, repeatedly hitting them with the butts of their rifles. Video after video of beatings, shootings and other types of violence, inflicted by the police and Myanmar army soldiers, including snipers stationed on rooftops, has been spread widely on social media. One graphic video of medics being repeatedly beaten in Yangon on 3 March is a clear violation of international humanitarian law. As Marzuki Darusman, former head of the UN Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar and now part of the newly established Special Advisory Council for Myanmar stated, the Myanmar military “is now responsible for what appear to be crimes against humanity being committed against the wider civilian population.”
Meanwhile, the internet is cut for eight hours every night and violent raids and brutal arrests are increasing. As of 8 March, the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners has documented 1,857 people who have been arrested, charged or sentenced since 1 February. Meanwhile, on the night of the 7th of March, the soldiers and the police patrolled the streets, setting off flash bangs, shooting into buildings, and damaging property in several townships in Yangon in an attempt to instil fear in the city. Yet the day after, the protesters still went on to the streets in large numbers.
Many protesters are hoping for international support and signboards calling for R2P (the Responsibility to Protect) to be invoked, or even signs calling for a military invasion have been seen. One photoshopped message plastered in huge letters on the street, stated ‘We have oil,’ a humorous yet pointed attempt to provoke stronger international intervention. While countries, including the US have indicated that there will be no boots on the ground or any other type of military intervention from abroad, there are other steps that can be pursued by the international community to support the movement and undermine the military coup d’etat. For the people of Myanmar, the military junta is illegitimate. In fact, both the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH), the body of elected MPs, and people themselves, have declared the military a terrorist organization, and international actors must act in accordance. The last thing international actors should do is to give any legitimacy to the military regime, for example through military-to-military cooperation, as the Australian Government continued to do until pressure forced them to suspend its program on 7 March. That it continued for so long was an insult to the people of Myanmar, particularly for those protesters on the ground. Such actions by the international community must also be strongly condemned, and not given further weight or excused as possible lines of communication or bargaining chips for negotiations.
Instead, real action must be taken. First of all, countries can impose targeted sanctions on the military, the military’s conglomerates, and its crony allies. There is little appetite from most actors, both domestically and internationally, for broad-based economic sanctions, yet there is a desire to target the military where it hurts – their pockets. It is telling that on 4 February, just days after the coup and after the military had installed a new Governor of the Central Bank of Myanmar, it tried to withdraw $1billion from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, where many central banks retain USD reserves. It was blocked at the time by safeguards already in place. The US has since imposed sanctions in the form of export controls, so certain goods that could be used for military means cannot be traded with the Ministries of Home Affairs and Defence and the two powerful military-run conglomerates – the Myanmar Economic Corporation (MEC) and the Myanma Economic Holdings Limited (MEHL). This is added to the existing individual sanctions on top generals and three related entities. However, more must be done as these sanctions do not prevent US companies doing business with the Myanmar military and its conglomerates. Furthermore, the Transport and Communications Ministry must also be sanctioned as it procures technology for surveillance purposes while the MEC and MEHL must be under a stricter sanctions regime. The UK and the EU, must also do the same. Individual sanctions on military leaders, while symbolic, do not have huge impacts as they have few assets in the EU and the UK. Hence, targeted sanctions on MEHL, MEC, and other military companies is a must. The EU foreign ministers will meet on 22 March, and it is essential that they take this concrete action, at least to save face for the huge miscalculation they took by training the Myanmar Police Force in ‘crowd control’ – the very police that are beating and shooting unarmed demonstrators for the purpose of crowd control. Similarly, the UK must stop dithering with platitudes on the bravery of the protesters and impose effective targeted sanctions on military companies.
It is also imperative the UN Security Council (UNSC), the UN body that yields actual power, to take three steps outlined by over 450 Myanmar civil society organisations in a letter to the Human Rights Council. These are for the UN Human Rights Council to request the UNSC to impose a global arms embargo; dispatch a monitoring and intervention mission to Myanmar; and impose targeted economic sanctions on military leaders, military companies, and their associated businesses. On 27 February, internet network engineer, Nyi Nyi Aung Htet Naing posted a poignant question for the UN on his Facebook page which read, “#How_Many_Dead_Bodies_UN_Need_To_Take_Action.” The next day he was shot dead. The UN must take action.
International companies can also play a role in publicly denouncing the military coup, cutting ties with it, and supporting striking workers. In particular, oil and gas companies such as Chevron and Total, should follow the actions of Australian company, Woodside, in reviewing its operations with a view to divestment. Oil and gas revenues are huge and directly finance the military and while these partnerships are ongoing, Chevron and Total will be funding the violence.
In other sectors, international investors also have a role, especially the garment industry. Garment factory workers, mostly women, have been at the forefront of the general strike, with the organizing capabilities and commitment of the unions playing a major role in the movement. The Federation of General Workers Myanmar has called on apparel brands to issue statements demanding that “no workers in Myanmar factories are to be dismissed, disciplined or discouraged in any way for participating in the Civil Disobedience Movement.” Apparel companies must publicly state that they support the workers’ struggle against dictatorship.
A welcome step from the business community is the rejection by the American, European and Italian Chambers of Commerce of a meeting with the military appointed Minister of Investment and Foriegn Economic Relations, U Aung Naing Oo, stating that they have declined all invitations to meet with military representatives. Meanwhile, the Singapore Stock Exchange (SGX) has instructed a company listed on the exchange – Emerging Towns and Cities Singapore Limited (ETC) – to respond to an investigation by a covert group of activists, Justice For Myanmar, which found that ETC was raising funds on the SGX which would go to the Myanmar army’s office of the Quartermaster General – the office in charge of procuring weapons. Such weapons are being used on innocent people, especially in ethnic areas, and thus, funds raised on the SGX are financing its atrocity crimes. It is thus welcome that the SGX has taken this action, and pertinent given the close economic ties between Singapore-based businesses and Myanmar.
Ultimately, the success of the resistance to military dictatorship will come from the ground, from the grassroots movement on the streets, from the determination and resolution of those willing to sacrifice their lives for a better future. They do, however, call for solidarity, for allies and for action. Hence it is crucial that international businesses, UN bodies, foreign governments, multilateral institutions and the wider regional and global civil society take the actions that support the movement and reject the military. Denying the Myanmar military regime legitimacy, banning arms sales, ending opportunities for them to enrich themselves, and standing in solidarity with the civil disobedience movement and Generation Z ought to be a priority for international actors. Concerted actions from the international community may not take the junta down, but it will surely assist the people of Myanmar’s efforts, and their support is a shot in the arm for the people’s movement. Knowing they have allies who prioritize actions over rhetoric, supporting them practically and doing all they can to provide protection is what the people of Myanmar need more than ever from the international community at this critical time of crisis.
 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 12 Ta’ang Civil Society Organizations
By 159 Myanmar Organizations
By 452 Civil Society Organizations
By Assistance Association for Political Prisoners
By Associated Press
By ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights
By Australia (Minister for Foreign Affairs)
By Burma Campaign UK
By Burma Human Rights Network
By Chin Human Rights Organization
By Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw
By Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw
By Confederation of Trade Unions Myanmar
By European Union
By Federation of General Workers Myanmar
By Fortify Rights
By General Strike Committee
By General Strike Committee of the Cooperating Workers, Public Servants and Farmers
By Human Rights Watch
By International Committee of the Red Cross
By Japanese Civil Society Organizations
By Legal Aid Network
By Malaysian Members of Parliament
By People of Myanmar
By Physicians for Human Rights
By UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
By UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar
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.”