The Militarization of Myanmar

March 19th, 2021  •  Author:   Progressive Voice  •  11 minute read
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As horrific scenes continue day and night throughout Myanmar, the lethal violence and atrocities committed by the Myanmar military are an all too familiar reality for ethnic peoples who have experienced decades of brutality by the same military under the previous successive military regimes, as well as during the National League for Democracy (NLD)-led government.

Over the last weekend Myanmar saw one of the deadliest and darkest days in its history, with at least 74 people dead and hundreds more injured, many of these in the industrial Hlaing Tharyar Township in Yangon. Police and military personnel fired live ammunition carte blanche into crowds of peaceful protesters in an effort to terrorize them into submission and the weekend culminated in the full militarization of areas of Yangon, with the illegitimate junta imposing Martial Law in North Dagon, South Dagon, Dagon Seikkan, North Okkalapa, Hlaing Tharyar, Shwepyitha and five townships in Mandalay. The Orwellian-esque brutality knows no limits, with all out war being waged on the people of Myanmar exercising their opposition to the military regime. Scenes of extreme violence are continuing into the seventh week of the coup, such as a police officer killing an unarmed man collecting trash in Hlaing Tharyar the day after the crackdown, the barrel of the gun flush against his temple in an execution style murder. In Dawbon Township, security forces killed an unarmed protester, undressed and dragged him through the street without any consideration for his humanity. Additionally, reports of severe torture during detention, banning of media outlets, repeated internet blackouts and disabling mobile networks are all red flags that Myanmar is plunging back into fully fledged military rule intent on imposing suppression through a terror campaign against an unarmed civilian population. Meanwhile, conflict is ramping up in Karen and Kachin States between ethnic armed organizations (EAOs) and the Myanmar military.

As horrific scenes continue day and night throughout Myanmar, the lethal violence and atrocities committed by the Myanmar military are an all too familiar reality for ethnic peoples who have experienced decades of brutality by the same military under the previous successive military regimes, as well as during the National League for Democracy (NLD)-led government. Many of these people remain displaced in refugee camps along Myanmar’s borders with Thailand and Bangladesh, and as internally displaced persons throughout ethnic areas, unable to return and barely surviving on depleting foreign aid. Currently in Karen State, over 6,000 people have been internally displaced from their villages due to shelling and mortar attacks by the Myanmar military since early December 2020, seeking refuge and cover in makeshift camps in nearby forests.

The Myanmar military is seeking domain over Karen land to gain further control over and Burmanize Karen people, enrich themselves from natural resource extraction and development projects – including a roading infrastructure project through Karen farmland which is the catalyst for the recent outbreak of conflict. For Karen people protesting against the military coup, their concerns are multifaceted and go beyond the coup. In a recent statement by Salween Peace Park – in conjunction with a 3,200 person protest against the Myanmar military encroaching on their land – they call for the recognition of their self-determination, the end to a planned mega-dam project on the Salween River, the end to armed conflict and for the Myanmar military to withdraw from ethnic areas, end the coup, abolish the military-drafted 2008 Constitution and for the realization of a genuine federal democracy. In solidarity with protesters in Karen State, the Karen National Union/Karen National Liberation Army has vowed to protect protesters exercising their rights.

Similarly in Kachin State, conflict has reignited in the past few months when the Myanmar military launched surprise operations in Brigade 4 in northern Shan State against the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), after which heavy clashes have become a near daily occurrence. Most recently in Selzin village in Hpakant Township, the KIA attacked a Myanmar military base in retaliation to the military opening fire on anti-coup protesters. In response to this, the Myanmar military has launched airstrikes near IDP camps. Additionally, the Restoration Council of Shan State and the Myanmar military clashed on March 9 in Mong Nawng Township, southern Shan State. All of the abovementioned EAOs have declared their support for peaceful protesters against the junta.

While active conflict may have ceased between the Arakan Army and the Myanmar military in Rakhine State, the aftermath of two years of fierce conflict is continually impacting ethnic and religious minority communities, such as the Rohingya, Rakhine, Chin, Kaman and Mro. Many are struggling to survive economic hardships, lack of access to livelihoods, landmines, COVID-19 and displacement, while the Rohingya are still being denied their identity and citizenship, face continued persecution and live in apartheid like conditions. Many Rohingya who have sought safe asylum in India and Malaysia have been deported back to Myanmar where a genocidal and tyrannical regime is intent on persecuting them. As highlighted in her oral statement to the 46th regular session to the UN Human Rights Council (HRC), PV founder and chairperson, Khin Ohmar, reminded the HRC that impunity for the Rohingya genocide and grave atrocity crimes committed against other ethnic groups has precipitated the current crisis in Myanmar and thus must be at the forefront of any discussions on rejecting the military coup and moving towards democracy.

There are many calls from the ground within Myanmar for a coordinated and unified response from the UN and international community in order to help defeat the illegitimate military junta. The Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH), as the legitimate government for Myanmar’s people, has taken a central role in pushing back against the junta. The CRPH is echoing the voices from the ground, such as the Civil Disobedience Movement, Generation Z, General Strike committees and civil society organizations, to end the military junta, achieve fully fledged democracy and to rescind the 2008 military-drafted Constitution and write a new Constitution based on federalism. Building on this, the CRPH must come together with EAOs and ethnic political party leaders as equal partners, in forming policy to combat the military junta and develop a roadmap with a new vision for Myanmar that is inclusive and truly democratic. This must also include meaningful consultations with the Civil Disobedience Movement, Generation Z, General Strike committees and civil society organizations. The long standing and underlying root causes of the civil war, such as inequality and Burmanization policies, must be remedied to build trust, genuine national reconciliation, social cohesion and harmony, address the essential issues of justice and accountability including holding perpetrators of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes to account, and recognizing the identity and restoration of Rohingas’ citizenship rights. Thus, ethnic and religious communities must not be lost in the crowd of voices – especially Rohingya and those that have been marginalized and persecuted by the same military throughout history, including under the NLD-led government. Coalitions must be formed in solidarity towards establishing a genuine and inclusive federal democracy and to defeat the illegitimate junta once and for all.


[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

Open Letter to Apparel Brands Sourcing From Myanmar: Ensure Protection of Worker Rights

By 40 Human Rights and Labor Rights Organizations

Announcement No 1/2021 by Ministry of Investment and Foreign Economic Relations

By Acting Union Minister of Investment and Foreign Economic Relations

International Women’s Day

By Assistance Association for Political Prisoners

သတင်းနှင့် ပြန်ကြားရေး ဗျူရို တိုးချဲ့ ဖွဲ့စည်းကြောင်း ထုတ်ပြန်ကြေညာချက်

By All Burma Federation of Student Unions

Letter to UN: Arbitary arrests of Rohingya refugees in India

By Arakan Rohingya Society for Peace & Human Rights

ADB Statement on New Developments in Myanmar

By Asian Development Bank

Myanmar: Vast arsenal and notorious troops deployed during nationwide ‘killing spree’ protest crackdown – new research

By Amnesty International

Burma Campaign UK Welcomes Korean Arms Embargo on Burma

By Burma Campaign UK

Violence and brutality Increase While the International community Fails to Protect Peaceful Protester, BHRN Condemns Military’s Persecution of Muslim NLD Members

By Burma Human Rights Network

BROUK calls for the immediate release of 150 Rohingya refugees detained by police in India

By Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK

CPJ calls for immediate release of AP’s Thein Zaw, all other journalists detained in Myanmar

By Committee to Protect Journalists

ခေတ္တ ဒုတိယသမ္မတ ခန့်အပ်တာဝန်ပေးခြင်း, စစ်ကောင်စီကို တရားစွဲဆိုရန် ဥပဒေအကြံပေး ငှားရမ်း,

Informing the people of their right to self-defense according to the law as civilian population in case of violence

By Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw

International Partners Must End all Cooperation with the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission

By CSO Working Group on MNHRC Reform and 56 Local and Regional CSOs and Networks

Leading MEPs on latest developments in Myanmar, 9 March 2021

By European Parliament

Arbitrary Detention of Rohingya Refugees in Jammu and Kashmir

By European Rohingya Council

HRC46 Oral Statement on Item 4: Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar

By Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development

Global Witness response to military crackdown on independent Myanmar media outlets

By Global Witness

သပိတ်တိုက်ပွဲဝင် လူမျိုးပေါင်းစုံပြည်သူလူထုကြီးသို့ပန်ကြား၊ အကြံပြုလွှာ ကြေငြာချက်အမှတ် ၆/၂၀၂၁

By General Strike Committee

ရှေ့ဆက်ခရီးလမ်း – အလွှာပေါင်းစုံဖိနှိပ်မှုများ ဆုံရပ်တော်လှန်ရေးမှ လွတ်လပ်သောအနာဂတ်ဆီသို့

By General Strike Committee of Nationalities

Myanmar: Urgently Investigate NLD Official’s Death in Custody

Myanmar: Facial Recognition System Threatens Rights

By Human Rights Watch

Apparel Brands Must Act to End Intimidation of Workers Engaged in the Civil Disobedience Movement in Myanmar

By International Campaign for the Rohingya

Myanmar: More journalists detained, media offices raided in Yangon

By International Federation of Journalists

Interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, during the 46th Session of Human Rights Council

By India Representative

Myanmar military-controlled businesses & associates that require targeted sanctions

By Justice for Myanmar

International Women’s Day

Condemnation of Attack on Freedom of Press

By Karen Human Rights Group

KWO Statement on International Women’s Day “Choose to Challenge”

By Karen Women’s Organization

International Day of Action for Rivers and Against Dams

By Karen Rivers Watch

Statement on Karenni National Women’s Organisation’s 28th Anniversary

By Karenni National Women Organization

Korean Government’s Measures on Situation in Myanmar

By Korean (Ministry of Foreign Affairs)

Junta Terrorists, Beyound Condemnation from the Youths

By Milk Tea Alliance Indonesia

ငြိမ်းချမ်းရေးလုပ်ငန်းစဉ်ဦးဆောင်အဖွဲ့ (PPST) အစည်းအဝေး(၁၃/၂၀၂၁)တွင် ပြောကြားသည့် ယာယီအဖွဲ့ခေါင်းဆောင် ဗိုလ်ချုပ်ကြီး ယွက်စစ်၏ နိဂုံးချုပ်မိန့်ခွန်း

By Peace Process Steering Team

Southeast Asian Women Stand with Myanmar for Freedom and Democracy

By Southeast Asian Women’s Watch

SAC-M raises alarm over growing likelihood of major lethal crackdown in Myanmar and calls for immediate intervention

By Special Advisory Council for Myanmar

Statement on the situation in the Republic of the Union of Myanmar, 11 March 2021

By Thailand (Ministry of Foreign Affairs)

Statement on International Women’s Day 2021

By United Nations Myanmar

Issuing Presidential Statement, Security Council Expresses Deep Concern about Developments in Myanmar

By United Nations Security Council

Statement by Thomas H. Andrewsy, UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar

By UN Human Rights Council

Myanmar junta crackdown likely crimes against humanity requiring coordinated international response – UN expert

By UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar

Statement by the President of the Security Council on Myanmar, March 10, 2021

By United States Mission to the United Nations

Statement on Myanmar by Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women

By UN Women

United States Targets Family Members Profiting from Connection to Burmese Coup Leader

By U.S. Department of the Treasury

Promoting Accountability and Responding to Violence against Protestors in Burma

By U.S. Embassy in Burma

Women Challenge Military Dictatorship

By Women’s League of Burma

Myanmar Women Human Rights defenders sent appeal letter to Global Women Leaders


မတ်လ ၈ ရက်နေ့ နိုင်ငံတကာအမျိုးသမီးများနေ့ အထမ်းအမှတ် မြန်မာ့အမျိုးသမီးသမဂ္ဂနှင့် အလုပ်သမားအဖွဲ့များ ပူးတွဲထုတ်ပြန်ကြေငြာချက်

By မြန်မာ့အမျိုးသမီးသမဂ္ဂနှင့် အလုပ်သမားအဖွဲ့အစည်းများ



Myanmar Situation Update (1-7 March 2021)

By Asian Network for Free Elections

AAPPs February Report Burma’s Spring Uprising

By Assistance Association for Political Prisoners

Daily Briefing, Detention and Fatality Lists (8 March 2021, 9 March 2021, 10 March 2021, 11 March 2021, 12March 2021, 13 March 2021, 14 March 2021)

By By Assistance Association for Political Prisoners

COVID-19 pandemic in Burma/Myanmar: Junta’s attacks on civil society & health workers are killing domestic COVID-19 response


TIMELINE: Post-Coup Situation Updates on Political Developments in Myanmar’s Chin State

By Chin Human Rights Organization

Undermining Freedom of Expression Amid the Myanmar Coup

Network for Human Rights Documentation – Burma

Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, Thomas H. Andrews

By UN Human Rights Council 46th session

FACT SHEET: Biden-Harris Administration Actions in Response to the Coup in Burma

By U.S. (the White House)

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.”