On Saturday 27 March, 2021 the illegitimate junta commemorated Armed Forces Day in a grotesque display of Stalin-esque authoritarianism. The military celebrations, with lavish meals, fireworks display and parades were juxtaposed with the armed forces and police committing the mass killing of at least 169 unarmed peaceful protesters and civilians without any regard for human life. The single minded focus is to create terror and weaponize their impunity to force the people of Myanmar into submission through any means necessary in order to gain the semblance of control, which has now resulted in a total of at least 536 killed, while almost 2729 are currently in detention since the Myanmar military’s attempted power grab on 1 February.
The immensity of the weekend’s events are still reverberating through Myanmar, many shell shocked, grief stricken and unable to come to terms with losing loved ones. In a barbaric and sadistic killing spree in Mandalay, security forces burned U Aye Ko alive after shooting him in the chest. He ran to put out a fire set alight by security forces, when he was shot and put on a tyre fire – unable to be assisted by witnesses due to continuous gunfire. Among the weekend’s dead, prominent women’s activist Ma Ah Khu was gunned down by two plainclothes officers on a motorbike in Kale Township during a protest. There has been a massive outpouring of condolences on social media for her and honoring her work as Director of the civil society organization, Women For Justice, and as a member of Women’s League of Burma, a coalition of 13 ethnic women’s organizations.
Over the last few weeks the targets of these killings have become more indiscriminate and inhumane, not limited to peaceful protesters but directed at many bystanders and passers-by, street vendors, medical staff outside hospitals, paramedics, young children and people inside their homes. Video footage and many witness accounts from the weekend’s attacks show the military using hand grenades and rocket propelled grenades against peaceful protesters and civilians, escalating the severity of weapons they are using against unarmed civilians. On 24 March, 6-year-old Khin Myo Chit’s life was cut short in Mandalay, when security forces stormed her house and shot her in the stomach as she lay in her father’s arms. Security forces returned later that day to Khin Myo Chit’s house in search of her body and proceeded to ransack the house. Many families of victims fear the military want to extract evidence from bodies of those killed, so the family of Khin Myo Chit fled for safety after her murder in order to observe Muslim burial rites. Over the weekend, at least 14 more children were killed, including 13-year-old Sai Wai Yan, who was shot and killed by security forces without warning as he played in the street near his home. The total number of children killed by the brutal Myanmar military is now more than 40, a devastating loss for the families and friends of these children, who will never see the potential and futures of their children realized.
Even in spite of the bloodshed at the hands of the Myanmar military and the grave risk they face, the defiant protest movement marches on and in honor of those who have perished. Last week saw new ingenious and peaceful ways to resist the junta, such as reappropriating Armed Forces Day as Revolution Day. Additionally, many partook in the Silent Strike on 24 March, where protesters, workers, shop owners and others remained at home. The streets of Yangon, Monywa, and Mandalay were deserted and fell silent, with support from business owners, such as Myanmar’s largest convenience store City Mart Holdings closing in solidarity. Others released helium-filled red balloons with messages calling for the international community’s help. Additionally, last week saw 77 Rakhine CSOs, who initially remained quiet of their public position on the military coup, join the resistance movement by releasing a statement condemning the military, calling for them to relinquish power and for the self-determination of ethnic peoples within a genuine federal democracy.
These systematic and widespread attacks on the people of Myanmar over the weekend mark another black spot on the continuum of grave atrocity crimes committed by the Myanmar military, including genocide of the Rohingya and crimes against humanity and war crimes against other ethnic minorities. For ethnic groups and grassroots civil society organizations in Myanmar, these scenes reaffirm their often overlooked accounts and voices of decades of civil war and abuse at the hands of the Myanmar military. Ethnic and religious minority communities know the deep scars of war, humanitarian crises, forced Burmanization, rape and sexual violence against women, grave atrocity crimes, displacement and stolen ancestral land. The ripple effects are still felt in the ethnic heartlands of Myanmar today.
At present, Karen people are facing fresh attacks by the military as multiple airstrikes over the weekend were launched against non-military targets in Papun District, known as Mutraw for the Karen, including several villages. Three people killed and seven people badly injured and many homes destroyed – a violation of the Geneva Convention and triggering between 10,000-13,000 people to flee the region. In a press release, Salween Peace Park reported the airstrikes have forced as many as 3,000 people from Mae Nu Hta village, U Weh Klo village and Ei Tu Hta IDP camp over the border into Thailand. Free Burma Rangers report that over 2,000 IDPs from Ei Tu Htu were forced back into Myanmar from Thailand. The Salween Peace Park press release calls for the immediate end to air strikes and demilitarization of their ancestral land, a federal democracy that respects the equality and self-determination of ethnic peoples, for the international community to take action to prevent further atrocities and for the UN Security Council to refer Myanmar to the International Criminal Court (ICC). Similarly outraged by these attacks, Karen Women’s Organization urges diplomats and international governments “to stop giving legitimacy to this murderous regime” and for the UN Security Council to refer Myanmar to the ICC, dispatch a monitoring body to Myanmar and impose a global arms embargo.
Simultaneously, fighting continues in Kachin State, as the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) seized the posts of at least four police battalions in Hpakant township. This comes after KIA forces captured the strategic mountaintop camp between Laiza and Mai Ja Yang close to the Chinese border from the Myanmar military, in a retaliatory attack after the Myanmar military’s artillery attack on the KIA’s Battalion 3. Many IDPs living in Laiza are worried about ongoing fighting, digging bunkers in case of airstrikes as was common during clashes between the two armies in 2013.
The military junta is not able to function in isolation and is reliant on favorable countries to legitimize and support their unlawful power grab through trade, arms and political assistance. The sending of attachés from Russia (including Russia’s Deputy Defence Minister), China, India, Vietnam, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Laos and Thailand to support Armed Forces Day is a deeply shameful act of tacit endorsement. The UN Secretary General, Human Rights Council, and Security Council and the international community as a collective must ratchet up their efforts in response to the absolute unwavering violence shown by the junta. Statements condemning violence are meaningless and ineffective unless they are followed up with concerted actions. Failure to act during the Rohingya genocide and grave atrocities committed in ethnic areas in the past – particularly in Kachin, Shan, Karen and Rakhine State has emboldened the Myanmar military to commit such grievous acts repeatedly. Currently, there is a failure of the international community to meet this moment, especially within the EU – the response has been slow and Germany has blocked harsher targeted sanctions. The full force of justice and accountability must be placed on the military junta through targeted sanctions on military leadership and military businesses and their associates, referral of the situation of Myanmar to the ICC, UN Security Council intervention and monitoring mechanisms, and a global arms embargo. This is the international community’s responsibility under the UN Charter – collective global peace and security and to protect against grave human rights violations. This external response is needed to support the internal movement on the ground, so the people’s movement can once and for all relinquish the military’s power, paving the way to realize a genuine federal democracy, end conflict and despair in ethnic areas and create an environment for equality and self-determination of all people in Myanmar, where no one is left behind.
 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
182 Regional and International Women’s Rights Organizations
By 12 Rohingya Organizations
By 6 Professors in University of Oslo
By Access Now, Amnesty International, CPJ, FIDH, HRW, Privacy International, RSF
By ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights
By Burma Campaign UK
By British Embassy in Yangon
By Burma Human Rights Network
By Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK
By Chiefs of Defense (Australia, Canada, Germany, Greece, Italy, Japan, Denmark, Netherlands, New Zealand, Korea, UK, U.S.)
By Charles Cardinal Bo (Archbishop of Yangon)
By Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw
By Committee to Protect Journalists
By Council of the European Union
By European Karen Network
By Fortify Rights
General Strike Committee of Nationalities
By Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar
By International Karen Organisation
By International Lawmakers
By Ireland (Minister for Foreign Affairs)
By Justice For Myanmar
By Karen Human Rights Group
By Kachin Independence Army
By Karen National Union
By Mandalay Technological University Students’ Union
By Myanmar Independent Press Council
By Mon Women Network
By Muslims in Mandalay
By Save the Children
By Special Advisory Council for Myanmar
By Turkey (Ministry of Foreign Affairs)
Tropical Health and Education Trust
By University of Medicine 1 Students’ Union
By University of Medicine 2,Yangon Student Committee
By UN Human Rights Council
By UN Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide and High Commissioner for Human Rights
By United Nations in Myanmar
By UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
By UN Spokesperson for the Secretary-General
By UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar
By UN Special Envoy on Myanmar
By U.S. (Department of State)
By U.S. (Department of the Treasury)
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.”