With the UNSC’s Failure, Myanmar’s ‘People’s Defensive War’ is Inevitable

September 20th, 2021  •  Author: Progressive Voice  •  10 minute read
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“It is not for outside people to tell the people of Myanmar who are bearing the brunt of unspeakable violence whether or not to resort to armed resistance, especially when the UN and ASEAN have been so ineffective.”

On 7 September, the National Unity Government (NUG) declared its ‘people’s defensive war’ against the military junta, signalling to the various resistance organizations around the country, as well as the public at large, to join hands and support armed resistance to the bloody attacks of the Myanmar military. This historic announcement on the part of the NUG, calling upon people to support both armed resistance and political defiance for the revolution to succeed, has received overwhelming support from the Myanmar people. International organizations and agencies must understand the lack of options available to the people of Myanmar faced with the extreme cruelty and violence of the junta, and commit to supporting the NUG – their legitimate government.

Broadcast on Facebook, Myanmar’s acting President, Duwa Lashi La, announced that from 7th September, the NUG has launched a “people’s defensive war against the military junta,” urging all people of Myanmar to join the revolution. The corner that the NUG and the people of Myanmar have been pushed into is because of the military junta, as well as failures of the international community, particularly the UN. The brutal atrocity crimes the Myanmar military has committed since February are all too familiar with ethnic peoples over the last 70+ years of civil wars and genocidal violence, such as the Kachin, Karen, Rohingya and many others, show no sign of abating. At least 1,100 civilians have been documented killed by the junta since its attempted coup of 1 February, with many more yet to be confirmed. Massacres in the northeast of the country, thousands of arbitary arrests, torture, sexual violence, abduction of family members of protesters, looting and destruction of properties, including burning houses and whole villages, and use of forced labor and humanshields, are just a few examples of the brutality of the junta as it launches war against Myanmar civilians.

The humanitarian consequences of this war have been devastating. A briefing paper released by Progressive Voice and 9 ethnic civil society organizations who work in their communities, stresses how the over 250,000 people that have been displaced due to Myanmar military offensives, including airstrikes and aerial bombings, cannot access essential aid. The junta is weaponizing humanitarian aid, confiscating or blocking its delivery to communities in need, collectively punishing those who have already become victims of its deadly violence. The report calls for international humanitarian agencies not to partner with the junta, and instead, to provide cross-border aid, and work with local civil society and community-based providers.

The human rights and humanitarian crises created by the junta, detailed in the above briefing paper, is only getting worse. In the last few days, reports of the massacre of over 15 people in the village of Gangaw, Magway Region, and the burning of several homes in the village, illustrate that the ongoing brutal campaign the military is carrying out against civilians is continuing apace. The severity of the situation has catalysed the NUG’s call for a defensive war.

While the declaration may make some in the international community squirmish, as reflected in the British Ambassador’s tone-deaf statement encouraging dialogue on all sides or the US embassy comment to The Irrawaddy that encourages “all sides to be peaceful and avoid an escalation of violence,” the reality is that dialogue is not an option for the people of Myanmar. It is important to remember that the ‘dialogue with the military’ option has been the political strategy of the main opposition political party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), as well as some Ethnic Armed Organizations for the past ten years, and the military’s attempted coup is proof of the failure of this strategy. They have played by the military’s rules for years, and now the NLD’s top leaders are in prison, the military commits massacres at will, and it has conducted an illegitimate power grab over concocted, farcical grounds of election fraud. Peaceful protests and demonstrations were the instinctive, and widespread response to the coup attempt since February, but these peaceful protesters were gunned down in cold blood on the street by junta troops. There has never been any genuine will or commitment for dialogue from the side of the Myanmar military, as concluded this past week by the Special Envoy of the UN Secretary-General on Myanmar, Christine Schraner Burgener. They have one position – total control of the country, no matter how bloody that may be.

It is not for outside people to tell the people of Myanmar who are bearing the brunt of unspeakable violence whether or not to resort to armed resistance, especially when the UN and ASEAN have been so ineffective. It is their decision only, and this should be understood in the context of Myanmar in 2021. Violence is not an easy option, as the Special Advisory Council for Myanmar expressed in a statement in response to the NUG’s declaration, that it is “unfortunate” but also “understands the NUG and the people’s frustration.” The NUG is not encouraging wanton violence, but rather self-defense actions in which the various People’s Defence Forces (PDF) are to be accountable under the Code of Conduct issued by the NUG. Peaceful actions will also continue, as outlined by NUG’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Zin Mar Aung, “This is not a shift from a non-violent movement to violence. It is just that we will use all possible means to restore democracy.”

The declaration is especially understandable because the international response to the attempted coup has been weak, ineffective, uncoordinated, and lacking conviction. This is despite the months of consistently peaceful political defiance and calls for help from the UN and the ‘international community’ as the military murders people, and takes them away in the middle of the night. Furthermore, it is hypocritical of countries such as the US and the UK, whose foreign policy history is characterized by violence and occupation in places such as Iraq and Afghanistan, overthrows democratic governments in Latin America, and supports brutal anti-communist dictatorships in Asia, to refrain from violence and engage in dialogue with a despotic regime.

Rather than telling people under constant attack to engage in dialogue with their murderers, which at this moment would mean surrender to the military junta’s attempts to annihilate the people’s movement for democracy and crush their collective vision for a peaceful Myanmar, the international community must support Myanmar’s revolution, and it can do this in concrete ways. First, countries must lend their support to Myanmar’s current Ambassador to the UN, U Kyaw Moe Tun, to retain his accreditation at the UN General Assembly. He is the representative of the democratic government of Myanmar at the UN, has been representing the voice of the people of Myanmar at the world stage, rejecting the military’s illegal coup attempt, and must be recognized accordingly. Secondly, pressure must be increased on the military junta, including a global arms embargo, pursuing justice through international accountability mechanisms such as the International Criminal Court and the International Court of Justice, and imposing targeted sanctions on military and military-affiliated businesses and its partners. Thirdly, humanitarian support must be provided through cross-border channels and through Myanmar civil society, community-based organizations, and ethnic service providers, in order to support the hundreds of thousands of victims of the junta’s violence. As symbolized by the NUG’s declaration, the time for dialogue with the Myanmar military is over. The junta must be defeated, and the Spring Revolution must succeed.

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[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

actions

Statements and Press Releases

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By 246 Local and Foreign students’ unions

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By Myanmar Alliance for Transparency and Accountability

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Acting President of the National Unity Government of Myanmar, Duwa Lashi La’s Emergency Speech to the Public on Current Military Crisis

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PDF-TSG ၏ ပြည်သူသို့အရေးပေါ်ကြေညာချက်

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By People’s Defense Force (Tamu)

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By People’s Defense Force (Kani)

Myanmar reporter arrested in Yangon after four months in hiding

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Letter from Ambassador Kyaw Moe Tun to Secretary-General H.E. Mr. Antonio Guterres on 10 Sep 2021

By Permanent Mission of Myanmar to the United Nations

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By Special Advisory Council for Myanmar

Statement on Declaration of People’s Defensive War

By Special Advisory Council for Myanmar

Announcement Regarding the State of Affairs inside Obo Prison – Announcement (3/2021)

By Student Union Representatives Committee

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By Women Alliance Burma

reports

Reports

Nowhere to Run: Deepening Humanitarian Crisis in Myanmar

By Human Rights Foundation of Monland, Kachin Women’s Association Thailand, Karen Human Rights Group, Karen Peace Support Network, Karen Women’s Organization, Karenni Civil Society Network, Karenni National Women’s Organization, Pa-O Women’s Union, Progressive Voice and Ta’ang Women’s Organization

Briefing Paper: The Response So Far of United Nations Political Bodies to the Unlawful Military Coup in Myanmar

By Special Advisory Council for Myanmar

The Border Consortium Mid-Year Overview: January to June 2021

By The Border Consortium


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.”

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