ASEAN Civil Society Conference/ ASEAN Peoples’ Forum: Statement by Khin Ohmar

October 15th, 2021  •  Author:   Khin Ohmar , Progressive Voice  •  7 minute read
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Dear Colleagues, Good afternoon! I am honoured and humbled for the opportunity to join you all and to address this critical topic in the context of Myanmar.

As you all know, Myanmar as a state is heavily militarized. It is something the democratic forces have struggled with for decades. It is important to note that the impact of militarization on human security has been unevenly felt across the country.

  • The most severe and persistent militarization has taken place in ethnic areas where ethnic nationalities have struggled for self-determination and federal democracy for generations.
  • Some of these areas have seen armed resistance or revolution since Myanmar’s independence in 1948. Such as the Karen people whose revolution started in 1949 and it is still ongoing after six decades.
  • The Myanmar military has tried to centralize power and violently crush all dissents, framed by their chauvinistic political slogans, such as ‘non-disintegration of the union’, ‘non-disintegration of national solidarity’ and ‘perpetuation of sovereignty’.
  • These so-called ‘national causes’ are used to brainwash troops; nurture the militaristic ideology and Buddhist Bamar chauvinist or Burmanization agenda; and militarize the society.
  • In ethnic areas, the result of this militaristic ideology is that the Myanmar military troops see ethnic people as enemies or potential enemies, fuelling generations of human rights violations and atrocity crimes that they commit with total impunity.
  • The notorious four-cuts strategy of the military – that is to cut food, supplies, intelligence and recruits to ethnic revolutionary organisations, symbolizes their ‘national causes’ slogans in action. This means targeting civilians through killings, torture, razing of villages, forced relocation, forced labour, rape and gang rape, looting and destruction of property, food and crops. Now, they are cutting internet in many areas where people’s defiance against their coup attempt are strong.
  • Over the past decade of Myanmar’s opening to the world, the military’s so-called “peacemaking” in the name of ceasefire agreements have led to increased militarization, further threatening peace and human security. We have seen a rush from the military to launch megadevelopment projects in ethnic areas, to build roads, to construct military bases and reap the profits from exploiting natural resources where ethnic people have been systematically denied rights, including right to resources, under the centralised, Burmanized, militaristic state system.
  • The genocide against Rohingya in 2017 manifested the decades of deeply entrenched militarized system that had seeped into fracture of society, that condoned the persecution and oppression of Rohingya and other ethnic communities. In Myanmar’s cities, many looked on and voiced support for the genocide, as the military’s extreme Buddhist nationalist ideology gained popular support.
  • Since February 1, the same military who committed Rohingya genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes against minoritized ethnic communities are committing similar atrocity crimes against the Bamar majority and everyone else who is rejecting their illegitimate attempt to take over the country.
  • They have waged an all-out-war against the people across the country.
  • As of October 14, they have killed 1,171 people in cold blood. The actual number is likely much higher. 8,981 people have been arrested. 7,308 are currently under detention. 348 people have been sentenced in person, of them 26 were sentenced to death (incl. 2 children).
  • Over 250,000 people have been forced to flee from the junta’s indiscriminate bombing, shelling and mortar attacks and ground clearance military operations in ethnic areas and upper Myanmar regions. They lack basic needs as the junta escalates attacks, block and destroy humanitarian aid.
  • The junta has weaponized COVID-19 for their political gain, including attacking medical workers and medical facilities and destroying local preventive measures in ethnic areas.
  • This means Myanmar’s crisis of human security has reached an unprecedented scale. Since Myanmar became a member of ASEAN in 1996, spill over effects from Myanmar to neighbouring countries have been non-stop. How many years now?
  • So what has ASEAN done? It has shielded and protected the military time and again. Under its non-interference and consensus decision making policy, it has allowed itself to be fooled by the Myanmar military again and again. In this, ASEAN has failed the people of Myanmar all along.
  • Even the AHA Centre, the humanitarian wing of ASEAN, lacks the independence from the junta and the capacity to address the current unfolding multiple humanitarian crisis. This is why we are calling for the UN Security Council and the UN secretary-general to lead an immediate and comprehensive humanitarian intervention to resolve Myanmar crisis.
  • The junta and its militarization are the root cause of the current human rights and humanitarian crises that Myanmar is facing. Working with them or through them would not bring solution but cause more harm to the people.
  • ASEAN and its member states have an obligation to prevent the atrocity crimes the military is committing against the people. But so far, its non-interference policy has only emboldened the Myanmar junta to further militarize the country and continue bloodshed.
  • ASEAN’s allowing the military junta to take the Myanmar seat and attend forums as representative of Myanmar is providing legitimacy to this criminal entity, while failing to achieve anything from its five-point consensus plan. And the recently appointed ASEAN special envoy is unable to make any progress. The SE must not give in to the military’s terms and conditions but must ensure the military honour its agreement to the 5-points consensus.
  • Now the ASEAN Summit is fast approaching. The ASEAN must not allow the junta to attend the Summit or any of its representatives in any ASEAN mechanisms IF the ASEAN wants to prevent further loss of its credibility and dignity as a regional block.
  • ASEAN’s recognition of the junta has been a short-sighted in terms of regional peace and stability. There is now widescale displacement into Thailand and India. Illicit drug production is increasing. And so is grand corruption as the junta has illegally taken control of state assets and is using the international financial system to hide foreign reserves.
  • Individual member states must also share responsibility. Vietnam’s Viettle is in business with the Myanmar military through its partnership with telecom operator, Mytel, providing revenue for the military and technology they can use against the people whereas arms traders are using Singapore for their business with the Myanmar military. These businesses fuel atrocities that they must end. Otherwise, both the Singapore government and Vietnam military risk aiding and abetting the Myanmar military committing atrocity crimes.
  • The international community’s continuing overreliance on ASEAN’s role despite its demonstrated failures is further allowing the military to continue the violence and this must also stop. Any attempts to normalize the military’s attempted coup would be rejected by the people of Myanmar.
  • Foreign investors who rushed in to exploit a newly opening frontier market, ignoring the decades of military abuse and corruption must no longer allow their business activities further entrench militarization and exacerbating the suffering of Myanmar people.

In conclusion, Myanmar is facing a crisis of human security long driven by militarization. There can be no peace nor a solution to this decades-long human security crisis, without realization of federal democracy. That is why – for the people of Myanmar, this is a revolution!!! Revolution to end militarism, militarization and any authoritarianism!

We have been inspired by the peoples’ struggles and movements in the region – earlier the Philippines and Indonesia, and most recently Thailand. Our peoples’ struggles across ASEAN are all interconnected. Authoritarianism elsewhere in the region can fuel authoritarianism in Myanmar whereas the militarization in Myanmar can fuel the militarization elsewhere in the region.

We must struggle together to build an ASEAN that is truly for the people, where there is peace and security for all.  With this note, I would like to thank you all for your long-standing solidarity with the people of Myanmar in our long struggle.

Let us keep joining hands and striving in our collective stand for humanity and solidarity for a truly caring and sharing ASEAN community. Thank you.