Myanmar’s Spirit of Resistance

December 23rd, 2021  •  Author:   Progressive Voice  •  13 minute read
Featured image

“They can’t rule over our people, despite violence, they can’t rule”

Dr. Tayzar San

This year has been dominated by the Myanmar military’s illegal and brutal attempted coup d’état on 1 February 2021, which after nearly eleven months has completely failed in the face of categorical and collective rejection by the people of Myanmar. The military junta has thrusted Myanmar into dire political, human rights and humanitarian crises. They continue to conduct non-stop lethal assaults on peaceful protesters across the country, scorched-earth tactics in ethnic areas and central Myanmar, ferocious attacks on civilians, while weaponizing the COVID-19 pandemic. This campaign of terror is aimed at inflicting maximum collective punishments against the people of Myanmar.

Despite these circumstances, the spirit of resistance has withstood the coup attempt and the suppression of the peoples’ desire for democracy. The ashen face of Min Aung Hlaing on live television as hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets will resonate with many as a defining moment of the early days of the resistance movement. From these early days until the present, the Spring Revolution has taken shape, unifying doctors, other medical professionals, teachers, engineers, students, youth, artists, labor unions, blue collar workers, LGBTQI groups, women, defecting soldiers and police, ethnic peoples, religious groups and many others behind a common goal of a genuine and inclusive federal democracy. These groups have employed ingenious strategies and inventive campaigns to protest, such as beating pots and pans to ward off the evil junta, flashmob protests, sarong protest, silent strike, night vigils and tumbling doll protests. Protests like these and more traditional forms of protest, such as picketing and marching, have continued every day since February.

Another facet of the resistance is the rejection of military linked products and services, such as boycotting of Mytel sim cards, Myanmar Beer and Red Ruby cigarettes. Also, the people of Myanmar have been boycotting or striking from the education sector, civil service jobs, and medical sector – unwilling to take orders from the junta. In the place of services, people-centred initiatives and local governance structures have been created. These include Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM) doctors who are administering healthcare in secret clinics or the CDM online Spring University Myanmar which aims to give students access to education outside the ‘military slave education’. Similarly, the People’s Administration Team in Magwe Region, formed of government employees, politicians and through coordination with the National Unity Government (NUG), are setting up community safety programmes, COVID-19 clinics and healthcare services – refusing to live under the orders of the junta. Civil society organizations and community based organizations have also stepped up to provide services to their communities, including humanitarian aid, economic assistance, providing sanctuary for CDM and youth activists who have fled cities to ethnic areas and disaster rescue operations during the monsoon season. This defiance and community-based spirit can be summed up in the words of prominent activist Dr. Tayzar San, “They can’t rule over our people, despite violence, they can’t rule”, for they do not have the recognition of the people.

To defend themselves and their communities against the brutal advances of the military junta, the Peoples’ Defence Forces were formed and many have been assisted by Ethnic Armed Organizations. After the declaration of the Peoples’ Defensive War by the NUG, every civilian has been called to assist in defending the country against the illegal military junta.

Within the Spring Revolution, strong representation of women, ethnic people, LGBTQI and Gen Z have infused the movement with a progressive platform of inclusiveness, equality and solidarity. These groups are calling out the discriminatory ideologies of the past, particularly discrimination against ethnic and religious minorities, women and LGBTQI groups. A positive aspect of the Spring Revolution is that many more of the majority Bamar and those who are in urban areas have now come to understand the struggles of non-Bamar ethnic people and why genuine federal democracy is important for moving forward. Many, upon seeing the brutality of the military junta in the wake of the attempted coup, have apologized to the Rohingya for their silence during the genocide in 2017 and joined in solidarity marches for Rohingya.

Women have been at the forefront of the revolution, representing 60 percent of protesters. They have shaped the movement to strive for gender equality, through initiatives like the Sister to Sister led Red Lipstick Campaign, to rail against the misogyny of the military junta that has systematically used rape as a weapon of war. The people’s movement has been successful in defying the junta’s craven search for power but many have suffered immensely for the cause, including through arbitrary arrests, torture, killing, abduction of family members and loss of livelihood. Some paid the ultimate price, such as Ma Thinzar Hein, a nurse, shot by junta forces while treating an injured protester in March and prominent women’s civil society leader and director of Women For Justice Ma Ah Khu, who was shot in the chest at a protest in Kale, Sagaing Region in March. The outpourings of love and solidarity for these women and many other fallen heroes has strengthened the resolve of the resistance movement, to not let these women and the other 1,344 killed in cold blood by the junta die in vain.

In the wake of the events of 1 February, those elected in November 2020 and prevented from taking their seats in the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw by the junta formed parliament and government outside of Naypyidaw. The NUG, the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH) and National Unity Consultative Committee (NUCC) have made important strides towards building a genuine federal democracy beyond the status quo of Bamar elite-led politics of the past and the so-called “transition towards democracy”. The CRPH has abolished the discriminatory and undemocratic 2008 Constitution, and the NUG has pledged to repeal the discriminatory 1982 Citizenship Law which prevented Rohingya from obtaining citizenship. They have also guaranteed the Rohingya as well as other disenfranchised ethnic communities the right to citizenship.

These efforts are not perfect however. The NUG could recognize more explicitly that what happened to the Rohingya and what is still happening is a genocide, and fully recognize the identity of Rohingya as a distinct ethnic group. While there are further needs for improvement, the efforts made thus far are still a significant step in the right direction. The 1982 Citizenship Law, National Verification Cards, restrictions around freedom of movement, marriage, birth, and access to healthcare and education within Rakhine State, are all part of broader, long term systematic and structural discrimination embedded within Myanmar society and these need to be dismantled. The NUG’s acceptance of jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court in August is another step welcomed by Rohingya and ethnic communities who have suffered for decades through cycles of military violence and impunity. In spite of the NUG taking positive steps and Myanmar local and international human rights community’s efforts towards international accountability, genocidal acts against Rohingya are still ongoing in Rakhine State, while the Rohingya on Bangladesh border live in dire and squalid conditions in Cox’s Bazar and Bhasan Char refugee camps.

The Myanmar military has launched ferocious military attacks in Karen, Karenni, Shan, Rakhine, Chin and Kachin States as well as central regions of Myanmar, especially Sagaing and Magwe Regions. This year has seen heavy indiscriminate shelling, airstrikes, targeting of civilians and use of women as human shields. During 1 February to 26 November, there were 6,675 attacks on civilians or armed clashes involving civilians, a 632% increase from the same period in 2020. Currently, the Myanmar military is brutally shelling civilians in Lay Kay Kaw, Karen State forcing 10,000 people to be displaced, many crossing the Moei River into Thailand to seek safety. This repeats decades and decades of Myanmar military warmongering, pushing Karen people across the Moei River to seek safety, for which 87,000 are still living in nine refugee camps inside the Thai border and tens of thousands have been resettled to third countries as refugees. Yet, considering the gravity of the Myanmar military’s historical abuses against the ethnic communities, it is a tragedy that justice and accountability remains out of reach.

The unbridled aggression and murderous force by the Myanmar military can only be described as ‘terrorist acts’, and such a designation has been declared under Myanmar’s national law by the CRPH, NUG and the Special Advisory Council for Myanmar (SAC-M). Additionally, SAC-M outlines how the Myanmar military has committed terrorism under international law through its excessive patterns of violence and barbarity. Many of these terrorist acts amount to atrocity crimes also, including crimes against humanity and war crimes. The Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, Tom Andrews, has repeatedly stated that the widespread and systematic attacks on the people of Myanmar, such as the coordinated killing of peaceful protesters, amounts to crimes against humanity.

In addition to this, the junta has targeted civilians, hospitals, schools, places of worship, used civilians as human shields, committed rape and sexual violence, and looted and stolen property – amounting to war crimes. The international community, through the UN Security Council and UN General Assembly has not met these acts with proportionate actions, beyond the usual rhetoric. The people of Myanmar must be supported in their quest for democracy, by the international community, particularly by the UN and ASEAN. Furthermore, there must be international recognition for the NUG, as the legitimate government of Myanmar, through coordination to combat COVID-19, the humanitarian, human rights and the political crises – such as working with the NUG on their targeted sanctions policy and a global arms embargo. Recognition must be granted, as the UN General Assembly approved the decision of the UN Credentials Committee to defer a decision on accreditation regarding who to accept as Myanmar’s UN Permanent Representative. This means that U Kyaw Moe Tun, the current and legitimate representative of Myanmar, and thus the NUG and people of Myanmar, will continue in his post, at least for now. Many of the achievements in amplifying the voices of people of Myanmar and the Spring Revolution on the international stage could not have been possible without the collective efforts of hundreds of civil society organizations – local, regional and international – joining in solidarity.

While looking to 2022 might be a daunting prospect for the people of Myanmar given the horrific events of this year, they can be certain of the relentless and undying spirit of the resistance movement. As the late revolutionary poet, Khet Thi said, “Revolution dwells in the heart”.


Thank you for your continued support and we look forward to continuing our work with you in the coming year, as the people of Myanmar continue to strive for democracy and freedom. Our Weekly Highlights will take a short break but will return with a full issue on the week of 10 January 2022. We wish you a safe and joyous holiday and all the best for 2022.

In Solidarity,

The Progressive Voice Team


[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

Hold the Myanmar military and security forces accountable for their grave human rights violations, including violence against women

By 618 Myanmar and International Women’s Rights and Human Rights Organizations

Joint Statement on the Torture of Political Prisoners inside Insein Prison (Burmese version)

By All Burma Federation of Student Unions and University of Yangon Students’ Union

After coup, Myanmar military puts chokehold on people’s basic needs

By Amnesty International

TRUSS Must Act to Ensure Accountability for Burmese Military Crimes

By Burma Campaign UK


By Burma Campaign UK

BROUK President’s testimony opens Rohingya genocide case in Argentina

By Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK

BROUK President Highlights Tatmadaw Crimes As Genocide Trial Opens

By Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK

နိုင်ငံတကာပါလီမန်များအဖွဲ့(IPU)၊ လွှတ်တော်ကိုယ်စားလှယ်များ၏ လူ့အခွင့်အရေးကော်မတီ အစည်းအဝေးဆုံးဖြတ်ချက်အပေါ် ကြိုဆိုကြောင်း ထုတ်ပြန်ချက်

By Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw

Myanmar civil society proposes new Union Human Rights Commission Law amid ongoing campaign of terror by the Myanmar military junta, urges its swift adoption

By CSO Working Group on MNHRC Reform and Asian NGO Network on National Human Rights Institutions

Joint press release – Japanese investors in Y Complex development risk violating US sanctions

By Human Rights Now, Japan Volunteer Center, Justice For Myanmar and Mekong Watch

Japan: Cut Defense Ties with Myanmar Military

By Human Rights Watch

Bangladesh: Rohingya Refugee Schools Face Closure

By Human Rights Watch

Myanmar Atrocities Show Need for International Action

By Human Rights Watch

Karen State Crisis: Sanction Aviation Fuel, Arms and Gas Revenue

By International Karen Organisation

UN Security Council members complicit in arms sales to terrorist Myanmar military junta

By Justice For Myanmar

More Must Be Done to Support the International Accountability Proceedings Against Myanmar and End the Military’s Ongoing Crimes

By Karen Human Rights Group and 89 Civil Society Organizations

စစ်ကောင်စီမှ လေးကေကော်မြို့သစ်အပေါ် တပ်အင်အား အလွန်အကျွံ အသုံးပြုတိုက်ခိုက်မှု နှင့် ပတ်သက်သည့် ထုတ်ပြန်ကြေငြာချက်

By Karen National Union

Statement on the military council’s excessive use of force against Lay Kay Kaw

By Karen National Union

အမျိုးသားညီညွတ်ရေးအစိုးရ ပြည်ထောင်စုဝန်ကြီးချုပ်ရုံး ကြေညာချက်အမှတ် (၆/၂၀၂၁)

By National Unity Government (Office of the Prime Minister of the Union)

အမျိုးသားညီညွတ်ရေးအစိုးရ၊ ကာကွယ်ရေးဝန်ကြီးဌာန ကြေညာချက် အမှတ် (၅ /၂၀၂၁) – “ ကရင်နီအမျိုးသားများကာကွယ်ရေးတပ် (KNDF) နှင့်ပက်သက်သော ကြေညာချက် ”

By National Unity Government (Ministry of Defence)

The Network for Human Rights Documentation – Burma Calls for Accountability for Human Rights Violations Committed in Myanmar by the Military Junta in New Briefing Paper: “Waking to War Crimes” (Burmese version)

By Network for Human Rights Documentation – Burma

Reporter dies under interrogation in Myanmar’s escalating terror

By Reporters Without Borders



Public Opinion Survey (Oil and Gas) (Burmese version)

By Blood Money Campaign

BHRN – Summary of Monthly Situation Update for November 2021

By Burma Human Rights Network

You’re the Devil in Disguise: the Duplicitous, Obsolete MNHRC

By CSO Working Group on MNHRC Reform and Asian NGO Network on National Human Rights Institutions

Asia & Pacific – Civicus Monitor 2022

By CIVICUS Monitor

Conflict Rubies: How luxury jewellers risk funding military abuses in Myanmar

By Global Witness

Myanmar: Junta Blocks Lifesaving Aid

By Human Rights Watch

Justice Held Hostage – Human rights violations by regime forces in Kachin State and Muse District, June-October 2021

By Kachin Women’s Association Thailand

Mu Traw District Short Update: Torture, fighting, indiscriminate shelling, and threats by SAC soldiers have resulted in fear and displacement of villagers in Dwe Lo Township, August 2021

By Karen Human Rights Group

Dooplaya District Situation Update: SAC interrogation and arbitrary arrest, arbitrary killing, and displacement due to fighting in Mu Traw District, April to May 2021

By Karen Human Rights Group

Waking to War Crimes (Burmese version)

By Network for Human Rights Documentation – Burma

Rebuilding An Architecture of Oppression – The impact of the military coup on freedom of expression and civic space in Myanmar


Briefing Paper: The Myanmar Military Is A Terrorist Organisation Under Law

By Special Advisory Council for 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.”