As the resistance to Min Aung Hlaing’s coup attempt remains defiant and grows stronger, with the junta exercising less and less control over the country, foreign governments have a moral obligation to recognise the National Unity Government (NUG) as the legitimate partner in any bilateral and multilateral relations. However, when agencies such as the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), which have been publicly cooperating with the junta, this serves as an insult to the people of Myanmar and their struggle.
The Letter of Agreement between UNOCHA and the Junta’s Disaster Management Department, proudly published in the junta’s media mouthpiece, ‘The New Light of Myanmar’ is the latest in a series of huge miscalculations on the part of the UN. This undermines the struggle of the people of Myanmar, who wish their legitimate government – the NUG – to be recognized by the broader international community. In the latest misstep, IOM Myanmar paid a ‘courtesy call’ to Wunna Maung Lwin, the junta’s purported Foreign Minister and someone who was actively involved in leading Myanmar military offensives against the Karen in the 1980s. He was the previous military regime’s denier-in-chief at the UN between 2007 and 2011, where he lied to the international community repeatedly about the crimes against humanity and war crimes the Myanmar military was committing so as to avoid a UN-mandated commission of inquiry. This is not someone with whom any international agency should be paying a ‘courtesy call’ to. Given that these UN agencies and other international organizations are signaling their willingness to cooperate and accept the junta, it is no surprise that the people of Myanmar are frustrated and angry. This was exemplified by the banner hung up outside the UN’s office in Yangon on 4th of September with the slogan ‘UN: Prove your Existence.’
Yet as a recent report by the Special Advisory Council for Myanmar (SAC-M) – comprised of experts on human rights issues in the country – highlights, the junta does not have ‘effective control’ over large swathes of the country. The various resistance groups, whether long-standing ethnic resistance organizations or more recently formed people’s defense forces, are increasingly taking responsibility for the various functions of the state. This is despite Min Aung Hlaing telling a Russian news agency that the situation was “under control” during a trip to the said country, one of his only allies in the international community. The junta has a complete disregard for life and only cares about its own power. The argument therefore that agencies must work with the junta as a representative of the state simply does not convince, and is holding less ground as time goes on. As Yanghee Lee – former Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar and now member of SAC-M – states “The National Unity Government is not a shadow government or a government in exile. It is the representative of the people’s revolution and resistance to the military junta, the combined forces of which control the majority of the country.”
Any foreign governments, multilateral bodies, regional blocs such as ASEAN, or humanitarian agencies must therefore work together with the NUG, the various ethnic organizations and civil society groups if they want to help the people of Myanmar. This was discussed in a recent dialogue between Myanmar civil society organizations and the Malaysian Foreign Minister, Dato Saifuddin Abdullah, who reiterated his own perspective that ASEAN, the regional bloc, must decide whether they will continue working with the junta or the people in the delivery of humanitarian aid. This was reiterated by a briefing paper published by Progressive Voice that recommends that the humanitarian community takes a ‘solidarity approach’ to helping the people of Myanmar. This would place “local humanitarian organizations at the center of the solution to the humanitarian crisis, that focuses on channeling funds directly and flexibly to these organizations, and that includes support for the extension and strengthening of cross-border channels.”
Related to cooperation with the NUG is the recognition by the UN General Assembly of Ambassador Kyaw Moe Tun as Myanmar’s representative to the UN. He is a representative of the NUG, and therefore Myanmar, and attempts by the military for their own man to be recognized must be rejected. The UNGA kicked the can down the road last year by its Credentials Commission recommending deferring the decision, but events in Myanmar since then can only reinforce how little control or legitimacy the military has. A petition advocating Kyaw Moe Tun’s case as he has “the trust of the people of Myanmar” has already received over 320,000 signatures while demonstrations inside and outside the country with banners urging the acceptance of Ambassador Kyaw Moe Tun and the NUG have been taking place, as well as social media campaigns.
The above instances of how international actors can help the people of Myanmar, whether recognizing Ambassador Kyaw Moe Tun on the diplomatic stage, cooperating with the NUG and EROs as representatives of the state of Myanmar, or providing humanitarian aid through local providers, for example through cross-border channels, are all feasible, practical and helpful. What is important is that none of these give any credibility, legitimacy, or prestige to a terrorist junta that does not have any legitimacy or effective control of the country and is hellbent on terrorizing the people of Myanmar for its own political and economic greed. Given the options to cooperate with people’s organizations available, there is no excuse for international agencies, including those of the UN, to present their credentials to murderous junta representatives, to deliver aid through junta bodies, or to recognize the junta as the legitimate government of the state. Through the campaigns, protests and ongoing nationwide resistance movement, the people of Myanmar are taking the lead. International actors must follow.
 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.
By Burma Human Rights Network, Chin Human Rights Organization, Karen Human Rights Group, Myanmar Cultural Research Society, Progressive Voice and Women’s League of Burma
By Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack and Save the Children
By Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs
By National Unity Government (Ministry of Foreign Affairs)
By Tim Universalitas Hak Asasi Manusia, THEMIS Indonesia Law Firm; LBH-PP Muhammadiyah and LBH-Pers
By Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack
By Special Advisory Council for Myanmar
By United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
By United Nations Children’s Fund
By Women Alliance Burma
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.”