The strength seen at the ACSC/APF last week is a testament to grassroots people power, and must be fully embraced and supported by the international community, both in Myanmar and throughout the region.
Last week, Myanmar civil society, ASEAN civil society organizations from the ASEAN member states and wider regional networks met at ASEAN Civil Society Conference/ ASEAN Peoples’ Forum (ACSC/APF) to discuss the deteriorating situation of human rights across the region with particular attention on crisis in Myanmar. The 40th and 41st ASEAN Summit left much to be desired in terms of progress on a solution to the multidimensional crises in Myanmar. ASEAN has offered no durable or long-lasting solutions to the Myanmar crisis after endless meetings, and so now the UN and wider international community must take the lead. While ASEAN is waning in their resolve to address the Myanmar crisis, the situation on the ground in Myanmar is intensifying, with junta forces and Pyu Saw Htee continuing their brutal onslaught of attacks on civilians, massacring 11 civilians in Ponnagyun Township, Rakhine State and 12 civilians mutilated, killed and dumped on the banks of the Chindwin River, Monywa City, Sagaing Region.
Myanmar and ASEAN civil society organizations came out in force to the ACSC/APF from 3 – 5 November which precedes the ASEAN Summit on 10 to 13 November. Much of the focus of these two events was centered on Myanmar. While the ASEAN Summit failed to yield any meaningful results, the ACSC/APF highlighted the strength of ASEAN’s people to build solidarity around human rights and democracy, and strategize the way forward for Myanmar and the region. Youth from ASEAN were especially vocal and impactful, looking for a brighter future for all ASEAN people. In a message of solidarity to the people of Myanmar, the civil society that participated in the ACSC/APF made a solid checklist for action, backing Myanmar civil society, including recognizing the National Unity Government (NUG), called on ASEAN leaders to move beyond the Five Point Consensus (5PC) and for the private sector to cut ties with the junta.
In stark contrast, the ASEAN Summit has further protracted the spineless 5PC, even after they issued repeated failed ultimatums to the junta to implement the 5PC after 19 months. None of the meetings surrounding the 5PC over the past 19 months has yielded any results. This is after persistent and repeated calls from civil society to ASEAN to move beyond the 5PC, work with local civil society and exclude the junta from representation. Last week, Progressive Voice and FORUM-ASIA called on ASEAN leaders to stop aiding and abetting the junta in their atrocious crimes against the people of Myanmar and to not appoint junta officials to key ASEAN positions, such as Chair of the ASEAN Air Chiefs Conference.
As ASEAN met last week, the junta continued to unleash horrific atrocities against the people of Myanmar. Massacres are continuing to mount in Myanmar and a stronger response is needed by the international community. In an act that amounts to war crimes, 12 people were found on the banks of the Chindwin River on the southside of Monywa City, Sagaing Region last Monday after being massacred by the junta. Many were mutilated, with heads decapitated and limbs cut off, with locals saying there were 150 junta troops and Pyu Saw Htee in the area. In another massacre, at least 11 people were killed and 10 houses burned by junta troops in Hsininngyi Village, Ponnagyun Township, Rakhine State on 10 November. The junta followed the attack with aerial and artillery attacks. An elderly woman of 92, Daw Ma Khin Thein from Sin Ein Gyi, was among those villagers shot by the junta during the raid. The junta is murdering innocent people at will and without any semblance of respect for their humanity. In another awful incident, junta soldiers intentionally and cruelly videoed the torturing and interrogating of a blindfolded man on a mobile phone, at points choking him and threatening him with a gun and machete. The phone was found by Karenni Nationalities Defense Force troops in Moe Bye Township, Karenni State.
While atrocities like these continue on the ground, the UN continues to fail the people of Myanmar with a proportionate response. The UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, last week again urged ASEAN to support a return to democracy in Myanmar and called the situation on the ground an “unending nightmare”. These words are mere platitudes, when not met with concrete actions both by the UN and ASEAN. This is especially evident as the UN Agencies and entities are undercutting the UN Secretary General’s words by partnering with the junta and excluding the National Unity Government (NUG) or Myanmar civil society in discussions on solutions to the Myanmar crisis. Shamefully, NUG Foreign Minister Zin Mar Aung and deputy Foreign Minister Moe Zaw Oo were scrapped as panelists at the Global Town Hall webinar on 5 November co-organized by Global Citizen and Foreign Policy Community of Indonesia, after a complaint and pressure from the UN on Global Citizen to drop the NUG ministers, afraid of “taking sides” in the Myanmar conflict – according to Moe Zaw Oo. By doing this, the UN is taking sides and appeasing the junta. More importantly, if the UN is unwilling to back the democratic forces in Myanmar – NUG, Committee Representing the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw, National Unity Consultative Council and Spring Revolution – over a terrorist military junta that launched an illegal coup d’état and has killed and imprisoned thousands of innocent people, then the UN has completely failed the people of Myanmar and its duty to uphold human rights and democracy. They should be utterly ashamed, showing a lack of credibility and shady backroom politics. The UN also had two high-level panelists slated to attend the Global Town Hall webinar, Amia J. Mohammed, UN Deputy Secretary-General, who dropped out at the last minute and UN Secretary-General Envoy Jayathma Wickramanayake. The full speech written by Zin Mar Aung for the Global Town Hall was later published in The Irrawaddy.
The UN, ASEAN and the wider international community have a duty to rectify the situation on the ground in Myanmar, fully backing the NUG, Spring Revolution, Myanmar civil society and other democratic forces in the fight for a genuine federal democracy. The strength seen at the ACSC/APF last week is a testament to grassroots people power, and must be fully embraced and supported by the international community, both in Myanmar and throughout the region. Simultaneously, the international community must financially isolate the military junta to end atrocities on the ground, ensuring their businesses, affiliated businesses and cronies face targeted sanctions. Additionally, they must exclude them from international fora and events, cutting all legitimacy which is their lifeblood. Finally, the international community, UN and ASEAN must seek a political and humanitarian intervention to the crisis in Myanmar that places the Myanmar people at the center of decision making. The UN and international community must stop deferring the Myanmar crisis to ASEAN, especially as the junta is a pressing threat to regional and global peace and security in the face of ASEAN’s impotence.
At the end of the day, it is the people of Myanmar who have borne the brunt of the international community and UN failures in response to the illegal junta’s attempted coup. They are ultimately where the solution lies. Urgent responses are needed and thus the ASEAN and UN must engage and work with Myanmar civil society, the NUG, Ethnic Revolutionary Organizations and representatives of the Spring Revolution without any further excuses and delay. The more time that passes, the greater harm the junta is inflicting on the people of Myanmar.
 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.
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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.”