A Year of Tragedy and Hope

December 21st, 2023  •  Author:   Progressive Voice  •  12 minute read
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While international actors may mistake the Myanmar people’s revolution as uncoordinated, the people of Myanmar have in fact shown a much greater level of unity, solidarity, and coordination in their actions than the various international actors engaged with Myanmar.

As 2023 comes to an end, the Spring Revolution has taken significant steps towards defeating the military junta and building a new Myanmar. Politically, economically, and militarily, gains have been made and the military junta has been significantly weakened. However, as the momentum stays with the people and revolutionary forces going into 2024, international actors that wish to see inclusive democracy and sustainable peace in Myanmar must take more coordinated, effective, and targeted actions to cut the legitimacy, cash flow, weapons, and impunity of the brutal and increasingly desperate military junta. Simultaneously, such actors must effectively respond to the humanitarian crisis and increase practical and substantial support to the Spring Revolution.

In 2023, a new level of coordination was seen politically and militarily in Myanmar, exemplified by Operation 1027. Massive gains in terms of territory, the loss of military junta bases, and control of key trade routes and towns mark significant steps forward for the people’s revolution. However, these are not just military victories, but political victories. The cooperation between various groups, including Ethnic Resistance Organizations (EROs), People’s Defense Forces (PDFs), and the National Unity Government (NUG), reveals a level of political coordination and strategy that many in the international community have yet to acknowledge.

Furthermore, the development of political administrations and governance mechanisms shows that these gains extend beyond the military front. For example, shortly after the town of Kawlin in Sagaing Region was liberated by a joint force of EROs and PDFs in November, it became fully administered under the NUG. The administration of Kawlin is now staffed by members of the Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM) – civil servants who have refused to work under the military junta. This shows the synergy of the various components of this multi-pronged and complex revolution, working together not just to defeat the military, but also to stand ready to govern upon its fall. Other examples of political developments in various parts of Myanmar also reflect this readiness, including the establishment of the Karenni State Interim Executive Council, comprised of various members of Karenni military, as well as political and civil society actors, with young women taking a leadership role; the Sagaing Forum in Sagaing Region, which brings together various revolutionary forces and community representatives into a political forum; and the Chinland Council in Chin State, which also brings together various bottom-up administration bodies providing governance functions and essential services, as well as local defense forces in the area. Such actors and advancements have been received extremely positively by the general public, with photos widely circulated of local villagers welcoming liberating forces with flowers and garlands, affirming the public’s support for Spring Revolution forces.

These achievements reflect the legitimacy that the revolutionary forces have amongst the people of Myanmar. However, international actors must do more, not only to recognize this legitimacy, but also to stop platforming the military junta which is illegal, lacks control of large swathes of the country’s territory, and lacks recognition by the people as a legitimate governance actor. Small steps have been taken by the international community in 2023 in terms of recognizing this reality, but the only substantial engagement from governments has been from the Government of Timor-Leste, which officially engaged with the NUG and invited the Foreign Minister, Zin Mar Aung, to attend the swearing in ceremony of the country’s prime minister and cabinet in July. In response to the military junta’s reaction of expelling the Timor-Leste Chargé d’Affaires from Myanmar, the Timor-Leste Government released a statement that “reiterates the importance of supporting all efforts for the return of democratic order in Myanmar and expresses its solidarity with the Myanmar people.” Additionally, the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions (GANHRI), the global body of national human rights institutions, took the unprecedented step of amending its statute which enabled it to recommend the removal of accreditation from the junta-controlled Myanmar National Human Rights Commission. Yet, various countries, regional bodies, UN agencies and international organizations continue to engage with the junta, only giving credence to the murderous military that craves credibility and status, emboldening the junta to continue with its war of terror and take more lives.

With defections increasing within the Myanmar military, ground battles being lost, and territory being ceded, the military is increasingly resorting to a form of indiscriminate violence and collective punishment that is killing hundreds of civilians. An airstrike on Pa Zi Gyi Village in Sagaing Region in April 2023, which killed 155 villagers, was the worst of such atrocities, but almost daily airstrikes from attack helicopters and fighter jets continue to destroy lives and homes throughout the country. Hence the need to cut arms, dual-use technology, and aviation fuel going towards the junta is greater than ever. While businesses and state-backed firms of China, Israel, and Russia may profit from the junta’s atrocities, they have the blood of Myanmar’s people on their hands. A UN Security Council resolution that contains a comprehensive arms embargo is necessary to cut the flow of such weapons and protect civilians.

Moreover, the money that the junta uses, especially foreign currency, to purchase such weapons must also be cut. In this sense, Myanmar civil society, with regional and international allies, has been successful in effecting the passing of some targeted sanctions that prevent such purchases. For example, the United States has sanctioned two of the junta’s main instruments that it uses to purchase items such as weapons through foreign exchange – the Myanma Foreign Trade Bank and the Myanma Investment and Commercial Bank. Added to this, some limited sanctions by the US on the Myanma Oil and Gas Enterprise – one of the main sources of revenue for the junta – are also welcomed and add to the sanctions already imposed by the European Union in 2022. A slow drip of other sanctions, including by the US and the United Kingdom on companies that import jet fuel such as Asia Sun Group, have had some impacts on the junta’s ability to purchase weapons and jet fuel. However, the rate of such sanctions has been slow, and better coordination is needed to ensure they are more effective.

And just like the political sophistication that the grassroots governance bodies, EROs, and the NUG have shown despite immense violence from the military junta, on the economic side, there have also been significant developments. Not only has the NUG joined civil society-led boycott campaigns to deny the junta access to revenue, but they have also launched the Spring Development Bank – a fully digitized online bank – and raised money through, for example, the sale of military lands and crypto-bonds. Thus, cutting cash is not only about denying the military junta money, but also about having the alternative economic and financial system in place.

As well as cutting the legitimacy, flow of arms and cash to the military junta, Myanmar civil society has made hard-won gains in holding the military accountable. Various countries such as the Maldives, as well as Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, the Netherlands, and the UK have joined The Gambia in the case against Myanmar, regarding the 2017 Rohingya genocide, at the International Court of Justice. In an Argentinian court, a case has been opened under universal jurisdiction against the Myanmar military for committing genocide and crimes against humanity against the Rohingya. In the Philippines, with the help of local lawyers, five Myanmar nationals from the Chin community have requested the Philippine Department of Justice to investigate war crimes committed by the Myanmar military junta against individuals in Chin State. Likewise, in Indonesia, Indonesian civil society organizations (CSOs), in partnership with Myanmar and regional CSOs including Progressive Voice, have filed a case with the Indonesian human rights commission regarding weapons sales to the Myanmar military from three Indonesian state-owned manufacturers. These cases show that Myanmar civil society is ready and actively pursuing all mechanisms to achieve justice and accountability for the atrocity crimes of the Myanmar military. In building the future of Myanmar, a process of transitional justice that includes criminal accountability for such crimes is necessary, not only to serve justice, but also to end the decades-long entrenched impunity of the Myanmar military.

While international actors may mistake the Myanmar people’s revolution as uncoordinated, the people of Myanmar have in fact shown a much greater level of unity, solidarity, and coordination in their actions than the various international actors engaged with Myanmar. When the junta has retreated or is defeated, there is not a vacuum to be filled with chaos and uncontrolled violence. Rather, the various actors of the Spring Revolution fill the needs of the Myanmar people through grassroots governance, legitimate and principled policies, and essential services — and they have been doing so for the past 34 months. This also includes timely, effective, locally led humanitarian aid delivery, which reaches the people in direst need through cross-border channels, independently of the junta. Meeting the immense humanitarian needs created by the junta cannot be done through the junta, which in fact weaponizes such aid in repeated attempts to gain legitimacy and control which it simply doesn’t have on the ground. Humanitarian aid, therefore, must be provided through these local actors where aid is genuinely localized, has greater reach, and is more effective at reaching in-need populations.

The people of Myanmar and their Spring Revolution are steadily defeating the junta and creating a nation and system of governance built on the principles of federal democracy and human rights. Their achievements and sacrifices amid hardship, extreme violence, and atrocities have received minimal support. Yet, the people’s democratic resistance movement continues to endure the horrors of the junta’s extreme violence. Myanmar’s people are winning and will win this revolution, but by cutting the impunity and legitimacy of the junta and stopping the flow of arms and funds, there will be less bloodshed, fewer lives lost, and a quickening of the establishment of an inclusive federal democratic Myanmar. Moving into 2024, international actors must therefore align with the unfolding reality in Myanmar, where the people are leading and winning, and the illegitimate military junta is rapidly losing control.


[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

Joint Letter to Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin Re: Request to exempt National Screening Mechanism applicants from Prosecution under the Immigration Act

By Asylum Access Thailand, Coalition for the Rights of Refugees and Stateless Persons, Equal Asia Foundation, Fortify Rights, Human Rights Watch, Migrant Working Group, People Serving People Foundation, Refugee Rights Litigation Project

Myanmar/Burma: Council adds 4 persons and 2 entities to EU sanctions list in eighth round of sanctions

By Council of the European Union

Statement from General Strike Coordination Body on the Exclusion of SAC from ASEAN-Japan Summit

By General Strike Coordination Body

Open Letter to the Leaders and the People of People’s Republic of China on Real Situation of the Revolution and Genuine Aspirations of the People of Myanmar

By General Strike Coordination Body, 256 people-based organizations

JFM welcomes latest Canadian, EU and UK sanctions on the Myanmar junta and its associates, and calls for further measures to end mass atrocities

By Justice For Myanmar

Slow pace of UK sanctions enabling mining business with junta from British Overseas Territories

By Justice For Myanmar

Myanmar economic recovery falters as conflict and inflation weigh

By The World Bank

United States Announces New Pledges at 2023 Global Refugee Forum

By United States Department of State

Open Letter: Abundant human rights violation in western Myanmar State of Arakan (Rakhine), shortages of food items and drinking water

By World Arakanese Organization, Association of United Nationalities (Japan), Arakan National Democratic Party (Japan), The Arakanese Norway Association, Arakanese Family in New Zealand INC, Australia Arakanese Association



Coup Watch November 2023: Illegal junta suffers losses on multiple fronts throughout Burma

By ALTSEAN-Burma, Asia Democracy Network, Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development, Burma Human Rights Network, Initiatives for International Dialogue, International Federation for Human Rights, Progressive Voice, US Campaign for Burma, Women’s Peace Network

Special Briefer- Deepening Genocide: Junta Repression of Rohingya After the Attempted coup

By ALTSEAN-Burma, Rohingya Maìyafuìnor Collaborative Network

ဖက်ဒရယ်ဒီမိုကရေစီပြည်ထောင်စုတည်ဆောက်ရေးအတွက် မိုဒယ်များနှင့် ဒီဇိုင်းများ

By Burma News International, Myanmar Peace Monitor

မိုးကောင်းကင်မှ မိစ္ဆာများ သို့မဟုတ် စစ်အုပ်စု၏ လေကြောင်းရန်

By Burma News International, Myanmar Peace Monitor

Myanmar Economic Monitor, December 2023: Challenges amid Conflict

By The World Bank

Myanmar: Intensification of Clashes Flash Update #10 (as of 15 December 2023)

By United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs

Myanmar Humanitarian Needs and Response Plan 2024 (December 2023)

By United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs

Southeast Asia Opium Survey 2023 – Cultivation, Production, and Implications

By United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime

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.”