Drafting Defeat

February 23rd, 2024  •  Author:   Progressive Voice  •  8 minute read
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“If we’re going to be sent to our deaths anyway, I would rather die fighting for the PDF.”

one women studying in Naypyidaw told Myanmar Now

After three years of waging a war against the people, tanking the economy, and creating a multi-faceted crisis of its own making, the Myanmar military junta has now announced that it will be implementing a long-dormant conscription law. Report said the junta will forcibly recruit young people after the Thingyan holiday, causing panic and trauma among a population that does not want to serve and fight their fellow people for the murderous junta. Urgent actions are essential from neighboring countries and the UN Security Council to ensure protection of young Myanmar people and regional security.

The conscription law in its current form was passed in 2010 by the past military regime under Than Shwe, but the current junta leader Min Aung Hlaing announced on 10 February that the law will be put into force for the first time since its adoption. Men aged 18-35 and women aged 18-27 will be at risk of forced conscription, and the number goes up to 45 and 35 respectively for those with expert professions. Serving time will be two years, three years for those with expert professions, and up to five during a state of emergency–which the junta has already declared. Junta spokesperson, Zaw Min Tun, said that 5,000 people per month will be recruited, with the aim to reach 60,000 in 2024, and up to 13 million people are eligible. The formation of a central committee as well as state- and region-level committees has been announced. If those who are summoned do not report for duty, they face a prison sentence of three to five years.

Forced recruitment for porters and human shields by the Myanmar military is not new. But this is the first time that a concentrated nationwide drive will be implemented. Already reports are emerging of junta forces scouring some areas such as villages in Bago Region to force people to serve. In Rakhine State, the junta has been arresting and forcing hundreds of Rohingya to serve and join militia training, despite decades-long denial of their citizenship and equal rights. The junta’s labor ministry has ordered that the Myanmar Overseas Employment Agencies Association suspend recruitment, which would bar a common legal route for Myanmar people to leave the country. More restrictions, rules, and policies are expected to be implemented in the near future to force this conscription.

The timing and the reasoning behind this announcement are clear. The junta has recently suffered massive setbacks and significant losses to Ethnic Resistance Organizations and People’s Defence Forces (PDFs). Revolutionary forces have advanced with their operations against the junta and taken control of over 35 towns, including a whole township, as well as military strategic posts and strongholds in northern Shan, Karen, Karenni, and Rakhine States. Not only has the junta been losing territory and urban centers, but defections, desertions, and surrenders are depleting the numbers of battle-ready junta forces. Morale is at an all-time low among the junta troops according to recently captured soldiers.

While this is clearly a desperate move that demonstrates the weak state of the junta, the effects on already traumatized civilian populations still under the junta-controlled areas are already being keenly felt. Huge lines at the Thai Embassy were forming in the early hours, as young people attempt to find ways to avoid the draft by leaving the country. They know full well that they are likely to be sent to the frontlines, to be used as forced labor, porters, and human shields, and fight the revolutionary forces for the junta against their conscience. The Myanmar military has a long and bloody history of using innocent civilians, whether ethnic villagers or young children picked up from the street in urban centers, to do the most dangerous aspects of their operations, such as human minesweepers. They would have no compunction in sending those who did not want to fight in the first place to the frontlines of a war they are losing and experiencing heavy losses.

The junta’s latest move is part of a psychological warfare strategy to further terrorize the population into submission and pit the people to kill each other. Using the people against people, which the junta is trying to do—and has done for many years in its divide-and-rule tactics among ethnic and religious groups—may well backfire as people would likely choose to join the democratic resistance forces. The Yangon Command of the National Unity Government already announced that thousands had applied to join them. As one woman studying in Naypyitaw told Myanmar Now, “If we’re going to be sent to our deaths anyway, I would rather die fighting for the PDF.” It may ultimately provide a boon for the resistance, as it will make people even more determined to dismantle the military tyranny in their country once and for all.

Additionally, the opportunities for extortion by the junta personnel and threat of human trafficking are adding another burden to the people who simply cannot afford bribery. Many more people will attempt to leave to work as undocumented migrants in neighboring countries, where police extortion and exploitation by employers will massively increase, as the possibility of being deported to Myanmar and serve in the military will be an overriding fear. Escape routes are going to be vital in the coming months for Myanmar’s millions of young people.

Given the impacts of this decision, it is vital that international governments, especially neighboring countries, offer the necessary visas and legal protection for the Myanmar populations, so they are not forced to return to their country to serve for a genocidal junta where they will be forced to commit atrocities. Some countries, in particular India, Malaysia, and Thailand, have a huge pool of Myanmar migrant populations that may now swell. Appropriate refugee and labor rights protection as well as reduced restrictions for local labor organizations and cross-border humanitarian responders to operate effectively and efficiently are going to be essential.

As pointed out by Progressive Voice’s Chairperson, Khin Ohmar, to Voice of America, not only should Thailand open temporary safe zones, it should bilaterally try and influence the Myanmar junta to end this disastrous policy whilst also calling on the UN Security Council to take action as a matter of regional security. Other countries, such as the United State, the United Kingdom, and European Union Member States, must offer visa support for Myanmar students coming to the end of their studies and facing the prospect of return to the draft. Forced conscription, while not new in Myanmar, must be responded to with the necessary practical, legal, and financial support that statements of concerns and non-actionable resolutions cannot provide. Such actions must be done urgently, and with the necessary political will to support Myanmar’s young population, who have already made immense sacrifices to defend democracy and human rights of their country while being traumatized by the violence and atrocities of a ruthless junta.


[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

Arakan Rohingya Society for Peace and Human Rights strongly condemns the recent attacks on Rohingya civilians in the Buthidaung Township and others in Rakhine state, Myanmar

By Arakan Rohingya Society for Peace and Human Rights

အရေးပေါ် နှိုးဆော်ချက်

By Anti-Junta Mass Movement Committee, General Strike Committee and General Strike Committee of Nationalities

GSCB’s Statement Condemning the “Announcement of Mandatory Conscription Law”

By General Strike Coordination Body

Statement on the Conscription Law

By National Unity Government

Statement on the military junta’s effort to implement the conscription law

By National Unity Government (Ministry of Foreign Affairs)

ဖက်ဒရယ်ဖော်ဆောင်ရေးပြည်သူ့ကိုယ်စားလှယ်များကော်မတီ (PRCF) ဖက်ဒရယ်ဒီမိုကရေစီပြည်ထောင်စုဖွဲ့စည်းပုံအခြေခံဥပဒေ ထုတ်ပြန်ကြေညာခြင်း

By People’s Representatives Committee for Federal



Violation of Media Freedom in January 2024

By Athan – Freedom of Expression Activist Organization

The Chin State’s Military-Political Dynamics: Challenges and Opportunities – Issue 138

By Burma News International and Myanmar Peace Monitor

Increasing Use of Air and Drone Strikes in Attacks on Health Care in Myanmar – February 2024

By Insecurity Insight

Burnt Human Remains in Kya Paing

By Myanmar Witness

The Constitution of Federal Democratic Union

By People’s Representatives Committee for Federal

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.”