IRISH ANTI-WAR MOVEMENT PRESS RELEASE ON MYANMAR – 18 MARCH 2021
• SOLIDARITY WITH PROTESTERS IN MYANMAR
• NO RETURN TO MILITARY RULE – RESTORE DEMOCRACY NOW
• END THE ARRESTS, TORTURE AND KILLINGS
• DEMOCRATIC GOVERNMENTS AND THE UN MUST OPENLY SUPPORT THE PROTESTERS IN MYANMAR
Terror and courage in Myanmar
Myanmar (formerly Burma) is a Southeast Asian nation of more than 100 ethnic groups, bordering India, Bangladesh, China, Laos and Thailand. The shocking genocide of the Rohingya people, which tarnished Nobel Prize winner Aung San Suu Chi's reputation, recently brought Myanmar to the world's attention.
The people of Myanmar are living an ongoing nightmare since 1 February 2021, when the mililtary declared falsely that the election on 8 November 2020 was fraudulent. Min Aung Hlaing, the commander-in-chief of the country's armed forces, the Tatmadaw, launched a violent coup – the first since 1988 - to overthrow the election, which had been won in a landslide by Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy. In late 2019, Aung San Suu Kyi unsuccessfully defended this same general and the military against accusations of genocide at the International Court of Justice in the Hague. Her collaboration with and attempt to co-govern with the military proved fruitless, as she and other parliamentarians including president Win Myint were immediately arrested under trumped-up charges following the coup on 1st February. The military is now ruthlessly dismantling civilian rule and reversing the steps begun about ten years ago towards democracy. Two officials of the elected government are among five people known to have died after being tortured.
Unprecedented unity among the protesters
Unarmed people, different ethnic groups coming together in unprecedented unity, many very young, have poured into the streets in peaceful protest, demanding that the results of the election be respected. They have been coming out to protest every day since the coup in many towns and cities, despite weapons of war being used against them. Numerous strikes have brought the economy to a standstill, with a huge backlash from the military junta.
Crimes against humanity decried by the U.N.
There seem to be no limits to the brutality of the military response against their own people. To date, they have shot to kill, using live ammunition aimed at the heads and hearts of people. They have dragged off the wounded and the dead, not returning bodies to their families. It is estimated that at least 200 people have been killed so far, with last Sunday's total being 74. Deaths include women and children, as well as people not involved in the protests who were targeted anyway by snipers. Over 2000 people have been pulled off the streets or out of their homes in nighttime raids and arrested. These include government officials, hospital workers, journalists, civil servants, NGO workers, students, and other protestors. People have no way of finding out where their friends and relatives are being held. There are many reports of poor conditions, ill treatment and torture.
No choice but to protest the coup
The general feeling is that the people have no choice but to protest to demand the release of elected members of government and protesters who have been rounded up, disappeared, tortured, and even killed in custody. According to Dr Sasa, Special Envoy to the UN representing the parliament of Myanmar, there is no difference between being on the street and staying home. Schools and hospitals have been occupied by soldiers. Every night the military raids the houses of those they suspect are against them. Railway workers and their families were evicted just for being on strike. Sasa's own parents who were not protesting at all were warned to flee - his mother is a cancer patient recuperating from an operation. Internet and phone services have been cut off at will. Dr Sasa himself has now been forced to go into hiding, in fear for his life.
Chinese factories torched in retaliation for perceived support of the Junta
On Saturday, 13 March 2021, 32 Chinese-funded garment factories in Yangon were torched, presumably by protestors, on the perception that China backed the military by not explicitly condemning or punishing them. Chinese companies are Myanmar's largest investors. The arson attacks prompted an even harsher response from the junta, as they placed several parts of Yangon under martial law. This means that arson, 'illegal' gatherings or protests could be punished with an unappealable death penalty or 'unlimited years' in prisons with hard labour. Security forces have recently opened fire on crowds using semi-automatic and automatic rifles, according to the UN human rights chief, Michele Bachelet. With constant shooting in the street, migrants and those residents of the affected areas of Yangon, industrial areas where workers live, fled on carts, in cars, with whatever they could carry, with children and pets, fearing for their lives, with protestors lifting barriers so they could escape before the curfew came down. Chinese people wanted to return to China, but the pandemic makes that unlikely. The situation is already really hurting poor people who can hardly feed themselves due to rising food and fuel prices, and the near paralysis of the banking sector and limits on cash availability.
Some government officials, as well as police and military who could not accept orders to shoot to kill their fellow citizens, managed to escape to India, but their asylum there is not secure. There are fears that Prime Minister Narendra Modi could return them at any time to Myanmar and certain death.
International support ineffective so far
The protesters had immediately called for international and UN support, but statements of outrage by the US and UN, and 'targeted sanctions' have had no effect in reducing the killing. Myanmar's Ambassador to the UN, Kyaw Moe Tun, took the brave step of siding with the protesters. The protesters' hopes for the UN to take effective action are waning. About a week ago, the UN Security Council finally 'strongly condemned the violence' and expressed 'deep concern', calling for human rights to be respected and democratic institutions to be upheld, and among other things for all those detained arbitrarily to be released. China supported by Russia eventually agreed to the statement, after eliminating text referring to the situation as a 'coup.' Russia has sold weaponry to the junta, including MiG-29 jet fighters and the Pantsir-S1 missile system.
Protesters saw China as holding up possible help and siding with the military, seeing the unrest as a threat to its massive investment in Myanmar. Since the arson attacks, Beijing has demanded greater security for their interests in Myanmar. Chinese state media CGTN warned that 'China won't allow its interests to be exposed to further aggression,.....if the authorities cannot deliver and the chaos continues to spread, China might be forced into more drastic action to protect its interests.' This veiled threat is even more worrying for the protesters.
Calls for Revolution
The civilian leader of Myanmar's government, Mahn Win Khaing Than, addressed the public on Saturday for the first time since the military takeover. He called for 'revolution' to oust the military junta. Also currently in hiding, the acting Vice President, who is a member of deposed leader Aung San Suu Kyi's political party, addressed the nation on Saturday, saying that 'this is the darkest moment of the nation and the moment that the dawn is close,” in a video posted on the shadow government’s website and social media – though one wonders how many in Myanmar could see it.
“In order to form a federal democracy, which all ethnic brothers who have been suffering various kinds of oppressions from the dictatorship for decades really desired, this revolution is the chance for us to put our efforts together,” he said. “We will never give up to an unjust military but we will carve our future together with our united power. Our mission must be accomplished.”
Ireland now has a seat on the UN Security Council. Let us hope Ireland can use its voice to find a more effective way of helping the Myanmar people, fighting an unarmed struggle against a ruthless military armed to the teeth. The European Union members are finalising sanctions targeting Myanmar coup leaders' own business interests, and suspending all budgetary support. People in Myanmar are suffering, risking their lives, with unarmed people wounded and dying every day, letting the junta know they will not give in to more years of military oppression. They have had enough military rule previously, and have had a taste of what democracy might be like.
The generals made a major miscalculation, underestimating the positive impact that a decade of democracy and economic liberalisation would have on the people. Targeted sanctions probably won't work – perhaps there could be an international alliance, even a dialogue between the various parties and neighbouring countries in their mutual interests of a stable Myanmar. The Biden administration had a virtual meeting with the Indian, Japanese and Australian leaders yesterday, the first official summit of a group known as the Quad, as part of a push to demonstrate a renewed US commitment to regional security. They vowed to restore Myanmar democracy ..... but didn't specify how.
We demand immediate release of all political prisoners, an end to violent kidnappings and attacks, and recognition of the government legally elected last November. General Min Aung Hlaing and the junta should be brought to trial for their disastrous and brutal coup and ordering of the illegal imprisonment and killing of their own people. Plans need to be put in place for the safe return of the estimated one million Rohingya refugees. It is hoped that the government would heed the call of the uprising for fair treatment of all the ethnic minorities in the country.
The three fingered salute of the protesters, taken from the Hunger Games, is an appropriate symbol as it represents solidarity in a dystopian world where rebels have to fight for freedom against an all-powerful tyrant.
The military junta can cut off the internet, but it is too late to cut off the consciousness of a new generation of young Burmese activists. The world needs to be not only watching, but standing up for and with them.
Glenda Cimino, Steering Committee IAWM, Tel. 086 124 9456
Jim Roche, PRO Steering Committee, IAWM, Tel. 087 6472737
John Molyneux, Steering Committee IAWM, Tel. 085 735 6424
Michael Youlton, Chair Steering Committee, IAWM, Tel. 086 8159487