Democratic Nations Must Continue To Pressure Myanmar Military Regime On Human Rights – The Organization for World Peace
After making a rare visit to Myanmar on account of talks with its military regime, U.N. general-secretary’s special envoy Noleen Heyzer, said that she would not visit the country again unless she was able to meet with former leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Suu Kyi has been imprisoned since last year’s February 1st coup, and she has been held in solitary confinement since June, according to Reuters. She has not been allowed visitors, and a military spokesperson said in August that the regime would not allow anyone to meet with people facing criminal charges. Suu Kyi is currently on trial for charges that range from corruption to the leaking of government secrets, and on September 2, was found guilty of electoral fraud and given a sentence of 3 further years in prison with hard labor. Combined maximum sentencing for the crimes she has been accused of add up to more than 190 years.
Suu Kyi, a former Nobel Peace Prize laureate who helped shepherd Myanmar from military junta into a partial democracy in the 2010s, served as State Counselor of Myanmar – an equivalent position to Prime Minister – in the Myanmar government from 2016 until the 2021 coup. During her government’s time in power, she and her government received criticism from human rights organizations, as well as several countries, including the United States, over the government’s inaction towards the genocide of the Rohingya Muslim population by the military in Myanmar’s Rakhine State. Over 1 million Rohingya have fled the country since 2016, most to neighboring Bangladesh. In 2019, she appeared in the International Court of Justice in defense of Myanmar’s military in response to allegations of genocide against the Rohingya, according to The Guardian.
Her arrest, trial, and sentencing, as well as those of other members of her government, have been condemned by the United Nations, and many European countries, as well as the United States, but many other countries have stayed silent on the coup attempt or voiced support for dialogue between the government and military leaders, which was allegedly prompted by allegations of electoral fraud on the part of Suu Kyi’s party. Other motivations that have been cited as potential triggers include an attempt to preserve military influence in Burmese politics; an attempt to gain control over $370+ million in non-conditional loans from the IMF, which had been released to the Central Bank of Myanmar as part of an emergency aid package in response to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic; and worries within the Myanmar military that Suu Kyi’s government was pursuing too close of a relationship with China, a regional power.
China and Russia vetoed a United Nations resolution condemning the coup. Reflecting the tensions around the response to Myanmar’s current government, Heyzer said in a statement that there was “continued differences in positioning among member states of the U.N.” in regards to Myanmar, and that “political solutions ultimately cannot be imposed from the outside,” according to Reuters. Talking at a seminar in Singapore, she said that “reality is that there is no clear path out of this crisis and that there will be no easy solutions.”
While Suu Kyi, who is 77, is a controversial figure in and outside of Myanmar, there is no question that her current imprisonment and the charges against her are politically motivated. Myanmar’s military regime has no democratic legitimacy to rule, and while the military may have taken power by force, continuing protests, despite violent crackdowns, and other acts of civil and armed resistance against the junta, demonstrate that the people of Myanmar do not agree with this flagrant dismissal of their elected government.
Democratic states around the world, and supranational organizations like the United Nations and the European Union that support democratic values, have the responsibility to challenge the military regime in Myanmar, and pressure them to release political prisoners and stop persecution on political grounds, as well as respect the human rights of all people in Myanmar more generally. The military junta should not be let off the hook for their disregard of human rights and for democratic process. As the people of Myanmar continue to internally voice their opposition to the regime despite tactics like internet blackouts, arrests and criminal charges towards protestors, and the violent use of force that has resulted in the deaths of over 1,000 protestors and the imprisonment of over 10,000 protestors, according to The New York Times, the democratic nations of the world must continue to support them externally.
U.S. President Joe Biden has sanctioned those involved with the coup and Myanmar’s military government, as well as frozen government assets, but this must be a coordinated response between Western allies. While there are clear differences between the war in Ukraine and the situation in Myanmar, the outcome is too similar for the West to ignore – dead civilians and democracy under siege. When democracy is threatened in one country, then military leaders in a former junta-run state are emboldened in another.
In short, democracy is not something that can be taken for granted, whether it be in Myanmar or in the United States, where, despite its status as the oldest democracy on the planet, it is still within living memory that over half of its population was prohibited from voting, whether on the basis of their sex or the color of their skin. Whether under siege by a military junta or unjust laws, in the words of American Civil Rights activist Martin Luther King Jr., who shared an inspiration to non-violent protest with Suu Kyi in Indian leader Mohandas Gandhi, “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”.