Intensifying Pressure on Myanmar’s Military Can Restore Democracy

Just over a year ago, General Min Aung Hlaing, the head of the armed forces, ousted the NLD government led by Aung San Suu Kyi on allegations of electoral fraud. Democrats in Myanmar have been calling for civil disobedience campaign against the military government since Feb. 2.

Although the Spring Revolution was a peaceful non-cooperation movement, it was heavily attacked by the military. After various sections of the society including the youth formed a resistance, the atrocities of the army started increasing. The remnants of the urban movement have spread all over Myanmar. At least 1,500 civilians have been killed by Myanmar’s military in the past year. In retaliation, the PDF, the military wing of the NUG, known as the Alternative Government, demanded the killing of 3,000 soldiers.

Bloody clashes between Myanmar’s military and various armed groups continue to escalate. On the other hand, in 2017, the then UN human rights chief called Myanmar’s “clearance operation” against the Rohingyas a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”

Since the military junta took power a year ago, many young people have been fighting for their lives against the military. The combination of the level of violence and the attacks suggests that the conflict is slowly turning into a civil war.

Despite international condemnation of Myanmar military’s atrocities against the Rohingyas, it has failed to stop arms sales to the country. In addition, various countries have maintained trade relations with Myanmar. China, Russia, India, South Korea, North Korea, Israel, Ukraine, and the Philippines have been pushing for a lasting solution to the Rohingya problem, while also providing arms to Myanmar.

Myanmar’s military, with the help of its civilian allies, continues to use brutal violence and torture against its own citizens — not just here. They have refused to accept democratic reforms, staged coups to seize power, violently suppressed pro-democracy protests, escalated civil war with armed ethnic groups, and continued to suppress freedom of speech and civil rights.

In the last four years, the trade relations of many developed countries with Myanmar have improved. International support for the Rohingyas has also declined. If the world continues to give Myanmar free rein for human rights violations in the interests of trade, what does that mean for global justice and the moral responsibility of the international community?

Economic and arms embargoes must be imposed to put effective pressure on Myanmar. It is not enough just to impose sanctions on a few military officers or companies. At the same time, the major regional powers need to play a stronger role in ensuring that Myanmar takes responsibility for its own actions. 

The Rohingya crisis was created by Myanmar and its solution lies in its hands. Voluntarily, Rohingyas want to return to their homes with full civil rights, but Myanmar has not yet created a conducive environment for Rohingyas to return. Myanmar’s military is still wreaking havoc there. The international community must put pressure on Myanmar to create a conducive environment. The situation is bound to improve if the international community imposes arms and economic sanctions on the country.

Myanmar’s military is killing civilians in the state of Karen, using them as human armor, which amounts to a war crime, according to the international human rights group Fortify Rights. This information has been highlighted in a report published by the group on Tuesday.

The group called on ASEAN member states to adhere to the UN Security Council’s arms embargo to ban arms and technology sales to Myanmar’s military.

A clear and concise initiative is needed to force the Myanmar military to reconsider its combative stance against the civilians. The Security Council requested that in addition to the International Atomic Energy Agency’s ongoing inspections in Myanmar, it would monitor Myanmar’s compliance with “the steps required by the IAEA Board.”

So, Myanmar must be pressured to resolve the crisis and allow the Rohingyas to return to their homes in Myanmar voluntarily, with full dignity and civil rights. To that end, the international community should impose arms embargoes and economic sanctions on Myanmar. Sanctions imposed by the United States, the United Kingdom, and Canada on Myanmar’s institutions are a positive step. Other countries should follow suit. The army has become reckless since the military coup. Efforts must be made around the world to stop them. The most obvious and peaceful way to do this is to take measures to prevent the army from raising money and weapons.

Kyaw Min is an educator, freelance writer and researcher, currently based in Malaysia. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.

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