UN has accused ruling military of committing ‘crimes against humanity’
https://www.theweek.co.uk –Julia O’Driscoll
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It has been just over a year since the military took control of Myanmar after claiming that Aung San Suu Kyi’s landslide election win in November 2020 was the result of voter fraud.
In a coup on 1 February 2021, elected officials, politicians and cabinet ministers of the National League for Democracy were detained by the military, a move that was backed by the party’s opponents.
“Mass protests erupted” across Myanmar in the days after Suu Kyi’s government was deposed, said The Guardian. And while “security forces largely allowed peaceful demonstrations” to take place in the following weeks, the junta was deploying “increasingly violent tactics” by the end of the month.
Violence in the country has escalated ever since, with clashes between increasingly organised civilian groups, such as the People’s Defence Force, and the junta leading to bloodshed and devastation. Now the “intensity and extent of the violence”, as well as “the co-ordination of the opposition attacks”, indicate that the nature of the conflict has shifted “from an uprising to a civil war”, said the BBC.
“In the decade when its generals allowed it some semblance of democracy, Myanmar flourished,” said The Economist. “Poverty rates plummeted and foreign investment surged”, and a ceasefire agreement between many of the country’s rebel groups and the government was reached. “In just one short year, the generals have undone the gains of the past decade.”
“The country’s prospects have deteriorated sharply, with untold misery for millions,” said Professor Nicholas Farrelly, of the University of Tasmania, and senior lecturer Adam Simpson, of the University of South Australia, writing for The Conversation.
Employment rates are down, poverty is up, and “foreign investors are heading for the exit, too”, said The Economist. Electricity blackouts are now regular occurrences, and “schools are, in effect, shut”.
But “worse still, the army is using force to suppress widespread resistance to its rule”. The junta’s leader, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, “has launched a campaign of mass bloodletting” – civilians have been “massacred” and entire towns have been “razed”.
The head of a UN Human Rights Council fact-finding body, Nicholas Koumjian, said in November that “the facts show a widespread and systematic attack on the civilian population amounting to crimes against humanity”.
As the “eternally popular” Suu Kyi remains detained, a “new generation” has had to “step up the resistance both on the ground and online”, said Farrelly and Simpson. “Peaceful protests have been largely abandoned as a tactic.”
Civilians have instead “taken up arms”, and clashes between organised civilian groups and the junta “have grown deadlier month on month since August”, said the BBC. The use of “remote violence” tactics – such as bombings, explosive devices and landmines – have also increased.
Many activists “have successfully evaded arrest” but “others have been detained and paraded as ‘terrorists’”, said Farrelly and Simpson. “They then disappear deep into the regime’s prisons and torture centres.
“To confront the military regime takes untold courage,” they added. There are “countless supporters” away from the frontline who “quietly use their networks, resources and skills to undermine the confidence of the dictatorship”, the academics explained.
The Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED) collects data from local media and other reports. Though death tolls are difficult to verify, ACLED has found that around 12,000 people “have been killed in political violence” since 1 February 2021, said the BBC.
Min Aung Hlaing “and his lieutenants still have only a loose grip on power”, Farrelly and Simpson continued. The military has struggled to recruit new officers, according to The Irrawaddy, and in “a further blow”, more than 1,500 personnel have defected from the army following the takeover in February 2021.
“There used to be many young people who wanted to become military officers and heroes,” a defector, Captain Lin Htet Aung, told the news site. “But now no one wants to join the military because of the coup.”
And the military’s efforts to crack down on resistance appear to have provided impetus for the country’s “many fractious ethnicities” to unite against its control, said The Economist. “That is quite an achievement in a country with a long history of enmity between ethnic groups.”
The military is “unable to pick its battles, is failing to attract new recruits and is alienating the public”, the newspaper continued. Now, it is the opposition that has “momentum on its side”.
“Myanmar is more violent and divided than ever, and an end to the civil war is difficult to imagine,” said The Times.
In spite of the domestic turmoil, “the world is forgetting about Myanmar”, said The Economist. “The West is distracted by domestic squabbles, an increasingly bellicose China and the prospect of a new war in Europe.”
A united international response has yet to emerge. With China and Russia the top suppliers of weapons to Myanmar, the EU’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell, said in a blog post published last April that it was “no surprise” Beijing and Moscow were “blocking the attempts of the UN Security Council” to impose sanctions on the Myanmar military.
However the US, UK and Canada have imposed sanctions on Min Aung Hlaing and other junta members, and on the one-year anniversary of the coup, further sanctions were imposed.
“Previous juntas brushed off Western pressure,” but nations could still “help bring the junta to the negotiating table”, said The Economist. The military “is in a precarious position” with “troops stretched thin” and the resistance effort ongoing. “Dissent is growing in the ranks.”
“Victory” over the military “will consist of concerted pressure from several directions”, said The Economist. But “such an outcome could take years”.