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Human rights in Myanmar after military coup

Usman Hamid 

The international community, ASEAN and Indonesia need to take firmer steps to stop the bloodshed and other human rights violations against men, women, and children that have occurred in Myanmar since the Tatmadaw armed forces staged a coup against the democratic government on Feb. 1.

As of April 13, the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) recorded that at least 3,054 people have been in detention, including politicians, pro-democracy activists, human rights defenders, and journalists.

The group also reported that at least 714 people had been killed in the security forces’ brutal crackdown on pro-democracy protesters since the military takeover, and the actual number of fatalities is likely much higher. Demonstrations continued for more than two months in various regions. Tatmadaw also cut off internet access in the country.

Amnesty International’s study showed that military personnel used violent tactics and increasingly lethal weapons customarily seen on the battlefield against peaceful protesters and bystanders across the country.

Armed ethnic groups, including the Arakan Army, have threatened the Tatmadaw with a “spring revolution” if the military does not stop violence and restore democracy.

Some of these groups, including the Karen National Union and the Kachin Independence Army, two of the most influential ethnic groups in Myanmar, have launched attacks on the military and police. In response, the military also launched airstrikes targeting the Karen ethnic group near the border with Thailand.

The armed conflict between the Tatmadaw and these ethnic groups has further exacerbated Burma’s humanitarian crisis. As of April 8, according to data from the Myanmar-based human rights group ALTSEAN, there were at least 20,000 new refugees in Kachin and Karen states, around 100,000 migrant workers fled industrial areas in Yangon, while thousands of others fled to Thailand and India.

If the situation continues to deteriorate, the conflict could escalate into a civil war, and Myanmar is at risk of becoming a “failed state.”

Response from Indonesia and International community

The UN Human Rights Council passed a resolution in March calling on the Tatmadaw to end the violence and urging companies to end business relations with the military-controlled companies.

However, the Security Council has yet to place tough sanctions against the military, as China and Russia continue to block moves to impose an arms embargo and economic sanctions.

The incessant airstrikes by the Tatmadaw over the past few weeks have led Myanmar’s UN Ambassador Kyaw Moe Tun, who has vocally rejected the military coup, to urge the international community to establish a no-fly zone in the country to prevent further casualties.

Meanwhile, the European Union, which has imposed an arms embargo since 2018, is planning economic sanctions against businesses linked to the military after freezing assets and imposing a travel ban.

The US has imposed financial sanctions on top military officers and companies controlled by the military and frozen $1 billion in assets belonging to the Tatmadaw. Canada, New Zealand, and the UK have also imposed sanctions and travel bans on top military officers.

The credibility of ASEAN is currently at stake to help resolve the Myanmar crisis, which is feared to have impacts on regional stability.

So far, ASEAN has clearly stated its willingness to help Myanmar but has not shown a unified or unanimous position against the military coup or human rights violations in the country.

Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, and the Philippines are among the most vocal in holding dialogue and pushing efforts to resolve conflicts peacefully.

On the other hand, Thailand, Vietnam, and Laos are signaling their support for the Tatmadaw, with their representatives present at the commemoration of the Myanmar Armed Forces Day in Naypyidaw on March 27.

Apart from differences in positions between member countries, ASEAN’s “non-interference” principle becomes a barrier to taking decisive action on the crisis in Myanmar. Of course, this principle does not originate from ASEAN but is derived from international legal norms.

However, we must not forget that this principle explains which forms of intervention are permitted and not under international law.

From the beginning, Indonesia appeared to have asked the military to end violence, release political prisoners, and prioritize the safety of the Burmese people. It has also tried to do what they call “shuttle diplomacy” by meeting Wunna Maung Lwin, the foreign minister appointed by the military junta, at Thailand’s Don Muang airport.

Indonesia also emphasized the importance of constructive engagement to encourage conflict resolution dialogue in Myanmar.

We also welcome President Joko Widodo’s invitation for ASEAN to hold a high-level meeting to discuss the Myanmar crisis. Malaysia and Brunei Darussalam, the current chair of ASEAN, have agreed to hold a meeting at the bloc’s secretariat office in Jakarta, but the time has yet to be determined.

However, amidst the increasing number of casualties in Myanmar, Indonesia’s response has to be even firmer.

International tribunal

With current developments in Myanmar, we must encourage the roles of all key actors at the global, regional, and national levels. At the global level, we need to continue urging the international community to take immediate action to stop massacres in the country.

The UN Security Council should also be encouraged to take the long overdue and necessary measures to stop violations and hold perpetrators accountable, and immediately refer the situation to the International Criminal Court.

The Security Council also needs to impose, without further delay, a comprehensive global arms embargo and financial sanctions on senior military officials responsible for the atrocity crimes.

At the regional level, ASEAN has an obligation to ensure the access of Burmese people to humanitarian assistance and facilitate people fleeing conflict per international human rights standards and the principle of non-refoulment.

The bloc also needs to send a special envoy to Burma to discuss with all parties to facilitate dialogue and ensure solutions according to the voice of the Burmese people.

Furthermore, ASEAN must earnestly urge the UN Security Council to send an envoy to tell Burma about the international community’s concerns over the humanitarian and security crisis.

Meanwhile, Indonesia needs to make intensive diplomatic efforts to encourage ASEAN member countries to unite in urging the military government to end human rights violations and dialogue to resolve the conflict in Myanmar.

As a member of the UN Human Rights Council, Indonesia also needs to call harder on the Security Council to consider implementing the arms embargo and imposing targeted sanctions against members of the military who committed crimes.

Apart from the state level, we also need to encourage the active role of business and private actors, for example, by urging companies with ties to military-related business in Myanmar to end all their partnerships immediately, just like how South Korea recently did.

Martin Luther King Jr. once said: “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

ASEAN and the world must not allow the Burmese people to continue to suffer in silence.

*The author is the Director of Amnesty International Indonesia, a lecturer at Indonesian Law College Jentera, and the founder of Public Virtue Research Institute.

*Opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of TheAsiaLive.

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