Two months on from Myanmar’s coup d’état executed by its military, the Tatmadaw, the situation remains turbulent. On February 1st, in an early morning raid, the country’s civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi and other senior members of the country’s ruling party were detained and a country in a fragile democratic state retreated into stratocracy. The leaders’ detainment and the subsequent declaration of a state of emergency were justified by the Tatmadaw who believe the government failed to prevent voter fraud in the recent general election. The detained leader was replaced by Senior General Min Aung Hlaing who assumed all state power, an indication of the country returning to military rule. However, General Hlaing and the ruling Junta have been met with protests from citizens concerned for the country’s democratic future. Protests which they have met with violence to maintain dominion of Myanmar. An effort that has so far claimed the lives of more than 737 civilians and displaced a further 250,000 people.
The potential for a coup was first indicated by the Tatmadaw in the months that followed the landslide general election victory for the National League for Democracy (NLD) in November. The military and the parties it backed disputed the results on the grounds of electoral fraud. These claims, however, lacked evidence and following an investigation by the election commission were dismissed ahead of the first parliament session that was arranged for February 1st and would mark the formation of the new government. In the days building up to the occasion, speculation grew of a coup as the government and Tatmadaw faced off. General Hlaing warned that if the government did not follow the constitution, it would be abolished as has been previously done in the military coups of 1962 and 1988. Hours before the parliament was due in session, communication lines to the capital, Naypyidaw, and state TV were suspended, soldiers were deployed to various locations and internet connectivity in NLD loyal areas collapsed. The NLD leaders were detained, and full military control was assumed.
This event sparked unrest across Myanmar as protesters poured onto the streets to peacefully challenge the Junta’s authority and demand the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and the other detained leaders. The initial two weeks of protests were peaceful as the military showed restraint towards the protestors however this changed following the killing of two unarmed protesters by the military, one being a 16-year-old boy. Two days later, a general strike was held where millions across the country took to the streets, paralyzing the economy. March 8th marked an escalation in violence when in Myitkyina, thousands of supporters were trapped into their demonstration area by security forces before they were fired upon. On this occasion amongst others, anyone caught filming the security crackdown were targeted for arrest and had their phones confiscated. The country’s protests led by its younger generations show little sign of ending any time soon. Dubbed, the Spring Revolution, the ranks of protestors are filled by students who refuse to revert to the tyranny and poverty experienced by their parents. Already hundreds have been arrested and are without access to lawyers or family contact as the Junta treats the country’s youth not as its future but as rebels. Despite the emerging evidence of violent tactics being deployed as part of the military crackdown, representatives of the Junta have emphasised that the authorities are exercising the utmost restraint to deal with the protests.
However, utmost restraint does not explain security forces shooting and killing peaceful protesters at point-blank range, nor does it explain the arrests of thousands, the occupation of healthcare facilities or the shut off of electricity supplying NPD loyal areas. In performing these acts, the Junta has not only emphasised its willingness to use violence but also its willingness to retain power whatever the cost, even at the expense of freedom of expression, assembly and association, and the right to privacy.
Military violence has only escalated since March 8th as protest by protest, the death toll for each day tops the previous. In addition to this, the military, in an attempt to discourage protests, are now preventing medics from treating those wounded in its crackdowns on townships across the country where martial law has been implemented. The bloodshed has gained international attention and demands for the United Nations to intervene increase as the military’s crackdown on peaceful protestors has reached the threshold to be considered crimes against humanity. In an address to the UN Human Rights Council, Tom Andrews, the UN special rapporteur for human rights in Myanmar urged member states to impose multilateral sanctions on the Junta in an effort to stop the bloodshed.
Despite this lobbying, the UN Security Council has failed to adopt a resolution on the situation which has seen by many as a demonstration of inaction and neglect. However, a number of sanctions had already been imposed on Myanmar by multiple states. Western governments, namely those of the UK, US, Canada, New Zealand, and EU member states have introduced sanctions targeting the coup leaders including the suspension of military ties with the country. In spite of these actions, the military government remain adamant in asserting themselves in the international field and have pledged to attend the upcoming ASEAN conference. This move, which has not been met with resistance from ASEAN has brought widespread criticism upon the coalition due to its reluctance to intervene in the situation as a result of its existing principles of non-interference and consensus. While nations debate how to approach the situation, it worsens further as the Junta has increased the internet blackout preventing the spread of information that could push the international community to respond. While the outside world waits in anticipation, the Tatmadaw and protesters clash and amidst this chaos, Myanmar’s fate remains undecided.