The coup in Myanmar that took place a year ago shattered lives and destroyed a booming economy. It has also triggered a worsening humanitarian crisis that is prompting calls for international intervention. Across the country, people are finding ways to resist military rulers.
There was little traffic on the streets of central Yangon on Tuesday last week, and almost no pedestrians. Opponents of the military regime which staged a coup a year to the day have taken to social media to call for “a silent strike”. People stayed home and closed their doors.
The army had warned that it would take legal action against anyone who participated, but the provocative protesters continued anyway.
The cost of instability
Myanmar’s currency continued to weaken. Foreign investment is slowing and the economy is in free fall. The World Bank forecast an 18% contraction for the fiscal year that ended in September 2021.
A human rights group in Myanmar, the Political Prisoners Assistance Association, estimates that more than 1,500 people have been killed in the military crackdown since the coup.
While the military has largely suppressed resistance in urban areas like Yangon, it’s a different story elsewhere. Clashes with pro-democracy activists are intensifying in rural areas.
A National Unity Government, or NUG, which was launched after the coup called on members of the public and minority armed groups to stage a “defensive war” against the junta.
Activist who fled to Japan
Pro-democracy activist Tin Win fled to Japan last June. He says the oppression by the military is relentless.
“This coup was the most brutal, the most destructive and the most futile,” he says. “And now we are in a dangerous and deadly stalemate. The army has used excessive force. People cannot go to work or open their businesses. Food supplies have been hit. And the currency is collapsing .”
Aung San Suu Kyi behind bars
Myanmar’s de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, has been arrested by the military and placed under house arrest in the capital Naypyitaw. She was taken to an unknown location at the end of May and it is still unknown where she is being held.
She is on trial for more than a dozen charges, all of which she denies.
So far, Aung San Suu Kyi has been sentenced to six years behind bars, but if found guilty on all counts, she faces more than 100 years in prison.
The trial takes place in a specially set up court in a local government building in Naypyitaw. The public and journalists are prohibited. Reports indicate that there are very few witnesses who testify in the defense of Aung San Suu Kyi, for fear of the military.
Children and women among the dead
Amid the chaos that has gripped Myanmar over the past year, several particularly horrific incidents have stood out. A pro-democracy group says 35 civilians were killed, including women and children, in a single incident in Myanmar’s eastern Kayah state. He maintains that the soldiers burned the bodies of the victims.
While the military disputes the claims, state media has covered fighting that reportedly broke out after militants in vehicles opened fire on soldiers.
Sanctions by the United States and the United Kingdom
Last month, the United States, Britain and Canada imposed new sanctions on seven individuals and two entities linked to Myanmar’s military.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement that since the coup, people in Myanmar “have firmly rejected military rule and called for their country to return to the path of inclusive democracy”.
He added that the United States “will continue to work with our international partners to address human rights abuses and press the regime to end the violence and release all those wrongfully detained.” “.
The United Nations Response
The UN has repeatedly called for an end to the violence, but has yet to offer concrete action. The situation was discussed in the UN Security Council, with the US and EU countries intending to impose sanctions. China and Russia are reluctant to back such sanctions, saying they don’t want to interfere in Myanmar’s internal affairs.
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which counts Myanmar among its 10 members, is trying to mediate dialogue between the military and pro-democracy forces.
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen wants Myanmar to reconnect with ASEAN summits, and he visited the country last month for talks with the country’s military ruler, Min Aung Hlaing. The trip has drawn criticism from some other ASEAN members, including Indonesia and Singapore, who are calling for a tough stance against the junta. Member nations remain divided on what to do.
Japan calls for peace and stability
Japanese Foreign Minister Hayashi Yoshimasa spoke out last week against the military coup: “Japan strongly condemns this situation. Despite repeated calls from the international community for an end to the violence, the fighting continued to claim many casualties.
“We call for restraint and a solution that restores peace and stability.”
While Tokyo recognizes neither the military regime nor the NUG, in formal diplomacy, the Japanese government has a back channel to the junta that it has tried – but failed – to use to improve the situation. According to an official from the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, this channel is an opportunity to promote democracy and human rights.
From an economic point of view, Myanmar was considered the last frontier for great business opportunities in Asia. Japanese companies flocked there when it opened up its economy in 2011. The Japanese government has also supported Myanmar’s growth by extending official development assistance (ODA). This amounted to around $1.8 billion in fiscal year 2019, making Japan the largest donor among developed countries.
Japan will not provide further assistance to Myanmar. But dozens of yen loans and programs already signed are continuing.
Professor Nemoto Kei, a Myanmar specialist at Sophia University, said the Japanese government should take a tougher approach. “Japan should urge General Min Aung Hlaing to end the violence, release those who have been arrested, and accelerate the democratic transformation of the country to enable everyone to play a role in politics,” he said. declared. “Japan should also immediately suspend ongoing ODA projects and use them as bargaining chips.”
Protests in Japan
Burmese people living in Japan staged a rally last week to protest military rule. A crowd of around 300 gathered outside the Foreign Ministry in Tokyo, calling on the Japanese government to step up its efforts to bring democracy to Myanmar.
One of the protesters, a 30-year-old woman, said “innocent people, including women and children, are being killed every day. I hope the Japanese will help Myanmar.”
Internal displacement causes a humanitarian crisis
United Nations figures suggest that more than 300,000 people have been displaced by the violence in what amounts to a humanitarian crisis. Professor Nemoto urges the international community, including Japan, to take action and support those in need.