Conflict Alerts # 478, 2 February 2022
In the news
On 1 February marked one year of the military coup in Myanmar that triggered a nationwide civil disobedience movement, political arrests, ethnic conflicts, and violence. On the first anniversary, while the protestors observed a "silent strike" for six hours, a few pro-military rallies were organized in Yangon, Mandalay, and Naypyitaw.
On the same day, the EU delegation to the UN in Geneva issued a joint statement expressing concern over the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Myanmar and called for a "cessation of violence."
On 31 January, the US, the UK and Canada added new sanctions against the Supreme Court Chief Justice, Union Attorney General, and Anti-Corruption Commission Chairperson; Washington also sanctioned four businessmen supporting the military regime with arms.
On 30 January, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing called for public cooperation toward peace and stability. He said conditions must be created "to hold a free and fair multiparty general election," and the military would "accomplish the provisions of the state of emergency by August 2023." At the National Defence and Security Council meeting, the Acting President approved a six-month extension of the military rule; a decision was taken to hold a general election by 2023.
Issues at large
First, one year of the military regime. After the general elections in November 2020, the military consolidated its control by annulling the newly elected parliament. It declared a state of emergency, claiming the election fraudulent, though then election commission, the international community, and the UN claimed the elections to be free and fair. Suu Kyi, the former President and several leaders of the NLD, were later detained; the regime formed the State Administration Council (SAC) led by Senior General Hlaing. In parallel, an anti-regime government - the National Unity Government, was established by elected lawmakers and pro-democracy groups. The People's Defence Force (PDF) came to force, trained by ethnic armed groups; it had declared a "people's defensive war" against the regime in September 2021.
Second, one year of military repression and domestic resistance. Firing at street protesters, use of airstrikes, burning of houses, and detentions have remained the hallmarks of the last year. The military detained 1,800 civilians, levied four charges against Suu Kyi, ensuring a jail term of 15 years, and killed around 1,500 protesters.
During the last year, the resistance to military rule has continued. Also, several ethnic armed groups have resurfaced, resulting in open confrontations with the regime.
Third, inadequate and mixed regional responses. The ASEAN's response during the last year was mixed – between mild censure and taking concrete actions. The Five-Point consensus agreed during the ASEAN Summit was not abided by the Myanmar regime; the former envoy from Brunei Darussalam had not even visited Myanmar. On the other hand, the visit by the Cambodian Prime Minister in December 2021, who is also the ASEAN chair, was strongly questioned by a few ASEAN countries, for example, Malaysia and Singapore. Myanmar's Senior General Hlaing was not invited to the ASEAN foreign minister's summit.
Fourth, ineffective sanctions and international reactions. Several international groupings and countries such as the EU, the US, Canada, and the UK have imposed travel bans and sanctions. But with sustained support from Russia and China, the sanctions have proved ineffective against the regime.
First, a mixed first year. Despite solid measures against the people and the NLD, it has not put down the resistance completely. On the other hand, civil society is nowhere near beating the regime into a retreat despite showing resistance. Second, the regime's promise of an election in 2023 would be a pretext for further consolidation of power. Third, an expanding ethnic conflict would further push Myanmar into poverty scarcity and hamper the education system. Finally, as the coup moves into the second year, the regional and international responses remain ineffective to transform what had happened on 01 February 2021.