International action urgently needed – global problems


  • Opinion by Andrew Firmin (London)
  • Inter Press Service

The army certainly expected an easier ride when it expelled the elected government in a coup on February 1, 2021. It had ruled Myanmar for decades before returning to democracy in 2015. But many pro-democracy advocates have taken up arms and in parts of the country have allied with militias from Myanmar’s ethnic minorities, which have a long history of resistance to military oppression.

Setbacks and violence

The army’s morale has collapsed. Thousands of soldiers are said to have surrendered, including entire battalions – some out of moral objection to the junta’s violence and others because they saw defeat as inevitable. There are also many to overflowwith defectors reporting that they had been ordered to kill unarmed civilians. Forces fighting the junta’s troops are encouraging defectors to join their ranks.

In response to the setbacks, the junta announced in February that it would introduce mandatory conscription for young people, requiring up to five years of military service. An estimated 60,000 men are expected to be called up in the first round. The announcement prompted many young people to flee the country if they could, or to seek refuge in parts of Myanmar free from military control.

There are also reports of military units kidnapping people and forcing them to serve. With minimal training, they are cannon fodder and human shields. The Rohingya people – an officially stateless Muslim minority – are among those reportedly forcibly recruitedThey are forced to serve in the same army that committed genocide against them.

People who manage to enter Thailand face hostility from Thai authorities and risk being sent back against their will. Even after they leave Myanmar, refugees are at risk of transnational repressionas government intelligence agencies are reportedly operating in neighboring countries and authorities are freezing bank accounts, seizing assets and revoking passports.

Conscription is not just about giving the junta more personnel to replace losses, it is also part of a ongoing campaign of terror intended to subdue civilians and suppress activism. Neighborhoods are burned down and hundreds have died in the flames. The air force is targeting unarmed towns and villages. The junta enjoys complete impunity for these and many other despicable acts.

The authorities are holding thousands of political prisoners on trumped-up charges and subjecting them to systematic torture. The UN Independent Fact-Finding Mission reports that at least 1,703 people have died in custody since the coup, probably an undercount. Many have been convicted in secret military trials and some sentenced to death.

There is also a growing humanitarian crisis, with many hospitals destroyed, acute food shortages in Rakhine State, home to many Rohingya, and an estimated three million people displaced. Volunteer groups are doing their best to help communities, but the situation is being made much worse by the military to obstruct access for emergency services.

International neglect

In March, UN human rights chief Volker Türk said described the situation in Myanmar as ‘an endless nightmare’. It is up to the international community to exert the pressure needed to put an end to it.

It is far from certain that the army will be defeated. Adversity could lead to infighting and the rise of even more brutal leaders. One thing that could make a decisive difference is disruption of the supply chain, particularly the jet fuel that makes deadly airstrikes on civilians possible. In April, the UN Human Rights Council passed a resolution calling on states to stop supplying jet fuel to the military. States should implement it.

Repressive states such as China, India and Russia are only too happy to continue supplying the junta with weapons. But democratic states must take the lead and apply more concerted pressure. Some, including Australiathe UK And UShave imposed new sanctions on junta members this year, but they have been slow to implement and fall short of the approach required by the Human Rights Council resolution.

But the worst response came from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). The reality and social problems of civil society are ignored. to suggestASEAN has stuck to a plan it developed in april 2021 and it simply hasn’t worked. the junta is taking advantage of asean weakness. it announced mandatory conscription shortly after a visit by asean’s special envoy to myanmar.

ASEAN’s neglect has led to human rights violations and, increasingly, transnational organized crime to flourish. The junta is involved in crimes such as drug trafficking, illegal gambling and online fraud. The proceeds of these, often carried out with the help of Chinese gangs, are used to finance the war against the population. As a result, Myanmar is now number one on the Global Organized Crime IndexThis is a regional problem, which also affects people in Myanmar’s neighbouring countries.

ASEAN members also have a duty to accept refugees from Myanmar, including those fleeing conscription. They must work to protect them and not force them back, especially if they are democracy and human rights activists whose lives would be at risk.

Forced conscription must be the tipping point for international action. This must include international justice, as there is none in Myanmar. The junta has a order of the International Court of Justice to protect the Rohingya people and prevent actions that could violate the Genocide Convention, following a case brought by the government of Gambia alleging genocide against the Rohingya. The UN Security Council should now use its power to refer Myanmar to the International Criminal Court so that the prosecution of military leaders can begin.

China and Russia, which until now refused to support calls for action, and an end to the blockade of the Security Council, in the interest of human rights and to prevent increasing instability in the region.

Andrew Firmin is editor-in-chief, co-director and writer of CIVICUS CIVICUS lens and co-author of the State of Civil Society Report.

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© Inter Press Service (2024) — All rights reservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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