The Unitarian Universalist Service Committee advances human rights through grassroots collaborations.
Building a Better Burma: Reflections on the Junta
By Myra Dahgaypaw on January 31, 2022
February 1 is the one-year mark since the Burmese military tried to overthrow Burma’s democratically elected government. The junta, however, has not been successful. More than ever, the people of Burma are fighting back for a new Burma: an inclusive democracy without the terrorist military junta. While the people on the ground sacrifice their lives, families, livelihoods, and most of what they have, they also need the international community’s support to bring about long-lasting democratic change to Burma.
The Burmese military regime, who call themselves the State Administration Council (SAC), has been strategically using several different tactics to dismantle Burma’s democracy in a short period of time. However, their calculations are wrong. The resistance is a nationwide democratic revolution. When the junta started chasing down protesters, the ethnic groups from different states offered their territories as safe havens. Soon after, the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw was formed by former MPs who managed to escape. They continue their parliamentary duties in exile, including formally abolishing the military draft in the 2008 constitution—the undemocratic constitution that protected the military’s power. Now, we have the National Unity Government (NUG), the only legitimate government of Burma. Unfortunately, we must still advocate for its recognition from the international community.
While it appears as though the democratic movement has been successful on some level, it has come at a heavy cost. The junta is conducting a scorched earth campaign in the ethnic states. In the past year, there were at least 7,686 armed conflicts and attacks on civilians across the country, which is a 632% increase from before the coup. In the last four months, the intensity of the violence is comparable to the violence in Syria and greater than the violence in Afghanistan, Yemen, and. The military seems to use its “four cuts” strategy more and more in a bid to stamp out resistance to its rule.
The military knows that they cannot win this war by using ground troops. Therefore, they are using fighter jets, tanks, drones and other sophisticated weaponry to indiscriminately bomb and shell cities, towns, and villages and kill unarmed civilians. They are destroying civilians’ livelihood, food, and farms. As villagers flee for their lives, the military loots their belongings. The junta has planted landmines in and around the villages to prevent villagers from returning to their homes. They also block humanitarian assistance to the impacted communities as well as arrest anyone providing food and aid.
To date, there are 320,000 newly displaced civilians, in addition to 340,000 people displaced by earlier conflicts before 2021, while over a million refugees seek refuge in neighboring countries. Karenni, Chin, Karen, and Sagaing areas are the hardest hit; mass murders have taken place in these locales in the last few months. Currently, more than half of the Karenni’s 300,000 residents are displaced, not to mention the Christmas eve massacre of 37 men, women, and children burned to death. Nearly 50 others are missing. Mass murder is becoming a trending military tactic, especially if they suspect civilians are working with the ethnic armed groups or the People Defense Force.
While the people of Burma are resisting, the most powerful international body, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), only issues condemnations to the Burmese military for the crimes they committed against its own people. However, the world leaders and the UNSC must act decisively to hold the Burmese military terrorists accountable for their crimes. If the international community continues to drag its feet, the grave human rights violations will only get worse and many more people will suffer. It is up to world leaders to decide if they want to side with the people of Burma and help save lives or side with the military junta and be complicit with the crimes they are committing.
The U.S. government must help the people of Burma realize their dream of building a democratically and inclusively federal Burma where everyone has their fair share. We need bipartisan support to pass the BURMA Act of 2021, a bill that will authorize humanitarian assistance, such as cross-border aid and civil society support; promote a genuine democracy and human rights; and impose targeted sanctions with respect to different human rights abuses and mass atrocities that has been committed by the Burmese military junta and for several other purposes.
UUSC will continue our work to support the people of Burma and help ensure the nation realizes its goal of becoming a true democracy.