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Myanmar Military Coup And Human Rights Crisis

A democratic country can turn into a dictatorship in numerous ways. The most common is when an elected political leader turns into a dictator. The most prominent example is Adolf Hitler. But on the other hand, it may so happen that a democratically elected Government is overthrown by a separate group of people, which can either be the country's military, any terrorist group, or the opposition party. Such an act is called a coup. If a country's military does this, it is called a military coup. This is what is happening in Myanmar.

On 1st February 2021, Myanmar's military overthrew the democratically elected government in a military coup. Because of this, the situation in Myanmar is very disturbed till now. Coup d'tat is a French word that means blow against the state. It is an illegal and unconstitutional seizure of power from the government. Most of the coups are military coups because the army has this amount of physical power and weapons to demolish a government. There have been more than 500 military coups worldwide after World War II, out of which 200 have been successful[2].

Also, it is not always necessary that a military coup always ends up establishing a dictatorship. Sometimes, it is done to overthrow an already existing dictatorship and establish democracy. The most recent example is the Sudan Military coup of 2019. But it happens in the rarest of rare cases. Coup is a concept different from revolution. Generally, in a revolution, the civilian citizens participate as well e.g., the French and Russian revolutions. Whereas it is not so in a coup. The military or army carries it out.

History Of Myanmar:

Myanmar, earlier known as Burma, got independence from British Rule in 1948. The party in power after the independence was the Anti-Fascist People's Freedom League (AFPFL). But in 1958, the military started getting involved in their politics for the first time. AFPFL split and the chief of Staff General Ne win became the Interim Prime Minister.

In 1960, elections were re-conducted and he handed over the power to the elected leader. But after just two years, in 1962, he took away that power in a military coup. After this, his military dictatorship lasted for decades and he forcefully imposed his ideology on the citizens. Because of this, the economic and social conditions of the state became terrible. Till the 1980s, Myanmar was considered one of the least developed nations in the world.

In 1988, General Saw Maung replaced General Ne Win, but by then the rage among citizens had peaked. Around the same time, Aung San Suu Kyi formed a party called National League for Democracy (NLD) whose main aim was to bring democracy back in Myanmar without any military intervention.

The military put her on House arrest in 1989 to suppress her voice but by then the anger of citizens had reached such levels that even the military was forced to conduct elections in 1990. In the elections, Suu Kyi's party won by a landslide, but the military refused to accept the result and the country continued to be bound by the military dictatorship.

The next wave of protests was seen in 2007 when a large number of Buddhist Monks protested, also called Saffron Revolution. The citizens were angry at the economic situation and rising fuel prices. This time the military was forced to draft a new constitution enacted in 2008. Even though it was mentioned in the constitution that 25% of the seats in the Parliament will be reserved for the Military, and any constitutional amendment would require 75% votes in favor, it provided a kind of Veto Power to the Military.

In the 2010 elections, the Military Party Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) won and Suu Kyi was released from House arrest. Later in the 2015 elections, she won again by a landslide. But in 2017, her international image suffered after the Rohingya Crisis. Even if it was conducted by the military, Suu Kyi did not speak out against it in the international platform apprehending another military coup.

Present Situation:
In the 2020 elections, Suu Kyi won with an even more drastic majority. After losing the elections and seeing immense support to Suu Kyi by the public, the military got scared of losing its powers granted under the Constitution. Therefore, in February 2021, the Military launched another coup, ousted the elected government, and declared an emergency.

It was claimed that the action has been taken exercising power under Article 417 of the country's constitution, which allows the military to take over in times of emergency. The coronavirus crisis and the government's failure to postpone the November elections were reasons stated for the emergency[3]. The military has assigned Vice President Myint Swe, a former military officer, as head of the government for one year.

The takeover sparked widespread street protests, which were violently suppressed by military and security forces. More than 1,100 people were killed in open firing, over 8000 arrested and at least 120 who have reportedly died in custody[4]. It has also forcibly displaced more than 230,000 civilians, bringing the total number of internally placed persons in Myanmar to well over half a million.

Civil voices are also being silenced, over 90 journalists have been arrested and eight major media outlets shuttered. Recently, Mohib Ullah, a Rohingya activist and chair of the Arakan Rohingya Society for Peace and Human Rights (ARSPH), was shot dead on Wednesday by unknown assailants in the refugee camp in Cox's Bazar, located in the south of the country. Entire villages have also been attacked using airstrikes, sieges, and mass arson and civilians have been forced to serve as porters and human shields. As of July, the junta had killed at least 75 children ranging in age from 14 months to 17 years.

Telecommunications came to a near halt in the morning and early afternoon. In the capital, internet and phone access appeared to be blocked. Many people elsewhere in the country who could still access the internet found their social media accounts had been temporarily suspended. Barbed wire roadblocks were set up across Yangon, the largest city, and military units began to appear outside government buildings such as City Hall.

International Covenants And Treaties Violation:

Governments and international organizations condemned the takeover, saying it sets back the limited democratic reforms Myanmar has made. Myanmar is already a Party to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women, and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
In the year 2017, Myanmar also ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and its second optional protocol that aims to abolish the death penalty. By ratifying a treaty, Myanmar is obligated under international law to comply with the provisions of the treaty in good faith and cannot use domestic laws to justify a failure to comply with treaty obligations.[5]

The most important treaty that Myanmar is a party to is the UN Charter, which is considered a super-treaty because Article 103 of the Charter mandates that any conflict between Charter obligations and those under any other international agreement be resolved in favor of the Charter. Other treaties include the Genocide Convention, the four Geneva Conventions, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), and the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of nuclear weapons (NPT).[6]
  1. Civil and Political Rights in Myanmar have also been systematically destroyed which includes:
    1. Article 6:
      1. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his life.
      2. When deprivation of life constitutes the crime of genocide, it is understood that nothing in this article shall authorize any State Party to the present Covenant to derogate in any way from any obligation assumed under the provisions of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.
    2. Article 7:
      No one shall be subjected to torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment.
    3. Article 9:
      1. Everyone has the right to liberty and security of person. No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest or detention.
    4. Article 10:
      1. All persons deprived of their liberty shall be treated with humanity and with respect for the inherent dignity of the human person.
    5. Article 17:
      1. No one shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his privacy, family, home, or correspondence, nor to unlawful attacks on his honor and reputation.
      2. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.
    6. Article 19:
      1. Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing, or print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.
    7. Article 21:
      The right of peaceful assembly shall be recognized
    8. viii. Article 27:
      In those States in which ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities exist, persons belonging to such minorities shall not be denied the right, in community with the other members of their group, to enjoy their own culture, to profess and practice their religion, or to use their language.
  2. The following rights enshrined in the Constitution of Myanmar, 2008 are violated in the present case:
    1. Article 21(a)- Every citizen shall enjoy the right of equality, the right of liberty, and the right of justice, as prescribed in this Constitution
    2. Article 353- Nothing shall, except in accord with existing laws, be detrimental to the life and personal freedom of any person.
    3. Article 354-. Every citizen shall be at liberty in the exercise of the following rights:
      1. To express and publish freely their convictions and opinions;
      2. To assemble peacefully without arms and holding procession;
    4. Article 376- Protection from unjustified restraint.

International Response:
While the people of Myanmar have been bravely standing up to the military regime, the international response to the coup has so far been uneven. Myanmar's neighbors, particularly China and some Southeast Asian countries, have resisted taking meaningful action to pressure the military.

The military coup created serious distress in Myanmar as well as the Association of Southeast Asian States (ASEAN). At the meeting, ASEAN and the junta reached the five-point consensus comprising:
  • Immediate cessation of violence and the exercise of utmost restraint;
  • Dialogue among all parties concerned to seek a peaceful solution;
  • Appoint a special envoy by ASEAN Chair to facilitate mediation in the dialogue process, with the assistance of the Secretary-General of ASEAN;
  • Provide humanitarian assistance through the AHA Centre;
  • Special envoy and delegation shall visit Myanmar to meet with all parties concerned.
But it has also been ignored by the military leader Min Aung Hlaing which shows just how little the junta respects the regional body's authority.

The response from the US, UK, and EU has been more robust, with all three adopting measures designed to pressure the Tatmadaw to reverse course. Sanctions imposed in the initial period after the coup targeted military officers and the entities most directly linked to human rights abuses and the military takeover with visa bans and asset freezes.

What Still Needs To Be Done?
  1. Members of the military regime should not be allowed to represent Myanmar in international organizations and should be excluded from international forums, or should only be included along with members of the National Unity Government.
  2. The international community should also deny the military access to the money belonging to the legitimate government of Myanmar by cutting off access to foreign currencies, which the military needs to sustain itself, administer the country and purchase weapons and technology to carry out atrocities against civilians.
  3. Governments should impose sanctions on the oil and gas industries which is the main source of foreign exchange for Myanmar that will block payments from going to the military. Instead, this money should be placed into restricted escrow accounts for future use by the legitimate government.
  4. The international community also needs to do more to assist those on the frontlines of the fight for freedom from military rule by prioritizing humanitarian aid, advocating for the release of all political prisoners and the lifting of the internet ban, and supporting asylum seekers, refugees, and ethnic minority groups.
In the above scenario, the citizens of the nation suffered the most. They gave 80% of their votes to NLD, hoping for a democratic government that would make the situation better, but all in vain. This was not the democracy people came for. The reason is crystal clear, the military had 25% reservation in the legislature. The emergency may last longer too, as the constitution has a provision for extension of one more year of such emergency.

Even after all the violence and destruction, the military has not been able to gain international recognition, nor were they able to secure control over Myanmar. These targeted economic sanctions are welcome steps to help undermine the military, but more needs to be done by the international community to both cut-off sources of funding to the regime and deny its legitimacy. The situation is more disturbed than apparent and requires immediate action at the international level.

  • United nations News
  • Global Justice Centre
  • Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties,1980
  • International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)
  • International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR)
  • Constitution of Myanmar
  1. Source: Centre for Systematic Peace; press reports (1946-2020) (Last visited on 10/10/21 at 4:15 pm)
  2. (last visited on 10/10/2021 at 5:22 pm)
  3. according to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in his official statement (last visited on 10/10/2021 at 5:45 pm)
  4. Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties (VCLT) at Article 26
  5. (last visited on 10/10/2021 at 6:03 pm)

Award Winning Article Is Written By: Ms.Ayushi Bhardwaj, BBA LLB 4th Year, Mody University
Awarded certificate of Excellence
Authentication No: AR210003610822-10-0422

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