Burma: Commemorating Genocide and the Case of Burma/Myanmar

16 April 2021

In the early hours of Monday 1st February 2021, Burma/Myanmar’s powerful military took control of the country in a coup and declared a year-long state of emergency. The democratically elected Counsellor of State Aung San Suu Kyi, President Win Myint and senior government officials from the recently re-elected NLD Party who were due to take office in a few weeks, were detained, removed from post, and replaced.

The Union of Burma became independent in I948 after extensive negotiations led by General Aung San, (father of Aung San Suu Kyi) who convinced most ethnic minority groups to join the new union. The Panglong Agreement of 1947 outlined minority rights and specifically gave the Shan and Karen peoples the option to secede from the union a decade after independence. But after Aung San’s assassination, the Panglong Agreement disintegrated, the constitutional guarantees were never fully respected, and almost immediately Burma was thrown into a series of brutal ethnic wars that have continued with varying intensity to this day.

In 1962, General Ne Win seized power in a coup that resulted in the military taking control of the country, and it has remained in control ever since. Popular calls for democracy have been consistently and brutally suppressed over the decades. Even after the release of Aung San Suu Kyi in 2010 after 21 years of house arrest; her winning of a Parliamentary seat in 2012, and the election of the National League for Democracy – headed by Aung San Suu Kyi – in 2015, the constitution ensured that the military remained in control.

Myanmar is home to multiple ethnic groups who speak over 100 languages. This ethnic diversity is the product of Myanmar’s strategic position, bordered by Bangladesh, India, Tibet, China, Laos and Thailand. However, the failure to address the concerns of Myanmar’s ethnic groups lies at the heart of many of Myanmar’s problems. Myanmar’s ethnic minorities have been struggling for ethnic and political rights for decades as successive dictators in Burma have pursued a policy of ‘Burmanisation’, which ranges from repressing the teaching of ethnic history, language, and culture, to military attacks against civilians.

In addition to these many groups, there are others who are not recognised by the government and who are barred from citizenship. Currently, the most famous of these are the Rohingya Muslims who have been persecuted on a regular basis since the 1970s. Since 2016, the Rohingya have been subject to multiple massacres and attacks, resulting in the murders of at least 25,000 people and the displacement of nearly a million people. The brutality and scale of this persecution is consistent with the legal definition of genocide. But they are not the only ethnic minority groups to suffer attacks from the Myanmar government. The Kachin, Karen and Shan tribal peoples have all been subject to persecution over many decades by the military regime.

Since the latest military coup on 1 February 2021, as of 10 April 2021, 701 people had been killed including 82 shot dead on Friday 9 April in peaceful demonstrations in Bago. These are the documented cases.  The real figure may be much higher. 3012 people were recorded to be in detention.

Speaking on CNN on 7 April 2021, Dr. Sasa, the newly elected Union Parliament of Myanmar Special Envoy to the United Nations called upon the international to “act now, before it is to late. If the international community does not act, there will be a bloodbath and a full civil war.”

He called for:

• Strong international action against the military regime.

• All finance and military support to military regime to be cut off.

• For China and Russia to stand with the 54 million people of Myanmar rather than with the military generals. Otherwise they risk, he said, “relationship suicide” with the people of Myanmar. “The people of Myanmar will not forget.”

• For accountability for the military generals for the war crimes committed during the last 72 years.

HART is proud to support humanitarian projects in Burma/Myanmar. Despite the great hardships and fear – and the cutting off of communications – our partners have been continuing to support their local communities wherever possible. HART joins our friend Dr. Sasa in calling for international action to support the restoration of the elected representatives to their offices and the ending of military control.  It is time now for years of oppression, suffering and violence to be brought to an end.


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