Unfortunately, most of the world has put the issue of the Junta’s repression on the margins of discourse while its forces keep attacking villages
That Myanmar’s junta’s savage repression of its people has few parallels in history, is known. If further proof was necessary, it was provided by its conduct during cyclone Mocha which hit the country on Sunday, May 14, killing scores of people and devastating it. Instead of rendering succour to the victims, which any government worth the name would have done, it used the storm as a cover to attack villages mainly in the Sagaing region, north-west of Mandalay, which has been a bastion of resistance to it and home to several militias, which are a part of People’s Defence Force (PDF), the armed wing of the National Unity Government (NUG), formed by some leaders of the National League for Democracy, founded and led by Myanmar’s icon of democracy, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, activists and representatives of several insurgent ethnic organisations and minor parties. According to reports, between 15,000 to 18,000 people, who feared the military more than the rain and the storm, fled from Kani and Khin Oo townships, when the offensives started, just when Mocha was about to break.
Such attacks are revolting but not surprising. Volker Türk, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, told the 52nd session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on March 6, 2023, that, overall, the military’s airstrikes against civilian locations increased by 141 per cent in the second year of its takeover, and its shelling of communities, including hospitals schools and places of worship, by over 100 per cent. On March 17, 2023, Noeleen Heyzer, United Nations special envoy to Myanmar told the 193-member UN general assembly that Myanmar military’s takeover of the country has had disastrous consequences. She pointed to the junta’s intensified use of force since the extension of the state of emergency on February 1, 2023, bombing, burning of civilian infrastructure “and other grave human rights violations to maintain its grip on power.”
While nothing is surprising in the junta’s action, there is disappointment over the response of the democratic countries of the world, including those of the Western hemisphere. It is not that they have done nothing. In February 2023, the European Union sanctioned 16 individuals and entities imposing an asset freeze and travel ban on them. This was in addition to the 93 individuals and 18 entities earlier subjected to the same measures, and orders barring all EU citizens from advancing funds to those sanctioned.
These measures, however, have not been enough with China and Russia actively backing the junta. Anna Roberts, executive director of Burma (Myanmar’s original name) Campaign UK, an advocacy group working for human rights, democracy and development in Myanmar, welcomed the February 2023, sanctions as being “right on target.” She, however, also pointed out that the EU was too slow in implementing these sanctions, adding that “the delay in cutting off the sources of revenue, arms and equipment” was costing lives.
She further stated, “Two years from the coup, there are hundreds of companies and individuals which should be sanctioned, have not been.” Amnesty International, Global Witness and Burma Campaign UK said on March 1, 2023, that Myanmar continued to receive aviation fuel, used in airstrikes, from companies in Asia and Europe, and they had identified more companies involved.
Nor has the United States done enough. On March 24, 2023, the US Department of Treasury designated two individuals and six entities connected with the junta, for helping the latter to continue perpetrating atrocities through the import, storage and distribution of jet fuel to Myanmar’s military. Before this, the US had imposed sanctions on 80 individuals and 30 entities in the country.
President Joe Biden announced on February 10, 2021, that his administration was “taking steps to prevent the generals from improperly having access to $1 billion of Burmese government funds held in the United States." The statement followed the Junta’s attempt on February 4 to empty the account, which was blocked by the New York Fed even before the coup. While the freezing of the funds was a good move, these should have been used to aid the resistance movement in Myanmar which requires both money and arms to fight the junta’s overwhelmingly better-armed forces enjoying unlimited air support.
The US and the EU’s approach to Myanmar have been in sharp contrast to their support to Ukraine which they have helped with huge amounts of sophisticated arms and money to counter the Russian invasion. Most of the world has put the issue of the Junta’s repression on the margins of discourse. Not surprisingly, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s son, Ko Htein Lin Kim Aris, said at a meeting in London on May 6, 2023, to hail King Charles III’s coronation, “Whilst the rest of the world have seemingly forgotten my mother and the situation in Burma, I know there are many people around the world who are doing their best to help and support them in these most difficult times.” Unfortunately, the people who are doing their best do not have perches in the corridors of power.
(The author is Consulting Editor, The Pioneer. The views expressed are personal)