Myanmar’s military-controlled government has extended the state of emergency for another six months and has failed to its promise of holding new elections in the country. After one year of execution of four democracy activists, two and half years of the military coup, and five and half years of the Rohingya exodus, violence and human rights crisis in Myanmar is at record high. Myanmar’s military Junta has been engaged in suppressing the pro-democracy movement and in a violent conflict with ethnic minorities. The military regime s motive to crush the people s motive is further embolden by the influence of external actors, Russia, and China. This blog post highlights that the continued offensive operation by military-led government in Myanmar fuels human right crisis and instability in the Indo-Pacific region.
Military Assault to Defeat Democracy
Myanmar’s military-controlled government has declared a six-month extension of the state of emergency, set to commence on July 31, 2023. This move indicates the military junta s intention to delay the national election in the country. The news of extension of emergency sparked U.S. concerns as State Department s spokesman Matthew Miller said, the United States is deeply concerned by the Burma military regime s extension of the state of emergency, which comes as the regime plunges the country deeper into violence and instability. It is worth to mention that Myanmar’s military regime has violently suppressed the pro-democracy movement since it overturned the democratically elected government in February 2021. Military rulers have been heavily cracking down on protesters and activists and sentenced thousands to prison after the military coup in 2021. As per the recent report an estimated of more than 6,000 civilians were killed and more than 1.6 million displaced after the coup in 2021. A significant setback to the resistance movement was when the ruthless Military executed four democracy activists, including an ex-Lawmaker, in July 2021. Furthermore, the democratic leader Aung San Suu Ki, has been facing a litany of charges ranging from election fraud to corruption and held in solitary confinement in prison by the military ruler. However, the military regime has recently reduced her jail term and sent her to house arrest.
Notably, the ASEAN and the world leaders have registered a heap of condemnation against the Military’s assault, horrific crimes, and deteriorating human rights situation. The military junta’s actions are unmoved by the sanctions imposed by several countries, including the United States and Britain and European Union. On July 13, 2023, ASEAN’s Foreign minister condemned the violence by Junta’s mighty military forces. Even the ASEAN’s decision to ban Myanmar from its regional meeting was lashed by the Junta leaders, who defied ASEAN’s ‘five-point consensus’ despite its adoption in ASEAN’s meeting in 2022.
Rohingya: In a state of Emergency
After more than five years of the Rohingya exodus, the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) officially announced it as a ‘protracted situation’ while seeking no solution yet for the safe and dignified return of Rohingya to Myanmar. The fueling human rights crisis led to almost one million Rohingya refugees being forced to live in Bangladesh’s Cox Bazar, now the world’s largest refugee camp. The Rohingya, a stateless Muslim minority in Myanmar, started fleeing and being displaced in 1990 due to violence against ethnic minorities by the military regime. However, the latest exodus began on 25 August 2017 due to the ‘clearance operation’ by the military Junta in Rakhine State and other minority inhabitant regions of Myanmar. Therefore, the violence drove more than 742,000 to seek refuge in Bangladesh.
As per the UN reports, over a million Rohingya refugees have been living in crowded areas and are entirely reliant on international aid that falls short for their safe and secure living. As UNHCR spokesperson Shabia Mantoo stated, "With decreased funding, they face many challenges in their daily lives." Multiple human rights assessment surveys and research studies show the dire need for shelter materials, sanitation, and proper nutrition in refugee camps. The safety of women and children is often unnoticed, and the violence against them is "shrouded in stigma." Many of them embarked on dangerous boat rides to seek a better future.
Despite crucial international aid and assistance from the United Nations and other stakeholders of the international community, Rohingya have been living in a very deprived situation. There has been high-profile visit of the UN representative, Noeleen Heyzer, UN Special Envoy to Myanmar, followed by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, amid growing pressure for the repatriation of Rohingya refugees. However, Rohingya have no assurance of their safe and sustainable return and the pathways to citizenship,
Foreign Influence and power competition in the Indo-Pacific
Myanmar’s geographical location connects it to the Bay of Bengal in the Indian Ocean, and its rich natural and marine resources make it Indo-Pacific’s fulcrum. Myanmar is the strategic pivot that connects South Asia to Southeast Asia. Its borders with China, Laos, Thailand, Bangladesh, and India, makes it a potential transport hub in the Indo-Pacific. Myanmar’s 2800 KM coastline access to sea routes makes it a strategic pivot for neighbors and others. In contrast, Myanmar’s military regime’s successive wave of brutality and violence followed by the coup in February 2021 makes it a pariah state in the international system; however, the military regime is much aligned with Russia and China.
China and Russia
Myanmar’s military junta heavily relies on; and influenced by Russia and China. Russia and China have geo-strategic interests in Myanmar; therefore, their unwavering support emboldens the military regime’s wrongdoings and crimes. Beijing and Moscow have been growing their economic and defense ties with Myanmar. China’s massive investment in Infrastructure, pipelines, and Special Economic Zone in Myanmar and has strong relations with the Military. On the other hand, the military junta buys arms, weapons, and ammunition from Russia to equip better it forces against the resistance movement. As per the new report, since the coup, the Myanmar military has imported at least $1 billion worth of arms and dual use goods to support the military s domestic arms manufacturing. According to the report, $406 million came from Russia, and $267 million came from China. It also states that 94% of all transactions went directly to the military junta. The visit of Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov to Myanmar after the coup shows solidarity and support for General Min Aung Hlaing. Russia and China in United Nations supported the military Coup. Given that Myanmar is strategically important in Indo-Pacific, friendly ties with the authoritarian junta will also be helpful in Indo-Pacific interests and in competing with the United States and its allies.
The decision of Myanmar’s military to extend a state emergency and use brute force to suppress the resistance movement is extremely concerning and poses a threat to regional security. The ongoing political violence and the plight of Rohingya refugees exacerbate the already dire human rights crisis in the Indo-Pacific. It is imperative that the international community, including the U.S., ASEAN, and other relevant parties, take decisive action to pressure the military regime into holding new elections and facilitating all-party meetings to ensure a fair and democratic election in Myanmar. Failure to do so will have severe consequences for the stability and prosperity of the region.