It has been a year since the military junta couped and took over Myanmar under broad daylight. The instance did not receive as much mileage as that of Afghanistan as the latter had an infamous terrorist organization overriding the takeover which enticed and attracted the global media. The chaotic and one-of-a-kind historic event took place on the first day of February 2021. The military takeover ousted the people’s elected government of Suu Kyi of the National League for Democracy party. The party was aiming to have another cushiony five-year term in the office after winning a landslide victory in November 2020 elections, however, the military of the country slated them out waging a mutiny against it. The military believed that the elections were grossly rigged and even accused the ruling party of widespread voter fraud in polls. However, the ruling party and the common public refuted these accusations and a mass peaceful demonstration was followed after the military junta takeover. As a result, 1500 civilians have been killed during this armed insurgency leaving Myanmar akin to an open-air prison.
The first anniversary was observed with a ‘silent strike’ this year. The busiest streets and markets were closed as the resilient public defied threats of the military junta and stayed in their respective homes. Although much later the progressions, public resilience has garnered prominent global attention. The US standing in solidarity with the common public of Myanmar has imposed 27 sanctions until now. Ranging from Arms dealers to private individuals to even Military divisions, the US is strictly after Myanmar’s military and aims to maintain accountability in connection with the coup and the violence perpetrated by the regime.
Min Aung Hlaing – The new leader who propelled Myanmar back to Military Rule
Military commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing has taken control of Burma. He possesses significant leadership capabilities, and political influence and has successfully maintained the power of Tatmadaw (Myanmar’s Military). The 64-year-old general has spent his entire career in the influential military. During his active role in the military, he oversaw operations in north-eastern Myanmar, which led to tens of thousands of ethnic minority refugees fleeing the eastern provinces along the Chinese border. Along with organized violence against ethnic minorities, Hlaing has also been accused of murder, rape, and arson against his troops. Nevertheless, the military as well as the entire country continued to witness the supreme leader’s meteoric rise.
Democracy finally saw the light of the day in 2011, decades after military rule. The military remained active as a state agency under the tenure of Min Aung Hlaing. Soon, the military chief started to appear with Aung San Suu Kyi, the last State Counsellor of Myanmar, at public gatherings. While the new age of democracy was acclimatizing it to the age-old military rule, the military still had a 25% hold on the parliamentary seats thereby resisting Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party to amend the constitution and limit military power. Later on, in 2016-17 the military intensified a crackdown on the Rohingya ethnic minority leading many of them to flee the country. The military chief was however condemned internationally for the atrocities inflicted on the Rohingya Muslims. Moreover, the UN also categorically bashed the military heads of Myanmar, asking them to be investigated and prosecuted for the alleged genocide. Numerous sanctions have been already imposed on Min Aung Hlaing by both the US and UK in 2019 and 2020 respectively for his alleged role in ‘ethnic cleansing.
As Myanmar returns to military rule under the questionable leadership, of Min Aung Hlaing, the future of the country looks similarly bleak and dark as the present.
The world is collectively troubled, shocked as well as aggravated upon witnessing the current status-quo in Myanmar. In the months that followed after the military coup, the State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi has been held incommunicado in a deserted house in Naypyidaw. A secret court is in session in the country’s capital presiding over the matter concerning the Suu Kyi. So far, she is already been found guilty in the initial batch of verdicts.
On the other hand, global powers the US, UK, and Canada have imposed coordinated sanctions on Myanmar, especially focusing on senior military officials. The sanctions have also been cherry-picked and directed against the officials including the newly-appointed chief of the air force, General Htun Aung who is alleged to be linked in the arms trade in the military’s brutal crackdown on the general public. The US has further imposed measures against the 66th Light infantry Division, an army unit alleged to have burned 30 civilians alive in their cars. The United Kingdom has also imposed stringent sanctions on military officials. Asia Amanda Milling, UK Minister in her released statement remarked that the sanctions target those who are instrumental in supplying the military with weapons that facilitate the atrocities and violence across the country. The UK aims to defend the right to freedom, democracy, and rule of law and hold the present regime in Myanmar of its suppressive and brutal outlook. Canada, following the footsteps of the US and UK, has outrightly blacklisted four individuals including the Air Force Chief, and two companies.
The data of death counts have clocked over 1700 people since the crackdown. The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners has further expressed its concerns over the conditions of political prisoners under banishment. Attesting to the concerns, fourteen sketches have been smuggled out of Myanmar’s Insein Prison. One of the drawings depicts dozens of men crammed into a single room, hunched with their knees together leaving no space for even a gush of air. Furthermore, interviews with eight former prisoners also offered a rare glimpse into one of the most notorious prisons in the country. In addition, the former inmates also remarked that the colonial-era facility in Yangon is infested with rats and rodents. Moreover, the place is flush with corruption with inmates having to pay for sleeping space on the floor. Nyi Nyi Htwe, the prisoner who smuggled the sketches boldly mentioned, “We’re no longer human behind bars”. The International Committee of the Red Cross which ensures humanitarian protection and assistance for the victims of war have also blamed the country for denying them access to the jail. Also, while the world underwent a momentous vaccination drive, the prisons witnessed a surge in covid cases whilst having a namesake vaccination drive. At least 10 prisoners are suspected to have died from the disease.
Along with numerous allegations and accusations against the acts committed by the military junta, many other nations are significantly mum on the subject. As a result, the countries are facing a massive backlash from the supreme powers for not standing in solidarity with the common people of Myanmar. The military junta however has not let its international isolation dampen the mood. Myanmar hosted Russia, a fellow outcast after the infamous Ukraine invasion, on its Armed Forces Day. Needless to say, Russia shares a very close-knit and important relationship. While Russia has been a steady supplier of arms and ammunition to Myanmar, Myanmar was the first country to have come to the Kremlin’s defense after the invasion of Ukraine describing the attack as an ‘appropriate action’. China and Serbia have been other suppliers of piled weapons to Myanmar during the coup. However, Myanmar has had its reservations against China. The military tends to not have a sole fodder for weapons and therefore is in the quest for strengthening its relations with other countries like Russia, Pakistan, South Korea, Japan, Israel, etc., and diversifiy its list of defense partners.
Journalists in the country haven’t exactly been having a gaga time covering the crisis. May Yin, a local media journalist in her mid-20s, has had a traumatic year reporting the aftermath of the military coup. She stated that every day brings new breaking news and the conditions here are very grim and stressful. Journalists, though trained and accustomed to covering such war scales, still are subjected to serious detrimental effects due to the raging war. The effect is not just limited to disturbing events and incidents but also the vicarious and secondary traumas triggered by these chaotic episodes. As a result, the journalist experiences anger, lack of concentration, severe anxiety, helplessness, exhaustion, and breathlessness along with post-traumatic stress, sleeplessness, nightmares, and even insomnia.