Press release February 1, 2022
Myanmar: Democratic States, International Organizations Must Redouble Efforts to Support Democracy One Year after Coup
Greater international pressure on the military junta is needed to protect democracy activists, hold human-rights violators accountable, and restore elected civilian rule in Myanmar.
On the one-year anniversary of the February 1, 2021, military coup in Myanmar, Freedom House issued the following statement:
“The Myanmar military’s attack on fundamental human rights and civil liberties demands a robust international response,” said Michael J. Abramowitz, president of Freedom House. “We call on the United States, fellow democracies, and regional and international organizations to continue denying the military junta the legitimacy it seeks, push for the liberation of Aung San Suu Kyi and other political prisoners, and resolutely support the people of Myanmar in their efforts to bring democracy and stability to their country.”
“Protest and dissent have been met with violent crackdowns, just one of the military’s dramatic human rights violations since the coup. Thousands of civilians have been targeted by the military simply for wanting a return to elected civilian leadership. In a sweeping crackdown on the media, the junta has also restricted internet and phone access, rescinded media outlets’ operating licenses, and arrested at least two dozen journalists for their reporting. More broadly, coup-induced conflict has displaced tens of thousands of people, and millions of people have suffered from severe disruptions to Myanmar’s financial system and economy.”
“Alleviating the crisis in Myanmar requires a concerted international effort to increase pressure on the junta. The United States’ and other governments’ economic sanctions targeting military leaders and military-owned businesses should be expanded, adopted by other nations, and respected by multinational corporations. The United Nations should step up its efforts to protect democracy activists from forced repatriation, bolster humanitarian aid within Myanmar, and lead the effort to hold human-rights violators in the military accountable for their abuses.”
Recommendations for International Action
- Governments, international organizations, and aid groups should provide rapid humanitarian assistance to the millions of civilians in dire need of basic necessities.
- Democratic governments and international organizations should support accountability for gross violations of human rights by calling on the UN Security Council to refer the situation in Myanmar to the International Criminal Court and pass a resolution placing an arms embargo on the Myanmar military.
- Governments should ensure that their diplomats in Myanmar support human rights defenders, including by monitoring trials and protests. The European Union and governments with policies on diplomatic support for human rights defenders should direct their embassies in Myanmar to prepare plans for adhering to such policies in practice.
- The United States and other governments implementing targeted sanctions against the Myanmar military and military-owned businesses, including asset freezes and travel bans, should strengthen global collaboration on multilateral enforcement, appropriate expansion, and rigorous monitoring of such sanctions.
- International financial institutions such as the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank should consult with civil society representatives from Myanmar on developing policies to prevent Myanmar’s military-owned enterprises from benefiting from international loans and grants.
- Multinational businesses with operations in Myanmar should ensure that neither they nor their suppliers fire or otherwise retaliate against workers who participate in prodemocracy protests.
- The United States and other governments should support the efforts of the National Unity Government (NUG) and other democratic actors in Myanmar to resist the junta and restore elected civilian rule using nonviolent means.
- The United States should increase engagement with governments across Asia to rally their support for efforts to peacefully restore elected civilian governance in Myanmar.
On February 1, 2021, the Myanmar military overthrew the country’s elected civilian government and detained more than 45 politicians and activists, including State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, President U Win Myint, and other senior political leaders. A one-year state of emergency was declared, and military commander in chief Min Aung Hlaing was appointed as Myanmar’s new leader. In August, Min Aung Hlaing named himself prime minister and declared that emergency rule would continue until August 2023.
The military targeted prominent civil society leaders and journalists through raids and arrests, and it disrupted internet and telecommunications systems. The military’s digital control efforts have continually escalated, with increased restrictions on mobile and other internet services, blocks on major social media platforms and websites, and constraints on online reporting. Two months after the coup, the military ordered all telecommunications companies to cut wireless internet access across the country indefinitely. It has not yet been restored.
The coup triggered a wave of protests and a civil disobedience campaign involving nationwide strikes and boycotts. A broad coalition of former elected officials, leaders of ethnic organizations, and other opponents of the coup formed the National Unity Consultative Council (NUCC) to unify opposition to the military junta. This led to the formal establishment of the NUG in April 2021. Over the last six months, resistance to the regime has grown increasingly militarized, exemplified by the formation of a People’s Defense Force (PDF), which carries out armed attacks against the military. The military is now trying to crush the PDF and other localized movements with extreme violence. According to the most recent UN special envoy on Myanmar, the country is now on the verge of full-scale civil war.
As of January 31, 2022, 1,503 people, including children, are reported to have been killed on the streets or in their homes by soldiers or police officers since the start of the coup. An estimated 8,835 people have been detained since the coup for supporting democracy in Myanmar. Violence against civilians, including well-documented violations of human rights, has escalated throughout the country and contributed to the humanitarian crisis in Myanmar.
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