The plight of Myanmar's people 11 months after military coup: Jakarta Post contributor

This photo taken on Oct 18, 2021 shows children attending a class in a temporary shelter at a camp for internally displaced people in Demoso, in Myanmar's Kayah state. - aafp

JAKARTA (The Jakarta Post/Asia News Network): "How many dead bodies does the United Nations need to consider responsibility to protest against military crimes against humanity on its people?" a protester's sign from Myanmar reads.

About six months after the coup in Myanmar, the Taliban captured Afghanistan, prompting the global media and international communities to express concerns and calls for the evacuation of thousands of Afghans. By Oct 20, 2021, the United States alone had evacuated nearly 70,000 Afghans.

The world's response to the plight of the people of Myanmar, who have been made suffer following the military coup 11 months ago, has been quite different.

The coup was launched in the early morning of Feb 1, 2021, before the resumption of a new parliament session for another term. President U Win Myint, State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and other elected government leaders were detained.

The military declared a "state of emergency" for one year to protect the sovereignty from election fraud results; however, no evidence has been found 10 months after the coup.

The coup leader, Aung Min Hlaing, immediately pledged to hold an election, but six months later, he declared himself prime minister and called for an election by 2023. Just after the coup, he eliminated his own military retirement age to enable him to hold on to power for life to protect his conglomerates.

Moreover, since the coup, the military has been trying to dismantle the National League for Democracy (NLD), the 2020 election winner.

The people of Myanmar experienced economic, social, cultural, religious and political hardship and pains under the military regime from 1962 to 2011, before the experimental democratic transition.

Therefore, they demonstrated peacefully by banging pots and pans and marched along the streets and via the civil disobedience movement (CDM) to convey their disagreement with the coup and demand restoration of democracy.

But the military deliberately shot the nonviolent protesters. The UN has been ineffective and failed to respond to the military's impunity, allowing the military to continue raiding and killing those who resist the coup.

According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, the Myanmar military has killed over 1,375 innocent civilians, imprisoned 11,202 others and issued 1,964 arrest warrants as of Dec 25, 2021.

The military has also continued to burn down homes, churches and other buildings across the country, in the same way they destroyed the homes of the Rohingya minority in 2017, leading to the exodus of about 700,000 people to Bangladesh.

Following the coup, military forces bombed and torched at least 200 homes, including religious buildings, in Thantlang township, Chin State, causing residents to flee across the border with India in October 2021.

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported that the number of newly internally displaced persons (IDPs) had exceeded 234,600 following armed conflicts since Feb 1, 2021. The report highlighted that 3 million people in Myanmar are desperate for life-saving humanitarian assistance.

Nevertheless, the military has used the Covid-19 pandemic to fight against its people by refusing all humanitarian aid for internally displaced people (IDP) and cross-border humanitarian intervention. Thousands of IDPs are trapped within the state and lack access to safe drinking water, hygiene and basic needs, particularly food, medical services and shelter.

As of November 2021, the Covid-19 death toll has exceeded 50 people at IDP camps in Kayah State's Demoso Township and Shan (South) State's Pekon Township. More than 50 individuals, including children, reportedly suffered from diarrhoea at one of the refugee camps near the Thai border in December 2021.

Meanwhile, the armed escalation and casualties in Myanmar are increasing every day; however, there has been no international action plan to evacuate the people of Myanmar, unlike Afghanistan.

On Dec 24, 2021, over 4,200 civilians were forced to flee to Thailand as the military conducted an airstrike against the Karen people.

When the world was celebrating Christmas, at least 35 individuals, among them a child, were murdered in Kayah State.

Regrettably, the UN's under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator, Martin Griffiths, said in a statement: "I call upon the authorities to immediately commence a thorough and transparent investigation into the incident so that perpetrators can be swiftly brought to justice."

Not only did the UN fail to protect innocent lives, but the statement also referred to the military junta as "authorities", which is misleading because there has been no legitimate authority or government since the unlawful seizure of power by the military on Feb 1, 2021.

The UN and any government should refrain from using terms that might be interpreted as recognition of the military junta as a legitimate government.

The coup has exacerbated political and economic chaos, adding to Covid-19 pandemic disruption. In the first half of 2021, over 200 garment manufacturers were shut down and at least 2.2 million full-time workers lost their jobs in Myanmar.

The UN Development Program has forecast that 25 million, or half of Myanmar's population, will be impoverished by 2022 due to the coup and Covid-19 disruption.

Consequently, the number of IDPs entering Thailand has surged significantly. In 2021, the Thai authorities deported over 30,000 people from neighbouring countries, many of them from Myanmar.

The Thai authorities should investigate the reasons for the irregular entry before deporting the IDPs. Considering the armed conflicts in several regions, those fleeing military persecution should be protected in Thailand in line with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Moreover, those who migrated for economic reasons or employment should be pardoned and offered legal registration to fill the shortage of unskilled labour in Thailand.

The UN should declare the National Unity Government (NUG) the legitimate government in Myanmar as the only way to restore democracy and address the humanitarian crisis there. The UN should work collaboratively with international and local humanitarian organisations to immediately vaccinate all people in Myanmar to avoid possible casualties from the Covid-19 pandemic.

Regretfully, the general population in Myanmar lacks vaccines, and the health system has crumbled since the military attacked medical facilities and medical workers for their participation in the CDM.

Everyone's life matters and access to health care is a fundamental human right. No one will be safe until everyone is safe in this pandemic, and no one should be left behind if the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) are to be met.

Failure to recognise the NUG would cause innocent people to lose their lives from conflict, the pandemic and hunger.

*** The writer is a PhD candidate in sociology and social policy at the School of Graduate Studies, Lingna University, Hong Kong.

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