Like most days in Naypyidaw, Burma, Feb. 1 was both hot and humid. However, unlike most days, Feb. 1, 2021 was the day that the fears of so many in Burma and across the world were realized. The military coup that occurred in Burma was an affront to democracy and human rights, but unfortunately, it is nothing new for the Southeast Asian state. In 1962, the Burmese military, also known as the Tatmadaw, overthrew the democratically-elected government and installed a centralized authoritarian regime. That regime was deposed in 1988, only for the military to assume control again shortly after. The military junta then renamed the country the Union of Myanmar in order to distance the country from its colonial past and exert an even further level of control over its people. To this day, the name Burma is still used by a significant portion of Burmese people when referring to their home. This time, the military held elections, but when the results didn’t favor them, a new crackdown took place and the country remained under military rule until 2015. In 2015, elections were finally held and the National League for Democracy (NLD) party won easily. However it wasn’t quite that simple, as the military had made sure to reserve 25% of the seats in parliament for themselves and find a way to disqualify the most popular political figure in the country, Aung San Suu Kyi, from holding the office of President. Today history is repeating itself, with the military re-assuming control after recent election results that strongly favored the NLD. However, while all of this was happening, even more sinister events were occurring behind the scenes.
In recent years, the genocide commited by the Burmese military against the Muslim Rohingya minority has recieved international attention, attention that it has most definitely deserved. However, the Buddhist-dominated Tatmadaw in Burma has not only had their sights set on driving out the Rohingya, but a slew of other ethnic minority groups as well. These minority groups include the Shan, Kachin, Karenni, Rakhine and Karen, all of whom populate states on the border regions of the country. Many of the Karen, a Christian ethnic group who have been living in refugee camps along the Thai-Burmese border for years, have recently resettled in cities across Upstate New York, such as Utica, Oswego, Ithaca and Buffalo. These refugees carry stories, trauma and scars from the persecution they experienced at the hands of Burma’s tyrannical regime.
So all this having been said, it begs the question; What is being done? What has been the global response? Materially, nothing. The international community has failed to do little more than condemn the Tatmadaw’s actions via United Nations resolutions and some targeted sanctions. Earlier this month, the Biden administration froze U.S.-held assets of members of the regime, cutting off their access to over $1 billion in funds. The administration has indicated that it will continue to fund aid programs targeted at helping the Burmese people. But is any of this enough? No.
A NATO-style bombing campaign or military intervention similar to what was seen in Bosnia, Serbia and Montenegro in the 90’s is not the correct solution to the current crisis. But the status quo of statements of condemnation and UN resolutions have done little to remedy the plights of both the Burmese populous and the many minorities that make it up. Given the regime’s close relationship with China, the unanimous support of any resolutions from the UN Security Council is unlikely. Since the Biden’s administration’s sanctions, three protesters have been killed in the street, one having been shot in the head on the day before her 20th birthday. The military has also taken the opportunity to increase its persecution of people in both the Shan and Karen states. However, the way in which the Biden administration framed its action is a step in the right direction. A solution to this crisis will not be found through interaction or negotiation with the illegitimate Tatmadaw regime. Instead, any action, large or small, must be focused on realizing the will of the people — all of the people.
The Burmese people have taken to the street and they are calling for help, as they have been for decades. The difference this time is that the world is listening. But listening is worthless if the world is unwilling to take action. The Burmese military’s hold on power in the country needs to be broken. Economic pressure from countries like the U.S. is a good start, but the regime has survived this long and it will survive even longer unless the international community commits to restoring rule of the people by the people. The world cannot allow Feb. 1 to become just another in history, but instead, it should make sure it is the day that the Tatmadaw sowed the seeds of their own demise in Burma.