03/09/2021 Myanmar (International Christian Concern) – The international community seems unsure how to respond as the Burmese military junta ratchets up the pressure on pro-democracy protestors. The military is now occupying hospitals and universities in its search for protestors, and was even filmed beating medics who were providing medical aid to victims. Dozens have been killed and more arrested as protests grow and spread across the country.
The protests began almost immediately after the military seized control of the government on February 1, 2021 and have continued to expand since then. They are now in all the major cities and enjoy broad public support, including from the labor unions which imposed a nation-wide strike and have largely shut down industry across the country.
It is unclear how the protests will play out in the weeks and months to come, but in any case the Burmese people’s dogged resolution to fight for democracy and their decisiveness in doing so is remarkable.
Less than remarkable, however, is the international community’s response to the coup, which has mostly consisted of verbal threats to layer further sanctions on the Burmese military, or Tatmadaw, which has been under sanctions for years. General Soe Win of the Tatmadaw, in response to the threat of further sanctions, responded that “we are used to sanctions, and we survived,” adding that “we have to learn to walk with only a few friends.”
The United States followed through on its threats and has imposed a few sets of sanctions, including on March 4. However, most of these sanctions are expected to have minimal real-world implications given the very limited nature of trade between the United States and Myanmar prior to the coup. Earlier, the United States prevented the military government from withdrawing about $1 billion held at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
Actions like these are positive steps, but they don’t seem to have had any appreciable impact on the new military government. The violence against protestors is only increasing, and the Tatmadaw seems determined to consolidate its grip on power through whatever means necessary.
The Tatmadaw has a long history of oppression against religious and ethnic minorities around the country, including its population of largely Muslim Rohingya and the largely Christian Kachin people. Police raided the Kachin Baptist Convention in Lashio on February 28, detaining and beating eleven Christians including four ministers and seven youth.
Incidents of religious persecution are common in Myanmar, perpetuated mainly by the Tatmadaw. Observers are warning that the military’s consolidation of power in the coup will only make things worse for religious minorities, and urge the international community to take meaningful action against the abuses being perpetrated by the military regime.
Sanctions and the freezing of assets are a good first step, but more must be done. Sanctions should be aimed at the heart of the junta’s ability to function economically rather than targeting small areas of trade on the periphery. Myanmar Economic Corporation and the Myanma Economic Holdings Limited are two large, international business conglomerates helping to fund the military junta. Sanctions on these could have a negative ripple effect on the people of Myanmar, but so does not doing anything.
China and Japan are two countries that deserve to be watched particularly closely as the international community weighs the appropriate response to the coup. Japan has seemed hesitant to join the international community in its strong condemnation of the coup, and not only has a close relationship with the Burmese military but has a long history of monetary support for the country. For its part, China vetoed a UN Security Council statement condemning the coup in an unsurprising show of support for its longtime ally and economic partner.
The international community must consider how it can effect real change in Myanmar and what it can do to prevent countries like China and Japan from softening the impact of the international community’s attempts to pressure the Tatmadaw. Myanmar’s pro-democracy protestors and religious minorities alike need the concerted support of the international community.
For interviews, please contact Alison Garcia: [email protected].