03/10/2022 Myanmar (International Christian Concern) – On Tuesday, President Biden and multiple world leaders announced that the US and their respective nations would be banning the use of Russian oil and gas. This is the latest action in the international community’s swift response to the Russian aggression currently underway. While a response is necessary, it comes in stark contrast to the US responses to crises around the world.
For over two weeks now, the international community has been reeling in shock as Russian forces conduct a violent invasion against its neighbor, Ukraine, following weeks of unsuccessful negotiations. This brazen aggression against the Ukrainian people and their democracy has been one that was met with widespread condemnation by all but a few nations. The condemnation has come swiftly as major powers continue to deal significant blows to Russia’s economy, its gas industry, and its standing in the international community. While this is necessary to protect lives and end the violence, it has revealed a pivot from the hesitant policies being shown toward other humanitarian crises around the world. This includes the violent military campaign being conducted in Myanmar, a fledgling democracy shattered by brute force.
What is Happening in Myanmar?
The 2021 coup by Myanmar’s military, the Tatmadaw, saw quick international outrage as it removed its democratically elected government. They captivated the world as black SUVs sped toward the parliament complex too quickly to detain both President Win Myint and democracy icon Aung Sung Suu Kyi and prevent the new members of the National League for Democracy (NLD) from being sworn into power. The coup was met promptly by domestic unrest, and the military quickly acted to repel the opposition. These countermeasures by the junta cascaded into a violent campaign against its opposition, leading to an asymmetrical conflict among the country’s many ethnic regions. This has included predominantly Christian states like Chin, Kayah, and Kachin, alongside numerous regions that refuse to comply with the coup. The nationwide conflict has seen the use of artillery shelling, airstrikes, and coordinated raids on villages, burning homes and churches down in the process. This conflict has so far left nearly 1,600 civilians dead and almost 400,000 displaced as the opposition continues to fight for the restoration of democracy.
Similar Factors, Different Responses
We highlight this story as the parallels between these two aggressors are important, as the actions taken against Russia send a clear sign of where the western powers see vulnerability for these aggressive nations – their oil industries. The Myanmar junta, now the SAC (State Administration Council), gets much of its revenue from its ability to conduct business through its state-owned petroleum and natural gas company, MOGE (Myanmar Oil & Gas Enterprise). This entity has been a target for many in the human rights sector, who are calling for sanctions against it. Reducing the SAC’s revenue from MOGE would directly affect the ability to carry out its brutal campaign against its opposition, which has left countless Christians and other religious and ethnic minorities caught in the crossfire.
Unlike the EU, the US has avoided targeting their most critical source of revenue; the US has targeted Myanmar’s other industries, including timber, gems, and even a restaurant in Yangon belonging to a family member of the SAC leader. Unfortunately, the violence continues. If these sanctions are not effectively creating a deterrent to violence, what has been the point? The decision to ban Russian gas from the US market was quick and did not require months of debate in congress. The action was justified by the American administration’s call to put its principles on the line in support of democracy, even if it is going to hurt at home. Unlike their swift moves against Russia, the US action against the Myanmar junta would be far less felt at home. Instead, the US has continued to deliberate similar sanctions for months now, leaving Christians and the wider civilian population still at risk.
While the US and wider international community zeroes in on Russia, it has allowed the SAC’s assault on democracy and ethnic and religious minorities to carry as attention is diverted elsewhere. Our response to the crisis in Ukraine is critical; however, we cannot allow other grave atrocities to occur once they slide from the headlines. The United States must not forget its key role in applying leverage against all authoritarian regimes’ ability to lay siege to its people. Following the example of Tuesday’s actions, the US government must put pressure on the SAC’s revenue, secure the humanitarian provisions working through congress, and prevent the junta from expanding their assault on Myanmar’s civilians. Only by cutting their lifeblood can they stop the violence against civilians, their rights, and their livelihoods.
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