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Green Is The New Black

Myanmar Coup: One Year of Social & Climate Injustice

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On February 1, 2021, democracy was brutally stolen from Myanmar. From what has been documented (and a lot hasn’t), 1,500 people have been killed by security forces, and nearly 9,000 have been detained. Civilians, teachers, doctors and fighters have fallen, while those living continue to build local and international power. Today, we are honouring this past year, and the social and climate justice Myanmar continues to fight for. Read on for a deep dive into what’s been happening and, more importantly, resources to boost the movement. 

#What’sHappeningInMyanmar—a brief introduction

Myanmar (or Burma) is located in Southeast Asia and is a member of the Association of Southeast Asian Countries (ASEAN) that stands for their built solidarity (and has continually failed). Throughout history, there have been incidents of conflict occurring between Myanmar’s religious ethnic groups (Shan, Karen, Rakhine, and more).

In November 2020, the National League for Democracy (NLD) party, led by Aung San Suu Kyi, won the country’s General Election by a landslide. However, Myanmar’s military—also known as the Tatmadaw—disputed the results, claiming voter fraud (this claim hasn’t been supported by independent election observers).

In February 2021, many NLD politicans, including Aung San Suu Kry, were put under house arrest as the Tatmadaw declared the election results invalid and announced a one-year state of emergency, in which they would take over.

Within weeks of the illegitimate coup, mass protests erupted across the country, with tens of thousands of people taking to the streets. Civil servants, healthcare workers, railway workers, students and more joined forces in the Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM). Entire associations of civil servants refused to work for the military. The Department of Social Welfare released a statement that read, “We will get back to work only after the power is handed back to the democratically elected government.” The Civil Disobedience Movement illustrated a vivid example: the real power belongs to the people.

What started off as a peaceful and non-violent struggle (which resulted in more people losing their lives) has now evolved into a concerted launch of the People’s Defence Forces (PDF)—this armed struggle against the Tatmadaw was not created top-down by the NLD but came bottom-up from the youth forming their own revolutionary networks. PDF is their response to the military’s ruthless killings: entire towns have had to flee because the military is burning houses and shooting people indiscriminately; they’re looting and destroying medical supplies, and disappearing medical practitioners.

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Is this normal? 

Military coups are never normal. In a functioning democracy (more on this soon), the military does not control the government. Throughout history, military coups have occurred when the civilian government failed in carrying out its duty (Aung San Suu Kyi, for example, ruined her reputation when she came to the International Court of Justice in 2019 to defend her country’s genocide against the Rohingya people).

The military may claim that it’s “saving the country” from the government but it is, in reality, just as invested in political and economic power. Throughout its decades of independence, Myanmar has struggled with military rule, civil war, poor governance, and widespread poverty. We have seen this before in Pinochet’s Chile, Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and Suharto’s Indonesia.

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Understanding the history and politics of Myanmar

After gaining independence in 1948, Myanmar continued to face constant conflicts between ethnic groups. This was a legacy of British “divide and rule”, which also occurred in other former colonies. Since the elected civilian government was unable to resolve ethnic conflicts, the Tatmadaw took control in 1962, promising to save the country from itself.

Myanmar’s military still has not turned over control to civilians. Rather, its authoritarian dictatorship has turned Myanmar into one of the most impoverished countries in the world. The 2008 constitution, written substantially by the military, provides the military with the “legal” power it needs to carry out its authoritarian activities. One of the articles in the constitution is Article 417: it allows the military to dismiss civilians and declare a “state of emergency”. An emergency rule has been imposed several times since 1988. And this is what the military did on Feb 1, 2021.

Over time, the people of Myanmar have now become more radical, more desperate, calling for a new society, one that starts with reclaiming control and abolishing the 2008 constitution which gives the military its political power.

What does Singapore, and the larger international community, have to do with Myanmar?

When the coup started in February 2021, Myanmar’s people called on the world to act and show meaningful solidarity. ASEAN was ready to work with the UN to put together a resolution for an arms embargo on Myanmar but two countries rejected the proposal: Singapore and Thailand.

International complicity doesn’t stop here. Over fifty private companies have refused to cut ties with the military and are still expanding their business while adhering to, and thereby serving, the Military’s demands and their financial needs.

Despite an overwhelming majority in Myanmar resisting the junta, it continues to receive support (directly or indirectly) from foreign investors. The international community, therefore, has a vital responsibility to ensure that the courageous efforts of the people in Myanmar to restore security, democracy, and justice outlast the violence of the junta. As Myanmar’s largest foreign investor, businesses in Singapore cannot claim that they are neutral. These investments continue to aid the junta in violently oppressing the people in Myanmar.

Activism In Crisis’ petition in solidarity with Myanmar puts it best: “As ordinary people [in Singapore], we have the power to tip the scales in favour of the people in Myanmar. We, the people, vote to keep politicians elected. We, the people, cook, clean, transport, write, create, build, serve, care, work to keep this country and the world functioning. We, the people, hold power. And we need to use this power to pick a side. Are you with the people or with the Tatmadaw?”

Climate and health justice

While we’re exposing the human violations that haven’t been addressed enough by international media, and continue to be swept under the rug by all countries complicit in funding the military for their own economic interests, it’s critical to remember that this is happening during the pandemic and a global meltdown.

The political crisis in Myanmar threatens the country’s climate and biodiversity as the progress made by the civilian government in improving its environmental regulatory framework is at risk of being reversed under the military. Myanmar’s military coup is linked to illegal deforestation—satellite images show evidence suggesting that Myanmar’s coup increased the risk of unsustainable deforestation in the country. The military wants to make quick cash. And China is one of its consistent buyers.

Tatmadaw has been, and is now resuming, building hydropower dams that will significantly change the course of important rives and displace indigenous communities. Their mining activities are also displacing minorities like the Moken people. As a result of climate change, unprecedented floods and droughts have been affecting farmers and coastal villages.

There’s more: the military is not allowing international aid for COVID and is punishing its own healthcare workers for standing up for themselves. The compound effects of the country’s historic poverty and the militaries have resulted in three fatal COVID waves as early as July 2021, with the death toll as high as hundreds of thousands. And this week, Omicron threatens to entirely overwhelm Myanmar’s health system. As of today, 14.4 million people are in need of humanitarian aid, 25 million are living in poverty and Myanmar is second highest in Southeast Asia in terms of exposure to natural hazards.

This is a climate and health disaster. And in the midst of it all, Simmone Ahiaku’s words at the People’s Health Hearing at COP26 are giving us hope and strength: “Climate justice in the context of abolition is considering a future that is people-centred, valuing our interconnectedness. Liberation is not about what we think is possible today, but broadening our ability to consider what is possible.” Myanmar, and the rest of the world, continue to dream of abolition: of the 2008 constitution, of the Tatmadaw, of consolidation of power and all corrupt forces that deny people their basic rights and humanity.

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Call to action 

If there is anything we want to come from this Conscious Scoop, it is for you to also take part in this revolution. This is written as a way to highlight international links and signal-boost Myanmar’s fight for democracy.

Pay attention to the voices of frontline Burmese activists and organisations: Documenting Myanmar, Thet, Humans of Myanmar, Listen Up Myanmar and #WhatsHappeningInMyanmar. If you can contribute: Liberate Myanmar is raising funds for the People’s Defence Forces and their daily needs; Mutual Aid Myanmar is redistributing money to healthcare workers and COVID relief. If you can’t contribute, keep the conversation going. Read witness poems and essays from Myanmar. Take this offline and have discussions with friends and family about these ties that are so often concealed from the public eye. If you are able to organise collectively in any other capacity, more power to you.

As the courageous people of Myanmar say: နိုင်ကိုနိုင်ရမယ် (Nine-Ko-Nine-Ya-Mal! We Must Win!)


FEATURED IMAGE: via Frontier Myanmar | IMAGE DESCRIPTION: A person gives the three-finger salute, a symbol of resistance and solidarity for democracy movements across south-east Asia, to thousands of demonstrators in downtown Yangon (February 7, 2021)

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