Myanmar: new international sanctions as the junta increases its abuses against its opponents

Myanmar of new international sanctions as the junta increases the abuses against its opponents

Two days before the second anniversary of the seizure of power by the military junta in Burma, several countries led by the United States tightened their sanctions against Naypyidaw on January 31. The anti-democratic regime continues to flout freedoms and human rights, and the army regularly commits massacres targeting the population. So far, international protests have not been enough, and sanctions have been timid.

We were far from the pot concerts and strikes of 2021 to denounce the coup d'etat on February 2. The streets of the big cities of Myanmar (the other name of Burma) were deserted on the occasion of the anniversary of the coup d'état of 2021, the inhabitants intended to protest against the stranglehold of the military on daily life, as the last year. Millions of the country's inhabitants went on strike in silence, many businesses remained closed. 

Behind this decision, the call on Twitter of the Movement for Civil Disobedience, like exactly a year ago. This informal organization emerged in the wake of the arrests of various elected officials by the military, including Prime Minister Aung San Suu Kyi and President Win Myint.

On the very day of the coup, the Movement had called on Burmese people on Facebook not to recognize or participate in the activities of power. Of the one million civil servants in the country, more than 400 were already no longer serving in August of the same year, according to the government, and many are in hiding. The more or less calm demonstrations had even taken place in Naypyidaw, the capital built for the military, where a 20-year-old woman was the first civilian to die, shot in the head.

Thanks to a constitution reworked for its own benefit by the army in 2008, the military held sovereign ministries in the government led de facto since 2016 by Aung San Suu Kyi, former opponent of the junta and winner of the Nobel Prize in 1991, as well as than a quarter of the seats in parliament.

Thus, on many issues, Aung San Suu Kyi had to deal with the military. The latter, however, decided to regain power from the one she had placed under house arrest in 1990 and 2010 after her party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), won the legislative elections, canceled by the army. General Min Aung Hlaing, head of the armed forces, was on the eve of his 65th birthday, the age limit for his function, and the victory of the NLD in 2020, more important than in 2016, left little doubt as to the fact that President Wint Myint, from the majority party, would appoint an army chief more in line with the country's democratic aspirations. 

The arrests at the head of state were based on pretexts deemed fallacious, the leader was accused of electoral fraud, mismanagement of Covid-19 or even illegally importing radio communication devices. A thousand people were killed in the protests, including minors, while Aung San Suu Kyi, then 77, was sentenced to a cumulative 33 years in prison, after several sham trials, the last of which dates back to December 30, 2022.

Sentenced to four years in prison, Wint Myint revealed that the military had pressured him to resign claiming health problems. The United States and the European Union had notably denounced "an affront to justice" and the "general dismantling of democracy and the rule of law". About 13 opponents are currently imprisoned.

Quite ineffective sanctions that do not prevent the army from equipping itself

The new wave of sanctions decided by the American, British, Canadian and Australian governments consists of freezing the assets of regime executives and public companies in the energy sector. Washington is targeting in particular the Myanma Oil and Gas Enterprise which benefits the army the most financially, the Tatmadaw. The purpose of the sanctions is to financially drain the military deployment capabilities of the junta, which fights rebels from minority ethnic groups, and kills pro-democracy supporters and other unarmed civilians.

Until then, Naypyidaw has not yielded to international sanctions and has kept the people under an iron yoke while pursuing its policy of ethnic cleansing, summary executions, arbitrary detentions. The latest measures aim to compensate for sanctions that do not sufficiently isolate the junta.

"The population continues to reject the coup and to resist, but the international community has not taken action to stop the junta," observed Yanghee Lee, former special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the country. John Sifton, the director of the Asia region at Human Rights Watch quoted by Les Échos, agrees and notes that "the measures taken so far have not imposed sufficient economic pain on the junta to compel it to modify his conduct."

The Burmese may protest, the army controls the big cities and the main roads, and the regime benefits from its links with China which, if it has condemned the military violence, refused to join other members of the UN Security Council in favor of sanctions. However, Burma's commercial relations mainly take place with its powerful neighbour, which reduces the scope of international sanctions.

In addition, the junta still receives military equipment and raw materials from Western and Asian countries, according to a Guardian article dated January 16. The paper cites the Special Advisory Council for Myanmar as accusing companies based in various Western and Asian countries of delivering equipment to Myanmar's Defense Industries Directorate. This allows the power to devote nearly 3,5% of its GDP to the army while the country is not threatened by any of its neighbors. The army's main targets are rebels and unarmed civilians from minority groups, independentists or not, in a country where a third of the population is not of Burmese ethnicity and is considered an obstacle to homogeneity.

Massacre of villagers and destruction of religious buildings

The international press has repeatedly evoked the fate of the Muslim Rohingyas persecuted by the regime - whose militia itself massacred Hindu villagers. Christians are also targeted by the army. Between attacked civilians and self-defense militias, the community which represents 8% of the Burmese population is confronted with the hostility of the power which does not hesitate to strike the villages spontaneously or in retaliation for the raids carried out by the various self-defense groups. .

This is particularly the case in the state of Chin where 85% of the population is Christian, or even in the state of Kayah (46%) and that of Kachin (34%). The predominantly Christian Karen National Liberation Army had attacked a regular army base nearly two months after the coup and a three-year truce.

The army, which had heavily persecuted Christians before the democratic transition, tried to seduce religious communities after the coup, General Min Aung Hlaing visited Buddhist monasteries and Christian churches. The junta ended up changing strategy in the face of the refusal of religious leaders to accept the overthrow of the legitimate authorities, and again attacks Christians, but also Buddhists (88% of the population) by putting forward reasons of public order. The soldiers do not hesitate to bomb Buddhist monasteries, even full of civilians, in areas where the Burmese are not the majority ethnic group. The army multiplies the raids on the villages, reducing the residences to the state of rubble.

The 30 December 2021, the Tatmadaw burned down two evangelical churches in Chin State. The day before, 40 Catholics had just been buried in the martyr village of Mo So, in Kayah State, they had been burned in their cars by the military on December 24.

Among the victims were women and children, as well as two aid workers from the NGO Save the Children. "Their hands [were] clenched, raised, clutched: they were the hands of people dying in the flames and trying to escape the furnace", told Le Monde a humanitarian worker who saw the remains.

The crime was condemned by the UN and the United States, without affecting the repressive policy of the regime. On January 15, soldiers attacked Chan Thar, a predominantly Christian village, destroying 500 houses there and burning down the old Church of the Assumption and a convent of Franciscan nuns. 

On February 1, the government announced the six-month extension of the state of emergency, which was to end at the end of January, raising doubts about the organization of the general elections supposed to take place no later than August. The following day, he imposed martial law on 37 municipalities, presaging an increase in violence against civilians.

Jean Sarpedon

Image credit: Shutterstock/ R. Bociaga

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