We cannot ignore the military coup in Myanmar
Myanmar is fast descending into the very worst kind of military dictatorship, with arbitrary arrest and judicial murder as the main levers of state control. The UK government must step up the arms embargo on Myanmar.
On 1 February this year, the Tatmadaw, the Myanmar military, launched a coup d’etat against the democratically elected National League for Democracy (NLD) which won over 80% of the seats in the national elections, declared a so-called state of emergency and locked up their opponents including Aung San Suu Kyi.
The people of Myanmar are suffering the most appalling state-sponsored repression, violence and murder, and the world merely looks on. Protesters are risking, and losing, their lives to defend basic liberties and some semblance of democracy. In the UK, students from Myanmar have been on a three-day hunger strike to focus attention on the deteriorating situation in their home country. I have written to the Home Secretary demanding that students from Myanmar in the UK will not be forced back when their visas expire.
In Myanmar’s cities, thousands of pro-democracy protestors have taken to the streets. The country’s doctors and nurses, alongside many other public officials, walked out the day after the military deposed the democratic government, and refused to serve the tyrannical regime.
The sanctions imposed by the UK government do not match the scale of the emergency
The military’s response is to raid volunteer centres, threaten hospitals with closure, detain nurses and doctors, and deal out bloody punishment. If you want to understand the true nature of Myanmar’s thugs in uniform, just consider a gang that would order the arrest and torture of nurses during a pandemic. These are the same people responsible for carrying out a campaign of ‘genocide and war crimes’ against the Rohingya as concluded by the UN fact-finding mission. The military burnt homes, raped and murdered, and forced an entire people into exile. Today over a million Rohingya people live in refugees camps in neighbouring Bangladesh.
In Myanmar, the situation is getting worse. By the end of April, over 750 people have been killed by the junta. Over 3,400 have been detained, some under a death sentence. Reports from Karen state show the military is attacking villages with fighter jets, causing 20,000 refugees to head for Thailand, where shamefully the Thai authorities have turned them away. Myanmar is fast descending into the very worst kind of military dictatorship, with arbitrary arrest and judicial murder as the main levers of state control.
The sanctions imposed by the UK government do not match the scale of the emergency. The sanctions against Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd (MEHL) and Myanmar Economic Corporation (MEC) are welcome. I have been calling for this since the repression of the Rohingya. But sanctions must be further targeted at the military’s financial interests, including their stake in the insurance industry which makes up 83% of UK-Myanmar trade. Sanctions must be targeted like a laser on the regime, not the population.
The UK government must step up the arms embargo on Myanmar, and encourage all other governments to do the same. Our government must back calls to refer the regime to the International Criminal Court (ICC) and support The Gambia’s case against the Junta at the International Court of Justice (ICJ), in which they stand accused of genocide. The UN must resolve to condemn Myanmar’s regime. We know there will be opposition to this from Russia and China, but that should not mean silence from the rest of the UN.
This vicious coup d’etat cannot be allowed to succeed, not merely for the sake of the people of Myanmar, but for the sake of the region, and the world. If a military dictatorship can steal a nation, banish democracy, and enslave a people, what faith will the world have in international treaties, conventions and institutions such as the UN? What signal does it send to other putative military juntas around the globe? The fate of Myanmar cannot and must not be ignored.
Rushanara Ali is the Labour MP for Bethnal Green and Bow.