Op-ed: Understanding Myanmar’s coup: Could a military insurrection halt a genocide? –
On Feb. 22, huge crowds gathered in Nay Pyi Taw, the capital of Myanmar, to mourn the death of Mya Thwe Thwe Khaing, a young woman who was shot in the head during protests against the military coup. At least 138 people have died in these protests, and the murders will only continue to mount. These young protestors face a violent military that is responsible for the murder of many civilians since the late 20th century. Older Burmese citizens support these young and outspoken civil rebels, but because of the brutal history of the military and the haunting memory of such atrocities, it is the young people who lead the way, and, thus, are the ones being killed. Myanmar, which was formerly Burma until 1989, when the State Law and Order Restoration Council changed the country’s official name, has, for almost two months, been the site of political upheaval, a military coup d’etat and violent protests. Concurrently, the government and military have been committing genocide against the Rohingya people of Rakhine State.
On Feb. 1, the military — the Tatmadaw — seized power and declared a state of emergency for one year, following a general election in which the country’s former ruling party, the National League for Democracy, won in a landslide. The country’s de facto ruler, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, a longtime pro-democracy activist and Nobel Prize winner, was charged for violating the nation’s Natural Disaster Law. Along with many other NLD officials, she has been detained.
Currently, the military’s commander in chief, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, leads the coup; he has received international condemnation, but, other than hurting his international reputation, no actions have been taken to stop him and the coup. President Joe Biden, along with the United Kingdom, ordered sanctions against the military. Biden stated, “The military must relinquish the power it seized and demonstrate respect for the will of the people of Burma.” On social media, the United Nations Secretary General, António Guterres, articulated his disappointment in the military takeover, stating that it was a “serious blow to democratic reforms.” However, this international reaction to the coup fails to bring to light serious faults in human rights advocacy, in the infrastructure of the U.N., in the concept of Westphalian sovereignty and in the factor of national interest in response to mass atrocity.
On Jan. 23, 2020, the International Court of Justice in The Hague unanimously ruled on the case brought by The Gambia alleging that Myanmar has been committing genocide against the Rohingya, and thus has breached the 1948 Genocide Convention. Within this momentous decision, the ICJ ruled that there was prima facie evidence that Myanmar breached the Convention, rejecting Aung San Suu Kyi’s defense of her country’s actions; this means that it “appears” that genocide has occurred, but it is The Gambia’s responsibility to prove this in trial. Further, the ICJ ordered Myanmar to implement emergency measures to protect the Rohingya against violence and to preserve evidence of possible genocide. Nevertheless, this genocide has not been halted.
The Rohingya crisis is founded upon more than 60 years of deep hatred and discrimination intensified by decades of civil war. Since the late 1940s when Great Britain ended its colonial rule over Burma, Myanmar has been entangled in on-and-off ethnic conflict. Since its independence, the central government of Myanmar has fought the world’s longest continuing civil war against several of its 135 minority ethnic groups, which makes it one of the most ethnically and religiously diverse countries in Asia. It is a multi-ethnic, multireligious and polyglot nation, but Bamar people are the predominant ethnic group, dominating Myanmar’s government and military.
Suu Kyi guided Myanmar against a backdrop of raging nationalism. She won a revolutionary free and fair election in 2015 by a landslide,…