World must Press Myanmar Military to Stop Violence and Suppression

In Myanmar, where the military has staged a coup, the armed crackdown on demonstrations calling for the restoration of civilian rule is intensifying. The international community must increase pressure on the military to stop its violence.

Since the coup on Feb. 1, a “disobedience movement” has continued in Myanmar, with people boycotting their work as a means of expressing their protest against the military. About 1 million people took part in a general strike and walkouts spread at such places as government agencies, hospitals, railways and banks.

This can be said to indicate that the people, who have enjoyed freedom in the process of democratization in the past 10 years, do not want to return to an authoritarian military government.

The military has been trying to contain the situation by tightening controls, through such measures as restricting outings and blocking the internet, but it cannot bring the situation under control. The military apparently misjudged the strength of opposition to the coup.

Military and police forces have been firing at protesters in several cities every day. At the end of February, as many as 18 people were killed in one day. The use of guns to kill or injure people who are demonstrating peacefully can never be acceptable.

The seizure of power by the military lacks legitimacy, and an “election with multiple parties” that the military pledged to the people at the time of the coup cannot be expected to be fair.

Aung San Suu Kyi, who was the de facto leader of the government, has been charged with multiple crimes in rapid succession, and there are concerns that her detention could be prolonged. The National League for Democracy (NLD), led by Suu Kyi, has also been weakened, with many senior members deprived of the freedom to conduct political activities.

It is obvious that the military is aiming to ruin the political career of Suu Kyi, who enjoys great popularity among the public, and establish a military-led political regime. The international community must not allow the military’s outrageous actions to continue unabated.

The United States and Britain have imposed sanctions, including a freeze on the assets of Myanmar’s senior military officers, but such sanctions have limited effects. When dealing with the former military government, the United States had taken such measures as banning imports of Myanmar products.

However, while such severe sanctions can deal a blow to the military, they also cause serious damage to the livelihoods of Myanmar citizens. They could deepen Myanmar’s dependence on China as well. This seems to be a dilemma faced by the international community.

At U.N. Security Council meetings, China and Russia oppose applying pressure on Myanmar on the grounds of “noninterference in internal affairs of other countries.” There was no language even criticizing the military in the Security Council’s statement expressing its concern about Myanmar’s situation.

However, the rule of law and fundamental human rights are universal values that all countries should respect. Japan, the United States and Europe need to strengthen their solidarity and urge China and Russia to join them in calling on the military to exercise restraint and resolve the situation.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on March 3, 2021.