Commentary: A crackdown in Myanmar could spark a humanitarian crisis

NEW DEHLI: On Monday (Feb 8), the authorities declared martial law in components of Myanmar’s second largest metropolis Mandalay and a township in the Ayeyarwady area in response to protests from a whole bunch of hundreds throughout the nation.

For the primary time since protests started following the navy coup on Feb 1, police have used a water cannon to disperse the crowds.

Then they fired live bullets in the air to intimidate protesters into standing down.   

In an imminent signal of a additional crackdown, the state broadcaster MRTV introduced that: 

Action should be taken based on the legislation with efficient steps towards offences which disturb, stop and destroy the state’s stability, public security and the rule of legislation. 

Those warnings got here amid calls from US President Joe Biden and different world leaders for the Myanmar generals to relinquish energy or face penalties. Even Pope Francis referred to as for the discharge of detained political prisoners.

READ: Commentary: Myanmar coup poses first foreign policy test for Biden on Southeast Asia

READ: Commentary: Myanmar military never had any intention of giving up power


The speedy escalation of the scenario because the coup a week in the past has shocked the worldwide group.

But few of us ought to be shocked given the nation’s lengthy navy rule of virtually 5 a long time (from 1962 to 2010). These new measures and warnings may be the start.

The navy management will resort to utilizing a lethal power by deploying the military on the streets in the event that they really feel pushed into a nook.

This occurred in the previous, in 1988 and 2007, when the military used lethal power to crack down on demonstrators.


Demonstrators stand off with police in riot gear at an intersection throughout a protest in Mandalay, Myanmar on Feb 9, 2021. (AP Photo)

During the 1988 demonstrations, hundreds had been killed by safety forces after college students took to the streets to protest the state of the financial system and lack of political freedoms. 

The protests additionally threw up a face for the pro-democracy motion, Aung San Suu Kyi, whose highly effective, historic speech on the iconic gilded Shwedagon Pagoda to a whole bunch of hundreds finally landed her in home arrest however not earlier than elevating a storm over the Southeast Asian nation.

The navy imposed martial legislation, banned public demonstrations and rounded up protesters. 

And even after they subsequently held these promised elections in 1990, the navy backtracked after Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) occasion gained 60 p.c of the favored vote and 80 p.c of the parliamentary seats (392 out of 485). Opposition figures had been rounded up.

Pent-up tensions since have often bubbled to the floor.

 The 2007 Saffron revolution noticed tens of hundreds of protesters, with monks main the cost, name for an finish to navy rule after a steep rise in gasoline costs sparked discontent. The navy authorities put the demise toll at 37 however opposition teams claimed a a lot increased quantity.

READ: Commentary: Why a military coup cannot be the solution in Myanmar

READ: Commentary: Myanmar’s coup – end of the power sharing arrangement between military and civilian forces?


There have been three successive navy coups because the nation’s independence from the British: In 1962, 1988 and 2021. The first coup was largely a cold one, the second probably the most violent and brutal, and it’s nonetheless early to say what the size of the 2021 coup will finally culminate in.  

Despite variations in the usage of power and the scale of casualties, frequent throughout all three has been the general public response. The folks have in all three cases strongly disapproved of a navy take-over of the nation. They have additionally expressed a need for democratic elections and free and truthful illustration.  

What stands out in the 2021 coup, nonetheless, is the navy leaders’ effort to painting themselves because the heroes standing up for the rule of legislation, the great of the nation and the preservation of what it calls the nation’s transition towards a “real and discipline-flourishing democracy”.

Myanmar military chief General Min Aung Hlaing declared that this time, things would be

Myanmar navy chief General Min Aung Hlaing declared that this time, issues can be “different” from the military’s earlier 49-year reign, which ended in 2011 AFP/-

The navy leaders could actually consider regardless of public protests that they’re the guardians of Myanmar and play a sacred function in stopping the nation from disintegration into turmoil.   

We can anticipate their actions to take reference from this hardline stance. Thus far, riot law enforcement officials have fronted enforcement actions towards demonstrators.

But if protests proceed, we can’t rule out the deployment of the military all through the nation, particularly in strategic places and main cities.

READ: Commentary: ASEAN can do better on Myanmar this time

The navy believes that they’ll face few, if any, repercussions from the worldwide group in the event that they must make use of power to perform what they see as safeguarding legislation and order. They know any actions the United Nation Security Council can take underneath Chapter VII of the UN Charter requires the consensus of all 5 everlasting members and a majority vote in the Security Council.  

As in the previous, China, backed by Russia, will doubtless block future makes an attempt to sentence Myanmar and will be counted on to veto the usage of power.

Any exterior intervention could also be framed underneath the United Nation’s Responsibility to Protect (or R2P) if developments present the authorities in Myanmar are endangering its personal folks, however even such situations are nonetheless vastly unimaginable.

READ: Commentary: Is COVID-19 the final straw for the United Nations?


Meanwhile, developments in Myanmar are coming to a head. It has solely been a few days however the dimension and variety of protesters have surged since Facebook outage was lifted, permitting extra demonstrators to coordinate.

Many managed to seek out a roundabout to remain linked to the surface world, even when web and telephone strains had been disrupted. There are reviews folks had been in a position to make use of a digital non-public community (VPN) to proceed to achieve out and keep linked to the surface world.

Protest against the military coup in Yangon

Women sporting pink ribbons maintain candles throughout a evening protest towards the navy coup in Yangon, Myanmar February 5, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer

Tens of hundreds of individuals decked in pink – the color of Aung San Suu Kyi’s occasion – protested on the streets of Myanmar, from NLD supporters to college students and academics, legal professionals, medical professionals, civil servants, textile employees, railway workers and extra. Motorists sounded horns in unison.

The protests have now unfold to many components of the nation – from the metropolitan cities to smaller cities in the China-Myanmar border in Kachin state and the India-Myanmar border in Sagaing area.  

These demonstrations have additionally been joined by Myanmar expatriates throughout the globe, from Washington to London and Bangkok and several other different cities, the place they’re placing strain on governments the place they reside to take motion. Thus far, journey bans, sanctions on people have been imposed by nations like New Zealand.

Though not everybody favored the NLD authorities and its type of management – together with how the Rohingya crisis was dealt with – the size and representativeness of those teams who’ve come collectively counsel the Myanmar populace share a frequent objective in wanting to finish navy rule.

READ: Commentary: International law has its limits in protecting the Rohingya in Myanmar

READ: Commentary: Why Myanmar voted overwhelmingly for Aung San Suu Kyi again

The navy had in spite of everything gone towards the selections of the Union Election Commission and violated the structure it drafted by not convening the National Defense and Security Council, the best safety physique, which requires the president to suggest or approve an emergency rule.   

Over the following few days and weeks, if the protests persist, we can’t rule out the navy resorting to a crackdown, as witnessed in the previous, to forcefully suppress the protests. Many lives could be misplaced. 

And if the protesters don’t give up, we additionally can’t get rid of the potential for a violent confrontation which could consequence in a humanitarian crisis.

Already, at the very least six navy vans and virtually 100 troops have been deployed on Tuesday to the principle Yangon procuring metropolis space, which has been a staging level for protests.

Myanmar Protests Explainer

Protesters collect outdoors the Hledan Center in Yangon, Myanmar, on Feb. 6, 2021. Protests in Myanmar towards the navy coup that eliminated Aung San Suu Kyi’s authorities from energy have grown in latest days regardless of official efforts to make organizing them tough and even unlawful. (AP Photo)

History won’t repeat however it certain rhymes. The final protests in 2007 noticed protesters seething. The Myanmar folks is likely to be much less forgiving this time round – when a professional election was robbed and the victors rounded as much as be silenced.

The occasions of this week bears uncanny resemblance to 1988. Except the protestors now have the digital instruments to organise themselves and coordinate actions.

Dr. Nehginpao Kipgen is a Political Scientist, Associate Professor and Executive Director on the Center for Southeast Asian Studies, Jindal School of International Affairs, O.P. Jindal Global University. He is the writer of three books on Myanmar, together with ‘Democratization of Myanmar’.

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