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Myanmar’s Unrelenting Crisis: Aung San Suu Kyi’s Imprisonment, Atrocities, and the Plight of Refugees

by: Jyro Godwin Batibot – August 17, 2022

The Nobel laureate has been under arrest since last year's military coup [File: EPA - aljazeera.com]
The Nobel laureate has been under arrest since last year’s military coup [File: EPA – aljazeera.com]

When National League for Democracy’s (NLD) leader—Aung San Suu Kyi, first got arrested in 1989, a whole barrage of charges kept coming her way as an aftermath of her protracted battles to ‘restore’ democracy. This dragged on even after her husband was fatally struck by cancer in March 1999.

Countless trials and arrests, both domestic and international, have kept her occupied for decades. And although 2021 welcomed her with an electoral victory, the coup’s occupation had her facing 10 more charges, all punishable with a maximum jail sentence of 150 years.

Just recently, Suu Kyi had been under relocation to solitary confinement in prison. Despite the public’s incredulity over the regime’s course of action against her, her captors expressed assurance of the act’s strict alignment with Myanmar’s criminal laws.

“In accordance with laws … [Aung San Suu Kyi] has been kept in solitary confinement in prison” Zaw Min Tun— Myanmar’s Deputy Minister of Information, has shared.

The Human Rights Watchers, sharing the same sentiments with Suu Kyi’s supporters, have dismissed the verdicts as nothing but a “circus of secret proceedings on bogus charges”.

Monitors say more than 2,000 civilians have been killed since the military seized power in a coup in February 2021 [File: Stringer/EPA]
Monitors say more than 2,000 civilians have been killed since the military seized power in a coup in February 2021 [File: Stringer/EPA – aljazeera.com]

ATROCITIES

Meanwhile, in the battlegrounds of the crisis’s epicenter, during the course of various cases of aggression, the conflict in Myanmar has cost the country an estimated number of 2,000 citizens, with more than 11,000 still behind bars.

And in the process of ridding the current regime of opposition, the junta have decimated hundreds of activists, even if they do not pose a physical threat.

Subsequent acts of violence were committed to quell armed uprisings, utilizing warfare tactics ranging from arson, artillery or even bombings.

Children weren’t also able to escape from the clutches of atrocities, as 142 and 1,400 of the aforementioned 2,000 and 11,000 are children, respectively, that were exposed to torture, unlawful detention, or even death.

As per the residents in Saigang region, their homes within a village were torched down by the junta. It has been a battlefield for an informal militia’s resistance against the junta troops.

“Over 200 houses were burned down … my house was totally burned down, only the concrete foundation is left.” Testimonies from residents were confirmed using cross-examination from drone footage and geolocation. Validation from NASA was also secured, with fires being seen within the proximity of both the affected villages.  

“And they also burned motor boats that we use for transport and for carrying food for our village, including my boat.

“My life is ruined, as I have lost my home … and I [have] nothing left to do for a living.”

Despite allegations, the junta still deflected the blame to the militia. Insisting that the “terrorist” fighters have instigated the fire. The junta chief, in addressing the issue, has said in an interview that “efforts were made to minimize the casualties as much as possible in performing the counterattacks to terror acts,” and said additionally that “Now, the country is in tranquility.”

Refugees, who have fled a flare-up in fighting between the Myanmar military and armed groups, bathe in the river waters on the Thai-Myanmar border, in Mae Sot, Thailand, January 7, 2022 [File: Athit Perawongmetha/ Reuters]
Refugees, who have fled a flare-up in fighting between the Myanmar military and armed groups, bathe in the river waters on the Thai-Myanmar border, in Mae Sot, Thailand, January 7, 2022 [File: Athit Perawongmetha/ Reuters – aljazeera.com]

REFUGEES  

While the fiasco continues at home, some of the Burmese nationals have opted to cross borders to distance themselves away from their hometown in search for a temporary shelter. 800,000 refugees, since the beginning of the coup, had been displaced to both domestic and across-borders destinations such as Thailand and India.     

But even in refugee sites, conflicts still arose.

Statements from Human Rights Watch and Fortify Rights have included incidents of Thai officials reportedly seen occasionally ‘pushing back’ refugees, barring them from entering. But despite the accusations, the Thai government denies the validity of these events.

UNHCR’s Roussel-Hemery recounted that between June 29 and July 4, the Thai government posted that 1,429 refugees are currently within Thai borders; 802 people are sequestered in “temporary safe areas”.   

And in Malaysia, in spite of the UN correspondent’s request that “no circumstance should anyone who has fled Myanmar be refouled back to Myanmar”, a thousand of refugees were still extradited from the neighboring country.

A court order retracting Malaysia’s initial statements has later surfaced a moment shy after the refugees have already departed. Only 200 people have eluded deportation.  

UN expert Tom Andrews accuses the Myanmar military of actively targeting children in its crackdown on opponents [File: Stringer/EPA - aljazeera.com]
UN expert Tom Andrews accuses the Myanmar military of actively targeting children in its crackdown on opponents [File: Stringer/EPA – aljazeera.com]

 ‘Immediate coordinated action’

“States must take immediate coordinated action to address an escalating political, economic and humanitarian crisis that is putting Myanmar’s children at risk of becoming a lost generation,” a UN expert said to alarm the ‘powers that be’ as to the severity of the Myanmar debacle, urging them to unleash more drastic maneuvers to curtail the coup’s capacity to inflict prolonged suffering and harm.

The United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom have already spurred further action. The European Union (EU) has also done the same, extending their sanction’s reach to a state-owned oil enterprise, cutting off an important line that fuels the ongoing militancy.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which had housed Myanmar since 1997, alongside Malaysia, have fronted multiple diplomatic efforts to dampen the situation.

In the United Nations Security Council, concerted sanctions had been attempted, but are preempted by Russia and China, two of the military administration’s key confederates, as an enactment of their veto powers.

Facing multiple international condemnations and sanctions directed to the coup’s clique, Min Aung Hlaing, the spearhead of the junta, said still that a “true and disciplined democracy”, and a “free and fair” elections, are still their—SAC’s, primary endeavor.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov (L) and his Myanmar counterpart, Wunna Maung Lwin, during their meeting in Naypyidaw [Russian Foreign Ministry Handout/AFP - aljazeera.com]
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov (L) and his Myanmar counterpart, Wunna Maung Lwin, during their meeting in Naypyidaw [Russian Foreign Ministry Handout/AFP – aljazeera.com]

 The Russian visit

Sergey Lavrov, the Russian Foreign Minister, has recently rendezvoused this 3rd of August with his Burmese counterpart, Foreign Minister Wunna Maung Lwin. Lavrov and Lwin had been anticipated, according to Moscow, to have discussed matters involving security and economic issues.

Maria Zakharova, the spokeswoman of Lavrov’s—Russia’s foreign ministry’s office, has elaborated on the motives of the visit. Trade, political dialogue, defense and security, and humanitarian rites are the agenda, she stated, that the two ministers’ talks have revolved around.

“Myanmar has also seen in Russia a seller of arms and weapons, including high-powered jets which it’s using to fight against insurgents and rebels that oppose its rule, not only in the border regions but also in central Myanmar,” said Al Jazeera’s Tony Cheng, denoting the regime’s dependency on Russia for the acquisition of not just its guns and rifles, but also of its heavy armaments.

Lavrov has made clear of Moscow’s fidelity to its friendship with Myanmar as he portrayed the country as Russia’s “friendly and long standing partner”

The Russian minister also further bolstered the outlook of his country’s relationship with Myanmar by citing their long-spanning cooperation. “We appreciate the traditionally friendly nature of our partnership, which is not affected by any opportunistic processes,” and he added that they “have a very solid foundation for building up cooperation in a wide range of areas.”

Judge. Jury. Executioner.

Starting from the inception of the crackdown in Myanmar, countless dissenters have hitherto been targeted and killed by the ruling party.   

Just recently, a couple months back, Phyo Zeya Thaw, a legislator from Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy, was subjected to a sentence of death for his alleged transgressions against the anti-terrorism laws.

Ko Jimmy, also known as Kyaw Min Yu, a political activist, was also deemed fit to be punished with the capital offense.

Phyo Zeya Thaw was initially known as a hip-hop artist, dashing out pieces that displeased the previous junta. Back in 2008 he was imprisoned because of his affiliation with an illicit organization, and possession of foreign money. And had been blamed for an incursion that took five police lives, as well as several more assaults on regime forces.

Ko Jimmy, an activist who became popular in his role in the uprising at 1988, was arrested in a raid in October, and was also served a warrant of arrest in response to his social media post, that have, purportedly, caused disquiet among the populace.

‘…erosion of labor conditions’

“Eighteen months on from the military takeover, the employment situation in Myanmar remains very difficult,” ILO Myanmar Liaison Officer Donglin Li said, reasoning out that the instability brought by the coup’s seizure of power has resonated to the country’s economy negatively.

Latest facts and figures from the International Labor Organization (ILO) spells erosion of labor conditions, decrease in labor productivity, and deterioration of job quality.

“While there are limited signs of job growth, the ongoing erosion of labor conditions and the decrease in job quality is deeply concerning,” ILO Myanmar Liaison Officer Donglin Li explained.

Although the circumstances are dire for the Burmese people economically, the World Bank expects a 3% growth this year after an 18% dip in 2021.

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