A military coup causing widespread chaos, violence and death, all in the name of a ‘true and disciplined democracy’. A humanitarian and political disaster is unfolding in Myanmar as we speak, and we must talk about it.

Myanmar (previously known as Burma) is a country in Southeast Asia, bordering Thailand, Laos, China, India and Bangladesh. 54 million people live in the nation which gained independence from Britain in 1948. However, it was ruled by the armed forces from 1962 until 2011, when a new government began ushering in a return to civilian rule.

After decades of military rule, the transition to a civilian-led government was inevitably going to be a complex process. Although the transition started with promise, the military maintained their leadership and are now back in charge of the nation. The military seized control following a general election on February 1st, where Ms Suu Kyi’s NLF party won by a landslide.

Suu Kyi was a long-time advocate for democracy in Myanmar, spending almost 15 years in detention between 1989 and 2010 in her pursuit of democratic reform and free elections. In 2015, she led the NLD (National League for Democracy) to victory in the first openly contested election in 25 years, and comprehensively claimed victory in the 2021 election.

The military refused to acknowledge the election result, claiming widespread fraud, despite there being no evidence to support these claims. As parliament opened for the new session, the coup took place, and military commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing has taken power.

His first decision was declaring a year-long state of emergency, providing time for his military officials to gain control of the nation. However, with public opinion significantly opposing the military’s role within Myanmar’s political sphere, protests over the coup have occurred across the country. The military has aimed to control the protestors by imposing curfews and limits to gatherings, but these have been largely ignored by civilians.

Therefore, military officials have resorted to extreme violence in an attempt to gain control. On March 27th, more than 100 people were killed during protests. It is now estimated that since the February 1st military takeover, at least 550 civilians have been killed. Threats of lethal violence and arrests of protestors have failed to suppress daily demonstrations across Myanmar, demanding the military step down and reinstate the democratically elected government.

The international reaction to the disaster unfolding in Myanmar has been mixed. A group of 45 former world leaders, including former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, had earlier in the week written to the UN secretary-general calling for the security council to intervene and the Responsibility to Protect principle to be invoked in Myanmar. Other governments and multi-national corporations have also condemned the actions of Myanmar’s military; however, China’s continued reluctance to impose any sanctions is hindering any progress.

China is simply hoping that everything will somehow work out. China’s ambassador to the UN said this, “One-sided pressure and calling for sanctions or other coercive measures will only aggravate tension and confrontation and further complicate the situation, which is by no means constructive”.

China is a critical body in ceasing the conflict; however, they have no intention of taking any action other than standing still and hoping that somehow the conflict will stop, and everyone will miraculously become best friends.

Constant pressure on the Myanmar military to step down is the only way I can see this conflict ceasing. It won’t happen instantly, but consistent sanctions and condemnation could lead the military to choose another option. My fear is the continuation of violence and the increasing number of casualties in  Myanmar. Citizens are desperately trying to protect the democracy that they pursued and advocated for decades. I won’t ever completely understand your hardship, but I can understand your passion and desire to fight for what you created.

We need to talk about it. We need to talk about the nature of Myanmar. We need to talk about the injustice and how the military undermined the democratic system of government in pursuit of it’s individual ambitions. When we talk about it, those conversations can expand and spread, and there we can find hope of a peaceful solution.

I stand with the People of Myanmar.

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