COVID-19 Op-ed

A Deadlier Pandemic: The Erosion of Human Rights and Democratization in Burma/Myanmar

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Neak Piseth
Founder of “The Way of Life Cambodia.” He received a scholarship to pursue his master’s degree in Education at Chulalongkorn University. He has been working as an English Lecturer at the Royal University of Phnom Penh and a reviewer at Cambodian Education Forum.

The Republic of the Union of Myanmar is a developing country nestled in Southeast Asia and has a fragile democracy. Burma/Myanmar was engrossed in cruel ethnic strife and has undergone one of the longest-running ongoing civil wars (Lwin & Lan, 2001). There have been ongoing reports of consistent and systematic human rights violations. There was a new turning point in the general election in 2010 in which the military junta were officially dissolved (Xixing, 2008).

State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi’s party, National League for Democracy (NLD), recently won the general election. However, the military’s predominant power remained intact with special privileges and authority in ruling the Burmese government. On 01 February 2021, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Burmese military illegitimately seized power by overthrowing the party by accusing the latter of election fraud. (BBC, 2021).

This immediately sparked reactions not just from civil society organizations but also from government leaders. Newly-installed US President Joe Biden “…called on the military to relinquish power and release detained officials and activists” (BBC, 2021). Moreover, Singapore and Malaysia have expressed their grave concerns over the military junta take over (Cuddy, 2021).

Two main scenarios could result from the intervention of international actors in the current Burmese case. The first scenario is that international actors will consider imposing economic sanctions on the Burmese government to pressure them to ease the current political tension. However, this scenario seems impossible to implement in this country due to the tremendous impact of the COVID-19 pandemic which pushed this country’s economy to the ground (Diao & Mahrt, 2020). It is therefore hard for international actors to decide to impose economic sanctions which could then further exacerbate the negative economic impact of COVID-19 on an already dire economic and socio-political situation in the country. Hence, more or less, economic sanctions should not be imposed in Myanmar amidst this critical period to preserve the Burmese’s well-being.

The second scenario is that military intervention from international actors is utilized to ease the political tension in Burma/Myanmar. This option seems even more unlikely than economic sanctions since it is very rarely used, and there is only one case in the Korean War in 1950 to 1953 in which the United Nations were able to intervene through force dissolution, which was one of the exceptional cases in the world (Stueck, 1997). As a form of international overview, the UN can only authorize military intervention if all of the permanent member states agree which are the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Russia and China (Gareis, 2012). It is evident that Russia and China would be unlikely to support military intervention in Myanmar due to their current beneficial ties with the Burmese government (Hilton, 2013).

These two scenarios both create dilemmas and complications for international actors and ASEAN member states in regard to how to manage this current case of human rights and international law violation in Myanmar. For instance, due to ASEAN’s core values which are non-interference in the internal affair of one another and mutual respect for the independence, sovereignty, equality, territorial integrity, and national identity of all nations (Arendshorst, 2009). It is very challenging for international actors and ASEAN member states to intervene effectively in Myanmar coup and arrest political activists that violate human rights and devastate the original concept of democracy (BCC, 2021).

To conclude, the systematic violation of human rights by the recent military intervention/coup in Burma/Myanmar has been met with severe disagreement from the rest of the world. It can be drawn from the global reaction and this shocking event that international actors’ interventions in halting human rights violations and erosion of democracy is hugely complicated due to conflicts of interest, ideologies and concerns about further exacerbating the negative economic impact of COVID-19. International actors should impose robust and stiff intervention whether through economic sanctions or force intervention to mitigate this great intention in Myanmar and restore democracy and elevate the Burmese economy to fight against the predominant impact of COVID-19. With the extraordinary intervention of international actions, democracy in  Burma/Myanmar should be prevailed and granted to transform this country into one of the genuine democratic countries and overcome long-running ethnic conflicts.

References

Arendshorst, J. (2009). The dilemma of non-interference: Myanmar, human rights, and the ASEAN charter. Nw. UJ Int’l Hum. Rts., 8, 102.

BBC. (2021). Myanmar coup: Crackdown tightened with Win Htein arrest. BCC News. Retrieved from https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-55944482

Cuddy, A. (2021). Myanmar coup: What is happening and why? BCC News Retrieved from https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-55902070

Diao, X., & Mahrt, K. (2020). Assessing the impacts of COVID-19 on household incomes and poverty in Myanmar: A microsimulation approach (Vol. 2): Intl Food Policy Res Inst.

Gareis, S. B. (2012). The united nations: Macmillan International Higher Education.

Hilton, I. (2013). China in Myanmar: implications for the future. Norwegian Peacebuilding Re.

Lwin, M., & Lan, L. L. (2001). Myanmar. Thunderbird International Business Review, 43(2), 269-288.

Stueck, W. (1997). The Korean War: an international history (Vol. 68): Princeton University Press.

Xixing, L. (2008). Myanmar Political Crisis in the Background of Globalization [J]. Southeast Asian Studies, 1.


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