The decades of lies, denials and fabrications of the truth are catching up with the Myanmar junta. What the people on the ground have known and vocalized to the international community is being amplified in all diplomatic chambers.
On October 15th, Southeast Asian foreign ministers met for an emergency meeting on potentially barring junta-military chief, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing for failing to adhere to commitments made to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) bloc at a summit meeting in Jakarta on 24 April earlier this year. Myanmar civil society organizations have called for the junta to not be invited to the ASEAN Summit on 25 to 28 October because of the regime’s proven unwillingness to cooperate with domestic, regional and international accountability mechanisms intended to curb and end the indiscriminate violence which Myanmar is engulfed in.
To ASEAN’s credit, at the meeting, member countries decided not to invite the military junta, and opted to instead invite a ‘non-political representative’ from Myanmar. The decision emerged to ‘uphold ASEAN’s credibility,’ despite longstanding criticisms that ASEAN’s policy of ‘non-interference’ failed to hold the junta accountable. In response, the Myanmar Ministry of Foreign Affairs attempted to defend their commitment to the Five-Point Consensus by outlandishly declaring that they were working to preserve ‘peace and tranquility,’ and ultimately accusing ASEAN of not being flexible or showing understanding to their situation.
Tensions between ASEAN and the junta appear to be growing, especially as the Special Envoy, Erywan Yusof, postponed his trip to Myanmar because he was not allowed to meet with all political parties. He was specifically denied any interaction with National League for Democracy leader, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi who has been detained since the attempted coup. A timeline of ASEAN’s interactions with the junta indicate the hesitation of countries such as the Philippines, Thailand and China to condemn the coup for fear of protecting their own authoritarian interests in their respective states. However, as the months have passed it has become abundantly clear to the bloc that the junta’s lack of will or interest in cooperating through progressive dialogue has amounted to more frustration.
Internally, the Tatmadaw has shown increasing signs of fragmentation. Record numbers of soldiers are defecting. The People’s Soldiers is a new group of defected Myanmar military soldiers who have joined the resistance movement in various forms. This week they issued a statement which said that the Generals committed treason and breached military law by forcing the President of Myanmar to forcibly resign.
Civilians in Chin State are living in a state of ongoing panic and fear due to the increased junta presence. The Tatmadaw is exercising all efforts to weaponize their response to the Chinland Defense Forces and local armed resistance groups. As reported by the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, on October 11, a 29 year old and 34 year old from Falam Township, Chin State were killed by the junta. On the 13th, their bodies were discovered with bullet wounds to their faces and upper bodies.
In Kanpetlet, residents say that they are living in constant fear: Everything is uncertain and clashes can happen at any time.” Intensified offensives have forced the majority of the town to flee to safety. Religious minorities are also being targeted. Chin rights groups say there have been at least 20 cases of Christian churches, leaders and volunteers being caught in the crossfire of attacks.
In Kayah State, human rights abuses are increasingly rampant. Civilians have been targeted and as a result, their livelihoods are in grave threat amid their desperation for survival. As reported by the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, two brothers who had been displaced by violence were arrested while returning to their village in Demawso Township, Kayah State to take food. The junta soldiers shot both brothers, Kyaw Hein died and Daw Minit was injured on his head.
Displaced villagers in Hpruso township are in dire need of emergency aid and support. The junta has denied the flow of aid, and life-saving materials such as food, water and medicine.
Civil society organizations in Shan State have expressed the vulnerabilities being protracted from ongoing fighting has led to gaps in urgently needed food and medicine for displaced populations. Clashes between the Restoration Council of Shan State and the Ta’ang National Liberation Army have made it nearly impossible for villagers forced to flee to return home. The Tatmadaw is also arresting youths and targeting them for alleged ties to detonations on military businesses, including Mytel communication towers. According to reports, the junta has been shooting indiscriminately at people on the street, which has only contributed to growing fears throughout the state.
Fenster had stopped working with Myanmar Now seven months before the outlet was banned for its coverage of the coup
An additional charge that was laid against detained American journalist Danny Fenster earlier this month is related to his work with Myanmar Now before the military coup in February, according to his lawyer.
Fenster, who has been held in Yangon’s Insein Prison for nearly five months, was initially charged under Section 505a of the Penal Code for allegedly spreading false information with the intent to incite violence.
He faces up to three years in prison if convicted on that charge, which is also related to his work with Myanmar Now.
On October 4, junta authorities added an additional charge under Section 17 (1) of the colonial-era Unlawful Associations Act, which carries a two- to three-year prison term, to the case against him.
Fenster, 37, was working as managing editor of the Yangon-based Frontier Myanmar when he was arrested at Yangon International Airport on May 24 as he was about to board a flight to the US to visit his family.
Before joining Frontier Myanmar, Fenster worked with Myanmar Now as a copy editor from mid-2019 until July 2020.
In a statement released in July, Myanmar Now clarified that his sole assignment was editing English-language news stories and that he had held “no other position in the management of the newsroom nor was he affiliated with any type of non-editorial duties.”
The junta revoked the publishing licenses of five independent news outlets, including Myanmar Now, on March 9. A day before the announcement, junta soldiers raided Myanmar Now’s newsroom in Yangon’s Pabedan Township. No employees were arrested during the raid.
Citing the complaint submitted by the prosecution, Fenster’s lawyer Than Zaw Aung told Myanmar Now the American journalist is being prosecuted for the outlet’s continued reporting on the country since its license was revoked.
The complaint states that since it was banned, Myanmar Now has continued to report on the activities of opposition organizations that the junta has declared illegal, including the underground National Unity Government and the ousted lawmakers’ Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw, on social media platforms, the lawyer said.
“The complaint says that the news outlet’s reporting encourages the activities of those organizations and states that those in charge at Myanmar Now should be prosecuted. Danny’s name is included in that, and he was charged as part of Myanmar Now,” said Than Zaw Aung.
At Friday’s court hearing—the 15th since his arrest—both the defence and the prosecution submitted arguments to the court on whether to allow Fenster to be released on bail in his case under the 505a charge. A ruling is expected at the next court hearing, which is scheduled for October 27, his lawyer said.
While the US State Department has requested that the junta release Fenster, military council spokesperson Maj-Gen Zaw Min Tun claimed at a September 30 press conference that he was “being held because he needed to be.”
Thomas Kean, Frontier Myanmar’s editor-in-chief, told AP on Friday that the arrest and charges against Fenster in relation to his work with Myanmar Now were “disappointing.”
“It is disappointing that the prosecution is still alleging that Danny was working for Myanmar Now in March 2021, when in reality he had resigned seven months earlier to join Frontier,” Kean told AP.
The military council has arrested around 100 journalists since the February 1 coup. While some have since been released, more than 50 are still imprisoned, according to local advocacy groups for press freedom.
Most are facing charges under Section 505a of the Penal Code for allegedly “publishing or circulating comments that cause fear, spread false news, or incite government employees to commit crimes.”
According to eyewitnesses, the Chin Human Rights Organization (CHRO) office near the intersection in Hakha township, Chin State was raided by military council troops at 2:45 pm on 15 October.
A local resident said that when the military council troops raided the CHRO office, there were no staff in the office and some items were taken from the premises. CHRO is currently monitoring the violence of military council troops in Chin State.
The CHRO recently released a report on the human rights situation in Chin State during August and September.
Chin State has seen an uptick in conflict in the wake of the February military coup.
Myanmar’s military regime has officially turned down the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) special envoy’s request to meet detained leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the junta’s Foreign Ministry said.
Erywan Yusof, Brunei’s Second Minister of Foreign Affairs, was appointed as ASEAN’s special envoy to Myanmar in August in an effort to mediate the country’s political crisis. He has been trying to visit Myanmar since then as part of agreements made between the military regime and the regional bloc to resolve the issues Myanmar had been facing since the junta’s February 1 coup.
Earlier this month, the envoy proposed a four-day visit from October 11-14 and requested to meet with all stakeholders in the country, including ousted State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. Last week, the junta refused to allow the meeting with Suu Kyi and Erywan Yusof has since insisted on it.
On Thursday, the regime’s Foreign Ministry said that as Myanmar has been prioritizing peace and tranquility in the country, it will be difficult to accommodate requests that go beyond existing laws, meaning that a meeting with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is impossible.
“In this respect, the special envoy and international community need to show some understanding about the situation,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
The statement added that Myanmar has demonstrated flexibility in every possible way to facilitate the visit and that the special envoy should use his first trip to meet with relevant parties and to build trust and confidence between the special envoy and Myanmar, a reference to the junta’s plan to allow Mr Yusof to meet with people and politicians close to the regime.
So far, Erywan Yusof has yet to respond to the junta’s statement, which didn’t even mention Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. Although the regime has yet to offer an official reason for why the special envoy can’t meet Suu Kyi, its spokesperson told the media that it was “because she is facing some charges.”
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, 75, faces 11 cases – including sedition and corruption – filed against her by the junta.
However, the regime’s refusal to allow Mr Yusof to meet Suu Kyi could lead to coup leader Senior General Min Aung Hlaing being excluded from an upcoming ASEAN summit at the end of the month. Some members of the regional bloc have expressed their frustration at the junta’s refusal to comply with an existing and agreed roadmap to peace. ASEAN foreign ministers are set to discuss excluding the coup leader from the summit at a meeting today.
If Snr. Gen. Min Aung Hlaing is excluded, it will be a huge embarrassment to the regime, which has desperately been seeking official recognition from other countries, especially those in ASEAN, as Myanmar’s rightful government. The regime is regarded as an outcast by much of the international community, especially in the west, for its coup and subsequent brutality in killing over 1,000 peaceful anti-regime protesters.
United Nations chief Antonio Guterres has already shunned the junta, after postponing a virtual meeting with ASEAN foreign ministers last week at the last minute. Reuters reported that the postponement was to avoid signaling recognition of the regime by being in the same online room as the junta’s Foreign Minister U Wunna Maung Lwin.
A grave milestone was passed in September – by the end of the month, almost 100 people had been killed by the senseless violence of the Myanmar junta, including a toddler and several seniors. ND-Burma members are risking their lives to document the ongoing human rights abuses which are being carried out by the regime. The Chin Human Rights Organization (CHRO) has provided regular on the ground updates which highlight the urgency of the atrocities taking place. Compounded with an Internet shutdown, civilians are fleeing. Those attempting to return to retrieve belongings from their villages risk being killed in the crossfire. Under the cover of darkness, the junta has proven they are more likely to commit widespread, systematic violence. In Chin State and Magway region, the state-sponsored crackdown is intensifying as the flow of information is being prevented and weaponized.
In addition, the Human Rights Foundation of Monland has observed an increase in arbitrary arrests and abductions, particularly of young people. Targeted violence against women and girls is also on the rise, with the whereabouts of women human rights defenders and journalists unknown. Checkpoints and warrantless raids are exacerbating an already worsening situation. Weak justice systems and a complete lack of trust in the junta has made it harder for locals to have any hope in their well-being.
Despite the mounting evidence and atrocities being committed, the international community continues to be slow to act. There are many lessons to be learned over the decades of support from the civil war in Myanmar, and yet intentional leaders continue to be seemingly mystified by the junta’s lack of willingness to compromise or negotiate. The delay in meaningful consequences has only emboldened the regime to perpetuate human rights violations with impunity. Countries including India and Russia are still providing highly advanced weapons to the junta which are being used to destroy and demoralize civilian livelihoods. Between February and September 2021, 206,000 people were displaced internally due to armed clashes and insecurity.
Victories such as the Burma Bill which was introduced by New York Democratic Party representative Gregory Meeks is part of a greater effort by Myanmar’s civil society organizations which sanctions against those responsible for the attempted coup. The bill notably calls on the UN and the US government to classify the miliary’s persecution of the Rohingya, a genocide. The French Senate also announced a resolution to recognize the National Unity Government as the formal, legitimate government.
The Chin Human Rights Organization (CHRO) documented several cases of ongoing assaults against civilians in Mindat, Thantlang and Hakha, including a civilian who was shot and injured and injured by the junta when he attempted to deliver food to a family member in Thantlang. The majority of residents have fled, though those trying to return to retrieve belongings are being shot at and turned away. The arrests, and deaths of civilians are ongoing as part of the junta’s war on terror.
The Myanmar junta has sent reinforcements to Kachin State as clashes between the Kachin Independence Army intensify. Fearful villagers have abandoned their homes and left to seek safety in monasteries and neighbouring areas. The regime is continuing their senseless violence.
According to the Karenni Human Rights Organization (KHRO), over 200 civilians, including 30 volunteers assisting displaced villagers were arrested by the junta. The youngest detainee is only 15 years old, and the oldest a senior who is over 50 years of age. Aid workers in Kayah State have been targeted for their efforts to support IDPs. Last month, junta soldiers shot at a vehicle attempting to deliver food rations. Fifty homes in Kayah were destroyed during a three-day rampage spree by the junta who shelled and looted civilian properties. An elderly civilian was also killed in his home. Since May, over 130 000 have been displaced in the State.