Complications in the Myanmar Revolution

The Myanmar revolution, the first of many unchallenged by the government, is aiming for a democratically elected government and the removal of the military from politics.

Complications in the Myanmar Revolution
Photo source: A vigil in Yangon, Myanmar, by Ziko Hein, March 12, 2021, via Unsplash

03-05-2024

Benjamin Arenas Sanchez

South East Asia Researcher,

Global Human Rights Defence.

 

 

Myanmar has seen its fair share of revolutions since its independence in 1948. The most notorious ones happened in 1988 and 2007, which had been squandered with a severely violent show of force by the governments in place. Aside from these two major revolutions, recent years have brought another significant conflict situation.

 

This revolutionary movement against the military junta (Administration State Council) has persisted in its effort to overthrow the ASC to re-establish a democratically elected government and permanently remove the military from Myanmar’s politics, which has led to a full-blown conflict between the military and the resistance coordinated by the National Unity Government (NUG). The resistance is composed of Myanmar’s shadow government and various armed ethnic groups. In early April, an unprecedented attack on the capital, Naypyidaw, left a deep psychological impact on the military: the growth in the resistance’s confidence and the lack of security for the generals. The military junta passed a new conscription law aiming to increase their troops by sixty thousand recruits every year, going as far as conscripting Rohingya soldiers, who have been historically persecuted in Myanmar.

 

This week, one of the ethnic groups, the Chin Brotherhood, has seized control of a highly strategically important town in the Chin Hills. After 4 months of fighting, the town of Kyindwe has been confirmed to have been seized by the resistance movement on Wednesday. Although it is remote and undeveloped town, it is located in a privileged entry point to the access to a resistance stronghold in the Yam region as well as to ordnance, a military weapon, factories and banknotes printing plants, located in nearby towns. The NUG now claims that 60 percent of Myanmar’s territory is controlled by the resistance. The territory stretches from the Mrauk-U to the Chin Region and the Yaw region east of the Pontaug and Ponnya mountains.

 

Myanmar’s military has a reputation of violent reprisals, ranging from demolishing villages and their inhabitants, to scorched earth warfare and airstrikes. Due to the recent attacks on the capital, Naypyidaw, the nearby airport, and the increase in the percentage of territory controlled by the revolutionaries, there is uncertainty about the reaction from the military junta. A spokesperson from the Karen National Union has stated that when the military loses territory, it retaliates withs airstrikes. As per the principle of distinction of International Humanitarian Law, participants in an armed conflict, international or non-international, must draw a clear distinction between civilians and combatants, as well as between civilian objects and military targets. Should Myanmar fail to abide by this principle, many civilian lives are at stake.  

 

As this is a conflict between a State and non-state armed groups within its territory, the conflict is classified as a Non-International Armed Conflict under Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions. Under the Geneva Conventions, certain conditions are laid down to provide all parties affected with minimum standards and the requirement for human treatment to be respected, especially for civilians and people who do not or no longer take part in the hostilities. In addition, both parties are bound by customary international humanitarian and human rights law. Myanmar, as a State, is therefore obliged to prevent and investigate alleged violations of customary international law, including acts from non-state armed groups.The continuation of the conflict, from both parts, is a clear violation of all the rules mentioned above.

 

The latest victories in favour of the resistance movement in Myanmar indicate a long lasting conflict, in which both parties will continue to fight for the total control of the country, at the expense of the civilians who are exposed to the dangers of war.

 

Sources and further reading:

Tommy Walker (2024). Myanmar’s Revolution has entered a new, more complicated phase. The Diplomat. Accessed 15 May 2024. https://thediplomat.com/2024/05/myanmars-revolution-has-entered-a-new-more-complicated-phase/

 Moe Sett Nyein Chan (2024). As Myawaddy made headlines, Myanmar’s Resistance took bigger prize: Kyindwe. The Irrawaddy. Accessed 15 May 2024. https://www.irrawaddy.com/opinion/analysis/as-myawaddy-made-headlines-myanmars-resistance-took-bigger-prize-kyindwe.html

 Geneva Convention for the Amelioration of the Conditions of the Wounded and Sick in Armed Forces in the Field (1948). The United Nations.

 Non-International Armed Conflicts in Myanmar. Rulac. Accessed 15 May 2024. https://www.rulac.org/browse/conflicts/non-international-armed-conflict-in-myanmar#collapse3accord

Walker T, ‘Myanmar’s Revolution Has Entered a New, More Complicated Phase’ The Diplomat (1 May 2024).

Nyein Chan MS, ‘As Myawaddy Made Headlines, Myanmar’s Resistance Took Bigger Prize: Kyindwe’ The Irrawaddy (2 May 2024).

Walker T, ‘Myanmar’s Revolution Has Entered a New, More Complicated Phase’ The Diplomat (1 May 2024).

Nyein Chan MS, ‘As Myawaddy Made Headlines, Myanmar’s Resistance Took Bigger Prize: Kyindwe’ The Irrawaddy (2 May 2024).

Walker T, ‘Myanmar’s Revolution Has Entered a New, More Complicated Phase’ The Diplomat (1 May 2024).

‘Distinction’ (Distinction | How does law protect in war? - Online casebook) <https://casebook.icrc.org/a_to_z/glossary/distinction#:~:text=The%20principle%20of%20distinction%20is,shall%20direct%20their%20operations%20only> accessed 6 May 2024.

Geneva Convention for the Amelioration of the Conditions of the Wounded and Sick in Armed Forces in the Field (Adopted 12 August 1949) 75 UNTS 287, art. 3.

‘Non-International Armed Conflicts in Myanmar’ (Rulac) <https://www.rulac.org/browse/conflicts/non-international-armed-conflict-in-myanmar#collapse3accord> accessed 3 May 2024.