Breakdown of Rule of Law in Myanmar

breakdown of rule of law in Myanmar

Lara Kajs | 23 December 2021 |

It has been eleven months since the breakdown of the rule of law in Myanmar. Eleven months since the military coup imprisoned government leaders, and began a campaign of violence and terror against anyone standing in its way, including peaceful protesters; leaving in its path a death toll of 1300 civilians (75 of them children).

Since the coup on 1 February 2021, the breakdown of the rule of law in Myanmar has led to daily nonviolent demonstrations in towns, as well as fighting in border communities between the military and ethnic minority groups. In rural communities where the military can use undeterred force against civilians, the violence has increased. But after military hostilities resulted in lethal force against demonstrators, the violence has escalated, and the junta has continued its caravan of oppression and death.

Junta Violence

On March 14, barely a month after the coup, 100 nonviolent demonstrators were killed in Yangon. A month later, in the town of Bago about 60 miles from Yangon, the military used lethal force against demonstrators, killing 82 people. The bodies of the victims were collected by the military and left on the grounds of a Buddhist pagoda. In nearly every case of mass casualty, the military security forces used heavy weapons in the attacks against peaceful demonstrators, including rocket-propelled grenades and mortars.

The military convoy has continued raiding villages in the northwest region of the country for many months. On December 7, the convoy ran upon a roadside bomb after which it began shelling the civilians in the Done Taw village. Volunteer aid workers said the soldiers were randomly killing or capturing anyone who could not flee. Of those captured, eleven people, five of whom were children, were bound together, tortured, and burned alive. The charred remains of eleven people lying in a circle were left to be easily discovered, suggesting the de facto government wanted to send a message to anyone challenging their authority. And while the government has denied it had any soldiers in the village, credible observers said at least 50 soldiers marched into Done Taw on the morning of the killings.

To further discourage resistance, the junta published a list of 140 names of academics and journalists and charged them with disseminating information that undermines the rule of law in Myanmar and is a threat to the country’s stability. Arrests have been highly publicized. The penalty for the charge is up to three years in prison.

International law demands the safety and protection of civilians and cites such horrific acts as crimes against humanity, atrocity crimes, and war crimes. The UN and international community call for those responsible to be held accountable.

Rule of Law

The coup prevented elected lawmakers from being seated in parliament and imprisoned high-ranking officials including Aung San Suu Kyi and declared itself the only legitimate authority. The military based the coup on claims of voter fraud in the 2020 election in which Suu Kyi and the National League for Democracy won in a landslide. Independent elections officials have not detected any voter irregularities. Aung San Suu Kyi was convicted on charges of incitement and violation of Covid restrictions and sentenced to four years in prison, which was reduced to two immediately. These actions by the military further thwart the democratic gains Myanmar has experienced in recent years.

The United Nations has called for the release of Suu Kyi, President Win Myint, and all others arbitrarily detained. The UN Security Council issued a statement insisting on their “continued support for the democratic transition in Myanmar and underline the need to uphold democratic institutions and processes, refrain from violence, pursue constructive dialogue, and reconciliation in accordance with the will and interests of the people of Myanmar; fully respect human rights and fundamental freedoms and uphold the rule of law.”

International Sanctions

On International Human Rights Day (December 10th), U.S., U.K, and Canada imposed sanctions against Myanmar, citing human rights abuses by military entities as a primary reason. Among human rights abuses are reports of torture against peaceful protesters detained in interrogation centers across Myanmar. U.S. Deputy Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo said that the sanctions “send a message that democracies around the world will act against those who abuse the power of the state to inflict suffering and repression.”

The imposed sanctions included two military entities and an organization that provides reserves for the military. The Directorate of Defense Industries makes weapons for the military and police that have been used in the brutal crackdown on opponents of the coup. Also targeted were four regional chief ministers including Mye Swe Win, head of the junta’s administration in the Bago region.

International sanctions are political and economic decisions that serve diplomatic efforts against a state that represents a threat to national security, violates international law, such as human rights violations, or may pose a threat to international peace. Although some may argue that sanctions do not work or make an excuse that the country being sanctioned will just get it from another country; still every diplomatic attempt should be made to correct or prevent behavior that could lead to an escalated outcome – especially should intervention be a further consideration.

Photo Credit: Yangon Myanmar Peaceful Protest Against Coup – License by CC. 4.0 International License