Coup d’état in Myanmar

The Southeast Asian nation faces major threat to its democracy

On Feb. 1, a military coup took place in Myanmar following alleged voter fraud in last November’s general election. The army has detained former President Win Myint and State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, thus taking full control of the government.

Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party formed a majority government after winning more than 60 per cent of the seats in Myanmar’s parliament last November. However, the military accused the party of voter fraud and refused to accept the results.

Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing managed to reverse Myanmar’s transition towards democracy. His army severely limited telecommunications and shut down the internet across the country for 24 hours on Feb. 6.

A state of emergency was declared for a whole year as soon as the coup began. The official announcement was transmitted by military-owned television network Myawaddy TV.

Expecting a wave of mass protests, the new government banned all gatherings of more than five people in Myanmar’s two largest cities and imposed an overnight curfew.

Still, thousands of protesters — particularly monks, school teachers and students — took to the streets of Yangon in demanding for Suu Kyi’s release. Doctors, nurses, and government workers have also contributed to this resistance by engaging in civil disobedience, which continues to this day.

Since Feb. 1, the military has arrested at least 241 peaceful demonstrators and activists, including senior government officials. The Burmese police force also fired water cannons at the protesters to control the opposition movement in the capital city Naypyidaw.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau strongly condemned the actions of Myanmar’s military, calling on the self-declared government to immediately release everyone who has been detained and to respect the democratic process in the nation.

Meanwhile, U.S. President Joe Biden issued sanctions against Myanmar, freezing all American assets of military coup leaders, denying them entry into the United States, and restricting many Burmese exports until the military steps down.

As of now, Suu Kyi may be sentenced to two years in prison for possessing “illegal” walkie-talkies. In fact, this is not the first time that the state counsellor has been targeted for representing democracy in the nation. She has already spent 15 years under house arrest throughout her political career.

In 1991, Suu Kyi received a Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts to establish democracy in the country. She continues to strive for justice in Myanmar by calling on the nation to protest against the army’s takeover to prevent “a military dictatorship.”

However, the military coup leader announced that only cooperating with his government will help Myanmar achieve “the successful realization of democracy.” Despite the mass protests and international attention, the military is not willing to step down from its position of power anytime soon.


Graphic by @the.beta.lab


MIGS’s Kyle Matthews on the situation in Myanmar

Rohingya killings are textbook case of ethnic cleansing, says institute’s executive director

Last week, the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, condemned the treatment of the Rohingya people by the Burmese government, labelling it a textbook case of ethnic cleansing.

Myanmar’s government has denied the media and international observers access to the Rakhine state located near the Bangladesh border where, according to fleeing villagers interviewed by Human Rights Watch, soldiers from the Burmese military are executing civilians, raping thousands of women and burning down hundreds of Rohingya settlements.

Myanmar has never granted citizenship to the mostly Muslim Rohingya and tensions have been high between them and Myanmar’s Buddhist majority population for years. On Aug. 25, the conflict reached a tipping point when a Rohingya militant group staged a coordinated attack on 24 police stations and outposts in the region, Al Jazeera reported. Since then, the Burmese government has cracked down on the Rohingya under the guise of a security operation, according to the same publication.

The U.N. Refugee Agency estimates that, as of Sept. 11, over 370,000 Rohingya refugees have fled from northwestern Myanmar into Bangladesh.

Kyle Matthews, the executive director of the Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies (MIGS) at Concordia, agreed with the U.N. high commissioner’s accusation. He said the Burmese government is breaking international law by engaging in ethnic cleansing, and people need to speak out. Matthews works with parliamentarians, researchers and activists—including Quebec Senator Romeo Dallaire—to increase public awareness of genocide and violent extremism. MIGS’s goal is to prevent mass atrocities, like the Rwandan genocide, from ever happening again.

Researchers at the institute have been following the situation in Myanmar for years, but as it has become more dire, Matthews has started to speak out. Here’s what he had to say about the Myanmar crisis.

Q: Would you use the term “ethnic cleansing” to describe the situation in Myanmar?

A: I think it’s a textbook case. There are verified reports of villages being burnt. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have confirmed, through satellite technology, that it is taking place. There have been tales of refugees crossing into Bangladesh, giving accounts of Myanmar’s military attacking the villages and threatening that if the Rohingya don’t leave, they would kill everyone. It’s ethnic cleansing, that’s for sure.

Q: What’s the definition of ethnic cleansing?

A: Well, there’s a legal definition, and it’s encompassed as one of four mass atrocity crimes under the Responsibility to Protect principles, [a global political commitment endorsed by all U.N. member states]. The term “ethnic cleansing” came out of the Balkan conflict. It’s where you use physical violence to intimidate a population to get them to leave the area where they’re living and to ensure they never come back. So it’s not genocide, where you want to destroy the group in whole or in part, but it’s to basically kick them off the land and make sure they don’t come back. So it fits that. Others have said that there’s also a genocide going on.

Q: Is the distinction between genocide and ethnic cleansing important in this case?

A: No, I don’t think so. Whether it’s genocide or ethnic cleansing has to be analyzed by a court of law, but I think it’s safe to say there are mass atrocity crimes taking place.

Q: The Burmese government is denying access to observers and media in the Rakhine state. Why is that important?

A: I think they’re denying access because they’ve got something to hide. Before all this violence took place, there were crackdowns on international NGOs. We worked with some Canadian NGOs in Rakhine state. They’ve talked about very difficult challenges to get there. Media has had trouble accessing the area. That’s textbook when a government is conducting mass atrocities.

Q: Is it important for countries or leaders to denounce these types of situations?

A: I think it’s important. I think most leaders are afraid to do that, but we have a legal responsibility. Canada, for example, has an additional responsibility because [Myanmar’s leader] Aung San Suu Kyi is an honorary Canadian citizen. We have a responsibility to speak out. International law is quite clear; there’s nothing there that says we’re supposed to be quiet. I think we have to speak out. When you don’t name a certain human rights violation, then you’re avoiding what’s really taking place. So I think, politically, we need to stand out. However, the most positive thing about Myanmar has been all of these other Nobel Peace Prize winners denouncing what’s happening. That gives [the issue] a moral voice, and it also shows political leaders an incentive to be more forceful.

Q: What can individuals do?

A: There’s a lot you can do. First of all, we live in a democracy. We can use our individual voices to write to political leaders—be that the Liberal government or the opposition—to say that this is important to us and we want Canada to take more action, we want Canada to speak publicly and denounce this regime. We don’t have to fall into apathy. We can use our individual power to try to make change. In every humanitarian disaster, it comes down to individuals that show leadership and make a difference.

Photo by Alex Hutchins


This is not a conflict, this is a genocide

Western media has the power to highlight the injustices in Myanmar—if they pay attention

My sister was the first to inform me about the ongoing genocide happening in Myanmar. She only found out about it through an Instagram post. This revelation left me in complete shock. The fact that this unforgivable violence has been going on for more than three years is astonishing. But most shocking is that it has barely received any coverage in Western media, until now.

According to Al Jazeera, the Rohingya people are a Muslim minority living in a state originally known as Burma. There are currently 1.1 million Rohingya people living in Myanmar, and they are considered one of the most persecuted groups in the world. The Rohingya make up five per cent of Myanmar’s 53 million citizens, and mostly live in the state of Rakhine, which is described as one of the poorest states in Myanmar, “with ghetto-like camps and a lack of basic services and opportunities,” according to the same source. In addition, the Rohingya have been denied citizenship since 1982, making them illegal residents and stateless.

The majority of the population in Myanmar is Buddhist. This is a religion that honours life and is dedicated to living humbly, while doing as little harm as possible. Yet according to The Guardian, Ashin Wirathu, a nationalist Burmese Buddhist monk and leader of the country’s anti-Muslim movement, is allegedly parading across Myanmar spewing hate messages and inspiring violence against Rohingya Muslims. Labeled the “Face of Buddhist Terror” by Time magazine, Wirathu claims he is only “warning” his people about Muslims, when he is truthfully inciting hatred against them, according to The Guardian.

The civilian leader of Myanmar is Aung San Suu Kyi. She actually has a Noble Peace Prize, and according to the Washington Post, she’s a “democracy icon.” Yet, Suu Kyi has been criticized for refusing to acknowledge the violence taking place in her country as an actual genocide. When asked in interviews about the violence, she often claims the media is “exaggerating” and refuses to criticize the country’s military, according to the Washington Post.

In my opinion, labeling violence as a genocide makes it more urgent, and it takes us back to the horrors of colonialism, the Indian Act, the Rwandan genocide and, of course, the Holocaust. Discussing any kind of ethnic cleansing as genocide makes it more real because it reminds us of history, and of how many people have been murdered for being different.

For a long time, the violence in Myanmar has been considered a conflict of ideologies, a religious dispute between Buddhist Nationalists and Rohingya Muslims, without being labeled a genocide. It also wasn’t being investigated by Western media for a long time—I suppose Western media overlooked the issue because we’re so concerned with social justice, healthcare, President Trump and climate change in our own nations.

I don’t really blame us—we’ve got our own problems to deal with. But it’s sad to realize that it wasn’t until the conversation shifted and some outlets, like Al Jazeera, started using the word genocide that we suddenly became all ears.

Human Rights Watch has released a report criticizing Suu Kyi for doing nothing about the excessive violence against Rohingya Muslims. According to the Telegraph, a recent military crackdown caused almost 90,000 Rohingya Muslims to flee to Bangladesh, where they are in desperate need of basic necessities. Not only are the Rohingya people unwanted in Myanmar, they are also unwanted in Bangladesh, according to TRT World.

In my opinion, this marginalized group needs a safe zone and international intervention. But this will not happen without global acknowledgement. On Sept. 16, Concordia alumnus Majed Jam, organised a demonstration protesting the treatment of the Rohingya Muslims. This was not only a way to protest the genocide, but a way to capture the attention of the world, or at least Montreal’s attention.

The Western world’s attention is an extremely powerful tool that can shed light on this ongoing violence, and it is our responsibility to make sure people pay attention.

Graphic by Zeze Le Lin


Montrealers march to condemn persecution of Rohingya in Myanmar

Protesters call for Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi to be stripped of Nobel Peace Prize

Montrealers came out in full force to condemn the persecution of Myanmar’s mainly Muslim Rohingya people on Saturday, Sept. 16.

At half past noon, roughly 150 people––many of them from Montreal’s Muslim community—  marched from Concordia’s Hall building to Place Ville Marie, chanting slogans criticizing Burmese leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her government. The event was organized by former Concordia student Majed Jam, who said his primary goals were to inspire action and raise awareness about the plight of the Rohingya.

An estimated 400,000 Rohingya have left the eastern state of Rakhine to seek refuge in Bangladesh after clashes with Burmese security forces. Although the predominantly Muslim Rohingya have long been a persecuted minority in Myanmar, state violence against them increased in August after 12 Burmese security officers were killed by Rohingya militants, according to the BBC.

The Burmese government claims that military action has been carried out only against insurgents, but many Rohingya have reported Burmese security forces burning down entire villages, reports said.

A woman holds a picture of Burmese leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, at a protest condemning the persecution of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar. Photo by Sandra Hercegova

Since the Burmese government has refused to grant citizenship to the Rohingya, most of the members of the group have been stateless since the signing of the 1982 Burma Citizenship Law, according to Human Rights Watch.

Montreal protesters called, among other things, for Suu Kyi to be stripped of her Nobel Peace Prize. Demonstrator Aisha Mirza bore a sign, made by her cousin, which read “Aung San Suu Kyi = Hitler rising.” She said she had no personal connection to the events in Myanmar, but that “we should stick up for [the Rohingya] because there’s no one there for them in Burma.”

Demonstrator Romean Alam also has no personal connection to the situation, but he said that whenever such atrocities occur around the world, “we should stand up and be there and help those people [in need].”

Upon arrival at Place Ville Marie, demonstrator Raees Ahmed unveiled a list of demands for the Canadian government. He asked for a parliamentary motion officially condemning the Burmese government for its inaction and for Canada to join other countries in putting international pressure on the Burmese government, including the use of sanctions.

Ahmed also demanded that leader Suu Kyi be stripped of her honorary Canadian citizenship. He then urged the Burmese government to allow international media and aid into the Rakhine state, where the violence is taking place.

A petition calling the Canadian government to action can be found here.

Feature photo by Kirubel Mehari

Exit mobile version