The UN Country Team in Myanmar remains “deeply concerned over the humanitarian impact” of the country’s ongoing crises stemming largely from the military coup in February, the UN Spokesperson said on Tuesday.
Updating journalists at the daily media briefing in New York, Stéphane Dujarric cited humanitarians in saying that “conflict, food insecurity, natural disasters and COVID-19” have left some three million women, children and men in urgent need of life-saving assistance and protection.
“This includes one million people who were in need at the start of the year, plus an additional two million people identified as needing help after the military takeover on 1 February”, he said.
At that time, following a general election in which Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party won by a landslide, the military seized control of the country and declared a year-long state of emergency.
As protesters took to the streets, security forces imposed curfews and other restrictions, leading to widespread alleged human rights abuses, thousands of arrests, and hundreds of deaths.
Displaced and vulnerable people
Since then, clashes between Myanmar Armed Forces, different ethnic armed organizations and people’s defense forces have left some 219,000 people newly displaced, said Mr. Dujarric.
This comes as a recent wave of COVID-19 has exacerbated the dire humanitarian situation. At the same time, floods in Rakhine and Kayin states, have left tens of thousands without water and sanitation.
“The UN once again calls on parties concerned to ensure that aid can be scaled up to reach people affected by the continued armed conflict”, said the Spokesperson.
Despite conflict and COVID, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and its partners have been able to reach more than 33,000 people with water and sanitation supplies.
Mr. Dujarric also said that UNICEF continues to help nearly 150,000 internally displaced people and others in Kachin, Northern Shan, Rakhine and Sagaing.
Meanwhile, the agency on Monday posted a detailed account of the deteriorating situation in Mindat – located in the southern Chin state of western Myanmar – which has been under martial law since May.
According to a UN humanitarian report, Mindat is one of the worst affected places in the country, with residents there urgent need of support.
Amid continuing armed clashes and a devasting third wave of the pandemic, UNICEF told the story in a blog post of Hay Mar and her husband, who, like many others, decided to flee the violence, forced to leaving behind some of the most vulnerable – including elderly relatives, and heavily pregnant women.
“My mother-in-law could have run with us, but she said she didn’t want to. She wanted to stay in her home”, said Hay Mar.
The family fashioned makeshift shelters in the forest, which left them with little protection from the monsoon rains.
Future of uncertainty
Two weeks after Hay Mar and her family left, she began to worry about her mother-in-law.
With her three children in tow, she decided to return to the town.
Although her youngest was petrified as they re-entered, she said that he is now slowly showing signs of overcoming the trauma and is returning to the lively boy he once was.
While Hay Mar is happy to see positive changes in him, she is unsure how long this period of peace and calm will last.
Like most of the other children in Mindat, her 12 and 17-year-olds have been out of school for almost two years – first because of the pandemic and then due to the life-threatening security crisis.
“If we live in this situation, how will my children grow? I’m very worried about their future. I just want to live in peace”, she told UNICEF.
The bloc is struggling to preserve unity—and can’t decide what to do about the new U.S.-China rivalry.
For about two decades after the end of the Cold War, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) enjoyed a golden age. The organization’s 10 member states as well as China and the United States saw the bloc as key to the region’s security and economic integration. ASEAN as a collective entity worked hard to put itself at the center of regional architecture through a complex web of security institutions and relationships. At the height of its golden age, ASEAN believed it was in the driver’s seat of the region’s fortunes.
That golden age is over. Last week, ASEAN, which usually needs unanimous agreement to function, was struggling to preserve unity. After an emergency meeting about the crisis in Myanmar on Oct. 15, the bloc excluded Myanmar’s junta leader from an upcoming ASEAN summit, a rare move for the organization. As a loose organization without a clear strategic vision of its own, it is floundering as individual members break ranks and realign in the new U.S.-China rivalry. The recent announcement of the new so-called AUKUS military and technology pact among Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States has raised the region’s geopolitical stakes even further, casting yet another spotlight on ASEAN’s strategic paralysis.
It wasn’t supposed to be that way. In one of the world’s most dynamic regions, a system led by either the United States or China would be untenable; ASEAN therefore made its virtue out of its desire to stay out of superpower conflicts. Because of its multilateral nature, consensual decision-making, and lack of strategic ambitions beyond its borders, ASEAN was seen as an honest, neutral broker. For the region’s diplomats, so-called ASEAN centrality—that ASEAN will speak for the region as a whole when outside powers are involved—became an article of faith.
In recent years, however, the edifice of centrality has crumbled. As former Singaporean diplomat Bilahari Kausikan argued, the great powers are fine with ASEAN centrality as long as it serves their interests. Individual member states have also made a mockery of the bloc’s unity by cutting their own deals with outside powers and blocking joint ASEAN action.
The first notable crack in ASEAN’s armor came in 2012. Cambodia, which held the organization’s rotating chair at the time, torpedoed an important ASEAN communiqué because drafts had mentioned the dispute between several member states and China in the South China Sea. Phnom Penh is seen to be closely aligned with Beijing.
But it’s not just China that’s working around ASEAN to achieve its goals. The Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy espoused by Australia, India, Japan, and the United States is a case in point. The strategy has innocuous-sounding principles: freedom of navigation and overflight, adherence to international law, and regional connectivity. But its power is it highlights principles China rejects. Most ASEAN members are maritime states and would strongly support these principles, but supporting the U.S.-led strategy publicly would rile China. For fear of enraging Beijing, ASEAN has struggled to take a collective position.
The same goes for the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue—known as the Quad and formed by those same four states—which ASEAN countries fear is another red flag to China’s bull. Although the Quad, innocuously enough, is working on tangible deliverables—such as vaccine delivery, climate measures, and emerging technologies—it can also bring power to bear in and around the South China Sea in the form of joint military exercises and training. In August and October, the four Quad members’ navies conducted maritime exercises in the Philippine Sea and the Bay of Bengal, respectively. As a testament to these drills’ growing importance, the United States announced plans to possibly include Britain’s Royal Navy in the future. That non-ASEAN powers in the region are moving forward in the critical area of maritime security highlights ASEAN’s failure to push back against Chinese assertiveness.
But nothing has shaken ASEAN as much as AUKUS. The new pact announced last month involves the United States and Britain supplying Australia’s navy with nuclear technology to power a new generation of attack submarines that could definitively shift the region’s balance of power.
By: William Choong, a senior fellow at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute and the managing editor of Fulcrum, and Sharon Seah, a senior fellow at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute and the coordinator of its ASEAN Studies Centre.
Khin, a 59-year-old rice farmer, faced a distressing choice at the height of Myanmar’s monsoon season three months ago: sell a cow, a prized asset for agricultural households, or go hungry.
She sold the animal for half its value. The proceeds went to buy food for her family and inputs for her small rice farm in the Dry Zone – a drought-prone region in the country’s centre where farmers and agricultural experts say falling income and rising costs are worsening hunger.
“We’re just eating whatever is available,” Khin told The New Humanitarian by phone.
Months after the 1 February military coup, poverty and food insecurity are soaring in Myanmar’s Dry Zone and Ayeyarwady Delta regions – the country’s agricultural heartland – sparking warnings of a hidden crisis in the making as farming households struggle out of view of most humanitarian aid plans.
Khin blames her family’s plight on political instability since the coup and a devastating third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. Costs for critical inputs such as fertiliser have soared, but crop prices have fallen.
“I’m very worried because I have no idea where to go or how to survive if things worsen,” she said. “Other farmers are in the same boat.”
The coup has upended lives across the country, exacerbated its numerous conflicts, and sent the economy into free fall. The Asian Development Bank recently predicted Myanmar’s GDP would shrink by 18.4 percent this year. The currency lost 60 percent of its value in September, Reuters reported, putting even more pressure on food and fuel prices.
The economic crash is worsening food insecurity across the country. However, the Dry Zone and Delta regions are traditionally off the aid radar, mainly because they are not in border conflict zones where humanitarian needs have typically been the most pressing.
Yet poverty is rapidly rising. The percentage of Delta households considered “extremely poor” rose from 18 percent last year to 30 percent in July, according to the Washington-based International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI). A recent paper predicts that 60 percent of Myanmar’s “newly poor households” in the coming months will be in the Dry Zone and Delta.
“Aid agencies are still mostly working in more remote conflict-affected areas, albeit with some shift to urban populations obviously made poorer by COVID and the political situation,” said Derek Headey, a senior research fellow at the institute.
“But there is a lot of new poverty in the Delta and Dry Zone too, and these are major agricultural production centres and large population areas. So we’re very concerned there’s an emerging crisis in these zones that’s going under the radar.”
In interviews with The New Humanitarian, nearly a dozen Myanmar Delta or Dry Zone farmers, or aid staff who work in these areas, said that families were dipping into savings and selling long-term assets to make ends meet.
Some farmers said they’re not sure how they will continue to feed themselves over the long term. Many are taking on greater debt, while cutting back on food.
“Rising input prices and falling output crop prices [are] a double whammy that is squeezing farmers tighter and tighter,” said a Myanmar development worker who has spoken to hundreds of farmers since the coup.
Myanmar farmers and aid workers who spoke to The New Humanitarian requested that their full names not be used for fear of the military.
Under the radar
The Dry Zone and Delta regions are crucial for Myanmar’s overall food security, accounting for more than 80 percent of Myanmar’s cropped area, according to IFPRI. The two areas together account for about a third of Myanmar’s population.
But in the coup’s aftermath, more farming families are joining the ranks of the newly poor.
Aung, 45, who grows rice, maize, and pulses in the fertile Ayeyarwady Delta in the country’s south, said farmers are squeezed because traditional sources of credit – such as seed and fertiliser companies and banks – are not available.
“We can’t get loans or borrow money, which means you have to sell what you have. So we have to be very frugal,” he said. “Everything is more difficult this year.”
Kyaw, a 49-year-old farmer in Sagaing Region, part of the Dry Zone, said he has resorted to pawning and selling his wife’s jewellery to buy food for his family of eight.
“We’ve been surviving by farming and working as hired labour, but it’s not enough,” he said. “We’re now using up leftover rice from the previous years, and our savings and gold.”
Others have it worse, he added: “In some homes, they no longer have old stocks of rice left. We are trying to help each other.”
Analysts say there is an urgent need to expand food assistance to rural families in the Dry Zone and Delta.
“To overlook the food-insecure rural households in the Delta and Dry Zones would be to overlook almost half the food-insecure rural households in Myanmar,” said Duncan Boughton, a professor of agricultural, food, and resource economics at Michigan State University who was also part of the team behind the IFPRI paper.
Stephen Anderson, Myanmar country director for the World Food Programme, said the UN agency is trying to find out more about the situation in these major farming regions.
“We would be ready to step in in those instances where we see acute food insecurity developing. If there are needs, we’re ready to consider them,” he said.
The February coup has already pushed humanitarian groups to expand food aid, though the military junta continues to impose heavy restrictions. A UN-backed response plan, revised in July, tripled the number of people targeted for food security assistance – including expanding food distribution to urban areas of Yangon, Myanmar’s main commercial centre.
As in many aid operations, however, donor funding has fallen short.
“We’ve received more funding now than we had in all of last year, it’s just that the needs are outstripping the available funding,” Anderson said.
Violence and the coronavirus
Humanitarian needs are growing in areas that have typically been spared the brunt of Myanmar’s conflicts, but post-coup violence is still escalating.
In some areas, there are regular clashes between the junta’s troops and local resistance forces who have teamed up with ethnic armed groups that have been fighting for autonomy for decades. Bombings and targeted assassinations in major towns and cities are becoming more common.
Kyaw, the 49-year-old farmer, said soldiers have been raiding many villages in his part of Sagaing, looking for residents suspected of being members of the local resistance forces.
“I can’t even explain how cruel they are,” he said. “Whenever they come, they just arrest whoever they see. So now everyone flees when they come.”
COVID-19 is adding to the farmers’ woes. Positivity rates have dropped from 37 percent in late July to 6 percent in mid-October, but the virus continues to spread. Healthcare delivery has been severely constrained since the coup; only about 15 percent of the population have received a COVID-19 vaccine dose – well below rates in most other countries in the region.
Labourers are falling ill, said Yin, an office worker from a farming family in southern Mandalay Region, which forms part of the Dry Zone.
“A lot of people said they came down with the flu but the illness sounds very similar to COVID-19 because people were losing their sense of smell,” she said.
“In our villages, planting is still being done by hand, so it was really difficult for farmers to hire people, and it means you cannot finish preparing the land or planting in time,” she added.
The rising food insecurity and poverty in the Delta and Dry Zone could have far-reaching repercussions in Myanmar, which has a largely rural population and relies heavily on the agricultural sector, said the development worker.
Poverty and food are immediate worries. But the farmers struggling today also need help to adapt to longer-term threats exacerbated by climate change – more volatile floods and drought, erratic rains, and more risks from pests and crop diseases.
“That critical support and focus on the environment has fallen off the radar,” the development worker said.
“I would ask aid agencies to not abandon Myanmar at this time, even though it might be tempting since it is such a difficult operating environment,” she added.
Myanmar is battling a plunging local currency amid an unprecedented dollar shortage, driving up the cost of imports and worsening the economy’s struggle with dual challenges of the pandemic and post-coup financial isolation.
The kyat has tumbled about 50% since the military seized power in February that triggered a freeze on parts of Myanmar’s foreign reserves held in the U.S. and suspension of multilateral aids — both key sources of foreign currency supplies. Restrictions on cash withdrawals have fueled worries about the safety of money in banks, prompting people to seek more widely used currencies such as the U.S or Singaporean dollars or Thai baht, analysts said.
The Central Bank of Myanmar’s efforts to quell the rush for dollars, including stepping up foreign currency supplies and ordering exporters to repatriate earnings within 30 days, have failed to stem the kyat’s slide. The currency may plunge further to 2,400 to a U.S. dollar by the end of this year and 3,200 by end-2022, according to Jason Yek, senior Asia country risk analyst at Fitch Solutions.
The currency sell-off is the latest crisis to hit the country that’s still grappling with street protests following the ouster of the civilian government led by Aung San Suu Kyi. Nationwide Covid restrictions and a civil disobedience movement by Suu Kyi’s followers have hit normal economic activities, shrinking exports of everything from textiles to agricultural commodities, another source of foreign exchange.
“It is really hard to predict when this financial crisis will end,” said Khine Win, a public policy analyst focusing on economic governance in Myanmar. “Only the restoration of democracy and a legitimate government will unlock the international assistance Myanmar needs to address this crisis, but it’s really hard to see that happening.”
The plunging currency is already taking its toll on Myanmar’s economy, with some businesses shutting down as they are unable to cope with rising costs of imports and raw materials. The economy is estimated to have contracted 18.7% in the fiscal year ended on Sept. 30, according to the ASEAN+3 Macroeconomic Research Office. While the official exchange rate for a dollar was at 1,965 kyat last week, local money managers were quoting 2,200-2,300 kyat, Fitch Solutions’ Yek said.
Though the central bank doesn’t divulge its foreign reserve levels, the recent slide in kyat suggests that “it has likely fallen to a precariously low level” after trying to prop up the currency for months, Yek said.
The currency volatility is expected to ease soon due to recent steps taken by the authorities and higher export earnings seen in November and December, Win Thaw, a deputy governor at the Central Bank of Myanmar, said Monday.
Myanmar’s reserves dwindled after the U.S. froze $1 billion held in the New York Federal Reserve days after the coup, while the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund suspended funding for projects. To preserve the foreign currencies onshore, authorities last month suspended imports of passenger cars and amended the forex law last week.
But putting more controls will further undermine investor confidence in Myanmar and exporters will find ways to keep hard currency offshore, said Vicky Bowman, director of Myanmar Center for Responsible Business.
“The fundamental cause for forex crunch is the collapse in investor confidence in Myanmar and the suspension of development assistance since February,” Bowman said. “Without a political solution which leads to the resumption of lending and restores confidence in the country, it will be difficult for the kyat to recover.”
Foreign direct investment into Myanmar had dwindled with multinational companies becoming increasingly wary of doing business with the military regime and some heading for the exit. Reversing that trend will be key to reversing the kyat’s fortunes.
“We don’t see any FDI coming in and the trend for kyat depreciation may prolong as long as the military remains in power,” Khine Win said. “This could drag more middle class people below the poverty line.”
Global leaders and international organisations need to play a more active role to compel Myanmar to make arrangements for the Rohingyas to return
Foreign Minister Dr AK Abdul Momen has called on the international community including the UK to take concrete actions for creation of a conducive environment in Myanmar for sustainable return of Rohingyas to their homeland in Rakhine State.
Lord Ahmad, the British State Minister for Foreign Affairs for South Asia, United Nations and the Commonwealth met the Foreign Minister at the Permanent Mission of Bangladesh in New York recently and discussed various issues including the Rohingya crisis.
In the meeting, the issue of climate change was also discussed.
Foreign Minister Momen suggested that Bangladesh as the President of the Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF) and the UK as the President of COP26 might jointly hold an event on the sidelines of COP26 in Glasgow.
Foreign Minister Momen also apprised Lord Ahmad of the steps taken by Bangladesh in the area of mitigation and adaptation.
He suggested that the private sector of the UK could invest in different environment-friendly projects in Bangladesh, including in electrification of the conventional railway.
Lord Ahmad appreciated the proactive leadership role of Bangladesh in the area of climate change.
According to Kyodo News, a number of teachers and others engaged in education have joined the so-called civil disobedience movement to boycott work, as a protest against the junta.
Myanmar’s military government announced it will reopen public schools on June 1 but many teachers and students opposed to the coup might refuse to return. According to Kyodo News, a number of teachers and others engaged in education have joined the so-called civil disobedience movement to boycott work, as a protest against the junta. But the junta called on them to return to work and prepare for the reopening of the schools as it announced the restart on April 30. The junta also said it will dismiss those who do not follow the call, maintaining its hard-line stance against protesters since the coup. On February 1, the Myanmar military overthrew the civilian government and declared a year-long state of emergency. The coup triggered mass protests and was met by deadly violence. At a press conference in the capital Naypyitaw, junta spokesman Major General Zaw Min Tun said it will reopen public elementary schools, junior high schools and high schools on June 1, adding it has resumed classes of public graduate schools and the final year of public universities on May 5. “It is a sad thing that some instigators and extremist political activists are campaigning for the students not to go back to the schools and are trying to stop reopening of the schools,” Zaw Min Tun said. The academic year in Myanmar starts on June 1. But public schools in the country have been closed for more than a year since the ousted government led by detained leader Aung San Suu Kyi had decided not to open the schools in June last year as the country saw a surge in the coronavirus infections, Kyodo News reported. It further reported that, while the junta plans to reopen public schools amid efforts at normalizing the country, some 10,000 teachers and others engaged in education, which account for 60 percent of the total, are refusing to go back, according to teachers’ unions in the country. One teacher said he does not mind losing his job by boycotting work from June 1. “I will keep on joining the civil disobedience movement until we win against the junta,” said teacher. A female junior high school student expressed anger toward the junta, saying, “How can we go to school under the military government that has killed hundreds of people and continued firing (at protesters)?” The junta’s security forces have killed 788 people as of Saturday since the coup, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, a rights group monitoring the situation in Myanmar.
Khin Mai Aung shares how Buddhists and other allies can support Myanmar’s activists and Civil Disobedience Movement in the aftermath of the February 2021 military coup.
As Myanmar spiraled into chaos after a February 2021 military coup, the international Buddhist flock and other friends of the country who had been heartened by its transition to semi-democracy watched with mounting concern. To be sure, Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, has been backsliding on civil liberties for a few years – with an exodus of over 700,000 persecuted Rohingya Muslims, an alarming rise in religious nationalism, surging discrimination against ethnic and religious minorities, and targeting of political opponents with arrest.
But in the months since the coup, a widespread and rapid erosion of order and security has engulfed Myanmar, with scores of peaceful protestors gunned down, internet shutdowns, large scale targeting of journalists and media institutions, and a looming threat of all out civil war. The people of Myanmar – Buddhists and religious minorities, Bamar as well as ethnic minorities – collectively face a singular threat, the barbaric junta which has ruthlessly taken power despite a resounding loss in last year’s elections.
As international observers reflect on how to support Myanmar’s Civil Disobedience Movement of boycotting government workers and brave protesters taking to the streets, Burmese community groups within the country’s diaspora and international Buddhist organizations have sprung into action. Partnering with vetted intermediaries in Thailand and Myanmar, these groups are dispersing aid in grants and in kind support on the ground within Myanmar.
The Clear View Project, a Buddhist nonprofit that funds social change and relief efforts from a socially engaged Buddhist perspective, is one such organization. In partnership with the International Network of Engaged Buddhists (INEB), Clear View has conducted fundraising for relief projects, including for telecommunications equipment like SIM cards, personal protective equipment for protestors, medical and funeral expenses, and financial support for government workers boycotting the junta.
Clear View and INEB are also launching a new initiative specifically to support monks and nuns in the Civil Disobedience Movement. While these religious figures have not been categorically targeted, this initiative is directed at assisting those who participated in protests, some of whom are in hiding to avoid arrest. Clearview is also working with partners to organize a “Burma Spring” virtual film festival benefit in June 2021 to raise additional funds to support Myanmar activists. As of late April, Clear View and INEB had raised about $24,000 for their collective efforts, and donors can designate their preference for use of funds.
Hozan Alan Senauke of the Clear View Project recommends that American allies can also make a difference by lobbying the United States “to apply pressure on Thailand [to advocate] for humanitarian treatment of displaced people, for opening its borders, and for not repatriating them – that’s a place that via the State Department we have some agency.”
Clear View’s sister program, the Buddhist Humanitarian Project, provides targeted support to Rohingya refugees. Over the past few years, it has raised over $50,000 to support Rohingya in refugee camps and local communities. It has continued these efforts since the coup, especially as fires ravaged several camps in Bangladesh this year. Such support is critical as Rohingya refugees remain in squalid camps and are at risk of COVID without sufficient personal protective equipment, as the world’s attention has turned to the coup and conditions inside Myanmar. One bright point, Hozan Senauke points out, is that after the coup “the whole nation of Myanmar is a tuning itself into the Rohingya issue [and broader concerns about] the government and military’s brutal discrimination toward various ethnic groups.”
Buddhist temples and secular community organizations affiliated with the Myanmar diaspora and its allies have also stepped up efforts to support the people of Myanmar. Mutual Aid Myanmar is a non-partisan volunteer organization consisting of activists and academics that is raising money to disperse humanitarian aid in Myanmar via trusted civil society groups. Like Clear View and INEB, their support covers funds for food, healthcare and shelter for now unemployed Myanmar government workers in the general strike against the junta. Mutual Aid Myanmar’s vetted local partners remain anonymous for their protection. Mutual Aid Myanmar has raised and distributed an impressive $275,000 for these purposes since the coup.
Other community-based efforts have focused on non-material supports, community education, and relationship building. The Baydar Collective is a network of youth activists from the Myanmar diaspora based in North America, named after the baydar (hyacinth) flower, which is associated with resilience and resistance. According to Ashley “Aye Aye” Dun, a graduate student at Brown University and a member of Baydar’s steering committee, Baydar’s goal is to “unite people in the Myanmar diaspora to talk about the ways that ongoing events in Myanmar affect our diasporic communities, because it directly affects us too through our families, relatives, and friends in the country struggling in the resistance.”
Baydar is hosting a virtual reading series focused on topics ranging from analyzing implications of the Myanmar opposition’s new constitution (the Federal Democracy Charter), discussing ethnic and religious divides in Myanmar and its diaspora, and examining parallels between anti-Chinese sentiment in Myanmar with the recent surge of anti-Asian violence in the United States. To celebrate Asian Pacific American heritage month in May, Baydar is launching a virtual art circle where members of the Myanmar diaspora will come together to discuss current events, socialize, and participate in drawing and art activities. Baydar has also supported activists in Myanmar though social media campaigns and public information dispersal, and plans to build coalitions with other Asian American activists and communities of color in the United States.
Aye Aye Dun reports that one critical way for Buddhists abroad and other supporters to support Myanmar’s resistance is to attend local anti-military protests, which Burmese Buddhist monks often attend. She believes “these events are a valuable opportunity for interfaith unity.” She also pointed to strategic boycott efforts – for example recent efforts to target Chevron, an American corporate investor in Myanmar which has actively lobbied against more aggressive sanctions on the country’s military.
More abstractly, and directed at the longer term, Aye Aye Dun suggests that allies can also focus on simply educating themselves more generally about the heterogeneity of resistance in Myanmar and its diaspora. In addition to providing direct support, allies can gain a more nuanced understanding of Myanmar’s ethnic and religious diversity and the country’s historical and sociopolitical context. They can also learn about how supporters of democracy within and outside Myanmar deploy their resistance in myriad ways, taking into account safety concerns within the country for themselves or relatives left behind. “A more sustained relationship to support Myanmar’s prodemocracy efforts requires us to always keep learning” about the situation and dynamics on the ground, says Aye Aye Dun, and “this is something we are trying to do at Baydar.”
While the situation in Myanmar is dire and likely to be protracted, these fundraising, support, and education efforts can foster a modicum of hope regarding the spirit of the people of Myanmar and its diaspora, and the diligent efforts of its diverse allies working to lift up and champion those on the frontlines of Myanmar’s Civil Disobedience Movement.
More information about the efforts described above – which are not affiliated with Lion’s Roar – is listed below in alphabetical order.
Baydar Collective is a group of young people in North America from the Myanmar diaspora that conducts community education on the heterogeneity of anti-military resistance (and how it is shaped by intersecting differences in ethnicity, religion, class, gender, and sexuality), promotes the work of vetted United States nonprofits to support the people of Myanmar, highlights issues affecting the diaspora of Myanmar, and builds affinities and coalitions with other Asian American activists and activists of color.
Buddhist Humanitarian Project provides aid and support for Rohingya communities in Myanmar, Bangladesh and India. It is an initiative organized by the Clearview Project, in order to call upon the global Buddhist community to take a stand against violence inflicted upon the Rohingya and to support Rohingya refugees.
Clear View Project provides Buddhist-based resources for relief and social change, promotes dialogue on issues of socially engaged Buddhism, and supports communities in need, both internationally and within the United States. A successor of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship’s Burma Project, the Clear View Project has worked in Myanmar for many years including supporting activism leading up to the 2007 Saffron Revolution and throughout the country’s political and economic reforms since 2011, supporting political reforms and community development.
International Network of Engaged Buddhists is an autonomous organization under the Bangkok-based Sathirakoses-Nagapradeepa Foundation, and includes both organizational and individual members from more than 25 countries across Asia, Europe, North America and Australia. From this diversity, INEB promotes an understanding of socially engaged Buddhism which integrates the practice of Buddhism with social action for a healthy, just, and peaceful world.
Mutual Aid Myanmar provides humanitarian support via resources to unemployed general strike workers in Myanmar in the form of food, healthcare and shelter. Mutual Aid Myanmar and verified partner organizations provide this aid in kind and via small cash stipends. Partner organizations are vetted by their Board of Directors and are part of local civil society networks.
United Nations independent rights experts on Wednesday urged businesses in Myanmar to uphold their human rights responsibilities and apply pressure on the military junta to halt grave human rights violations against its own people.
While some businesses have reiterated their public support for the rule of law and human rights, and cut ties with the junta in the aftermath of the 1 February coup, many continue to engage in business with the military as if nothing has happened, Tom Andrews, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, and members of the Working Group on Business and Human Rights, said in a news
As military leaders are intensifying their campaign of repression, companies must act in line with the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights to avoid contributing to human rights violations, or becoming complicit in crimes if they continue to operate in the country, the experts highlighted.
Surya Deva, Vice-Chair of the Working Group, said that because “the risk of gross human rights violations has greatly increased in Myanmar, action by States and human rights due diligence by business, and investors, should be rapidly and proportionately heightened”.
“Businesses, both individually and collectively, should exert the maximum leverage on the military in Myanmar to halt what the High Commissioner for Human Rights has said may amount to crimes against humanity”, Special Rapporteur Tom Andrews added.
Into its fourth month, the crisis in Myanmar – marked by near daily pro-democracy protests and a brutal crackdown by security forces – has reportedly claimed at least 782 lives. Countless more have been wounded and over 3,700 people are in detention, including many in situations that may amount to enforced disappearances.
Furthermore, over 1,500 arrest warrants have been issued against civil society activists, journalists, academics and others who oppose the coup, and military authorities are reportedly taking relatives of wanted people into custody to force them to turn themselves in.
“The revenues that the military earns from domestic and foreign businesses substantially enhances its ability and capacity to carry out these grave violations”, Mr. Andrews said.
A 2019 report by the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar outlined several economic interests of the military in the country, including links with private and foreign companies and conglomerates.
In it, the Mission concluded that no business should enter into an economic or financial relationship with the security forces of Myanmar, in particular the Tatmadaw (as its military is known), or any enterprise owned or controlled by them or their individual members, until and unless they are restructured and transformed.
Suspend operations or consider exit
The experts also reiterated the Human Rights Council’s call for home States of businesses investing in Myanmar in any way, to take appropriate measures so that those businesses ensure their activities do not cause or contribute to rights violations.
Businesses which continue to operate in Myanmar should take all possible measures to protect their employees, support the exercise of all human rights by citizens, including the right to peaceful protests, and speak up to preserve civic space and the independence of the media, they said.
“There may come a point at which businesses might need to suspend operations or even consider exit from the country if risks of involvement in human rights abuse cannot be reasonably managed, while doing so in a manner to safeguard the well-being of workers and affected communities”, Mr. Deva said.
The Special Rapporteurs and Working Groups are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. The experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.
A high-end office block in Myanmar linked to the country’s military leaders is seeing an exodus of international organisations.
Coca-Cola, the World Bank and McKinsey have told the BBC they have moved out or are reviewing their leases at the Sule Square complex in Yangon.
The United Nations said the complex was built on land owned by the military.
Myanmar’s military seized power from the democratically elected government in February.
It has been 100 days since the early morning coup, sparking mass protests across the country in which hundreds have died.
However, even before they took power on 1 February, Myanmar’s military – which initially ruled the country for almost half a century after seizing power in 1962 – owned large areas of land and controlled companies involved in everything from mining to banking.
The land on which the building stands was leased from the military, according to a 2019 United Nations fact-finding mission report.
Last month, activist group Justice for Myanmar called on 18 tenants of the complex of offices and shops in the heart of Myanmar’s commercial hub Yangon to stop indirectly supporting the army.
“Sule Square has big-name tenants that continue to lease office space in the building, indirectly supporting the army,” Justice for Myanmar said in a report.
According to news agency Reuters, six of the companies have said they have moved out or were reviewing their plans, but only one mentioned the military link. Other firms cited various reasons, including business prospects.
In a statement via email, Coca-Cola told the BBC that it would not renew its lease when it ends in the middle of next month due to “changing business requirements”.
“Our office-based employees at Coca-Cola Limited (Myanmar) will continue to work from home for the rest of 2021 as part of overall safety measures. We will be communicating our new office location at a later date,” it added.
In a statement sent to the BBC, consultancy McKinsey & Company said: “We no longer have space in a serviced office leased in Sule Square. We terminated our lease in early 2021.”
Reuters said it is not currently using its Sule Square office and was reviewing its tenancy.
A spokesperson for the World Bank Group, which also has an office in the complex, told the BBC that it was “assessing the situation in Myanmar, according to internal policies and procedures”.
Norway’s state-owned telecoms operator Telenor said it had known that the military owned the land Sule Square is built on before it moved in but it had picked the location due to a number of reasons, including safety. Telenor has not said whether or not it plans to move out of the building.
Sule Square, which is close to the historic Sule Pagoda in Yangon, opened in 2017. It was developed by a local affiliate of Hong Kong listed Shangri-La Asia, which also manages the building and a neighbouring hotel.
Shangri-La said in 2017 that it had invested $125m (£88.5m) in the development.