Burmese people protest military coup

Protesters make the three-finger salute as they take part in a demonstration against the military coup in Yangon on December 1, 2021. (Photo: STR/AFP via Getty Images)

The People of Burma Demand Accountability for 2021 Military Coup

It’s time for the international community to act decisively.

On the morning of August 25, 2021, I woke up on the floor with my lungs gasping for breath. My heart was racing, my hands and legs were shaking from adrenaline, and I was sweating from running. It took me about a minute to realize it was just a nightmare, one where I had to jump off a six-step ladder to run away from Burmese soldiers. Except it wasn't a nightmare.

It was January 28, 1995--the day I was forced to leave my beautiful village and never see it again. It's just a nightmare for me now, but it's a reality for so many people back home.

Since February 1, 2021, I have heard the words "February coup," "attempted coup," "civil disobedience movement," "People's Defense Force," and "National Unity Government" countless times. Every time these words are used, I only hear the sounds of war. Most importantly, I hear the screams of civilians, whether they are fleeing for their lives or crying for the loss of their loved ones. I feel as though the international community does not hear the desperate cries for help from Burma's civilians.

Condemnations only embolden the Burmese military to continue committing crimes with impunity. There is no accountability let alone justice for the victims and their surviving families.

When I saw the picture of the Karen civilians carrying their belongings and their children while crossing the Moi River, I saw myself being carried on my mother's back when we fled in the late 1970s. When I saw the picture of the Karenni civilians that were notoriously burned to death on December 24, I saw my aunt hanging upside down and my uncle's skin was flayed and covered with salt and chilli after he was tortured to death. When I watched the news about Thangtlang burning as a result of bombings in Chin state, I saw my village and church burned to the ground when the Burmese military dropped bombs in late January 1995.

I did foresee a day like the February 1 coup. I felt hopeless at one point as I watched world leaders, including the United States, lift economic sanctions, the only leverage we had to bring Burma a step closer to a stable and inclusive democracy. Now, after a decade, we are back to square one. Our people are indiscriminately killed and used as human shields. Their homes are burned and landmines are planted in and around villages. The intense armed conflict forced civilians to flee for their lives, increasing the numbers of displaced people.

International leaders have so much power and can do so much, but lack political will or, in some cases, look out for their own self-interest. I remember the last time I had meetings at the State Department in 2017, soon after the Rohingya genocide took place in Rakhine state in western Burma. I provided a situation update on Kachin state and Northern Shan state, but officials talked about positive developments in other areas. They were in the middle of discussions about engagement with the Burmese military. They honestly believed that the Burmese military would work with them. However, the people of Burma know too well how deceitful the junta can be.

It's been almost a year since the Burmese military coup. We have greater than 320,000 displaced civilians in addition to 340,000 people already displaced due to conflicts prior to 2021. More than a million refugees are seeking refuge in neighboring countries. The most powerful international body, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), still condemns the Burmese military for its actions. However, condemnations only embolden the Burmese military to continue committing crimes with impunity. There is no accountability let alone justice for the victims and their surviving families. The junta is using all possible methods to wipe out anyone who fights back against its rule.

It's time for the international community to act decisively.

We ask that the international community stop selling weapons to the Burmese military. We implore the UNSC to refer the junta to the International Criminal Court and impose a global arms embargo and targeted sanctions, including gas revenue that brings in billions of dollars that the junta uses to buy weapons. And we ask that other nations follow the example of Argentina and bring forward universal jurisdiction cases against the junta.

Now the people of Burma, including all ethnic groups across the country, are fighting back to regain their rights. It is time for the international community to stand with us in our struggle instead of standing by. The people of Burma are not asking too much, only to hold the Burmese military accountable for the unspeakable crimes they have been committing. We ask the international community to help stop selling weapons to the Burmese military and to stop funding them.

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