In-Depth: Sponsoring Rep. Andy Levin (D-MI), Vice Chair of the Asia, the Pacific, Central Asia and Nonproliferation (APCAN) Subcommittee of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, introduced this resolution to condemn the February 1, 2021 coup by the Burmese military (Tatmadaw) and call for the Tatmadaw to release all political prisoners:
“The Tatmadaw ended Burma’s fragile, ten-year experiment with democracy on February 1. While Burma struggled during that time to enfranchise its minority populations and respect their human rights, the Burmese military’s decision to seize total control over the government is a tragic slide backwards. The Tatmadaw should release its political prisoners and return elected officials to their positions in government. This resolution makes clear that Congress stands with the people of Burma in their ambition for sustainable peace, a genuine democracy, and the realization of human rights for all.”
After this resolution’s passage in the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Levin said:
“The Tatmadaw has dealt a serious blow to nascent Burmese democracy, but I have faith the people of Burma, the international community and the United States can work together to demonstrate to the Burmese military that reverting to authoritarian rule is unacceptable. I’m inspired by the hundreds of thousands of Burmese citizens who have taken to the streets to protest this coup. My resolution condemning the coup is an act of solidarity with the people of Burma—all of its people, including ethnic minorities who have been left out of its democratic experiment. The civilian government must be restored, but that’s just a first step. Real reform is needed to enfranchise ethnic minorities and build a true democracy for all.”
Lead Republican cosponsor Rep. Steve Chabot (R-OH) adds:
“America stands with the Burmese people in their struggle for freedom. On February 1, the news broke of a military coup against the civilian government in Burma. The Burmese military seized control and detained top political leaders, including Aung San Suu Kyi and President Win Myint, and, since then, has detained hundreds of other innocent civilians. The Burmese people have been courageously and peacefully protesting these actions. This coup is a blatant violation of the rights of the Burmese people, and I condemn Burma’s generals for their assault against democracy. I want to thank Democratic Congressman Andy Levin for spearheading this bipartisan legislation to condemn the Burmese military’s coup and I will continue to work with my colleagues to support the people of Burma.”
The Biden administration is already imposing sanctions and working with international partners to resolve this crisis. In a February 21, 2021 briefing, President Joe Biden said:
“We’ve been in close contact with our allies and partners around the world, particularly in the Indo-Pacific region, driving vigorous diplomatic outreach to help coordinate an international response to what happened… I’m announcing a series — a series of actions that we’re taking to begin imposing consequences on the leaders of the coup. The U.S. government is taking steps to prevent the generals from improperly having access to the $1 billion in Burmese government funds held in the United States. And today, I’ve approved a new executive order — (coughs) — excuse me — a new executive order enabling us to immediately sanction the military leaders who directed the coup, their business interests, as well as close family members.”
In the briefing, President Biden also noted that the U.S. had helped bring the UN Security Council together to issue a strong statement in support of Burmese democracy. He also reiterated a previous call for the military to immediately release Aung San Suu Kyi, president Win Myint, and other democratic political leaders and activists.
This resolution passed the House Foreign Affairs Committee by voice vote with the support of 63 bipartisan House cosponsors, including 42 Democrats and 21 Republicans.
Of Note: Burma, also known as Myanmar, is a Southeast Asian nation. Its elected leader, Aung Sang Suu Kyi, and members of her political party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), have been detained since a February 1, 2021 military coup.
The Burmese military (Tatmadaw) seized control after a general election in which Suu Kyi’s NLD party won by a landslide. The Tatmadaw had backed the opposition party, which was demanding a rerun of the vote and claiming widespread fraud despite the election commission saying that these claims weren’t supported by the evidence.
After seizing control, the Tatmadaw declared a year-long state of emergency and military commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing took power. Suu Kyi has been held in an unknown location since the coup, and NLD MPs who managed to escape request formed a new group in hiding. The NLD’s new leader has encouraged protesters to defend themselves against the crackdown.
Protests over the coup have been the largest since 2007’s Saffron Revolution, in which thousands of monks rose up against the military regime. Teachers, lawyers, students, bank officers, and government workers are among the protesters. In response, the Tatmadaw has imposed numerous restrictions, including curfews and limits to gatherings. It has also used water cannons, rubber bullets, and live ammunition to disperse protesters.
The Tatmadaw has also limited communications in an effort to make organizing more difficult. Initially, it cut the internet on the day of the coup to stall the spread of information. Then, it impose the first overnight internet shutdown on February 6, 2021, on the day of the first mass protest. Since then, the internet has been restricted for 33 evenings and counting, as the military has been cutting it off starting at 1am each evening since February 15, 2021.
Other forms of communication are also currently restricted:
- Mobile data has been disabled since February 15, 2021;
- Some public Wi-Fi has been disabled since February 18, 2021; and
- Online platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, have been filtered since February 2021.
The international community’s response to the coup has been largely condemnatory. The U.S. and U.K. have sanctioned Tatmadaw officials, and UN Secretary-General António Guterres has called the coup “a serious blow to democratic reforms” in Burma. Southeast Asian countries are also pursuing diplomatic efforts to end the crisis.
Although it blocked a UN Security Council statement condemning the coup, China has backed calls for Suu Kyi’s release and a return to democratic norms.
Summary by Lorelei Yang(Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons)