Following allegations of election fraud, Myanmar's Tatmadaw military took control of the government in a coup d'état on Feb. 1. The country's current leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, and other prominent politicians were reportedly detained in the process, and have since been put under house arrest, per ABC News. Now thousands of people are taking part in street protests and strikes, calling for the release of Suu Kyi and for democracy to be restored. Prior to her leadership, Myanmar had been under military rule for nearly five decades.
The Tatmadaw military claim that the November 2020 election results (which saw Suu Kyi's party win the majority) were fraudulent and are using a clause in the constitution to reclaim power in a one-year state of emergency. But how exactly did the country get to this point? Here's everything you need to know about the developing situation in Myanmar.
Who Is Aung San Suu Kyi?
Aung San Suu Kyi is the State Counsellor of Myanmar. Her close aide Win Myint is actually the president of the country, as the constitution forbids Suu Kyi from occupying the role as her children are foreign nationals, but she is "widely seen as the country's de facto leader" per BBC News. In November 2015, she led the National League for Democracy (NLD) to a "landslide victory", officially taking the country out of Tatmadaw rule.
Suu Kyi, known as "the Lady", is a prominent political figure in Myanmar. She spent 15 years under house arrest before leading the NLD and was eventually released by the military government in 2010. In 1991 she won the Nobel Peace Prize for efforts in her non-violent struggle for democracy and human rights in Myanmar.
However, under the NLD's leadership, the country's Rohingya people have been subject to state brutality and displacement. Around 800,000 refugees have fled across the border to Bangladesh, per the charity Action Aid, and the charity Médecins Sans Frontières estimated that up to 6,700 Rohingya people had died at the hands of the Myanmar military in one month at the height of the 2017 crisis.
As the BBC reports, Suu Kyi's government is now the subject of a genocide lawsuit and an investigation by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity. During a hearing at the International Court of Justice in 2017, Suu Kyi attracted criticism for defending the military's actions during the Rohingya Crisis.
What Is Currently Happening In Myanmar?
Per ABC News, Myanmar's military has taken control of the government and has appointed Vice President Myint Swe, a former military officer, as the President of Myanmar for the remainder of the year. The Tatmadaw has cited Article 417 of Myanmar's constitution, "which allows the military to take over in times of emergency." However, it was the military that drafted this constitution in 2008, and Human Rights Watch described this clause as a "coup mechanism waiting to happen."
Since the coup began, thousands have taken to the street in protest despite the recent military warning, BBC News reports. In a statement read on state-owned MRTV, the Tatmadaw said protestors will “suffer the loss of life” if demonstrations incite violence and confrontation. On Feb. 28, 18 people were killed during protests across the country according to the UN following the “most deadly crackdown since the military seized power,” per the Guardian, with reports of live ammunition, stun grenades, and tear gas being used. Myanmar’s first Catholic Cardinal Charles Maung Bo has described the country as “a battlefield”, with a total of 21 people now dead as a result of the military crackdown.
According to MRTV, “more than 470 people were arrested” during the most recent protests. The UN’s Human Rights Office alleges that of those arrested, 85 are medical professionals and students, and seven are journalists. “Over 1,000 individuals have been arbitrarily arrested and detained in the last month – some of whom remain unaccounted for – mostly without any form of due process, simply for exercising their human rights to freedom of opinion, expression, and peaceful assembly,” a spokesperson said.
“We reiterate our call for the immediate release of all those arbitrarily detained, including members of the democratically elected government.”
What Happens Next?
On Feb. 11, U.S. President Joe Biden issued sanctions on the country’s military leaders, followed by the UK on Feb. 18. “The UK condemns the military coup and the arbitrary detention of Aung San Suu Kyi and other political figures,” UK Secretary of State Dominic Rabb said in a press release issued by the government. “We, alongside our international allies will hold the Myanmar military to account for their violations of human rights and pursue justice for the Myanmar people.” Raab has also condemned the deaths of protestors in recent weeks.
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