2 February 2021
The Socialist International strongly condemns the military coup in Myanmar on Monday 1 February, and calls for the immediate release of the political leaders detained by the military in flagrant violation of the rule of law. As an organisation for which developing and strengthening global democracy is a central objective, this regressive step represents a severe blow. This illegitimate seizure of power has been accompanied by measures to restrict telecommunications in Myanmar and fears of further curbs on individual freedoms and human rights.
There must be no return to the years of military dictatorship in Myanmar. Though a degree of democratic progress had been made in the country in recent years, including the holding of elections in 2015 and most recently in November 2020, the military has maintained its power and influence under the 2008 constitution, which reserves 25% of the seats in parliament and three ministries for serving military officers. This coup comes just months after the confirmation through the electoral process that the overwhelming majority of Burmese citizens want to see civilian leadership of their country.
At a time when the democratic future of Myanmar is under threat, it is important to keep in mind the plight of the Rohingya people there, who have suffered immensely in recent years. The forces that have overthrown the democratically elected government of Myanmar are complicit in the human rights atrocities and ethnic cleansing that have taken place in Rakhine province and regretfully were defended at the International Court of Justice in The Hague by Aung San Suu Kyi. There is a grave danger that an already desperate situation could worsen for the 600,000 Rohingya remaining in the province and the international community must be ready to act to prevent a further humanitarian catastrophe and secure the rights of both the Rohingya in Myanmar and the more than 700,000 refugees currently stranded in neighbouring Bangladesh.
The coup of 1 February was not the first in the history of Myanmar, but for the sake of the future well-being and prosperity of its citizens it must be the last. In addition to the immediate relinquishing of power by those responsible and the restoration of civilian rule, Myanmar needs further reforms to ensure the military does not wield political power but is under the authority of the democratically elected government. Those responsible for the coup and for violations of human rights in Myanmar must be held to account, while the political prisoners who have continued to be deprived of their liberty since 2015 should be released. Measures to remove the grip still held on the country by the military leadership, ensure accountability and guarantee the rights of the political opposition, are a prerequisite for the long overdue transition of Myanmar to full democracy, with equal rights for all its citizens, regardless of religion or ethnic group.