The Platform


In late August of 2017, Rohima Kadu’s idyllic village of Chin Khali, Rakhine was visited by Myanmar’s much-dreaded military, the Tatmadaw, and its local Buddhist militia. Rohima, a helpless Rohingya widow of 50, was at a loss. Her eldest daughter, with whom she was living at that time, was bedridden with malaria and too weak to flee. Rohima grabbed her grandchildren and fled to the nearby forest. She returned when the pillaging of her village was over, but there was no home to return to. All that remained was the charred skull of her daughter lying on the ground.

Four years later in 2021, the stage for Tatmadaw’s horror show is set in the city of Bago in south-central Myanmar. On an utterly tense evening of April 9, a 19-year-old teen riding a small motorcycle was stopped at a military checkpoint. The teen was arrested for having pictures of himself at a protest on his phone. The following few days were marked by merciless beating with cable wires, glass bottles, and butts of guns. Small scissors were used to cut his ears, throat, and the tip of the nose. Through sheer willpower, he survived the ordeal to let the world know his story.

Between these two realities lies four years of impunity, complacency, and injustice. Tatmadaw’s involvement in crimes against humanity is as old as Myanmar itself. However, never had the brunt of horrific violence been so all-encompassing as it is now following the military coup. Human Rights Watch, in its latest statement, said that Tatmadaw-perpetrated violence and human rights abuses in the months since the coup amount to crimes against humanity as these attacks are widespread, systematic, knowingly committed against civilians and reflect the official position of a state institution rather than actions of individual soldiers. The list of atrocities includes murder, arbitrary detention, enforced disappearances, rape, other sexual and gender-based violence, torture, and severe deprivation of liberty.

The ongoing crisis in Myanmar has stemmed from a history of impunity. From the military takeover in 1962 to the latest one in February, the Tatmadaw was never held to account. The global response to Myanmar’s human rights situation was never adequate. The 2008 constitution and much-lauded ‘democratic’ reforms also ensured total impunity for the country’s security forces from domestic legal accountability. Impunity from the deeds of the past has naturally paved the way for crimes committed to this day.

A crisis that is rooted in impunity can only be solved by ensuring total accountability. The United Nations offers a fresh opportunity for global action to ensure accountability in Myanmar. On June 18, the United Nations adopted a resolution condemning the coup and calling for an arms embargo on Myanmar.

The legal proceedings against Myanmar initiated by The Gambia at the International Court of Justice in 2019 are probably the closest the Tatmadaw leadership has ever faced regarding accountability. The sheer brutality with which it handled numerous ethnic groups for over sixty years, is now on full display as the government confronts large crowds engaged in peaceful civil disobedience. Unlike previous crackdowns, the ongoing suppression has coincided with mass access to technology and social media. The growing trove of photos, live videos, surveillance footage can eventually be used in building an international criminal case against the junta. Such evidence can be easily preserved, making prosecution of perpetrators possible even after many years.

Non-recognition can be another potential tool in this regard. The UN Human Rights Council has ‘inadvertently’ lent legitimacy to the junta by allowing its representatives to explain and justify the emergency decree on two separate occasions. The UNGA Credentials Committee is supposed to meet before the 76th session to address the representation issue. However, the junta had its own plan to solve the issue as evident in the recently foiled assassination attempt of the NLD-appointed Permanent Representative. Since Myanmar is facing a third wave of COVID-19, the world should be extra cautious so that global aid does not lead to the legitimization of the junta, another affliction threatening countless lives in Myanmar.

Nayd Riham is a Bangladesh-based journalist and independent researcher. His interest and expertise lie in the Rohingya crisis and ethno-national politics of South and Southeast Asia. Nayd holds a postgraduate degree in International Political Economy from the University of Dhaka, Bangladesh.