Bangladesh should strategically plan for any potential deterioration of the situation
The junta in Myanmar badly underestimated the reaction of the country’s public to the first overthrow of a civilian government since 1962. The people of Myanmar have been out in droves since the military coup on February 1, 2021. People from all walks of life have joined the protests. Many diplomats of Myanmar, including the country’s UN envoy, have defected to the opposition.
Young protestors have proven to be as tech savvy as their counterparts in Hong Kong. More than 700 people have been killed in the military’s crackdown against the burgeoning pro-democracy movement. The junta continues to hold political prisoners, including the country’s constitutional president and state counsellor. Recent arrests have included the detention of Wai Moe Naing, a 25-year-old Muslim man who became a prominent anti-coup activist.
On global social media platforms, the hashtag #WhatsHappeningInMyanmar has been trending since the coup. International condemnation of the coup has been swift and widespread. Even China, the military’s longstanding ally, has warned the junta about the security of its investments. Mobs have targeted Chinese-run factories. China has also reportedly reached out to Myanmar’s opposition which styles itself as the Committee Representing the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH).
The CRPH considers itself to represent the legitimate government and parliament of Myanmar. It has announced the formation of a National Unity Government after getting the support of ethnic minority rebel groups.
At an ASEAN Summit in Jakarta, Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia took the lead in calling for the release of political prisoners. Singapore’s prime minister described the military’s actions as regressive. Malaysia has withheld its recognition of the junta. India also wishes a return to the democratic path.
During a visit to Washington, the foreign minister of Bangladesh alluded to the pending genocide lawsuit against the Tatmadaw in the International Court of Justice. He also shared Bangladesh’s frustrations over the delayed repatriation of Rohingya refugees, stating “four years almost till now, not a single Rohingya has gone back. We tried bilaterally. We tried multilaterally. We tried trilaterally. We even went to the ICJ court. Nothing worked.” The International Criminal Court is also investigating the unlawful deportation of Rohingya refugees to Bangladesh.
Protestors in Myanmar have openly called on the international community to exercise the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) doctrine to stop the junta’s attacks on civilians. The military has launched air strikes on Karen rebels near the Thai border. Armed clashes between Karen rebels and the military have caused refugees to flee across the border into neighboring Thailand. There are fears of a broader civil war as rebel groups control large parts of the country, including frontier regions on the borders of northeastern India and southwestern China.
There are also genuine concerns over radicalization, including the prospect of religious extremism taking a foothold in Rakhine State. Extremists also include communists and fascists.
The junta’s commitment to protecting the country’s cultural heritage is also questionable. Reports from Sittwe indicate that a century old mosque is facing possible destruction. The Santikan Mosque, dating to the 15th century period of the Bengal Sultanate, is already in ruins.
The opposition in Myanmar has attempted to forge a federal coalition encompassing all rebel groups. Federal democracy has been a long cherished goal of the people of Myanmar since independence.
Dr Sasa, one of the key CRPH leaders, called on “Rohingya brothers and sisters” to join the pro-democracy movement. Indeed, the Rohingya have been ardent supporters of democracy for decades. It was a grave injustice to see them betrayed by the government of Aung San Suu Kyi before the coup.
The repatriation of the Rohingya hinges on legal reforms like the restoration of citizenship and removal of restrictions on access to public services. The question is whether the opposition in Myanmar will clearly commit to such legal reforms that are essential for federal democracy.
Bangladesh and the international community should maintain communication channels with the CRPH and its National Unity Government. The sustainable repatriation of Rohingya refugees requires dialogue with all stakeholders in Myanmar, including the country’s political and civil society.
Bangladesh should also strategically plan for any potential deterioration of the situation in Rakhine State. In the past, the government of Bangladesh has spoken of a humanitarian corridor under the oversight of the United Nations. Such a corridor can now be potentially coordinated with the CRPH and its National Unity Government in response to their demands for R2P.
Umran Chowdhury works in the legal field.