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Washington, April 21, 2021 —  In response to the escalating military violence and digital repression in Myanmar, Freedom House issued the following statement:

“The situation in Myanmar is a matter of international urgency,” said Michael J. Abramowitz, president of Freedom House. “The military has physically attacked and killed hundreds of civilians and cut off critical internet services, and the coup has caused severe damage to the already-suffering economy. The United States, regional governments, and international organizations and businesses must unite to deny the military junta the international legitimacy it seeks, end the bloodshed, and vocally support the people of Myanmar in their efforts to build a democratic future for their country. The United States’ and other governments’ economic sanctions targeting military leaders and military-owned businesses should be expanded, adopted by other nations, and respected by multinational corporations. The United Nations should lead an effort to ensure that prodemocracy activists who need to leave Myanmar can do so without fear of forced repatriation—and begin to prepare for possible humanitarian intervention.”

“The Myanmar prodemocracy movement represents a diverse mix of people and groups united in their opposition to military rule,” Abramowitz continued. “To ensure that they have the opportunity to work together to construct a sustainable democracy, the United States and its partners must maintain dialogue with—and between—these groups, making it clear that pluralist, equitable democracy must prevail.”

Recommendations for International Action:

  • Strengthen global collaboration on extending targeted sanctions, including asset freezes and travel bans on members of the Tatmadaw military junta who are responsible for human rights violations.
  • Restrict export to Myanmar of surveillance technologies that could be used by the junta to identify, monitor, and punish human rights defenders and people participating in peaceful protests.
  • Press for arms embargoes on Myanmar, including at the UN General Assembly and the UN Security Council.
  • Support the mandate of the UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, and call on the Tatmadaw to grant the rapporteur free access to conduct investigations. At the UN Human Rights Council and the Third Committee of the UN General Assembly, work to ensure that the special rapporteur has adequate resources and collaborate to secure adoption of the rapporteur’s recommendations.
  • Press the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and regional governments—especially Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand, and Indonesia—to condemn the coup; to use their leverage with Myanmar as donors, trading partners, and financial hubs to persuade the junta to reverse course; and to ensure that asylum seekers, refugees, and human rights defenders from Myanmar can safely relocate out of the country and are not forcibly returned.
  • Work for a coordinated response at international financial institutions, including the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, and the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank, to prevent Myanmar’s military-owned enterprises from benefiting from international loans and grants; ensure that there is regular consultation on these matters with civil society representatives from Myanmar.
  • Engage businesses that have operations in Myanmar to ensure that neither they nor their suppliers fire workers for participating in prodemocracy protests or carry out other forms of reprisals.
  • Ensure that diplomats in Myanmar are supporting human rights defenders, including through monitoring of trials and protests. For the European Union and countries that have policies on diplomatic support for human rights defenders, ensure that embassies in Myanmar have implementation plans on how to adhere to such policies in practice.

Background:

Early on the morning of February 1, the military detained more than 45 politicians and activists, including State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, President U Win Myint, and other senior political leaders. On the day of the coup, influential civil society leaders and organizations were also targeted with raids and arrests, and some internet and telephone services were disrupted. The military, known as the Tatmadaw, declared a one-year state of emergency and announced that its commander in chief, Min Aung Hlaing, would lead the country. The military pointed to alleged election fraud as the reason for the coup, stated that the electoral commission would be reconstituted, emphasized the need to restore peace in the country, and said new elections would be held once these tasks are completed.

As of April 21, at least 739 people, including children, are reported to have been killed on the streets or in their homes by soldiers or police officers since the start of the coup. In addition to issuing thousands of warrants for the arrest of activists, the junta has declared illegal most unions and labor organizations, which have played a critical role in organizing general strikes to prevent a swift takeover by the military.

In the November 2020 elections, Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) won 82 percent of the elected seats in parliament, while the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) took just 6 percent, though the military itself is guaranteed a quarter of the parliament seats under the constitution.

Over the past two months, the military’s digital control efforts have escalated, with increased restrictions on mobile and other internet services, blocks on major social media platforms and websites, and constraints on online reporting. On April 2, the military ordered all telecommunications companies to cut wireless internet access across the country indefinitely.

Myanmar’s anticoup bloc comprises a vast range of stakeholders, including the Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM); labor groups representing industrial workers and civil servants; the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH), a parallel government representing lawmakers ousted in the coup, which the CDM considers its political leadership; and numerous ethnic groups and their militias, 10 of which publicly condemned the junta’s use of live ammunition against protesters in an April 3 statement.

The CRPH has announced plans to establish an interim national unity government to work on ending the military dictatorship and drafting a new constitution for Myanmar. The CRPH said in a statement that the interim government will be based on a new Federal Democracy Charter and will be composed of a president, state counselor, two vice presidents, a prime minister, ministers, and deputies. Following the release of the charter, the CRPH announced that the coup violated the 2008 constitution, effectively nullifying it. Drafted by the previous military regime, the 2008 constitution granted the military a quarter of parliamentary seats and three crucial ministerial posts, regardless of its preferred party’s electoral performance, as well as other special powers, privileges, and immunity from prosecution for human rights violations.

Myanmar is rated Not Free in Freedom in the World 2021 and Not Free in Freedom on the Net 2020.

Freedom House is an independent watchdog organization that supports democratic change, monitors the status of freedom around the world, and advocates for democracy and human rights.