Myanmar’s military government is being investigated for human rights violations by a task force under the name of Myanmar Witness. Backed by the British government, the Myanmar Witness will collect information about Myanmar’s possible war crimes and report back to the United Nations’ Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar. The task force will use a variety of sources, such as eyewitness reports and social media posts that show violence being committed by military forces. The Myanmar Witness stands in line with international scrutiny against Myanmar’s military leaders who took power in February after the election of Aung San Suu Kyi. There is feasible evidence of violations as more than 880 deaths have been reported by the UN. There have also been indications of an open fire and deadly force used on demonstrators.
The establishment of the Myanmar Witness is one of the most recent responses of the international community to contain, in the words of U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, the Myanmar military’s “reign of terror”. Many Western leaders have condemned the Myanmar military’s actions and called for sanctions on officials, yet that has not been enough for the military to relinquish power. The Myanmar Witness has been charged to “independently collect, preserve, process, investigate, verify, and review” these reported abuses in hopes that this could bring awareness and possibly lead to a more organized response of international actors. But overall, this seems to be “a serious blow to democratic reforms” in Myanmar, as stated by UN Secretary-General António Guterres, after progress has been made to establish a stable democracy to only once again revert to military rule.
The events that have unfolded in Myanmar after the military coup seem to be a shout for help. The methods that the military is using are no longer acceptable in today’s world. The military took control after declaring the election of Aung San Suu Kyi fraudulent when there were no suspicions of illegal voter activity. Therefore, their actions are unfounded and look to be driven by the want for dominance. The reaction of the people of Myanmar shows this – protests broke out after the military took power and now have resulted in guerilla warfare. Even though the task force is a step in the right direction, the UN and other countries will need to react accordingly to have a substantial impact in stabilizing Myanmar.
Myanmar has had a difficult past with maintaining democracy. The first time that democratic reforms were implemented by the Myanmar military was in 2011. In 2015, Aung San Suu Kyi was elected as state councilor and has remained the de facto leader as head of the National League for Democracy party since. When the country held elections in late 2020, Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi won the popular vote and her party secured the majority of seats in Parliament. But in early 2021, the military detained party leaders and ministers including Ms. Kyi, claiming that the election results were false. The military then used the state media to announce that the country was under a state of emergency for a year, taking complete control. Since then, civilians have protested while security forces retaliate with increasingly cruel methods. With deaths mounting, the situation seems to be getting worse, with no end in sight.
The new task force The Myanmar Witness is assigned to monitor the increasingly dire conditions in the country as the military is using unnecessary violence against protestors and innocent civilians when their rise to power itself is illegitimate. With Myanmar not even halfway through the declared year that the state of emergency is in place, it seems that the number of deaths and injuries will keep growing unless there is an effort to interfere and assist in placing the rightful government back in power. With the work of the Myanmar Witness, hopefully, valuable information will be gathered to allow the UN and other countries to create a strategy that will aid Myanmar in regaining stability and democratic systems. The Myanmar conflict shows how easy it can be to derail an entire system of government and throw a country into disarray.