Honestly, I didn’t have the bandwidth to pay attention to world news; with work, remote learning, and COVID-19 shot drama, I’ve been emotionally spent. That changed one morning when I scrolled through my CNN app, my twin daughters asleep next to me. The title read, “She was shot dead, her body dug up, and her grave filled with cement. But her fight is not over.” I kept reading and I became more angry, more horrified, more frustrated that these catastrophic events are not garnering more attention.
This could have been my daughter, who is fierce, stands up for others, and speaks out against injustice, even at five years old. Angel, the 19-year-old young girl who was shot in the head by the military, whose body was taken from her gravesite, the grave then filled with cement, fought a courageous fight against a military’s human rights violations. She fought for her right to democracy, and in hopes of bringing change to her country – the chance for her and her fellow Burmese people to live freely. But the military has taken over Myanmar, also called Burma, a small country in Southeast Asia.
On the day of Angel’s death, 38 people were killed during protests, victims of a military unwilling to take responsibility for their actions. Myanmar is a country that needs us to pay attention, in hopes it will help them to right their wrongs against humanity, against their own people, who are fighting for the kind of democracy we have in the United States.
Prior to February’s military coup, the people of Myanmar were only ten years out from being under military rule for 49 years. On February 1, the military detained the country’s president, Aung San Suu Kyi; by February 3rd, Facebook — including Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp — was banned by the military. Three days later on February 6th, the government blocked Instagram and Twitter, which ultimately led to a blackout of the internet.
After the internet blackout, thousands of people took to the streets in protest. One day later, internet access was back, but not social media — given that social media platforms were the main source of communication for protesters. But there’s more.
According to the BBC, since February, the military has killed over 400 protesters — even children— in an attempt to keep the people of Burma silenced and to halt their progress toward developing a democracy. The “All about Myanmar” Reddit thread gives a gritty, close-up, and constantly updated look at the atrocities that are happening there. 100 houses burned down with people inside. Testimony from a civilian about hiding his three children in a drain while a terrorist group robbed him and destroyed his important documents, food, and household items. And tearful appeals like this one from a boy whose brother was just shot in the head, and he had yet to deliver the news to his mother.
Myanmar has a storied past, riddled with discrimination and distrust of government. The military coup has sought to take control of the country. There are reports of people being arrested by the police and just disappearing, never to return; of people being burned after being shot, and bodies being taken after their funerals were had. Since February 1st, the military has sprayed tear gas and rubber bullets into crowds causing serious injuries. When those rubber bullets didn’t work, real bullets were used. Cover-ups and disappearances have been, and continue to be, common actions of the military and police in Myanmar.
For ten years, the people of Myanmar lived openly and freely in a democratic society. After the arrest of their elected president, Aung San Suu Kyi, who won the election by a landslide, the corrupt military and police took the country back to a terrifying and dangerous place where the rights of their people did not matter, where killing was normal, and where abuse and fear were tactics used to keep people silenced.
It took President Biden 10 days to comment on the atrocities in Myanmar. In his statement, he went straight to the money, and said that the United States would withhold $1 Billion of funds from Myanmar, stating that the “military must relinquish the power it seized.” He goes on to say, “We will identify the first round of targets this week, and we’re also going to impose strong exports controls.” That very day, President Biden signed two executive orders sanctioning Myanmar. In addition to these sanctions, President Biden went further and said, “We’re freezing U.S. assets that benefit the Burmese government while maintaining our support for health care, civil society groups, and other areas that benefit the people of Burma directly.”
12 days later, during the UN Human Rights Council virtual meeting generally held in Geneva, Myanmar was at the top of their list to discuss. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres stated, “Today, I call on the Myanmar military to stop the repression immediately. Release the prisoners. End the violence. Respect human rights, and the will of the people expressed in recent elections.” He condemned coups, saying they have no place in our world, and continuing: “We see the undermining of democracy, the use of brutal force, arbitrary arrests, repression in all its manifestations. Restrictions of civic space. Attacks on civil society. Serious violations against minorities with no accountability, including what has rightly been called ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya population. The list goes on.”
With hospital staff and teachers among the protesters and young people leading the way across the country, Myanmar is hurting right now in so many ways. What is happening there isn’t so different from what the United States has known and what the insurrection a short few months ago taught us about our own democracy. Human rights are something that we all deserve; one’s basic safety should not be on the line just because there is fear of what they might say. We are all responsible for our own actions, and the military of Myanmar will pay greatly, as the international call for them to bring safety and democracy back to Myanmar grows.