Reviews | Burmese people demand accountability for 2021 military coup

On the morning of August 25, 2021, I woke up on the floor, my lungs gasping. My heart was pounding, my hands and legs were shaking with adrenaline, and I was sweating from running. It took me about a minute to realize that it was just a nightmare, the one where I had to jump from a six-step ladder to escape the Burmese soldiers. Except it wasn’t a nightmare.

It was January 28, 1995, the day I was forced to leave my beautiful village and never see it again. It’s just a nightmare for me now, but it’s a reality for so many people back home.

Since February 1, 2021, I have heard countless times the words “February coup”, “coup attempt”, “civil disobedience movement”, “People’s Defense Forces” and ” Government of National Unity”. Every time these words are spoken, I only hear the sounds of war. More importantly, I hear the cries of civilians, whether they are fleeing for their lives or crying for the loss of their loved ones. I have the impression that the international community is not hearing the desperate pleas for help from Burmese civilians.

The convictions only encourage the Burmese military to continue committing crimes with impunity. There is no accountability let alone justice for the victims and their surviving families.

When I saw the picture of Karen civilians carrying their belongings and children across the Moi River, I saw myself being carried on my mother’s back when we fled in the late 1970s. Photo of the Karenni civilians notoriously burned to death On December 24, I saw my aunt hanging upside down and my uncle’s skin scratched and covered in salt and chili after being tortured to death. When I watched the news about the Thangtlang fire following the bombings in Chin State, I saw my village and church burnt to ashes when the Burmese army dropped bombs in late January 1995.

I had foreseen a day like the February 1st coup. I felt hopeless at one point as I watched world leaders, including the United States, lift economic sanctions, the only lever we have to move Burma closer to a stable and inclusive democracy. Now, after a decade, we are back to square one. Our people are being killed indiscriminately and used as human shields. Their homes are burned and landmines are laid in and around the villages. The intense armed conflict has forced civilians to flee for their lives, increasing the number of displaced people.

International leaders have so much power and can do so much, but lack political will or, in some cases, self-interest. I remember the last time I had meetings at the State Department in 2017, shortly after the Rohingya genocide in Rakhine State in western Burma. I provided a situation update on Kachin State and Northern Shan State, but officials spoke of positive developments in other areas. They were in the midst of talks about enlisting with the Burmese military. They honestly believed that the Burma Army would work with them. However, the Burmese people know all too well how deceitful the junta can be.

Almost a year has passed since the Burmese military coup. We have over 320,000 displaced civilians in addition to the 340,000 already displaced due to conflict before 2021. Over one million refugees are seeking refuge in neighboring countries. The most powerful international body, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), still condemns the Burmese military for its actions. However, the convictions only encourage the Burmese military to continue committing crimes with impunity. There is no accountability let alone justice for the victims and their surviving families. The junta uses all possible methods to eliminate all those who fight against its power.

It is time for the international community to act decisively.

We call on the international community to stop selling weapons to the Burmese military. We implore the UNSC to refer the junta to the International Criminal Court and impose a global arms embargo and targeted sanctions, including gas revenues that bring in billions of dollars that the junta uses to buy weapons. And we demand that other nations follow Argentina’s lead and bring universal jurisdiction cases against the junta.

Today, the Burmese people, including all ethnic groups in the country, are fighting back to regain their rights. It is time for the international community to stand with us in our struggle instead of standing idly by. The Burmese people are not asking for too much, only to hold the Burmese military accountable for the unspeakable crimes they have committed. We call on the international community to help stop selling arms to the Burmese military and stop funding them.

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