2022: The World This Year

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2022: The World This Year
Myanmar: The coup and after

  Aparupa Bhattacherjee

TWTW#196, 31 December 2022, Vol. 4, No. 45

The year 2022, has been a year when internal conflicts deepened in Myanmar. Following the coup in February 2021, civilian deaths increased to more than 2,000. The National Unity Government (NUG), the opposition-in-exile, also claimed that the regime had killed 165 children, an increase of 78 per cent compared to 2021. Similarly, atrocities escalated through air strikes on civilian settlements including schools and religious institutions. According to the Irrawaddy, air and artillery strikes have killed more than 2,600 civilians. Furthermore, the World Bank reported that in 2022, the poverty rate in Myanmar has dropped to its lowest in the last 15 years. Around 40 per cent of the population remain in poverty with the country witnessing long power cuts and a scarcity of medicines.

What happened in 2022?
On 30 January, the Senior General called for public cooperation towards peace and stability necessary “to hold free and fair multiparty general elections,” by August 2023. On the same day, the National Defence and Security Council (NDSC) and the acting President approved a six-month extension of the military rule, which was further renewed in August. Thus, the year started with the reassurance of a ‘free and fair’ elections through democratic means yet this promise did little to impact the ongoing conflict or dampen the momentum of the Spring Revolution against the current regime. 

On 31 January, in an immediate reaction, the US, the UK, and Canada imposed new sanctions on Myanmar. These countries continued to sanction Myanmar several times in 2022; such as the US who sanctioned Myanmar in March, May, July, October and November. These sanctions targeted the leaders and ministers of the military regime, their children, business networks, judicial officials, arms dealers and state-owned enterprises. Nevertheless, this failed to contain the military repression and retaliation on the People’s Democratic Force (PDF) and EAOs. The violence continued despite the regime’s first round of peace talks on 20 May. The talks remained non-fruitful while those at loggerheads with the regime barred it as the NUG or the PDF were not invited for the regime declared them as ‘terrorists’ in 2021.

On 25 July, the conflict took a turn for the worst with the execution of four democratic activists. Capital punishment became the new norm of the regime and on 1 December 2022, seven university students were awarded a death sentence. Despite amnesty being granted to the detainees this year, more than 16,432 are still in jail. This also includes Aung San Suu Kyi and the former President. 

On 30 December, the Naypyitaw court convicted Suu Kyi on five more charges of corruption, adding seven more years to her prison sentence, totaling 33 years in jail. This sentence came despite a statement being issued at the EU-ASEAN summit to release all political prisoners. Likewise, the United Nations Security Council’s (UNSC) new resolution on Myanmar also urged for the release of all detainees. This resolution appeared as a milestone as neither Russia nor China, the two allies of Myanmar, had vetoed it unlike past precedent.

Myanmar’s relationship with both its allies have strengthened in 2022.  Russia’s state-run atomic energy cooperation (Rosatom) charted a ‘roadmap’ for atomic energy cooperation with Myanmar. Consequently, Rosatom signed a deal to establish a nuclear centre in Yangon along with signing an MoU with the regime for building small molecular reactors. On 28 December, the newly appointed special envoy to Myanmar visited Nay Pyi Daw, but only after he concluded a met with three EAOs with whom the regime is in conflict. This emphasises the Chinese equation with Myanmar.

What is the background?
First, democracy is a far-fetched dream.  After the general elections in November 2020, the military consolidated its control by annulling the newly elected parliament. It declared a state of emergency after claiming the election to be fraudulent and unfair, in contrary to the observation by the international community and the UN. The SAC led by Senior General has been unsuccessful even in 2022 to legitimise its power and bring stability. The promise of an election in August 2023 might not help in this process. The citizens, the NUG and many EAOs have come to disbelieve the regime’s election promises. Also, the regime has failed to stabilise the economy and arrest the rising unemployment due to the prolonged conflict.

Second, fierce military repression and domestic resistance. Firing at street protesters, use of airstrikes, burning of houses, and detentions have remained the hallmarks of repression in 2022. This year the violence worsened in the Sagaing region, Shan, Kachin and Rakhine states. Air and artillery strikes have been a common strategy of the military. Despite a strong military adversary, the resistance group and the EAOs have retaliated befittingly. Bomb explosion in Insein prison and capturing of airbases and other violence were credited to them.

Third, inadequate regional responses. ASEAN’s response, like in 2021, lacked any concrete actions. The Five-Point Consensus agreed upon during the ASEAN Summit in 2021 was not abided by the Myanmar regime. Despite statements and proactive responses from Thailand, no substantial outcome has been reached yet. This is crucial as in 2023, Indonesia will be the next ASEAN chair who may or may not have much success.

Fourth, ineffective sanctions and international reactions. The sanctions and resolutions have not had any impact on the regime. The support by Russia and China as allies and business investors have nullified these sanctions to mount any effect on the leaders and ministers of this regime. Thus, it might not be surprising if 2023 is a bloodier year for Myanmar than 2022.

About the author

Aparupa Bhattacherjee is a Doctoral Scholar at the School of Conflict and Security Studies, National Insitute of Advanced Studies, Bangalore.

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