No excuses left for world not to support Myanmar’s unity govt
A national unity government emerged in Myanmar in April as a formal challenger to the military junta that in February usurped power from the civilian government democratically elected late last year. The national unity government has represented the most hopeful option for the future of Myanmar from the very beginning, but it was not without issues. However, it has now addressed the biggest concern of the international community. So it is time for us to fully and unapologetically back their claim to power in Myanmar.
When it was first formed, the national unity government had done something that had never been done before in the history of the country: It brought together not just the pro-democracy forces representing the Buddhist Burmese majority — as had always been the case in previous pro-democracy movements in Myanmar — but also the representatives of all major ethnic minorities that had previously been politically marginalized. For the first time since independence, the foundations of an inclusive, secular democracy had been laid down for a future where the endemic ethnic tensions that have riven the country for some seven decades would finally be laid to rest and all the diverse people of Myanmar could finally build a shared country together, for the benefit of all.
There was but one glaring omission from this new social compact: The Rohingya, the darker-skinned Muslim minority that has long been the most oppressed of all minority groups in the country. The Rohingya have suffered the forced removal of the majority of their population, more than 1 million people, from their native lands and into refugee camps across the border in Bangladesh in the past five years. Despite an outpouring of remorse from ordinary Burmese toward the Rohingya in the early days of the coup, the leaders of the national unity government did not at first see fit to also invite representatives of the Rohingya to join their cause. This was no doubt because some of the Burmese elements of the national unity government had previously been complicit with the Rohingya genocide carried out by the military and agreed with it ideologically.
But after increasingly loud calls from the international community, the national unity government has finally rectified this wrong. What is more, its leaders have gone the full mile: Not only have they invited representation from the Rohingya to join their organizations, but they have also committed to repatriating the Rohingya to their native lands and even to rescinding the old citizenship laws that were specifically designed to curtail their political and civil rights. This would finally pave the way for the Rohingya to assume their rightful place as equal citizens among all other people of Myanmar after decades of exclusion.
Those of us who watched with dismay as the last democratically elected government sided with the military over the Rohingya genocide at every given opportunity had expected that the national unity government would resist this essential step, or that it would somehow compromise it so as to still hold the Rohingya in a diminished and dependent position. But it seems that reason has prevailed within the ranks of the national unity government. Now, the national unity government is finally fully committed to a sound, robust democratic order for Myanmar, without caveats or exceptions.
The national unity government is finally fully committed to a sound, robust democratic order for Myanmar, without caveats or exceptions.
Dr. Azeem Ibrahim
And so there are no moral reasons left for anyone in the international community to hesitate about backing the national unity government as the rightful government of Myanmar, and the political vehicle through which the February coup should be reversed. The only question now is who is going to win the race to be among the earliest backers of the national unity government?
Fellow Association of Southeast Asian Nations members will no doubt want to be at the front of the queue. They have already had full exposure to the mendacity and duplicity of the military government of Myanmar and will want to move on to a government that can be a fair partner at the earliest opportunity. Bangladesh has also seen that there is no reasoning with the military junta, so backing the national unity government is the only way Dhaka can pursue a positive outcome to the Rohingya refugee crisis it is dealing with in Cox’s Bazar. And, of course, it is also high time the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and the UN flexed their humanitarian and diplomatic muscles.
Backing the national unity government is now an unambiguous, uncomplicated question. And most countries and international organizations have an opportunity to move quickly and get to the obvious conclusion even before the US and the West.
- Dr. Azeem Ibrahim is a director at the Newlines Institute for Strategy and Policy in Washington and research professor at the Strategic Studies Institute US Army War College. Twitter: @AzeemIbrahim