COVID-19 Op-ed

A Deadlier Pandemic: The Erosion of Human Rights and Democratization in Burma/Myanmar

Written by admin

Neak PisethFounder
of “
The Way of
Life Cambodia
.” He
received a scholarship to pursue his master’s degree in Education at
Chulalongkorn University. He has been working as an English Lecturer at the
Royal University of Phnom Penh and a reviewer at
Cambodian Education

The Republic of the Union of Myanmar is a developing country
nestled in Southeast Asia and has a fragile democracy. Burma/Myanmar was
engrossed in cruel ethnic strife and has undergone one of the longest-running
ongoing civil wars (Lwin & Lan, 2001). There have been ongoing reports
of consistent and systematic human rights violations. There was a new turning
point in the general election in 2010 in which the military junta were
officially dissolved (Xixing, 2008).State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi’s party,
National League for Democracy (NLD), recently won the general election.
However, the military’s predominant power remained intact with special
privileges and authority in ruling the Burmese government. On 01 February
2021, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Burmese military
illegitimately seized power by overthrowing the party by accusing the latter
of election fraud. (BBC, 2021).This immediately sparked reactions not just
from civil society organizations but also from government leaders.
Newly-installed US President Joe Biden “…called on the military to
relinquish power and release detained officials and activists” (BBC,
2021). Moreover, Singapore and Malaysia have expressed their grave concerns
over the military junta take over (Cuddy, 2021).Two main scenarios could
result from the intervention of international actors in the current Burmese
case. The first scenario is that international actors will consider imposing
economic sanctions on the Burmese government to pressure them to ease the
current political tension. However, this scenario seems impossible to
implement in this country due to the tremendous impact of the COVID-19
pandemic which pushed this country’s economy to the ground (Diao &
Mahrt, 2020). It is therefore hard for international actors to decide to
impose economic sanctions which could then further exacerbate the negative
economic impact of COVID-19 on an already dire economic and socio-political
situation in the country. Hence, more or less, economic sanctions should not
be imposed in Myanmar amidst this critical period to preserve the Burmese’s
well-being.The second scenario is that military intervention from
international actors is utilized to ease the political tension in
Burma/Myanmar. This option seems even more unlikely than economic sanctions
since it is very rarely used, and there is only one case in the Korean War in
1950 to 1953 in which the United Nations were able to intervene through force
dissolution, which was one of the exceptional cases in the world (Stueck, 1997).
As a form of international overview, the UN can only authorize military
intervention if all of the permanent member states agree which are the United
States, the United Kingdom, France, Russia and China (Gareis, 2012). It is
evident that Russia and China would be unlikely to support military
intervention in Myanmar due to their current beneficial ties with the Burmese
government (Hilton, 2013).These two scenarios both create dilemmas and
complications for international actors and ASEAN member states in regard to
how to manage this current case of human rights and international law
violation in Myanmar. For instance, due to ASEAN’s core values which are
non-interference in the internal affair of one another and mutual respect for
the independence, sovereignty, equality, territorial integrity, and national
identity of all nations (Arendshorst, 2009). It is very challenging for
international actors and ASEAN member states to intervene effectively in
Myanmar coup and arrest political activists that violate human rights and
devastate the original concept of democracy (BCC, 2021).To conclude, the
systematic violation of human rights by the recent military intervention/coup
in Burma/Myanmar has been met with severe disagreement from the rest of the
world. It can be drawn from the global reaction and this shocking event that
international actors’ interventions in halting human rights violations and
erosion of democracy is hugely complicated due to conflicts of interest,
ideologies and concerns about further exacerbating the negative economic
impact of COVID-19. International actors should impose robust and stiff
intervention whether through economic sanctions or force intervention to
mitigate this great intention in Myanmar and restore democracy and elevate
the Burmese economy to fight against the predominant impact of COVID-19. With
the extraordinary intervention of international actions, democracy in
 Burma/Myanmar should be prevailed and granted to transform this country
into one of the genuine democratic countries and overcome long-running ethnic
J. (2009). The dilemma of non-interference: Myanmar, human rights, and the
ASEAN charter. Nw. UJ Int’l Hum. Rts., 8, 102.BBC.
(2021). Myanmar coup: Crackdown tightened with Win Htein arrest.
BCC News
. Retrieved from,
A. (2021). Myanmar coup: What is happening and why? BCC News
Retrieved from,
X., & Mahrt, K. (2020). Assessing the impacts of COVID-19
on household incomes and poverty in Myanmar: A microsimulation
(Vol. 2): Intl Food Policy Res Inst.Gareis, S. B. (2012).
The united nations: Macmillan International Higher
Education.Hilton, I. (2013). China in Myanmar: implications for the future.
Norwegian Peacebuilding Re.Lwin, M., & Lan, L.
L. (2001). Myanmar. Thunderbird International Business Review,
(2), 269-288.Stueck, W. (1997). The Korean War: an
international history
(Vol. 68): Princeton University
Press.Xixing, L. (2008). Myanmar Political Crisis in the Background of
Globalization . Southeast Asian Studies, 1.

About the author