Scholars for Myanmar - မြန်မာအတွက် တတ်သိပညာရှင်များ

To Concerned Governments and MPs Around the World,

We, scholars and professionals from around the world working on the Republic of the Union of Myanmar, are writing to you, as we believe the time has come for governments worldwide to effectively support the struggle for democracy in Myanmar by recognising and supporting the newly formed National Unity Government (NUG).

On 1 February 2021, the Myanmar Military (the Tatmadaw) began its attempt to seize state power in Myanmar, thereby breaching the very constitution it itself had drafted. Despite its efforts to make up for its lack of legitimacy by brutally terrorising the population into submission, the Tatmadaw has so far failed to establish meaningful control over the state. Due to the massive resistance by the population, the Tatmadaw has been unable to establish control over the public administration, economy, and population of Myanmar, and it has even lost further territorial control in the border areas. The coup is thus by no means a fait accompli.

Meanwhile, the “Committee Representing the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw [Union Parliament]” (CRPH) was formed by Members of Myanmar Parliament who were democratically elected in the elections of 8 November 2020. These elections were deemed credible by not only independent observers, but also by governments around the world. In a show of unity unseen in decades in the country, the CRPH has engaged in broad coalition-building, and joined hands with the Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM), strike committees, trade unions, civil society organisations, and political as well as armed representatives of the many ethnic groups of the country. On 16 April, a National Unity Government (NUG) was established on the basis of an interim Federal Democracy Charter. The NUG thus enjoys legitimacy through not only the 2020 elections but also through the broad support of the people of the country and diaspora groups; ethnic armed organisations (EAO) included in the NUG also exert autonomy and sovereignty over various regions/territory.

This is not a minor achievement. Myanmar has historically been plagued by divisions along ethnic, religious and political lines. And while we recognise the need for the NUG to itself evolve to include more diverse voices including those from the Rohingya, now there is a historic chance that the newfound incipient unity within the population can rid Myanmar of military rule and lead the country on a path to a federal democratic order that can also end the civil war of over seven decades – a process that should receive global support to ensure that promises of inclusivity and federalism made now will be kept later.

While this will be an uphill battle, it is also the only viable option at the moment. Any attempts at mediation or “compromise” to return to the status quo ante rely on wishful thinking and go against the expressed will of the Myanmar people. This will is represented by their elected government, the NUG, and illustrated by the massive mobilization of Myanmar citizens to demand democracy. The Tatmadaw has itself destroyed any remaining trust in its own “roadmap to discipline-flourishing democracy” by massacring its own population and has made no attempt whatsoever to de-escalate the situation and to find a compromise. In any case, Western countries are certainly not in a position to be a mediator in a negotiated scenario in Myanmar. This should be left to the UN and regional actors.

Rather, democratic countries should expressly stand with the people of Myanmar in their struggle for democracy. We must go beyond purely punitive measures and find ways to actively support the democratic forces. The best way to do so is by publicly recognising and supporting the NUG as the legitimate government of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar. As most countries have already condemned the military coup and called for “restoration of democracy”, recognising the NUG should be a logical next step.

The position “We only recognise states, not governments,” should not be used as a rote excuse. Besides the fact that there are recent examples where states have declared recognition of governments in contested cases, there will inevitably arise situations requiring an implicit recognition of either the Tatmadaw’s illegitimate “State Administrative Council” (SAC) or the legitimate NUG, as the recent crisis around the Myanmar embassy in London has shown.

Time is short. Over 785 people have already been killed, at least 50 of which were children. Neighbourhoods throughout the country are being terrorised by an army that behaves like a heavily armed, out-of-control criminal cartel. In the borderlands, the over 70-year-old civil war is escalating, with civilians being bombed by the Air Force, and refugees trying to escape to India and Thailand. The coming weeks and months will determine whether the country goes back to potentially decades of incompetent, brutal and devastating dictatorship under a military that stands accused of genocide and crimes against humanity by the UN, resulting in a genocide case before the ICJ, or whether the people of Myanmar will have the opportunity to face their multiple challenges in a democratic manner, and once and for all overcome the structures that allow the military elites to exercise undue influence across the country.

Countries that have declared the promotion of democracy and human rights to be at the centre of their foreign policy, can and must play their part to support this momentous task, which will have a positive effect for democratisation in the whole region. The people of Myanmar will pay close attention, and will always remember who is on their side right now.