Need for humanitarian intervention in Myanmar

The time has come to heed former Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd’s call for an urgent meeting of the United Nations Security Council on how to deal with the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Myanmar. He has rightly argued that international community has a “responsibility to protect” the people of Myanmar from military junta’s atrocities. Due to its geographical proximity to Myanmar and its geopolitical role, India cannot avoid being drawn into the unfortunate chain of events.

The resistance from both sides is fierce. If the people of Myanmar are resisting the military coup with peaceful demonstrations and defiance, the military junta has also responded with a heavy hand. March 27 was the bloodiest day when more than 100 people were brutally killed. As per latest count, 500 people have lost their lives since the coup took place. What is most shameful is the stand taken by the junta leader, Gen Min Aung Hlaing, who believes that the military is trying to safeguard democracy. One fails to understand how authoritarian tactics can ever nurture democracy in Myanmar.

India has adopted a cautious approach in Myanmar. Though New Delhi has come in support of the democratic transition in Myanmar, however it has not criticized the military’s brutal tactics. On the other hand, the United States and European countries have openly condemned the coup. It is also a matter of concern that India, in league with China and Russia, sent a representative to the Myanmar Armed Forces Day parade. New Delhi’s tightrope walk in Myanmar is understandable as China would certainly take advantage of India’s support to democratic forces. One can therefore understand India’s strategic compulsion, but sending an official representative to an event which was meant to celebrate a military that is brutally killing its own people has not generated positive impression.

India’s immediate challenge is how to deal with the refugee crisis. Persecuted people in large numbers from Myanmar are fleeing across the border into the northeastern Indian state of Mizoram. Although India has not yet deported Myanmar nationals, but has made it clear to state governments that India will not welcome them. India’s apparent silence to the sufferings of people in Myanmar may earn it temporary goodwill among the generals in Myanmar but will undermine its role as a champion of liberal democracy. In the longer run, India may also lose the goodwill of the common people in Myanmar. And any policy which does not factor in the sentiments of local population will create problems. Mizoram’s Chief Minister Zoramthanga has already told the Prime Minister that his state cannot remain indifferent to the sufferings of Myanmar’s masses. Showing solidarity with the soldiers of democracy, India should revisit its stance as it cannot afford to be appeasing Myanmar’s generals.

The regime led by Aung San Suu Kyi, which was democratically elected by the people of Myanmar, was displaced by the military in broad day light. One does not disagree with the fact that Suu Kyi’s government was not a model of good governance, but it was a step towards democratic representation. With the military coup, the clock has been turned back.

Disturbing developments in Myanmar only confirms that authoritarian regime are least bothered about international response as they are aware of great power dynamics. But without robust response from international community represented by the UNSC, military in Myanmar would never agree to restore power to the elected government. The military’s authoritarian actions must invite sanctions from the international community, even though the generals are confident that their powerful friends in the UNSC would come to their rescue. It is widely believed that both Russia and China that hold veto powers as permanent members of the UNSC would create hindrance to a consensus on Myanmar.

Nevertheless, the ‘Responsibility to Protect’ (R2P) principle has been agreed to by the UN member states. This obliges the international community to protect masses from genocide, war crimes and ethnic cleansing. Therefore the world cannot remain indifferent to the humanitarian crisis unfolding right in front of us. The failure of the international community to respond in a timely and effective manner to the atrocities will raise more questions about the political will of UN members.

India, which has been skeptical towards the R2P and Western interventionist policies for regime change, should soften its stand on the issue as the people of Myanmar are showing more hunger for democracy. In fact, one can find strong echoes of India’s celebrated philosophy of ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’ (a Sanskrit phrase found in Hindu texts which means ‘the world is one family’) in the humanitarian notion of R2P. India is a rising global power, and should demonstrate confidence in handling any risks that arise in the context of defending democratic principles. Being a non-permanent member of the UNSC at present, India must make it clear to the military that it has no option but to restore democracy in Myanmar.

Shaista is a Masters’ in Philosophy with interest in peace and conflict resolution. She is an independent analyst, having contributed articles on human rights, humanitarian intervention, forced migration and refugee crisis, religious extremism and Islamophobia. She lives in Rajasthan, India.