The 2021 Myanmar Coup: Ethnic Conflict, Human Rights Violations, and International Response

The Myanmar Military Coup D’etat that happened on February 1, 2021, has since marked a significant change in the country’s stability and political landscape.

The Myanmar Military Coup D’etat that happened on February 1, 2021, has since marked a significant change in the country’s stability and political landscape, overturning years of effort in democratization progress in the country. Subsequently, the coup was met with immense rejection by civil society, causing widespread anti-coup protests by oppositions, urging the need for liberation, and restoration of the civilian-led government and democratic principles (Hassan, 2023). Coupled with the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, the country has plunged into a stage of political turmoil, with protesters facing brutal violent crackdowns and widespread human rights violations continuing to persist (Mandagie, 2023). Moreover, the coup also exacerbated tension in the already complex issue of the Myanmar ethnic conflict between the central government and several ethnic minority groups, including the Karen, Kachin, Shan, Chin, and Rohingya, causing further humanitarian suffering and displacement, leaving many with no choice but to flee the country (Crisis Group, 2022). With this, Myanmar is currently facing a dual crisis that threatens stability, integrity, and the future of the nation.

As such, many, including myself have since raised concerns and questions on the role of the International Community in supporting the promotion of stability and peace in the region. Are their efforts in promoting peace and stability effective? Have any concrete, tangible solutions in the effort of resolving the conflict ever been implemented? In short? No, not really.

The Coup and its Immediate Aftermath

Though the conflict is deeply rooted and can be traced back to past historical turmoil events, the 2021 Military Coup D’etat in Myanmar, perpetrated by the Military Junta against the democratically elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) was majorly caused by the Military Junta’s disputed claims and allegations directed towards the NLD of perpetrating widespread election fraud and misconduct in the 2020 Myanmar general elections and sentence her to 27 years in prison for crimes she denies (Kapoor, 2024). Having been unable to provide concrete proof, this baseless accusation and actions imposed by the military have since caused widespread anti-coup protests by the opposition and civilians. The protest began peacefully at first, with many showing rejection against the delegitimate Military rule, and urging for the liberation and restoration of civilian government and democratic principles. However, the Military Junta responded abruptly. Using excessive force, it has carried out mass killings, arbitrary arrests, torture, sexual violence, and other abuses against people opposing the coup that amount to crimes against humanity (Hassan, 2023). Reports had shown severe restriction and repression on freedom of speech. During the protests, internet access was blocked, journalists were arrested, and media organizations were shuttered (Dietz, 2021). As of 21 June, 2024, approximately more than 5302 people have been killed by the state security forces, over 26900 people arrested, and around 20619 people have since been detained, including the country’s democratically elected leaders (Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, 2024).

Subsequently, the Military Coup’s impact on Myanmar’s overall political and social order has been extremely devastating. The military’s brutal oppression and its complete disregard for human, and the suspension of democratic processes under the authoritarian regime coupled with the erosion of civil rights and liberties has caused an immense amount of damage to the country’s state of stability. As such, it can be concluded that the Military Junta will do anything using its power to pursue its goal of prioritizing power authority over the welfare and rights of its people by any means necessary, even if it causes widespread suffering, instability, and uncertainty toward the future of the nation.

Myanmar Ethnic Conflict, and the Uprising Number of Rohingya Refugees

Having long been plagued by ethnic conflicts, the military’s actions following the coup in 2021 in Myanmar have since exacerbated and escalated the longstanding tensions between the central government and several ethnic minority groups, including the Karen, Kachin, Shan, Chin, and Rohingya (Crisis Group, 2022). These ethnic minority groups, who make up about one-third of Myanmar’s total population, have long faced systematic discrimination and violence, including forced conscription, forced labor, and mass killings (Clare, 2021). Consequently, the various acts of human rights violations have led to further humanitarian suffering, which again, causes further distress, exacerbating the conflict.

The military’s campaign against the Rohingya remains one of the most heinous examples of ethnic persecution happening in Myanmar, during which, soldiers murdered, raped, and tortured Rohingya civilians, which the United Nations has described as genocide, has displaced approximately millions of Rohingyas, forcing them to flee the country (Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, 2023). With the further escalation of conflict made worse by the coup, an outlook for a resolution to this crisis had begun to diminish, with many forced to live a sufferable life ousted in a foreign country, labeled as refugees.

International Response and the Need for Accountability

The International community’s response to the Myanmar coup crisis had been limited, often characterized by actions of mere condemnation and sanctions. However, so far, such actions have proven insufficient in influencing the course taken by the authoritarian military regime. Collectively, the United Nations (through its adoption of resolution 2669), ASEAN (5 Point Consensus), and several other countries such as the US, UK, and Australia (Military and Economic Sanctions) have called upon the release of political prisoners, restore democratic institutions, and pressure the Military to engage in peace dialogue in a settlement for peace (Sifton, 2023). Yet, the military still displayed a blatant ignorance and complete disregard for the situation, which can be further marked by recent escalation in the use of “terror tactics” against its own people (de Acosta, 2024).

In any case, the Military Junta needs to be held accountable for its brutal actions and non-compliance. With substantial evidence of crimes being committed, International legal bodies such as the International Criminal Court (ICC), through the referral of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) should investigate and prosecute those responsible for those committing genocide, crimes against humanity, including the ongoing atrocities against ethnic minorities happening in Myanmar within its jurisdiction. As such, with the main perpetrator of the conflict being accounted for, it may serve as a significant step toward restoring justice, peace, and long-term stability in Myanmar.


The 2021 Myanmar Military Coup d’Etat has since marked a significant turning point in the country’s state of stability, undoing a decade of progress toward the country’s effort in democratization and exacerbating the already severe ethnic conflicts in the country with protesters facing brutal violent crackdowns and widespread human rights violations continuing to persist. Despite facing severe repressions, Myanmar’s pro-democracy movement stays firm, showing the people’s strong desire for the liberation and restoration of civilian government and democratic principles in the country. Yet, the Military shows no willingness to end its use of violence and continue to suppress its people. As such, The Military Junta needs to be held accountable and held responsible for perpetrating war crimes, genocide, oppressing free speech, and crimes against humanity. Through the politics of cooperation, the international community must collectively work together to engage, pressure, and take stronger actions against the Military all to promote the stability, integrity, and peace, to end the conflict and for the better future for the region and Myanmar.

Hyo Rim Hwang
Hyo Rim Hwang
As an undergraduate International Relations student at Universitas Gadjah Mada, Indonesia, I am keenly interested in International Political Economy, Peace and Conflict Studies, Global Politics and Security, and International Diplomacy. Through my academic research and writing, I aim to contribute to a deeper understanding of international affairs and advocate for cooperative solutions to global challenges to make a meaningful impact on the world.