Democracy, justice, and human rights have been under threat in Myanmar since the 2021 February military coup. The military coup triggered critical situations and negative outcomes for the people of Myanmar. Education, healthcare, and the economic sectors are gradually collapsing while thousands of young people, students, social activists, and innocent people are killed, tortured, and arbitrarily arrested by the military junta and its troops. Thousands of educated people, democratic alliances, students, teachers, activists, and human rights defenders are migrating to other regions due to security risks.
The military junta and its alliances have been conducting gross violations through airstrikes, artillery shells, missiles, and ground military action since February 2021. The repercussions and horrific impacts of the coup transformed the livelihood and security of people and their communities. Over four hundred airstrikes, artillery shells, and military ground attacks were carried out in Kachin State, Chin State, Karenni State, Karen State, and in the Sagaing and Magway regions from 2021 to 2022. The number of human rights violation cases – such as extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, torture, and sexual violence – is also increasing this year.
Most military leaders and pro-military groups are controlling the domestic and foreign (import and export) markets, business entities, land, and natural resources of the country. In the military junta’s community, getting a higher position is more important than serving the people and the nation. The new military officers and generals even give women to be brides of their respective leaders to get higher positions. Moreover, the military soldiers who kill peaceful protesters, pro-democracy activists, human rights defenders, and journalists are rewarded with higher positions. As a result, cases of gross violations, war crimes, and crimes against humanity are expected to increase more in 2023.
Therefore, the human rights movement and the silent strikes are the only way to fortify people’s rights, amplify voices, and enjoy their freedom of expression, freedom of religion, and identity rights. The 1st of February 2023 is an important day for Myanmar’s democratic alliances, students and the youth, academicians, human rights and pro-democracy activists, and participating in the civil disobedience movement in Myanmar. Many pro-democracy actors, human rights defenders, and activists are calling for a large-scale social movement and silent strike on February 1.
It is important to understand the hidden sematic language and politics of silent strikes. One well-known human rights icon of Myanmar said that a “silent strike is calling for one message, one logo, one slogan, one time in one spirit against the autocratic rule of Myanmar’s military junta to end the military rule and governance in Myanmar.” As I have observed, the silent strike is a human rights strike, a social movement, and a call for justice in Myanmar. Since the military attempted the coup in 2021, the people are facing traumatic pains, arbitrary arrests, killings, as well as economic, food, and livelihood insecurity. They found that the silent strike is a way to express the call for justice, human rights, freedom of expression, and freedom of religion or belief.
On the 10th of December 2021, a silent strike was implemented from major cities to the countryside throughout the whole country. Many shops, restaurants, and businesses closed, and people stayed at home to join the silent strike from 10:00 AM until 4:00 PM. Many indigenous rights groups and human rights advocates and defenders actively joined. The local people and community also participated and stood up for human rights, justice, and democracy. It showed that no one agrees nor stands for the military junta and its governance in Myanmar.
The call for human rights and justice through the silent strike is the only way to express the voice of the people of Myanmar against the military junta and its rule. To this day, the military junta and its alliances are conducting illegal elections in Myanmar. Many people are forced to give them their votes, and the military junta takes military actions against the ethnic armed groups if they do not follow the military-enforced election that will take place in 2023.
In sum, the silent strike is a serious call for justice, human rights, and democracy in Myanmar. The silence is the loudest voice to get the attention of the international community, other governments, the UN Human Rights Council, the European Union, and international non-government organizations.
You can support the Silent Strike by expressing your solidarity with the people of Myanmar, wherever you are in the world, on the 1st of February, 2023.
Stephan Nyein Han Tun is Development Manager at a leading Human Rights Foundation in Southeast Asia. He is also an anthropologist, social scientist, and political analyst and researcher, especially as a frontline human rights researcher, monitor, and advocate for Myanmar. Read his full biography here.