Democracy Should Be Defended: Reflecting on Myanmar’s Coup


On 1 February 2021, alleging election fraud within the November 2020 election, the Burmese navy (Tatmadaw) seized management of energy, arresting Aung San Suu Kyi and spelling the top of a interval of democratic authorities since 2011 (BBC Information, 2021b). Within the speedy wake of the coup, the Tatmadaw has come underneath intense criticism from the US, with newly inaugurated President Joe Biden indicating that sanctions could possibly be reinstated and that the US is noting which nations “…stand with the individuals of Burma on this troublesome hour” (Biden, 2021). Moreover, Biden has acknowledged that the The G7 and the EU have additionally been extraordinarily fast to concern a joint assertion condemning the coup as an unacceptable affront to democracy in Myanmar (UK Authorities, 2021). While China has vetoed a U.N. Safety Council decision condemning the coup (BBC Information, 2021a), the fast response from Western leaders and threats of financial sanctions are notable in two key methods. Firstly, this speedy outpouring of criticism and requires fast motion stands in stark distinction to the worldwide group’s gradual response in criticising genocidal violence towards Rohingya Muslims, which has displaced over 725,000 individuals (Human Rights Council [HRC], 2018, p.8). Secondly, abhorrence at Suu Kyi’s elimination from energy appears incongruous with current makes an attempt to apportion duty for the Rohingya Genocide to her and her civilian authorities.

In response, this text seems at worldwide criticism of Aung San Suu Kyi for genocidal violence in Myanmar, particularly within the Human Rights Council’s unbiased report on Myanmar (2018), resulting from this being the only most authoritative doc on the genocide. It argues that the attribution of duty for genocidal violence to Aung San Suu Kyi rested upon characterising her inside heteronormative notions of failed motherhood. It is because such characterisations recognised that Suu Kyi had already been imprisoned, and had no authorized energy to name the Tatmadaw to account. Such expectations, this paper argues, assume that Suu Kyi ought to have spoken out in an act of remarkable self-sacrifice: an expectation that’s inherent to notions of maternal duty. Calling consideration to the best way by which such characterisations of Suu Kyi depoliticised the worldwide group’s inaction, this paper argues that the worldwide group’s response to the current coup d’etat highlights a higher concern for the thought of democracy than for the loss of life and displacement of 1000’s of Rohingya Muslims.


By August 2017 it was clear that the Rohingya was being focused with genocidal intent, after many years of oppression by the hands of the Tatmadaw (HRC, p.8). Seeing the granting of energy to ethnic minorities as damaging to Myanmar, the Tatmadaw final initiated a coup on the twond March 1962 (Charney, 2009, p.108). This led to the creation of Myanmar, beforehand often called Burma, and almost 4 many years of navy rule, characterised by civil battle and the oppression of ethnic minorities such because the Rohingya. Though a brand new structure was created in 2008, this noticed the navy retain management of the state safety equipment and excemption from judicial or parliamentary oversight (HRC, 2018, p.4). Nonetheless, the reintroduction of democratic reforms from 2011 and the holding of elections in 2015 was met with widespread reward and the easing of sanctions (BBC Information, 2015, 2016). Regardless of this obvious development of democracy, the brutal oppression of ethnic minorities has worsened all through, with violence notably growing after 2012 (HRC, 2018, p.7). This violence, which has included the burning of villages (ibid, p.8) and the widespread use of rape and sexual violence (ibid, p.15) has resulted in most Rohingya being displaced to cramped refugee camps in Bangladesh (Wright et. al, 2018).

Basically, the worldwide group has been extraordinarily reluctant to reply to the genocide. While crises in Libya, Syria, the Ivory Coast, Mali and Sudan have triggered a variety of diplomatic and navy responses underneath the authority of the U.N. Safety Council (Bellamy, 2015, p.28), the Rohingya Genocide has to not date. Though the U.Ok. secured a Safety Council Presidential assertion highlighting the duty of the Authorities of Myanmar to uphold human rights in November 2017 (U.N. Safety Council, 2017), no binding resolutions have been handed and no additional collaborative motion has been taken by the council. Certainly, it is just not too long ago that the U.Ok., Belgium, the Dominican Republic, Estonia, France, Germany, Tunisia, and america have collaboratively labored externally to the council in calling on the Authorities of Myanmar to finish hostilities in Rakhine State, in mild of the rising variety of COVID-19 instances and the additional deteriorating humanitarian scenario (UK Authorities, 2020).

Moreover, it’s notable that as not too long ago as November 2020, the UK authorities has praised Myanmar for a peaceable electoral course of, with an added caveat that the UK was dissatisfied that minority teams had been disenfranchised (UK Authorities, 2020). This displays the notion that the UK has focussed on “the so-called democratic transition within the nation on the expense of different points.” (Jones, p.24, 2017). While Western powers such because the US (Kanno-Youngs, 2020), Canada (Canadian Authorities, 2019), Australia (DFAT, 2018), the UK (UK Authorities, 2020) and EU (European Union Council, 2019) have not too long ago enforced a a journey ban and asset freezes on sure Tatmadaw people, these measures had been too little and too late to have any impression on the therapy of the Rohingya. Moreover, a lot of responses from the worldwide group have explicitly referred to as upon Aung San Suu Kyi to talk up on behalf of the Rohingya, regardless of her having little management over the little navy. In mild of Suu Kyi’s current detention and elimination from energy, such calls now appear much more problematic. The rest of this text is devoted to consideraton of the aim behind framing the genocide as a duty of Suu Kyi and the impression that this has had.

Apportioning Accountability

The Human Proper’s Council’s report of the unbiased worldwide fact-finding mission on Myanmar (2018) is essentially the most authoritative doc on the perpetration of genocidal violence in Myanmar. Primarily based upon visits to Rakhine state, interviews, satellite tv for pc pictures, and statements by Burmese navy officers  (HRC, 2018, p.16), the report concluded that genocidal violence has been dedicated towards the Rohingya. Discussing the attribution of blame for the perpetration of genocide, the U.N.Human Rights Council establish the Tatmadaw, and 6 particular navy commanders, as these holding main duty (2018, p.17). This in itself is unsurprising given the direct involvement of those brokers within the perpetration of violence. What’s shocking is the extent to which the report pins blame upon Aung San Suu Kyi and her civilian authorities (ibid). Right here, it’s acknowledged that because of the spreading of false narratives, the denial of the wrongdoing of the Tatmadaw, blocking unbiased investigations, and overseeing the destruction of proof, “the civilian authorities have contributed to the fee of atrocity crimes.” (HRC, 2018, pp.17-18). Certainly, this characterisation initially appears to be true when taking a look at Suu Kyi’s interviews with worldwide journalists on the problem. In 2016, for instance, she performed down the extent to which there was a disaster, and in 2017 she argued that “ethnic-cleansing” was too robust a time period to make use of, as a substitute portraying ‘the disaster’ as an inter-ethnic battle between Buddhists and Muslims stemming from historic tensions (BBC Information, 2018). Such statements level in direction of an try and cover-up the actions of the Tatmadaw and deny the existence of the genocide, if taken in isolation from the social context by which they had been made.

Right here, it should be remembered that the civilian authorities in Myanmar had extraordinarily restricted powers resulting from it being certain by a structure they can not change, which entrenches Tatmadaw political management (HRC, 2018, p.4). Certainly, this distribution of management is acknowledged by the Human Rights Council in its attribution of duty to Suu Kyi. This happens by the assertion that she may have used her “…ethical authority, to stem or stop the unfolding occasions, or search various avenues to guard the civilian inhabitants.” (HRC, 2018, p.17). In essence, she ought to have spoken out or ‘completed one thing’, however the report is not sure of precisely what. When analysing this suggestion, it should be remembered that Aung San Suu Kyi has herself been the sufferer of great human rights violations by the hands of the Tatmadaw, who positioned her underneath home arrest for fifteen years resulting from her pro-democracy campaigning. Resultantly, it’s greater than potential that Suu Kyi has restrained her need to criticise the Tatmadaw on the idea that she fears having her personal human rights curtailed as soon as extra. Furthermore, in mild of Suu Kyi’s current arrest by the Tatmadaw, it appears much more possible that criticism of the navy would have resulted in her detention. After all, Suu Kyi might have actively been making an attempt to cover-up the genocide, and to counsel that this can’t be the case is a gendered assumption. That being mentioned, the report’s (HRC, 2018) attribution of blame to Aung San Suu Kyi alongside its failure to substantively criticise the U.N.’s inaction seemingly invokes heteronormative[1] logics and requires additional consideration.

When discussing the duty of the worldwide group for the prevalence of the genocide, the report acknowledges that the U.N. lacked a joined-up strategy; many companies “…have continued to prioritise improvement objectives, humanitarian entry and quiet diplomacy” regardless of Tatmadaw violence: an strategy it acknowledges has failed (HRC, 2018, p.18). The report goes on to thank entities which have cooperated with the Human Rights Council however states its remorse for the dearth of cooperation from others (ibid). This constitutes a partial acknowledgement of duty for the U.N., nevertheless it fails to call these events whom the report sees as responsible, and logistics are portrayed because the crux of the issue. Versus holding genocidal intent like Suu Kyi, companies which haven’t cooperated with the Human Rights Council are seen as misguided brokers, flawed insofar as they thought an individualised response was higher.

In 2005, searching for to forestall precisely the sort of atrocity such because the Rohingya Genocide from occuring, the U.N. World Convention established the doctrine of the Accountability to Shield, also referred to as ‘R2P’, in worldwide regulation (U.N. Common Meeting, 2005). This acknowledged the duty of every U.N. member state to guard its populations from genocide, battle crimes, ethnic cleaning and crimes towards humanity (U.N. Common Meeting, 2005, p.30). It additional pledged “…to make use of acceptable diplomatic, humanitarian and different peaceable means…” to forestall the aforementioned crimes from occurring, and “…to take collective motion, in a well timed and decisive method…” by the U.N. Constitution, and Chapter VII[2] if crucial, the place peaceable means have failed (ibid). It’s consequently protected to say that the U.N. did have, and continues to have, extra capability than every other world establishment to change the course of The Rohingya Genocide. Admittedly, a decision calling for the perpetrators of atrocities to be held accountable has been handed by the U.N. Common Meeting (2017). While marking a collective intention to take motion, this decision is non-binding on U.N. member states and little impactful motion has been taken by states over the previous couple of years. Furthermore, there have been restricted makes an attempt to move legally-binding U.N. Safety Council resolutions, with the intention of halting the oppression of the Rohingya, however these have failed resulting from an absence of cooperation from Russia and China (U.N. Safety Council, 2007; Nichols, 2018). Versus citing obstructive states and the worldwide political local weather as causes for collective U.N. inaction, the report lays blame for failing to cease the genocide squarely on the ft of a lady who has already suffered for fifteen years by the hands of the Tatmadaw. Whatever the political limitations to U.N. motion on Myanmar, the statutory means of the U.N. to behave, contrasted with the dearth of such a provision for Myanmar’s civilian authorities, signifies that the attribution of duty within the report is misguided at finest. 

The Failed Mom

how the report and different worldwide narratives have attributed blame to  Aung San Suu Kyi for the prevalence of the genocide, these have tended to deploy the notion of an ethical obligation to talk out, given her constitutional lack of ability to make use of the powers of her workplace to constrain the Tatmadaw. Along with the aforementioned attribution of blame within the report, Zeid Raad Al Hussein, the pinnacle of the Human Rights Council till August 2018, acknowledged that Suu Kyi ought to have resigned her place by now. He additional states that she ought to have mentioned “Thanks very a lot, I’ll resign, I’ll return into home arrest – I can’t be an adjunct accent that others might imagine I’m on the subject of these violations.” (BBC Information, 2018). This sentiment is mirrored in Western media discourses (e.g. see: Ellis-Peterson and Hogan, 2018; Ruffles, 2018), which indicate that Suu Kyi had an ethical obligation to re-sacrifice her personal human rights for these of ‘her individuals’. Though extra delicate, Western leaders have additionally referred to as on Aung San Suu Kyi to take private duty for the Rohingya, for instance by selecting to facilitate repatriation efforts underneath the auspices of the U.N. (Johnson, 2018). These requires motion ignore the very actual constraints on Aung San Suu Kyi, and have come within the place of an absence of unbiased motion exterior of the United Nations Safety Council, as occured within the Balkans and Syria, for instance. While I don’t intend to advocate such motion, the depoliticising results of noting Aung San Suu Kyi’s failure to talk up or ‘do one thing’ is noteworthy.

Certainly, the rhetoric surrounding Aung San Suu Kyi, entailing the idea of usually distinctive self-sacrifice, arguably pertains to the topic place of ‘mom’. It is a determine that’s central to heteronormative copy and is related to an timeless obligation to place one’s kids earlier than one’s self, resulting from a vital focus upon futurity (Edelman, 2007, p.2). Reflecting upon the portrayal of girls’s violence in world politics, Gentry and Sjoberg word that girls are all the time framed in one among 3 ways; as a mom with a fantastic capability for nurturing, as an irrational monster who commits violence, or as a whore outlined by extreme sexuality (2015, p.12). Once more, variations of this narrative have been reproduced in Western articles on Suu Kyi’s premiership, with The Telegraph asking “Aung San Suu Kyi: Burmese navy prisoner, or monster?” (Simpson, 2017), for instance. Moreover, these discourses have intensified since 2019, when Suu Kyi argued that genocide had not been dedicated in Myanmar on the Worldwide Felony Courtroom (e.g. see: Addis, 2019).

Framing Suu Kyi in these phrases affords a binary alternative between seeing Suu Kyi as an embodiment of the vulnerability routinely attributed to girls, or as an aberration resulting from her holding violent intent that’s usually thought-about to be ‘male behaviour’. This illustration of Suu Kyi constitutes what Lisa Downing calls an “id class violation” (2018, p.374), pushing her into the realm of monstrosity/unintelligibility because of the obvious incompatibility of her actions and perceived id. Reflecting on the attribution of duty to Suu Kyi on the only real foundation of ethical obligation, it appears as if she has been framed as a ‘mom’ who has failed in her inherent maternal obligations, particularly given the dearth of consideration paid to the worldwide group’s inaction. This oversight of world responses to the genocide depoliticises the inaction of the worldwide group, and extra particularly the U.N., which is offered as a well-intentioned however poorly coordinated physique. In contrast, Suu Kyi’s genocidal intent is offered as a crucial conclusion by reference to the concept that she must have sacrificed her human rights resulting from her perceived id.


Putting duty for the Rohingya Genocide and the wellbeing of Rohingya refugees on the ft of Aung San Suu Kyi, within the place of concerted worldwide diplomatic or navy motion, signifies that there’s a gendered narrative at play. This narrative frames Suu Kyi’s ethical obligations to take motion as having primacy over these of the worldwide group. Provided that the worldwide group is obliged to defend human rights underneath the UN Constitution, has the power to make use of any diplomatic or navy means underneath Chapter VII, and has a historical past of pursuing ad-hoc approaches to intervention when a Safety Council deadlock exists, that is plainly absurd.  This contrasts with Suu Kyi’s authorities having no authorized capability to take motion resulting from a structure that was drawn up by the navy, Suu Kyi having beforehand been imprisoned by the navy, and having since been detained as a result of she received an election.

Narratives calling on Suu Kyi to do one thing, certainly something to finish the violence (e.g. HRC, 2018, pp.17-18), level in direction of an outline of Suu Kyi as having a maternal obligation to criticise the Tatmadaw, as talking out would have possible ended democratic authorities in Myanmar and resulted in her even earlier imprisonment. Moreover, the distinction between the worldwide response to the genocide and the coup is problematic for an additional motive. The worldwide response to the Rohingya Genocide has been gradual, extraordinarily restricted and cautious, leading to it having no impression by any means on the loss of life, rape and displacement of 1000’s of Rohingya Muslims. This contrasts with a swift condemnation and potential forthcoming sanctions in response to the overthrow of democracy in Myanmar. While the current election of Joe Biden to the White Home undoubtedly has a job to play on this, it poses the urgent query: ‘Is democracy extra worthy of defending than populations susceptible to genocide?’


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[1] Heteronormativity refers back to the existence of heterosexuality because the established social norm, characterised by binary understandings of intercourse and oppositional intercourse attraction (Steans, 2014, p.28).

[2] Chapter VII is the part of the U.N. Constitution which provides the U.N. Safety Council the ability to authorise financial/diplomatic/navy sanctions, alongside the usage of navy drive, to resolve disputes (U.N. Safety Council, 2019).

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