Myanmar: Remembering a Forgotten Conflict

Our churches recently issued prayers for Myanmar to mark three years since the 2021 Myanmar coup.

For the people of Myanmar, this marks three years of living under repressive military rule. Three years of civil war. Three years of civilians being targeted, injured and brutally killed. Three years of civilians being forced to flee their homes. Three years of churches and houses being burnt to the ground. Three years of severe economic hardship. After these three years, the future continues to look uncertain.

The civil war continues to wreak death and destruction in Myanmar, and yet there is almost no international attention – let alone outcry- for the innocent caught up in the conflict. While the conflict feels far away, our ecumenical partners continue to be in touch with our sisters and brothers in Myanmar and as JPIT we want to call you into prayer and to join us in calling our government to action.

If, like me, you feel woefully uninformed here’s a potted history of the coup and the past three years.

Photo of a crowd of people in Myanmar protesting the 2021 military coup.

On 1st February 2021, the Myanmar military seized power during a coup against the democratically elected government. The military rounded up and jailed government officials including Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, declared a national emergency, grounded all domestic and international flights and shut down the internet, telephones and banks.

The military’s stated justification for the coup was that the 2020 election result- which was due to be ratified on the morning of 1st February-was illegitimate due to widespread voter fraud. The claim of widespread voter fraud, in an election where Aung San Suu Kyi’s party won a landslide victory with a massive 85% of the vote, has been firmly refuted by domestic and international election monitors. However, the coup was not unprecedented. In 1962 the military took power in a coup and ruled through decades of civil unrest. Total military rule continued until 2007, when a period of mass unrest prompted the military to begin a gradual, and imperfect, transition towards democracy. The military embedded their power in the new democratic constitution through a clause colloquially known as the ‘coup clause’. In spite of the inherent flaws in Myanmar’s democratic transition, the country held its first ever free and fair elections in 2015,resulting in the election of Aung San Suu Kyi. From 2015 to 2021, the democratically elected government’s relationship with the military continued to be strained. Unhappy with the result of the 2020 election, the military broke the fragile relationship, activating the ‘coup clause’, declaring an emergency and seizing power.

The military coup d’état was followed by weeks of largely peaceful civil disobedience and mass protests, as hundreds of thousands turned out against the military junta. On 20th February the military killed two unarmed civilians, sparking a general strike by millions of citizens. However, any hope that the mass pressure would force the military to stand down was swiftly crushed. The military and police responded with brutal force, firing live rounds into crowds of unarmed protestors, and rounding up and jailing thousands of civilians including opposition leaders and journalists.

The violent repression by the military junta forced thousands of citizens to seek refuge in neighbouring countries, and sparked violent, organised resistance that evolved into the civil war that continues today.

It is very difficult to estimate the number of people who have been killed and injured. However there are estimates that 2.3 million people have been displaced[i] and 8,000 civilians have been killed. The population of Myanmar has been scattered and divided; son fighting father, and brother fighting brother.

The past three years have been characterized by ill-equipped and ill-experienced pro-democracy groups joining together with other more experienced ethnic rebel groups to fight against the military junta. The rebel forces have been operating from the jungles and mountains.

The military Junta’s response has been incredibly violent and fraught with accounts of systemic war crimes including allegations rape, executions, torture and the targeting of civilians[ii]. It is estimated that 88% of civilian deaths in this war are the result of the military junta troops. There are hundreds of harrowing accounts of military troops carrying out mass executions, villages being razed to the ground, schools, funerals being targeted in bombing and more.[iii]

In recent months the conflict has intensified and rebel groups have achieved unexpected military success, gaining control of 34 towns. However, the intensification of the conflict has been accompanied by increased violence against civilians by the military. The recent gains by rebel forces, and the ongoing economic strain facing Myanmar is placing growing pressure on the military junta and the leader of the junta, General Min Aung Hlaing, in particular. In response to this, at the end of February 2024 the Military Junta started enforcing a military conscription law; forcing all young people (men aged between 18-35 and women aged 18-27) to serve at least two years in the military. This is yet another blow to the freedom and human rights of the people of Myanmar. Thousands are desperately seeking to flee and escape the draft; to avoid fighting for a cause they oppose and a government that has perpetrated harm against its people.

For the citizens of Myanmar, the future is bleak and the hope of an end to the violence and restoration of peace and democracy seem far off.

Tragically, 2023 was a particularly deadly year, and was accompanied by a deepening of the humanitarian crisis in Myanmar. The UN is currently trying to raise $1 billion to provide humanitarian aid to those in need in Myanmar. As the civil war drags into its fourth year, our church leaders report that 85% of congregations are in the most dangerous regions; that the bombing continues to force church members to flee into forests and over the border, and that there is fear about food scarcity due to a poor rice harvest.

How do we live out the love of God in the midst of a suffering world? How do we reach out and love our global neighbours?

There are no easy answers, but as the people of Myanmar face a fourth year of civil war, we want to encourage you to join us in praying for those who grieve, for the refugees and orphans, for our brothers and sisters in Christ, for church leaders as they seek to pastor their scattered congregations, for humanitarian aid to reach those who need it, and for the leaders of the rebel groups and military junta. We ask you to join us in praying for peace and a restoration of democracy.

On February 1st, the US government announced new sanctions against the military junta. In 2021 the UK was at the forefront of countries’ condemning and sanctioning the military junta. However, currently the UK is falling behind of our allies in cutting off revenue streams to the junta. As JPIT we are choosing to remember this forgotten conflict and are standing against the oppressive and violent military junta by calling on the UK government to implement three further actions against the junta. We would like to invite you to join us in these actions:

  1. Call on the UK government to sanction state-owned banks, mining enterprises and the Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE), all of which are used to channel money to the Burmese military.
  2. Call on the UK government to implement sanctions on all aviation fuel businesses.
  3. Call on the UN Security Council to take action and pass a binding resolution that refers the military leaders to the International Criminal Court, stops arms sales to Burma, bans aviation fuel and imposes sanctions.

Support these actions at Burma campaign UK  Support Burma Campaign UK. Support Human Rights in Burma | Burma Campaign UK and consider writing to your MP on these issues.

For more information feel free to check out the resources below:

Treasury Sanctions Military Cronies and Companies in Burma Three Years after Military Coup | U.S. Department of the Treasury

US sanctions Myanmar’s junta-controlled state oil and gas enterprise | Myanmar | The Guardian

 US Sanctions Myanmar Junta’s Gas Revenue | Human Rights Watch (

Myanmar’s Military Government Enforces Conscription Law

[i] Myanmar Emergency Update (as of 1 January 2024) – Myanmar | ReliefWeb

[ii] Statement by Nicholas Koumjian, Head of the Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar (30 Jan 2024) [EN/MY] – Myanmar | ReliefWeb

[iii] Myanmar: three years of a devastating, under-reported war – AOAV


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