In February 2021, Burma erased 10 years of progress toward political reform after the military took power in a coup. Since the coup, the military has created an environment of constant chaos and terror, killing scores of protesters, and waging a war against the Burmese people, who refuse to be subjected once again to brutal military rule. Since 2012, the U.S. Institute of Peace has worked with communities in Burma to curb intercommunal tensions and violence and support stakeholders looking to end decades of civil war and oppression. In addition, USIP’s Burma program provides timely research and analysis on conflict dynamics in Burma for practitioners, policymakers and observers in Burma and abroad.
Learn more in USIP’s fact sheet on The Current Situation in Burma.
Following the coup by the Myanmar army on February 1, 2021, fighting exploded immediately in the China-Myanmar border area along a strategic trade route between the two countries. But the outbreak wasn’t about the coup — instead it was a battle between two Chinese-speaking militias over control of the Kokang Special Administrative Zone, a lucrative center for illegal business. The story behind this episode provides a small window on the rise of regional criminal networks under the army’s patronage and how they are enjoying a new lease on life under the junta.
Since Myanmar’s military illegally deposed the country’s elected government on February 1, it has killed more than 1,000 people and is actively undermining efforts to manage the COVID pandemic by arresting volunteer doctors, blocking imports of medical supplies and hoarding and stealing oxygen. The military’s inhumanity and daily atrocities have created a common enemy for a divided society and a rare opportunity for the Myanmar people to initiate a much-needed nation-building process. The opposition is a loose group of organizations largely held together by a shared hatred for the military. If it is to decisively shift the trajectory of this conflict and end the military’s 70-year stranglehold on power, it will need to unify through a transformative reconciliation process.
Over the past six months under the junta’s “care,” the chaos and turmoil sparked by the coup has moved the country past the brink of failed state status. Growing armed resistance is emerging in the shrinking area where the military’s unbridled brutality has preserved its veneer of control. In liberated zones and particularly in regions controlled by ethnic armed organizations (EAOs), new forms of governance and even sovereignty are taking shape in the vacuum left by Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing’s war on political reform.
Since 2020, USIP’s programs on religion and inclusive societies and nonviolent action have been conducting research to better understand the role of religion in nonviolent action campaigns. Many of the most prominent activists and nonviolent movements in history have drawn on religion as they worked to build peace and advance justice. Historical figures such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi often come to mind. But religious leaders, beliefs, symbols and practices have featured just as prominently in more recent nonviolent campaigns, including the Arab Uprisings, the Spring Revolution in Myanmar and Hong Kong’s Umbrella Movement.