Intelligent Disobedience in Myanmar

intelligent disobedience in myanmar

The acts by members of the Myanmar diplomatic community, and other Myanmar professionals and citizens who are refusing to support a military coup, are examples of the bravery and integrity required of courageous followers as they practice intelligent disobedience and, when required, civil disobedience.

Intelligent Disobedience in Myanmar

Opinion by Thet Htar Mya Yee San published by The Washington Post on April 28, 2021.

Thet Htar Mya Yee San is the second secretary at Myanmar Embassy in Washington, D.C. Following the military coup in Myanmar, she joined the Civil Disobedience Movement and refuses to represent the military regime.

I work in the foreign service of my homeland, Myanmar, in our embassy here in Washington, D.C. I decided to become a diplomat to represent my country and its interests overseas. I have always been proud of my job.

Yet now I find myself in the strange position of opposing our own government — or to be more precise, the people who claim to be our government now. On Feb. 1, the military seized power, deposing the elected civilian government and arresting its leader, Aung San Suu Kyi.

The overwhelming majority of the population have rejected this illegal coup, taking to the streets in huge, overwhelmingly nonviolent, demonstrations. The security forces have tried to suppress the protests using lethal force, so far killing at least 750 people. Soldiers and police have beaten and shot civilians to death, destroying property, looting shops and arbitrarily arresting peaceful protesters and passersby. The military is at war with its own people — the same people they have sworn to protect.

That is why I and many of my colleagues in the diplomatic service — including three others here in Washington — decided to declare our opposition to the junta.

On March 4, I publicly declared my allegiance to the Civil Disobedience Movement, the nonviolent nationwide movement of resistance to the coup. The movement was launched by doctors and nurses who were struggling to overcome the covid-19 pandemic. They declared a strike, saying they would refuse to work as long as the military claimed power. They have since been joined by teachers, shop owners, bankers and civil servants, among many others.

I am far from the only diplomat to have taken such an action. On Feb. 26, Kyaw Moe Tun, permanent representative of Myanmar (also known as Burma) to the United Nations, eloquently denounced the coup at the U.N. General Assembly — an act that I, as well as countless others back home, found deeply inspiring.

The military immediately declared him fired, but Ambassador Kyaw Moe Tun rejected the dismissal. The generals tried to appoint his deputy in his place — but the deputy quit rather than comply. So Kyaw Moe Tun remains in place, continuing to declare his loyalty to the elected government.

The Myanmar ambassador in London was locked out of his embassy recently after denouncing the coup. The British government has given him shelter and called for an end to the coup and a restoration of democracy in Myanmar.

Foreign service officers from other diplomatic missions around the world have announced their participation as well.

We have all announced our support for the Civil Disobedience Movement and urged the regime to respect the result of last year’s elections by returning power to the people. The military government has now recalled as many as 100 Myanmar diplomats from foreign missions in 19 countries.

Back at home in Myanmar, foreign ministry colleagues who joined the Civil Disobedience Movement have been detained. I can only imagine how those young women must have felt when their homes were raided early in the morning by armed men. Many of my colleagues in the capital, Naypyidaw who have declared their opposition to the junta have gone into hiding. They, too, have been dismissed from their jobs. The military’s practice of firing government employees without warning is a clear violation of civil service regulations — showing once again our generals’ contempt for the rules.

As for me, I am in limbo. I remain here alone in Washington D.C., while my family is back in Myanmar. Any moment now, I will be dismissed from my dream job by an entity that I do not recognize as my legitimate government. I understand the battle ahead could be long. But I have faith that we will prevail, and that justice will be restored.

Together with my fellow citizens, I will continue asking the international community to help us end military brutality and bring justice. Meanwhile, the tragedy back home continues. People don’t have access to enough cash. Food is running out and prices are rising. Measures against the covid-19 pandemic are on hold and there are shortages of medicines and medical equipment. The country faces a humanitarian crisis, and assistance is needed urgently.

As I watch how most of our citizens back at home are doing whatever it takes to prevent the military rule, I can say that the coup has not succeeded. The military might be able to use violence to suppress the demonstrations, but that doesn’t mean that it controls the situation.

The people of Myanmar are determined to end the military coup and to restore democracy. Time is critical for us now. Day by day, the killing continues. The international community can and must stop it. My fellow citizens in Myanmar are waiting for it to act.

Intelligent Disobedience in Myanmar
2021 © Ira Chaleff Publications