On October 27, 2022, the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect and the Global Justice Center convened a private roundtable discussion with international and Myanmar civil society representatives. Participants sought to strategize a new, multidimensional response to the crisis in Myanmar to inform advocacy and legal strategies. While the conversation touched upon a range of issues, discussion focused on the topics of: (1) elections; (2) creating an inclusive Myanmar; (3) justice and accountability; and (4) sanctions and arms. This discussion also incorporated aspects of an AJC-sponsored regional meeting on October 3 that explored similar issues. The following is a reflection of key themes, points, and recommendations from the roundtable, which took place under Chatham House rule.
Participants discussed the military junta’s pursuit of elections, which are scheduled to be held in the summer of 2023 in accordance with the 2008 Constitution. With the election date fast approaching, civil society will need to act quickly to counter the junta.
A key discussion concerned the necessary messaging from civil society to explain to the international community the risks associated with legitimizing any elections run by the military. Undoubtedly, any elections held by the junta in the present circumstances will be neither free nor fair, and participants reflected that the military is using elections as an “off-ramp” to gain international legitimacy after its less-than-successful coup. Holding sham elections to legitimize its power and priorities is not a new strategy for the junta, as seen in previous instances including the 2008 constitutional referendum in the wake of Cyclone Nargis, as well as the 2010 general election. Notably, the junta does not have effective control over the entire territory of Myanmar, with the People’s Defense Forces (PDF) and ethnic armed organizations (EAOs) controlling about half the country, especially in rural areas, inhibiting the junta’s ability to hold elections in many parts of the country. One area of difficulty for some actors in the international community is the fact that as the National Unity Government (NUG) and National Unity Consultative Council (NUCC) continue their work to solidify their footing, for some states, they do not present a clear alternative to the junta; as such, the elections, even if flawed, are seen as progress in a seemingly intractable situation. Overall, participants agreed that junta-run elections are not a solution to the current crisis; in fact, they will likely lead to increased tension and violence, and an increased risk of atrocity crimes in the country.