Myanmar is in the midst of a civil war with the recently installed military junta refusing to negotiate with the legally elected government. The February 1 coup has led to a general uprising and the military has been stretched to the limit in order to deal with it.
The military’s tactics are simple: addition by subtraction. They feel they can gain more security by simply eliminating the sources of manpower for the opposition. To that end, they are abducting young males between the ages of 15-30 and holding them without any legal proceedings and without telling their families where they are.
Across the country, Myanmar’s security forces are arresting and forcibly disappearing thousands of people, especially boys and young men, in a sweeping bid to break the back of a three-month uprising against a military takeover. In most cases, the families of those taken do not know where they are, according to an Associated Press analysis of more than 3,500 arrests since February.
UNICEF, the U.N. children’s agency, is aware of around 1,000 cases of children or young people who have been arbitrarily arrested and detained, many without access to lawyers or their families. Though it is difficult to get exact data, UNICEF says the majority are boys.
It is a technique the military has long used to instill fear and to crush pro-democracy movements. The boys and young men are taken from homes, businesses and streets, under the cover of night and sometimes in the brightness of day.
Some end up dead. Many are imprisoned and sometimes tortured. Many more are missing.
“We’ve definitely moved into a situation of mass enforced disappearances,” says Matthew Smith, co-founder of the human rights group Fortify Rights, which has collected evidence of detainees being killed in custody. “We’re documenting and seeing widespread and systematic arbitrary arrests.”
Those arrests and detentions have worried the families of the boys and young men. One indication of how widespread the problem has become is the thousands of photos of the missing posted on the internet. The fact that the photos are circulating and being posted on a military-controlled internet shows that the junta is trying to intimidate these young men into staying home and minding their own business.
“The military is trying to turn civilians, striking workers, and children into enemies,” says Ko Bo Kyi, AAPP’s joint secretary. “They think if they can kill off the boys and young men, then they can kill off the revolution.”
If the regime has the stomach for it and is willing to spill a lot of blood, it’s a strategy that just may work. It’s how several rebellions in Africa were put down, as dictators would slaughter the young men in entire villages that showed any disloyalty.
Myanmar’s agony will continue as long as the world allows it and the generals have the stomach for it.