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The Forgotten Heroes: Myanmar’s Civil Disobedience Movement Workers – OpEd

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The military coup that took place on February 1, 2021, in Myanmar sparked a civic uprising as millions demonstrated against the coup.  The military junta has now renamed itself the State Administration Council (SAC) and is made up of junta appointed officials and corrupt generals and officers.  Today, Myanmar’s democracy movement is on the march, the junta is losing ground, the People Power Movement-known as the Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM)– has spread to the entire country and the regime is resorting to unspeakable acts of violence in a vain attempt to maintain control over the shrinking amount of Myanmar they control.

The very first example of the CDM striking back at the junta occurred just one day after the coup attempt at Mandalay General Hospital (MGH).   A group of healthcare workers and government civil servants posted statements on social media saying they would not serve or work under the illegal SAC.  Dr. Zwe Min Aung, a surgeon, was interviewed by Voice of America that day.  He reiterated that he and his colleagues have rejected the junta’s attempted takeover.   This act of peaceful defiance was the spark lighting a fire of civil disobedience that quickly began to rage across the country.  The term CDM had become widely popular in Myanmar.  In fact, the CDM preceded street protests by a few days with the goal of crippling the military’s economic and political infrastructure—utilities, telecommunications, railways to name a few that are owned by the state.  Together with the street protests, CDM became the symbol of an uprising that incorporated Myanmar’s entire civil society. 

The military’s response was brutal to this outpouring of collective rejection.  Demonstrators were gunned down  and beaten.  Those participating in the CDM were fired from their jobs, hunted down, and jailed.  Organizers faced especially brutal treatment if caught—including jailing where heavy torture was, and remains, standard treatment.  Consequently, many participants went into hiding. As time went on, with no income, they faced extreme hardships.   There has been some monetary support primarily from the Myanmar diaspora for them but much more is needed.  

Many protestors have now decided to switch tactics and resort to armed struggle and have formed units known as the People Defense Force (PDF). The public interest and monetary contributions have shifted towards supporting PDF units.   There is still a big demand for funding those committed to the CDM.  We can’t let these individuals drift from our time, attention, and especially our financial support.  They face similar hardships, sometimes more so, as Myanmar’s internally displaced people (IDP) since more frequently than not, the whole family had to relocate as well in avoiding harassment by the junta.  

Our National Unity Government (NUG) recognizes the critical contribution of the CDM movement and is seeking social, financial, and educational support for this branch of the democracy movement.   In April of this year, Ministry of Health, NUG carried out an on-line survey to further identify the needs and circumstances faced by the CDM participants.  The report came out in May.  A total of 6,576 CDM participants responded with 34% of them formers members of the staff from the Ministry of Education and 27% from Ministry of Health making up a big chunk of respondents.  Key findings include: 84% of the respondents were fired from work; 38% were unable to continue working in their trade or profession; 31% have been displaced from home for more than 6 months; 80% were facing financial difficulty; 26% were finding it difficult to access healthcare from their location; 48% were facing security threats and 53% were facing mental health issues such as depression. It is estimated that there are about 300,000 CDM workers and close to 1.5 million of IDP. 

The NUG has set up a “CDM Success Committee” and has been working hard to support CDM participants.  Strategies include improving income generating activities of CDM staff, providing financial assistance, helping find job opportunities, implementing measures to reduce security issues and attempting to create psychosocial rehabilitation programs.  A “Spring Lottery” has been set up.  It is a creative program run by the Ministry of Planning, Finance and Investments of the NUG where the bulk of the proceeds are focused on CDM activists.  Still, the needs are huge and much more needs to be done.  

Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) can play a critical role in assisting this important group. Afterall, they are IDPs under a different name. The NUG is ready and willing to collaborate if such an overture is made. Our policy has always been “People First”.  Despite NGOs, both international and domestic, having to register with the SAC in areas controlled by the military, if there is transparency and equitable distribution and good communication with the NUG, we want them to be active in their roles. We may also have useful data to share as long as confidentiality can be guaranteed.

The SAC prohibits NGOs from operating in conflict zones which is almost 71% of the country  , a tactic clearly meant to inflict suffering on those who oppose their rule.  In another demonstration of callous brutality, in October 2022, the SAC issued a new law further restricting the registration and operations of NGOs. All of this suggests that the suffering of those associated with the CDM movement, as well as IDPs, are soon to increase exponentially.  

Despite needing to walk a tightrope, the NGOs should not lose sight of what they were initially founded for and find creative ways to deliver help to those who need it most. They should pay more attention to delivering assistance through cross-border routes where many CDM participants are located together with IDPs. This would free them from the junta’s brutal restrictions which are handcuffing their ability to provide badly needed assistance to the people who need it most.  

All NUG ministries, including mine, stand ready to work with any group to provide assistance to CDM members and those suffering so badly in Myanmar both inside the country and along cross-border areas.  

(Dr Zaw Wai Soe is Minister for Health and Education, National Unity Government of Myanmar.)

12 thoughts on “The Forgotten Heroes: Myanmar’s Civil Disobedience Movement Workers – OpEd

  • November 22, 2022 at 12:07 am
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    Thank you Dr Zaw Wai Soe for reminding the world in not forgetting the CDM workers of Myanmar who were the pioneers of the current uprising. The concept of conscientious objection to serve under an unjust regime was not only noble but also was the initial spark igniting the subsequent uprising. I personally have many colleagues who decided to join the CDM movement who are now facing extreme hardships. But they have earned my utmost respect and appreciation for their sacrifice. As a matter of fact Dr(Professor) Zaw Wai Soe himself is a CDM worker in a sense who gave up his highly ranked position in Myanmar medical field as he joined the revolutionary forces when the coup first broke out. The world needs to recognize and support these noble protesters!

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    • November 22, 2022 at 12:21 am
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      These are the people who relied on salary as their only income, yet they had left their posts to express disagreement with the Military Coup.
      Deep Respect 🙏

      Reply
  • November 22, 2022 at 12:22 am
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    we support hero! They are not forgotten.

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    • November 22, 2022 at 12:55 am
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      We appreciate and support them. Keep on fighting for justice 💪

      Reply
  • November 22, 2022 at 5:27 am
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    we are still support
    ing our honorable heroes of our times.

    Reply
  • November 22, 2022 at 6:35 am
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    Thank you all for your brave and courageous act. We know that we have to fight till we win for the sake of our new generation. With respect.

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  • November 22, 2022 at 9:18 am
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    The Military Junta continues its suppression upon the people especially the working class who has gone against their rule and becoming CDM. But regardless of this, they remain royal to the cause and continue their revolution either on the surface or remaining anonymous. They are the heroes of the revolution.
    အရေးတော်ပုံအောင်ရမည်။

    Reply
  • November 24, 2022 at 8:48 am
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    Thank you Prof. Zaw Wai Soe and all the CDMers for your sacrifice and service to the nation and people who rose up to fight for the justice, freedom and democracy. CDM is one of the 3 pillars along with general demonstrations and PDF in the resistance against the oppression of the self appointed generals and their 60-year long stratocracy that turned the once-richest nation in SEA up side down. Thanks to the CDM, the SAC failed to govern, a crucial set back on their plot to hold on to the power illegitimately. The CDMers paid a dear price by giving their careers, jobs, income and livelihood. They endured by doing odd jobs or selling their belongings to meet the ends. We owe them deeply. The individual and collective donations as well as Spring Lottery program by MoPFI can barely honour their sacrifice as a drop in the ocean. We salute our heroes and we stand together until we can unroot the military dictatorship and the cronies, the parasites of our motherland!

    Reply
  • November 25, 2022 at 9:12 am
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    They are our heroes
    Never give up

    Reply
  • November 25, 2022 at 11:24 pm
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    We stand with Dhamma.

    Reply
  • November 29, 2022 at 2:19 am
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    We including me, participate in CDM until the Military regime is overthrown

    Reply

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