On February 1st, Myanmar’s military launched a coup and seized control of the government, less than a decade after the nation began its transition to democracy.

Myanmar’s elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi was arrested, and other top figures from the ruling party were detained. Now, an outpouring of citizens has taken to the streets to protest the coup and demand that the civilian government be restored.

Laura Edwards was the first foreign legal consultant to be embedded within the civilian government’s National Reconciliation and Peace Center (NRPC) from 2017 to 2019. The NPRC was the civilian-government entity responsible for administering the peace negotiations with Myanmar’s various ethnic armed organizations. Following the coup, the NRPC has been disbanded.

Here, Edwards explains the current situation in Myanmar, the escalating protests, and what the international community should do:

Q: Do you have a sense of what’s happening inside the country for ordinary citizens? How is this affecting them?

A: Since the coup was announced there has been a remarkable outpouring of peaceful protests across Myanmar in defiance of the military takeover. This “civil disobedience movement” is the largest we have seen in recent decades and has engulfed major cities like Yangon and Mandalay, as well as towns farther afield from the main centers of power. Religious leaders and youth activists have played a major role in organizing these protests. Myanmar’s youth are one demographic whose lives may be most significantly impacted by the coup, and after experiencing increasing freedoms in recent years their presence on the streets sends a strong signal that they will not tolerate further military rule.

Q: How should the international community react, and how has it reacted thus far?

A: The challenge for concerned governments internationally will be how they balance a concerted condemnation of the military’s actions with ensuring that any measures such as targeted sanctions do not devastate the livelihoods of ordinary Burmese citizens.
It remains to be seen though how other major development partners of Myanmar, such as the European Union, the United Kingdom, and the United States, will approach their continued diplomatic and political engagement with Myanmar.

Q: What is the most important thing for people to know about this situation?

A: I think the most important thing to know is that Myanmar’s long-term peace and prosperity hinges on civilian oversight of the military. Over the last decade, it looked like progress was being made. However, the events of the past few weeks have highlighted that the military is not willing to give up power in the country.

For those interested and able to make a financial donation, a list of organizations to consider supporting can be found at SupportMyanmar, and the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners is an organization that monitors arrests and provides assistance to political detainees.

Read the full article about the coup in Myanmar by Kristen deGroot at Futurity.