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Envisioning the future of post-coup Myanmar

Ambassador U Kyaw Moe Tun, National Unity Government Deputy Minister U Moe Zaw Oo, and women’s activist Khin Lay visited Duke to shed light on the current state of Myanmar under military rule and their work for a future federal democratic government.

“The resistance we have, it’s really homegrown, people-centered,” said Ambassador U Kyaw Moe Tun about the opposition to Myanmar’s military-dominated political system during an event hosted by the Duke Center for International Development (DCID), Duke Asian/Pacific Studies Institute and Duke’s Office of Global Affairs.

The ambassador, who serves as the permanent representative of Myanmar to the United Nations, was joined by U Moe Zaw Oo, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs for the National Unity Government of Myanmar (NUG), and Khin Lay, co-founder of the Women Advocacy Coalition-Myanmar, for “Envisioning the Future of Post-Coup Myanmar,” a panel discussion moderated by Edmund Malesky, professor of political economy and director of DCID.

The group spoke to an audience of local Burmese community members and Duke students, faculty and staff about the 2021 Myanmar coup d'état, the strengthening resistance to the violent governing junta, and the work and vision of the NUG for a democratic Myanmar.

As the executive government for Myanmar’s democratic interim institutions, the NUG hopes to create a federal democratic system with a new constitution and leadership that is not obligated to the National League for Democracy, which was overthrown in the coup d'état. Recognizing the country’s diverse population with 135 indigenous ethnic groups and eight major national races, the NUG looks to establish a federal union and is working with ethnic and minority groups to create a federal democracy charter.

This inclusive process includes the Rohingya, a Muslim ethnic minority group who has been denied Myanmar citizenship and has long faced institutionalized discrimination and violence. U Moe Zaw Oo confirmed the Rohingya will have status and representation in the new government.

“We need to draft a new constitution, which is democratic, which is federal, which is acceptable to all ethnic groups, including minorities,” U Moe Zaw Oo said. “The NUG wants to be a national unity government…we are trying to include as many representatives as possible.”

Khin Lay added, “Now is a right time to walk together to found our nation, together in terms of race, religion and gender identity.”

She stressed that women must be included in the constitutional process and represented in the government while warning against tokenism. “We don’t need tokenism,” she said. “We want meaningful, genuine participation and respect.”

She also expressed the need to fight patriarchal systems, establish a military code of conduct, and address the country’s prevalent sexual and gender-based violence.

“It is very clear that we have to respect each other…and do [it] based on humanity and mutual respect…that is a basic general principle that we should pursue for the reconciliation of Myanmar,” U Kyaw Moe Tun said.

To bring the NUG’s vision to a reality, U Kyaw Moe Tun said support is needed from outside Myanmar to address the junta’s civilian attacks and human rights violations. While our resistance is homegrown, we really need help from the international community, he noted.

The ambassador asked for assistance in pressuring governments and intergovernmental organizations, including the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, to address the situation in Myanmar.

“Please help us whatever way that you can to push your community [and] your government to help the people of Myanmar to shorten the suffering that we are facing,” he urged.