Earlier this month, the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP), a Sydney-based thinktank, printed its newest annual report on world terrorism. The World Terrorism Index claimed that Myanmar noticed the biggest enhance in terrorism-related deaths worldwide, rising from 24 in 2020 to 521 in 2021. The trigger? The report’s authors cited “present political unrest” because the supply of this violence, and claimed that deaths have been positive to rise because the “unrest” continued into 2022.
The Index claimed that anti-junta armed teams have been answerable for “over half of terrorism deaths in 2021”. However the examples it gives are of assaults towards army personnel, resembling an ambush by resistance forces in Sagaing area that killed 40 Tatmadaw troops. Such examples contradict even the IEP’s personal definition of terrorism, which excludes “acts of warfare, both irregular or typical.”
The report makes no point out of state-sponsored violence perpetrated by the Myanmar army, which took management of the nation in a coup final yr. Since February 2021, the junta-appointed State Administrative Council (SAC) has waged a brutal marketing campaign of terror towards civilians protesting the army takeover. As of Could 16th, the military has killed 1,835 individuals and arrested 10,650. On this battle, terrorism definitely abounds—however it’s being carried out by the state itself, not the civilians making an attempt to withstand it.
Not terrorism, however conflict
The IEP’s mischaracterisation of the battle in Myanmar drew fierce criticism from a group of students specialising in Myanmar politics and society. A bunch of lecturers printed an Open Letter to the Institute, criticising its analytical strategy and alerting it to the report’s damaging political penalties. The Letter stresses that the incidences cited within the Index are acts of guerrilla warfare—and subsequently legit beneath Worldwide Humanitarian Regulation.
“It’s a civil conflict between totally different guerrilla forces and the state military,” explains Dr Brenner, lecturer on the College of Sussex, who wrote the open letter. “The conflict contains terrorist violence, however these are acts of state terrorism, the place safety forces deploy indiscriminate violence towards civilian populations to punish, intimidate, and finally search to change the behaviour of their opponents—i.e., the anti-junta resistance.”
What began as a nationwide protest motion has morphed right into a fully-fledged armed rebellion made up of Folks’s Defence Forces (PDFs) aligned with a choose variety of Ethnic Armed Organisations (EAOs). Whereas PDFs and EAOs function independently on the bottom, they’re united of their goal to overthrow the army management—a purpose they share with Myanmar’s management in exile, the Nationwide Unity Authorities (NUG). The self-declared parallel authorities, which was established by former NLD members and different pro-democracy politicians, referred to as for nationwide “defensive conflict “towards army rule in September final yr.
“Many of the army motion […] performed by the so-called Folks’s Defence Forces (PDF) takes place, in its personal eyes, as motion by and on behalf of the Nationwide Unity Authorities, and is aimed on the defeat of the unlawful takeover of presidency establishments on 1 February 2021,” explains Honorary Affiliate Professor Christopher Lamb, former Australian ambassador to Myanmar. “I’d have anticipated an Index looking for acceptance as authoritative to have dealt with this sensitively and precisely and undoubtedly not as one comparable with the opposite terrorism conditions described within the Index.”
The nationwide resistance motion encompasses not simply violence but additionally strikes, protests, blockades, and different actions.
“Armed resistance is just one manifestation of wide-spread resistance in Myanmar. That is additionally why the armed resistance forces in Myanmar don’t goal civilians amongst whom they take pleasure in in style assist. They straight assault their political opponent: the junta’s state equipment, and particularly its safety forces,” says Dr Brenner. “This isn’t stunning. In any case we’re talking a couple of state that has dedicated numerous atrocities towards its personal inhabitants for many years, together with genocide.”
Humanitarian work with out the popularity of the CDM will provoke public mistrust and rejection.
Fanning the flames
The IEP’s failure to acknowledge the state as the principle perpetrator of terrorism in Myanmar will not be solely analytically flawed—it’s inattentive to the politics on the bottom.
“It’s an outrageous distortion of actuality, which is politically extremely problematic as a result of it performs to the very narrative that the junta is utilizing in making an attempt to legitimize its indiscriminate violence towards civilians,” explains Dr Brenner.
Whereas the IEP presents its analysis as data-driven, and subsequently politically impartial, stories just like the World Terrorism Index do greater than merely measure empirical details—they assemble political realities.
“[The report] will not be solely an insult to, but additionally dangerous for the individuals of Myanmar, who’re struggling each day—and have suffered for many years—beneath a terrorist armed felony cartel that calls itself the nation’s army and employs precise terrorist strategies to subjugate the entire inhabitants into submission with a purpose to implement their political view and rule on the nation,” says Mr Georg Bauer, a PhD candidate on the College of Vienna and one of many first individuals to strategy the IEP over the contents of the report.
“Given the IEP’s status, this may inadvertently harm the Revolution’s and the legit authorities’s probabilities to get much-needed worldwide assist, and embolden the SAC to proceed its marketing campaign of terror,” provides Mr Bauer.
Undoing the harm
The IEP redacted the Myanmar part of the report after the open letter was circulated—there may be now no point out by any means of Myanmar within the World Terrorism Index. The institute additionally issued an announcement of reply, wherein they emphasised their credentials as an “internationally revered not-for-profit group” and justified their resolution to not embrace acts of state-sponsored violence within the Index. However they didn’t attribute the supply of the violence to the state safety forces. Nor did they reply to one of many Open Letter’s core calls for: an apology.
Why did the IEP use this language within the first place? Dr Brenner places it right down to a flaw of their analysis design, which privileges state actors over non-state ones.
“That the IEP […] depicts resistance forces because the supply of terrorist violence can solely be defined by a deeply statist ideology, which views internationally recognised states as inherently legit and non-state resistance as naturally doubtful, although states have been and proceed to be the supply of most violence and atrocities within the trendy world,” says Dr Brenner.
On one other degree, the IEP report reveals how damaging quantitative analysis will be when it’s divorced from its context and its historical past. The IEP use TerrorismTracker, an internet database that plots all so-called “terrorist“ incidences which have occurred since 2007 on a map. However such knowledge is meaningless by itself.
“Phrases are highly effective, and “terrorist” is probably the most damaging label that one might presumably give to political stakeholders within the twenty first century. That is much more so when the labelling is completed from an allegedly non-partisan worldwide assume tank that prides itself for collaborating with UN companies and counterterrorism companies. In labelling anti-junta forces as “terrorists”, the IEP made itself complicit within the junta’s propaganda” says Dr Brenner.