From Resistance to Reparation: Ensuring the Rights of CDM Civil Servants in Myanmar

Author: Maw Maw

Executive Summary

On February 1, 2021, the Myanmar Military unlawfully seized power from the elected government. The nonviolent Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM), composed of thousands of civil servants from both public and private sectors, was the first general strike against military dictatorship. The movement has been a deep-rooted symbol of the Myanmar Spring Revolution. Despite the challenges CDMers face in their survival and the fear of arrest, they persist, insisting that they will not return to work until democracy is restored (Bociaga, 2021). This policy brief explores how these CDMers are facing challenges, and highlights several points that the National Unity Government of Myanmar should consider regarding safeguarding policies for  the CDM civil servants.

What is the CDM?

The Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM) originated in the 1930s in the Indian independence movement as a means to reject the British government’s salt law, and it played a crucial role in shaping the future of independent India (Yusoff, 2017). According to many political theorists, civil disobedience is a form of public, illegal, and political protest carried out against a state or its policies. Practitioners of civil disobedience tend to justify their actions by arguing that they are fighting against a larger injustice and, in this capacity, have the right to break the law (Klang, 2004). Myanmar has had similar movements to the CDM in its history, such as the Anti-Fascist People’s Freedom League (AFPFL) movement in 1947, led by General Aung San, and the 8888 Uprising, also known as the People Power Uprising, which occurred in 1988 and was led by student activists.

The 2021 Civil Disobedience Movement in Myanmar

On February 1st, 2021, U Win Htein, a patron of the National League of Democracy (NLD), urged the public to initiate a non-violent movement against the military coup, referring to the Civil Disobedience Movement in an interview with local media. A wide range of people, including civil servants, healthcare workers, students, and activists, have joined the civil disobedience movement, and they are locally referred to as CDMers. These individuals have sacrificed their livelihoods and safety to stand against the military junta and demand the restoration of democracy in Myanmar.

To restore peace and democracy, many professional civil servants in Myanmar have joined the CDM, making it a fundamental mass movement of the public. Since the military coup began, over 417,060 civil servants have joined the CDM (NUG, September 2021). On March 22, 2022, the CDM movement in Myanmar was nominated for the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize by six academic publications from the University of Oslo in Norway (Sethurupan, 2021).

Despite the significant movements and sacrifices made by many people throughout Myanmar’s history to achieve democracy, the absence of protection and reparation programs for these individuals remains a conspicuous blemish. Implementing these programs could potentially reduce future violence and instability. Therefore, the future government should make this policy relevant in order to promote a greater sense of accountability and responsibility for CDMers and democracy heroes. Offering protection and repatriation programs can demonstrate a strong commitment to principles of justice, equality, and human rights while building public trust and support for its legitimacy. To strengthen democratic accountability and legitimacy, the future government must implement these reparation programs that acknowledge and empower civil servants and CDMers.

NUG action to support CDMers

The CDM Committee was formed under the leadership of NUG on April 27th, 2021 to support the CDMers in different divisions and states. One of the objectives of the committee is to provide effective protection and honor to CDM heroes. In the announcement (4/2021) on June 8th, 2021, the NUG officially pledged to systematically record all the heroes of the nonviolent Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM) and the perpetrators who have bullied and threatened CDMers. This information will be used for adjudication purposes after the abolition of military dictatorship and the establishment of a new federal democratic union.

Living with fear?

Since the military coup in Myanmar, CDMers have faced widespread oppression across the country (CIVICUS, 2021). Soldiers and police have gone as far as dragging dead bodies through the streets to intimidate CDMers and their supporters. They have carried out violent actions, such as posting torture videos and mutilating dead bodies before sending them to family members. Several military-controlled ministries have issued notices to those involved in the CDM to return to their offices, and CDMers have been fired or removed daily, along with orders to repay two months’ advance salary given to them as COVID-19 aid during the NLD government. Additionally, thousands of CDMers across the country have been evicted from public housing. Hundreds of CDMers, as well as individuals and groups assisting them, have been charged under Section 505(a) of the Penal Code, which carries a maximum sentence of three years in prison. Consequently, many CDMers have been forced to live in obscurity and stay in hiding. Some CDMers have been threatened with illegal action, claiming that they must repay compensation for their education. They have endured many sleepless nights due to anxiety and insecurity. Some have even sacrificed their lives, while others have been forced to live far away from their homes and families for their own safety. In some cases, CDMers were arrested at the airport and forced to return to their offices (Personal Interview, 2022).

According to the report by the National Unity Government of Myanmar (NUG, September 2021), 295,802 CDMers were dismissed, with 3,622 of them being removed or expelled. The FRONTIER (2021) reported that all CDMers have been blacklisted and their names given to immigration offices across the country to prevent them from leaving Myanmar and obtaining new passports. The regime’s blacklisting has left CDMers without employment opportunities and unable to travel, exacerbating their financial difficulties. As of November 2022, the daily report from AAPP stated that 34 CDMers had been killed, 203 CDMers had been arrested, and 177 CDMers were still being detained. Several local news outlets and the international health policies – IHP (2021) have reported an increase in the suicide rate among Myanmar CDMers.


This policy brief is primarily based on the results of primary interviews, which included in-depth interviews with nine key informants and two focus group discussions, in order to comprehensively understand and explain the experiences and perceptions of CDMers regarding their sacrifices in the revolution and their insecure lives. Additionally, this brief relies on evidence from secondary documentary sources, such as working papers, unpublished and published government documents, articles from media outlets, and international and local news in Myanmar.

Policy Recommendations

To develop a strong protection strategy and reparation policies for CDMers, the following two phases should be regarded as priorities in securing the rights of Myanmar civil servant CDMers.

During the pro-democracy movement:

To support the current situation of CDMers, the future government should implement strategies that promote positive results for their physical and mental health. These strategies should include the following:

  • Advocating internationally to continuously secure actions for the rights of CDMers on the international stage.
  • Opening up the legal floor to support CDMers and ensure their fair treatment under the law, while also enabling them to access urgent assistance such as that provided by UNHCR.
  • Strengthening the capacity of civil servant CDMers in building democratic institutions through increased international cooperation via targeted online projects and programs.
  • Conducting regular online training within each ministry to maintain communication and prevent discouragement among CDMers, with the ultimate goal of promoting democracy and inclusivity.
  • Creating secure online channels or platforms to discuss issues and access individual counseling and emotional support.
  • Promoting alternative communication channels for CDMers who lack internet access to effectively voice their concerns.
  • Providing comprehensive support to CDMers who are under full-time surveillance and unable to focus on their economic livelihoods like ordinary people.
When democracy is restored in Myanmar:

A government must ensure equality for civil servants who work for the normal operation of government processes to ensure a successful working environment. Therefore, the government must seek justice for CDMers before collaborating with non-CDMers. The following recommendations should be considered:

  • Formulating and delivering a strong and comprehensive civil servant CDM policy that includes clear provisions to protect the rights of CDMers.
  • Recognizing and supporting the brave civil servant CDMers for their previous insecure lives, such as through promotion or other kinds of rewards.
  • Revoking all promotions and orders under the military regime.
  • Honoring the participation of CDMers as a form of public service and determining in-service benefits for CDMers.
  • Awarding CDMers a medal as a lasting memento of their contributions to democracy and justice.
  • Offering adequate compensation or financial support to the families of the CDMers who sacrificed their lives for democracy.
  • AAPP. (2022, December 25). Assistance Association for Political Prisoners. Retrieved from Assistance Association for Political Prisoners:
  • AFP. (2021, March 26). TheGuardian. Retrieved December 5, 2022, from Asia News:
  • Allen, M. (2016). Constitution Assessment for Women’s Equality. Stolkholmes: Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance.
  • ANONYMOUS. (2021, October 19). new mandala. Retrieved December 5, 2022, from New Perspective on Southeast Asia:
  • Bociaga, R. (2021, June 22). THE DIPLOMAT. Retrieved December 5, 2022, from THE DIPLOMAT:
  • CIVICUS. (2021, May 6). CIVICUS. Retrieved December 11, 2022, from CIVICUS:
  • Edu, T. L. (2022, November 15). Civil Disobedience Movement in India. Retrieved December 1, 2022, from Leverage Edu:,Gandhi%20broke%20the%20salt%20law.
  • FRONTIER. (2021, February 2). Frontier Myanmar. Retrieved December 5, 2022, from Frontier Myanmar:
  • IHP. (2021, November 23). INTERNATIONAL HEALTH POLICIES. Retrieved December 5, 2022, from INTERNATIONAL HEALTH POLICIES:
  • Klang, M. (2004). Virtual Sit-Ins, Civil Disobedience and Cyberterrorism. In M. Klang, Human Rights in the Digital Age (pp. 135-145). London.
  • NUG. (September 2021). Myanmar’s Civil Disobedience Movement. National Unity Government of Myanmar.
  • Torpey, J. C. (2008). MAKING WHOLE WHAT HAS BEEN SMASHED: ON REPARATION POLITICS. International Journal on World Peace, 102-104.
  • Yusoff, Z. M. (2017). Civil Disobedience: Concept and Practice. Asian Social Science, 129.