Updated: October 27, 2023 05:38 AM GMT
A group of Myanmar nationals raise banners during a press conference after filing a criminal complaint in Manila on Oct. 25 urging the Philippines to investigate alleged war crimes committed by 10 serving or former members of Myanmar's military against the mainly Christian Chin minority. (Photo: AFP)
“Nowhere in Asia is the Christian faith journey more challenged than in Myanmar,” the Cardinal said in his homily during Mass in St Peter’s Basilica in Rome earlier this week.
“Our small flock is currently scattered due to both natural disasters and man-made crises, causing multidimensional crises and immense suffering. Our people are on an Exodus. Homes have vanished, and churches have borne the brunt of cruelty.”
Cardinal Bo, who is president of the Federation of Asian Bishops Conferences (FABC), was speaking just over two weeks after Myanmar’s military launched an airstrike on a camp for internally displaced people in Kachin State, killing about 30 people, including a dozen children.
Myanmar’s National Unity Government (NUG), the country’s legitimate government and the main opposition to the junta, claimed that a kindergarten, school, church and many civilian houses were destroyed at the camp.
“This deliberate and targeted attack by the terrorist military council on civilians fleeing conflict constitutes a blatant crime against humanity and war crime,” it said.
"Strong words alone will not rein in Myanmar’s bloodthirsty, brutal, illegal junta"
Human Rights Watch (HRW) described the attack on displaced people in Kachin State, northern Myanmar, as a “war crime” and the British embassy in Yangon said it was “appalled” by the “unacceptable” attack on civilians.
Ken O’Flaherty, head of the UK mission said his government calls on Myanmar’s military to “stop its brutal campaign against the Myanmar people.”
The United Nations said it was “deeply concerned” that civilians, including women and children, were killed and injured. “IDP camps are places of refuge, and civilians, no matter where they are, should never be a target,” it added.
Condemnation of the attack by the international community is absolutely justified. These statements are welcome. They are certainly better than silence. But strong words alone will not rein in Myanmar’s bloodthirsty, brutal, illegal junta. More concrete action is needed.
This week the UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Myanmar, Tom Andrews, called on countries around the world to “strengthen and coordinate actions that weaken the junta.”
Specifically, he argued, that means sanctions targeting aviation fuel, to impede the military’s ability to bomb its people, and against key financial institutions relied on by the junta, to cut off its access to funding.
Some of Myanmar’s neighbors in the region have boycotted diplomatic and defense summits attended by junta officials and have denounced the junta’s plans to hold “fraudulent” elections.
“The international community must build on the momentum created by these positive developments through a working coalition of states that are committed to human rights and engaging in coordinated actions that add up to a powerful whole,” he said. “The people of Myanmar deserve no less.”
"The tragic and outrageous attack on civilians in Kachin State is just the very latest in an almost weekly, sometimes daily, litany of massacres"
Andrews reminded the UN that crises elsewhere — such as the war in Ukraine and the conflict in Israel and Gaza — must not be an excuse for turning away from Myanmar.
“A world beset by conflagrations of mass violence must not lose sight of the runaway fire of brutality and human rights violations that are burning in Myanmar, threatening the lives of millions and eroding regional stability,” he said.
He is absolutely right.
The tragic and outrageous attack on civilians in Kachin State is just the very latest in an almost weekly, sometimes daily, litany of massacres and atrocities that the military regime has been committing in Myanmar since its coup on Feb. 1, 2021.
In his report to the UN General Assembly, Andrews highlighted the junta’s repeated attacks against civilians, including mass killings, beheadings, torture, sexual and gender-based violence, forced labor, and the use of human shields by junta forces.
A humanitarian crisis is exacerbated by the junta’s deliberate obstruction of emergency aid.
Ultimately, the military regime must be held to account for its crimes and brought to justice. This week a step was taken, in this direction in the Philippines, when five Myanmar nationals from western Chin state lodged a “landmark” criminal complaint against the junta head, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, and nine other military leaders, for alleged war crimes against the mainly Christian Chin people.
The Philippines' legal system allows for the prosecution of war crimes committed elsewhere — the universal jurisdiction principle.
"What Myanmar desperately needs is peace, and with peace, eventually reconciliation and healing"
With the assistance of Filipino lawyers, the five Myanmar nationals lodged the complaint with the Department of Justice in Manila, asking prosecutors to open an investigation into war crimes under a Philippine law against “crimes against international humanitarian law, genocide and other crimes against humanity.”
Similar cases have been filed in Argentina and Germany. Myanmar’s mass murderers cannot hide forever. Targeted sanctions, international justice and effective pressure are urgently needed. So too is humanitarian aid. We should cut the lifeline to the regime but provide a lifeline to the people.
Ultimately, however, what Myanmar desperately needs is peace, and with peace, eventually reconciliation and healing.
In his homily Cardinal Bo, speaking of “a long march of hope for all humanity, even amid global turmoil,” conveyed that desperate appeal clearly.
“We continue our tear-filled Synodal journey, believing that … we will see all wounds healed, and a new dawn of hope, peace, and justice will shine upon every long-suffering nation,” he said.
“We pray that the Catholic Church … will bring the entire human family into the long march of healing our world and our planet, ultimately leading us to a new heaven and a new earth.”
I pray that the world will listen to voices like his, and those of the UN Special Rapporteur, and use every tool at our disposal to seek the miracle of peace, justice, freedom, democracy and reconciliation for all the peoples of Myanmar, who have suffered far too much for far too long.
We must cut off the junta’s access to fuel, funds and arms and bring them to justice — and then the hard work of reconciliation, healing and peace-building can and must begin.
*The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.