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Benedict Rogers

The tide is turning in Myanmar

This Holy Week, I will be praying for the country in which I found the Catholic faith
Published: March 26, 2024 04:06 AM GMT

Updated: March 26, 2024 05:52 AM GMT

People take part in a march to protest against Myanmar military junta's crimes against humanity near the venue for the Australia-ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) summit in Melbourne on March 4.

People take part in a march to protest against Myanmar military junta's crimes against humanity near the venue for the Australia-ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) summit in Melbourne on March 4. (Photo: AFP)

For a quarter of a century, my spiritual journey — with its inspiring moments and its heartaches — has been intertwined with Myanmar’s.

Death and resurrection have been common themes in my journey with Myanmar as much as they have been in my faith journey.

The story of Holy Week — the Easter story — is so apposite to Myanmar and to my relationship with the country.

On Palm Sunday 11 years ago, I was baptized and received into the Catholic Church by my friend, Yangon’s archbishop Cardinal Charles Maung Bo, in St Mary’s Cathedral in Myanmar’s largest city.

At the time Myanmar stood on the cusp of a new era of fragile democratisation and opening.

Political prisoners had been released, ceasefires had been agreed upon with some of the country’s ethnic nationalities, space for civil society and independent media had opened up and Aung San Suu Kyi, having spent a total of 15 years under house arrest over 21 years, was not only free but had been elected to Parliament and was preparing for government.

"Let us reflect on and pray for Myanmar, a country once again going through its own Calvary"

The storm clouds of religious intolerance — which would later develop into the genocide of the Rohingyas and nationwide anti-Muslim violence — were gathering, as Lord Alton and I found when we visited a Muslim community a few days after my baptism and just days after they had endured an appalling attack in which their homes, mosque and madrasa had been destroyed, just outside the capital, Naypyidaw.

But overall, as the waters of baptism were poured over me, there was an atmosphere of at least cautious optimism.

Today, the country in which I became a Catholic is in a vastly different place.

As we journey through the Passion of Christ this Holy Week, let us reflect on and pray for Myanmar, a country once again going through its own Calvary.

A week ago, the United Nations Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Myanmar, former United States Congressman Tom Andrews, presented his latest report to the UN Human Rights Council and called on the international community to take strong, coordinated action to protect Myanmar’s civilians from continuing atrocities perpetrated by the junta’s soldiers.

“The killing of civilians continues,” Tom Andrews said, “with sophisticated, powerful weapons of war obtained from abroad.”

While armed opposition groups have gained ground and pushed the regime into its weakest position since it seized power in a coup on Feb. 1, 2021, the junta remains “extremely dangerous.”

Over the past five months, according to the UN, the junta has increased its air strikes against civilians five-fold.

"The junta has begun a program of forced military recruitment, at times abducting young men on the streets"

Over 2.7 million people are displaced across the country — and the real figure may well be higher. At least 18.6 million people, including six million children, are in urgent need of humanitarian aid.

As morale in the junta’s forces has crumbled and tens of thousands of troops have defected or deserted, the regime has announced a campaign of forced conscription.

Men aged between 18 and 35 years old, and women from 18 to 37 can be drafted into the army. The aim is to enroll at least 5,000 people per month into the junta’s ranks, starting next month. This has unleashed a new reign of terror across the country.

As the UN Special Rapporteur says, “Now the junta has begun a program of forced military recruitment, at times abducting young men on the streets. This is pushing young people into hiding, or to flee the country, or to join resistance forces — young people who are unwilling to be drafted into the junta’s campaign of brutality.”

Perhaps the most shocking aspect of this is that Rohingyas — who over the past decade have endured genocide and crimes against humanity at the hands of Myanmar’s military — have been forcibly conscripted into the very army that inflicted these atrocities on their people.

Even more sickening, Rohingya conscripts in that genocidal army have died on the battlefields.

This new forcible conscription campaign has, Andrews says, meant that “thousands of desperate people continue to flee into neighboring countries, while junta fighter jets have violated the airspace of Myanmar’s neighbors, bombs have landed across borders.”

The conflict, repression, turmoil and instability in Myanmar have, meanwhile, provided international criminal networks with a “safe haven” in the country, Andrews adds.

"Appeasement of Myanmar’s junta is wrong, and engagement without conditions will not work"

Myanmar is the world’s top opium producer and a global center for human trafficking, leading to slave labor, sexual slavery and cybercrime affecting — as the UN’s rapporteur says — “untold numbers of people around the world.”

At a time when the international community seems extraordinarily incapable of multi-tasking and is fixated solely on the two crises that dominate the media — Vladimir Putin’s criminal war in Ukraine and the tragic conflict between Israel and Hamas which has devastating consequences for civilians in Gaza and Israel — we must not forget Myanmar.

As we progress through Holy Week, we must remind the world of Myanmar’s agony and pray for Myanmar’s resurrection.

The UN Special Rapporteur is right to warn that appeasement of Myanmar’s junta is wrong, and engagement without conditions will not work.

Of course, peacemakers have to “engage.” The debate about whether “engagement” is right or wrong is a tired and worn one. For me, the question is never about whether to “engage,” but how, on whose terms, with what objectives and for what purpose? I wish policymakers, commentators, journalists, academics, think tanks and analysts would ask that question more often.

The “inevitable conclusion,” Andrews says — and I agree — is that for engagement to succeed, some prerequisites are imperative.

The first is that the junta must stop its campaign of bombardment, destruction, displacement, killing, rape, torture and violence.

“For this to become a reality, the international community must undermine the junta’s murderous campaign by denying it the weapons and the money it requires to carry on this campaign,” the UN rapporteur said.

"The tide is turning in Myanmar, and it is turning because of the courage and tenacity of its people"

He is right. And he is spot-on in calling for the “immediate convening” of a coalition of states to establish coordinated, targeted sanctions.

As I have long argued, we must cut the lifeline to the junta — by cutting their flows of arms, finance and aviation fuel — and provide a lifeline to the people of Myanmar, through aid and other assistance to the pro-democracy resistance groups.

“The tide is turning in Myanmar, and it is turning because of the courage and tenacity of its people,” said Andrews.

Myanmar is a country full of beautiful people, diverse cultures and religions, stunning landscapes, and rich in natural resources.

This Holy Week, I will be praying for the country in which I found the Catholic faith.

I will be praying for Cardinal Bo, who leads his people in their struggle.

I will be praying for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and all of Myanmar’s over 20,000 political prisoners.

But more importantly, I will be praying for my friends of all ethnicities and religions who showed me the beauty of unity in diversity and the possibility of a different, more peaceful future for Myanmar when they celebrated with me when I was received into the Church in an oasis of peace within a context of conflict, turmoil and repression.

Please pray for Myanmar — and help ensure it is not forgotten.

*The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.

Help UCA News to be independent
Dear reader,
Lent is the season during which catechumens make their final preparations to be welcomed into the Church.
Each year during Lent, UCA News presents the stories of people who will join the Church in proclaiming that Jesus Christ is their Lord. The stories of how women and men who will be baptized came to believe in Christ are inspirations for all of us as we prepare to celebrate the Church's chief feast.
Help us with your donations to bring such stories of faith that make a difference in the Church and society.
A small contribution of US$5 will support us continue our mission…
William J. Grimm
Publisher
UCA News

Also Read

UCA News Catholic Dioceses in Asia
UCA News Catholic Dioceses in Asia
UCA News Catholic Dioceses in Asia
The tide is turning in Myanmar - UCA News
UCA News
Contribute
Benedict Rogers

The tide is turning in Myanmar

This Holy Week, I will be praying for the country in which I found the Catholic faith
Published: March 26, 2024 04:06 AM GMT

Updated: March 26, 2024 05:52 AM GMT

People take part in a march to protest against Myanmar military junta's crimes against humanity near the venue for the Australia-ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) summit in Melbourne on March 4.

People take part in a march to protest against Myanmar military junta's crimes against humanity near the venue for the Australia-ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) summit in Melbourne on March 4. (Photo: AFP)

For a quarter of a century, my spiritual journey — with its inspiring moments and its heartaches — has been intertwined with Myanmar’s.

Death and resurrection have been common themes in my journey with Myanmar as much as they have been in my faith journey.

The story of Holy Week — the Easter story — is so apposite to Myanmar and to my relationship with the country.

On Palm Sunday 11 years ago, I was baptized and received into the Catholic Church by my friend, Yangon’s archbishop Cardinal Charles Maung Bo, in St Mary’s Cathedral in Myanmar’s largest city.

At the time Myanmar stood on the cusp of a new era of fragile democratisation and opening.

Political prisoners had been released, ceasefires had been agreed upon with some of the country’s ethnic nationalities, space for civil society and independent media had opened up and Aung San Suu Kyi, having spent a total of 15 years under house arrest over 21 years, was not only free but had been elected to Parliament and was preparing for government.

"Let us reflect on and pray for Myanmar, a country once again going through its own Calvary"

The storm clouds of religious intolerance — which would later develop into the genocide of the Rohingyas and nationwide anti-Muslim violence — were gathering, as Lord Alton and I found when we visited a Muslim community a few days after my baptism and just days after they had endured an appalling attack in which their homes, mosque and madrasa had been destroyed, just outside the capital, Naypyidaw.

But overall, as the waters of baptism were poured over me, there was an atmosphere of at least cautious optimism.

Today, the country in which I became a Catholic is in a vastly different place.

As we journey through the Passion of Christ this Holy Week, let us reflect on and pray for Myanmar, a country once again going through its own Calvary.

A week ago, the United Nations Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Myanmar, former United States Congressman Tom Andrews, presented his latest report to the UN Human Rights Council and called on the international community to take strong, coordinated action to protect Myanmar’s civilians from continuing atrocities perpetrated by the junta’s soldiers.

“The killing of civilians continues,” Tom Andrews said, “with sophisticated, powerful weapons of war obtained from abroad.”

While armed opposition groups have gained ground and pushed the regime into its weakest position since it seized power in a coup on Feb. 1, 2021, the junta remains “extremely dangerous.”

Over the past five months, according to the UN, the junta has increased its air strikes against civilians five-fold.

"The junta has begun a program of forced military recruitment, at times abducting young men on the streets"

Over 2.7 million people are displaced across the country — and the real figure may well be higher. At least 18.6 million people, including six million children, are in urgent need of humanitarian aid.

As morale in the junta’s forces has crumbled and tens of thousands of troops have defected or deserted, the regime has announced a campaign of forced conscription.

Men aged between 18 and 35 years old, and women from 18 to 37 can be drafted into the army. The aim is to enroll at least 5,000 people per month into the junta’s ranks, starting next month. This has unleashed a new reign of terror across the country.

As the UN Special Rapporteur says, “Now the junta has begun a program of forced military recruitment, at times abducting young men on the streets. This is pushing young people into hiding, or to flee the country, or to join resistance forces — young people who are unwilling to be drafted into the junta’s campaign of brutality.”

Perhaps the most shocking aspect of this is that Rohingyas — who over the past decade have endured genocide and crimes against humanity at the hands of Myanmar’s military — have been forcibly conscripted into the very army that inflicted these atrocities on their people.

Even more sickening, Rohingya conscripts in that genocidal army have died on the battlefields.

This new forcible conscription campaign has, Andrews says, meant that “thousands of desperate people continue to flee into neighboring countries, while junta fighter jets have violated the airspace of Myanmar’s neighbors, bombs have landed across borders.”

The conflict, repression, turmoil and instability in Myanmar have, meanwhile, provided international criminal networks with a “safe haven” in the country, Andrews adds.

"Appeasement of Myanmar’s junta is wrong, and engagement without conditions will not work"

Myanmar is the world’s top opium producer and a global center for human trafficking, leading to slave labor, sexual slavery and cybercrime affecting — as the UN’s rapporteur says — “untold numbers of people around the world.”

At a time when the international community seems extraordinarily incapable of multi-tasking and is fixated solely on the two crises that dominate the media — Vladimir Putin’s criminal war in Ukraine and the tragic conflict between Israel and Hamas which has devastating consequences for civilians in Gaza and Israel — we must not forget Myanmar.

As we progress through Holy Week, we must remind the world of Myanmar’s agony and pray for Myanmar’s resurrection.

The UN Special Rapporteur is right to warn that appeasement of Myanmar’s junta is wrong, and engagement without conditions will not work.

Of course, peacemakers have to “engage.” The debate about whether “engagement” is right or wrong is a tired and worn one. For me, the question is never about whether to “engage,” but how, on whose terms, with what objectives and for what purpose? I wish policymakers, commentators, journalists, academics, think tanks and analysts would ask that question more often.

The “inevitable conclusion,” Andrews says — and I agree — is that for engagement to succeed, some prerequisites are imperative.

The first is that the junta must stop its campaign of bombardment, destruction, displacement, killing, rape, torture and violence.

“For this to become a reality, the international community must undermine the junta’s murderous campaign by denying it the weapons and the money it requires to carry on this campaign,” the UN rapporteur said.

"The tide is turning in Myanmar, and it is turning because of the courage and tenacity of its people"

He is right. And he is spot-on in calling for the “immediate convening” of a coalition of states to establish coordinated, targeted sanctions.

As I have long argued, we must cut the lifeline to the junta — by cutting their flows of arms, finance and aviation fuel — and provide a lifeline to the people of Myanmar, through aid and other assistance to the pro-democracy resistance groups.

“The tide is turning in Myanmar, and it is turning because of the courage and tenacity of its people,” said Andrews.

Myanmar is a country full of beautiful people, diverse cultures and religions, stunning landscapes, and rich in natural resources.

This Holy Week, I will be praying for the country in which I found the Catholic faith.

I will be praying for Cardinal Bo, who leads his people in their struggle.

I will be praying for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and all of Myanmar’s over 20,000 political prisoners.

But more importantly, I will be praying for my friends of all ethnicities and religions who showed me the beauty of unity in diversity and the possibility of a different, more peaceful future for Myanmar when they celebrated with me when I was received into the Church in an oasis of peace within a context of conflict, turmoil and repression.

Please pray for Myanmar — and help ensure it is not forgotten.

*The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.

Help UCA News to be independent
Dear reader,
Lent is the season during which catechumens make their final preparations to be welcomed into the Church.
Each year during Lent, UCA News presents the stories of people who will join the Church in proclaiming that Jesus Christ is their Lord. The stories of how women and men who will be baptized came to believe in Christ are inspirations for all of us as we prepare to celebrate the Church's chief feast.
Help us with your donations to bring such stories of faith that make a difference in the Church and society.
A small contribution of US$5 will support us continue our mission…
William J. Grimm
Publisher
UCA News

Also Read

UCA News Catholic Dioceses in Asia
UCA News Catholic Dioceses in Asia
UCA News Catholic Dioceses in Asia