Myanmar Cardinal warns military action will escalate

By Mark Bowling, 24 August 2022
Cardinal Charles Maung Bo of Myanmar speaks during the closing session of the Second Assembly of the Plenary Council in Sydney. Image: ACBC/Supplied.


Myanmar’s Catholic prelate, Cardinal Charles Maung Bo, has warned the military in his country is cracking down hard on dissident civilians and rebel armies in a campaign to gain undisputed control by the end of this year.

“They [the military] are trying to intimidate the whole population,” Cardinal Bo told The Catholic Leader during a visit to Australia, as an observer at last month’s Plenary Council assembly.

“By the end of the year they presume everything will be quiet again and they will not have any resistance anymore because of the atrocities and intimidation that the military is carrying out.”

Myanmar’s military junta imposed a state of emergency after seizing power in February last year, ousting the democratically elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi.

On 15 August, 77-year-old Suu Kyi was sentenced to six years in prison after being convicted of corruption charges in a closed-door, military-controlled court. She has already been sentenced to 11 years in a previous trial on multiple charges.

Since the coup, Aung San Suu Kyi has been held under house arrest and then prison.

Myanmar’s military coup has been marked by brutal conflicts with civilians, with the army crushing mostly peaceful protests in towns and cities, while long-running conflicts with independence-seeking ethnic minorities have also flared.

More than 2,100 people, including scores of children, have been killed and over 15,000 people have been detained by the junta.

“The current situation is very complex and at the same time very confusing and very unpredictable,” Cardinal Bo said, describing the situation in central Myanmar near the city of Mandalay as particularly dire.

“Villages are being wiped out and burned,” he said.

“Fifty per cent of our people are in poverty and at least 8 million of them are in dire need for food security and there are millions displaced.

A recent report by the United Nations confirms Cardinal Bo’s assessment of conditions in Myanmar, accusing the military junta of committing crimes against humanity.

The U.N. Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar said in its annual report released on August 9 that sexual and gender-based crimes, including rape and other forms of sexual violence, and crimes against children have been perpetrated systematically by members of the security forces and armed groups.

“There are ample indications that since the military seized power in February 2021, crimes have been committed in Myanmar on a scale and in a manner that constitutes a widespread and systematic attack against a civilian population, and the nature of potential criminality is also expanding,” the report said.

It said this includes the execution of four pro-democracy activists on July 25, after the report was prepared.

“Perpetrators of these crimes need to know that they cannot continue to act with impunity. We are collecting and preserving the evidence so that they will one day be held to account,” said Nicholas Koumjian, head of the IIMM.

The report also revealed children in Myanmar have been tortured, conscripted and arbitrarily detained, including as proxies for their parents.

“Crimes against women and children are among the gravest international crimes, but they are also historically underreported and under-investigated,” Koumjian said.

Since the coup, Cardinal Bo is amongst leading Catholics to have spoken out for human rights.

He told The Catholic Leader he maintains “good relationships” with military generals and can speak to them on behalf of the people in an effort to forge peace and relieve suffering.

Most recently, in June, Myanmar’s bishops expressed deep concern over the worsening situation in the country. They urged that much-needed humanitarian assistance be allowed to reach displaced people across the country.

Pope Francis repeatedly has called for prayers for Myanmar.

During a 2017 visit to the country, the pope did not specifically mention the Rohingya, a Muslim minority, but he repeatedly insisted that the rights of each member of society and each ethnic group must be respected.

The latest IIMM report notes that for the last five years the military has pursued a crackdown on Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine state. More than 740,000 people have been driven into neighboring Bangladesh.

A U.N. fact-finding mission reported that “genocidal acts” were carried out in Rakhine state by Myanmar’s military in 2017, while the United States labelled it a “genocide” against the Rohingya.

International legal pressure continues to mount on the military leaders – including Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, who led the coup – to be tried at the International Criminal Court over rights abuse against peaceful protesters and civilians across the country, while the ongoing genocide case against Myanmar is pursued at the International Court of Justice.

Cardinal Bo said he is grateful to Australian Catholics for their concern about Myanmar.

He singled out Catholic agencies including Caritas Australia, Catholic Mission and St Vincent de Paul for their humanitarian assistance.

Reproduced with permission from The Catholic Leader, the news publication of the Catholic Archdiocese of Brisbane.


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