“We feel your pain, your suffering, your starvation. We understand your disappointment, we understand your resistance.”
This is the message of Cardinal Charles Maung Bo of Yangon, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Myanmar, to Christians as the country marks the anniversary of the military coup that ousted its civilian leaders.
“To some who believe only in violent resistance, we say there are other means,” said the prelate.
He reiterated the Catholic bishops closeness to the suffering people, urging them to be “the wounded healer” and “an instrument of peace.”
Cardinal Bo, who has repeatedly appealed for a peaceful return to civilian rule and respect for human rights, expressed deep concern over the situation of the people in the Southeast Asian country.
The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimated that the conflict in Myanmar has driven almost half the country’s 54 million people into poverty.
It is estimated that 14 out of 15 states and regions in the country are within the critical threshold for acute malnutrition.
The UN estimates 25 million people are in poverty, with 14.4 million in need of humanitarian aid in some form or other this year. The number includes 6.9 million men, 7.5 million women, and five million children.
The UN agency said US$826 million are needed to reach 6.2 million of the 14.4 million people in need of humanitarian assistance.
Before the February 1, 2021, coup, there were already about 340,000 internally displaced people in Myanmar. The military takeover created another 321,000 displaced people, most of whom are Christians.
Among the regions most affected by the armed conflict are the states of Chin, Kayah and Karen where churches have become shelters for displaced people fleeing clashes between the army and armed groups.
A joint statement from several countries, including the European Union, the United States, and South Korea, noted that over 14 million people in Myanmar “are in humanitarian need, the economy is in crisis, democratic gains have been reversed, and conflict is spreading across the country.”
“The military regime bears responsibility for this crisis,” read the statement.
“We reiterate our call on the military regime to immediately end the state of emergency, allow unhindered humanitarian access, release all arbitrarily detained persons, including foreigners, and swiftly return the country to the democratic process,” it added.
UN investigator Nicholas Koumjian said reports received over the last year suggest that “well over a thousand individuals have been killed in circumstances that may qualify as crimes against humanity or war crimes.”
“(We are) working diligently to substantiate and document the facts underlying these reports to establish whether these crimes were committed and if so, who is criminally responsible, and to prepare files that could facilitate prosecutions,” he said.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken used the anniversary this week to dial up pressure on the military regime, with new sanctions against Attorney General Thida Oo, Supreme Court Chief Justice Tun Tun Oo, Anti-Corruption Commission chairman Tin Oo, and others.
“We are imposing sanctions in coordination with the UK and Canada on additional Burmese regime individuals, a defense entity, and cronies who materially support the regime,” he said, using a former name for the country.
“We’ll continue pressing to restore Burma’s democratic transition.”