Pope Francis on Sunday, June 19, lamented the continuing violence in Myanmar, which has forced thousands to flee their homes.
“I join the appeal of the bishops of that beloved land, that the international community does not forget the Burmese people, that human dignity and the right to life be respected, as well as places of worship, hospitals, and schools,” said the pope before the recitation of the Angelus at St. Peter’s Square in Rome.
“I bless the Burmese community in Italy, represented here today,” said the pope during the event on Sunday.
On June 11, the Catholic bishops’ conference of Myanmar issued a statement calling on the military not to attack places of worship, hospitals, and schools.
“We strongly demand respect for life, respect for the sanctity of sanctuary in places of worship, hospitals and schools,” read the bishops’ statement.
In the wake of the reported attacks on churches and villages that displaced thousands of people, the Church leaders said “human dignity and the right to life can never be compromised.”
In early 2021, Myanmar’s military seized power in the country and launched a crackdown that provoked a violent backlash from the opposition.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees has said the conflict has displaced more than 800,000 people from their homes. Of these, 250,000 are children.
Local and international media have reported that military forces continue to target churches and Christian institutions.
On June 15, government soldiers ransacked and set fire to St. Matthew Catholic Church in Dawnyaykhu in Phruso Township in the country’s Karenni State.
Myanmar’s junta rejects UN criticism
Myanmar’s ruling junta has rejected criticism of its human rights record by the United Nations, accusing the organization’s rights chief of “interference” in the country’s internal affairs.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet last week said Myanmar’s military government had likely committed “crimes against humanity” in its crackdown on dissent since seizing power in February last year.
In a statement, the Myanmar junta rejected what it called “one-sided and unfounded statements” at the UN’s ongoing Human Rights Council in Geneva.
Bachelet called on the military to abandon plans to carry out Myanmar’s first executions since 1990, including those of a former lawmaker from Aung San Suu Kyi’s party and a prominent democracy activist.
“Myanmar wishes to remind the High Commissioner and certain countries that the individuals sentenced to death are those who were found with hundreds of weapons and they are in charge of several dozen terrorist factions,” the statement from Myanmar’s mission to the UN in Geneva said.
The junta’s announcement that it would execute the men triggered a storm of criticism from international rights groups, who contended that the secret military tribunals where they were convicted were unfair.
Bachelet said at least 1,900 killings by the military had been reported since the coup, with more than 13,500 people arbitrarily arrested.
The figures tally with those gathered by the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, a local monitoring group that maintains data on killings and arrests since the coup.
But the junta’s statement criticized Bachelet for making a “misleading statement with sweeping allegations” and for not criticizing violence carried out by anti-junta militias.
Myanmar has been in turmoil since the military ousted Aung San Suu Kyi’s civilian government in February last year.
Widespread resistance to the takeover was met with a bloody military crackdown. – with a report from AFP