On February 1, 2021, the Burmese military, the Tatmadaw, staged a coup and took over Myanmar. What followed can only be described as a brutal crackdown to suppress opposition to its rule, including mass killings, torture, and sexual violence. The crackdown on human rights defenders and the opposition in the country was followed by an increase in arbitrary detentions and criminal proceedings, especially targeting protesters, journalists, lawyers, health workers, and political opposition. However, a new report suggests that the Tatmadaw continues to target religious and ethnic communities. This comes years after the Tatmadaw specifically targeted the Rohingya for annihilation. The Tatmadaw targeted the Rohingya with extrajudicial executions or other killings, including by random shooting; enforced disappearance and arbitrary detention; rape, including gang rape, and other forms of sexual violence; physical assault including beatings; torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; looting and occupation of property; destruction of property; and ethnic and religious discrimination and persecution. As a result of the atrocities, close to a million Rohingya Muslims were forced to flee to Bangladesh. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights described the atrocities committed against the Rohingya Muslims in Burma as “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing”, and the UN Special Envoy for human rights in Myanmar identified the “hallmarks of a genocide” within the horrendous crimes suffered by the Rohingya Muslims. The International Criminal Court and the International Court of Justice are looking into the crimes.
In June 2023, the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) reported that the Tatmadaw “has violated the human rights of religious minorities and destroyed minority religious sites and places of worship in violation of international law and standards.” According to their analysis, the Tatmadaw has been targeting Buddhist monks, novices and nuns on suspicion of participating in the anti-coup movement, but also ethnic Christian clergy, mainly based on their ethnicity.
The report indicates that between February 2021 and April 2023, 190 religious or sacred sites in Chin, Kachin, Karen, Kayah (Karenni), Mon, Rakhine and Shan States, as well as in the Bago, Magway, Mandalay, Sagaing, Tanintharyi and Yangon Regions, were destroyed or damaged as a result of a litany of attacks, including arsons, artillery fires and airstrikes. These targeted sites included 87 Christian religious buildings, six Islamic religious sites, and 94 Buddhist religious sites. According to the ICJ’s analysis, of the 190 incidents, the military junta is responsible for at least 158.
As of 30 April 2023, the ICJ reported at least 64 raids on religious sites and places of worship across the country. The majority of these sites were Buddhist sites, such as 43 monasteries, including two monastic education schools, 15 Christian churches and five Islamic religious buildings. Security forces are also said to have entered a Hindu temple.
The ICJ reported that between February 2021 and April 2023, the Tatmadaw established camps in at least 110 places of worship in as many as 12 states and Regions (including Chin State, Shan State, Karen State, Rakhine State, Mon State, Ayeyarwady Region, Tanintharyi Region, Bago Region, Yangon Region, Mandalay Region, Sagaing Region and Magway Region). Most of the camps, at least 100, were set up at Buddhist places of worship, seven at churches and three at mosques. Some have been used as military bases before they were turned into detention centers, interrogation centers and even killing fields.
The ICJ further reported on a large number of religious leaders being arrested for their participation in peaceful protests. Furthermore, between February 2021 and April 2023, several religious leaders and members of religious minorities were killed. According to the ICJ, a total of 41 clerics were killed by gunshots, massacres, indiscriminate heavy artillery shells, airstrikes or died under torture, with 25 deaths attributable to the military junta.
Despite the fact that the data collection has been hampered by the lack of Internet connectivity post-coup but also the targeting of journalists and human rights defenders, the information collected by the ICJ pains a concerning picture of the dire situation in Myanmar and adds to concerning reports about the state of human rights in the country. As long as Tatmadaw remains in power, the human rights situation will only deteriorate.
(c) Forbes 2023 | https://www.forbes.com/sites/ewelinaochab/2023/07/02/tatmadaw-targets-religious-and-ethnic-communities-in-myanmar-yet-again/?sh=4ea1e1b50835