“As the people of Myanmar face a critical situation and when they need protection from systematic human rights violations and brutality by the military junta wielding political power illegally, how can the Asian churches be engaged in a coordinated action for effective international advocacy?”; this was a major concern raised by the members of the Executive Committee of the Christian Conference of Asia (CCA) during its two days’ deliberations.
The Executive Committee of the CCA which met online on 9–10 August 2021 discussed the catastrophic situation in Myanmar, as well as the wide spread and uncontrolled community transmission of COVID-19.
The members of the Executive Committee representing churches across Asia during a discussion expressed their anguish and grave concern at the alarming situation of a protracted potential for massive insecurity and threat to peace in the country. They pondered on questions such as what is to be done in addressing the disastrous developments in Myanmar, and how to deploy advocacy to pressurise the military to retract from its continuing attacks on the people and return to democracy, as per the will of the people.
The CCA General Secretary Dr Mathews George Chunakara, in his report to the Executive Committee said, “The people of Myanmar are facing the ravaging hit of COVID-19 along with battling an unstable political situation created by the military junta.”
“Myanmar faces one of the world’s highest fatality rates relative to its population, yet it is probably an undercount, something which the military junta has implicitly acknowledged,” said Mathews George Chunakara.
The overall human rights situation in Myanmar deteriorated since the military coup in February this year, with heightened restrictions on freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. Military and police abuses were amplified with arbitrary arrests, detention, torture, and killings in custody.
Fighting between Myanmar’s military and several ethnic armed groups continued, with government forces committing increased abuses against ethnic Kachin, Karen, Rakhine, Rohingya, and Shan minority populations.
Nearly 900 people have been killed and more than 200,000 people forced to flee their homes because of violent military raids and harassment of people even in villages. The situation is further aggravated by the worsening COVID-19 situation, which risks overwhelming health and medical services across the country.
In response to a question raised by Dr Sawako Fujiwara, representing the Japanese churches in the Executive Committee, about ecumenical responses to the Myanmar crisis, the CCA General Secretary shared information about the joint initiatives of CCA together with the World Council of Churches thus far.
Myanmar borders countries that are home to about a third of the world’s population. According to a UN expert on Myanmar, the country risks becoming a COVID-19 “super-spreader state”.
Several reports confirm that testing, contact-tracing, and treatment of COVID-19 have all ground to a halt since the military coup. Public hospitals were emptied of medical workers, thousands of whom joined protests against the coup. Shortages of oxygen have been exacerbated by a rule banning the sale of the life-saving gas to residents of Yangon unless they got permission from local officials appointed by the junta.