Throughout March and April, ethnic violence and internal displacement in Myanmar has been on the rise, despite the International Court of Justice’s ruling in late January that the government of Myanmar must “refrain from acts of genocide against the Rohingya.” Such was a landmark decision that recognized the genocidal tactics used against Rohingya Muslims, such as torture, rape, and murder, as the government has been complicit in a program of ethnic cleansing. Humanitarians, human rights organizations, and citizens of Myanmar alike joined in the hope that such an influential and public statement would cause the government of Myanmar to curtail the ethnic violence in an attempt to clear its worsening human rights record.
Such hopes were dashed, however, as violence increased in the months following the decision. Drawing attention from such agencies as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, the rates of civilian death and displacement are astounding. Rakhine and Chin are perhaps the worst hit, as “Myanmar authorities estimate that more than 61,000 people are newly displaced in Rakhine State as of 16 March, representing an increase of some 10,000 people as compared to the previous month.” Such high frequency of displacement has caused displacement sites to be overloaded, leaving many no choice but to harbor in churches, schools, and even private homes of strangers. The least fortunate have reportedly started constructing their own makeshift shelter with bamboo.
Another particularly distressing trend that has been occurring is the consistent and repetitive shutting down of informational sessions regarding implementation of and engagement with National Ceasefire Agreement. Such meetings, which had been planned to be held by the Karen National Union, have been prohibited by local branches of the Myanmar Armed Forces with the explanation that only the Joint Ceasefire Monitoring Committee is permitted to hold such sessions. Karen State has also been wreaked by civilian protests against the Myanmar army forces’ violence against the innocent communities and construction projects. According to Free Burma Rangers, “in spite of a ceasefire on paper, the Burma army has continued its attacks against the villagers and its road work to further project its power over the Karen people. Roads are built, camps are reinforced, and patrols are supported by mortar fire, chasing villagers from their homes.”
On March 5, Burmese troops shot multiple times an innocent Karen forest worker as he was riding his motorbike close the the border of the Burma Army Light Infantry Battalion. Even though onlookers were able to find medical aid, the forest worker, Saw Maw Aye, passed away en route to the nearest hospital. Mu Traw District, where Saw Maw Aye lived, has experienced mass displacement amidst the building of military camps and the increasing import of weapons. According to Free Burma Rangers, 367 individuals from 51 families were displaced from Mu Traw District’s multiple villages.
This violence is made worse by the recent infiltration of covid-19 into Myanmar, as 5 cases have been confirmed as of March 27. We ask that during this period of turbulence and trepidation, you pray for the thousands of Burmese citizens who face the dual threat of violence and disease, as well as the millions of displaced Rohingya refugees.
To learn more about the situation of ethnic violence and mass displacement in Myanmar, please visit https://www.freeburmarangers.org/
For more information about religious persecution in Myanmar, please see USCIRF’s 2020 Annual Report.