10/21/2021 Myanmar (International Christian Concern) – Military authorities in Myanmar arrested seven humanitarians working for Caritas, a confederation of Catholic relief organizations. The workers were reportedly transporting food and medicine and were apprehended in Loikaw, the capital of Myanmar’s southeastern Kayah State on October 18.
Myanmar, a Buddhist-majority country, was taken over by the military in February of this year. The military, which is referred to locally as the Tatmadaw, has ruled with an iron fist in the months since the takeover.
Kayah State has a disproportionately high Christian population—though Christians make up only 6.2% of the population countrywide, they are over 45% of Kayah’s population. This has made them a particular target of the Tatmadaw, which aggressively persecutes religious and ethnic minority communities. ICC recently published a report detailing several of these minority groups and proposing actions that the international community can take to push back against the Tatmadaw.
The international community has been united in its condemnation of the Tatmadaw. Several rounds of sanctions, coordinated by governments around the world, may have made some difference. Still, the Tatmadaw has already been heavily sanctioned for years for human rights abuses stretching back decades. Earlier this year, it even mocked the new layers of sanctions, calling them ineffective and suggesting that the new sanctions were more symbolic than effective. In this, the Tatmadaw may have been correct, especially given the continued economic and military support it continues to receive from Russia and China.
A bipartisan group of U.S. congresspersons and senators introduced legislation last week to sanction the Tatmadaw for violating human rights, authorize humanitarian funding, and promote democracy in Myanmar. The bill, introduced by Representative Gregory Meeks (D-NY) and Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD), already has bipartisan support around Capitol Hill.
The legislation authorizes targeted sanctions against those who helped stage the February 1 coup and who, in the months since, have repressed human rights. In addition, the bill creates a legal framework to support the pro-democracy movement in Myanmar. This includes the authorization to prohibit the import of precious gems from Burma to the U.S. and the creation of a new position at the Department of State to coordinate U.S. and international efforts on Myanmar.
On the humanitarian front, the bill authorizes support for civil society and humanitarian efforts in Myanmar, Bangladesh, Thailand, “and the surrounding region” where a severe humanitarian crisis is developing as the Tatmadaw displaces hundreds of thousands of Burmese from their homes.
“ICC is encouraged by the international condemnation of the Tatmadaw’s assault on democracy and human rights,” said Jay Church, ICC’s Advocacy Manager for Southeast Asia, in a press statement on the legislation. “The Tatmadaw’s history of violence against vulnerable minority communities is despicable and had only intensified since they took complete control of the government in February. It is incumbent upon the international community to push back against the Tatmadaw, support freedom in Myanmar, and ensure that a twisted and evil regime is not allowed to take over Myanmar.”
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