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6/26/2024 Myanmar (International Christian Concern) — Speaking at an interactive dialogue last week, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Türk, spoke of the dire state of human rights in Myanmar under the ruling military junta. Since taking power on February 1, 2021, the junta has killed thousands of civilians and displaced an estimated 2.3 million more. 

“Myanmar is in agonizing pain,” Türk said in his statement last week, “and the disintegration of human rights continues at breakneck speed.” Continuing, he described junta military tactics such as beheadings, midnight bombings of homes, and other brutalities. “We are bearing witness to a country being suffocated by an illegitimate military regime.” 

The junta is known to abduct children, forcing them to walk ahead of their troops through minefields. In many cases, their victims are members of ethnic and religious minority communities fighting back against the atrocities of a military that has waged a decades-long war of ethnic and religious cleansing. 

Representing an extremist interpretation of Buddhism, the Burmese military has a long history of violence against the people of Myanmar, including against ethnic and religious minorities like the Muslim-majority Rohingya and Christian-majority Chin. 

Responding to Türk, U.S. Ambassador Michéle Taylor joined his condemnation of the military’s violence against civilians and highlighted “the need for the international community to do more to impede its access to arms and financial resources,” a longstanding priority of the U.S. in response to the situation. 

Unfortunately, the Burmese military enjoys consistent support from Russia and China, which continue to support it economically and militarily despite sweeping international sanctions.  

Despite this support, experts believe that the Burmese military is atrophying rapidly, with as few as 150,000 personnel remaining after the loss of about 21,000 fighters through casualties or desertions since the 2021 coup. This number is significantly smaller than previous estimates of 300,000 to 400,000 soldiers. It calls into question the junta’s ability to sustain its nationwide military campaign, especially after high-profile losses in recent months. Research from the Special Advisory Council for Myanmar suggests that anti-junta militias’ gains have reduced the area under solid Tatmadaw control to 17% or less. 

Myanmar is a patchwork mosaic of ethnic and religious groups. Though a strong majority of the population is ethnic Burman, and an even greater percentage is Buddhist, the communities that make up the remainder are well-established and well-organized and, for the most part, predate the formation of the modern state by centuries. 

In many cases, Myanmar’s ethnic minorities have taken on a distinct religious identity as well. About 20% to 30% of ethnic Karen are Christians, while other groups — such as the Chin — are more than 90% Christian. This overlap of ethnic and religious identity has created a volatile situation for believers. 

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