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Burma Is Getting Away With Persecution of Christians

Burma Christians
An indigenous missionary preaches the good news of Christ to villagers in Burma (Myanmar) in this undated photo. |

The nation of Burma repeatedly captures headlines as human rights in the Southeast Asian country continue to deteriorate. At the center of these stories is the southwestern state of Rakhine, home to the Rohingya, a predominately Muslim ethic group. According to the New York Times, currently over 680,000 Rohingyas are estimated to have fled to neighboring Bangladesh as a result of the Burmese military campaign against the group. The campaign, denied by the Myanmar government, has escalated throughout the past year and is now being called ethnic cleansing by both the United States and the United Nations, as reported by CNN. Many Muslims, who make up roughly 4% of the country's population, have been left with nothing but destroyed villages and now preside in internally displaced persons (IDP) camps in Bangladesh.

The violence is a result of a repeated pattern of systemic discrimination against the Rohingya by the Burmese government. Rohingyas have continually been excluded from political processes and enjoyment of rights of Burmese citizens. For example, in 2015, Rohingyas were prevented from participating in the first democratic election since the end of military rule. Just a year prior, Rohingyas were excluded from even being counted in the national census, the country's first in over three decades. Burmese Leader Aung San Suu Kyi has repeatedly condemned such discrimination and human rights violations, while ignoring those committed by her own country's military.

In addition, only hundreds of miles to the north, what has failed to make headlines is the Kachin state, located in northern Burma, where quite similar violence is being perpetrated against another minority group, which is mostly Christians. In large numbers, the military is targeting Christians in Kachin and Shan, another northern state, and has displaced around 100,000 more, according to the United Nations.

Such discrimination against Christians in the Buddhist-majority country is not a new development. According to International Christian Concern, the Burmese government has discriminated against minority groups for years. One example of such persecution is the inability of Christians to obtain National Registration Cards (NRC), preventing them from gaining access to government services and infrastructure, such as the train system.

Violence in Kachin state severely escalated in 2016 when the Burmese military began an offensive against the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), displacing more than 6,000 people, according to Frontier. The government then continued this violent campaign by hitting multiple IDP camps with mortar fire, in direct violation of Rule 7 of international humanitarian law, which protects civilians from being targeted as military objectives.

Frontier has also reported that the government of Burma has been blocking humanitarian aid from entering the country and reaching the IDP camps, especially those located in KIA-controlled territory. This prevention of aid represents another breach of international law perpetrated by Myanmar at the expense of suffering Christians in Kachin.

In 2017, as reported by Human Rights Watch, the Burmese military continued their aggression by distributing leaflets in Tanai Township in Kachin, informing citizens that they must leave their homes and evacuate the area or be considered terrorists by the government. With the military still blocking their path out of the region, many were unable to flee and were left in the midst of the military attacks.

The displaced Christians from Kachin state are living in quite dire conditions and need immediate assistance to survive, yet this assistance never arrives.

Although Myanmar is currently of particular interest for its campaign in the south against the Rohingyas, who are being forced to flee the country in mass numbers, the world must take a look at the full picture in Myanmar. The government is getting away with severe human rights infringements against the Christians of the Kachin state, which they have been doing so for years, and will most certainly continue this pattern of persecution if left unchecked. Though both crises have their own unique identities, they are inherently linked and must be addressed together to fully end the abuses. In order for the wounds of Myanmar to heal, the world must ensure that the bleeding in not only the Rakhine state, but also the Kachin state, comes to an end.

Matias Perttula is Advocacy Director at International Christian Concern and member of the Faith Coalition to Stop Genocide in Burma

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