UK

On 29th October. members of the Myanmar army, known as the Tatmadaw, set fire to a building attached to a Baptist church in the town of Thantlang, Chin State. Two days later, more than 100 homes had been destroyed, as had two churches, an orphanage housing more than 20 children and their caretakers, and the offices of two non-governmental organisations as a result of continued incendiary attacks.

The size, scale and severity of the destruction is shocking, but it has become all but par for the course in several states in Myanmar in recent months. Ever since the Tatmadaw seized power in the 1st February coup, they have carried out lethal and non-lethal attacks on all segments of the population with alarming regularity.

Myanmar Thantlang fires

Fires in Thantlang, Myanmar. PICTURE: The Chinland Post.

Some states, especially those home to large ethnic nationality populations, have been singled out in particular. In a statement on 25th September, for example, Brigadier General Zo Myint Tun bragged about the army’s ability to “obliterate Chin [state] in two weeks' time.”

Myanmar Pastor Cung Biak Hum

Baptist Pastor Cung Biak Hum who was shot dead by soldiers as he attempted to help extinguish a blaze in the town of Thantlang. PICTURE: Courtesy of CSW.

 

 "The international community responded to the 1st February coup with widespread condemnation and calls for the restoration of democracy, however their words have as yet failed to translate to meaningful action. Some states have imposed sanctions on members of the Tatmadaw and their enterprises, but these have not yet gone far enough."

While that timeline has mercifully passed, it seems the Tatmadaw remains set on the overall goal, with reports of additional reinforcements arriving in the area as the army continues its offensive on four villages in Falam township. The town of Thantlang had already been attacked prior to the recent offensive, specifically during an assault in September which destroyed 19 homes and caused nearly all of the 10,000-person population to become internally displaced or to seek refuge in India. During the attack, Baptist Pastor Cung Biak Hum, 31, was shot dead by soldiers as he attempted to help extinguish a blaze.

The UN Special Rapporteur on Myanmar, Tom Andrews, has also reported receiving information that “tens of thousands of troops and heavy weapons were being moved into restive regions in the north and northwest” where Chin state is located.  

With the Tatmadaw clearly gearing up for even more violence, and with the past nine months witnessing human rights violations of a similar scale taking place on a regular basis, international action remains disappointingly and infuriatingly unforthcoming. 

The international community responded to the 1st February coup with widespread condemnation and calls for the restoration of democracy, however their words have as yet failed to translate to meaningful action. Some states have imposed sanctions on members of the Tatmadaw and their enterprises, but these have not yet gone far enough.



In particular, there remains an urgent need for a global arms embargo, and for states to expose and hold to account those who continue to provide the regime with arms, freezing the military’s bank accounts and sanctioning its enterprises. As CSW and 113 others stressed last month, the United Nations must take a lead here, ensuring that efforts are cohesive and co-ordinated.

It is also vital that states respond to Myanmar’s burgeoning humanitarian crisis by providing aid through cross-border mechanisms and ensuring that such assistance reaches the most vulnerable without being blocked or stolen by the military.

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Crucially, the international community must remember that the Tatmadaw has a history of egregious human rights violations against Myanmar ethnic nationalities. In 2017, after decades of repeated warnings by rights groups like CSW, the army launched an offensive against the Rohingya people which has since been found by a UN Independent International Fact-Finding Mission as bearing the hallmarks of genocide.

The world failed the people of Myanmar then, and does so again for every day that passes without a robust response to the Tatmadaw and its horrific treatment of innocent civilians.

It is in light of this that we must pray fervently that God would raise up leaders who would act on his instructions to “Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless [and] plead the case of the widow” (Isaiah 1:17).

The people of Myanmar have suffered for too long, and if the UN and others do not act swiftly there will no doubt be many other towns like Thantlang for whom the international community did too little too late.

 Ellis Heasley is public affairs officer at UK-based religious freedom advocacy organisation CSW.