By Robin Gomes
Myanmar’s prominent Catholic Church leader is appealing to the nation’s leaders to set aside guns and violence and seek peace and reconciliation through justice and truth, saying the badly wounded nation is in desperate need of healing.
70 years of woes
“For seventy years Myanmar has been torn apart by ethnic conflicts, dictatorship and religious nationalism that has led to horrific bloodshed, death, destruction, slavery, rape and injury,” laments Cardinal Charles Bo, Archbishop of Yangon.
“War and hatred have resulted in the displacement of hundreds of thousands. Our natural environment is threatened, our economy ruined, our education denied,” he notes in a statement made public on Sunday.
With pain, he notes that “an exodus from the country over past years has led to entire generations of our brothers and sisters from Myanmar soil growing up in other parts of the world in lands and cultures that are not their own.”
The cardinal who is the President of the Federation of the Asian Bishops’ Conferences (FABC) notes that since Myanmar opened up to the world 7 years ago after decades of isolation, there have been some moments of hope and light, only to be replaced by new dark clouds.
Path to peace and reconciliation
The 71-year old Salesian cardinal says he is not a lawyer or a politician. But as a priest, he says, he knows that justice is needed for peace, and for reconciliation, truth must be recognized.
He thus appeals to Myanmar’s leaders to “put away guns and violence and to reach out in dialogue with all communities in Myanmar – of every race and religion – to seek a peaceful, political resolution to decades of conflict and to begin a new process of peace, justice, truth and reconciliation.”
Crimes against humanity
He also urges the international community to keep in mind “the well-being of all the peoples of Myanmar as it considers what measures to take in pursuit of justice”.
His statement comes just as Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi prepares to defend her country against charges of genocide against the Rohingya Muslims at the International Court of Justice at the Hague in the Netherlands.
More than 700,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled to neighbouring Bangladesh since a bloody crackdown by Myanmar’s military in 2017, which United Nations investigators say was carried out with “genocidal intent”. That wave brought the total number of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh to over 1 million.
Myanmar’s military is also fighting brutal wars against insurgents in Kachin, Kayah, Kayin, Rakhine and Shan states, which the cardinal has previously deplored.
Don’t penalize the poor and innocent
Cardinal Bo urges the international community that in its effort to hold those responsible for crimes against humanity accountable, they do not inadvertently penalize those who are not responsible.
“Do not punish the people of Myanmar as a whole, who in the past seven years,” he says, “have seen their country take tentative, fragile steps towards opening up to the world.”
He also appeals to the international community to adopt measures that do not hurt the poorest but target those directly responsible for perpetrating grave violations of human rights and gross injustices.
The cardinal says he was speaking on behalf of the Catholic Church that takes seriously its call to speak out for justice. “For the Church, justice and peace go hand in hand, and truth and reconciliation walk together,” Cardinal Bo says.