By Robin Gomes
Supporters of ousted Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi clashed with police on Friday as hundreds of thousands joined nationwide pro-democracy demonstrations in defiance of the military junta's call to halt gatherings of five or more people. The mostly peaceful protests were the biggest so far.
Mass street demonstrations entered their second week Saturday with neither protesters nor the military showing any signs of backing off from confrontations.
Holy See’s spiritual closeness
“In these days, the Holy See has been following with great attention and deep concern the developments of the situation that has come about in Myanmar, a country that, since the time of his Apostolic Visit in 2017, Pope Francis has carried in his heart with so much affection.
Archbishop Ivan Jurkovič, the Holy See’s Permanent Observer to the United Nations in Geneva, made the remark at the 29th special session of the UN Human Rights Council on February 12, which addressed the crisis in the south-east Asian nation. “In this most delicate moment,” he said, “the Holy See wishes to assure once again its spiritual closeness, prayer and solidarity with the people of Myanmar.”
Myanmar's military seized power on Feb. 1, after detaining its democratically elected leaders from the governing National League for Democracy (NLD) party. The coup came after days of escalating tension between the civilian government and the powerful military, which claimed that the November general election, won overwhelmingly by the NLD, was fraudulent. Since then arrests have continued unabated.
Opponents of Myanmar's military coup sustained mass protests for the seventh straight day on Friday as continuing arrests of junta critics added to anger over the detention of Suu Kyi.
Thousands assembled in the business hub, Yangon, while protesters took to the streets of the capital Naypyitaw, the second city Mandalay and other towns a day after the biggest protests so far in the Southeast Asian country, Reuters reported.
The Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council said on Friday more than 350 people, including officials, activists and monks, have been arrested in Myanmar since the coup, including some who face criminal charges on "dubious grounds". "Stop kidnapping at night," was among the signs held up by protesters in Yangon in response to arrest raids in recent days.
Dialogue and human dignity
Archbishop Jurkovic said, “The Holy See also implores that those who hold responsibility in the country will place themselves, and their actions, with sincere willingness at the service of the common good, of fundamental human and civil rights, of promoting social justice and national stability, for a harmonious, democratic and peaceful coexistence.”
He invited “everyone to put aside all that stands in the way of the indispensable process of dialogue and mutual respect of human dignity”. He hoped for a peaceful and swift resolution to the ongoing tensions, saying the Holy See “remains confident that further dialogue may bring about such much-desired peace”.
Human Rights Council resolution
The 47-member UN Human Rights Council on Friday unanimously adopted without a vote a resolution brought by Britain and the European Union (EU), urging Myanmar’s military leaders to immediately release Suu Kyi and other civilian government leaders. However, the initial draft text was watered down after pressure from China and Russia, who said they "disassociated" themselves from the consensus. Before the vote, Myanmar's envoy said the resolution was "not acceptable".
Myanmar, also known as Burma, has suffered long under the rule of an oppressive military junta from 1962 to 2011. During the nearly 5 decades, almost all dissent was suppressed with gross human rights abuse, which drew international condemnation and sanctions. A gradual liberalization began in 2010, leading to free elections in 2015 and the installation of a government led by Suu Kyi the following year.
Pope Francis has expressed his solidarity with the people of Myanmar and appealed to those holding authority to show their willingness to serve the common good. Speaking during the ‘Angelus’ prayer in St. Peter’s Square on February 7, he prayed that those holding authority would demonstrate sincere willingness to serve the common good, promote social justice and national stability, for a harmonious, democratic coexistence.
And again, in his address to the diplomatic corps the following day, the Holy Father expressed his affection and closeness to the people of the nation. He expressed disappointment that “the path to democracy undertaken in recent years was brusquely interrupted” by the recent coup. He hoped that the detained political leaders “will be promptly released as a sign of encouragement for a sincere dialogue aimed at the good of the country”.