Myanmar's Junta Implicated in Destruction of Religious Buildings
In a disturbing escalation of violence post the 2021 coup, Myanmar's military junta has been implicated in the destruction of a significant number of religious buildings across the nation, drawing sharp criticism from human rights organizations.
Rising Toll on Religious Structures
According to a recent report by the Chin Human Rights Organization (CHRO), close to 100 places of worship, predominantly churches, in Chin State alone faced the junta's wrath since the coup. Nationwide, this number increases to an alarming 200 religious structures—including both churches and Buddhist monasteries—that have been decimated either through bombardments or deliberate arson by the junta.
The damage in Chin State has been particularly severe, with 95 religious buildings reportedly destroyed just last week. The extent of destruction also extends to essential community infrastructure; the junta is responsible for the obliteration of five hospitals, clinics, and four schools within the state post-coup.
Deliberate Targeting of Displaced Civilians
Salai Mang Hre Lian, the program manager of CHRO, in an interaction with the Khonuthung, a local Chin media agency, revealed that the junta's attacks have a more sinister motive. They have intentionally targeted churches providing refuge to the displaced populace.
Specific instances include the bombardment of Ramthlo village located near the Falam-Hakha highway, where junta fighter jets decimated homes and a church. This act was ostensibly in retaliation to a successful resistance raid on a junta military base, which resulted in heavy junta casualties and the loss of a significant cache of weapons. A similar episode occurred in Thantlang Township, where junta aircrafts razed a village and a church after a base was overtaken by Chin resistance forces.
CHRO emphasized the gravity of these attacks, noting, "Places of worship, hospitals, and schools, as primary community hubs, are safeguarded under the Geneva Convention and international statutes. The junta's actions amount to war crimes."
Broadening Scope of Junta’s Vandalism
The destruction isn't limited to Chin State. The Progressive Karenni People's Force highlighted that 42 religious structures were razed in Kayah State by junta forces since the coup's initiation. One poignant incident involved the torching of the historic 129-year-old Assumption Church in the Sagaing Region during a military raid.
Furthermore, an independent research entity, Data for Myanmar, reported that the junta and its affiliates have set fire to roughly 74,874 homes across Myanmar as of the end of July.
As international observers monitor the situation with growing alarm, the continued assault on cultural and religious edifices in Myanmar underscores the junta's disregard for both the nation's rich heritage and international law. The world watches and waits for a resolution that can restore peace and stability to the beleaguered nation.