YANGON—The Archbishop of Yangon, Cardinal Charles Bo, has urged the international community not to apply collective punishment against the people of Myanmar in pursuit of justice for crimes against the Rohingya in Rakhine State.
His statement on Sunday came 10 days after State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi announced preparations to defend the country against charges of genocide against the Rohingya at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague, in the Netherlands.
Cardinal Bo, the leader of Myanmar’s Catholic community, said, “Do not punish the people of Myanmar as a whole,” and urged the international community to “avoid the ways that hurt the poorest people [in Myanmar],” saying the country has been taking tentative and fragile steps to reconnect to the world in the past seven years.
After decades of isolation, the country started to open up to the world seven years ago, and while there have been some glimmers of hope, new dark forces have emerged, he said.
In its effort to hold to account those responsible for crimes against humanity, Cardinal Bo urged the international community to directly target those who perpetrate grave violations of human rights and commit serious injustices.
He said that in seeking justice, the international community needed to consider the well being of the Myanmar people.
On behalf of the Organization for Islamic Cooperation (OIC), The Gambia has filed a lawsuit against Myanmar at the ICJ accusing it of genocide.
In late November, the Myanmar government announced that State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi will travel to the ICJ to contest the genocide accusation and lead the country’s legal defense team. The ICJ has said it will hold the first public hearings in the case on Dec. 10-12.
More than 700,000 Rohingya have fled Myanmar to neighboring Bangladesh since August 2017 to escape military operations that the UN has called a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing.” The Myanmar military denies the allegations, insisting the crackdown was a response to coordinated attacks on security posts in Rakhine State by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army.
The archbishop also appealed to Myanmar’s leaders to set aside guns and violence, seek peace, and create dialogue with ethnic and religious groups in order to find a political solution to decades of conflict. He also urged the leaders to focus on creating a new process of peace, justice, truth and reconciliation.
He said Myanmar has been torn apart by ethnic conflict, dictatorship and nationalism, which have caused horrific bloodshed, death, destruction, slavery, rape and injuries for 70 years.
The badly wounded nation is in desperate need of healing, he stressed.
Cardinal Bo said he is neither a politician nor a lawyer, but as a priest he said he knows justice, reconciliation and truth must be recognized to achieve peace.
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