YANGON—Cardinal Charles Maung Bo, the leader of the Myanmar Roman Catholic Church, called on the world to understand the people of Myanmar and their struggles and to not condemn, as he delivered his Christmas message on Saturday.
The Cardinal said in his Christmas message that Myanmar has its own struggles for democracy and has its own legitimate reasons for its security concerns. He said that the international community needs to understand Myanmar because any punishments against the country would affect all citizens of Myanmar.
“The world needs to understand the struggle that democracy faces in this country. The international community needs to accompany this nation in its fledgling democracy. All stakeholders are trying to recast a new Myanmar. Any sanctions will adversely impact our simple people,” the cardinal said.
Though the cardinal’s message didn’t mention the issue specifically, his request to the world came a few weeks after Myanmar testified at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in the case over the Rohingya genocide brought by The Gambia. The international community has criticized the Myanmar government and its military for the events in 2017 in Rakhine State, in which more than 700,000 Rohingya fled to neighboring Bangladesh amid “clearance operations” by the Myanmar military in their conflict with the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA).
The international community has threatened Myanmar with economic sanctions and the UN has called the events in 2017 a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing” with genocidal intent. The military has denied the allegations, saying the crackdown was a response to the coordinated attacks on security posts in Rakhine State by ARSA, and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi hasdenied there was any genocidein Myanmar.
The State Counselor told the ICJ that the Rohingya issue was an internal conflict. She also asked the court to reject the case because the country is preparing further courts martial and the submission of the final report of the Independent Commission of Enquiry (ICOE) will be coming very soon.
Earlier in December, before Daw Aung San Suu Kyi led the Myanmar delegation to the ICJ in The Hague, Cardinal Maung Bo appealed to the international community torefrain from punishingthe people of Myanmar collectively for the military’s crackdown in 2017 in Rakhine State. Rather, he said, those who commit rights abuses should be punished individually.
“The international events involving Myanmar today could force a relapse. Another relapse would be a shattering journey down a slippery rock. The people of Myanmar need understanding, advising and guidance from the international community, not condemnation,” said the cardinal, expressing his worries about the setbacks and challenges the country is facing.
Along with pressure to stop ongoing human rights violations and prosecute perpetrators, Myanmar faces the threat of direct sanctions against its civil and military establishments, if the ICJ decides it is responsible for genocide. The cardinal also expressed concern over the impacts that sanctions could have on trade and the economy, which could affect ordinary people in Myanmar.
“Any sanction without consideration for the welfare of ordinary people will be a sad commentary on the world’s concern for our people. That is the message this Christmas: understand Myanmar people, their dreams and their tears.”
Cardinal Maung Bo also stated in his Christmas message that Myanmar, in turn, needs to understand the world’s concern about the suffering of others as the country seeks peaceful resolution and the return of the Rohingya.
As he urged the world to create no more nightmares for the citizens of Myanmar, the cardinal also urged the government of Myanmar to engage with the international community to build further friendship, trust and reconciliation.
“The rulers of this nation need to engage with the international community. No man is an island. No country is an island. Myanmar needs more international friends,” he said. “There were painful events in our country and we must have the courage to accept the unkind acts and seek reconciliation with the international community and the affected people of this nation.”
Cardinal Maung Bo has raised concerns in the past over political and socioeconomic issues in Myanmar. He was elected by the Vatican to be the first Myanmar cardinal to chair the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conference (FABC) in November 2018.
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