MUMBAI, India – National and international religious leaders meeting in Myanmar have called on the government “to take full responsibilities for a thorough and transparent investigation into multiple crimes perpetrated in Rakhine State and elsewhere.”
Rakhine state is where a government offensive has been carried out against the country’s Muslim minority, the Rohingya. The campaign has pushed over 700,000 people into neighboring Bangladesh.
The crisis has damaged the international standing of the government, led by Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, whose National League for Democracy won in a landslide during the country’s 2015 multiparty elections.
The ‘Myanmar National and International Multi-religious Delegation,’ which includes Yangon’s Cardinal Charles Bo, issued their statement after meeting May 22-24.
The group included leaders from Buddhism – the religion of the vast majority of the people of Myanmar – Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism. They have affiliated themselves with the New York-based Religions for Peace.
The religious leaders statement noted the plight of all the communities living in Rakhine State has attracted international attention.
“Out of fraternal concern for the other family members, let us together exert our utmost effort to find comprehensive and thorough solutions to the complexities and sensitivities that prevail in Rakhine State,” the letter reads.
The religious leaders stress that “terrorism can never be condoned, and we fully acknowledge the duty of the authorities to maintain law and order,” but expressed concern “that an excessive use of force in countering insurgency could jeopardize the peace and reconciliation process.”
The latest outburst of violence began in August 2017, when Rohingya militants attacked around 30 police outposts, killing several officers.
The United Nations has accused Myanmar’s security forces of committing crimes against humanity, including gang rapes, torture, arson and extra-judicial killings during their campaign against the Rohingya, calling it a “textbook ethnic cleansing.”
“We encourage the Union Government to take full responsibilities for a thorough and transparent investigation into multiple crimes perpetrated in Rakhine State and elsewhere,” the religious leaders said.
They also mentioned the “increasing hostilities and the large displacement of people” in Kachin and Shan States, where a large proportion of Myanmar’s significant Christian minority reside. Both states have seen separatist militias battle government troops.
Thursday’s statement said the violence “further weakens the peace and reconciliation process.”
“We are committed to working with the Union Government and other relevant actors to achieve a nationwide ceasefire agreement and sustainable peace with the vision of a democratic federal system in Myanmar,” the religious leaders said.
The letter also noted Pope Francis’s visit to Myanmar in November 2017.
“He said that many in Myanmar bear the wounds of violence, wounds both visible and invisible. We are often misguided to think that healing can come from anger and revenge. Yet the way of revenge is not the way of the world’s religious traditions. When hatred and rejection is experienced, we respond with forgiveness and compassion,” the statement reads.
“At the very foundation of sustainable peace is respect for and realization of human dignity, the undeniable and sacred essence rooted in our nature as human beings and as peoples,” the religious leaders continue. “As we shed light on the shared tragedies facing many under-represented and disadvantaged populations of Myanmar, we urge all peoples of faith and good will to support the unfolding vision of peace, rich with diversity, equality, respect and dignity.”
The religious delegation is scheduled to meet with Suu Kyi — who now holds the position of State Counsellor — on Friday.