(from New York) “Myanmar is a country rich in natural resources and yet it is among the poorest in Southeast Asia. The tragedy of two million Rohingya has brought it in the limelight of international relations especially after August 2017 when the army, with excessive use of force, drove as many as 700 thousand members of this minority to seek refuge in Bangladesh and several thousand in neighbouring India.” Cardinal Charles Bo brought the tragedy of a population and of a whole country called to answer charges of genocide and crimes against humanity into the gathering of world religious leaders convened by Religions for Peace. Last year, the Cardinal Co-President of the Advisory Forum of Religions for Peace created an “open space” for 100 representatives of government, military, ethnic groups, civil society and religious groups, in order to build together a common path of national reconciliation and peace. Aung San Suu Kyi participated in one of the events. Two days ago she had to defend her country against the accusation of genocide before the International Court of Justice in The Hague. Her determination led to the signing of a bilateral agreement between Myanmar and Bangladesh on the return of displaced persons, along with a set of agreements with UN refugee and population development agencies. “We reiterated our support as religious leaders to ensure that repatriated people return to their places of origin or to nearby destinations and that at the same time they enjoy access to basic services, freedom of movement and sustainable living conditions”, said the cardinal who, together with Muslim, Buddhist and Hindu representatives, is working towards a “planned, dignified, voluntary and safe return.”
Violence against the Rohingya people cannot be denied, but the events must be explored in depth. My impression is that the media have taken a very strong stand in their favour, unfortunately only telling one side of the story. The entire people of Myanmar cannot be condemned for an attack that was primarily military. There are serious responsibilities for the violence, thousands of homeless innocent people displaced in other States. But my message to the international community is not to punish the whole of Myanmar with sanctions that would be burdensome for the people. Extreme terms such as genocide, ethnic cleansing and sanctions will not be helpful in our journey towards democracy and peace.
What is the role that the Church is playing in such a delicate moment?
Our dialogue initiatives with the Muslims and the Buddhists have garnered the esteem and appreciation of the government, of the Military and of civil society as we are regarded as builders of bridges and agents of reconciliation.
We are combating all words of hate and defamation that contribute to the division inside the country.
and the government has great trust in the Catholic Church and in the inter-religious Council created with the help of Religions for Peace, an instrument that can help us restore peace. Myanmar is broken up into many groups: on the one side the Rohingya, on the other many ethnic groups, and all of them are fighting against the military who are extremely concerned about this escalation of tensions. The Church is currently playing a leading role in the reconciliation process. Government ministers, ethnic groups and other religious leaders have faith in us.
Aung San Suu Kyi went from being a champion of human rights to becoming a silent voice and government spokesperson. An inexplicable transformation.
The government’s position – not only the accusations of one side – must be heard in Court. Aung San Suu Kyi is not denying anything, she is not denying the excessive use of force and in The Hague she explained that there are people involved in these acts of violence on both sides. She went there not only to speak on behalf of the government, but to represent the people of Myanmar and to bring their voice. She is making proposals on which she asks the international community to reflect. She has been courageous in accepting to face up to the accusations and more in-depth investigations are needed.