A brutal military coup on Feb. 1, 2021, ended nearly a decade of a democratic experiment in Myanmar (Burma).
The military seized control and declared a year-long state of emergency. The country’s elected leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, and members of her party are now under house arrest.
Many Burmese fought back in a nationwide uprising. This has been met with horrifying violence from the military junta, including the assassination of a Baptist pastor on Sept. 18.
When he was killed, Pastor Cung Biak Hum was attempting to help a member of his church extinguish a fire after the man’s home caught fire when the military junta fired artillery shells at the town.
Tom Andrews, United Nations special rapporteur, tweeted: “The murder of a Baptist minister and bombing of homes in Thantlang, Chin State, are the latest examples of the living hell being delivered by junta forces against the people of Myanmar. The world needs to pay closer attention. More importantly, the world needs to act.”
This legislation would authorize humanitarian aid and create a high-level position to coordinate the U.S. policy response with other countries in the area.
In addition, sanctions could be enacted by the president 30 days after passage on individuals who participated in the coup. Sixty days after passage, it would also enable the president to enact sanctions on Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprises. This is a provision that Chevron has deployed its lobbying team to oppose.
I joined four other faith leaders – Peter Thawnghmung, board president of the Chin Community of Indiana; Van L. Kio, community activist with Grassroots Movement for Burma; Stephen Hrekio of the US Chin Coalition; and Stephen Kio, senior pastor of Indiana Chin Baptist Church – in calling on Congress to pass this legislation as soon as possible.
There are 1.7 million Baptists in Burma. Last year, the Myanmar Baptist Convention was the second fastest growing Baptist convention in the world.
In March, a convoy of 15 military vehicles with 60 soldiers arrived at the Kachin Theological College and Seminary at 10:45 p.m. They went door to door in every dormitory looking for a New Testament professor who had denounced the military.
Just days ago, on Oct. 29, the Chin Human Rights Organization released a statement that in part reads: “This afternoon, the Tatmadaw began launching incendiary rockets into Thantlang town. Lt. Col. Thaung Hlaing, as the Chief Military Commander has ordered this wanton destruction of the town.”
“After multiple explosions, as of this evening, over 100 houses are on fire which continues to spread. … The first rockets to be fired into the town landed at the entrances to the Thantlang Baptist Church,” the statement said. “There are also reports that soldiers have come out on the streets and deliberately torched houses in different locations in town.”
Christians are hardly the sole persecuted faith in Burma. Rohingya Muslims have experienced genocide and expulsion from their homes. Ethnic and religious minorities have long been without traditional liberties but the situation today is dire.
The recent build-up of troops in Burma’s north is very worrying. The Chin State and the Sagaing region are both seeing an unprecedented influx of soldiers loyal to the coup leaders.
The Burmese military coordinated a similar buildup in Rakhine State before committing the genocide against the Rohingya in 2017. Historically similar tactics have been used to commit atrocities against the Kachin, Shan and Karen peoples.
There are reports that the military has been given three months to “wipe out” the resistance. Troop movements are presently hindering any humanitarian assistance reaching the Chin State.
An August USAID statement reads: “Coup-related instability has also resulted in access challenges, restricted banking operations, and limited cash availability, making the provision of humanitarian assistance more difficult for relief actors.”
I, along with my ministry colleagues, call upon the U.S. Congress to throw its full support behind any measure that will undermine a repressive and murderous regime – one already guilty of genocide.
At the present it appears that the most effective means of action is the Burma Act of 2021.
For three decades, Stearman has served as a pastor in the Christian (Baptist) tradition. His experience includes congregations in Athens, Greece and Paris, France. Most recently, he has been a pastor in New York City where he represents the Baptist global body at the United Nations (supported by the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and the Baptist World Alliance). He is active in helping to lead NGO committees related to human rights and the freedom of religion and belief, has been active in civil societies advocacy at the High Level Political Forum around the UN’s Agenda 2030 (SDGs), and is a trustee on the board of the Parliament of World Religions.