YANGON: To most people in Myanmar, food waste is nothing but garbage, and that attitude leaves Inda Soe Aung baffled.
But the 35-year-old environmentalist isn’t complaining, because what he views as his compatriots’ lack of imagination has given him the business opportunity of a lifetime – turning what they throw away into fertiliser.
“People think that food waste is just trash, trash, trash,” he said. “It’s difficult for me to introduce to the public that food waste is a natural resource.”
Each day, he collects about a tonne of food waste from wet markets near his home in Yangon’s North Dagon Township, pouring baskets of leftover vegetables into a cart before processing it into organic compost over the course of several months.
He started his business, Bokashi Myanmar, nearly two years ago and has so far created 500 tonnes of fertiliser, which he sells mainly for use in gardens and home farms.Advertisement
His aim is to triple production and help the environment by reducing greenhouse gases, while persuading other people to adopt the techniques for soil preservation and combating climate change he outlines on his company’s Facebook page.
Yangon authorities estimate that, across all categories, the fast-growing city generates 2,300-2,500 tonnes of waste each day, inundating landfill sites that are decreasing in number as demand for land grows.
Inda Soe Aung gets help from his wife, Aye Aye Than, who says she is proud of the business and its contribution to the environment.
“I thought that only poor and grassroots people worked with trash. But, I later realised that this job is providing a clean environment for my neighbours around me,” she said.
South Korean provider also targets expansion through Vietnam and Thailand
The National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) of Myanmar has moved to bolster cyber prevention and defence capabilities through a security-focused partnership with SK Telecom.
Terms of the contract will see the South Korean provider deploy a team of cyber security specialists to Myanmar to consult on the “design and establishment” of a security operation centre (SOC) at the government agency until the end of July.
Leveraging SK Telecom’s ‘Smart Guard’ solution, the team will attempt to diagnose security vulnerabilities within NCSC’s existing cyber security infrastructure, alongside offering infrastructure security management guidance and advice.
This is in addition to the provision of SIEM (security information and event management) offerings developed by Korean security specialist Igloo Security. The solution will “collect and analyse” information – such as logs, errors and hacking – generated by diverse systems including servers, network equipment and applications.
“We are pleased to establish our SOC with SK Telecom’s advanced technology and know-how in infrastructure security,” said Ko Ye Naing Moe, director of NCSC. “We will work closely with SK Telecom to better protect Myanmar’s national intelligence and intelligence resources.”
Operating as an agency under the Ministry of Transport and Communications in Myanmar, NCSC is tasked with safeguarding national intelligence against cyber threats, including hacking and distributed denial-of-service (DDos) attacks, as well as protecting the nation’s information and communication networks.
“SK Telecom will work closely with the NCSC to build a sophisticated security operation system in Myanmar to strengthen its protection against the ever-increasing cyber threats,” said Shim Sang-soo, vice president of Infra Business at SK Telecom. “Going forward, armed with strong cyber security capabilities, we will seek further business opportunities in other Asian markets.”
Following the export of services to Myanmar – which Sang-soo said serves as a “strategic hub” connecting the emerging ASEAN markets – SK Telecom expects to expand security reach across other Southeast Asian countries, including Vietnam and Thailand.
Prison Time for Breaking Curfew, Quarantine Is Excessive and Unsafe
(Bangkok) – At least 500 people, including children, returning migrant workers, and religious minorities, have been sentenced to between one month and one year in prison in Myanmar since late March 2020 for violating curfews, quarantines, or other movement control orders, Human Rights Watch said today. Myanmar authorities should stop jailing people for Covid-19-related infractions.
Most have been sentenced under the National Disaster Management Law, Prevention and Control of Communicable Diseases Law, and various penal code provisions. Authorities have charged hundreds more in cases that are ongoing or resulted in fines. Imprisoning people for violating curfews, quarantine, and physical distancing directives is almost always disproportionate as well as counterproductive for reducing threats to public health.
“Limiting public health risks through social distancing is crucial, but jailing people for being outside at night just adds to everybody’s risk,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Throwing hundreds behind bars in crowded, unhygienic prisons defeats the purpose of containing the spread of Covid-19.”
In March and April, national, state, and local authorities announced several directives and restrictions aimed at reducing the spread of the coronavirus. Measures include a mandatory 28-day quarantine for foreign arrivals, nighttime curfews, a ban on gatherings over five people, and several township-level lockdowns. On March 28, government media announced that “those breaking public health order can face jail time.… The Covid-19 pandemic is also a natural disaster, and those who do not comply with the law can face fines and even prison time.” Local authorities oversee enforcement and criminalization of violations, with wide variations across the country.
International human rights law recognizes that in the context of a serious public health emergency, restrictions on some rights can be justified – but only when those measures are strictly necessary, legal, based on scientific evidence, limited in scope and duration, proportionate to address the crisis, and neither arbitrary nor discriminatory in application. In the cases below, drawn from media and civil society reports, Myanmar authorities acted well beyond the public health threat posed by Covid-19. These cases represent only a small fraction of the government’s use of punitive measures.
Most of those imprisoned were charged for violating curfew orders under section 188 of the penal code, which carries a sentence of up to six months for “disobedience to [an] order duly promulgated by [a] public servant.” The majority of states and regions imposed curfews in late April requiring people to remain in their homes between 10 p.m. and 4 a.m. The government rolled back the nationwide curfew to 12 a.m. to 4 a.m. on May 15.
Authorities arrested 330 people in the border township of Myawaddy, Karen State, between April 20 and May 6 for violating the curfew. At least 50 were sentenced to between two weeks and one month in prison, with the rest fined 50,000 kyat (US$35). Those who could not pay were jailed. In Ayeyarwady Division, authorities sentenced 212 people to between one and two months in prison in April for breaking the regional curfew order. Authorities in Shan State meted out the strictest penalties, sentencing over 20 people to three months in prison for breaking curfew between April 22 and May 4.
Curfew orders are imposed under section 144 of the criminal procedure code, which allows for wide-ranging responses to social conflict or unrest and has long been exploited by security forces to exercise broad de facto emergency powers without oversight. Section 144 should be revised to reduce the scope and scale of its application and increase the threshold for emergency orders, Human Rights Watch said.
People arriving in Myanmar from abroad are required to undergo quarantine for 28 days – 21 in a state facility followed by 7 days of self-quarantine at home. About 61,000 people are currently quarantined in state-run facilities across the country, according to the Ministry of Health and Sports. The majority are migrant workers who have returned from Thailand and China. Border crossings were closed for most of April, but at least 60,000 arrived in March and May.
On April 28, a 15-year-old girl and 16-year-old boy who recently returned from Thailand were sentenced to three months in prison for leaving a state quarantine facility in Mawlamyine after one week. Authorities charged them under section 18 of the Prevention and Control of Communicable Diseases Law, which provides up to six months in prison and a 10,000 kyat fine for “whoever violates the prohibitive or restrictive order issued by the relevant organization or officer.” On April 9, the United Nations children’s agency, UNICEF, urged governments to institute a moratorium on new children entering detention facilities, release all children who can be safely released, and protect the health and well-being of children who must remain in detention.
Sections 26 and 30(a) of the Natural Disaster Management Law have also been used regularly to incarcerate violators of quarantine and physical distancing orders. Section 26 carries a prison term of up to two years for anyone who “interferes, prevents, prohibits, assaults or coerces” a department or official conducting “natural disaster management.” Section 30(a) carries a maximum one-year sentence for failing to comply with a disaster management directive.
The Yinmarbin Township Court sentenced a man in Sagaing Division to one year in prison under section 26 for “being drunk and loitering around” while under state monitoring for possible Covid-19 infection. Another man in Sagaing Division was sentenced to six months under section 30(a) for leaving the Ye-U township hospital while being watched for symptoms. Authorities arrested a married couple when the husband visited his wife at a state facility in Naypyidaw where they were quarantined in separate rooms. On April 20, both were sentenced to six months in prison under section 30(a).
States began issuing bans against gatherings of more than five people in March, with a nationwide ban instituted on April 17. In Sagaing’s Khin-U township, two people were sentenced to six months in prison on April 7 under section 30(a) for holding a charity event in violation of the local order against group gatherings. In Chanmyathazi township, Mandalay, 12 Muslims were sentenced on May 8 to three months in prison under section 30(a) for holding prayers at a house. Two boys arrested with them were detained for a month and a half.
On May 4, six labor rights advocates were sentenced to three months in prison for holding a protest at a factory in Yangon regarding a pay dispute. Authorities broke up the protest and charged the six union leaders and members under the Prevention and Control of Communicable Diseases Law.
The labor union arrests reflect a broader effort by authorities to exploit instability surrounding the coronavirus to further crack down on freedoms of speech and assembly. The government plans to increase its powers to restrict speech with a draft Prevention and Control of Communicable Diseases Bill currently being discussed in parliament, which would provide up to six months in prison for people spreading information about diseases that may “cause panic.” Parliament should revise the bill to remove criminal penalties for peaceful speech, Human Rights Watch said. Parliament should also amend the National Disaster Management Law, Prevention and Control of Communicable Diseases Bill, and related regulations to remove prison sentences for peaceful violations of quarantine, stay-at-home orders, and other emergency directives.
While quarantines and social distancing are a vital part of the public health response to the pandemic, their enforcement should not give rise to new tools of abuse. Instead, the health ministry and state public health departments should facilitate compliance by coordinating inclusive public awareness campaigns; providing people in quarantine with access to health care, including mental health services, and accurate, up-to-date information; and supplying resources such as face masks, food, water, and other essentials to those in need. To the extent possible, the public health force and other relevant civilian authorities, not security forces, should oversee enforcement of quarantines orders.
In its April briefing on Covid-19 and human rights threats, the UN noted that excessive emergency measures ultimately threaten the pandemic response: “Heavy-handed security responses undermine the health response and can exacerbate existing threats to peace and security or create new ones. The best response is one that aims to respond proportionately to immediate threats whilst protecting human rights under the rule of law.”
Locking people up for violating measures such as curfews and quarantine may increase the spread of Covid-19 as people are rotated in and out of crowded detention facilities. In April, Myanmar authorities pardoned about 25,000 prisoners under its annual Buddhist new year amnesty, reducing the overcrowded prison population to just above official capacity. But the remaining population still has inadequate space for effective social distancing. Prisons nationwide are ill-equipped to deal with a coronavirus outbreak, with only 30 doctors and 80 nurses employed across the entire prison system.
“Myanmar did the right thing in releasing thousands of prisoners last month, but jailing regulation violators threatens to undo that progress and put more people in harm’s way,” Robertson said. “The authorities should act to prevent the spread of Covid-19, rather than using the pandemic as a pretext for violating rights.”
Around 200 homes and other buildings were destroyed by fire in Myanmar’s conflict-torn Rakhine state, Human Rights Watch reported Tuesday. The rights group says satellite images recorded the destruction on May 16.
Northern Rakhine state has been riddled by conflict between the Myanmar military, also referred to as the Tatmadaw, and the Arakan Army (AA), a militant group of Rakhine Buddhists seeking self-governance.
No one has claimed responsibility for the May 16 destruction.
The most recent account of mass burning in Rakhine was in August 2017, when the Myanmar military and militant civilians destroyed at least 392 Rohingya villages.
The Rohingya Muslims, densely populated in Rakhine, are an ethnic minority in the Buddhist-majority country. Since 1982, the government has refused to recognize the Rohingya as its citizens, viewing them as illegal immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh.
The 2017 violence involved massacres, extrajudicial killings, mass gang rapes and villages burned by the Tatmadaw — events a fact-finding mission established by the United Nations Human Rights Council described as rising to the level of “both war crimes and crimes against humanity” and in “genocidal intent.”
The current conflict between the Tatmadaw and AA has pushed more Rohingya to flee, leading hundreds to the sea to find safety in neighboring countries.
Citing concerns about COVID-19 earlier this year, Malaysia denied entry to nearly 400 Rohingya Muslim refugees, leaving them stranded at sea for two months until Bangladesh took them in. The coronavirus causes the COVID-19 disease.
CHIANG MAI – Elections are scheduled for November in Myanmar, and there is no indication so far that the polls will be postponed due to the Covid-19 crisis. Neither is there much doubt about the outcome.
Most political observers believe that State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) will win again, though not in the same landslide fashion as in 2015 as recent by-elections show she and her party have lost significant support in ethnic areas.
But the bigger electoral question is how her party’s delicate relationship with the autonomous military will play out and in that context how her government’s ties to its powerful northern neighbor China will be portrayed and potentially politicized on the campaign trail.
An entirely new paradigm has emerged in Myanmar, one where Suu Kyi is now seen as a trusted ally of Beijing and the military as a nationalistic bulwark against China’s strong advances. That’s a significant reversal, one that could have implications for stability in the lead-up to polls.
When Suu Kyi was under house arrest during military rule or active in non-parliamentary politics, China viewed the long-time pro-democracy icon with suspicion. That was at least in part because her late British husband, a Tibetologist, maintained ties with many Tibetans in exile.
The military, on the other hand, was closely allied with China and depended on friendly relations with Beijing for arms supplies and diplomatic support at the United Nations, particularly when Western nations sought to refer its harsh political repression to the Security Council for possible sanctions.
Fast forward to the present and those tables have turned. Suu Kyi has become China’s go-to politician for projects and schemes, while the military, though not openly critical of Beijing, has sought to keep a distance from its advances.
The flipped script has been driven by geopolitics. The Rohingya refugee crisis, and Suu Kyi’s refusal to condemn the carnage the military unleashed in Rakhine state in 2017, have dramatically turned her from being the darling of the West into an international pariah.
She has been stripped of one human rights award after another, many of which she earned during her long non-violent struggle for democracy against abusive military rule.
As such, Western aid can no longer be taken for granted in Myanmar, with most grants conditional on improvements in or respect for human rights. But economic development is crucial for Suu Kyi to maintain her popularity ahead of this year’s election.
That has pushed her ever closer to China and its no-strings-attached aid and assistance. Indeed, in November 2017, just months after hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees streamed across the border into Bangladesh, Suu Kyi was given red carpet treatment in Beijing.
In January this year, Xi Jinping became the first sitting Chinese president to visit Myanmar since Jiang Zemin toured the country in December 2001. Xi arrived in Myanmar with 33 bilateral agreements that if implemented will bind Myanmar ever closer to China.
Those include high-speed rail and deep-sea projects and strengthening of the so-called China Myanmar Economic Corridor (CMEC), which aims to give China direct access to the Indian Ocean. The agreements were crucial parts of China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which Myanmar joined as a founding member in 2015.
Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, the Myanmar military’s commander, may have visited Beijing a week before Suu Kyi arrived in 2017, a visit at which Xi described Chinese-Myanmar military relations as “the best ever”, but both knew in reality that wasn’t and still isn’t the case.
Myanmar’s military sees itself as the chief defender of national sovereignty and, according to security analysts in Yangon, the generals are apprehensive about China’s rapid economic and infrastructure expansion in the country.
That apprehension is compounded by insurgencies in ethnic Palaung-inhabited areas in northern Shan state and Rakhine state in the west, where the Arakan Army (AA) has grown from a handful of guerrillas to a formidable fighting force in the span of less than a decade.
It is hardly any secret that both the Palaung Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) and AA are equipped with Chinese-made weapons obtained through the United Wa State Army, Myanmar’s strongest and best-armed ethnic army which has a long-time close relationship with China.
In November last year, the military expressed its displeasure that the country’s most active insurgents carry mainly Chinese arms. A huge cache of Chinese-made weapons, which the military claimed it had captured from the TNLA, was put on public display and shown on national television.
Among the haul was automatic assault rifles, recoilless rifles, boxes with bullets, RPGs and even a FN-6 shoulder-fired MANPAD, or man-portable air-defense system gun. Pictures displayed on social media have recently shown an AA commander carrying an FN-6, a gun which has been seen previously in a civil war situation only in Syria and Iraq.
China’s double-game in Myanmar, where it serves as both an armed conflict mediator and supplier of arms to insurgents, is a long-worn carrot and a stick approach to get what it wants, namely the CMEC and access to Myanmar’s rich natural resources including copper, gold, jade, amber and rare earth metals.
Myanmar is the only immediate neighbor through which China can bypass the congested Malacca Strait and the contested waters of the South China Sea, putting the development the deep-sea port at Kyaukphyu on the Bay of Bengal high on Beijing’s BRI agenda.
But China has not yet secured all it wants in Myanmar. A massive hydro-electric power project at Myitsone in the far north of the country was suspended in 2011 by then-president Thein Sein, a former army general. As much as 90% of the power produced was scheduled for delivery to China.
Moreover, the initial $7.5 billion price tag for the Kyaukphyu port project has been winnowed down to $1.3 billion amid concerns of a possible Chinese debt trap.
Whether the military rolled back these two big-ticket projects is not immediately clear. Privately, however, sources close to the military’s leadership believe Suu Kyi is moving the country too close to China, without taking into consideration what Chinese largesse might mean for national sovereignty.
The Covid-19 crisis may increase that concern as Western investment has been largely shelved and China alone seems to be willing to assist and invest even more in Myanmar during the pandemic.
On May 20, Xi spoke by phone with Myanmar President Win Myint to highlight China’s donation of medical supplies and two medical teams to Myanmar to help fight the disease. China’s ambassador to Myanmar Chen Hai emphasized in a recent interview with the Myanmar Times that Beijing remains committed to investing in the country despite Covid-19.
But that investment will likely accrue more political benefit to Suu Kyi and her NLD than the military’s aligned United Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) in an election year, raising the prospect that Beijing’s deepening influence could for the first time become a political issue on the campaign trail.
The Netherlands-based court had in January issued an order for Myanmar to implement provisional measures for the protection of the Rohingya.
Myanmar says it will submit a report due on Saturday outlining its claims of compliance with an order from the International Court of Justice to protect members of its Muslim Rohingya ethnic minority.
The Netherlands-based court in January issued an order for Myanmar to implement provisional measures for the protection of the Rohingya. The court agreed last year to consider a case alleging that Myanmar committed genocide against the group, an accusation vigorously denied by the government. The court’s proceedings are likely to continue for years.
Myanmar’s military in August 2017 launched what it called a clearance campaign in Rakhine state in response to an attack by a Rohingya insurgent group. The campaign forced about 7,40,000 Rohingya to flee to neighbouring Bangladesh and led to accusations that security forces committed mass rapes and killings and burned thousands of homes.
Chan Aye, director general of the International Organisations and Economic Department of Myanmar’s Foreign Ministry, said on Friday that the government was working on the report, but would not discuss its contents before submitting it.
Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun, a spokesman for Myanmar’s military, said it has complied with government orders by providing “complete and necessary information” for the report.ALSO READMyanmar and the limits of pan-Islamism
There is no obligation to make the report public.
The court order requires Myanmar to “take all measures within its power” to protect the Rohingya from genocide, to safeguard evidence relating to allegations of genocide and to prevent “public incitement” to commit genocide.
The court has no enforcement mechanism to ensure compliance, and similar orders in high-profile cases in the past involving Serbia and Uganda were ignored without consequence.
The most significant measure taken by Myanmar’s government since the court order appears to have been an April 8 presidential directive that all “military or other security forces, or civil services and local people under its control or direction do not commit (genocidal) acts.”
Critics, however, note that Myanmar’s military has a record of impunity regarding alleged offenses conducted by its personnel.
“While Myanmar’s recent presidential directives ordering government personnel not to commit genocide or destroy evidence appear in line with the International Court order, the reality remains that no meaningful steps to end atrocities — including the crime of apartheid — have been taken,” the human rights group Amnesty International said in a statement Friday.
Buddhist-majority Myanmar has long considered Rohingya Muslims to be “Bengali” immigrants from Bangladesh even though their families have lived in the country for generations. Nearly all have been denied citizenship since 1982, effectively rendering them stateless. They are also denied freedom of movement and other basic rights.
The sweeping victory of the National League for Democracy (NLD) led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in 2015 heralded an era of democratic reforms and an end to military dictatorship. The Nobel Peace Prize got bestowed upon her in 1991 while she was still under house arrest and probably not even aware of the news. Overnight, she became an international icon —fought the Myanmar military governance (i.e.theTatmadaw) — forging the path ahead for liberalization and democratization. However, in the light of the recent Rohingya crisis, Myanmar has come under immense criticism from different quarters of the international community. The public shaming of Aung San Suu Kyi has been doing the rounds in social media, news dailies and leading websites whereby she has been highly condemned for keeping quiet on the atrocities meted out to millions of Rohingya refugees in the Rakhine state who are now seeking shelter in neighbouring countries of Bangladesh and India. Her long kept silence was finally broken when she claimed that Myanmar has never been soft on human rights offenders, thereby ‘without offering a hint of solace or consolation’.
A Planned Attack?
The brimming cynicism levelled against Aung San Suu Kyi has been growing far and wide to the extent of stripping her off the Nobel Peace Prize which may not be possible, in reality. However, her alma mater, the University of Oxford, has decided to withdraw an honorary title awarded to her in 1997, in the aftermath of the Rohingya crisis. Criticisms have also come in the form of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human rights expressing their disapproval over the crisis as ‘textbook example of ethnic cleansing’. Another Nobel Laureate Mr. Desmond Tutu reportedly wrote to Daw San Suu Kyi saying that “If the political price of your ascension to the highest office in Myanmar is your silence, the price is surely too steep.”
However, given this background of backlashes and censures, the global community cannot simply keep on harping at it. In fact, it also cannot negate the counternarrative offered by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi of an “iceberg of misinformation” where she has invited the international media to talk to the surviving Rohingya inhabitants and crosscheck the ground realities in the Rakhine region. Interestingly, as quoted in one of the reports by RSIS, there has been one prominent story which came out in the Myanmar social media. It was said that on August 25 2017 the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) had already planned an attack on the military posts in order to provoke the Tatmadaw military to give way to a disturbing scenario. This was ironically a day before the release of the Report by Advisory Commission of Rakhine State. If one goes by this narrative, it can be deduced that such an attack was particularly targeted to damage the public image of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and in turn, ruin her efforts towards building a peaceful and fair future for the Rakhine State. According to Ms. Kang Siew Kheng, a leading researcher at RSIS, who has aptly remarked that “for sure, no deemed past wrongs in history can justify present-day violence, but no present-day policy can bring about reconciliation until the old animosities have been addressed.”
Rakhine State of Affairs
The state of Rakhine has all along witnessed a colonial divide and rule strategy which has been reinforced by generations of politics complicated by extreme poverty and economic deprivation of its ethnic inhabitants. It is important to understand here that the victory achieved by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in 2015 occurred amida wave of nationalism accompanied by growing sense of doubt and suspicion, especially in the case of the Rohingya minorities. The victory of democracy, paradoxically, gave a free rein to some entrenched sentiments that were previously put under harsh control of the military. Significantly, the NLD did not fair that well as it largely did in the other parts of the country. Experts believe that the electoral base of Suu Kyi regarded the Rohingyas “as a late political construct” who were mainly temporary migrant labourers residing in permeable borders. They are now being used to legitimise old claims of autonomy and independence.
The Road Ahead
The future of Rohingya Muslims is undoubtedly at stake and it is essential to understand here that this crisis is not merely an internal conflict concerning Myanmar. It certainly has a larger picture which is attached to the global scenario. At present, even though Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has failed to address the needs of the ethnic minorities, she needs all the help she can, from inside and outside Myanmar. It is time for the neighbouring countries, such as India and China and also the regional bloc ASEAN to intervene positively and engage in a coordinate course of action to bring out a longlasting solution. Isolating Myanmar or imposing economic sanctions on it is certainly not going to reap any results. As it is, the country, over the years, has been slowly struggling to achieve a definitive level of economic and political reforms. The insipid stance taken by the ASEAN on the Rakhine situation following an ASEAN Foreign Ministers meeting on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York was not only predictable but disappointing. The Rohingya crisis has the potential to transform itself into a global catastrophe leading to greater instability if not addressed urgently.
At the end, it would be interesting to observe Daw Aung San Suu Kyi put her skills of statecraft to test while she enforces some sort of national reconciliation amid the multitude of challenges that surround her now.
Courtesy- Swati Prabhu is a research scholar & an ardent contributor to National Dailies.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the views of the editorial team of Myanmar Matters
Amid the atmosphere fuelled with distrust and intolerance, Pope Francis made his maiden visit to Myanmar in the first week of December. His visit was carefully observed and followed by the experts for it was imperative for him to maintain his moral authority of being the guardian of the poor and the powerless, and at the same time refrain from engaging in any act which could transpire unpleasant situation for Catholics in Myanmar or mar diplomatic relations between the Vatican and Naypyidaw which got established recently. Thus, his conscious non-admission of the term ‘Rohingya’ during his speech was an outcome of this arrangement.
The leader of the world’s Roman Catholics – Pope Francis, professed all to respect each other’s identity and ethnic diversity. He stated that his main purpose of visiting the country was, “to pray with the nation’s small but fervent catholic community, to confirm them in their faith, and to encourage them in their efforts to contribute to the good of the nation.” Stressing on the Christ’s message of reconciliation, forgiveness, peace and harmony, Pope Francis set the resolve behind his two-nation apostolic visit.
During his visit, he urged all to ‘commit to justice and respect for human rights’ with state authorities, religious leaders and civil society members playing the most crucial role of peacebuilding. His meeting with the state counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi got preceded by top military general Aung Hlaing’s interaction with him who mentioned that there is ‘no religious discrimination’ in Myanmar.
Catholics from across the country flocked in huge numbers to Yangon to be blessed by Pope’s healing presence who led an open -air Mass. He shared “Religious differences need not be a source of division and distrust, but rather a force for unity, forgiveness, tolerance and wise nation-building. Religion can play a significant role in repairing the emotional, spiritual and psychological wounds of those who have suffered in years of conflict.”