Tuesday, November 12, 2013

RLPB 236. Burma (Myanmar): constitution is obstacle to peace

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 236 | Wed 13 Nov 2013

By Elizabeth Kendal

Adoniram and Ann Judson arrived in Burma as pioneer missionaries in 1813. Adoniram Judson endured grief upon grief, severe hardship, dangers, persecutions and imprisonment to translate the Bible into the Burmese language and led many to Christ. At that time, Burma was a feudal society, dominated by ethnic Burmese (Bama) Buddhists who treated the other mostly animist ethnic nations amongst them as serfs or slaves. In 1885 the British annexed Burma into British-administered India, introducing democracy and capitalism and improving the situation for the ethnic minorities. Burma gained independence in 1948 but the promise of autonomy for ethnic nations was never honoured. Ever since, the ethnic nations have been resisting a return to the old order of brutal Burmese-Buddhist domination complete with exploitation, repression, crippling discrimination and violent persecution. The Burmese-Buddhist regime views this resistance as grounds for war.

On 2 September 2013, 200 soldiers of the Tatmadaw (Myanmar Armed Forces) raided Nhka Ga village in Kachin State, killing two men and torturing ten others, including the Rev Ram Me. One man, bound and severely tortured, was forced to watch his 29-year-old wife being raped in front of him. On 2 October Tatmadaw soldiers attacked two villages in the south of Kachin State. Around 1000 villagers fled as mortars rained down on their homes. Hundreds of Kachin civilians sought refuge in a local church where soldiers held them hostage for three days while their homes were looted. The stress of captivity proved fatal for one 76-year-old woman. On 30 October a pack of Tatmadaw soldiers -- including a captain and a lieutenant-colonel -- gang-raped a 15-year-old Kachin girl over the course of the day before handing her back to her parents (see: Free Burma Rangers). Officially, the junta is fighting the Kachin Army because it has resisted calls to disarm and dissolve. In truth, the regime covets the Kachins' resource-rich lands and is prepared to ethnically cleanse the Kachin to get it. (See RLPB 132, Nov 2011)

On Monday 4 November, 107 representatives and witnesses from Burma's various ethnic rebel armies came together in Myitkyina, the capital of the northern Kachin State, for two days of talks aimed at brokering a multilateral peace agreement. A joint statement was issued on Tuesday 5 November, announcing that an agreement had been made in principle to sign a nationwide cease-fire agreement and to establish a framework for political dialogue. Whilst the next meeting is scheduled for December, Lt-Gen Myint Soe has already conceded that a nationwide ceasefire will probably not eventuate, as the regime envisages a peace that is in accordance with the 2008 constitution and this is not the peace the ethnic nations are seeking.

The 2008 constitution was written under military rule and serves military interests by ensuring the heavily invested Burmese-Buddhist military remains in control. The 2008 constitution stands as an obstacle to peace because it mandates the centralisation of government and military against the interests and wishes of the long-marginalised and severely persecuted ethnic-religious minorities. It even contains 'exception clauses' that give the military the legal right to deprive people of fundamental human rights and even orchestrate a military coup if the military deems it necessary for the purpose of  safeguarding the constitution. On Saturday 6 October 2013 the regime issued a statement -- or possibly a threat -- warning that the state and the people will be in 'serious danger and face consequences beyond expectation' if the 2008 constitution is scrapped.  

Many observers believe the military engages in talks only so it can consolidate its forward positions, and the regime only sponsors talks so it can gain legitimacy and foreign investment. The reality is there will never be peace in Burma until the Burmese-Buddhist regime respects the rights of the ethnic nations to have autonomy in their lands where they seek to preserve their language and culture and practise their faith freely in peace and security. Most of Burma's Christians belong to ethnic nations: the Kachin, Chin, Lisu and Lahu are overwhelming Christian and the Karen (the largest ethnic nation after the Burmese) is around 40 percent Christian.


* intervene to direct all political dialogue, both what takes place in public and what happens secretly; may God's will be done in spite of the schemes of 'men'.  'There is no wisdom, no insight, no plan that can succeed against the LORD' (Proverbs 21:30 NIV).

* embolden world leaders of conscience to 'Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.' (Proverbs 31:8-9 NIV).

* bless his faithful people, providing them with protection, comfort, advocates and all their basic daily needs; may peace and security be realised.

There has been a massive escalation in threats against Christian institutions since the1 Nov drone assassination of Hakeemullah Mehsud (head of the Pakistani Taliban). Pray that the Lord of hosts will defend his church; that God will be their shield and fortress.
'whoever stirs up strife with you shall fall because of you. 
. . . no weapon that is fashioned against you shall succeed . . . '

(Isaiah 54:15b, 17a ESV)


Representatives from Burma's various ethnic rebel armies came together in Myitkyina, Kachin State, on 4 November for two days of talks aimed at brokering a multilateral peace agreement with the regime. The parties have agreed in principle to sign a nationwide cease-fire and to establish a framework for political dialogue. The main obstacle to peace will be the 2008 constitution written by the military to serve the military's interests. It mandates centralisation while the long-marginalised and persecuted ethnic nations are seeking autonomy in a confederation. The Burmese army continues to wage war and commit gross human rights abuses and violence against the Christian Kachin as punishment for their resistance to Burmese-Buddhist exploitation. Talks will resume in December. Please pray for believers and that God will bring peace to Burma.


Elizabeth Kendal is the author of
Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today
(Deror Books, Dec 2012)