Article Nov 2, 2018

Explainer: What you should know about the persecution of Kachin Christians

What just happened?

Last month the United Nations (UN) released a 440-page report examining the “infringement of fundamental freedoms, including the rights to freedom of expression, assembly and peaceful association, and the question of hate speech” of minority groups in Myanmar. This report highlighted the problem of genocide perpetrated against the Rohingya people (see also: What you should know about the Myanmar genocide). But it also shines a spotlight on the persecution of Kachin Christians in the war-torn country.

“Although international attention has focused overwhelmingly on the situation in Rakhine State,” notes Marzuki Darusman of the UN, “the report also sets out the findings of its detailed investigation into violations perpetrated in the northern states of Shan and Kachin. The report finds that the actions of the Tatmadaw in both Kachin and Shan States since 2011 amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity.”

Who are the Kachin people?

The Kachin people are an ethnic group that primarily lives in parts of northeastern Myanmar (mostly in the Kachin State) and areas of India and China. There are approximately 1.6 million Kachins. About 90-95 percent of Kachins are Christians, mainly Baptist and Roman Catholic.

Where is Myanmar/Burma?

Myanmar or Burma (Myanmar is the formal, literary form and Burma an everyday term), is a country in Southeast Asia that is bordered by India and Bangladesh to its west, Thailand and Laos to its east, and China to its north and northeast.

According to the 2014 census, 87.9 per cent of the population of Myanmar is Buddhist, 6.2 percent Christian, and 4.3 percent are Muslim. The country’s constitution, adopted in 2008, recognizes the “special position of Buddhism as the faith professed by the great majority of the citizens of the Union” but also “recognizes Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Animism as the religions existing in the Union at the day of the coming into operation of this Constitution.”

According to the UN, Myanmar has seen an increase in Buddhist nationalism since 2011, with virulent anti-Muslim rhetoric and violence between Buddhists and Muslims.

What war crimes and crimes against humanity have been committed?

According to the report, violations against ethnic and religious minorities in northern Myanmar are “committed in a context of severe discrimination on ethnic and religious grounds, often with persecutory intent.”  The Myanmar military has destroyed and ransacked churches (sometimes replacing them with Buddhist pagodas), and “during the commission of gross human rights violations,” treats the Kachin people as inferior or even “sub-human.”

This has led to the deaths and injuries of civilians, as well as the destruction and burning of homes and property during military operations. The Myanmar military has also been accused of torture and other forms of ill-treatment, often against women and children, to obtain information or confessions regarding the activities of insurgent groups.

The UN’s fact-finding team found various torture techniques being used, including beating with a bamboo stick or metal rod, killing other detainees in front of victims, pouring hot wax on skin, and performing sexual violence, including rape.

The team also found credible accounts that over 200 churches have been attacked, ransacked, or destroyed since June 2011.

What is the response of the American religious community?

Last month the Faith Coalition To End Genocide In Burma sent a letter requesting the U.S. State Department officially designate the recent atrocities committed against the Kachin, and other ethnic and religious minorities, as “genocide and crimes against humanity.”

“The Trump Administration’s leadership on this issue is critical to stand against ethnic and religious persecution,” notes the letter. “It is critical to act now, as the same military divisions that attacked the Rohingya, have relocated to Kachin State where they are positioning themselves to commit the same atrocities against the Kachin Christians.”

The letter was signed by many religious leaders and human rights activists, including J. D. Greear, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, and Travis Wussow, vice president for public policy at ERLC.

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