RFI Vice President Eric Patterson appeared recently on EWTN’s News Nightly to discuss the worsening crisis in Burma (Myanmar). Although the February 2021 military coup is fresh in people’s minds, Burma has been ruled by military leaders or former military leaders for most of the time since independence from the British Empire in 1948. In fact, from 1962-2010, the military directly ruled Burma. In recent years, the military has continued to play a strong role despite a decade of titular civilian leadership. This awkward relationship can be seen in the military’s ethno-religious cleansing camp to rid the country of ethnic Rohingya, a minority Muslim group of approximately 1.5 million people among Burma’s population of 58 million.
The military crackdown, which began in February 2021, follows on the heels of national elections in November 2020 that saw pro-democracy leaders elected in what appears to have been a landslide. Both sides seemed determined. Pro-democracy activists remain in the streets and many civilian elites support them. For instance, Myanmar’s ambassador to the United Kingdom has spoken out against the military junta. On April 8 he was locked out of the embassy by his own deputy.
Christians, among others, though a small minority in the country, have played an outside role as witnesses to the atrocities. Cardinal Bo, archbishop of Yangon, calls this a new “chapter of bloodshed and repression.” Perhaps the most gripping scenes of the protests have been Catholic nuns and seminarians, distinguished quite clearly by their dress, kneeling peacefully in the streets in the face of shielded shock troops. Catholics and other Christians have been photographed praying for peace and standing in the streets holding up the three-fingered salute associated with The Hunger Games as a symbol of solidarity and protest.
What can be done? Patterson noted that the Obama Administration was too quick to pull back sanctions on Myanmar and that the Trump Administration did impose sanctions, under the Global Magnitsky Act, on key figures in the regime. The Biden Administration has announced targeted sanctions, but several next steps can be taken. The first is to deal with the Rohingya crisis by labeling it as an ethnic cleansing campaign and, perhaps, formally as “genocide.” Second, economic statecraft by the U.S. should focus on getting major investors, e.g. Japan, Singapore, India, and, China, to freeze economic ties to the regime. The Burmese military is a sort of cartel, running ports and industries. Freezing the corporations financial operations and access to cash is an immediate step that the world community can take to try to get the military to back down.
Watch the interview on EWTN News Nightly: