Advocates for international religious freedom praised the U.S. House of Representatives for passing legislation to hold accountable the Myanmar military for human rights violations and to authorize humanitarian assistance to the Burmese people.
The House passed the Burma Unified through Rigorous Military Accountability Act of 2021 with broad bipartisan support on April 6.
The BURMA Act requires the U.S. Department of State to report to Congress on the Myanmar military coup of Feb. 1, 2021. It authorizes humanitarian aid and civil society support to promote democracy, while imposing targeted sanctions for human rights abuses by the Burmese military, known as the Tatmadaw.
Now proponents of the BURMA Act are urging the U.S. Senate to approve the parallel version introduced by Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md. Currently, the Senate bill has not moved out of the committee on foreign relations.
‘Continue the fight for religious freedom’
“The plight of millions suffering from the Myanmar military’s senseless brutality, deserves bipartisan support and consideration from the Senate. The Myanmar people deserve to live in a free and just society, governed by and for the people,” a statement issued by the U.S. Advocacy Coalition for Myanmar reads. “We strongly urge the U.S. Senate to take immediate action to advance this monumental legislation.”
Randel Everett, founding president of the 21Wilberforce human rights and religious freedom organization, said his group is encouraged by the House passing the BURMA Act.
Everett, former executive director of the Baptist General Convention of Texas, noted the deep historic ties Baptists have to the people of Burma.
“Baptists have been involved with Burma for over 200 years, since Adoniram and Ann Judson were the first Baptist missionaries to arrive there,” he said. “Baptists must continue to stand with people of all faiths to continue to fight for religious freedom in Burma.”
Last September, the Tatmadaw shot and killed Cung Biak Hum, a Baptist minister in Thantlang who was helping a member of his church extinguish a fire after the man’s home was set ablaze during military attacks.
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In December, Salai Ngwe Kyar, a pastor in the village of Thet Kei Taung and a student at the Asho Chin Baptist Seminary in Pyay Township, died from injuries sustained during a military interrogation in Magway Region.
Scott Stearman, the Baptist World Alliance representative to the United Nations, said the House action in passing the BURMA Act “represents a great hope for inducing change in Burma.”
Stearman has helped coordinate BWA advocacy on behalf of religious liberty and other human rights in Mynamar. He noted House passage of the BURMA Act followed Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s recent declaration that atrocities committed by the Burmese military against the Rohingya people of Myanmar constitute “crimes against humanity and genocide.”
“The BWA is working with its member bodies to advocate for the Burmese people,” Stearman said, adding that “the focus will now be moving [the BURMA Act] out of the U.S. Senate.”
‘One step closer’
Timothy Carothers, advocacy manager for Southeast Asia with International Christian Concern, pointed to the broad bipartisan support the BURMA Act received in the House as a positive sign.
“We commend the House for bringing this bill one step closer and are encouraged by renewed attention being given to Myanmar,” Carothers said. “Passing the House with both Democrat and Republican support sends the message that the conflict in Burma is not a partisan issue.
“This vote puts us one step closer to protecting Myanmar’s civilians and its ethnic and religious minorities caught in the crossfire. We are hopeful for a timely passage in the Senate.”
Much of the killing and burning by military is directed toward the Chin people, a predominantly Christian ethnic group in Myanmar.
Several church buildings in the southern part of Chin State—including the property of Kanpetiet Baptist Church, Emmanuel Baptist Church and Gospel Baptist Church—were damaged severely by bombs in mid-December and then looted by military. Tatmadaw troops also reportedly planted landmines to deter people who fled from returning.
Representatives of the Chin community in the United States applauded the House passage of the BURMA Act.
“This step toward the passage of this bill sends a good message to the people of Burma—telling them that the U.S. is committed to supporting human rights and seeking accountability for the violence that has occurred,” said Zo Tum Hmung, executive director of the Chin Association of Maryland advocacy group.
“We welcome the appointment of a special coordinator who can provide Myanmar with the proper attention needed to reestablish democracy, and we applaud the more than $200 million in humanitarian funds that could be provided to protecting refugees and those internally displaced.”