Burma churches supported in peace building initiatives

By agency reporter
September 5, 2012

The World Council of Churches' decision-making body has expressed its support for the active participation of Christians in Burma who promote peace at the grass-roots level.

In a minute on Burma (Myanmar) adopted by the Central Committee on 4 September 2012, at a meeting in Crete, the WCC governing body recommended that the council’s Commission of the Churches on International Affairs “continue to monitor the situation and global advocacy on peace, security, reconciliation” and “support the Myanmar Council of Churches in its mission and witness in coordinating peace and reconciliation initiatives.”

The WCC pledged to encourage “the Myanmar churches to advocate for the cessation of violence against the Muslim Rohingyas and a safe return of internally displaced Rohingyas to their homes.”

The statement in full:

1. Following the general elections held in 2011, Myanmar entered into a new era of changes and reforms in its political landscape. The reforms introduced by the new government so far have created the potential for increased freedom in the country. This is apparent particularly through the release of Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest and her election to the parliament, together with the victory of more than forty other members of the National League for Democracy in a by-election. The new government has introduced several positive changes. However, the major concern of ethnic communities in conflict-affected regions is that the centrally-directed reforms have not had much impact on ordinary people's lives, especially in the conflict-ridden countryside.

2. In a country such as Myanmar where ethnic communities constitute over 30 per cent of the total population, genuine political reforms cannot be achieved if the grievances of ethnic minorities and their demands for rights are not addressed. For more than half a century, various armed ethnic groups have been fighting against “Burmanisation” and the control of a militarised government. In order to reach the goal of sustained peace, ceasefires agreed between the government and armed ethnic groups must include a wide range of stakeholders.

3. Christians in Myanmar, a predominantly Buddhist country, have often been accused as the agents of waging war against the government. The new political climate and prospects for changes are now giving opportunities for the meaningful participation of Christians in nation-building as well as peace and reconciliation. It is now widely recognised that Christians in Myanmar can continue to play an active role in peace building, especially in facilitating talks between ethnic minorities and the government, in addition to initiating peace building within local communities. The Christian leaders in the country, especially those who are in the Karen and Kachin states, are hopeful of the renewed attempt at peace talks.

4. The Kachin Baptist Convention (KBC), the main Christian denomination in Kachin State, has long been involved in peace building at community levels. The leaders of KBC have been instrumental in negotiating peace between the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and the government. The Kachin State had witnessed peace for a while after the KIA entered into a ceasefire agreement with the central government in 1994. However, that agreement failed to produce a political solution to the Kachin ethnic group's calls for autonomy and other rights. It is heartening that the new government is currently pursuing negotiations with 12 armed ethnic groups and has so far signed ceasefire agreements with some of them. The peace talks with the Karen National Union (KNU), involved in the longest-running insurgency in the country, have had some positive results. It is an alarming trend that inter-communal violence started in June this year between ethnic Muslim Rohingyas and Buddhists in Rakhine has evolved into large-scale state sponsored violence against the Rohingyas. In the Rakhine state, the ethnic Rohingyas live as stateless people as the Rohingyas are perceived as not part of the ethnic nationalities and have not been issued with citizenship.

5. The World Council of Churches through its Commission of the Churches on International Affairs (CCIA) has been engaged in advocacy on democratisation, human rights, peace and reconciliation in Myanmar. The executive committee of the WCC issued a statement in February 2010 calling for free and fair elections in Myanmar. The CCIA recently organised an international consultation jointly with the Christian Conference of Asia and the Myanmar Council of Churches (MCC) on ‘peace, security and reconciliation in Myanmar’ which was addressed by the Nobel Peace Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who was kept under house arrest for 15 years. The consultation tried to identify the role of Churches and ecumenical bodies in Myanmar as well as the role of Christian participation in peace building.

6. The MCC has now engaged in a process to reflect on the pathway to reconciliation, sustainable peace and security in Myanmar and the role of the Churches in serving justice and peace. While expressing “the concern about the involvement of business interests in current peacemaking efforts, which could obstruct efforts towards peace”, the MCC in a recent statement urged “the need for all parties to ensure that fragile ceasefire does not break down but develop[s] into firm and sustainable peace agreements”. The MCC statement also said that: “listening to the voices of the churches and other faith communities, who are rooted in the local communities, should remain essential for a genuine peace process”.

The Central Committee of the World Council of Churches, meeting in Kolympari, Crete, Greece, from 28 August to 5 September 2012, therefore:

A. Appreciates the initiatives taken by the Myanmar churches in peace building in Myanmar.

B. Encourages WCC member churches and specialised ministries to accompany and support the initiatives of the Myanmar churches in peace building at the grass root level.

C. Supports the facilitation of Myanmar churches in encouraging peace negotiations between the ethnic insurgencies and the government of Myanmar.

D. Encourages the Myanmar churches to advocate for the cessation of violence against the Muslim Rohingyas and for a safe return of internally displaced Rohingyas to their homes.

E. Recommends the CCIA to continue to monitor the situation and global advocacy on peace, security, reconciliation in Myanmar and to support the Myanmar Council of Churches in its mission and witness in coordinating the peace and reconciliation initiatives.

Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.