The Centre for Information Resilience (CIR) has released a report about military airstrikes in Myanmar. Their research details the impact of these airstrikes on churches in Chin, Myanmar’s only majority Christian state.
The report, released Tuesday, shows a correlation between areas that have been placed under martial law by the ruling military junta and are subject to airstrikes. One case study of the Ramthlo Baptist Church suggests that the church was purposefully targeted, but CIR stated they could not be certain on motive.
This supports research by other organisations, showing that ethnic and religious minorities in the majority Buddhist country are being targeted by the military. A 2020 United Nations report for example, highlighted human rights violations conducted by Myanmar’s military against various ethnic minorities. Following the military coup in 2021, insurgencies in Myanmar have escalated significantly. The coup overthrew the Suu Kyi government, ending the fragile peace process which had begun.
The military currently ruling has reportedly long been responsible for attacks against vulnerable groups. Global Conflict Tracker reported that in 2017, the Myanmar military, the Tatmadaw, caused more than 700,000 of the Rohingya people, who are predominantly Muslim, to flee. This came as a result of an attack in Rakhine state.
The CIR’s Myanmar Witness project therefore suggests that the churches may have been strategically targeted to reduce morale in areas of resistance.
Project Director of the CIR’s Myanmar Witness project Matt Lawrence stated that such “places of worship are protected by international law during conflict.” The military’s actions may be a violation of Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights right to freedom of religion and may constitute war crimes by destroying religious buildings.
Data from Armed Conflict Location and Event Data (ACLED) showed that in 2021 and 2022, the main methods of attack were arson and artillery; however, in 2023, airstrikes were used more frequently. Myanmar Witness stated that this could show the SAC have lost control on the ground in Chin state. ACLED further explained that the number of airstrikes has significantly increased since 2021. The impact of these attacks is reflected in the devastation to villages in Chin. The village of Thantlang has been almost completely destroyed, with the majority of its population fleeing. There were seven attacks in the town reported in 2021, but by 2023, no attacks were reported, as the area had been largely demolished.
Under martial law, a new rule that people must give a week’s notice in order to attend a religious service has also been laid down, impacting religious freedom.
Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for Campaigns, Ming Yu Hah, argued, “There is no denying that the military is able to carry out its nationwide assault on human rights because of the shockingly inadequate global response to this crisis.”
Myanmar Witness stated they will continue to observe the situation, with the aim to hold the relevant parties to account and highlight the situation.