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Christian rights group welcomes passage of US bill on restoring democracy in Myanmar

The BURMA Act authorizes US aid and stronger sanctions on the military junta in Myanmar to respect human rights and restore democracy

An international Christian rights group welcomed the passage this week of a bill in the US House of Representatives that aims to restore democracy and respect for human rights in Myanmar.

“This bill’s passage is critical to the many religious minorities living in Myanmar and those currently displaced by the violence,” read a statement from the International Christian Concern (ICC).

The US House of Representatives on Wednesday, April 6, passed the “Burma Unified through Rigorous Military Accountability Act of 2021,” or the BURMA Act, which requires the US Department of State to report to Congress on the military coup in Burma (Myanmar).

In a statement, the ICC said that while the conflict in Myanmar did not start as a direct assault on the country’s religious groups, “it has brought significant harm to the country’s Christian communities.”

“In the junta’s attempt to break the pro-democracy movement, they continue to target the nation’s ethnic minority groups that have resisted the junta’s illegitimate claim to leadership, many of which make up the country’s Christian and non-Buddhist populations,” read the ICC statement.

The US bill, if passed into law, will authorize over US$450 million in humanitarian aid and support for the pro-democracy movement in Myanmar over five years.

It will also expand sanction authorizations and create a coordinator position to oversee US policies in the country. The measure also calls on the US government to condemn the military coup in Myanmar and urges the unconditional release of detained political leaders and civil society members.

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The BURMA Act was introduced on Oct. 5. 2021 by US Rep. Gregory Meeks, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. The US Senate introduced a parallel version by Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland, however, it has yet to move beyond the committee level.

People wait for detainees to be released from Insein Prison in Yangon on Oct. 19, 2021, after authorities let out thousands of people jailed for protesting against a February coup that ousted the civilian government. (AFP Photo)

“We commend the House for bringing this bill one step closer and are encouraged by renewed attention being given to Myanmar,” said Timothy Carothers, ICC’s advocacy manager for Southeast Asia, in a statement.

He said that 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,” said Carothers.

Zo Tum Hmung, executive director of the Chin Association of Maryland, an advocacy group supporting the Chin diaspora in America, said the passage of the bill “sends a good message to the people of Burma.”

ICC said the BURMA Act “represents one of the most significant opportunities for the US to alleviate the current crisis taking place in Myanmar.”

In a separate statement, Global Witness, an international NGO that works to break the links between natural resource exploitation, conflict, poverty, corruption, and human rights abuses, also welcome the passage of the bill.

“This bill is a big step forward in the US response to the coup in Myanmar,” said Hanna Hindstrom, senior Myanmar campaigner for Global Witness.

“The fact that the House could come together and pass this bill in a bipartisan manner demonstrates that the situation in Myanmar remains firmly on the US agenda,” she said, adding that the bill provides “desperately needed aid” to the people of Myanmar.

“The US should continue to use these tools to place pressure on Myanmar’s military regime, especially by targeting Myanmar’s offshore gas industry, which is the largest source of revenue for the junta,” said Hindstrom.

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