In this week’s prayer email:
- Prayer for Creation
- Crisis for Rohingya
- Short Notes: Prison Week, Kenya, Keep on …
Prayer for Creation
The 4th of October was St Francis’ Day, when many churches recall the saint who so beautifully expressed the way Creation reveals – and revels in – God’s love and glory. In honour of that, we’re releasing Elizabeth’s new prayer powerpoint of Pope Francis’ ‘Prayer in union with creation’.
It’s available to download from our website: we hope it will be a blessing to you and those with whom you share it.
Crisis for Rohingya
Long-time readers of the prayer email will know that concern for the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar’s Rakhine State has been escalating for some time.
The group are in an area which has been a source of contention for centuries. Since Burma became independent in 1948, the Rohingya have experienced discrimination, and the majority were effectively rendered stateless by the government of Myanmar when citizenship laws were revised in 1982; they are not on the list of indigenous ethnic communities eligible for citizenship and their language is not recognised as an official language. The government labels them ‘Bengalis’ and, despite the fact that some Rohingya have lived in Rakhine State for centuries, it (and others in the country) regard them as having immigrated illegally during the time of British rule from the area that is now Bangladesh. In recent decades the Rohingya have repeatedly suffered the destruction of their property as well as violence against individuals, families and communities. On several occasions, there have been episodes of mass forced displacement: in both the late 1970s and early 1990s hundreds of thousands crossed the border to Bangladesh to escape intense government persecution. In both instances, many were subsequently repatriated.
In the past few years, persecution has again intensified. There was significant violence in 2012, followed by the creation of structures of repression, and a significant outbreak of violence again in Autumn 2016. In December 2016, we noted that: “With [part of Rakhine State] sealed off to observers, local sources reported that government forces committed serious human rights abuses, including torture, rape, extrajudicial executions, and widespread destruction of buildings, including mosques. Human Rights Watch has documented the burning of over a thousand structures; many aid workers (the main providers of health care) are not being allowed into the area, and with the exception of one World Food Programme delivery, humanitarian aid has been blocked; as a result, the UN says that 160,000 vulnerable people have been cut off from health care, school feedings and maternal care. And the allegations of torture, rape and murder are harrowing.” A UN report into the 2016 violence stated “that the widespread violations against the Rohingya population indicate the very likely commission of crimes against humanity.”
This summer the Rohingya Muslims’ situation burst onto the global consciousness, after the government responded to a rebel attack on a military camp and police outposts by waging a brutal campaign against the civilian population that the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has said “seems a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.” Reporters who have visited the area paint a picture of villages destroyed and terrified civilians forced to hide in the forest and eat leaves to survive. Amnesty International has accused the government of a ‘scorched earth campaign’, and Human Rights Watch has documented ‘widespread and systematic’ crimes against humanity throughout Rakhine State, including the “near-total destruction of 284 villages” and particular atrocities such as the massacre at Maung Nu village and another at Tula Toli village.
As a result of the burnings, violence and sexual violence, over half a million Rohingya have fled to the neighbouring country of Bangladesh, where they are living in hastily-constructed camps (map, video). Humanitarian agencies such as Doctors Without Borders (MSF), treating those in the camps, are concerned about their current conditions as well as the harm people have suffered before and during their flight. MSF emergency medical coordinator Kate White noted: “Right now, there are hundreds of thousands of people crammed along a narrow peninsula trying to find what shelter they can. It’s essentially a massive rural slum—and one of the worst slums imaginable … This has all the makings of a public health emergency.” The UN has also expressed concern about plans to accommodate the large numbers by building one giant refugee camp, noting that high concentrations of vulnerable people can lead to high risks of disease, and that the area chosen is not suitable.
The civilian government of Myanmar has refused to take responsibility for violence against civilians in Rakhine State; it is blaming the burning of Rohingya villages on local militants, despite the consistent testimony of survivors that the military is responsible and the fact that the actions follow a longstanding pattern of state-sponsored and state-sanctioned violence. The government has also claimed that its ‘armed clashes and clearance operations’ in the state ended in early September, which is manifestly not the case.
The UN and many Western governments have condemned the military’s actions and the failure of the civilian government to restrain them. The UK has suspended its training assistance to the Myanmar military, and the US Ambassador to the UN has called for a general arms embargo, while both Democratic and Republican senators have called for US sanctions against those responsible for the abuses. Coordinated international action is unlikely, however, as China, India and Russia have been less willing to put pressure on the government. China states that the government is facing complex ‘difficulties and challenges’ and requires patience and support to resolve the crisis; India expresses concern about extremism; and Russia, while calling for the situation to be resolved by political dialogue, repeats the government’s claim that it is the rebels who are burning villages. The different stances reflect both different approaches to intervention and the desire for influence within Myanmar and more broadly in the region. ASEAN, the regional alliance, has also been unable to agree on a response; an anodyne recent statement from the group’s chair, which did not refer to the Rohingya by name, was rejected by Malaysia, which, together with the other Muslim majority ASEAN countries, has expressed growing concern about the Rohingya’s plight. While there are calls from within ASEAN more generally for the group to put pressure on the Myanmar government, nothing public has yet been forthcoming.
Concerns are growing not only about the humanitarian disaster but also the implications for the region more broadly. The Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, the rebel group responsible for the August attacks, says that it is wholly indigenous and that its demand is for the Rohingya to “be recognised as a ‘native indigenous’ ethnic group and … allowed ‘to return home safely with dignity … to freely determine their political status and pursue their economic, social and cultural development’.” The Myanmar government alleges that the group is allied with wider Islamist movements. What many in – and outside – the region fear is that the Myanmar government’s violence will create a self-fulfilling prophecy, in which jihadist groups take on the cause of the Rohingya and recruit among its peoples, destabilising the region.
What are people involved suggesting as a way forward? In the immediate instance, aid agencies are pressing for greater access to Rakhine State, so that they can bring in humanitarian aid, and for increased funding to help those who have fled to Bangladesh. In the UK, DfID has helped to airlift in aid and committed £35.9 million in funding to relief. Some feel continued pressure on the military may also be helpful. In terms of long-term solutions, many feel it would be helpful to press Myanmar’s government to implement the recommendations of the Kofi Annan-led Advisory Commission on Rakhine State. Bangladesh is insisting on full implementation, and India and the EU advocated for this last week, as well as for Myanmar to work with Bangladesh to enable repatriation of those who have fled. The Myanmar civilian government has said that it is committed to implementing the recommendations “in the shortest time frame possible, in line with the situation on the ground.” It needs to be held to this commitment.
Implementation of the Advisory Commission’s recommendations could indeed be a positive step. Among other things, they include guaranteeing the rights of all verified citizens (including the small number of Rohingya Muslims who enjoy that status); creating a verification process for citizenship that is safe and efficient; clarifying residency rights for those who do not qualify for citizenship; providing a route to citizenship for permanent residence; and “re-examining the current linkage between citizenship and ethnicity.” The recommendations also call for freedom of movement for all people in Rakhine State, the closure of camps for internally displaced people and the resettlement of those people either to their place of origin or to a place of their own choosing. They call for humanitarian and media access to Rakhine State, better provision of essential services (eg health and education) for all, greater transparency in the judiciary system, more training and accountability for security forces, and the fostering of civil society and inter-communal dialogue to tackle the very serious prejudices that exist.
- for the safety and well-being of the Rohingya remaining in Myanmar, those in refugee camps in Bangladesh, and those who have fled via other routes. Pray that God will give people healing of body, mind and soul.
- in thanksgiving for the work of individuals and agencies who, moved by compassion and a sense of justice, are seeking to meet the Rohingya’s needs
- that individuals, countries and businesses will be generous in responding to the Rohingya’s situation by offering humanitarian aid. Pray also for effective distribution of that aid.
- for wisdom for Bangladeshi leaders, as they seek to respond to the incoming refugees
- for an end to the ill-treatment of minority ethnic and religious groups in Burma, and for a just society in which all are treated with dignity and all people’s rights are respected.
- for all who are working within Myanmar to establish a culture of peace and justice
Christian Aid also has a prayer in response to the Rohingya’s crisis.
Short Notes: Prisons Week, Kenya, Keep on …
This coming week (8 to 14 October) is Prisons Week. The Scripture verse for the week this year is “‘Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me” and the focus is on hope for all connected with the criminal justice system: prisoners, victims, families, communities, prison workers, and all working in the criminal justice system.
The Archbishop of Canterbury writes: “What better inspiration for all those connected to the criminal justice system, than Paul’s words? For the victims who struggle day by day to live with memories and scars, and hope for a better tomorrow; for the staff, who patiently come alongside broken men and women, and walk with them the slow road towards change; for prisoners themselves, trying to make sense of their lives, fighting against the scars and choices of the past and fear of the future; and for the families and friends of those in prison, faithfully visiting and supporting. Paul encourages all not to give up hope,
but keep their eyes on the goal, keep going. Yet this isn’t about making efforts and working harder. It is about recognising that in Jesus, God has already ‘taken hold’ of us. That victims, prisoners, staff and families, are not walking this road alone, but God, who loves them, is ready to walk with them. In Prison Week, we stand in prayer with all who carry on in hope, that they would know they are loved by God and have the faith and courage to press on towards new life.”
Please join in using the Prisons Week resources to pray each day this week.
When Kenya’s Supreme Court annulled presidential election results in August on the grounds that there had been irregularities and illegalities in the way the votes were transmitted, commentators inside and outside the country applauded the way the country’s institutions had maintained their independence and the integrity of the electoral process. At the same time, people realised that the next stages could be complex.
The country is due to hold new presidential elections by the first of November – but the positions taken by the leaders of both the main parties are leading to concern for the success of the elections … and worries about the threat of violence. Pray:
- in thanksgiving for the Supreme Court’s work to uphold electoral integrity
- that God will guide those seeking to set up the new elections
- that political leaders and their followers will act wisely and well, pledging to renounce hate speech and violence and seeking the common good
- that churches will continue their leadership role in seeking peace
- for the safety and well-being of all in Kenya
Keep on …
- praying for all affected by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Jose and Maria … and now also those affected by Hurricane Nate, both in Central America and in the US. Pray for efficient, effective work to get vital emergency aid to those still unable to meet basic needs because of the storms’ impacts – and for all who are rebuilding and helping others to rebuild.
- praying for the people of Yemen. The UN has estimated that almost 780,00 of its people have contracted cholera; moreover 17 million people there are currently facing food insecurity, with many of them close to famine.
According to The Guardian, a draft version of the UN’s annual report of the Secretary-General on children and armed conflict has included the Saudi-led coalition, as well as Houthis, Yemen government forces, pro-government militia and al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula on a blacklist of parties responsible for violations against children in 2016. The UN has also stated that it is setting up an independent investigation into human rights abuses in Yemen.Pray for:
- God to give strength, courage and wisdom to all who are seeking to ensure Yemeni civilians have access to health care, food, water and shelter
- donors to support appeals for humanitarian assistance to Yemen, both on the large scale and on the small scale
- a just political resolution to the conflicts in the country
- an “end [to] the sale or transfer of arms and related materials to any party to the conflict where there is a risk they may be used in violation of international humanitarian or international human rights law”
- wisdom for the international community, and especially for the UN as it deals with the various parties to the conflict
- strength, courage and wisdom for those attempting to hold people responsible for human rights abuses they have committed during the Yemen conflict