Conflict impacts worship in Myanmar's only Christian-majority state

(Photo: Reuters / Parivartan Sharma)A young refugee from Myanmar's ethnic Chin minority holds a placard during a protest rally to mark World Refugee Day in New Delhi June 20, 2011. Hundreds of refugees on Monday held a protest to highlight what they said were ongoing problems and the political crisis in Myanmar.

The enduring conflict between Myanmar's military junta and opposing forces has heavily impacted Christians and their places of worship in Chin state, the country's only Christian-majority state, a report by the UK-based Centre for Information Resilience shows.

The CIR is an independent advocacy that exposes human rights abuses and war crimes.

Airstrikes in the Asian nation have been repeated since the military coup that toppled Aung San Suu Kyi on Feb. 2, 2021, with schools, villages, worship buildings, and hospitals hit, according to Vatican News.

The Myanmar Witness project of the UK-based Centre for Information Resilience (CIR) identified and analyzed 10 incidents where churches were damaged—mostly in airstrikes—between March and August 2023.

It found the conflict that followed the military coup is having a "sustained and long-term impact on the Christian population of Chin State," who make up 85 percent of the local population.

The Myanmar military has destroyed at least 107 religious buildings, including 67 churches, in Chin State since the military coup began nearly three years ago, according to the Chin Human Rights Organization, Christianity Today reported back in February.

Elsewhere in the country, the destruction of houses of worship, including Buddhist temples and churches, is also growing. In mid-January, junta soldiers burned down a 129-year-old Catholic church in Sagaing Region.

Ethnic minorities in Myanmar, including the Chin, have long fought with the military junta, desiring increased autonomy for their communities. At the same time, Buddhist nationalism is deeply ingrained in the country; former Burmese prime minister U Nu famously touted the idea that "to be a Burmese is to be a Buddhist" in 1961, according to Christianity Today.

This ideology resulted in the ethnic cleansing of the Muslim Rohingya people, killing thousands and forcing 700,000 to flee to Bangladesh.


Buddhists make up 89 percent of Myanmar's population, while 6 percent is Christian and 4 percent is Muslim.

According to Vatican News, Chin state witnessed strong resistance against the military regime and is said to have close links with ultra-nationalist Buddhist monks.

Rebel strongholds and townships placed under martial law have experienced more attacks, the report said, blaming the Myanmar Air Force, which has "overwhelming superiority" compared to rebel groups, for the attacks.

Matt Lawrence, project director of Myanmar Witness, described the destruction of churches in Chin State as "symbolic as well as physical."

"These places of worship are not only protected under international law during times of conflict, but they're of sacred importance to those who use them," he said.

According to the Chin Human Rights Organization cited by Uca News agency, since the February 2021 coup, at least 100 religious sites, including 55 Christian institutions, have been destroyed.

"The destruction of Christian churches is deliberate to inflict psychological trauma on a specific religious and cultural community. They are not collateral damage," said Salai Za Uk Ling, deputy executive director of the Chin Human Rights Organization.

Christian leaders have repeatedly appealed for the protection of places of worship, citing the Hague Convention on Warfare, which also calls for the protection of hospitals and educational institutions.

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