The Burmese military has announced an almost four-month ceasefire, from 10th May until 31st August, in a bid to prevent the spread of Covid-19 in the country.
The military in Burma, known as the Tatmadaw, announced the action in a statement on 9th May following several weeks of ceasefire calls from various domestic and international bodies. Just prior to the decision, Burma’s Cardinal Charles Maung Bo once again called for the military to lay down their arms, noting that now “is a time to put hatred and weapons aside and face the common enemy that is attacking all humanity.”
In recent years, the Tatmadaw has been accused of perpetrating genocide against the minority Rohingya Muslim community across Rakhine state. Christians too have found themselves on the receiving end of the military offensive, with thousands being forced to flee the northern Kachin region. Latterly, the military has been accused of launching fierce attacks against the majority-Buddhist Rakhine people.
In January of this year, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ordered emergency “provisional measures” to be implemented across Burma in order to save the lives of religious minorities. The court also called on the country's de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi to ensure the military was adhering to the 1948 Genocide Convention, which prevents and punishes acts of genocide.
At the start of May, the outgoing United Nations Special Rapporteur for human rights in Burma, Yanghee Lee, warned of new “war crimes” and “crimes against humanity” by a Burmese military that has been emboldened by special powers intended to help control the spread of the coronavirus. “We find bodies that have been decapitated,” she said. “These are the highest, the most heinous and gravest crimes of international law.”
Christian Solidarity Worldwide welcomed news of the ceasefire, with chief executive Mervyn Thomas calling the action a "long overdue announcement."
Thomas added: "The Tatmadaw has a long history of violent attacks on religious and ethnic minorities in Burma, and a track record of breaking ceasefire.
"We urge the military to fully uphold the ceasefire, ensuring the protection of civilians across the country. We also call on the international community to maintain intense scrutiny of the situation in Burma, taking further steps to ensure that justice is served for crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide.”