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Greear joins call for genocide label in Myanmar

WASHINGTON (BP) — Southern Baptist Convention President J.D. Greear has joined a diverse coalition in urging the Trump administration to label as genocide the brutalities against religious and ethnic minorities in Myanmar.

Greear and more than 75 other signers sent a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo Oct. 17 requesting the official designation in response to what they described as the Myanmar military’s “planned, coordinated campaign of mass killings, gang rapes and other atrocities” against the country’s Rohingya Muslim minority. Myanmar, also known as Burma, is located in Southeast Asia.

Immediate action by the Trump administration is needed because the military forces that brutalized the Rohingya have moved to Kachin state to “commit the same atrocities” against Christians there, according to the letter from The Faith Coalition to Stop Genocide in Burma.

In addition to Greear, other Southern Baptist signers of the letter included: Danny Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary; Travis Wussow, vice president for public policy of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC); and Micah Fries, senior pastor of Brainerd Baptist Church in Chattanooga, Tenn. Greear is pastor of The Summit Church in the Raleigh-Durham, N.C., area.

ERLC President Russell Moore said, “The atrocities in Myanmar cry out for justice to be done, especially for those of us who see the image of God in all persons. The U.S. government must face this evil and call it what it is — genocide.

“Now is the time for action to prevent further killings, bring perpetrators to justice and provide relief for the victims,” Moore told Baptist Press in written comments.

Military-led violence against the Rohingya Muslims of Rakhine state in 2017 reportedly included the murder of possibly 10,000 people and the forced evacuation from the predominantly Buddhist country of more than 700,000 others.

The coalition called for Pompeo “to take immediate action by articulating a moral, political, and policy designation [of genocide] respecting the dignity and safety of victimized Burmese individuals. We call on you as the chief diplomat for the United States, to take this bold humanitarian step and provide the leadership to the international community that is desperately needed with this declaration.”

Genocide — according to a 1948 United Nations treaty — includes the commission of prohibited acts with the “intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.”

A U.N. report in August concluded conduct by the Myanmar military — in collaboration with some civilians — against the Rohingya constituted four of the acts banned under genocide, the coalition said in the letter. Those acts are, according to the letter: “(a) [K]illing, (b) causing serious bodily or mental harm, (c) inflicting conditions of life calculated to bring about the physical destruction of the group in whole or in part, and (d) imposing measures intending to prevent births.”

In another August report, a State Department survey of more than 1,000 Rohingya refugees who had fled to Bangladesh found widespread experiences of witnessing severe violence. The interviews showed these percentages of refugees witnessed different forms of violence:

— 82 percent witnessed the killing of human beings.

— 82 percent observed the destruction of a hut or village.

— 65 percent saw an abduction, arrest or detention.

— 51 percent witnessed sexual violence.

— 51 percent watched armed assault on the ground.

The State Department report said the violence against the Rohingya “was extreme, large-scale, widespread, and seemingly geared toward both terrorizing the population and driving out the Rohingya residents. The scope and scale of the military’s operations indicate they were well-planned and coordinated.”

Kachin, which is Myanmar’s northernmost state, has an estimated four to six million Christians, according to the coalition letter.

In September, Morning Star News reported at least 12 churches — mostly Baptist — were closed or their buildings destroyed in the Eastern Myanmar state of Shan. The United Wa State Army, a large ethnic rebel group, carried out the attacks, Christian leaders said, according to the report.

Among other individuals signing the coalition letter to Pompeo were: Michael Farris, president, Alliance Defending Freedom; Greg Mitchell, co-chair, International Religious Freedom Roundtable; Bob Roberts, senior pastor, Northwood Church, Keller, Texas; Greg Surratt, founding pastor, Seacoast Church, Charleston, S.C.; Philippe Nassif, executive director, In Defense of Christians; and Matias Perttula, advocacy director, International Christian Concern.

The letter’s signers also included representatives of Muslim, Jewish and Buddhist organizations.

Myanmar has been included on State Department’s list of “countries of particular concern” (CPC) for religious freedom since the designation was first implemented in 1999. The country is one of 10 CPCs, a designated reserved for countries that commit or tolerate “systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom.”