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Pope Francis Urges World to Focus on Myanmar People’s Struggle

Pope Francis greets the Catholic faithful before a mass in Yangon during his first official visit to Myanmar in November 2017. / The Irrawaddy

Pope Francis on Sunday appealed for greater international attention to the plight of Myanmar’s 54 million people, urging that they not be forgotten and noting that they have endured horrific violence by the junta amounting to war crimes and crimes against humanity for nearly two years since the coup.

His latest plea on Sunday followed the junta’s brutal helicopter attack on a school in Depayin, Sagaing Region, which killed around 11 children and injured more than a dozen during airstrikes and a ground raid. More children were also reportedly killed in junta air strikes across the country last week.

Speaking at the conclusion of a Holy Mass in the southern Italian city of Matera, the Pope said he was thinking of Myanmar, where violence continues to cause death and displacement.

“This week I heard the cry of grief at the death of children in a bombed school,” he said. “May the cry of these little ones not go unheard! These tragedies must not happen!” the Pope added.

Despite the scale of the junta’s atrocities against civilians since the coup, including increasing brutality against children, the junta has gone unpunished by the international community, including the UN. The lack of practical action or support offered for the popular resistance movement against the regime has left many in Myanmar feeling abandoned.

Highlighting the Myanmar people’s disappointment over the international response to their country’s crisis, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar Tom Andrews said at a UN Human Rights Council meeting last Wednesday in Geneva that “many in Myanmar have come to the conclusion that the world has forgotten them, or doesn’t care.”

Echoing the Myanmar people’s frustration, Malaysian Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob has also expressed his disappointment over the UN’s lack of action on the Myanmar crisis.

Due to resistance from regime allies Russia and China, the UN Security Council has yet to pass any resolutions against the junta, failing to deter it from committing atrocities, including the killing of more than 2,300 of its own people so far, mostly for anti-regime activism. These include more than 230 children.

“It is very saddening when the Security Council does not take any serious action in dealing with this situation. Some even see the Security Council as having washed its hands off and handing the matter over to ASEAN,” Ismail told the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) on Friday.

Another Southeast Asian leader, Timor-Leste President José Ramos-Horta, said at the UNGA the extremely generous support for Ukraine’s resistance to Russia’s invasion was in stark contrast to the “muted reaction to the war waged against the people of Myanmar” who are still fighting and dying every day.

“People there feel abandoned, betrayed, by the so-called international community,” he said.