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Conflict-stricken Churches

January 23rd, 2024  •  Author:   Myanmar Witness  •  4 minute read
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The impact of the conflict on church buildings across Chin state

Report Published: 23 Jan 2024

Key Event Details

  • Case Study locations: five in-depth case studies in the following locations in Chin state (ချင်းပြည်နယ်):

    • Khuafo (ခွါဖိုး) village, Thantlang township (ထန်တလန်မြို့နယ်), [22.751320, 93.425133]; two case studies in this location.

    • Tlanglo (တလန်လို) village, Thantlang township (ထန်တလန်မြို့နယ်), [23.008120, 93.336327].

    • Malsawm (မာလ်ဆောမ်) village, Hakha township (ဟားခါးမြို့နယ်), [22.516581, 93.786957].

    • Ramthlo (ရမ်ထလို) village, Falam township (ဖလမ်းမြို့နယ်), [22.825451, 93.560120].

  • Date/Time of Incident:

    • 10 events between 21 March 2023 and 14 August 2023.

    • 5 case studies between 30 March 2023 and 14 August 2023.

  • Alleged Perpetrator(s) and/or Involvement:

    • Myanmar Air Force (MAF)

    • Myanmar Military

    • Chinland Defence Force (CDF)

    • Chin National Army (CNA)

    • Chin National Defence Force (CNDF)

  • Summary of Investigation:

    • Churches across Chin state have been affected by the ongoing violence. Airstrikes, artillery attacks, raids and arson have allegedly resulted in extensive damage to places of worship — spaces which are protected during conflict under international law.

    • Myanmar Witness identified and analysed 10 incidents impacting churches in Chin between March and August 2023.

    • 7 of the 10 incidents involved allegations of airstrikes. Myanmar Witness geolocated User Generated Content (UGC) relating to six of these events.

    • All 10 incidents occurred in townships placed under martial law on 2 February 2023.

    • Of the 10 incidents, Myanmar Witness investigated 5 case studies and geolocated UGC, showing damage to church buildings in Thantlang, Falam and Hakha townships. The case studies were selected due to the intensity of the event and the presence of verifiable open-source content.

    • Myanmar Witness also collected data from Armed Conflict Location & Event Data (ACLED) to investigate broader trends within an extended timeframe. 28 reports of damage to churches in Chin state were logged between 1 February 2021 to 8 September 2023.

    • The ACLED data indicates that in 2023, there was a shift in tactics. Between 2021 and 2022, churches were reportedly damaged by frequent arson and artillery attacks. In 2023, airstrikes were allegedly involved in most cases.

    • Though resistance forces were allegedly involved in several incidents, they were never reported as the perpetrators by online media.

    • Analysis of ACLED data alongside the case studies suggests that the use of airstrikes has increased since 2022, supporting claims previously made by Myanmar Witness. This is reflected in the nature of the damage to churches in Chin state. One of the case studies could indicate that the church was intentionally targeted, however the motivation for the attack cannot be verified.

Executive summary

Since the February 2021 coup, religious buildings throughout Myanmar have been widely affected by the conflict. This investigation has examined the impact on churches in Chin, the only state with a majority Christian population.

Myanmar Witness investigated 10 claims of physical damage to churches in Chin state in 2023. Airstrikes were reported in seven of the analysed incidents. The Myanmar Air Force (MAF) maintains overwhelming air superiority across Myanmar, supporting the claim that the Myanmar military was responsible for the alleged airstrikes. Though resistance forces are known to utilise drones to attack SAC positions, these are not long-endurance or high-payload platforms. All 10 events investigated by Myanmar Witness reportedly took place in townships which were placed under martial law on 2 February 2023.

From these 10 incidents, Myanmar Witness investigated five case studies and geolocated User Generated Content (UGC) of church buildings in Thantlang, Falam and Hakha townships. Through an analysis of UGC showing physical damage, these examples indicate how conflict across Chin is impacting churches – sites that come with special protections during conflict under international law.

Myanmar Witness also gathered data from Armed Conflict Location & Event Data (ACLED) covering February 2021 to September 2023. 28 reports of damage to church property were reported in this timeframe in Chin state. Myanmar Witness categorised this data by incident type, identifying airstrikes, artillery, arson and looting as the principal alleged causes of physical damage. This analysis reveals a shift in incident type over time: airstrikes became the primary cause of damage in 2023 and there were fewer reports of arson and artillery strikes compared to data for 2021 and 2022. This trend may reflect a loss of ground control by the State Administrative Council (SAC) in Chin state.

The conflict has profoundly impacted the cultural and religious landscape of Chin state. The examples analysed in this report reflect the degradation of Myanmar’s built environment, including sites with special protections under international law during armed conflict. It is clear that the day-to-day activities of ordinary citizens continue to be disrupted as a result of the conflict.

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