Religious Freedom in Burma Among the Worst in the World: US Report

Burmese government troops patrol in conflict-ridden Sittwe, the capital of Arakan State, in this June 2012 file photo. (Photo: The Irrawaddy)

RANGOON—A US government commission has recommended that Burma remains on a State Department blacklist of 15 governments in the world that are responsible for “systematic, ongoing, egregious violations of freedom of religion.”

Christian ethnic groups, Muslim minorities and some Buddhist monks continue to suffer from violence, persecution and discrimination for their beliefs at the hands of Burma’s government, said the commission.

It also questioned the official government death toll of 192 killed during sectarian violence in Arakan State and said that the real figure was more than five times higher.

“Ongoing and important political reforms in Burma have yet to significantly improve the situation for freedom of religion and belief,” the US Commission on International Religious Freedoms, a bi-partisan advisory board appointed by the US President and Congress, said in its annual report released on Wednesday.

The commission advised that Buddhist-majority Burma remains listed as one of the worst violators of religious freedom in the world, placing it in a list of 15 “countries of particular concern” that includes China, Vietnam, Nigeria, Egypt, Iraq, Pakistan, North Korea, Sudan and Saudi Arabia.

The US government “should maintain targeted sanctions, and potentially re-impose lifted sanctions” against Burma’s government until it meets international bench marks for religious freedom, the commission said.

“[M]ost religious freedom violations occurred against ethnic minority Christian and Muslim communities, with serious abuses against mainly Christian civilians during military interventions in Kachin State and sectarian violence by societal actors targeting Muslims in [Arakan] State,” the commission said.

“In addition, Buddhist monks suspected of anti-government activities were detained or removed from their pagodas, and at least eight monks remain imprisoned for participating in peaceful demonstrations,” it said.

The commission expressed particular concern for the persecution of the Muslim Rohingya, a minority of around 800,000 people living in northern Arakan State, which has suffered greatly during mob attacks by local Buddhist Arakanese communities last year. More than 100,000 have been displaced by the violence and are now being confined to camps with dire conditions.

“Rohingya Muslims, who are denied Burmese citizenship, experience widespread discrimination, strict controls over their religious activities and ceremonies and societal violence that is often incited by Buddhist monks and carried out with impunity by mobs and local militias, including police,” according to the commission.

“[O]ver 1,000 Rohingya have been killed, their villages and religious structures destroyed, and women raped during attacks,” it said. The government’s official death toll, which includes both Buddhist and Rohingya victims, is 192. Some non-governmental groups familiar with the situation on the ground in Arakan State have previously also suggested that the real figure is several times higher.

On Monday, a Burmese government commission investigating the Arakan violence recommended increasing government security in the area, upholding the controversial 1982 Citizenship Law and curbing supposed “high population growth” among Rohingyas. International rights groups and the UN rights rapporteur on Burma said the report failed to investigate those responsible for the violence and to address the Rohingyas’ citizenship rights.

The US commission said that Burma’s “military reportedly continues to limit religious worship and forcibly promote Buddhism as a means of pacification … and targets Christians for forced labor, rape, intimidation, and destruction of religious sites.”

It said that during the fighting between the government and Christian Kachin rebels in northern Burma, “military units have bombed and seized control of Christian churches. As many as 60 Protestant churches were damaged by indiscriminate shelling.”

12 Responses to Religious Freedom in Burma Among the Worst in the World: US Report

  1. I was in Sittwe, capital of Rakhine State for one year. I noticed that Rakhines were very arrogant. They looked down not only Kalah, aka Rohingya but also Out Thar, Bamah. Without any reason, they kicked a Kalah and many times they shouted to me in bad words. But they did not call a Kalah as Muslim. A Rakhine may slap a kalah because they considered Kalah as an unwanted or unwelcome migrant but they never slapped a Kalah because they were Muslim. Similarly, a soldier may shoot a Kachin rebel because they considered the kachin as an enemy but they did not shoot the Kachin because he is a Christian. I asked the media for many many times not to use Buddhist, Muslim in the sectarian clashes.

    • What is your point, man? A kalah in Rakhine is a Muslim. A Kachin is a christian. Do not try to twist around. You, Yebaws, are useless that military government betrayed our Union. If you guys did what you were supposed to do, we would never have this mess. Shame on you. These Bengali people are not supposed to be in our country if you guys did your job. We do not even want to hear the name “Yebaw”. Yebaw to me is “IDIOT”.

      • And “Thiri” is to me is a substitute of liar. Rohingya’s are not Bengali. They have been living in arakan for centuries that your shallow knowledge fails to delve and fathom the depth of history. The truth is that some of your kind entered in Bangladesh and living peacefully in the hilly areas. These outsiders are enjoying all government facilities in Bangladesh. Why can’t rohingyas demand their own right’s in their own land ?

        • You wish. Maungdaw and Buthitaung were not Bengali towns 40 years ago. Maungdaw Township and Buthitaung Township were not Bengali townships 40 years ago. Only a few Khuataw kalars(Bengali) live there 40 years ago. Now it is totally occupied by Bengalis. Where did they come from? They sneaked into Rakhine crossing the border illegally. Even if you changed your name yesterday, it is not making you look like A Burmese citizen. You guys are still illegal aliens.

  2. Myanmar people are noted for its good standing as far as tolerating the values and personal beliefs of others. But lately I think external groups and forces who would like to thwart the attempts made by the Myanmar government to open up the economy and promote the re-constitution of law and order process aligned to its embedded cultural and societal norms .

  3. Behind the scene military junta is still running the administration.
    The best respectful Monks are languishing in prison. And the fake monks created by military junta are given license to kill minorities. Why the international community is sitting and watching?

  4. It is true. As long as government sponsored Buddhism is bullying other religions, there is no freedom of religion in Burma. I am an ethnic. I feel so sad that Na Ta La (Government sponsored) trying to assimilate other religions.

  5. What is this?

    Thein Sein was, is and will always be Papa Than Shwe’s stooge (a minor one at that) and is only a front. Every one knows that and yet,every one cheers on like he is a saint or savior and says like he is separate from the killing apparatus be it in Kachin Land, Karen Land, Arakan Land or Latpadaung.

    The Yanks knows it and keep harping on how wonderful these reforms are and how worthwhile these poor Burmese little people of their magnanimous looting and raping of the land and enslaving of the populace with utmost generosity per favour of that Trojan Fake Woman “Champion of Globalization” once mistaken to be a “Champion of People” as brainwashed by ever deceitful world’s Media, including the Dissidents’ ones.

    Now the odiousness of their Brand New Business Partner is so stench-ful, Yanks as well as traditional Yanks Allies seem to be paddling back a bit or at least trying to hedge their bets both ways rather than all out suck up as they have done in unison thus far.

  6. Please note in Burma/Myanmar important religious day not only for Buddhist but also for christian (Christmas day) and Muslim (Eid) are official public holidays. In multicultural Australia where I lived now, we have public holidays only for important Christian religion.

    • Mr. Kun,
      I feel sorry for you. Come back to Burma. No matter you are legal or illegal resident there, you will always look like visitor there as long as you have Asian skin. I am an ethnic from the Union of Burma. I am native. My state in the Union of Burma is my ancestors’ homeland. My religion is Christianity. So, Christmas is supposed to be a holiday in the Union of Burma since many native Union members like Kachins, Chins, Karens, Was, Nagas and Lahus belong to Christianity. Buddhism is just one of the religions in the Union of Burma. It should never be considered as state religion. Burma is different from the Union of Burma. Burmans belong to Buddhism. It does not make Buddhism a superior religion is the Union of Burma. All the Union members have the same right of freedom of religion. So, you better not compare Australia to the Union of Burma.

  7. Official Holidays for Eid and Christamas were introduced by democratically elected Govt. Not the current racist, tricky one.

  8. yeah yeah yeah. Australia is so bad and Myanmar is so great. sigh.

    wake up pal. religion is a joke, ok. all religions. there is no god, period. there is people (AKA advanced chimpanzees) and people invented god because majority of people are weak and anxious. worshipping a man-made/invented supreme being is pathetic and has proven to be a major source of MISERY in the last 2000 years. as long as people believe in immaginary creatures there is no hope for the human race.

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