Religious freedom violations in Burma (Myanmar) are often wound up with violent ethnic conflict and deteriorations in human rights, which particularly impact the Rohingya Muslim community, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) warns in its 2020 annual report.
In 2019, the Burmese military continued its long-standing campaign against Rohingyas in the state of Rakhine, which has resulted in a massive displacement of the community, the report stated. As of last June, the report added, some 120,000 Rohingyas were living in camps in neighboring Bangladesh, with little or no access to work, healthcare and education.
The USCIRF, a bipartisan, independent federal government body created by the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act, emphasized that reports continued to pour in of the Burmese military’s indiscriminate killing of civilians and the destruction of homes, mosques and food stores in 2019.
Burma is among 14 “countries of particular concern” (CPCs) identified by the USCIRF for their “systematic, ongoing, and egregious” violations of religious freedom. Besides Burma, nine of the 14 countries—China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan—were designated CPCs by the State Department in December 2019. In its report, the USCIRF asked the State Department to re-designate all nine countries as CPCs and add to the list five others—India, Nigeria, Russia, Syria and Vietnam.
The situation in Burma was so dire that United Nations Special Rapporteur Yanghee Lee told the U.N. General Assembly in October last year that the mortal safety of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslim refugees was threatened if they returned home, because the Burmese state continues with its “system of persecution” against them, according to Lee’s report.
The conditions in which the remaining Rohingya population lives in Burma “remain dreadful,” Lee added, cautioning that “it is not safe or sustainable for refugees to return.” The USCIRF report alluded to an August 2019 U.N. Independent International Fact-Finding Mission’s conclusion that the Burmese military’s operations widespread raping, killing and mutilating of women and girls indicated its “genocidal intent.”
The military’s abuses affected other groups in Rakhine, including Kaman Muslims and Buddhists, the report stated. But the military alone isn’t responsible for all violations of religious freedom, the USCIRF report cautioned. A variety of armed ethnic groups are also stirring Burma’s pot of religious persecution, according to the report.
News reports suggested in 2019 that conflict between the military and the Arakan Army militia, a local Buddhist group, had displaced people in the neighboring Chin state. Further, the Arakan Army was abducting civilians and Christian pastors in 2019.
“The ongoing violence has been fueled by hate speech, misinformation, and incitement to violence spread on social media, in particular Facebook, which nonstate actors and government officials have used to threaten minorities,” the report stated.
Buddhist nationalist groups also played a role in restricting religious freedoms, according to the report. During the Muslim holy celebration of Ramadan, the government temporarily closed Islamic places of worship following threats from Buddhist nationalists, even though the Muslim community continues to have permits to conduct prayer services.
The U.S. watchdog recommended in its report that Washington impose targeted sanctions on Burmese government agencies and officials responsible for severe violations of religious freedom. The recommended sanctions include freezing of officials’ assets and barring their entry to the U.S. under human rights and visa laws related to religious freedom violations.
The USCIRF also recommended to the U.S. administration that it vigorously back overseas efforts to hold Burmese officials accountable, through the international legal system, for mass atrocities.
From its beginnings, the Church of Scientology has recognized that freedom of religion is a fundamental human right. In a world where conflicts are often traceable to intolerance of others’ religious beliefs and practices, the Church has, for more than 50 years, made the preservation of religious liberty an overriding concern.
The Church publishes this blog to help create a better understanding of the freedom of religion and belief and provide news on religious freedom and issues affecting this freedom around the world.