BURMA: USCIRF Calls for the Protection of Religious and Ethnic Minorities During Post-Election Period and Beyond
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
November 13, 2015
WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) calls on the government of Burma to protect religious and ethnic minorities during the post-election period and beyond. Although Election Day largely was peaceful, the underlying electoral process was deeply flawed given the disturbing interjection of religion, the 25 percent reservation for the military of unelected seats, and the disenfranchisement of Rohingya Muslims.
“While political transitions can spur positive transformations, uncertainty during times of change also can lead to unrest and instability. The government of Burma must do everything in its power to stave off violence and protect those who could become targets, particularly religious and ethnic minorities,” said USCIRF Chairman Robert P. George.
Notwithstanding their eventual outcome, Burma’s elections took place in an environment of diminished rights and protections for religious and ethnic minorities. For example, along with the many voters from the beleaguered Rohingya Muslim community who were disenfranchised and Rohingya candidates disqualified, polls were postponed or canceled in several villages throughout ethnic areas, including Kachin, Karen, Mon, and Shan states.
Additionally, a group of revered Buddhist monks manipulated religion for political ends, thereby flagrantly violating a constitutional ban on such actions. In the weeks and months ahead of the elections, these monks, known by their local acronym Ma Ba Tha, orchestrated the passage of four discriminatory “race and religion bills” that diminish the rights of all non-Buddhists and women. Ma Ba Tha used these laws, including those that regulate interfaith marriage and religious conversions, to promote fear and hatred against Muslims, seeking to unduly influence the political debate. USCIRF publicly criticized these actions in August and January of this year.
“Burma cannot expect to build a democracy while sowing religious and ethnic hatred and divisions. With these elections, the country moved the needle in its political transition, but it has not yet become a rights-respecting nation that genuinely adheres to international standards for religious freedom and related human rights,” said Chairman George. “While we congratulate Burma on this first step, we also urge the Burmese government to begin healing deep-seated divisions by protecting vulnerable religious and ethnic communities.”
USCIRF again recommended in 2015 that Burma be designated as a “country of particular concern,” or CPC, under the International Religious Freedom Act for its particularly severe violations of religious freedom. The State Department has designated Burma as a CPC since 1999, most recently in July 2014. For more information, see the Burma Chapter (in English and Burmese) in USCIRF’s 2015 Annual Report.
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