Religious freedom yet to be won in Burma: new report

by Mizzima News
New Delhi (Mizzima) – The United States State Department has once again produced a report critical of the right to religious freedom inside military ruled Burma.

Monday’s release of the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor’s 2009 International Religious Freedom Report accuses Burma’s government of both propagating and favoring the views of state-sponsored Buddhism, while systematically obstructing the practice of politically engaged Buddhism and other religions.

“The regime commonly employed nonreligious laws to target those involved in religious and political activism, including the Electronic Transactions Act, Immigration Act, and Unlawful Associations Act,” finds the report.

“The Government’s pervasive internal security apparatus imposed de facto restrictions on collective and individual worship through infiltration and monitoring of meetings and activities of virtually all organizations,” adds the document.

With specific reference to the monk-led protests of 2007, the report calls out the generals on their attempt to “systematically restrict efforts by Buddhist clergy to promote human rights and political freedom.”

According to those consulted by American authorities, some 200 clergy remain imprisoned inside Burma, with roughly three-quarters of the said population arrested following the Saffron Revolution.

Meanwhile, adherence to and promotion of a form of Buddhism in accordance with the interests of the military government continues to be a goal of the regime as well as a means of personal advancement for those deemed to be dutifully toeing the line.

“In practice,” argues the report, “the Government continues to show a preference for Theravada Buddhism through official propaganda and state-sponsored activities, including donations to monasteries and pagodas, encouragement of education at Buddhist monastic schools in rural areas, and support for Buddhist missionary activities.”

Disapproval is also expressed for the junta’s 2008 Constitution, which the State Department points out does not allow members of religious orders to vote while providing the basis for suppression of religion under means “subject to public order, morality, health, and other provisions of the Constitution.”

No constitution in Burma, however, has ever granted the clergy the right to vote.
Though crediting the government with apparently no longer subscribing to a policy of forced conversion, the reports authors spare no corner in their disclosure of the numerous means through with the regime seeks the conversion of non-Buddhists to Buddhism.

The report does acknowledge that government promotion of Buddhism to the detriment of minority religions is well entrenched in the annals of modern Burmese history, iterating, “Successive civilian and military governments have tended to view religious freedom in the context of perceived threats to national unity or central authority.”

Burma’s Rohingya Muslims are singled out for their persistent targeting by the regime, a population that is still not even eligible to obtain National Registration Cards indicating they are in fact a component of Burmese society.

It is widely expected that Burma will be labeled a country of particular concern (CPC) come early 2010, when Washington’s annual, official report is expected released on the status of freedom of religion around the world. Burma has been included in every such list since the inaugural grouping was identified in 1999.

CPC designation is reserved for the governments of countries found guilt of “ongoing, egregious violations of religious freedom.” The stigma can carry with it the imposition of sanctions, which regarding Burma have been widely employed since before the advent of the International Religious Freedom Act in 2008.

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