WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) sends warm New Year’s greetings to the people of Burma and urges the new government to start the New Year by protecting the freedom of religion or belief. USCIRF also urges the international community to continue its support for improving the overall human rights situation in Burma. Burma’s government, now headed by the first elected civilian president in more than five decades, must demonstrate to the international community its commitment to democracy, human rights, and rule of law, including religious freedom.
“It’s a new day for the people of Burma. Many have struggled their entire lives for freedom for their country, their families, and themselves. Under the leadership of President U Htin Kyaw and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the government now must guarantee to them the rights and freedoms enshrined in international human rights covenants, including the fundamental right to freedom of religion or belief for all. The season of the Thingyan Water Festival and New Year celebration, emblematic of the deep religious and spiritual traditions that enrich Burma’s history, is an auspicious time for Burma’s new government to take these steps,” said USCIRF Chairman Robert P. George.
One such step is Burma’s government radically changing its abusive policies and practices in Rakhine State, which have harmed members of the ethnic communities who live there, especially Rohingya Muslims. The government denies them citizenship, freedom of movement, access to health care, and other basic services, and in 2015 revoked their voting rights and denied them and other Muslims the ability to contest elections. Also in 2015, the government implemented a package of “race and religion laws” which some nationalist Buddhists had advanced. Each of these laws discriminates against and restricts the religious freedom of non-Buddhists, particularly Muslims.
USCIRF commends the government of Burma for its plans to release political prisoners and withdraw charges against individuals awaiting trial, and eagerly awaits their full implementation. But Burma must do more to demonstrate its commitment to international human rights standards, including by: signing and ratifying the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; improving access to humanitarian aid in areas where religious and ethnic minorities are displaced, have their movement restricted, or cannot access basic services; inviting a visit by the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief and allowing the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to open a country office; ceasing criminalizing the peaceful exercise or expression of religion or belief; and doing away with discriminatory laws – especially the 1982 Citizenship Law, policies, and practices that unfairly treat ethnic and religious minorities, including Christians and Rohingya and other Muslims.
For more information, please see USCIRF’s Burma chapter in the 2015 Annual Report (in English and Burmese), and refer to USCIRF’s website for news about the release of the 2016 Annual Report coming soon. Refer also to the following press releases: USCIRF Calls for the Protection of Religious and Ethnic Minorities During Post-Election Period and Beyond; and USCIRF Condemns Passage of Religious Conversion Bill.
To interview a USCIRF Commissioner, please contact USCIRF at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202-786-0615.