BURMA: USCIRF Condemns Passage of Religious Conversion Bill

Aug 24, 2015


August 24, 2015

WASHINGTON, D.C.—The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) strongly condemns the passage by Burma’s Union Parliament of the religious conversion bill.  This bill is one measure in a package of “race and religion bills” which a group of nationalist Buddhist monks have advanced.  Each discriminates against and restricts the religious freedom of non-Buddhists, particularly Muslims, and diminishes women’s rights. 

By word and deed, Burma’s government continues to further entrench and legalize discrimination based on religious beliefs and sex,” said USCIRF Chairman Robert P. George.  “Burma’s leaders once again have disregarded internationally agreed human rights standards.  The government claims that these bills  protect women and religion, but civil society groups in Burma have exposed them for what they are – tools the government uses to continue to violate the freedom of religion and related human rights,” said Chairman George.

Under the religious conversion bill, individuals choosing to adopt another faith confront special bureaucratic hurdles – including requiring applicants to provide extensive and intrusive personal information, to receive “approval,” thereby creating a system that effectively would discourage and reject conversions. 

This measure is discriminatory, period.  It is gravely wrong for the government to presume to dictate whether an individual can change their religion or belief,” said Chairman George.  “We call on President Thein Sein immediately to reject this ill-conceived measure.

One of the extremist movements led by a group of nationalist Buddhist monks, the Association for the Protection of Race and Religion – also known as Ma Ba Tha,  created the race and religion bills and has been pushing the government to adopt them ever since.  USCIRF has criticized these efforts.  Burma’s government has failed to implement meaningful protections for religious and ethnic minorities, and instead has adopted politically expedient discriminatory measures, such as the population control law and interfaith marriage law.  

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.

To interview a USCIRF Commissioner, please contact USCIRF at media@uscirf.gov or 202-786-0615.