WASHINGTON, DC – The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) today released a special report on anti-conversion laws in South Asia.
The right to freely choose and change one’s religion is protected under international law, as is the right to manifest one’s beliefs through teaching those beliefs. While there is a right to propagate or proselytize, Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) also protects individuals from coercion that would impair their freedom to choose their religion or belief.
It has been more than a year since Burmese authorities began a brutal campaign terrorizing, sexually assaulting, and killing mainly Rohingya Muslims, leaving burned villages and corpses in their wake; more than a year since more than 700,000 fled across the border to Bangladesh. Despised for being both ethnically and religiously different, Rohingya Muslims are considered by Burma's military and many of the majority Buddhist population as outsiders illegally residing in the country with the goal of spreading Islam across the land.
USCIRF Commissioner Fr. Thomas J. Reese testifies before the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission on preventing mass atrocities.
Kristina Arriaga, the Vice Chairwoman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), testified before the National Security Subcommittee of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Speaking on the “government’s role in protecting international religious freedom,” Arriaga advised the Members that “we ignore religious freedom violations at our peril and must address challenges proactively.”
USCIRF strongly condemns attacks on civilians and security forces in Burma’s Rakhine State. Hundreds have been killed and approximately 300,000 Rohingya Muslims recently have fled to neighboring Bangladesh. This number is expected to grow in the days and weeks ahead. Burma’s security forces have razed entire villages, slaughtered families, and even placed landmines in the path of fleeing refugees, creating “a staggering humanitarian disaster,” according to USCIRF’s Chairman Daniel Mark.