FCO Human Rights Report 2019
No specific mention of FoRB.
APPG Commentary on the current state of Freedom of Religion or Belief 2019
Burma’s population is 87.9% Buddhist, with the country also home to significant minorities of Christians (6.2%) and Muslims (4.3%) as well as small Animist and Hindu communities. Around 0.1% or less identify as having no faith.
Burma has a long history of FoRB violations stemming from the rule of the military junta which controlled the country for over 50 years from 1962. The current government continues to contribute to religious intolerance, discriminating against religious and ethnic minorities. At the core of its governance lies a determination to preserve and protect a Buddhist identity. The military, and its affiliated political party, has fuelled a movement of Burmese Buddhist nationalism, encouraging groups such as the ultranationalist Buddha Dhamma Paahita Foundation, formerly known as Ma Ba Tha, leading to a dramatic rise in religious intolerance throughout the country.
Activist Khin Zaw Win, speaking in March 2019, exhibited serious concern about the Burmese military’s continued encouragement of religious nationalism in an effort to maintain its grip on power. Moreover, the UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Burma, Yanghee Lee, reiterated her view in March 2019 that ‘’the pervasive nature of hate speech [in Burma] is alarming”.
The principle violation of FoRB during the reporting period has been perpetrated against the country’s Rohingya Muslim community. These violations began with a military offensive on the 25 August 2017 leading to home burnings, mass rape, torture and execution without trial of substantial proportions of the Rohingya population. This offensive has resulted in approximately 745,000 stateless refugees now residing in Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has deemed these incidents as “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing”, while both the UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Burma and the 2018 UNHCR independent international fact-finding mission has uncovered alarming evidence of genocide.
There has been little progress towards the negotiation of a ‘’safe and dignified’’ repatriation of the Rohingya who believe they will face extreme violence upon returning to the Burma, with one refugee telling Human Rights Watch: ‘’they will kill us if we go back’’. Furthermore, the Burmese leadership has, to this point, repeatedly refused to grant the Rohingya equal access to citizenship. The government’s National Verification Card system for repatriated Rohingya has been described by activists as designating the Rohingya as foreigners in their own country.
Christians have also continued to face threats from the Burmese military. Christians are threatened and intimidated on the basis that their presence threatens an ultra-nationalistic conception of Burmese identity. Clashes between the Burmese army and the Kachin people, the majority of whom are Christian, has been ongoing for many years since the ceasefire agreement between state
forces and the Kachin Independence Army collapsed in 2011. As of April 2018, an estimated 120,000 people had been displaced by fighting across Kachin and Shan state. There was a major escalation in fighting in early April 2018.53 As a result, more than 30 churches have been destroyed in Kachin State in recent years – predominantly by bomb attacks.
There is also evidence that women in the Kachin region are victims of sexual violence. Many of the ethnic Kachin women and girls displaced by the conflict have subsequently faced the threat of being trafficked to China as ‘’brides’’ Kachin activist Francis Zau Tu outlined in November 2018 how ‘’rape, sexual violence, torture, and arbitrary arrest are just some of the human-rights abuses that
have been meted out’’ against his people.
In June 2019, more than 220 people in Shan state (including 130 women and children) fled their homes as a result of military tensions between the Burmese Army and the Ta’ang National Liberation Army. Shan state also saw the forcible detainment of 41 Bible students in October 2018 by the United Wa State Army (UWSA) (the army connected to the de facto ruling party of Wa state).
Twenty female students remain in captivity as of July 2019.58 During this time, the UWSA has continued to ban prayer in churches, religious teaching in schools, and the construction of new churches.
In March 2019, the UNHCR too acknowledged the ‘’worsening security situation’’ in Chin state identifying ‘’ongoing international protection needs’’. There is also continued evidence of escalating violence between the Arakan Army and the Burmese Army within Chin state in 2019, of which Christians have been caught in the crossfire. Moreover, two Chin Christians found
themselves injured as a result of a religiously-motivated mob attack on 24 December 2018 while preparing for Christmas celebrations.
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