United States Commission on International Religious Freedom: BURMA

BURMA Page 21| USCIRF 2013 Annual Report
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
FINDINGS:
Ongoing and important political reforms in Burma have yet to significantly improve the situation for freedom of religion
and belief. During the reporting period, most religious freedom violations occurred against et
hnic minority Christian and Muslim communities, with serious abuses against mainly Christian civilians during military interventions in Kachin State and sectarian violence by societal actors targeting Muslims in Rakhine (Arakan) State. In
addition, Buddhist monks suspected of anti-government activities were detained or removed from their pagodas, and at least eight monks remain imprisoned for participating in peaceful demonstrations. In addition to sometimes severe
restrictions on worship, education, and other religious activities and ceremonies, religious groups continue to face a range of problems, including: pervasive surveillance, imprisonment, discrimination, societal violence, destruction or
desecration of property, and censors hip of religious materials.
In light of these systematic, ongoing, egregious violations of freedom of religion and belief,
USCIRF recommends that Burma again be designated as a “country of particular concern” in
2013. The State Department has designated Burma as a CPC since 1999.
 
Over the past year, the Burmese
government continued to release po
litical and religious prisoners,
revised laws on media censorship and freedom
of assembly, and allowed Aung San Suu Kyi’s
National Democracy Party (NLD) to assume its seats in parliament. Nevertheless, Burma’s
overall human rights record remains poor and the
government was either unable or unwilling to
curtail security forces or social actors who enga
ged in serious abuses against religious minorities
and others during armed conflicts in Kachin St
ate and sectarian violence in Rakhine (Arakan)
State. Rohingya Muslims, who are denied
Burmese citizenship, experience widespread
discrimination, strict controls over their religious activities and ceremonies and societal violence
that is often incited by Buddhist monks and carried
out with impunity by mobs and local militias,
including police in Rakhine (Arakhan) State. In the past year, over 1,000 Rohingya have been
killed, their villages and religious structures d
estroyed, and women raped during attacks. In
Kachin and northern Shan states, home to la
rge Christian minority populations, the military
conducted large operations beginnin
g in January 2013. The military reportedly continues to limit
religious worship and forcibly promote Buddhism
as a means of pacifica
tion in these areas and
targets Christians for forced labor, rape, intimida
tion, and destruction of religious sites. The
government also continues to censor religious pub
lications and prohibits the import of Bibles and
Qu’rans in indigenous languages
.
Released prisoners face harassment and restrictions, including
U Gambria, the head of the All-Burma Monks Alliance.
PRIORITY RECOMMENDATIONS:
The speed of Burmese government reforms was
unexpected, but they remain fragile and reversib
le, and their long term success will depend on
building capacity for governance and addressing religi
ous and ethnic minority issues. The U.S.
government should maintain targeted sanctions,
and potentially re-impose lifted sanctions, if a
series of benchmarks are not met, including the
release of all religious and political prisoners, a
nationwide ceasefire with religious and ethnic mi
norities, a durable citizenship solution for
Rohingya Muslims, and reform of
laws limiting religious freedom
and other human rights. In
addition, the U.S. government should maintain
the CPC designation until severe religious
freedom violations have ended. The United Stat
es and other donor nations should also maintain
targeted technical assistance to empower civil society actors, parliamentarians, and religious
groups that promote the rule of law, inte
rfaith cooperation, peace-building, economic
development, human rights documentation, educa
tion, democratic leadership, and legal and
human rights training. Additional recommendations for U.S. policy toward Burma can be found
at the end of this chapter.

BURMA
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USCIRF 2013 Annual Report
BACKGROUND
Theravada Buddhism is the dominant religious tradition
in Burma. The government shows preference for
Buddhism through financial support and donations to
monasteries, pagodas, monastic schools, and
missionary activities. Promotions to senior levels
of the military and civil service are reserved for
Buddhists. Christianity, which is expanding amon
g some ethnic minority communities, is the largest
religious tradition among ethnic Kachin, Chin, and Naga peoples and
is practiced widely among the Karen and Karenni minorities. Islam
is practiced both by ethnic Burmese and the Rohingya community of
Rakhine (Arakhan) state. Muslim
s and Christians reportedly make
up 8%-10% of the population.
The constitution and laws continue
to restrict religious freedom.
Article 34 of the constitution states that, “Every citizen is equally
entitled to freedom of conscience and the right to freely profess and
practice religion subject to public order, morality or h
ealth and to other provisions of this Constitution.”
Article 354 states that, “every citizen shall be at liberty…if not contrary to the laws, enacted for Union
security, prevalence of law and order, community p
eace and tranquility…to develop religion and customs
without prejudice to the relations between one nationa
l race and another or among national races to other
faiths.” Article 364 forbids the “abuse of religion
for political purposes” and bars religious leaders from
running for political office and members
of “religious orders” from voting.
The 1982 Citizenship Law denies Rohingya Muslims
citizenship, which in tu
rn prevents access to
government services, educational opportunities for child
ren, acceptance of marriages, and the building of
religious venues and schools. Local ordinances in
Rangoon restrict public worship for Muslims to
significant religious holidays.
A 2008 regulation banning independent
“house church” religious venues has not been repealed or revised.
Permits for new church buildings or for repairi
ng existing sites are routinely denied.
The government continues to censor religious materi
als, despite the 2012 repeal of pre-publication
censorship regulations for other media. Government
censorship includes a list of more than 100 words
prohibited in Christian and Islamic literature because
they are either derived from the Pali language, used
in Theravada Buddhist literature, or viewed
as endorsing violence against non-believers.
ONGOING RESTRICTIONS ON BUDDHISTS
The government controls Buddhist clergy (
sangha
), who are subject to a strict code of conduct that
reportedly is enforced through criminal penalties.
Monks are not allowed to preach political sermons,
make public statements, or produce literature with vi
ews critical of government policies or the military.
Monks are also prohibited from associating with or jo
ining political parties or taking part in peaceful
demonstrations or ceremonies viewed as political, such
as for the victims of the 2007 demonstrations.
Military commanders retain jurisdiction to
try Buddhist monks in military courts.
The government closely monitors monasteries viewed
as focal points of anti-government activity and has
restricted usual religious practices in these areas.
Monks perceived to be protest organizers have been
charged under vague national security provisions,
including “creating public alarm;” “engaging in
activities inconsistent with and detr
imental to Buddhism;” “the deliber
ate and malicious…outraging of
RELIGIOUS FREEDOM CONDITIONS
O
NGOING AND IMPORTANT
POLITICAL REFORMS IN
B
URMA HAVE YET TO
SIGNIFICANTLY IMPROVE THE
SITUATION FOR FREEDOM OF
RELIGION AND BELIEF
.

BURMA
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USCIRF 2013 Annual Report
religious feelings;” and “engaging in prohibited act
s of speech intended for religious beliefs.” In
February 2012, Ashin Pyinna Thiha, the abbot of
Sardu Pariyatti Monastery, was banned from giving
sermons because he was considered too “political.”
In December 2012, after he met with Secretary of
State Clinton, the Buddhist
sangha
leadership and the Religious Affairs Ministry dismissed him from his
monastery.
In June 2012, over 30 monks were
injured and 10 detained during an environmental protest at the
Latpadaung Mountain copper mine. Reportedly, police a
ttacked while the monks were at prayer. Senior
Buddhist monks demanded an apology from the government
for its handling of the protest. In December
2012, five monks from Rangoon’s prom
inent Shwedagon Pagoda were arrested for planning to stage a
protest against government actions at the copper mine.
The Religious Affairs Ministry later issued an
apology for the violence, injuries, and arrests that occurred at the Latpadung Mountain site.
At least eight monks remain in prison for engagi
ng in peaceful protests from 2001-2010, according to the
Assistance Association of Political Prisoners in Burma.
Those released were released conditionally, and
can be re-imprisoned. Monks of
ten face harassment and detention
upon release and those who were
defrocked in prison face difficulties re-joining monastic
orders. U Gambria, one of the leaders of the
2007 Saffron Revolution as head of the All-Burma Monks
Alliance, has been detained and subject to
intimidation for his public criticism of the governme
nt and for unilaterally seeking to re-open sealed
monasteries.
ACTIVE REPRESSION OF ETHNIC MINORITY CHRISTIANS
There continue to be severe human rights violations
in conflict-affected ethnic border areas, including
attacks against civilians, extrajudicial killings, sexual
violence, arbitrary arrest and detention, internal
displacement, land confiscations, forced labor and po
rtering, and the recruitment of child soldiers. The
government has forged ceasefires with 10 ethnic minority militias,
but armed clashes continue in Kachin, Kayah, Kayin and Shan states.
Christian groups in ethnic minority regions, where low-intensity
conflicts have been waged for decades, face particularly severe and
ongoing religious freedom abuses. The UN Special Rapporteur on
Human Rights in Burma, Tomas Quintana, has highlighted in his
reports the discrimination against religious and ethnic minority
groups by the Burmese military and continued by the civilian
government, including policies preventing the teaching of minority
languages in schools and restrictions
on freedom of religion or belief.
His 2012 report contains evidence of
severe religious freedom abuses
against ethnic minority Kachin and Chin, including restrictions on
the building of places of worship, destruction of religious venues and
artifacts, prohibitions on some re
ligious ceremonies, and the policy
of coerced conversions to Buddhism at the govern
ment’s “National Races Youth Development Training
Schools,” where Buddhist monks were reported to be wo
rking together with the Ministry of Religious
Affairs.
In 2011, the Burmese military ended a 17-year
ceasefire with the Kachin Independence Organization
(KIO) and its armed wing, the Kachin Independence
Army (KIA). The military intensified operations,
including the use of aerial bombardment against
civilian targets in late December 2012.
According to sources compiled by the non-governme
ntal organization (NGO) Christian Solidarity
Worldwide (CSW), the military campaign against the
KIA has led to massive human rights and religious
T
HE MILITARY REPORTEDLY
CONTINUES TO LIMIT
RELIGIOUS WORSHIP AND
FORCIBLY PROMOTE
B
UDDHISM AS A MEANS OF
PACIFICATION IN THESE AREAS
AND TARGETS
C
HRISTIANS FOR
FORCED LABOR
,
RAPE
,
INTIMIDATION
,
AND
DESTRUCTION OF RELIGIOUS
SITES
.

BURMA
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USCIRF 2013 Annual Report
freedom violations. Burmese military units have bomb
ed and seized control of Christian churches. As
many as 60 Protestant churches were damaged by indiscriminate shelling. Military forces have beaten
and arrested religious leaders and taken away church members as forced labor.
Military commanders in Kachin state issued regulations
requiring religious gro
ups to get permission one
month in advance for “reading the Bible, fasting, prayer
. . . and [saying] the rosary of the Virgin Mary.”
In most ethnic minority areas, Christians are required to obtain a permit for any gathering of more than
five people outside of a Sunday service, but these re
gulations cover both public
and private religious
observance.
The Chin Human Rights Organization continues to co
mpile evidence that government officials encourage
conversion to Buddhism through pr
omises of economic assistance or denial of government services,
although reportedly such incidents have decreased in r
ecent years. Chin families who agree to convert to
Buddhism were offered monetary and material in
centives, as well as exemption from forced labor.
Burmese Buddhist soldiers are also offered financ
ial and career incentives to marry and convert Chin
Christian women.
SECTARIAN VIOLENCE AND RELIGIOUS FREEDOM ABUSES FACED BY BURMESE AND
ROHINGYA MUSLIMS
Muslims in Rakhine (Arakan) State, particularly t
hose of the Rohingya minority group, continued to
experience the most severe forms of legal, economic,
religious, educational, and
social discrimination.
The 1982 Citizenship Law denies Rohingya citizenship
because their ancestors
allegedly migrated to
Burma during British colonial rule. Approximately
800,000 Rohingya live in Burma, concentrated
mostly in Rakhine (Arkan) State and in the citi
es of Maungdaw, Buthidaung, Akyab, Rathedaung, and
Kyauktaw.
In June 2012, sectarian violence between ethnic Ar
akanese Buddhists and ethnic Rohingya Muslims led
to hundreds of deaths and an estimated 100,000 intern
ally displaced. Provincial police did not stop initial
violence and supported ongoing attacks by both
Arakanese groups and Buddhist monks on Rohingya
villages and the denial of humanitarian access to R
ohingya areas and camps. In October, sectarian
violence erupted again in dozens of coordinated att
acks that resulted in beatings, deaths, rapes, the
destruction of entire villages, and additional displ
acement of Rohingya. Rohingya asylum seekers have
been turned away from Bangladesh
and Thailand, including being forc
ibly pushed back to sea by Thai
military forces. Untold numbers have died atte
mpting to seek refuge in these countries. Despite
considerable international attention, the Burmese gove
rnment, backed by a majority of popular opinion
and groups promoting “Buddhist Nationalism,” continu
es to restrict humanitarian assistance, sanction
clandestine violence through impunity, and encourage ref
ugee flows to other Southeast Asia countries.
Without citizenship, Rohingya Muslims lack access
to secondary education in state-run schools, cannot
be issued government identification cards (essential to
receive government benefits), and face restrictions
on freedoms of religion, association, assembly, and m
ovement. Reports by refugees indicate that many
Rohingya are prevented from owning property, residing in certain townships, or serving as government
officials. Muslims are restricted in the number of children they may have and have difficulties obtaining
M
USLIMS IN
R
AKHINE
(A
RAKAN
)
S
TATE
,
PARTICULARLY
THOSE OF THE
R
OHINGYA MINORITY GROUP
,
CONTINUED TO
EXPERIENCE THE MOST SEVERE FORMS OF LEGAL
,
ECONOMIC
,
RELIGIOUS
,
EDUCATIONAL
,
AND SOCIAL DISCRIMINATION
.

BURMA
25|
USCIRF 2013 Annual Report
birth certificates for newborns, particularly in the city
of Sittwe. During the current reporting period, the
Burmese government maintained “Muslim Free
Areas” in the Thndwe, Gwa, and Taungup areas of
Rakhine (Arakan) State.
Police often restricted the number of Muslims who coul
d gather in one place, effectively banning public
worship, religious ceremonies, and education.
In Rangoon and surrounding areas, Muslims are only
allowed to gather for worship a
nd religious training during major
Muslim holidays. In December 2012, seven Muslims were arrested for
holding a prayer service at a mosque without permission. Similar
arrests were made in 2011. All those arrested were released after
paying fines. In early 2013, police reportedly beat Muslims living near
the Takeda mosque in Rangoon and later removed them from their
homes.
It is almost impossible for Muslims to obtain building permits for
either mosques or schools and unlicensed venues are regularly closed
or destroyed. The government has, in recent years,
ordered the destructions of mosques, religious centers,
and schools, including the Sufi Shahul Hamid Nagori
Flag Post and Mosque in Insein during February
2012.
An estimated 300,000 Muslim Rohingya live in
refugee camps in Bangladesh, Thailand, and other
Southeast Asian countries. They often live in squalid
conditions and face discrimination, trafficking, and
other hardships. They also have
been forcibly repatriated to Burma.
Bangladesh has recently announced
that it will go ahead with plans to repatriate R
ohingya living in refugee camps but will not accept new
asylum seekers.
RESTRICTIONS ON BURMESE CHRISTIAN GROUPS
Burmese Christians living outside the aforementioned
conflict zones report that conditions have improved
in the past year, with more regular and open contact
with the new government and the Religious Affairs
Ministry. However, they continue to experien
ce difficulties in obtaining permission to build new
churches, hold public ceremonies or festivals, and
import religious literature. In some areas around
Rangoon, police restrict how often Burmese Christians
can gather to worship or conduct religious
training, despite a new law guaranteeing the right of assembly.
A government regulation promulgated in
early 2008 bans religious meeti
ngs in unregistered venues, such
as homes, hotels, or restaurants. It has not been strict
ly enforced in recent years. Limits on charitable and
humanitarian activities have existe
d since 2009 and the government occasionally prohibits Protestants
from proselytizing in some areas, particularly among rural Buddhists populations.
In September 2009, the Obama administration announced
a new U.S. policy direction for relations with
Burma, promising to replace diplomatic isolation w
ith “pragmatic engagement,” and pledging an “action-
for-action” approach to lifting import bans a
nd economic sanctions, incl
uding U.S. opposition to
assessments and loans from the World Bank, Asian De
velopment Bank, and other
international financial
institutions.
Important benchmarks set initially in the “action-for-
action” approach included
the unconditional release
of all political prisoners; the establishment of ceasefir
es and meaningful reconciliation dialogues with all
U.S. POLICY
….
SECTARIAN VIOLENCE
BETWEEN ETHNIC
A
RAKANESE
B
UDDHISTS
AND ETHNIC
R
OHINGYA
M
USLIMS LED TO HUNDREDS
OF DEATHS AND AN
ESTIMATED
100,000
INTERNALLY DISPLACED
.

BURMA
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USCIRF 2013 Annual Report
ethnic minorities; and steps to broaden political and civic activity, including free and fair parliamentary
by-elections and implementation of legislation that
would protect the freedoms of religion, assembly,
speech, and association. Furthermore, the Obam
a administration has expressed concern over the
military’s potential proliferation activities and its ti
es to North Korea. Human rights groups, including
Burmese groups in the United States and Thailand, poi
nt out that to date, none of these benchmarks,
including the release of all political prisoners, have
been met fully, and no conditions have been outlined
under which the United States would re-impose sanctions.
President Obama and senior U.S. officials, as well as
other global leaders and UN officials, visited Burma
in the past year, expressing optimism about the refo
rms initiated by President Thein Sein’s government.
President Obama visited Burma in November 2012,
and raised prominently ongoing human rights
concerns. At a speech at Rangoon Univ
ersity, the President raised the issues of civilian oversight of the
military, conflict in ethnic minority areas, and abuses
targeting Rohingya. A large delegation of U.S. officials, led
by Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human
Rights, and Labor Michael Posner, initiated a human rights
dialogue with Burmese officials.
The President’s visit to Burma coincided with the lifting of
the last import bans, despite the objections from Aung San
Suu Kyi to prohibitions on oil and gas investments, the
ongoing detention of prisoners
of conscience, and recurring
sectarian violence and military incursions in ethnic minority
areas. The only remaining sanction that the administration
can lift on its own, without Congressional approval, is the
CPC designation for Burma. Any additional easing of
restrictions on political and economic relations
with Burma will require Congressional authorization or
new legislation. The United States still maintains
travel and asset bans against particular individual
s, businesses, and organizations; prohibitions on certain
military-to-military activities; continued restrictions on
the import of jadeite and rubies; restrictions on
investments and financial services tied to Burma’s armed forces; and the arms embargo. These sanctions
mostly ensure, however, that the United States will
not be complicit in past or ongoing human rights
abuses.
Over the next five years, the United States and ot
her international donors ha
ve pledged over $100 million
in technical assistance programs for civil so
ciety and good governance programs and economic
development and lifted prohibitions
on humanitarian assistance provided by international NGOs. These
efforts are intended to build up democratic, legal,
and political expertise and bolster independent
institutions and political parties ah
ead of the 2015 national elections.
U.S. leadership is essential to ensuring the full
transition to democratic rule, ending human rights
violations, and advancing religious freedom and the
rule of law in Burma. U.S. coordination of
diplomatic actions with regional allies, particularly
the democracies of Southeast and South Asia, is
critical for providing Burmese le
aders with incentives for undertaking additional political reforms and
advancing the rule of law. In addition, the Un
ited States should maintain Burma’s CPC designation, as
systematic, ongoing, and egregious religious freedom vi
olations continue, partic
ularly in religious and
ethnic minority areas.
RECOMMENDATIONS
T
HE
U
NITED
S
TATES AND OTHER
DONOR NATIONS SHOULD
EMPOWER
CIVIL SOCIETY ACTORS
,
PARLIAMENTARIANS
,
AND RELIGIOUS
GROUPS THAT PROMOTE THE RULE OF
LAW
,
INTERFAITH COOPERATION
,
PEACE
BUILDING
,
ECONOMIC
DEVELOPMENT
,
HUMAN RIGHTS
DOCUMENTATION
,
EDUCATION
,
DEMOCRATIC LEADERSHIP
,
AND LEGAL
AND HUMAN RIGHTS TRAINING
.

BURMA
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USCIRF 2013 Annual Report
The United States also should maintain support for targ
eted sanctions until benchmarks set by both the
U.S. Congress and the UN Special Rapporteur for Burma are fully met. The Obama administration
and/or the Congress should make recommendations for
the targeted delivery of economic assistance and
direct investments in Burma, focusing some non-hum
anitarian assistance to ethnic minority areas. In
addition, the administration and/or Congress shou
ld create specific benchmarks for the Burmese
government to meet or face the gr
adual re-imposition of sanctions alre
ady lifted, including some import
and export bans and oppositi
on to assessment missions and loans from in
ternational financial institutions.
I.
SUPPORTING DEMOCRATIZATION & THE RULE OF LAW THROUGH U.S.
PROGRAMS
In addition to maintaining the CPC designati
on for Burma, the U.S. government should:
y
encourage the reform process in Burma by targe
ting ethnic minority areas for some political and
economic development assistance and providing cl
ear benchmarks for the Burmese government to
meet or face re-imposition of some of the sanctions
already lifted. Such benchmarks should include:
o
the release of all religious and political prisoners;
o
an immediate nationwide ceasefire with religious and ethnic minorities;
o
a durable citizenship solution for Rohingya Muslims;
o
accountability for state or non-state actors who perpetrated acts of violence against religious and
ethnic minorities;
o
the reform of laws limiting religious freedom
and other human rights and end to discriminatory
policies that result in the closure of religious
minority places of worship, the inability to repair
structures, and the censorship of religious materials; and
o
the holding of free and fair elections in 2015;
y
provide technical assistance to empower Burmese civil society groups organizing humanitarian
assistance, refugee protections, conducting human rights documentation efforts (particularly of
religious freedom abuses faced by the Muslim,
Christian, and Buddhist communities), and providing
public advocacy, leadership, and legal training to
Burmese living in and outside of Burma;
y
seek to establish inter-parliamentary exchanges a
nd discussions to help Burma develop effective
structures and procedures to strengthen its legisl
ative branch and to raise productively issues of
ongoing concern, including religious
freedom and related rights;
y
coordinate economic support and technical assistan
ce programs with other donors, including with
governments and non-governmental actors, in or
der to avoid duplicative programs and to work
toward similar goals of permanent democratization, th
e rule of law, the integration of ethnic minority
communities, refugee protections, unimpeded humanitarian aid delivery, and human rights
protections; and
y
consider creating a coordinated program, an
“Asia Pivot” corollary of the Supporting Eastern
European Democracy (SEED) program, bringing to
gether U.S. government resources to support the
development of nascent political parties and democra
tic institutions, provide
technical assistance to

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