The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom released its 2014 Annual Report yesterday, which highlights state-sponsored violations of religious freedom around the world. To note the most severe cases, the report designates eight nations as Countries of Particular Concern (CPCs), and – for the fifteenth year in a row – Burma is part of this notorious group. CPCs are defined as countries “whose government engages in or tolerates particularly severe violations of religious freedom that are systematic, ongoing, and egregious.” This description mimics the language found in international human rights treaties, but fails to capture the brutality of the situation that far too many people face simply due to their personal beliefs.
For the past 10 years, Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) has documented human rights violations in Burma, including crimes committed against ethnic and religious minorities. PHR has issued in-depth reports on violence against the Chin, Kachin, Karen, and Muslim populations, including the Rohingya. “Severe violations of religious freedom” against Muslims in the past year included a massacre of school children in Meiktila in March 2013 and the UN-reported killing of at least 48 Rohingya in Du Chee Yar Tan in January 2014. These waves of violence are unfortunately coupled with the consistent – though less visible – official policies implemented by the government that impose restrictions on every aspect of Rohingya life, making conditions unbearable. Sadly, Muslims are not the only persecuted religious minority in Burma, as the Chin, Kachin, and Karen ethnic minorities all have large Christian populations that also face ongoing violence.
The government of Burma claims that it is working on reforms, but the conditions necessary for democratic governance include the protection of minorities and accountability for human rights violations. In order to demonstrate real change, the government must: investigate and prosecute all members of the security forces who commit or facilitate human rights violations; lead an internal campaign to dispel hate speech and publicly condemn all acts of violence against religious or ethnic groups; and revoke all laws that discriminate against religious and ethnic minorities.
If impunity continues to reign and there is no deterrence for criminal acts against minorities, the Burmese government looks likely to prolong its unfortunate CPC record.