Christians Face 'Pervasive And Long-Standing Persecution' In Burma

Ethnic Kayaw attend a mass at the catholic church at Htaykho village in the Kayah state, Burma. The US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) today issues a stark warning about discrimination against Christians in the country.Reuters

Christianity is institutionally discriminated against in Burma and Buddhism has been elevated to the de facto state religion, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) today said in a stark warning about lack of religious freedom in the country.

A report published today, titled Hidden Plight: Christian Minorities in Burma, highlights "the pervasive and long-standing persecution and discrimination Christians face that have persisted, often unreported, for generations".

It says: "Senior leaders in Burma's government need to publicly acknowledge and remedy the fact that the elevation of Buddhism as the de facto state religion and resulting policies and practices have violated the rights of Christians and other religious and ethnic minorities."

It goes on: "Institutionalized discrimination against Christians must also be addressed so that Christians and other religious minorities can secure promotions in government sectors."

According to the report, "Christian communities across Burma continue to experience deep pain and suffering due to egregious violations of religious freedom."

The report urges Burma to undertake "substantive reforms to ensure religious freedom for all in law, policy, and practice" and says that this "must be a cornerstone of ongoing peace and national reconciliation efforts in Burma".

The report also calls for support for increased interfaith dialogue at a grassroots level, but adds that "interfaith dialogue should be rooted in international standards and a clear understanding of religious freedom as the individual right to choose one's faith, rather than common misconceptions about defending the values of a particular religion or the rights of the majority."

The report makes a series of recommendations to both the Burmese and the US governments.

To the former, it calls on the country to take "concrete steps to end violence and human rights violations against ethnic and religious minorities, including the investigation and prosecution of those perpetrating human rights violations or inciting discrimination and violence, especially members of the military, Ma Ba Tha, and other ultra-nationalistic forces, to end the culture of impunity"; and to undertake "substantive reforms to the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Culture to ensure equal treatment for all religious faiths, and guarantee religious freedom for all in law, policy, and practice, and in accordance with international human rights standards".

The US, it says, "can play a role by engaging senior leaders in Burma's government on religious freedom issues and emphasizing their importance to ongoing peace and national reconciliation efforts."

The report also urges the US to continue to designate Burma "a country of particular concern" unless and until the government of Burma meets the benchmarks it outlines.

A second report released by the USCIRF today, Suspended in Time: The Ongoing Persecution of Rohingya Muslims in Burma details the persecution of Rohingya Muslims in the face of "government-directed abuses and/or government indifference to discrimination and violence that has killed hundreds, displaced thousands, and destroyed hundreds of religious properties since 2012".

The Christian population of Burma has increased by nearly one third in three decades, according to World Watch Monitor.

There are now more than three million Christians in Burma, making up 6.2 per cent of the population, compared to just 4.9 per cent in 1983.

Christianity is the second largest religion in Burma, where nearly nine in ten people are Buddhist.