Religious freedom must be central to Burma’s democratisation
Statement by Members of the European Burma Network
Members of the European Burma Network today call on the Government of Burma to ensure the protection and promotion of the universal human right of freedom of religion or belief, as set out in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, for all the peoples of Burma, and urge the international community to press the Government of Burma and all political and civil society actors to ensure that religious freedom is central to the country’s reform process.
Since the outbreak of violence in Arakan State in June 2012, the issue of inter-religious harmony and freedom of religion or belief has come to the fore in Burma. The wave of anti-Muslim violence in 2013 has highlighted long-term prejudices, discrimination, hatred and persecution on the grounds of religion as well as ethnicity, from parts of wider society as well as from the Government and the military. Hate speech has continued unchecked, and discrimination is blatant. Violence has been perpetrated with impunity.
Furthermore, violations of freedom of religion or belief affecting Christians have been well-documented, particularly by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar (Burma), and in several reports by the Chin Human Rights Organisation (CHRO), most recently in a new briefing paper on religious freedom violations faced by Chin Christians, published in January 2014; previously in the report Threats to Our Existence: Persecution of Ethnic Chin Christians in Burma, published in 2012; and in Christian Solidarity Worldwide’s report Carrying the Cross: The military regime’s campaign of restrictions, discrimination and persecution against Christians in Burma, published in 2007.
Burma’s 2008 Constitution gives some recognition of the right to freedom of religion or belief, but also provides for broad exceptions that allow the Government to restrict these rights “subject to public order, morality, health, and other provisions of the Constitution.” It specifically recognises the “special position of Buddhism as the faith practiced by the great majority of citizens,” but also recognises Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and animism as religions “existing” in the country. It states that the Government shall “render assistance and protect the religions it recognises.”
The United States State Department lists Burma as a Country of Particular Concern in its Annual Report on International Religious Freedom.
The European Burma Network therefore urges the Government of Burma to take the following steps:
1. Amend the Constitution and all legislation to ensure that these incorporate the principles set out in Article 18 of the UDHR, which reads: “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.”
2. Sign and ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), without reserving on Article 18;
3. Extend an official and unconditional invitation to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief to visit the country and to travel within the country and meet representatives of different communities, political actors and civil society organisations without restriction or hindrance;
4. Adopt the principles and non-legislative proposals set out in the most recent report by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, focused on hate speech (A/HRC/25/58, 26 December 2013); and the Rabat Plan of Action on the prohibition of advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence, which was adopted by experts including the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Opinion and the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief in Rabat in October 2012;
5. Take appropriate steps to counter hate speech, and to bring to justice anyone who incites violence on grounds of race or religion;
6. Bring to justice the perpetrators of violence against religious communities;
7. Abolish the Na Ta La (Border Areas National Races Youth Development Training) schools and institute a single education system under the Ministry of Education where all students are treated equally and without discrimination on the basis of religion and ethnic identity;
8. Abolish the Ministry of Religious Affairs and replace it with an independent and impartial religious affairs commission with a mandate to eliminate all kinds of religious discrimination;
9. Remove the requirement to list religion on identity card;
10. Ensure that the education curriculum includes a balanced and independent teaching of the different religions, in order to promote understanding and respect.
Members of the European Burma Network urge all parties in Burma, including political actors, civil society, and leaders of different religious communities, to speak out against religious intolerance, hatred and violence, to promote inter-religious dialogue and understanding, and advocate freedom of religion or belief for all.
Members of the European Burma Network urge the European Union to apply the EU Guidelines on the promotion and protection of Freedom of Religion or Belief, adopted on 24 June 2013, to Burma, as well as, in cases of those persecuted for defending freedom of religion or belief, the EU Guidelines on Human Rights Defenders .
We call on the European Union to prioritise freedom of religion or belief in its human rights dialogue with Burma, due to take place in the first half of 2014.
Furthermore, members of the European Burma Network urge the European Union, and individual member states, to provide financial support and expertise to strengthen initiatives promoting inter-religious dialogue, countering hate speech and promoting freedom of religion or belief as a priority. We urge the European Union to strengthen support of and engagement with civil society in Burma, promoting and protecting human rights defenders, particularly those engaged in promoting freedom of religion or belief for all.
Austrian Burma Centre
Burma Action Ireland
Burma Aktion Germany
Burma Campaign UK
Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK
Christian Solidarity Worldwide
Norwegian Burma Committee
Polish Burma Solidarity
Social Democratic Students Burma Project, Sweden
Swedish Burma Committee