The Burmese Buddhist-controlled government and military killed more than 1,000 Rohingya Muslims in the last year and has continued to forcibly promote Buddhism and discriminate against other minority religious groups, according to a report released Tuesday by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.
The report, which highlights the status of religious freedom globally and identifies those governments that are the most egregious violators, also includes recognition of severe atheist discrimination in a number of countries.
In Burma, Theraveda Buddhism is the dominant religious tradition and Muslims and Christians reportedly make up 8%-10% of the population. In contrast to common representations of Buddhists as inherently peaceful, minority religious groups are subject to pervasive surveillance, imprisonment, discrimination, societal violence, destruction or desecration of property and censorship of religious materials by Buddhists, according to the report.
“The military reportedly continues to limit religious worship and forcibly promote Buddhism as a means of pacification in these areas and targets Christians for forced labor, rape, intimidation, and destruction of religious sites,” the report says. “The government also continues to censor religious publications and prohibits the import of Bibles and Qu’rans in indigenous languages.”
The report found that the Burmese 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 also reserved for Buddhists.
According to the report, Rohingya Muslims generally experience the worst treatment in Burma.
“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,” the report says. “In the past year, over 1,000 Rohingya have been killed, their villages and religious structures destroyed, and women raped during attacks.”
In June 2012, sectarian violence between ethnic Arakanese Buddhists and ethnic Rohingya Muslims led to hundreds of deaths and an estimated 100,000 internally 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 Rohingya areas and camps, according to the report.
According to BBC reports, the Burmese antagonism is spearheaded by the 969 group, led by a monk, Ashin Wirathu, who was jailed in 2003 for inciting religious hatred. Released in 2012, he has referred to himself bizarrely as “the Burmese Bin Laden.”
Despite the considerable international attention, however, the Burmese government, backed by a majority of popular opinion and groups promoting “Buddhist Nationalism,” continues to restrict humanitarian assistance, sanction clandestine violence through impunity, and encourage refugee flows to other Southeast Asia countries, according to the report.
In its 2013 report, the USCIRF recommended that the U.S. government re-designate Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Uzbekistan as “countries of particular concern.”
The USCIRF, an independent federal advisory body created by the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 to monitor religious freedom abuses abroad, outlined the state of religious freedom in 29 countries in its 2013 report.