A new, critical report on religious freedoms in Myanmar by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom says the major challenge facing Aung San Suu Kyi’s government is “bringing the military under civilian control”.
The report says the Burmese Army, which, due to constitutional provisions, is beyond civilian control, has “desecrated, damaged and destroyed churches [and] continues to perpetrate grave human rights violations with near total impunity, including sexual violence in church compounds and torture of pastors”.
Hidden Plight – Christian Minorities in Burma, which focused on the state of religious freedom for “some of the most marginalized populations in Myanmar: the predominantly Christian Chin, Naga and Kachin,” documents incidents of intimidation and violence against Christians, forced relocation of and destruction of Christian cemeteries, attacks on churches and an ongoing campaign of coerced conversion to Buddhism. It also notes that, in Kachin areas, religious freedom violations are inextricably linked to the ongoing conflict.
The report recommends a raft of measures to the Myanmar government, including the prosecution of those inciting discrimination and violence, especially members of the military, and Ma Ba Tha – the nationalistic group who, the report says, “have deliberately and maliciously discriminated and instigated violence against non-Buddhists”.
Myanmar’s latest census showed a rise in the number of Christians and a fall in the popularity of Buddhism, although 88 per cent still identify with the country’s most popular religion. The delayed release of the census was, some commentators say, to avoid a backlash from nationalists anticipating a sharp rise in non-Buddhist religions, which they feel threaten Myanmar’s Buddhist identity.