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ICC NOTE: As nationalist Buddhist groups work both politically and religiously to take control of Burma, the government continues to target religious minorities such as the Rohingya and ethnic Christian Karen. Though the government has shifted from being led by the military to a democratic regime, persecuted minorities remain an issue. While there is the possibility of hope, recent actions by the government would say it is becoming rather difficult. 

5/27/2016 Burma (World Watch Monitor) – Myanmar’s first ever Catholic Cardinal has said protecting freedom of religion or belief for all is among the “biggest challenges” facing his country as it adapts to life after 50 years of “brutal” military rule.

“We desperately need to work to defend rights without discrimination, to establish equal rights for all people in Myanmar, of every ethnicity and religion,” said Cardinal Charles Maung Bo during an address at the UK Parliament in London yesterday (25 May).

“Freedom of religion or belief … is perhaps the most basic, most foundational human right of all,” he said. “True peace and real freedom hinge on an issue that has yet to be addressed: respect for Myanmar’s ethnic and religious diversity … Without the freedom to choose, practise, share and change your beliefs, there is no freedom.”

Cardinal Bo said ongoing ethnic conflict was a “major” and “related” challenge.

“The majority of the Kachin, Chin, Naga and Karenni peoples, and a significant proportion of the Karen, are Christians – and over the decades of armed conflict, the military has turned religion into a tool of oppression,” he said. “In Chin State, for example, Christian crosses have been destroyed and Chin Christians have been forced to construct Buddhist pagodas in their place. Last year, two Kachin Christian school teachers were raped and murdered. At least 66 churches in Kachin state have been destroyed since the conflict reignited in 2011.”

“Many have been killed in Myanmar’s ethnic and religious conflicts,” he said, “and hundreds of thousands have been displaced.”

The military has turned religion into a tool of oppression. Christian crosses have been destroyed and Christians have been forced to construct Buddhist pagodas in their place.

 

Cardinal Bo called on the new government, installed two months ago, to invite the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief to visit the country, and warned against a set of new laws introduced by the outgoing government, known as the “Protection of Race and Religion Laws”.

He said these laws, which restrict the right to religious conversion and inter-faith marriage, “pose a serious danger for our country”.

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