|2000 Annual Report on International Religious Freedom:
Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
U.S. Department of State, September 5, 2000
Burma has been ruled since 1962 by highly repressive, authoritarian military regimes, and since 1998, when the armed forces brutally suppressed massive prodemocracy demonstrations, a junta composed of senior military officers has ruled by decree, without a constitution or legislature. The most recent Constitution, promulgated in 1974, permitted both legislative and administrative restrictions on religious freedom, stating that "the national races shall enjoy the freedom to profess their religion provided that the enjoyment of any such freedom does not offend the laws or the public interest." Most adherents of all religions duly registered with the authorities generally enjoyed freedom to worship as they chose; however, the Government imposed some restrictions on certain religious minorities. In addition the Government systematically restricted efforts by Buddhist clergy to promote human rights and political freedom, and coercively promoted Buddhism over other religions in some ethnic minority areas. There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom during the period covered by this report.
The Government imposed some restrictions on the religious freedom of both Christian and Islamic groups, and individual Christians and Muslims experienced some discrimination by the State. The Government monitored the activities of members of all religions, including Buddhism, in part because clergy and congregation members in the past have become active politically.
Since 1988 a primary objective of U.S. Government policy towards Burma has been to promote increased respect for human rights, including the right to freedom of religion. In September 1999, the Secretary of State designated Burma a country of particular concern under the International Religious Freedom Act for particularly severe violations of religious freedom.
Section I. Government Policies on Freedom of Religion
Burma has been ruled since 1962 by highly authoritarian military regimes. In 1997 the junta reorganized itself and changed its name from the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) to the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC). The military has governed without a constitution or legislature since 1988. The most recent Constitution, promulgated in 1974, permitted both legislative and administrative restrictions on religious freedom, stating that "the national races shall enjoy the freedom to profess their religion provided that the enjoyment of any such freedom does not offend the laws or the public interest." Most adherents of all religions duly registered with the authorities generally enjoyed freedom to worship as they chose; however, the Government imposed some restrictions on certain religious minorities. In addition, in practice, the Government systematically restricted efforts by Buddhist clergy to promote human rights and political freedom, and, according to numerous credible reports, government authorities in some ethnic minority areas coercively promoted Buddhism over other religions, particularly among members of the minority ethnic groups.
There is no official state religion; however, the Government continued to show a preference for Theravada Buddhism in practice. Successive Governments, civilian and military, have supported and associated themselves conspicuously with Buddhism.
Virtually all organizations must be registered with the Government. Although there is a government directive exempting "genuine" religious organizations from registration, in practice only registered organizations can buy or sell property or open bank accounts, which induces most religious organizations to register. Religious organizations register with the Ministry of Home Affairs with the endorsement of the Ministry for Religious Affairs. However, at least one religiously-affiliated organization was allowed to open a bank account with the endorsement of the Myanmar Council of Churches instead of the Ministry of Religious Affairs. The State also provides some utilities, such as electricity, at preferential rates to recognized religious organizations.
The great majority of the country's population at least nominally follows Theravada Buddhism, although in practice popular Burmese Buddhism includes veneration of many indigenous pre-Buddhist deities called "nats" and coexists with astrology, numerology, and fortune-telling. Buddhist monks, including novices, number more than 300,000, roughly 2 percent of the male Buddhist population, and depend for their material needs entirely on alms donated by the laity, including daily donations of food. The clergy also includes a much smaller number of nuns.
There are minorities of Christians (mostly Baptists as well as some Catholics and Anglicans), Muslims (mostly Sunni), Hindus, and practitioners of traditional Chinese and indigenous religions. According to government statistics, almost 90 percent of the population practice Buddhism, 4 percent practice Christianity, and 4 percent practice Islam; however, these statistics may understate the non-Buddhist proportion of the population.
The country is ethnically diverse, and there is some correlation between ethnicity and religion. Theravada Buddhism is the dominant religion among the majority Burman ethnic group, and among the Shan and Mon ethnic minorities of the eastern region. In much of the country there also is some correlation between religion and social class, in that non-Buddhists tend to be better educated in secular matters, more urbanized, and more commercially oriented than the Buddhist majority.
Christianity is the dominant religion among the Kachin ethnic group of the northern region and the Chin and Naga ethnic groups of the western region (some of which practice traditional indigenous religions); it also is widely practiced among the Karen and Karenni ethnic groups of the southern and eastern regions. Many other Karen and Karenni are Theravada Buddhists. Hinduism is practiced chiefly by Indians, mostly Tamils and Bengalis, who are concentrated in major cities and in the south-central region (although many Tamils are Catholic). Islam is practiced widely in Arakan Division on the west coast, where it is the dominant religion of the Rohingya minority, and among Indians and Bengalis and their descendants. The small Chinese ethnic minorities practice traditional Chinese religions. Traditional indigenous religions are practiced widely among smaller ethnic groups in the northern regions and persist widely in popular Buddhist practice, especially in rural areas. There are no reliable statistics on religious affiliation and ethnicity.
Since independence in 1948, many of the ethnic minority areas have been bases for armed resistance to the State. Although most armed ethnic groups have negotiated cease-fire agreements with the Government since 1989, active Shan, Karen and Karenni insurgencies continue, and a Chin insurgency has developed since the late 1980's. Successive civilian and military governments have tended to view religious freedom in the context of threats to national unity.
Governmental Restrictions on Religious Freedom
The Government continued both to show preference for Theravada Buddhism, the majority religion, and to control the organization and restrict the activities and expression of its clergy ("sangha"). The Government prohibits any organizations of Buddhist clergy other than nine state-recognized monastic orders, which submit to the authority of a state-sponsored State Clergy Coordination Committee ("Sangha Maha Nayaka Committee"--SMNC) elected indirectly by monks. The Government provides guidance and enforcement for the committee at the national level and for its subordinate bodies at local levels. The Government continued to fund two State Sangha Universities in Rangoon and Mandalay to train Buddhist clergy under the control of the SMNC. The State's relations with the Buddhist clergy and Buddhist schools are handled chiefly by the Department for the Perpetuation and Propagation of the Sasana (DPPS--"Sasana" means Buddhist doctrine) in the Ministry of Religious Affairs.
The Government monitored the activities of members of all religions, including Buddhism, in part because clergy and congregation members in the past have become active politically. In 1995 the military Government prohibited the ordination as clergy of any member of a political party. This measure remains in effect. Moreover, there is a concentration of Christians among some of the ethnic minorities against which the army has fought for decades, although many of the ethnic insurgencies have been waged by groups that practice Buddhism.
At the same time, the Government, apparently in order to bolster its legitimacy among the Buddhist majority, discriminated against members of minority religions and restricted the educational, proselytizing, and building activities of minority religious groups.
Christians and Muslims experienced difficulties in obtaining permission to build places of worship and in importing indigenous-language translations of traditional sacred texts. Through the 1990's, the Government increasingly has made special efforts to link itself with Buddhism as a means of asserting its own popular legitimacy. State-controlled news media continued frequently to depict or describe junta members paying homage to Buddhist monks, making donations at pagodas throughout the country, officiating at ceremonies to open, improve, restore or maintain pagodas, and organizing ostensibly voluntary "people's donations" of money, food, and uncompensated labor to build or refurbish Buddhist religious shrines throughout the country. State-owned newspapers routinely featured, as front-page banner slogans, quotations from the Buddhist scriptures. Buddhist doctrine remained part of the state-mandated curriculum in all elementary schools; however, individual children may opt out of instruction in Buddhism, and sometimes do so in practice. The Government has published books of Buddhist religious instruction. The Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA), a government-sponsored mass organization in which participation often is not entirely voluntary, has organized courses in Buddhist culture attended by millions of persons, according to state-owned media reports.
In April 1997, following widespread riots that involved Buddhist clergy, the Government effectively closed the two State Sangha Universities and banned the administration of religious literature examinations required for advancement in the clergy. However, during the period covered by this report, the religious literature examinations were administered again, and in May 2000 it was announced that 48 monks received titles.
During the mid-1990's, the Government funded the construction of the International Theravada Buddhist Missionary University (ITBMU) in Rangoon, which opened in December 1998. The ITBMU's stated purpose is "to share Myanmar's knowledge of Buddhism with the people of the world," and the main language of instruction is English.
Government authorities repeatedly prohibited Christian clergy from proselytizing. Local military commanders, who often provide such orders, rarely cite any legal justification for their actions. In general the Government has not allowed permanent foreign religious missions to operate since the mid-1960's, when it expelled nearly all foreign missionaries and nationalized all private schools and hospitals, which were extensive and were affiliated mostly with Christian religious organizations. The Government is not known to have paid any compensation in connection with these extensive confiscations. However, the Government has allowed a few elderly Catholic priests and nuns who have worked in the country since before independence to continue their work. Government authorities usually granted foreign religious representatives visas only for short stays in the country but in some cases permitted them to preach to congregations. Some Christian theological seminaries established before 1962 have continued to operate.
In October 1990, the military junta promulgated Order 6/90, which bans any organization of Buddhist clergy other than the nine orders constituting the SMNC; Order 7/90, which authorizes military commanders to try Buddhist clergy before military tribunals for "activities inconsistent with and detrimental to Buddhism;" and Decree 20/90, "Law Concerning Sangha Organizations," which imposes on Buddhist clergy a code of conduct enforced by criminal penalties. These edicts remain in effect.
Christian and Islamic groups continued to have difficulties in obtaining permission to build new churches and mosques, particularly on prominent sites. In parts of Chin State, authorities reportedly have not authorized the construction of any new churches since 1997. The Government reportedly has denied permission for churches to be built on main roads in cities such as Myitkyina, the capital of Kachin State. In Arakan State reportedly in April 2000, authorities reportedly detained 12 Muslim elders for failing to demolish three mosques in Dodine village. In Rangoon authorities also have instructed Chin and Kachin Christian worship facilities to use the term "religious center" rather than "church." Buddhist groups are not known to have experienced similar difficulties in obtaining permission to build pagodas or monasteries. In most regions of the country, Christian and Muslim groups that seek to build small churches or mosques on side streets or other inconspicuous locations eventually have been able to obtain official permission, despite a generally time-consuming bureaucracy.
Since the 1960's, Christian and Islamic groups have had difficulties in importing religious literature. Religious publications, like secular ones, remained subject to control and censorship. Translations of the Bible and the Koran into indigenous languages could not be imported legally, although Bibles can be printed locally in indigenous languages. During the period covered by this report, there were no reports of Bibles or other religious materials having been confiscated; however, according to the Chin Freedom coalition, in early 1999, 16,000 Bibles were confiscated in Tamu Township. State censorship authorities reportedly object to existing translations of the Bible and the Koran, including some translations that became widely used and accepted by some of the country's Christian and Muslim groups during the colonial period. According to some reports, the censors have objected to the use in Christian or Islamic literature of certain indigenous-language terms long used in Buddhist religious literature; the censors reportedly have maintained that the use of these terms is appropriately limited to Buddhism. According to other reports, the censors have objected to passages of the Old Testament and the Koran that may appear to approve the use of violence against nonbelievers. Although possession of publications not approved by the censors is an offense for which persons have been arrested and prosecuted in recent years, there were no reports of arrests or prosecutions for possession of any traditional religious literature during the period covered by this report.
The Government allowed members of all religious groups to establish and maintain links with coreligionists in other countries and to travel abroad for religious purposes, subject to restrictive passport and visa issuance practices, foreign exchange controls, and the government monitoring that extends to all international activities for any purpose. The Government sometimes expedited its burdensome passport issuance procedures for Muslims making the Hajj.
Religious affiliation sometimes is indicated on government-issued identification cards that citizens and permanent residents of the country are required to carry at all times. There appear to be no consistent criteria governing whether a person's religion is indicated on his or her identification card. Citizens also are required to indicate their religions on some official application forms, e.g., on passports (which have a separate "field" for religion, as well as ethnicity).
Governmental Abuses of Religious Freedom
The Government, which operates a pervasive internal security apparatus, generally infiltrates or monitors the meetings and activities of virtually all organizations, including religious organizations.
During the period covered by this report the Government continued to imprison Buddhist monks who exercised their rights to free speech and association by calling for democracy and political dialog with prodemocracy forces. More than 100 monks credibly have been identified as having been imprisoned during the 1990's for supporting democracy and human rights; however, about half of these have been released, and there is no reliable estimate of the number of Buddhist clergy in prisons or labor camps as of mid-2000. In the past, Buddhist monks reportedly have died in prisons or labor camps run by the Government's Department of Prisons; however, there have been no known reports since 1994. Monks serving sentences of life in prison reportedly included the venerable U Kalyana of Mandalay, a member of the Aung San Red Star Association, and the venerable U Kawiya of the Phayahyi monastery in Mandalay. In Arakan State, authorities reportedly detained 12 Muslim elders for failing to demolish 3 mosques in Dodine village. Two Chin pastors, Reverend Biak Kam and Reverend Thawng Kam of Than Tlang township were detained in October 1999, reportedly in connection with the desertion of a Burmese soldier stationed in Chin State. They later were released.
In May 2000 there were reports that in Pegu and Mandalay security forces arrested or detained a group of monks called the Monk's Union in connection with a February 17, 2000 letter calling for political gatherings on May 26, 2000. The monks reportedly issued a 100-day ultimatum threatening nationwide strikes in the event that dialog between the military regime and the NLD did not occur. During this time, government authorities publicly warned monasteries in Rangoon and Mandalay against fomenting civil disorder and asked elder monks to admonish the younger monks. For example, a senior military commander lectured abbots and monks at a May 25, 2000 meeting by outlining all of the resources expended by the military Government in support of Buddhism, and indicating that some members of the faith required "purification," because they were conducting acts that were "not proper in the eyes of the public." He requested the senior abbots not to revere any members of religious orders who did not have correct views and urged them to "admonish" those who failed to follow the prescribed code of conduct. On the scheduled weekend, about 100 monks reportedly walked from Rangoon to Mandalay, but no disturbances were reported.
Security forces have destroyed or looted Buddhist temples, churches and mosques in ethnic minority areas. Government security forces continued efforts to induce members of the Chin ethnic minority to convert to Buddhism and prevent Christian Chin from proselytizing by highly coercive means, including religiously selective exemptions from forced labor, and by arresting, detaining, interrogating, and physically abusing Christian clergy. There continued to be credible reports from diverse regions of the country that government officials and security forces compelled persons, especially in rural areas, to contribute money, food, or uncompensated labor to state-sponsored projects to build, renovate, or maintain Buddhist religious shrines or monuments. The Government calls these contributions "voluntary donations" and imposes them on both Buddhists and non-Buddhists.
Authorities at times also restricted the freedom of movement of clergy. For example, in July 1999, the senior abbots of five monasteries around Mandalay reportedly protested a new order by the regional military command that forbade Buddhist clergy from leaving their township of residence without first surrendering their identity cards and obtaining written permission from local authorities; persons other than Buddhist clergy generally were not subject to such severe restrictions on movement.
Non-Buddhists continued to experience discrimination at upper levels of the public sector. Only one non-Buddhist served in the Government at a ministerial level, and the same person, a brigadier general, is the only non-Buddhist known to have held flag rank in the armed forces during the 1990's. The Government discourages Muslims from entering military service, and Christian or Muslim military officers who aspire to promotion beyond middle ranks are encouraged by their superiors to convert to Buddhism.
The Government ostensibly promotes mutual understanding among practitioners of different religions. Official public holidays include some Christian and Islamic holy days, as well as several Theravada Buddhist holy days. The Government maintains a multireligion monument in downtown Rangoon. In 1998 it announced plans to build a new Multireligion Square on some of the land that it recovered in 1997 by relocating Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, and Muslim cemeteries in Rangoon's Kyandaw neighborhood, although as of June 2000, construction had not begun yet.
Since 1990 government authorities and security forces have promoted Buddhism over Christianity among the Chin ethnic minority of the western part of the country. Until 1990 the Chin generally practiced either Christianity or traditional indigenous religions. (The Chin were the only major ethnic minority in the country that did not support any significant armed organization in active rebellion against the Government or in an armed cease-fire with the Government. However, Chin opposition groups emerged in 1988 and subsequently developed into active insurgencies against the Government.) Since 1990 government authorities and security forces, with assistance from monks of the Hill Regions Buddhist Missions, coercively have sought to induce Chins to convert to Theravada Buddhism and to prevent Christian Chins from proselytizing Chins who practice traditional indigenous religions. This campaign, reportedly accompanied by other efforts to "Burmanize" the Chin, has involved a large increase in military units stationed in Chin State and other predominately Chin areas, state-sponsored immigration of Buddhist Burman monks from other regions, and construction of Buddhist monasteries and shrines in Chin communities with few or no Buddhists, often by means of forced "donations" of money or labor. According to multiple credible reports, authorities and security forces promoted Buddhism among the Chin in diverse and often coercive ways. For example, military units repeatedly located their camps on the sites of Christian churches and graveyards, which were destroyed to build these camps; local Chin Christians were forced to assist in these acts of desecration. Local government officials ordered Christian Chins to attend sermons by newly arrived Buddhist monks who disparaged Christianity and promised monthly support payments to individuals and households that converted to Buddhism. Government soldiers stationed in Chin State reportedly were given higher rank and pay if they induced Chin women to marry them and convert to Buddhism. The authorities reportedly supplied rice to Buddhists at lower prices than to Christians, distributed extra supplies of foodstuffs to Buddhists on Sunday mornings while Christians attended church, and exempted converts to Buddhism from forced labor. It credibly was reported that in Karen State's Pa'an Township army units repeatedly conscripted as porters young men leaving Sunday worship services at some Christian churches, causing young men to avoid church attendance. Soldiers led by officers repeatedly disrupted Christian worship services and celebrations. Chin Christians were forced to "donate" labor to clean and maintain Buddhist shrines. Local government officials separated the children of Chin Christians from their parents under false pretenses of giving them free secular education and allowing them to practice their own religion, while in fact the children were lodged in Buddhist monasteries where they were instructed in and converted to Buddhism without their parents' knowledge or consent. The authorities reportedly subjected Christian sermons to censorship. Government authorities repeatedly prohibited Christian clergy from proselytizing. In the past, soldiers beat Christian clergy who refused to sign statements promising to stop preaching. Two Chin pastors from Than Tlang township were detained in October 1999, reportedly in connection with the desertion of a Burmese soldier stationed in Chin State. They later were released.
There were several credible reports of harassment of Christian churches and pastors in Chin State and in the Chin community elsewhere in connection with the celebration of the 100th year of Christianity among the Chin in 1999.
Since the early 1990's, security forces have torn down or forced villagers to tear down crosses that had been erected outside Chin Christian villages. These crosses often have been replaced with pagodas, sometimes built with forced labor. Many of these crosses had been erected in remembrance of former missionaries from the United States. However, in one case authorities allowed a cross removed from the top of a hill to be rebuilt on the middle of the hill.
After parts of the Aungdawmu Buddhist pagoda in Chin State's Falam Township collapsed in July 1999, Buddhist monks and army authorities reportedly forced Chin villagers, most of whom were not Buddhists, to labor for months without pay to repair it.
While in the 1990's, there were unconfirmed reports of arrests, detentions and imprisonments of Chin pastors, there were no reports of Chin pastors in custody during the period covered by this report.
There were unconfirmed reports of governmental restrictions on the religious freedom of Christians among the Naga ethnic minority in the far northwest of the country. These reports suggested that the Government sought to induce members of the Naga to convert to Buddhism by means similar to those it used to convert members of the Chin to Buddhism. However, reports concerning the Naga, although credible, are less numerous than reports concerning the Chin. Consequently, the status of religious freedom among the Naga is more uncertain than that of religious freedom among the Chin.
During 1999 the first mass exodus of Naga religious refugees from the country occurred. In August 1999, more than 1,000 Christians of the Naga ethnic group, from 8 different villages, reportedly fled the country to India. These Naga reportedly claimed that the army and Buddhist monks tried to force them to convert to Buddhism and had forced them to close churches in their villages, then desecrated the churches.
There were no known reports of government violations of religious freedom in predominantly Christian Kachin State, although Christian groups continued to have difficulty obtaining permission to build new churches. Most of Kachin State was administered by the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), under a 1989 cease-fire arrangement with the Government that allows KIO forces to remain armed. By contrast, in the other ethnic minority regions where Christianity is practiced widely, i.e., Karen and Chin States, armed ethnic groups were engaged actively in hostilities against the Government.
Members of the Muslim Rohingya minority in Arakan State, on the country's western coast, continued to experience severe legal, economic, and social discrimination. The Government denies citizenship status to most Rohingyas on the grounds that their ancestors allegedly did not reside in the country at the start of British colonial rule, as required by the country's highly restrictive citizenship law. In 1991 tens of thousands of Rohingya, according to some reports as many as 300,000 persons, fled from Arakan State into Bangladesh following anti-Muslim violence alleged although not proven to have involved government troops. Many of the 21,000 Rohingya Muslims remaining in refugee camps in Bangladesh have refused to return to Burma because they feared human rights abuses, including religious persecution. The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees reported that authorities cooperated in investigating isolated incidents of renewed abuse of repatriated citizens. However, returnees complained of severe government restrictions on their ability to travel and to engage in economic activity. Unlike the practice with other foreign persons in the country, these Muslims are not issued a foreign registration card (FRC). They are required to obtain permission from the concerned area authorities whenever they wish to leave their village area. Permission to travel to Rangoon usually is not granted to Rohingya Muslims, but permission can sometimes be obtained through bribery. These extraordinary payments result in limiting travel to the capital to only the wealthiest people. There were credible reports that Muslims in Arakan State continue to be compelled to build Buddhist pagodas as part of the country's forced labor program. These pagodas often are built on confiscated Muslim land. On November 19, 1999, in Arakan State's Maungdaw Township, Myint Tun, director of the state's Buddhist Religious Township Association, accompanied by officials of a local Buddhist religious center, reportedly visited the village of Lower Purma and ordered the village headman to demolish the village's largest and oldest mosque, without citing any reason. During the period covered by this report, Secretary-One of the SPDC, Lieutenant-General Khin Nyunt, inaugurated a new pagoda in nothern Rakhine State that was built on land confiscated from the local Muslims and built with forced Muslim labor.
There were credible reports that during the spring of 1999 anti-Islamic booklets were distributed throughout the country through the USDA, a government-sponsored mass organization. This report followed other reports in recent years of government instigation or toleration of violence against Muslims.
Religious activities and organizations of all faiths are not exempt from broad government restrictions on freedom of expression and association. The Government subjects all publications, including religious publications, to control and censorship. The Government generally prohibits outdoor meetings of more than five persons, including religious meetings.
There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom during the period covered by this report. However, government restrictions on speech, press, assembly, and movement, including diplomatic travel, make it difficult to obtain timely and accurate information about respect for human rights generally, including freedom of religion. Information about abuses often becomes available only months or years after the events, from refugees who have fled to other countries, from released political prisoners, or from occasional travel inside the country by foreign journalists and scholars.
Forced Religious Conversion of Minor U.S. Citizens
There were no reports of the forced religious conversion of minor U.S. citizens who had been abducted or illegally removed from the United States, or of the Government's refusal to allow such citizens to be returned to the United States.
Section II. Societal Attitudes
There are social tensions between the Buddhist majority and the Christian and Muslim minorities, due in large part to government preference in practice (although not in law) both for non-Buddhists during British colonial rule and for Buddhists since independence. There is widespread prejudice against Muslims, many of whom are ethnic Indians or Bengalis. Even though the Government reportedly contributed to or instigated anti-Muslim violence in Arakan State in 1991, in Shan State and Rangoon in 1996, and in cities throughout the country in 1997, its reported ability to do so repeatedly reflects widespread prejudice against Muslims, many of whom are ethnic Indians or Bengalis.
Since 1994 when the progovernment Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) was organized, there has been armed conflict between the DKBA and the Karen National Union (KNU). Although the DKBA was formed and has operated with government support and guidance and reportedly includes some Christians, and although the KNU includes many Buddhists, this armed conflict between two nongovernmental Karen organizations has had strong religious overtones. During the mid-1990's, when the DKBA captured a village from the KNU, it reportedly was common DKBA practice to interrogate and release Buddhist villagers but to torture Christian villagers and kill them if they refused to convert to Buddhism. DKBA treatment of Christians reportedly improved substantially after the DKBA settled down to administering the regions it had conquered. According to one report, in February 2000, a DKBA unit ordered villagers in Khwet Phoe village to destroy a local mosque after arresting and executing five villagers for supporting the KNU. In April 2000, residents of Kaw Kyaik village in Karen State protested an order from DKBA units to destroy the local mosque.
In October 1999, the Government claimed that members of the Chin National Front (CNF) in Htan Hle village killed Buddhist monk U Thon Nanda and looted a Buddhist monastery. The CNF criticized the killing and denied that it was responsible. In June 2000, the authorities claimed in an unconfirmed report that 28 Karenni National Progressive Party insurgents shot and wounded a Catholic priest, Father Abe Lei, and took 4 other persons hostage on June 17, 2000.
A 1996 incident of lethal violence at a major Buddhist religious shrine remained unresolved. There continued to be no arrest warrants or indictments issued in connection with the bombing, on Christmas day 1996, of a pagoda in Rangoon at which a relic of the Buddha's tooth, then on loan from China, temporarily was lodged. The bombing killed 4 persons and injured 18 others. No organization is known to have claimed responsibility for this bombing.
A reported 1997 desecration of a major Buddhist shrine also remained unresolved. In early March 1997, reports that an ancient and highly venerated image of the Buddha in Mandalay's Maya Myatmuni Pagoda had been broken into, and that large rubies embedded in it had been stolen, contributed to widespread public protest demonstrations by Buddhist monks and laypersons demanding an investigation of the incident. There has been no public judicial inquiry into this reported desecration.
Section III. U.S. Government Policy
Since 1988 a primary objective of U.S. Government policy toward Burma has been to promote increased respect for human rights, including the right to freedom of religion. The United States discontinued bilateral aid to the Government, suspended issuance of licenses to export arms to Burma, suspended generalized system of preferences, tariff preference for imports of Burmese origin, and suspended export-import bank financial services in support of U.S. exports to Burma. The U.S. Government also has not provided any overseas private investment organization financial services in support of U.S. investment in Burma, has suspended active promotion of trade with Burma, suspended issuance of visas to high government officials and their immediate family members, banned new investment in Burma by U.S. firms, opposed all assistance to the Government by international financial institutions, and urged the governments of other countries to take similar actions.
The U.S. Government actively supported the decision of the International Labor Organization (ILO), in June 1999, to suspend the Government of Burma from participation in ILO programs, based in part on an August 1998 ILO Commission of Inquiry report that the Government systematically used forced labor for a wide range of civilian and military purposes.
The U.S. Embassy has promoted religious freedom in the overall context of its promotion of human rights generally in numerous contacts with government officials (both informally and through repeated formal demarches), as well as to the public, to representatives of the governments of other countries and of international organizations, to international media representatives, to scholars, and to representatives of U.S. and international businesses. Embassy staff have met repeatedly with leaders of Buddhist, Christian, and Islamic religious groups, members of the faculties of schools of theology, and other religious-affiliated organizations and nongovernmental organizations (NGO's) as part of their reporting and public diplomacy activities.
In September 1999, the Secretary of State designated Burma a country of particular concern under the International Religious Freedom Act for particularly severe violations of religious freedom.
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