The U.S. Commission for International Religious Freedom, or USCIRF, is an independent bipartisan advisory body created by the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998. Its mandate is to monitor religious freedom abroad and make policy recommendations to the President of the United States.
USCIRF Commissioner Anurima Bhargava noted in a recent webinar that Burma remains a Country of Particular Concern. She said it is a place where “there [are] systematic ongoing and egregious violations of religious freedom.”
USCIRF Deputy Director for Research and Policy Tina Mufford explained that in Burma one’s ethnic identity is intricately related to one’s religion and language:
“So, if you are not the majority Burman ethnicity, if you’re not the majority Buddhist religion you, you are at an inherent disadvantage compared to those who are.”
The State Department’s 2018 Report on International Religious Freedom and Human Rights Report document ongoing human rights abuses following the ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya that took place in 2017 and resulted in the displacement of more than 740,000 refugees to Bangladesh.
Rohingya who remain in Burma continue to face an environment of particularly severe repression and restrictions on freedom of movement and access to education, healthcare, and livelihoods based on their ethnicity, religion, and citizenship status, according to the United Nations and nongovernmental organizations.
Investigations of the 2017 ethnic cleansing in northern Rakhine State corroborated accounts of systematic abuses and a campaign against Rohingya civilians that involved extrajudicial killings, rape, and torture. In November 2017, the Secretary determined that the situation in northern Rakhine State constituted ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya.
Senior U.S. government officials continue to raise concerns about discrimination against religious minorities, the treatment of Rohingya and conditions in Rakhine State. The United States has sanctioned five generals and two military units for human rights violations against ethnic and religious minorities.
Speaking at the release of the 2018 Report on International Religious Freedom, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had a warning for those who continue to trample on religious liberty:
“For all those that run roughshod over religious freedom, I’ll say this: The United States is watching and you will be held to account.”
History will not be silent about these abuses.