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Religious Tolerance Suffers in Burma


A census enumerator, right, collects information from a Muslim family as policemen provide security at Thae Chaung village in Sittwe, Rakhine State, western Burma, April 1, 2014.

Religious differences continue to be exploited by those seeking to divide and pit Buddhist and Muslim communities against one another.

Freedom of religion -- a person’s right to worship as he or she chooses -- is central to our national identity as Americans and a core objective of U.S. foreign policy. The right to believe in a religious creed or not, without fear of government interference, is essential to human dignity, robust civil society and sustainable democracy.

To promote these principles, every year our government compiles a report on the status of religious liberty in every country around the world. It documents the actions of both governments that repress spiritual expression by their citizens and those that respect it.

In its most recent findings, the U.S. State Department found that religious intolerance is on the rise in many nations, and in 2013 the world witnessed the greatest displacement of religious communities in recent memory.

This includes Burma, where anti-Muslim violence in Meikhtila led to up to 100 deaths and an estimated 12,000 people displaced. The sectarian violence spread to other areas, again resulting in displacement and deaths.

Although the Burmese government’s overall human rights record continued to improve with its program of political and economic reforms, religious differences continue to be exploited by those seeking to divide and pit Buddhist and Muslim communities against one another. And while the country’s constitution provides for religious freedom, other laws and policies restrict those rights by subordinating them to the need to maintain public order, morality and health.

Religious liberty is a universal value. The freedom to profess and practice one’s faith, to believe or not believe, or to change one’s beliefs, is a birthright of every human being. Our nation will continue to shine a spotlight on violations of religious freedom in Burma and around the world, and will continue to promote this universal right as a moral and strategic imperative.

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