Washington: The constitution, laws
and policies in Myanmar (formerly Burma) restrict religious
freedom and Rohingyas Muslims face ‘severest’ form of
discrimination and restrictions including on access to education
and health, a US report on the state of religious freedom said.
Released last week, the annual International Religious Freedom
Report 2011 noted that Muslims across Myanmar, as well as ethnic
Chinese and Indians, often were required to obtain permission from
township authorities to leave their hometowns. Authorities often
denied Rohingya and other Muslims living in Rakhine State
permission to travel for any purpose, the report says.
adds, permission was sometimes obtained through bribery. Muslims
in other regions were granted more freedom to travel, but still
faced restrictions. For example, Rohingyas living in Rangoon
needed permission from immigration authorities to travel into and
out of Rakhine State.
“Muslims in Rakhine State, particularly those of the Rohingya
minority group, continued to experience the severest forms of
legal, economic, educational, and social discrimination,” the
State Department report said, documenting the plight of Rohingya
Muslims during last year. There were reports that Buddhist
physicians would not provide Muslims the endorsement required by
the Ministry of Health that permits Muslims to travel outside
Rakhine State to seek advanced medical treatment.
The government denied citizenship status to Rohingyas, claiming
that their ancestors did not reside in the country at the start of
British colonial rule, as the 1982 citizenship law required. The
Rohingyas asserted that their presence in the area predates the
British arrival by several centuries. In November 2008 the UN
Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women urged
the government to review its citizenship law.
In February 2010 the
UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar
visited the country and noted discrimination against Muslims. Many
of the approximately 28,500 Rohingya Muslims registered in two
refugee camps in Bangladesh and the estimated 200,000 Rohingya
Muslims living outside those camps, also in Bangladesh, refused to
return to the country because they feared human rights abuses,
including religious persecution.
Essentially treated as illegal foreigners, Rohingyas were not
issued Foreigner Registration Cards (FRCs). Since they also were
not generally eligible for NRCs, Rohingyas have been commonly
referred to as ‘stateless’.
In the run-up to national elections in
November 2010, the government issued Temporary Registration Cards
(TRCs) to residents in northern Rakhine State; the majority of
them are Rohingyas. The issuance of TRCs was primarily done, it
appears, to allow Rohingyas participation in the elections.
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) worked with
approximately 750,000 residents of Rakhine State who did not hold
citizenship in the country. At the end of the reporting period,
the UNHCR (quoting government estimates) indicated that 85 percent
of eligible residents (637,500 stateless persons) over the age of
10 possessed TRCs.
The UNHCR noted that according to information from individuals in
northern Rakhine State, many individuals issued TRCs were actually
only given a TRC number and no document. The UNHCR also assisted
Rohingyas with education, health, infrastructure, water and
sanitation, and agriculture.
Without citizenship status Rohingyas did not have access to
secondary education in state-run schools. Those Muslim students
from Rakhine State who completed high school were not permitted to
travel outside the state to attend college or university.
During the period covered by the 2011 report, the document also
makes note of the government’s implementation of considerable
political reforms, but says it did not demonstrate a trend toward
either improvement or deterioration in respect for and protection
of the right to religious freedom.
The government maintained
restrictions on certain religious activities and limited freedom
of religion, although it generally permitted adherents of
government-registered religious groups to worship as they chose.
Authorities continued to bar Muslim university students who did
not possess NRCs from graduating. These students were permitted to
attend classes and sit for examinations, but they could not
receive diplomas unless they claimed a foreign ethnic minority
Rohingyas also were unable to obtain employment in
any civil service positions. Rohingya couples needed also to
obtain government permission to marry and faced restrictions on
the number of children they could have. Muslim newcomers were not
allowed to buy property or reside in Thandwe, Rakhine State, and
authorities prevented Muslims from living in the state’s Gwa or
The government continued to monitor Muslim activities closely.
Restrictions on worship for other non-Buddhist minority groups
also continued. Although there were no new reports of forced
conversions of non-Buddhists, authorities in some cases influenced
the placement of orphans and homeless youth, preferring Buddhist
monasteries to Christian orphanages.
Adherence or conversion to
Buddhism was an unwritten prerequisite for promotion to most
senior government and military ranks. Nearly all senior level
officers of the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP)
and the armed forces are Buddhists.
There were reports of societal abuses or discrimination based on
religious affiliation, belief, or practice. During the year,
social tensions continued between the Buddhist majority and the
Christian and Muslim minorities.
According to the report, widespread prejudice existed against
citizens of South Asian origin, many of whom are Muslims. The
government continued to refuse to recognize the Muslim Rohingya
ethnic minority as citizens and imposed restrictions on their
movement and marriage.
Antidiscrimination laws do not apply to
ethnic groups not formally recognized under the 1982 Citizenship
Law, such as the Muslim Rohingyas in northern Rakhine State.
were reports of abuses of religious freedom, including the
continued detention and incarceration of Buddhist monks throughout
the country, the arrest of Muslims in the broader Rangoon area for
unauthorized teaching as well as praying in living quarters, and
the interrogation and harassment of Baptists in Kachin State.
The government selectively enforced legal restrictions on
religious freedom. Religious organizations were subject to
restrictions on freedom of expression and association.
The government’s pervasive internal
security apparatus imposed implicit restrictions on collective and
individual worship through infiltrating and monitoring meetings
and activities of virtually all organizations.
In practice, authorities restricted the
quantity of imported Bibles and Qur’ans, although individuals
continued to bring them into the country in small quantities for
Government censors continued to enforce restrictions
on local publication of the Bible, Qur’an, and other Christian and