International Religious Freedom Report for 2013

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As has been widely reported the US State Department’s annual International Religious Freedom report notes two Buddhist countries in which religious freedom was repressed in  2013.

Of particular interest is the observation that though the Burmese constitution grants religious freedom to all of its citizens, other articles in the constitution together with certain laws and policies restrict these rights.

It quotes the constitution stating that ‘every citizen is equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right to freely profess and practice religion’ but clearly expresses the idea that these rights are ‘subject to public order, morality or health and to the other provisions of this Constitution.’

In Burma the following observations are made about strong anti-Muslim sentiment:

 Anti-Muslim violence in Meikhtila, Burma, led to up to 100 deaths and an estimated 12,000 displaced residents from the area in early 2013. This event showed that mob violence against Muslims was no longer confined to western Rakhine State, where over 140,000 persons have also been displaced since 2012. Although the government’s overall human rights record continued to improve, organized anti-Muslim hate speech, harassment, and discrimination against Muslims continued, exploited by those seeking to divide and pit Buddhist and Muslim communities against one another, often for political gain.
While wider religious discrimination is also noted:
In Burma, there were reports of violence against Christians; the destruction of religious buildings in areas of active conflict in Kachin State; and policies prohibiting or impeding Muslim land ownership in some areas and discrimination on the basis of religion in the promotion of government employees into senior government and military ranks. Local government officials reportedly participated in anti-Muslim discrimination and failed to stop violence in Rakhine State, and local officials were slow to respond to anti-Muslim violence in Meiktila, Mandalay Division.
As might be expected the report focuses on the 969 movement as being central to religious discrimination in Burma:

The sermons of some prominent monks associated with the “969” Buddhist ultra-nationalist, anti-Muslim movement, circulated widely via DVD and the internet, denigrated Muslims, called for a national boycott of all Muslim-owned businesses, and cautioned Buddhists against interactions with Muslims. Some adherents of the movement used social media to label Muslims as terrorists and to incite violence against them. There were other reports of heightened tension between the Buddhist majority and Muslim and Christian minorities, many in ethnic minority states.

In Sri Lanka the report describes the situation in the following way:

In Sri Lanka, the Sinhala Buddhist group Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) continued to promote its anti-Muslim campaign, which was linked to violent activities during the year. Local media and NGOs noted strong linkages between the BBS and the government. According to numerous reports, the BBS was behind a growing wave of anti-Muslim activities carried out by other violent Buddhist nationalist groups. Nationalist groups were allegedly involved in a series of attacks on mosques, protests over animal slaughter, and a sustained attempt to further marginalize Muslims by outlawing the halal system of meat certification. On December 1, Buddhist monks reportedly led a mob of 200 villagers that destroyed the Methodist Church of Habarana, located in Anuradapura District. Two Criminal Investigation Division (CID) police officers arrived at the scene and ordered the church to shut down, saying that it had no legal recognition to operate.

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