The Outsiders

By Harry Priestly/Rangoon

JANUARY ,2006 – VOLUME 14NO .1(from : Irrawaddy)

In a country where discrimination against minority groups is a fact of life, Muslims are bottom of the heap.

There is a saying that if you lose control of your bicycle in Burma’s western Arakan State, you shouldn’t worry as it will stop when it hits a kala.

Kala is Burmese slang for outsider, or alien, and although Caucasians are sometimes referred to as white kala, the term is more commonly used for anyone dark skinned, usually of Indian origin. While some shrug the term off, others consider it abusive and degrading: an insult to people whose ancestors may have fought for the country and who consider themselves wholly Burmese.

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Burmese Muslims requested the future leaders including the opposition leaders to grant the following Basic Human Rights

Burmese Muslims requested

the future leaders of Burma

including the opposition leaders

to grant the following Basic Human Rights

The following basic Human Rights should be granted to all the citizens including all the Muslims of Burma/Myanmar:

  1. Rights of unrestricted internal travel in the whole of Myanmar/Burma.
  2. Rights to travel abroad must be accepted by the government and to relax the strict present regulations on all Myanmar/Burmese citizens.
  3. Equal access to education at all levels including postgraduate studies, locally and abroad, according to meritocracy.
  4. Equal rights to all the government jobs and chance to be promoted according to meritocracy but not based on the Military experience or relationship.
  5. Equal rights to settle and work in any parts of Myanmar/Burma.
  6. Equal rights to serve and entitle for promotion to all the ranks in armed forces, Police, immigration, Ministry of Foreign Affairs etc.
  7. Freedom of religion, worship, religious publications, building and repairing of religious buildings and religious schools etc.
  8. Rights to allow participation in the election process and hold posts in all the levels in national and regional politics.
  9. Rights to hold the political and administrative posts in various level of government and its’ agencies.
  10. Freedom of speech and expression in any form of media is important. But freedom after speech is especially more important!

We all must recognize and implement:

  1. (i) The Status, Rights, protection, participation and representation of all the Ethnic Minorities.
  2. (ii) The Status, Rights, protection, participation and representation of all the Minority Religious groups.
  3. (iii) The Status, Rights and protection of the poor and downtrodden.
  4. (iv) Programme and implementation for the eradication of poor and general measures to increase the living standard of people. Handicapped people, youths, orphans, aged, disease inflicted people, homeless people, retrenched and unoccupied peoples’ rights and protection must not be ignored.
  5. (v) Majority got the right to rule. But they must respect, protect and guarantee the Minorities’ rights.
  6. (vi) Minorities must have the right of representation because the Majorities with their number of votes could totally monopolize all the good, lucrative and high places and positions, marginalizing the minorities.
  7. (vii) Majority must ‘sacrifice’ their absolute power by reserving some places and positions thus giving the Minorities the chance of participation and representation.
  8. (viii) Workers rights and adequate protection. Rights of forming unions, strikes, compensation, recreation, various benefits, pension and etc.
  9. (ix) On farsighted and fair distribution of investment policy in various fields of : Education, Research and Development, Science, Information Technology, Health, factories, Irrigation, Houses especially low cost houses and infrastructure projects.

There must be antitrust legislature to control the monopoly in each and every field.

We have to look, monitor and record at the –

  1. (a) Distribution of wealth and opportunity among the different groups depending on race, religion and political alignment, Political patronage- awarding government contracts, appointments, promotions, scholarships, land distributions, permits etc.
  2. (b) Rural development, Urbanization, squatter relocation and settlements.
  3. (c) Basic infrastructure facilities, water, electricity, highways, telephone, multimedia facilities, railways, seaports and etc. 

not to forget the most important basic issue of :

  1. (i) The Rights of Dissent and Disobedience of the people, parties, minorities and even among the Ruling Party (Party ordinary members, Central Committee Members, MPs and even Cabinet Ministers). Those individuals should not be forced or coerce to always toe the party line.
  2. (ii) We also wish to request that the minorities must have a say in the governance or at least the laws and rulings that are related or affected them.
  3. (iii) Democratic governments must accept that accepting the participation of minority races and religions is better than hatred, resentment, revolution, racial riots or civil wars.

 “Counting the ballots is better than cracking the skulls”.

We need the folowing undertaking by the future governments of Burma/Myanmar_:

  1. 1. “The people, whether Majority or Minority must have the right to disobey or resist the commands of the oppressive, authoritative or tyranny governments, if their commands trespass the limit and no longer serve their interests.
  2. 2. There must be enough check and balance. ACA (Anti Corruption Agency) or any organizations dealing with corruption must be independent from the administrative branch of Government.
  3. 3. Newspapers, TVs and all the media must be free and independent to probe and do investigative reports.
  4. 4. NGOs and other right groups must also be free to express their views. All of them and various reporters must have a free access to the government and the big companies as long as there is no real danger of espionage or national security. There is a danger of over protection and trying to hide under the name of national security to avoid exposure of the corruption.
  5. 5. There must be real separation of powers in the government. Administrative power of the head of the government should not let to be able to influence the Judiciary, Attorney General’s office and Legislative assembly.

In gist, the Rights we should get from the good governments are, Political, Civil, Human Rights & Economic Reform, including though not limited to:

  1. Freedom of speech.
  2. Freedom of association.
  3. True, full democracy.
  4. Separation of Powers between Government, Judiciary, Police & Military.
  5. Independent, competitive non-government media, free from government censorship or editorial restrictions.
  6. Full freedom of religious-thought, belief, expression & practice, including abolition of Government controls of religious affairs.
  7. The right of self-determination.
  8. The Rule of Law: The presumption of innocence until proven guilty; Trial by jury of peers; The right to a fair trial with appeal rights; The right to adequate & independent legal representation
  9. Non-discrimination by Governments, individuals or organisations on the basis of race, nationality, colour, religion, gender, marital status, political belief or affiliation, physical or mental disability.
  10. Religious & Political organisations must be permitted.

if I go into details of other Human Rights such as:

  1. (i) Detainees’ Rights: Prisoners’ Rights, POW’s (Prisoners of War) Rights, Political Prisoners’ Rights etc. Free from torture and inhumane treatments. Right to engage a lawyer, right to remain silence, right to defend one self in proper open court of law, right of access to medical care, communication with the love ones, rights to recreate and rehabilitate in the prison etc.
  2. (ii) Women’s Rights,
  3. (iii) Children’s various Rights,
  4. (iv) Senior citizens’ Rights, Handicapped Persons’ Rights, and various victims of diseases, HIV patients, Ca patients etc Rights.
  5. (v) Workers Rights; Workers Unions’ Rights, Foreign Workers’ (legal and illegal) Rights etc
  6. (vi) Foreigners’ Rights; Foreign temporary Residences Rights, visitors, tourists, Foreign Investors and Asylum or refugee seekers’ Rights etc
  7. (vii) Diplomatic Rights, Inventors’ Rights, Artists’ Rights, Patent Rights etc. etc…

Burma’s FIRST PRESIDENT Sao Shwe Thaike’s support of Burmese Muslims

 Burma’s FIRST PRESIDENT

Sao Shwe Thaike’s

support of Burmese Muslims

The Shan’s stand on the racial question is best described by Sao Shwe Thaike, who in his capacity as the Speaker of the Constituent Assembly,

countered the objection that Muslims could not be considered as being indigenous by saying :

“Muslims of the Arakan certainly belong to one of the indigenous races of Burma. If they do not belong to the indigenous races, we also cannot be taken as indigenous races.”

So shut up ILLEGAL SPDC GENERALS.

Just look at the another Greatest leader’s view on Muslims and other religious minorities_

General Aung San’s Acceptance of migrants as brethren

“I want to address the Indians and Chinese residing in this country.

  • We have no bitterness, no ill will for them,
  • or for that matter for any race and nationality in the world.
  • If they choose to join us, we will welcome them as our own brethren.
  • The welfare of all people of this country irrespective of race or religion has always been the one purpose that I have set out to fulfill.
  • In fact it is my life’s mission.”

What then constitutes nationalism?

  • The main factor is the having to lead together one common life
  • sharing joys and sorrows,
  • developing common interests
  • and one or more common things like racial or linguistic communities,
  • fostering common traditions of having been and being one
  • which give us a consciousness of oneness and necessity of that oneness.
  • Race, religion, and language are thus by themselves not primary factors which go to the making of a nation
  • but the historic necessity of having to lead common life together that is the pivotal principle of nationality and nationalism.
  • We cannot confine the definition of a nationality to the narrow bounds of race, religion, etc.

  • Nations are extending the rights of their respective communities even to others who may not belong to them except by their mere residence amongst them and their determination to live and be with them.

  • I am glad to know that you (Indians and Chinese residing in Burma ) regard yourselves as nationals of this country.

  • So far as I am concerned, I am perfectly prepared to embrace you as my own brothers and sisters.

  • Every student of social and political science knows very well that such slogans as race, religion, language do not alone constitute nationalism.
  • There are one or more races in almost every country.
  • Nowadays, we have different religions being embraced by members of the same nationality.

  • Nowadays, with the increasing mutual intercourse of nations, there is such a provision in many of the constitutions of the world for naturalization of foreigners.
  • But it is in history that opportunist political leadership taking advantage of the strong national sentiments of the people may try to exploit the nationalism of the people for their selfish individual or group interests.
  • We must be careful of such exploitation of nationalism. For then racial strives and bitterness will be fomented and fostered among us by interested parties in order to divert our attention from the main objective.

  1. I believe in the inherent right of a people to revolt against any tyranny that people may have over them.
  2. History has amply demonstrated the right of a people to its own freedom,
  3. and that once it is denied to them, even in the case of the peoples who belong to the same stock.

Some of them can be read in Bo Gyoke’s speeches.

And I will now present the Burma’s only Democratically elected Prime Minister U Nu’s support of Burmese Muslims. U Nu while requesting to dissolve Bama Muslim Congress, to revoke its membership from AFPFL said_

 

We all are the same Burmese people.

You Burmese Muslims happened to be Burmese of Islamic faith.

The rest of us are Burmese of Buddhist faith.

If Muslims do politics under Bama Muslim Congress, Buddhists , Christians, Hindus etc also wish do set up parties based on their religions.

If we do politics depend or base on religion, our democratic system would be compromised.

So let us work together under AFPFL.

 

Bo Gyoke’s Address to the Anglo-Burmans 

I am glad to know that you regard yourselves as nationals of this country. But if you regard yourselves as nationals of this country, it should not be sufficient by mere verbal declaration; you must identify yourselves in all national activities for national welfare. Let me be perfectly frank with you-your community in the past did not happen to identify yourselves with national activities; on the other hand, you were even frequently on the other side. Now you have to prove that you want to live and to be with the people of this country, not by words but by deeds. So far as I am concerned, I am perfectly prepared to embrace you as my own brothers and sisters. 

 

Photos of Anti-Muslim Riots in Bago/Pegu

Anti-Muslim Riots in Bago/Pegu

Instigated and staged by

Agent Provocateur Military Intelligent

bogus Monks in 1997

Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.

 -Voltaire

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That wasn’t a real protesting by true monks. It was set up by the military Juntas to lodge a wedge between Buddhist and Muslims in Burma.

I was there in Mandalay when that happened. The Buddhist monks sheltered the Muslims in their monestries while other bogus MI monks are destroying the mosques. The whole world and many Burmese citizens know who were the people doing that.

At last 3 agent provocator, Military Intelligent monks were caught by the civilians who were trying to protect their homes and the monks rioting in  the city against Muslims were not the real monks.

They just shaved their heads with the boots underneath the robes, using walki-talkies exclusively used by the Myanmar Tatmadaw and sometimes seen using or ridiong the motorbikes which practice is strictly forbidden by real monks.

Why the people did not join them if that is a clash between Muslims and Buddhists? We all, Buddhists and Muslim friends were still hanging out and helping each other.

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OIC Condemns Attacks On

Muslims In Myanmar

KUALA LUMPUR, June 22 (IslamOnline & News Agencies) – As more accurate information is emerging from Myanmar over recent attacks on Muslims there, the Organization Of Islamic Conference (OIC) earlier this week joined the chorus of those condemning the attacks.

The OIC released a press statement saying, “The extremist Buddhists have burned houses, killed women and children and destroyed eight historical mosques in Tongo region, and 26 mosques in Mindanao region.”

It strongly condemned the “inhuman and aggressive” attacks by “extremist” Buddhists upon Muslims in the Union of Myanmar (formerly Burma).

The OIC called on the international community and human rights organizations to intervene and force the Myanmar government to halt attacks on Muslims, and quit destroying mosques and Islamic historical places.

It urged the international community to secure the safety of Muslims in the Union of Myanmar and enable them to exercise their political and social rights as accorded to other citizens, and safeguard their Islamic identity.

Muslims number close to seven million in Myanmar. The majority are Indian Muslims who settled in Burma when the country was under British rule, moving to Burma during the 19th century.

Some of the ethnic Indian Muslims migrated into Karen State. The descendents of Indian Muslim immigrants identify themselves as “Pwakanyaw Thu” or “Black Karen”.

They no longer maintain active links with India. Relations between Muslim, Christian and Buddhist Karens are generally peaceful.

A Muslim group with an older history in Burma is the Rohingya of Arakan State. Arakan was an established kingdom even before modern Burmans (the majority ethnic group of Myanmar) moved from Tibet to occupy Burma in the 9th century.

Arab Muslim traders converted the people of Arakan (then called Rohang) to Islam. The succeeding centuries saw an influx of Muslim immigrants from West Asia, Central Asia and South Asia. Arabs, Persians, Indians and Turks intermarried with native Arakanese.

The distinct ethnic character of the people is evident in their language, Rohingya, which is a mixture of Bengali, Persian, Arabic, and Arakanese. The Rohingya (also known as Rohai) also live on the other side of the Burma-Bangladesh border.

Persecution of Burmese Muslims by Buddhists is ongoing today. The history of human rights violations against Muslims in Burma dates back to 1784, when Burman Buddhists invaded Arakan.

Muslims, as well as other religious minorities in Myanmar, are suspected of being subjected to organized mass rapes, slavery and other abuses

Burma

International Religious Freedom Report 2007

Released by the U.S. Department of State

Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor

 

Highly repressive, authoritarian military regimes have ruled the country since 1962. Constitutional protection of religious freedom has not existed since 1988, after the armed forces brutally suppressed massive pro-democracy demonstrations and abrogated the Constitution. In 1990 pro-democracy parties won a majority of seats in a free and fair election, but the junta of senior military officers refused to recognize the results and has ruled the country by decree and without a legislature ever since. The authorities generally permitted most adherents of registered religious groups to worship as they choose; however, the Government imposed restrictions on certain religious activities and frequently abused the right to freedom of religion. There was no change in the limited respect for religious freedom by the Government during the period covered by this report. The Government continued to infiltrate and covertly and overtly monitor meetings and activities of virtually all organizations, including religious organizations. The Government systematically restricted efforts by Buddhist clergy to promote human rights and political freedom and discouraged and prohibited minority religious groups from constructing new places of worship. In some cases, government officials destroyed existing places of worship. The Government also actively promoted Theravada Buddhism over other religions, particularly among members of ethnic minorities. Christian and Islamic groups continued to have trouble obtaining permission to repair existing places of worship or build new ones. Anti-Muslim violence continued, as did the close monitoring of Muslim activities. Restrictions on worship of other non-Buddhist minority groups also continued throughout the country. Although there were no new reports of forced conversions of non-Buddhists, the Government applied pressure on students and poor youth to convert to Buddhism. Adherence or conversion to Buddhism is generally a prerequisite for promotion to senior government and military ranks.During the period covered by this report, social tensions continued between the Buddhist majority and the Christian and Muslim minorities. Widespread prejudice existed against citizens of South Asian origin, many of whom are Muslims.

The U.S. Government advocated religious freedom with all facets of society, including with government officials, religious leaders, private citizens, scholars, diplomats of other governments, and international business and media representatives. Embassy representatives offered support to local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and religious leaders, and acted as a conduit for information exchanges with otherwise isolated human rights NGOs and religious leaders. Since 1999 the U.S. Secretary of State has designated the country as a “Country of Particular Concern” under the International Religious Freedom Act for particularly severe violations of religious freedom. The U.S. Government has a wide array of sanctions in place against the country for its violations of human rights.

Section I. Religious Demography

The country has an area of 261,970 square miles and a population of more than 54 million. The majority follow Theravada Buddhism, although in practice, popular Burmese Buddhism coexisted with astrology, numerology, fortune telling, and veneration of indigenous pre-Buddhist era deities called “nats.” Buddhist monks, including novices, number more than 400,000 and depend on the laity for their material needs, including clothing and daily donations of food. The country has a much smaller number of Buddhist nuns. The principal minority religious groups include Christian groups (Baptists, Roman Catholics, Anglicans, and an array of other Protestant denominations), Muslims (mostly Sunni), Hindus, and practitioners of traditional Chinese and indigenous religions. According to official statistics, almost 90 percent of the population practice Buddhism, 6 percent practice Christianity, and 4 percent practice Islam. These statistics almost certainly underestimate the non-Buddhist proportion of the population, which could be as high as 30 percent. Independent scholarly researchers place the Muslim population at 6 to 10 percent. A tiny Jewish community in Rangoon has a synagogue but no resident rabbi to conduct services for the approximately 25 Jewish believers.

The country is ethnically diverse, with some correlation between ethnicity and religion. Theravada Buddhism is the dominant religion among the majority Burman ethnic group and among the Shan, Arakanese, and Mon ethnic minorities of the eastern, western, and southern regions. 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 whom continue to practice traditional indigenous religions. Protestant groups report recent rapid growth among animist communities in Chin State. Christianity is also practiced widely among the Karen and Karenni ethnic groups of the southern and eastern regions, although many Karen and Karenni are Buddhist. In addition, some ethnic Indians are Christian. Hinduism is practiced chiefly by Burmese of Indian origin, who are concentrated in major cities and in the south central region. Islam is practiced widely in Rakhine State, where it is the dominant religion of the Rohingya minority, and in Rangoon, Ayeyarwady, Magway, and Mandalay Divisions. Some Burmans, Indians, and ethnic Bengalis also practice Islam. Chinese ethnic minorities generally practice traditional Chinese religions. Traditional indigenous beliefs are practiced widely among smaller ethnic groups in the highland regions. Practices drawn from those indigenous beliefs persist widely in popular Buddhist rituals, especially in rural areas.

Section II. Status of Religious Freedom

Legal/Policy Framework

Highly authoritarian military regimes have ruled the country since 1962. The current military government, the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), has governed without a constitution or legislature since 1988. Most adherents of religious groups that register with the authorities generally are allowed to worship as they choose; however, the Government imposes restrictions on certain religious activities and frequently abuses the right to religious freedom.

Since independence in 1948, many of the ethnic minority areas have served as bases for armed resistance against the Government. Although the Government negotiated cease-fire agreements with most armed ethnic groups after 1989, active Shan, Karen, and Karenni insurgencies continued. Periodic fighting between the army and the leading Karen insurgent group, the Karen National Union (KNU), and multiple army attacks on Karen villages occurred. Successive civilian and military governments have tended to view religious freedom in the context of whether it threatens national unity or central authority.

The country has no official state religion. However, since independence, successive governments, civilian and military, have supported and associated themselves conspicuously with Buddhism. In 1961 the Government’s push to make Buddhism the state religion failed due to country-wide protests by religious minorities. However, in practice the Government continues to show a preference for Theravada Buddhism through its official propaganda and state-sponsored activities, including government donations to monasteries and support for Buddhist missionary activities. Promotions within the military and the civil service are generally contingent on the candidates being followers of Buddhism. The Ministry of Religious Affairs includes the powerful Department for the Promotion and Propagation of Sasana (Buddhist teaching).

State-controlled news media frequently depict or describe government officials 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 feature front-page banner slogans quoting from Buddhist scriptures. The Government has published books of Buddhist religious instruction.

Buddhist doctrine remains part of the state-mandated curriculum in all government-run elementary schools. Students can opt out of instruction in Buddhism and sometimes did. All students of government-run schools are required to recite a Buddhist prayer daily. Some Muslim students are allowed to leave the room during this recitation, while at some schools non-Buddhists are forced to recite the prayer.

The Department for the Perpetuation and Propagation of the Sasana handles the Government’s relations with Buddhist monks and Buddhist schools. The Government continues to fund two state Sangha universities in Rangoon and Mandalay to train Buddhist monks under the control of the state-sponsored State Monk Coordination Committee (“Sangha Maha Nayaka Committee” or SMNC). The Government-funded International Theravada Buddhist Missionary University (ITBMU) in Rangoon, which opened in 1998, has as its stated purpose “to share the country’s knowledge of Buddhism with the people of the world.” The main language of instruction is English. The Government also funds one university intended to teach non-citizens about Theravada Buddhism.

Since the 1960s Christian and Islamic groups have had difficulty importing religious literature into the country. All publications, religious and secular, remain subjected to control and censorship. It is illegal to import translations of the Bible in indigenous languages. Officials have occasionally allowed local printing or photocopying of limited copies of religious materials, including the Qur’an (with the notation that they were for internal use only) in indigenous languages without prior approval by government censors.

Virtually all organizations, religious or otherwise, must register with the Government. A government directive exempts “genuine” religious organizations from official registration; however, in practice only registered organizations can buy or sell property or open bank accounts. These requirements lead most religious organizations to seek registration. Religious organizations register with the Ministry of Home Affairs with the endorsement of the Ministry for Religious Affairs. Leaders of registered religious groups have more freedom to travel than leaders of unrecognized organizations and members of their congregations.

Religious affiliation is indicated on government-issued identification cards that citizens and permanent residents of the country are required to carry at all times. Citizens are also required to indicate their religion on official application forms, such as passports

Muslims across the country, as well as some other ethnic minority groups such as Chinese and Indians, are required to obtain advance permission from the township authorities whenever they wish to leave their hometowns.

Muslims in Rakhine State, on the western coast, and particularly those of the Rohingya minority group, continued to experience the severest forms of legal, economic, educational, and social discrimination. The Government denies citizenship status to Rohingyas because their ancestors allegedly did not reside in the country at the start of British colonial rule, as required by the country’s citizenship law. The Muslims assert that their presence in the area predates the British arrival by several centuries. On April 2, 2007, five U.N. Special Rapporteurs and an Independent Expert called on the Government to repeal or amend its 1982 Citizenship Law to insure compliance with international human rights obligations. Without citizenship status, Rohingyas do not have access to secondary education in state-run schools because the Government reserves secondary education for citizens only,

Since 1988 the Government permits only three marriages per year per village in the primarily Rohingya townships of Maungdaw and Buthidaung in northern Rakhine State, and requires the approval of the Regional Military Commander.

Muslims in the country also have difficulty obtaining birth certificates. A local official in Sittwe, Rakhine State, reportedly issued a verbal order in 2005 prohibiting the issuance of birth certificates to Muslim babies born in the area.

There are still original-resident Muslims living in Thandwe, but newcomers who are Muslim are not allowed to buy property or reside in the township. Muslims are not permitted to live in Gwa or Taungup.

Official public holidays include numerous Buddhist holy days, as well as a few Christian, Hindu, and Islamic holy days.

The Government made some nominal efforts to promote mutual understanding among practitioners of different religious groups.

In October 2006 Minister of Religious Affairs Brigadier General Thura Myint Maung, invited leaders from the four main religious groups (Buddhist, Muslim, Christian and Hindu) to a meeting in which the Minister denounced the 2006 Annual Report on International Religious Freedom. He told the religious leaders they knew there was freedom of religion in the country and claimed the Government always granted permits for religious gatherings and permitted renovations of mosques and churches. The Muslim leaders reportedly asked the Minister to unseal mosques in the central region that the Government closed following communal riots in earlier years and for permission to complete madrassahs that were under construction. The leaders reportedly were required to sign statements that they enjoyed religious freedom and were requested to write a letter stating that their religious communities were allowed to practice their faith freely in the country, which the ministry would display on its official website. During a discussion that followed, the representatives of the Islamic Religious Affairs Council (IRAC) stated that while there had been progress on some religious matters, there was room for further improvement. The Minister reportedly stopped further discussion and adjourned the meeting abruptly.

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

The Government continued to show preference for Theravada Buddhism while controlling the organization and restricting the activities and expression of the Buddhist clergy (Sangha), although some monks have resisted such control. Based on the 1990 Sangha Organization Law, the Government banned any organization of Buddhist monks other than the nine state-recognized monastic orders. These nine orders submit to the authority of the SMNC, the members of which are indirectly elected by monks. Violations of this ban are punishable by immediate public defrocking, and often by criminal penalties.

According to state-owned media reports, the Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA), a government-sponsored mass organization in which participation often is compulsory, organized courses in Buddhist culture attended by millions of persons. It was not possible to verify this claim independently.

There are reports that the ITBMU, while in principle open to the public, accepted only candidates who were approved by government authorities or recommended by a senior, progovernment Buddhist abbot.

The Government infiltrated or monitored the meetings and activities of virtually all organizations, including religious organizations. The meetings and activities of religious groups were also subject to broad government restrictions on freedom of expression and association. The Government subjected all media, including religious publications, and on occasion sermons, to control and censorship.

During the reporting period, the Government harassed a group of Buddhist worshippers who visited the Shwedagon Pagoda in Rangoon every Tuesday, the day of the week that Aung San Suu Kyi was born, to pray at the Tuesday pillar for her release and the release of all political prisoners in the country. Authorities sometimes used the pro-regime USDA to block the group from entering the pagoda grounds and make them pray outside the entrance or to shout and clap loudly to drown out their prayers. After Naw Ohn Hla, the spokesperson for the worshippers, protested to the pagoda authorities and wrote letters to regime leaders, local authorities again allowed the group access to the pagoda to pray; however, authorities ordered the pagoda janitors to throw buckets of water on the platform around the Tuesday pillar so that the worshippers would have to kneel in water. They also played music through loudspeakers at full volume to drown out the sound of the group’s prayers. Despite official harassment, including physical and verbal abuse by the pro-regime USDA and the People’s Militia, the worshippers continued to pray every Tuesday during the reporting period. In May 2007 many more groups began praying at different pagodas on Tuesdays for Aung San Suu Kyi’s release upon expiration of her detention order on May 27.

Authorities frequently refused to approve requests for gatherings to celebrate traditional Christian and Islamic holidays and restricted the number of Muslims that could gather in one place. For instance, in satellite towns surrounding Rangoon, Muslims are only allowed to gather for worship and religious training during the major Muslim holidays. In late 2006 a prominent Muslim religious organization planned to hold a golden jubilee in Mawlamyine, Mon State, to celebrate the founding of their organization. After they requested permission to hold the event, the local Division Commander, Brigadier General Thet Naing Win, called representatives of all non-Buddhist religious organizations in the area to a meeting. He informed them that permission would not be granted to hold any religious functions or ceremonies due to security reasons. The Muslim organization then altered its plans and held a low-profile ceremony to honor pilgrims who had been granted official permission by the Ministry of Religious Affairs to attend the Hajj.

On March 22, 2007, authorities detained Htin Kyaw, when he publicly protested the denial of his religious freedom to become a monk. Htin Kyaw had participated in earlier demonstrations against deteriorating economic and social conditions. Rangoon authorities then enforced a 1995 prohibition against any opposition political party member from being ordained as a monk or religious leader and forbade the abbot of a monastery in North Okkalapa in Rangoon to ordain Htin Kyaw.

On January 23, 2007, Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) released a report that documented the Government’s restrictions, discrimination, and persecution against Christians in the country for more than a decade. Subsequently, the Ministry of Religious Affairs pressured religious organizations in the country to publish statements in government-controlled media denying they had any connection with CSW or to condemn the report, and to reject the idea that religious discrimination existed in the country.

The Government continued to discriminate against members of minority religious groups, restricting their educational, proselytizing, and church-building activities.

Government authorities continued to prohibit Christian clergy from proselytizing in some areas. Christian groups reported that several times during the period covered by this report, local authorities denied applications for residency permits of known Christian ministers attempting to move into a new township. The groups indicated this was not a widespread practice, but depended on the individual community and local authority. In some instances, local authorities reportedly confiscated National Identity Cards of new converts to Christianity. Despite this, Christian groups reported that church membership grew, even in predominately Buddhist regions of the country.

During the reporting period, authorities in the Rangoon area closed several house churches because they did not have proper authorization to hold religious meetings. Other Rangoon home churches remained operational only after paying bribes to local officials. At the same time, the authorities made it difficult, although not impossible, to obtain approval for the construction of “authorized” churches.

On October 1, 2006, the Agape Zomi Baptist Church, with more than 1,000 members, had to stop its weekly services at Asia Plaza Hotel in Rangoon after the hotel management refused to continue renting them a conference room. The hotel management claimed the township authorities had ordered them to stop renting its facility to the group, which had worshipped at the hotel for approximately one year.

In August 2006 NaSaKa, the Government’s border security force, ordered eight Rohingya Muslim communities in Rathedaung Township, Rakhine State to close their religious centers, including 5 mosques, 4 madrassahs, 18 moqtobs (premadrassahs), and 3 hafez khanas (Qur’an reciting centers). Later, local authorities allowed two madrassahs to reopen. NaSaKa ordered the closures because it stated that the institutions were not officially registered. According to Muslim sources, government officials have not allowed any madrassahs to register officially. Muslim religious organizations are appealing the closures.

On August 19, 2006, government officials prohibited a Baptist church in Rangoon from conducting a literacy workshop for its youth. The authorities stated that the church must seek advance permission to hold such programs, although the church had held similar programs for the past four years without needing permission. Authorities also reportedly censored the same Baptist church’s weekly order of service.

In February 2006 Insein Township authorities also ordered a Chin evangelist to stop holding worship services in his house church in Aung San ward. In November 2005 authorities in Insein Township, Rangoon, pressured evangelical Christians of the 20-year-old Phawkkan Evangelical Church to sign “no worship” agreements. Some signed the agreements out of fear, but others refused. In February 2006 the authorities issued an order banning worship at the church.

The Religious Affairs Ministry has stipulated in the past that permission to construct new religious buildings “depends upon the population of the location;” however, there appeared to be no correlation between the construction of pagodas and the demand for additional places of Buddhist worship. In most regions of the country, Christian and Islamic groups that sought to build small places of worship on side streets or other inconspicuous locations were able to do so only with informal approval from local authorities; however, informal approval from local authorities created a tenuous legal situation. When local authorities or conditions have changed, informal approvals for construction have been rescinded abruptly and construction halted. In some cases, authorities demolished existing church buildings.

Christian groups continued to have trouble obtaining permission to buy land or build new churches in most regions. Sometimes the authorities refused because they claimed the churches did not possess proper property deeds, but access to official land titles was extremely difficult due to the country’s complex land laws and government title to most land. In some areas, permission to repair existing places of worship was easier to acquire. Muslims reported that the authorities banned them from constructing new mosques anywhere in the country, and they had great difficulty obtaining permission to repair or expand their existing structures. Historical mosques in Mawlamyine, Mon State, Sittwe, Rakhine State, and other areas of the country continued to deteriorate because authorities would not allow routine maintenance. Some authorities reportedly destroyed informal houses of worship or unauthorized religious construction they discovered. In early 2007, Muslims in Northern Rakhine State, repaired a mosque that had been severely damaged in a storm. When the authorities discovered this, they destroyed the repairs that had been made to the mosque. Buddhist groups have not experienced similar difficulties in obtaining permission to build new pagodas, monasteries, or community religious halls.

During the reporting period, the Catholic Church established new dioceses in Kachin and Shan states. The bishop of the new diocese in Pekon, Shan State, decided to build his residence on a plot of land long owned by the church. Brigadier General Myo Lwin, commander of Military Operation Command Seven at Pekon, ordered the partially built structure demolished, confiscated the land, and extended his own compound fence to enclose the church property. Despite appeals to higher authorities, the Church has not recovered its property.

The Myanmar Institute of Theology (MIT) in Insein Township, Rangoon is the premier seminary for Baptists throughout the country. To accommodate a rapidly increasing enrollment, MIT raised funds to build a new classroom building and purchase building supplies. At the last minute, government officials refused to grant a building permit. Four years later, piles of construction materials still litter the campus where they gather mildew and rust. In contrast, the Government openly supports Buddhist seminaries and permits them to build large campuses.

Some Christians in Chin State claimed that the authorities have not authorized the construction of any new churches since 1997. However, newly built churches are evident in several parts of the state. A Christian leader in Chin State stated that to obtain permission to repair or build a church he first had to obtain permission from the Ministry of Religious Affairs, the Ministry of Progress of Border Areas and National Races and Development Affairs (NaTaLa), the Immigration Department and the Township Peace and Development Committee. In Rangoon, Mandalay, and elsewhere, authorities allowed construction of new community centers by various Christian groups only if they agreed not to hold services there or erect Christian signs.

It remained extremely difficult for Muslims to get permission to repair existing mosques, although internal renovations were allowed in some cases. In some parts of Rakhine State, authorities cordoned off mosques and forbade Muslims to worship in them.

State censorship authorities continued to enforce special restrictions on local publication of the Bible, the Qur’an, and Christian and Islamic publications in general. The most onerous restriction was a list of more than 100 prohibited words that the censors would not allow in Christian or Islamic literature because they are “indigenous terms” or derived from the Pali language long used in Buddhist literature. Many of these words have been used and accepted by some of the country’s Christian and Islamic groups since the colonial period. Organizations that translate and publish non-Buddhist religious texts were appealing these restrictions. In addition, censors have sometimes objected to passages of the Old Testament and the Qur’an that they believe approve the use of violence against nonbelievers. There have been no reports of arrests or prosecutions for possession of any traditional religious literature in recent years.

Authorities also restricted the quantity of bibles and Qur’ans brought into the country. During the reporting period, however, individuals continued to carry Bibles and Qur’ans into the country in small quantities for personal use. There were no reports that authorities intercepted or confiscated Qur’ans at border entry points, but religious leaders complained that postal workers steal them to sell on the black market.

In general, the Government has not allowed permanent foreign religious missions to operate in the country since the mid-1960s, when it expelled nearly all foreign missionaries and nationalized all private schools and hospitals, which were extensive and affiliated mostly with Christian religious organizations. The Government is not known to have paid any compensation in connection with these extensive confiscations. Christian groups, including Catholics and Protestants, have brought in foreign clergy and religious workers for visits as tourists, but they have been careful to ensure that the Government did not perceive their activities as proselytizing. Some Christian theological seminaries also continued to operate, as did several Bible schools and madrassahs. The Government has allowed some members of foreign religious groups, such as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), to enter the country to provide humanitarian assistance or English language training to government officials. Some of these groups did not register with the Myanmar Council of Churches, but were able to conduct religious services without government interference.

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 the country’s restrictive passport and visa issuance practices, foreign exchange controls, and government monitoring, which extended to all international activities by all citizens regardless of religion. The Government sometimes expedited its burdensome passport issuance procedures for Muslims making the Hajj or Buddhists going on pilgrimage to Bodhgaya, India, although it limited the number of pilgrims. In 2006 government officials allowed approximately 3,000 Muslims to participate in the Hajj. The procedure reportedly became more cumbersome in 2006 due to the relocation of most government offices from Rangoon to Nay Pyi Taw. Observers speculate that had this not been the case, more Muslims would have gone. During the period covered by this report, immigration and passport officials continued to use the occasion of the Hajj to extort bribes from would-be travelers. Government and private travel agencies processed approximately 2,500 Buddhist pilgrims to travel to Bodhgaya in India.

Non-Buddhists continued to experience employment discrimination at upper levels of the public sector. Few have ever been promoted to the level of Director General or higher. There were no non-Buddhists who held flag rank in the armed forces, although a few Christians reportedly achieved the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. The Central Executive Committee of the largest opposition group–the National League for Democracy–also included no non-Buddhists, although individual members from most religious groups in the country supported the party. The Government discouraged Muslims from enlisting in the military, and Christian or Muslim military officers who aspired for promotion beyond the rank of major were encouraged by their superiors to convert to Buddhism. Some Muslims who wished to join the military reportedly had to list “Buddhist” as their religion on their application, though they were not required to convert.

Rohingya Muslims, although essentially treated as illegal foreigners, were not issued Foreigner Registration Cards. Instead, the Government gave some of them “Temporary Registration Cards” (TRC). UNHCR estimated that only 650,000 of the approximately 800,000 Rohingyas possessed TRCs. Authorities have insisted that Muslim men applying for TRCs submit photos without beards. The authorities did not allow government employees of the Islamic faith, including village headmen, to grow beards, and dismissed some who already had beards. The authorities also did not consider many non-Rohingya Muslims to be citizens. In order for these Muslims to receive National Registration Cards and passports, they must pay large bribes. Ethnic Burman Muslims pay less than Muslims from ethnic minority groups (primary those of Indian or Bengali descent).

In 2006 a prominent Muslim religious organization asked the Rakhine State Peace and Development Council Chairman, the Regional Military Commander, and the Ministry of Religious Affairs to lift marriage restrictions for Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine State. At the end of the reporting period, they had yet to receive a response.

In Rangoon, Muslims can usually obtain birth certificates for newborns, but local authorities refused to allow them to place the names of the babies on their household registers.

Authorities generally did not grant permission to Rohingya or Muslim Arakanese to travel from their hometowns for any purpose; however, permission was sometimes obtainable through bribery. Non-Arakanese Muslims were given more freedom to travel; however, they were also required to seek permission, which was usually granted after a bribe is paid. Muslims residing in Rangoon could visit beach resort areas in Thandwe, Rakhine State, but could not return to Rangoon without the signature of the Regional Military Commander. Those with money were able to bribe local officials to return. Muslims residing outside of Rakhine State often were barred from return travel to their homes if they visit other parts of Rakhine State.

Rohingyas did not have access to state-run schools beyond primary education and were unable to obtain employment in any civil service positions. Muslim students from Rakhine State who completed high school were not granted permits to travel outside the state to attend college or university. In lieu of a diploma, Rohingya high school graduates received a sheet of paper that stated they would receive a diploma upon presentation of a citizenship card; however, Rohingyas can never obtain such a card.

Many of the approximately 25,000 Rohingya Muslims remaining in refugee camps in Bangladesh refused to return because they feared human rights abuses, including religious persecution.

Abuses of Religious Freedom

Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD), has been in prison or house arrest since 2003, when forces allied with the Government attacked her and her convoy, which included several NLD-allied monks, while traveling in Sagaing Division in the northwestern region of the country. The Government reportedly used criminals dressed in monks’ robes in the ambush. On May 15, authorities detained more than 30 worshippers in Rangoon when they approached separate pagodas to pray for Aung San Suu Kyi and other political prisoners. At the end of the reporting period, the worshippers were still detained. The next day USDA members, claiming to represent “the people,” detained another 15 worshippers after they prayed at a pagoda in Mingladon Township, but the authorities let them go the same day. On May 25, 2007, the Government extended Aung San Suu Kyi’s house arrest for an additional year.

In February 2007 the Burmese Army arrested a monk who was allegedly trading Buddha images to Buddhists in Bangladesh illegally. The army forced the monk to disrobe in contravention to Buddhist precepts that require a monk to have his robes removed at a ceremony in a monastery. Laypersons, regardless of status, may not demote a monk to become a layperson.

On July 2, 2006, authorities from Thandwe, Rakhine State arrested Abbot Wila Tha and his assistant Than Kakesa from the Buddhist monastery of U Shwe Maw village, Taungup Township, closed the monastery, and forced 59 monks and novices to leave. Local sources claimed that the reason for the arrest was that the abbot refused to accept donations from or conduct religious ceremonies for the authorities. The authorities also claimed the abbot was endangering local stability by talking to the monks and novices about democracy, that he was a supporter of the NLD (National League for Democracy), and that he had supported the visit of Aung San Suu Kyi (pro-democracy activist and leader of the NLD) when she visited the area several years earlier. The exile-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) estimated there were 86 Buddhist monks in prison for various charges. It was not possible to verify the AAPP estimate. The number of non-Buddhists in prison for their religious beliefs was unknown. Authorities usually defrocked monks when they arrested them and treated them like ordinary prisoners, including using torture. The prison authorities disrespectfully addressed the monks by their given names, not their religious titles.

Local civilian and military authorities continued to take actions against Christian groups: arresting clergy, closing home churches, and prohibiting religious services.

In February 2006, police at Hpa-an, Karen State, arrested Yeh Zaw, a member of the Phawkkan Evangelical Church. Yeh Zaw had earlier written a letter to the regime leader urging him to end the persecution of his church that Rangoon authorities closed earlier in 2006, banning members from worshipping there. Police charged him with traveling without an identity card.

In 2005 local authorities in the Chin State capital of Hakha notified Baptist leaders that they would be forced to relocate an active, historic cemetery from church property to a remote location outside of town. Religious leaders reported that authorities continued to forcefully relocate cemeteries in many parts of the country.

In the past, pagodas or government buildings often have been built on confiscated Muslim land.

In Kachin State, authorities have constructed Buddhist shrines in Christian communities where few or no Buddhists reside and have tried to coerce Christians into forced labor to carry bricks and other supplies for the shrine’s construction. In September 2006 government officials inaugurated a pagoda near the Kachin Independence Organization’s headquarters at Laiza, Kachin State. Kachin sources reported there were no Buddhists living in the community. In northern Rakhine State, authorities frequently forced Rohingyas to help construct Buddhist shrines, even though Buddhists there account for approximately 2 percent of the population.

In January 2006 Muslim Rohingyas from at least ten surrounding villages claimed the military forced them to carry building supplies for three model villages at Padauk Myin, Mala Myin and Thaza Myin in Rathedaung Township. Certain townships in the Rakhine State, such as Thandwe, Gwa, and Taungup, were declared “Muslim-free zones” by government decree in 1983.

Authorities have attempted to prevent Chin Christians from practicing their religion. In 2005 the military commander in Matupi Township, Chin State, ordered the destruction of a 30-foot cross erected on a hillside with government permission in 1999. A more senior military official subsequently told local church authorities that they could get permission to reconstruct the cross; however, the local pastors have thus far refused to ask for such authorization. In the past, these crosses often have been replaced with pagodas, sometimes built with forced labor.

SPDC authorities continued to “dilute” ethnic minority populations by encouraging, or even forcing, Buddhist Burmans to relocate to ethnic areas. In predominantly Muslim northern Rakhine State, authorities established “model villages” to relocate released ethnic Burman criminals from other parts of the country.

There continued to be credible reports from diverse regions of the country that government officials compelled persons, Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike, especially in rural areas, to contribute money, food, or materials to state-sponsored projects to build, renovate, or maintain Buddhist religious shrines or monuments. The Government denied that it used coercion and called these contributions “voluntary donations” consistent with Buddhist ideas of making merit. In April 2006 authorities in Lashio reportedly tried to coerce merchants to contribute large sums to construct a Buddhist shrine. Christian merchants refused to participate and the funds raised were well below the authorities’ target.

Forced Religious Conversion

Muslim and Christian community leaders reported that during the period covered by this report, authorities had moved away from a campaign of forced conversion to Buddhism and instead focused on enticing non-Buddhists to convert to Buddhism by offering charity or bribery. Conversion of non-Buddhists, coerced or otherwise, is part of a longstanding government campaign to “Burmanize” ethnic minority regions. This campaign has coincided with increased military presence and pressure. In 2005 there was a single, unverified report of forced conversion at gunpoint in Chin State; however, Christian groups reported that such violent cases were less frequent than in earlier years. In September 2006 Chin sources reported that 15 students withdrew from a government-operated hostel for girls in Matupi, Chin State, after formerly voluntary Buddhist evening prayers became compulsory for all the hostel residents. Although the girls received free school fees, food, and accommodation, they complained they felt pressured to become Buddhist. In Kanpetlet, Chin State, NaTaLa operated a school exclusively for Buddhist students and guaranteed them government jobs after graduation. Christian children had to agree to convert to Buddhism if they wanted to attend this school.

There were no reports of forced religious conversion of minor U.S. citizens who had been abducted or illegally removed from the United States, or of the refusal to allow such citizens to return to the United States.

Section III. Societal Abuses and Discrimination

Preferential treatment for Buddhists and widespread prejudice against ethnic Indians, particularly ethnic Rohingya Muslims, were key sources of social tensions between the Buddhist majority and Christian and Muslim minorities.

In February 2006, violent clashes broke out between Muslims and Buddhists in Magway Division in response to rumors that Muslim men had raped a Burman woman. Ethnic Burmans attacked and torched Muslim and ethnic Indian homes, shops, and mosques. Rioting and looting spread to surrounding towns, including Chauk and Salin. Local security forces did not intervene at first, but as violence spread authorities imposed a strict curfew in several towns. Reliable sources stated that the authorities arrested 17 people in Sinbyukyun and another 55 persons in Chauk, mostly Muslims. Unofficial sources claimed that 3 people died and another 10 were injured in the riots. Three mosques in Yenangyaung, Chauk, and Saku were reportedly destroyed in the violence. At the end of the reporting period, the mosques remained sealed and authorities would not permit Muslims to rebuild them, nor did authorities conduct inquiries into the attacks. Christians reported that an entire Muslim village fled to the monastery of a trusted Buddhist abbot near Shwe Settaw to seek refuge during the riots.

These attacks follow earlier communal violence in Kyauk Pyu, Rakhine State, in 2005. During several days of violence, two Muslims were killed and one Buddhist monk was severely injured. Some Islamic groups blamed the Government for trying to increase tensions between Buddhists and Muslims as part of a “divide and rule” strategy.

Since 1994, when Buddhist members split away from the KNU (Karen National Union) to organize the pro-government Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA), there have been armed conflicts between the DKBA and the predominately Christian antigovernment KNU. Although the DKBA reportedly includes some Christians and there are some Buddhists in the KNU, the armed conflict between the two Karen groups has had strong religious overtones. There were also unverified reports that DKBA authorities continued to expel villagers who converted to Christianity.

During the reporting period, a Burmese language document surfaced titled, “Program to Eliminate Christianity.” The document suggested 17 points for countering Christianity in the country; however, the source of the document was unknown and several grammatical errors raised questions about its authenticity. There was no definite evidence to link the document to the Government.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy

Government restrictions on speech, press, assembly, and movement, including diplomatic travel, made it difficult to obtain timely and accurate information on human rights in the country, including on freedom of religion. Information about abuses often becomes available only months or years after the events and frequently is difficult or impossible to verify.

The U.S. Government continued to promote religious freedom in its contacts with all sectors of society, as part of its overall policy to promote human rights. During the period covered by this report, Embassy officials discussed the importance of improved religious freedom with government and military officials, private citizens, scholars, representatives of other governments, and international business and media representatives. Embassy representatives met regularly with leaders of Buddhist, Christian, and Islamic religious groups, including ethnic minority religious leaders, members of the faculties of schools of theology, and other religious-affiliated organizations and NGOs. This included regular invitations to the American Chargé d’Affaires’ residence to build understanding and tolerance among the groups.

Through outreach and traveling, when not blocked by regime officials, Embassy representatives offered support to local NGOs and religious leaders and exchanged information with many otherwise isolated human rights NGOs and religious leaders. Representatives of the Rohingya minority participated in English language and current events studies at the Embassy’s American Center. The American Center regularly translated statements and reports by the U.S. Government and various NGOs on violations of religious freedom in the country and distributed them via its frequently visited library. The U.S funded an effort for UNHCR to initiate work with the Ministry of Immigration and Population to issue TRCs, fairly and without bribes or unreasonable requirements, to undocumented Rohingyas. In addition, the Embassy worked closely with Buddhist, Islamic, and Christian NGOs involved in education and teacher training.

Since 1999 the Secretary of State has designated the country as a “Country of Particular Concern” under the International Religious Freedom Act for particularly severe violations of religious freedom. Because of the country’s poor human rights situation, including its abuses of religious freedom, the United States imposed extensive sanctions on the regime. The United States has also opposed all assistance to the Government by international financial institutions and urged the Governments of other countries to take similar actions. U.S. sanctions include a ban on imports from the country, a ban on the export of financial services to the country, a ban on bilateral aid to the Government, a ban on the export of arms to the country, and a suspension of General System of Preferences (GSP) benefits and Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) and the U.S. Export-Import Bank (EXIM) financial services in support of U.S. investment and exports to the country. The U.S. Government also ended active promotion of trade with the country, limited the issuance of visas to high-ranking government and military officials and their immediate family members, and froze SPDC assets in the United States. New investment in the country by U.S. citizens has been prohibited since May 1997.

Released on September 14, 2007

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Crackdown on Burmese Muslims

July 2002

Summary

As United Nations special envoy Razali Ismail prepares to visit Burma in early August, pressure is growing from the international community and Burmese ethnic minority leaders to broaden the ongoing dialogue between the democratic opposition and the ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) to include the concerns of Burma’s minority populations. The concerns of Burma’s Muslims should be part of that agenda.

During much of 2001, there was increased tension between Buddhist and Muslim communities in Burma, at times erupting into violence. News of the violence was quickly suppressed, however, and little detailed information about what took place reached the outside world. The government has failed to take effective action to protect Muslims in Burma, imposed restrictions on Muslim religious activities and travel both inside the country and abroad, and taken no action to punish those responsible for destroying Muslim homes and mosques.

A combination of factors seems to have precipitated last year’s confrontations. Destruction of Buddhist images in Bamiyan, Afghanistan, in March 2001, and the September 11 attacks in New York and Washington, D.C., appear to have fueled increased Buddhist resentment against local Muslims.

Like previous attacks on Muslims by members of the majority Buddhist population, economic factors also played a role. The worst violence in eastern Burma, for example, took place in May and September 2001, at times when the country’s economic crisis was particularly severe. During this period the blackmarket rate for kyat was well over 800 to the U.S. dollar, roughly 100 times the official rate. The fact that many Muslims are businessmen, shopkeepers and small-scale money changers means that they are often targeted during times of economic hardship.

Outbreaks of violence between Buddhist and Muslim communities took place in Taungoo, just over 150 kilometers north of Rangoon, in May 2001, when more than a thousand people led by robed Buddhist monks attacked Muslims shops, homes, and mosques. Many Muslims were reportedly beaten and there were credible reports of at least nine deaths. Violence spread to nearby townships and villages. The ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) did little or nothing to intervene to stop and prevent the attacks.

Even more serious violence erupted in Prome, northwest of Rangoon, in early October 2001, leading authorities to impose a curfew to prevent the unrest from spreading to nearby areas.

Further outbreaks took place in Pegu, northeast of Rangoon, though on a smaller scale.

In Arakan State, a predominantly Muslim area, human rights violations, including forced labor, restrictions on the freedom of movement, and the destruction of mosques, have been commonplace.

In February 2001, in the state capital Sittwe, a major frontier and commercial  

For background on Arakan State and persecution of Muslims, see Human Rights Watch, “Burma: The Rohingya Muslims: Ending a Cycle of Exodus?”

A Human Rights Watch Report, vol. 8, no. 9 (c), September 1996; Human Rights Watch/Asia and Refugees International,

“Rohingya Refugees in Bangladesh: The Search for a Lasting area with sizeable Muslim and Buddhist populations, full-scale riots broke out, resulting in deaths, destruction of Muslim homes, and the imposition of a curfew and travel restrictions.

This briefing is based on Human Rights Watch research conducted in late 2001 and early 2002, including over thirty interviews with Burmese Muslims and other religious leaders inside Burma and in nearby countries. To protect the safety of those we spoke to inside Burma, individuals’ names and the times and places of interviews are not included. By combining this information with interviews with Rohingya (Muslim) refugees in camps in Bangladesh conducted by Forum Asia from May-December 2001, and published media accounts, Human Rights Watch has compiled a still incomplete but telling picture of what caused the violence, how the authorities responded, and some of the lingering abuses of religious freedom and other fundamental human rights that continue to affect Burma’s Muslim population.

Recommendations

Burma is obligated under international human rights law to protect the fundamental rights of all persons within its territory, including religious minority populations. The government must respect all rights and freedoms without distinction of any kind such as race, language, religion, and national or social origin. This includes the rights to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion; and to manifest one’s beliefs in practice, worship, and observance.

The SPDC should take immediate steps to end continuing harassment and persecution of Muslim communities. It should immediately lift all official restrictions on the freedom of Muslims to congregate in mosques, as well as restrictions on their ability to gather in groups for prayers in private homes. The government should eliminate requirements for special identity papers and lift travel restrictions on Muslims, both of which were rigidly enforced last year in order to keep Muslim communities in check.

The SPDC should also take effective action against those responsible for violence against Burmese Muslims. The authorities should fully investigate last year’s attacks on Muslim shops and mosques and prosecute those responsible for such crimes as assault, arson, and looting. They should take steps to ensure that property, including mosques, destroyed during last year’s violence is restored and losses fairly compensated. In locations such as Arakan State, where local army commanders reportedly ordered the destruction of mosques, those implicated should be prosecuted or otherwise disciplined. In instances when force is used by authorities against civilians, including lethal force, in the course of crowd control, the government should ensure that international standards and guidelines, including the Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials and the Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials, are fully respected.

The international community sho uld call on the Burmese government to allow Ambassador Razali and the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Burma, Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, unrestricted access to all Muslims areas, including the sites of last year’s violence, so that they can meet with local Muslim residents and community leaders and make recommendations for specific steps to protect the basic human rights of the country’s Muslim population.

Solution,” A Human Rights Watch Report, vol. 9, no. 7 (c), August 1997; Human Rights Watch/Asia, “Burmese Refugees in Bangladesh: Still No Durable Solution,” A Human Rights Wash Report, vol. 12, no. 3 (c), May 2000.

3 Background on Muslims in Burma

Burma has been ruled by successive repressive, authoritarian regimes since 1962, when General Ne Win seized power. In 1988, the armed forces brutally suppressed massive pro-democracy demonstrations and since then a junta of senior military officers has ruled by decree, claiming only to be a transitional government. During the last fourteen years the military’s human rights record has been appalling. The suppression of political and religious activities has been endemic through the whole of this period.

2 The latest Burmese Constitution, adopted in 1974, restricts religious freedom and stresses the paramount supremacy of the State. It states 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.”3 But violence and discrimination against Burma’s Muslim minority has been commonplace over the last four decades. Islamic leaders in Rangoon believe that attitudes among the predominantly Buddhist Burmese population began to change from tolerance to persecution after General Ne Win seized power in a military coup in 1962. Since then, Muslims have been deliberately and systematically excluded from official positions in the government and the army.

The Burmese government estimates that some four percent of the population are Muslims.

However, Islamic leaders believe that Muslims make up nearly ten percent of the population.

There has been no official census since Burma gained its independence from Great Britain in 1948. Apart from Arakan, the western Burmese state that borders Bangladesh and is home to the Muslim Rohingyas, Burma’s Muslims live predominantly in urban areas throughout the country.

According to a senior Muslim leader in Rangoon, most Muslims are indistinguishable in  appearance and behavior from the country’s Buddhists: they dress the same, wear longyis, speak Burmese, and understand Burmese culture and history.

During the British colonial period and the early years of independence, Muslims played an important role. They held high positions in government and civil society. They were also in the forefront of the fight for independence from the British. After independence, Muslims continued to play a prominent role in the country’s business, industrial, and cultural activities. Many Muslims were public servants, soldiers, and even officers. At the time of the last democratically elected parliament in the 1960s, there was at least one Muslim minister and several Muslim members of parliament.

This all changed after General Ne Win seized power in 1962. He initiated the systematic expulsion of Muslims from government and the army. There is no written directive that bars Muslims from entry or promotion in the government, according to Muslim leaders in Burma, but in practice that is what happens.

Although there is no official state religion, the Burmese military government actively endorses Theravada Buddhism in practice, as have previous governments – both civilian and military.

2 See Human Rights Watch World Reports, chapters on Burma, 1990-2002.

3 Article 21 (b) of the Constitution of the Socialist Republic of the Union of Burma, 1974.

4 government is increasingly seen identifying itself with Buddhism. The state-controlled media often shows military leaders and government ministers paying homage to Buddhist monks; making donations to pagodas throughout the country; officiating at ceremonies to open, improve, or restore pagodas; and organizing forced donations of money, food, and labor to build or refurbish Buddhist shrines throughout the country. State-owned newspapers regularly feature slogans and quotations from Buddhist scriptures. While undoubtedly motivated in part by religious conviction, this close identification is also seen by many observers as part of the military’s strategy to find some form of legitimacy for its rule.

Muslims and Christians have major difficulties in obtaining permission to build places of worship and in importing indigenous-language translations of traditional sacred texts. In fact, over the last ten years there have been numerous reports of mosques being destroyed, in some cases with Buddhist stupas being built in their place.

Muslims in Burma have long suffered from ethnic and religious discrimination. Historical sources suggest that the majority Buddhist population has viewed Muslims with suspicion almost from the time they began to become a significant minority in Burma twelve hundred years ago.

While there are no written regulations or laws that mandate any of the customary discriminatory practices which have emerged in Burma today, mistrust and antipathy toward Muslims is deeply rooted.

The Burmese4 have had a long tradition of intermarriage, especially between Burmans and members of ethnic groups found in eastern Burma –Karens, Mons and Shans – which are predominantly Buddhist. In recent years there has also been substantial intermarriage with members of the Chinese community, also made easier by shared religious beliefs. But this occurs far less often in the case of Muslims; normally, marrying into a Muslim family entails conversion to Islam.

Over the decades, many anti-Muslim pamphlets have circulated in Burma claiming that the Muslim community wants to establish supremacy through intermarriage. One of these, Myo Pyauk Hmar Soe Kyauk Hla Tai (or The Fear of Losing One’s Race) was widely distributed in 2001, often by monks, and many Muslims feel that this exacerbated the anti-Islam feelings that had been provoked by the destruction in Bamiyan, Afghanistan.

5 Local Buddhist monks have often been at the center of these campaigns. According to Burmese Muslim leaders, distribution of pamphlets in 2001 was also supported by the Union of Solidarity and Development Association (USDA), a government-sponsored mass organization that fulfils a social and political function for the military.

Officially sanctioned action against the Muslim community has varied over the last two decades.

In the mid-nineties there were several attempts to eliminate mosques in different parts of the country, including in Rangoon. But it is more than two years now since any mosques in Rangoon

4 The term Burmese is generally used for citizenship and Burman for the ethnic group.

5 “Giant Buddha statues ‘blown up,’” BBC, March 11, 2001, available at:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/world/south_asia/newsid_1214000/1214384.stm (July 12, 2002).

5 were forcibly closed or razed, according to the president of Burma’s Islamic Affairs Council.

These previous efforts in Buddhist areas of Burma often had official backing, unlike most of the attacks on the mosques in 2001.

It is difficult to estimate the extent of damage done to mosques in eastern Burma during the violence last year. Many still remain closed, especially in Taungoo where the wo rst violence occurred. Even in many of the mosques that have reopened, the damage is still clearly visible, as in Pegu.

Special identity papers and travel restrictions on Muslims have also long been in force. Burma denies citizenship status to most Muslim Rohingyas, for example, on the grounds that their ancestors did not reside in the country at the start of British colonial rule in 1824.

6 The U.N. special rapporteur on Burma in 1993 urged the government to “abolish its over-burdensome requirements for citizens in a manner which has discriminatory effects on racial or ethnic minorities.”

7 Restrictions seem to have been far more rigidly enforced last year because of heightened concerns about the Muslim community. There are many credible reports of Muslims being taken off buses and trains when they were not able to produce their travel papers, and in some cases even when they did. For instance, in February 2001, eight Muslim men traveling to Rangoon were arrested despite having identity papers because they were traveling outside Arakan State without permission from the local police. They were sentenced to seven years imprisonment.

8 In October, a Muslim man was taken off a plane in Kawthaung airport in southern Burma, bound for Rangoon without apparent reason; his ticket was cancelled.

9 One Muslim woman, a resident of Rangoon, told Human Rights Watch she was unable to return home after traveling to the Andaman Sea on holiday because, she said, the local authorities insisted that she needed a visa to return. She was allowed to travel back to Rangoon two weeks later.

Muslims wanting to perform the Haj in 2002 also faced especially tight restrictions this past year.

In most years several thousand Muslims travel to Mecca for the Haj. Senior Islamic leaders in Rangoon estimate that more than five thousand pilgrims travel to Mecca in a typical year by their own means. This is on top of the two hundred Muslims who go as part of the official Burmese delegation, arranged by the military government. In 2002, only the two hundred pilgrims on the officially organized visit to Mecca were allowed to make the trip.

The government insists there was no prohibition on travel. In theory Muslims were allowed to go on the Haj, Muslims leaders say, but no one was able to get a passport to travel. The number of passports granted to Burmese citizens has been drastically cut, according to official sources in 6 For details on Burma’s highly restrictive citizenship law see Human Rights Watch/Asia, “Burmese Refugees in Bangladesh: Still No Durable Solution,” May 2000.

7 Ibid.

8 Mizzama News February 13, 2001.

9 Irradawaddy Magazine Online October 10, 2001.

Rangoon. Before last November, more than a thousand passports were issued a month; this has been reduced. Although all Burmese reportedly now have to wait longer for a passport and pay more in bribes for it, Muslims claim that they have had to endure even more than other groups due to prejudice. The president of the Burmese Islamic Council says the percentage of Muslims applicants getting passports has now fallen from 20 percent to 5 percent. This not only makes performing the Haj more difficult, but also restricts Muslim businessmen’s commercial activities.

Although Buddhism is not officially enshrined as the national religion, the Burmese military government often uses Buddhism as a means of laying claim to a form of national legitimacy.

The senior generals use Buddhism to bolster their authority, frequently visiting pagodas and paying tribute. Intelligence chief Lt. General Khin Nyunt has even built a new pagoda near the Rangoon Mingaladon airport.

However, in 2001, the SPDC was far more pragmatic in its approach, partly because their new policy of actively engaging the international community meant that they needed a more

measured approach to religious tolerance. The SPDC was anxious to maintain strong relations with Malaysia’s Prime Minister, Dr. Mahathir Mohammad, leader of the largest Muslim country in mainland Southeast Asia.

But the Burmese government’s approach during much of 2001, at least in areas outside Arakan State, also reflected the belief that to prevent major outbreaks of social unrest they would need to contain Muslim sentiment. Military leaders apparently feared that young hotheads amongst the Muslim community might be provoked into violent action.

Such unrest is something the military regime wants to avoid at all costs. In a rapidly deteriorating economy, with the price of stable goods like edible oil and rice increasing sharply, the possibility of social disturbances developing into a food riot has haunted government leaders. Something similar happened in 1988 and helped spark the massive pro-democracy movement. It paralyzed the government for several months before the military coup on September 18 brutally crushed the demonstrations and established military rule throughout the country.

The Burmese government’s reaction to the Taliban’s destruction of the Buddhist images at Bamiyan in March 2001 was mixed from the start. Government sources say the military regime sent a formal letter of protest to the Taliban authorities in Kabul but never made its action public.

Pictures and videos of the event, pirated and copied from foreign publications and foreign broadcasters, were confiscated by the military authorities for fear they would enflame the country’s Buddhist population. The SPDC’s failure to publicly condemn the destruction of Buddhist images angered many monks, residents of Rangoon told Human Rights Watch. The government quickly imposed curfews in those towns where violence erupted and in some towns even cut communications, as in Taungoo, Taunggi, and Pegu. Senior Buddhist monks were told to instruct the heads of local monasteries to keep their young monks in their compounds,according to one Rangoon-based monk. “Many monks in Rangoon have also been told not to travel outside the city at present,” he said. “They were told there was a nation-wide ban on all religious ceremonies.”

7 The government was also nervous about the Burmese population seeing footage of the destruction of the World Trade Center. Some footage was shown on television and newspapers carried minimal coverage of the events of September 11, but with few photos. In many parts of the country, including Rangoon, military authorities closed the mosques and banned mass gatherings, including meetings for worship. Plainclothes military intelligence officers and police were stationed near mosques in most cities, according to Islamic leaders in Rangoon.

Military authorities again imposed curfews in places where violence erupted in October, describing the curfews as precautionary and intended to prevent individuals from spreading rumors with the intention of creating inter-religious conflict. A government press release announced: “The Government will not condone hate crimes or harassments targeted not only to Muslims but other religions.”

10 As a result, security measures, travel restrictions, and measures against illegal immigration were “beefed up.”

While there are credible reports that military intelligence officers were involved in stirring up anti-Muslim violence in some cities outside Rangoon, other officials seemed to have been concerned that religious riots not get out of control.

Taungoo Violence (May 2001)

There was mounting tension between the Buddhist and Muslim communities in Taungoo for weeks before it erupted into violence in the middle of May 2001. The destruction of the Buddhist images in Bamiyan seem to have been one of the main triggers. Buddhist monks demanded that the ancient Hantha Mosque in Taungoo be destroyed in retaliation for the destruction in Bamiyan, according to Muslim leaders.

Eyewitnesses blame the violence on a crowd of more than a thousand people, led by monks. The violence started when a group of Burmese Buddhists attacked shops and restaurants owned by Muslims in the central town area. The Muslim owners retaliated angrily, defending themselves and fighting back, and then the violence escalated. In the next two days, Muslim homes, shops, and mosques were damaged or burned. Many Muslims were beaten and required medical treatment. During the violence, many Muslims sought and were given sanctuary both in Christian and Buddhist religious places of worship. Medical treatment at the government hospital was denied or delayed for a number of victims, said a local resident, and private doctors provided care for them but at their own risk.

Nine Muslims reportedly died during the riots, including three children. In one incident, a family of four, including two young children, perished when their house was set on fire by angry crowds allegedly whipped up by Buddhist monks. The house was burned to the ground, allegedly after being ignored by fire-fighters who devoted all their efforts to saving a Buddhist home next door.

10 Myanmar Information Sheet, 17th October 2001.

11 The U.S. State Department’s Annual Report for International Religious Freedom issued in October, 2001, estimates that ten Muslims and ten Buddhists were killed, and notes

“…there were credible reports that the monks that appeared to be inciting at least some of the violence were USDA or military personnel dressed as monks.

 After two days of violence the military stepped in and the violence immediately ended.”

8 More than sixty Muslim homes were destroyed and virtually all the Muslim-owned shops were looted and demolished, according to a local Muslim leader. Six mosques were destroyed, according to Muslim residents, including the famous 200- year-old Hantha Mosque.

The mosque was initially defended by volunteer Muslim guards, but the local authorities prevailed on thecommittee to allow the town council to take responsibility for the mosque’s safety. Muslim leaders emphasize that the Mosque was demolished during curfew hours and believe that local authorities were at least in part responsible for its destruction.

There are also credible reports that the violence against Muslims in Taungoo spread to nearbytownships and villages, including Myo Hla and Kywe Pway. In Taungdwin Gyi several days after the violence in Taungoo, Muslim-owned cars, houses, shops, and properties were burned and destroyed, said a Muslim eyewitness. The conflict between Muslims and Buddhists also spread to Taunggyi in Shan state. There are also unconfirmed claims that several mosques in parts of Karen State to the south of Taungoo were destroyed in Buddhist-Muslim violence that followed the disturbances in Taungoo.

There are also reports of problems in Prome and Mandalay around May, but here Buddhist

monks seem to have taken an active role in protecting the local mosques from destruction. The tension was so high in Mandalay that authorities were forced to close the Zay Cho market (in central Mandalay near the main railway station) for three days.

A curfew was declared as soon as anti-Muslim clashes broke out in Pegu – a little more than eighty kilometers northeast of

Rangoon. Curfews were imposed in many areas and towns in the second half of May because of the Muslim-Buddhist tension, according to a Rangoon-based diplomat, including in Pegu, Prome, Taungoo, and Taunggyi.

Many of the monks in Taungoo were carrying hand-phones, according to a highly credible eyewitness. Mobile phones are not readily available to the Burmese population — they simply cannot afford them. This seems to suggest that they were not monks, and may have been military intelligence operatives masquerading as monks.

In general, there was clearly a split among the monks in their attitude towards the violence against Muslims.

The scars of last May’s violence remain. Recent visitors to Taungoo say there are empty lots where former homes and businesses once stood. They have all been cleaned up and left empty.

The mosques in Taungoo remained closed as of May 2002. Muslims have been forced to worship in their homes. Local Muslim leaders complain that they are still harassed, and told that not more than five people can pray together even in the privacy of their own homes. After the violence, many local Muslims moved away from Taungoo to other nearby towns and as far away as Rangoon. But local residents say that some of them have now returned to Taungoo because they could not find work in Rangoon.

Violence in Prome (September/October 2001)

Even more intense violence against Muslims occurred in early October in Prome, located roughly 300 kilometers northwest of Rangoon. Eyewitnesses say a crowd of more than a thousand Burmese Buddhists, led by two hundred visiting monks, went on a rampage attacking Muslim homes and shops. A local Islamic leader who witnessed the event said that residents pointed out to the monks those shops which were owned by Muslims, who had gathered in Prome for a religious ceremony that intelligence chief Lt General Khin Nyunt was due to attend.

Many Muslim shop-owners had their properties destroyed. “The military did indeed intervene, but not before forty shops owned by Muslims were destroyed,” said a senior Muslim leader.

“And the violence flared up again two hours later after the police and troops had gone.”

There are conflicting accounts of what provoked this outbreak of violence. Many Prome residents believe the clash was sparked off when a young Burmese girl eloped with a Muslim boy and was forced to convert to Islam. The girl’s parents protested to the boy’s parents at the local Mosque.

Some local residents, however, claim the violence was engineered by proopposition forces who wanted to embarrass the government.

The government immediately cut off communication links with Prome and imposed a curfew in an effort to preve nt the unrest from spreading to other towns. But, in fact, violence against Muslims did erupt elsewhere, including in Hinthada in Irrawaddy and Pegu.

Pegu (October 2001)

Tension between Muslims and Buddhists reportedly was high in October 2001. Local residents say violence erupted after a quarrel broke out between some monks and a Muslim drug store owner. Several Muslim shops were reportedly ransacked, though Islamic leaders have played down the violence. There were some scuffles, with monks and Muslim youths shouting insults at each other, but the confrontations reportedly were quickly stopped by local authorities before they got out of hand.

Although the violence in Pegu was far more limited than in Prome, at least one mosque in the city was badly damaged. Although the mosque is now open for worship, the damage done to it is still very noticeable. For months after the violence, Muslim congregations, particularly after Friday prayers, continued to disperse quickly for fear of attracting the wrath of local military authorities. “The military are watching us very closely all the time,” a local Muslim leader told Human Rights Watch. Tension in Pegu was still evident in early 2002. The fear is palpable.

“There is no freedom for anyone here,” said another Muslim worshipper, “but for Muslims it’s even worse.”

Muslims in Pegu are at great pains to insist that the situation in the town is now back to normal and that there are no problems with the local Buddhist community. But curfews, travel restrictions, and tighter police and military surveillance remain in effect, suggesting that tensions remain high.

Arakan/Sittwe (February)

Violence against Rohingya Muslims in Arakan is a way of life, according to U.N. staff based in camps for Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh. As opposed to other parts of Burma, however, in Arakan the violence against Muslims is carried out systematically by the Burmese army.

The persistent abuse of human rights in Arakan, including institutionalized discrimination and forced labor has been documented by Human Rights Watch and others. Half a million

10 Rohingyas fled into Bangladesh a decade ago because of this persecution. 12 While the exodus of refugees has slowed since the worse repression ten years ago (the majority of the more than 250,000 who fled at the time have returned under the auspices of the UNHCR), conditions remain oppressive and Rohingyas continue to try to cross the border.

There was sporadic violence against Muslims in Arakan throughout 2001, with particular violent incidents in Sittwe and in and around Maungdaw township.

The worst incident occurred in February in the border town of Sittwe, Arakan State’s capital, located on the Naf river, a major border crossing-point and a center of commercial activity for the region. Both Muslims and Buddhists live in the town.

13 Burmese interviewed by Human Rights Watch report that there is constant tension between Buddhists and Muslims in Sittwe. The resentments are deeply rooted, and result from both communities feeling that they are under siege from the other. The violence in February 2001 flared up after an incident in which seven young monks refused to pay a Muslim stall holder for cakes they had just eaten. The Muslim seller, a woman, retaliated by beating one of the novices, said a Muslim eyewitness. Several more senior monks then came to protest and a brawl ensued, he said. One of the monks was hit over the head by the Muslim seller’s husband and started to bleed.

Riots then broke out. The abbots at the local Monastery began to ring the bells sounding an emergency, bringing many of the town’s Buddhists onto the streets to defend the monks. They were armed with knives, sticks, swords, and guns, said a local Muslim eyewitness. The Imam in the nearest mosque used a loudspeaker to call on local Muslims to defend themselves, calling for a jihad to protect women and children.

Eyewitnesses vary in their view of what happened next. Muslims insist that it was monks, armed with knives (or Soe in Burmese) who started the fighting. Buddhist sources deny it. What is clear is that a full- scale riot erupted after dusk and carried on for several hours. Buddhists poured gasoline on Muslim homes and properties and set them alight. More than thirty homes and a Muslim guesthouse were burned down, according to local residents. The fighting took place in the predominantly Muslim part of town and so it was predominantly Muslim property that was damaged.

Police and soldiers reportedly stood by and did nothing to stop the violence initially. It was several hours before they intervened.

According to a local Muslim resident, it was only when the Burma denies citizenship status to most Rohingyas on the grounds that their ancestors did not reside in the country at the start of British colonial rule in 1824. For details on Burma’s highly restrictive citizenship law see Human Rights Watch, “Burmese Refugees in Bangladesh: Still No Durable Solution,” May 2000.

The U.N. special rapporteur on Burma in 1993 urged the government to “abolish its over-burdensome requirements for citizens in a manner which has discriminatory effects on racial or ethnic minorities.”

13 The U.S. State Department’s Annual Report for International Religious Freedom, 2001, said “there were various, often conflicting, accounts of how the riots began, but reports consistently stated that government security and fire fighting forces did little to prevent attacks on Muslim mosques, businesses and residences…There are estimates that over 50 Muslim homes burned to the ground and that both Muslims and Buddhists were killed and injured.”

11 police realized that the Muslims were fighting back and killing Buddhists that police acted, shooting their weapons into the air. When this did not disperse the crowds, another sixty police reinforcements arrived in a truck and began to shoot directly at the Muslims, according to other local residents. “There were several dead bodies in the streets,” said one eyewitness, “both Muslims and Buddhists, but I don’t know how many.” There are no reliable estimates of the death toll or the number of injuries. More than twenty died according to some Muslim activists.

The army arrived around 2:00 in the morning and finally restored order.

A curfew was imposed in Sittwe immediately after the February riots, which stayed in force for more than two months. It was relaxed during the Water Festival (the celebration leading up to the Buddhist New Year) in April, but re-imposed afterwards. Muslims from nearby townships –

including Maungdaw, Buthidaung, and Rathedaung – were not allowed to travel to Sittwe.

Travel permits were revoked and, as of May 2002, few Muslims were being allowed to travel freely out of northern Arakan.

There was also violence in and around Maungdaw township in Arakan, with eyewitness accounts suggesting that at least 28 mosques and madrassah (Muslim schools) were destroyed in May 2001

The crackdown, according to one refugee who had been a businessman in Maungdaw town, began when the local NaSaKa14 military officer instructed the leaders of the Muslim community to draw up a list of the mosques in the area and the names of those who were on the respective mosque committees. He then ordered the closure of some of the mosques and reportedly told the committee members that if they did not comply with his order he would do it himself, saying:

“Don’t think this order comes from me. It comes from the higher authorities.”

This account was confirmed by a number of other refugees from the Maungdaw area recently arrived in Bangladesh, who also reported that local mosques had been destroyed in May 2001 on the local military commanders’ orders. Most of the mosques that were destroyed seem to have been built without official permission. According to the refugees, implementation of the policy requiring permission varied depending on how rigorous the military were. In some cases, the committee reportedly was able to save its mosque by paying substantial bribes. One mosque near Stapurika, close to Maungdaw, was saved at the cost of 100,000 kyat which was paid to the local military camp commander, according a former resident of the area.

The destruction of mosques seems to have been halted in the middle of 2001. Some mosques were permitted to be rebuilt after Muslim leaders met senior government officials in Rangoon to complain about the military’s orders to destroy all unauthorized mosques in Arakan. According to a former madrassah teacher from Buthidaung, the government officials said: “In Afghanistan, Talibans have destroyed statues of our Lord Buddha, so that is why we were destroying your mosques here.” Most of the mosques destroyed were thatch huts put up without permission.

For much of 2001, the use of unpaid labor for building military camps and acting as porters for the army in Arakan had been on the decline. But after the start of the U.S. air strikes in Afghanistan in October, authorities built new police and military camps and mounted twenty-four hour sentry duty. This entailed an increase in the use of use of forced labor to construct these new camps and the houses in them.

“There are four sentry posts in my village and in every post four men do a whole night of [unpaid] sentry duty,” said a Muslim teacher from Buthidaung. This is a pattern that is being repeated in many places in Arakan. The authorities say it is necessary because they fear an increase in terrorist activity by Muslim-based insurgents like the Arakan Rohingya National Organization and the Rohingya Solidarity Organization (RSO), whom they accuse of connections with the Taliban or international Mujahid groups in Afghanistan. 15

Conclusion

Last November, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Burma, Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, in his remarks to the U.N. General Assembly, expressed concern about reports of violence against Muslim communities, and said, “Inter-ethnic/religious tensions are a matter of prime concern to me in a country whose extremely rich human, historical, political, linguistic and cultural diversity pose the constant political challenge of making these differences co-exist in a peaceful, dynamic and constructive manner.”16 The Burmese government must take effective action to address the concerns of the country’s Muslim population, and to safeguard and protect their basic human rights.

15 Some “Burmese” were reportedly captured in the recent war in Afghanistan, though it isn’t clear what this actually means. They were assumed to be from Rohingya groups who have in fact sent people there in the past for training. However they have never shown the same fundamentalism or militarism associated with the Taliban.

16 From the Special Rapporteur’s speech presenting his interim report on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, A/56/112, Fifty Sixth Session of the General Assembly, November 7, 2001.