19 April 2012
Religious liberty - Burma
“We still have a long way to go but we believe we can get there,” said democracy campaigner and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi when she met Prime Minister David Cameron last week during his trip to Burma. Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of the National League for Democracy (NLD), who spent years under house arrest, was elected to parliament at the beginning of April after the NLD won 43 out of 44 open seats in a historic by-election.
The East Asian state of Burma is at a critical point. It has been ruled by oppressive military regimes since 1962, has one of the worst human rights records in the world and, according to Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), is among one of the worst countries for religious persecution. There are around 48.3 million people in Burma, and about 90 per cent of these are Buddhist. Christians and Muslims are denied the right to build and maintain places of worship, and Christians are denied promotion in government or military services.
The mostly Christian area of Kachin has recently seen terrible human rights violations. In February there were reports of killings of civilians by the Burmese army, including torture, rape, abuse and the destruction of homes. Last year, when US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived in Burma to discuss minority rights, soldiers fired mortar shells at civilians and burned down 10 homes.
In January this year, Christian leaders in Burma held peace talks with the central government, negotiating a crucial ceasefire between the government and minority rebels. The day after these peace talks, 651 prisoners were released, including monks who were part of the 2007 demonstrations against the military and political dissidents involved in student protest movements.
Last week, David Cameron became the first sitting prime minister to visit Burma since independence in 1948 and met with both President Thein Sein and Aung San Suu Kyi. He announced his intention to argue for suspending all EU sanctions on Burma, with the exception of the arms embargo. He said: “[Burma] shouldn’t be as poor as it is, it shouldn’t have suffered under dictatorship for as long as it has and things don’t have to be that way.” He continued to say that the sanctions should be suspended instead of lifted to acknowledge the role of the president and make it clear that if reform is obstructed, the sanctions could come back.
CSW recognised the progress Burma has made but warned “that there are still landmark steps to be taken, such as legislative and institutional reform, the release of all remaining political prisoners and an effective dialogue with Burma’s ethnic nationalities as part of a peace process”.
Open Doors, which serves the persecuted Church abroad, has asked people for pray for those in Burma:
- Praise for hundreds of imprisoned political dissidents released at the end of 2011, but pray for the 2,000 who still remain in prison.
- Pray that promised political reform will bring more freedom to Burma’s Christians.