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Current reforms have not extended to freedom of religion in Burma: MEPs

02 February 2013: Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) said the changes in Burma have not reached out to people of different religious and ethnic backgrounds in the country.

In a letter sent to Baroness Catherine Ashton, the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, MEPs said: “Current reforms have not yet extended to freedom of religion or belief, which will be key to long-term peace and stability in the country.”

The letter, signed by 14 MEPs, also highlighted problems with the current State policy of segregation of Buddhist and Muslim communities in Rakhine State, and the destruction of large Christian crosses in Chin State.

The Chin Human Rights Organization (CHRO) and Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) expressed deep concerns over the ongoing human rights violations and conflicts against ethnic nationalities in Burma as they welcomed the statement by MEPs.

Salai Za Uk Ling, CHRO’s Program Director, said: “We strongly condemn the Burma Army’s continued indiscriminate shelling in Kachin State, which has resulted in the deaths of Kachin civilians, including children. We are very concerned for the safety of tens of thousands of Kachin, internally displaced within their own homeland.”

The ongoing Kachin conflict has resulted in the destruction of over 200 villages, with 66 churches reportedly damaged and over 100,000 people internally displaced, according to a recent statement by the Kachin Baptist Convention (KBC).

A local church where over 100 Chin were taking shelter was damaged during the Burma Army military onslaught in the Hpakant area of Kachin State, according to reports.

Andrew Johnston, CSW’s Advocacy Director, said: “Burma is a multi-ethnic, multi-religious society and it is vital that non-Burman ethnic nationalities and non-Buddhist religious minorities are treated with equal rights, and that freedom of religion or belief, as well as ethnic and cultural rights, are fully respected at all levels if Burma is to make a genuine transition to democracy, freedom and true peace.”

In their letter, the MEPs stated that the European Union must call for the immediate cessation of human rights violations against ethnic and religious minorities.

They also called on Baroness Ashton to press the government of Burma to ‘urgently prioritise political dialogue that will result in a political solution to the root causes of the conflict in Kachin State.’

Last year, Baroness Catherine Ashton visited Burma meeting with President Thein Sein and other government officials as well as Aung San Suu Kyi.

A CHRO delegation in partnership with CSW met with MEPs in Brussels, Belgium in September last year, highlighting continued discrimination and violations of religious freedom against Chin Christians in Burma.

The European Union announced it will shortly open and operate an official Delegation to Burma, according to a statement released on 17 January 2013.

Van Biak Thang
[email protected]

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