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Burmanisation and Buddhisation: Accelerating the Decline of Religious Rights in Myanmar

June 9th, 2023  •  Author:   Asia Centre  •  3 minute read
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Executive Summary

Burmanisation and Buddhisation: Accelerating the Deterioration of Religious Rights in Myanmar outlines how the 2021 military coup in Myanmar has accelerated the deterioration of rights, especially of religious minorities in the country.

Article 34 of the Myanmar constitution enshrines the right to freedom of religion or belief (FoRB) to ensure that religious freedom is respected for all citizens, regardless of their ethnic and religious background. However, the constitution also contains provisions that prioritise Buddhism, the dominant religion in Myanmar, over other religions.

Additionally, Myanmar’s military has backtracked on the initial engagement by the earlier democratically-elected government in the mid-2010s to sign and ratify international human rights covenants like the ICCPR and ICERD. This further hinders the sustainability of freedom of religion or belief in the country, given its past and present limited or non-observance to international human rights standards.

Successive governments, both military and non-military, since colonial independence, have prioritised and promoted Bamar culture and Buddhism, known as Burmanisation and Buddhisation. However, this has severely limited the religious rights of non-Buddhist and non-Bamar individuals and communities.

Following the 2021 coup, Myanmar’s State Administration Council has intensified pressure on the rights of ethnic and religious minority groups, through aggressive Burmanisation and Buddhisation policies. These policies are pursued through the following three measures: 1) using pre-coup legislation that is oppressive in nature and undermines the rights of ethno-religious minorities, 2) ignoring existing constitutional provisions that ensure the protection of freedom of religion or belief; and 3), refusing to implement the recommendations made via UN human rights mechanisms by member states. As a result, the military has not only stalled the democratisation process but regressed the country into an accelerated deterioration of human rights, including religious rights.

This report presents evidence of four main ways in which religious rights are being deteriorated in Myanmar: 1) targeting of pro-federalism ethno-religious communities; 2) damage, destruction and occupation of religious sites; 3) arbitrary detentions and killings of ethno-religious minorities; 4) persecution of Muslim Rohingya. Although these impacts are primarily felt by members of ethno-religious minorities, Bamar people and Buddhists have also been affected, especially if they support or are suspected of supporting those resisting the junta.

Given the rapidly deteriorating state of rights, especially that of religious minorities and the ongoing conflict that exists between the pro-democracy and pro-military groups, this report recommends the following multi-stakeholder actions: the international community should use its mechanisms to monitor, engage, and denounce FoRB violations and explore diplomatic ways to engage with Myanmar’s leaders to review discriminatory laws and stop the violence. INGOs should collaborate with local groups by receiving first-hand accounts of rights violations for international dissemination and provide technical and financial support to them. Local civil society organisations should safely monitor and raise awareness among the population of their religious rights.

Collectively, these efforts can help improve the state of religious rights in Myanmar, particularly for members of minority groups, ensuring that they can practise their chosen religion without being targeted or harassed.


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