Burma: CSW urges President Obama to encourage further reform, raise religious freedom and ethnic conflicts as priorities for official visit  16/11/2012

 Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) urges US President Barack Obama to raise constitutional and legislative reform, religious freedom and the need to end conflicts and begin a peace process with ethnic nationalities, during his official trip to Asia on 17 November, which will include a visit to Burma.

CSW is also calling on President Obama to press for the release of all remaining political prisoners in Burma. According to media reports, earlier this week the Burmese government released more than 450 prisoners as a goodwill gesture ahead of President Obama's visit, however there are concerns that no political prisoners are among them.

Reuters reports that President Obama is expected raise the issue of ongoing ethnic violence in Burma's Rakhine State “directly with the leadership”. US Congressman Trent Franks (R-AZ), along with 20 other members of the Senate and House, have written a bi-partisan letter to President Obama urging him to underscore current human rights atrocities in Burma that threaten future peace and stability.

CSW urges President Obama to press the Burmese government to intervene decisively to end the violence in Rakhine and Kachin states and allow unhindered access for international aid and humanitarian assistance to the affected areas. A peace process and political dialogue between the government and ethnic nationalities must be established in ethnic states where there are ongoing conflicts. Religious freedom is also a concern in the predominantly Christian Chin State, where the Chin are often discriminated against or ill-treated on the dual basis of ethnicity and religion. A recent report by the Chin Human Rights Organisation outlined a decades-long pattern of religious freedom violations, including more than 40 separate incidents of torture or ill-treatment.

The Burmese government should also be encouraged to continue with constitutional and legislative reform in the interests of democracy, including the repeal of the 1982 Citizenship Law, which effectively stripped the Rohingya of their citizenship and rendered them stateless.

Mervyn Thomas, CSW's Chief Executive, said, “We welcome President Obama's visit as a valuable opportunity to deliver some very clear and key messages to the Government of Burma: that the reforms already underway deserve recognition and encouragement, but that there is still a very, very long way to go. Until the conflict in Kachin State and the violence in Rakhine State end; until there is a genuine peace process with ethnic nationalities, involving a political dialogue to find a political solution to decades of civil war; until the citizenship of everyone born in Burma is respected and protected; until all prisoners of conscience are released; and until there is freedom of religion or belief for all people in Burma, we cannot speak of true and lasting change. The situation is fragile, and we urge President Obama to use his visit to promote peace and human rights for all the people of Burma. We welcome the letter by members of the US Congress, and hope that the President will take up the issues raised as a priority during his visit. There are two dangers at the moment: premature euphoria, and entrenched cynicism – both of which could undermine the chance of genuine change in Burma. President Obama has a unique opportunity to really make a difference for the people of Burma who have suffered so much for so long.”

For further information or to arrange interviews please contact Kiri Kankhwende, Press Officer at Christian Solidarity Worldwide on +44 (0)20 8329 0045 / +44 (0) 78 2332 9663, email kiri@csw.org.uk or visit www.csw.org.uk.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) is a Christian organisation working for religious freedom through advocacy and human rights, in the pursuit of justice.

Notes to Editors:

1. Violence in Rakhine State between Buddhist Rakhine and Muslim Rohingya ethnic minorities erupted in June, lasting several weeks, before flaring up again in late October. Although violence has been committed by both communities, the Rohingyas have been the primary victims of what increasingly appears to be a systematic campaign of ethnic cleansing. The violence has claimed hundreds of lives and left over 100,000 people displaced. Mosques have been attacked, and religious clerics arrested.

 

Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) is a human rights organisation which specialises in religious freedom, works on behalf of those persecuted for their Christian beliefs and promotes religious liberty for all.

For more information, please call 0845 456 5464, email admin@csw.org.uk or visit www.csw.org.uk