Leaders from four faith traditions in Burma (also known as Myanmar) have called for a fuller embrace of religious freedom and increased respect between traditions, which is vital to the well-being of children who represent the future of their nation.
The statement, released by Interfaith for Children, has been issued in the leadup to the Nov. 8 election – the first elections since a nominally civilian government took over after nearly 50 years of military rule.
The document urges a peaceful, free and fair election for the sake of the nation’s children.
UNICEF praised the statement, emphasizing its importance “in the light of the upcoming election and in the face of alarming expressions of religious intolerance.”
Buddhist nationalists have held xenophobic rallies expressing fears that Muslims will take over the country if Aung San Suu Kyi, a leader of the National League for Democracy, is elected. She is viewed as too sympathetic to Rohingya Muslims.
Suu Kyi is running against Thein Sein, a former military commander who became president in 2011, whose administration has overseen the disenfranchisement of the Rohingya as well as the adoption of four “race and religion” laws that discriminate against non-Buddhist faith traditions.
The majority Buddhist country has placed significant restrictions on the Rohingya, leading many to seek a better life elsewhere, only to be exploited by human traffickers/smugglers.
Due to “a unique level of discrimination, disenfranchisement and the denial of basic rights” toward the Rohingya, Burma (Myanmar) was cited as a “country of particular concern” by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom in its 2015 report.
The U.S. State Department also critiqued Burma (Myanmar) in its annual religious freedom report for failing “to protect the human rights of all their citizens and should promote an environment of tolerance and non-discrimination,” citing the “race and religion” laws as one example.
The ongoing religious discrimination in Burma (Myanmar) has led the U.S. to emphasize that the upcoming elections and any changes they might bring will determine the course of the future relationship between the two nations.
Amid this political and religious turmoil, Buddhist, Christian, Islam and Hindu leaders have joined together to urge government representatives, individuals and religious traditions “to make new commitments for every child in the country” toward a society that emphasizes peace, freedom and fairness for all citizens.
“We owe our children the duty to give them the best possible start in life,” the statement read. This requires “an environment where children can have a peaceful, happy, healthy and harmonious life with respect, love and value of each other’s religions.”
“We reaffirm our commitment to respect each other’s faiths, promote interfaith dialogue among us to achieve unity in diversity,” the leaders emphasized, before setting forth five principles for peaceful coexistence.
1. Let us abide by establishing mutual understanding in each other.
2. Let us abide by establishing mutual respect in each other.
3. Let us abide peacefully without interference in each other’s religions.
4. Let us abide peacefully by avoiding violence.
5. Let us all abide peacefully by coexisting with great tolerance.
The full statement is available here.