International Religious Freedom Report 2002 Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor,U.S. Department of State, October 7, 2002
Burma has been ruled since 1962 by highly repressive, authoritarian military regimes. Since 1988 whenthe armed forces brutally suppressed massive pro-democracy demonstrations, a junta composed of seniormilitary officers has ruled by decree, without a constitution or legislature. The most recent Constitution,promulgated in 1974, permitted both legislative and administrative restrictions on religious freedom: "thenational races shall enjoy the freedom to profess their religion, provided that the enjoyment of any suchfreedom does not offend the laws or the public interest." Most adherents of religions that are registeredwith the authorities generally are allowed to worship as they choose;
however, the Government hasimposed restrictions on certain religious activities and frequently abused the right to freedom of religion.There was no change in the limited respect for religious freedom during the period covered by this report.Through its pervasive internal security apparatus, the Government generally infiltrated or monitored themeetings and activities of virtually all organizations, including religious organizations. It systematicallyhas restricted efforts by Buddhist clergy to promote human rights and political freedom, has discouragedor prohibited minority religions from constructing new places of worship, and, in some ethnic minorityareas, has coercively promoted Buddhism over other religions, particularly among members of theminority ethnic groups. Christian groups have experienced increasing difficulties in obtaining permissionto build new churches, while Muslims report that they essentially are banned from constructing any newmosques anywhere in the country. While the sharp increase in the level of anti-Muslim violence duringthe period covered by the previous report (some of which the Government may have tacitly supported,contributed to, or even instigated) has abated, there were reports that restrictions on Muslim travel andworship countrywide have increased, especially since the fall of 2001.There are social tensions between the Buddhist majority and the Christian and Muslim minorities, largelydue to colonial and contemporary government preferences. There is widespread prejudice againstMuslims. A sharp increase in anti-Muslim violence in 2001 significantly heightened tensions between theBuddhist and Muslim communities, as it had done in the past.Since 1988 a primary objective of U.S. Government policy towards the country has been to promoteincreased respect for human rights, including the right to freedom of religion. In September 2001, theSecretary of State designated Burma a country of particular concern under the International ReligiousFreedom Act for particularly severe violations of religious freedom. The Secretary of State had sodesignated Burma in 1999 and 2000.
Section I. Religious Demography
The country has a total area of approximately 251,000 square miles and a population of approximately 50million persons. The majority of the population are Theravada Buddhists, although in practice popularBurmese Buddhism includes veneration of many indigenous pre-Buddhist deities called "nats," and