U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice criticized on Wednesday the ruling military junta in Burma as "one of the worst regimes in the world" for its record on human rights. Religious freedom of Christians could be facing greater threat.
Arriving at Busan, South Korea for the annual forum of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), Rice told Associated Press (AP) reporters that Burma is the single country that stands out in Asia where democracy in many countries has already improved significantly over the last two decades.
The ruling military junta in Burma has long been widely condemned by international communities for its severe human rights violation, including religious rights. According to the UK-based human rights watchdog Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), ethnic minorities of Burma such as the Chin, Karen and Karenni, have suffered from killings, destruction of villages and crops, forced labor, systematic rape, forced relocation, the use of child soldiers and among others.
On Nov. 9 at the 60th United Nations General Assembly's Third Committee, Julieta Noyes of the State Department's Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor said there are more than 1,000 political and religious prisoners in Burma, sources from the State Department say.
Religious persecution is very serious in Burma. In the latest annual international religious freedom report published by the State Department on Nov. 8, Burma was re-designated as one of eight "Countries of Particular Concern" (CPCs).
As is the case with Eritrea, Iran and North Korea, Burma "has not been willing to engage in any meaningful way on religious matters," noted State Department Ambassador John Hanford, according to the State Department.
"Religious activities and organizations of all faiths also were subject to broad government restrictions on freedom of expression and association," the report on Burma stated. The Government subjected all media, including religious publications and sermons, to control and censorship.
Not only has the U.S. government and officials expressed concern towards the human rights violation particular religious freedom in Burma, the European Parliament has also intervened in the growing crisis.
According to a statement dated Nov. 11 from CSW, Simon Coveney MEP, an Irish Member of the European Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee, and Baroness Cox, a Deputy Speaker of the British House of Lords, traveled to the Thai-Burmese border within a week of each other as part of a fact-finding visit organized by CSW.
"Gross violations of human rights continue to be perpetrated by the Burmese junta," Coveney confirmed after meeting Burmese refugees who had fled their villages because of forced labor, torture, rape and abuse at the hands of the Burma Army.
"This has gone on for too long and the world has turned a blind eye. It is time now for the international community to act," he added.
A U.S.-based mission agency, Strategic World Impact (SWI), which has been working in Burma, echoed the concern over the violence. The work of SWI includes smuggling in Bibles across the border, bringing in food and supplies as well as building a church and a school.
Kevin Turner of SWI told Mission News Network (MNN), many of the killings have been tribal Christians.
"This is being conducted by the government, using its military all up and down the border with Thailand and of course the entire country, where there's not just persecution, they're actually killing, slaughtering whole villages," said Turner.
Tuner admitted their work in Burma has been influenced by the governments actions because the Burma Army burns churches to the ground during the massive destruction in the villages, MNN reported.
Nevertheless, the group has not given up sending short-term mission teams to the troubled country. SWI is urging Christians to pray for Burmese believers who face life-threatening situations daily.