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US sticks Myanmar on its religious freedom blacklist

Country is of 'particular concern' over its treatment of Rohingya Muslim minority

John Zaw, Mandalay

John Zaw, Mandalay

Published: December 08, 2020 10:19 AM GMT

Updated: December 08, 2020 10:20 AM GMT

US sticks Myanmar on its religious freedom blacklist

Rohingya refugee children from Myanmar look out from their makeshift home at Kutupalong refugee camp in Ukhia, Bangladesh in this July 23, 2019 file photo. The US has placed Myanmar on its religious freedom blacklist over its treatment of Rohingya Muslims. (Photo: Munir Uz Zaman/AFP)

The United States has named Myanmar among ten countries that are of “particular concern” for religious freedom violations.

The Southeast Asian nation joined China, Pakistan, Eritrea, Iran, Nigeria, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan on Washington’s blacklist for “engaging in or tolerating systematic, ongoing, egregious violations of religious freedom under the International Religious Freedom Act 1998,” US Secretary of Stae Mike Pompeo said in a statement on Dec.7.

The Comoros, Cuba, Nicaragua, and Russia, meanwhile, were placed on a Special Watch List (SWL) for governments that have engaged in or tolerated severe violations of religious freedom.

“Religious freedom is an inalienable right and the bedrock upon which free societies are built and flourish. Today, the United States-a nation founded by those fleeing religious persecution, as the recent Commission on Unalienable Rights report noted, once again took action to defend those who simply want to exercise this essential freedom,” he said”

“The US is unwavering in its commitment to religious freedom. No country or entity should be allowed to persecute people with impunity because of their beliefs,” Pompeo added.

These entities included extremist groups such as Al-Shabaab, al-Qaida, Boko Haram, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, the Houthis, ISIS, and the Taliban, which were placed on the Entities of Particular Concern list.

Myanmar remains on the Countries of Particular Concern list it was placed on last year following a recommendation from the US Commission on Interreligious Freedom (USCIRF), which said in a 2019 report that Myanmar continued to commit widespread and egregious religious freedom violations, particularly against Rohingya Muslims.

“Ethnic-driven conflict and degradation of other civil rights often coincide with religious differences, thereby severely restricting freedom of religion or belief,” the report said.

More than 700,000 Rohingya were forced to flee their homes in Myanmar’s Rakhine state into neighboring Bangladesh following a bloody crackdown by the military in August 2017.

U.N. investigators in September this year said for the more than 500,000 people still living in Rakhine there is a "serious risk that genocidal actions may occur or recur.".

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Under U.S. law, nations on the religious freedom blacklist must address concerns or face sanctions including the withdrawal of aid.

The U.S. has already targeted Myanmar’s military leaders for “gross human rights violations.”

In December 2019, the U.S. Treasury Department announced sanctions against four military leaders, including Myanmar’s commander-in-chief, Min Aung Hlaing and his deputy, Soe Win, for “serious human rights abuses” in Rakhine, Kachin, and Shan states.

The sanctions came after a U. N. fact-finding mission found that the military had committed acts constituting genocide against the Rohingya and recommended that Min Aung Hlaing and five other senior generals be prosecuted for genocide and crimes against humanity.

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