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Obama must hold Myanmar's Thein Sein accountable for human rights violations

When President Obama meets with President Thein Sein of Myanmar (Burma) today, he should emphasize Washington’s commitment to Myanmar’s progress, while stressing the importance of preventing discrimination and violence against ethnic minority Muslims and Christians.

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President Obama stands next to Myanmar's President Thein Sein during a photo session at the East Asia Summit in Indonesia, Nov. 19, 2011. Op-ed contributors write: 'Due to the continued violence targeting religious and ethnic minorities, our organization, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, recommends that the US maintain Myanmar’s status as a “country of particular concern”.'

Charles Dharapak/AP/File

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When the president of Myanmar (Burma), Thein Sein, meets with President Obama at the White House today, he will undoubtedly stress how his government has taken steps toward democratic reform. Indeed, in recent years, Myanmar has released hundreds of religious and political prisoners. It has eased Internet and media controls. It has held limited parliamentary elections.

But recent applause for reforms obscures a dark underbelly of sectarian violence and ethnic discrimination, fueling human-rights atrocities and religious-freedom abuses, which threaten to tear the country asunder. These are the conclusions that the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, on which we serve, documented in its 2013 Annual Report released on April 30. 

In his meeting with Mr. Thein Sein, Mr. Obama can emphasize Washington’s commitment to Myanmar’s progress, while stressing the imperative of countering discrimination and violence against ethnic minority Muslims and Christians. Such violations of human rights threaten to strangle reform in its cradle and religious freedom along with it. 

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