Myanmar urged to reject proposed legislation on religion and race

Amnesty International (AI) and the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) [advocacy website] on Tuesday, urged [press release] to must reject or revise proposed laws they claim would "entrench already widespread discrimination and risk fueling further violence against religious minorities." These laws, aimed at protecting religion and race, would require that individuals obtain government approval before converting to or adopting a new religion. Richard Bennett, AI's Asia-Pacific Director, said that these laws "play into harmful stereotypes about women and minorities, in particular Muslims, which are often propagated by extremist national groups," and that they "never should have been tabled in the first place." The groups suggested that two of the bills—the Religious Conversion Bill and the Buddhist Women's Special Marriage Bill—should be rejected in their entirety, while the other two—the Monogamy Bill and the Population Control Healthcare Bill—require large scale revisions so as to include safeguards against discrimination.

Myanmar has long been critiqued for its human rights situation. Special Rapporteur on Myanmar Tomas Ojea Quintana from the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights [official website] expressed concern [JURIST report] last April about the deteriorating human rights situation in the country's Rakhine State [JURIST news archive]. In January of last year Quintana, along with the UN humanitarian chief, called for an immediate investigation [JURIST report] by authorities following reports of alarming levels of violence in Myanmar's Rakhine state. In October 2013 Quintana warned [JURIST report] that sectarian violence between the Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine State was contributing to wider anti-Muslim sentiments in Myanmar, threatening the positive changes undertaken by the country in the past two years. While Quintana acknowledged that Myanmar's government has demonstrated willingness to address the situation, he expressed concern that discriminatory acts against Muslims remain unattended. Earlier that month Quintana welcomed [JURIST report] the release of 56 prisoners of conscience in Myanmar, although he stressed the need for legislative reforms that would address the injustice against prisoners of conscience.