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26 May – 1 June: Burma Parliament Must Reject Dangerous Religious Conversion Law

June 3, 2014

Jun-26-2013-zarni-mann-the IrrawaddyThe introduction of the draft Law on Religious Conversions (the Law) – published in full in Burmese in state media on 27 May 2014, for the consideration of Parliament and the public – has justifiably triggered a torrent of criticism over the past few days, at national, regional and international levels.  Human Rights Watch has urged the Burma Parliament to drop the Law, while the Asian Human Rights Commission has called for “the strongest opposition to the Law, both in the public domain and in the legislature.”

Part of a package of four bills which comprise measures to “protect race and religion,” the Law is the product of a very powerful lobby in contemporary Burma, namely a coalition of Buddhist monks known as the “Organization for the Protection of Race, Religion and Belief” (the OPRRB), which has been petitioning President Thein Sein and the Burma Government to address the simmering issue of race and religion since religious and communal tensions first broke out in Arakan State almost exactly two years ago.  One of the leaders of the OPRRB, Tilawka Biwuntha, told Radio Free Asia that his organization were pleased with the introduction of the Law.

In fact, the Law will achieve the opposite of what it claims: it will drastically infringe upon the human rights of many in Burma, in the name of protecting race and religion, while in the process flouting international law.  Most notably, it is contrary to Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states: “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief [emphasis added]”  It also contravenes Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, as well as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, to which Burma is a State party.

The Law will impose onerous restrictions on Burma citizens wishing to change their religion by requiring such people to obtain prior permission from local authorities, which may of course be arbitrarily denied.  Furthermore, the Law’s enactment would exacerbate already worrying levels of religious and communal discrimination and violence and further threaten the security of religious minorities, especially Muslims.  Finally, the Law represents an unwelcome, unnecessary and illegal intrusion on the part of the Burma Government on the private domain, namely the personal choices of Burma citizens as to which religion, faith and spiritual beliefs to adhere to.  Following so quickly on the heels of the controversial census, which also asked gratuitous questions about religion and ethnicity, the Law unquestionably establishes a disturbing trend: an inclination to exercise total control over Burma people’s status and choices, in contrast to the Burma Government’s stated democratic objectives.

Burma Partnership calls upon the international community – governments, donors, civil society organizations, business partners and investors, and relevant UN agencies – to insist that the Burma Government withdraws the Law and that the Burma Parliament rejects it in any event.  Equally vital is that voices of authority within the country condemn the Law, as more than 150 women’s group networks and civil society organizations did on 6 May 2014.  Most importantly, the people of Burma – Buddhists and non-Buddhists – should categorically reject the Law and the currents of hatred, intolerance and discrimination that have brought this ugly and draconian piece of legislation to the surface.  It is vital to show Burma’s religious extremists that the vast majority of people in Burma stand for peace, tolerance and equality, regardless of faith and ethnicity.

It is imperative that Burma steps back from the abyss of religious conflict, and that those in power do their utmost to ensure that the new Burma is a country for all Burmese, not just the Buddhist majority.  Genuine equality and respect for human rights are cornerstones of a true democracy; the Law shows that Burma still has an awfully long way to go.

News Highlights

Twenty Arakanese Buddhist organizations form a group to monitor UN and INGO aid delivery in Arakan State as they try to influence aid distribution to Rohingya communities

Inside Burma

Burma’s Union Election Commission requests President Thein Sein to provide land for offices and car import permits for registered political parties to use for campaigning purposes but National League for Democracy (NLD) and Shan National League for Democracy promise to run an independent campaign and will not accept property from the government

Parliament to start a new session amid growing calls from opposition parties for constitutional changes

Ten miners are sentenced to one and a half years in prison following months of protest against privatisation of the Moehti Moemi gold mines in Yamethin Township, Mandalay

The Myanmar Peace Support Initiative to continue its involvement in Burma at least until September of 2014, despite drawing criticism that it was initially set up as a short-term project

Landmine kills a six-year-old girl and wounds five villagers in Karen State

Asian Human Rights Commission says two Burma Army soldiers raped a 17-year-old girl in Kachin State, no action has been taken against the alleged rapists despite complaints made by the victim


Karen Women’s Organization condemns aid cuts by international donors to refugees on Thai-Burma border, which forces refugees to return to Burma without enough food and services and remain threatened by dangers of landmines and other issues related safety

Burma’s journalists issue statements calling for Thai Junta to respect press freedom following a military coup

China and five other government officials from the Greater Mekong Subregion – Burma, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam – intend to improve coordination to tackle growing production, usage and trafficking of opiates and synthetic drugs in the region

Aye Myint, Minister of Labour, Employment and Social Security says ASEAN member countries will likely unveil the standard on promoting and protecting the rights of migrant workers by next month


Politicians and activists in Rangoon expresses mixed reactions after President Barack Obama claimed reform in Burma as a success for U.S. foreign policy

Japanese military’s top officer visits Burma and holds meetings with Burma Army chief, Min Aung Hlaing, first time since World War ll


Myanmar’s Appalling Apartheid
By Nicholas Kristof
The New York Times

More Money, More Problems? Questions for Myanmar’s Aid Industry
By Ramesh Srestha
The Irrawaddy

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Members of Myanmar Lawyers Network march through downtown Rangoon to protest the privatisation of two colonial-era buildings

Statements and Press Releases

BURMA/MYANMAR: Draft Anti-religious Conversion Law Released
By Asian Human Rights Commission

Statement in Solidarity with CSOs in Withdrawal from 2014 Interface Meeting Between ASEAN Governments’ and CSOs’ Representatives
By ASEAN Watch Thailand

AAPP-B and FPPS Joint Statement; The Ongoing Arrests of Political Activists in Burma
By Assistance Association for Political Prisoners – Burma and Former Political Prisoners Society

Burma: Drop Draft Religion Law
By Human Rights Watch

 ကရင္လူငယ္အစည္းအရုံး၏ (၂၅)ႏွစ္ျပည့္ ေငြရတုပြဲေတာ္ ဂုဏ္ျပဳအထိမ္းအမွတ္ ကရင္လူငယ္မ်ား ေတြ႕ဆုံေဆြးေႏြးပြဲ ထုတ္ျပန္ေၾကျငာခ်က္
By Karen Youth Organization

ျမန္မာႏိုင္ငံ ေက်ာင္းသားလူငယ္မ်ား ကြန္ဂရက္(SYCB) သတင္းထုတ္ျပန္ခ်က္
By Students and Youth Congress of Burma

Myanmar: “Build on Achievements and Reach for Democracy” – Outgoing UN Special Rapporteur
By UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

IFC Should Postpone Burma Investment
By US Campaign for Burma

This post is in: Weekly Highlights