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USCIRF Deeply Concerned by Draft “Religious Conversion Law” in Burma

By United States Commission on International Religious Freedom  •  June 11, 2014

Washington, D.C. – The draft of the ill-advised “Religious Conversion Law” which Burma’s parliament released for public comment would further restrict religious freedom in a country considered one of the worst by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF). The May 27 draft responds to Burmese U Thein Sein’s request that parliament consider four laws demanded by a Buddhist organization connected to the nationalist movement known as “969.”  The drafting committee will receive suggestions until June 20, 2014, and then will submit a draft law on conversion to the parliament.

“The draft conversion law is irreparably flawed and would contravene Burma’s international commitments to protect freedom of religion or belief.  Such a law has no place in the 21st century, and we urge that it be withdrawn,” said USCIRF Chairman Robert George.  “This draft law, and the three others that may follow, risk stoking continuing violence and discrimination against Muslims and other religious minorities, including Christians.”

The draft conversion law would create a governmental Registration Board to approve all religious conversions.  While stating that “everyone has the freedom to convert from one religion to another,” the draft law would create a system clearly geared to discourage conversion.  An individual seeking to convert must supply a Registration Board panel with an extensive list of personal information and the answers to intrusive questions, and then wait 90 days for approval.  This requirement would apply to Burmese both inside and outside the country.  The draft law includes penalties of up to two years in jail for those applying to convert “with an intent to insult, disrespect, destroy, or to abuse a religion,” though it is unclear how such an intent would be proved.

“Because of the government’s unwillingness to address ongoing violence and discrimination against religious minorities, USCIRF recently recommended that the U.S. government maintain its designation of Burma as a ‘country of particular concern’ (CPC) for severe religious freedom violations,” continued Chairman George.  “The government of Burma should be seeking legal reforms to address religious discrimination rather than a regressive law that would inappropriately make the government the arbiter of ‘real’ conversions.  If the conversion law, and other laws the ‘969’ movement demands are passed, the United States government should factor these negative developments into its evolving relationship with Burma.”

USCIRF concluded in its 2014 Annual Report chapter on Burma (translated here) that political reforms have not improved legal protections for religious freedom and have done little to curtail anti-Muslim violence, incitement, and discrimination, particularly targeting the Rohingya Muslim minority. (Theravada Buddhism is the dominant religion, with other significant minority religions including Christianity and Islam.)  Police have failed to intervene effectively and the government has neither addressed the underlying causes of sectarian violence nor held individuals fully accountable. State-sponsored discrimination and state-condoned violence against Rohingya and Kaman ethnic Muslim minorities also has continued, and ethnic minority Christians have faced serious abuses during military incursions in Kachin state. Based on these systematic, egregious, ongoing violations, USCIRF has continued to recommend that Burma remain designated as a CPC.

Media Contact:
USCIRF Commissioner at 202-786-0613 or media@uscirf.gov.

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This post is in: Press Release

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