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Myanmar’s proposed race and religion laws are discriminatory and should be scrapped

BANGKOK -- Southeast Asian lawmakers today called on Myanmar to scrap a package of discriminatory laws to be submitted for review by the parliament, saying they violate international human rights laws and threaten to destabilize the county in its transition to democracy.
“These laws are discriminatory in their very conception and should be scrapped,” said ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) Chairperson and Malaysian Member of Parliament Charles Santiago.
“Over the past three years under Myanmar’s military government we have seen a continuation and proliferation of ethnic and religious-based discrimination that threatens to undermine the entire reform process and destabilize the country as it goes through its democratic transition.”
Myanmar’s military-dominated parliament is set to debate the controversial laws in its session in January 2015. It is regrettable that laws based on such discriminatory principles have been able to get this far and they should be rejected by the parliament until they meet international human rights standards, APHR said.
If passed, the Marriage Bill would compel non-Buddhist men to convert before marrying a Buddhist woman, and the Religious Conversion Bill unnecessarily imposes state and bureaucratic controls that violate freedoms of religion and belief and are clearly aimed at undermining the country’s minority faiths.
“The use of the title ‘protection of race and religion’ bills is a total misnomer. They should be called the ‘attack on minority race and religion’ bills. They are discriminatory against women and religious minorities and have no place in the laws of a modern democratic nation,” said Walden Bello, vice chair of APHR and Philippines Congressman.
“The legislation as it stands is another step in the institutionalization of discrimination against religious and ethnic minorities and would serve to legitimize the dangerous views of those groups which have been inciting violence and hate-speech against Muslims and other minorities,” he added.
The Religious Conversion Bill and the Population Bill were submitted to Parliament by the Union Government on Nov. 24th, while the Interfaith Marriage Bill and the Monogamy Bill were submitted by the Union Attorney General on Nov. 26th.
APHR considers the bills to be part of a wider policy of discrimination aimed at the country’s Muslim Rohingya minority.
“The Myanmar government’s policy towards the Rohingya is clearly discriminatory and illegal under international human rights law. The so-called “Rakhine Action Plan”, which forces the Rohingya to deny their ethnic heritage in return for flimsy semi-citizenship status goes against basic principles of decency and humanity. It should be opposed by all right-thinking persons and the government urged to make an immediate U-turn that ends the desperate plight of the Rohingya,” said Mr. Santiago.


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