The four proposed bills to “Protect Nation, Race, and Religion,” have been accused of contravening a number of national and international frameworks, including the constitution of Myanmar, by 180 civil society organisations.
The organisations including; women’s networks that span the entire country, from multiple ethnic and religious back- grounds; generic pressure groups such as Generation Wave; and special interest lobbies such as the Sagaing Region Farmers Union, publicly released their comments in a January 28 statement.
The groups recommendation is that these four proposed bills be dropped as their enactment could “destroy the stability of Myanmar society” by “inciting hatred, discrimination, conflict and tension within diverse religious commu- nities, and also communities of a single religion,” said the release.
The four draft bills they refer to; the proposed Religious Conversion Law , Health Care for Controlling Population Growth Law, Myanmar Buddhist Women ’s Special Marriage Law, and the Monogamy Law, “would invite international ridicule,” say the groups.
The draft ‘Religious Conversion Law’ comes in for criticism for allegedly contravening Section 34 of the Constitution of Myanmar in that “Every citizen is equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right to freely profess and practise religion subject to public order, morality or health and to the other provisions of this Constitution” and Section 364 which states “The abuse of religion for political purposes is forbidden,” and bans any act that “is likely to promote feelings of hatred, enmity or discord be- tween racial or religious communities.”
They also suggest the draft law contravenes Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which states “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion,” but no specific explanation of how the draft law breaks these charters is mentioned within the groups’ analysis.
However, the groups’ recommendations do say that “Religion, family planning and reproduction, and marriage are subjects integral to the private lives of people. The Government cannot and should not control these areas of people’s lives through laws.”
Analysis on the other laws is more specific; identifying that in the groups’ opinion, the draft ‘Health Care for Con- trolling Population Growth Law’ “aims to legalise state control over women’s sexual and reproductive rights, including family planning and birth spacing.”
This move they believe to be in violation of Article 16.1.e of the ‘Convention on the Elimina- tion of the All Forms of violence Against Women’; a provision which refers to the rights of a woman to determine these decisions for herself.
They also say that the “law would impact upon the registration of the birth of children who were born not in line with this draft law (both access to registration and ability to register),” and that this con- travenes the dictate of the ‘Convention on the Rights of a Child’ that very child has the right of life.
The third draft law, the ‘Myanmar Buddhist Women’s Special Marriage Law’ comes in for criticism from the groups for violation of human rights “because it is controls a person’s conditions of marriage and their private life.”
They also insist the law includes a number of provisions that “reinforce gender stereotypes” and “discriminates against people from minority religions, especially non- Buddhist men,” by for example “excluding parents who are not Buddhist from child guardianship.”
The final draft, that of the ‘Monogamy Law’ comes in for criticism for lack of any protection that states “that polygamy, under any custom or religion is prohibited,” and that the law negatively impact on women and the children of polygamous relationships, say the group.
The recommendations of the groups’ comments also conclude that the government should focus on the reformation of the constitution and the development of the peace process, for these are the most pressing issues that face Myanmar today.