Tag Archive | "Burma"

Buddhist monks in Meiktila, Myanmar

Myanmar religion law restricts conversion and criminalizes adultery

International organizations are outraged over proposed legislation being negotiated in the Myanmar Parliament which would require individuals to obtain government approval before converting to, or adopting, a new religion. Myanmar (Burma) is a primarily Theravada Buddhist nation of 54 million people with a generally poor, but improving, human rights record. President Obama has visited Myanmar twice in recent years, placing an international spotlight on the country as it begins its path to reform. Although Myanmar President Thien Sein has introduced increased governmental transparency, the inaugural elections under the new democratic system upcoming in October are already marred in controversy. Myanmar parliamentarian and famed pro-democracy advocate Daw Aung Sun Suu Kyi claimed in November that domestic reforms had stalled.

Burmese Parliament

The Burmese Parliament in Naypyidaw with Daw Aung Sun Suu Kyi center. Photo: Reuters, irrawaddy.org

Human Rights Watch reports that the proposed legislation would also prohibit Buddhist women from joining an inter-faith marriage, criminalize extra-marital affairs, and penalize women who have multiple children within a 3-year period. Amnesty International (AI) insists that Parliament reject or revise the laws, which they claim would “risk fueling further violence against religious minorities,” and contribute to the already widespread discrimination against women. The proposed legislation also prescribes discriminatory obligations on non-Buddhist citizens, particularly effecting Muslim minority populations.

Concerns with the proposed legislation focus on four draft bills, which are opposed by AI and the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) on the grounds that they violate international law and have dire human rights implications.

  • The Religious Conversion Bill requires anyone who wants to convert to a different faith to apply through a state-governed agency. It establishes “registration boards” who “approve” conversions. It is a clear violation of the ICCPR.
  • The Buddhist Women’s Special Marriage Bill exclusively regulates marriage between Buddhist women and men from other religions. It discriminates against women and non-Buddhist men. It is a violation of CEDAW.
  • The Population Control Healthcare Bill establishes a 36 month “birth-spacing” interval between allowed child births. It does not have a clear enforcement mechanism and could lead to forced reproductive control.
  • The Monogamy Bill is aimed at consolidating existing marriage and family laws, but most notable criminalizes extra-marital relations.
Undocumented Muslim immigrants gather at the Immigration Detention Center during Ramadan

Undocumented Rohingya Muslim immigrants gather at the Immigration Detention Center during the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan in Kanchanaburi province, Thailand on July 10, 2013. Photo & Caption Credit: Reuters, HRW.org

Ethnic and religious minorities in Myanmar have been subjected to ongoing and systematic discrimination for years. Recent reports from Rakhine state show that discrimination against the ethnically Muslim Rohingya population is pervasive and is only likely to increase if public sentiment generated by the proposed laws encourages the discrimination. Non-Buddhist women in Myanmar are subject to widespread discrimination and the law would increase the potential for legally sanctioned abuse. AI’s Asia-Pacific Director, Richard Bennett, is particularly concerned that the language of the laws plays into the “harmful stereotypes about women and minorities, in particular Muslims, which are often propagated by extremist national groups.”

Racial and religious tensions in the country are rising; heightened by the election and the November 18th arrest of a Burmese ISIS member following an accidental blast in bordering Burdwan, India.

Buddhist monks in Meiktila, Myanmar

Buddhist monks in Meiktila, Myanmar, where violence between Muslims and Buddhists left 43 dead in March 2013. Photo Credit: CNN

Some Buddhists in Myanmar feel the laws are necessary to prevent further violence. Myanmar Parliamentary Speaker Shwe Mann urged Parliament to pass additional legislation establishing and protecting a national religion. Political activist Monk Ashin Parmouhka told a Democratic Voice of Burma reporter “If you want to see peace and an end to religious and racial conflict in Burma, [the religion legislation] must be adopted. If you want more conflicts and unrest in the country, then don’t adopt the laws.”

While Myanmar is not party to the International Covenant on Cultural and Political Rights, it is a party to the UN Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). In a joint statement, AI and the ICJ claim the laws are in violation of the country’s existing international treaty obligations. They fear that these draft laws are discriminatory and will result in human rights violations, including the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, the right to privacy, children’s rights and the right to freedom of expression. The legislation is currently tabled in Parliament, no date has been set for a vote.

Jeremy Goldstein is a 2L law student at University of Denver Sturm College of Law and a Staff Editor for the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy.

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Aung San Suu Kyi

News Post: Signs of Democracy in Burma

Burma: a small yet increasingly geopolitically important country to the South of China. Little has been made in recent years of this reclusive military junta until it surprised the world with its democratic by-elections this past Sunday. The National League for Democracy (NLD), the pro-democracy party in Burma, won nearly all of the seats it contested in the legislature.  Though elated with the results, the Burmese people maintain a modest posture. One citizen said, “we can’t say we are on the democratic path yet… but over the next few years, under the leadership of Aung San Suu Kyi, I think there will be more changes.” Daw  leads this incipient Democratic movement, and having won herself a seat in the national elections, takes on huge expectations in a country still dominated by men who served under the autocratic regime.

Aung San Suu Kyi

In response to these elections, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton announced the Obama administration would ease sanctions against Burma, however; this move falls short of what the Burmese government expected. The harshest sanctions against Burma are targeted at the military and current government. They forbid international banks from conducting transactions with the country, rendering Burma unable to use credit, and, to make matters worse, they may only be repealed with Congressional approval. The administration plans to bypass Congress on national security grounds to repeal some of the lesser sanctions. Additionally, the U.S. plans to name an ambassador to Burma, establish a USAID mission and United Nations development program, allow non-profits to start initiatives focused on democratic movements, health, and education, and begin issuing visas to select government officials.

On its face, this sounds like a genuine response to humanitarian progress in Southeast Asia. Surely, this is all a consequence of Obama’s much touted approach to engage with authoritarian regimes and “meet action with action.” Not so fast, says George Friedman, geopolitical analyst and owner of the private intelligence analysis agency Startfor. Other, grander motives are at play here. Many, including Friedman, believe this is a smaller move in the Obama administration’s strategic “pivot” to Asia.

The Chinese have courted not only Burma, but Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Kenya over the past decade or so, building state-of-the-art port facilities in hopes of obtaining, as much as they possibly can, something China will never have: a border on the Indian Ocean. The Indian Ocean is an epicenter for global, commercial sea-lanes, and of increasing importance are those sea-lanes that carry oil and gas from the Middle East to fuel Asia’s profound economic development. Having been distracted by events in the Middle East for over ten years, the U.S. left China ample room to expand its reach threatening U.S. domination of the South Pacific region both economically and militarily. Now that the U.S. is turning its eyes towards Asia, it is reacting to China’s increased strength. Cozying up to what remains a very authoritarian regime in Burma is one such example.

China-hands will continue to watch this fascinating match-up between two geopolitical heavy-weights unfold, which undoubtedly will raise both political and legal issues concerning free access to international sea-lanes and ports, territorial sovereignty, and global influence in the Indian Ocean and South China Sea.

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University of Denver Sturm College of Law