13 Jan EU concerned over proposed ‘protection of race and religion’ bills

Written by Tim McLaughlin, Phyu Phyu Zin Published in Myanmar Read 2826 times
EU heads of mission in Myanmar have expressed concerns over pending legislation concerning race and religion in Myanmar. A street scene in Yangon. Photo: Hein Htet/Mizzima

The European Union has expressed concern over a set of religion and interfaith marriage bills set to be debated in the next session of parliament opening on Monday.

The four bills, which seek to impose curbs on interfaith marriage, religious conversion and birth rates, were sent to parliament by President U Thein Sein in December. The bills have been met with fierce criticism from human rights groups who have said that they are discriminatory and unconstitutional.

“The EU calls upon the Government of Myanmar and the Hluttaw to ensure that all legislation adopted be fully in line with Myanmar's own international human rights obligations,”the EU said in a statement on Tuesday, January 13.

“Further, these bills contain provisions which do not seem consistent with the current transition towards national reconciliation and an open democratic society.”

The statement added that the laws could fall foul of international human rights treaties that Myanmar is a party to, particularly the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The bills were proposed in 2013 by a group of nationalist monks, the Committee for the Protection of Nationality and Religion, more widely known as Ma Ba Tha.

A draft of the Religious Conversion Law obtained by Mizzima would force those wishing to convert from one religion to another to submit an application to do so to a registration board made up of officials from the government and local authorities. The person wishing to convert would then have to be interviewed by the board to see if their belief in the religion is genuine.

Myanmar citizens living abroad and wishing to convert would need to undergo a similar procedure at a Myanmar embassy or consulate.

Another of the proposed laws, the Myanmar Buddhist Women’s Special Marriage Bill, would force a Buddhist woman under the age of 20 to get consent from their parents if marrying a non-Buddhist. Applications would also need to be made to the local authorities and a public notice of the marriage posted.

In the case of a divorce, the law would guarantee that in a marriage where the male partner is non-Buddhist, a Buddhist woman would be given custody of all children that the couple may have.

Last modified on Tuesday, 13 January 2015 19:04