To Myanmar President Thein Sein and Speaker of Pyithu Hluttaw Thura Shwe Mann,
We call on the Government of Myanmar to urgently reconsider and halt the drafting of the Interfaith Marriage bill, known as the Law on Protection of Race and Religion, which is currently being drafted by a President-appointed Drafting Committee for consideration by the Parliament.
This bill will have a dire and catastrophic impact on women’s human rights, is likely to polarize and ignite further violence between religious communities in Burma/Myanmar, will cause grave damage to Burma/Myanmar’s international reputation, and threatens to derail the democratic reform process.
This proposed bill includes four elements that contravene international human rights:
(1) The Religion Conversion Law forces a person to provide reason for conversion and undergo investigation from a registration committee to receive approval on what should be a personal, faith-based decision
(2) The Interfaith Marriage Law restricts the rights of Buddhist women who must get permission from parents and government officials to marry non-Buddhist men. This bill also forces non-Buddhist men to convert to Buddhism before marrying Buddhist women.
(3) The Population control law proposes discriminatory measures aimed at controlling the growth of the Muslim population in the country
(4) Monogamy law: this is an unnecessary law which will add to the large number of laws in Burma/Myanmar which restrict and regulate women’s sexuality, marriage and inheritance rights, and are in urgent need of reform to meet international human rights standards.
This bill violates basic international human rights standards and directly contravenes your Government’s commitment to the Convention to Eliminate All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). It restricts women’s equality and freedom, discriminates against Myanmar Buddhist women in Burma/Myanmar, women of other faiths residing in Burma/Myanmar, and indigenous women, and is based on discriminatory beliefs that deny women the inherent rights of freedom of survival and freedom of choice. Drafting the Interfaith Marriage Law, at a time when the Government is submitting a report to the CEDAW committee in August 2014, would demonstrate the Government’s violation of both human rights and women’s rights and would be a disgraceful act inviting international ridicule.
This bill also promotes faith-based extremist nationalism which can destroy state peace and incite conflict, and contravenes Article 364 of the Constitution that forbids the abuse of religion for political purposes. The country’s transition to democracy is being watched and supported internationally, and drafting laws which do not meet democratic ideals can damage the image of Burma/Myanmar and dignity and hinder democracy building.
This bill is widely opposed by civil society groups in Burma/ Myanmar with 161 leading women’s groups and civil society organizations nationwide endorsing a Statement against the Interfaith Bill in May 2014. It has also been opposed by civil society groups at the recent ASEAN Civil Society Forum in Burma/Myanmar and by leading organizations in the Asia Pacific Region.
We therefore request that you:
· Immediately halt the drafting of the Interfaith Marriage bill.
· Work towards a law requiring the compulsory registration of all marriages regardless of race, religion and sex.
· Support the effective implementation of existing public laws which are useful; amend laws which discriminate against women; and approve and implement the anti-violence against women law currently being drafted to international standards.
. Develop initiatives to raise men and women in Burma/Myanmar in a way that nurtures them to value and respect heritage, religion, culture and traditions rather than imposing the responsibility of preserving race, religion, culture and traditions of a country entirely on women.