A new briefing paper by the ICJ calls upon Myanmar authorities to ensure that the right to freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief and respect for culture and tradition are never used as pretexts to justify discrimination and violence in the country.
“The analysis in the ICJ’s paper makes clear why there is a pressing need for Myanmar authorities to undertake significant legal and practical reforms, to ensure that all people can exercise their freedom of religion and belief and enjoy equal protection of their human rights,” said Frederick Rawski, Asia Pacific Region Director for the ICJ.
The paper focuses its analysis on two particular sets of laws – the colonial era ‘blasphemy’ laws, which in recent years have also been used as one of the several measures to restrict free speech and the controversial ‘race and religions laws’ passed in the run up to the national elections in 2015, particularly those related to religious conversion and marriage of Buddhist women.
“The briefing paper highlights a number of laws in Myanmar that impair the enjoyment of the right to freedom of religion or belief’’, said Canadian Member of Parliament David Anderson, Chair of the International Panel of Parliamentarians for Freedom of Religion or Belief Steering Committee, which supported production of the paper.
In recent years, Myanmar courts have convicted individuals under ‘blasphemy’ provisions even in the absence of any evidence of deliberate and malicious intent to insult a religion, let alone on the basis of irrefutable evidence of incitement to violence, hostility or discrimination on religious grounds.
In addition to the use of colonial-era blasphemy laws, Myanmar has a more recent set of four laws that appear to specifically target non-Buddhists, and particularly the Muslim community. While all four laws give rise to concerns about the right to freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief, the laws related to conversion and marriage are the most problematic.
The briefing paper also identifies a number of other challenges related to the protection and promotion of the right to freedom of religion or belief in Myanmar. These include:
- Highly discriminatory legal arrangements for citizenship and the rights of residents in Myanmar;
- Arbitrary restrictions on places of worship, mostly for Christians and Muslims;
- Preferential treatment of Buddhism, for example in the national school curriculum.
In light of these challenges, the briefing paper offers 11 key recommendations to the Government of Myanmar in ensuring that Myanmar’s legal framework is implemented in accordance with international human rights law and fully protects the right to freedom of religion or belief.
This report is part of a series of ICJ publications on the right to freedom of religion or belief.
Frederick Rawski, Asia Pacific Director for the ICJ, frederick.rawski(a)icj.org
Liv H. Kvanvig, Coordinator, IPPFoRB, lk(a)nhc.no
Palak Rao, Communications and Advocacy Adviser, IPPFoRB, pr(a)nhc.no