Myanmar: ICJ hosts workshop on freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief in Myanmar

The ICJ convened a two-day workshop from 3rd to 4th November 2018 in Yangon, to enhance understanding of legal protections of the right to freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief in Myanmar.

Freedom of thought, conscience and belief, often referred to as the right to freedom of religion of belief (FoRB) is considered by many to be one of the foundations of a democratic society.

The workshop was aimed at discussing State regulation of religion or belief in Myanmar and included some 40 human rights defenders, lawyers and members of religious groups, from across the country.

ICJ legal adviser Sean Bain introduced the right to FoRB under international law and standards – particularly Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Mr Bain also discussed the complementarity of these articles with other rights, such as the right to freedom of expression, and highlighted the limitation clauses in the international treaties which provide a framework for resolving some of the tensions that can arise in specific cases.

Michelle Yesudas, a Malaysian human rights lawyer, shared good practices and lesson learned from application of strategic litigation in FoRB related cases in Malaysian context and spoke about potential approaches and strategies that could be adapted in Myanmar context to push the legislative reform and enforcement of the law.

The ICJ’s legal researcher Dr. Ja Seng Ing and national legal Adviser Advocate Daw Hnin Win Aung jointly facilitated two panel discussions on challenges in free practice of religion or belief specifically focusing on the worship places and Freedom of Expression.

Based on their own independent research, senior legal scholars and human rights defenders from Myanmar also provided their perspectives on national challenges, particularly the absence of the State fulfilling its responsibilities to protect FoRB in Myanmar. Advocate Daw Zar Li Aye discussed available legal remedies and encouraged legal advocacy strategies to ensure protections under the law in Myanmar.

The participants raised a number of notable issues on addressing identified obstacles to the free practice of religion or belief included the need for annulling discriminatory notifications restricting the rights to practice religion freely, the need for safe space to continue the dialogue between FoRB activists, other human rights defenders and lawyers on strategic litigation.

Participants at the conference also recognized the opportunity presented before them in advancing freedom of religion or belief in Myanmar and committed to working collectively to enhance this right.

This event is part of the ICJ’s ongoing effort to convene civil society actors including lawyers to discuss critical human rights issues in Myanmar with a view to advancing the protection of human rights in the country.

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