Myanmar: Military regime’s new “law” aims to further decimate the function of civil society

Myanmar’s de facto military government has promulgated an Organization Registration Law (ORL) which stands to further shackle the functioning of civil society in the country. The Law is plainly non-compliant with international human rights law and standards, imposing serious obstacles to the exercise of freedoms of association, peaceful assembly, expression and information, and the right to take part in the conduct of public affairs. The ICJ calls for its annulment and for an end to the stifling of activities of independent civil society.

The ICJ has published a legal briefing that provides an overview of the ORL which shows that implementation of the Law would breach Myanmar’s international human rights obligations.

The ORL, published on 28 October 2022, applies to all organizations, both domestic and international, whose purpose is to “provide a social benefit without itself receiving a profit.” In particular, it requires that organizations register with and report to authorities that assumed power through the coup d’état in February 2021. Organizations must avoid any activities which could be interpreted as interfering “in the internal affairs of the State of politics,” or directly or indirectly harming “the perpetuation of the State sovereign power, the prevalence of law and order, security, and national unity.” Organizations that do not comply with the law may face denial of registration, cancellation of registration, hefty fines, and confiscation of organizational assets. Individuals who associate with organizations that are found to violate the law can be subjected to criminal offence, including sanctions of fines and prison sentences.

The ICJ’s briefing paper shows how the law would impose impermissible restrictions on the exercise of a number of rights protected under international law.

The ICJ finds that the new law arrogates to the authorities sweeping oversight into activities of organizations which includes the power to mete out punishment for findings of a violation of the law. The broad and vague provisions relating to registration, as well as controls on individual and organizational behavior combined with extremely harsh penalties for noncompliance combine to make the ORL a repressive amendment to the law in Myanmar. The law does not fall within the narrow exceptions provided by international human rights law and must not go into effect.

ICJ’s briefing paper can be downloaded here

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