Parliamentarians from across Southeast Asia have joined growing calls on fellow legislators in Myanmar to vote down a proposed law that would see restrictions placed on inter-faith marriage in the country.
The discriminatory draft law is in direct conflict with international treaties on fundamental rights to liberty and religious belief, including the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, and would be a dangerous step towards further marginalization of ethnic and religious minorities in Myanmar that violate the basic rights of its citizens and threaten to destabilize the country, ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) warned.
“There is no place in the future of this region for such a restrictive and discriminatory law. It is extremely concerning that it has even been accepted for drafting by the House Speaker in the first place, especially given existing inter-faith tensions in the country,” said Eva Kusuma Sundari, APHR president and Indonesian Member of Parliament.
“This law would only further divide communities. As ASEAN looks to move forward and progress towards a unified, multi-cultural, multi-ethnic community based on similar principles of freedom, justice and equality, we are looking to remove such prejudiced laws from the books in our countries, not pass new ones. On this particular issue, Myanmar is quite clearly moving in the opposite direction to that which we should be heading.”
The Emergency Provisions on Marriage Act for Burmese Buddhist Women has been accepted for consideration by the government and National Assembly speaker after being submitted by a group of Buddhist monks and laypersons in January. The law has gained support from certain lawmakers, including members of the Rakhine Nationalities Development Party (RNDP). APHR also understands that some MPs that oppose the draft law in principle are uncomfortable to air their views in the Parliament, due to the tense atmosphere surrounding religious issues in the country at the moment.
If enacted, the law would require Buddhist women to get permission from parents and government officials before marrying a man from any other faith. The bill also calls for non-Buddhist men to convert to Buddhism before marrying Buddhist women. The proposed law also sets out a 10-year prison sentence and confiscation of properties of any non-Buddhist who seeks to marry a Buddhist in violation of the law.
APHR noted that similar restrictive laws exist in other countries in ASEAN, such as Malaysia, where non-Muslims are required to convert to Islam before marrying someone of the Muslim faith.
APHR has repeatedly expressed its concern about the perceived state policy in Myanmar of persecution and segregation of ethnic minorities from the Buddhist-Burman majority. APHR stands in opposition to the law in its entirety, but is particularly concerned about the draft law’s requirements for women to gain parental and state permission to marry. Such legislation is in direct contradiction of fundamental rights and liberties, including article 16 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, to which Burma is a party.
Parliamentarians have a duty to uphold basic principles for their societies and countries in line with international treaties to which they are signatories, APHR stressed.
“After decades under a military dictatorship, we know that many of our peers in Myanmar have been working hard to pass new laws that guarantee rights and freedoms, as well as to repeal and amend laws that restrict these freedoms. This is the work that should be taking up the time of the Myanmar Parliament, not the drafting of new restrictive laws,” said Kraisak Choonhavan, APHR Vice President.