US Agency Urges Burma to Scrap Proposed Religion Laws

religious conversion

A banner promoting the new Upper Burma chapter of the Group to Protect Nationality, Religion and the Buddhist Mission is seen at a monastery in Mandalay. (Photo: Teza Hlaing / The Irrawaddy)

WASHINGTON — Draft laws in Burma aimed at protecting the country’s majority Buddhist identity by regulating religious conversions and marriages between people of different faiths have “no place in the 21st century” and should be withdrawn, a US government agency said on Wednesday.

The US Commission on International Religious Freedom said the laws risked stoking violence against Muslims and other religious minorities, including Christians. If the laws are passed, it said, Washington “should factor these negative developments into its evolving relationship with Burma [Myanmar].”

The US State Department said it had serious concerns about the pending legislation and had expressed them to the government of Burma.

State Department spokeswoman Jan Psaki told a regular news briefing that any measure that would criminalize interfaith marriages “would be inconsistent with the government’s efforts to promote tolerance and respect for human rights.”

The chairman of the commission, Robert George, called the proposed law against religious conversions “irreparably flawed” and said it would contravene Burma’s international commitments to protect freedom of religion or belief.

“Such a law has no place in the 21st century, and we urge that it be withdrawn,” he said.

The law as published in draft form last month would require those seeking to change their religion to obtain permission from panels of government officials.

The government has yet to publish drafts of the other three bills, which deal with population control measures, a ban on polygamy and curbs on interfaith marriage.

George said the commission recently recommended that Washington continue to designate Burma a “country of particular concern” for severe religious freedom violations.

Late last month, Burma began a parliamentary session that will debate the proposed legislation. The government has said it will accept comments on the religious conversion law until June 20.

Rising sectarian tension in Burma has exploded into violent clashes between Buddhists and Muslims.

At least 237 people have been killed and more than 140,000 displaced by the violence since June 2012. The vast majority of victims have been Muslims, who make up about 5 percent of Burma’s population of 60 million.

Burma’s quasi-civilian government has adopted sweeping political and economic reforms since taking over from a military junta in March 2011 and has been encouraged in this by the United States, which is competing for influence in Asia with an increasingly assertive China.

However, the religious tension in Burma, which has grown alongside a movement led by nationalist Buddhist monks known by the numerals “969,” has been viewed in Washington with growing concern.

A bipartisan group of prominent US senators has introduced a bill in the US Congress that would limit military cooperation with Burma if rights abuses are not addressed.

Recommendations of the bipartisan commission are non-binding. US law allows for the imposition of sanctions on countries the commission terms “of particular concern,” but they are not automatically imposed.

7 Responses to US Agency Urges Burma to Scrap Proposed Religion Laws

  1. The US Commission on International Religious Freedom has failed drastically to understand the importance of the bill, since the bill is meant for not only the 21st century world but beyond the 22nd century – because many of the today’s existing laws are flawed, and the use of the present-day laws tips the balance and gives illegal upperhand to one side. The proposed Burmese law should have been named as Religious Tolerance bill, because the contents of the law are aimed and meant for justice for both the parties involved. Factors in the proposed bill include ‘peaceful coexistence’ rather than forcing anyone into another religion. the change of religion often raises questions of complex inheritance laws, which today’s laws, most of which have been handed down from the British colonial laws, are totally flawed. In light of the best law practices shown in the British made laws and existing social laws and religious laws, the new Burmese law is aimed at total justice for all parties involved. Even the US laws regarding religious conversion are defective. The US, its government or any of its agencies, should not interfere into the other people’s lives and lifestyle, and they must learn to honor others if they really want to stay honorable among the dignified nations of the world. It is a shame that the above Commission has tried to minimize Burma’s sovereignty through their undiplomatic rhetoric.

  2. And all this because of him, who is well known for his heinous acts and well known as: ‘Look Ma, No Hands’; (see more) below whom he is:

    “LOOK -’MA’ — NO HANDS!”
    “The day you take off your uniform, you are as good as dead ; just like your boss Gen Ne Win” – Daw Kyaing Kyaing (Gen Than Shwe’s wife)
    Boy! You don’t have to worry; there are many ways to hold onto power without wearing a uniform (sic. status of Army Chief of Staff)
    ‘How to rule a nation state upon nominal retirement – a despot’s way’
    It is quite easy, boy !
    A shady deal is fixed to run a nominally civilian-run Cabinet by Burma’s former despot Sr Gen Than Shwe !
    How is the deal fixed ?
    Well, it is easy ! Just form a NDSC (National Defense & Security Council) sitting on top of the Cabinet (obscure & not known to the general public); no doubt Sr Gen Than Shwe is the Chairman!
    Then again, who is behind all this 969 stuff and and all this communal strife all across the state – which sets you thinking as:
    – The whole issue is planned with calculated moves for political gains
    – Religion is pushed up front to exploit majority Buddhist sentiments
    – The movement seems to have strong financial support
    – Killings, arson are ignored by the authorities
    – Old monsters stirring up trouble (ref: June 2, 2013: Sunday Times, Singapore)
    So, all these indicators point to: –
    “LOOK -’MA’ — NO HANDS!”
    No doubt about it !
    [Ref: “You guys (MI personnel sic Gen Kyaw Win), don’t you argue with me again– On who did it ! I did it ! So, what?” – Gen Than Shwe(on De-Pe-Yinn massacre) ]

  3. I cannot imagine someone else’s taking control of my life and liberty. The government should stay away from religious groups. If you haven’t noticed, Theravada Buddhism is slowly disappearing in Burma. Many of these monks don’t even follow Buddha’s teachings.

  4. This movement is meaningless and against the rule of Law also against the
    present constitution. Especially UN Charter is concern a country which violate basic human rights must be taken action through the Security Council of United Nations. As such Burma ( Myanmar ) shall consider deeply before taken action by internationally. Do not think that it is that your internal matter cncerniong with other peoples birth rights matter. Do not try to pinch ants nest. It can be backfired.

  5. Muslim Govts are not staying away from religious group.

    Monks are following Buddha’s teachings.

    Buddhism is not a copy cat from other religion.

  6. there is Christian Law; Sharia Law; Judaic Law; Hindu Law; No Law, Mother in Law; what is wrong with Buddhist Law, long overdue.
    For those that do not accept should kindly go and join any of the above mentioned laws in the country they are practised.
    Example there are a multitude of Jews, Hindus, Muslims living under Christian Law, take the US, UK.

  7. The proposed laws do not, I repeat, do not go against human rights. If human rights are such a big concern, why are the Muslims in Islamic countries practise blasphemy law, and worse why there is no freedom of religion in the Arab countries including Pakistan and Indonesia?

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