CSOs set sights on in­ter­faith har­mony

The Myanmar Times - - News - AUNG KYAW MIN aungkyawmin@mm­times.com SHOON NAING news­room@mm­times.com

A WORK­SHOP to for­mu­late draft bills on in­ter­faith har­mony and against all forms of dis­crim­i­na­tion is be­ing led by civil so­ci­ety or­gan­i­sa­tions and law ex­perts this week, with ad­vo­cates say­ing they aim to sub­mit the pro­posed leg­is­la­tion to par­lia­ment within the year.

The work­shop is be­ing held from Au­gust 16 to 18 at Ho­tel Esper­ado in Yan­gon. Par­tic­i­pants in­clude CSOs, lo­cal law ex­perts and ex­pe­ri­enced le­gal pro­fes­sion­als from Bri­tain. Work­shop par­tic­i­pants aim to dis­cuss and ad­here to in­ter­na­tional stan­dards and hu­man rights law in draft­ing the bills, which they hope, if en­acted, will help ad­dress in­ter-reli­gious ten­sions that have marred Myanmar’s im­age on the world stage in re­cent years.

“Myanmar was [pre­vi­ously] known as the friendli­est and most help­ful coun­try, but now it has a bad rep­u­ta­tion,” said U Myo Win, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Smile Ed­u­ca­tion and De­vel­op­ment Foun­da­tion. “Peo­ple used to ac­cept all kinds of di­ver­sity, but it is the op­po­site now. I feel that we CSOs also have a re­spon­si­bil­ity to do some­thing when the coun­try is suf­fer­ing from a bad rep­u­ta­tion.”

He added that dis­cus­sions were held among CSOs about in­ter­faith har­mony and anti-dis­crim­i­na­tion mea­sures in 2011, but ar­riv­ing at con­crete out­comes was post­poned due to the sen­si­tive na­ture of the is­sues at play.

One year later, con­flict be­tween Bud­dhists and Mus­lims tore through Rakhine State, and in the years since there have been sev­eral out­breaks of vi­o­lence pit­ting mem­bers of the two re­li­gions against each other.

The work­shop will use a draft doc­u­ment on in­ter­faith har­mony pre­vi­ously writ­ten by more than 100 CSOs as in­spi­ra­tion this week. Leg­is­la­tion sub­mit­ted to par­lia­ment in 2013 went nowhere un­der the pre­vi­ous gov­ern­ment.

“We are try­ing to con­tinue the draft doc­u­ment and lo­cal law ex­perts will dis­cuss with in­ter­na­tional law ex­perts in or­der to draw up and com­ple­ment or cre­ate a [new] draft bill,” U Myo Win said.

Pub­lic in­put will be sought once draft leg­is­la­tion has been crafted.

“We will try to get a first draft from this work­shop and then we will dis­cuss in a fo­rum as a sec­ond stage and try to fi­nalise the draft bill. The draft bill will be dis­cussed with law coun­sel­lors and then will be sub­mit­ted to the Bill Com­mit­tee of par­lia­ment … We will have dis­cus­sion fo­rums in six dif­fer­ent re­gions na­tion­wide. We in­tend to ac­com­plish these things within one year,” said U Myo Win.

This week’s ef­forts to fos­ter in­ter­faith har­mony and elim­i­nate dis­crim­i­na­tion come in the wake of the pre­vi­ous gov­ern­ment’s pas­sage last year of four “pro­tec­tion of race and re­li­gion” bills ped­dled by Bud­dhist na­tion­al­ists, which have been crit­i­cised as dis­crim­i­nat­ing against both women and Mus­lims.

The Na­tional League for Democ­racy gov­ern­ment ap­pears open to in­ter­faith har­mony leg­is­la­tion, with a prom­i­nent le­gal ad­viser to the party say­ing in May that the ad­min­is­tra­tion was con­sult­ing with CSOs on the mat­ter.

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