CSOs set sights on interfaith harmony
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.