10 September 2015, The Tablet

Race laws have rung death knell for Myanmar, says senior Catholic

Divisive race and religion laws have rung a death knell for peace in troubled Myanmar, one of the country’s senior clergyman warned.

The four laws, which were signed into law over the summer, are designed by hardline Buddhists to persecute religious minorities, the Archbishop of Yangon said today.

We need peace. We need reconciliation. We need a shared and confident identity as citizens of a nation of hope," Cardinal Charles Maung Bo said. "But these four laws seemed to have rung a death knell to that hope."

The laws include a population control bill imposing mandatory "birth spacing" between a woman’s pregnancies; a monogamy law with punishments for people with more than one spouse; an interfaith marriage law requiring Buddhist women marrying non-Buddhists to register their marriages in advance; and a law regulating religious conversions.

"Parliament was coerced by a fringe group of religious elite to enact four black laws, virtually fragmenting the dream of a united Myanmar," the Cardinal said. "That these four bills were conceived not by the elected representatives of the Myanmar people, but by an extra-constitutional fringe element … is a dangerous portend for the fledgling democracy."

Human rights groups have also spoken out against the laws, that may threaten to destabilize the country ahead of a crucial general election in November.

Amnesty International claim that they breach international human rights laws and come at the time of a disturbing rise of ethnic and religious tensions.

While a senior human rights lawyer claimed that the laws could be seen as government’s acquiescence to discrimination.

“The passage of these laws would not only jeopardise the ability of ethnic and religious minorities in Myanmar to exercise their rights, it could be interpreted as signalling government acquiescence, or even assent, to discriminatory actions,” said Sam Zarifi, the International Commission of Jurists’ Asia Director. “The introduction of these discriminatory bills is distracting from the many serious political and economic issues facing Myanmar today.”

"Any effort to dilute the pristine image of Buddhism and its message of universal love needs to be resisted by all people of our nation," Cardinal Bo said. "The four laws are a result of … hatred," he said. "We urge our rulers and elected representatives to review these laws, which can turn out to be a toxic recipe for more decades of conflict."







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