U.S. agency urges Myanmar to scrap proposed restrictive religion laws

June 17, 2014
(isitors walk around the Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, Myanmar February 21, 2014. REUTERS/Chaiwat Subprasom )

(Visitors walk around the Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, Myanmar February 21, 2014. REUTERS/Chaiwat Subprasom )

Draft laws in Myanmar 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conversions and marriages between people of different faiths have “no place in the 21st century” and should be withdrawn, a U.S. government agency has said.

The U.S. 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 U.S. State Department said it had serious concerns about the pending legislation and had expressed them to the government of Myanmar, which is also known as Burma.

State Department spokeswoman Jan Psaki told a regular news briefing on June 11 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 Myanmar’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“Such a law has no place in the 21st century, and we urge that it be withdrawn,” he said.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 other three bills, which deal with population control measures, a ban on polygamy and curbs on interfaith marriage.

Read the full story by David Brunnstrom here.

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