In October 2016, ARTICLE 19 analysed the draft Interfaith Harmonious Coexistence Law (the draft Law), proposed by the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Culture of Myanmar, for its compliance with international human rights standards.
In the analysis, ARTICLE 19 finds that the draft Law does not meet international human rights standards and should not be introduced to the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (the Myanmar Parliament) in its current form. Efforts should instead focus on developing positive policy measures, alongside reforms to the Penal Code and the development of a comprehensive non-discrimination legal framework, to ensure both the right to freedom of expression and the right to equality.
International human rights law requires the Myanmar government to protect and promote all of these rights: one right cannot be prioritised over another, and any tensions between them must be resolved within the boundaries of international human rights law. In relation to the right to freedom of expression, Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) requires that any limitation meet a three-part test; the restriction a) must be provided for by law, b) pursue a legitimate aim, and c)be necessary and proportionate. Though states are required to limit the advocacy of discriminatory hatred that constitutes incitement to hostility, discrimination or violence, this is a last resort measure reserved only for particularly severe forms of hate speech.
ARTICLE 19 finds that although the draft law supposes to promote “harmonious coexistence”, its measures prioritise ambiguous and far-reaching restrictions on freedom of expression that will only close space for inter-communal dialogue and increase distrust within and between groups. This includes through broad criminal prohibitions on “hate speech” that impose minimum sentences of imprisonment for blasphemy and “misusing of religion for political purposes”. The draft Law will therefore be counter-productive to combating discrimination and violence that is motivated by or perpetrated against people on the basis of religion or belief.
Moreover, the draft Law does not provide safeguards against its likely discriminatory impacts on the freedom of expression and equality rights of already marginalised groups, including religion or belief minorities, non-citizens, women, persons with disabilities and lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans (LGBT) people, as well as political opposition and dissenters.
ARTICLE 19 recommends the withdrawal of the draft Law, and for an entirely new approach combining positive policy measures, reforms to existing laws, and the enactment of a legal framework for the right to equality and non-discrimination.