ARTICLE 19 welcomes the newly elected National League for Democracy’s (NLD) initiative to reform protest laws in Myanmar. The speed with which the proposed Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Bill (the Bill) was put before the Parliament is a welcome sign of the government’s intention to reform laws that have demonstrably been used to restrict the right to freedom of expression and the right to assembly.
At the same time, we encourage the government to pause and consult widely with civil society on the Bill before proceeding further in the Parliament. In particular, the consultation should assess whether and how provisions in the Bill could be used intentionally or otherwise to continue past repression of protesters. ARTICLE 19 is particularly concerned that the current Bill:
- Includes provisions that are not necessary in a democracy;
- Includes provisions that are vaguely written and could be used arbitrarily to restrict freedom of expression; and
- Includes criminalisation and prison sentences for peaceful protest.
The Bill will be a step forward from the current Right to Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Law, as amended in 2014. However, it continues to include criminalisation and vague provisions that ARTICLE 19 raised concerns about in 2014, and which have been used to criminalise and imprison hundreds of peaceful protesters over the past two years.
ARTICLE 19 recommends that the Government:
- Pause the parliamentary process and consult with civil society broadly, with the aim of returning a revised bill. This consultation should in particular consider the potential ramifications of the Bill’s provisions, testing their need in a democracy and identifying whether they can be used arbitrarily. Consultations should be guided by the “joint practical recommendations for the management of assembles”, issued by the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association and the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions;
- Consider how criminal actions potentially committed during protests, such as destruction of property or violence, could be better dealt with by using criminal laws of general application, rather than specific laws for protesters only. Based on this considerations, return a revised bill;
- Ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which the Myanmar Government agreed in recommendations accepted during the November 2015 Universal Periodic Review (UPR) at the UN Human Rights Council. While ratifying, begin to engage more thoroughly with the international human rights system, for example by inviting the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association to Myanmar to support in the development of this Bill.