Myanmar law restricting marriage of Buddhist women blasted by EU, rights groups

(Photo: REUTERS / Staff)Rohingya activist and lawyer Wai Wai Nu, a former political prisoner, poses at her office in Yangon, Myanmar, July 28, 2014. Wai Wai Nu is a diminutive 27-year-old with pro-democracy activism in her genes and a quarter of her young life spent behind bars. The former political prisoner is now working to end the persecution faced by her people, the stateless Rohingya Muslims in western Myanmar. The mistreatment she and her family have suffered is just one example among many of abuse aimed at the Rohingya, a minority of around 1.33 million living mainly in Rakhine State. Most are denied citizenship despite having lived in Myanmar for generations.

Lawmakers in Myanmar have passed legislation that imposes restrictions on interfaith marriages in the predominantly Buddhist country drawing criticism from the European Union, the United States and human rights groups.

Human rights advocates say the new law discriminates against women and Muslims in the conservative, predominantly Buddhist country

The Myanmar marriage bill is discriminatory and risks undermining democratic progress, the EU said, after the country's parliament passed the legislation July 8 showing the influence of hardline Buddhists.

Maja Kocijancic, spokesperson of the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy said, "The bill discriminates against women by placing restrictions on Buddhist women's right to marry outside their religion. It discriminates against religious minorities and also non-Buddhist men."

She noted in a statement that the proposed law appears not to respect international human rights standards and seems to run counter to Myanmar's own human rights treaty obligations.

"This and the other three bills in question could further infringe on the rights of marginalised members of ethno-religious minorities and undermine the transition towards national reconciliation and an open democratic society," said Kocijancic.

Myanmar passed the "Buddhist Women's Special Marriage Bill" that compels Buddhist women to register with the government if they intend to marry non-Buddhists, Radio Free Asia reported.

The law states that marriages can be stopped if there are "objections" although it does not mention any specific religion that might be objected to.

It is however, widely seen as aimed at preventing Muslims marrying Buddhist women.

Human Rights Watch called the law "incredibly dangerous" and characterized it as being in line with other recent attempts by extremist Buddhist monks in Southeast Asia to incite hatred against Muslims.

"The Special Marriage Law is a blatant attempt to curb interfaith marriages with absurd claims of helping Buddhist women," said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for HRW. "It's the latest potential trigger for anti-Muslim violence pushed by religious extremists, and the president shouldn't sign it."

The bill is one of four "Protection of Race and Religion Laws" widely criticized as discriminatory by human rights groups that consider them as a new attempt to marginalize Rohingya Muslims who are treated as "outsiders" by Myanmar's government.

Many thousands of Rohingya have fled to neighboring countries such as Thailand and Malaysia.

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