One Year on From Meiktila Violence – Hate Speech Unchallenged – Prejudice To Become Law

27 Mar 2014

Statement by Members of the European Burma Network

A year on from anti-Muslim violence in Meiktila, members of the European Burma Network express their deep concern that not only does hate-speech remain largely unchallenged within Burma, but prejudicial laws proposed by those promoting hatred against Muslims have been endorsed by the President, and are likely to become law.

Those displaced by anti-Muslim violence in Meiktila remain in camps, unable to return home. The failure to tackle anti-Muslim prejudice means it is unlikely they would safely be able to return even if homes were rebuilt.

Proposed laws currently being drafted by Thein Sein’s government at the request of Parliamentary Speaker Shwe Mann include a law restricting the ability of non-Buddhists to marry Buddhists, and a law expected to restrict the number of children Muslims can have (1). Such laws violate international human rights standards enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The views of those promoting hate-speech and inciting violence against Muslims and other minorities are perceived to have been given legitimacy when the president and his government defends those promoting hate speech, and then supports laws which they propose. As the Special Rapporteur on human rights in Burma stated in his most recent report in March 2014:

“The Special Rapporteur is concerned that the Government is not fulfilling its international human rights obligation to tackle incitement to violence based on national, racial or religious hatred. Community-based, political and religious groups have been conducting, with impunity, well organised and coordinated campaigns of incitement to discrimination, hostility and violence against Rohingya and other Muslim minorities. The Government has a duty, under international human rights law, to investigate the nature and extent of the harm caused to persons and groups as a result of hostility and violence incited on the basis of racial or religious hatred, and to hold the perpetrators to account with proportionate punishments.”(2)

The European Burma Network calls on the Government of Burma and the international community to study the recommendations of the Rabat Plan of Action and the recent report on hate speech by the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, and to implement those recommendations in Burma.

Members of the European Burma Network support the recommendation of the Special Rapporteur regarding General Recommendation 35, combatting racist hate speech, of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

We urge the government of Burma to implement General Recommendation 35, and in addition to abide by the Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. We urge all political parties in Burma to publicly support full implementation in Burma of General Recommendation 35.

We draw attention to the need for effective legislation which can help address hate speech whilst also ensuring civil liberties are not curtailed. Legalisation should be passed in Burma which complies with the General Recommendation 35:

“Declare and effectively sanction as offences punishable by law:

(a) All dissemination of ideas based on racial or ethnic superiority or hatred, by whatever means;

(b) Incitement to hatred, contempt or discrimination against members of a group on grounds of their race, colour, descent, or national or ethnic origin;

(c) Threats or incitement to violence against persons or groups on the grounds in (b) above;

(d) Expression of insults, ridicule or slander of persons or groups or justification of hatred, contempt or discrimination on the grounds in (b) above, when it clearly amounts to incitement to hatred or discrimination;

(e) Participation in organizations and activities which promote and incite racial discrimination.”

Members of the European Burma Network call upon the European Union and the rest of the international community to make clear to the government of Burma that positive diplomatic relations are dependent on Burma following General Recommendation 35 and complying with its international human rights obligations.

They should also make clear that the two laws currently being drafted, to restrict inter-faith marriage, and the number of children Muslims can have, is unacceptable and incompatible with Burma’s international obligations. This proposed legislation discriminates against religious minorities and all women regardless of their religion.

It is clear that both the government of Burma and opposition political parties are either unwilling or unable to start to tackle the issue of religious prejudice, hate speech and anti-Muslim violence. The international community needs to do more to assist, and where necessary apply pressure, to ensure that all political leaders in Burma understand the urgency of tackling this problem.

Members of the European Burma Network call upon the European Union and rest of the international community to organise an international conference on the issue, with high-level participation by the international community, leading to a focused and co-ordinated plan of action to address the growing hate-speech and prejudice in Burma, and provide international financial support and expertise to help all political, religious and community leaders tackle this prejudice.

Unless greater priority is given to tackling this growing problem, we fear that further violence and more laws and other policies which persecute and discriminate against religious and ethnic minorities in Burma are inevitable.



Signed by:

Actions Birmanie (Belgium)
Austrian Burma Center
Association Suisse-Birmanie
Building Social Democracy in Burma (A project under ASD Sweden)
Burma Action Ireland
Burma Campaign UK
Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK
Christian Solidarity Worldwide
Info Birmanie (France)
Norwegian Burma Committee
Society for Threatened Peoples (Germany)
Swedish Burma Committee

Burma Action Ireland

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