The Future of the Federal Democratic Union: The Right of Effective Political Participation for Muslim Religious Minorities in Myanmar
The Future of the Federal Democratic Union:
The Right of Effective Political Participation for Muslim Religious Minorities in Myanmar
Author: NM. Than
The majority of Myanmar’s Muslim minority faces human rights violations, including the right to citizenship and effective political participation. The first step towards addressing this issue is to abolish the 1982 Citizenship Law, which discriminates against the minority community. By removing the requirement for religious identity to be displayed on citizenship cards, which also violates freedom of religion, a unified identity can be established. The root cause of the inability of Muslim minority community leaders to effectively participate in politics and establish a political party is their citizenship card, which displays their religious identity, and the fact that they did not have correct census data updated (as mandated by the 1982 Citizenship Law).
The National Unity Government should thus enact social protection laws to safeguard minority communities, especially the Muslim community, from human rights violations. This includes addressing social discrimination against them, such as the use of the derogatory term “Kalar”, destruction of mosques (places of worship), and burning of Muslim homes and properties. Most of the military and the majority of the Buddhist community are not given jobs at decision-making levels of authority, preventing them from working at certain companies, or selling their houses to Muslims. Myanmar’s census data is outdated due to the government’s concern that if the Muslim population is known, they may establish political parties based on their population. Authoritarians in Myanmar are not recognized as an ethnic group among the 135 ethnic groups in Myanmar. Furthermore, the new federal democratic union constitution does not mention the rights of Muslim religious and ethnic minorities or provide guidance on how they can participate in politics. The purpose of this brief is to advocate for these rights.
Old Wine, New Bottle?
According to the inclusive meeting of the CRPH, some of its members are adopting a majoritarian approach and disregarding the rights of minority communities in Myanmar. This discrimination has been ongoing since Myanmar’s independence from British colonial rule on January 4, 1948, when it became a sovereign, independent republic. Since then, the military government has continued to discriminate against religious and other minority communities in Myanmar. Although the CRPH is currently fighting for justice and peace in Myanmar, the Burmese majority has not been receptive to the Muslim religious minority’s call for power-sharing and equality in federal democracy.
Therefore, it is imperative for political leaders and authoritarians to consider social protection, a sense of unity in identity, and effective political participation for all communities in the future of the federal democratic union in Myanmar. It is worth noting that Muslim minority communities have actively participated in politics since the King Era, where they fought for their self-rule and independence alongside General Aung San. During the revolution, the younger generation of Muslims also fought for democracy, and the military junta killed more than 77 innocent Muslim people (AAPP, 2022).
To address the issues, the following should take into considerations:
Citizenship is a birthright, and everyone born in Myanmar should have the right to citizenship, which is currently denied by the discriminatory 1982 Citizenship Law. Implementing a unified identity and publishing social protection laws would help reduce socioeconomic and political discrimination against minority communities. To establish political parties, Muslim minority communities must have their census data collection approved by the Myanmar Ministry of Immigration and Population based on their population, as stipulated by Myanmar Law Library.org.
In 1980, Singapore’s Ministry of Home Affairs published the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act (MRHA), which grants powers to maintain religious harmony in Singapore’s multi-religious and racial society. The MRHA legal framework and Penal Code help to ensure harmony, peace, and security among the diverse religious communities by building trust and acceptance of different races and religions while protecting them.
The governments should abolish four discriminatory laws passed in 2015 that negatively impact the Muslim minority in Myanmar. These laws were enacted under the guise of protecting race and religion but pose significant challenges to human rights. The four laws in question are: the Marriage Law, which imposes requirements and penalties for marriages between non-Buddhist men and Buddhist women; the Religious Conversion Act, which imposes a burdensome application and approval process for religious conversion; the Population Control Act, which allows for the implementation of population reduction measures in certain areas; and the Monogamy Law, which prohibits polygamy practices that are already criminalized under the country’s penal code (Myanmar Law Library.org).
The most important step to protect against hate speech and propaganda leading to violence is the implementation of social protection laws. Pro-military lobbies, ultra-nationalists, and religious groups remain active and influential in Myanmar’s political scene. The Myanmar military has a long history of discriminating against religious minorities. Burmese Buddhist organizations such as Ma Ba Tha and the 969 movement have spread the false claim that Buddhism is under threat from Islam and “Islamization” (Islam in Myanmar, 2020). Singapore’s Ministry of Home Affairs has recognized the widespread prevalence of internet and social media offenders and has updated its Restraining Order (RO) to remove offensive online content and ensure the protection and safety of all citizens.
The NUG government, which aims to establish a federal government system in its constitution, has failed to recognize the Muslim minority communities as ethnic groups (IDEA, 2022). This policy memo raises the question of the rights and roles of Muslim minority communities in the upcoming federal Democratic Union government. It calls for equal financial allocation and revenue-sharing distribution among Muslim ethnic minority groups and meaningful participation of Muslim minority communities in the political process. Despite not having a state, Muslim minority communities should establish self-government and governance structures that can be included in the future federal minority constitution.
It is important to continuously monitor and evaluate the participation rights of Muslim minority communities at the political level. The implementation of social justice and protection measures must be lawful, effective, and efficient in accordance with the law. Training, education, and awareness-raising programs on minority rights are necessary not only for government leaders but also for various religious leaders. Leaders of Muslim ethnic minority groups should be knowledgeable about the political process and its implementation based on past experiences and lessons learned. It is crucial to collect data and monitor the meaningful participation of ethnic Muslim religious minority groups in politics, as well as raise awareness among Muslim communities through social media and religious leaders.
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