[JURIST] Myanmar President Thein Sein [BBC backgrounder] on Friday gave his official approval to a bill allowing the country’s citizens to conduct peaceful protests, if the protests are approved in advance. The bill includes requirements [AFP report] that demonstrators must comply with in order to hold a peaceful protest, one of which involves notifying the authorities five days in advance of when, where and for what purpose they will be protesting. If notice is not given, protesters face up to one year in jail. The law, which overturns previous restrictions banning all protests [Sydney Morning Herald report], was passed by the parliament in November but will now become effective, having received the president’s approval. The passage of the bill is the latest measure the new government has taken in an attempt to improve its international reputation following a transfer of power from a military regime to a civil system in March after holding its first elections in 20 years.
While Myanmar continues to take steps forward in its reformation efforts, it has recently faced struggles with regards to the status of human rights within the country. Last month, human rights group Partners Relief and Development [advocacy website] said that Myanmar soldiers may be committing war crimes [JURIST report] in the form of torture and forced labor against ethnic communities in Kachin State. The group issued a report [text, PDF, graphic content] documenting the war crimes which allegedly began on June 9 after a 17-year ceasefire agreement was broken to begin a war between the Myanmar army and the Kachin Independence Army [BBC backgrounder]. Evidence for the alleged war crimes was gathered from first-hand interviews of witnesses in Myanmar. The report calls attention to Myanmar’s legal obligations and highlights that it has failed to honor its obligations under human rights law and the Geneva Convention [ICRC backgrounder] and that it may also be subject to charges from the International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website]. The report calls on the UN to conduct an investigation into the war crimes in Myanmar. Earlier in November, the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission (MNHRC) urged Sein to release political prisoners [JURIST report]. In an open letter to Sein published in three state-owned newspapers, the MNHRC indicated that domestic and international support would follow the prisoners’ release. Sein had granted amnesty to 6,359 prisoners in October following a similar open letter issued by the MNHRC.