[JURIST] Myanmar President Thein Sein [official website] on Saturday signed into law a bill requiring some mothers to space the births of their children three years apart. The Population Control Health Care bill, passed by parliament last month, allows authorities [AP report] the power to implement “birth-spacing” in areas with high rates of population growth. Though the bill has no punitive measures, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Anthony Blinken [official website] and right activists worry it will be used to repress women’s rights as well as religious and ethnic minority rights. Speaking on the matter, Blinken stated “We shared the concerns that these bills can exacerbate ethnic and religious divisions and undermine the country’s efforts to promote tolerance and diversity.” The government claims the bill and three others like it were aimed at bringing down maternal and infant mortality rates and protecting women and minorities, but activists argue that there are better ways to accomplish this goal.
Myanmar has long been critiqued for its human rights situation. Amnesty International (AI) and the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) [advocacy websites] in March urged [JURIST report] to reject or revise proposed laws they claim would “entrench already widespread discrimination and risk fueling further violence against religious minorities.” Special Rapporteur on Myanmar Tomas Ojea Quintana from the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights [official website] expressed concern [JURIST report] last April about the deteriorating human rights situation in the country’s Rakhine State [JURIST news archive]. In January of last year Quintana, along with the UN humanitarian chief, called for an immediate investigation [JURIST report] by authorities following reports of alarming levels of violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine state. In October 2013 Quintana warned [JURIST report] that sectarian violence between the Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine State was contributing to wider anti-Muslim sentiments in Myanmar, threatening the positive changes undertaken by the country in the past two years. While Quintana acknowledged that Myanmar’s government has demonstrated willingness to address the situation, he expressed concern that discriminatory acts against Muslims remain unattended. Earlier that month Quintana welcomed [JURIST report] the release of 56 prisoners of conscience in Myanmar, although he stressed the need for legislative reforms that would address the injustice against prisoners of conscience.