[JURIST] Rights groups on Monday criticized Myanmar’s newly signed birth-spacing law, which requires some mothers to space the births of their children three years apart. The law, signed [JURIST report] by Myanmar President Thein Sein [official website] on Saturday, was represented by the government as a healthcare bill intended to bring down maternal and infant mortality rates and is supported [Reuters report] by the Buddhist ultra-nationalist group the Committee for the Protection of Nationality and Religion (Ma Ba Tha). Rights groups now say, however, that the law will be used to target Myanmar’s minority Muslim population. Yangon-based Triangle Women Support Group founder Khin Lay stated that the law “targets one religion, one population, in one area.” Other groups, like Yangon-based women’s rights group Pyi Gyi Khin, fear that the healthcare law could lead to increased tensions between Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims in the country’s Rakhine State [JURIST news archive], with Pyi Gyi Khin founder Nwe Zin Win stating, “In the case of Rakhine specifically, it will only create misunderstanding between the two communities.” Ma Ba Tha has caused increased concern among members of these groups through its expressed belief that Muslim communities have higher birthrates and will eventually overrun the country, thus stoking anti-Muslim sentiment. It remains unclear how this law will be enforced.
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. 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.