Thursday, July 17, 2014
Yesterday, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, issued a report on the protection and promotion of the right to privacy in the context of domestic and extraterritorial surveilliance, the interception of digital communications, and the collection of personal data. The report reviews international agreements that protect privacy, including article 12 of the Univeral Declaration of Human Rights and article 17 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, both of which protect the right to be free from unlawful arbitrary interference with privacy, family, home and correspondence. The report expresses concerns about government surveillance of personal information on the Internet. The report states that the government's use of surveillance techniques should be legal (e.g., transparent and for a legitimate purpose), proportionate and necessary. The report also relies on international nondiscrimination principles to argue that both citizens and noncitizens should receive equal privacy protections. Finally, the report states that effective remedies are needed when the right to privacy has been invaded. The report calls on States to review their national laws, policies and practices to ensure compliance with the right to privacy.
Tuesday, July 15, 2014
Comments Sought on Regulations to Implement the Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act of 2010
The Financial Crimes Enforcement Network of the U.S. Department of the Treasury announced that it was seeking comments on Bank Secrecy Act regulations implemented under the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act of 2010. Comments are due September 15, 2014. Get more information from the Federal Register at FR41360.
Hat tip to the ABA Governmental Affairs Office
Sunday, July 13, 2014
Save the date! The International Law Students Association (ILSA) and the International Bar Association (IBA) will hold a conference in London (United Kingdom) on September 5-6, 2014.
The conference will offer student participants:
- A chance to meet fellow law students from around the world
- A range of educational and vocational panels
- A Jessup Compromis Panel Discussion with experts considering the issues raised by the newly released 2015 Jessup Compromis
- A complementary drinks and canapé reception, as well as catered lunches and breaks for all delegates.
- A chance to explore one of the world’s most iconic cities
Friday, July 11, 2014
U.S. Is Violating Domestic and International Law By Failing to Provide Attorneys to Children in Immigration Proceedings
News reports have recently been full of stories regarding the current crisis involving more than 50,000 Central American unaccompanied children arriving at the U.S.-Mexican border in the last six months. Many of these children may have legitimate claims for asylum in the United States and are fleeing crime and violence in their home countries, but are being denied legal representation under U.S. law. To make matters worse, several U.S. politicians have called for expedited deportation of these children back to their home countries, possibly with truncated legal proceedings. To deny these children full immigration hearings with legal representation is a denial of their right to due process under both the U.S. Constitution and international law.
The Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees the right of due process to all persons in the United States, regardless of immigration status. In the context of immigration proceedings, that right has been interpreted to mean that the hearings must be "fundamentally fair." It is clearly a denial of fundamental fairness to expect a child from a foreign country to make a legal claim to asylum in the United States without assistance from an attorney. The U.S. government seeking to deport the child is represented by an attorney. To be "fair", both sides must have legal representation. Last year, the U.S. government recognized that it is unfair to expect persons with mental disabilities to be unrepresented in immigration proceedings and adopted regulations providing for legal representation for such persons. That same logic applies to children as well.
The United States is also a party to a number of international treaties that provide special protections for children, including the International Covnenant on Civil and Political Rights, the U.N. Refugee Convention, the Convention Against Torture, and the Convention against Transnational Organized Crime. While these international instruments do not explicitly provide for a right for unaccompanied minors to have access to free legal assistance in all cases, they certainly impose an international obligation to protect children and their legal rights, including their due process rights. Many countries provide free legal assistance to unaccompanied minors seeking asylum and an argument can be made that there is a developing customary international law norm in this regard in addition to any treaty-based obligations.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a class action lawsuit against the U.S. government yesterday demanding access to free legal representation for children in removal proceedings. Rather than spending resources defending this lawsuit, the U.S. government should spend its resources developing a program to provide legal representation to these vulnerable children fleeing violence and crime in their home countries.
Tuesday, July 8, 2014
OK, international moot court junkies. It's the blog post you've been waiting for. And if you're a coach or a competitor on an international law moot court team, this simply is something that you MUST have.
The DVD of the Final Round of the 2014 Philip C. Jessup International Law Moot Court Competition includes the arguments from the Applicant, represented by the University of Queensland, and the Respondent, Singapore Management University. Presiding over the Final Round are Judges Julia Sebutinde and Dalveer Bhandari of the International Court of Justice, and Prefessor M. Cherif Bassiouni of DePaul University College of Law.
Until August 1, 2014, the Final Round DVD will be 25% off its original price (so you'll pay only $30 USD, with free shipping!). Click here for more details.
The United Nations announced that it would allow same-sex couples access to the same benefits enjoyed by their heterosexual counterparts. According to a major policy change, in effect since 26 June, the UN will honor the marriage of any same-sex couple wed in a country where same-sex marriages are legal. Previously, a staff member’s personal status was determined by the laws of the country whose passport he or she carried.
“Human rights are at the core of the mission of the United Nations,” U.N. Secretaary General Ban Ki-moon said yesterday through a spokesperson. He added that he is “proud to stand for greater equality for all staff,” and called “on all members of the UN family to unite in rejecting homophobia.” Mr. Ban did not consult U.N. Member States about the policy change. “The Secretary-General acted on his own authority as the head of the management of the United Nations. This was a managerial decision affecting U.N. staff,” said the spokesperson.
The U.N. chief has been an outspoken supporter of decriminalizing consensual same-sex relationships, and tackling violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people. “Human rights are for everyone, no matter who you are or whom you love,” he said in an opinion piece in May on LinkedIn. “As Secretary-General of the U.N., I believe in and strive to achieve the world promised in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a world rooted in tolerance, freedom and equality.”
Same-sex relationships are considered illegal in 76 countries. Meanwhile, same-sex marriages are legal in at least 16 countries with sub-national jurisdictions in at least two others, including the United States. The state of New York, where the United Nations is headquartered, recognizes same-sex marriage.
“Yet changes in law alone are not enough; they need to be matched by efforts to change social attitudes,” Mr. Ban noted in his op-ed. “Equality begins at home, and I am all too aware that LGBT colleagues at the U.N., and their families, continue to face challenges,” he said. “All staff members are part of the U.N. family and deserve to be treated equally.”
(adapted from a UN press release) (mew)
Monday, July 7, 2014
The John Marshall Law School of Chicago is using its 21st Belle R. and Joseph H. Braun Memorial Symposium as a platform to draft "The Chicago Declaration on the Rights of Older Persons." This human rights document will explore a number of important areas affecting older persons and provide a basis for further U.N. work on this important and often overlooked group of persons.
The 2014 International Elder Law & Policy Conference will be held on Thursday July 10, 2014 and Friday, July 11, 2014 at The John Marshall Law School, 315 South Plymouth Court, Chicago, Illinois 60604.
Goals: The Conference will bring together international scholars, advocates, and policy makers to participate in an academic discussion on the law, policy, and implementation of legal protections for older persons around the globe. This conference parallels the current discussions of the United Nations Open-Ended Working Group on Ageing. The Conference participants will draft a model International Declaration of Rights for Older Persons.2014 International Elder Law and Policy
- The John Marshall Law School (Chicago, Illinois)
- Roosevelt University, College of Arts & Sciences (Chicago, Illinois)
- East China University of Political Science and Law (Shanghai, China)
In Cooperation With:
- The John Marshall Law School Elder Law Programs (Chicago, Illinois)
- The John Marshall Law School International Human Rights Clinic (Chicago, Illinois)
- Roosevelt University Joseph Loundy Human Rights Project (Chicago, Illinois)
- Roosevelt University Department of Political Science and Public Administration (Chicago, Illinois)
The World Trade Organization (WTO) Appellate Body (AB) issued a decision today in a trade dispute between the United States and China involving the United States' treatment of non-market economies in certain anti-dumping (AD) and countervailing duty (CVD) investigations. China claimed U.S. law and practice violated article X of GATT 1994 and the Subsidies and Countervailing Measures (SCM) Agreement. In March 2014, a WTO dispute resolution panel found that the subject U.S. laws did not violate GATT; however, it found that the United States had violated its obligations under the SCM Agreement by failing to investigate China's allegation of "double remedies."
In its decision today, the AB reversed the panel's decision that the United States' laws did not violate article X:2 of GATT. However, the AB found that it is unable to complete the analysis of U.S. law under article X:2 of GATT. Accordingly, it requested that the United States re-examine the underlying AD and CVD investigations and reviews identified by the panel and AB as inconsistent with WTO rules and bring them into conformity with the United State's WTO obligations as construed by the AB's ruling.
For more information, see DS449-United States: Countervailing and Anti-dumping Measures on Certain Products from China.
Wednesday, July 2, 2014
The American Society of International Law (ASIL) has announce the eight students and young professionals making up its tenth class of Helton Fellowship winners. Selected from a strong pool of applicants from throughout the world, the 2014 winning students have recently received micro-grants of $2,000 to pursue fieldwork in or research on issues involving human rights, international criminal law, humanitarian affairs, and other international law areas.
ASIL established the Helton Fellowship Program in 2004 in honor of Arthur C. Helton, an internationally-renowned lawyer, bar leader, and advocate for the rights of refugees and internally displaced persons. Helton died in the August 19, 2003, bombing of the United Nations mission in Baghdad.
Helton Fellows undertake their fellowship fieldwork and research in association with established educational institutions, international organizations, or non-governmental organizations. The following are the 2014 ASIL Helton award recipients.
- Muna Baig, LL.M graduate, ASIL Academic Partner Columbia University School of Law. Baig will work with the Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project in Amman, Jordan, to document and refer to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees the most vulnerable Syrian refugees in need of third-country resettlement.
- James Balser,J.D. candidate, ASIL Academic Partner Vanderbilt University Law School. Balser will be assigned to the No Peace Without Justice International Criminal Justice Program's Syrian Accountability Project, which is currently working to "reduce the expectation and rewards of impunity and build a culture of accountability" among the Syrian population. Balser will assist with training and advocacy events in Gaziantep, Turkey.
- Catherine Baylin, J.D./Ph.D. candidate, ASIL Academic Partner Stanford University. Baylin will be researching social movements that coalesced around rights issues in Egypt, Morocco, and Kuwait during the "Arab Spring" movement. She will use archival research, press accounts, and interviews to explore how human rights movements appropriated, resisted, and shaped the discourse and practice of global human rights law. Baylin aims to illuminate some of the dynamics that led to the movement while contributing to the global effort to understand the development of modern human rights systems.
- Shaw Drake, J.D. candidate, ASIL Academic Partner Georgetown University Law Center. Drake will be working this summer with the American Bar Association Center for Human Rights to promote rule of law and judicial independence in Guatemala through examination of appeals court candidate records to ensure merit-based appointments in accordance with international standards.
- Peter Grbac,J.D. candidate, B.C.L./LL.B. program at McGill University. Grbac will be working with the Calcutta Research Group (CRG) based in Calcutta, India, where his primary responsibility will be assisting CRG with their ongoing research projects focused on the legal dimensions of immigration and refugee matters. Grbac also intends to carry out his own research project to examine the implications of India's ambivalent refugee law policy on the experiences of refugees in Calcutta.
- Jessica Marsh,LL.M. graduate, University of Melbourne, Australia. Marsh will be working with Asylum Access Thailand as a legal advocate and will conduct research into protection gaps for urban refugees in Bangkok. In particular, she will be exploring what happens when durable solutions are not available and/or substantive and where status recognition alone offers inadequate protection.
- Shayak Sarkar, Ph.D. candidate, Department of Economics at Harvard University. Sarkar will be working on research to improve financial regulation and governance in collaboration with the Centre for Microfinance and the Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy in New Dehli, India.
- Mina Trudeau, J.D. graduate, ASIL Academic Partner American University Washington College of Law. Trudeau will be in Istanbul, Turkey, researching and analyzing the impact of Turkey's recent comprehensive immigration legislation and its transition from a UN High Commissioner for Refugees-led refugee resettlement process to its own asylum adjudication system amidst ongoing humanitarian crises along its borders.
ASIL Executive Director Elizabeth Andersen commented on the tenth anniversary of the Helton program saying, "There is much the Society does of which I am enormously proud, but the Helton Fellowship Program stands out and has particular resonance with me. Arthur was a terrific role model and mentor to me and to hundreds of other young people working in the area of international human rights, and it is that legacy which ASIL aims to perpetuate with the Helton Program today. My sincerest congratulations to the tenth set of Helton Fellowship winners."
The Helton Fellowship Program is administered by ASIL through its Career Development Program. It is funded by a grant from the Planethood Foundation and generous contributions from ASIL members. For more information, visit www.asil.org/Helton. To contribute to the Helton Fellowship fund, visit www.asil.org/Heltongift.
The American Society of International Law is a nonprofit, nonpartisan, educational membership organization. It was founded in 1906, chartered by the U.S. Congress in 1950, and has held Category II Consultative Status to the Economic and Social Council of the UN since 1993. ASIL's mission is to foster the study of international law and to promote the establishment and maintenance of international relations on the basis of law and justice. The Society's nearly 4,000 members (from more than 100 countries) comprise attorneys, academics, corporate counsel, judges, representatives of governments and nongovernmental organizations, international civil servants, students, and others interested in international law. For more information, visit www.asil.org.
Monday, June 30, 2014
The militant group ISIS has declared a caliphate, or a new state based in Islam, in the areas currently under its control in Syria and Iraq. While an Islamic state may be a long-term goal of ISIS and related groups, they are far from meeting the necessary criteria for statehood under international law and are unlikely to receive much, if any, international recognition.
Under article 1 of the Montevideo Convention on the Rights and Duties of States, a state should possess the following qualifications for statehood: (1) a permanent population, (2) a defined territory, (3) a government, and (4) capacity to enter into relations with other states. ISIS claims territory from Aleppo in northern Syria to the Diyala province in eastern Iraq. However, given the existing states' recognized political boundaries, massive refugee flows in and out of the various areas of this region, and the ongoing fighting over territory between ISIS and the Iraqi army, among other factors, it certainly cannot be said that the new caliphate has a permanent population or a defined territory. To the extent that the caliphate has a government, it appears to be the leaders of the militant group ISIS. ISIS has announced that its new leader is Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Its ability to function effectively as a government, rather than a militant group, and to engage in relations with other states remains to be seen.
International scholars, such as Milena Sterio in her book, The Right to Self-Determination under International Law, have posited alternative criteria based more on real politics. Professor Sterio suggests that new states are unlikely to be successful unless the peoples seeking statehood show that: (1) they have been severely oppressed, (2) the central government of the mother state(s) are relatively weak and ineffective at administering the region where the peoples are located, (3) international organizations have been involved in administering the region, facilitating power-sharing, institution-building, and capacity development for the struggling people, and (4) most importantly, the peoples have the support of at least one of the great powers.
ISIS and its supporters are unlikely to meet these criteria either. They largely come from states where they have been able to freely practice their religion and culture and, thus, cannot claim severe oppression. They likely can point to a weak central government, at least in Iraq, but that claim is more difficult to make in Syria, despite the ongoing civil war. International organizations have been involved in Iraq; again, less so in Syria. And most importantly, it is does not appear that ISIS has the support of any major power for its current activities. Thus, ISIS's claim to statehood is certainly premature and should not be recognized under international law.
We've been informed of a new book with the catchy title: "The Independence of International Courts: The Adherence of the International Judiciary to a Fundamental Value of the Administration of Justice" by Dr. Dominik Zimmermann. It's 597 pages and the ISBN number is 978-3-8487-1248-9. And because we don't post enough in German on this blog, here's a description in German of the book (which is in English). Don't read German? Well, go buy the book in English!
Die Studie untersucht Gehalt und Anwendungsbereich des Grundsatzes der richterlichen Unabhängigkeit im Hinblick auf internationale Gerichte. Angesichts der zunehmenden Bedeutung von Gerichten auf der internationalen Ebene ermittelt der Autor zunächst die theoretische Verankerung des Grundsatzes im Völkerrecht und entwickelt eine Arbeitsdefinition der richterlichen Unabhängigkeit für das Völkerrecht. Auf der Grundlage einer umfangreichen Auswertung von Quellen zu den gegenwärtig wichtigsten internationalen Gerichten, arbeitet der Autor sodann sowohl einen Kerngehalt richterlicher Unabhängigkeit als auch gerichtsbarkeitsspezifische Merkmale heraus.
Die Studie füllt somit nicht nur eine Lücke in der wissenschaftlichen Aufarbeitung internationaler Gerichtsbarkeit, sondern fungiert ebenfalls als wertvolle Orientierungshilfe bei der möglichen Errichtung zukünftiger internationaler Gerichte.
Das Werk ist Teil der Reihe Successful Dispute Resolution, Band 1.
TEXAS A&M UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF LAW seeks to expand its academic program and its strong commitment to scholarship by hiring two exceptional faculty candidates for tenure-track or tenured positions, with rank dependent on qualifications and experience. While the law school welcomes applications in all subject areas, it particularly invites applications in: (1) patent law (including related intellectual property subjects); and (2) legal analysis, research, and writing. Candidates must have a J.D. degree or its equivalent. Preference will be given to those with demonstrated outstanding scholarly achievement and strong classroom teaching skills.
This is an especially attractive time to join Texas A&M University School of Law. Since Texas A&M University acquired the law school from Texas Wesleyan University in August of 2013, applications for admission have increased by over 30 percent and development has grown exponentially, including multiple seven-figure endowed chairs. The law school is poised to build on its tradition of excellence in scholarship, teaching, and public service through the extensive resources and opportunities that result from being part of a world-class public university.
Texas A&M University School of Law is located in vibrant downtown Fort Worth. The Fort Worth/Dallas area, with a total population in excess of six million people, offers a low cost of living and a strong economy.
As an Equal Opportunity Employer, Texas A&M University welcomes applications from a broad spectrum of qualified individuals who will enhance the rich diversity of the law school’s academic community. Applicants should email a résumé and cover letter indicating research and teaching interests to Professor Timothy Mulvaney, Chair of the Faculty Appointments Committee, at firstname.lastname@example.org. Alternatively, résumés can be mailed to Professor Mulvaney at Texas A&M University School of Law, 1515 Commerce Street, Fort Worth, Texas 76102-6509.
Thursday, June 26, 2014
The World Trade Organization welcomed Yemen as it 160th member today, ending a 13-year-long accession process. According to WTO Director General Azevedo, with Yemen's accession, 97.1% of the global economy is now subject to the WTO rules. For more information, visit the WTO website.
Monday, June 23, 2014
The Section on International Law of the American Association of Law Schools (AALS) is pleased to announce a Call for Papers for its program at the AALS 2015Annual Meeting in Washington D.C. on Sunday, January 4 at 10:30 am.
The topic of the program and call for papers is “The Influence of International Law on U.S. Government Decision-Making.” This panel will explore the role that international law plays in informing the policy outcomes arrived at by U.S. government decision-makers. To what extent is international law determinative or even influential, and to what extent does the policy area, the branch of government, or the ideological orientation of the decision-maker matter? As a more practical matter, at what stage in the decision-making process is international law taken into account and who are the most influential actors? How can academics be most influential in that process? The presenter chosen through this call for papers will join several prominent current or former U.S. government officials in a panel discussion.
Eligible faculty members are invited to submit manuscripts or detailed abstracts that address any of numerous issues related to the way in which international law infuses decision-making within the United States government.
Per AALS policy, only full-time faculty members of AALS member law schools are eligible to submit a paper to a call for papers. The following are ineligible: faculty at fee-paid law schools, international, visiting (without a full-time position at an AALS member law school) and adjunct faculty members, graduate students, and non-law school faculty. Untenured faculty members are particularly encouraged to submit papers.
Registration fee and expenses
The selected Call for Paper participant is responsible for paying his or her AALS annual meeting registration fee and travel expenses.
Form and length of submission
Eligible faculty members are invited to submit manuscripts or detailed abstracts dealing with any aspect of the foregoing topic. Detailed abstracts should be comprehensive enough to allow the committee to meaningfully evaluate the aims and likely content of papers proposed. Papers may be accepted for publication but must not be published prior to the Annual Meeting.
Deadline and submission method
Papers must be submitted electronically to: Ms. Carol Manis, Assistant to Professor Cindy Buys at Southern Illinois University School of Law. The subject of the email should read: “Submission for AALS Section on International Law.”
The initial review of the papers and abstracts will be blind, and will be conducted by members of the section’s executive committee. In order to facilitate blind review, please identify yourself and your institutional affiliation only in the cover letter accompanying your manuscript, and not in the manuscript itself. The submitting author is responsible for taking any steps necessary to redact self-identifying text or footnotes.
The deadline for submission is September 2, 2014.
The author of the selected paper/abstract will be notified by September 28, 2014.
My amazing co-blogger, Professor Mark Wojcik of the John Marshall Law School in Chicago, is pictured here receiving the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Community Leadership Award from the the Illinois State Bar Association "in recognition of significant dedication in eliminating discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity and fostering understanding of legal issues of concern to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered persons." Congratuations Mark!
Saturday, June 21, 2014
We are sad to learn of the passing of Andreas Lowenfeld, an international law professor and scholar for more than 50 years. Professor Lowenfeld was a member of the New York University School of Law faculty for 47 years and a long-time member of the American Society of International Law amoung other organizations. He was the author of 18 books and 115 law review articles and is perhaps best known for his work in international trade and economic law and international arbitration. His obituary may be found here. Our condolences to his family friends, and colleagues.
The American Society of International Law (ASIL) has been granted observer status at the forty-seventh session of UNCITRAL, which will be held July 7-18, 2014, at the United Nations Headquarters in New York. The session will open on Monday, July 7, at 10:30 a.m. and is expected to run until Friday, July 18. Topics under consideration include a draft convention on transparency in investment arbitration and a possible new convention on international commercial mediation.
ASIL is able to send several representatives to the meeting, and inquires are being coordinated by the Private International Law Interest Group (PILIG). If you are interested in attending this session as an observer, please contact PILIG Co-Chair Professor S.I. Strong at the University of Missouri Law School no later than close of business on Tuesday, June 24, 2014. Please include a copy of a recent c.v./resume and a brief (one-paragraph) summary describing which of the agenda issues are of interest to you and how your expertise may be relevant.
Anyone seeking to attend the UNCITRAL meeting as an ASIL observer must be a member of ASIL and the PILIG. If you are already a member of ASIL, you may join the PILIG free of charge. If you are not yet a member of ASIL, there are special rates for students, new professionals, and government/NGO/IO employees. Students and faculty at ASIL Academic Partners get 50% off membership. Member benefits and pricing are at here.
In the future, the PILIG hopes to be able to extend the opportunity to attend UNCITRAL meetings as an observer to law students. If you join the PILIG, you will be sure to receive the notifications, both for yourself and your student.
Please note that any individual selected to attend this event bears full responsibility for travel and other costs associated with participation. PILIG and ASIL cannot provide any funding assistance.
Furthermore, anyone who attends the UNCITRAL session on behalf of ASIL/PILIG is required to write a brief summary of their experiences. Attendees are also required to abide by ASIL’s rules of participation. Please note that according to ASIL’s Constitution and reflecting its diverse membership, ASIL does not normally advocate positions on matters of policy. Accordingly, ASIL designees may not undertake any advocacy or otherwise advance substantive positions on behalf of ASIL at the conference.
Although opportunities are limited for this particular meeting, the PILIG hopes to make similar offerings available in the future so as to help increase participation in and understanding of international law processes.
Friday, June 20, 2014
The House Foreign Affairs Committee will hold a hearing on the transition in Afghanistan. 6/25/14, 10 am, 2172 Rayburn.
The Subcommittee on Middle East and North Africa, House Foreign Affairs Committee, will hold a hearing on the transition in Libya. 6/25/14, 2 pm, 2172 Rayburn.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold a hearing on the outlook on relations between the United States and China. 6/25/14, 3 pm, 419 Dirksen.
Hat tip to the ABA Governmental Affairs Office
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will mark up the following bills:
- the Energize Africa Act of 2014; S 1933,
- the Global Human Rights Accountability Act; S 1104,
- the Assessing Progress in Haiti Act; and
- S Res 447, recognizing the threats to freedom of the press and expression around the world and reaffirming freedom of the press as a priority in the efforts of the United States Government to promote democracy and good governance.
The markup session will be June 24, 2014 at 2:15 pm, S-116 Capitol Building.
Hat tip to ABA Governmental Affairs Office
A group of independent United Nations human rights experts today called on the Government of Myanmar to do away with a draft bill imposing restrictions on religious conversion, stressing the right of every individual to freely choose or to change their faith. The experts – on freedom of religion, minority issues and human rights in Myanmar – warned that the draft bill, made public on 27 May inviting comments from monks and the public, sets out a cumbersome application and approval process for conversion while purporting to make it easier for individuals to freely convert. It also provides for disproportionate criminal sanctions on offenders, according to a news release issued by the three experts. In addition, some provisions are “vague and subject to interpretation that may lead to discrimination against religious and ethnic minorities or the poor.”
The experts noted that seeking comments from the public on draft legislation is commendable in promoting political participation of the people. “But in this instance,” they added, “this process appears partial to the interest of one particular group and simply propagates the spread of incitement of racial and religious hatred, which the Government must do more to address.”
The Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, Heiner Bielefeldt, noted that State interferences into the right to change one’s religion or belief are “illegitimate and incompatible with international human rights standards.”
“Freedom of religion or belief is a human right, irrespective of State approval, and respect for freedom of religion or belief does not depend on administrative registration procedures,” he stressed. “I am very disturbed by the attempt to regulate religious conversion.”
Rita Izsák, the Special Rapporteur on minority issues, highlighted the potential for the bill to impact negatively on religious freedoms and the rights of religious and ethnic minorities. “I urge Myanmar to strengthen its protections in line with international standards not to create obstacles to the enjoyment of religious identity, minority rights, and the right of every individual to freely choose or to change their faith,” she said.
The Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, noted some “worrying backtracking” on Myanmar’s progress towards a more democratic nation in the last six months, including through the arbitrary arrest and the prosecution of activists and journalists deemed anti-establishment. Ms. Lee warned the draft bill – one of four composing a legislative package on the protection of race and religion – “signals the risk of Myanmar going off-track on its path to being a responsible member of the international community that respects and protects human rights.”
Independent experts or special rapporteurs are appointed by the UN Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a country situation or a specific human rights theme. The positions are honorary and the experts are not UN staff, nor are they paid for their work.
(UN Press Release)