Law Safeguarding the Rights of National Races: Better to ratify UNDRIP

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On 24 February 2015 , the Law Safeguarding the Rights of the National Races was promulgated. The following is a short commentary by Richard Zatu, a researcher at the Pyidaungsu Institute (PI) for Peace and Dialogue.

1. If the country were already a federal union, with th right of self determination for every constituent state, this law would have been superfluous.

2. How effective this law will be depends on how strictly the under par democratic 2008 constitution is being enforced. For example, the law has nothing to say about the ownership of agricultural lands and forests by the national races. But according the constitution’s Article 37, The Union (a) is the ultimate owner of all the lands and natural resources above and below the ground, above and beneath the water and in the atmosphere of the Union.

3. The term” national races”, at first glance, appear to include the Burman majority, but later articles show the Burmans seem to have been excluded.

4. There is nothing to assure that the person to be appointed as national races affairs minister should be a non-Burman. Also there is no answer to the obvious question: Whether a non- Burman should or should not be appointed as a minister in other portfolios if the national races affairs minister is a non- Burman.

5. The law should also have addressed discriminatory practices largely common in appointment and promotion of civil and military personnel and foreign scholarships. These discriminations have forced non- Burman intellectuals to seek jobs and residence outside the country.

6. Instead of stating that national races’ mother tongues will be allowed to teach and learn at schools, it should be stated clearly that they have the right to be taught and learned during school hours.

7. Informing and coordinating with national races in matters of development projects are simply not enough. It should be stated plainly that their consent is also required.

8. A one- year imprisonment for obstructing the rights of the national races is far from being stiff, as it is highly unlikely that the offender would be a non-Burman.

9. The words “in accordance with law” and ” if not against the law” are extensively used in the text.

10. We have yet to hear that the country has ratified the United Nations Declaration of the Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) which was adopted on 13 September 2007. It should be and the rights stipulated therein implemented, the sooner the better.

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