Representatives from civil society groups are scheduled to meet with officials from the Ministry of Home Affairs later this week to discuss the controversial associations draft bill that was presented to the parliament by the government body late last month.
According to the draft, parties hoping to form associations must seek permission to register with a Home Affairs body led by the minister, who has the mandate to decide whether or not to approve the group’s request.
On 27 July, dozens of civil society groups slammed the draft claiming the bill violates provisions in the 2008 constitution that provide citizens with the right to freely join associations and organisations.
“The freedom of association is already specified by the constitution so we don’t really like this idea about having to seek permission to start an organisation,” said LGBT advocate Aung Myo Min from Equality Myanmar during an interview with DVB.
“This is basically an attempt to restrict a constitutional right by enacting another law.”
Founders of organisations who fail to register their groups can also be sentenced to up to three years in prison, according to the bill.
“Generally, NGOs and civil society organisations are to provide mostly social assistance and it is unreasonable to jail people for three years just because they don’t register their organisations,” said Ko Ni, a Rangoon-based attorney.
“The jail punishment for not registering an organisation violates the freedom of association provided by the article 354(c) of the constitution.”
Earlier this month, a delegation from various civil society organisations met with parliamentary representatives in Naypyidaw where officials pledged to schedule a future meeting with the Ministry of Home Affairs so the groups could air their grievances concerning the current draft directly.
Dr Kyaw Thu, a well known civil liberties advocate, urged government officials to allow civil society groups to play a more participatory role in drafting the bill.
“Every human being has a right to form an association or be a part of one, and the associations have freedom to voice their opinion, form independent networks with each other and seek funding and the government should legally protect these rights,” said Dr Kyaw Thu.
“We stressed with the parliament that the bill should see to protect the rights of civil societies to allow them to legally and effectively operate.”
Kyaw Thu emphasised the instrumental role civil society organisations played in democracies and said such groups were pivotal in addressing and publicising local grievances with the Latpadaung Copper Mine in central Burma’s Sagain division and the Tavoy Deep-sea Port in southern Burma’s Tenasserim.
-Shwe Aung provided additional reporting