By Kyaw Ye Lynn
YANGON, Myanmar (AA) – A United States-based rights group urged Myanmar’s parliament Monday to repeal a law allowing authorities to conduct warrantless searches of private homes -- a method long used by previous regimes to suppress political activists.
The Fortify Rights statement was released days after Myanmar’s upper house discussed a proposed bill to amend the Ward or Village Tract Administration Law, which requires residents to inform government officials of overnight guests and to report personal data about those visitors.
Authorities enforce the guest registration requirement through late-night raids, commonly known as “midnight inspections”, targeting individuals working with civil society organizations as well as political activists.
“Guest registration and unwarranted searches have no place in a rights-respecting democracy,” Matthew Smith, executive director of Fortify Rights, said Monday.
“These provisions infringe on basic human rights, making Myanmar less secure. Parliament should repeal these provisions once and for all,” he underlined.
The new bill submitted to the upper house proposes removing articles 13(g) and 17 from the original law, which was enacted in 2012 and orders that citizens report guests who spend the night at their homes or be penalized for disobeying.
Appointed military lawmakers, however, insist on the law’s necessity, warning that national security would be in jeopardy if the bill were approved.
Under the country’s military-drafted constitution, the military bloc holds 25 percent of seats, giving them power to veto amendments.
In late March, Myanmar’s first civilian president, Htin Kyaw, was sworn into office as a government led by state counselor-cum-foreign minister Aung San Suu Kyi took power.
The military, however, still controls three key ministries including the home affairs ministry, which has authority over the Myanmar Police Force, the Corrections Department and the Special Branch.
“For too long the military has used this law to suppress rather than protect human rights and fundamental,” Smith said Monday.
Fortify Rights also called on Myanmar’s government to order ward and village tract administrators to dispose of all records of past household guests and any other information collected during the guest registration process, as well as to implement laws specifically protecting the right to privacy.
“Moreover, Myanmar should require that any searches of persons or residences be carried out only when authorized by warrants issued by relevant authorities on a case-by-case basis or to prevent or investigate ongoing or imminent crimes,” according to the statement.
“The guest registration process and warrantless searches have created a climate of intimidation and fear that has deterred people from exercising their human rights,” Smith stressed.
“Many members of the NLD have themselves been adversely affected by this law. They know what’s at stake.”