Thursday, 21 August 2014

“There can be no more silence on the continued aggression against ethnic people…”

Source Karennews, 17 Aug
Charm Tong (Photo: Karen News)
Charm Tong (Photo: Karen News)

In an exclusive interview with Karen News, Ms Charm Tong, a founder of the Shan Women's Action Network, expressed grave concerns over ongoing Burma Army offensives in Shan State in areas of supposed ceasefire, and criticised the international community for not applying more pressure on the government to stop its offensives.

"There are three thousand Burma Army soldiers in Shan State Army – North territory and villagers are fleeing for their lives because of offensives in this area. Crops are being destroyed, the houses of villagers are being occupied and their belongings are being looted." Charm Tong said, "Even villagers close to the conflict are facing greater restrictions on movement and cannot even go to their farms – threatening their livelihood."

Founded in 1999, SWAN seeks to promote the rights of ethnic Shan women and is a member of the Women's League of Burma.

Ms Charm Tong was critical of Burma's much lauded reforms, while it continued military campaigns in areas of Shan and Kachin State.

"Just making the so called peace process more difficult because the Burma Army are reinforcing their positions in the ceasefire, including with artillery," she said, adding, "How can the people think about peace when the Burma Army troops are there?

Ms Charm Tong, who has received multiple human rights awards and met top world leaders, including former US President, George W. Bush, said that the international community, keen to praise reforms under Burma's President, U Thein Sein, was "silent" when it came to the abuse of ethnic peoples by the security forces.

"There can be no more silence about continued aggression against ethnic people," Ms Charm Tong said, "the international community must not be quiet about these attacks, when the Burma Government are talking big about peace and a nationwide ceasefire."

Armed conflict in areas of Shan and Kachin States had raged for almost three years. Earlier this month, a coalition of Shan community-based-organisations, including SWAN and the Shan Human Rights Foundation, urged US Secretary of State, John Kerry, to pressure for a cessation in government offensives while on an official visit to Burma.

SHRF added their voice to Ms Charm Tong's concerns over a lack of action by the international community.

"When we see there is no real change from the government side – the people are crying for help. We are frustrated at the international community. We are human and we deserve human dignity like everyone else," Hor Hseng, from SHRF, told Karen News.

"The international community sees these as minor abuses because of the reforms. Maybe they think those issues are bigger than ethnic conflict. But if it was their relatives that were raped or killed how would they feel?" Hor Hseng added.

A report in June by the human rights watchdog, Fortify Rights, found that government security forces were committing "war crimes" and "crimes against humanity" against civilians in Shan and Kachin States. The 71-page Fortify Rights report, Ending Wartime Torture in Northern Myanmar, documented dozens of cases of torture and abuse of civilians by members of the Burma Army, Police and Military Intelligence, since conflict first erupted in June 2011. The victims interviewed described being beaten, forced to have sexual intercourse with another prisoner, threatened with being shot and, in at least one case, forced to lick pools of their own blood.

Conflict in Northern Burma has displaced more than 100,000 civilians into 165 displacement camps and has claimed hundreds of lives. Far from a small and localized conflict, the Kachin and Shan State war has seen the use of government helicopter gunships, heavy artillery and airplanes.

Ms Charm Tong said it was hard for villagers to report human rights abuse cases to human rights groups and community organisations.

"It is hard to speak out against men with guns," Ms Charm Tong said, noting, "Our work is to present the voices of villagers on the frontlines of the conflict to the international community."

But Ms Charm Tong said even that could be difficult, since many organisations were still outlawed under Burma's State Protection laws. "Law 17 (1) can be used to arrest people in 'illegal organisations' anytime, even members of political parties running for office can be arrested. This law must be amended."

"Another key thing that must happen is that there is acknowledgment of human rights abuses committed by the Burma Army. Calling for acknowledgement that these cases as a crime against humanity should be a first step for trust building. There also needs to be a commission of inquiry on land confiscation, the torture of civilians and the massacres of innocents. We have to look at these atrocities and come face to face with Burma's history of systematic human rights abuses so we can move forward."

Ms Charm Tong concluded that accountability of military-perpetrated crimes was key as abuses continued.

"This is especially important because abuses are continuing today. As you can see in Chin State last month, a Chin woman was allegedly attacked and raped by a Burma Army soldier. The fact is, rape as a weapon of war is continuing right now."

Saya Zahangeer stated the full speech of Rakhine state Chief minister

Source burmatimes, 20 Aug
 
MP U Aung Myo Min
--- MP U Aung Myo Min

By Theing Hlaing 21 August 2014

Burma Times: Maungdaw, western Myanmar-Saya(teacher) U Zahangeer was invited in Burma Times wechat group on 15th Augsut. The Chairman of the Burma Times Media Mr. Osman moderated the session of holding talks concerning Rakhine state with well-versed Rohingya (teacher) U Zahangeer. He, Saya U Zahangeer stated completely about the meeting in which the Rakhine state chief minister appointed by President Thein Sein,Mg Mg Ohn, pleaded both Rakhine and Rohingya people to obey the current rules of the Union of the Republic of Myanmar.

An exclusive meeting was held by Rakhine state's new chief minister Mg Mg Ohn, two other concerned administrators, Rakhine elders, Rohingya MPs and Rohimgya Elders in Thiri Mingla Hall which is located in the center of the town of Maungdaw on Thursday, 14th August in the evening at around 4: pm.

At the very beginning of the meeting, he said that Majority is ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Minority is ethnic Rohingya Muslims.

At the beginning of the meeting he introduced himself that I am not a public minister but I am the one who was appointed by the Myanmar president Thein Sein to dutifully carry out the national task in this Rakhine State so I became chief minister in this Rakhine State.

And he said that "I want to express a word that I am doing what was the Myanmar president ordered as well as I hoped that you will try to understand my speeches that what I said and think carefully what I urged and don't forget my speeches that it is not president ordered or announcement".

"We are making our country like international Democratic country. The democracy country can't stay alone and we have communication with all countries of this world, compromise with the international system and we must respect all the criteria of International. In the previous time, our country was in the poorest country declaration because we had done by one nation policy with our people without communicating other countries. So we remain in the lower part of this world. Now we are trying to be pure Democratic country with international system," said Mg Mg Ohn.

In our country, US President Obama had arrived last year to make strong relation with the United Nations. And our president Thein Sein had gone to the United State of America to in improve the bilateral relationship between USA and Burma. So our country is concerned to the world countries and we involved in the law of international Democratic countries. And we must respect international law but the Rakhine Buddhists thought that we don't want to compromise with international community.

Now we are obtaining international pressure from the world country. Pressure is two types—first is fearful and second is fearless. The international pressure is fearful for both Myanmar Government and its citizens. So the Rakhine citizens should understand about the Rakhine state's violence which is really interesting in the international media. This Rakhine state awful event became on this first step in the international eyes.

In the previous days, the international organizations had been driven out by the Rakhine Buddhists. So this kind of awful events occurred in Rakhine state got concerned in international affairs. I think these kinds of self-desires which trigger awful events should be stopped. And it is emphasized that the entire inhabitants of Rakhine state should refrain from involvement of creating tense situation as it is very important for the state. Peace is very important for the real Democratic country.

Another thoughtful fact is about UN organizations whether you like or not these organizations but you have to obey international law and you have no power to ignore the international system. The UN organizations are the most powerful and they are helping everywhere to every victims affected by war,psunami,Strom,natural disasters and so on. They can do everything what they want to bring peace in the ground. This is unacceptable performance of Buddhists Rakhine majority that you triggered violence against between INGOs. The Myanmar Government is facing many kinds of problems on a count of this unwanted immoral behavior of some Buddhists people.

When Rakhine Buddhists raised voices that we love our generations but it is not possible to love entire people of Rakhine State, he, Mg Mg Ohn told he thinks the above Speech of Rakhine Buddhists may bring disadvantages than advantages.

He urged Rakhine people that "avoid what you want to do and think carefully that what we should do".

In current situation, whatever the president or state minister does about these communities, should give precedence to public desire with international law through rules of law.

Nowadays I am hearing hate speeches about me in this Rakhine State. Whatever anyone say about me but I am making our country like full democratic country and I have no enemy in this Rakhine State. The Majority think that it's only concern of Myanmar Government and I think it concerns to all nationalities of Myanmar. If something occurs in the Rakhine State, it will be concerned for all of the people of Myanmar.

The old minister was very good but he didn't control his state so he resigned by his own decision from his seat.

Another interesting matter is there is many map in our particular state. I saw this Rakhine State's map in the wall of the president's Royal Room except all maps. Because president really interests the State of Rakhine!

Particularly, if it is said with example, when you want to develop your Rakhine State, you have to bring back your peace and If you want to improve your Maungdaw you must perform peaceful way. Peace can bring development and development can carry the peace of life. So both Muslims and Buddhists communities are very important to bring peace like before!

Many people had played with the flames and knives last two years but now I will handle it. And if a person tries to do anything to bring violence again I will not accept it at all.

Last Month, when I got an opportunity in the Pyay Thu Lutt Daw( Parliamentary house),my desire has been described that the education of Rakhine State where Many Rohingya have been banned to get normal Education since 2012.

In Maungdaw, Myanamr-Bangladesh border, thousands of Rohingya secondary students couldn't get opportunity to go the capital of Rakhine State for their education, said the State administrator.

Then, since2012-2013, many Rohingya University students and primary school students have been lost their education on account of the violence. In 2014,all Rohingya students have been facing educational crisis like 2012,2013 as well, explained by MP from Maungdaw constituency.

I intended I will show my desire to change this students' life in meeting of second Parliamentary House. In this 2014, many Rohingya students have obtained 3,4,5,6 distinctions in their favorite subjects so I would request on be half of them to get their suitable majors, the state minister said.

After concluded this meeting, at once, participated in another meeting with Rohigya elders including a former Rohingya MP U Kyaw Myint .

In this meeting, U Kyaw Myint asked about the historical evidence of Myanmar Government's citizenship card. He has his grandfather's card where it was prescribed as Rohingya and currently why I have to be accepted that name as Bengali.

"In this Maungdaw, ten percentage of population have checked by the MaKaPa(The branch of Immigration department). Why other 90 percentage ignore this inquiry and reject to the government's order? So I just want to say that all of you to obey and corporate with government. We need to check the population of Rakhine State i.e. how many people are in Rakhine State and what they want to survive in this current situation? So we need to update in the international media" Said the State minister.

Now one of Rohinbya MPs, U Myo Min raised his voice with public's questions saying that you are the father of Rakhine state, our honorable state chief minister, so I would like to express our public voices. Few days ago, I have visited d to the rural area about this populations list known as Alley Than Kyaw and I have met More than 200 Rohingya people in that village.

Why the whole Rohingya ignore to engage in population inquiry and I want to explain some public desire, said MPU Myo Min. '

At first Rohingya people think that Government makes us Bengali because Government is writing in the headlines of those population inquiry sheets like "IMMIGRATED BENGALI" so they dread official making Bengali instead Rohingya ethnicity.

Secondly,iIf we accept the name Bengali we know we will get temporarily white card according to the constitutional law of 1982.And we also know that we will never get the green card of Nationalities.

Thirdly, our religious school, Madrasah, Masjids( Muslim worshipping house) have been closed on a count of violence by the government since 2012 till now. Religious building is great place to make a perfect people. So our people concerned seriously as children are going to be uncivil due to lack of basic education day by day because Religious school or Masjids are closed, according to the statement of our religious elders from rural area.

The state minister replied that education question is pleasant for me because thousands Rohingya University student were banned to attend the state university. So I will go to the capital Naypyidaw in the next date of 18/19 then I will urge President Thein Sein about the education, by the way, you have to obey the rule of Myanmar government.

 

After displacing 200,000 and driven-out hundred thousands of Rohingyans and Kamans into foreign, what the government trying to set?

Remember this population list is neither Bengali nor Rohingya but we need the population list and you must compromise to succeed every role of government. If you all do this I hope everything will become normal such as religious building, school, Madrasa and we will try to open it all.

We are trying to withdraw the citizen cards in Maypon(a town from Rakhine State).fifty eight persons have been checked by the government among them All peoples can show the Burma evidence but some people can't show the Burma evidence.They will become a citizen who can show the evidence of Myanmar government according to constitutional law of 1982. If you believe me, believe my speeches and if you don't believe me then you ignore my speeches. I hope you all understand me to compromise with the government.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Pressed by Myanmar, foreign officials veer away from using name of Muslim minority group

Source hosted,18 Aug
By MATTHEW PENNINGTON
Associated Press

AP Photo
FILE - In this June 25, 2014, file photo, a Rohingya refugee holds her daughter who suffers from a skin disease in their makeshift tent at Dar Paing camp, north of Sittwe, Rakhine state, Myanmar. Myanmar's downtrodden Rohingya Muslims have been denied citizenship, targeted in deadly sectarian violence and corralled into dirty camps without aid. To heap on the indignity, Myanmar's government is pressuring foreign officials not to speak the group's name, and the pressure appears to be working. U.N. officials say they avoid the term in public to avoid stirring tensions between Buddhists and Muslims. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry voiced serious concern about the situation when he met with Myanmar leaders last weekend. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe, File)


WASHINGTON (AP) -- Myanmar's downtrodden Rohingya Muslims have been denied citizenship, targeted in deadly sectarian violence and corralled into dirty camps without aid. To heap on the indignity, Myanmar's government is pressuring foreign officials not to speak the group's name, and the tactic appears to be working.

U.N. officials say they avoid the term in public to avoid stirring tensions between the country's Buddhists and Muslims. And after Secretary of State John Kerry recently met with Myanmar leaders, a senior State Department official told reporters the U.S. thinks the name issue should be "set aside."

That disappoints Tun Khin, president of the activist group Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK. He said by not using it, governments are co-operating with a policy of repression.
"How will the rights of the Rohingya be protected by people who won't even use the word `Rohingya'?" he said.

Myanmar authorities view the Rohingya (pronounced ROH'-hin-gah) as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, not one of the 135 officially recognized ethnic groups. Longstanding discrimination against this stateless minority, estimated to number 1.3 million, has intensified as Myanmar has opened up after decades of military rule. More than 140,000 Rohingya have been trapped in crowded camps since extremist mobs from the Buddhist majority began chasing them from their homes two years ago, killing up to 280 people.

Racism against the Rohingya is widespread, and some see in the communal violence the warning signs of genocide.
The United States has called on the government to protect them. When President Barack Obama visited Myanmar less than two years ago, he told students at Yangon University: "There is no excuse for violence against innocent people. And the Rohingya hold themselves - hold within themselves the same dignity as you do, and I do."
Yet neither Kerry this month, nor top human rights envoy Tom Malinowski during a June visit, uttered the term at their news conferences when they talked with concern about the situation in Rakhine state, where sectarian violence is perhaps worst. Buddhist mob attacks against Rohingya and other Muslims have spread from the western state to other parts of the country, sparking fears that nascent democratic reforms in the nation could be undermined by growing religious intolerance.

The State Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to speak publicly, said the U.S. position is that to force either community to accept a name that they consider offensive - including the term "Bengali" that the government uses to describe Rohingya - is to "invite conflict." The department says its policy on using "Rohingya," however, hasn't changed.

Foreign aid workers have been caught up in the tensions. Buddhist hardliners have attacked homes and offices of aid workers it accuses of helping Muslims and not the smaller number of Buddhists also displaced by the violence. Doctors Without Borders was expelled by the government in February and is still waiting to be allowed back.
The humanitarian situation has worsened. The U.N. said the number of severe malnutrition cases more than doubled between March and June, and the world body's top human rights envoy for Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, last month called the situation "deplorable."

She said she'd been repeatedly told by the government not to use the name "Rohingya," although she noted under international law that minorities have to the right to self-identify on the basis of their national, ethnic, religious and linguistic characteristics.
Myanmar Information Minister Ye Htut said in an email to The Associated Press that the name had never been accepted by Myanmar citizens. He said it was created by a separatist movement in the 1950s and then used by exile activists to pressure Myanmar's former military government at the United Nations in the 1990s.

While there is a reference to "Rohingya" by a British writer published in 1799, use of the term by the Muslim community in Rakhine to identify themselves is fairly recent, according to Jacques Leider, an expert on the region's history.
Rohingya leaders claim their people are descendants of Muslims who settled in Rakhine before British colonial rule, which began after a war in 1823. The British occupation opened the doors to much more migration of Muslims from Bengal. Current Myanmar law denies full citizenship to those whose descendants arrived after 1823.

The name debate is reminiscent of whether to call the country by its old name, Burma, or Myanmar - the title adopted by the then-ruling military junta in 1989. Washington still officially uses "Burma," although U.S. officials also refer to "Myanmar" - a sign of the improved ties with the former pariah state.

But in this contest over semantics, the stakes are higher.

Rohingya were excluded from a U.N.-supported national census this spring if they identified themselves as Rohingya. They face stiff restrictions on travel, jobs, education and how many children they can have. They are also unwelcome in Bangladesh, where they have fled during crackdowns inside Myanmar since the 1970s.

Either because of government prodding or a desire to avoid confrontation, staff of foreign embassies and aid agencies in Myanmar rarely say "Rohingya" in public these days, and may simply say "Muslims." In June, the U.N. children's agency even apologized for using the term "Rohingya" at a presentation in Rakhine, an incident which drew criticism from rights activists.
"Any humanitarian agency or donor who refuses to use the term is not just betraying fundamental tenants of human rights law, but displaying cowardice that has no place in any modern humanitarian project," said David Mathieson, senior researcher on Myanmar for Human Rights Watch.
---

Associated Press writer Robin McDowell in Yangon, Myanmar, contributed to this report.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Standing up for religious liberty in Burma

Source abpnews, 11 Aug

The Burmese government is going where it ought not in matters of faith and conscience.

In December of 2013, something remarkable happened. More than 30,000 people — including many Baptist leaders from around the world — gathered in Burma to celebrate the life and legacy of a man and woman they'd never met.

Two hundred years earlier, Ann and Adoniram Judson arrived in Burma to share the Good News of Jesus Christ and to make disciples. Equally, if not more, remarkable than this celebration is the fact that beginning in 2006, as refugees from Burma1 began arriving in the United States, many sought Baptist churches in which to continue the practice of their faith. The mission that began with the efforts of the Judsons had returned full circle to the land of its origins.

As we celebrate this legacy and the deep bond between American Baptists and the people of Burma, we also lament the current state of affairs in that country including abuses targeting ethnic minority Christians and Muslims and a proposed "Religious Conversion Law" currently being considered by Burma's parliament.

In its 2014 report, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom noted that "political reforms in Burma have not improved legal protections for religious freedom and have done little to curtail anti-Muslim violence, incitement and discrimination, particularly targeting the Rohingya Muslim minority." The report went on to indicate that "state-sponsored discrimination and state-condoned violence against Rohingya and Kaman ethnic Muslim minorities also continued, and ethnic minority Christians faced serious abuses during recent military incursions in Kachin state."

When an American Baptist delegation traveled to Burma in December 2013 for the 200th anniversary Judson celebration, the delegation heard firsthand testimony from the Kachin about the ongoing atrocities against them by the military. Based on these violations of basic human rights and freedoms, USCIRF continues in 2014 to recommend that Burma be designated as a "country of particular concern," a designation the State Department has maintained with respect to Burma since 1999.2

Meanwhile, Burma's parliament is considering legislation that would create a governmental registration board to approve all religious conversions. While stating that "everyone has the freedom to convert from one religion to another," the law would require that an individual seeking to do so supply a registration board with an extensive list of personal information and answers to intrusive questions. The legislation includes penalties of up to two years in jail for those applying to convert "with intent to insult, disrespect, destroy or to abuse a religion," though it remains unclear how such intent would be proved.3

Responding to these developments, the Board of General Ministries of the American Baptist Churches, USA, at its June 2014 meeting took action to support legislation currently being considered in Congress (S. 1885 and H.R. 4377) that would require advances in human rights and religious liberty by the government of Burma as a condition of security assistance. In addition, the board has expressed its strong concern to the governments of Burma and the United States over restrictions of religious liberty in the proposed religious conversion law.

As Baptists, we stand in a long line of those who have sought to defend and extend religious liberty. As early as 1611, we held, "The magistrate is not by virtue of his office to meddle with religion, or matters of conscience, to force or compel anyone to this or that form of religion or doctrine, but to leave the Christian religion free to everyone's conscience, and handle only civil transgressions, for Christ only is the King and lawgiver of the church and conscience."4

The government of Burma is clearly meddling with religion, not only with respect to ethnic minority Christians, but also with respect to other ethnic minorities, including Rohingya and Kaman ethnic Muslims. The government is going where it ought not in matters of faith and conscience.

As the mission of the Judsons has returned full circle to the land of its origins, let our concern for religious liberty return to the people of Burma. With thanksgiving for the freedom we enjoy, let us exercise it on behalf of all those in Burma who now suffer and struggle to practice their faith freely.

Notes:
(1) According to a fact sheet from the Department of State, the military government in Burma changed the country's name to "Myanmar" in 1989, but "[i]t remains U.S. policy to refer to the country as Burma in most contexts."
(2) USCIRF Annual Report, 2014 (p. 43)
(3) USCIRF Deeply Concerned by Draft "Religious Conversion Law," June 11, 2014.
(4) The Amsterdam Confession of 1611 as cited in the American Baptist Policy Statement on Church and State.

OPINION: Views expressed in ABPnews/Herald columns and commentaries are solely those of the authors.

Tagged under: Curtis Ramsey Lucas
Curtis Ramsey-Lucas

Curtis Ramsey-Lucas is managing director of resource development for the American Baptist Home Mission Societies. He currently is chair of the board of directors of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty.

Monday, 11 August 2014

Israeli-Palestinian Negotiations – to what ends?

By

Dr. Habib Siddiqui

August 10, 2014

 

On January 31, 1970, the great philosopher Bertrand Russell wrote a message on the conflict in the Middle East, which was read on February 3, the day after his death, to an International Conference of Parliamentarians meeting in Cairo. He wrote, "The development of the crisis in the Middle East is both dangerous and instructive. For over 20 years Israel has expanded by force of arms. After every stage in this expansion Israel has appealed to "reason" and has suggested "negotiations". This is the traditional role of the imperial power, because it wishes to consolidate with the least difficulty what it has already taken by violence. Every new conquest becomes the new basis of the proposed negotiation from strength, which ignores the injustice of the previous aggression. The aggression committed by Israel must be condemned, not only because no state has the right to annex foreign territory, but because every expansion is an experiment to discover how much more aggression the world will tolerate."


Israel obviously has perfected the art of negotiating from a position of strength. The Western nations - all former colonial powers - through their support of this rogue state have epitomized the art of double standard! In their condemnation of the Palestinian resistance movement they won't tell us that the tragedy of the people of Palestine is that their country was "given" by a foreign power to another (European Jewish) people for the creation of a new state (Israel) which resulted in expulsion of more than 700,000 innocent people who were made permanently homeless. They also don't want us to know that the then government of Great Britain had no authority to assign the land of Palestine to anyone other than the people who were living there (i.e., the Palestinians). They also don't tell us that when the United Nations assigned a portion of Palestine to the European Jewish immigrants in the so-called Partition of Palestine in 1947, it violated its own Charter which stated that it had no right to do so without obtaining the consent of the mandate territory's population.


What happened in Palestine was classical Western colonialism, which can sustain itself only via its superior military or economic resources and by enforced occupation. As aptly noted by Peter Cohen, a retired sociologist from the University of Amsterdam and a Jewish-Dutch World War II survivor, in a recent article in the Huffington Post, superior strength, however, does not create legitimacy. Israel has none. Cohen writes, "It is a territory in the Middle East under Western occupation, which possesses no political legitimacy now, nor can it ever acquire such legitimacy in the future because it has no raison d'être and cannot create one.


Instead, Israel's policy has always been to create faits accomplis, conquests that have been consolidated with the aid of its constituent Western states in Europe and North America. To date, this policy has never been effectively challenged, and so it continues in the same vein. Israel can carry on creating more and more faits accomplis, perpetuating its status as an ever-expanding occupation with vastly superior military strength. But if it loses the West's support, it will no longer have the means to defend itself, having nothing that could preserve its existence, nor the raw materials to sustain itself. It could use atomic weapons, but this does not in any sense bolster the legitimacy of the Western implant."


Israel, as a colony, is a constant source of violence and conflict. And it will remain so unless the very colonial structure on which it is founded is brought down - something that has happened in our time with apartheid South Africa. With every new conflict since the birth of Israel the number of refugees has grown. And the worst problem is: these refugees are safe nowhere, not even in the UN compounds, schools, mosques and hospitals of Gaza. There are scores of international laws that state that the refugees have every right to the homeland from which they were driven, and the denial of this fundamental right is at the heart of the continuing conflict.


How much longer is the world willing to endure this spectacle of wanton cruelty of Israel? It is abundantly clear that no people anywhere in the world would accept being bombed and expelled en masse from their own country. How can anyone require the people of Palestine to accept a punishment which nobody else would tolerate? Will the Palestinian people be ever free? Will they ever get justice for the crimes inflicted on them by the powerful against them?

I am beginning to doubt. I am very skeptical these days. True to the words of Bertrand Russell, Israel as a colonial enterprise has been able to abuse the process of negotiation to her advantage to extract further concession towards expanding its control while curtailing everything for the vanquished, occupied Palestinians. Every negotiation since the unholy birth of the state of Israel has been a deception, a farce, a show for public consumption to not only legitimize its illegitimate grab of the Palestinian land but also to delegitimize Palestinian struggle and aspiration for freedom.  


And the Israelis have partners in their crimes – and it is not the USA, UK and western powers alone that dominate the UN and world bodies – but our own criminals ruling some of the Muslim countries. These governments who don't allow any form of democracy – the kingdoms, sheikhdoms and military dictators – are some of the worst enemies of the people of Palestine. Thus, not a single bullet has been fired in defense of the violated Palestinians by these regimes. And this, in spite of the fact that each of these Arab regimes spend billions of dollars every year to buy arms and ammunitions from their western patrons and beneficiaries! You wonder why they have all those deadly toys in their arsenal if they are never going to use such for what is right and just! Are those 'toys' supposed to be used against desert flies then?

A knowledgeable friend of mine said that he read somewhere that some of the rich, anti-Brotherhood, anti-Hamas, and by default, anti-Qatari, governments had actually bank-rolled Israel's latest massacre in Gaza. I don't know the veracity of his claim. But I won't be surprised if the story ever turns out to be true.


Many of the reactionary, anti-people regimes in the Middle East do not tolerate anything that could destabilize their regimes. The popular movements like the Hamas and Muslim Brotherhood are perceived as existential threats to these regimes. They did not like the Arab Spring a bit. What became popular among the ordinary masses of Tunisia, Egypt and Libya in northern Africa were nightmares for the rulers in neighboring countries (and their western patrons). They have done everything since the people's revolution in Tunisia and Egypt had succeeded in unseating the hated dictators to put the genie back to the bottle where it belonged. Thus, the popularly elected President Dr. Mohammad al-Morsi was soon toppled by their man – Sisi, the neo-Pharaoh of Egypt. All the leaders of Muslim Brotherhood are now awaiting death sentences or long prison terms. They wanted to put the death-nail on Hamas, too, which had historical ties with Muslim Brotherhood.


Sadly, as the Gazans bled to death, and their homes and businesses, mosques, schools, colleges, universities and hospitals were bombed by Netanyahu's criminal IDF, the Obama and Cameron governments of the USA and the UK resupplied Israel with more arms and ammunitions during the current conflict while hypocritically speaking about the need for de-escalation of the war through negotiation. Are these western patrons oblivious of the magnitude of their crimes? Don't they know that their actions, which have resulted in the death of thousands of innocent civilians, constitute war crimes? Will they pay compensation for the Palestinian victims? Just the reconstruction of bombed out facilities inside Gaza may cost ten billion US dollars! How about the dead and the injured people?


Israel and her patrons are for 'negotiations' - those same old parleys which have only endorsed Israeli aggression and dehumanized their victims! Those 'negotiations' have become part of textbook case for Israeli propaganda with the added impetus to extract further concessions, let alone requiring that the Palestinians accept the lawfulness of their expulsion.

Was not it Avigdor Lieberman, Netanyahu's Foreign Minister, who candidly explained what such negotiations meant for Israel? Four years ago when speaking to the readership of the right-wing Makor Rishon paper, he said: "I do not think there is anything to be expected from negotiations. Even if lasting 16 years they will produce no agreement. But my travels around the globe have shown me that the world is very interested in seeing peace talks start, even if only for the sake of appearance. A willingness to talk and talk is something we can give. Why not?" (Makor Rishon, April 30, 2010)

Moshe Feiglin, aspiring to push Netanyahu out of his job as Likud leader and PM, was also heard saying in 2010, "We will win because we represent what most Likud members really want -- a government which says loud and clear that this country is ours and ours only. I definitely want to deprive Arabs of civil rights, unless they prove their loyalty to the state, and give them financial encouragement to emigrate from here. Any area from which Israel is attacked should be conquered and its whole population expelled." (Yediot Aharonot - April 23, 2010)


Dozens of Israeli leaders from top to bottom can be cited to show that statehood of the Palestinians with a just peaceful settlement of the crisis has never been the real intent of the Israeli leaders. Israel's laws make it clear that the Palestinians are not only militarily incapacitated but have also been stripped of all their legal rights.

Not surprisingly, we are told that Hamas is not falling for such old tricks put forth by the joint Israeli-Egyptian team where the Zionists set all the rules of the game. They are demanding opening up the Port of Gaza and easing of cross-border movement of goods. Upon their arrival in Cairo, the Palestinians had been informed by Egyptian security chiefs – speaking on behalf of Netanyahu – that the very issue of opening Gaza's sea port (and airport) is "not on the agenda". How about easing of conditions for the prison conditions under which a million and eight hundred thousand Gazans are held in Gaza - world's largest concentration camp by the two closely colluding warders, Israeli and Egyptian, who control all their access to the outside world? Fat chance!


We are told that this weekend missiles were fired from Gaza killing none and that IDF had bombed inside Gaza destroying a mosque and some homes, killing many Gazans. The death toll is now nearly 2,000.

Blame it all on Hamas for refusing to be duped again! And now criminal Netanyahu's government says that it will not negotiate under fire: the 'deadly', 'Iron-door-shattering' missiles fired by Hamas must cease in order to make it possible to talk. To these neo-Nazis of Israel lying and deception come very easily. They don't want us to know that of the Palestinian victims almost all were civilians, and that on the Israeli side only 3 civilians had died, which included a Thai worker. Out of a total 66 Israeli dead, 64 were soldiers. Thus, 97% of the dead Israelis were the IDF soldiers, and not civilians. And yet, Netanyahu's lies are parroted by the Obama administration and other western governments and their yellow journalists.


It seems that Gazans would have to fight – and fight hard whether or not Obama, Cameron, Sisi and other friends of Israel in the opposite camp like it.  Their struggle is for freedom and human dignity. And they have a right for such values which we all take for granted without having to die for.


In his last message Bertrand Russell said, "Justice requires that the first step towards a settlement must be an Israeli withdrawal from all the territories occupied in June, 1967. A new world campaign is needed to help bring justice to the long-suffering people of the Middle East." That call, sadly, remains unfulfilled. How long can the friends of Israel dupe us with hypocritical negotiations that reward the aggressor while ignoring the real issue which is Israeli colonialism?

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Fortify Rights: Charges Against Rohingya Activist “Unfounded”

Source Karen news, 9 July

A Human rights organization has called for the release of a Rohingya activist and politician, Kyaw Hla Aung, 74, who has been detained by authorities for 13 months.

Fortify Rights, based in South East Asia, urged Burma's government to "immediately and unconditionally" release Kyaw Hla Aung and criticized the detention because the prosecution had "repeatedly failed to produce witnesses' in the case.

Kyaw Hla Aung was arrested in July for allegedly organizing illegal protests and instigating violence against the police. Fortify Rights said the charges were "unfounded." The protests, mostly made up of Rohingya Muslims, were sparked by government attempt to registerthe Rohingya population as 'Bengali' in a citizenshipsurvey.

If found guilty, the charges put against Kyaw Hla Aung could lead to a maximum penalty of 20 years imprisonment.

The Fortify Rights statement came as Sittwe's District Court, in Rakhine State, again extended Kyaw Hla Aung's detention, denying him bail and setting the next court hearing to August 18.

Matthew Smith, executive director of Fortify Rights, claimed the case was a sham. "Rakhine State authorities have kept Kyaw Hla Aung locked up for over a year, demonstrating the urgent need for the central government to intervene to free him. The case against him is completely without merit. His ongoing detention violates his basic human rights and is an affront to the rule of law."

The Rohingya, an ethnic minority of around one million people, have faced mounting persecution in Burma from Buddhist extremists following deadly unrest in Rakhine State in June 2012 and are not recognized as citizens under the country's 1982 citizenship law, leaving 800,000 stateless. The United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that as many as 140,000 Rohingya are now internally displaced, with many forced to live in run-down camps that lack basic services. In February this year, Buddhist mobs attacked international aid group's offices, including the UN office, forcing them out of Rakhine State until July when the government, under international pressure, guaranteed the safety of aid workers if they returned.

Matthew Smith said that Kyaw Hla Aung was targeted because he was an outspoken campaigner for Rohingya rights. "The arrest and detention of Kyaw Hla Aung is part of a broader campaign of persecution being perpetrated against the Rohingya ethnic minority in Myanmar. The international community must address the flagrant disregard for the rights of the Rohingya population."

A report by Fortify Rights released in February found the government at fault for serious human rights violations against Rohingya, including arbitrary arrests and torture. A 2013 report by Human Rights Watch said that Burma authorities and 'Arakanese groups' had committed "crimes against humanity" and were pursuing "ethnic cleansing" against Rohingya.

"The case against Kyaw Hla Aung is only one example of the multitude of abuses against the Rohingya population," Mr Smith added, "The human rights situation in Rakhine State is appalling and it's the direct result of policies implemented by the state and central governments."

Friday, 8 August 2014

BROUK's press statement: One Rohingya killed and two injured ahead of John Kerry’s visit to Burma

Just days before US Secretary of State John Kerry is due to visit Burma, more than 100 security forces came to the Rohingya IDPs camp in Thandawlee village in Sittwe, capital of Arakan State, and killed one Rohingya and seriously injured two others. More than 15 Rohingyas were arrested by security forces. At the same time, Rohingyas in Buthidaung and Maungdaw, in northern Arakan, have been arrested, threatened and harassed while the government attempts to collect population data.

 

"If the US government wants to see clear progress on the Rohingya issue in Burma, John Kerry should be setting timelines and benchmarks for progress, including to restore Rohingya citizenship and for the lifting of restrictions on aid, movement, marriage and education in Arakan," said BROUK's President Tun Khin.

 

Since June 2012, violence against the Rohingya has continued and the situation continues to deteriorate. In March, hundreds of aid workers were evacuated after facing attacks. More than 150 Rohingyas and 20 pregnant women died in the two weeks after Doctors Without Borders (MSF) were expelled from Arakan in March. Many children have died because of malnutrition. Although MSF have now been allowed back into Arakan, there are still serious restrictions on aid and movement for the thousands of Rohingya IDPs.

"The United Nations Special Rapporteur on human rights in Burma has stated that the widespread and systematic human rights violations in Arakan State 'may constitute crimes against humanity'. The US government should be supporting an international investigation into human rights abuses in Arakan State" said Tun Khin, President of BROUK.

 

BROUK urges US Secretary of State John Kerry;

 .

  1. To support an independent international investigation into human rights abuses in Arakan.
  2. To put pressure on President Thein Sein (i) to stop immediately  the violence and crimes against the Rohingya and to protect the lives of Rohingya (ii)to allow humanitarian NGOs full and free access to the Rohingya in all parts of Arakan; (iii) to repeal or amend the 1982 Citizenship Law in order that it conforms with international standards; (iv) to stop the segregation of communities in Arakan and replace it with a proactive policy of 'peaceful co-existence'.

 

For more information, please contact Tun Khin +44 7888 714 866

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Lessons from the Gaza war

Source jordentimes, 5 Aug
 

The Israeli war on Gaza has come to a temporary pause following an Egyptian proposal for a 72-hour truce commencing on Tuesday morning. The difficult task of negotiating a long-term ceasefire has begun in Cairo. It could all collapse at anytime. Following four weeks of a relentless Israeli assault on Gaza, there is now dim hope that a political deal can still be reached to end the bloodbath in the stricken strip. Time is of the essence as the death toll among Palestinians has reached 1,900; the majority of whom are civilians. The humanitarian cost to the residents of Gaza has been enormous with half-a-million displaced, more than 10,000 injured and over 300 children killed.

The UN and its agencies are warning of an imminent humanitarian catastrophe due to the destruction of the infrastructure resulting in an acute shortage of freshwater. The coastal enclave's only electrical plant has been knocked out and as a result raw sewage now seeps through the streets of Gaza City and other towns and villages. According to various sources the rebuilding of the strip will take many years.

All eyes are now on Cairo where a united Palestinian delegation, representing all groups including Hamas and Islamic Jihad, has submitted a list of demands which the Egyptians have promised to add to their ceasefire proposal. But it is unlikely that Israel would agree to an adjusted initiative. Instead, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his right-wing government are inclined to engage in a unilateral withdrawal from Gaza. They want to avoid any commitments that would allow for the lifting of the seven-year siege and opening border crossings, among other Palestinian demands. Israel wants guarantees that the Palestinian resistance will not fire rockets or dig new tunnels. In fact they are demanding the full demilitarisation of Gaza before lifting the siege, something which the resistance will never accept. The Palestinian side insists that it will not adhere to any cessation of hostilities unless Israel withdraws completely from the strip and commits to its list of demands. The gap between the two sides is too wide to bridge, even by the Egyptian side.

There are many lessons and conclusions to be absorbed in the wake of four weeks of Israel's bloody onslaught on Gaza, which did not spare UN schools and staff, mosques, hospitals, paramedics and doctors, houses and even cemeteries.

Here are some of these lessons and conclusions:

Israel is above all international laws and treaties — the UN and its agencies have hinted that Israel may be guilty of committing war crimes in Gaza, and yet, in spite of mounting evidence, the international community has been unable to force Israel to stop its aggression, or make it accountable. While public opinion in many countries is changing in favour of the Palestinians, Western governments are careful not to indict Israel, and most justify its "operation" in Gaza as a legitimate right to defend itself. As a result there are no guarantees that Israel will ever be investigated by the international community on suspicions that it committed war crimes against hapless civilians. No country in the world enjoys such impunity.

The Arab political system is out of order: The Arab League has been dubbed as dysfunctional in the past, but this latest onslaught has proved beyond doubt that this organisation has also become irrelevant. Initial reaction to the war has been dimmed by more than three weeks of silence, underlining deep divisions among its members on what to do and how to react. Following disastrous failures in Syria, the Palestinians have discovered for themselves that they can no longer count on their Arab brethren for help; they are simply on their own!

A political settlement to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is dead — the two-state solution is one of the early casualties of the latest war on Gaza. Regardless of how this war will end, it is now evident that Netanyahu has no interest whatsoever in pursuing a political solution to reach a historic deal with the Palestinians based on a two-state solution and the Oslo accords. This means that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is running out of options. He will be forced to change strategy in the near future as public pressure in the occupied territories grows to dissolve the Palestinian Authority and hand over administration to Israel as an occupying power.

The United States is losing its influence in the region — we have seen US Secretary of State John Kerry change his position on the Gaza war time and time again. He was rebuffed more than once by Netanyahu who has ignored repeated calls from President Barack Obama to end the incursion. Israel has rejected an American initiative, which would have responded to some Palestinian grievances, thus undermining the US role and influence. An end to this war will only be decided by Netanyahu, regardless of mounting Palestinian casualties.

Gaza will continue to be a problem — it is unlikely that the Israeli offensive will destroy Hamas and other resistance groups. Even if Israel stops the attack, the Gaza challenge will not go away anytime soon. Netanyahu has discovered that going back to the status quo, before July 8, will not ensure Israeli security. He cannot afford to carry out a full-fledged invasion and occupation of Gaza either. In fact, the day after the pause in hostilities will force Gaza's humanitarian crisis back on the world agenda!

The writer is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman.

Human rights group deplores Myanmar court extension of Rohingya activist Kyaw Hla Aung detention

Source abc news, 6 Aug
 

A court in Myanmar's Rakhine state has extended the detention of a prominent Rohingya human rights activist.

Kyaw Hla Aung was arrested last year by Myanmar police who accused him of instigating protests against government efforts to register Rohingyas as 'Bengali', and not Myanmar citizens.

Human rights organisation Fortify Rights says the case against Kyaw Hla Aung is totally without merit.

Executive director Matthew Smith has told Radio Australia's Asia Pacific the 74-year-old activist's public profile has made him a police target.

"He's been meeting with ambassadors and other people who had visited Rakhine state who were very concerned about the human rights situation there and this, and some of his other activities, exposed him to the Myanmar authorities in a way that we think led to his arrest and detention," Mr Smith said.

"There are some Rohingya who do have connections to the outside world, to areas outside of Rakhine state and internationally, and there are some who have the ability to communicate the plight of Rohingya.

"Kyaw Hla Aung is one of those people.

"He hasn't done anything wrong, hasn't violated any laws, but he's being persecuted because he's a human rights defender.

"We're trying to urge the central government now to intervene because much of the problems with this particular case stem from the local authorities."

How effective that lobbying will be remains to be seen.

Matthew Smith says the Myanmar government routinely denies the very existence of the Rohingya ethnicity, and severe human rights abuses occur daily against the Muslim population, in spite of international condemnation.

But he says Kyaw Hla Aung has been in detention for more than a year and there are concerns for his health and well-being.

"He has suffered from ill-health in the past," he said.

"Rakhine state is a very difficult place to be if you suffer from health problems, and being in prison in Rakhine state is even more difficult.

"This should be reason alone to do something about his incarceration right now."

Fortify Rights says since violence started in 2012, authorities have arrested more than one thousand Rohingya men and boys, and an unknown number remain behind bars.

Matthew Smith says the international community needs to get serious about the severe human rights violations that are persisting in Rakhine state.

"What we're trying to do now is to press upon various actors in the international community to pressure not only Naypidaw, but also the local authorities in Rakhine state, to respect and protect the human rights of the Rohingya community."

Topics:human, prisons-and-punishment, burma, asia

Friday, 1 August 2014

The Rohingya and Their Identity

Source burmatimes, 31 July

"They are generally known as Begalis or Chittagonians, quite incorrectly, and took at they are quite unlike any other product of India or Burma that I have seen. They are resemble the Arab in name, in dress and in habit. The women, and more particularly the young girls, have distintictive Arab touch about them" wrote Anthony Irwin in his Burmese outpost (1946).

"They are called Rohingyas. They are same par in the status of nationality with Kachin, Kaya, Karen, Mon, Rekhine and Shan. They are one of the ethnic races of Burma," anounced U Nu, the Burma's first elected Prime Minister on September 25, 1954 at 8:00pm from BBS Rangoon.

However, the present Thein Sein government vehemently denies the existence of a Rohingya ethnicity, referring to the group, even in official documents, as "Bengali." Ultra-nationalist Rakhine Buddhists vehemently reject this view, framing the Rohingyas as illegal immigrants who migrated from East Bengal during the British rule of Burma and/or after Burma and Pakistan's independence in 1948 and 1947, respectively.

Although the Government did not convince President Obama and the US Government to use 'Myanmar' instead of 'Burma', now they have success to convince not to use the word 'Rohingya' to the new United Nations Special Rapporteur on Myanmar, Ms Yanghee Lee, who has visited to gather the first-hand information on the country at the invitation of the Government.

The President's Office said in a July 29 statement that the UN special rapporteur for human rights in Myanmar, Ms Yanghee Lee, needs to pay "serious consideration to [using] the term" if a "long-term solution" to problems in Rakhine are to be achieved. "While the people of Myanmar are ready, and as it has been the case, to accept those who meet the criteria of the 1982 Citizenship Law as citizens, we do not accept the term 'Rohingya' which has never existed in the country's history," the statement said. "The term has been maliciously used by a group of people with wider political agenda. The people of Myanmar will never recognize the term."

On her briefing at Yangon International Airport, on 26 July 2014, Ms Lee said that, 'issues around terminology and citizenship are particularly sensitive. I was repeatedly told not to use the term 'Rohingya' as this was not recognized by the Government.'

'Yet, as a human rights independent expert, I am guided by international human rights law. In this regard, the rights of minorities to self-identify on the basis of their national, ethnic, religious and linguistic characteristics is related to the obligations of States to ensure non-discrimination against individuals and groups, which is a central principle of international human rights law. I also note that various human rights treaty bodies and intergovernmental bodies, including the Committee on the Rights of the Child, which I chaired for four years and of which I was a member for ten years, the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly use the term Rohingya,' she added.

Ethnic identity is an essential human need that provides a sense of belonging and historical continuity and created a foundation on which to build a concept of self. It is an individual's self-concept developed from knowledge of membership in a cultural group. Ethnic identity and self-identity has supported a strong relationship between the two.
According to Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 'All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.' For the 'equal in dignity' the right to self- identification is important. It is very significantly important to know differentially the incomparable difference between "ethnicity or ethnic group and ethno-religious group". "Ethnicity or ethnic group" is a specific term to identify the ancestral background of each community who are eligible to belong an ethnicity—particular language, distinct culture, racial dress, populous territory.

The Rohingya are a nation with a population of more than 3 million (both home and abroad), having a supporting history, separate culture, civilization, language and literature, historically settled territory and reasonable size of population and area. They share a public culture different from the public culture of those around them. They are determined not only to preserve and develop their public culture, but also to transmit to future generations as the basis of their continued existence as people, in accordance with their own cultural pattern, social institution and legal system.

The term

is widely used by the international community to identify a group of Muslims of Arakan. According to Dr. Ganganath Jha of Jawaharlal Nehru University of India, the term Rohingya is derived from Rohang the ancient name of Arakan. The Muslims of Arakan called their country, in their own language, 'Rohang or Roang' and called themselves as Rohangya (Rohang+ya) or Roangya (Roang+ya) means native of Rohang or Roang. In Burmese it is 'ရိုဟင္ဂ်ာ', in Rakhine's pronunciation it will read as 'Rohangya' but in Burmese pronunciation it became 'Rohingya' and now it's established as 'Rhinggya'. Like other peoples of the world, they have needed to identify as Rohingya to some degree for centuries.

In the work of Arab geographer Rashiduddin (1310 AD) it appears as 'Rahan or Raham'. The British travelers Relph Fitch (1586 AD) referred the name of Arakan as 'Rocon'. In the Rennell's map (1771 AD), it is 'Rassawn'. Tripura Chronicle Rajmala mentions as 'Roshang'. In the medieval works of the poets of Arakan and Chittagong, like Quazi Daulat, Mardan, Shamser Ali, Quraishi Magan, Alaol, Ainuddin, Abdul Ghani and others, they frequently referred to Arakan as 'Roshang', 'Roshanga', 'Roshango Shar', and 'Roshango Des'. Famous European traveller Francis Buchanam (1762-1829 AD) in his accounts mentioned Arakan as "Rossawn, Rohhawn, Roang, Reng or Rung". In one of his accounts, "A Comparative Vocabulary of some of the languages spoken in the Burman Empire" it was stated that, "The first is that spoken by the Mohammedans, who have long settled in Arakan, and who call themselves Rooinga, or natives of Arakan." . The Persians called it 'Rekan'." The Chakmas and Saks from 18th century called it 'Roang'. Today the Muslims of Arakan call the country 'Rohang' or Roang' or 'Arakan' and call themselves 'Rohingya' or native of Rohang.

Rohingya is not simply a self-referential group identity, but an official group and ethnic identity recognized by the post-independence state. In the early years of Myanmar's independence, the Rohingya were recognized as a legitimate ethnic group that deserved a homeland in Burma.

• On 31st December 1942, Brig-Gen C E Lucas Phillips of 14th British Army declared the North Arakan as "Muslim National Area" As per Public Notice No. 11-OA-CC/42. Then formed a Peace Committed headed by Mr. Omra Meah and Mr. Zahir Uddin Ahmed and entrusted for administration of the area. On 1st January 1945 Brigadier C.E Lucas Phillips became the Chief Administrator of the area and appointed members of Peace Committee as administrative officers of the area. The British recognized the Muslims of Arakan as a distinct racial group and the British officer-in-command promised to grant more autonomy in North Arakan.

• In 1947, Hon'ble Bo Let Ya the Deputy Prime Minister, came to visit Maungdaw, to expound the principles laid down in the constitution of the Union of Burma, but it appeared on the "New Times of Burma" that he addressed the inhabitants of Maungdaw as "Chittagonians" which was objectionable and contradictory in relation to the Muslims of North Arakan forming parts and parcel of Indigenous races of Burma. The Prime Minister U Nu expressed regrets for the use of wrong terms "Chittagonians" and as per letter No.153/22 PM 48 dated; 20 February 1948, instructed that it should be either "Arakanese Muslims" or "Burmese Muslims". The term 'Burmese Muslims' published in the form of Press communiqué issued by His Excellency Sir Domon Smith, the Governor of Burma, on 27th September 1941.

• On 30th 1949, the Ministry of Home Affairs issued a Burma Gazette Extra Ordinary, as par letter No. 282/ HD- 49, in which it was, mentioned that the Arakanese Muslims of Maungdaw and Buthidaung townships of Akyab district as indigenous peoples of Burma.

• On September 1954, U Nu, the first elected Prime Minister of Burma, in his radio address to nation, announced that, "The people living in northern Arakan are our national brethren. They are called Rohingyas. They are on the same par in the status of nationality with Kachin, Kayah, Karen, Mon, Rakhine and Shan."

• On 3rd and 4th November 1959, U Ba Swe, Prime Minister and Minister of Defense Affairs, in the public meetings of Maungdaw and Buthidaung, announced that, 'The Rohingyas are equal in every way with other minority races like Shan, Kachin, Karen, kayah, Mon and Rakhine. They have lived in Burma ages according to historical facts. There is historical evidence that they have lived faithfully and harmoniously with other races of Burma.'

• On 4th July 1961, Brig-General Aung Gyi, Deputy Chief of Staff, officially explained that, 'On the west, May Yu district borders with Pakistan. As is the case with all borderlands communities, there are Muslims on both sides of the borders. Those who are on Pakistan's side are known as Pakistani while the Muslims on our Burmese side of the borders are referred to as 'Rohingya.' Here I must stress that this is not a case where one single race splits itself into two communities in two different neighbouring countries. If you look at the Sino-Burmese border region, you will see this kind of phenomenon, namely 'adjacent people'. To give you a concrete example, take Lisu of Kachin state, or La-wa (or Wa) and E-kaw of the same Kachin State by the Chinese borderlands. They all straddle on both sides of the borders. Likewise, the Shan can be found on the Chinese side as well as in Thailand – and they are known as 'Tai' or 'Dai' over there…They speak similar language and they have a common religion.'

• The Rohingyas were enfranchised in all the national and local elections of Burma. Their representatives were in the Legislative Assembly, in the Constituent Assembly and in the Parliament. As members of the new Parliament, their representatives took the oath of allegiance to the Union of Burma on the 4th January 1948. Their representatives were appointed as cabinet ministers and parliamentary secretaries. They had their own political, cultural, social organizations and had their programme in their own language in the official Burma Broadcasting Services (BSS).

• As a Burma's racial groups, they participated in the official "Union Day' celebration in Burma's capital, Rangoon, every year.

• To satisfy part of their demand, the government granted them limited local autonomy and declared establishment of Mayu Frontier Administration (MFA) in early 60s, a special frontier district to be ruled directly by the central government.

Thus, the Muslims of Rakhine region over the centuries have had many terms by which to identify themselves, including the terms Rakhine Muslim, Arakan Muslim, and Rohingya, the last of which has become more prominent in recent times.

However, the Rakhine nationalist claims that, the term Rohingya was created in the 1950s to promote the political demands of the Bengalis in Myanmar.

Ethnic identity is not a God-given thing, but different forms of identities are invented and reworked thorough space and time. That's why the process of identity formation is known as 'social construction'. And Ethnicity is not just a 'thing' but also a 'process' in which the state actors impose identities, and the people themselves actively articulate their own identities for the sake of political and material livelihood.

As Burma and Arakan state are the products of the nation-sate formation through a relatively long, history, The name 'Rakhne' and the place 'Arakan' have been "invented" at particular points of time, just like the name "Rohinggya' was invented another points of time. If Rohingya 'migrated' from Bangladesh of somewhere else at one historical point of time Rakhines must have 'migrated' at similar or another historical points of time. But immigrating earlier of later does not negates the problematic reality that both groups have migrated from somewhere else. None of these groups fell from the sky. The claim that the name 'Rohingya' is invented is unacceptable and completely contradicts the very foundational understanding of ethnicity and ethnic identity.

Since 1942, the Rakhine Buddhists pushed the Muslims from the southern Arakan to the northern Arakan.

Since 1962, successive military regimes denied their citizenship right by labeling that they are illegal immigrants from Bangaladesh.

Since 2012, the Thein Sein regime rejected their identity and forcefully making them Bengali.

The Rohingya Muslims of Arakan, both home and abroad, believed that they belong to Burma and they are parts and parcel of indigenous races of Burma. They never try to be Bengali. At present there are more than 3 million Roghingyas both home and abroad. Their only blood related community is the Roai people, a third and fourth generation Rohingyas, who strongly believed that their ancestors were from Arakan or related to Arakan. Their population is round about 10 million lived in Cox's Bazaar district and southern Chittagong district. These peoples are morally concerned to the Rohingyas Muslims of Arakan.

However, the present Thein Sein Government and Ultra- Natiionalits Rakhines are going to forcefully making the Rohingya to Bengali. Then the Bengali peoples became concerned to the case and cause of the Rohuingyas. In Bangladesh, there are 160 million Bengali, in India also about 100 million Bengali and other parts of the world also more than 40 million Bengali. So there are more than 300 million Bengali throughout the world. In the case of the Rohingya has forcefully became Bengali then they will be parts and parcel of other Bengali peoples, and the world's over 300 million Bengali will try to stand behind the ill-fated 3 million Rohingya people. The Government is playing with a great risk that will not good for the country and for the peoples of Burma, particularly for Arakan.

The Arakan problem can be easily solved to the satisfaction of all the stake holders if the Rakhine Buddhist is simply follow the golden rule of "Live and let Live". This will definitely put an end to all the mutual ill-feeling and mistrusts; and there lies mutual happiness for all.

aman_ullah

-- written by Aman Ullah

Thursday, 31 July 2014

Statement of the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar Yangon International Airport, Myanmar, 26 July 2014

Source yangonsite, 26 July

Statement of the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar Yangon International Airport, Myanmar, 26 July 2014

Introduction:

Good evening and thank you all for coming today. I have just concluded my first official ten- day mission as Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar. The objective of my visit was to assess the human rights situation in Myanmar through a better understanding of the realities on the ground. Accordingly, I sought to engage constructively with a broad spectrum of stakeholders, including Government officials, political, religious and community leaders, civil society representatives, as well as victims of human rights violations and members of the international community. I was pleased to have had a frank and open exchange of views on a range of matters related to my mandate. And I am grateful that many were so forthcoming in their views on sensitive issues.

Today, I would wish to highlight some preliminary observations from my mission and from additional background research. These issues, along with others, will be elaborated in more detail in the report I will present to the 69th session of the General Assembly later this year.

I would like to warmly thank the Government of Myanmar for its excellent cooperation and flexibility throughout my visit. I would particularly like to note with appreciation the efforts made to ensure my safety and that of my team, including in challenging circumstances. I would also like to thank the United Nations Country Team for giving their full support to this mission and for their invaluable assistance and advice in organizing my programme of meetings.

In Nay Pyi Taw, I met with the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Director –General of the ASEAN Affairs Department in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Attorney General, the Chief Justice and members of the Supreme Court, the Chair and members of the Constitutional Tribunal, the Minister of Defence, the Minister of Border Affairs, the Minister of Information, the Minister of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement, the Minister of Labour, Employment and Social Security, the Minister of Immigration and Population, the Deputy Minister of Education, the Minister of Health and the Minister of Home Affairs. I also met with Ministers U Soe Thein and U Aung Min in the President's Office, and the Legal, Political and Economic Advisers to the President. Additionally, I met with the Union Election Commission. I was grateful that many provided detailed information highlighting the sequence of events and the context in which certain policy decisions were made or actions were undertaken.

Also in Nay Pyi Taw, I met with the members of various parliamentary committees of the Amyotha and Pyithu Hluttaws and with the Parliamentary Constitutional Amendment Implementation Committee.

I also had a meeting with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.

In Yangon, I met with members of the Interfaith Friendship Group of Myanmar and the Interfaith Dialogue Group, the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission, as well as with civil society actors working on a wide range of human rights issues, media professionals, lawyers and lawyers groups, members of the 88 Generation Student Group and released prisoners of conscience. I visited Insein Prison and met with six prisoners of conscience: Dr. Tun Aung, U Saw Gay They Mu, U Chit Ko, U Saw War Lay, U Htin Kyaw and U Nay Linn Dwe. I also held meetings with the United Nations Country Team, the Humanitarian Country Team and the diplomatic community.
During my mission, I also visited Rakhine State, Kachin State and Mandalay Division. I will elaborate on those visits shortly.

Preliminary observations:
Myanmar is undergoing an important transition and the sweeping and far-reaching reforms that we have seen in recent years have dramatically transformed the political, economic, social and human rights landscape. This was affirmed in my meetings with various Government officials in Nay Pyi Taw. In three years, Myanmar has come a long way since the establishment of the new Government. This must be recognized and applauded.

Yet, there are worrying signs of possible backtracking which if unchecked could undermine Myanmar's efforts to become a responsible member of the international community that respects and protects human rights. As many have said, Myanmar therefore needs further encouragement and understanding in order to address these challenges and to continue on the path of reform. And I hope that my observations and recommendations will be taken in this light.

Shrinking of democratic space:
The opening up of democratic space for people to exercise their rights to freedom of opinion and expression and to freedom of assembly and association is widely acknowledged as one significant achievement in Myanmar's continuing reform process. Yet, in recent months many of my interlocutors have seen the shrinking of that space for civil society and the media.
During my mission, I was informed of the use of the judicial system and the application of outdated legislation, such as the 1923 State Secrets Act or the 1950 Emergency Provisions Act, as well as other legislation such as the Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Act (now amended) to criminalize and impede the activities of civil society and the media. I learned of the continuing arrests and prosecution of people exercising their rights to peaceful assembly and association, particularly under Section 18 of the amended Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Act. A disturbing example is the recent conviction of Chin activists who protested against the alleged rape of a woman by a military soldier in Chin State.

Civil society actors also face intimidation, threats and attacks and I was concerned by the alleged threats received by various activists who had publicly voiced opposition to a proposed package of draft bills related to religion, including a proposed interfaith marriage bill and a religious conversion bill.

Civil society actors campaigning on land and environmental issues, or trying to help communities affected by large-scale development projects, face particular challenges. They are routinely harassed and subject to arrest (including for violating the Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Act). There are also continuing reports of the excessive use of force by the police and the authorities in breaking up protests. During my mission, I met with one activist who had been arrested multiple times and was under trial in multiple township courts for protesting against land grabbing and forced evictions. He informed me that he would continue to protest, regardless of the personal consequences, so as to raise awareness amongst local communities and to ensure that the authorities "listened to what we have to say".

These patterns not only undermine the work of civil society, but also impose a climate of fear and intimidation to society at large. The Government should create a safe and enabling environment for civil society, given their central role in democratisation, national reconciliation, development and the promotion and protection of human rights. Thus, any administrative and legislative provisions that impede their legitimate and peaceful activities should be reviewed and abolished. Further, specific protections measures should be put in place to allow civil society actors to carry out their work safely and without fear of reprisals. Complaints of violations should be investigated and properly brought to justice.

With respect to the media, I arrived in Myanmar shortly after the sentencing of four journalists and an editor of Unity Journal to ten years' imprisonment with hard labour under the 1923 State Secrets Act, and charges were brought under Section 18 of the Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Act against 50 journalists who had staged a silent protest against the verdict. I also received information of other arrests of journalists who had reported on issues deemed too sensitive or critical of those in power, such as Government corruption. Additionally, I was told of the threats and intimidation faced by journalists, including most recently in trying to report on the recent violent incidents in Mandalay. Many spoke to me of a climate of uncertainty, intimidation and fear of arrest resulting in a form of self-censorship of the media.

The enjoyment of the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of association and peaceful assembly are essential ingredients for Myanmar's democracy and for debating and resolving political issues, particularly in the run-up to the 2015 elections. Electoral periods
are important moments in the life of a nation with the potential to consolidate and strengthen democratic principles and practices. The mere fact that elections are held is not an adequate indicator of democracy. The process leading up to the election is a crucial component of a democratic society. Thus, there should be strict and clear safeguards to prevent undue interference in public freedoms, in particular the rights to freedom of opinion and expression and the freedom of peaceful assembly and association. In effect, genuine elections cannot be achieved if these rights are curtailed.

Prisoners of conscience:
I commend the 15 prisoner amnesties granted since the establishment of Myanmar's new Government. And I note that the most recent presidential pardon of 30 December 2013 (which released more than 41 prisoners) included those convicted under various laws, such as the Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Act, the Unlawful Associations Act, sections 122, 124 (a) and 505 of the Penal Code, and the Emergency Provisions Act of 1950.
However, I believe that there are several remaining prisoners of conscience who did not benefit from these amnesties or who were recently arrested (as I described earlier). The information I received from civil society sources as well as my interviews with several prisoners in Insein Prison, Sittwe Prison, Bhamo Prison and Myitkina Prison confirmed that this issue has not been resolved. I raised these cases in my meetings in Nay Pyi Taw and called for their review and release as a matter of priority.

In this respect, I was pleased to hear that the prisoner review committee would continue to function and would likely hold regular monthly meetings. I encourage the Government to continue working with this important body in order to release all remaining prisoners of conscience and to fulfil President Thein Sein's pledge. And I also reiterate my predecessor's call for this body to be formally established as a standing institution with a mandate to review continuing detentions that may be politically motivated and to consider questions related to the rehabilitation of released prisoners.

Development and economic, social and cultural rights:
I was encouraged by the priority attention given to education and health and the efforts made to improve Myanmar's education and health systems as a whole. I was also encouraged to hear of significant increases in public spending on these sectors though note that this is still a very small portion of the total national budget.

My meetings with both Government and civil society actors confirmed my predecessor's view that land rights issues, in particular land grabbing and confiscations, as well as forced evictions are and will remain one of the major challenges facing Myanmar. And I note that the majority of complaints received by the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission related to land rights and that various parliamentary commissions have been established to address this issue.

These are complex issues requiring reforms to the legislative and institutional framework governing land use and management, the management and sharing of resources, as well as land tenure. A change in the response to public protests on land issues and the handling of complaints received by various institutions and bodies is also needed. While I will elaborate upon these issues in my report to the General Assembly, I will state generally that priority attention should be given to these issues in accordance with human rights principles and standards. This requires that the principles of equality and non-discrimination, participation, protection, transparency and accountability, including access to appropriate remedy, are fully taken into account.

I was also struck by the information I received regarding the impact of large-scale development projects, particularly on vulnerable groups, such as the rural poor, displaced persons and returning asylum-seekers, ethnic communities and women. In this regard, I believe that it is essential to ensure that environmental and social impact assessments are undertaken and recommendations implemented consistently, that relevant information about development projects be made widely available and accessible, and that concerned communities are able to participate actively, freely and meaningfully in the assessment and analysis, design and planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of such projects.
The coming years present an opportunity for the Government to proactively manage development and investment processes so as to ensure a rights-based and people-centred form of sustainable development, inclusive growth, poverty reduction and equitable resource-sharing. I believe that Myanmar has started to embark on this path but further reforms to the relevant legislative, institutional and administrative frameworks, as well as a change in mindset and behaviour, is required.

Legislative reform and the rule of law
A recurring and cross-cutting concern mentioned in many of my discussions on a broad range of issues is the need to strengthen the rule of law in Myanmar. This is the foundation for any functioning democracy and underpins the entire process of reform. Thus, it should continue to be given priority attention by the Government.
Central to this is the continuing review and reform of legislation, particularly outdated laws that do not reflect current realities and those deemed to be inconsistent with international human rights standards, as well as the adoption of new laws. While I was encouraged by the scope and pace of the legislative reform process, I heard many concerns regarding the lack of consultation on draft laws, with some laws drafted in secret, published at a late stage with little time for comments to be provided or with unclear or no information on where comments should be submitted. In raising these issues consistently during my mission, I came away with the impression that greater coordination, priority-setting, transparency, consistency and clarity in the process by which laws are reviewed, consulted and drafted is vitally needed. Clear timelines should be given to enable broad consultation and proper consideration of draft laws, including by civil society and international organizations. Consultation should be meaningful and not merely superficial, with comments properly taken into account and concerns addressed. Additionally, more efforts should be made to raise awareness of new laws amongst the general public, beyond their publication in newspapers and journals.

Further, while legislative reform is an organic process, shaped and defined by changing realities, it should ultimately consolidate and further democratic transition and respect for human rights. I am therefore concerned by the legislative package on the protection of race and religion, which includes four draft bills on interfaith marriage, religious conversion polygamy and population control. I have spoken out publicly on this issue and have raised concerns that these bills are incompatible with international human rights standards, in particular the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which Myanmar is party. I add my voice to those who have called for the package to be withdrawn.

Women's rights and gender equality
During my visit, I had the opportunity to meet and discuss with civil society organizations and activists working on women's rights issues in Myanmar. Yet, it seemed to me that women's voices and women's roles are seemingly lacking on the public radar: women are severely underrepresented in Government and Parliament, as well as in the formal peace process, and there does not seem to be much public awareness and understanding of the important roles women could and should play in the reforms process – as both agents and beneficiaries of change. As party to CEDAW, I believe that Myanmar should do more to promote women's participation in all areas of public and political life.

Rakhine State
During my mission, I had the opportunity to visit Sittwe and Maungdaw and I wish to thank the State Government for its cooperation and logistical facilitation. In Sittwe, I met with the Chief Minister and members of the State Government, members of the Rakhine State Emergency Coordination Centre, representatives of the Rakhine Buddhist community and representatives of international non-governmental organizations (INGOs) and United Nations agencies. I also visited Shwe Say Ti Monastery. In and around Sittwe, I visited Set Yone Su and Baw Du Par Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps, Ohn Yay Paw Village and Aung Mingala. I also visited Sittwe Prison and met with U Kyaw Hla Aung, U Than Shwe, U Kyaw Myint and three Muslim male prisoners. In Maungdaw, I met with four Muslim women who were being held under charges of arson in the Maungdaw police station detention centre.
I listened carefully to the views expressed by both communities in order to better understand their different perspectives and grievances. I recognize that Rakhine State is one of the poorest in Myanmar and for many years, has suffered from neglect and underdevelopment. I visited Ohn Yay Paw Village and saw a glimpse of how some in the Rakhine Buddhist community lived – with no toilets, no electricity and with a minimum of basic services. I was pleased to hear that the United Nations was cooperating with the Rakhine State Government to provide development assistance and I would encourage similar support and cooperation in other areas of Rakhine State.

In visiting the IDPs in and around Sittwe during the rainy season, I gained first-hand impressions of the difficult conditions in which men, women and children of both communities live. The situation is deplorable. Many have remained in the camps for two years and I do not believe that there is adequate access to basic services. In Set Yone Su (Rakhine Buddhist) camp, I was told that while children attended primary school in the camp, older children had to make their own travel arrangements to attend the middle school some distance away from the camp. A number of the IDPs also highlighted the lack of access to livelihoods, with women selling craft work and men performing day labour in order to earn an income.
Yet, it is undeniable that the situation is worse in the Baw Du Par camp I visited, given the sheer number of IDPs in the camp – around 10,000, the comparatively fewer latrines per person than in the Set Yone Su camp (around 40 persons to one latrine by my count), and the lack of a health clinic or adequate access to health services (particularly given the departure of certain INGOs providing crucial health services). Restrictions on the freedom of movement have a severe impact on basic rights, including access to livelihoods, food, water and sanitation, health services and education. One young woman told me that she had passed her matriculation exams and wished to go to university. Yet, she could not physically leave the camp in order to pick up the university application forms. In Aung Mingala, the only Muslim quarter in Sittwe, I was also told that the residents were only allowed to leave the camp twice a week to go to the market. Students were prohibited from attending Sittwe University and were told that they could only pursue distance learning if they wished. Many merchants wished to return to their shops in order to reopen their businesses.


The health situation in the Muslim IDP camps is of particular concern. With the departure of INGOs providing critical health services and the operation of humanitarian organizations not yet at full capacity after the attacks in Sittwe in March, health provision still falls far short of needs. While the local health authorities have deployed additional medical professionals and provided mobile clinics, I have received disturbing reports of people dying in camps due to the lack of access to emergency medical assistance and due to preventable, chronic or pregnancy-related conditions. There are frequent daily reports of illnesses, yet there is now limited access and limited capacity by INGOs and the United Nations to provide the necessary services, undertake the necessary monitoring of the situation, and collect the necessary data.

The operational environment for INGOs and the United Nations remains difficult with continuing reports of threats, intimidation and attacks against staff. At the same time, representatives of the Rakhine Buddhist community spoke often of the perceived bias and discrimination in the assistance provided over decades and currently.

In listening to all views from both communities, I am concerned about the prevalence of inaccurate rumours and false information about the conditions of camps, the quality of assistance provided and the perceived intentions and behaviours of members of different communities, which subsequently become accepted as reality. More must be done to stop misinformation which only serves to heighten tensions and hostility and to increase the sense of discriminatory treatment. The conditions of both camps and the situation of both communities must be accurately reflected and seen for what they are.

I understand the sense of grievance and perceived discrimination by the Rakhine Buddhist community. And I do believe that their concerns should be taken into account when trying to address the underlying causes of the intercommunal violence. We need to call a spade a spade.

By virtue of their legal status (or lack of), the Muslim community has faced and continue to face systematic discrimination, which include restrictions in the freedom of movement, restrictions in access to land, food, water, education and health care, and restrictions on marriages and birth registration. Since the 1993 report of the first Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, the various forms of human rights violations faced by the Muslim community has been regularly documented by successive Special Rapporteurs. These include enforced disappearances, torture, forced labour and forced displacements, as well as rape and other forms of sexual violence.

In addition, I have received continuing allegations of violations against the Muslim community, including arbitrary arrests, torture and ill-treatment in detention, death in detention, the denial of due process and fair trial rights and rape and sexual violence. I believe these allegations are serious and merit investigation, with perpetrators held to account.

I also was provided information about the status of the three INGO national staff who were arrested in connection with the 2012 violence and who remain in detention. I believe that they have been denied fair trial and due process rights and were arrested under spurious charges. I call for their immediate release.

In my discussions on possible solutions with the Rakhine State Government, I was provided a brief overview of the Rakhine State Action Plan but was not able to actually study the Plan myself. I noted with concern, however, that the Government's plan for long-term peaceful coexistence may likely result in a permanent segregation of the two communities. As an immediate priority, more must be done to reduce tensions and hostility, and promote reconciliation between the two communities.

Issues around terminology and citizenship are particularly sensitive. I was repeatedly told not to use the term 'Rohingya' as this was not recognized by the Government. Yet, as a human rights independent expert, I am guided by international human rights law. In this regard, the rights of minorities to self-identify on the basis of their national, ethnic, religious and linguistic characteristics is related to the obligations of States to ensure non-discrimination against individuals and groups, which is a central principle of international human rights law. I also note that various human rights treaty bodies and intergovernmental bodies, including the Committee on the Rights of the Child, which I chaired for four years and of which I was a member for ten years, the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly use the term 'Rohingya'.

In my discussions on the question of citizenship for the Muslim community, I was repeatedly told that the rule of law should be respected; in this regard, strong opposition was voiced by many against the review and reform of the 1982 Citizenship Law. Yet, laws by nature are forever evolving. As the reforms process in Myanmar has demonstrated, they can be and should be amended whenever there are deficiencies and are not in line with international standards. The 1982 Citizenship Law should therefore not be an exception.

Kachin State
I also visited Kachin State – Myitkyina and Bhamo – and I wish to thank the State Government for its cooperation and logistical facilitation. In Myitkina, I met with the Chief minister and members of the State Government, as well as representatives of civil society organizations. I also visited Waimaw IDP camp and Myitkina prison where I met with U Brang Yung. In Bhamo, I met with the District Administrator and members of the District Administration. I also met with Kachin and Shan civil society organizations and with organizations working on women's issues. Additionally, I visited the AD 2000, Robert Church and Shwe Kyi Nar IDP camps. I also visited Bhamo Prison where I met with U Mali Tan.
It has been three years since the resumption of conflict in Kachin and Northern Shan States and many IDPs have lived for years in camps that were only meant to be temporary. Many of the IDPs I spoke with highlighted the fervent desire for peace so that they could simply return to their homes. Yet, there was a general fear for their safety and security upon return, as well as uncertainty over what they would return to – with homes and farmland possibly destroyed or riddled with mines. Some noted the lack of access to livelihoods; in one camp, the majority of the IDPs were entirely dependent on amber polishing and the production of amber jewellery as the only means of income. The youth do not have any options for employment or livelihoods and many are turning to drugs.
While there has been progress in the peace negotiations, with another round of talks resuming this weekend in Laiza, almost all with whom I spoke were unaware of developments and had neither been informed nor consulted. Greater efforts must be made, therefore, to inform, involve and consult displaced populations or local communities. Greater efforts must also be made to inform and consult IDPs about the possibility of return. Any initiative to return IDPs to their places of origin has to be done with the free, prior and informed consent of those concerned, and also involve consultation with humanitarian actors including the United Nations.

Despite assurances by the Chief Minister of improved international humanitarian access to non-government controlled areas (where roughly half of the 100,000 displaced by the conflict are living in camps or with host families), in reality, access remains limited and there are concerns regarding the access of people in these areas to adequate food, water and sanitation, health care and education. The humanitarian situation thus has clear human rights dimensions – with consequent impact on basic rights. It is imperative therefore that the United Nations and international humanitarian actors be provided with more regular and systematic access to areas outside government control.

During my visit, I received information about human rights violations committed by both the Kachin Independence Army and the Tatmadaw, including attacks against civilian populations, sexual violence, the recruitment of child soldiers, as well as forced labour. These allegations are serious and must be addressed as a matter of priority, with perpetrators taken to account. All parties to the conflict must do more to ensure respect for international human rights and humanitarian law.

Also during my visit, I met with two prisoners who had been convicted under the Explosive Substances Act and the Unlawful Associations Act (for alleged ties to the Kachin Independence Army). Both allege that they had been interrogated continuously for several days and subjected to torture and ill-treatment. One individual noted that he had been forced to commit homosexual acts with another male prisoner. Both also allege that photographic evidence showing them handling explosives had been fabricated. These cases are similar to information I have received from civil society sources regarding the arbitrary arrest and torture during interrogation by the military of Kachin men accused of belonging to the Kachin Independence Army. When raising these issues in Nay Pyi Taw, I was told unequivocally that the Ministry of Defence was not aware of any such cases and that it did not have any information on the use of torture or ill-treatment during interrogation. I must state, however, that the disturbingly similar pattern of abuse in the cases I have received merits investigation by the Government. The allegations are serious and should be taken up accordingly.

Mandalay
In Mandalay, I visited the sites where the murders of two men were committed and where incidents of violence took place. I met with the Chief Minister and members of his cabinet, the police chief and the Division Administrator. I also met with members of a non-governmental Peacemaking Committee. I was given detailed information on the actions taken by the Government to quell the violence, including outreach to religious leaders, and on the numbers of people arrested in connection with the murders and with the destruction of parts of a Muslim cemetery. In contrast, the information I received from civil society actors alleged state inaction in stopping the violence and highlighted the lack of transparency in the investigations conducted and in the arrests made. Additionally, many with whom I spoke suggested possible criminal and organized instigators of violence – deliberately timed to destabilize or undermine political movements or reforms. I was also given similar information regarding the events in Meiktila last year, particularly with how the violence was instigated and progressed, and how the authorities responded. I am, however, not in a position to verify these allegations.

In my meetings with various interfaith groups and civil society actors, Myanmar's history of religious pluralism and tolerance was repeatedly highlighted. Yet the violence in Mandalay and previously in other parts of the country demonstrate that amicable relations and harmony between different religious and ethnic communities can never be taken for granted. In fact, the recurring outbreak of intercommunal violence reveals deep divisions and a growing polarization between Muslim and Buddhist communities. In this regard, I am concerned by the spread of hate speech and incitement to violence, discrimination and hostility in the media and on the Internet, which have fuelled and triggered further violence. I understand that the Government is making efforts in working with religious and community leaders, as well as the media and civil society, but more needs to be done to counter this negative trend. A comprehensive series of measures is needed as a priority; this should include the adoption of specific legislation to prohibit and combat hate speech – one that is compliant with international human rights standards, carefully construed and applied by the judiciary so as not to excessively limit the freedom of expression. Such legislation should be accompanied by a set of policy measures to address the root causes and underlying grievances, foster dialogue and bring about a change in mindsets and discourse. This should include education and awareness-raising measures, as well as intercommunal and interfaith dialogue and cooperation initiatives. Political leaders and public officials have a special responsibility and in this regard, I welcome President Thein Sein's clear and public call against hate speech and incitement earlier this month. Others in positions of influence should also clearly speak out against hate speech.

Finally, I would encourage the Government of Myanmar to fully utilize and implement the Rabat Plan of Action on the prohibition of advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence. The Plan of Action sets out a series of measures to prevent and respond to incidents of incitement to hatred while upholding the rights to freedom of opinion and expression, freedom of religion or belief and other freedoms.

Conclusion
These are some of my preliminary observations from my first official mission to Myanmar as Special Rapporteur. As noted previously, I will elaborate upon these and other issues in greater detail in my forthcoming report to the General Assembly. Allow me to note that I am very much guided by the work of my predecessor and in this respect, I am of the view that many of his priorities and concerns remain valid and will be carried forward during my tenure.
Upon my appointment as Special Rapporteur last month, I stated that it was my intention to discharge my duties and responsibilities under this mandate in an objective and impartial manner. It is indeed my wish to be able to contribute to the efforts Myanmar has undertaken in its path towards democratization, national reconciliation and development. As Special Rapporteur, I look forward to working closely with the Government and the people of Myanmar, in a spirit of cooperation and dialogue, towards the promotion and protection of human rights in the country.
Thank you.