Tuesday, 31 January 2012

The Rohingya: Myanmar's outcasts

Source from Aljazeera, 30 Jan 2012
The Rohingya ethnic group of Myanmar is not recognised by the government [GALLO/GETTY]
This article is the first in a series by Ambassador Akbar Ahmed, a former Pakistani high commissioner to the UK, exploring how a litany of volatile centre/periphery conflicts with deep historical roots were interpreted after 9/11 in the new global paradigm of anti-terrorism - with profound and often violent consequences. Incorporating in-depth case studies from Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, Ambassador Ahmed will ultimately argue that the inability for Muslim and non-Muslim states alike to either incorporate minority groups into a liberal and tolerant society or resolve the "centre vs periphery" conflict is emblematic of a systemic failure of the modern state - a breakdown which, more often than not, leads to widespread violence and destruction. The violence generated from these conflicts will become the focus, in the remainder of the 21st century, of all those dealing with issues of national integration, law and order, human rights and justice. 

The Rohingya ethnic group of Myanmar is not recognised

Washington, DC - The image of a smiling Daw Aung San Suu Kyi receiving flowers from her supporters is a powerful message of freedom and optimism in Myanmar, the symbol of democracy in a country which has known nothing but authoritarian oppression for decades.
Yet few ask one of the most pressing questions facing Daw Suu Kyi. How will she deal with the Rohingya? "The Rohingya," you will ask. "Who are they?"  

The Rohingya, whom the BBC calls "one of the world's most persecuted minority groups", are the little-publicised and largely forgotten Muslim people of the coastal Rakhine state of western Myanmar. Their historic lineage in Rakhine dates back centuries, as fishermen and farmers. Over the past three decades, the Rohingya have been systematically driven out of their homeland by Myanmar's military junta and subjected to widespread violence and the total negation of their rights and citizenship within Myanmar. They are a stateless Muslim minority.

The continued tragedy of the unrecognised Rohingya, both in Myanmar and as refugees abroad, casts a dark shadow over the bright hopes and prospects for democracy in a country plagued by violence and civil war. Suu Kyi is ideally placed to extend democratic reforms to all ethnic peoples, including the Rohingya, in a free Myanmar.

Though the Rohingya may be small in number at less than two million, the real lesson of the Arab Spring is that no notion of democracy can succeed without the inclusion of all people within a country's borders. Every member of society, regardless of race and religion, must be given their due rights as citizens.
"While many ethnic minorities in Myanmar have been the victims of the central government's oppressive measures, the Rohingya stand apart in that their very existence is threatened." 
While many ethnic minorities in Myanmar have been the victims of the central government's oppressive measures, the Rohingya stand apart in that their very existence is threatened. The Rohingya's plight abroad as refugees in places such as Bangladesh and Thailand has seen glimmers of the media spotlight, but less attention has been brought to the underlying cause of their flight: the violence and cultural oppression at home.
These policies were enacted by Myanmar's government to force the Rohingya outside of Myanmar as a result of their being Muslim and ethnically non-Myanma. The government erroneously labelled them as "illegal Bengali immigrants" in their efforts to eradicate the Rohingya culture.

Kings to refugees
Yet, the long history of the Rohingya and the Rakhine state contradicts the government's claims. The medieval Kingdom of Arakan, encompassing the Muslim Rohingya, was once an enlightened centre of culture, knowledge and trade, displaying a harmonic blend of Buddhism and Islam in its administration and court life. The kingdom's cosmopolitan and international capital city, Mrauk U, was described in the 17th century as "a second Venice" by a Portuguese Jesuit priest and was often compared to Amsterdam and London by travellers and writers of the time.

It was the 1784 military conquest by Bodawpaya, the king of Burma (now Myanmar), that transformed this once vibrant kingdom into an oppressed peripheral region. After this, many haunting tales began to circulate of Burmese soldiers rounding up the Rohingya in bamboo enclosures to burn them alive, and marching thousands to the city of Amarapura to work, effectivley as slave labour, on infrastructure projects.

Rohingya boat people stuck in limbo
With the rise to power of the military junta in 1962 under General Ne Win, a policy of "Myanmarisation" was implemented as an ultra-nationalist ideology based on the racial purity of the Myanma ethnicity and its Buddhist faith. The Rohingya, as both Muslims and non-Myanma, were stripped of their legitimacy and officially declared foreigners in their own native land. With the passage of the junta's 1982 Citizenship Law, they effectively ceased to exist legally.

Stripped officially of their citizenship, the Rohingya found their lives in limbo: prohibited from the right to own land or property, barred from travelling outside their villages, repairing their decaying places of worship, receiving an education in any language or even marrying and having children without rarely granted government permission. The Rohingya have also been subjected to modern-day slavery, forced to work on infrastructure projects, such as constructing "model villages" to house the Myanmar settlers intended to displace them, reminiscent of their treatment at the hands of the Burmese kings of history.
The denial of citizenship and rights was accompanied by a military strategy of physical and cultural war designed to drive the Rohingya out of Myanmar.
The initial push of the military's ethnic cleansing campaign came in 1978 under Operation Naga Min, or Operation King Dragon. The purpose of this operation was to scrutinise each individual within the state as either a citizen or alleged "illegal immigrant". This resulted in widespread rape, arbitrary arrests, desecration of mosques, destruction of villages and confiscation of lands among the Rohingya people. In the wake of this violence, nearly a quarter of a million Rohingya fled to neighbouring Bangladesh, many of whom were later repatriated to Myanmar where they faced further torture, rape, jail and death.
In 1991, a second push, known as Operation Pyi Thaya or Operation Clean and Beautiful Nation, was launched with the same purpose, resulting in further violence and another massive flow of 200,000 Rohingya refugees into Bangladesh.
Non-governmental organisations from Europe and North America estimate that 300,000 Rohingya refugees remain in Bangladesh, with only 35,000 residing in registered refugee camps and receiving some sort of assistance from NGOs.

Acknowledging the Rohingya
Those remaining, more than 250,000, are in a desperate situation without food and medical assistance, largely left to slowly starve to death. The December 2011 refugee repatriation agreement reached between Myanmar President Thein Sein and Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina will exclude the Rohingya, due to their lack of Myanmar citizenship, one of the conditions for repatriation for the expected 2,500 returning refugees.

The Rohingya predicament underlines a paradox for the world's great faiths, straddling the divide between Islamic Asia and Buddhist Asia. Each emphasises compassion and kindness and yet, we see little evidence of this in their dealings with the Rohingya people.

As part of this current study on the relationship between centre and periphery in the Muslim world, we recently interviewed Dr Wakar Uddin, Chairman of The Burmese Rohingya Association of North America (BRANA). A gentle and learned man, he is an energetic ambassador for his Rohingya people with a firm grasp of regional history. All the Rohingya want is the reinstatement of their citizenship in their own land, as revoked by the former dictator General Ne Win, and the dignity, human rights and opportunities that come with it.
Suu Kyi and the National League for Democracy have a unique opportunity to reach out to the Rohingya people and include them in the new democratic process. The NLD should work with the central government to expand the role of all ethnic minorities as full Myanma citizens.

By acknowledging their rights, the government will bestow upon the Rohingya the dignity and the responsibilities of citizenship and present opportunities for mutual cultural understanding and the repatriation of the thousands of refugees existing in purgatory, separated from their homes and families. Great strides have recently been made by the Myanmar government towards the creation of an open and democratic political system and an end to ethnic violence, yet this is only the beginning.

With the recognition of the Rohingya as Myanma citizens, Suu Kyi will honour the memory of her father, Aung San, as he, before his untimely and tragic death, also reached out to ethnic minorities to participate in an independent Myanmar. Only then can a democratic and modern Myanmar be legitimate and successful in the eyes of its own people.
But the first step is to acknowledge the Rohingya exist.

This article is based on research being conducted by Professor Akbar Ahmed, Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies at American University, Washington, DC, and Harrison Akins, a Research Fellow attached to the Chair, for the forthcoming study, Journey into Tribal Islam: America and the Conflict between Center and Periphery in the Muslim World, to be published by Brookings Press, exploring the conflict between Muslim tribal groups and central governments across the Muslim world in the context of the US-led 'war on terror'. 
Ambassador Ahmed is a former Pakistani High Commissioner to the UK and former administrator in Waziristan and Balochistan. He is the award-winning author of numerous books, including Discovering Islam, and Journey into America: The Challenge of Islam (Brookings Press, 2010).
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.


The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Burma 'blacklisting' Rohingya children

Source from DVB, 19 Jan 2012


Rohingya children who fled to Bangladesh bathe using water from a pond at a refugee camp in Cox's Bazaar (Reuters)

Despite recent tentative steps towards democratic reform in Burma, the government has continued with a discriminatory policy against the Rohingya ethnic group in the countrya's western Arakan state that includes banning Rohingya children born out of wedlock from obtaining travel permits, attending school and, in the future, marrying.

The racial profiling of children immediately after birth contradicts the praise heaped on the pseudo-civilian government by world leaders in recent months, says The Arakan Project, which is this week submitting a report to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC).

The UN body is currently reviewing the situation of children's rights in Burma, and The Arakan Project claims the blacklisting of Rohingya babies stands in stark contrast to pledges of reform by the Thein Sein administration.

Chris Lewa, director of The Arakan Project, says the new government continues to ignore the existence of the Rohingya in its state party reports to the CRC, and has refused to implement the body's recommendations first made in 2004.

"Rohingya children bear the full brunt of the state's policies of exclusion, restrictions and arbitrary treatment," she said. "These systematic policies gravely impair their physical and mental development as children and will affect the long-term future of their community."

Successive Burmese governments claim the Rohingya, a Muslim minority group, are of Bengali origin, and thus have consistently denied them citizenship- The Arakan Project says their status in Burma "relies entirely on the political will of the government", which is predominantly Buddhist and whose current representative at the UN, Ye Myint Aung, said during his prior tenure as Consul-General to Hong Kong that Rohingya were 'ugly as ogres'.

Rohingya support groups say however that there is evidence that Islam existed in Burma prior to the now-dominant Theravada Buddhism, and that the Rohingya's roots in Arakan state go back centuries.
For decades the government has meted out hefty treatment against the group, forcing hundreds of thousands to flee the country. Up to 400,000 Rohingya are living as refugees in neighbouring Bangladesh, with hundreds attempting perilous journeys by boat each year to Thailand and Malaysia. Various NGOs have described them as one of the world's most persecuted minority groups.
Those that remain in Burma suffer persecution at the hands of government officials as well as from local Arakan communities, where anti-Muslim sentiment, reinforced by the government, is strong and where many inhabitants consider them illegal immigrants.

"If children are not in their family list they cannot stay in the village," a nine-year-old boy told researchers working on the CRC submission. "Like my brother- my parents could not include my younger brother's name in their family list. That is why they had to leave the village.
"Some parents still live in the village without registering their children but they have to hide them. Or they have to register them with other parents. Like me. I am registered as the son of my grandmother."
Another boy, 12, told the group that he was "a prisoner in [his] own village" and could not leave the confines of his village without travel documents. An 11-year-old said he was often made to skip school when local authorities forced him to help repair nearby roads, with no pay.

The Burmese government justifies this treatment of the Rohingya on national security grounds, claiming that the policy is aimed at managing "illegal migration". A ban on Rohingya parents producing more than two children stems from alleged "control on population growth", The Arakan Project says, and unauthorised marriages can result in a 10-year prison term.
The group estimates that more than 40,000 Rohingya children have been left unregistered, with parents fearing punishment if they come forward with children born out of wedlock. Those not registered face severe difficulties accessing education and healthcare.

The government has mooted a programme of registering blacklisted children and adding them to population censuses, but progress has been slow. In addition, "Despite [UN refugee agencya's] advocacy efforts to address their lack of status with the government, little progress has been achieved to date," says the report.

Lewa urged the government to "build on its reform credentials and mark a break from past regimes by taking immediate steps to end all discriminatory policies and practices against the Rohingya". The group warns that racial profiling by the government "has demoralised the Rohingya community, resulting in increased refugee outflows since September 2011".

Friday, 20 January 2012

In Brief: 40,000 Rohingya children in Myanmar unregistered

source from IRIN, 19 January 2012
More than 700,000 Rohinya live in Myannmar
BANGKOK, 19 January 2012 (IRIN) - An estimated 40,000 Rohingya children are believed to be unregistered in Myanmar, according to a new report

"Despite recent reform efforts in Myanmar, the government has reaffirmed its deeply discriminatory policies against the Rohingya, and the children bear the brunt of this," Chris Lewa, director of The Arakan Project and author of the report, told IRIN before a session of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child in Geneva on 19 January.

These include the requirement of government authorization for marriage and a "two-child policy". These restrictions have made children "evidence" of unregistered marriages, an act punishable with up to 10 years in prison, while third and fourth children who are unregistered are essentially "blacklisted" for life - unable to travel, attend school or marry.

Under Myanmar's 1982 citizenship law, Rohingya children - both registered and unregistered - are stateless and hence, face limited access to food and healthcare, leaving them susceptible to preventable diseases and malnutrition. Many are prevented from attending school and used for forced labour, contributing to a Rohingya illiteracy rate of 80 percent. More than 60 percent of children aged between five and 17 have never enrolled in school, the report said.

Saturday, 14 January 2012

ANTI-ROHINGYA CAMPAIGNS, VIOLATIONS OF HUMAN RIGHTS

 Source from ARNO, 13 Jan 2012

In recent months, series of anti-Rohingya campaigns afloat inside and outside of Burma. To the surprise of everyone, inflammatory writings are often posted on a few websites, face books and blogs that reveal deep-seated ill-will against the peace loving Rohingyas.

Propaganda against Rohingya has long been launched by the Burmese military dictatorship with some Rakhine intellectuals and politicians. Now it reached the new quasi-military government’s highest political institution, the parliament in Naypyidaw. The regime and xenophobes denied the existence of Rohingya as an ethnic group and alleged that Rohingyas are illegal Bengalis entered into Arakan from Bangladesh. This concocted propaganda was met with strong condemnation from Rohingya communities worldwide. There were global protests in front of the Burmese embassies on 15 September 2011. The protest rally held in London was joined by leaders and activists belonging to almost all Burma ethnic groups and democracy movements, some local supporters and NGOs. Speakers emphasised that the Rohingya are a part of the Burma’s society, and identified that they are worst victims of human rights violations.

Why is this anti-Rohingya propaganda?
The propaganda against Rohingya is an undemocratic campaign. The intention behind is to deny the Rohingya of their rights and freedom -- their ethnic rights and citizenship rights. For the regime it is (i) to divert the minds of the Burmese people away from the current political stalemate and ongoing civil war, where chemical weapons were used against the Kachin people, causing outflows of refugees and grave humanitarian crisis; (ii) to continue dividing the two sister communities of Rohingya and Rakhine on cultural and religious lines. For the Rakhines, it is an opportunity to make a clean sweep of the Rohingyas, using the state oppressive apparatus, for their exclusive ownership of Arakan without Muslims, in line with their popular slogans. Arakan is for Rakhine; Rakhine and Buddhism are synonymous”. Few misguided people are seemed to have been allured to the anti-Rohingya trap.

Upon knowing the Thein Sein government’s hostile attitude towards Rohingyas, the Rakhines backed by the Rakhine National Democratic Party (RNDP) organized anti-Rohingya meetings in the cities of Rangoon and Akyab and some towns in Arakan preaching extreme hatred against the Rohingyas. They warned that the Rohingyas have no rights to use the words Arakan/Arakanese for them. About 16 Rakhines had, on 16 November 2011, protested in front of the BBC in London demanding apology from BBC for suitably spotting the Rohingya as an ethnic group in Arakan in a report with a map, made in October 2010, by its reporter Anna Jone. Why this protest after nearly a year of its publication! It was due to the government’s intimidating attitude and instigation of some Rakhine xenophobic academics and leaders. One wonders whether similar protests would be made against UN, USA, U.K. and E.U. for their use of the word “Rohingya” for Muslim Arakanese. 

It is almost seven decades now (from 1942) the extremist Rakhines are harping on the tune of Muslim extermination prompting state terrorism. Half of their population have either been expelled or have had to leave their homeland for their lives. Despite colossal damages in terms of human lives, properties and civilization, the Muslim Rohingya are still living site by site with their Rakhine compatriots.

Anti-Rohingya propaganda is like a boomerang
Misinformation and actions against Rohingyas recoil on the regime, particularly when it claims to have been taking measures for political and democratic reforms, although until now very little change is done. The international community will continue identifying the regime committing crimes against humanity. Similarly the extremist Rakhines will be branded as non-state actors committing international crimes. Their fanatical patriotism is a contributing factor to the growth of anarchism, violence, chaos and lawlessness in the country. It is really sham and shame to speak of democracy without practice. In a democratic society, there is no room for discrimination, exploitation, social injustice, the degrading concept of ‘prime nation’ and ‘sub-nation’, on ground of race, religion, colour, culture and political opinion.

The word ‘Rohingya’
Like former military regimes, U Thein Sein government has blacklisted the word “Rohingya” in Burma. It might want to appease Rakhines under the policy of “divide and rule”. It might also be due in part to the influence of xenophobic Rakhine politicians and academics. However, the analysts say that it is a necessary evil for the dictatorship to make the Rohingyas scapegoats. They lied that the word “Rohingya” is nonexistent, unheard and a creation of Mujahids (Muslim rebels) and/or Rohingya leaders in 1951. When the name ‘Rohingya’ is substantiated with historical evidence, the imposters, who include U Khin Maung Saw of Berlin, start arguing without shame that ‘Rohingya’ is the other name of Rakhine as it derived from ‘Rohang’, a Bengali name for Arakan.”[1] But Dr. Michael W. Charney, School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London, writes,

“The earliest recorded use of an ethnonym immediately recognizable as Rohingya is an observation by Francis Buchanan in 1799. As he explains, a dialect that was derived from Hindi …is that spoken by the Mohammedans, who have long been settled in Arakan, and who call themselves Roainga, or native of Arakan”. He further mentions, “it can be asserted, however, that one claim of the Buddhist school in Rakhaing historiography, that Rohingya was an invention of the colonial period, is contradicted by the evidence.”[2]

Thus, the word “Rohingya” was not coined but a historical name for Muslim Arakanese. There is still Muslim village in Akyab (Sittwe) city by the name of Rohingya Para.

Unknown is the word ‘Arakan’ for its people
Arakan is the name of the country, not the name of its people. Accordingly, unknown is the word Arakan for its people. But now Rakhines are calling themselves also Arakan, which is a distortion never in use before. Arakan is a place name; and it belongs to all its peoples. Its two major communities of Rohingya and Rakhine are to be called as “Rohingya Arakanese” and “Rakhine Arakanese” when attributing the name of their homeland to their respective names.

Muslim rule in Arakan
Muslims played the phenomenal role of kingmakers in Arakan. Its heyday began with the spread of Islamic civilization. “Islam spread and deeply rooted in Arakan since 8th century from where it further spread into interior Burma”.[3] In fact, “Arakan was virtually ruled by Muslims from 1430 to 1531” [4] to the extent that it was turned into a sultanate. Arakan was depicted as an Islamic State in the map of The Times Complete History of the World, showing cultural division of Southeast Asia (distribution of
major religions) in 1500.(Edited by Richard Overy, eighth edition 2010, page 148.). These are enough evidences that the Muslims or Rohingyas are indigenous to Arakan.

Acceptance of Rohingya as an ethnic nationality
On the basis of the historical evidence, the Rohingya as an ethnic group was recognized by the parliamentary government that ruled Burma from independence in 1948 to 1958 and 1960 to 1962, which stated, “The Rohingya is as the same par in the status of nationality with Kachin, Kayah, Karen, Mon, Rakhine and Shan.” As such, together with other ethnic nationalities of the country, the Rohingya representatives participated as state guests in the Union Day Celebration held in Rangoon on 12 February every year.

Before the Rakhine language was put in the programme, the Rohingya language was relayed trice a week from the indigenous language programme of the official Burma Broadcasting Service, Rangoon, from 15 May 1961 to 30 October 1965 that is, nearly four years further beyond the seizure of power by Gen. Ne Win. The Rangoon University Rohingya Students Association was one of the many ethnic student associations that functioned from 1959 to 1961 under the registration numbers 113/99 December 1959 and 7/60 September 1960 respectively. In official Myanmar Encyclopaedia Vol.9, 1964, pages 89/90 the historic narration was given in detail concerning Rohingya while affirming that 75% of the population in Mayu Frontier is Rohingya. In the map of the High School Geography, published in BSPP period, giving the distribution of national races in Burma, northern Arakan is spotted as a region of Rohingya settlement. There are many other evidences. Over and above, the Special Mayu Frontier District was created for Rohingya’s development.

They are blind and deaf
The regime and xenophobic Rakhines continue to reject Rohingya simply alleging that they are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. Some members of the democracy movement agree with the regime and critics that Rohingya do not exist, and that they are not Burmese citizens. Like the regime, they will only accept the existence of foreign Bengali Muslims in Arakan. They lack political will to accept the recognition of Rohingya by U Nu parliamentary government. Similarly they never notice what the former President of Burma, Sao Shwe Thaike, said, “Muslims of Arakan certainly belong to one of the indigenous races of Burma. If they do not belong to the indigenous races, we also cannot be taken as indigenous races.”[5]

The declaration of Rohingya as an ethnic group, along the line of other ethnic nationalities by a Prime Minister of sovereign State was essentially a matter of national importance with human rights or nationality rights concern. So far, no quarter or political parties, including leading Rakhine Ra-Ta-Nya party, had opposed it. Not this merely but also country’s leading opposition AFPFL (Stable) of U Ba Swe and U Kyaw Nyein had recognized Rohingya as an ethnic group. All these are well documented, yet the regime and vested interest groups behave like an ostrich. They are blind to see and are deaf to hear. Human rights or nationality rights of a people can be promoted and further enhanced, but in no way it can be revoked or downgraded.

Rohingya ethnic identity deserves protection
It was the democratic government which recognized Rohingya as an ethnic group. So, every responsible and credible government that comes to power has responsibility to safeguard, protect and promote Rohingya’s ethnic identity in Burma. Similarly good oppositions or political parties have moral obligation to look into it. To this concern we earnestly invite the attention of Burma’s democracy icon and the leader of the National League for Democracy (NLD) Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. Daw Suu may be aware that the Rohingya people have been supporting NLD with a high expectation on her.

Alleged terrorist links, a conspiracy against Rohingya
It is paradoxical to accuse the Rohingya organizations and freedom fighters to have link with terrorist organizations. The sources they have referred to include SLORC/SPDC; and they are highly controversial as they are largely unsubstantiated. They are simply guesswork to hoodwink the international community to serve the interests of the Burmese regime and vested interest groups.

It is important to take cognizance of the actual situation of the Rohingya people, who are victims of state terrorism. Their movement is a struggle for their survival and existence with human dignity and rights. They have time and again condemned terrorism of any forms and declared that they were (and are) not part of any other movement(s) or group(s) outside of Burma. In spite of that, for being Muslims, the regime and vested interest groups are trying to stain them to have link with terrorist groups or terrorism particularly after 11 September.
The human rights violations against the Rohingya are systematic, persistent and widespread that amount to crimes against humanity. Despite this, can anyone cite a single example that the Rohingya ever did any excess, wrong and injustice in Burma? Rohingya organizations are dead against narcotic trade and any activities causing instability in the region. But they are made scapegoats. It requires in-depth study before anyone is writing on Rohingya who are dying alive only because of their religion and ethnicity.            

                              
Muslims did not claim ‘Rohingya’ before Burma independence, why?
There is an argument posed specially by some Rakhines, “why the Muslims of Arakan did not call themselves Rohingya before and during Burmese independence”. The answer is simple and pure. During independence period, the Rohingya offered an olive branch to fellow Rakhines and tried to develop an integrated political culture, based on the common national aspiration of “Arakaneseness”, through rapprochement with the spirit of “Rohingya Rakhine Bhai Bhai” or “Rohingya Rakhine Twin brothers.” But the Rakhine politicians were not receptive to the proposal. They claimed that Arakanese and Buddhism are synonymous and the Muslims or Rohingya are outsiders. By bad luck, the extremists among them preferred to serve as the instrument of Rohingya oppression. This terrible predicament, arising out of the ‘policy of exclusiveness’ of the Rakhine, called for the use of their exclusive ethnic name “Rohingya” in order to protect their legitimate rights and privileges. They cannot be blamed or deprived of their historically inherent ethnic name “Rohingya” for not claiming it at a given time in the interest of solidarity and peaceful coexistence among the peoples of Arakan.

Last Words:

The Rohingya with a long history in Arakan are an integral part of Burma’s society. They are peace-loving; yet they are not tolerated and are persecuted in Burma for their religion and ethnicity. Rohingyas are living together with their Rakhine compatriots in the same place, drinking the same water and breathing the same air. There is no reason to be antagonistic to each other; it will damage both Rohingya and Rakhine, and their children. Unless both peoples cultivate a political will to change this miserable condition, they are bound to end up with humiliation in the abyss of their history. Let us revive our traditional relationship for the future of our succeeding generations. Let us work together on democratic principles with mutual respect, love and affection. This is the only way to salvation! 


[1]“Islamization of Burma Through Chittagonian Bengalis as Rohingya Refugees”, U Khin Maung Saw.
[2] Dr. Michael W. Charney, “Buddhism in Arakan: Theory and Historiography of the Religious Basis of the Ethnonym”, Forgotten Kingdom of Arakan Workshop, 23-24 November 2005, Bangkok, P.15
In Buchanan, “A comparative Vocabulary,” p.55
[3] “Sasana Ronwas Htunzepho” a book published by SLORC in 1979.
[4] Ba Shin, “Coming of Islam to Burma 1700 AD”, A research paper presented at Azad Bhavan, New Delhi in 1961, p.4.
[5] “The Rohingyas: Bengali Muslims or Arakan Muslim”, Euro Burma Office (EBO) Briefing Paper No.2, 2009. In Dr. San Oo Aung. http://sanooaung.wordpress.com 22 January 2008.

Burma prisoner amnesty – 13 Jan releases (Jailed Rohingya MP Kyaw Min, who was election in the 1990 polls, has been released along with his family)

Source from DVB, 13 Jan 2012
 
Published: 13 January 2012
Student leader Ko Ko Gyi [L] sits alongside Min Ko Naing. Both were released from prison today (Reuters)
We will be keeping you updated with breaking news as the day progresses. Updates in Rangoon time (+6.30 GMT). Confirmation hard to get, so note when labelled rumour
Final: Unprecedented events today in Burma, and the strongest signal yet of genuine reform? Let’s wait and see. The government released the country’s highest-profile political prisoners – Min Ko Naing, Ashin Gambira, Khun Tun Oo, Ko Ko Gyi, Khin Nyunt and many more – and the sceptics may be rethinking their stance somewhat. Suspicion still surrounds the government however (“They still have characteristics of a dictatorship,” said Gambira) but unlike past amnesties, few will be disappointed with this one. This is how it fits into the recent history of prisoner releases in Burma:
DATE                          TOTAL                  POL. PRIS           PERCENT
18 Nov 2004               3,937                            28                    0.7%
29 Nov 2004               5,311                            12                   0.2%
13 Dec 2004                5,070                           21                   0.4%
3 Jan 2005                   5,588                           26                   0.5%
6 Jul 2005                    334                             253                  75.7%
3 Jan 2007                   2,831                           50                   1.7%
23 Sept 2008               9,002                          10                    0.1%
20 Feb 2009                6,313                           24                    0.4%
17 Sept 2009               7,114                           28                   1.8%
16 May 2011                14,578                        55                    0.1%
13 Jan 2012                 651                             651                  100%
TOTAL                        60,729                       1258               2.0%
18.02pm: Filmed interview with former prime minister Khin Nyunt, who was released today. He speaks about the ceasefire signed yesterday between the government and KNU, and his newfound freedom.

17.40pm: Former army captain-turned-charity worker Nay Myo Zin also freed. He was jailed shortly after the new government came to power in March 2011 after intelligence found allegedly seditious documents on his laptop.
17.05pm: Twenty-three released from Mandalay prison: four National League for Democracy members, four activists from the September 2007 uprising, nine border security officials and six monks.
From Kyaukphyu prison, 10 prisoners of conscience and three former military intelligence (Weekly Eleven).
16.40pm: Filmed interivew with ethnic Shan leader Khun Tun Oo, who was released from Putao prison near the Chinese border today.

16.30pm: Released student leader Mya Aye “will arrive in Rangoon 5.30pm local time. He says campaigning must continue for all political prisoners to be released.” — Burma Campaign UK

16.05pm: Jailed Rohingya MP Kyaw Min, who was election in the 1990 polls, has been released along with his family. A volunteer with Burma Campaign UK spoke to him this morning: “U Kyaw Min thanked those around the world who have campaigned for the release of political prisoners. He says he is in good health.”
Also freed is Myint Hlaing, who helped DVB reporter Hla Hla Win on various assignments and was arrested alongside her in 2009.

15.50pm: Monk Ashin Gambira tells DVB of his experiences in prison:
“It was very bad in the beginning. I was kept in solitary confinement when I arrived in Insein prison [in 2008], then also in Mandalay prison. I was beaten up and then put in solitary confinement in Khamtee prison. I was also in solitary confinement for the first month I arrived in Kalay Prison. And then I was transferred to Myaungmya Prison on December 16 and now I’m out. The conditions in the prisons initially was very bad – there was no sufficient medical supply and no doctor.”
“I think [Burma] has still a long way to go. Although they are releasing prisoners now, they still have the characteristics of a dictatorship. What kind of democracy is this? They had to wait until today to release us.”
15.34pm: Tally of 591 prisoners of conscience released ties with NLD’s prisoner list released late last year. One wonders what has/will happen to the 1,000-odd counted by the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners-Burma.
NB: of the 11 ‘political prisoners’ jailed in Taunggyi prison, one, Shwe Htoo, still remains behind bars, having been convicted on explosives charges, implying the NLD do not count those who have committed – or intended to commit – acts of violence as prisoners of conscience’.
14.49pm: Prominent student activist Ko Ko Gyi, who was jailed alongside Min Ko Naing, is free and on a plane bound for Rangoon, where he is expected to arrive shortly.  More details soon…
14.45pm: Of 651 prisoners released today, 591 are “prisoners of conscience” – the remaining 60 are former military intelligence officials and customs officials, Weekly Eleven says. Important distinction between ‘political prisoners’ and ‘prisoners of conscience’ used by government officials.
14.24pm: Leader of All Burma Federation of Student Unions (ABFSU) group, Kyaw Ko Ko, who was sentenced in 2009, is released from prison today. He told DVB that no conditions were placed on his release.
14.05pm: Thant Zin Aung, a freelance photojournalist arrested while boarding a flight to Thailand in 2008 after intelligence found a video on him showing the destruction caused by Cyclone Nargis in 2008, is among seven political prisoners released from Hpa-an jail in Karen state.
14.00pm: Another group of political prisoners released, this time from Kale jail in Sagaing division: Sai Nyunt Lwin [Shan Nationalities League for Democracy], Myo Naing Aung, Tin Yu, Kyaw Aung, Kyaw Kyaw, Soe Yazar Phyu, Wei Phyo, Min Min Htun, Naing Linn, Htay Aung and Nay Linn Aun.
13.50pm: The Irrawaddy quotes Khin Nyunt praising Aung San Suu Kyi: “I welcome Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s efforts. If she is in the Hluttaw [Parliament], it will be better than it is now because she is brave and outspoken.”
13.40pm: DVB reporter Win Maw has been released from Kyaukphyu prison in Arakan state. He becomes the last of the named DVB reporters to be freed, although several more whose names were kept anonymous so far remain in prison. More on Win Maw here.
13.25pm: We’ve got confirmed names of 87 political prisoners released so far today, but that doesn’t include the 82 released from Insein prison, so number so far around 172. The count continues…
13.00pm: Grandchildren of Burma’s first dictator Ne Win among the 82 political prisoners released so far from Insein prison in Rangoon.  Others include members of the Karen National Union, activist group Generation Wave, NLD members, monks arrested in 2007 and former military intelligence officials, says The Voice.
12.53pm: Former PM Khin Nyunt says he will cease political activities and concentrate only on social and religious work, according to economist Khin Maung Nyo who met with him this morning.
12.33pm: Khin Nyunt tells crowds he is “in good health”.
“I’m happy and so my is family. But my men still remain in detention and some of them deserve to be free. It would be the best if everyone is released and could reunit with their families.
“I feel that it’s a bit self-centered that only they are being released like this. I wish everyone could be released and hope that they will be at one point since the current government is taking one step after another.”

Former prime minister Khin Nyunt seen shortly
after his release today (DVB)
12.15pm: News just in - DVB reporter Hla Hla Win has been released from Kathar prison in Sagaing prison. She was serving a 27-year prison sentence after being caught with video interviews of monks criticising the former junta’s crackdown on protesters in September 2007. More about her here.
Four DVB reporters have so far been released from prison today. Chief Editor Aye Chan Naing said:  ”I am very happy for the release of some of DVB’s journalists.  I hope all our journalists will be free today.”
11.53am: Quote from released Shan leader Khun Tun Oo: “Firstly I would like to say it is important to free those who remain [in detention]. It would be best if there’s no one left in the prisons.
“I feel no emotion at all to be released because I wasn’t supposed to be arrested in the first place. I didn’t commit any of the crimes they accused me of – there was no national treason. I have wasted seven years of my life for something I didn’t do and there’s nothing to be happy about now.”
11.45am: Journalist Zaw Thet Htwe is among those released from Taunggyi prison, according to his wife. Kyaw Kyaw Htwe (aka Marky) released from Insein Prison, according to The Voice.
11.40am: Shan ethnic leader Khun Tun Oo, one of Burma’s most famous political prisoners, released from Putao prison in northernmost Burma close to the China border. He was serving a 93-year sentence on charges of sedition and planning to overthrow the former junta.
11.35am: From Sittwe prison in Arakan state, Weekly Eleven reports the following eight political prisoners have been freed – Dr Thet Lwin, Than Tin (aka Ko Gyi Than), Pyi Phyo Hlaing, Aung Aung Kyaw, Zeyar Oo, Payit, Kyaw Zin Win and Dawpon Nay Nay.
11.30am: Prominent blogger Nay Phone Latt among those released from Hpa-an prison in Karen state. He was serving a 20-year sentence. Also freed from Hpa-an: Nyi Pu (1990 People’s Parliament Rep), Nanda Sitt Aung, Thant Zin Aung (jailed alongside Zarganar), Kyaw Kyaw Naing, Pyi Phyo Aung and Nyan Linn, according to The Voice.
11.21am: Two more activists from the 88 Generation Students’ Group, Panatee Htun and Nilar Thein (f), released today.
11.15am: IMPORTANT: Today’s amnesty announced under Act 401(1) - “When any person has been sentenced to punishment for an offence, the President of the Union may at any time, without conditions or upon any conditions which the person sentenced accepts, suspend the execution of his sentence or remit the whole or any part of the punishment to which he has been sentenced” (our italics).
Past amnesties have been done under Article 204(b) of the constitution: ”The power to grant amnesty in accord with the recommendation of the National Defence and Security Council”.
So it seems today’s releases have not been done with full consent of the powerful National Defence and Security Council, and that some may only be suspensions. We’ll try to find more on this…
11.08am: Sage words from the 21-year-old DVB reporter Sithu Zeya, who was released today:
“As for the president, I think he’s pretty decent as he is [enacting reforms] under a lot of pressure. But also it depends a lot on the men behind him – just one decent person won’t make the change happen. We need all-inclusive cooperation from both sides to build a democratic system.”
11.06am: The following political prisoners have been released from Buthidaung prison in Arakan state, according to Weekly Eleven:
Sithu Maung, Thant Zin Myo, Kyaw Min, Htun Nyo, Htay Kywe, Aung Zaw oo, Pyay Kyaw, Wunna Pantha, Kyaw Win San and Maung Maung Latt.
11.03am: NLD spokesperson says amnesty a ”positive sign. We welcome the release. Some (dissidents) are on their way home already,” AFP quotes.
10.56am: 12 political prisoners released from Mingyan prison, including female activist Htet Htet Aung.
10.48am: The Voice journal reports than former Burmese prime minister Khin Nyunt has been released from house arrest, along with his son. He was detained in 2004 after falling foul of former junta chief Than Shwe.
1044am: Freed DVB reporter Sithu Zeya says conditions attached to his release – if he commits any crime in the future he will be forced to serve his full 18-year sentence.  “It’s like we are being freed with leashes still attached to our necks. So I’m happy but with a leash still on my neck.”
Not clear if this ruling applies to all political prisoners released today.
10.42am: Hla Htwe (monk Vilasakka), Lah Yang Kywe, Ko Ko Naing, D Nyein Linn and Nobel Aye (f) freed from Monywa prison, according to Weekly Eleven magazine.
10.40am: Ngwe Soe Linn’s release brings to three the number of DVB reporters freed today. More on Ngwe Soe Linnhere.
10.39am: The following political prisoners released from Lashio prison, according to Weekly Eleven – Min Zeya, Min Han, Zarni Aung, Naing Oo (monk Pyinya Wunthua), Myint Naing, Aung Than Myint (Maggin monastery abbot Einraka), Ngwe Soe Linn, Min Htun, Myat Linn Htut, Honey Oo (f).
10.35am: 11 political prisoners, plus former military intelligence officials under Khin Nyunt, released from Taungoo prisons.
10.30am: The Voice magazine says Min Ko Naing was released at 10am (Rangoon time) today, along with 26 other political prisoners from Thayet.
10.25am: Confirmed that 88 Generation activists Zaw Htwe, Jimmy and Mya Aye are among those release from Taunggyi prison, according to Zaw Htwe’s wife. Still not clear if Min Ko Naing and Ko Ko Gyi are free, although we got a tip-off that Min Ko Naing’s family is en route to meet him.
10.20am: Comedian Zarganar writes on Facebook that jailed monk U Gambira, who had been severely tortured in prison, has been released.
10.16am: Rumours that leading 88 Generation activists, including Min Ko Naing and Ko Ko Gyi, will be released. Reuters quoteed from an official at Thayet prison saying Min Ko Naing will walk.
10.10am: Second DVB reporter U Zeya, father of Sithu Zeya, has already been released, according to reports from inside Burma. More details soon
09.50am: The 21-year-old DVB reporter Sithu Zeya was among the first political prisoners to be released today. He was given an 18-year jail term for videoing the aftermath of the April 2010 grenade attacks in Rangoon. Sithu Zeya had been forced to reveal under torture that his father was also a DVB journalist.
Sithu today walked from Henzada prison and will be reunited with his family.

Thursday, 5 January 2012

Xmas Message 2011 by WCC

Participants of the WCC consultation on human rights of stateless people in Bangladesh

A consultation organized by the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs (CCIA) of the World Council of Churches (WCC) called for the church to become involved in wider advocacy initiatives to protect rights of the stateless people.

According to United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, more than 12 million people are stateless around the world, and not considered a national by any government.
This consultation focused on “human rights of stateless people” in Asia, and was held from 16-18 December in Dhaka, Bangladesh, attended by thirty participants.
Dhaka was a significant venue for the event, as Bangladesh is a country with a large number of stateless people, including the Rohingyas, ethnic minorities from Myanmar and the Urdu speaking Biharis from Pakistan.

Therefore, a communiqué issued by the participants said that the “Bible itself bears witness to the stateless condition of the Hebrew people, and God’s involvement to provide them with a homeland, and therefore statehood.”  “Biblical and theological bases motivate us to express our Christian commitment and engagement of our prophetic witness, to speak for the rights of the voiceless, and the marginalized stateless people, who live in our midst,” stated the communiqué.

The consultation also stressed the need for churches to be sensitized about the problems of stateless people, and their role in advocacy on the basis of theological perspectives.

The participants recommended that churches should be encouraged to enter into alliances with like minded civil society organizations, working for the rights of the stateless people, especially trying to lobby with the governments to ratify the 1954 and 1961 United Nations Conventions on Statelessness.
“The consultation was organized as part of the CCIA’s advocacy on stateless people as it was mandated by the working group on stateless people, which met in Kingston, Jamaica in May this year,” explained Dr Mathews George Chunakara, director of the CCIA.

“The report and recommendations of the consultation will be presented at the next meeting of the CCIA, which will be held China in June 2012,” he added.
The participants also visited camps and special zones, where stateless people are forced to live due to government imposed restrictions.
Read full communiqué from the WCC consultation on “rights of the stateless people” in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

Communiqué: WCC – Commission of the Churches on International Affairs consultation on the “human rights of stateless people” in Dhaka, Bangladesh, 2011

We the participants, of an international consultation on ‘Human Rights of Stateless People’ organised by the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs (CCIA) of the World Council of Churches (WCC) and hosted by the National Council of Churches in Bangladesh from 16 to 18 December 2011 at the HOPE Centre in Dhaka, Bangladesh share our experiences and concerns on the situation of the stateless people. We represented churches, national ecumenical councils, international organisations and the CCIA at this Consultation.
The information we received at the consultation, as well as our face to face meetings with stateless people during the field visits, helped us to understand the gravity of the problem of statelessness. Thematic presentations at the Consultation addressed various aspects of statelessness, such as human rights of stateless people and international instruments protecting their rights, stateless people of Nepal, stateless people in Bangladesh, situation of Rohingyas in Arkan state of Myanmar, and advocacy on the protection of the rights of stateless people.

Statelessness: a neglected concern
The ‘stateless persons’, who are not recognised as nationals by any state have no nationality or citizenship and they live in vulnerable situations. As the stateless people living in particular geographical area are not protected by any national legislation, the consequences of their situations of statelessness are profound.  Statelessness that affects all aspects of life is a massive problem for twelve million people, who are located in different parts of the world. These people became stateless due to various reasons and circumstances; as a result of the denial of citizenship in situations such as when states simply ceased to exist while individuals failed to get citizenship in their successor states; political considerations that dictated changes in the way citizenship laws were applied; persecutions of ethnic minorities and discrimination of indigenous people, etc. There are also individuals who became stateless due to personal circumstances, rather than persecution of a group to which they belong. The statelessness of people in South Asia belongs to most of these categories and is due to several of these factors.

Our experiences
Prior to the Consultation, four teams of participants have had the opportunities to visit camps and communities of  stateless people in different parts of Bangladesh and Nepal which helped them to  understand  the miserable life situations of stateless people – the Rohingyas and Biharis in Bangladesh; and Bhutanese and Tibetans in Nepal. The group, which visited Cox’s Bazar, where a large number of Rohingya stateless people are concentrated, listened to sharing by Rohingyas themselves about their vulnerable situations. In the 1990s, nearly a quarter of a million Rohingyas fled from Myanmar into neighbouring Bangladesh in order to escape persecution in Myanmar.

The government of Bangladesh declared the Rohingyas illegal immigrants and placed them in refugee camps. Since the mass exodus two decades ago, about 28,000 Rohingyas still live in official camps in Bangladesh, with more than 200,000 living without support in nearby makeshift camps, according to UNHCR sources in Dhaka. These unregistered Rohingyas are denied official refugee status and are labelled as “illegal economic migrants”.  They live without protection of the law and are restricted from formal education, reliable health care, and regular sources of food or income. Those Rohingyas who have remained in the Arakan state of Myanmar continue to face similar discriminations.

The second group of participants who visited the “Geneva camp” of Bihari stateless people (also known as stranded Pakistanis)  in Mirpur, Dhaka city, could understand more about the plight of the Urdu speaking Muslim minority Biharis.  About 200,000 Urdu speaking minorities who during Bangldesh’s civil war with Pakistan took the side of Pakistan, losing their homes, jobs and positions in society, were forced eventually to take up residence in more than 70 overcrowded camp settlements. Although, many of the Urdu speaking minority hoped to get the permission to move to Pakistan, but only a small percentage were admitted.
For almost 40 years, the camp residents were stateless, non citizens of Bangladesh or Pakistan.  They were denied access to citizenship or government services, including education, formal employment, property ownership, and driver’s licenses. In 2008, a Supreme Court decision recognized their nationality rights. A large percentage of the adults were registered to vote in the 2009 election. After decades of isolation and discrimination, 94% of them are illiterate, almost double the national rate.

Despite being registered as voters by many of them, a large number of Urdu speakers still are unable to obtain proper documents, jobs, passports or compensation for their property confiscated during the war. Forty years after the independence of Bangladesh, the Urdu speaking minority people are still seeking restoration of justice. Several Biharis who had returned to Pakistan from the then East Pakistan when Bangladesh was born in 1971, still live in Pakistan without any right to nationality. They are not recognized as citizens and are denied all amenities of citizenship by Pakistan government.

The group which visited Nepal listened to and understood the situation of the stateless people in Nepal – especially the Bhutanese and the Tibetans who live in various camps. There are 56,366 Bhutanese and around 15,000 Tibetans live in Nepal as stateless. We also heard about the situations of other stateless people in Asia, such as the indigenous people in Northern Thailand, the ethnic Vietnamese and Laotians in Japan.

Nationality and citizenship: universal human rights
While listening to and analysing the international human rights protection mechanisms and existing legal instruments that define nationality and citizenship, we are convinced of the fact that citizenship based on nationality of an individual is a universal human right. There are substantial reasons for the international community to recognise that international law which records the nationality laws must be consistent with general principles of international law.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) Article 15 stipulates that nationality unequivocally within the framework of universal human rights.  Over the past five decades, the right to nationality has been elaborated in two key international Conventions that have brought the concept of statelessness into the United Nations framework: the 1954 Convention relating to the status of stateless persons and the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness. These Conventions created a framework for avoiding future statelessness, placing an obligation on states to eliminate and prevent statelessness in nationality laws and practices.
However, it is with dismay that we noticed that the state parties to these conventions are far less than the states adhered to other Conventions and international treaties. Several international legal instruments offer means of protecting the rights of stateless people, but many states failed to ratify and comply with the Conventions on statelessness.

Biblical and theological basis for our prophetic witness
We pondered on the question that why churches and Christian bodies be concerned about stateless people. The Bible itself bears witness to the stateless condition of the Hebrew people and God’s involvement to facilitate for them a homeland and therefore statehood. A popular Confession of Faith among the Hebrews was: “A wandering Aramean was my father: and he went down into Egypt and sojourned there, few in number; and there he became a nation, great, mighty and populous. And the Egyptian treated us harshly, and afflicted us, and laid upon us hard bondage. Then we cried to the Lord the God of our fathers, and the Lord heard our voice, and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression; and the Lord brought us out with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great terror, with signs and wonders; and he brought us to this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey.”(Deut. 26:5-9).

Not only the Israelites but other people and communities who experienced statelessness, were also the concern of God: “Did I not bring up Israel from the land of Egypt, and the Philistines from Captor and the Syrians from Kir?” (Amos 9:7) is another reminder of God’s promise. God gave them all a homeland and thereby statehood.

All human beings, irrespective of their race are created in God’s image and should therefore be respected. Likewise stateless people and minority/ethnic groups are God’s creation. Therefore we are bound to see that justice is done to them. The word of God cautions the Hebrew people: “You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” (Ex. 22:21). Jesus through the Nazareth Manifesto in Luke 4:18-19 also gives expression to God’s reign of justice, liberation, and well-being of all. His parable of the judgement of sheep and goats also draws pointed attention to being in solidarity with people who are discriminated, marginalized and suffering (which would include stateless people and minority groups): “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.”(Matt.25:35-36).
These biblical and theological bases motivate us to express our Christian commitment and to be engaged in our prophetic witness to speak for the rights of voiceless and the marginalised stateless people who live in our midst.

Recommendations
We realised that the Church in each country that was represented in the Dhaka Consultation   is numerically small. Since the issue of stateless people is a highly sensitive and political issue, it becomes rather difficult for the churches to take up this matter for advocacy at the governmental levels. This is mainly due to the fact that they could easily be branded as unpatriotic and are encouraging others for political dissension. It is also a matter of fact that the issue of stateless people has not yet received due attention in the churches.
Having heard the stories of the plight of stateless people in different contexts, we are reminded of our Christian call and witness to be in solidarity with the stateless people. We also underscore the need for churches to be sensitised on the problems of stateless people and the role of churches in advocacy on the basis of proper theological perspectives. It is important that churches should be encouraged to enter into alliances with like minded civil society organisations working for the human rights protection of the stateless people, especially to lobby with the governments to ratify the 1954 and 1961 United Nations Conventions on Statelessness.

We are convinced that it is utmost important that states should honour their human rights obligations to all those within the state’s territory, irrespective of nationality status. States should put in place with adequate mechanisms to protect stateless people from abuses. Our role as responsible Christians should be in our respective countries as well as at the global level to be engaged in facilitating wider understanding of the different forms and grave consequences of statelessness; enforcing existing human rights norms and legal measures to be followed up at the national and international levels to reduce statelessness; supporting  wider advocacy actions in order to exert greater political pressure on states to acknowledge their responsibilities to protect the rights of individuals as citizens.

We urge the World Council of Churches and the Christian Conference of Asia to take necessary follow-up actions to address the concerns of the stateless people in Asia, especially in emphasising the seriousness of the situation and the importance of advocacy for the stateless people at governmental levels as well as at the international levels highlighting the situations and emphasising the urgent need that due justice must be done.
In conclusion, we affirm that advocating the protection of the rights of the stateless people is our God-given commission. While this prophetic commitment is not an easy task in the prevailing political contexts in most countries, we believe that God being our source of strength, we are called to be engaged in this prophetic witness.

Sunday, 1 January 2012

Myanmar: Rohingya Refugees and Thailand's "Push-Back"

Source from IPCS, 30 Dec 2011

Panchali Saikia
Research Officer, IPCS
email: panchali@ipcs.org

The Rohingya refugee crisis is not a new phenomenon, and it has now grabbed the attention of the international media for all the wrong reasons. The Rohingyas, in large numbers, are now trying to escape to Malaysia via the sea route through Thailand, but are being denied entry by Thai authorities and forcibly pushed back. Earlier this year around 91 persons believed to be Rohingyas were rescued near Andaman Island by the Indian Navy and around 129 by the Indonesian Navy in Aceh. The Rohingyas have been sheltered by Bangladesh for nearly three decades. What is the reason for their escape to Malaysia? Why is Thailand forcibly pushing them back to sea? Thailand has provided shelter to hundreds and thousands of other displaced people from Myanmar, why is then expelling the Rohingyas?

Why are the Rohingyas escaping to Malaysia?
Rohingyas fled repression in Myanmar and lived in exile, mainly in Bangladesh. Since Myanmar’s independence in 1948, its successive governments have attempted every possible way to push them out. The Emergency Immigration Act of 1978 and later the ethnic cleansing campaign known as Naga Min, or Dragon King, prosecuted illegal entrants, primarily in Rakhine state. This drove out nearly 200,000 Rohingyas from Myanmar.

However, after providing shelter to the Rohingyas for nearly three decades, Bangladesh is now concerned about the annual increase in their numbers. Apart from being an economic burden, the Rohingyas’ involvement in insurgent activities along the Myanmar-Bangladesh border is feared by the government. Hence to reduce the influx, the government has declared that it will no more consider any asylum seeker as refugee. Also, it has now denied permits for aid agencies to assist unregistered refugees. Anti-Rohingya communities in Bangladesh have also pressurized the government to repatriate the Rohingyas. Due to the denial of protection, assistance, and fear of repatriation, the Rohingyas are now escaping to Malaysia through the sea route. Malaysia is seen as the best destination because of the religion factor. Also, the Malaysian government’s permit to access the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has attracted asylum seekers.

Rohingyas: A threat to and burden for Thailand This trend has become a major concern for Thailand, as most of these migrants/refugees escaping are landing in Thailand. It is not for the first time that Thailand has pushed them back. In 2008 and 2009, the Thai authorities were condemned by the international community for pushing the Rohingyas into international waters without any assistance or protection.

The Thai authorities are apprehensive of the influx and suspect that the Rohingyas are assisting the Muslim-led insurgency in southern Thailand, which has intensified in recent times. Furthermore, nearly 1 million other migrants from Bangladesh and Myanmar are estimated to already be in Thailand. The exceeding numbers of illegal migrants will add to the economic burden and pose a threat to Thai national security. Unlike the other migrants in Thailand who play a major role contributing to the Thai economy (http://bit.ly/vl6ylg), the Rohingyas are only a liability and burden; they cannot get a work permit in Thailand as this requires a nationality verification certificate which the Rohingyas do not have.

Myanmar’s denial of citizenship to RohingyasThe primary problem and responsibility should lie with Myanmar. Rohingyas are primarily a Muslim ethnic group from the northern part of Arakan province (Rakhine State) of Myanmar. The term ‘Rohingya’ is derived from the Chittagonian dialect (Bengali language), in which the Rakhaine or Arakanese people are called 'Rohangya’. In this context Myanmar should consider them a national ethnic group. But, they are denied citizenship and not recognized among the 135 national ethnic groups under the 1982 Citizenship Law, leaving them stateless and as illegal immigrants in their own country. Even under the Constitution of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar which was passed in 2008 it is stated that ‘Citizenship, naturalization and revocation of citizenship shall be as prescribed by law’. Their condition has not improved even today; approximately 800,000 Rohingyas living in Northern Arakan state and Rangon are effectively stateless and are subjected to discrimination and exploitation.

Most of the countries are hesitant to host the Rohingyas because they are denied citizenship in Myanmar and because of this, reaching an understanding with the Myanmar government on their resettlement or repatriation is difficult. For instance, earlier in December 2011 an agreement was reached at a meeting between President Thein Sein and Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to repatriate Myanmarese refugees. But the Myanmarese government made it clear that only those refugees who met the key criteria under Myanmar citizenship law would be taken back, leaving the Rohingyas out in the cold.

Thailand has earlier attempted to repatriate refugees to Myanmar (http://bit.ly/s0OVak) but mostly only the Karen and Karenni ethnic groups. The increasing number of Rohingyas will be a serious issue, first, owing to the difficulties in cooperating with Myanmarese government, and second, because of identification. In Thailand’s nine refugee shelters, most of the refugees belong to the Karen and Karenni ethnic groups of Myanmar and only 10-12 per cent is Muslim. As the Rohingyas are not able to register themselves in Thailand, there are no official records on their numbers, because of which resettlement or repatriation becomes impossible.

The plight of the Rohingyas and the growing concern over their influx is not only confined to Myanmar, Bangladesh and Thailand. Other regional powers like India, Indonesia and Malaysia must also engage themselves considering its security implications. The forcible push-backs are a major threat to the maritime as well as border security of these countries. Left with no other option, the Rohingyas are vulnerable to being recruited by sea pirates and involved in arms and drug smuggling.