Monthly Archives: June 2011

US Urges Burma to Stop Violence in Kachin State


source from Irrawaddy news, 27 June 2011

WASHINGTON — Expressing strong concern at the ongoing violence in Kachin State, the US has urged the new Burmese government to immediately put an end to hostilities in the region.

“We’re quite concerned about the ongoing violence in northern Kachin and other regions of the country. We are calling for halts to the hostilities,” State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland told reporters.

“We urge all appropriate authorities to ensure, in line with international standards, adequate support, safety, and protection for those persons fleeing conflict along Burma’s borders,” Nuland said in a statement later.

This recent violence underscores the need for an inclusive dialogue between the government of Burma and opposition and ethnic minority groups to begin a process of genuine national reconciliation, she said.

Nuland said the Burmese army and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) began fighting on June 9 and have continued over the past three weeks.

The US is particularly concerned by the reports of human rights abuses in the area, including reports of casualties, rape and displacement of thousands of local residents. “There have also been reports of clashes in Karen and Shan states,” she said.

Last week, Chris Beyrer, the director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Public Health and Human Rights, said at a congressional briefing that after the fighting broke out in the Kachin State after a 17-year ceasefire, some 10,000 civilians are reported to have fled. “Burmese military forces are reported to be using rape as a weapon of war,” he alleged.

“The Kachin Women’s Association in Thailand has reported at least 18 Kachin women and girls have been raped by soldiers since June 9. Four were killed after being raped,” he said.

“The news of clashes in Burma’s Kachin [State] between government troops and ethnic minorities, which has been the heaviest fighting in 17 years, adds further evidence to the argument that the situation in Burma has not changed,” said Congressman Donald Manzullo.

Meanwhile, the US is consulting its close allies and member countries of the United Nations on the issue of the UN establishing a Commission of Inquiry (CoI) to investigate allegations of crimes against humanity by the Burmese military junta.

“The United States is committed to seeking accountability for the human rights violations that have occurred in Burma by working to establish an international Commission of Inquiry,” Nuland said.

“We are consulting closely with our friends, allies, and other partners at the United Nations,” Nuland said in response to a question over the weekend.

Last week, Burmese pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, in a rare video testimony before a congressional committee, urged the US to support in the establishment of investigations by the United Nations into the alleged human rights violations in Burma.

“I would simply like to use this occasion to request that you do whatever you can to help us implement the United Nations Human Rights Council Resolution, because that will open up the real road to democracy for all of us,” she said.

Testifying before the same congressional committee, Beyrer said he also supported calls for a CoI to investigate crimes against humanity in Burma. “The treatment of political prisoners in detention in Burma should be part of this Commission of Inquiry, for that, too, may represent crimes against humanity,” Beyrer said in his appearance before the committee last week.

“The UN Special Rapporteur Quintana has called for that; so has the US ambassador to the UN Human Rights Commission, Eileen Donahoe, and so has Secretary of State [Hillary] Clinton,” he said.

“But the US really needs to exercise vigorous leadership on this effort, and the State Department I think really, really needs to carry the water on this. And this effort could be led by recently appointed special representative and policy coordinator for Burma, Derek Mitchell, and we really look forward to his confirmation and leadership in this effort,” he said.

Mitchell will appear before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for his confirmation hearing later this week.

It is understood that countries like China have been opposing the move to establish a CoI. The US and several other countries, besides human rights organizations and pro-democracy leaders from Burma, have been urging the world body to establish such a commission.

“I would like to request you to do whatever you can to ensure that the requests and demands of the United Nations Human Rights Council resolution are met as broadly, as sincerely and as quickly as possible by the present government of Burma,” Suu Kyi said in her video message.

Suu Kyi asks US to back war crimes probe


source from DVB,  23 June 2011Suu Kyi asks US to back war crimes probe thumbnail

Aung San Suu Kyi speaks to reporters following a meeting with US Senator John McCain in Rangoon in June (Reuters)

Burma’s opposition icon Aung San Suu Kyi on Wednesday urged US lawmakers to push for a UN-backed probe into human rights in her country as she warned of a long and difficult road to democracy.

Suu Kyi, who was released in November after spending most of the past two decades under house arrest, spoke on a video in a first-ever message to the US Congress, a stronghold of support for the Nobel Peace Prize winner.

She asked lawmakers to do “whatever you can” to support the work of the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Burma and assured that a so-called commission of inquiry would not be a tribunal.

 

“It is simply a commission of inquiry to find out what human rights violations have taken place and what we can do to ensure that such violations do not take place in the future,” she told a House of Representatives hearing.

Suu Kyi, whose National League for Democracy won 1990 elections but was never allowed to take power, warned it will take time to reform Burma

“It is going to be a long road; it has already been a long road and a difficult one, and no doubt the road ahead will have its difficulties as well,” she said.

But she added: “With the help and support of true friends, I’m sure we will be able to tread the path of democracy, not easily and perhaps not as quickly as we would like, but surely and steadily.”

The United States has publicly supported a UN-led probe – a longstanding demand of activists. But it has done little to make it a reality, worrying its efforts would be futile so long as Asian countries – particularly China – are opposed.

UN-led commissions of inquiry elsewhere in the world have led to charges and prosecution, with Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir risking arrest if he travels to countries that recognize the International Criminal Court.

Human rights groups say that Burma has a record of severe human rights abuses including extrajudicial killings, custodial deaths, torture and frequent rape of displaced women from minority groups.

Recent deadly clashes in far-northern Kachin state have triggered an exodus of refugees toward the border with China.

Suu Kyi called on Burma’s rulers to free some 2,000 other prisoners which rights groups say are detained for political reasons and often held in poor conditions.

“Why are they still in prison if this government is really intent on making good progress toward democracy? If it is sincere in its claims that it wishes to bring democracy to Burma, there is no need for any prisoners of conscience to exist in this country,” she said.

Burma held elections in November 2010 which the regime said was a step toward democracy, with the junta later handing over to nominally civilian rulers. But many outside observers say that the changes are purely cosmetic.

A recent joint study by Physicians for Human Rights and Johns Hopkins University found that in western Chin state, 91.7 percent of households had at least one family member who had been forced to work for the military in the past year.

One area of Chin state with particularly high rates of child conscription and sexual assault was under the command of Colonel Zaw Min Oo, who is now in parliament, said Chris Beyrer of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

“In post-election Burma, a military commander whose forces violently repressed the Chin people now represents those same households and communities in the new parliament. That is not change, it is impunity,” Beyrer told the committee.

“The US has recently shown swift and effective leadership in diplomacy on calling for investigations into the killing of civilians by the Kadhafi regime in Libya. Why not Burma, where the evidence is overwhelming?” he said.

President Barack Obama’s administration in 2009 launched a dialogue with Burma, concluding that the previous Western policy of trying to isolate the government had failed.

The administration has repeatedly said it plans to keep pursuing diplomacy despite deep disappointment over the results.

Malaysia backdown on Abbott MP Scott Morrison


source from: The Daily Telegraph , June 25, 2011

 
scott morrison

Banned … Opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison / Pic: AAP Source: AAP

 

MALAYSIAN officials backed down overnight and will now allow shadow immigration spokesman Scott Morrison to visit detention centres and meet key senior officials.

Mr Morrison got confirmation from the Malaysian home ministry last night, they will now meet him and he will also be able to visit the detention centre near KLIA Airport

Meetings with Malaysian government officials will now take place late Monday afternoon.

It’s understood Mr Morrison met with Royhinga refugees last night.

He arrived in Kuala Lumpur yesterday morning for a “first-hand look” at how illegal refugees are treated in Malaysia ahead of the Gillard government’s plan for a refugee swap.

But his visit was at first not welcomed with the Malaysian government refusing to let him visit Home Affairs Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein, who had mocked Mr Morrison’s visit.

Instead, the MP visited a local Chin community before meeting the Australian High Commission and refugee advocates.

Earlier, Mr Morrison had heard a boat of 65 asylum seekers and two crew were being taken to Christmas Island yesterday after they were intercepted off Australia’s coast.

Those refugees will join the 275 detained and in limbo with no deal officially signed between PM Julia Gillard and Malaysia.

“The key point of this visit for me is to compare education, health and general living conditions for refugees in Malaysia compared with Nauru, where I have also visited,” Mr Morrison said.

Travelling with two staffers, he hit back at government MPs who called his 6600km trip a “stunt”.

“People who have watched these refugee programs on television have told me to watch them. Well I’ve gone one step further and I’ve actually come to see for myself what is going on here,” he said.

Refugees declined to show Mr Morrison their UNHCR identification cards which often do not stop them from being considered “illegal” by police and sent to prison.

Statement on the World Refugee Day 2011


NDPHR press release: Squalid Condition of the Rohingya Burmese Refugees in the World

Click to see: NDPHR(exile) Statement on World Refugee 2011-PDF

 

Related storyRefugees: UN convention fails to protect displaced people
source from nst,

JUNE 20 was World Refugee Day. The Myanmar Ethnic Rohingyas Human Rights Organisation Malaysia (Merh-rom) regrets that there is no change in our condition over the years. June 20 also marked the 60th anniversary of the 1951 Refugee Convention. We must analyse whether this convention has done enough to protect refugees.Every year, we see wars and conflicts across the world. This is worrying as more people flee their countries and become refugees, asylum seekers, stateless and displaced persons. While many have found new homes after resettlement to third countries, many more are struggling for survival.There are too few countries involved in the resettlement of refugees compared with the number of refugees, asylum seekers, stateless and displaced persons born each day.

United Nations agencies, especially the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), parties to the Refugee Convention and world leaders must adopt new strategies to deal with refugee issues.

The condition of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh and Malaysia is a classic example of how the failure of UN agencies and world leaders has destroyed generations. There is no future for them.

In Southeast Asia, most refugees and asylum seekers come from Myanmar because of persecution and prosecution by the junta.

Asean leaders must deal with the junta to stop the flood of Myanmar refugees to neighbouring countries.

Being a refugee is hard, especially as some transit countries have not signed the Refugee Convention that provides protection for them. What this means is that in most situations, refugees are not recognised and protected.

While UN agencies protect refugees around the world, more effort must be made to stop wars and conflicts, which cause people to become refugees, asylum seekers, stateless and displaced persons.

Nurul Izzah: Malaysian Govt Should Prevent Persecution of Refugees


Source from malaysiandigest.com, 8 June 2011

KUALA LUMPUR, 8 JUNE, 2011: Lembah Pantai MP Nurul Izzah Anwar (pic) today said the government’s stand on the refugee issues should be parallel with the current situation to prevent the persecution of refugees.

 

altCommenting on the agreement between Malaysia and Australia on the transfer of refugees, Nurul Izzah said Malaysia is not a member of the United Nation (UN) convention on the rights of refugees where no special protection will be provided to refugees by the government.

 

“Because Malaysia is not a signatory to the UN convention on the rights of refugees there is no recognition to those who are certified by the UNHCR refugee,” said Izzah in a press conference held at her office this morning.

She also referred to a case where a local woman who wants to marry a Burmese refugee named David but had to face Malaysian laws that prohibit citizens from marrying the refugees.

According to Nurul Izzah, the woman, Amirah Ismail has referred the matter to the religious department before this and was told that she can continue the marriage if her partner converts to Islam.
 
However, when Amirah referred the matter to the Jabatan Pendaftaran Negara (JPN), she was told that under the Immigration Act 1959, refugees cannot get marry to the locals.

alt“The religious department said if David embraces Islam, then they can get married. Unfortunately, this country’s law prohibits its people to get married to a refugee.
 
“And since it is not a signatory to the UN convention on the rights of refugees, anyone without legal documentation to work in Malaysia even with UNHCR card is an illegal immigrant,” ,” said Nurul Izzah who is also PKR vice-president.

“So imagine what would happen when the refugees from Australia were later moved to Malaysia. There will be more problems,” she added.
 
Meanwhile Amirah who was present at the press conference with David whose new Muslim name is Mohd Daniel Abdullah said she really hopes that she and Daniel will be able to get married.

 Amirah who has known Daniel for a year also told reporters that her partner who have been three years staying in Malaysia has embraced Islam even before they first met in May last year.

“When I referred this matter to JPN, they told me that it (her efforts to get government approval for marriage) is the responsibility of the religious department. But when I went to the religious department, they told me that I need to refer it to JPN,” said Amirah who works in a restaurant in Kelana Jaya.

 Meanwhile Nurul Izzah who is handling the matter said she has discussed it with Suaram (Suara Rakyat Malaysia) which will be doing the necessary follow up.

“It is very sad to see this thing happening. We will follow up with the responsible department,” said Nurul Izzah.

Australian Parliament Condemns Refugee Swap Deal With Malaysia


Sky News, 16 June 2011

Federal parliament has taken the rare step of condemning a government policy, with both houses calling on Labor to dump its asylum seeker swap deal with Malaysia.

In an embarrassing defeat for Prime Minister Julia Gillard, the Greens motion condemning the so-called ‘Malaysia solution’ passed the lower house with coalition support on Thursday morning.

The same motion passed the Senate in May. However, the motion has no legal power meaning the government is free to persist with its plan.

‘The parliament has sent a clear message to the prime minister that the government does not have the support of parliament for this deal,’ Greens MP Adam Bandt said.

‘I hope the government listens to the Australian public and parliament and scraps this deal.’

Opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison said it had been a long time since both houses of parliament had condemned a government policy.

‘The minister now has some serious reflecting to do on this arrangement,’ Mr Morrison told reporters.

‘We have a proven, more cost-effective, more humane solution through the re-opening of Nauru.’

Under the government’s deal Malaysia will accept up to 800 people who arrive in Australia by boat in exchange for 4000 people already judged to be genuine refugees.

Speaking shortly before the motion was passed, Immigration Minister Chris Bowen pointed out the Greens and coalition were against the proposal for entirely different reasons.

‘Let’s not kid ourselves that they are at one on this, they come at it from completely different points of view and we are in the middle, sorting out this problem,’ he told Sky News.

He made it clear the government would not back down: ‘We have the power to enter into this arrangement and we will.’

Ms Gillard announced the deal almost seven weeks ago but negotiations on the details are still under way.

Mr Bowen rejected suggestions the deal was on shaky ground as government officials headed to Geneva for crucial talks with the UN’s refugee agency.

‘The UNHCR is based in Geneva so I think it’s singularly unsurprising that there might be a meeting in Geneva,’ he said.

‘This is quite a complex operational arrangement and you would expect that Malaysia, Australia, the UNHCR would want to spend a bit of time making sure we get the details right.’

 

related story:

52 Trafficked Burmese Rescued in Thailand


16 June 2011, Irrawaddy news

The rescued trafficking victims wait to be processed at the police detention center in Suphan Buri, Thailand. (PHOTO: TACDB)

At least 52 Burmese victims of a human trafficking gang were rescued on Tuesday morning by police in Sam Chuk District, Suphan Buri Province, in Thailand, after a raid conducted in cooperation with the Thai Action Committee for Democracy in Burma (TACDB), a Thailand-based NGO.

The trafficking victims are currently being detained by the Anti-Human Trafficking Division in Bangkok while Thai authorities investigate the case. An official from the Anti-Human Trafficking Division police unit told The Irrawaddy on Thursday that the trafficking gang was comprised of two Burmese and five Thais.

Myint Wai, the assistance director of TACDB, said that the rescue operation was launched on Monday evening, but that the members of the gang were seized the following morning. “If the Thai authorities come to the conclusion that the rescued people are the real victims in this case, they will be deported without further action,” he said. “However, as the case may take a long time, the Thai authorities have agreed to allow those people to work while they are staying at the detention center.”

The rescue operation was launched after a Burmese woman named Htay Htay had lodged a complaint saying that her daughter and son-in-law had been kidnapped.

Speaking to The Irrawaddy, Htay Htay, 41, said, “The broker who helped kidnap my daughter and her husband called me every day and said that if I wanted to get my daughter back, I had to give them [the trafficking gang] 100,000 baht [US $3,000]. I told them I couldn’t afford that much. Then I referred the matter to the TACDB.”

The police tracked down Htay Htay’s son-in-law along with the broker, in Samut Prakarn Province, just outside Bangkok. After questioning, the broker led them to a compound with two houses in Suphan Buri Province.

Ko Naing, a member of TACDB who was involved in the rescue operation, said, “We planned to seize them on Monday, but it was dark and we couldn’t find the compound. The next morning, with the support of the local police, we raided the compound.”

According to TACDB, 29 men and 26 women were rescued from the premises. The police withheld three motor vehicles, several hundreds of thousands of Thai baht, and some documents believed to belong to the traffickers.

At least 2 million Burmese immigrants are currently living and/or working in Thailand, according to NGOs.

Brokers Cash in as Burmese in Malaysia Seek Legal Status


Irrawaddy news, 10 June 2011

An official announcement by Malaysia’s government that it will grant an amnesty to illegal migrants and offer those who wish to stay a chance to legalize their status has been a boon to those in the business of helping Burmese workers navigate through the bureaucratic maze.

Although the Malaysian government has yet to finalize the details of its amnesty plan, sources in the country’s Burmese community say that brokers are already seeing an increase in demand for their services.

For around 3,000 to 5,000 ringgit (US $995 to $1,650), the brokers help Burmese workers prepare all the necessary paperwork, including documents from the Burmese embassy in Kuala Lumpur.

An official at the embassy confirmed that it was involved in the legalization process for migrant workers, but declined to provide any further details.

According to an employee of the Burmese-owned Mahaman broker company, 400 Burmese workers have already signed up with them to take advantage of this opportunity to win legal status. He said that although the initial fee for applying is just five ringgit ($1.66), the total cost of the visa could run as high as 4,000 ringgit ($1,325).

“Burmese migrants are happy about the news of an amnesty and a chance to remain here legally, but how can they afford it if it costs so much?” asked Yan Naing Tun, the editor of Thuriya, a bimonthly Burmese-language journal based in Kuala Lumpur.

Noting that some brokers are already describing the procedures for getting a work permit under the new rules in their advertisements, even though the government still hasn’t finalized its plans, Yan Naing Tun added that some agencies are also collecting their fees in advance.

This has raised fears of fraud among some Burmese workers, most of whom earn a basic wage of just 800 ringgit ($265) a month. There are several hundred thousand Burmese working in the country, both legally and illegally.

“I am hoping to legalize our status, but I have to wait and see,” said Phyu Phyu Win, a Burmese woman from Rangoon who now works as a street vendor in Malaysia. “I will try to take care of the documentation process myself, because I won’t be able to get the work permit if I have to pay a lot of money.”

But some Burmese workers feel it’s worth the expense, whatever it costs.

Honey, a Burmese computer technician based in Kuala Lumpur, said the fee is a reasonable price to pay for a chance to work legally in the country.

“I face a lot of discrimination because I’m undocumented. Some people don’t want to work with me or ride in the same car with me because if the police check and arrest me, they might face problems, too,” she said.

Solution to Rohingya issue lies in Myanmar: US


The Daily Star, 9 June 2011

United States Assistant Secretary for Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration Eric P Schwartz on Thursday said the solution to the Rohingya refugees issue in Bangladesh lies in Myanmar and the voluntary return of the refugees to the country.

“Nobody should be forced to return against their will to a place where their lives and their freedom will be in danger,” he said at a press conference at the American Centre in the city.

“But, voluntary return of Rohingya in large numbers will only be possible when the basic rights of these people will be safeguarded. And sadly today that is not the case,” he said.

“Until such change comes in Burma, the United States will continue to do what we can do to assist the government and the people of Bangladesh to assist the Rohingya,” he added.

Eric P Schwartz arrived in Dhaka on Tuesday on a three-day visit to the country to explore issues relating to Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh and in the region.

During his visit, he met with Rohingya camp officials in Cox’s Bazar, officials of adjoining community areas, members of the local communities, representatives of international organisations and non-governmental organisations along with several ministers and top government officials.

He said the US and other donors would only provide assistance that the Bangladesh government would deem useful.

“Ultimately, decisions on what assistance will or will not be provided will be sovereign decision of the government of Bangladesh,” he said.

He expressed the US government’s appreciation towards the Bangladesh government and its people for hosting the hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees who have fled prosecution in South Western Myanmar.

The regime in Myanmar systematically denies human rights and human freedom of the Rohingyas, he said.

This is a humanitarian problem, which has a political solution, he said.

“Until there is a political solution, it is upon all of us to try and provide assistance to the victims,” he said.

“I think it’s critical for all of us to remember and emphasise that these individuals are guilty of nothing other than a desire to flee repression and create a better life for themselves and for their families,” he added.

Int’l initiative could bring permanent solution to Rohingya issue: Razzque
source from:
9 June 2011
DHAKA: Food and Disaster Management Minister Dr Abdur Razzaque Wednesday sought US support to permanent solution to the Rohinga issue, which has put burden on Bangladesh’s resources.
"It’s (Rohingya issue) now turned into an international problem. It has a political perspective too. An international-level proactive role could help bring permanent solution to the issue," Razzaque told reporters at his ministry after meeting with US Assistant Secretary for Population, Refugees and Migration Eric Schwartz. US Deputy Under-Secretary for Population, Refugees and Migration Kelly Clements and US Ambassador in Bangladesh James F Moriarty were present at the meeting.
Razzque said the western countriers should play more proactive role in resolving the Rohingya problems by sending them back to their homeland or through proper rehabilitation.
"Due to the presence of Rohingya, burden is gradually increasing on resources of Cox’s Bazar and it has been creating many social problems," he said.
The Minister said though Bangladesh is a poor country with vast population, the government has been helping the refugees over the years.
There are some 24,000 registered Rohingyas while the number of unregistered Rohingyas is over 2 lakh living in different parts of the country. UNB

Politician-led prisoner demo blocked


DVB news,  6 June 2011Politician-led prisoner demo blocked thumbnail

 Coordinated protests for the release of political prisoners in Burma were blocked by authorities last week after they claimed organisers had failed to seek approval from the government.

 
  Prisoners seen leaving Insein jail during the recent amnesty in which only 55 jailed activists and politicians were freed (Reuters)

 

Three separate demonstrations were due to be held on 5 June in Rangoon led by Nay Myo Wei, general secretary of the Peace and Diversity Party. But the November 2010 election hopeful was summoned to a local police station three days before and told the event would not be allowed.

The Burmese government tightly monitors any political organising, but Nay Myo Wei claims that police acknowledged protests were a “fundamental right”, as enshrined in the Burmese constitution. Their reasoning, however, was that amendments needed to be done to the new government and parliaments before such rights were brought into practice.

Several members of other parties, including the Democratic Party Myanmar and the National Democratic Force, signed the original letter requesting permission to stage the protests. The parties would now raise the ban in parliament.

The issue of the nearly 2,100 political prisoners behind bars remains an albatross around the neck of the Burmese government, whose amnesty last month was criticised after it commuted the sentences of only 55 jailed activists and politicians.

It remains unclear whether the government will follow through on its pledge to soften its stance on protests – during the 2007 monk-led uprising, gatherings of more than five people in public places were banned, a rule that is yet to be formally rescinded.

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