Monthly Archives: January 2012

The Rohingya: Myanmar’s outcasts


source from Aljazeera, 30 jan 2012

Millions of residents of western Myanmar have been stripped of citizenship and basic human rights. Will Suu Kyi help?Last Modified: 30 Jan 2012 11:26 inShare13 Email Print Share Feedback 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.

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The Rohingya ethnic group of Myanmar is not recognised by the government [GALLO/GETTY]

Millions of residents of western Myanmar have been stripped of citizenship and basic human rights. Will Suu Kyi help?Last Modified: 30 Jan 2012 11:26 inShare13 Email Print Share Feedback 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.


Millions of residents of western Myanmar have been stripped of citizenship and basic human rights. Will Suu Kyi help?

2012127112024547734_20.jpg

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.

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Than Shwe, the Trembling Dictator


Interested story from Irrawaddy news published on 5 March 2011,

Why did Snr-Gen Than Shwe insert a self-amnesty clause into Burma’s 2008 Constitution that was never discussed by the regime-sponsored National Convention, the body that drafted the charter? Why did he compel retired director-general Thaung Nyunt, his legal adviser, to write this section alone in his office without consulting others?
According to my sources in Naypyidaw, Thaung Nyunt, a devout religious person, felt ashamed of his involvement in Than Shwe’s dirty work.

Chapter 14, Section 445 of the Constitution, entitled “Transitory Provisions,” states: “All policy guidelines, laws, rules, regulations, notifications, and declarations of the State Law and Order Restoration Council and the State Peace and Development Council or actions, rights and responsibilities of the State Law and Order Restoration Council and the State Peace and Development Council shall devolve on the Republic of the Union of Myanmar. No proceeding shall be instituted against the said Councils or any member thereof or any member of the Government, in respect of any act done in the execution of their respective duties.”

I can recall one occasion when I was serving at the Burmese Embassy in Washington, D.C. A new staff member who had been transferred to the embassy in 2001 told me that he had brought urgent orders to carry out an inquiry into an important matter.

The orders were to find out if the US government had any intention of bringing the Burmese generals before an international criminal tribunal. We were to report our findings as soon as possible.
I smiled to myself at the thought of Than Shwe, who was always so merciless towards others, expressing such cowardly concern about his own fate.

“Eliminate them! Don’t even leave an infant alive! They are just kala [a degrading term for people of Indian descent], not humans! Sentence them to the maximum imprisonment!” That was the Than Shwe I knew.
Slobodan Miloševic of Yugoslavia, Charles Taylor of Liberia, Pol Pot of Cambodia and Omar al-Bashir of Sudan were all facing justice in different internationally sponsored tribunals at that time. So I could easily understand the cause of Than Shwe’s concern.

I reported back to them perfunctorily, informing them that the US government was busy with its own business—this was soon after the attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001—and had no time think about Burma.
Than Shwe was delighted by the Sept. 11 attacks. He didn’t even send a state condolence letter to the US government like most other heads of state until the Burma Desk of the US State Department asked us about it.
The reason he stuck the self-amnesty clause into the Constitution is simple: He doesn’t have the courage to take responsibility for what he has done to his own people.

Here are some examples of actions for which he is directly or indirectly accountable:
In April 1993, Than Shwe, who is also the commander in chief of the Burmese army, ordered Gen Win Myint, the commander of the Western Regional Command (and later the regime’s Secretary 3 and adjutant general) to kill over 400 ethnic Rohingyas in Arakan State’s Buthidaung Maungdaw Township in retaliation for attacks by Rohingya rebels who detonated 18 mines in one day in an assault on the Burmese army. The army rounded up more than 400 people, including civilians, and as soon as they received their orders from the GHQ office, they killed them all.
when tIn 1996, he National League for Democracy (NLD) decided to walk out of the National Convention, Than Shwe was furious and ordered the intelligence apparatus to intimidate members of the party and their families by any means necessary.

In the same year, Than Shwe ordered his commanders in Shan State, Karrenni State, Pegu Division, Karen State, Mon State and Tenasserim Division to relocate villages and kill entire families, including infants, of anyone who defied the orders.
I have personally witnessed the Christie Island massacre, in which Than Shwe ordered Gen Kyi Min (the former navy commander), Gen Myint Swe (the former air force commander), Gen Thura Myint Aung (the former adjutant general) and Col Zaw Min (the minister of electricity 1) to kill 81 civilians who were found on the island.

Than Shwe also ordered Gen Soe Win (the former prime minister) and Aung Thaung (minister of industry 1) to assassinate NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi. I can safely say that there are many former intelligence officers, former army officers and police officers who can verify this account. There are also many other events and incidents that I am not aware of.
The regime’s killing of monks during the September 2007 protests is just one incident that the international community is aware of. The regime is afraid that it may one day face an international tribunal because of its misdeeds.

If the Commission of Inquiry proposed by Tomás Ojea Quintana, the special rapporteur on the human rights situation in Burma, were allowed to work inside the country, more stories would surely come out.
That’s why Snr-General Than Shwe quietly included the self-amnesty law in the 2008 Constitution to secure his future.
However, I want to warn Than Shwe that as the leader of the army, he will be held accountable for violations that the army has perpetrated.

Looking at other authoritarian regimes around the world, we can compare Than Shwe to the utterly despicable Muammar Al-Gaddafi of Libya. The Burmese army should not take orders from such a person, but rather follow the example of the Egyptian army, which refused to fire on unarmed civilians.

It is time for Burmese army personnel to side with the people and strive together to bring Than Shwe and his family to justice. Under no circumstances should they be pardoned under an amnesty.

Aung Linn Htut is a former intelligence officer who served as a senior diplomat at the Burmese Embassy in Washington, DC. He took political asylum in the United States in 2005.

A boat load of Rohingyans was sank near St.Martin Island of Bengal Bay


by James,

A boat load of 170 passengers, was sank at the mid night of 18 Jan 2012. 35 were rescued and 100 are still missing!
Rohingyans living in Bangladesh confirmed they are mostly Rohingya Burmese people and departing for Malaysia.

According to the link released on 20 Jan 2012-(first_details.php?news_id=5202 ), a boat load of 170 passengers sank, 35 were rescued and 100 are still missing! 10 death bodies were found at Nakondia opposite site of St. Martin at 10 AM ,Friday morning.
At 11am ,Friday morning 35 boat people who were rescued by fishing boats were arrested by Bangladesh coast guard and sent to the prison.
The boat was left from Bashkali,Ctg ,100 km far from Teknaf, on 13 January with 50 passengers. It reached near the Shahpurirdiv on 18 January. From there another 120 passengers were boarded . The boat left at the mid night of of 18th Jan. A few hours later the boat was sank.

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Early this month, many other Rohingyans who were prepared to depart for Malaysia, were arrested.

Kaldan Press, 09 January 2012

Teknaf, Bangladesh: 15 more Rohingya boatpeople were arrested at Shahpuri Dip under Teknaf upazila on December 7, midnight, according to locals and Teknaf police said.

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Arrested Rohingya sea voyagers in Teknaf police station

“Being informed, a group of police from Teknaf went to Shapuri Dip, raided and arrested 15 boatpeople while other boatpeople gathered in the house of sea voyage agent Bulu before their departure for Malaysia or Thailand. However, 45 boatpeople including (agents) fled from the scene sensing the presence of police.”

“The arrested boatpeople were — Ibrahim (30), Shafiq (20), Sadek Hussain (20), Abdur Razzak (34), Abu Shama (17), Bashir Ahmed (40), Zahir Ahmed (25), Esuf (26), Saiful (20), Kamal Hossain (32), Kabir (23), Mohammad Ullah (45), Abdul Mazid (20), Rahim Ullah (22) and Dil Mohammad (32).”

Besides, on December 8, the Teknaf police also arrested 14 sea voyage agents (Dalals) from Teknaf and Shapuri Dip who have been involved in human trafficking. Some of the local Dalals are — Mohamed Rofique, Ziaul Haque, Mike Yunus, Islam Shukur, Saida – said a local from Shapuri Dip preferring not to be named.

According to Mahabul Haque, Officer in Charge (OC) of Teknaf police station, a case was filed in the Teknaf police station against the arrestees including the agents. The 15 arrestees hail from different areas of Myanmar (Burma).

In addition, on December 8, at about midnight, an engine boat loading with about 70 boatpeople departed to Malaysia from Lombori Ghat of Teknaf under the Cox’s Bazar District. Two agents named Feroz, son of Ahamed, hailed from Lombir Para and Nazir, son of Badsha Mea, hailed from Lombir Para of Teknaf managed the boat, said a fisherman of Teknaf who denied to be named.

Another boat with loading over 100 boatpeople will leave for Malaysia from Teknaf within 2 to 3 days, said a man from Shapuri Dip who denied to be named

In 2011, from October to December, the human trafficking to Malaysia was temporarily stopped after conducting operation at Burma-Bangladesh border by Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB), police and Coast Guard. But, now, the human trafficking is resumed, said local people.

The police, BGB (Border Guard Bangladesh) and Coast Guard of Teknaf arrested boat-people heading for Malaysia illegally to 80, in the last one month, said an aide of Tekanf police station.

In Brief: 40,000 Rohingya children in Myanmar unregistered


source from IRIN, 19 Jan 2012

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Photo: David Swanson/IRIN
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.

Jailed Rohingya Boat-people in Yangon Prison could be Faced Five more Years Imprisonment


by James,

The DVB’s report on 3 Dec 2011 revealed that a group of 63 Rohingya refugees attempting to reach Malaysia from Bangladesh have been given prison sentences of one and a half years each by a Burmese court after their boat ended up on the shores of southern Burma, Kawthaung in Tennasserim division.

The Sail receives there are not only the group of 63 Rohingyans alone faced such punishment but also there are many others unreported numbers of Rohingya boat people who were captured after Thai-military pushed back and those handed over to Burmese authority through Thai-Burma borders.

Mr Habib, a member of NDPHR(exile) said that he has attained reliable sources from Yangon that they are currently served one and half years imprisonment in Yangon prison but the constitution of Rakhine state is separate rule that will definitely rule to extend at least another 5 more years imprisonment when they would be transferred to Rakhine state. As well as, they would be sent to labour camp or isolate Islet like Ong Daw(Coconut Islet) and face other forms of inhumane physical abuses. Their relatives will be possibly faced unexpected problems including punishment, fine and extortion.

A source from Yangon confirmed that their relatives in Yangon corporately with some Muslim welfare workers in Yangon are trying to negotiate to settle their cases in Yangon and not to send back to Rakhine state.

Despite new Burmese government has announced on 2 Jan 2012 that it will cut prison term on humanitarian ground to mark Independence Day, there is no signal of such consideration for thousands of Rohingyan prisoners in Sittwe, Buthidaung, Kyaukfru of Rakhine/Arakan state. Extension of imprisonment term is more likely to be introduced for Rohingya prisoners.

“There are previous evidences of dozens of Rohingyans were sentenced in similar form in past decade. They would be definitely placed in sub-human conditions and faced tyrant abuses in the custody. Therefore we would like to call law societies in Burma and around the world and international communities to advocate their cases in order to prevent from arbitrary punishment and tyrannical abuses. Because historically the Burma rulers ever back against Rohingya community.” Mr Habib appealed.

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BANGLADESH: Rohingya Muslims wary of Burmese reforms

source from muslimnews, 13 Jan 2012

COX’S BAZAR, (IRIN): While the Myanmar government takes significant strides in political reform, Rohingya refugees in southern Bangladesh fear their condition may not change any time soon.

They are skeptical about a string of reform moves by the Burmese government, saying they are not aware of any real improvement in the conditions which forced them to flee their country.

"The situation has not improved," Mostak Ahmad, 35, an undocumented Rohingya refugee who fled 10 years ago, told IRIN. "We were hopeful during the 2010 election as we were given voting powers but now we are frustrated."

Since taking office in March 2011, President U Thein Sein, a former general, has released hundreds of political prisoners, legalized labour unions, eased censorship, held talks with Washington and London, and signed a ceasefire with ethnic Karen rebels – a major step towards ending one of the world’s longest-running ethnic insurgencies.

But for Rohingya, an ethnic group who fled to Bangladesh en masse from neighbouring Myanmar years earlier, there is little optimism.

Fazal Karim, 40, who fled to avoid forced labour, had recently spoken with his relatives in Myanmar." They said that in some cases the situation had worsened," he said.

Rohingyas – an ethnic, linguistic and religious (Muslim) minority who fled persecution decades ago – are caught between a rock and a hard place, activists say.

Under Burmese law, the Rohingyas are de jure stateless, but they fare little better in Bangladesh.

Most Rohingyas in Bangladesh have no legal rights and few employment opportunities.

According to Refugees International, they live in squalor, receive limited aid and are vulnerable to arrest, extortion and even physical attack.

According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), there are some 200,000 Rohingyas in Bangladesh, of whom only 28,000 are documented and living in two government camps assisted by the agency. Close to 11,000 live at the Kutupalong camp, with another 17,000 farther south at Nayapara – both within 2km of Myanmar.

Rakhine State

Activists say Rohingyas in Myanmar’s northern Rakhine State still have no freedom to travel or marry and remain subject to extortion, intimidation and abuse.

"While there are some improvements in the Burmese government’s rhetoric, there is no change on the ground," said Lynn Yoshikawa, a campaigner with Washington-based Refugees International.

Following the 2010 elections, forced labour was as pervasive as ever and may have increased, with some labourers as young as 10, a 2011 report by the Arakan Project, a group campaigning for Rohingya rights, revealed.

Chris Lewa, the group’s coordinator, said there had been no sign of improvement for Rohingyas in Myanmar, either in terms of policy towards them, or on the ground, "and little hope" that things could change in the near future.

The new Burmese government still considered Rohingyas "illegal immigrants from a neighbouring country" and has no intention of granting them citizenship or relaxing restrictions on them, she added.

Straws in the wind

However, during a December visit to Myanmar by Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, Burmese President U Thein Sein expressed his desire to cooperate with Bangladesh in resolving the Rohingya issue, and two days after the visit Bangladesh officials said Myanmar had agreed to take back documented Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh after verification by its authorities.

But the agreement will have no impact on the vast majority of Rohingyas who are unregistered, Yoshikawa said.

There is little chance that many registered refugees would agree to return under the present conditions in Myanmar, though if conditions were to improve significantly many would not hesitate, said Lewa.

"Who wants a refugee’s life?" asked Faruque Ahmed, a documented Rohingya refugee at the Kutupalong refugee camp. "We are always prepared to go back to Myanmar but we demand the same rights as other citizens," he said.

Each year scores of Rohingyas – from Myanmar and Bangladesh – attempt to escape by boat, often turning up in Thailand, Malaysia or as far away as Indonesia.

In December, at least 23 Rohingyas are known to have died when the two boats carrying them and 200 others capsized in the Bay of Bengal, while on 2 January a number of Rohingyas reached the Australian coast after an arduous voyage from Malaysia, the Arakan Project reported.

"We know it is a risky journey, but we have no other option," said Hasan Ali, a documented Rohingya at Kutupalong camp.

Letter from America: Is the change in Myanmar for real?


source from Asian Tribune, 15 Jan 2011

By Dr. Habib Siddiqui

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In its latest gesture of amnesties, the military-backed regime of Thein Sein in Myanmar has released many political prisoners. Those freed included veterans of the 1988 student protest movement, monks involved in the 2007 demonstrations and ethnic-minority activists like U Kyaw Min (a member of the Committee Representing the People’s Parliament led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi). Truly, the names of those released read like a who’s who of Burma’s most prominent political detainees. In a statement broadcast on the TV, President Thein Sein said those released were people who could "play a constructive role in the political process".

The releases came a day after the government had signed a landmark ceasefire with the rebel Karen National Union in Hpa-an, capital of eastern Karen state. The release of all political prisoners has been a long-standing demand of the international community. As a human rights activist who for years has demanded reform inside Burma, I warmly welcome these releases.

My hope is that the new regime is serious about a transformational change that would allow the released politicians and former prisoners of conscience to play a positive role to unite the otherwise fragmented country of many nations, races, ethnicities and religions under a federal formula. For too long, the former military regimes and their ultra-racist supporters have used one community against another, and created an atmosphere where bigotry, racism, xenophobia and hatred ruled supreme. Of special mention is the 1982 Burma Citizenship Law which ensured such state policies of exclusions that would rob millions of Rohingya and other religious and ethnic minorities of their citizenship rights. Forgotten there was the time honored realization that narrow ethno-centric nationalism in a country of diverse races and ethnicities is suicidal.

With the release of ethnic minority leaders like U Kyaw Min of Arakan (alias) Shamsul Anwarul Haque, my hope is that President Thein Sein and his new regime is serious about a genuine reform. Pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi has welcomed the move as a "positive sign" and so did many international leaders.

When Thein Sein’s Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), a military-backed civilian government, came to power in November 2010, after the country’s first elections in 20 years [in which Daw Suu Kyi’s The National League for Democracy (NLD) did not participate], no one was sure which direction the new regime would follow. Many considered the regime change as a sham — the same old stuff: serving new wine in an old bottle. But soon after coming to power, Thein Sein took reform steps that were meant to show the world that he was serious about a transformational change. He opened dialogue with Suu Kyi and her NLD. He released her from house arrest within a week of coming to power. Last May, the government released some 1500 prisoners, which did not, however, include any prominent politician. Last September, Thein Sein suspended construction of controversial Chinese-funded Myitsone hydroelectric dam, a move which was seen as showing greater openness to public opinion. Then in October, he freed more than 200 political prisoners as part of a general amnesty, and passed new labor laws allowing unions to function.

All such reforms were not lost in the minds of ASEAN leaders who met last November agreeing that Myanmar would chair the grouping in 2014. The award was meant to show that Burma was moving in the right direction with the steps taken thus far and also as a sign of encouragement to keep it up. The pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi soon announced that she would stand for election to parliament, as her party rejoined the political process.

There has been such an unmistakable aura of change in Myanmar that the U.S. President Barack Obama called such the "flickers of progress." Before sending his top diplomat to Myanmar, Obama said, "We want to seize what could be a historic opportunity for progress, and to make it clear that if Burma continues to travel down the road of democratic reform, it can forge a new relationship with the United States of America."

The U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited the country in December and also met with Suu Kyi. This year the British Foreign Secretary William Hague visited the country in which he expressed his strong concern saying, “Minorities like the Rohingya in many cases lack basic civil and political rights.” These and other western leaders hinted that they would help to ease sanctions against the regime if it releases its political prisoners and is serious about reform that would resolve ethnic conflicts around the border regions.

Last month President Thein Sein signed a law allowing peaceful demonstrations for the first time. The NLD re-registered as a political party in advance of by-elections for parliament due to be held early in 2012. In recent weeks, the government has agreed a truce deal with rebels of Shan ethnic group and ordered the military to stop operations against ethnic Kachin rebels.

Now with the release of high ranking political prisoners there is little doubt that Thein Sein is serious about genuine reform in his country. Suu Kyi described the past 12 months as "eventful, energizing and to a certain extent encouraging". And she is right. Myanmar is seemingly taking irreversible baby steps for a viable democracy.

Never before in the last 50 years did we ever see such a ray of hope gleaming in the country that was once Burma. We can pray and hope that Thein Sein is no charlatan change agent but is as genuine as it comes. Sure, there are several steps that need to be taken before Myanmar becomes a country with a functioning democracy where its people would enjoy political and economic freedom like many other citizens of our planet — the release of all remaining political prisoners; repealing the racist and xenophobic Burma Citizenship Law of 1982 which has resulted in unfathomed discrimination, violations of human rights and forced exodus of millions of its inhabitants to settle for a life of unwanted refugees in neighboring countries like Bangladesh and Thailand; addressing the rights of Burma’s ethnic and religious minorities (especially, the Rohingya, Karen and Shan peoples) and ensuring the fair and independent application of the rule of law for all its inhabitants.

Objective and unbiased researches have amply shown that the Rohingya people are an indigenous group whose ancestry and root to the soil of Arakan state of today’s Myanmar predates the British colonial era. [See, e.g., this author’s book -Muslim Identity and Demography in the Arakan State of Burma, available in the Amazon.com] Accordingly, they had exercised the right of franchise in all elections in the pre- and post-colonial periods, including the SPDC’s 2010 election. And yet, this unfortunate people have been denied citizenship and rendered stateless for a xenophobic law that violates every principle enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The sad plight of the Rohingya people was duly observed by Tomas Ojea Quintana, the U.N. Special Rapporteur, who said, “Despite being in this region for generations, this population is stateless. This population is not recognized by the Government as one of the ethnic groups of the Union of Myanmar and is subject to discrimination…. However the Government allowed them to participate in the referendum on the adoption of the new Constitution…. What is more significant than the possibility to vote for the Constitution of a nation to show that one belongs to the nation? If this population was considered apt to give its views on the adoption of the Constitution, then it should be granted all other privileges, including the citizenship, which recognized ethnic groups, citizens of Myanmar do enjoy in the Union.”

As Thien Sein reforms and changes the old orders yielding place to the new, I wish he is mindful of the views and concerns expressed by dignitaries like Tomas Quintana, and stops discriminatory practices against the Rohingya and other vulnerable minorities, plus restores dialogue with each of the ethnic and religious groups on the principle of unity in diversity.

Only the coming months will show how serious is the new government in Myanmar about its commitment to reform. Let’s hope that Thein Sein will not be like any of his hateful predecessors and will do all that is required to ensure human rights for all and bring glory to Myanmar.

Burma prisoner amnesty – 13 Jan releases


source from DVB, 14 Jan 2012

Published: 13 January 2012Burma prisoner amnesty – 13 Jan releases thumbnail

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.

Burma: An Opportunity to Expand Humanitarian Space


source from RI, 11 Jan 2012,

After nearly 50 years of brutal military rule, Burma is embarking upon a landmark transition to civilian administration. The country has seen some promising political reforms. But the world’s longest civil war, coupled with natural disasters within the country, has created serious humanitarian needs which still persist. Recently, the Burmese government has demonstrated a willingness to cooperate with humanitarian agencies. The international community must seize this opportunity to ensure that the needs of the displaced are met, the military’s abuse of human rights are stemmed, and ethnic conflicts progress toward peaceful resolution. Only by addressing both political reform and ethnic conflict will policymakers be able to break the cycles of violence that have gripped the people of Burma.

Policy recommendations

  • Humanitarian donors, particularly the EU, UK, and U.S. governments, should increase humanitarian and disaster risk reduction assistance inside Burma and immediately fund the $6.4 million UN appeal to respond to ongoing displacement of Kachin communities.
  • Western donor governments should lift aid restrictions to allow their partners to support capacity-building efforts in reform-minded ministries – particularly the Ministries of Health and Social Welfare.
  • The international community should encourage and support President Thein Sein to confirm the lead mediator for ceasefire negotiations and pursue Track II diplomacy efforts by appointing an advisory body to reach out to all ethnic groups (including Burmans) to find a peaceful solution to the ethnic conflicts.
  • The international community, particularly Indonesia and the U.S., should engage the Burmese military to prevent and respond to violations of human rights – particularly in conflict-affected areas – by setting up appropriate reporting and accountability mechanisms.
  • — See the photo report from this mission: "Burma: In Ethnic States, ‘Reform’ Remains a Distant Hope" —

    EXPAND HUMANITARIAN SPACE

    There are an estimated 500,000 internally-displaced people (IDPs) in Burma, and three million Burmese refugees in other countries. There are also some 800,000 stateless Rohingyas in the west of the country, who live in dire humanitarian conditions because of their lack of basic human rights. Now is the time for the humanitarian community – led by the UN Resident Coordinator/Humanitarian Coordinator (RC/HC) and supported by key donors like the European Union, United Kingdom, and United States – to expand operations in Burma to meet these humanitarian needs. While it is premature to plan any refugee returns, the long-neglected humanitarian issues have to be prioritized and addressed by both the
    government and the humanitarian community.

    Burma’s new government has demonstrated a willingness to work with the international community on humanitarian needs created by both natural disasters and conflict. The government has finally recognized the existence of IDPs, and invited the UN to assess the displaced’s needs in Kachin State. In December, the government also took the unprecedented step of allowing UN agencies to assist IDPs in areasoutside of its control. The government is also working with the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) to identify potentially stateless Chinese and Hindu populations, and has so far approved two communities for naturalization. While these steps may seem inadequate considering the vast need, history has shown that persistence in pushing the boundaries in Burma can effectively expand humanitarian space.

    The new, decentralized government structure has improved bureaucratic processes and increased channels to expand access to conflict-affected areas. Previously, all approvals passed through both the military and ministries. Now the military has been removed from the process, and there are multiple decision-makers. Over the past year, the government has signed numerous Memorandums of Understanding (MoUs) with international non-governmental organizations (INGOs), some of which had been languishing in bureaucracy for years. In addition, INGO officials told RI that the government has improved the approval system for visas and travel permits for international staff, although the process remains highly bureaucratic. Some government
    officials at the regional levels (such as the chief ministers of Kachin and Karen States) are now able to act independently of the central government, which has helped to expand access for international aid agencies assisting IDPs. While many of these efforts remain personality-driven, they illustrate the new entry points to engage authorities on humanitarian issues.

    While overall access to conflict areas remains challenging, it is possible for humanitarian aid to be provided independently and impartially. Over the past decade, local NGOs in Burma have developed significantly and are now estimated to number in the hundreds. The devastation wrought by Cyclone Nargis in 2008 served as a catalyst in mobilizing and strengthening local civil society, as well as re-establishing a dialogue between the humanitarian community and the government. In conflict-affected areas, which are more sensitive for the government, supporting and strengthening local NGOs and civil society is critical to expanding humanitarian space. Religious organizations – primarily Buddhist and Christian – are the primary focal point in providing IDPs with food, shelter, and livelihood support. In Kachin State, church and monastery compounds are hosting thousands of IDPs organized by volunteer groups, with assistance provided by UN agencies.

    International aid agencies should increase partnerships with local organizations to strengthen their capacity to reach the most vulnerable. While many INGOs in Burma do not invest the time necessary to gain government-approved access to conflict areas, some do partner with
    local NGOs, provide funds for small-scale programs, and build organizational capacity. These partnerships can leverage INGOs’ technical expertise and access to international funds with local NGOs’ connections to communities and authorities. Some UN agencies have expressed reservations about engaging with local organizations because of assumed ties to armed groups, but this assessment should not be generalized. The UN Humanitarian Country Team should develop tools to assess local organizations’ capacities and compliance with the humanitarian
    principles to identify reliable partners.

    In recent years, the UN’s advocacy efforts have languished following the expulsion of the RC/HC during the 2007 Saffron Revolution. The World Food Programme (WFP) and UNICEF have established offices throughout Burma’s border regions, yet the UN has failed to leverage its comparative advantages to strengthen the humanitarian dialogue with the Burmese government. The recent arrival of the Office of the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Burma and its growing dialogue with the government is an excellent opportunity for the incoming RC/HC to strengthen advocacy with the government to expand access to meet both immediate and long-term humanitarian needs, as well as request donors to increase humanitarian funding. To better focus efforts on this undertaking, the RC/HC position should be de-linked from its additional role as the head of the UN Development Programme (UNDP). The demands of the two positions are too great to be handled by just one person. UNDP’s head will need to exercise strong leadership as it recalibrates its operations in Burma to the changing political climate. It is essential that this new role not detract from addressing critical humanitarian needs.

    Limited humanitarian funding inside Burma remains a significant barrier to increasing operational space within the country. In recent years, the UK, EU, and Australia have significantly increased assistance inside Burma. However, the majority of the U.S. government’s $38.5 million contribution to Burma goes to organizations based in Thailand.

    USAID’s Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) has spent only $100,000 in Burma since its response to Cyclone Nargis, despite widespread humanitarian needs resulting from conflict, natural disasters, and climate change. As demonstrated by recent deadly cyclones, droughts, and earthquakes, Burma is considered one of the world’s most vulnerable countries to natural disasters and climate change. OFDA should leverage the Burmese government’s interest in disaster preparedness and response capacity by investing in disaster risk reduction, while supporting local partners who work in conflict areas. U.S. assistance inside Burma must be increased, but this increase must not undercut existing funding for humanitarian programs for Burmese refugees in Thailand.

    DECREASE DONOR RESTRICTIONS TO INCREASE LOCAL CAPACITY

    Western donor restrictions on aid to Burma – in particular those imposed by the U.S. – prevent donors’ implementing partners from providing technical advice and assistance to the Burmese government. Local and international aid workers told RI that these onerous restrictions have exacerbated the impact of the government’s disastrous economic policies and deepened the suffering of the poorest Burmese. Rolling back all U.S. sanctions may not be appropriate until key human rights benchmarks are met. However, removing specific barriers to technical assistance to key ministries and civil servants would allow Burma’s government to better respond to humanitarian needs and jumpstart the country’s stagnant development progress.

    While in Burma, RI met with aid workers who consistently spoke of civil servants operating at all levels of government without basic management, planning, and administrative skills. One UN official said, “This government is like a newborn – it needs proper development and teaching.”
    U.S. law, along with similar restrictions imposed by other western donors, prohibits assistance from reaching any member of the government. This means that, in practice, UNDP and U.S. implementing-partner NGOs can work freely with communities, but cannot provide any assistance or even training to teachers or health workers, thereby hindering systemic impact. Western donors should make their existing policies more flexible in order to assist high-impact, reform-minded ministries like health and social welfare, and improve working-level capacity to address the needs of the most vulnerable. Regional countries should also strengthen their engagement to build capacity of civil servants and lawmakers on public administration, policymaking, and program implementation.

    In the past year, local NGOs have significantly strengthened their advocacy with the government. Donors should promote this approach by removing restrictions that may prevent implementing partners from engaging authorities. One aid worker told RI, “NGOs here can fall into a trap if they do the government’s job without advocating and teaching [the government about] its obligations.” For example, a local network of women’s organizations is helping government officials draft their implementation plan for the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women. These steps will allow civil society to fully leverage new opportunities to influence the government, institute rights-based policies, and raise awareness of human rights.

    THE EMERGING KACHIN CRISIS

    In June 2011, the Burmese government returned to war with the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) after 16 years of relative peace. The re-emergence of this conflict is of particular concern, not only because of its potential to undermine other possible ceasefire agreements, but also because of its human toll. One Rangoon-based NGO told RI they had documented 60 cases of rape by soldiers from June-November 2011. In December, President Thein Sein ordered the army to halt its military operation. But at the time of writing, fighting continues – indicating that the military remains unwilling to submit to civilian authority.

    Without effective pressure from key actors like China, Indonesia, and the U.S., the military may succeed in eliminating the KIO, thereby destroying peace prospects in the near term and widening ethnic divisions.

    Since June, at least 60,000 civilians, primarily women and children, have been forced from their homes due to this violence. The majority of IDPs are now caught between warring parties. OCHA was able to secure access to deliver some assistance, and this must be sustained to meet the growing need for food, water, medical supplies, and warm clothes. IDPs, primarily those dependent on agriculture, were unable to harvest their crops due to fighting and will need food aid until late 2012. Unless international donors renew their contributions, WFP will run out of funds for IDPs in February 2012. Key humanitarian donors like OFDA and the European Community Humanitarian Office should follow the UK government’s lead and fund the $6.4 million UN appeal to assist civilians forced to flee the
    military offensive against the KIO.

    PAVING THE LONG ROAD TO PEACE

    A durable peace can only be reached in Burma if the government takes concrete steps to rebuild trust among ethnic minorities. The colonial legacy and subsequent government policies towards Burma’s ethnic minorities – which make up roughly 40% of its population – have deeply fractured society. Various attempts by previous Burmese leaders to negotiate with ethnic groups have been viewed as a threat and only met with tighter military control. Both the government and international community must proceed with caution and prioritize the peaceful resolution of the ethnic conflicts, while acknowledging thatnational reconciliation will be a long-term process. These deeply entrenched conflicts can only be solved through a comprehensive national reconciliation plan that engages both the majority Burman population and ethnic minorities, including the stateless Rohingya.

    The government’s attempts at peace have long been viewed with suspicion by ethnic armed groups. Over a dozen ceasefires were signed during the 1990s, allowing the military to concentrate its forces against non-ceasefire groups, like the Karen National Union (KNU). Ultimately, the ceasefires did not allow for grievances to be addressed. In 2009, the government ordered all ceasefire groups to merge into the Burma Army as border guards, reigniting conflict with several armed groups who refused.

    In August 2011, Burma’s Parliament appointed a national mediation team to talk with armed ethnic groups. This team was led by MP Aung Thaung, who is deeply mistrusted by ethnic minorities, and had little success. Within months, President Thein Sein appointed the Minister for Railways to also reach out to various ethnic armed groups. As a result of the negotiations led by the minister, the Shan State Army-South and the Chin National Front have signed ceasefire agreements with the government, while talks with the KNU and New Mon State Party are continuing.

    President Thein Sein should confirm the Minister for Railways’ appointment as the lead national mediator to reach out to all armed groups. The current structure consisting of separate mediation teams appointed by both the President and the Parliament has bred confusion and mistrust. The progress made by the Minister of Railways on the ceasefire negotiations could be undermined by the mediators appointed by the Parliament. The President should also pursue Track II diplomacy by convening an advisory group on ethnic issues, which would consult widely with civil society in Burma and in exile, as well as communities, to rebuild trust and explore peaceful solutions to the conflict.

    Burma’s ethnic conflicts result from numerous grievances and are rooted in a lack of control over the issues that most affect ethnic minorities. Ethnic minorities, particularly in the border areas, have been subject to atrocities and human rights abuses by all parties to the conflict. Armed groups have caused a proliferation of landmines, recruited child soldiers, practiced extortion, and profited from illegal border trade. Over the past 50 years, the Burma Army has used sexual violence against women, imprisonment, child soldiers, human minesweepers, extrajudicial killings, and the destruction of villages in its campaign to cut off food, funds, information, and recruits from armed groups. The so-called “four cuts” counterinsurgency campaign has resulted in up to one million civilian deaths and the displacement of many more.

    Conflict has also deprived ethnic communities of development opportunities. Although most natural resources and strategic routes are located in border regions, ethnic communities have gained little from these multimillion-dollar projects. Instead, they have suffered from the impact of environmental degradation, loss of livelihoods, and forced relocation.

    ENGAGE THE MILITARY TO END HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSES

    The international community, particularly the U.S. and Indonesia, should support all efforts to bring the military under civilian control to end human rights abuses and strengthen reporting and accountability mechanisms. Indonesia is a key regional player, and was the final decision-maker in giving Burma the 2014 ASEAN chairmanship. Indonesia also has experienced its own relatively peaceful transition from military to civilian rule, and can use this experience to help guide Burma through its own transition.

    After years of unsuccessful attempts by the U.S. to engage Burma’s military, Special Envoy Derek Mitchell met the Burma Army’s commander-in-chief in 2011 to discuss its human rights record. Following that meeting, the military requested that NGOs report cases of rape by soldiers so that the military could undertake investigations. RI met with local women’s organizations who said that this kind of international engagement was critical to supporting local efforts to hold the military accountable. RI was told of one group’s successful negotiation for the removal of a particularly abusive military battalion from a community. In another example, children’s rights groups have been able to secure the release of child soldiers to their families by training military officers and raising community awareness.

    Engaging the government and the military is essential to transforming the Burmese government’s pledges of reform into action. For the first time, some members of the Burmese leadership, particularly President Thein Sein, have expressed a willingness to assert civilian control over the military. The Burmese government has a very long way to go in this effort, but the international community must take full advantage of this opportunity to pressure the military to reform its command-and-control structure, as well as increase engagement on civilian protection, international humanitarian law, and human rights.

    Lynn Yoshikawa and Kristen Cordell assessed the humanitarian situation in Burma in November and December 2011.

UNHCR card holder 3 Burmese Refugees Arrested in Malaysia


by Theng,

UNHCR card holder 3 Burmese Refugees arrested from Seremban state on 7 Jan 2012.

They are Rohingya Burmese refugees and one of them was identified as Mr Saleh Ahmed, joint-secretary of Rohingya community based in Serdang, Kuala Lumpur.

They were arrested by immigration while they are working in a restaurant at around 1:00am of the day.

A friend of them said that immigration rudely responded ‘it is no use’ when they showed UNHCR IDs and community membership card. They were lifted to immigration office and placed one night at immigration lock-up. Now, they are detained in Lenggeng detention camp.

He also confirmed that their leader had already approached to UNHCR and NGOs for their release.

On 15 Nov 2011, undocumented 2 Rohingyan refugees were arrested from Jeeteh area of Terengganu state. The link can be seen at-

https://thesail.wordpress.com/2011/12/27/undocumented-2-burmese-refugees-arrested-in-malaysia/

A newly registered Rohingyan says that registration of undocumented Rohingyan refugees is suspended at the moment on the occasion of corruption. “I had to pay 1,300.RM for the card”. He said.

Rohingya Representatives meet British Foreign Secretary


Source from Kaldan Press, 6 January 2012

Chittagong, Bangladesh: Rohingya with other – Chin, Kachin, Shan, Kayah and Mon – ethnic groups’ representatives met British Foreign Secretary William Hague at the residence of the British ambassador in Rangoon yesterday at 5pm- 6pm, according to a source from Rangoon and BBC Burmese.

British Foreign Minister with Rohingya and other ethnic representatives

 

British Foreign Minister with Rohingya and other ethnic representatives

“The Rohingya political party leaders from the 1990 general election and the 2010 general election who attended the meeting are; – Master Yunus from National Democratic Party for Human Rights(NDPHR) and Abu Taher from  National Democratic party for Development (NDPD).”

“Abu Taher highlighted the situation on Rohingya people of Arakan who are facing recently on – force labors, extortion, health, education, movement restriction, marriage restriction, religious persecution, unprecedented taxation, arbitrarily arrest and land confiscation- with recent report and appeal letter of NDPD to Burmese government which mention to find a solution about Rohingya issue of Arakan,” according to a Rohingya elite from Rangoon.

Abu Taher is Central Executive member, Head of Political Bureau and Research and development. He won from People’s Parliament, Buthidaung Township in 2010 election. But, Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) forcedly denounced his victor, according to NDPD press released and case file against Shwe Maung of USDP.

NDPD complained to Township Election Commission, the votes were recounted by the Commission where Abu Taher (NDPD) got 56,882 votes and Shwe Maung (USDP) got 53,702 votes, according to election watch in Buthidaung report.

Master Yunus is CEC of NDPHR – 4 seats winner of 1990 general election from Maungdaw and Buthidaung – mentioned about Rohingya citizenship rights – the historical facts – in Burma which still the Burmese government not clearly mention on it. 

British Foreign Secretary William Hague arrived in Nay Pyi Taw yesterday on an official visit to Burma to observe the latest development of the country, according to official sources. “It is the first visit by a British foreign secretary to Myanmar since 1955.”

“The visiting Burma was my first destination for 2012, to meet the President, senior ministers and ethnic minority leaders,” according to British Foreign Secretary William Hague’s statement in his face book.

“I am visiting the country to encourage the Burmese government to continue on its path of reform, and to gauge what more Britain can do to support this process,” according to  British  Foreign & Commonwealth website.

“Further steps are needed that will have a lasting impact on human rights and political freedom in Burma. In particular, we hope to see the release of all remaining political prisoners, free and fair by-elections, and humanitarian access to people in conflict areas, and credible steps towards national reconciliation.” 

The Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK (BROUK) and Rohingya people would like to express our gratitude tothe British Foreign Secretary for his meeting with ethnic representative groups, including Rohingyas, during his visit to Burma. We are very delighted to see his encouragement to U Thein Sein regime to bring genuine change, long-lasting peace, freedom and protection of human rights for all the people of Burma, according to Maung Tun Khin, the president, the Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK (BROUK).

The ‘systematic racism’ against Rohingya has been institutionalized; and religious persecution against non-Buddhist people, especially Muslims and Christians, has increased. The credibility of U Thein Sein regime’s promise of reform is now seriously questioned. However, we are in high spirit to see that the Foreign Secretary has cautiously welcomed the promises of political reform in Burma saying ‘the military junta will be judged by its actions rather than its words’, the BROUK statement said.

“The visiting Burma was my first destination for 2012, to meet the President, senior ministers and ethnic minority leaders,” according to British Foreign Secretary William Hague’s statement in his face book.

“I am visiting the country to encourage the Burmese government to continue on its path of reform, and to gauge what more Britain can do to support this process,” according to British Foreign & Commonwealth website.

“Further steps are needed that will have a lasting impact on human rights and political freedom in Burma. In particular, we hope to see the release of all remaining political prisoners, free and fair by-elections, and humanitarian access to people in conflict areas, and credible steps towards national reconciliation.”

The Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK (BROUK) and Rohingya people would like to express our gratitude tothe British Foreign Secretary for his meeting with ethnic representative groups, including Rohingyas, during his visit to Burma. We are very delighted to see his encouragement to U Thein Sein regime to bring genuine change, long-lasting peace, freedom and protection of human rights for all the people of Burma, according to Maung Tun Khin, the president, the Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK (BROUK).

The ‘systematic racism’ against Rohingya has been institutionalized; and religious persecution against non-Buddhist people, especially Muslims and Christians, has increased. The credibility of U Thein Sein regime’s promise of reform is now seriously questioned. However, we are in high spirit to see that the Foreign Secretary has cautiously welcomed the promises of political reform in Burma saying ‘the military junta will be judged by its actions rather than its words’, the BROUK statement said.

 

Foreign Secretary remarks at his press conference in Burma

source from http://www.fco.gov.uk,  6 January 2012

Foreign Secretary William Hague concludes first visit to Burma by a UK Foreign Secretary in over 50 years.

Crwon Copyright

At a press conference in Rangoon today, marking the end of his visit to Burma, the Foreign Secretary said:

“I am delighted to be here, making the first visit by a British Foreign Secretary in 56 years.
It has been made possible by the initial steps taken by President Thein Sein, including the release of over 250 political prisoners, the easing of restrictions on the media and political parties and dialogue with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD.  

My visit is a gesture of good intent on the part of the United Kingdom in the light of these changes. I have come to hear directly from the country’s leaders what they plan to do to continue progress, and to speak to opposition figures and members of civil society about British support for their endeavours.

My message is that if the country continues on this promising path, as we hope it will, we are ready to offer a new relationship based on friendship and prosperity.

I have held meetings with the President,  the Foreign Secretary, and the Speaker of the Lower House, and I met representatives from ethnic groups. It was a particular honour for me, last night and this morning, to meet Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and representatives of her Party. She embodies the long struggle for democracy in this country and is an inspiration to me and to countless people around the world.

In my meetings with her and with the Government I discussed the many bold steps that still need to be taken.

First, there are hundreds of men and women still remaining in jail here for their beliefs. This has no place in any democracy, and it has no place in the future of this country. I was encouraged to hear that the Government plans to release remaining political prisoners. But more ambitious action will be needed and we look to them rapidly to honour this commitment.

Second, it is vital that the by-elections on 1st April are credible, free and fair and enable all parties to compete. We welcome the NLD’s courageous decision to participate in these elections, and the world will watch these elections closely.

Third, for too long this country’s border regions have been scarred by conflict and suffering, particularly in Kachin state, where fighting has displaced tens of thousands of people in recent months. These is an urgent need for the UN to be allowed to deliver humanitarian assistance independently and with access to all areas, for an end to offensive operations in Kachin State, and for meaningful political dialogue with ethnic armed groups. I encourage all sides today to seize this moment of change, to agree to a formal cessation of hostilities and uphold international law, and to begin serious political dialogue as part of a national reconciliation process.

These are indispensable steps for confidence in the country’s development and they are achievable in the near future.

As I heard yesterday from ethnic minority representatives, reconciliation is the most important challenge facing this country. Achieving a durable and equitable peace will be complex. But it is essential to meet the aspirations and rights of all the citizens of this diverse country. Sustainable peace must be built on trust and dialogue between all groups, to provide a solid foundation for economic and political progress.

This must include addressing the human rights violations which are a stain on the progress elsewhere in the country. I also raised with the government our concerns about the discrimination faced by the Rohingya minority, who in many cases lack basic civil and political rights. In all these areas I hope that the new National Human Rights Commission can demonstrate that it is a truly independent, impartial and effective body.

The British Government and the British people have a strong commitment to the people of this country, as we have shown by our staunch support for democracy here over many years.

We are ready to move towards a strong, positive and open relationship as reforms take place, and to respond bilaterally and through the EU. We will judge progress by actions and events and will respond in good faith to measures as they are taken.
We are already the biggest bilateral aid donor, with £185 million committed for the next four years. I have announced on this visit that UK funding for microfinance initiatives will assist up to 55,000 more people in rural areas to access loans to assist them in establishing and developing small-scale enterprises and build better futures for themselves, their families and their communities. We will also provide additional support for peacebuilding efforts in Kachin State and for 13,000 people displaced by conflict there, particularly women and children, to include food, nutrition, shelter, water and sanitation.

Two days ago, this country celebrated its independence day, marking 64 years since independence from British rule in 1948. Today it may again stand on the edge of a new era. As we enter 2012 it is my hope that this year will also be come to be seen as a new dawn in the history of this nation.”

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