|(Photo: RB News)|
September 20, 2014
A. Soma Khatun, a 28 year old Rohingya woman, wife and mother, hadn't recovered well from the birth of her second child. Her son, Abdur Rahman, came to the world just a little over three months ago. Wife of Abdul Karim, A. Soma Khatun was blessed with their first child, Stamina Akter 3 years ago. They lived as a family in one of the thousands of sheds in Nayapara Refugee Camp in Teknaf, Bangladesh, which is near the Myanmar border, the motherland of the Rohingya. The country can clearly be seen just across Naf river, which separates the 2 countries beyond the border point shared by the two countries. The Rohingya's citizenship was revoked by the Myanmar government in 1982. Most of the refugees in this camp came to Bangladesh in the early 1990's and their generation after, have since been born there in the camps.
A. Soma Khatun's family was fortunate in a sense of comparison, certainly in the eyes of many of the poorest local Bangladeshis and the Rohingyas living in the makeshift camps in Leda and Kutupalong. They were registered as refugees by the Bangladeshi government run UNHCR. They've MRC numbers, which qualifies them for food ration. The World Food Program handles the responsibilities of food distribution. They have recently started implementing a systematic change, from food coupons to a digital fingerprint scanning process. Some members of the family would get their fingerprints scanned and would get issued a barcoded food card, complete with photo ID. The selected members of the family would then have to queue and given the number of Refugees in the camp, these queues form long lines, zigzagged around the distribution building, which is along the well kept road between the main gate and the row of the camp officials offices. They would have to present their card and get their fingers scanned and receive their ration. Prior to WFP, the Red Crescent handled the food distribution. However the allocated amount was small and was not sufficient for the needs of the Refugees. They would have to go out of camp to purchase food. Now with the newly implemented changes, they have a choice of items which can be "purchased" using the balance from their food cards. The shop staff will even ask if there are any particular items that they wish to obtain. (In addition to this systematic change, some unregistered "makeshift" camps are now eligible to receive food ration. This is very good news for the unregistered refugees that are living near the registered camps. More than 200'000 live in these areas. Prior to now, some unregistered refugees were eligible only for non food items such as soaps etc.) One could be thankful for the ration but they have no rights within the country and no laws to protect them. They technically are not supposed to be carrying money or leave the camp for work. Many people do though. Generally in order to leave the camp, the Refugees would have to obtain a written permission to leave by an official such as the Camp-In-Charge, for good reason such as doctors visits, if they are fortunate enough to afford them.
Many of the refugees have grown up in a Bangladesh camp and are generally taught the Bangla language. Being able to speak the local language, the Refugees can get by well outside of the camp. It is those who only speak Rohingya and Burmese who would run into trouble, especially at police checkpoints positioned along the roadside, before and after the ship's dock for St. Martin Island, or near "Friendship Road" (where locals can make day trips to Myanmar to visit family), heading towards Cox's Bazar town which is the nearest hub, 85 km away from Nayapara. There are 4 checkpoints between this camp and Cox's Bazar. Even if refugees are given written permission (which is often just something crudely written on unofficial paper), they can face harassment and embarrassment at these checkpoints. It's not just the checkpoints to be worried about if you were amongst this group of people. The Communities are living near the Naf river and given it being so close to Myanmar, these are considered "sensitive" areas. Not much goes unnoticed.
The sheds they are living in are in quite poor conditions. These bamboo huts quickly deteriorate, gets damaged by the insects and the elements. The fencing requires fairly constant mending. The main and obvious issue is the polythene (plastic) sheets on the roof, which is used to keep the rain from into seeping into the sheds. These polythene sheets are often torn and patched several times over. There is a buildup of leaves in sections of the roof, causing the weakened Polythene to droop and pool water. When it rains it fails under the strain and water pours into the small enclosure. Generally, a roof of this construction and in that area, the plastic will need replacing once a year- that is if you are fortunate. These roofs haven't seen new polythene this year and maybe not have been replaced in the last year either. Maintenance costs of the sheds thus far, have been donated by the international community. The responsibilities for the distribution of polythene amongst other maintenance products belongs to the UNHCR. Some sheds receive it and some get turned away because apparently there is no available budget for it. The quarters are cramped with full families, sometimes with up to 7 people in the small space of these 10'x 10' sheds. It's dark, hot and often damp in the sheds. No fresh flow of air to be found in these cramped spaces. There is however good hope in the camp with recent approval for new accommodations. Or so told by the local UNHCR to the refugees.
Those are the, safe to say, deplorable conditions of the living quarters of the refugees in the camp. However, despite the struggle to feed their family, the lack of rights and very sub par living quarters, A. Soma Khatun had a family and they were fortunate to be living together. As mentioned, she never quite recovered from the birth of her 3 month old son. Finding yourself ill, doesn't usually turn out well in these camps.
Perhaps the most complained about issues by refugees is the camp's health care situation. Specifically, the camps IPD (Indoor Patient Clinic.) There is only one of its kind in this camp with the burden to serve more than 13000 refugees. The MOH (The Bangladeshi Government Ministry of Health) has a clinic that must be first visited. Serious patients are to be referred to the IPD. (If the seriousness of the patients condition is too poor they should get referred to a Cox's Bazar hospital by IPD doctors.)
This clinic is also being funded by the international community. The main sponsors listed are Canada, Australia and the USA. The responsibilities of the operation of the IPD and MOH clinic belong to the Bangladeshi Government. Refugees have often told RB News about the very poor state of the facility and the constant lack of supplies. "The IPD and MOH Hospital gets delivery of donated medicines on the third of each month. On the 13th date, there will be nothing offered. Only saline water."
In the IPD there are very few beds in working condition. 6 or 7 of the 30 that had been donated are useable. There are no water pipes or such water facility to the diarrhoea room. There is an electrical connection in the clinic but according to refugee patients, it's rarely turned on; not even to power the overhead fan to cool the sick patients within. Refugees know that if their condition is not critical and they speak with the MOH doctors, they will be scolded and sent away, or perhaps made to wait for very long periods of time to be told there is no medicine to treat their illness. In the case of A. Soma Khatun, there is no real surprise that her condition had reached such a critical point before she was brought to the MOH clinic to ask for a referral to IPD. After a long night of vomiting and diarrhea, was taken the the MOH clinic at 6 in the morning, only to find the doors have been locked tight. The other Refugees tried to contact the doctor, who then told her to wait for centre to open at 9am. By the time she was admitted to the clinic, Khatun was barely able to lift her head to take water. She wasn't administered saline despite the request of her family and their explanation of her dehydration.
The day was Monday, September 8, 2014. A. Soma Khatun was said to have taken her last breath at 10am. Sadly she never was referred to the IPD by the camp clinic. They kept her body at the clinic and was only handed over to her family at 1pm for burial.
According to refugee witnesses, the police came to the MOH clinic for an investigation where the doctor gave a false statement about her death: "The police from Teknaf Police station came and investigated into the matter and the doctor explained to the police, whispering softly, that she was rushed to the Hospital after she had died at home, then the Police went away. Which is completely false statement to the Police by the Doctor." The local UNCHR has since been investigating the case.
It's terribly sad and heartbreaking for the husband and the two children she had left behind. Her children will likely grow up and spend the rest of their days in Nayapara camp. This is not a reality that the Bangladeshi government would like to see. They wish to broker a deal with Myanmar return Rohingya refugees. A history of asylum for the persecuted, stateless people spotted with forced repatriation. The worst of which in 1997 where hundreds were sent back to Myanmar against their will and by force.
On a fairly regular basis there will be rumours or outright statements made by local authorities that there have been a deal made with Myanmar government and that they would begin repatriating refugees. There will be write ups in local newspapers stating the same.
Recently, there had been multiple international and local news articles with a similar statement that a deal had been brokered for repatriation of just under 2500 Rohingya refugees. Before it made the news the word was out in both of the camps. The government is planning to send these registered refugees back to Myanmar within two months. The refugees said that the ones who would be sent back would be those who signed an affidavit in 2005 after being brought to court in Cox's Bazar. (This, the same time that the next case of forced repatriation occurred.) The said affidavit, according to the refugees had been signed by force. It stated that they were Myanmar nationals and that they agree to return there. Almost two weeks after the articles circulated and tensions grew in the camps, the Myanmar government made a statement denying the claim of the repatriation agreement. There has been demonstrations in the camp in that time period. Those people and all Rohingya refugees that we have talked to have made it very clear that they will not return to Myanmar voluntarily until their requests have been met. The main request being the restoration of their citizenship and human rights. Many say that they would rather die than return without change.
If the seemingly impossible but hypothetical scenario had occurred that saw a repatriation deal be made, the next issue for the refugees returning would be the lack of protection and dignity in the process of return. It would be carried out with the cooperation of the two countries and without the supervision of the international community.
For more than 20 years, Rohingya refugees have been taking asylum in neighbouring countries such as Bangladesh to escape violence and persecution in their motherland of Myanmar, particularly in Rakhine (Arakan state.) The government have been writing them out of their citizenship and rights; excluding their name from the census and refusing to acknowledge the existence of the the Rohingya ethnic group within the country. The government are claiming them as Bangladeshis who have come to Myanmar illegally. Their (Muslim) religion in former Burma is a very small percentage of the majority Buddhist population. Over the past few years, Myanmar Muslims (who are citizens, not Rohingya), have faced violence and discrimination. There are nationalist anti Muslim groups with a thin veil of Buddhism who are allowed to distribute propaganda and speak publicly to instill fear and discrimination and promoting violence against this religious group. So, hundreds of thousands of Muslims (mainly Rohingya) have become displaced within their own country.
While it is encouraging and possibly gives new hope with the recent new changes to the food rations for the Refugees and recent approvals for new housing, many still fear the discrimination and the prospect of forced repatriation by the Bangladeshi government. More important for current issues faced by the Refugees is the critical need to improve and maintain a respectable standard for the health care facilities in the camp so that cases like A. Soma Khatun should never happen again.
|Photo: UNDP Myanmar|
Rakhine's humanitarian operations have trickled back since March
September 19, 2014
SITTWE -- Nearly six months after international aid workers fled Myanmar's Rakhine State when Buddhist mobs attacked their offices and accused them of aid bias, international humanitarian aid services remain restricted, despite the needs of hundreds of thousands of people.
"The humanitarian situation is still unacceptably dire for far too many people,"said John Ging, operations director at the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), on 11 September after concluding a two-day mission to Rakhine State, adding however: "It is clear that progress has been made since my last visit one year ago. The humanitarian situation is now stabilizing."
The aid response in the western Burmese state has been tricky since two bouts of communal violence between Rakhine Buddhists and the minority Rohingya Muslims in June and October 2012 resulted in more than 140,000 people - mostly Rohingyas - being forced to flee to camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs).
The number of IDPs in camps is the same as it was a year ago, and hundreds of thousands more outside the camps are in need of humanitarian assistance as the state's economy suffers from what the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) called "the long-term effects of violence".
In February 2014, the government expelled Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), the largest non-governmental medical provider in the state, over perceived bias toward Rohingyas, who are stateless in the eyes of Burmese law and often dubbed "illegal immigrants" from neighbouring Bangladesh. A month later, international aid workers fled after mobs targeted their offices. Operations have gradually recovered since then, though MSF effectively remains banned.
Signs of discontentment appeared early. A September 2013 OCHA bulletinnoted that "growing community resistance about the perceived bias of assistance. as well as persistent threats and intimidation of staff has created an increasingly menacing atmosphere."
That same month, Refugees International, a Washington-based advocacy group noted that "bureaucratic impediments and threats by some Rakhine community leaders certainly hinder aid delivery," and an International Crisis Group analyst warned: "Without addressing the very real perception among the Rakhine population that assistance has been disproportionately provided to Rohingya, it will be difficult for humanitarian aid groups to decrease tension."
A fraught operating environment
"In many humanitarian operations, it's only necessary to communicate with the government," Amy Martin, OCHA's Rakhine coordinator, told IRIN. "But the situation in Rakhine has become such that humanitarian actors need to make it clear to a wide range of people exactly what we're doing and why - and we have to do it over and over again to make it abundantly clear that we assess needs based on needs alone."
Bibi Adna, a 20-year-old with a three-year-old son, lives at the Say Tha Mar Gyi Rohingya camp near Sittwe, Rakhine State's capital. She miscarried in July, when she was five months pregnant, causing severe bleeding and pain.
"I miscarried 17 days ago and I still haven't been to see a doctor," she said. "We can't afford the car and the bribe money to pay the guards to let us out of the camp so we can get to Sittwe Hospital."
A mobile medical team had visited the camp five days earlier on its usual rotating schedule. However, Adna said, they had only stayed in the camp for a few hours and she was not aware of their presence until after they had left.
Adna's struggles to access life-saving medical care are not unique. According to a July 2014 OCHA bulletin, "the Suspension of MSF-Holland 's activities and the disruption of aid operations following the attacks on the premises of UN Agencies and INGOs In March 2014 have seriously affected access to vital healthcare and other basic services for displaced people and vulnerable communities."
Seventeen-year-old Shamshida Begum, who lives in Baw Du Pha camp, was diagnosed with tuberculosis at an MSF-run clinic in December 2013 and started on treatment. But when MSF was forced out in February, she was compelled to go to a government-run clinic at the nearby Dar Paign camp.
"Last time we went to the Dar Paign clinic, they gave us a box for a specimen but she has no sputum. She needed an X-ray so we requested that they transfer her to Sittwe Hospital but they refused," Noor Jahan, Begum's mother, told IRIN. Sittwe Hospital, supported by ICRC, is the only referral centre in the state.
Jahan said the government doctors, who are mostly ethnic Burman, the nation's majority, sometimes asked for bribes or harassed her and her daughter because they are Rohingya,who have been subjected to decades of state and communal persecution.
|Photo: Kyle Knight/IRIN|
Getting referred to Sittwe Hospital is a challenge for some in the camps
"The harassment is too much," she said. "When we first went to the government clinic, I showed them the MSF treatment tracking book. They threw it on the floor - they said it came from foreigners so they would not follow it."
"Very real" anti-foreign sentiment
"Buddhist monks are preaching that international agencies are only helping kalaas," said Ubadjo, a Rohingya former school headmaster who lives in Dar Paign camp. Kalaa is a derogatory Burmese term for foreigners. "For them they see it as light-skinned kalaas, the aid workers, helping dark-skinned kalaas, the Rohingyas."
Buddhist monks hold considerable political stature in Myanmar due to their prominent role in the struggle to regain independence from British colonial rule and in democracy movements.
Today, in an environment ICG has called a "context of rising Burman-Buddhist nationalism" being pushed by a monk-led "populist political force that cloaks itself in religious respectability and moral authority", monastic rhetoric can fan the flames of communal hatred.
In February 2013, MSF said: "Intimidation, and not formal permission for access, is the primary challenge" to delivering aid, explaining that "in pamphlets, letters and Facebook postings, MSF and others have beenrepeatedly accused by some members of the Rakhine community of having a pro-Rohingya bias."
In the wake of the March 2014 attacks on aid agencies and their subsequent withdrawal, Lilianne Fan, a fellow in the Humanitarian Policy Group at the Overseas Development Institute argued: "This incident reveals the depth of animosity in the state from some communities towards aid agencies [and] demonstrates the failure of the government to guarantee the security of aid workers and to end the culture of impunity towards its citizens responsible for mobilising anti-Rohingya, anti-Muslim and anti-foreign campaigns."
UN and other international agencies have repeatedly called on the central and Rakhine State governments to assure humanitarian access and quell communal tensions. Analysts have criticized the "muted" response, suggesting the government's weak reactions are due to the possible belief that "they could instrumentalise racism and threats of violence from monks and lay supporters."
According to OCHA's Martin, part of the solution is increasing clarity about the work humanitarians are trying to do: "We are trying to more intensely and effectively communicate with all levels of the communities here - the elders, the leaders, and the government."
In late July the government announced MSF would be allowed to resume operations in Rakhine State. The organization responded with "cautious optimism", but to date they have not been allowed to return. In an 8 September statement about negotiating an agreement for re-entry with the Ministry of Health, MSF said they remained "committed to fully develop this agreement and stand ready in cooperation with the MoH to resume operations in Rakhine at any time."
However, substantial uncertainty remains. Said one humanitarian worker who asked not to be named: "It's not entirely clear the government knows what they want to do. But it's clear they can more or less do whatever they want."
September 17, 2014
(On the seven years commemoration of Saffron Revolution)
Seven years ago, in 2007, thousands of barefooted monks chanting the Metta Sutta, a prayer of love and compassion, marched in cities across Burma including Rangoon and Mandalay , calling for an improvement in public well-being in the face of the growing economic hardships afflicting Burma’s Buddhists. This peaceful uprising was known as, “the Saffron Revolution,” named after the color of monks’ robes.
In August 2007, the Burmese junta suddenly decided to lift fuel subsidies. As a result, fuel prices skyrocketed as much as 500% overnight, with food and other commodities’ prices following suit. What didn’t happen was the same rise in income levels, leaving millions of people across the country unable to perform even the most basic functions such as buying food, traveling, and paying for children education.
On August 19th, Buddhist monks overturned their alms bowls, historically considered an act of defiance, and refused to receive alms from the Burmese generals. In other words, they stopped giving these generals Buddha’s blessings. They began to protest in the streets of major cities, and soon they were joined by pro-democracy activists, nuns, and local residents. In a matter of a few days, thousands of demonstrators from all walks of life were pouring into the streets across Burma, demanding the political and economic reforms from the military government.
On September 5th, troops broke up a demonstration in Pakokku, a town in central Burma, injuring dozens of monks. Members of the Sangha, the Buddhist clergy union, delivered an ultimatum to the military government to be met by September 17th, demanding an apology. The junta never apologized.
On September 22nd, thousands of monks marched in cities across Burma. Ten thousand monks took to the streets in Mandalay alone, the second largest city in Burma. In Rangoon, monks chanting the Metta Sutta, a prayer of kindness and compassion, marched to the home of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi to honor the democracy leader. Daw Suu Kyi appeared before the monks and shed tears of gratitude.
Led by monks, the demonstrations multiplied and swelled in size over the next days. On September 24th, crowds filled the streets of more than 25 cities across Burma, with 100,000 peaceful marchers in Rangoon alone. The next day, machine-gun toting soldiers gathered ominously at intersections.
Despite the backdrop of 8888 uprising when soldiers beat and gun down student protesters with no reservations, many local and international onlookers were convinced that the Saffron Revolution was different because of the concentration of Buddhist monks in the movement. Because Buddhism is the predominant religion in Burma, the role of monks is held in high reverence. And to touch or assault a monk, let alone kill, is considered one of the gravest sins any man can commit.
On the 26th of September, the landmark Shwedagon Pagoda was barricaded by troops, and a curfew was imposed by the military dictators. During the night, soldiers raided dozens of monasteries across Burma, beating and killing monks according to eyewitness accounts.
Unfazed by the night raids and the rumors of arrest, on the morning of September 27th, 50,000 courageous citizens gathered on the streets of Rangoon to demand freedom from fear. Soldiers opened fire on the crowds, killing at least nine unarmed protesters. One of these was Kenji Nagai, a Japanese journalist, whose murder was caught on video and beamed around the world.
With each passing hour, more monks were detained as more soldiers filled the streets. The Burmese junta shut down internet and cell phone service to stifle the flow of information to the outside world. Even so, accounts emerged of a crematorium burning day and night to destroy evidence of military brutality. A Burmese colonel defected after refusing an order to slaughter hundreds of monks.
On October 11th, the UN Security Council issued a statement condemning the brutal actions of the Burmese regime. The US and many EU countries announced tighter sanctions against Burma. Soldiers were deployed heavily on the streets of every city and on the premises of emptied monasteries. With the leaders of the movement, including hundreds of monks, civic activists and local residents detained, large-scale demonstrations ceased. Reports suggest that low-level resistance continued, including small demonstrations and imprisoned monks refusing food from their oppressors. The streets of Burma may have quiet down and the day-to-day hustle and bustle resumes, but the sense of dissatisfaction, alienation, and anger against the ruling junta never fade away.
This is not the first time that the Military Junta brutally suppressed the Buddhist monks. The junta has never hesitated to suppress Buddhist monks who are suspected of being against military rule. Because of the Sangha was so powerful and well-established, Ne Win always seemed the Sangha as a threat to him. Between 1963 and 1967, the Revolutionary Council issued a number of directives restricting the freedom of monks, such as, “Monks who want to travel need a Movement Order from the local military authorities” ‘or, “Anyone who wants to become a monk needs permission to do so from the military”. In April 1964, all Sangha groups were ordered to register with the government. This measure was taken in order to purge the Sangha of ‘political monks’. A directive from 1971 said, “The appointment of an abbot must be countersigned by the local military committee”. All these edicts remain in effect at the present in Burma.
Although the 1974 constitution included several provisions relating to religious freedom, these were subject to limitations and even punishable. Article 153 of the 1974 constitution, for example, says that, “…every citizen shall have the right to freely … profess the religion of his choice. The exercise of this right shall not … be to the detriment of national solidarity and the socialist social order (…)” In order to curtail religions even further, the military government has been enforcing several laws such as the Emergency Provisions Act of 1950, the Unlawful Association Act of 1908 (amended in 1957), the State Protection Act of 1975 (amended in 1991), and the Sangha Law of 1990. Accordingly the Sangha is being watched by the Burmese military intelligence agencies.
The Military junta has not only been used the State Protection Act of 1975 against the Muslims and Christians but also against the Sangha. A monk from Maymyo was sentenced to four years under the Unlawful Association Act in 1989 because he was suspected of having had connections with the MSA (Mon Sangha Association, which claimed to desire an independent Mon state, but only in a peaceful way). A monk from Mandalay was sentenced to three years under the Emergency Provisions Act in 1991 because he had written an article about the Buddhist tenet of non-violence.
In 1990 the Sangha spearheaded a peaceful march in Mandalay commemorating the dead of 1988 and demanding that power be handed over to the elections’ victors. The army opened fire on the demonstrators and killed two monks. In protest, the Sangha imposed a religious boycott against the military and their families. SLORC responded forcefully. The army raided more than 350 monasteries throughout Burma and arrested hundreds of monks, including U Yewata, head of the Mandalay Monks’ Association. A law was laid down banning all Buddhist organizations but the one controlled by the Junta.
In addition to the aforementioned laws, the military government enforces the Village Act of 1908 and the Towns Act of 1907, two pre-independence statutes allowing forced labour. Military officials and security forces often compel persons, especially in rural areas, to contribute money, food, or uncompensated labour to state-sponsored projects to build, maintain or renovate Buddhist monasteries and pagodas. The military junta even went so far as to claim that forced labour is considered as ‘a noble act of charity’ in a Buddhist country. This is not only a serious insult to the Buddhist religion but also a gross affront to human dignity. In August 1994, the army used the Village and Towns Acts to raid Buddhist monasteries in Mandalay, thereby relocating hundreds of monks who were forced to work at agricultural projects. Many other monks were forced to disrobe and dredge the moat at Mandalay Palace to the extension of the runway at the local airfield.
Moreover, during the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) rules, directives and decrees were the basis for law. Religious freedom, like all other freedoms in Burma, is subject to military rule. In 1996, a monk from Moulmein was sentenced to two years under SLORC Law No. 5, because he had distributed leaflets about Sammasati (‘Right Mindedness’) without prior permission from the local authorities. However, the judgment did not answer the question as to how Right Mindedness can possibly lead to deterioration of the stability of the state, or to misunderstanding among the people. The military regime continues to imprison monks for efforts to speak and associate freely.
Sayadaw Ahshin Nandabo, a 66-year-old monk from Mudom Township, Moulmein, had built a pagoda on a patch of ground given to the Sangha by a MP of the National League for Democracy. On 6 January 2001, the monk was arrested, and on 19 January he was sentenced to ten years (under which law?) because “no prior permission had been taken from the government for the construction of the pagoda”. A directive from 1972 said that, “no monastery or pagoda may be built, rebuilt, renovated, or maintained without prior permission from the military authorities”, which currently remains in effect. Military personnel often loot, damage, or destroy Buddhist monasteries in ethnic minority regions, thereby arresting or extra-judicially killing the monks.
The junta’s crusade is part of their political interests. Although according to the regime there is religious freedom in Burma, the reality is that there is religious discrimination. The junta is suppressing Muslims and Christians in order to disperse them, while it pretends to promote Buddhism. Buddhism is promoted by the military at the expense of other religions to increase the military’s’ nationalism. The generals systematically use propaganda in their attempts to falsely convince the Buddhists that the military regime is representing their interests. Such is the state of Law and Religion in Burma today. Under the cloak of law, Buddhists are suppressed and the Sangha curtailed, as these are among the most active in the struggle for the restoration of democracy and human rights.
However, the present Government can easily divert the Buddhist monks’ anger at the government by means of fomenting anti-Muslim riots throughout the country.
|Majority of the displaced Muslim children receive only two hours of informal education a day (Photo:AP)|
September 17, 2014
Only eight percent of displaced Muslim children in western Burma’s Arakan State have access to secondary education, according to a senior education coordinator.
While the figure is up slightly from seven percent earlier this year, education provided to internally displaced persons (IDPs) remains minimal and informal.
“At the moment, the majority of children are receiving just two hours of emergency education a day, which is [Burmese] language and mathematics. The teachers are not certified or recognised,” said Arlo Kitchingman, who works for Save the Children and serves as Burma’s “education cluster coordinator”.
As such, he oversees international organisations that implement emergency education programmes in Arakan and other conflict-affected areas.
A Strategic Response Plan produced by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) in 2013 estimated that 17,500 out of 23,500 primary-aged Muslim IDPs could regularly access education, but the new figures indicate that once they reach the 11-17 age bracket those numbers tend to nosedive.
In contrast, access for non-Muslim children in the same age bracket is “much higher”, but remains “quite low” in comparison to other parts of Burma.The level of education reaching the camps is extremely basic, said Kitchingman, with few teachers who volunteer at temporary learning places set up inside the camps.
Another shadow looming over the state’s education providers is whether the curriculum will be recognised by government schools in the event that IDPs can leave the camps and return home.
“We’re still not sure whether — if the situation changed — whether the learning taking place, which is actually minimal… would be recognised in government schools,” said Kitchingman.
Emergency education providers plan to expand the current curriculum to include subjects that mirror the government’s and to boost the quality of education.
|Photo: David Swanson/IRIN|
Despite promises "Rohingya" was not included on the 2014 census
September 15, 2014
BANGKOK - Already widely reduced to statelessness and in many cases forced into camps for displaced people, an 800,000-strong population of Muslims in western Myanmar now faces increasing efforts to eradicate the very word they use to identify themselves as a group. Under pressure from Myanmar’s nominally-civilian government, the international community sometimes appears complicit in the airbrushing of “Rohingya” from official discourse.
In this briefing, IRIN breaks down some of the questions about a group of people that has been called one of the most persecuted minorities in the world.
Who are the Rohingya?
Approximately 800,000 Rohingyas live in Myanmar. Tens of thousands have fled in recent decades to Malaysia, up to half a million to neighbouring Bangladesh, and an unknown number are scattered from Thailand, to India, to Saudi Arabia.
A 1799 study lists an identity called “Rooinga” in what is now Myanmar’s Rakhine State. However, a historian in March 2014 argued that “this term has only become popular since the late 1990s”.
Some Muslims were brought to Myanmar territory under British rule in the 19th and 20th centuries, fuelling a popular claim that more continue to pour over the border from Bangladesh, which has been refuted by economists.
Why are they so marginalized?
For years, Rohingyas have had their rights - from movement to reproduction to citizenship - restricted by what a Bangkok-based human rights organizationcalled deliberate state-designed "policies of persecution".
In July and October 2012, violence erupted between ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingyas. The outbursts and ensuing round-ups by security forces resulted in 140,000 people, mostly Rohingyas, being held in government-built camps.
Meanwhile, government officials openly promised to tighten regulations on Rohingya movement and other rights.
Nearly two years later, the outgoing UN special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar said: “The pattern of widespread and systematic human rights violations in Rakhine State may constitute crimes against humanity.”
What does the Burmese government say?
When Myanmar’s reform-minded president, Thein Sein, addressed the UN General Assembly in 2012, he referenced the Rakhine violence without naming parties to the conflict.
U Shwe Maung, a Rohingya member of parliament, told IRIN: “When I talk about the Rohingyas with government officials, they just go silent. They know their silence is extremely powerful.”
The politician argues that the term appeared in a government-published geography textbook as recently as 2008.
However, in response to a September 2014 announcement that Bangladesh would repatriate some of the verified Myanmar citizens it hosts, the Burmese government rejected the name of the group itself, saying: “We have never had ethnic nationals called ‘Rohingya’”.
What happened on the 2014 census?
Myanmar had not conducted a census in 30 years, and partnered with the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) for its 2014 survey.
Despite warnings from local leaders, the Transnational Institute (TNI), theInternational Crisis Group (ICG) and Human Rights Watch (HRW), the questionnaire included a particularly contentious item: a question about ethnicity for which a 1982 list of 135 ethnic groups, which does not include “Rohingya,” would be used.
The government initially promised they would allow Rohingyas to self identify on an open-ended “other” option. But two days before the start of enumeration in March 2014, international aid workers fled western Myanmar after being targeted by Buddhist mobs who attacked their offices over perceived humanitarian bias towards Rohingyas. The government reneged on its promise to record “Rohingya” on security grounds.
Anyone who asked to be recorded as “Rohingya” went uncounted; some were allowed to be listed as “Bengali”. “Both options entailed denial of the ethnic group's existence,” prominent international lawyer Geoffrey Nice and analyst Francis Wade wrote in a May 2014 article, which warned that the Rohingya were likely to fall victim to more organized violence.
“The census team asked me ‘what is your ethnicity?’ When I answered ‘Rohingya’, they walked away. They didn’t even ask me any of the other questions,” Nor Mohammed, 60, who lives in the Dar Paign camp in Rakhine State, told IRIN. “Now if we don’t appear in the census, are we really here?”
|Photo: David Swanson/IRIN|
Even humanitarians providing aid, such as this UNICEF-funded school, are shying away from the "R-word"
UNFPA’s country representative Janet Jackson explained: “In Rakhine State before enumeration, opposition to any use of the term Rohingya proved far more serious than anticipated” and that “UNFPA voiced regret that people could not self-identify and were consequently not included in the census.” In a statement the agency said the move “could heighten tensions in Rakhine State.”
In the wake of the census, David Matheison, HRW’s senior Burma researcher lamented “the failure of the government, the UN and international donors to take action to effectively address the ethnic and religious divides that help fuel instability, violence and disenfranchisement”.
An international observer report called the census process in Rohingya areas “a complete failure”, explaining that Rohingyas “very much wanted to participate in the census but were prevented from doing so by the census field staff and the Department of Population officials.”
Why does exclusion from the census matter?
Srdjan Mrkic, chief of demographic statistics at the UN Statistics Division, explained that while an ethnicity question (along with religion and language) is not mandatory on a census, about 85 percent of countries do include it.
However, he explained, if ethnicity is included, there are guidelines for asking the question: “Ethnicity should be a completely blank line. Even if you list five options for ethnicity and have a line marked 'other', you are in a certain way appearing to limit the choice of responses. The enumerator must not guide responses in any way.”
In September the government released provisional results from the census, but said ethnicity data would not be published until 2015 on the grounds that such data could enflame intercommunal tensions.
Nonetheless, census information, with a zero count for Rohingya and an unknown number of people registered as “Bengali”, appears to be informing citizenship verification programmes, designed to determine who is eligible for documents based on how long their families have lived in Myanmar.
However, for those who qualify, documents will come without the label “Rohingya,” and probably with “Bengali” instead. According to HRW, “the stipulations of the Burma Citizenship Law governing the right to one of the three types of Burmese citizenship effectively deny to the Rohingya the possibility of acquiring a nationality.”
The government is running verification programmes in several locations, including Rakhine’s Myebon Township, which was razed in the 2012 violence, and where a high percentage of people reportedly accepted “Bengali” as their ethnicity on the 2014 census.
Some cling intensely to the identity term.
“I am Rohingya, I am not Bengali,” said Muhammad Uslan, 58. “I’m holding onto the name no matter what. In 2012 the Rakhines attacked us for our ethnicity, and today if they want to try to kill me again, they can - I’m not changing it.”
Others are open to the idea of shedding the Rohingya label in exchange for more rights.
“If we get equal rights with other ethnic groups by calling ourselves Bengalis, then we should accept that name,” said Hamid Huq, a 36-year-old living in a camp outside Sittwe.
However, even in his assertions, Huq retains distrust of the government and acknowledges pressure to change identity terms has been increasing.
“At every meeting we have with government officials, they always tell us we are going to have to register as Bengalis. But the government must declare it genuinely equal citizenship. I don’t trust this government so they must say this specifically or I won’t believe them,” he said.
“Even when foreign missions come to meet with us, Western government officials take us to the side and tell us that we should accept Bengali so we can leave the camps.”
What do international actors say?
In June 2014 after local media reported that the government had asked the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) to apologize for using “Rohingya” in a presentation, UNICEF called the incident “an oversight”, asserting that the agency “had no intention of engaging in a discussion on [the] sensitive issue of ethnicity at that forum”.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon continues to use the term in his speeches about Myanmar.
In July, the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar explained at the conclusion of her mission to the country: “I was repeatedly told not to use the term ‘Rohingya’ as this was not recognized by the government.”
A joint OCHA/UNDP mission to Rakhine ending on 11 September mentioned “ethnic Rakhine” and “Muslim” communities, but not “Rohingya”. An ICRC statement one day earlier used the same terms.
|A woman, who says she belongs to the Rohingya community from Myanmar, washes clothes as children play in a camp in New Delhi September 13, 2014. (Photo: REUTERS/Anindito Mukherjee)|
By Nita Bhalla
September 15, 2014
NEW DELHI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - When Kohinoor, a stateless Rohingya Muslim, fled her home in Myanmar after a wave of attacks by majority Buddhists, she hoped for a chance to rebuild her life in a new country.
She knew she would have to trek for days with little food and water and risk her life being smuggled across borders by traffickers. But she and her family did not imagine their present life of destitution and discrimination in India, the country they had chosen as their refuge.
"We were chased out of Burma (Myanmar). We were chased out of Bangladesh. Now we are in India, the people here tell us that India is not our country. So where will we go?" asked Kohinoor, 20, sitting in a makeshift tent on a patch of wasteland in southern Delhi.
"We don’t have any land of our own. Our children don’t go to the government schools as they refuse us admission. When we go to the hospital, they don't admit people from our community," said Kohinoor, who fled Myanmar two years ago with her 2-year-old daughter and her sister’s family.
Though the Rohingya minority have lived for generations in Myanmar's western state of Rakhine, the largely Buddhist government passed a citizenship law in 1982 which excluded them, denying them the identity cards required for everything from schooling and marriage to finding a job and getting a birth or death certificate. They became stateless.
Hundreds died in communal violence between Buddhists and Rohingya in 2012, worsening their plight, and in the last two years more than 86,000 Rohingya have left, fleeing to countries such as Thailand, Malaysia, India and Bangladesh.
The Rohingya are among an estimated 10 million stateless people worldwide. Their plight will be discussed during the first global forum on statelessness opening in The Hague on Monday, ahead of an ambitious U.N. campaign starting in November to eradicate statelessness worldwide within a decade.
India, despite hosting some 30,000 registered refugees, has no legal recognition of asylum seekers, making it difficult for them to use essential services like schools and hospitals, human rights groups say – and the Rohingya community is among the most vulnerable.
IN NEED OF A HOME
According to the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR), there are around 9,000 Rohingya registered in Delhi. Thousands more, unregistered, are living in other parts of the country such as Jammu and Hyderabad.
In Delhi, most of them lead impoverished lives in tented settlements dotted around the city, eking out a meagre existence collecting and selling garbage or doing manual work for Indians, often underpaid and exploited.
Because they have no identity documents, they cannot send their children to school or use health services at government hospitals. They cannot rent accommodation and face problems getting work.
Many say they have been forced to sleep under plastic sheets on roadsides or patches of wasteland for weeks or months, before local residents or authorities move them on.
"Our home is Myanmar but they chased us out," said 21-year-old Abdul Sukur at a camp housing some 60 families in Delhi's Okhla district.
"Here also we don't belong. People abuse us for living on the streets and say we are making the place dirty. We have to shift constantly. We need permanent land in India where we can settle and have proper identity documents which we can show," he said.
HAVEN FOR SOME
Considered a haven in a volatile region, India has for decades hosted refugees fleeing conflict or persecution in countries like Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Afghanistan, China and Myanmar.
But its refugees have no legal status. Decisions about refugees are taken on an ad hoc basis and some groups, such as Sri Lankan Tamils and Tibetans, have been given certain rights and support.
Others, such as the Rohingya, have been less fortunate.
Dominik Bartsch, UNHCR India's chief of mission, said the UNHCR identity cards given to registered refugees are often not recognised as they are not issued by the government. The agency is partnering with non-governmental organisations which are going into refugee communities to help them negotiate access to basic services, he added.
"Overall if you look at how India looks after refugees, it is a functioning protection regime. There are no big violations of refugee rights, although there are lots of things that could improve," Bartsch said.
"There is differential treatment of refugees. You have to analyse the period when they arrived and also look at the bilateral relationship with the country of origin. These are the two factors that shape how India has treated refugees over time."
New Delhi has twice blocked draft laws on refugee recognition. Because of its porous borders, often hostile neighbours and external militancy, it wants a free hand to regulate the entry of foreigners without being tied down by any legal obligation, analysts said.
UNHCR's Bartsch said the inability of refugees to state their claim to asylum was actually driving them underground, making them more exposed to militancy.
"Currently, there is no channel available to present a case to the government," he said. "Anyone who runs away from their country is forced to go underground and that results in people being off the grid, bereft of any support and subject to criminal activity and, worst case, even fundamentalism."
For Kohinoor, little of this makes sense.
"I don't know about laws," she said. "Every country is kicking us around like a football. From one country to another, people are playing with us. We want the world to make a decision about us. We want them to give us some land in any country which we can then call home."
|Internally displaced Rohingya people take shelter in a building ahead of the arrival of Cyclone Mahasen, in Sittwe, northwestern Rakhine State, Myanmar, May 15, 2013.|
By Ron Corben
September 14, 2014
BANGKOK— This week U.N. officials visited Myanmar, also known as Burma, where they met with displaced Muslim Rohingya living in camps in western Rakine state, where the world deliberative body has raised concerns over poor living conditions and lack of health care.
According to experts, there remains an urgent need for health services and humanitarian assistance despite recent progress.
U.N. Development Program Asia Pacific director Haoliang Xu, during a two-day official visit to western Rakhine state, said there is a need for more humanitarian and medical assistance in displacement camps where up to 140,000 people, mostly Muslim Rohingya, are still housed.
"The most pressing need is health services it seems to me. The basic services are provided although the camp is quite crowded in the low lying area - and the most urgent need is medical services," Xu said. "The long term solution is to get these people out of the camps - that's why we want to support a multipronged approach to this issue."
Violence between Buddhist and Muslim communities erupted in 2012, and led to widespread bloodshed that killed at least 192 people, and displaced some 140,000 others. Many of the Rohingya now live in guarded camps, where their movements are restricted.
Xu says there appears to be some progress despite ongoing communal tensions. This week the government of Myanmar - also known as Burma - lifted a curfew in the region imposed in June 2012 at the height of the bloodshed.
The central government also signed an agreement with medical charity Doctors without Borders (MSF), which was part of a group of charities forced to leave Rakhine State after Buddhists targeted their local offices accusing them of favoring Muslims. The agreement allows MSF to work in five states, including Rakhine.
The Rohingya Muslims were made stateless by a 1982 Act by the then military government. Many do carry an identity card that allows them to vote. The Myanmar government has pressured international organizations and governments to halt any reference to the Muslim minority as Rohingya, and instead refer to the Muslim community in Rakhine state as "Bengalis."
Human Rights Watch deputy Asia director, Phil Robertson, says much still needs to be done to improve the human rights situation for Rohingya who are denied rights of freedom of movement and are in turn unable to support themselves.
"We don't see a significant improvement in human rights and we certainly don't see any changes about the issues of statelessness or denial of citizenship that are the core problems that afflict the Rohingya that basically are the pillar upon which all the other problems are based," he said.
Myanmar’s government has put in place a process for national verification of citizenship, but Chris Lewa, an activist and director of the Arakan Project, says there are daily arrests and harassment as Rohingya refuse to participate in the registration process.
"There is no progress at all," she said. "Actually since that this is likely to become even worse because the authorities use tactics now to try to force people to participate. Now they prevent anyone to cross the check point if they don't have the form to confirm they have participated. So people who refuse are simply not allowed through to markets, to fishing."
Analysts say the issue of ethnic divisions will become more prominent in the lead up to the 2015 national elections, further deeply dividing the communities ahead of the polls amid fears of further violence.
|Photo: President's Office|
By Kay Zue
September 12, 2014
Development activities in Rakhine State will be allocated more than K1 billion (US$1 million) during the 2014-2015 fiscal year from President U Thein Sein’s presidential reserve fund, the Rakhine State Minister for Social Affairs, Dr Aung Kyaw Min told Mizzima on September 11.
Dr Aung Kyaw Min said the fund would be overseen by Union Vice President Sai Mauk Khan, support development in education, agriculture and fisheries, and be implemented through six working committees.
The involvement of the Vice President and the working groups was required because the Rakhine State Government would be unable to manage the fund independently, said the State Minister.
He added that the fund would support both Buddhist and Muslim communities in the state that has in the recent past witnessed communal violence fuelled by religious and ethnic tensions.
U Aung Win (Rakhine State Hluttaw, Rakhine National Party, Myebon Township) told Mizzima on September 11 that he believed the funds should be managed by people with local knowledge.
“Funds should be spent in consultation with the state government and state hluttaw who understand the needs of the state,”he said.
Other members of the state hluttaw told Mizzima on September 11 that when the Vice President visited Rakhine in the first week of September they had been refused the opportunity to present their opinions on the development needs of the State.
By Alex Bookbinder
September 14, 2014
Restoring citizenship rights for more than 800,000 stateless people in Arakan State is the “key issue” the United Nations wants resolved, the UN’s Assistant Secretary-General Haoliang Xu told DVB in an interview on Friday.
“In my view, the question is, what’s the best way to ensure that people in IDP camps – and [the] majority of the Muslim population outside the camps – have secure citizenship?” Xu said. “At the end of the day, this is what will move the situation forward, and everybody can focus on development. Developing a better life, developing a better country. This, to us, is key.”
Most Rohingya were stripped of their citizenship under Burma’s 1982 Citizenship Law, despite the fact that many claim roots in Burma that date back generations. Roughly 140,000 live in camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs) around the state, and most – both inside and outside the camps – are subject to significant restrictions on their freedom of movement.
Xu, who is also the assistant administrator for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and its director for the Asia-Pacific region, concluded a week-long visit to Burma on Friday. Along with John Ging, the director of the Coordination and Response Division of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), Xu met with senior officials in Naypyidaw and spent two days in Arakan, where the pair met with state government officials and local leaders.
In late June, the government launched a pilot “citizenship verification” project in Myebon Township, part of its “Rakhine [Arakan] Action Plan” – currently a work in progress – which is intended to address issues surrounding refugee resettlement, development and humanitarian assistance.
But those seeking citizenship have been told that they must declare themselves “Bengalis” in lieu of “Rohingya”, denying them the right to self-identification. In a July speech, the UN’s special rapporteur on human rights in Burma, Yanghee Lee, deemed this to be a violation of international human rights law and “not in line with international standards”.
“We want to focus on the issue of … a solution. How can people get the rights [they] need. That’s really our focus.”
Arakan is the second-poorest state in Burma, and the development needs of both Buddhist and Muslim communities are profound. In recent years, UN agencies and international NGOs have come under intense criticism for a perceived bias towards Muslim communities in the state. In late February, relief agency Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) was forced to suspend its operations, which provided life-saving front-line care to hundreds of thousands. This week, MSF signed a new memorandum of understanding with the government, but has not as yet resumed normal operations.
“The … international community has been geared towards supporting the Muslim groups, and I think that, over the last 20 years, the majority of support has been geared towards [providing for] their basic needs,” Xu said. “That helps to create emotions among the Rakhine community that the international community is biased. This is one issue that needs to be addressed; you need to address the emotions when you try to address such a difficult humanitarian situation.”
Xu believes that development plays a crucial role in bridging the divide between the two sides, and that many of their grievances are the same.
“This point came out very loud and clear in discussions throughout our trip. [Both sides] know that humanitarian action is not a long-term solution … to reduce the perceived inequality between the two communities,” Xu said. “The state government supports this view: they would like us to work on humanitarian issues, but also really scale up our development efforts.”
By Pankaj Karmakar
September 14, 2014
With a smile on his face, sexagenarian Abu Sayeed was walking to his home at the Rohingya refugee camp at Kutupalong of Ukhia on Thursday. He was carrying a shopping bag packed with rice, pulses and vegetables.
“I'm happy to have the opportunity to buy most of the essentials from the shop inside our camp. Previously we could buy only five items from there, but now we can have 13 items,” said Sayeed, a government-registered Rohingya refugee, who has been in Bangladesh for around 20 years.
Like him, there are over 32,000 registered Rohingya refugees in two camps at Kutupalong and Nayapara of Teknaf. They all are now entitled to have the facility as the World Food Programme (WFP) in cooperation with the government introduced digitised Food Cards at Kutupalong refugee camp on Thursday. The move aims at ensuring better food distribution among the refugees.
As per Bangladeshi law, the Rohingya refugees are not allowed to go outside of their camps for shopping. They only can buy items from the registered food shops inside the camps for a certain amount of money. The costs are borne by the WFP.
There are six food shops in the two refugee camps, said WFP officials.
Under the new system, the refugees will get eight more items -- potato, semolina, green leaf, dried fish, onion, garlic, chilli and turmeric. Earlier, each Rohingya family maintained a log to collect rice, pulses, sugar, salt and oil.
Each family will be allocated a Food Card and each member of the family will have over Tk 700 loaded on the card for a month.
Whenever a cardholder will produce the Food Card at a shop, the staff there will check the card with a machine for the balance amount in it.
Once the shopping is complete, the staff will adjust the amount from the card balance, said Jessica Staskieqicz, programme coordinator of WFP.
“I think we'll be able to ensure the food security and nutrition of the refugees in a much better way with the new system which gives them choice and dignity,” said Christa Rader, country representative of WFP in Bangladesh.
To prevent misuse of Food Cards, fingerprints of cardholders will be stored in a database and it will be verified during every purchase of commodities, she added.
Speaking at the card launching programme, Mesbah ul Alam, secretary to the disaster management and relief ministry, hoped the new system will help ensure nutrition of the refugees.
Officials of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHRC) and Cox's Bazar district administration were present.
At the moment, there could be as many as 500,000 unregistered Rohingya refugees inside Bangladesh, according to estimates by the UNHCR. They are refugees fleeing sectarian conflict in the Myanmarese state of Rakhine.
September 12, 2014
In January 1947, Aung San led a small delegation to Landon to discuss Burma’s political future. The outcome of this visit was ‘Aung San-Atlee Agreement’, which was signed on 27th January 1947. According to that agreement, which said, ‘in order to decide on the future of Burma a Constituent Assembly shall be elected within four months instead of Legislature under the Act of 1935. For this purpose the electoral machinery of 1935 Act will be used. Election will take place in April 1947 for the general non-communal, the Karen and the Anglo-Burman constituencies as constituted under the Act of 1935, and each constituency two member shall be returned. Any Burma nationals defined in the ‘Annex A’ of the Agreement registered in a general constituency other than one of those mentioned above shall be placed on the register of a general non-communal constituency.’
According to the ‘Annex A’ of that Agreement, it was mentioned that, ‘A Burma National is defined for the purpose of eligibility to vote and to stand as a candidate at the forth coming election as British subject or the subject of an Indian State who was born in Burma and reside there for a total period not less than eight years in the ten years immediately preceding either 1st January, 1942 or 1st January 1947’.
Thus, it defined that, ‘who was born in Burma and reside there for a total period not less than eight years in the ten years immediately preceding either 1st January, 1942 or 1st January 1947’ is a national of Burma and he can be eligible to vote and to stand for the vote in the upcoming constituent election.
According to that Agreement, the Election was held in April 1947. But when the Aung San - Atlee Agreement was out, the government misunderstood the position of Muslims of Northern Arakan and it was notified that unless they declared themselves as Burma nationals, they would not be eligible to vote or to stand for election to the constituent Assembly.
The Muslims of that constituencies made strong protest against this decision on the ground of their being one of the indigenous races of Burma. The government withheld the first decision and allowed the Muslims to vote or stand for elections held in April 1947. Mr. Sultan Ahmed and Mr. Abdul Gaffar returned on the votes of this Muslims as members of the constituent Assembly. They continued in their office, representing the Akyab district North constituency till Burmese independence and took the oath of allegiance to the Union of Burma on the 4th January 1948 as members of the new parliament of the Union of Burma.
It is worth mentioning to that, the Muslims of Akyab district North constituency, on the ground of their being one of the indigenous communities of Burma, had also enjoyed the right to vote and the right to be elected at the election of 1936 as non-communal rural constituency. Mr. Ghani Markin returned on the votes of those Muslims as a Member of Legislative Assembly.
‘This decision and action of the government conclusively proved that these Muslims as a whole or in-groups are accepted as one of the indigenous races of Burma. And in this connection, it may be pointed out that the Akyab district North constituency is non-communal rural constituency and these Muslims of Arakan belong to this constituency’ remarked Mr. Sultan Ahmed.
The constituent Assembly election produced an overwhelming majority for the AFPFL. In June, it met and began writing the new constitution. On July 19, while Assembly was in recess, Aung San and six members of the Executive Council were murdered. The Governor immediately called upon Thakin Nu to succeed the fallen hero, reorganize the government and complete the writing of a new basic law.
After assassination of Burmese Leader Aung San in 1947, U Nu led AFPFL and signed independent agreement with British Primer Clement Atlee on 17th October, 1947, which was known as Nu-Atlee Agreement.
The Nu-Atlee Agreement was very important as to the determination of the nationality status of the peoples and races in Burma. Article 3 of the Agreement states: “Any person who at the date of the coming into force of the present Treaty is, by virtue of the Constitution of the Union of Burma, a citizen thereof and who is, or by virtue of a subsequent election is deemed to be, also a British subject, may make a declaration of alienage in the manner prescribed by the law of the Union, and thereupon shall cease to be a citizen of the Union”.
According to the Clause 2 subsection (1) of the Burma Independence Act, 1947, “Subject to the provisions of this section, the persons specified in the First Schedule to this Act, being British subjects immediately before the appointed day, shall on that day cease to be British subjects:”Under the clause 1 subsection (2) of that Act, "the appointed day" means the fourth day of January, nineteen hundred and forty-eight.
As par the Clause 1 subsection (a) of schedules First Schedule, ‘persons who were born in Burma or whose father or paternal grandfather was born in Burma will lose their British Nationality after Burma has become independent.’ That’s means that, then they will no more to be subjects of Her Majesty Queen Victoria and will become independent citizens of independent Burma.
According to the speech of the Secretary of State of Burma, the Right Hon. Earl of Listowel, in the House of Lords on 23 November 1947, “Clause 2 of the Bill (Burma Independent Act, 1947) and the First Schedule also deal with the problem of nationality (citizenship). Under the subsection (I) of Clause 2 the people described in the First Schedule lose their British Nationality after Burma has become independent, while subsection (5) provides that the rest will remain British. Those individuals who will cease to be British owe their present British nationality solely to their connection with Burma. Clause 2 goes on to specify a number of exceptions to the general rule. Under subsection (2) persons who are domiciled or ordinarily resident in the United Kingdom, or its dependencies, and who cease to be British under the terms of the Bill are given a chance of keeping their British nationality by opting in favour of within two years of the date of Burma’s independence.”
“The following subsection saves anyone from misfortune of being a Stateless person. If any individual lose his British nationality under the bill, but does not qualify for Burmese nationality, he can recover under this subsection his present British nationality by exercise of the right of option. In subsection (4) we agree to recognize as British subjects any Burmans domiciled or resident in the Dominions, provided, of course, that Dominion Government decides to legislate as we are doing to give them the right to became British citizens, and they have to become British citizens, and they have chosen to take advantage of this legal right. There are many members of the Anglo-Burmese community who will find themselves, under the provisions of Bill and the Constitution of Burma, with dual nationality; but they have been enabled to choose for themselves, if they wish, which of their two nationalities they want to keep. In the article 3 of the Treaty, the Government of the Burma have agreed to legislate so that people in this category can get rid of their Burman nationality, while they can part with their British nationality, if they so desire, under existing British law.”
The Constitution for this sovereign Independent Republic was completed on 24 September 1947 by the constituent Assembly, which was drafted around the same time as the Universal Declaration for Human Rights. Following approval of the Constitution by the British parliament and signing of defense agreement, Burma became free on 4 January 1948. The people of Burma ceased the subjects of British and became independent citizens of independent country.
The 1947 Constitution provided safeguards for fundamental rights. Under this Constitution the people of Burma irrespective of “birth, religion, sex, or race” equally enjoyed all the citizenship rights including the right to express, right to assemble, right to association and unions, settle in any part of the Union, to acquire property and to follow any occupation, trade, business or profession.
The Section 10 of the 1947 Constitution of the Union of Burma also states: “There shall be but, only one citizenship throughout the Union; that is to say, there shall be no citizenship of the unit as distinct from the citizenship of the Union.”
Under Section 11 of the Constitution of the Union of Burma (1947), as shown below,
(i) every person, both of whose parents belong or belonged to any of the indigenous races of Burma;
(ii) every person born in any of the territories included within the Union, at least one of whose grand-parents belong or belonged to any of the indigenous races of Burma;
(iii) every person born in any of territories included within the Union, of parents both of whom are, or if they had been alive at the commencement of this Constitution would have been, citizens of the Union;
(iv) every person who was born in any of the territories which at the time of his birth was included within His Britannic Majesty’s dominions and who has resided in any of the territories included within the Union for a period of not less than eight years in the ten years immediately preceding the date of the commencement of this Constitution or immediately preceding the 1st January 1942 and who intends to reside permanently there in and who signifies his election of citizenship of the Union in the manner and within the time prescribed by law, shall be a citizen of the Union.
These are the fundamental rights of a citizen according to the Constitution of Union of Burma, 1947.
Normally, there are two ways of Citizenships — the right of soil (jus soli) and the right of blood (jus sanguinis). . Most people are automatically citizens of the state in which they are born it is called Jus soli and If one or both of a person's parents are citizens of a given state, then the person may have the right to be a citizen of that state as well, is called jus sanguinis. Many countries fast-track naturalization based on the marriage of a person to a citizen, this type of citizenship is called jure matrimonii and there are also citizenship may be acquired by adoption, legalization, naturalization (the proceeding whereby a foreigner is granted citizenship) or as a result of transfer of territory from one state to another.
Nationality (citizenship) according to the Annex-A of Aung San Atlee Agreement, Article 3 of Nu Atlee Agreement, Clause 2 of the Burma Independence Act, and Clause 1 subsection (a) of First Schedule are Jus soli while citizenship Under Section 11 of the Constitution of the Union of Burma (1947) is jus sanguinis.
According to the Mr. Sultan Ahmed, the then a member of the Constituent Assembly, ‘When section II of the Constitution of the Union of Burma was being framed, a doubt as to whether the Muslims of North Arakan fell under the section sub-clauses (1) (II) and (III), arose and in effect an objection was put in to have the doubt cleared in respect of the term "Indigenous" as used in the constitution, but it was withdrawn on the understanding and assurance of the President of the constituent Assembly, at present His Excellency the President of the Union of Burma, who when approached for clarification with this question, said, "Muslims of Arakan certainly belong to one of the indigenous races of Burma which you represent. In fact there is no pure indigenous race in Burma, and that if you do not belong to indigenous races of Burma, we also cannot be taken an indigenous races of Burma." Being satisfied with his kind explanation, the objection put in was withdrawn.
Who are indigenous races was defined in Article 3 (1) of the Union Citizenship Act, 1948, which states: “For the purposes of section 11 of the Constitution the expression any of the indigenous races of Burma shall mean the Arakanese, Burmese, Chin, Kachin, Karen, Kayah, Mon or Shan race and such racial group as has settled in any of the territories included within the Union as their permanent home from a period anterior to 1823 A. D. (1185 B.E.)”. These two categories of people and those descended from them are automatic citizens. They did not require applying to court for naturalization.
In Article 4 (1) of that Act also mentioned that, “Any person, who under sub-section (i), (ii) and (iii) of section 11 of the Constitution, is a citizen of the Union or who, under sub-section (iv) of section 11 of the Constitution, is entitled to elect for citizenship and who has been granted under the Union Citizenship (Election) Act, 1948 a certificate of citizenship, or who has been granted a certificate of naturalization or a certificate of citizenship or who has otherwise been granted the status of a citizen under this Act, shall continue to be a citizen of the Union, until he or she loses that status under the provisions of this Act.
According to Dr. Aye Maung, the then Chairman of the Drafting committee of the 1948 Union Citizenship Act, ‘The clause in the 1948 Union Citizenship Act “such racial group as has settled in any of the territories included within the Union as their permanent home from a period anterior to 1823 A. D. (1185 B.E.),” was especially for the Muslims of Arakan.’
The Muslims of Arakan have a more than 1300 years old tradition, culture, history and civilization of their own expressed in their shrines, cemeteries, sanctuaries, social and cultural institutions found scattered even today in every nock and corner of the land. By preserving their own heritages from the impact of Buddhist environments, they formed their own society with a consolidated population in Arakan well before the Burmese invasions of Arakan in 1784.
Jacques Leider, in his article, ‘Between Revolt and Normality: Arakan after Burmese Conquest’ mentioned that, “we admit of a total population of Arakan of circa 250,000 in the time of (the Burmese) conquest, the country steadily lost up to 50% of its population. English observers estimated the Arakanese population at about 100,000 at the time of the British conquest.”
According to the British government document on the cultures and inhabitants of Arakan by the Secret and Political Department, Fort William dated 26th April 1826, “The population of Arracan and its dependencies Ramree, Cheduba & Sandaway does not at present exceed 100,00 souls, may be classed as -- Mughs six tenths, - Mussalman three tenths, - Burmese one tenth, Total 100,000 Souls--.” As to Mr. Paton, Sub Commissioner of Arakan, who submitted this report from Akyab, “The extent of the Population has been tolerably well ascertained, proved a census taken by Mr. Robertson, and myself, and may be considered as approximating very nearly to the truth.”
That’s means that among the 100,000 souls; Mughs 60,000, Muslims 30,000 and Burmese 10,000. So in the date of conquest of Arakan by the British, there remained thirty-thousand Muslims and these thirty thousand Muslims were living there from before, now their descendants and successors have increased leaps and bounds.
No one in British Burma would dispute that there was a group of “Arakan Muslims” who could indeed trace their roots back to the 17th Century and even earlier and who were quite distinct from the Chittagonians and Bengali immigrants to Arakan.
According to the censuses of both 1921 and 1931, it has clearly mentioned that, ‘There was a Muslim community in Arakan, particularly in Akyab District, who prefers to call themselves Arakan-Mahomadens and were quite distinct from the Chittgonians and Bengali immigrants to Arakan.’ ‘According to Baxter report of 1940, paragraph 7, “This Arakanese Muslim community settled so long in Akyab District had for all intents and purposes to be regarded as an indigenous race.”
According to the census of 1931, it was mentioned that, the population of Arakan- Muslims was only 51,615, which was incorrect. The populations of Arakan Muslims should be not less than 300, 000 in 1931 not merely 51,615.
Thus, these Muslims of Arakan are for all intents and purposes to be regarded as an indigenous race and are also a racial group who had settled in Arakan/Union of Burma as their permanent home from a period anterior to 1823 A. D. (1185 B.E.).
According to Article 19 of the Indo-Burma Agreement of 1941, the British Government of Burma recognized that “Indians who are born and bred in Burma, have made their permanent home and regard the future of their families as bound up with its interests are entitled to be regarded as having established a claim, if they wish to make it, to a Burma domicile, and therefore to the benefit of the Section 144 of the Burma Act 1935″.
Subsequently, Article 4 (2) of the Union Citizenship Act, 1948 (as amended up to 1960) states: “Any person descended from ancestors who for two generations at least have all made any of the territories included within the Union their permanent home and whose parents and himself were born in any of such territories shall be deemed to be a citizen of the Union.”
Moreover, any person who descended from ancestors who for two generations have made Burma their permanent home, and whose parents and himself were born in Burma, is a statutory citizen (1959 BLR (SC) 187), his descendants were also statutory citizens (1960 BLR (SC) 215), he is a citizen by birth and need not to apply for his citizenship (1965(CC) 128), and he is not bound to produce the certificate under Article 6(2) (1965 BLR (CC) 51).
At the times of succeeding censuses of the India so-called Indian Muslims born in Arakan was as below:-
Therefore, those who were born in Arakan and their descendants were statutory citizens of the Union, as they were citizens by birth they need not to apply for their citizenships and not bound to produce the citizenship certificate under Article 6(2) of the Union Citizenship Act, 1948.
Under all those laws and Acts mentioned above, the Muslims of Arakan who prefer to identify themselves in their own language as ‘Rohingya’ are not only one of the indigenous races of Burma but also full citizens of the Burma. Their citizenship matter was settled before the independence of Burma. They are not de facto citizens; they are de jure citizens of the country.
The Rohingya is not simply a self-referential group identity, but an official group and ethnic identity recognized by the post-independence state. In the early years of Myanmar’s independence, the Rohingya were recognized as a legitimate ethnic group that deserved a homeland in Burma.
Thus, during the colonial rule the British recognized the separate identity of the Rohingyas and declared north Arakan as the Muslim Region. Again there are instances that Prime Minister U Nu, Prime Minister U Ba Swe, other ministers and high- ranking civil and military official, stated that the Rohingyas people like the Shan, Kachin, Karen, Kaya, Mon and Rakhine. They have the same rights and privileges as the other nationals of Burma regardless of their religious beliefs or ethnic background.
Being one of the indigenous communities of Burma, the Rohingyas were enfranchised in all the national and local elections of Burma. Their representatives were in the Legislative Assembly, in the Constituent Assembly and in the Parliament. As members of the new Parliament, their representatives took the oath of allegiance to the Union of Burma on the 4thJanuary 1948. Their representatives were appointed as cabinet ministers and parliamentary secretaries. They had their own political, cultural, social organizations and had their programme in their own language in the official Burma Broadcasting Services (BSS). As a Burma’s racial groups, they participated in the official “Union Day’ celebration in Burma’s capital, Rangoon, every year. To satisfy part of their demand, the government granted them limited local autonomy and declared establishment of Mayu Frontier Administration (MFA) in early 60s, a special frontier district to be ruled directly by the central government.
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