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(Photo: Myanmar Now)

By Swe Win
December 1, 2015

Yangon -- Five people who were sent to jail for their involvement in printing a calendar that stated that Rohingya Muslims are an ethnic-religious minority in Myanmar made a brief appearance at Yangon’s Pazundaung Township Court on Tuesday.

On Nov. 23, the men - two Buddhists and three Muslims - were fined US$800 each under the 2014 Printing and Publishing Law’s Article 4, which bars individuals from publishing materials that could damage national security and law and order.

The following day they were sent to Yangon’s Insein Prison after being also charged with the Penal Code’s Article 505 (b). The charge, which carries a prison sentence for publishing information that may “cause public fear or alarm,” was widely used during junta rule to incarcerate political prisoners.

At Tuesday’s hearing, a police officer who acts as plaintiff in the case told the judge that police are still seeking a Muslim man named Aung Khin for allegedly ordering the printing assignment. Judge Nay Aung Myi set the next hearing on Dec. 9 and defendants were quickly taken back to jail.

Kyaw Kyaw, the Buddhist owner of the publishing house, was led away handcuffed. Asked what he thought of the case, he only said, “I don’t know. I don’t know.”

The government denies the Muslim minority in Arakan State are a recognised group in Myanmar and says they have no right to self-identify as Rohingya, insisting they are ‘Bengalis’ from Bangladesh instead.

Myanmar military commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing looks towards Aung San Suu Kyi during talks in April.(Reuters: Soe Zeya Tun)

November 30, 2015

The most powerful figures in Myanmar's transition following its historic elections are to meet this week in separate talks that could set the course for the incoming government dominated by Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy.

In a post on the presidential office Facebook page, Myanmar president Thein Sein confirmed he had extended an invitation to meet Ms Suu Kyi on Wednesday morning at the president's house in Naypyidaw.

"The president will meet with Daw Suu on December 2nd," presidential spokesperson Zaw Htay said, without elaborating.

Win Htein, a senior member of the National League for Democracy (NLD), confirmed the talks with the president.

The chief of Myanmar's defence forces, Min Aung Hliang, has also confirmed he has agreed to meet the head of the victorious NLD later that day, according to ABC Radio Australia's Burmese service.

Ms Suu Kyi has sought to take a conciliatory approach following the elections, dampening victory celebrations and requesting talks with the president and the army chief in the weeks following the NLD's overwhelming win in the November 8 poll.

She met with parliamentary speaker Shwe Mann, whose eagerness to work with Ms Suu Kyi made him enemies among the military elite leading into the election, on November 19.

Shwe Mann had at one point been tipped as a potential compromise candidate for president, but he was recently ousted from the leadership of the army-backed incumbent Union Solidarity and Development Party.

He continues to wield influence as speaker of the combined national parliament and could still emerge as a bridge between the NLD and the military.

Thein Sein, whose quasi-civilian government has opened the nation to the world since taking power in 2011, has said the elections were the result of his sweeping reforms and vowed a smooth transition of power.

The army, which retains a quarter of parliamentary seats and other political and economic privileges, has also pledged to support the transition.

Under Myanmar's complex political system, the incumbent army-backed parliament will remain in power until at least January while a new president is unlikely to be sworn in until March.

Concerns remain over Myanmar's transition in a country where the military still holds enormous political and economic sway, as well as its long history of quashing democratic aspirations.

A previous election landslide by the NLD in 1990 was simply ignored by the then-ruling junta, which held onto power for a further two decades before ceding to the quasi-civilian regime in 2011.

Ms Suu Kyi is still banned under the army-drafted constitution from becoming president because she married and had children with a foreigner.

Children in Thea Chaung IDP Camp, Rakhine State, Myanmar. Photo: OCHA

By Thomas Kean
November 30, 2015

The United Nations has called for an expansion of immunisation to combat the threat of polio and other preventable diseases, after two cases of a vaccine-derived form of the virus were detected in northern Rakhine State.

The World Health Organization and the UN Children’s Fund said the cases were the result of poor immunisation coverage, and showed that the government and parliament needed to prioritise immunisation in the national budget.

“One immediate step to help reaching this goal is to prioritise vaccines and cold chain in the government’s health budget,” they said in a joint statement.

Routine immunisation coverage has been particularly low in Rakhine State, dipping below 80 percent in recent years. In some townships only 27pc of children received the three recommended doses of oral polio vaccine in 2014, WHO and UNICEF said.

Rakhine State has been wracked by communal conflict since 2012, and government health services in Muslim communities are often non-existent. Lack of trust in government health staff is also a major barrier.

U Thaung Hlaing, health director in Rakhine State, said vaccine-derived polio virus was detected in two children from Maungdaw township, one in May and one in November.

“One child had never been exposed to vaccine, but the other had taken vaccine just once,” he said.

“In some places the parents don’t know much about health matters and aren’t very interested in vaccination programs.”

In response to the cases, the government is launching a polio campaign across 15 high-risk townships in Rakhine, Chin, Magwe, Bago and Ayeyarwady regions, starting on December 5 to 7. Three rounds of immunisation in December and January will target all children in the townships aged under five.

Two additional rounds of polio immunisation will be conducted in a further 87 townships in January and February 2016, they said. More than 3.8 million doses of oral polio vaccine will be provided to reach 1.4 million children under five years old.

Myanmar was declared polio-free in 2014.

By Dr Maung Zarni

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, NLD U Win Htein, President Thein Sein, Ma Aa La General Min Aung Hlaing, stop telling the world your racist lies!

Rohingyas are an official ethnic group of Myanmar.

If you think Rohingya are BENGALI read these 5 pages of the Burmese language article.

Tatmadaw or Myanmar Minister of Defence publications are LITTERED with the official references to Rohingya - identity, language, culture, history and politics. 

Tell NLD leader Win Htein (Defense Services Academy Intake-5) Lameduck President Thein Sein (DSA-9) and Min Aung Hlaing (DSA-19) that their own Ministry of Defense publications are littered with the word "Rohingya". 

Tell the Rakhine racists that U Saw Oo, Ne Win's war time famous Rakhine colleague was publishing officially articles about the Rohingya historical background, culture, language and customs. 

Here is the English translation of the oath that the Rohingya leaders took publicly as reported in the Khit Yay (or Current Affairs) journal published by Myawaddy, the official publication of the Army Psych-War Division based in Rangoon managed by Rakhine U Saw Oo. 

"After having renouned our Mujahideen/warriors" uprising against the State of Burma, we hereby register our trust and dependence on the State. In the name of Allah, we pledge our unwavering allegiance to it by promising never to join any future armed revolt against Burma."

- July 1961

Read page 32, first. Then 28, 29, 30 and 31 (the last page of the news article).

A volunteer helps a Bangladeshi migrant cut his hair at a temporary shelter in Indonesia earlier this year. Thousands of Myanmar’s Rohingya refugees have arrived in Indonesia in 2015. Photograph: Ulet Ifansasti/Getty Images

By David Baulk and Matthew Smith
November 29, 2015

After the Myanmar election, Aung San Suu Kyi must turn her attention to the rampant human rights abuses in her country, not least toward Rohingya Muslims

Yangon, Myanmar -- Shwe Maung is one of just three Rohingya Muslim parliamentarians in the Buddhist-majority country. But in August, as the western media celebrated Myanmar’s transition to democracy, Shwe Maung - a serving member of the government since 2010 - was told that, because his parents weren’t citizens at the time of his birth, he would not be given a vote in the election.

In a country where the Rohingya, an ethnic minority community in western Myanmar, have faced abuses for decades and are denied equal access to citizenship, Shwe Maung’s story is not unique.

Myanmar’s Union Election commission (UEC), led by former army general Tin Aye and supported by the United States and European Union, was tasked with ensuring the elections were free and fair.

Yet the UEC disenfranchised hundreds of thousands, with Yanghee Lee, UN special rapporteur on rights in Myanmar, warning that restrictions on human rights in the country threatened the democratic process. Before a single ballot was cast on 8 November, the vote was rigged against ethnic and religious minorities.

Shwe Maung travelled to his native Rakhine state in August to appeal the commission’s decision. The UEC granted him a hearing and he said he had extensive, irrefutable legal documentation in hand, demonstrating his citizenship status.

But no real hearing took place. On 31 August, the commission summarily affirmed its decision to disqualify Shwe Maungwithout appearing to glance at his documentation.

He was not alone. The UEC purged 60 other Muslim candidates from the elections, according to Lee. 

In August, 21 Rohingya Muslim members of the Democracy and Human Rights party (DHRP) flew from Yangon to Rakhine state to canvass their communities and file papers to run for seats in parliament.

Local police promptly stopped them at the local airport, where the minister of border affairs, Col Htein Lin himself came to meet them. We at Fortify Rights obtained footage, recored by a hidden camera, showing the minister castigating the group for attempting to travel freely within their home state.

“Have you got permission [to travel here]? Have you got permission?” Htein Lin shouted, before turning more than half of them immediately back to Yangon, denying them participation in the democratic process and their human right to freedom of movement.

The UEC subsequently disqualified all but one candidate from the predominantly Rohingya DHRP, effectively abolishing the party, as political parties in Myanmar must field at least three candidates to remain legally registered.

That is not all. The UEC not only barred Rohingya candidates from running for office, it also denied them the right to vote. Earlier this year, the president, Thein Sein, revoked Myanmar’s “white cards” – temporary ID cards that previously conferred voting rights, mostly held by Rohingya Muslims. In doing so, he categorically denied Rohingya Muslims suffrage for the first time.

For many Rohingya Muslims, this was the final straw. For decades, they’ve faced restrictions on everything from marriage to childbirth. Approximately one million Rohingya reside in Rakhine state, and since targeted pogroms in 2012, more than 150,000 have fled the country. 143,000 others are confined to more than 60 internment camps where they’ve faced severe abuse for decades.

A legal analysis recently prepared for Fortify Rights by the Allard K Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic at Yale Law School found “strong evidence” of genocide against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar.

The UEC likewise disenfranchised hundreds of thousands of other citizens across other ethnic states. More than half a million people living in protracted displacement within Myanmar, as the result of decades of bitter armed conflict, were unable to cast their ballots.

In Kachin and northern Shan states, an estimated 100,000 civilians have fled attacks by the Myanmar military since 2011. Local human rights defenders in war-torn northern Myanmar have documented the Myanmar army’s widespread abuses against ethnic minority Kachin and Shan civilians.

Ongoing abuses include torture, killings, forced labor, the use of human shields and other abuses we believe constitute war crimes. Electoral disenfranchisement in these areas rubbed salt into the survivors’ wounds.

The EU and US provided significant support to the UEC with an interest in seeing free and fair elections in Myanmar. But the strategy was complicated from the start. Myanmar’s constitution still bars National League for Democracy (NLD) leader Aung San Suu Kyi – who swept to election victory on 8 November – from the presidency, guarantees the military 25% of parliamentary seats and ensures the military controls key ministries, including Defense, Home Affairs, and Border Affairs.

As Myanmar’s electoral fervor settles, governments around the world have a duty to confront the whole truth about the elections, stand up against ongoing human rights abuses, and call for immediate remedies.

As for the NLD, a question remains: what will it do to end the ongoing abuses against ethnic and religious minorities?

Aung San Suu Kyi recently told the BBC that an NLD government would protect Muslims and prosecute people for hate speech. The world will be watching.

David Baulk is a Myanmar Human Rights Specialist with Fortify Rights, and Matthew Smith is Executive Director of Fortify Rights. Follow them on Twitter @davidbaulk, @matthewfsmith, and @FortifyRights.

© Shutterstock

By Roger Lee Huang
Fair Observer
November 29, 2015

The new government has its hands full in bringing a more inclusive and genuine democratic system to Myanmar.

By most accounts, November 8 marked a watershed moment in Myanmar’s struggle for democracy. For a country with a long history of military rule, there are plenty of reasons for pro-democracy forces to celebrate.

With an estimated 80% voter turnout, most electoral observers declared the voting process to be largely smooth and peaceful. Despite structural disadvantages and credible reports of some electoral irregularities both before and during the election, Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) was able to repeat a landslide victory, reminiscent of the party’s 1990 electoral success.

Most importantly, the military leadership, as well as the ruling Union Solidarity Development Party (USDP), indicated that they would accept the results. Unlike the ill-fated 1990 elections, the NLD will finally be able to form a new government.

The Military’s Democracy

Despite this positive outlook for the NLD, the real fight over the political direction of the country is only just beginning. Critically, since reforms began in 2011, Myanmar has not been transitioning to what would commonly be considered a genuine “democracy.” Rather, it has been undergoing a carefully controlled transformation toward the military’s version of a “disciplined multi-party democratic system.”

Under the military-drafted 2008 constitution, this multi-party system is underpinned by several “disciplined” features, notably the institutionalization of a permanent political role for the military in any further governments. Three key cabinet portfolios (minister of defense and security, minister for home affairs and minister of border affairs) are directly appointed by the commander-in-chief. This ensures that the military continues to exert control over areas that reflect its core interests—the army’s continued influence over Myanmar’s political economy, but also on issues of political stability, sovereignty, national and border security, and relations (or lack of) with the country’s armed ethnic groups and its international neighbors.

The military is also guaranteed 25% of seats at all levels of parliament, which effectively allows the army the power to veto any significant changes to the 2008 constitutional framework. Any attempt to remove pro-military biases within the constitution will require more than 75% of the votes by both houses of parliament before any proposed amendments are voted in by a popular referendum.

In short, unlike the situation in 1990, the military no longer needs to rule directly, nor resort to repressive tactics to ensure its core interests are protected. Under a disciplined “democratic” system, even when a new government is formed in 2016, the military would likely continue to yield immense political power—at least in areas of its predominant interest, likely with little civilian oversight.

Further, although Suu Kyi clearly has the electoral mandate, she is constitutionally barred from becoming the next president on account of her sons having foreign citizenship. She has, however, already indicated that she would be “above the president” and will essentially lead any NLD government. In the long-run, this could have the potential for a political (and constitutional) crisis.

But more pressing perhaps is how the new NLD government will balance its commitment to introduce an inclusive democratic system, while ensuring that the military stays on board with the new government—relations that are crucial for Myanmar to achieve genuine reconciliation.

An Inclusive System

Aside from addressing the difficulty of creating sustainable civilian-military relations, unresolved issues between ethnic groups remain one of the biggest challenges, with growing anti-Muslim sentiments throughout Myanmar, as well as ongoing conflict in the ethnic peripheries, where fighting has not only resumed, but intensified in recent years.

Significant numbers of ethnic minorities, including the Kachins and the stateless Rohingyas, remain in internally displaced persons (IDP) camps.

The Association for the Protection of Race and Religion (popularly known as Ma Ba Tha) failed to make any significant dent on the NLD’s electoral success and have clearly lost significant grassroots support. Yet Ma Ba Tha have shaped a dangerous ultra-Buddhist nationalist narrative at the expense of shrinking citizenry and representation for the country’s Muslim populace.

Leading up to the elections, hundreds of thousands of Muslims had their right to vote stripped, while others, including domestic and overseas migrants as well as those living in conflict zones, were also disenfranchised. In a country with at least a 5% Muslim population, not only were Muslim candidates underrepresented in the elections, but none of the 20-odd Muslim candidates were able to win any seats.

Thus, although the voting process was mostly fair, as indicated by the overwhelming victory of the NLD, it was certainly not free—instead marred by a systematic exclusion of various minority groups.

How and whether the new NLD government would eventually tackle these problems will indicate whether Myanmar is moving toward a more inclusive and genuine democratic system, or whether the military’s way to democracy prevails.

Rohingya migrants sit on a boat drifting in Thai waters off the island of Koh Lipe in the Andaman sea. 'The Burmese government’s draconian formula for dealing with this problem from history is both ludicrous and vicious. It is a recipe for the kind of tragedy we are just witnessing on the high seas.' Photograph: Christophe Archambault/Getty

By Zairil Khir Johari
The Malaysian Insider
November 29, 2015

As much as we have advanced, the world today continues to be wrought by humanitarian crises of great magnitudes.

In Sudan, Syria and Sri Lanka today, millions of innocent people continue to suffer from cruelty and brutality that they had no part in provoking.

Closer to home, the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar has now spilled over to neighbouring countries as refugees continue to flee from state-sponsored persecution. Various reports have quoted United Nations sources as saying that the Rohingya are one of, if not the “world’s most persecuted minority.”

Said to constitute seven per cent of the total Myanmar population, their exact numbers are unknown because the majority-Buddhist Myanmar government intentionally excludes the Rohingya, a Muslim minority, from the national census.

The parochial nature of their plight is a sad one, especially when one considers that the identity of Southeast Asia as a region is defined very much by the inherent social and cultural diversity of its population, both indigenous and immigrant.

Unfortunately, while hundreds of other ethnic groups are able to call Southeast Asia their home, the Rohingya cannot shake off the label of an unwanted guest.

Rejected by their own country, Myanmar, which refuses to recognise them as citizens, and subjected to victimisation in the form of rape, arson, murder and large-scale land confiscation, their attempts to seek refuge in neighbouring countries have been met by shut doors.

Those who manage to make it into other countries find not solace but are instead treated like illegal aliens, and in some cases even worse than that.

Today, it is estimated that 140,000 Rohingya, slightly more than 10% of their entire estimated population, is internally displaced.

Tens of thousands others have escaped to neighbouring countries while thousands more have taken to the seas in overcrowded boats, a voyage often facilitated by human traffickers intent on profiting from their desperate “cargo”.

Hundreds have been reported to have not survived the seas, and those who have not perished remain trapped at sea with little food and water.

Malaysia, of course, has found itself in the thick of the Rohingya crisis, not only as an unwitting destination for its refugees, but sadly also as a facilitator of human trafficking.

Earlier this year, authorities admitted to the shocking discovery of 139 mass graves in 28 abandoned human trafficking camps in Padang Besar and Wang Kelian, which lie on the Malaysian side of the Thai border.

Most of these camps were used by traffickers to house Rohingya refugees, who would only be released when their relatives paid a ransom.

Unsurprisingly, many died due to starvation and disease, as deduced from the “hundreds of skeletons” found in the mass graves.

The discovery of these deplorable camps immediately highlighted the fact that Malaysia was no passive actor in the crisis, especially when it was reported that most of these camps had been operating freely for at least five years.

There is no way that the existence of so many camps could have gone unnoticed by our security forces.

True enough, initial investigations and the subsequent arrest of 12 police officers point to the existence of a nefarious web of human trafficking involving perpetrators on both sides of the border and, disgracefully, complicity on the part of Malaysian enforcement agencies and border security.

Weaknesses in our current approach

Besides the obvious security issues and the repulsive human trafficking problem that has emerged, the Rohingya crisis has also highlighted serious weaknesses in how Malaysia as a state, and indeed Asean as a region, deals with both the gross violation of human rights in a fellow Asean country, as well as the internal management of refugees.

Firstly, the treatment accorded to refugees in this country appears to be completely arbitrary, depending on their country of origin, ethnic background and number.

In the 1990s, hundreds of Bosnian refugees were given asylum and government assistance in Malaysia.

Prior to that, our government also helped to resettle 10,000 Cambodian Muslims and 120,000 Muslim refugees fleeing the southern Philippines. More recently, our government also announced that we would be accepting 3,000 Syrian refugees.

Unfortunately, the Rohingya have not been welcomed in quite the same fashion. In fact, when the Rohingya began to appear in boats outside our shores, there was a great initial reluctance to allow them ashore, even if the alternative meant certain peril.

Numbering an estimated 100,000 in Malaysia, the Rohingya refugees are considered as undocumented migrants, which means that they are not differentiated from other illegal immigrants.

Therefore, these refugees, including children, have no legal access to basic education, healthcare and jobs, thus increasing their risk of exploitation and human trafficking.

These conditions only serve to perpetuate a vicious cycle. Adult refugees are denied legal employment, which means they cannot earn money to pay for many basic necessities, including healthcare that already costs more because subsidised rates do not extend to foreigners, much less illegal ones.

As a result, many of them end up working illegally, often in high-risk and low-paying jobs. Compounding this, their lack of documentation also makes them easy victims of police abuse and corruption.

Without proper laws and standard operating procedures to guide and govern the handling of undocumented migrants and refugees in particular, the problem will no doubt worsen.

With about close to 200,000 refugees and asylum seekers of various nationalities now in Malaysia, living with minimal rights and little access to basic amenities, it is only a matter of time before the situation causes socio-economic problems that will invariably affect Malaysians.

If anything, the string of grisly murders that took place in Penang last year when groups of Myanmar nationals ganged up to kill their fellow citizens is a case in point.

Dealing with the problem

If we wish to address the matter of refugees seriously, then the first step is for the government to adhere to international standards.

For a start, we should sign and ratify the UN Convention on Refugees, a multilateral treaty promulgated 64 years ago in 1951, which defines who a refugee is, spells out their rights, as well as the determines the responsibilities of the asylum-providing countries.

This Convention is based upon the 1949 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which recognises the right of persons to seek asylum from persecution in other countries.

Once signed and ratified, our domestic laws must then be amended to incorporate the provisions of the Convention.

Furthermore, it is critical that our laws make a clear distinction between refugees, asylum seekers and undocumented migrants.

Under our current legal regime, they are all considered illegal and are subject to deportation, detention and abuse by law enforcement agencies.

At the same time, the human trafficking problem demands an immediate and thorough response.

The integrity of our borders must be enhanced, and existing personnel must be revamped in light of the shocking revelations that imply collusion.

Swift action must be taken upon those found guilty, and steps must be taken to improve security protocols and monitoring, including cooperation with affected state governments.

At the same time, international agencies such as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees must be roped in to help monitor the situation.

As for the root of the problem itself, it is clear that part of the blame lies on the Asean policy of non-interference.

Simply downplaying the blatant persecution of ethnic or religious minorities as someone else’s internal problem would not only allow the problem to fester, but would, as the case of Myanmar has proven, eventually result in a humanitarian crisis that would spill over into neighbouring countries.

Therefore, treating the Rohingya crisis as if it was an isolated problem will not resolve the situation.

Instead, a multilateral and Asean-centred strategy of engagement with Myanmar is required in order to tackle the problem at the root.

There is a positive precedence for this, as the 2008 Cyclone Nargis incident revealed how Asean’s “constructive engagement” resulted in Myanmar allowing the distribution of aid inside their country after previously rejecting all other international offers of aid.

Firm diplomatic dialogue instead of coercive measures such as economic sanctions or diplomatic isolation will have greater chances of success.

After all, Myanmar’s recent general election marks the culmination of years of continuous effort to prod the process of democratisation along. We need to build upon this progress.

What is clear, however, is the need for Asean to move away from its non-interference policy, especially in the face of clear human rights violations.

On this front, Malaysia needs to exert more pressure and perhaps even take the lead in engaging Myanmar on the persecution of its minorities.

At the same time, coordinated multilateral efforts are also required to address the growing problem of human trafficking in the region.

At the end of the day, there should be no compromise when it comes to defending humanity. After all, as Nelson Mandela once opined: “To deny people their human rights is to challenge their humanity.”

A Rohingya man carries his child while members of the police force and volunteers are seen at a Rohingya refugee camp in Sittwe in this April 2, 2014. Photo: REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun

By Alisa Tang
November 29, 2015

BANGKOK -- A Myanmar military offensive against ethnic rebels in the country's east has uprooted more than 10,000 people, rights groups said, accusing the army of bombing schools and Buddhist temples, firing on civilians and raping women.

Since Oct. 6, the army has shelled six villages, shot and injured three people, and fired on 17 villagers who are now missing, according to activists in Shan state.

The Shan Human Rights Foundation has documented eight cases of sexual violence since April 2015, including a 32-year-old woman gang-raped by 10 soldiers on Nov. 5 while her husband was tied up under their farm hut in Ke See township.

"We are very concerned that there has been no public condemnation by the international community about these war crimes and these attacks on civilians," rights activist Charm Tong told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, has fought ethnic groups in its borderlands off and on for decades, causing massive displacement within the country and forcing hundreds of thousands to seek refuge across the border in Thailand.

In 2010, the country's ruling military junta was replaced by a military-backed civilian government, and the country embarked on reforms towards elections earlier this month, which saw opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy win in a landslide.

"We welcome a beautiful election on one side, but the other reality is that people are fleeing, dying, women are being raped," Charm Tong said.

"Villagers are still not safe and are in a dangerous situation now because of the Burma army presence is increasing."

The Myanmar government did not respond to requests for comment about the fighting in Shan state.

The government in October signed a ceasefire with eight armed ethnic groups, but the deal fell short of its nationwide billing, with seven of the 15 groups invited declining to sign, including the Shan State Army-North (SSA-North) and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA).

Shan state, which borders Thailand, Laos and China, is rich in resources and the site of three hydroelectric dam projects.

The latest attacks come as villagers in the area prepare for the rice harvest. Many are stealthily returning home to collect their belongings and tend to their rice paddies, but the situation remains unstable, the Shan groups say.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Russel, after talks this week with Myanmar armed forces chief Min Aung Hlaing, described the military operations and fighting in Shan and neighbouring Kachin state as "very worrisome".

"We have concerns about the humanitarian crisis that is generated by the fighting. We also have concerns that the fighting could set back the effort to build out a nationwide ceasefire to include non signatories," Russel told Reuters in Yangon.

"While there are two sides to the conflict, I urged the Burmese military to exercise restraint and to work in an effort to promote reconciliation and peace."

The United Nations is also concerned about the fighting and reported up to 6,000 displaced people seeking refuge in monasteries and temporary shelters, said Pierre Peron, spokesman for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

Peron said the U.N. and aid groups are working with local organisations in Shan state to provide immediate humanitarian needs, including hygiene kits, clothing, blankets, food, medicine, shelter and water purification tablets.

"A U.N.-led team managed to visit some of the displaced people last week. We will continue to monitor the situation closely and are ready to provide further support as soon as security conditions allow," Peron said.

In an update on Friday, OCHA said fighting between the government and ethnic rebels in Kachin state had displaced 1,200 people, including 500 children.

(Reporting by Alisa Tang, additional reporting by Timothy Mclaughlin in Yangon, editing by Ros Russell. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, corruption and climate change. Visit

Refugees and asylum seekers gather outside the offices of the U.N. Refugee Agency in Kathmandu for an ongoing sit-in protest. (Photo by Pragati Shahi)

By Pragati Shahi
November 29, 2015

Global crisis means international agencies are rationing their aid

Just outside the office of the United Nations Refugee Agency in Kathmandu, people from conflict-torn countries in Asia and Africa have been staging sit-in protests.

But with a surge in refugees around the world, there may be few answers to their problems, leaving many stranded in a country that calls them illegal migrants.

The front gate of the U.N. agency’s building has been a protest site for refugees and asylum seekers since Oct. 27. These include people from some of the world’s most persecuted communities: Rohingya from Myanmar, Ahmadis from Pakistan, Hazaras from Afghanistan. The protesters — roughly 50 have turned up each day — have fled their homes in eight countries in Asia, Africa and South America.

The gates of the U.N. Refugee Agency were the only option left for these so-called "urban refugees," since the government of Nepal refuses to issue refugee status to asylum seekers from places other than Tibet and Bhutan.

Now, these urban refugees are facing further hardship, after the U.N. Refugee Agency slashed its subsistence allowances by 25 percent, to the equivalent of about US$55 a month. And by January 2016, the allowances will stop altogether.

"Our life was not easy before in Nepal … now, life has become unbearable," said one of the protesters, Yasin Hamdani, 30, a member of the persecuted Rohingya community who fled Myanmar in 2012.

He said the Nepalese government treats him like an illegal migrant, with no job options or aid. The country’s devastating April earthquake, and now an ongoing fuel blockade, have left him and others in a deeper hole.

No options left

The U.N. Refugee Agency, or UNHCR, estimates there are about 550 urban refugees and asylum seekers in Kathmandu, with about 110 from Myanmar. Most of the Myanmar urban refugees are from the Rohingya community in Rakhine state.

"We were told that this office is the only place we have to help us find a solution to our problems," said Hassan Hassan, 26, another Rohingya who came to the agency’s office in Kathmandu in search of his missing parents after a sectarian riot in 2012 tore through his hometown in Maungdaw, Rakhine state.

"We were told that the UNHCR is the responsible agency to provide us international protection and help us survive. When we had no options left, we decided to organize a sit-in protest in front of the office to draw attention," Hassan said.

Hassan said he was the first Rohingya asylum seeker to be granted refugee status by the U.N. agency in Nepal. Despite this, however, his chances of being settled in a more prosperous country are far from certain.

Hassan Hassan, 26, wearing a red shirt, said he has been granted refugee status but his future is still uncertain. (Photo by Pragati Shahi)

A shortage in funding and a surge in displacement around the world mean that resources for people like Hassan are dwindling.

"We have been informing the refugee community as early as 2014 about the changing global policy on refugees," said Deepesh Das Shrestha, assistant external relations officer with the agency in Kathmandu. "There are other major emergency refugee situations in other parts of the world that need immediate attention."

Resettling approved refugees like Hassan in third countries is also fast becoming a limited option, as receiving countries have become more reluctant, Shrestha said.

In the meantime, the agency has been forced to ration its resources for the urban refugees, Shrestha said. However, even though the regular allowances will stop for most people, refugees with specific needs — disabilities, medical problems, single women or the elderly — will continue receiving payments, while children will also get a modest educational allowance until the 10thgrade.

International obligations

A major problem, refugee advocates say, is that Nepal has not signed on to the 1951 Refugee Convention and has no national legal framework to deal with the burgeoning refugee crisis.

Caritas Nepal, part of the social services arm of the Catholic Church, has been helping Bhutanese refugees in Nepal. Still, even Bhutanese refugees — who, unlike Myanmar Rohingya, are actually recognized by the Nepalese government — face problems.

"Even the fate of thousands of Bhutanese refugees who are awaiting third-country resettlement is unpredictable as the Nepal government is still unclear on what to do with them," said Sylvia Gurung, who coordinates Caritas Nepal’s Bhutanese refugee education program.

Since 2007, more than 100,000 Bhutanese refugees have been resettled to other countries, via Nepal, according to Caritas. But there are still around 17,000 Bhutanese refugees living in temporary camps.

"Their future is uncertain," she said.

For non-Bhutanese refugees like Hassan, the situation is more tenuous. The government of Nepal refuses to acknowledge them as refugees, despite their U.N. status.

"They are illegal migrants," said Laxmi Dhakal, joint secretary at the Ministry of Home Affairs, which manages refugee affairs.

This is not the answer Hassan and his friends want to hear.

"So, this means we should die of hunger here as we are not anyone’s priority," Hassan said.

The first four refugees in transit at Kuala Lumpur airport in June 2015. Photo: Kevin Ponniah

By Lindsay Murdoch
November 29, 2015

Australia has secretly transferred a fifth refugee from the tiny Pacific island of Nauru to Cambodia under a controversial $55 million agreement with the impoverished nation.

The Rohingya Muslim man arrived in the capital, Phnom Penh, last week, days before the United Nations warned Cambodia's increasingly fractious political situation is pushing the country towards a "dangerous tipping point".

Poor Cambodia: A woman washes herself outside a tiny room where she lives with four other family members off a dank alleyway near the Phnom Penh factory where she works. Photo: Jason South

Rhona Smith, the UN's human rights rapporteur for Cambodia, said increased political infighting has been accompanied by an uptick in rights abuses, including "incidences of violence, intimidation of individuals and resort to offensive language in the political discourse".

Last month two opposition MPs were dragged from vehicles outside parliament and savagely kicked and punched.

The regime of strongman Prime Minister Hun Sen has revived a seven-year-old defamation case against opposition leader Sam Rainsy, further inflaming tensions.

Cambodia-based Mohammed Ibrahim sought in vain to meet a misidentified "Rohingya" man, who was moved to Phnom Penh from Nauru. Photo: Lindsay Murdoch

Mr Rainsy faces a two-year jail sentence if he returns to the country and has been stripped of his parliamentary immunity.

A spokesman for Cambodia's Interior Ministry and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), a multi-nation agency paid by Australia to provide benefits to refugees who arrive in Cambodia from Nauru, confirmed the arrival of the Rohingya man, according to the Phnom Penh Post.

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton refused to comment.

"We will comment on Cambodian resettlement matters as and when appropriate," a spokeswoman told Fairfax Media.

Under Australia's agreement the man is expected to be accommodated in a sprawling luxury villa and be provided with benefits including cash payments, training, health insurance and assistance in setting up a small business.

Only five of hundreds of refugees and asylum seekers on Nauru have agreed to give up their hopes of reaching Australia and take a one-way ticket to one of Asia's poorest nations.

The first group of four refugees arrived in Phnom Penh in June after months of planning at a staggering cost $15 million, on top of $40 million in increased aid that Australia gave Cambodia to sign the agreement.

One of them, a man in his early 20s, was deeply unhappy living in Cambodia and quit the country to return to Myanmar last month.

Fairfax Media revealed on Monday that he was wrongly given refugee status on his claim that he was a Rohingya fleeing persecution in Myanmar, a country that refuses to allow Rohingya to return, describing them as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.

Myanmar authorities approved the man returning to Myanmar on the basis he is a Burmese Muslim.

Mr Dutton has declined to comment on the man's wrongful assessment by Australian-trained assessors on Nauru.

Cambodia insists those who agree to resettle from the Pacific island must be genuine refugees fleeing persecution in their own country.

The agreement has been condemned by Cambodia's opposition and human rights and refugee advocates and the UN refugee agency UNHCR washed its hands of the deal that was signed at a champagne-sipping ceremony in Phnom Penh last year.

Mr Dutton flew to Cambodia in September to salvage the agreement after Cambodia had declared it had no plans to resettle any more than the group that arrived in June.

After meetings with Mr Hun Sen and the country's powerful Interior Minister, Sar Kheng, Mr Dutton indicated that more refugees had expressed an interest in moving from Nauru but gave no details.

Refugee advocates say a recent renewed push by Australian officials on Nauru to try to get refugees to take up the Nauru offer was met with hostility.

Despite the enormous cost to Australian taxpayers, the Coalition government has kept its military-style Cambodian operation shrouded in strict secrecy.

Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch's Asia division, said it is critical for refugee advocates to know where refugees are to ensure their protection.

By Dr Ahmad Rashid Malik
November 29, 2015

The fate of Rohingya Muslims is central to making Myanmar a true pluralistic democracy.

With all of its drawbacks, democracy is still the final resolution in a state. Asian democracy is colourful. Asia is a home of largest democracy with the oldest democracy working in Japan. The world’s largest Indian secular democracy has fast becoming a religious dictatorship under Shiv Sena.

There are many countries in Asia which have not been democratised. Somewhere there is a political dictatorship with one party rule.

Somewhere there are monarchs ruling. Somewhere there is a semi-military and civilian participation. Somewhere democracy faces instability and thrown out many times but also comes back as last resort. Somewhere not democracy but military dictatorship emerges as symbol of national integration.

Myanmar is now on the road to democracy. The South East Asian country, just neighbouring South Asia, was ruled so long by military junta. General elections were not held in the last 25 years. The military junta was accused by human rights organizations for human rights violations. Aung Sun Suu Kyi, human rights activist and pro-democracy leader, was long detained.

Historic general elections were held on 8 November and 33 million of voters cast their votes. Previous elections were held in 1990, showing similar results. The main context was with the ruling military Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) and the National League for Democracy (NLD. The extremist Buddhist group, known as “Ma Ba Tha,” campaigned for the USDP Voters overwhelmingly voted for the NLD.

Polling was relatively fair and free if not absolutely. Had there been total transparency, the USDP would have wiped out. The USDP field many civilian officials and military officers. At least 170 of them contested the polls. The constitution retains quarter of seats for the military. This was perhaps the first time in democratic history that a large number of military officers stood as political candidates in elections. The minority Rohingya Muslim community was not allowed to field candidates.

The NLD won over 80 seats in union and regional legislatures, inflicting massive defeat to the USDP. The results have shown that how voters rejects establishment candidates. If not full, at least quasi-civilian political system has been emerging in Myanmar after long military dictatorship. Suu Kyi could not assume the charge of the Government under the law by having a foreign (British) spouse and children.

The new regime, however, will face daunting challenges. The conservative Buddhist-dominated Myanmar is a real hell for Rohingya Muslims. They were disenfranchised in the elections. They are over 500,000 and they form 5 percent strength in country’s population. This is beyond the basic principles of democratic voting.

On the top is the question of Muslim minority, the Rohingya, persecuted so long by the military junta and Buddhist monks but also that Suu Kyi never so openly stood for their cause. There is a systematic ethnic cleansing going on against them for long. Many of them left their homes for Bangladesh, India, and other South East Asian countries, known as “stateless” people.

The fate of Rohingya Muslims is central to make Myanmar a true pluralistic democracy. The Rohingya Muslims need a non-discriminately and human treatment and equal rights in a Buddhist-dominated democracy. They are deprived of fundamental human rights.

The new NLD government should take initiative to introduce reforms for the Rohingya Muslims and accept them as equal citizens. The fruits of democracy should be passed on to the Rohingya Muslims too. The so-called Western human right organizations have not pleaded the cause of the Rohingya Muslims. It is also a matter of shame for their voices for human rights abuses.

The sustainability of democracy in Myanmar still raises many questions unanswered. Moreover, the military retains considerable power as the Myanmar’s constitution written by the junta in 2008 institutionalizes the military’s control of government and ensures that no other party can check its prerogatives. Myanmar is a quasi-military-civil democracy or in other words the country’s democracy is controls by the military. In case of emergency, the military could control the situation.

There are many other provision in the constitution that makes the military a power organ than the civilians. Other countries in South East Asia, such as in Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam military holds greater power. This will be a great testing time for Myanmar democracy.

Besides Myanmar radical Myanmar’s Buddhist society, the fate of Indian Muslims is increasingly becoming serious under the extreme Hindutva practice. The world is silently watching the “Talibanization of India” and Myanmar but strictly against of the Talibanization of Afghanistan. Are Indian and Myanmar’s general elections are heading toward a true pluralistic society?

Myanmar’s peaceful transition to democracy is admirable but it is a long windy way to go to become a genuine democracy. In short, Rohingya Muslims have a glimmer hope under the NLD democracy. Suu Kyi has been criticized for not speaking out against abuses faced by the Rohingya Muslim minority. The Rohingya situation is one of the most contentious issues that will be faced by the new government.

The Organization of Islamic Cooperation has noted the completion of voting in the general elections in the Republic of the Union of Myanmar and the landslide majority achieved by the National League for Democracy under the leadership of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. 

The OIC Secretary General Mr. Iyad Ameen Madani has conveyed a message to the Chairperson of the NLD on the occasion of her party’s electoral victory in which he expressed the hope that “the new government would actively support the process of reconciliation and transformation for all ethnic minorities in Myanmar, including the Rohingya”. 

The Secretary General also noted that “the Rohingya have been denied their rights in the name of certain arbitrary laws” and he called for “an inclusive and constructive approach that would ensure their rightful recognition and status in light of the new democratic environment in Myanmar.” 

The OIC reaffirms its commitment to support the people of Myanmar in the ongoing process of achieving a democratic society with equality and justice for all.

Original here.

By Samiha Sharif
Shout Out UK
November 25, 2015

It is not enough to fight for justice and equality when in office, a true politician and supporter of human rights must respond to injustice where it exists and use their influence to help end it

Aung San Suu Kyi became a symbol of hope to those that lived in desperate situations without the protection of democratic rights. She stood in opposition to the Myanmar military dictatorship and was considered a threat, as exemplified by the fact that between the periods of 1989 to 2010 she was condemned to house arrest. She won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 and in 2011 stood for a candidacy in a by-election. However, her greatest legacy, a supporter of the oppressed, could become her greatest failure.

The Rohingya people, a Muslim ethnic group of approximately 1.3 million, face severe persecution. They are not recognized as citizens (due to the highly discriminatory 1982 citizenship law) of Myanmar and as a result they lack access to education, healthcare and basic human rights. They are persistently viewed as outsiders and illegitimate ‘Bengali citizens’ by the Buddhist majority and have been attacked by some extremist Buddhist monks. The politicians, including Ms Suu Kyi, remain reluctant to address their plight and raise the debate of granting them equal citizenship.

The main issue is that supporting the Rohingya people remains politically unpopular, therefore, for the democratic process to continue Ms Suu Kyi must be rational and proceed to support policies which are popular.

However, this is unrealistic and cruel. The Rohingya have few options when it comes to fleeing Myanmar since being refused entry as refugees by the governments of Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia. The Human Rights Watch have referred to this crisis as ‘human ping-pong’, where each state refuses to accept responsibility, leading to thousands of desperate refugees at sea. According to the International Organization for Migration, 8,000 Rohingyas and Bangladeshis remain at sea.

Under international pressure, the above mentioned countries have agreed to allow them entry for a year, but ultimately they must be repatriated. When progress was made by the introduction of temporary identity cards, due to widespread opposition by local majorities, the law was repealed and the Rohingyas have once again become stateless.

Myanmar is an infant state, in its first years of the democratic experiment; however, democracy cannot occur if the rights of all citizens are not respected.

The majority of Rohingya people remain in dire conditions; they cannot access the same rights as others and so most continue to live in poverty with little chance of making social and economic progress. The Myanmar Government will not take any action that may prove unpopular; however, it continues to assure the international community that it will allow the Rohingyas to stay.

Ms Suu Kyi has continued to assert she is simply a politician. And yet, the continued suffering of the Rohigya people should not be ignored. A state cannot become a democracy by neglecting its ethnic minorities.

The international community has continued to pressurize the Myanmar Government, however, true change can only occur if a politician who was seen as the beacon of hope for Myanmar’s future speaks out against existing suffering.

Politics is not simply about adhering to the public’s demands. It is about comprehending that the search for justice does not end with one’s last days in office and that sometimes, unpopular decision must be implemented for the betterment of all.

The highly unpopular decision of supporting the Rohingya people will lead to greater progress in the future. The Rohingya are not the only group to face isolation in Myanmar, other ethnic minorities such as the Rakhine people also face similar discrimination. However, it is hoped that if the largest group were to be given citizenship then it would allow for smaller ethnic minorities to be granted similar rights.

By Press TV
November 25, 2015

Press TV has conducted an interview with Liaqat Ali Khan, a professor at the Washburn University from Kansas, to ask for his insight into the impact of political change in Myanmar on the fate of the country's Rohingya Muslims.

The following is a rough transcription of the interview.

Press TV: It’s quite clear that Myanmar’s path towards democracy isn’t as democratic as many would like it to be.

Khan: That’s very true. I think the National League for Democracy, which is the political party of the Nobel laureate has won landslide more than 70 percent of the seats in both houses; so, one would hope that the situation of Rohingyas will change, but I would suggest that there should be two international pressures that should be brought on the government of Myanmar.

One is through the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and the other is through the Human Rights Council. Now, we know that in the Human Rights Council, there’s a special rapporteur, who is monitoring the situation in Myanmar, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and many other Islamic countries around their council.

And they should push the rapporteur to find what exactly is the persecution in Myanmar and then do something about it.

And I think the other is the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, 56 Muslim states, and does feel like they’re helpless and they can’t take care of 1.3 million fellow Muslims who are the most persecuted minority on this planet.

Press TV: Will any of this works specifically considering that even Aung San Suu Kyi herself has failed to address the plight of the Rohingyas when asked and prodded about it, she even went on to say that the situation is being grossly exaggerated by media outlets?

Khan: Well, let in she’s not in power and she was not in a position to say something very strongly, because the elections were under way.

And now that her political party has won, hopefully she would change her stands and she would be more sympathetic to the situation of Rohingyas.

After all she has a Nobel Peace Prize and it is obligatory that she takes care of the rights of Rohingya people.

I hope she would change, but if she doesn’t change, I still would ask that the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, 56 Muslim states, they should do something to pressurize the new government that they recognize the rights of Rohingya people.

Press TV: How much would Aung San Suu Kyi’s party in the form of a government have power to bring about change, so to speak, because, let’s not forget that the military junta still retains much of the power in one way or another.

Khan: That’s very true. I think right now the military is still in power and the power will change in February next year.

That’s been the new political party would take power and you’re right that previously the military did not allow the same party, who won the elections, to take power. 

So, it remains to be seen whether the National League for Democracy would actually be able to take power and we don’t know. I think the military records are seriously anti-democratic in Myanmar.

By Team Observers
November 25, 2015            

In just 24 hours, this Facebook post in Burmese has been shared more than 5,000 times, and “liked” nearly as much. Two photos of massive protests are captioned “a hundred thousand French people protested on November 22 to kick Muslims out of France”. In Burma, where Islamophobia runs rampant, this seemed believable to many.

The post was spotted by Aung Aung, a Burmese Observer living in France. It was published by a popular Facebook page whose name translates to “Knowledge Digest”. Apparently aimed at young people, this page shares all types of news and opinion, including a lot of anti-Muslim and anti-Rohingya rhetoric. In the past few years, the rise of extremist Buddhist nationalists in Burma has led to growing Islamophobia and persecution of the Rohingyas, a Muslim ethnic minority. 

Of course, anyone who pays attention to news from France knows that there have been no major anti-Muslim protests since the November 13 Paris attacks. A quick Google Images search shows that the two photos used in the post are not at all what the caption claims they are. 

Neither photo was taken on November 22. They were taken on two different days, November 17 and November 21. Both were taken by AFP photographers in the southern French city of Toulouse, where marches were held to honor victims of the attacks. There was no rallying cry of “kick out the Muslims” – quite the contrary. In the second photo, you can see a giant banner on which is written, in French, “For freedom and peace, against barbarity and conflations”. Conflations, used in a French context, means mixing up terrorists and Muslims, a mistake many French citizens - including France’s president - have warned against. 

Unfortunately, this message was lost on the thousands of Burmese Facebook users who shared the post. According to our Observer, about three-fourths of the comments expressed anti-Muslim sentiments. Some of them were even written in English, like these: 

A small minority was more suspicious, and at least one person said they reported the post to Facebook. 

We’ll stay tuned to see if the post ends up being taken down – or continues to spread.

Article written with Gaëlle Faure, Journalist
Rohingya Exodus