Latest Highlight


Rakhine State is the home to most of Myanmar's white card holders. A trishaw drives along the main road during the curfew time following communal violence in Sittwe, Rakhine State, Myanmar, June 17, 2012. Photo: Lynn Bo Bo/EPA

By Kay Zue
March 1, 2015

Temporary ID card or white card holders in Rakhine State say they will hand over their white cards to the relevant authorities only if they get a similar ID card to take the place of the white cards.

Township authorities in Sittway, Kyaukphyu, Maungdaw, Buthidaung, Thandwe, Ann, Yathedaung townships in Rakhine State have been announcing that white card holders must hand over their cards.

White Card holder U Aung Win, speaking on February 27, said: “White Card holders have held discussions and decided to hand over our cards only if we get alternative ID cards in place of the white cards. The officials who receive our white cards must be immigration officials.”

U Khin Soe, the official in charge of the Rakhine State Immigration and Population Department, said that they don’t have any plan up until now to take punitive action against white card holders who do not hand over their cards to the authorities in March.

“Discussions have been made in Nay Pyi Taw to issue some kind of ID card to the people who hand over their white cards. I still don’t know what will happen,” he said.

There are more than 700,000 white card holders in Rakhine State and authorities have urged them to hand over the cards.

In the Rakhine State, the citizenship verification process has been carried out based on the 1982 Citizenship Law. More than 400 people are reported to have been screened in accordance with the citizenship verification process.

The government has announced that it has been carrying out citizenship scrutiny of white card holders, saying all white cards will expire on March 31, and therefore white card holders must hand over their cards between March 31 and May 31.

(c) Greg Constantine

By FIDH
March 1, 2015

Last year, Burma experienced a backsliding of its human rights situation. As the country enters an election year, the situation on the ground has deteriorated. Attacks on civilians in Kachin and Shan States, sexual violence committed by security forces during armed conflict, the existence of political prisoners, the harassment of human rights defenders, activists, and media professionals, extrajudicial killings, land confiscation, and the targeting of religious and ethnic minorities – in particular of Rohingya – are serious human rights challenges that remain unaddressed. In addition, no progress has been made with regard to key legislative and institutional reforms, in particular constitutional reform and election laws. In the run-up to the 69th session of the UN General Assembly in 2014, FIDH and its member organization Altsean-Burma published a briefer outlining these key human rights issues. 

Since 2011, the narrative of Burma’s reforms has been floating around international arenas. This has resulted in a decrease in international pressure on the Burmese government, which was reflected in weaker condemnatory language of UN resolutions related to Burma. The Burmese government has taken advantage of this new international dynamic and has sought the discontinuation of international monitoring mechanisms, such as the mandate of UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the country.

Recent resolutions on Burma adopted by the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) have been unique insofar as they have been adopted by consensus despite the country being placed under the Council’s agenda item 4, dedicated to the most serious situations of human rights violations. At the HRC’s 25th session in March 2014, the Burmese government made it clear that it regarded the resolution adopted then as paving the way for the consideration of Burma under the HRC’s agenda item 10 (on technical assistance and capacity-building), thereby softening international scrutiny of the country.

However, over the last year, in addition to the backsliding of the human rights situation, the Burmese government has not only largely ignored UN recommendations but also stalled on negotiations with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) regarding the opening of an OHCHR country office.

Against this backdrop, FIDH calls on the HRC to extend the mandate of the Special Rapporteur for a period of at least one year by adopting a resolution under the HRC’s agenda item 4. By adopting such a resolution, the Council will show its relevance and continue to exert the necessary pressure on the Burmese government to carry out meaningful reform.

At HRC28, FIDH, in collaboration with Forum-Asia and Human Rights Watch, will organize a side event on the human rights situation in Burma. Panelists will include Altsean-Burma’s Coordinator and FIDH Secretary-General Debbie Stothard, and Women Peace Network Arakan’s Director Wai Wai Nu, a young Rohingya activist who spent seven years in jail as a political prisoner. The panelists will also participate in a round of meetings with diplomatic missions.

FIDH, alongside Human Rights Watch, the National Endowment for Democracy, and the Blue Earth Alliance, will also support an exhibition by the award-winning photographer Greg Constantine (Plaine de Plainpalais, Geneva, 4-29 March 2015). “Exiled to Nowhere” will highlight the plight of Burma’s Rohingya, whose situation has been documented by Greg Constantine as part of his work on stateless people.




Army Chief Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing at a parade in Naypyidaw marking Armed Forces Day in March 2014. (Photo: JPaing / The Irrawaddy)


By Jared Ferrie 
March 1, 2015

RANGOON — Fighting between the Burma army and ethnic Chinese rebels has handed the long-feared military a public relations coup, with an explosion of praise on social media and even former political prisoners expressing grudging support.

Fighting erupted on Feb. 9 in the Kokang region of northeast Burma, on the border with China, between government forces and ethnic Chinese rebels called the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA).

Various ethnic minority rebel groups have battled the government in Burma since its independence in 1948.

During its 49-year rule, the military became notorious for abuses in ethnic minority areas in the hills and for crushing calls for democracy in towns and cities.

A semi-civilian reformist government came to power in 2011 but the military retains an effective veto over politics. Rights groups have documented abuses including rape and torture in areas where the military is fighting insurgents.

But since the latest clashes began, suspicion of the army has given way to approval, especially on social media platforms such as Facebook where many people have changed profile pictures to symbols of the military, or Tatmadaw as it is known.

The clashes over the Kokang region have stirred traditional suspicion of Burma’s giant neighbor to the north.

“This is the duty of the Tatmadaw—everybody says this in our country. I also agree on this,” Zagana, a comedian and actor who was locked up for dissent during military rule, told Reuters.

Dozens of government soldiers have been killed in the fighting and Zagana visited some wounded ones and posted photographs on his Facebook page.

But he said he was not pro-military and called for the army to negotiate an end to the fighting.

The MNDAA was formerly part of the Communist Party of Burma, a powerful Chinese-backed guerrilla force that battled the Burma government before splintering in 1989.

The rebels are seen as having instigated the fighting with Chinese backing, though China has rejected that claim.

The military has responded to its approval with more openness. State-run media carries daily updates and reporters have been invited to rare briefings.

“In the case of Kokang, the Tatmadaw is seen as playing its role as the guardian of the union and Myanmar’s national sovereignty,” said Yun Sun, an analyst with the Washington-based Stimson Center.

“This role is not entirely clear in other conflicts,” she said, referring to clashes in other parts of the country with ethnic minority forces, where the military is often perceived to be fighting for its own interests.

Buddhist monks and other people take part in a protest to demand the revocation of the right of holders of temporary identification cards, known as white cards, to vote, in Yangon on February 11, 2015. (Soe Zeya Tun/Courtesy: Reuters)


By Joshua Kurlantzick
March 1, 2015

This week, Amnesty International released its assessment of Myanmar’s 2014 human rights record. Although Myanmar’s bumpy road to reform had been well-documented, the report is even more negative than I had expected. Program toward improvement in political and civil rights in Myanmar “stalled” and went into reverse in 2014, Amnesty reported in the Myanmar chapter of its annual global assessment of freedom. According to the report, discrimination against Muslims, particularly in western Myanmar’s Rakhine State, worsened last year, the government prevented humanitarian aid from reaching refugees in areas where the army is still battling ethnic insurgencies, and Naypyidaw maintained what Amnesty called “severe restrictions” on freedom of assembly. These were just a few of the lowlights for Myanmar in 2014.

In the first two months of 2015, which are not covered in the Amnesty 2014 report, human rights have apparently deteriorated further in Myanmar. The country is still more open, in terms of both political and civil rights, than it was during the decades of military junta rule, but already this year Myanmar has witnessed serious outbreaks of conflict in the northeast. There have been numerous reports of rights violations by both ethnic Kokang insurgents and by the military in the northeast conflict during the past two months. Aid workers trying to evacuate displaced people in the northeast have had their convoys, which were flying the symbol of the Red Cross, fired upon.

There are also, unfortunately, few signs that the core problems revealed by Amnesty’s report will be addressed by President Thein Sein’s government—or by whatever government is formed after elections to be held later this year. As I noted earlier this week, the Myanmar military still operates without sufficient civilian control, fostering a culture of impunity for officers and generals that only abets rights abuses. The ethnic insurgencies in the north and northeast still fester due to a lack of trust-building between Naypyidaw and many of the ethnic militias. The ongoing insurgencies continue to cause refugee flows and facilitate rights abuses by both sides.

Meanwhile, no prominent Myanmar political leaders, including National League for Democracy (NLD) leaders, are willing to take a public stance clearly denouncing the anti-Muslim hate-mongering propagated by Buddhist Burman nationalist groups. This hate-mongering has helped create an environment in which attacks on Muslims in western Myanmar go ignored by most Burmese or are even applauded in public discourse. The hateful environment further suggests to the nationalist paramilitary groups which have emerged in recent years that attacking Muslims has no consequences. In addition, although the media environment and the environment for public expression is far freer than it was under military rule, Myanmar’s leaders still seem unwilling to create the foundations of a truly free press, allowing for journalists to be routinely harassed by authorities and jailed for their reporting.

Will the elections later this year resolve these ongoing challenges? A peaceful change in government would be a milestone for Myanmar, but just having a new, elected leadership will not do much to address these entrenched problems. In fact, although I wholly support Myanmar’s election process, an NLD government might frankly have a tougher time establishing civilian control of the armed forces, as well as reaching a permanent peace with the myriad armed insurgencies.

(Photo: STR/AFP/Getty Images)

By Hanna Hindstrom
February 27, 2015

Both government and opposition see bashing the besieged Rohingya minority as a sure-fire path to electoral success.

The Burmese government recently came under fire for back-pedaling on a pledge to grant the country’s beleaguered Rohingya minority the right to vote. On Feb. 12, the government announced the imminent suspension of all temporary ID cards held by over half a million Rohingya Muslims in western Burma, dashing hopes that they might be allowed to vote in Burma’s first general election in over 50 years, scheduled for the end of this year.

The proposal to grant the Rohingya voting rights — aggressively promoted by Burma’s ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) and passed by parliament on Feb. 2 — had been seen as a flicker of hope for the stateless Muslim minority squeezed into apartheid-like conditions near the Bangladeshi border. But President Thein Sein quickly bowed to a growing Buddhist protest movement and withdrew his support. A spokesperson for the U.S. government criticized his decision as “counter to reconciliation in Rakhine [state],” where outbursts of religious violence between Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims have claimed dozens of lives since 2012. The sad reality is that the proposal was never more than a cynical political ploy to harness votes for the military-aligned USDP ahead of the highly anticipated elections. The government’s rapid U-turn only exposes its two-faced policy toward the Rohingya.

Indeed, the military and its proxy parties have simultaneously suppressed and courted the Rohingya vote since 2008, when the military welcomed their support to help rig a referendum approving a controversial new constitution. In the flawed 2010 election, many stateless Rohingya were offered the prospect of citizenship in exchange for casting their ballots for the USDP, which subsequently grasped power in three Muslim-majority constituencies in northern Rakhine State. Once in office, President Thein Sein’s government quickly reneged on these commitments.

There are currently six ethnic Rohingya legislators representing the USDP in northern Rakhine: three at the state and three at the national level. These politicians, who took up their posts promising to secure greater rights and freedoms for their people, have proven troublesome for the ruling party. Shwe Maung, a Rohingya member of the national parliament, has drawn considerable ire for his unapologetic activism on behalf of his constituency. Last year a presidential spokesman accused him of “defamation” for implicating local police officers in an alleged massacre of Rohingya in the western town of Maungdaw.

Nonetheless, in 2010 the Rohingya vote was essential to the USDP, with nearly half of its legislators in Rakhine elected by the minority (while several more seats were obtained through electoral fraud). The USDP’s overtures to the Rohingya also provoked hostility from the Buddhist-majority ethnic Rakhine — another minority group long persecuted by the military junta — who mostly view the Rohingya as “illegal immigrants” from neighboring Bangladesh, and see the government’s courting of their vote as a betrayal of their state for political profit. Buoyed by hostility toward the Burman-dominated military, a nationalist Rakhine party (now known as the Rakhine National Party or RNP), won a majority of seats in the national and regional parliaments. The RNP and other Rakhine nationalist parties have since spearheaded efforts to marginalize and disenfranchise the Rohingya, whose plight became more acute in 2012, when religious violence forced some 140,000 of them into cramped, disease-infested camps. With its new influence in parliament, the RNP has successfully pushed through a law banning undocumented Rohingya from forming political parties.

As in 2010, the RNP now poses a significant electoral threat to the USDP in Rakhine State, where the ruling party is likely to lose most of its remaining seats in the 2015 poll without the Rohingya vote. This is why the USDP once again turned — briefly — to the Rohingya in an effort to attract voters in the region this year. This is not without a small tinge of irony, considering the government’s oppression of the minority, who Thein Sein has repeatedly threatened to deport from Burma.

Unfortunately, a tide of Buddhist nationalism has now made it more politically profitable to vilify the Rohingya than to woo them for their votes. Since the 2012 violence, the unpopular minority has become a rallying tool for both ethnic Rakhine and Burman political parties — boosted by a nationwide crusade to “defend” Buddhism against Islam. The government has never recognized the term “Rohingya” and has been accused of complicity in a campaign of ethnic cleansing against the minority. President Thein Sein has even publicly defended the country’s most venomous hate preacher,Ashin Wirathu, who has likened Muslims to “mad dogs.”

Wirathu’s powerful Buddhist nationalist group, known locally as the “Ma Ba Tha,” has collaborated with the government to draft a set of “race and religious protection” laws designed to restrict the rights of Muslims. In turn, Wirathu has backed Thein Sein and warned against amending the constitution to allow opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi a chance at the presidency. This cozy relationship exposes the political value of exploiting, rather than soothing, anti-Muslim sentiments in the run-up to the elections. In this context, it should come as no surprise that the USDP leadership quickly abandoned its flirtations with the Rohingya vote.

The military, which has a long history of pitting the country’s myriad ethnic and religious groups against each other, has even less incentive to support the reviled minority. Since 2012, ethnic Rakhine have welcomed thousands of Burmese troops into the restive state to maintain security. The military’s role has been amplified by persistent rumors — often repeated by the government — that Rohingya separatists are now active along the Bangladeshi border. The threat of instability and violence may thus serve as an alternate strategy to boost the army’s popularity in Rakhine and defend its grip over Burmese politics.

Shwe Maung, one of the Rohingya lawmakers from Rakhine, concedes that the USDP leadership “may have another plan” in place for winning support in Rakhine. He says he feels “betrayed” by the government, and will not stand in the 2015 election unless temporary ID or “white card” holders are allowed to vote. This looks increasingly unlikely, as white cards will be invalidated from March 31, rendering their owners unable to vote under Burmese election law. As some 95 percent of Shwe Maung’s constituency are Muslim Rohingya, the disenfranchisement of its population could be devastating — not least if Rakhine nationalists secured his seat.

The Burmese government continues to push ahead with its controversial nationality verification process, which will require Rohingya Muslims to label themselves as “Bengali” in order to obtain citizenship. The few Rohingya who have accepted this designation have seen no significant changes to their standard of living, remaining confined to peripheral slums or displacement camps with limited access to education and healthcare. All Rohingya “white card” holders will now be obligated to undergo this process after their documents expire next month. Those who refuse risk deportation.

The idea of using the Rohingya as pawns rather than allies seems to have permeated the opposition party as well. Democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi’s party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), also fought against the bid to enfranchise the Rohingya, with one of the party’s lawmakers dismissing the proposal as “inconsistent” with other legislation. It is not the first time the Nobel laureate has drawn criticism for her silence on the oppression of the Rohingya or Burma’s escalating anti-Muslim sentiments. In December, the NLD fired one of its leaders for making a public speech criticizing the proliferation of Buddhist extremism. He is now facing a three-year jail sentence for “insulting” religion. Suu Kyi has never spoken in his support.

Her silence has been widely interpreted as a Machiavellian gambit designed to avoid controversy ahead of the 2015 election that, assuming it is free and fair, her party is expected to win by a landslide. The upsurge in religious hostility — which has claimed hundreds of mostly Muslim lives across the country since 2012 — is seen by some as a manufactured attempt to fracture her popular support base. Either way, Suu Kyi – like her uniformed opponents — seems to have prioritized political cunning over human rights.

As Burma’s historic elections draw nearer, it is becoming increasingly clear that the Rohingya have little to gain from the country’s political transition, which ended five decades of military rule in 2011. Neither the ruling party nor the opposition has ever been genuinely interested in promoting their rights. On Wednesday, a UN human rights chief warned Burmese politicians against fanning the “flames of prejudice” to win votes in the upcoming poll. Unfortunately, it would appear that the besieged minority carries far greater political currency as scapegoats than as full-fledged participants in Burma’s fragile democracy.

A view of Chanaye Tharyar Quarter in Meiktila. Buddhists and Muslims in Meiktila, Myanmar, were separated along faith lines after interreligious violence destroyed roughly 800 homes in 2013. Now residents have petitioned the government to allow them to reintegrate as before. Photo courtesy of Aung Htay


By Pai Soe
February 27, 2015

YANGON, Myanmar -- Buddhists and Muslims in the central city of Meiktila were separated along faith lines after interreligious violence destroyed roughly 800 homes in 2013. Now residents have petitioned the government to allow them to reintegrate, but some remain skeptical about the neighbors’ prospects for peace.

Affected residents submitted letters to President Thein Sein, Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi and Parliament Speaker Thura Shwe Mann outlining their request but say they are still awaiting a response.

The latest trouble began nearly two years ago, when riots broke out between Muslims and Buddhists in Meiktila, leaving at least 40 people dead, more than 60 wounded and thousands displaced. At the time, many residents sought safety in a nearby forest.

“We stayed together in the forest and slept for two nights,” said Hla May, a Buddhist woman who now lives in one of Meiktila’s internally displaced person (IDP) camps. “We’ve now cried together, looking at our burned houses.”

These Muslim and Buddhist residents, whom the government classified as IDPs, were initially placed in shared temporary housing after the riots. Later, the government segregated the homeless residents by religion and sent them to different camps.

Ko Aung Htay, who is in charge of Meiktila’s camp for Muslim residents, said an officer from the local administration told him that if IDPs from both faiths live together in one place, they might cause trouble. To avoid problems, they were separated, a solution many residents deemed undesirable and unnecessary.

“We have been living together for a long time with no problems,” said U Myint Lwin, who is in charge of the local transportation training center.

Aye Maung Win, who runs the city’s camp for Buddhist IDPs at Inn Kone Sarsana Rakhita Monastery, said that although there have not yet been problems, trouble could still emerge if the camps were to be reintegrated. He added that residents of all faiths still mingle in Meiktila.

“We spend time together in teashops, though we live in different areas separated by a 30-foot-wide road now,” he said.

Ko Khin Nan, who oversees Meiktila’s redevelopment committee, said that the local government has provided 100 million kyats (about $100,000) for reconstruction projects and that Muslim donors from Taunggyi and Yangon have supported the rebuilding of houses for IDPs in this predominantly Buddhist country.

The 350 households that were able to prove ownership of houses destroyed in the riots now live in new ones. About 3,000 people remain in camps. Additional apartments are being built this year for those who used to share land, said U Myint Lwin.

In the meantime, Meiktila residents continue to wait for a response.



By Low Sock Ken
February 26, 2015

JOHOR BARU: The international community needs to work together, especially the Asean countries, to play a more significant role in helping Myanmar in the process of democratisation.

Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) special envoy to Myanmar, Tan Sri Syed Hamid Albar, said this when he opening the international conference on the "Future Democracy in Myanmar-Plight of the Oppressed Minority" at University Technologi Malaysia today.

He said Asean countries, such as Indonesia and Brunei, could play more important roles in helping Myanmar but the support from the international community was also important.

"The more countries discuss on the issues of the Muslim Rakhine (Rohingya) and Myanmar issues, it can help Myanmar to open up and go through the process of parliamentary democracy," he added.

He said the OIC is only focussing on humanitarian aid to the Rakhine people and that there is room for opening dialogue with the Myanmar authorities.

Displaced Rohingyas wait outside a humanitarian center for aid at a camp on the outskirts of Sittwe, Rakhine state, Feb. 26, 2014. (Photo: AFP)

By Joshua Lipes
February 25, 2015

Human rights in Myanmar backtracked in key areas in 2014 despite ongoing reforms in the Southeast Asian nation, according to a report released Wednesday, which counted discrimination and restrictions on freedom of expression among the worst violations in the country.

In its annual report on the state of the world’s human rights, London-based Amnesty International said the situation of the ethnic Muslim Rohingyas “deteriorated” in 2014, with ongoing discrimination in law and practice, and authorities failing to hold perpetrators of anti-Muslim violence to account.

“Individuals suffered persistent discrimination in law and policy, exacerbated by a deepening humanitarian crisis, ongoing eruptions of religious and anti-Muslim violence, and government failures to investigate attacks on Rohingya and other Muslims,” the report said.

“The authorities also failed to address incitement to violence based on national, racial and religious hatred.”

An estimated 139,000 people—mostly Rohingya—remained displaced in western Myanmar’s Rakhine state after violence erupted between Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingyas in 2012, Amnesty said, adding that the situation had worsened when some aid organizations were expelled from the country after they were attacked by Rakhine people for allegedly giving preferential treatment to Muslims.

Rohingyas also remained deprived of nationality under Myanmar’s 1982 Citizenship Act, leaving them open to restrictions on freedom of movement that affected their livelihoods, the report said.

The government in October introduced a new Rakhine State Action Plan which, if implemented, would further entrench discrimination and segregation of the Rohingyas, it said, adding that the announcement appeared to trigger a new wave of people fleeing the country in boats to join the 87,000 who have already done so since the violence started in 2012.

The government and ethnic armed groups failed to agree to a nationwide cease-fire, and ongoing conflict in Myanmar’s Kachin and Northern Shan states led to violations of international humanitarian and human rights law reported on both sides, including unlawful killings and torture, and other ill-treatment, such as rape and other crimes of sexual violence.

Amnesty said that freedom of expression and right of peaceful assembly remained “severely restricted” in 2014, with “scores” of human rights defenders, journalists, political activists and farmers arrested or imprisoned “solely for the peaceful exercise of their rights.”

Myanmar’s President Thein Sein failed to keep his promise to release the country’s remaining prisoners of conscience in 2014, it said, while protests against land confiscations and forced evictions were “widespread,” some of which were met with “unnecessary or excessive use of force” by security forces.

Amnesty also slammed Myanmar’s failure to ratify the U.N. Convention against Torture as promised by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, noting that allegations of torture and other ill-treatment were “persistent,” though investigations into complaints were rare and suspected perpetrators were seldom held to account.

Meanwhile, it said, immunity from prosecution for past violations by the security forces and other government officials remained codified in the country’s junta-backed 2008 constitution, denying victims of past rights violations and their families truth, justice, compensation and any other form of reparation.

Cambodia

In Cambodia, respect for the right to freedoms of expression, association and assembly deteriorated due to a seven-month ban on public gatherings, the report said, which was instituted following a three-day crackdown on January 2014 protests in Phnom Penh that resulted in at least four deaths and 23 arrests.

Authorities used “excessive force” against peaceful protesters, resulting in deaths and injuries, it said, and district security guards and plain-clothed men in the capital frequently used weapons such as sticks, wooden batons, metal bars, electroshock weapons and slingshots to break up demonstrations.

Human rights defenders and political activists faced threats, harassment, prosecution and sometimes violence, though impunity for perpetrators of human rights abuses persisted, with no thorough, impartial and independent investigations into killings and beatings, Amnesty said.

Thousands of people affected by land grabbing by private companies for development and agro-industry faced forced eviction and loss of land, housing and livelihood in 2014, it said.

The group cited an April report by local rights group Licadho, which estimated that the total number of people affected since 2000 by land grabbing and forced evictions in 13 provinces monitored—about half the country—had passed half a million.

Vietnam

In one-party communist Vietnam, “severe restrictions” on freedoms of expression, association and assembly continued in 2014, Amnesty said, as the state continued to control the media and the judiciary, as well as political and religious institutions.

At least 60 prisoners of conscience remained jailed in harsh conditions following “unfair trials,” including bloggers, labor and land rights activists, political activists, religious followers, members of ethnic groups and advocates for human rights and social justice, while new trials and arrests took place.

Amnesty said authorities attempted to curtail the activities of unauthorized civil society groups through harassment, surveillance and restrictions on freedom of movement, while security officers frequently harassed and physically attacked peaceful activists and held them in short-term detention.

Laos

In communist Laos, state controls over the media, judiciary and political and social institutions also contributed to severe restrictions on freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly in 2014, Amnesty said.

Draft laws and a decree to control the use of the internet and social media were completed by the end of the year, it noted.

The report cited a “lack of openness” and a “scarcity of information” in the country, which it said made independent monitoring of the human rights situation difficult.

It also noted that the enforced disappearance of prominent civil society member Sombath Somphone remained unresolved at the end of the year, adding that police had provided little information about the progress of their investigation.

“This compounded fears that the failure to properly investigate Sombath Somphone’s abduction of to attempt to locate him indicated complicity in his disappearance, which undermined the development of an active and confident civil society,” the report said.

Norbanu, a 60-year-old Rohingya, speaks with her daughter's boyfriend, who is now in Indonesia, from an internet hut in Thae Chaung village, home to thousands of displaced Rohingya Muslims near Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine State in western Myanmar February 14, 2015. REUTERS/Minzayar

By Andrew R.C. Marshall
February 25, 2015

THAE CHAUNG, Myanmar -- In this teeming camp for displaced Rohingya Muslims in western Myanmar, it's easy to overlook the internet huts. The raw emotion they generate is much harder to ignore.

The huts have bamboo walls, thatched roofs and - most importantly - dusty laptop computers that allow Rohingya to reestablish contact with relatives who have left on boats for Thailand and Malaysia. The internet connection comes via cellphones jammed into the cobweb-strewn rafters.

Smoke from the camp's cooking fires seeps in through the flimsy walls. Sound drifts out just as easily, obliging callers to share their personal dramas with everyone nearby.

What emerges is an intimate portrait of the Rohingya, a mostly stateless people living in often grim conditions in Myanmar, where many consider them illegal immigrants. The huts also provide an insight into the human traffickers who profit from the boat-people and the families they leave behind.

Today, there is joy: Fatima, 56, is blessing her son's choice of bride. Connected via a Skype-like app, he sits in an internet cafe in the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur, where he works as a cleaner.

"Of course you must marry her, if her skin is fair," Fatima tells him. Her son promises to introduce his sweetheart in a later call.

Other exchanges are tragic or sinister. 

Many people arrive with scraps of paper with a cellphone number with a Malaysian country code. These belong to the traffickers who each year ferry thousands of Rohingya to Thailand, where they are routinely held for ransom in remote camps near the border with Malaysia.

Freedom costs $1,200 to $1,800 - a fortune for most Rohingya living on a dollar or two a day.

A trafficker is demanding $1,400 to release Rahana's 12-year-old son. Rahana, who like many Rohingya women goes by a single name, has already sent $1,100, but the trafficker wants the balance.

At least she is allowed to talk briefly with her son. Usually, after an initial "proof of life" call, traffickers do not let relatives speak until paid in full.

A man answers the Malaysian number Rahana calls. "Let me speak to my son," she tells him. A few seconds pass. Then a small voice says, "Mum?" 

Rahana's eyes fills with tears and her jaw trembles. She quickly composes herself.

"I will send the money," she tells the boy. "Then they will let you go." After the call, Rahana is dazed and fretful. "My son told me he was sick," she says. "Whenever he eats, he vomits."

"THEY TRUST ME"

Thae Chaung was a fishing village until 2012, when ethnic Rakhine Buddhists drove thousands of Rohingya from the nearby city of Sittwe. Religious violence in Rakhine State that year killed at least 200 people and left 140,000 homeless.

Today, Thae Chaung is a grimy, overcrowded camp. For most residents, a boat to Thailand is the only way out.

All those arrivals and departures presented Rohingya merchant Kyaw Thein, 29, with an opportunity.

Until 2012, he sold ice and gasoline to village fishermen. Now he runs a busy internet hut, charging 100 Myanmar kyat (10 cents) per minute for an overseas call on one of three battered laptops that are in almost constant use.

He provides other services too.

Rohingya working overseas routinely send money to relatives back home. This can be wired to the Sittwe bank account of a Rakhine middleman, who brings the cash to Kyaw Thein. He then gives it to the relatives - minus his 1.5 percent commission.

His windowless shack is also the conduit for thousands of dollars in ransom money.

Relatives entrust Kyaw Thein with bricks of kyat that he delivers to a Rohingya middleman in a nearby village. He says he does not charge for this service or deal directly with the traffickers. "They trust me," he says, "but I don't trust them."

In the past, Kyaw Thein says, Rohingya had to pay hundreds of dollars to board Malaysia-bound boats. Now, they pay only a few dollars to be ferried to large ships moored far offshore.

Their onward voyage is free - because traffickers know they can extort much higher sums by detaining these boat people once they arrive in Thailand or Malaysia.

Brokers roam the Rohingya camps dotted along the Rakhine coastline, says Kyaw Thein, and get a "finder's fee" from traffickers for each passenger they deliver.

Abdul Kadar blames these brokers for luring away his 14-year-old daughter. She left home one morning to visit a neighbour and never came back.

She is now in a camp in Thailand or Malaysia. The traffickers want $1,500 that Abdul Kadar, a whippet-thin rickshaw driver, cannot pay.

"They told me they would kick her off the top of a mountain," he says.

Abdul Kadar told them to find a man who wants to marry her, then ask him to pay the ransom. He knows he is effectively giving them permission to sell his daughter.

"All I have are worries," he says. "I can't do anything."

By AFP
February 25, 2015

The United Nations human rights chief warned Wednesday that widespread abuses of minority rights in Myanmar threatened to undermine reforms in the country.

"Myanmar had promised to end the era of political prisoners, but now seems intent on creating a new generation by jailing people who seek to enjoy the democratic freedoms they have been promised," UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein said in a statement.

He said the world had hailed the transition in Myanmar since a quasi-civilian regime took power in 2011 after decades of military rule "as a story of promise and hope."

Myanmar's roughly 1.3 million Rohingya are stateless and subject to travel restrictions ©Soe Than Win/AFP

"But recent developments relating to the human rights of minorities, the freedom of expression and the right to peaceful protest are calling into question the direction of that reform and even threatening to set it back," he said.

Zeid pointed to the case last week of 14 members of the Michaungkan community jailed for protesting peacefully against the military's alleged confiscation of their land.

And in 2014, he said, 10 journalists were jailed "under outdated defamation, trespassing and national security laws."

He also expressed concern related to upcoming elections.

"During an election year, it will be tempting for some politicians to fan the flames of prejudice for electoral gain," he warned.

"But at a time when religious extremism is creating havoc in many parts of the world, the terrible consequences of appealing to or appeasing such sentiments should be all to clear."

Among the worrying developments was a government announcement last week that identity cards for people without full citizenship, including Muslim Rohingya, will expire within weeks.

"The decision appears designed to prevent 'white card' holders -- the majority believed to be members of Myanmar's stateless Rohingya Muslim minority -- from being eligible to vote," Zeid warned.

Many of Myanmar's roughly 1.3 million Rohingya are stateless and subject to restrictions that affect everything from their ability to travel and work to the permitted size of their families.

Zeid said the Myanmar government even opposes the use of the term "Rohingya", insisting that denying the group's right to self-identification "should sound a clear warning bell."

The UN rights chief also voiced alarm at escalating violence between the military and rebels in the remote Kokang region near the Chinese border, where more than 130 people have died since February 9 and tens of thousands have reportedly been displaced.

United Nations human rights chief Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein expressed concern over upcoming elections in Myanmar ©Fabrice Coffrini/AFP
Qutub Shah
RB Article
February 25, 2015

In every issue relating to Rohingya, there is a dual role played by Myanmar government – as both the litigant and the judge. That’s why the problem seems to remain unsolved except by the intervention of a third party. Myanmar, especially since 2012, blames Rohingya for many negative things such as having lower literacy rates, higher birth rates, weak economy, limited natural resources, undeveloped environment, peculiar lifestyle, different communal system, and alienation of Burmese culture such as a big portion of them can’t speak Burmese, etc., whereas the government itself is the responsible for these. These are among the lacunas through which the Myanmar government tries to degrade or defame Rohingya community on the global rostrum hiding its hypocrisy of a playing dual role beyond its media or, you can say, ‘agents of injustice’. So, the one who follows up Burmese media may easily think that there may be secret(s) within themselves (Rohingya) which resulted in the backwardness of their community. The hypocrisy of playing a dual role manifests in every issue. Here are some examples of its manifestations:

Education and Culture

Myanmar government always defames Rohingya community. Portraying that it is an illiterate and uneducated community, and it does not value education. At the same time, the following are government violations in the field of education.

-> Not enough school is provided. 
-> Neither qualified teacher nor other facilities in the schools available. 
-> The Buddhist Rakhine teachers 
- Don’t attend school regularly, 
- Don’t teach Rohingya students sincerely 
- Don’t teach well to run their tuition classes. 
-> No Rohingya teacher at all, so language is a barrier for kids. 
-> Salaries of NGO-appointed teachers are corrupted by Rakhine Headmasters, and then they collect fees from poor villagers. 
-> Children going for forced labor to gov’t authorities’ camp disrupts their study, as their parents are busy in earning to sustain their lives. 
-> As for higher education, 
- No professional major for Rohingya students, 
- No choice of institution except Sittwe University 
- No freedom in choosing a major except some arts subjects like Burmese, History, psychology, etc. 
- Majority Rakhine students harassment in the university 
- Discrimination of Rakhine officers, lecturers and professors. 
- Movement permit (called Form 4 for foreign residents) is the main obstacle, as it must be issued with bribe, and takes time and efforts. 
-> Movement restriction is another major barrier for education. 
-> As for religious education, 
- Not allowed to establish new institutions at all 
- Not allowed to maintain the old ones 
- Not allowed to do teaching activities as necessary

Since 2012, there is no access to university for Rohingya students who pass Matriculation. Isn’t it a laughingstock that Thein Sein sometimes says the government will develop Rohingya education?

Secondly, in order to alienate the Rohingya community, the government and the Rakhines always blame Rohingya for not being able speak the country's official language; our life style and communal system is different from common Burmese culture. On the other hand, the government isolated this community and made northern Arakan state a ‘restricted area’ for its Muslim inhabitants – the entrant can’t go out and no entrance for one who exits once. Since 1962 of military rule, the government decreases gradually Rohingya employment to zero level.

Economy and development

The government also refers to weak economy and undevelopment of the region in the case of outbreak of any communal conflict or instability. The reason for weak economy goes to three things.

-> Arbitrary taxation: Government taxes or local authorities’ demands are too high to the extent that it exceeds all incomes.

-> Unique authorized agents: There are unique authorized agents of government who hold monopoly of goods and play with prices.

-> Bad roads and communications and movement restriction: Besides bad road and communications system, the restriction of movement lets Rakhines monopolize carry and supply of all goods.

There is not a single road in Arakan state built without Rohingya forced labor. There is not a single Authority camp or office but built on lands confiscated from Rohingya by force. No such camp or office is built except by materials seized from Rohingya illegally and their forced labors.

The government not only disallows Rohingya to build new long-lasting houses but also prohibits rebuilding or repairing them in any form even with a piece of bamboo or wood.

There is no public electricity except in city centers, and people light their nights by oil lamps. Generators used by some individuals must be borrowed to government authority from time to time and also for free. 

Citizenship and ethnicity

Myanmar government denies Rohingya citizenship and fundamental rights accusing them of being illegal immigrant from Bangladesh. The government itself is making them Bengalis or stateless by ignoring all historical record, changing the citizenship law, misinterpreting the statements of some leaders of the country and false reasoning the documents issued by the government, etc. This genocidal operation started in 1962, strengthened in 1982 and reaching the END currently.

In Myanmar there were 144 ethnic races, but there are now just 135. 

The rest are the victims of government genocide like Rohingya. 

2012 Massacre

In the recent 2012 massacre, the government was and still portraying it as a communal violence between the two communities. At the same time, the government is not providing full security over the situation or protection to the victims, but also government itself is involving in the riots. So, we can sum up that the police, army, military, security forces and other government authorities are authorized terrorists. 

Even today, government silence over the daily crimes against Rohingya committed by its authorities in Arakan state congratulates them and legalizes their crimes. Isn’t it state terrorism?

Currently the white card issue is another hypocrisy, as its holders who participated in the referendum and the election of Thein Sein and his ruling party USDP, their further right to vote is provoked by the same party and they are made fully ‘STATELESS’.

Student protesters from Mandalay arrive in Okpo, Pegu Division, on Feb. 12. (Photo: Sai Zaw / The Irrawaddy)

By Nobel Zaw
February 23, 2015

RANGOON — Student leaders and education NGOs on Sunday accused Burma’s government of violating the conditions of a recently reached agreement on drafting a new education bill. The groups said the Education Ministry had attempted to circulate its own bill, while authorities had continued to issue threats against students.

The Feb. 14 agreement ended large-scale student protests and was the result of extensive discussions between the government, student leaders, education NGOs, and lawmakers.

On Feb. 16, the bill was submitted to Parliament and it is due to be discussed soon. The draft incorporates the 11 principal concerns of student protesters, broadly seeking to loosen government control over educational institutions and expand access to education. Specific provisions include a decentralized curriculum and allowing for native language instruction in classrooms in ethnic minority regions.

However, on Feb. 17 state-run media published the Education Ministry’s own bill, alongside the agreed-upon bill with a title suggesting that the latter was only being proposed by education NGOs of the National Network for Education Reform (NNER) and student leaders of the Action Committee for Democratic Education.

NNER member Arka Moe Thu said the government appeared to distance itself from the agreed-upon bill and had attempted to present its own education bill that was “nearly the same” as the existing Education Law that students and NGOs have been opposing in recent months.

“It violates the four-party agreement,” he said during a press conference held in Rangoon on Sunday, during which the students and NNER released an open letter criticizing the government and calling on it to abide by the Feb. 14 agreement.

As a pre-condition to that agreement, students and NGOs had demanded that the government ceased legal threats against the students, but they said on Sunday that student demonstrators that wanted to march on to Rangoon had still faced legal threats after Feb. 14.

Nationalists Criticize Students’ Education Bill

On Monday, Burma’s nationalist Buddhist movement, the Ma Ba Tha, sought to further ingrain themselves into the country’s political discussions by issuing a statement that criticized the Feb. 14 education bill now in Parliament.

State media published a statement by the Ma Ba Tha, which is led by radical Buddhist monks and has been accused of fanning hate speech against Burma’s Muslim minority, saying that some unnamed provisions in the bill “will cause worries for the future of the country, dangerous loopholes, disastrous side-effects and tricks.”

A man answering the phone at Ma Ba Tha’s Rangoon center declined to explain the vaguely-worded statement. The Irrawaddy understands that the statement is targeted at Article 34 (j) of the bill.

In the current Education Law’s Article 34 Buddhist monastic schools are the only religious schools that can teach in minority languages. Amendments proposed by student leaders and education NGOs would add provision Article 34(j) that would expand the right to teach ethnic minority children in their mother language to all other religious schools.

In the days before Ma Ba Tha released its criticism of the education bill, posts began to appear on Burma’s social network sites where apparently nationalist Facebook users warned that Article 34(j) could lead to teaching of Arabic languages at Islamic schools.

Burma has an active and rapidly growing group of social network users and the sites have been used in the past to spread nationalist hate speech.

Independent education expert Thein Lwin, who helped draw up the Feb. 14 bill, said the amendment to Article 34 had been included at the request of Christian ethnic minority organizations that ran schools in ethnic regions, where many children entering primary school initially only speak their mother tongue.

“In education, there is no discrimination and we found that children learn more effectively when the teacher teaches in their native language,” he said.

Aung Hmine San, a student leader on the Action Committee for Democratic Education, said it appeared that the government was using the Ma Ba Tha to discredit the education NGOs and student movement, which have been popular with the Burmese public.

Victor Beattie
VOA/Washington
February 23, 2015

The government in Myanmar, also known as Burma, Tuesday declared a state of emergency and imposed a 90-day period of martial law in eastern Shan state. The announcement was made by President Thein Sein in a televised address following clashes between the army and ethnic minority rebels in the Kokang region of the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA).

The announcement follows the ambush of a Red Cross convoy that wounded two people. The government says at least 50 soldiers and 26 rebels have been killed since the flareup February 9th.

China says tens of thousands of mostly ethnic Han Chinese residents have fled across the border into Yunnan province prompting Beijing to step up border controls and call for prevention of an escalation of the situation.

The violence comes as the Myanmar government, which has undertaken a series of reforms since 2011, is trying to work out a nationwide peace agreement with various ethnic groups ahead of elections scheduled for later this year.

Maung Zarni is a Burmese analyst with lecturer at Boston's Harvard Medical School. He tells VOA's Victor Beattie it would appear the military is stoking tensions in a bid to remain in control:



Maung Zarni says he is concerned the military may also be raising tensions in a bid to create instability whereby national elections would have to be delayed or cancelled if it perceives its chief rival, Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy would win. Burmese authorities annulled the 1990 election won by the NLD.

By Jeff Kingston
February 22, 2015

With the people of Myanmar heading to the polls later this year, there are troubling signs that some extremists are intent on stirring up trouble.

Last month, one such extremist held a rally in Yangon. Ashin Wirathu gave a vitriolic speech that attacked U.N. human rights envoy Yanghee Lee.

(Photo: DVB)

“Don’t assume you are a respectable person, just because you have a position in the U.N. In our country, you are just a whore,” he said. “If you are so willing, you may offer your arse to the kalar [a racist term meaning 'blacks' that is commonly used to denigrate Muslims in Myanmar]. But you will never sell off our Arakan State!” Remarkably, Wirathu is a monk.

This notorious monk has a history of instigating violence against Myanmar’s Muslim minority and is a bigoted rabble-rouser who allegedly has ties to “dark forces” that are eager to stir up trouble. He served an almost decade-long jail term for inciting violence in the past, but is apparently popular as recordings of his speeches are widely available and he attracts large audiences. On the day of his U.N.-bashing, he marched through Yangon with about 500 supporters, in a nation where such large demonstrations usually require a police permit.

Alas, Wirathu is the poster child for hate speech in Myanmar, spewing his invective and heartily backing controversial new legislation that aims to ban Buddhist women from marrying Muslims. Non-Buddhist men would have to convert to Buddhism before marrying a Buddhist woman, get consent from the bride’s parents or guardians, and only then could local officials register the marriage. Failure to comply could be penalized by imprisonment and/or confiscation of assets. Not only does this deny Muslim men freedom of religion, it also infringes on the rights of Buddhist women. It weakens women’s rights and gives parents or guardians control over the most intimate and important decision many will make in their lives.

This ban on interfaith marriage comes against the backdrop of a significant rise in anti-Muslim violence in recent years. At issue is whether Muslim families in the western state of Rakhine (formerly Arakan) are legitimate citizens of Myanmar, with all the rights that entails, or illegal immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh. The problem of the Rohingya is hotly debated and complicated, but it does seem that many of these Muslim families have been living in the country for several generations and are not recent arrivals. Undoubtedly, though, some of them are and dealing with them has provided a pretext for more draconian state treatment of all Muslims in the area, sparking violence against them, in some cases instigated by monks.

So what is with these militant monks? Certainly they are forcing us to reconsider the stereotype of monks as sutra-reading lotus-eaters dedicated to mindfulness and detachment through quiet meditation. The firebrand extremists are wolves in saffron robes, betraying their faith and urging others to hate and, in extreme cases, engage in acts of violence.

In 2007, several weeks after the Saffron Revolution — when security forces mowed down monks on the streets of Yangon — I was in Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine, and met some monks who had been involved in the anti-government demonstrations. They asked me why the U.S. didn’t launch airstrikes against the generals in Naypidaw, their dystopian capital built in the middle of nowhere. This is not what I expected from monks, but in scenic Mrauk U, a few hours riverboat ride away, I met other monks with the same question. In both places, anti-government invective was laced with nasty comments about Rohingya and Muslims. It was my first inkling that something was amiss.

Wirathu leads the 969 Movement, which promotes boycotts of local Indian or Chinese businesses, exploiting the widespread frustration among people living close to the edge. It is not a big leap from a boycott to some incident that can spark the kindling of discontent that leads to riots, deaths, burning and looting. By inflaming communal tensions and wreaking havoc, Buddhist militants have much to answer for but they enjoy impunity because security forces have not been even-handed.

Wirathu’s jingoistic rhetoric whips crowds into a frenzy, promoting a Buddhist nationalism that taps into the miseries of endemic poverty and offers a handy target. He wants to “save” Buddhist wombs from nefarious Muslims who threaten to overwhelm the demographic balance with their large families. It appears that his campaign is politically motivated as Wirathu is also linked to the government and those who engage in dirty tricks to weaken the election prospects of Aung San Suu Kyi and her party, the National League for Democracy (NLD).

Instigating communal turmoil underscores the need for a robust role by security forces in keeping the peace, thereby playing to the strength of the current government dominated by ex-military officers. They are desperate because everyone is predicting an NLD landslide. Thus a more devious aspect of this campaign is to maneuver Suu Kyi into the position of appearing overly solicitous toward the vilified Rohingya, thus “betraying” the Buddhist majority. Meanwhile, opposing the marriage law would mean she is not protecting “our” women from “them.”

Mindful of this insidious strategy, Suu Kyi must walk a tightrope in ways that frustrate her overseas backers who want her to stand up for the Rohingya. If forecasts are accurate, however, it appears that very few Buddhists are buying into this ruse and her NLD will coast to victory if the elections are free and fair. Will they be?

Curiously, on Feb. 11 the president’s office effectively revoked the voting rights of 2 million people only a few days after a massive majority in parliament granted suffrage to these same holders of temporary identity cards; 1.3 million of them are Muslim Rohingya. This is probably the least of Rohingya worries, but it does underscore how they have become political pawns.

So why was Wirathu lashing out at the U.N.? Because it is calling for Myanmar to grant citizenship to Rohingya born in the country. Lee, the target of Wirathu’s vile tirade, replied with dignity.

“Fundamental rights are not hierarchical — they aren’t conditional upon one another. They’re inalienable,” she said.

Perhaps so, but not if the mad monk and his masters get their way.

Jeff Kingston is the director of Asian Studies, Temple University Japan.




February 20, 2015

Myanmar’s backsliding on human rights reforms – only a few months before the general elections – underscores the necessity of the UN Human Tights Council to adopt a strong resolution on the situation of human rights in the country and to extend their mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, according to Amnesty International on February 18. 

The international rights group has just issued a written statement to be presented at the 28th session of the UN Human Rights Council to be held from March 2 to 27 in New York. 

The NGO says Human Rights Council resolutions on the situation of human rights in Myanmar and the mandate of the Special Rapporteur have been critical to demonstrating the international community’s support for human rights in Myanmar and have made a positive contribution towards improving the human rights situation there. 

Amnesty says continued strong engagement by the HRC is warranted as the human rights situation in the country remains serious. Myanmar is failing to make progress in several important areas and has slid back worryingly in others, just a few months before general elections. It is crucial that international scrutiny continues at such a critical juncture in the country’s history. 

The following is an overview of Amnesty International’s concerns on the human rights situation and recommendations for the HRC’s consideration, provided in full. 

In addition to this statement, the organization has submitted to the UN Human Rights Council session a written statement with concerns and recommendations relating to protection of people from abuses linked to extractive projects in Myanmar. 

Amnesty International’s key points 

Increased restrictions on freedoms of expression and peaceful assembly 

Since the last HRC resolution on Myanmar, Amnesty International has documented an increase in the number of prisoners of conscience in the country, in addition to an alarming rise in the harassment, arrest and detention of individuals who are simply exercising their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. These include human rights defenders, political activists, journalists, land activists, and farmers. 

Furthermore, the government has not taken any effective steps to repeal or amend laws that violate the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly or are used to punish the exercise of these rights. This creates an environment in which human rights defenders and journalists fear reprisals, which undermines their ability to carry out their legitimate work. 

Amnesty International also continues to receive reports of other violations within the criminal justice system, including torture and other ill-treatment and unfair trials. 

Crisis in Rakhine State 

The situation of the Rohingya has continued to deteriorate. In Rakhine state, what started as a humanitarian emergency has increasingly become an entrenched human rights crisis. 

The dire humanitarian situation of an estimated 139,000 displaced people in Rakhine State – mostly Rohingya – worsened following the expulsion of some humanitarian organizations in February and March 2014, and the withdrawal of others following attacks against them in March. Although access has resumed for some organizations, humanitarian assistance has not returned to the levels prior to the attacks. 

The situation in Rakhine state is fragile, and security concerns for people there are high. The Rohingya remain deprived of nationality under the 1982 Citizenship Act, and as a result they have continued to face restrictions on their freedom of movement, with repercussions for their access to livelihoods. Amnesty International is particularly concerned about the proposed Rakhine State Action Plan, a leaked copy of which looks set to further entrench discrimination against the Rohingya. Furthermore, the government has not made the plan publically available – or consulted with affected communities. 

The dire humanitarian situation, coupled with pervasive discrimination, increasing advocacy of hatred and threats of further restrictions, has pushed growing numbers of people to leave the Myanmar in recent months. In 2014 alone, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimated 53,000 people left the Bay of Bengal by boat. Between October and December, UNHCR recorded a 37 per cent increase in the number of people departing compared to the previous year. 

Rising religious intolerance 

Amnesty International is particularly concerned about the package of laws aimed at “protecting race and religion”, which are currently under consideration by the Parliament. The four laws – the Religious Conversion Bill, the Population Control Bill, the Myanmar Buddhist Women’s Special Marriage Bill and the Monogamy Bill – contain many aspects that do not comply with international human rights law and standards, including Myanmar’s legal obligations as a state party to the UN Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Many provisions in these four laws discriminate on multiple grounds, including gender, religion and marital status.

Amnesty International is concerned that the passage of these four laws will not only result in increased discrimination, it could further heighten existing tensions between religious groups. We are deeply concerned about the continued rise in religious intolerance and hardline nationalist attitudes. The government has failed to speak out against the growing use of advocacy of hatred to incite discrimination, hostility and violence. 

We share the condemnation by the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights of the deeply offensive and sexist comments made against the Special Rapporteur at the end of her visit to Myanmar. We note that others who speak out against hardline religious and nationalist views have also faced retaliation from state and non-state actors, including threats, harassment and even possible arrest. 

For example, writer Htin Lin Oo is currently in detention and facing imprisonment for making a speech criticizing the use of religion to promote discriminatory views. He faces up to three years in prison.

Failure to address human rights violations and abuses, including discrimination against Rohingya, and to address growing hardline nationalist attitudes and advocacy of hatred is a recipe for further violence.

Human rights violations and abuses in conflict areas

The situation in Myanmar’s ethnic minority areas also deteriorated in 2014, with fighting in Northern Shan State and Kachin State now in its fourth year. Worryingly, violence appears to have intensified since the beginning of 2015, displacing parts of the civilian population.

Violations of international humanitarian and human rights law continue, with ongoing reports of unlawful killings and torture and other ill-treatment, including rape and other crimes of sexual violence – in particular by the Myanmar security forces. Amnesty International also receives reports of human rights abuses by armed groups aligned with certain ethnic groups. However, impunity persists for such violations and abuses, with perpetrators rarely, if ever, brought to justice.

Around 98,000 people remain displaced in Kachin and Northern Shan States. However, the Myanmar government continues to deny full and sustained access for humanitarian actors to displaced communities, particularly those displaced in Kachin Independence Army-controlled areas.

Impunity

Immunity from prosecution for past violations by the security forces and other government officials remains codified in Article 445 of the 2008 Constitution, meaning that perpetrators of both current and past human rights violations continue to enjoy impunity. As a result, victims of both past and current human rights violations and their families have continued to be denied truth, justice, compensation and any other form of reparation.

Need for the prompt opening of an OHCHR Country Office

Despite commitments from the Myanmar government, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has not yet been able to establish an office in the country. The establishment of an OHCHR office, with a full protection and promotion mandate and access to all areas of the country, is crucial to ensure monitoring of and reporting on the human rights situation in the country. While Amnesty International notes that there are several OHCHR staff able to work in Myanmar, the organization is concerned that they do not have full and sustained access to the country. This not only seriously impedes their ability to undertake their work, it raises serious questions about the extent to which the Myanmar government is co-operating with OHCHR.

Recommendations

Amnesty International recommends that the HRC extend the mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar and urge the government to co-operate fully with the Special Rapporteur and other Special Procedures.

Further, Amnesty International recommends that the HRC, its members and observer States urge the Government of Myanmar to:

Release immediately and unconditionally all prisoners of conscience and drop charges against those currently not detained, but who are facing imprisonment simply for the peaceful exercise of their human rights;

Ensure human rights defenders and journalists can carry out their legitimate work without fear of reprisal;

End all discrimination in law, policy and practice against ethnic and religious minorities, and ensure Rohingya have equal access to citizenship rights;

Ensure that humanitarian aid organizations have full and unfettered access to all displaced persons throughout the country;

Immediately put an end to violations of international human rights law – including rape and other crimes of sexual violence – especially against members of ethnic minority groups;

Ensure all those who are responsible for human rights violations and abuses – including those with command responsibility – are brought to justice in fair proceedings, without the imposition of the death penalty, and that victims can access truth, justice and full and effective reparation;

Ratify and effectively implement international human rights treaties including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment;

Engage constructively in the Universal Periodic Review when Myanmar is reviewed in late 2015; and Facilitate the establishment of an office of the OHCHR able to operate throughout Myanmar with a full promotion and protection mandate.

Rohingya Exodus