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Former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan will chair a nine-member advisory commission to find solutions to the unrest in Arakan State. (Photo: Reuters)

By Moe Myint
August 25, 2016

RANGOON — The Arakan National Party (ANP) has demanded that the government cancel the new Arakan State Advisory Commission formed on Wednesday, of which former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan will serve as the chairman.

The nine-member team includes three international representatives, including Kofi Annan, and six from Burma—including two Buddhist Arakanese members, two Rangoon-based Muslim members and two government representatives.

In a letter to the government, the ANP expressed objection to the three non-Burmese members selected to serve on the commission, stating that they would not be able to understand the background of and the current situation on the ground in Arakan State.

The region saw significant violence in 2012 and 2013, largely affecting the stateless Muslim Rohingya community and displacing 140,000 civilians. The ANP does not recognize the self-identifying Rohingya minority as belonging to Arakan State, instead describing them as “Bengali” migrants from neighboring Bangladesh.

The ANP announcement stated that the formation of the new commission would likely harm the rights of indigenous people—a reference to the Buddhist Arakanese—and national sovereignty. The problems of the state, said the ANP, is a matter of “internal affairs” which previous governments have failed to resolve in line with current laws.

Muslim commission member Al Haj U Aye Lwin, founder of the interfaith group Religions for Peace, told The Irrawaddy that he finds the involvement of international committee members acceptable and does not believe that the new commission will interfere with Burma’s sovereignty, as the ANP alleged. The work of the committee, he explained, is to make recommendations to the government based on their findings, rather than to take action themselves.

The Burmese government, U Aye Lwin said, needs to take into account the international community’s perspective, because the challenges facing Arakan State have grown beyond those of a domestic issue and have become the focus of global concern.

“So many government experts have tried several times to explain to the international community what is happening. However, they haven’t solved the problem yet. That’s why the government seeks a third party’s perspective,” he said. “We will explain [this situation] to the rest of the world.”

Some members of Burma’s Muslim community also reportedly expressed concern over rumors that the advisory commission had not two, but three Arakanese Buddhist representatives, but U Aye Lwin said that this did not come as a surprise.

“We expected this kind of complaint before the formation,” he said, referring to worries from both Buddhist and Muslim communities regarding the make-up of the commission. “Everybody can share their own opinion in a democratic society. They have the right to criticize. It doesn’t matter.”

The Buddhist Arakanese members of the commission include U Win Mra, who chairs Burma’s National Human Rights Commission, and Daw Saw Khin Tint, who chairs the Arakan Literature and Cultural Association and is the vice-chair of the Arakan Women’s Association.

In addition to Al Haj U Aye Lwin, U Khin Maung Lay, a member of the National Human Rights Commission, will be serving on the commission as a Muslim representative.

The Burmese government’s delegation includes two doctors: Thar Hla Shwe, president of Burma’s Red Cross Society, and Mya Thida, President of the Obstetrical and Gynecological Society of Burma.

There are no Rohingya members on the commission.

U Aye Lwin added that the three international members come from high profile backgrounds, and are believed to be Christian—rather than Buddhist or Muslim. In addition to Kofi Annan, the non-Burmese members are Ghassan Salamé, a scholar from Lebanon and once-advisor to Mr. Annan, and Laetitia van den Assum, a diplomat from the Netherlands and a UN advisor.

The Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) also released a statement of its own about the advisory commission on Thursday, pointing out that the committee’s “endeavors” were “humanitarian” and “ignore the state security issue” in the region.

According to a government announcement, within the next month there will be a signing ceremony between the Kofi Annan Foundation and the Burmese government, initiating the commission’s work.

By Jonah Fisher
August 25, 2016

Many Rohingya still live in camps after waves of communal violence in 2012 (Photo: AFP)
There haven't been many good moments for Myanmar's Rohingya Muslims in the last four years.

This country's dramatic political changes have passed them by. Greater democracy has not brought greater respect for the stateless Rohingya's human rights.

But the formation of an Advisory Commission on Rakhine State represents a rare glimmer of hope.

For the first time, the Burmese government is seeking international expertise to try and solve one of the country's most complex problems.

It's a significant shift. For years, the official Burmese mantra has been that "no foreigner can possibly understand Rakhine's problems".

Now Kofi Annan, the former UN secretary general, has been tasked with taking a fresh look at the issues as head of nine-member commission. His report could just add to the mountain of papers written about Rakhine and the Rohingya, or it just might be a game-changer.

Many Rohingya have been driven to take dangerous journeys at sea in pursuit of a better life elsewhere (Photo: AP)
So what's Aung San Suu Kyi up to?

Well, first a cynical take. Next week the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is due in the Burmese capital Nay Pyi Taw and in September Ms Suu Kyi will head to the United States for the UN General Assembly and talks with President Obama.

The Nobel laureate was no doubt bracing herself for awkward questions about why she wasn't doing more to help Myanmar's Muslim minority and in particular the 800,000 or so Rohingya. Those questions can now be easily deflected with reference to this new commission.

But there's more at play than that. By setting up the commission, Ms Suu Kyi is signalling that she is open to new ideas, and doesn't have all the answers.

Kofi Annan may be 78 but, as you'd expect from a former UN secretary general, he's his own man.

The appointment of Kofi Annan as head of the commission may help deflect criticism
The final report, due to be delivered by the end of August 2017, is likely to contain suggestions that many Burmese consider unpalatable. 

Almost certainly it will insist that the Rohingya's basic human rights are respected, perhaps recommending that Myanmar offer them a better route to citizenship.

In Myanmar's current political climate it's hard for Ms Suu Kyi to bring those ideas to the table. She'd be attacked not just by hardline Buddhists but many within her own party. 

So Kofi Annan and his report could be the "Trojan Horse" that brings this sort of proposal into the national debate.

There are of course plenty of caveats.

Problems as deeply entrenched as those between the Buddhist and Muslim communities in Rakhine State will not be solved overnight. The animosity between them has built up over decades with many in the Buddhist majority seeing the Rohingya as illegal immigrants from across the border in Bangladesh.

Some have criticised Aung San Suu Kyi - a human rights champion - for her silence on the plight of the Rohingya (Photo: Getty Images)
After the violence of 2012, more than 100,000 Rohingya were forced from their homes into camps. In the years that have followed there's been no real effort to help them return. 

Rakhine has become increasingly segregated, with some comparing it to South Africa's apartheid. Things have become quieter but there's been little reconciliation.

Whatever the commission ends up concluding, any move to give the Rohingya greater rights will be hugely controversial not just in Rakhine State but across the country.

Vocal parts of the Buddhist community are openly hostile towards international aid agencies and the UN. They're unlikely to welcome Kofi Annan's team, no doubt anticipating the sort of recommendations he might make. 

Implementing any "solution" will be even harder. 

But the formation of this advisory commission is something new. However small, it's the first bit of positive news that the Rohingya have had for a long time.

Aman Ullah 
RB History
August 25, 2016

The ethnic Rohingya is one of the many nationalities of the union of Burma. And they are one of the two major communities of Arakan; the other is Rakhine and Buddhist. The Muslims (Rohingyas) and Buddhists (Rakhines) peacefully co-existed in the Arakan for many centuries. In addition to Muslim (Rohingya) and Buddhist (Rakhine) majority groups, a number of other minority peoples also come to live in Arakan, including the Chin, Kamans, Thet, Dinnet, Mramagri, Mro and Khami who, though many are Christians today, were traditionally animists. The Kamans are Muslims and the Mramagri (Baurwa) are Buddhists. Some ethnic Burman also comes to live in Arakan since 1784 after invasion and occupation by the Burman.

Rohingyas, who trace their ancestry to Arabs, Moors, Pathans, Moguls, Bengalis and some Indo-Mongoliod people, are living in Arakan generation after generation for centuries after centuries. Their arrival in Arakan has predated the arrival of many other peoples and races now residing in Arakan and other parts of Burma. Early Muslim settlement in Arakan dates back to 7th century AD. They developed from different stocks of people and concentrated in a common geographical location from their own society with a consolidated population in Arakan well before the Burman invasion in 1784. 

The Rohingyas are an indigenous people characterized by objective criteria, such as historical continuity, and subjective factors including self-identification, which need to define an indigenous people, and entitled to have the right of self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development. Being indigenous peoples, they have the right to maintain and strengthen their distinct political, economic, social and cultural characteristics, as well as their legal systems, while retaining their rights to participate fully, if they so choose, in the political, economic, social and cultural life of State. They have not only the right to a nationality but also have the right to their lands, territories and resources, which derive from their political, economic and social structures and from their cultures, spirituals traditions, histories and philosophies.

The Rohingyas are much more than a national minority. They are a nation with a population of 3.5 million (both home and abroad), having a supporting history, separate culture, civilization, language and literature, historically settled territory and reasonable size of population and area – they consider themselves distinct from other sectors of the society. They are determined not only to preserve and develop their ancestral history and their ethnic identity, but also to transmit to future generations as the basis of their continued existence as people, in accordance with their own cultural pattern, social institution and legal system.

Since Burmese independence in 1948, the Rohingyas have been struggling for their right of self-determination upholding the principle of peaceful co-existence within Burmese federation. They have long been trying to identify themselves with the Union of Burma on the basis of equality and justice. They think that the individual rights is not enough for them; they need their collective rights as a people, as an ethnic group, as a nationality who speak different language, who practice different culture, who worship different religion and who also has different historical background and, above all, all of us have territorially clearly defined homelands and nations since time immemorial. 

That’s why they want to rule their homeland by themselves They are trying to find a political and legal system which will allow them to rule their respective homelands by themselves, and at same time living peacefully together with others who practice different religions and cultures and speak different languages. In other words, they are trying to find a political system which can combine and balance between “self-rule” for different ethnic groups and “shared-rule” for all the peoples in the Union of Burma. 

For this reason the Muslims of Arakan rendered their support to the British against the Japanese occupation in order to strengthen their standing in the region and encourage Muslim loyalty, the British had published a declaration granting them the status of a Muslim National Area. This entire area was re-conquered by the British at the beginning of 1945. The British set up Peace Committees and organized civilian administrations which functioned until Burma was granted independence in January, 1948. Most of the office-holders were local Muslims, Rohingya, who had previously cooperated with the British. 

The principal political effect of the ‘Peace Committee of North Arakan’ was that it made the Muslims of Arakan autonomy conscious. The promise of British to create a Muslim national area doubled their desire for Muslim state. However, when the demand of Muslim State was put to Rees William Commission, the result was not good.

For this consciousness they went to Mohammed Ali Jinnah in 1947 either to fight for including north Arakan within Pakistan or pressurize General Aung San to grant autonomy to the Muslims of north Arakan. To form an autonomous Muslim State, they took arms and was demanded “To form an autonomous Muslim State in north Arakan, comprising Buthidaung, Rathedaung and Maungdaw townships from the west of Kaladan River upto the eastern part of the Naf River that will remain under the Union of Burma.”

For this reason they joined hands with Arakanese Communist Party led by U Tun Aung Pru to fight together until the fall of the AFPFL’s government with the understanding that Muslims would take the western side of Kaladan whereas the rest of Arakan would be under the control of Arakan Communist Party. 

For this reason they took arms and demanded that all the injustices against the Muslims of Arakan be corrected and that they be allowed to live as Burmese citizens, according to the law, and not be subject to arbitrariness and tyranny.

For this reason the Muslims objected to the demand of the Arakan Party for the status of a state for Arakan within the framework of the Union of Burma. The large majority of the Muslim organizations of the Rohinga of Maungdaw and Buthidaung demanded autonomy for the region, to be directly governed by the central government in Rangoon without any Arakanese officials or any Arakanese influence whatsoever. Their minimal demand was the creation of a separate district without autonomy but governed from the center. The Muslim members of the Constituent Assembly, and later the Muslim M.P’s from Arakan raised this demand also during the debates in Parliament and in the press.

In the years 1960 to 1962, the Rohinga organizations and the respective Arakanese Muslim organizations initiated frantic activities with reference to the Muslim status in Arakan, and especially in the regions of Maungdaw and Buthidaung. This was in response to the promise made by U Nu on the eve of the general elections of 1960, that if his party won, he would confer the status of a “State” upon Arakan, within the framework of the Union of Burma, on a par with the “statehood” of the other integral states of the Union. After winning the elections, U Nu appointed an enquiry commission to study all the problems involved in the question of Arakan. 

The Rohinga Jamiyyat al-'Ulama’ submitted to this enquiry commission a long and explanatory memorandum on the position of the Muslims of northern Arakan. The memorandum stated that the Muslims of this region constitute a separate racial group which is in absolute majority there; it called for the creation of a special district to be directly subject to the central government in Rangoon. The memorandum also demanded that the district have a “district council” of its own which shall be vested with local autonomy. As a compromise solution, the authors of the memorandum agreed to the district being a part of the Arakan “State”; however, they insisted that the Head of “State” was to be “counseled” by the Council in the appointment of officials and in all matters concerning the district and its problems. The appointed officials would also be briefed and advised by the Council. The district would also receive direct allocations for its needs and would enjoy particular attention in matters of culture, economies, and education.

The Rohinga Youth Association held a meeting in Rangoon on July 31, 1961, where the call was issued not to grant the status of “State” to Arakan because of the community tensions still existing between Muslims and Buddhists since the 1942 riots. A similar resolution was taken by the Rohinga Students Association, with the additional warning that if it is decided, despite all protest, to set up the “State”, this would require the partition of Arakan and the awarding of separate autonomy to the Muslims.

Muslim Members of Parliament from Maungdaw and Buthidaung likewise petitioned the government and the enquiry commission not to include their regions in the planned Arakan “State”. They had no objection to the creation of such a state, but only without the districts of Buthidaung, Maungdaw, and part of Rathedaung, where the Muslims were in the majority. These districts must be formed into a separate unit in order to ensure the existence of the Rohinga. Forcing the creation of a single state upon all of Arakan would be likely to lead to the renewed spilling of blood.

The problem of the Muslims of Akyab and the other regions of Arakan, where the Muslims were in the minority, were more complicated and their position led to tensions among the Rohinga organizations. There were those who deemed it pointless to object to U Nu’s plan of “Statehood” and therefore supported the granting of the status of “State” to the whole of Arakan, including the Muslim regions. They feared that separation of these regions would redound to the detriment of the Muslims in the rest of Arakan. They of course demanded guarantees and assurances for the protection of the Muslims; to this end they insisted that Muslims be co-opted to serve as members of the preparatory committee which would deal with the creation of the “State”. In the memorandum submitted to the enquiry commission by the organization of Arakanese Muslims (of Sultan Mahmud), it was explained that they would support the “State” only on two conditions: if the Arakanese Buddhists would support their demands; and if the constitutions of the “State” would include, specifically, religious, cultural, economic, political, administrative, and educational guarantees for Muslims. The Head of State of the new “State” of Arakan would alternate: once a Muslim and once a non-Muslim. When the Head of State was a Muslim, the Speaker of the State Council would be a non-Muslim, but his deputy, a Muslim; and vice versa. The same arrangement would also be in effect in the appointments, committees and other bodies. No less than one-third of the “State’s” ministers were to be Muslims. No law affecting Muslims would be passed unless and until the majority of the Muslim Members of the Council voted for it. In the matter of appointments to jobs in Muslim areas, the Chief of State would act on the advice of the Muslim Members of his Cabinet. In all appointments to government posts, to public services, to municipal positions and the like, Muslims would enjoy a just proportion in accordance with their percentage in the population. In filling the appointments allotted to Muslims, the Muslim candidates would compete among themselves. The government would attentatively meet the educational and economic needs of the Muslims. No pupil would be forced to participate in religious classes not of his own religion. Every religious sect would be allowed training in his own religion in all institutions of learning. Every and any religious sect would be permitted to set up its own educational institutions that would be recognized by the government. Muslims would be completely free to develop their own special Rohinga language and culture, and to spread their religion. A special officer for Muslim Affairs would be appointed whose job it would be to investigate complaints and obstructions, and to report on them to the Chief of State. For a period of ten years from the date of the establishment of the “State”, the right would be reserved to every district - and especially to those of northern Arakan - to secede from the “State” and transfer itself to the direct jurisdiction of the central government in Rangoon. Those supporting these demands suggested bearing in mind the examples offered by the viable arrangements existing between the Muslims and Christians in Lebanon, between the Greeks and Turks in Cyprus, and among the Chinese, Malays, Indians, and Pakistanis in Singapore; only such just arrangements between Muslims and Buddhists could vouch for the success of the State of Arakan. 

At long last, it was on the first of May, 1961, in the provinces of Maungdaw, Buthidaung and the western portion of Rathedaung the government set up the Mayu Frontier Administration (MFA). It was not an autonomy, for the region was administered by Army officers; since it was not placed under the jurisdiction of Arakan, however, the new arrangement earned the agreement of the Rohinga leaders, especially as the new military administration succeeded in putting down the rebellion and in bringing order and security to the region.

At the beginning of 1962 the government prepared a draft law for the establishment of the “State” of Arakan and, in accordance with Muslim demand, excluded the Mayu District1. The military revolution took place in March, 1962. The new government cancelled the plan to grant Arakan the status of a “State”, but the Mayu District remained subject to the special Administration that had been set up for it.

August 24, 2016

Geneva – At the request of State Counsellor Daw Aung San Su Kyi, Kofi Annan will chair an advisory commission on Rakhine State. The overall objective of the Commission, which will be assisted by the Kofi Annan Foundation, is to provide recommendations on the complex challenges facing Rakhine.

The Commission will initiate a dialogue with political and community leaders in Rakhine with the aim of proposing measures to improve the well-being of all the people of the State.

In its work, the Commission will consider humanitarian and developmental issues, access to basic services, the assurance of basic rights, and the security of the people of Rakhine.

It will submit its final report and recommendations to the Myanmar government in the second half of 2017.

“I am pleased to support the national efforts to promote peace, reconciliation and development in Rakhine”, Mr Annan said. “I look forward to listening to the leaders and people of Rakhine and to working with the State and central authorities to ensure a more secure and prosperous future for all.”

The Commission will convene for the first time on Monday, 5 September 2016 in Yangon, Myanmar.

The commissioners are:
  • Kofi Annan (Chair), Chair of the Kofi Annan Foundation, Secretary General of the United Nations (1997 – 2006), Nobel Peace Laureate (2001)
  • Mr U Win Mra, Chair of the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission,
  • Dr Thar Hla Shwe, President of the Myanmar Red Cross Society
  • Mr Ghassan Salamé, Lebanese Minister of Culture (2000-2003), UN Special Advisor to Secretary General (2003-2006)
  • Ms Laetitia van den Assum, Special Advisor to the UNAIDS (2005-2006), the Netherlands’ Ambassador to the United Kingdom (2012-2015)
  • Mr U Aye Lwin, Core Member and Founder of Religions for Peace, Myanmar
  • Dr Mya Thida, President of Obstetrical and Gynecological Society of Myanmar Medical Association, Member of the Myanmar Academy of Medical Science
  • Mr U Khin Maung Lay, Member of the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission
  • Ms Daw Saw Khin Tint, Chairperson (Rakhine Literature and Culture Association, Yangon) and Vice-Chairperson (Rakhine Women Association)

NLD central committee member and spokesperson U Win Htein. (Photo: JPaing / The Irrawaddy)

By Kyaw Hsu Mon
August 24, 2016

RANGOON — For the second time this year, National League for Democracy (NLD) spokesperson U Win Htein lashed out at a reporter, who was enquiring about an anticipated cabinet reshuffle, repeatedly calling him sauk yū [“deranged”].

On Wednesday, the Ludu Pone Yeik [People’s Image] weekly news journal featured the exchange between U Win Htein and one of their reporters, and the use of the offensive term, on its front page.

“What am I supposed to say?” U Win Htein responded to the reporter’s questions over the phone. “Sauk yū, sauk yū, you are sauk yū to ask me that.”

When the reporter pressed on, citing recent speculation over a cabinet reshuffle, U Win Htein repeated the offensive term. He used it six times in total during the exchange, according to the journal’s coverage.

Sai Wunna, the reporter who had attempted to interview U Win Htein, told The Irrawaddy that the exchange took place over the phone on Monday evening. He had made a voice recording to prove it.

“He sometime talks to the media about the government, that’s why I asked him,” he said, stating that the extract quoted in the journal was verbatim and unedited.

News of Win Htein’s verbal abuse spread on social media, attracting criticism of the NLD’s treatment of, and degree of openness to, the independent media.

Sein Win, director of the Myanmar Journalism Institute, said that, as the ruling party’s senior spokesperson, U Win Htein should not respond so harshly to the media.

“He has the right to say that he doesn’t want to answer, or that it is not his responsibility to do so, but this could seriously tarnish the party’s image,” he said.

“Politicians and journalists are not enemies; it’s important that they have smooth relations with one another,” he said.

In early January, before the formal handover of power to the NLD government, U Win Htein chastised a Radio Free Asia reporter.

At the end of an interview focused on the NLD’s potential presidential candidate—which the party was reluctant to reveal—the reporter thanked the senior NLD officer. U Win Htein retorted, “Don’t thank me. Think seriously before you ask me questions.”

U Ye Htut, a former information minister and spokesperson to Burma’s previous president U Thein Sein, told The Irrawaddy that the NLD was in danger of taking its widespread support in the private media for granted.

“The NLD may think that the media will always support them, and therefore disregard them. If they have such a view […] they will have trouble in the long run,” he said.

He said that the NLD should learn from public relations mistakes made by the previous military-backed government—which, despite support in state media, did not enjoy the endorsement of Burma’s burgeoning private media.

He cited the need for “mutual respect” in the government’s relations with the media, based on “ethics”: they need to “understand the nature of journalists’ work” and “show no anger during interviews.”

Myanmar's new president Htin Kyaw (L) and outgoing president Thein Sein (R) shake hands during the handover-of-power ceremony in Naypyidaw, March 30, 2016. (Photo: AFP)

August 23, 2016

Myanmar’s main opposition party elected members to new key positions on Tuesday, displacing ex-president Thein Sein as chairman of the former ruling party in a strategic reorganization before by-elections early next year.

Party members elected 237 central members and 38 central executive committee (CEC), representatives during a Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) conference at its headquarters in the capital Naypyidaw, said USDP spokesman Khin Ye.

Than Htay, a retired brigadier-general and former minister of rail transport and of energy, replaced Thein Sein as party chairman, he said.

Nine leaders from the military-backed USDP, including Thein Sein and vice chairman Htay Oo, now serve as members of the party’s CEC, he said.

Others newly elected to party positions include former air force commander Myat Hein as vice-chairman, Thet Naing Win as general secretary, Khin Ye as disciplinary officer, and Soe Naing as head of operations, Khin Ye said.

New leaders have also been elected for all state and regional USDP branches.

Before stepping down, Thein Sein called for a reassessment of the 2015 general election results and party reform at all levels, emphasizing interparty consolidation, the revival of democracy within the party, and working with the new generation of USDP members, according to a report on Monday by China’s Xinhua news agency.

Khin Ye indicated that more changes are still to come.

“The party’s future agendas will be decided tomorrow, the last day of the conference,” he said.

Preparing for by-elections

The changes come as Myanmar election officials announced Monday that by-elections to fill vacant seats in parliament will be held in January 2017 and national elections three years later.

“We heard that there are 13 seats to contest in the by-elections,” Khin Ye said. “The USDP will contest them.”

The USDP, which was in power from 2011 to 2016, lost by a landslide to the National League for Democracy (NLD) party in general elections last November.

Earlier this year, the NLD’s Htin Kyaw became president, and NLD party chairwoman Aung San Suu Kyi was appointed state counselor—a new position designed to give her considerable influence in the executive and legislative branches and make her Myanmar’s de facto national leader.

Laws passed earlier by the military made her ineligible for the presidency because her sons do not hold Myanmar citizenship.

Aung San Suu Kyi also holds the positions of foreign minister, minister of the President’s Office, and chairwoman of the government’s peace negotiation arm, the National Reconciliation and Peace Center, as part of goal to forge lasting peace and national reconciliation in the country after decades of ethnic separatist civil wars.

The USDP grew out of the Union Solidarity and Development Association, an organization created by the former military junta that ruled Myanmar for 50 years.

The party won nearly 80 percent of the seats contested in the upper and lower houses of parliament during general elections in 2010, the results of which western countries considered fraudulent.

Reported by Kyaw Thu for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

August 23, 2016

YANGON, Myanmar — Officials in Myanmar say United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will attend a peace conference next week that seeks to end decades of armed conflict with ethnic minority groups.

The U.N. is expected to soon confirm Ban’s attendance at the conference, which begins Aug. 31 in the capital, Naypyidaw.

The deputy director of the President’s Office, Zaw Htay, said Tuesday the government invited Ban to what is informally dubbed the 21st Century Panglong Conference after he expressed an interest in attending. The plans were confirmed by Sai Kyaw Nyunt, general secretary of the Union Peace Dialogue Joint Committee, which is organizing the event.

“Ban Ki-moon will come to represent the U.N.,” he said.

It will be Ban’s first visit to Myanmar since Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party replaced an army-backed government in March this year. His last visit was in November 2014.

Suu Kyi, the country’s leader, chairs the Union Peace Dialogue Joint Committee, which includes representatives of the government, ethnic armed groups and political parties. She has issued a call for mutual trust and unity ahead of the meeting.

Suu Kyi’s father, Gen. Aung San, arranged the first Panglong Agreement with ethnic minority groups in 1947. It sought to meet their demands for more autonomy from the central government, but broke down following Aung San’s assassination shortly afterward. Conflict with armed ethnic minority groups has been an almost constant factor of Myanmar’s politics since then.

Eight smaller ethnic groups signed a cease-fire agreement last year under the previous military-backed government of President Thein Sein, while seven have not yet agreed to put down their arms, and fighting continues in Kachin and Shan states. All the groups say peace cannot be sustained unless political arrangements are also made to accommodate demands for greater autonomy.


By Pankaj Mishra
August 23, 2016

Yangon is suddenly a city of phablets. Nowhere in Asia, let alone Europe, have I seen so many supersized smartphones in public spaces, and with such egalitarian appeal: Pavement vendors selling early 20th century British guides to English grammar seem as transfixed by them as Yangon's smart set playing Pokemon Go.

For many in an isolated country, a 4G smartphone is their first taste of modern consumer luxury. Its proliferation, in a country where a SIM card once cost more than $2,000, seems an example of "leapfrog development," in which economically backward countries take quick shortcuts to modernization and urbanization.

Of course, in Myanmar as elsewhere, inexpensive Chinese brands such as Xiaomi, Vivo and Oppo make it easier to project an appearance of affluence and entrepreneurial dynamism. A poster dubiously advertising, "Rolex -- Opening Soon" at a construction site in Yangon’s crumbling downtown is a good reminder of the limitations of a consumer revolution in an overwhelmingly poor country.

Myanmar’s GDP may be growing at more than 8 percent. But the economic challenges in this country, where 70 percent of the population is employed in low-yield agriculture, are rendered formidable by crumbling and non-existent infrastructure, archaic laws, unskilled workers, low tax revenues, budget deficits and high inflation. Long power cuts, housing shortages and gridlock traffic still define everyday life for city-dwellers. Debt crushes many in the rural population.

Far from leapfrogging, Myanmar, recently liberated, and only partially, from military rule, is inching up a steep learning curve under its first elected government in more than 50 years. Its first experiment in self-rule ended, like that of many multi-ethnic and poorly imagined nation-states in Asia and Africa, in civil war, the empowerment of the military and eventually a coup in 1962. The outcome of its second experiment still depends a great deal on how Myanmar’s new leaders deal with the country’s restive minorities.

Certainly, their agenda is full. Last week the headline in one of Myanmar’s English dailies read: "FM crams for China visit." It referred to Aung San Suu Kyi, who holds the office of "state counsellor" and foreign minister (and several other portfolios in an attempt to circumvent the constitutional bar on her becoming president). Suu Kyi was visiting China in her first major foray outside Southeast Asia after her party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), was elected to power four months ago. Her biggest challenges, however, are at home.

Of Myanmar’s numerous sectarian conflicts, none has challenged her moral authority as much as rising anti-Muslim sentiments have. In 1982, Myanmar’s military rulers stripped the Muslim population in the western state of Rakhine of citizenship, despite their centuries-long presence in the region. More recently, while transitioning from military to civilian rule, Myanmar has witnessed an explosion of hatred, not only in Rakhine, where in 2012 mobs killed scores of Rohingya Muslims and drove more than 100,000 from their homes, but also in other parts of the country.

The advent of electoral democracy this year and the empowerment of an international icon like Suu Kyi don't necessarily presage a change in the circumstances of besieged minorities. Even the Dalai Lama has expressed his disappointment with Suu Kyi’s less-than-Buddhist silence over the plight of Rohingya Muslims.

Sporadic mob violence continues to drive Muslims into refugee camps, or onto rickety boats sailing for Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia -- perilous journeys with extortionate human-traffickers that rarely end well. I met the daughter of a former legislator in Rakhine who now languishes in a refugee camp near his old house in Sittwe. She had herself escaped Rakhine after bribing an immigration officer. Like many others, she was increasingly pessimistic about Suu Kyi’s capacity or willingness to resolve the issue.

Certainly, Suu Kyi, though widely popular in Myanmar, must move cautiously through a thicket of aggressive claims and counter-claims. Democratization is far from a benign process, as Iraq, Egypt and Turkey have most recently shown; the merest semblance of political freedom releases many toxic fantasies forged in the furnace of despotism.

In Myanmar, too, unleashed passions have been exacerbated by global economic and cultural forces. Realigning political identities, they've encouraged such patent incongruities as "militant" Buddhism, which thrives on widespread anti-Muslim sentiment.

The fluidity of the country’s situation contains both promise and danger; it calls for both moral leadership and political pragmatism. While a return to military rule might seem inconceivable at this point, excessive centralization by heavy-handed civilian leaders can also breed sectarian passions in a multi-ethnic country like Myanmar. The best way to forestall them would be to accommodate, as Indonesia did, the country’s many sub-nationalisms through greater autonomy and federalism.

Suu Kyi was an exemplary political prisoner, brave and principled. She now has to set a very different example for her fledgling democracy by using power wisely -- or, in other words, sharing it broadly.

Pankaj Mishra is a Bloomberg View columnist. His books include “From the Ruins of Empire: The Intellectuals Who Remade Asia,” “Temptations of the West: How to Be Modern in India, Pakistan, Tibet and Beyond” and “An End to Suffering: The Buddha in the World.” 

By Faisal Kutty
The Express Tribune
August 22, 2016

“It is not the United Nations,” said Ashin Wirathu, “but the United Muslim Nations.” Indeed according to Wirathu, a Buddhist monk dubbed by Time magazine the “The Face of Buddhist Terror”, even US President Barack Obama was duped by Muslims, and this is the reason why he spoke in defence of Rohingya rights during his visit to Myanmar (formerly Burma) in 2014.

In fact, Wirathu believes that the conspiracy to defame Buddhists and Myanmar is even broader, because the world’s news media are also controlled by Islamic extremists. In his mind, this is why many media outlets have called him out on his hate. “They are trying to transform Myanmar into a Muslim state,” says Ashin Wirathu.

Human rights groups claim that Wirathu and his radical organisation, called 969, are the main forces behind sectarian riots that have killed scores and displaced hundreds of thousands of Rohingya (a million-strong ethnic Muslim minority living among more than 50 million Buddhists) since 2012. Over the last few years, entire villages inhabited by the Rohingya have been razed or forcibly displaced with scant global attention.

Disturbingly, evidence suggests he has significant support within the country and even the acquiescence of the government. In fact, decades before Wirathu, described by some as the “Buddhist Bin Laden”, came on the scene, the government had set in place policies to render the Rohingya an oppressed group.

Global reaction appears to be too little, but hopefully not too late. Some attribute the hesitation on disbelief about the religious identity of the perpetrators. “In the reckoning of religious extremism — Hindu nationalists, Muslim militants, fundamentalist Christians, ultra-Orthodox Jews — Buddhism has largely escaped trial,” noted Timemagazine more than three years ago. But as the cover story went on to note, “Every religion can be twisted into a destructive force poisoned by ideas that are antithetical to its foundations. Now it’s Buddhism’s turn.”

As with most violence attributed to religious causes, the nuances of political and social influences are mostly minimised. In any event, whatever the impetus, their victims are real.

Last month, the European Parliament became the latest international body to highlight what it termed the “brutal repression” and “systematic persecution” of this group. The Resolution also noted that the Rohingya are “one of the world’s most persecuted minorities”.

Around the same time, the US State Department downgraded Myanmar to Tier 3 (lowest) on its closely watched annual Trafficking in Persons report, which examines 188 governments’ efforts in combating modern-day slavery. Rights groups welcomed it as long overdue.

A few weeks before that, a Canadian Parliamentary Subcommittee on International Human Rights issued a report calling on Canada to take note. The recommendations include reassessing the effectiveness of economic sanctions targeted against the military, Naypyidaw repealing discriminatory laws, restoration of full citizenship and rights to stateless persons, and calling on the government to allow humanitarian groups unrestricted access.

The Subcommittee report notes: “The extent of the Buddhist nationalists’ political influence was exemplified by the previous Myanmar (formerly Burma) government’s decision to ban the Rohingya from voting and running for elected office in the 2015 elections.” The report titled “Sentenced to a Slow Demise: The Plight of Myanmar’s Rohingya Minority” highlights the predicament of the more than a million-strong ethnic minority at the hands of Buddhist extremists with official complacency and impunity.

The International State Crime Initiative at the University of London released a report in November 2015 stating that the Rohingya now face the final stages of state-sponsored genocide. While most shy away from the term genocide, rights groups, include Human Rights Watch, and the United Nations have all suggested that the pogroms may amount to ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.

While debate rages about whether they are indigenous to Rakhine (formerly Arakan) state or migrants from Bangladesh, the undisputed fact is that they have inhabited Myanmar for hundreds of years. Indeed, a British survey confirmed a population of 58,255 in just the state of Arakan dating back to 1891. Today they number 4,000 in a ghetto in the capital of Rakhine state.

Due to repressive government initiatives (denial of citizenship, forced labour, sexual assault, a restrictive two-child policy, etc.) and hate from fellow countrymen, hundreds of thousands have been displaced. According to Matthew Smith, executive director of human rights group Fortify Rights, 150,000 live in ghettos which are essentially internal displacement camps, while 500,000 who sought asylum in Bangladesh live in squalor. The Dhaka government strapped with its own problems has refused to allow comprehensive aid or resettlement initiatives.

The ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights wrote in 2015: “The longstanding persecution of Rohingya has led to the highest outflow of asylum seekers by sea [in the region] since the US war in Vietnam.”

As if to assist the efforts of Wirathu and those of his ilk to single out victims, Myanmar banned its officials from referring to the oppressed minority as Rohingya, instead insisting they be called “people who believe in Islam”.

Four months after democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi wrested power from the military in national elections, calls to end the mistreatment of the Rohingya have been ignored. In fact, the Nobel Laureate also refuses to use the name ‘Rohingya’, because they are not considered citizens of Myanmar. More disturbingly, she revealed her own prejudice when after a heated interview with a BBC reporter, Mishal Husain, she was reportedly heard to say angrily, “No one told me I was going to be interviewed by a Muslim.”

The question of Myanmar is about more than democratisation, it should also be about ensuring protection, fairness, and justice for all of its people. The plight of the Rohingya is inhumane. It is high time for donors to leverage their aid, and for the broader international community to pressure the Suu Kyi government to end the repression. It is well past the time to demand that Myanmar respect international law, end its complicity in violating Rohingya rights and punish those promoting and carrying out ethnic cleansing whatever their motivation.

The writer is counsel to KSM Law, an associate professor at Valparaiso University Law School in Indiana and an adjunct professor at Osgoode Hall Law School of York University. He tweets @faisalkutty

RB News
August 19, 2016

Sittwe, Arakan – According to the local residents in Sittwe, the capital city of Arakan State, Rizwana (daughter of Yakub, Aged 25) was believed to have been gang-raped by soldiers of Myanmar Army’s Artillery in Sittwe. 

On Tuesday, 16th August 2016, she was taken to the Artillery cantonment by a group of soldiers while she was on her way to Thet Kay Pyin village from Lat-Ma-Shay village. On 17th August 2016 early morning, Rizwana was discarded near the cantonment, and soldiers informed the village chairman of Thet Kay Pyin that they have found a Muslim lady nearby their cantonment and asked the village chairman to take her. 

The village chairman went there and took her to the rural clinic in Thet Kay Pyin while she was unconscious and injured. She was given some medical treatment after arriving at the clinic but she died at 7pm on that day. 

Today (19th August 2016) the security personnel at Thet Kay Pyin clinic asked the village chairman U Hla Myint to find any of relatives of the victim, Rizwana. The chairman was connected with an Aunt of the victim while searching intensely for a victim to hand over the dead body from the clinic, as it was ordered by the security personnel. Her dead body was taken from the clinic by her Aunt at 10am today and she was buried at Latt-Ma-Shay village cemetery at 2:30pm after Friday congregational prayer. 

Her body didn't receive any post-mortem examination. 

According to sources familiar with the area, she is originally from Aung Mingalar quarter in Sittwe. Her mother, brother and herself left for Bawdufah camp after her father passed away in 2013. They then faced several crises inside the ghetto. After arriving to the camp, her mother and brother left for Malaysia by boat and she had struggled alone. Since she became alone she worked at houses to wash clothes inside her camp weekly for 3-4 days in Thet Kay Pyin. 

A reliable source said that Rizwana was detained by the soldiers on Tuesday while she was going to Thet Kay Pyin. An eyewitness stated that she saw bleeding around the private parts of the victim while she was at the clinic. 

Many believe that she was gang-raped until unconscious and thrown away. 

No medical report has been released by the doctor at Thet Kay Pyin and there won’t be justice for this Rohingya woman. 

Additional reporting by Peace Muhammad Arkani.


By Mayyu Ali (MYARF)
RB Poem
August 19, 2016

Some say Rohingyas are Bengalis 
Who came from Bangladesh.
Some say Rohingyas are Kalars
Who immigrated illegally.
Some say Rohingyas are no ethnic group in Myanmar
Who included in history.
Ah! What a man can make a pure heart in worldly life!
It's your man-made of heart'
Afraid of affirming
That doesn't learn to let for truth
And it's your double-life of soul'
Afraid of dying
That doesn't learn to live in peace
Verily, this makes you trembling the muscle of your cheek,
Whenever you see me.
Why of a long-term of gaffe that you take to your heart!
Indeed, neither it's your innate faulty
Nor my everlasting doom.
Our time goes so fast.
Firstly, do change yourself
Then the world would be, too.
Common! Oh, my state-siblings,
Just drop the rope of ignorance.
And hang on the aft of truth.
Let's count on once!
In the winter,
For the beneath
The bitter snow lies the seed
When that's with the sun's love
And in the spring,
It becomes a truth for you.
Then, you'd have your scrupulousness again
Just to confess your heart-word of
"I'm a Rohingya."
"I'm a Rohingya."
"I'm a Rohingya."
“For Sale” protest posters have been pasted to the outside of houses and businesses owned by Buddhist Arakanese in Buthidaung, northern Arakan State. (Photo: Aung Ko Ko)

By Moe Myint
The Irrawaddy
August 18, 2016

RANGOON — Thirty-one Muslims who applied as “Bengali” have been recommended for citizenship by a verification committee in Buthidaung Township of northern Arakan State, the head of the immigration department for Maungdaw District Than Shwe told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday.

This has already prompted fury from local Buddhist Arakanese, who launched a poster campaign on Wednesday.

Than Shwe said that only “two or three” had been recommended for “full” citizenship; the remainder were recommended for “naturalized” citizenship. Their applications have been passed to the state-level committee on citizenship verification, which will make the final decisions on eligibility.

The 1982 Citizenship Law outlines three tiers of citizenship, with diminishing rights: full, naturalized and associate. Those holding the latter two categories are denied certain rights, including the right to be elected to political office. They are also vulnerable to having their citizenship revoked by the government under vague pretexts, including “showing disaffection or disloyalty to the state.”

However, most of the more than 1 million Muslims in Arakan State that identify as Rohingya—around a third of the state’s population, and forming the large majority in the northern two townships of Maungdaw and Buthidaung—are denied any form of citizenship. Buddhist Arakanese insist that they are illegal migrants from Bangladesh, and refer to them as “Bengali.” The 1982 law places significant barriers to citizenship for those, such as the Rohingya, who are excluded from the list of 135 officially recognized ethnicities.

After anti-Muslim violence wracked the state in 2012 and 2013, an “Action Plan” for Arakan State was introduced in 2014 under former President Thein Sein. Included was a citizenship verification drive aimed at stateless Muslims in Arakan State—some of whom have other ethnic affiliations, such as the Kaman, an officially recognized group. A significant catch was that those identifying as Rohingya would be compelled to state their ethnicity as “Bengali” in their application papers, or not be considered at all.

The drive has met delays due to anger from local Buddhist Arakanese. In the middle of last year, the applications of the 31 Muslims in Buthidaung Township were put on hold after protests from Arakanese locals. The new National League for Democracy government, installed in April, has chosen to push on with citizenship verification in June, as part of its “100-day plan.” It appears that the requirement to identify as “Bengali” has not been changed under the new government.

Than Shwe told The Irrawaddy, “We just recommended those who are eligible and will wait for the decision of the [state-level committee], which includes five ministers in the Arakan State government. We have no right to issue [citizenship] cards to them ourselves.”

Than Shwe confirmed that their recommendations had been delivered the previous week, and that all applicants had consented to identify in the documentation as “Bengali.”

News of the citizenship recommendations quickly reached the ears of the Buddhist Arakanese community. On Wednesday, about 400 Arakanese residents of Buthidaung gathered at the local Aye Zedi monastery and decided to launch a poster campaign against the recommendations. They also read out the names of those on the township verification committee and denounced them.

Local Buddhist Arakanese residents—who number a small minority in Buthidaung Township—put “For Sale” posters [pictured] at the front of their homes and businesses, to suggest that they would leave the township if ineligible “Bengalis” started being recognized as citizens, against what they felt was growing Muslim domination of northern Arakan State, which has led to a rise in land disputes and crime, they claim.

An Arakanese community organizer, Zaw Win, told The Irrawaddy over the phone that, if the committee had properly adhered to the 1982 Citizenship Law, there would be no objections from the “native” Arakanese community. He cited a grievance that two “respected men” from the local Arakanese community, who were included in the committee under the previous government, had not been been reinstated.

“We strongly condemn the erroneous action of the committee”, said Zaw Win, regarding the citizenship recommendations.

Arakan National Party secretary Tun Aung Kyaw told The Irrawaddy that the party had requested a meeting with the Arakan State government to discuss the objections from the Arakanese residents of Buthidaung, but had received no response as of Wednesday.

He said, “We basically agree with giving out naturalized or associate citizenship in accordance with the 1982 law, but the government should not restrict [recipients] to Arakan State, but give them freedom of movement, including freedom to travel to other parts of the country.”

He explained that the Arakanese community was advocating for strict adherence to the 1982 Citizenship Law because, if the government gave out citizenship “recklessly,” a large proportion of the state’s population would suddenly be given voting rights—causing the dominance of the Arakan National Party to “disappear.”

“Think about what would be happen if one million people got the right to vote in this state. We are deeply concerned about it,” said Tun Aung Kyaw.

The majority of Muslim residents of Arakan State that are without citizenship were barred from voting in the 2015 general election, although these communities participated in all previous elections in Burma, including as “temporary” citizens. Naturalized and associate citizens still retain the right to vote.

Media Release from Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK (BROUK)

For Immediate Release Thursday 18th August 2016

NLD Government Must Lift All Aid Restrictions in Arakan State

Tomorrow, Friday afternoon Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK is organizing a demonstration in front of Burmese Embassy in London as part of a global day of action being organised by the US based Burma Task Force. Demonstrations are also being held in Chicago, Washington DC, New York, Los Angeles and Stockholm. Rohingya organisations in more than 10 European countries are supporting the day of action, along with other organizations including Burma Campaign UK, Burmese Muslim Association UK and others. 

Four months after coming to power, the NLD led government has still not lifted severe restrictions on humanitarian aid delivery in Rakhine State. Government restrictions on aid are causing death and suffering for Rohingya and Kaman people living in squalid camps after being forced from their homes in 2012. Ethnic Rakhine, Rohingya, Kaman and all people in the State suffer because of the restrictions.

Since increased violence and repression in 2012,Rohingya people have faced a worsening humanitarian situation. Restrictions on travel and lack of security have made growing and buying food much more difficult for Rohingya people. Restrictions on international humanitarian assistance to those in IDP Camps and the rest of Arakan State also make the humanitarian crisis much worse. Since 2012 140,000 internally displaced people have been trapped in camps which UN officials have described as having some of the worst conditions in the world. These restrictions and lack of security force Rohingya people to make long and sometimes dangerous journeys to find food. More than ten percent of the Rohingya population have fled Burma since 2012.

Tun Khin, President of Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK said "Our people are dying in the camps where they fled to four years ago after they fled mobs burning their homes and villagers. They are dying in part because the new government has kept in place severe restrictions on delivery of aid. The NLD-led government should immediately lift all restrictions on international humanitarian aid in Arakan State, and ensure security for aid workers.” 

Protestors are also calling on the international community, including the British government, to apply pressure on the NLD led government to lift restrictions on aid. 

For more information please contact Tun Khin +44 7888714866.

The Central Committee for Peace and Development in Arakan State convene in Napyidaw on August 9. (Photo: Myanmar State Counsellor Office / Facebook)

By Lawi Weng
The Irrawaddy
August 17, 2016

RANGOON — Plans are underway to form a new commission to resolve the communal and humanitarian crisis in Arakan State, which will include Muslim and Buddhist Arakanese representatives—but from Rangoon rather than Arakan State.

The new nine-member commission is to play a consultative role in Arakan State—soliciting views from local Buddhist and Muslim communities, to be forwarded to the central government, which is keeping a tight rein on the region and delegating few decisions to state-level leaders.

The news was imparted during meetings in the state capital Sittwe on Monday, conducted separately with Buddhist Arakanese and Muslim Rohingya “community leaders” by the Central Committee for Peace and Development in Arakan State—a body chaired by State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi, involving Union-level ministers and the Arakan State Chief Minister.

Suu Kyi was absent from the meetings. Lt-Gen Ye Lwin, the Union Minister for Border Affairs, was the highest-ranking member of the committee present.

The new nine-member commission will include three members from “the international community”—The Irrawaddy could not ascertain who this referred to—two Buddhist Arakanese members, two Muslim members, and two government representatives, according to Tha Pwint, a retired Arakanese lawyer from Sittwe who was present at one of the Monday meetings.

He said that Arakanese representatives in their meeting with the high-level committee had expressed dissatisfaction that the Muslim and Buddhist Arakanese members of the new commission would not be local to Arakan State, but be from Rangoon. No objections were reported from Rohingya representatives during their own meeting.

One of the proposed Buddhist Arakanese representatives is Win Mya, the current chairman of Burma’s National Human Rights Commission, which has been widely criticized as ineffective since its formation in 2011.

One of the proposed Muslim representatives—who is seemingly not required to be Rohingya or “Bengali,” as most Burmese term them, or have actual links to Arakan State—is Aye Lwin, a Rangoon-based religious authority and member of Burma’s Interfaith Friendship Organization. The other Arakanese and Muslim representatives have yet to be revealed.

Rohingya and Buddhist Arakanese self-described community leaders, speaking to The Irrawaddy, expressed skepticism over the ability of the new commission to resolve the communal conflict, which has been largely frozen since anti-Muslim violence in 2012 and 2013.

Aung Win, a Rohingya rights activist from Sittwe who also joined one of the Monday meetings, said he would only be satisfied when “direct action” is taken by the central government in Arakan State, suggesting that the new commission is a distraction.

“The day the government gets involved directly, will be the day when our problems can be solved,” he said.

Tha Pwint, the local Arakanese retired lawyer, said the crisis could be resolved only with the imposition of the rule of law.

He accused the government of “not taking action” against “illegal migrants who come to stay in our region”—a reference to the largely stateless Rohingya, whose claim to belonging to Arakan State is strongly denied by most Buddhist Arakanese, and much of the wider Burmese public.

Suu Kyi may visit Arakan State at the end of this month, along with the new commission, and consult with community leaders from both sides, according to Aung Win.

Demonstrators, including Ashin Parmoukkha and Win Ko Ko Latt, are pictured at the protest outside the US Embassy on April 28, 2016. (Photo: Myo Min Soe / The Irrawaddy)

By San Yamin Aung
The Irrawaddy
August 17, 2016

RANGOON — The Kamayut Township police have brought charges against seven Burmese nationalists on Tuesday who, in April, protested outside the US Embassy in Rangoon against the American mission’s use of the word “Rohingya.” A trial is scheduled for August 30.

Hundreds of protesters, including Buddhist monks, held a demonstration outside the US embassy on April 28 in Rangoon. They condemned the embassy for using the term “Rohingya” in a statement issued on April 20 after more than 18 people belonging to the Rohingya minority were killed when their boat sank off the coast of Sittwe, Arakan State.

A police officer from the Kamayut police station told The Irrawaddy that they opened the case against the seven protesters under Article 19 of the Peaceful Assembly Law, accusing those involved of “illegal assembly.” Among the charged are three monks, including Ashin Parmoukkha, formerly a prominent member of the ultranationalist organization best known by its Burmese acronym—Ma Ba Tha. Win Ko Ko Latt of the Myanmar Nationalist Network also faces charges.

Ashin Parmoukkha said that Win Ko Ko Latt originally sought permission to protest in front of the US Embassy, but the police put forward the Bo Sein Hman grounds in Rangoon’s Bahan Township as an alternative protest site. The group instead gathered first in front of Rangoon University, before marching to the nearby US Embassy.

“We are not guilty,” the monk said. “We just protested since the US ambassador used the term ‘Rohingya.’ The ones who use that term are cunning. And I didn’t participate in the march. I just gave a speech there.”

The protesters reject the term Rohingya—with which the Muslim minority self-identifies—and instead refer to the group as “Bengali,” implying that they are migrants from neighboring Bangladesh. Burma’s 1982 Citizenship Law does not recognize the Rohingya among the country’s 135 official ethnic groups, contributing to widespread statelessness for the community.

August 17, 2016

There’s no denying that there can’t be a quick fix for the Rohingya issue in Myanmar. But how much more time does the new government need to, at the very least, acknowledge it?

The transition from long-standing authoritarian, military administration to a democratic one was, of course, never expected to be an easy task for the new rulers, especially when their predecessors have left them with challenges, including failing economy, flourishing drug trade and fragile peace with ethnic minorities.

Yet, Myanmar’s people had many hopes when their country’s human rights champion and Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi’s political party National League for Democracy (NLD) won a parliamentary majority last November.

While Suu Kyi was constitutionally barred from becoming president, she nevertheless became the de facto ruler as she assumed the responsibilities of minister of foreign affairs of Myanmar and the minister of president's office.

So far, she has touched upon issues from economic development to illegal cross-border trade. But the one problem she appears to be hesitant to tackle is that of the persecution of religious-ethnic minority Rohingya.

Myanmar is a 53 million-strong Buddhist majority country that includes a diverse set of ethnic minorities – but the Rohingya people, despite being a population of nearly 1.3 million people and living there for centuries, are not one of them.

Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar are officially stateless. The government regards them as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and denies them citizenship. On the other hand Bangladesh has refused to grant Rohingyas refugee status since 1992.

The situation grew uglier for them in 2012, when Ashin Wirathu launched an anti-Muslim genocidal campaign, which set off a wave of bloodshed, resulting in hundreds of deaths of Rohingya Muslims, leaving more than 140,000 left homeless and over 100,000 forced to flee.

It became worse due to former Burmese President Thein Sein’s criminal silence over the actions of extremist Buddhists.

Many believed things would change for the better after Suu Kyi’s ascension to power. After all, she is someone who spent 15 years under house arrest for her pro-democracy stance and human rights activism.

But things have not changed, and by the looks of it, they are not going to change anytime soon either.

Granted, expecting a quick fix for a problem of this magnitude is naïve and impractical. However, the problem with Suu Kyi, when it comes to the Rohingya issue, is that she seems as disinterested to solve it as her Thein Sein, which would yield the same disastrous results from his rule.

Hopes for any betterment dimmed even further when she banned the term “Rohingya” and instead asked foreigners to refer to them as “people who believe in Islam in Rakhine state.” By doing so, she essentially gave a major victory to all the Buddhist nationalists and extremists who want to get rid of the Rohingya from Myanmar.

Thein Sein was a military ruler who believed in appeasing Buddhist extremists to maintain his power, rather than focusing on human rights abuses being committed against an unwanted people.

But why is Aung San Suu Kyi adopting the same callous approach? What is her excuse?

Rohingya Exodus