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Rohingya refugees from Myanmar being transported. In Thailand, traffickers await Rohingya, where prices are negotiated for their onward journey. When a Rohingya reaches Malaysia, he would have paid up to $2,700.

By Nirmal Ghosh
The Straits Times
October 19, 2014

From his patch of land, near the Myanmar port city of Sittwe, on which he grows vegetables to supply the Rohingya people living in nearby camps, the farmer can see and hear the waves of the Bay of Bengal.

The lean, bearded man in his 40s, burnt dark brown by the sun, asked not be identified - because he had seen too much, he said. His farm is on a route used by desperate Rohingya from nearby camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs) to leave the country and their hopeless situation in the camps.

Across Rakhine state on the western coast of Myanmar, some 140,000 Rohingya live in squalid IDP camps after being driven out of their homes by violent Rakhine mobs from 2012.

Periodically, he said, he would see Rohingya quietly poling boats down a creek next to his land, to get to the beach where they would board bigger boats for a risky journey, in the hands of people smugglers, for Malaysia via southern Thailand.

In Thailand, smugglers and traffickers await them in a well-honed routine, in which they are taken to camps in remote jungle terrain, and where prices are negotiated for their onward journey. By the time a Rohingya reaches Malaysia, he would have paid some 60,000 baht to 70,000 baht (S$2,700).

In this fashion, about 10,000 Rohingya are expected to arrive in southern Thailand through the October-March sailing season, a Thai official said on Monday.

Ranong province deputy governor Pinij Boonlert told local media, "We shall treat them in line with humanitarian principles, with respect for their human rights and international laws. But we will have to deport them."

Two days later, however, jolted by the discovery of trafficked Bangladeshis on an island, the tone of the Thais hardened.

Phang Nga province, like Ranong, is a hot spot for people smuggling and human trafficking. On Wednesday, Phang Nga governor Prayoon Rattanaseri told the media he had ordered local police to "follow the law to international standards".

Much of this emphasis on adhering to international standards in the country's fight against human trafficking possibly has to do with the United States' downgrading of Thailand to the lowest rank in its Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report in July. This ranking triggers cuts in certain US aid and exchange programmes, and withdrawal of US support in some multinational institutions.

Shortly after the Thai army seized power on May 22, junta chief and now Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha placed combating human trafficking high on his list of priorities.

Thailand's handling of the rescue of the Bangladeshis, including making the effort to help them - and the arrest of two Thai traffickers in the case - has drawn rare praise from the New York-based Human Rights Watch.

Bangkok-based Phil Robertson, deputy director for Asia, told The Straits Times, "The district chief and… the ministry of social development and security did a great job." But with regard to general trafficking and smuggling, there was "clear connivance taking place for... people to go ashore and be taken to camps", he said. "Nothing happens there without local police and the authorities knowing about it."

Activist Chris Lewa of The Arakan Project cautioned that the trafficking and smuggling chain was long, and it was difficult to identify the key people.

But what is clear is the network has become an industry. "Bangladesh appears to be a new trend this year because of competition among brokers and smugglers as the syndicates are expanding," she said.

"Up to five, sometimes eight, cargo ships are queuing to embark people and they want to fill up the boats to maximise profit. Smugglers are coercing and forcing people aboard to fill up these cargo vessels."

This picture taken on December 30, 2012 shows Myanmar Rohingya refugees under the custody of Malaysian security officials on Langkawi island, northern Kedah state. About 500 Myanmar nationals swam the last 500 metres to enter Malaysia illegally at the end of a 15-day boat journey at the weekend, leaving one dead, police said on January 1, 2013. (Photo: AFP)

By Rashvinjeet S. Bedi
October 19, 2014

KUALA LUMPUR: The Bar Council has urged the Government to extend legal aid to all refugees, asylum seekers and undocumented migrants.

Migrants, Refugees and Immigration Affairs Committee co-chairperson Datuk M. Ramachelvam said the National Legal Aid Foundation Scheme and legal aid bureau were only available to Malaysians.

He said that with representation, their legal problems could be heard in court instead of just being sentenced or deported.

"Legal representation should be considered a fundamental right for all persons.

“There shouldn't be discrimination based on the principal of being a citizen or otherwise," he said during the launch of reports entitled Equal Only in Name: Human Rights of Stateless Rohingya in Thailand and Malaysia.

The reports were launched by the London-based Equal Rights Trust and Institute for Human Rights and Peace Studies of Mahidol University, Bangkok.

Equal Rights Trust executive director Dr Dimitrina Petrova called on Malaysia and Thailand to recognise the Rohingya and provide them comprehensive protection under international human rights and humanitarian laws.

She said that the situation in Arakan was becoming more serious all the time.

"They are here to stay. The problem won't go away. It is time for the governments to convene and start talking.

"It is a regional issue. It is not feasible for a single country to deal with it. It requires a collective effort," she said.

The Rohingya are considered by the United Nations as one of the most persecuted minorities in the world.

They are considered to be stateless and are often subjected to arbitrary violence and forced labour by the Myanmar government.

They come mainly from the Arakan state in Myanmar that borders Bangladesh.

To escape persecution back home, they take long and arduous journeys by boat to other countries in the region.

As of August, there are 39,715 Rohingya refugees registered with the UNHCR in Malaysia.

The Malaysian Government does not legally recognise refugees although they are allowed to work in informal sectors.

Malaysia currently hosts one of the largest urban refugee populations in the world, with some 146,020 refugees and asylum seekers registered with the UNHCR as of June 30. (Photo: Reuters)

By Yiswaree Palansamy
October 17, 2014

KUALA LUPUR ― Putrajaya’s unwillingness to commit to key global rights treaties is exacerbating the vulnerability of refugees and asylum seekers here, a London-based human rights foundation said today.

In its report launched today on stateless Rohingyas in Malaysia and Thailand, Equal Rights Trust pointed out that Malaysia has only ratified three core international human rights treaties, despite being an active member of regional human rights bodies.

The report states that while Malaysia has ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), it had rejected recommendations to remove its reservations to three other Conventions in March.

These include the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), the Convention Against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT) and the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD).

“As a member state of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), Malaysia is a signatory state to the 2012 ASEAN Human Rights Declaration, a non-binding document which nonetheless is a reflection of the human rights consensus in the region.

“Malaysia is also an active member of regional human rights bodies such as the ASEAN Inter-governmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) and ASEAN Commission on the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Women and Children (ACWC). In 2015, Malaysia will assume the chair of ASEAN,” the report states, stressing that under these coinages, Malaysia therefore possesses a legal duty to protect the rights of refugees and stateless persons on its shores.

Equal Rights Trust said that report was compiled after over three years of in-depth research, analysis and field work by a multi-disciplinary international team, including interviews with key government officials to offer a renewed insight as to how the Rohingya issue is viewed and responded to by each state.

The report is a joint effort with the Institute of Human Rights and Peace Studies of Mahidol University (IHRP) in Thailand.

A similar report was also compiled on Thailand.

The report stated that Putrajaya, in the absence of a local refuges law framework, also often resorts to using the Immigration Act 1959 and 1963 to emphasise a system of border control and deterrence.

“Under the Immigration Act, all refugees, asylum seekers and stateless persons are classified as “illegal immigrants” and are therefore liable to arrest, prosecution, detention and financial penalties, and may also be subject to whipping and refoulement.”

The report stated that the punishments can also apply to all irregular migrants, regardless of whether they are children, pregnant women, the sick, or the elderly.

It also alleged that Putrajaya ignored the presence of refugees and asylum seekers in the country, and that the administration imposed a condition that it will be the onus of the international community, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) particularly to undertake responsibility in caring for the group.

“Refugees and asylum seekers, including the Rohingya, are also vulnerable to extortion by the police and immigration officers,” the report further read.

It said that reports of complicity by Malaysian immigration officers also continue, especially in facilitating trafficking.

“As a result of continued non-compliance with minimum standards in elimination of trafficking, Malaysia has again been downgraded to Tier 3 by the US State Department in its 2014 Trafficking in Persons Report.”

In June, the US State Department had downgraded Malaysia along with Thailand, Venezuela and The Gambia to Tier 3 - the lowest possible ranking - in its yearly Trafficking of Persons Report (TIP).

According to the State Department, countries on the lowest tier may be subject to certain sanctions, including the withholding or withdrawal of non-humanitarian, non-trade-related foreign assistance.

However, in a statement posted on the Foreign Ministry’s website on June 22, the federal government argued that the US State Department had relied on “unverified information, provided by dubious organisations” in evaluating Malaysia for the damning report.

“Malaysia believes that information that was used in the preparation of the Report was flawed, inaccurate and did not reflect measures and steps taken by the respective Malaysian authorities to counter the scourge of trafficking in persons in Malaysia, as a whole.

“We also believe that the source of the information used by the authorities in the United States of America were not credible,” read the statement.

The federal government stressed that Malaysia has a “long and distinguished record” of being a temporary home to migrants, including an estimated 35,000 Muslim minority Rohingyas who have fled sectarian violence in Burma.

Equal Rights Trust said that presently, Malaysia hosts one of the largest urban refugee populations in the world, with some 146,020 refugees and asylum seekers registered with the UNHCR as of June 30.

The majority (over 135,025) are from Myanmar, of which the two largest groups are ethnic Chins (51,450) and the Rohingya (37,850).

Rohingya people wait to receive their share of food aid from the World Food Program (WFP) at the Thae Chaung camp for internally displaced people in Sittwe, Rakhine state.

By
Steve Herman
Voice of America
October 17, 2014

BANGKOK — The Rohingya minority community in Myanmar should rank as one of the most excluded, persecuted and vulnerable communities in the world. That is the conclusion of a pair of studies, prepared over a three-year-period, looking at the plight of the stateless group. 

The reports examining discrimination and inequality faced by the Rohingya paint a bleak picture. 

The London-based Equal Rights Trust, and Bangkok’s Institute for Human Rights and Peace Studies of Mahidol University, detailed through direct testimony and interviews with officials the layers of discrimination against the Rohingya, who are a Muslim ethnic group of uncertain origin. 

In Myanmar, which is also known as Burma, the Rohingya are stateless. Those who have left the country for Thailand and Malaysia lack legal status. 

Dimitrina Petrova, the executive director of Equal Rights Trust, said the reports merely confirmed what had been suspected all along. 

“We can confirm what we have actually suspected, but we are now quite confident in saying that the Rohingya people are perhaps among the most discriminated communities in the world,” said Petrova. 

One report examines the situation for the Rohingya in Thailand, who have entered the kingdom by both sea and land. Approximately 2,000 of them, who were detained since last year as “illegal immigrants,” are understood to have “escaped,” according to Thai officials. 

But Petrova told VOA that many were actually handed over to brokers for traffickers. 

“In Thailand, what is really striking is that there’s a very high degree of collusion of Thai authorities with smugglers’ networks,” said Petrova. 

Thailand is now run by a military junta, headed by appointed Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha. The former army chief carried out the kingdom’s latest coup on May 22. 

The report on the Rohingya in Thailand and a second one on their situation in Malaysia both call for the two countries to heed “customary international law” to help all refugees. 

The reports say Thailand has effectively pushed the problem on to Malaysia, the preferred destination for most of the Rohingya who have managed to leave Myanmar. 

An estimated 37,000 Rohingya are in Malaysia, with another 15,000 awaiting U.N. recognition as refugees. 

The government of Myanmar, a predominately Buddhist country, considers the mostly-Muslim Rohingya to be migrants from Bangladesh. 

Rights groups are concerned about Myanmar’s plan to require all Rohingya in Rakhine state to identify themselves as “Bengali” or face indefinite confinement in detention camps. 

Petrova called the plan totally unacceptable. 

“The price they have to pay in order to be provided with the prospect to integrate is to not be Rohingya, to not be who they are - to adopt an identity which Myanmar is trying very hard to impose on them, that is Bengali. And everything is wrong with that. It constitutes a coercive deprivation of one’s identity. Few things can be worse than that,” said Petrova. 

Known as the Rakhine State Action Plan, it has been widely condemned outside Myanmar. 

The U.N. Office for Humanitarian Action said the restriction of free movement for hundreds of thousands of people in Myanmar’s Rakhine state is severely compromising their basic right to food, health, education and livelihoods. 

Meanwhile, a new campaign was announced Friday to encourage young people in Southeast Asia to take a stand against human trafficking and exploitation in their communities. 

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is providing a $1.3 million grant to the U.N.-backed International Organization for Migration to bring about what they term “new behavior change” to fight the problem. USAID said the campaign “will leverage the power of media, technology and celebrities” to call attention to the crime of human trafficking and help put a stop to it.

Security forces in riot gear line up in Mandalay on July 5. (Photo: Teza Hlaing / The Irrawaddy)

By Zarni Mann
October 16, 2014

MANDALAY — A Mandalay District Court on Tuesday sentenced four men to 10 years’ imprisonment with hard labor for being accomplices to the murder of a Muslim man during an outbreak of inter-communal violence in Burma’s second biggest city in July.

Nyan Htay, Kyaw Zin Htet, Zin Min Tun and Pho Zaw, all men in their 20s, were sentenced by the court as they were present while the murder took place and had encouraged it, said Thazin Swe, a lawyer for two of them men.

“The court said these four were not found guilty for the murder, but said that they were guilty for being presenting at the crime scene. That’s why the court believes they are abetted the murder and sentenced them to 10 years imprisonment with hard labor,” he said.

The four were convicted for the killing of Soe Min Htwe, a Muslim resident of Mandalay, who was making his way to a local mosque for morning prayers around 5 am on July 3, when a Buddhist mob set up on him and beat him to death.

The defendants’ lawyers and the family of the convicted men insist, however, that three of them were not present and are innocent. Thazin Swe said another convicted man, Nyan Htay, was in fact a police informer who had testified that the other three were not at the scene of the killing.

“During the court hearings, Nyan Htay even named some people who were presented at the crime scene. The court heard that Kyaw Zin Htet and the other two were not present there. So we wonder why the court found them guilty and would sentence them like this,” said Thazin Swe, who had helped defend Kyaw Zin Htet and Zin Min Tun.

Lawyer Myint Oo provided counsel to Pho Zaw and Nyan Htay and said the court had made an inexplicable decision by sentencing the police informer, adding that he had been at the scene in order to do his work.

“The presence of Nyan Htay [at the murder scene] is defensible because he is an informer gathering the information he may need to report to the police,” Myint Oo said. “Deciding he is guilty as an accomplice based only on his present is a bit odd. It would be better if the real culprit would get arrested and punished.”

It is unclear if there are any defendants being held in the case on accusations of carrying out the murder.

The four convicts are currently held at Mandalay’s Oh Bo Prison. Their families are preparing to submit an appeal to Mandalay Divisional Court.

Zin Mar Aye, mother of Kyaw Zin Htet, who reportedly broke down after hearing the court verdict, said he had been with her at home during the time of the murder.

“Such a heavy sentence for our son is unfair. My son was with me on that day. He was sleeping and I even scolded him for not helping me as I was preparing meals early around 4 am,” she said.

“I want justice. I will submit an appeal for the release of my son. Since he was not there and has not committed the crime, I believe, justice will be done.”

During the unrest in early July, Mandalay was rocked by anti-Muslim violence that left one Muslim man and a Buddhist man named Tun Tun dead, while 14 people were injured. Since 2012, inter-communal violence between Buddhists and the country’s Muslim minority has recurrently erupted across Burma.

The trial of the murder of Tun Tun is still ongoing at the Mandalay District Court and 11 defendants are being held in relation to his killing.

Suspected Bangladesh kidnap victims in southern Thailand. Photo: Phuketwan

By Lindsay Murdoch
October 16, 2014

BANGKOK: Mystery surrounds the whereabouts of 176 people, including three women, who were on a people trafficker's boat that left Bangladesh.

There are fears traffickers intend to sell those on board to fishing trawlers or factories as slave labour in Malaysia and Indonesia.

Bangladesh officials are travelling to southern Thailand to interview 134 suspected victims who say they were on the boat with the 176 others.

All but one of the men and boys say they were kidnapped in Bangladesh and ended up being forced into the hold of a fishing vessel and shipped from the port of Cox's Bazaar to a remote island camp off the coast of southern Thailand.

Many thought they were being recruited for odd jobs in Bangladesh when they were grabbed by unidentified men.

They include a teacher who discovered one of his pupils on the boat. 

Two Thai men have been charged with human trafficking after the discovery of the group of 130 in Takua Pa district of Thailand's Phang Nga province.

Police are searching for several others.

More than half of the group had been forced to swim ashore from a remote island after Thai authorities learnt the people smugglers had landed a large group of people there.

The group of 176 are believed to have been taken off the island by the people smugglers before authorities arrived.

Victims have told journalists from Phuketwan, an on-line news website based in Phuket, they were beaten, abused and given little food by the traffickers.

Sixteen of the victims are Rohingya, a mostly stateless Muslim minority from western Myanmar.

Thailand was downgraded in June to the lowest "Tier 3" category in the US State Department's 2014 Trafficking in Persons' Report for not fully complying with the minimum standards for eliminating trafficking.

The arrival of the boat in Thailand shows that trafficking routes through the country remain open in the southern part of the country where thousands of Rohingya were held and sometimes tortured by traffickers at jungle camps last year, human rights groups say.

Tens of thousands of Rohingya have fled Myanmar since 2012 when violent clashes with ethnic Rakhine Buddhists killed hundreds and made 140,000 homeless.

But most of those on board the latest boat insist they were not willing passengers seeking a new life in Malaysia or another country but victims of kidnappers.

"We have not seen this type of incident before," a Bangladesh official told Phuketwan.

"Kidnapping doesn't usually happen in Bangladesh," he said.

October is the start of a five month so-called "sailing season" when thousands of Rohingya are expected to risk their lives by boarding boats to flee Myanmar, many of them trying to reach Malaysia where there is a large Rohingya community.

Australian-born baby Ferouz and his mother Latifar.

October 16, 2014

An asylum seeker family has vowed to fight a Federal Circuit Court ruling that their Australian-born son is an unauthorised maritime arrival.

A Federal Circuit Court judge ruled on Wednesday that Ferouz Myuddin, now 11 months old, was not entitled to apply for a protection visa after being born prematurely in Brisbane’s Mater Hospital in November 2013.

His mother had been transferred from the detention centre on Nauru amid concerns about her pregnancy.

The court agreed with the Government’s position that a visa could not be granted because the baby was an unauthorised boat arrival.

Ferouz and his family now live in detention in Darwin, but were originally from Myanmar.

Lawyers for the family said they would lodge an urgent appeal today and take the case all the way to the High Court if necessary.

Ruling affects the fate of 100 other babies

Murray Watt from Maurice Blackburn Lawyers said the family were extremely distressed when he advised them of the decision.

He said an urgent appeal would be lodged on behalf of Ferouz and 100 other babies facing a similar fate.

"I think any honest reading of the situation now is that boats coming to Australia have effectively stopped and we now have an opportunity to think as a country about what the fair way to deal with people who are already here is," Mr Watt told ABC News 24.

"This boy was born in the same hospital as me and the same hospital as my two children and yet he is now subject to being taken to Nauru.

"What this means is that people who are born on the Australian mainland to parents who have come here by boat are deemed themselves to have come here by boat.

"It means the Federal Government can remove all of these 100 babies and take them to Nauru to conditions the UN has labelled as inhumane.

"Currently we have an undertaking from the Federal Government they won't remove Ferouz and other babies without giving notice."

Mr Watt, a former state Labor MP, said he hoped the Government did not push ahead with the removal of any of the 100 affected babies while an appeal was pending.

"I think that would be a disgraceful thing to do," he said.

"Having said that, I don't exactly think this Government's record when it comes to the treatment of refugees is particularly good so I don't really put anything past them."

He said there had been numerous other instances where asylum seekers have been taken away "literally in the middle of the night".

"But there's nothing to cover length of time before appeal, so we will be asking the Federal Government to give an undertaking they won't be removed until an appeal is heard.

"We will be asking the [Immigration] Department that this family will not be removed until this appeal is heard because we believe they should have the opportunity to challenge that decision."

The Greens also urged the Government to wait until the legal process was finished before sending the baby offshore.

Mr Watt said if the court challenge failed the case would require political intervention.

'Mothers hope their babies won't go to Nauru'

Pamela Curr from the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre said she had met with some mothers who would be affected by the decision.

"The mothers were looking at me and saying they hoped they would not be sent back to Nauru," she said.

"That is their most fervent hope, that their babies won't go to Nauru."

She also urged the Federal Government not to transfer the children or their parents.

"These are brave couples, here they are with their children, the only hope they've got.

"It's heartbreaking what they're going to face."

Immigration Minister Scott Morrison released a statement saying it has always been the intention of successive governments that children born to illegal maritime arrivals had the same status as their parents.

He referred to law amendments before Parliament, saying they reinforced the outcome in this case.

Myanmar Census enumerators walk along with police officers to collect information at Dar Paing camp for Muslim refugees in north of Sittwe, Myanmar. (Khin Maung Win / AP)

October 15, 2014

For years, the government of Myanmar has treated its Rohingya Muslim people as intruders — an impoverished minority among a Buddhist majority, considered illegal immigrants, restricted in where they can live and work. The United Nations considers them one of the most persecuted groups in the world. Even as Myanmar has liberalized its political system, moving from military rule to democracy, the government has declined to ease its treatment of the Rohingya despite constant urging to do so by the human rights community and U.S. officials.

Now Myanmar is responding to the continued calls for change with a proposed "Rakhine State Action Plan." But what the government claims is an attempt to address the statelessness of the Rohingya only further institutionalizes its discrimination against them.

Currently, the Rohingya are not eligible for full citizenship unless they can meet the nearly impossible requirements of the country's 1982 Citizenship Law — including tracing their family history in Myanmar back to the days before British colonization in 1823. Few have the necessary documents to do so. Most of the 1 million Rohingya live in Myanmar's western Rakhine state; an estimated 180,000 of them were driven from their homes there by waves of sectarian violence against them in 2012, ending up in squalid displaced persons camps.

Myanmar considers the Rohingya to be immigrants from Bangladesh and West Bengal, even though most are not recently arrived. They are the descendants of families that lived in Myanmar well before it became independent in 1948. Some historians believe there are Rohingya who are indigenous to Rhakine state, but most Rohingya originally migrated from the Bengal region in the 19th and 20th centuries. In any case, they are not foreigners and should not be treated as such.

The government's misguided new plan would require all Rohingya to declare themselves Bengali (which they say they are not) and then try to prove they're eligible for citizenship by the standards of the 1982 law. Those who fail to meet the standards would be put into what Myanmar calls "a resettlement zone." Those who refuse to go through the process would be assigned to a displacement camp.

This is not a path to citizenship, it's a path to indefinite detention. Myanmar should scrap it and revamp its citizenship law to recognize the historic roots of the Rohingya in the country.

Rohingya living in a displacement camp outside Sittwe, Myanmar.

By Sarnata Reynolds
October 15, 2014

When I met Amir two years ago in Myanmar’s Rakhine State, he had just graduated with a degree in Physics from Sittwe University. He was a fluent English speaker and planned to pursue a career as an engineer. Amir lived in Aung Mingalar, the only neighborhood in the capital city of Sittwe where the Rohingya still maintained a residence after 140,000 had been driven out of the city by mobs assisted by the police.

When I returned to Myanmar last month, I met Amir again. He is now living in a camp for internally displaced people (IDP) outside Sittwe – one of more than 1 million Rohingya who are living in apartheid-like conditions across Rakhine State. He is not allowed to leave the camp, he does not have a job, and he does not know what will happen to him. And things may still get worse.

At last month’s UN General Assembly, Myanmar’s Foreign Minister requested international funding to implement a plan that would bring “peace, stability, harmony, and development of all people in Rakhine state." As well as promoting development, the plan would confer nationality on those Rohingya who can demonstrate that their families have lived in Myanmar for three generations, as long as they are willing to reclassify themselves as Bengali. Those Rohingya who refuse to go through the verification process and those who cannot demonstrate three generations of residence will be detained permanently or until another country agrees to resettle them.

Like thousands of other Rohingya, Amir’s identity documents were destroyed during the June 2012 violence when his house was burned down. It’s unlikely he will be able to demonstrate three generations of residence in Myanmar and thus he could be sent to prison.

While Myanmar has made some important gestures consistent with human rights, including the release of hundreds of political prisoners this month, it has conceded nothing in Rakhine State. To the contrary, it has made the donor community, including the U.S. and UK, complicit in the segregation of the Rohingya by putting them on the hook for the funding of long houses and humanitarian assistance that ultimately perpetuates their continued displacement.

It was not supposed to be this way. I was in Rakhine State two years ago when donor nations were deciding whether to bankroll the IDP camps. The donors knew it could result in permanent segregation, but they agreed to the funding only because Myanmar pledged that the longhouses would be temporary. Donors acted in good faith. Myanmar did not.

Myanmar’s plan to indefinitely and perhaps permanently detain hundreds of thousands of Rohingya is in direct violation of human rights law and standards, and donor countries should implement punitive measures if the government follows through on it. But while the restoration of relations between Myanmar and the west was premised on a turn toward democracy and human rights, it was also based on the promise of growing trade and economic engagement. The critical question now is whether donor nations will allow trade to trump human rights. If they do, the repercussions will harm more than the Rohingya. There’s little incentive for countries like Myanmar to do the right thing if they know donor communities will ultimately turn a blind eye when business interests are at stake. 

(Photo: AAP)

By AFP
October 14, 2014

Sydney -- In Brisbane, on October 14, the Federal Court is considering the fate of a baby born in Australia to asylum-seeker parents from Myanmar’s Rohingya minority to determine whether, in the eyes of the law, he arrived in the country by boat.

The baby was born prematurely in the eastern city of Brisbane last year after his mother, from, was transferred from a detention centre on Nauru due to concerns about her pregnancy.

She initially arrived in Australia from Myanmar by sea.

The government rejected the baby's refugee application on the grounds he was an unauthorised maritime arrival. Lawyers are challenging how someone born in an Australian hospital could have arrived by sea.

"This is a ludicrous decision given he was born here in Brisbane's Mater Hospital and he even has a Queensland (state) birth certificate," lawyer Murray Watt said.

Lawyers said the fate of about 100 babies born on Australian soil to asylum-seeker parents who arrived via boat rested on the decision.

Under Canberra's hardline immigration policy, asylum-seekers who arrive on boats are now denied resettlement in Australia and sent to Papua New Guinea or Nauru, even if they are genuine refugees.

Only one boatload of asylum-seekers has reached the Australian mainland since December, compared to almost daily arrivals previously under the Labor administration, with hundreds of people also dying en route.

(Photo: REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun)

By Emanuel Stoakes
October 14, 2014

A new government strategy looks like a blueprint for additional ethnic cleansing.

Late last month, Myanmar Foreign Minister Wunna Maung Lwin announced to delegates at the UN General Assembly that a long-expected “action plan” for Rakhine state, the site of the country’s most urgent human rights crisis, was “being finalized and will soon be launched.”

The minister claimed the strategy was designed to ensure “peace, stability, harmony and development” for “all people” in the region; he urged the international community to “contribute pragmatically and objectively” to their plan so that a “durable solution” to the problems in the area could be realized.

While this appeal did not fall on deaf ears, around the time of his speech revelations in the international mediathrew light on what parts of the plan might actually involve: a set of measures that risked worsening the conditions of life for thousands, while effectively recycling a policy that received heavy international condemnation when it was first proposed two years ago.

Rakhine state has been the site of several outbreaks of violence between an eponymous, largely-Buddhist ethnic group and a Muslim minority who call themselves Rohingya. A conflict between the two communities erupted in June 2012 and developed into anti-Rohingya pogroms; a second, organized bout of targeted violence occurred in October of the same year.

An investigation by Human Rights Watch determined that during these incidents, the Rohingya were subjected to crimes against humanity as a part of a campaign of ethnic cleansing led by the ethnic Rakhine community in which state agencies were heavily implicated. As a consequence of these events, hundreds died and roughly 140,000 people were displaced, the vast majority of them Rohingya.

Following the first wave of violence, the Myanmar President Thein Sein declared that the only remedy to the tensions in Rakhine state would be for the Rohingya to be sent to a third country or detained permanently in camps overseen by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR). He also reiterated the government’s view that the minority were illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and not a native race of the country.

A draft of the plan referenced in the foreign minister’s speech, which has not been made public but has been seen by The Diplomat, in effect offers only a minor alteration of that heavily criticized policy. In it, the Rohingya, who were retrospectively stripped of their citizenship in a law passed by the former military dictatorship in 1982, are offered the chance to regain these rights if they submit to a “citizenship verification exercise” in which the participants have to self-identify as “Bengalis,” in accordance with the government’s position.

Those who refuse to call themselves this, or who fail to produce paperwork proving their presence in the country for generations, will be subjected to confinement in “temporary camps” and, the plan envisions, forcibly resettled overseas with the aid of the UNHCR.

The number of those condemned to this fate could potentially be enormous, as many in the community look set to refuse to comply with the verification program, while many others have lost official documentation of their family’s presence in Myanmar. Moreover, given that the UNHCR has once again ruled out any involvement in a third country transfer operation, those Rohingya denied citizenship face the prospect of being forced to stay in “temporary” camps indefinitely.

Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia division, told this correspondent that if the plan was implemented as outlined in the draft, he thought “a new Burmese apartheid” could result, in which the minority would be permanently “locked down in camps, bereft of livelihoods, education, health and hope for anything better.”

“No one should support such a plan that delivers such rights abusing outcomes,” he added.

Besides the outcry caused by proposals in the draft, sources in rights groups fear that the Rohingya may already be facing attempts to coerce or trick them into being officially documented according to the government’s wishes.

“I am concerned the authorities may be trying to get some Rohingya to classify themselves as illegal Bengalis without their consent,” Chris Lewa, director of the Arakan Project, a non-governmental organization that monitors rights abuses in Rakhine state, told The Diplomat.

“Some communities in northern Rakhine state have been told to participate in a scheme in which they list their family members on official forms for the authorities to review; people have been told that they will have their land confiscated or that they will be prevented from doing any economic activity if they do not comply,” she said.

“Others have been subjected to beatings and arrests if they do not agree to participate,” she added, noting that the exercise appears to be linked to the citizenship verification process already underway across parts of the state.

A copy of one these forms used in these exercises and obtained by The Diplomat is headed “top secret,” which suggests that the operation may be part of an unannounced citizenship-checking process. The heading of a column in which ethnicity is listed only allows for the Rohingya to be documented as “Bengalis.”

These measures, Lewa added, have been accompanied by an intensification of security operations by the Border Guard Police (BGP) against communities suspected of having links with the Rohingya Solidarity Organisation (RSO), a small and largely inactive rebel militia group based in Bangladesh.

“According to our sources, 43 people have been arrested for suspicion of links with RSO, some were badly tortured in detention. We believe that one man was tortured to death,” she said.

Against this backdrop of violence and intimidation, the citizenship verification plan looks set to continue. Yet, for all its destructive potential, there are credible indications that several organizations and state actors in Myanmar have assented to the government’s call for “pragmatism” and have decided to get behind the exercise in the belief that this might benefit the Rohingya.

Sources in the NGO community that maintain regular contact with foreign governments told The Diplomat on condition of anonymity that U.S. officials view the plan as a “positive step” and had been working behind-the-scenes to try to get the political elite Naypyidaw to provide an opening through which some Rohingya might gain citizenship rights.

These allegations appear to be supported by the claims of sources within the Rohingya camps, who also did not wish to be identified, but described meetings with U.S. and British officials who implicitly urged them to “co-operate with government in doing verification [sic] according to 1982 citizenship law.”

These claims were bolstered by those of an authoritative source with extensive contacts in Naypyidaw, who told this correspondent that the U.S. had been working with Myanmar on several issues related to human rights for some time. This relationship went so far as to include American help with “strategic communications,” she said.

The source did not want to be identified for her own security, but indicated that the rationale behind this move was that Washington could gain purchase over Thein Sein’s administration through its support; one way of using this leverage was to pressure the government of Myanmar to improve its human rights record.

The U.S. embassy was contacted for comment on these claims. It replied saying that it wished to formulate a response, but at the time of writing had not done so.

Another source within the camps corroborated his counterpart’s claims and added that other foreign representatives – including the Turkish and Bangladeshi ambassadors – had attended meetings with Rohingya community leaders and encouraged them to take part in the government’s citizenship scheme.

While these allegations remain unverified, a representative from the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs told a news crew that she thought “the government is engaged in trying to find solutions for the people in the camps, and that solution is through the verification and the citizenship process,” a statement that appeared to explicitly endorse the plan.

By contrast, Rohingya activists told this correspondent that they viewed the government’s strategy as “an ethnocidal plan” and a potential route to “ethnic cleansing.” They resent the fact that the Rakhine action plan, which was developed with input from rights groups, foreign embassies and others, was not produced with any consultation of their community, but rather has been introduced to them with threats of permanent confinement in camps hanging over their head.

Reflecting the views of every other Rohingya source this correspondent has spoken to about the draft proposals, one activist source – who was too frightened of retribution to identify himself – emphatically declared that the minority “can’t accept it at all” and indicated that his community would not co-operate with the authorities.

Given the likelihood of widespread resistance, it is possible Myanmar’s proposals will indeed license ethnic cleansing through the forced displacement of potentially hundreds of thousands of Rohingya into camps. In such a scenario, the likelihood of violence and destabilization increase dramatically, with unforeseeable consequences.

Given the realistic possibility that the government’s plans could lead to an unprecedented crisis, the international community and NGOs active in Myanmar face a moral imperative to act to prevent such an outcome.

Fail to do so, and these actors could continue to surrender what leverage they have over Naypyidaw in the name of pragmatism, while achieving very little for some of Asia’s most vulnerable people, even as they continue down the path to preventable disaster.

Emanuel Stoakes is a freelance journalist and researcher in the field of human rights and conflict. He has produced work for Al Jazeera, The Daily Telegraph, The Guardian, The Independent, The New Statesman, Viceand Souciant magazine, among others.

Migrants kidnapped in Bangladesh and trafficked to Thailand (Photo: AFP)

By AFP
October 13, 2014

Bangkok -- People-smugglers kidnapped dozens of Rohingya refugees living in Bangladesh after duping them with fake job offers, and trafficked them to a rubber plantation in southern Thailand, officials said Sunday.

The 53 men -- mostly Rohingya refugees from Myanmar but also including Bangladeshi citizens -- were found on Saturday on the plantation in Takua Pa district in the southern Thai coastal province of Phang Nga.

"Two Thai men have been charged with human trafficking," Nappadon Thiraprawat of Takua Pa police told AFP.

The group will be treated as victims of trafficking rather than as illegal immigrants, he added, after interviews revealed they had been kidnapped and put on a boat south.

A local official close to the case said most of the men were abducted around a week ago from a Bangladesh coastal area which is home to a large number of Rohingya Muslim refugees from neighbouring Myanmar.

Many thought they were being recruited for odd jobs in the area, only to end up on the boat heading south.

"Some of them were knocked out with anaesthetic and taken to the boat, some were tricked... but they did not intend to come to Thailand," the official told AFP, requesting anonymity.

The migrants were initially arrested as illegal immigrants and ferried onto the Thai mainland from a small island in the Andaman Sea, the district chief said on Saturday.

Thousands of Rohingya -- a Muslim minority group not recognised as citizens in Myanmar -- have fled deadly communal unrest in Myanmar's Rakhine state since 2012. Most have headed for mainly Muslim Malaysia.

Myanmar views its population of roughly 800,000 Rohingya -- described by the United Nations as one of the world's most persecuted minorities -- as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and denies them citizenship.

Around 300,000 Rohingya have over the years gone to live in Bangladesh, which recognises only a small portion as refugees and regularly turns back those trying to cross the border.

Most of the 53 were Rohingya from UN-run camps in the Bangladeshi coastal area of Cox's Bazar, according to Chutima Sidasathian of the Phuketwan news website who was present during interviews with the group.

"This is a new thing... before, we saw Rohingya displaced by violence who wanted to get to Malaysia, but this wasn't their plan -- these people want to go back to the UNHCR camps," she said.

Rights groups say the stateless migrants often fall into the hands of people-traffickers.

They have also criticised Thailand in the past for pushing boatloads of Rohingya entering Thai waters back out to sea and holding migrants in overcrowded facilities.

Thailand said last year it was investigating allegations that some army officials in the kingdom were involved in the trafficking of Rohingya.

Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch's Asia division, described the abductions as a "horrifying new twist" to the already "systematic abuses of Rohingya boat people".

In this Aug. 14, 2014 photo, Shwe Maung, an ethnic Rohingya member of Myanmar’s Parliament who represents Rohingya Muslims of Rakhine State, poses for a photo with a brown, tassled fez-like cap on a side table next to him in Yangon, Myanmar. Shwe Maung is one of three members of Parliament who identify as Rohingya, a persecuted Muslim minority that Myanmar government officially doesn’t recognize. On the floor of Parliament in Naypyitaw, Shwe Maung wears a silk head wrap called the “gaun baung” that is worn by ethnic Burmans and other members of his ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP). But in a cupboard at home in Yangon he keeps a soft, brown, tassled fez-like cap, modeled after one worn by Abdul Gaffar, a Rohingya who sat in the national legislature of Myanmar's first prime minister. (AP Photo/ Gemunu Amarasinghe)

By Gabrielle Paluch 
October 13, 2014

NAYPYITAW, Myanmar -- The non-military members of Myanmar's Parliament must wear hats on the floor, a requirement that creates a window into the many cultures that make up the Southeast Asian country of 50 million. Here's a look at seven members of Parliament and what their headgear says about them:

———

MYAT KO

ETHNICITY: Naga

PARTY: Union Solidarity and Development Party

HEADGEAR: Naga hat with feathers, fur and bear claws

U Myat Ko says his proudest achievement in Parliament is wearing his hat: a cane bowl adorned with wild boar tusks, hornbill feathers, a mountain goat's red mane and the fur and claws of a sun bear. It's about 2 feet tall, more than a century old, and attracts insects.

His ancestors hunted the animals.

"I wouldn't take off my hat no matter how bad the headaches get," Myat Ko says. The mere fact that the hat is in Parliament, representing his ethnic group, is a mark of progress for him.

The Nagas, a collection of at least 66 different tribes inhabiting the mountainous highlands straddling the Myanmar-India border, are known as fearsome, headhunting warriors who until very recently lived in primitive conditions.

The creation of a special self-administered zone for Nagas has brought roads, schools, health care clinics, a professional police force and agricultural and irrigation development projects. The changes, however small and incremental, are overwhelming for a region so undeveloped. Myat Ko says heirloom hats like his were rare even when he was a young man, and now they virtually don't exist anymore.

"Modernity may rob us of our culture. We are no longer hunting. Times change," he says, "but I can't say it's a curse."

———

SHWE MAUNG

ETHNICITY: Rohingya

PARTY: USDP

HEADGEAR: Gaun baun, fez.

U Shwe Maung is one of three MPs who identify as Rohingya. The number is surprisingly high, given that the government considers nearly all 1.3 million members of the Muslim minority to be illegal migrants from neighboring Bangladesh. The contradiction has taught Shwe Maung to blend in and choose his battles.

"People refer to my people as 'Bengali,'" he says. "I know I have to accept this sometimes."

On the floor of Parliament in Naypyitaw, he wears a silk head wrap called the gaun baung that is worn by ethnic Burmans and other members of his ruling USDP party.

But in a cupboard at home in Yangon, the commercial capital, he keeps a soft, brown, tassled fez-like cap, modeled after one worn by a Rohingya who sat in the national legislature of Myanmar's first prime minister. Shwe Maung says he won't be needing it in Parliament.

Myanmar's recent steps toward democracy and freedom have been disastrous for the Rohingya, who have been attacked by Buddhist extremists in northwestern Rakhine state, where most Rohingya live. Up to 280 Rohingya were killed in communal violence in 2012, more than 140,000 Muslims remain in displacement camps and tens of thousands have fled on boats to seek asylum.

Shwe Maung is possibly the most hated man in Parliament. His seat is flanked two ethnic Rakhines deep on either side.

Rohingya were allowed to vote in 2010, but they will not be allowed to vote or join political parties in 2015, except for those few who have managed to become citizens.

For his family's safety's sake, Shwe Maung feels pressure to remain in the public eye and get re-elected. "Maybe," he says, "I will send them to another country beforehand."

———

AYE MAUNG

ETHNICITY: Rakhine

PARTY: Arakanese National Party

HEADGEAR: Rakhine Gaun baun

Aye Maung's time in Parliament has been defined by the aftermath of the deadly riots that rocked his constituency, the Rakhine state capital Sittwe, in 2012.

As displaced Rohingya continue to languish in squalid, prison-like camps, the Rakhine Buddhist lawmaker sees no sense in reintegrating communities as they were. He says fear on both sides would make it impossible, and notes that thousands of Buddhists were displaced by the violence as well.

"They made up 'Rohingya,'" says the Arakanese National Party legislator, who on the Parliament floor suggested DNA testing to determine their genetic heritage. "They made up their history."

Aye Maung says "Bengalis" can stay in detention centers or camps, or leave the country.

The perceived infiltration of Muslims from Bangladesh is seen as a threat to Buddhism, and Rakhine see themselves as the originators of Burmese Buddhism. The gaun baung Aye Maung wears in Parliament has its triangular wing on the left instead of the right, a nod to monks' tradition of wearing robes to the left.

Rakhine's problems are not limited to ethnic strife. It is Myanmar's second-least-developed state, with villages lacking electricity and access to health care.

———

YE TUN

ETHNICITY: Burman

PARTY: Shan Nationalities Democratic Party

HEADGEAR: Cotton and silk hats

U Ye Tun's tumultuous youth was spent fighting in the northeast command of the Burma Communist Party in the 1970s, and in military intelligence. He was 10 years retired from the army and settled in Hsipaw, Shan state, raising broiler chickens, when he decided to run for Parliament.

As an MP, he proudly dons two Shan hats, one cotton, the other of fine silk, saved for days he plans to ask a question on the legislature floor. But the native of central Myanmar says he is linked to the ethnic minority by marriage, not birth. "I must admit I'm not a Shan," he says. He fought alongside Shan armies, and his father-in-law is a Shan general.

Ye Tun's errant Shan pride is a reminder of how ethnic identities in Myanmar are often chosen allegiances, fine lines that are complicated to draw. His politics reflect this fact: Last parliamentary session, he fiercely opposed a proportional representation bill that would have significantly marginalized ethnic parties in elections.

"They don't see a genuine federal state guaranteeing equal rights and self-determination as the right solution," he says. "I don't like having the military in Parliament, but we don't have a choice."

———

J YAW WU

ETHNICITY: Lisu

PARTY: National Unity Party

HEADGEAR: White cushioned hat

Caught in the 1988 uprising at Yangon University, J Yaw Wu entered the Catholic priesthood. He left it in 2004 because he knew he could not keep his celibacy vows. The transition from priest to politician, he says, was natural.

"I was father to 7,000 congregants. Now, instead, I am father to 200,000 constituents."

His white velvet, cushioned hat feels like an earmuff, intended for the snow-capped peaks of the Himalayan foothills in his native town Putao, in Kachin state. It is out of place under Napyidaw's broiling sun.

The Lisu, his ethnic Kachin subgroup, are proud warriors descended from Tibetans, so J Yaw Wu also wears a 300-year-old piece of armor in Parliament: a huge leather-and-ivory belt.

He describes his role as protector of his people against Chinese investment and the Burma Army, who have displaced tens of thousands since a 16-year ceasefire in his state lapsed in 2011.

"I am for my people only. My people are dying left and right. How can I remain here, helpless?"

Some of his military counterparts in Parliament were deployed in Kachin state during the last parliamentary break.

"What can we do? We have to sit next to those who bully us," he says. "But Parliament should be the place where we make checks and balances on the government and military, and not the other way around."

———

MAJ. SOE MOE

ETHNICITY: Rakhine

PARTY: None, like other military in Parliament

HEADGEAR: None in Parliament

Maj. Soe Moe was among the members of Parliament deployed to Kachin, where he was second-in-command for a mopping-up operation. He wore what he calls his "jungle cap," one of five different hats soldiers choose from. When soldier serve in Parliament, however, they go bare-headed.

All military MPs are required to be on active duty, and Soe Moe has been to combat zones all along the rugged border.

He hopes to retire as a brigadier general by 2020, then devote himself full-time to politics. His goal is the premiership of his home state, Rakhine.

Soe Moe has a warm, chubby-cheeked smile and speaks rudimentary English with enthusiasm. He sees no irony in the military's role in an ostensibly civilian, democratic legislature. The army's duty, he says, in Parliament and the battlefield, "is non-disintegration of the union."

He says soldiers want peace more than anybody — a fraught sentiment for ethnic leaders in Parliament — and that the army is becoming more professional and politically savvy.

Opening up to the West, he says, will allow Myanmar to keep up with superpower neighbors India and China while digging out from under China's heavy influence and protecting its resource-rich borderlands. A successful ceasefire is a crucial step.

"Maybe then, when there is no threat of instability, we will leave Parliament."

———

SAW THEIN AUNG

ETHNICITY: Karen

PARTY: Phlaon Sa Paw Democratic Party

HEADGEAR: Scarf wrap

Saw Thein Aung has a number of different woven scarves he wraps around his head like a ninja when sitting in Parliament. His favorite bears the image of an anaconda.

His childhood in Karen state was war-stricken: Two armies terrorized his family. They had to flee their village near Hpa-An when ethnic rebels threatened to kill his father for helping Myanmar troops, who had demanded food and shelter at gunpoint.

In his 66 years, he has never known his home state to be at peace. It is the world's longest running civil war. In the last six decades, thousands of people have been killed and tens of thousands forced to flee across the border to Thailand.

When the 2010 elections were announced, Saw Thein Aung jumped at the chance to participate. He went from schoolteacher to party founder and presidential candidate in just over a month.

"My people have suffered the spoils of war for too long. It is time for peace," Saw Thein Aung says, wistfully. "Our land is destroyed, we have nothing — no livelihoods, no shelter, no infrastructure." He knows it will be a long time before refugees can return.

By Dr Habib Siddiqui
October 13, 2014

This year, the Myanmar authorities have cracked down even harder, making the situation worse. First, the government expelled Doctors Without Borders, which had been providing health care for the Rohingya. Then orchestrated mobs attacked the offices of humanitarian organisations, forcing them out. While some kinds of aid are resuming, but not the health care! As noted by award-winning journalist Nicholas Kristof, expectant mothers and their children are dying for lack of doctors. They need doctors desperately to save their lives, but the Myanmar government has confined them to quasi-concentration camps outside towns, and it blocks aid workers from entering to provide medical help. They are on their own in Myanmar, where democratic progress is being swamped by crimes against humanity toward the Rohingya.

Many of the Muslim IDPs now live in squalid camps with no provisions and are counting their days hopelessly to be relocated to their burnt homes. And yet, such a provision seems unlikely. In recent months, Rakhine Buddhists have organised demonstrations protesting any resettlement of the Rohingya and other Muslims. Bottom line — they want the Rohingya and other Muslims out of Myanmar, if not totally annihilated.

Many international observers and some experts, including human rights activists, were surprised by such outbreaks of ethnic cleansing drives in the past year against the Muslims, in general, and the Rohingya people, in particular, let alone the level of Buddhist intolerance against non-Buddhists everywhere inside Myanmar. However, such sad episodes were no surprise to many keen readers and researchers of Myanmar’s problematic history.

We all knew that simply a transition to democracy would not and could not solve the Rohingya problem. Instead of a much-needed dialogue for reconciliation and confidence-building between ethnic/national and religious groups, what we recognised was appalling Buddhist chauvinism — outright rejection of the ‘other’ people from such processes by the so-called ‘democracy’ leaders within the Burmese and Rakhine diaspora. As if, their so-called struggle for democracy against the hated military regime was a purely Buddhist one, the Rohingya Muslims were unwelcome in those dialogues between ethnic/national groups.
The level of Buddhist intolerance, hatred and xenophobia has simply no parallel in our time! The chauvinist Buddhists are in denial of the very existence of the Rohingya people in spite of the fact that the latter’s root in Arakan is older than that of the Rakhines by several centuries. While the vast majority of the late-comers to the contested territory were Buddhists, the Rohingyas, much like the people living next door — on the other side of the River Naaf — in today’s Bangladesh had embraced Islam voluntarily. Their conversion had also much to do with the history of the entire region, especially in the post-13th century when the sultans and the great Mughal emperors ruled vast territories of the South Asia from the foothills of the Himalayas to the shores of the Indian Ocean.

As a matter of fact, the history of Arakan, sandwiched then between Muslim-dominated India and Buddhist-dominated Burma, would have been much different had it not been for the crucial decision made by the Muslim sultan of Bengal who reinstalled the fleeing Buddhist king Narameikhtla to the throne of Arakan in 1430 with a massive Muslim force of nearly 60,000 soldiers — sent in two campaigns. Interestingly, the Muslim General Wali Khan — leading a force of 25,000 soldiers, who was instructed to put the fleeing monarch to the throne of Arakan — claimed it for himself. He was subsequently uprooted in a new campaign — again at the directive of the Sultan of Muslim Bengal, by General Sandi Khan who led a force of 35,000 soldiers. What would be Arakan’s history today if the Muslim Sultan of Bengal had let General Wali Khan rule the country as his client?

The so-called democracy leaders in the opposition had very little, if any, in common with values and ideals of democracy but more with hard-core fascism. Their behaviour showed that they were closet fascists and were no democrats. Thus, all the efforts of the Rohingya and other non-Buddhist minority groups to reach out to the Buddhist-dominated opposition leadership simply failed. It was an ominous warning for the coming days!

So, in 2012 when the region witnessed a series of highly orchestrated ethnic cleansing drives against the Rohingya and other Muslim groups not just within the Rakhine state but all across Myanmar, like some keen observers of the political developments, I was not too surprised. Nor was I surprised at the poisonous role played by leaders of the so-called democracy movement. They showed their real fascist colour. But the level of ferocity, savagery and inhumanity simply shocked me. It showed that the Theravada Buddhists of Myanmar, like their co-religionists in Sri Lanka and Cambodia, have unmistakably become one of the most racists and bigots in our world. With the evolving incendiary role of Buddhist monks like Wirathu — the abbot of historically influential Mandalay Ma-soe-yein monastery — and his 969 Fascist Movement, which sanctifies eliminationist policies against the Muslims, surely, the teachings of Gautama Buddha have miserably failed to enlighten them and/or put a lid on their all too obvious savagery and monstrosity.

Myanmar is still locked in its mythical, savage past and has not learnt the basics of nation-building. It uses fear-tactics and hatred towards a common enemy — the Rohingyas and Muslim minorities — to glue its fractured Buddhist majority. And the sad reality is — its formula is working, thanks to Wirathu, Thein Sein, Suu Kyi and other provocateurs and executioners!

On June 20, 2013 twelve Nobel Peace laureates called upon the Myanmar government for ending violence against Muslims in Burma. They also called for an international independent investigation of the anti-Muslim violence. Yet, the Myanmar regime continues to ignore international plea for integration of the Rohingya and other minorities. It proclaims — ‘There are no people called Rohingya in Myanmar.’ This narrative is absurd, as well as racist. A document as far back as 1799 refers to the Rohingya population in Arakan, and an 1826 report estimates that 30 per cent of the population of this region was Muslim.

As I have noted elsewhere, today’s Rohingya are a hybrid group of people, much like the Muslim communities living in many non-Arab countries around the globe, especially South Asia. To say that their origin is a British-era or a Bangladeshi phenomenon is simply disingenuous.

In recent months, Myanmar has conducted a controversial census in which nearly a million Rohingyas were unaccounted. They were denied their basic rights to identify themselves as Rohingya. It was a gross violation according to scores of international laws.

The Rohingya identity is no more ‘artificial’ or ‘invented’ than any other, including the Rakhine identity. The national politics around the Rohingya people of Arakan who are dumped as the ‘Bengali illegal Muslim immigrants’ is not mere bigotry but a viable toxic fruit of Myanmar ultra-nationalism? Bhumi Rakkhita Putra Principle. It is a deliberate act of provocative target-marking in line with YMBA’s (Young Men Buddhist Association) amyo-batha-tharthana (race-language-religion) and is the foundation of the Burma Citizenship Act 1982. It is strong, powerful, and ultra-toxic. This apartheid law allows a Rakhine Buddhist like Aye Maung — an MP and chairman of the RNDP (a religio-racist Rakhine political party) whose parents only emigrated to Arakan state in 1953–54 from Bangladesh (erstwhile East Pakistan) — to be automatically recognised as a Burmese citizen while denying the same privilege to millions of Rohingya and other Muslims whose ancestors had lived in the territory for centuries.

Myanmar espouses neo-Nazi Fascism, ie, Myanmarism — the noxious cocktail of Buddhism, ultra-nationalism, racism and bigotry. It is a farcical ideology, which starts on the false premise that the different groups that make up its complex ethnic/religious mosaic today were always under the authority of a single government before the arrival of the British. It is a dangerous ideology since it promotes the agenda towards genocide of the Rohingya and other non-Buddhist religious minorities. It is a medieval ideology of hatred and intolerance because it defines citizenship based on ethnicity or race, which has no place in the 21st century.

The Citizenship Law of 1982 violates several fundamental principles of international customary law standards, offends the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and leaves Rohingyas exposed to no legal protection of their rights. The 1982 Law promotes discrimination against Rohingya by arbitrarily depriving them of their Burmese (Myanmar) citizenship. The deprivation of one’s nationality is not only a serious violation of human rights but also constitutes an international crime.

This apartheid law is a blueprint for elimination or ethnic cleansing. It has galvanised into genocidal campaign against the vulnerable Rohingya people who have lost everything in their ancestral land and has created outflows of refugees, which overburden other countries posing threats to peace and security within the region. Of the Rohingya diaspora, an estimated 1.5 million now live in Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh, Pakistan, the UAE, Thailand, Malaysia, India, Indonesia, the United States, the United Kingdom, Republic of Ireland, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Japan, and other places where they could find a shelter. Such a forced exodus of Rohingyas is simply unacceptable in our time.

If Myanmar’s leaders are serious about bringing their nation state from savage past to modernity, from darkness to enlightenment and avoiding becoming a failed state, they must abandon their toxic ideology of Myanmarism and revoke the apartheid Citizenship Law. They must learn from experiences of others to avoid disintegration. They must also learn that like everyone else the Rohingyas have the right to self-identify themselves. And it would be travesty of law and justice to deny such rights of self-identity.

Finally, it would be the greatest tragedy of our generation should we allow the perpetrators of genocide and ethnic cleansing to whitewash their crimes against humanity. The UNSC must demand an impartial inquiry and redress the Rohingya crisis. The Rohingya people need protection as the most persecuted people on earth. Should the Thein Sein government fail to bring about the desired change, starting with either repealing or amending the 1982 Citizenship Law, the UNSC must consider creating a ‘save haven’ inside Arakan in the northern Mayu Frontier Territories to protect the lives of the Rohingya people so that they could live safely, securely with honour and dignity as rest of us. The sooner the better!

Rohingya Exodus