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Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi has full confidence in the UN High Commissioner of Refugees Filippo Grandi in dealing with the Rohingya issue. Bernama photo


By Roy Goh
September 24, 2016

NEW YORK: Helping Rohingya refugees is not just about providing them with a place to stay, says Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi.

Malaysia may be able to host them temporarily but Zahid said a more comprehensive plan was needed to resolve their problems and it needs the help from their home country - Myanmar, designated host country, Asean as well as the United Nations. 

Zahid said however he has full confidence in the UN High Commissioner of Refugees Filippo Grandi in dealing with the displaced Muslim minority community from Myanmar despite the many setbacks particularly in financial matters. 

Zahid and Grandi met on the sidelines in the on going 71st United Nations General Assembly on Thursday. 

“On out part together with Asean, an international conference is being mooted for all 10 member countries of the bloc to sit together and discuss to find a solution for the community,” he said. 

Zahid said the conference to be organised by the Institute of Public Security and a religious based party will also involve non governmental organisations that has dealt with the Rohingyas before. 

Among the issues to be discussed would be the reason why many designated countries were reluctant to accept them. 

“Some countries there are many of the refugees and that they were being selective, preferring only professionals, skilled or semi skilled workers. 

“This is where we can probably discuss how we could train them and improve their marketability in designated host countries,” he said. 

Zahid stressed Myanmar would also be invited so that their opinion could be included in the process of resolving the issue.

By Fiona Macgregor
September 24, 2016

On August 30, Amnesty International called for an independent inquiry into the death and possible sexual assault of a young Rohingya woman who was found at a military compound in the Rakhine State capital Sittwe. In a two-part series that highlights the plight of Rohingya women and the lack of medical support and justice for gender-based violence available to them, The Myanmar Times asks: Who was Raysuana and why did she die?

Raysuana poses for a mobile phone picture to send to her brother in Malaysia.
There's a patch of brown earth in the village of Let That Mar. It is surrounded by a bamboo fence and on top of the earth lays a sun-bleached palm branch. Under it lays the body of Raysuana, who was found naked and barely conscious at a military compound, and died after being denied access to hospital care under a system of institutionalised discrimination tantamount to ethnic apartheid.

“I need to tell you we tried to save her,” says Yasmin (not her real name), the clinic nurse who took care of Raysuana from the time she reached the clinic on the morning of August 18 until she died around 12 hours later.

“She couldn’t tell us what happened because she was not able to speak,” the nurse added, showing the public space where the young woman was treated at Thet Kya Pin Clinic.

The clinic is a small healthcare facility where people of the Rohingya Muslim minority living in IDP camps and villages outside the Rakhine State capital Sittwe can receive basic medical treatment under oppressive rules that deny them freedom of movement and many other rights, restricting their ability to receive proper hospital treatment.

“It was only with her final breathing that she could talk to us. She came round, then she called out for her mother. Maybe for a minute she was awake and she cried for her mother. ‘Ma’, she said. ‘Mother where are you?’ Then she died,” recalls Yasmin.

Like the other medical staff involved in Raysuana’s case, the nurse says the main reason the young woman was not sent to hospital was that nobody knew who she was so there was no one to go with her to the hospital as attendant, and she “could not be sent alone”.

That belief was critical to Raysuana’s story, but the case also highlights a whole series of failures in system and in practice that means Rohingya people – and particularly women – are having their lives put at risk.

The world will never know the exact details that led to Raysuana’s death. What we do know is that she was Rohingya – a member of the mainly stateless Muslim minority in Myanmar who are denied basic human rights under internationally condemned policies.

She had no close relatives in the area to support her or demand an inquiry into what would be a highly controversial case given potential army involvement. The Myanmar military have constitutionally enshrined impunity; and she was buried, with the approval of a local leader, without an autopsy or further investigation into possible sexual assault and cause of death having taken place.

It is not even clear how old she was. Those who knew her estimate her age to have been between 25 and 30.

Yet despite the disadvantages she faced in life, Raysuana was loved by those who knew her and considered a quiet, caring and notably intelligent young woman who was particularly thoughtful toward others and was fluent in three languages. She is missed.

A second mother and friend

“I am so sad. I loved her like she was my own daughter. I still cannot believe she has gone,” says So Ma Li Khatu, a homely woman who estimates her own age to be around 60.

She embraces a small naked child with one hand and uses the other to clutch at her heart behind the fabric of a tattered blouse as she recalls her lost “daughter”.

So Ma Li Khatu became Raysuana’s “second mother” in 2012, when the young woman appeared on her doorstep in Ohn Taw Shay village asking for food after communal violence broke out in Sittwe between ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and the Muslim community, forcing tens of thousands, mainly Rohingya, to flee their homes.

The riots were brutal and bloody. Entire villages were razed and innocent victims were butchered as they fled.

“Raysuana came asking for something to eat after she had to run away from Aung Mingalar,” says So Ma Li Khatu, referring to a Muslim quarter in the centre of Sittwe that has since been turned into a ghetto and cut off from the outside world by armed guards.

Ohn Taw Shay lies outside the main Rohingya IDP camps and villages where access to outsiders is restricted by the government. It is isolated by paddy fields and streams, and fortuitously escaped the violence that hit so many communities in 2012.

So Ma Li Khatu, Rasuana’s “second mother”, sits with children in Ohn Taw Shay village, Rakhine State. Photo: Fiona MacGregor / The Myanmar Times
For three years, Raysuana found shelter, care and support there. But she missed her younger brother, who had left Rakhine State for Malaysia before the violence, and particularly her mother, who had fled to join him after the riots.

“I felt for her in my heart so I took her to live with me,” says So Ma Li Khatu. “She was a quiet girl; she helped me take care of my chickens and goats and lived with us. In the three years I knew her, she was always helpful and good but she always missed her family in Malaysia.”

“She didn’t care about getting married,” added one village leader. “She just wanted to be with her mother.”

As she went about her business tending the livestock and helping around the house, Raysuana was coming up with a plan to join her family in Malaysia. So began a series of events that meant Raysuana’s later disappearance would go unnoticed for days.

In late July, Raysuana went to stay with the family of a friend – a girl who was engaged to Raysuana’s brother in Malaysia – in Let That Mar village, which sits a short walk across the paddy fields on the outskirts of Thet Kya Pin village.

So Ma Li Khatu says she had not seen her foster daughter for almost three weeks and had no idea she was missing when news of the young woman’s death reached her.

An escape plan

The riots of 2012 occurred when long-running tensions erupted between ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and the Muslim minority who self-identify as Rohingya with a long history in Myanmar, but are considered illegal “Bengali” immigrants by most of the rest of the population.

The violence left around 200 people dead and about 140,000 – mainly Rohingya – displaced. Four years on, around 120,000 Muslims are still confined to IDP camps, where they – like other Rohingya – face a brutal policy of discrimination. There are severe restrictions on their movements, they are denied other basic rights and face numerous abuses.

The intolerable conditions have driven thousands to flee Rakhine and seek a new life in Muslim-majority Malaysia, with many taking dangerous sea routes to do so. Raysuana and her young friend in Let That Mar village hoped to join this escape, though there is no indication they had become involved with people traffickers before Raysuana’s death.

Although she was considerably younger at just 17, the girl of the family in Let That Mar village and Raysuana had become close in recent months.

“She cared for [my daughter] so much. Like a younger sister. They would go out together to chat or have something to eat and they would always bring food back to us,” says the girl’s mother Su Ra Ka Tu. “She was a good person. Very loving.”

As the friendship developed, Su Ra Ka Tu decided to arrange a marriage between her daughter and Raysuana’s younger brother. Together the two friends arranged a plan: Raysuana would travel to Malaysia and the young bride-to-be hoped to join at some point.

“She used to come here to stay with us sometimes for short visits, but this time she was just waiting for the money to arrive from her brother so she could travel to Malaysia,” explains one village elder who knew Raysuana.

He shows a photograph of her that someone had taken on a mobile phone. It is displayed with a gaudy floral frame round it.

“Her brother liked her to send pictures of herself to the family in Malaysia,” he explains.

But days went by and the money from Malaysia did not arrive. Villagers said that, around two weeks after arriving in Let That Mar, Raysuana set off for another village, which locals refer to as La Ma Shi, in hopes of finding laundry work and raising some money herself.

It was a decision that would lead to her death.

A dangerous journey

“I didn’t know she had gone missing. I just thought she was at La Ma Shi doing laundry,” says Su Ra Ka Tu, who puts Raysuana’s departure from her home five days before her death.

She says her daughter has lost her dearest friend.

No one The Myanmar Times spoke to at La Ma Shi village saw Raysuana arrive there. “Maybe she did come and nobody had any work for her so she moved on,” suggested one community leader there, adding that it was not unusual for people in the camps and villages to go door-to-door in search of work.

What happened next remains a mystery, but the fact she was found at the adjacent military compound suggests whatever befell her occurred not so far from La Ma Shi.

At a teashop on the edge of La Ma Shi, customers said they had heard about the incident. One man suggested Raysuana may have gone to the military compound to ask whether anyone there needed laundry services, but most discussing the case suggested that was unlikely as the base was generally avoided by local women.

What is almost certain is that she would have had to pass the local checkpoint on her way in and out of the village. These checkpoints, operated by police and military personnel as part of the restricted-movement system, are notorious as posts where Rohingya women face sexual harassment and abuse.

While there is no evidence that Raysuana suffered such a fate, residents were clear that if she’d had to pass the checkpoint alone, particularly in the evening, she would have been at risk.

“It is not safe,” the teashop customers agreed.

The possibility has been raised that Raysuana could have fallen victim to someone from her own community. However, the discovery of her body in a military area in the early morning – a site which has restricted access at all times, and from which Muslims are “banned” from entering in the evening, according to locals – means any Rohingya person who chose to abandon an injured Raysuana there was taking a serious chance.

La Ma Shi lies next to the military compound. Three different military organisations – the A Myauk Tat, the Sittwe Army and the Kh La Ra 20 – have bases there laid out in a rough triangular shape with a shared grounds in the middle, explains U Hla Myint, the administrator of Thet Kya Pin village.

He was the first in the Rohingya community to hear news that Raysuana had been found.

A grim discovery

“On the morning of August 18, I got a phone call from a man who was an intermediary,” recalls U Hla Myint.

“He said the commander of the A Myauk Tat military needed to talk to me about an emergency.”

The village administrator learned that a young Rohingya woman had been found nearly naked in the bushes outside one of the military offices at the compound.

U Hla Myint rejected the idea that personnel from the base should bring the injured woman to Thet Kya Pin, imagining the potential for serious trouble were word to get out to the Rohingya community. Instead, U Hla Myint volunteered to go and retrieve her, he says.

When he got to the compound, U Hla Myint spoke to various senior military staff. “They showed me the body of the victim in the bushes. She was only wearing a bra and nothing else. Someone had covered her with a blanket.”

Throughout interviews for this article, several witnesses referred to Raysuana’s “body” while she was still alive. Medical staff who examined her later have downplayed claims that she was unconscious, saying she was conscious but not lucid.

But witnesses who saw her initially described her as unconscious. If that is the case, it is a clear indication that she should have been treated as an emergency case and referred immediately to hospital. She was not.

“When I saw her, she was unconscious but breathing,” recalls U Hla Myint.

“The three-bar [military officer] asked me, ‘Do you know this girl,’ and I told him no, and that she wasn’t from our village,” says U Hla Myint.

“Then the sergeant said to me, ‘She is your ethnic people, that’s why you have to take her body.”

“I told them again that I did not know her, but they said they would not go to the police, and for a second time they said she belonged to my ethnic group and so I should take her.”

U Hla Myint took the young woman to the clinic at Thet Kya Pin. He says he was not aware of her specific injuries, but that it was clear she was in a serious condition.

He found some clothes for her and then, leaving her with medical staff at the clinic, set off to try to find her relatives, asking around local villages whether anyone knew of a missing woman.

When Raysuana arrived at the clinic at around 8am there was no doctor there. She was attended to instead by a medical assistant, and a woman who helped care for the injured girl and who said she had observed bleeding around Raysuana’s vagina.

It was only around 9am that the state doctor arrived. After what was later acknowledged to be only a cursory examination – due in part to concerns over a male doctor examining a female patient – it was decided that she was not an emergency case. She was admitted to the clinic as an in-patient instead of being sent to hospital.

Less than 12 hours later, she was dead.

Despite a second doctor from an INGO attending at the clinic later that day, Raysuana was still not admitted to hospital. Despite clear indications that she may have been a victim of gender-based violence, no protocol in response to that was followed. Despite police having been informed of the incident, no criminal inquiry was launched.

“I have no idea what the police are doing about it,” says U Hla Myint.

As for the lack of medical treatment, he responds, “We Rohingya people are not allowed to go to the hospitals ourselves. If there were no restrictions on movement, we would have taken her to the hospital in Sittwe, but at this moment in time we cannot.”
European Union Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini participates in a media briefing following the EU3+3 Ministerial meeting with Iran during the 71st Session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, U.S., September 22, 2016. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly


By David Brunnstrom 
September 24, 2016

UNITED NATIONS -- The European Union praised Myanmar's progress on human rights under the leadership of Aung San Suu Kyi on Friday and said that it would not be introducing a resolution at the United Nations condemning the country's record for the first time in 15 years.

Addressing the Partnership Group on Myanmar at the United Nations General Assembly, EU Foreign Policy chief Federica Mogherini called Suu Kyi's progress from political prisoner to government "powerful testimony to the incredible change Myanmar is going through."

"The government has taken bold measures to improve human rights and re-invigorate the peace process. Political prisoners have been released," she said. 

Mogherini said steps had also "been taken against those who incite hatred" and a commission established under former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan to address violence between majority Buddhists and Muslim Rohingyas in Myanmar's state of Rakhine.

In recognition of the progress, for the first time in fifteen years, the European Union would not table a human rights resolution on Myanmar at the U.N. assembly, she said.

Addressing Suu Kyi, Mogherini said: "Fifteen years is the measure of the incredible distance Myanmar has walked, the measure of how much your country has changed."

Mogherini said the European Union understood the "complexity" of the situation in Rakhine and told Suu Kyi: "I know that you area working hard to find a sustainable solution for both communities."

Suu Kyi has been criticized for doing too little to address the plight of the Rohingya Muslims.

In her first address to the General Assembly as national leader on Wednesday, she defended her government's efforts to resolve the crisis there and asked for "understanding" and "the constructive contribution" of other countries.

She said the government would persevere in its efforts to achieve peace in Rakhine and stand firm "against the forces of prejudice and intolerance."

The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, told the same session that Suu Kyi's commitment to stand firm against intolerance and her pledge in Washington last week that all those entitled to citizenship would be granted it were "powerful and important."

However, she and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said significant problems remained and both reiterated calls for the government to allow the establishment of an office of the U.N. High Commission for Human Rights with a full mandate.

Increased freedom of speech since the military stepped back from direct rule in Myanmar in 2011 has allowed for the unleashing of long-held anti-Muslim sentiment.

Around 125,000 Rohingya remain confined in temporary camps after waves of deadly violence in 2012 between Buddhists and Muslims, when more than 100 people were killed.

The Rohingya have been seen by much of the Buddhist population as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, even though many have lived in Myanmar for generations. Most were stripped of their ability to vote in last year's election, which brought Suu Kyi to power as de facto leader.



Joint Statement Date 
23rd September 2016


STOP PLANS TO DEMOLISH MOSQUES, MADRASAS AND ROHINGYA'S HOUSES 

We, the undersigned organizations, strongly condemned the Arakan (Rakhine) State government’s plans to demolish more than 3000 Rohingyas’ buildings, including 12 mosques and 35 madrasas, in the townships of Maungdaw and Buthidaung, under the pretext of illegal construction. 

The announcement of the demolition order on 18 September by Arakan State’s Security and Border Affairs Minister Col. Htein Lin at Maungdaw, which was reaffirmed by Maungdaw District General Administrator U Ye Htut, has caused consternation to the entire Rohingya community. This demolition project is part of their long-drawn-out annihilation and ethnic cleansing policy of the defenceless Rohingya people. 

It is a joint conspiracy of the Arakan State government and Rakhine Buddhist extremist leaders to destabilize the situation in the territory with intentions to frustrate any attempts to bring about peace and stability in Arakan and produce more internally displaced Rohingyas to be housed in apartheid-like concentration camps also in Maungdaw district. 

It is surprising that this sinister design was announced at a time when the State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, in her first address to the 71st U.N. General Assembly, was defending her government’s effort to resolve the crisis over treatment of the Rohingya or Muslim minority by pointing out to the establishment of an advisory commission for Arakan State chaired by former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan at the same time assuring that everybody in Arakan would be safe and secure. 

Since Ne Win’s military rule in 1962, the basic rights and freedoms of the Rohingya have been severely restricted subjecting them to systematic ethnic, religious and political persecution that amount to crimes against humanity and slow genocide resulting in their deaths, massive destruction of their settlements and holy places of worship causing unprecedented refugee influxes into Bangladesh and other places as witnessed in 1988 and 1991-92. 

Since the establishment of NaSaKa border task force in 1992 in north Arakan no building can be built or extended without permission from the authorities. Even to repair and fence the housing, permission is necessary. Building mosques and madrassa has been long stopped whereas intermittent but planned destructions of Islamic edifices and holy places of worship have been regular phenomenon all over Arakan. The famous Sandhi Khan Mosque of historical importance built by Muslim army at Mintayabyin, Mrauk-U in 1433 A.D was also destroyed by Gen. Khin Nyunt in 1992. 

The deadly violence and genocidal onslaughts occurred and reoccurred from June 2012 in Arakan against the Rohingya minority have claimed many hundreds of Muslim lives, left over 160,000 of them homeless, forced thousands of them to take dangerous voyages by rackety boats towards Southeast Asian countries where a number of them were drowned or ended up in human- traffickers’ mass graves. 

In spite of all these happenings the Arakan State government has no conscience about its lying and cruelty against Rohingya on grounds of their ethnicity and religion. The alleged existence of any illegal buildings is unfounded and politically motivated since their construction could not have been possible without approval of the concerned authorities.

It is important that international community have to take effective collective action in time to protect the Muslim Rohingya people in Arakan, in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations. Or otherwise this unprotected minority community will be wiped out. 

We, therefore, request the international community, United Nations, OIC, EU, ASEAN, US and UK to put pressure on NLD-led government:

(1) To stop forthwith the plans to demolish mosques, madrasas and Rohingyas’ buildings or structures in Arakan under the pretext of illegal construction.

(2) To ensure freedom of religion and worship, protection of religious sites, and to immediately restore all basic freedoms, including freedom of movement, marriage, education, healthcare and peaceful-living, and to lift all aid restrictions in Rakhine/Arakan State.

(3) To end all persecution and ghettoization and to immediately rehabilitate and reintegrate all IDPs in their original places and properties. 

Meanwhile, we urge upon the international community to support a UN Commission of Inquiry into the atrocity crimes against Rohingya and other Burmese people in order to publicly announce its findings and bring the perpetrators to justice.

Signatories;

1. Arakan Rohingya National Organisation
2. Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK
3. Bradford Rohingya Community in UK
4. Burmese Rohingya Community in Denmark
5. Rohingya Community in Germany
6. Rohingya Community in Switzerland
7. Rohingya Organisation Norway
8. Rohingya Community in Finland
9. Rohingya Community in Italy
10. Rohingya Community in Sweden
11. Rohingya Society Netherlands


For more information, please contact;

Tun Khin : Mobile +44 7888714866
Ko Ko Linn: Mobile +880 1726068414
Nay San Lwin: Mobile +49 69 26022349

Myanmar's Minister of Foreign Affairs Aung San Suu Kyi addresses the 71st United Nations General Assembly in Manhattan, New York, U.S. September 21, 2016. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri




By David Brunnstrom
September 22, 2016

UNITED NATIONS -- In her first address to the U.N. General Assembly as national leader, Myanmar's Aung San Suu Kyi defended her government's efforts to resolve a crisis over treatment of the country's Muslim minority.

Suu Kyi, a former political prisoner and Nobel Peace Prize winner who has been criticized for doing too little to address the plight of the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar's Rakhine state, said the government did not fear international scrutiny, but asked "for the understanding and the constructive contribution of the international community." 

"We are committed to a sustainable solution that will lead to peace, stability and development for all communities within" Myanmar, she said.

"Our government is taking a holistic approach that makes development central to both short- and long-term programs aimed at promoting understanding and trust."

Suu Kyi pointed to the establishment of an advisory commission for Rakhine state chaired by former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, with a mandate covering basic rights and security issues.

Suu Kyi said there had been "persistent opposition from some quarters" to the establishment of the commission, but the government would persevere in its efforts to achieve peace in Rakhine.

"By standing firm against the forces of prejudice and intolerance, we are reaffirming our faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person."

Suu Kyi told a subsequent event at the Asia Society in New York that Myanmar was only at the start of its road to democracy, given that 25 percent of parliamentary seats were still held by the unelected members of the military and peace needed to be affirmed with all armed groups.

She said the main priority was to create jobs and the government would have to ensure investment was attracted to less-developed ethnic minority areas.

Suu Kyi said the government was trying to bring progress as well as peace to Rakhine state.

"The Rakhines are poor, the Muslims, they are poor, and we want everybody there to be safe and secure. What we have been trying to do is to find a way of relieving communal tension and putting and end to communal strife," she said.

Increased freedom of speech since the military stepped back from direct rule in 2011 has allowed for the unleashing of long-held anti-Muslim sentiment in Myanmar.

Around 125,000 Rohingya remain confined in temporary camps after waves of deadly violence in 2012 between Buddhists and Muslims, when more than 100 people were killed.

The Rohingya have long been persecuted, being seen by much of the majority Buddhist population as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, even though many have lived in Myanmar for generations. Most were stripped of their ability to vote in last year's election, which brought Suu Kyi to power as de facto leader.

In Washington last week, Suu Kyi urged businesses to invest in Myanmar as a way to advance its democratic transition. U.S. President Barack Obama also pledged to lift longstanding sanctions on the Southeast Asian country.

Rohingya people pass their time in a damaged shelter in a Rohingya displaced-persons camp outside Sittwe, Rakhine state, Myanmar, Aug. 4, 2015

By Timothy McLaughlin
September 21, 2016

CHICAGO -- The resettlement of refugees from Middle Eastern countries, particularly Syria, has been the center of a heated political debate after President Barack Obama last year pledged to resettle at least 10,000 refugees from the war-torn country in the United States. 

But refugees from Myanmar, whose leader Aung San Suu Kyi visited Washington last week, have quietly outpaced Syrian arrivals in recent years, even as Syria's civil war intensifies, with an increasing number coming from the marginalized Rohingya Muslim community, according to State Department figures.

From Oct. 1, 2015 to Sept. 15, 11,902 Myanmar nationals were resettled in the United States, according to figures from the Refugee Processing Center, operated by the State Department, compared to 11,598 arrivals from Syria over the same time period.

That was out of a total of nearly 79,600 refugees who arrived in the United States in that period. The largest group, numbering just over 15,000, were from the war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo. Arrivals from Syria, where Islamic State and other radical groups are active, are subject to additional screening processes, according to the White House.

State Department figures show the number of Rohingya arrivals from Myanmar jumped from just over 650 in the 2014 fiscal year, to 2,573 last year. This year, 2,173 have arrived as of Sept. 15.

During a meeting with Suu Kyi in the Oval Office last Wednesday, Obama announced that the United States would remove sanctions originally imposed on the country in 1997, when it was ruled by a military junta that brutally suppressed pro-democracy movements and showed little regard for human rights. The decision raised alarm among rights groups, who are concerned about the plight of the stateless Rohingya among other ethnic minorities. 

The Rohingya have long been persecuted in Myanmar, where they are viewed largely as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh though many have lived in the country for generations. 

Increased freedom of speech since the military stepped back from direct rule in 2011 has allowed for the unleashing of long-held anti-Muslim sentiment.

Around 125,000 remain confined to temporary camps on Myanmar's Rakhine State following waves of deadly violence in 2012 between Buddhists and Muslims. Most were stripped of their ability to vote in last year’s election. 

Most Rohingya tend to come to the United States after spending years in Muslim-majority Malaysia and being granted refugee status by the United Nations.

Melineh Kano, Executive Director of RefugeeOne, a resettlement agency in Chicago, which is home to one of the largest populations of Rohingya in the United States, said Rohingyas made up more of the total number of refugees arriving from Myanmar to the city recently.

"The number has increased considerably over the past year, year and a half," she said.

Nasir Bin Zakaria, who founded the Rohingya Culture Center in Chicago, estimates that there are just over 1,000 Rohingya in the city. He fled Myanmar after being forced to work as a porter when he was 16-years-old, he said.

Obama has also called for Myanmar to end the persecution of Rohingya in order for it to succeed in its democratic transition, a key achievement of his foreign policy agenda.

Nasir Bin Zakaria said that the ability to move around freely and legally made life in Chicago far better than in Myanmar and Malaysia, but it is not without its own challenges for refugees. The city of 2.7 million is struggling with a surge of killings, with 509 murders this year, according to the Chicago Police Department. 

Newly arrived children from refugee families, unfamiliar to the United States, are an enticing target for gangs looking to recruit, said Kano of RefugeeOne.

"When we are selecting neighborhoods we have to be very careful about the crime rate and gang recruitment, because the majority of refugees come with kids," she said.

"You either join or you get beaten up." 

A Muslim man stands inside a mosque destroyed by a Buddhist mob in Thuye Thamain village in southern central Myanmar's Bago region, June 24, 2016. (AFP)

September 21, 2016

Rakhine state government officials are moving to demolish more than 3,000 allegedly illegal buildings, including a dozen mosques and more than 30 other religious buildings, in the Maungdaw District, RFA’s Myanmar Service has learned.

During a meeting in the state capital of Sittwe, a committee of village elders was convened to take stock of illegal buildings that need to be razed, Rakhine State Security and Border Affairs Minister Col. Htein Lin told RFA.

Those buildings include 12 mosques, 35 religious school buildings and more than 2,500 houses and other structures that were constructed over the years without permission from the authorities, he said.

Maungdaw area village chiefs were notified of the decision on Sept. 18, he said. It was unclear exactly when the demolitions would occur, or precisely how the buildings were chosen.

Tensions between majority Buddhists and minority Muslims in various parts of the country flare up from time to time over the building of religious structures.

The troubled Rakhine state is home to more than 1.1 million stateless Rohingya Muslims whom many Burmese call “Bengalis” because they consider them illegal immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh.

Myanmar’s Buddhist majority has long subjected the Rohingya to persecution and attacks and denied them basic rights, including citizenship.

Earlier this year, Myanmar authorities began demolishing Buddhist and Islamic religious structures across the country that were built on state-owned land without permission from state or regional officials.

In August the government began removing 173 Buddhist monasteries in lower Myanmar’s Yangon region and 86 monasteries in other states and regions that were constructed without official permission.

The central government’s actions came as authorities in northern Myanmar’s Kachin state arrested five local villagers who led a Buddhist mob that burned down a mosque on July 1 in Lebyin Village of Lone Khin Village Tract of Hpakant township.

Several days prior to the incident, township authorities told trustees of the mosque that they would have to demolish the structure because it had not been legally authorized for religious purposes, according to a report in the online journal The Irrawaddy.

Buddhist monk Myaing Kyee Ngu, also known as U Thuzana, has been erecting stupas on the grounds of churches and mosques in eastern Myanmar’s Karen State since April in an act of defiance supposedly aimed at reclaiming ancient Buddhist lands.

He is also an influential figure within the Democratic Karen Benevolent Army (DKBA), a splinter group of the predominantly Christian-led Karen National Union, a fellow ethnic armed organization, according to The Irrawaddy.

Despite objections by religious authorities, Myaing Kyee Ngu and his supporters built several stupas on the grounds of St. Mark Anglican church in Kondawgyi village of Hlaingbwe township and elsewhere in the village.

Reported and translated by RFA's Myanmar Service. Written in English by Brooks Boliek.

A boat in Sittwe is inspected and the owner informed of registration procedures. Photo: Yi Ywal Myint / The Myanmar Times


By Yi Ywal Myint
September 20, 2016
 
After a series of deadly sinkings involving unlicenced vessels, authorities in Rakhine State are cracking down, informing helmsmen they must register or face hefty fines.

Since the beginning of August, joint teams representing the Water Transport Department, township administration offices, the Myanmar Police Force, the Immigration and National Registration Department, Myanma Insurance and the Department of Fisheries have been conducting an education and awareness campaign. Boat owners have been instructed on registration paperwork, and have been warned that disciplinary action will now be enforced on the local waterways.

“Vessel owners in townships where we conduct education campaigns have to register within 10 days of our discussions,” said U Htin Kyaw, head of the Inland Water Transport Department for Rakhine State.

“They will face fines if they do not comply within the required period. Under the Vessels Law, fines for unregistered vessels range from K500,000 to K2.5 million, and fines for vessels with no business licence are K300,000 to K500,000,” he said.

All fishing boats and all ferries carrying either cargo or passengers must register.

The joint team is registering boats and issuing business licences after conducting inspections. For vessels with engines below 20 horsepower, the township administration offices are responsible for the registration. For vessels above 20 horsepower, the Inland Water Transport Department will issue business licences.

“So far, across the state we have licensed more than 3000 vessels with engines below 20 horsepower, and more than 800 vessels with engines above 20 horsepower. The process – including collecting data, issuing licences and conducting inspections – is continuing,” said U Htin Kyaw.

Boat owners admitted to letting their licences lapse when enforcement was lax.

“I registered when I started my business ferrying cargo. But as no inspections were conducted, the other vessel owners and I stopped bothering to update our licences,” said an owner of a ferry in That Kay Pyin village who asked not to be named. “The port officials and I conducted business through a mutual understanding. I didn’t know there were heavy fines for not registering.”

U Htin Kyaw said that the water transport authorities were trying to be reasonable about notifying boat owners before starting to impose fines.

“If we took action at once without educating them, the vessel owners may face financial losses. That’s why we are conducting education as a first priority,” he said.

On September 7, three women drowned and another three went missing and were believed to have drowned after a private motorboat ferrying them between townships in southern Rakhine State sank in turbulent conditions. The accident was at least the fourth of its kind this year alone. Two boats carrying schoolchildren sank in June and August, claiming a total of 11 young victims.

MPs blamed the state government for not properly enforcing safety standards. In response, state authorities announced in August that boat owners must keep lifejackets onboard all vessels, and will have their licences revoked if they fail to abide by the new regulation.

Translation by Zar Zar Soe

'SAVE ROHINGYA' Ethnic Rohingya refugees from Myanmar residing in Malaysia hold a banner during a protest outside the Myanmar embassy in Kuala Lumpur on May 21, 2015. Mohd Rasfan/AFP

September 20, 2016

KUALA LUMPUR: The Inter­na­tional Movement for a Just World (JUST) is organising a seminar focusing on the Rohingya refugee crisis in Myanmar.

Titled World Beyond War: The Rohingya Refugee Crisis and its Implications on Security in the Asean region, the seminar will provide an opportunity to assess the issue.

The speakers will be United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees representative to Malaysia Richard Towle and former Suhakam chairman Tan Sri Hasmy Agam.

Despite significant public attention on the crisis, JUST noted that Rohingya refugees were not welcomed by other countries in Asean.

It said they were increasingly viewed as possible threats to national security and associated with the rise of terrorism and transnational crime, apart from also being seen as an economic burden.

According to JUST, a strong multilateral co-operative approach was urgently needed in line with Asean’s “people first” policy to stop the geno­cide against the Rohingya.

Admission to the seminar, sche­duled for 9am on Sept 24 at Institut Integriti Malaysia in Bukit Tunku, is free but seats are limited to 100 participants.

For enquiries, call JUST at 03-7781 2494/2497/03-7772 0773 or e-mail hassanal@just-international.org.
Sittwe residents staged a protest upon the arrival of Kofi Annan in the Arakan State capital in September 2016. (Photo: Maung Kyaw Hein MPA / The Irrawaddy)



By The Irrawaddy
September 19, 2016

RANGOON — State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said politics was behind a joint statement from 11 political parties opposing the Kofi Annan-led Arakan State Advisory Commission.

“Denouncing the Kofi Annan Commission is not only based on race and religion but also, I think, political motivation,” she said during a meeting with members of the Burmese community in New York on Saturday.

“It makes me really sad. It should not be that people denounce the commission for political party interests when we are working for the whole country.”

Her comments came after a joint statement made by former ruling party the Union Solidarity and Development party and 10 other parties—all of which were heavily defeated by the National League for Democracy in last year’s general election.

The statement released last Friday said they were concerned about the commission’s activities, and said that the “formation of the commission is not in line with the State Counselor’s authority.”

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi formed the commission led by the former UN Secretary-General in August.

The commission has attracted criticism, especially from the local Arakanese party, for the inclusion of foreigners in the panel.

During the meeting with the Burmese community, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said “there is nothing to lose from the commission.”

“Thanks to the formation [of the commission], the Organization of Islamic Cooperation has decided to drop the resolution on the human rights issue,” she said in reference to a proposed resolution on the marginalized Rohingya at the UN assembly.

Kofi Annan visited Arakan State, also known as Rakhine State, in early September. After his trip, the former UN Secretary General told the media that the commission’s purpose was not to investigate rights abuses but to write an “impartial report.”

“I hope our recommendations will be helpful as we intend to reduce tension and support development,” said Mr. Annan.

Dear Professor Faust,

I am shocked to learn that Harvard University has honored Aung San Suu Kyi, the de-facto civilian leader of Burma (Myanmar), with Harvard Foundation’s “2016 Harvard Peter J. Gomes Humanitarian Award” on September 17. The award reminds me of President Obama's winning the Nobel Peace Prize soon after getting elected to the highest office in the USA. As you may agree the award was a premature one and only tarnished the image of the Nobel Prize for Peace.

Similarly, the Harvard Humanitarian Award to Ms. Suu Kyi is highly problematic, let alone being premature. As to why I feel this way, please, consider the following points – 

1. Aung San Suu Kyi is undeserving of such an award since for years she has been unconscionably silent on the serious plight of the Rohingya people of Myanmar, 'one of the most persecuted peoples' on earth according to the UN. The indigenous Rohingya are victims of an on-going genocide according to human rights groups and international law experts. Every year, tens of thousands of Rohingya flee persecution in Burma and make perilous journeys in rickety boats to seek refuge in other Southeast Asian countries. Many, however, have perished in their pursuit of better lives, while others fall victim to human traffickers.

2. During the 2015 general election, Suu Kyi and her NLD party failed to field a single Muslim candidate [out of the over 1,150 candidates that her party fielded]. Her decision shows that she was not a leader who values inclusion of either races or ethnicities, but rather a leader who seemed to promote exclusion. 

Drew Gilpin Faust is the 28th president of Harvard University and the Lincoln Professor of History in Harvard's Faculty of Arts and Sciences.

3. Suu Kyi has equivocated on the plight of Rohingya vis-a-vis the Rakhine. She has claimed and implied parity in rights abuses, and origin for the spread of violence. All rights groups and neutral observers note that the primary victims of state and mob violence have been the Rohingya.

4. Suu Kyi's NLD party, and the recently announced Advisory Commission has stated that the Rohingya issue is "not a priority" for the government. How could a serious humanitarian issue like the Rohingya problem that has led to the forced displacement of nearly a quarter million people be not a priority for Myanmar's government?

5. In her selection of the members of the Kofi Annan Commission, not a single Rohingya was included, while two Rakhine representative who have made anti-Rohingya and pro-genocide statements have been appointed. Such a gross display of unfairness can't be skirted off as being an oversight on the part of Suu Kyi.

6. A humanitarian's heart bleeds hearing or seeing the plight of persecuted people. Sadly, Suu Kyi has never visited a single Rohingya IDP camp. As you may know, 150,000 Rohingya remain in what has been described as deplorable "21st-centruy concentration camps" by the New York Times. Her attitude on the plight of the Rohingya people is inexcusable. 

7. Suu Kyi has been widely accused of bigotry. You may recall a report of Suu Kyi expressing bigoted anti-Muslim sentiments emerged from a new book detailing an encounter with BBC reporter Mishal Hussain, after which Suu Kyi was heard saying, "No one told me I would be interviewed by a Muslim." Such bigoted statements are not the ones expected of a humanitarian, and surely not of someone who has been honored Harvard Humanitarian of the Year.

8. Suu Kyi’s NLD party has never been pluralistic, and continues to demean or degrade the rights of non-Buddhists in multi-racial, - religious Burma. Aung Ko, NLD religious affairs appointee, calls Burmese Muslims, "associate citizens" implying they are not full citizens. Suu Kyi does not condemn or repudiate Ko for such statements that belie facts.

9. Suu Kyi and her NLD party have been accused of being willing partners to the eliminationist policy, carried out by the earlier governments against religious and ethnic minorities like the Rohingya. The Buddhist sangha – MaBaTha – have been playing a major role in that ‘slow’ genocide. Instead of disciplining MaBaTha and its terrorist monk Wirathu, Aung Ko has met the Buddhist monk, Wirathu, seemingly to pay respect to the hate group leader. As a leader, Suu Kyi has failed to set higher expectations for her party leaders. 

10. As the Lincoln Professor of History, you know all too well that the denial of one’s self-identity is an epitome of intolerance. Suu Kyi not only prohibits the use of the name ‘Rohingya’ by which the Rohingya people of Myanmar self-identify in her country but caves to extremists and advises foreign nations not to use the name "Rohingya". Such an arrogance is unacceptable from a humanitarian. 

11. Suu Kyi has failed to address the numerous anti-Rohingya/anti-Muslim protests, violence and hatred that has fomented for years among nationalists and extremists.

12. In Suu Kyi’s Burma, Rohingyas still remain stateless without any of the rights enshrined in the UN Declaration of Human Rights. 

As can be seen, Harvard University’s decision to honor Suu Kyi with such an award is unfortunate and reflects very poorly on the image of the Ivy League school.

Sincerely,
Habib Siddiqui

A Rohingya man is seen at a fishing port at a refugee camp outside Sittwe in Myanmar, on Oct 29, 2015. (Reuters photo)

Bangkok Post
September 18, 2016

The situation of the Rohingya boat people may have eased for now, but "humane and sustainable solutions" are still a long way off as only one-third of those people have been resettled, human rights activists and the United Nations say. 

There are 329 migrants (313 Myanmar Muslims from Rakhine State and 16 Bangladeshi migrants) in six Immigration Detention Centres, five Shelters for Children and Families, and five Welfare Protection Centres for Victims of Trafficking in Thailand, according to the six-page report titled ''Bay of Bengal and Andaman Sea Crisis Response'' by the International Organisation of Migration (IOM). 

Of the 329, 68 are women, 117 are men and 144 are children, said the report released this week, avoiding the controversial term Rohingya. 

The plight of the Rohingya reached a critical point early last year when thousands of them stranded at sea and countries in the region had to come forward to help. 

Over the past 15 months, international agencies estimate that as many as 88,000 men, women, and children have traveled from Bangladesh and Burma in boats to Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia, said Human Rights Watch. 

Bangkok hosted the Special Meeting on Irregular Migration in the Indian Ocean in May and December while Malaysia hosted a similar one in April last year. Indonesia also hosted the region-wide Bali Process conference. 

At least 5,543 people who departed from Myanmar and Bangladesh managed to land in Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, and Thailand, between May 10 and July 30, 2015. Another 1,500 people departed from Myanmar and Bangladesh and landed in Thailand between September to December last year, said the report. 

About one-third of the boat people, or 2,688 Bangladeshis, who landed in May last year in Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, and Thailand have returned to Bangladesh under the IOM's Assisted Voluntary Return Programme and government agreements. 

However, a January-June 2016 report by the UN High Commission on Refugee released last month showed conflicting figures. 

Roughly 10% of those abandoned in May last year by smugglers in the Bay of Bengal and Andaman remain detained or in confined shelters, but the vast majority are either residing in refugee communities or have returned home, the UNHCR said. 

There have now been no large-scale mixed maritime movements in Southeast Asia since the events of May 2015, it said. 

Of the two-thirds of migrants, almost all have been repatriated. More than 600 of the refugees have been or are in the process of being resettled, including 47 particularly vulnerable migrants who departed for resettlement countries in the first half of 2016. 

"There is a small resettlement programme from Thailand for this group currently in immigration detention or government shelters, but the numbers are very small given the limited number of resettlement places around the world," said UNHCR spokeswoman Vivian Tan. 

Echoing Assistant High Commissioner for Protection Volker Türk's call in Bangkok last December to allow asylum-seekers to contribute to the economies of the host countries, Chris Lewa, Arakan Project director, said Rohingya in Thailand are still kept in indefinite detention. 

"This is inhumane and unacceptable. Rohingya are stateless and fleeing persecution," said Ms Lewa. Attempting to send them back to Myanmar would also be refoulement, "but, most importantly, Myanmar would not readmit them", he said.



September 18, 2016

Officials of IHH and Sadakatasi Foundation, which delivered meat to those in need, express concern for Muslims in Rakhine

YANGON, Myanmar -- Two Turkish charitable organizations have delivered more than 2,400 packages of meat from animals sacrificed for the Eid al-Adha holiday to Muslims in Myanmar, including those in the troubled western state of Rakhine.

A chief of Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH) operations in Myanmar told an Anadolu Agency correspondent accompanying the teams earlier this week, “charitable Turks have always extended a hand to those in need everywhere, without taking religion and race into consideration.”

Noting that IHH distributed a total of 2,380 shares of meat to Muslim families in Myanmar, Mucahit Demir said, "if we managed to put a smile on their faces, we are very happy. We will continue to help suffering people around the world."

Demir said some IHH members traveled to Rakhine -- home to around 1.2 million Rohingya Muslims -- while others covered other parts of the country.

“Here, especially in Rakhine, Muslims live under difficult conditions,” he underlined.

Rakhine -- one of the poorest states in Myanmar -- had seen a rise in tensions between ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and stateless Rohingya since communal violence broke out in mid-2012 that left nearly 100 people dead and around 140,000 people displaced, mostly Muslims.

The vice chairman of another Turkish charity, Sadakatasi Foundation, also expressed concern about the living conditions of Muslims in Rakhine and told Anadolu Agency that they had delivered 84 shares of meat across Myanmar.

Ahmet Ozcan said they coordinate with IHH to help those in need, and stressed the duty to reach out to Muslims "who are living under tough circumstances" where they are “deprived of many things”.

*Reporting by Halil Ibrahim Baser; Writing by Satuk Bugra Kutlugun
Myanmar leader Aung Sang Suu Kyi was bestowed the Harvard 2016 "Humanitarian of the Year Award" on Saturday. Pic via Facebook.


By Asian Correspondent
September 18, 2016

MUSLIM students and groups are protesting Harvard Foundation’s selection of Myanmar (Burma) leader Aung Sang Suu Kyi for the “2016 Humanitarian of the Year” award, saying she has done nothing to address the persecution of the Rohingya Muslim minority in her country.

Suu Kyi, who received the foundation’s Peter J. Gomes awardduring a ceremony in Cambridge Saturday, first gained international prominence as the General Secretary of the newly-formed National League for Democracy in Myanmar in 1990.
She later became one of the world’s most well-known political prisoners when in 1989 she was sentenced to 15 years’ house arrest due to her participation in anti-government protests. With the support of her country, she was later appointed to the newly-created position of state counselor, a role similar to that of a prime minister.

In 1991, Suu Kyi was honored with a Nobel Peace Prize for her “non-violent struggle for democracy and human rights”.

But since she claimed the reins of government in April, Suu Kyi has been heavily criticized by activists across the globe for failing to aid Myanmar’s Muslim minority – the Rohingya – who the United Nations calls one of the world’s most persecuted minorities.

In The Crimson, a Harvard College daily, Harvard Islamic Society director of external relations Anwar Omeish said the student organization felt the foundation’s selection of Suu Kyi for the award was “really jarring”.

“I think for us we see the type of rhetoric surrounding the Rohingya in Myanmar, the similar war on terror rhetoric that creates violence against people across the world and that affects us here,” she was quoted saying.

The report said Muslim students also planned to stage a protest during Suu Kyi’s visit, but it is not immediately known if this transpired.

Other organizations unaffiliated with Harvard voiced similar concerns over the award. The Burma Task Force USA, a group lobbying for an end to the persecution of the Rohingya, reportedly called and sent emails to the Harvard Foundation to protest the matter, The Crimson said, quoting media relations director Jennifer Sawicz.

“The message [this awards sends is] that our education institutions care far more about surface images than the complex truths.

“Yes, Suu Kyi did fight for democracy and that’s great, but this isn’t a democracy award, this is a humanitarian award,” Sawicz was quoted saying.



In its website and Facebook page, the group posted a statement urging its followers and supporters to contact the foundation, its director and the Harvard president, and flood Twitter with messages of outrage.

It also posted a laundry list of reasons why Suu Kyi was undeserving of such an award, saying among others that she has been “unconscionably silent on the plight of the Rohingya”.

Across social media platforms Facebook and Twitter, similar discontent was expressed by Muslims.

“@thecrimson why in the world, @Harvard is giving Humanitarian of the year award to #SuuKyi? What is the logic here?” asked Abdul Malik Mujahid who is Burma Task Force’s chairman, Huffington Post blogger and Chicago Iman.

“On the bodies of persecuted Rohingya,” another Twitter user, AKahn, Voice of America blog editor, wrote.

Suu Kyi’s government announced last month the formation of a nine-member advisory commission to resolve the “protracted issues in the region”, referring to religious and ethnic strife in the Rakhine state.

The council is made up of six locals and three foreigners – including former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan as its chair – a factor that has been fiercely protested by the Burmese.

Suu Kyi’s office said the commission will “consider humanitarian and development issues, access to basic services, the assurance of basic rights, and the security of the people of Rakhine”.

Rohingya Muslims have lived in the northwestern Rakhine state for generations but are denied citizenship because they are considered outsiders. More than 100 people, mostly Rohingya, were killed in clashes with the Buddhist majority in 2012.

Many Buddhists inside Burma prefer to call them ‘Bengalis’, arguing that the million or so members of the minority are mostly illegal immigrants and not a native ethnic group.

According to the Associated Press, the closest the government came to acknowledging the Rohingya was by saying that the commission will “examine international aspects of the situation, including the background of those seeking refugee status abroad.”

Every year, tens of thousands of Rohingya flee persecution in Burma and make perilous journeys in rickety boats to seek refuge in other Southeast Asian countries. Many, however, have perished in their pursuit of better lives, while others fall victim to human traffickers.

Photo: ITU/ J.M. Planche

By Dung Phan
September 17, 2016

Former United Nations Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, will head a commission to investigate solutions for the Rohingya people living in Myanmar. 

There is no warm welcome for Kofi Annan, the former United Nations Secretary-General, as he arrives in Myanmar. Only jeers, shouts and boos followed his convoy into town, where he met with members of political and religious groups before visiting Rohingya camps.

The nine-member Rakhine State Advisory Commission was set up by the government last month with Annan as the chairman. The other foreign experts are the Lebanon-based scholar, Ghassan Salamé, and the Netherlands-based diplomat, Laetitia Vanden Assum. The commission also includes six Myanmar nationals, with two Rakhine Buddhists, two Muslims and two government delegates.

Although the commission is supposed to help with ensuring humanitarian assistance, rights and reconciliation as well as establishing basic infrastructure and promoting long-term development plans, it is suffering from massive objections and a lack of cooperation.

The “international” factor

“No to foreigners’ biased intervention in our Rakhine State’s affairs,” and “No Kofi-led commission”, shouted protesters during a rally against Annan’s visit. The protest was organised by leaders of the region’s largest political group, the Arakan National Party (ANP). They insist that foreigners cannot understand the history of the area and their presence could encourage external intervention into Myanmar’s domestic affairs. “Our country has its own sovereignty, and there is no way we can accept a commission that is formed by foreigners,” ANP official Aung Than Wai said.

Some of the local protesters did not even know or care about what the group would do. “We came here because we don’t want that foreigner coming to our state,” said May Phyu, a local Rakhine Buddhist resident.

In a news conference in Yangon, Kofi Annan emphasised that “we are not here as inspectors, as policemen.” The commission, however, has still been widely perceived as a foreign intrusion and people are mainly concerned about the huge influence of Annan over the international community. “Since he is a Nobel Peace Prize winner and also the former head of the UN if he says that the ‘Rohingya are really Myanmar people existing here as refugees’ the international community will accept that,” said U Zaw Win, a protest organiser.

The commission’s appointment comes amid urgent calls from international human rights groups regarding the Rohingya’s plight. In this light, Suu Kyi has again shown her pragmatism regarding foreign policy by summoning Annan. In fact, the diplomat’s first visit comes ahead of Suu Kyi’s visit to the US and her meeting with President Obama. She needs to build on recent successes; on Wednesday Obama announced that the US would lift economic sanctions and restore trade benefits to Myanmar.

A state-supported strategy?

Since she took office, Suu Kyi has been widely criticised by the international community for taking too soft a stance on the plight of the Rohingyas. She does not want to call them Rohingya and has also asked the US ambassador not to use the term. It means the government’s official position is that the Rohingya are Bangladeshis living in the country illegally.

But it is not a problem she could ignore forever. A 2015 study by the International State Crime Initiative (ISCI) concluded that “the Rohingya face the final stages of genocide,” in which they have been experiencing the first four stages: stigmatisation and dehumanisation; harassment, violence and terror; isolation and segregation; systematic weakening. Now they are on the edge of “mass annihilation.” The report also presents evidence that the attacks on the Muslim population involved, and were possibly inflamed by, the local authorities.

Above all, Suu Kyi has admitted herself she is a politician. “I’m always surprised when people speak as if I’ve just become a politician. I’ve been a politician all along. I started into politics not as a human rights defender or a humanitarian worker, but as the leader of a political party,” she said in an interview with CNN.

That might be the reason why Suu Kyi remains reluctant to embrace the Rohingya cause publicly. There is no doubt that she does not want to mess with the Buddhist nationalists who angrily protested en masse against the commission.

And although the presence of Kofi Annan and hs colleagues might imply some ongoing progress, it is worth noting that there is no Rohingya representative on the panel. The team now have 12 months to conduct their research and submit their findings before making any recommendations. Annan already failed to bring peace to Syria; is he up to the world’s other great humanitarian challenge?

Rohingya Exodus