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Former British diplomat, Derek Tonkin (Photo: Google)

By Dr Maung Zarni
RB Opinion
May 2, 2016

Beware of Rohingya ID- and genocide-denying Derek Tonkin: 

A Former British diplomat, who trashes Rohingya's legitimate claim to ethnicity & who denies genocide

Tonkin, a retired British diplomat with a history of business and investment concerns, has been engaged in nasty behind-scene and open attacks on me.

He was a British Ambassador to Thailand around the time of 1988 uprisings. He also held Ambassadorship in Vietnam, to the best of my knowledge. 

Before Thailand and Vietnam, Tonkin was in Pretoria, S. Africa, representing Britain when the British Government (along with USA) was fully in support of the apartheid regime and against the ANC and Nelson Mandela. 

In the context of S. East Asia, Tonkin was embroiled in the controversy - alleged or real - as Britain’s point man, setting up a front company through which the British Gov. was providing Khmer Rouge regime security training. (see Black Farce in Cambodia, John Pilger, New Statesman & Society; Dec 11, 1992; 5, 232; ABI/INFORM Global ). 

In the last 3 years, Tonkin has attempted, without any success, to discredit and trash every single international conference on the Rohingya genocide, I have organized - London School of Economics (Apr 2014), Harvard (Nov 2014), Norwegian Nobel Institute (May 2015) and now Wolfson College, Oxford University (11 May 2016). 

I am used to personal attacks and slanders, speaking truth to power: I have been in politics nearly 30 years. That’s not an issue. 

The issue is this: why is a retired British Ambassador Mr Tonkin, in his retirement at the age of 80+, continuing on with his old official work of siding with repressive, and atrocious regimes at the expense of “the wretched of the earth”, as Fanon would call the oppressed? 
12 years ago, I was vilified nationally for saying, in effect, 3 very unpopular and irreverent things: 1) Aung San Suu Kyi can DO wrong; 2) the opposition needed to talk to the Burmese generals; and 3) the sanctions against and isolation of Burma were hurting the people. In those days, that was an act of blasphemy among the Burmese. 

Back then I chose to brake ranks openly with the entire NLD-led Burmese opposition and argued that the orthodoxy of western economic sanctions - with blessings from Aung San Suu Kyi, I came to know the pro-engagement elements in N. America and Europe. 

When I discovered that many of my new international contacts in the pro-engagement campaigns had business and investment interests as their main motives in trying to crack the then "sanctions wall", I walked away from all of them. Surely, I was proven right: just about every single one of them went on to do business with the Burmese generals, served as their presidential advisers or set up shops - consultancy, actual business, etc. - of their own, once the sanctions were lifted. 

Regarding Tonkin, I set up a Track II meeting between Tonkin, with access to the British foreign office and Daw Yin Yin Oo, whose father was Ne Win's legal adviser and the last President of Burma in the midst of 1988 uprisings. Daw Yaw Yaw Oo was herself a Myanmar Foreign Ministry Official. 

In his meeting with Daw Yaw Yaw Oo, Tonkin inquired about the possibility of developing the old horse race course in Rangoon into a commercial property in anticipation of Rangoon's real estate boom. 

Besides, Tonkin would write letters-to-the-editors and other notes which he sent around to Burma policy circles, defending the drilling of oil and gas in Burma in areas where the use of forced labour by the Burmese army was rampant and well-documented. 

He has written notes to prominent academics, NGO leaders, etc., attacking me like a ferocious and angry dog. 

Have a glimpse of what Tonkin stands for and form your own opinion: 

“Is Derek Tonkin Delusional or Simply Silly?”

Aman Ullah
RB Opinion
May 1, 2016

Hundreds of demonstrators, including Buddhist monks, denounced the United States for its use of the term Rohingya during a protest outside of the U.S. embassy in Yangon today, 28 April, 2016. It was sparked by a statement from the embassy last week expressing condolences for an estimated 21 people, who media said were Rohingya, who drowned off the coast of Rakhine State and came just a day after President Htin Kyaw accepted the credentials of the new U.S. Ambassador, Scot Marciel. 

"Today, we, from here, want to declare to the U.S. embassy and the ambassador to Myanmar, to all the other countries, that there is no Rohingya in our country," Parmaukkha, a monk and member of the hardline Buddhist group Ma Ba Tha, told about 300 people who gathered on a busy road across from the embassy compound. "If the U.S. accepts the term 'Rohingya,' you (U.S.) should take them back to your country" he added.

However, a spokesman for the U.S. Embassy said the United States supports the right to demonstrate and added that "around the world, people have the ability to self-identifty".

Ethnic identity is an essential human need that provides a sense of belonging and historical continuity and created a foundation on which to build a concept of self. It is an individual’s self-concept developed from knowledge of membership in a cultural group. Ethnic identity and self-identity has supported a strong relationship between the two.

According to Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, ‘All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.’ For the ‘equal in dignity’ the right to self- identification is important. It is very significantly important to know differentially the incomparable difference between “ethnicity or ethnic group and ethno-religious group”. “Ethnicity or ethnic group” is a specific term to identify the ancestral background of each community who are eligible to belong an ethnicity—particular language, distinct culture, racial dress, populous territory.

The Rohingya are a nation with a population of more than 3 million (both home and abroad), having a supporting history, separate culture, civilization, language and literature, historically settled territory and reasonable size of population and area. They share a public culture different from the public culture of those around them. They are determined not only to preserve and develop their public culture, but also to transmit to future generations as the basis of their continued existence as people, in accordance with their own cultural pattern, social institution and legal system. 

The term Rohingya is widely used by the international community to identify a group of Muslims of Arakan. According to Dr. Ganganath Jha of Jawaharlal Nehru University of India, the term Rohingya is derived from Rohang the ancient name of Arakan. The Muslims of Arakan called their country, in their own language, ‘Rohang or Roang’ and called themselves as Rohangya (Rohang+ya) or Roangya (Roang+ya) means native of Rohang or Roang. In Burmese it is ‘ရိုဟင္ဂ်ာ’, in Rakhine’s pronunciation it will read as ‘Rohangya’ but in Burmese pronunciation it became ‘Rohingya’ and now it’s established as ‘Rohingya’. Like other peoples of the world, they have needed to identify as Rohingya to some degree for centuries.

In the work of Arab geographer Rashiduddin (1310 AD) it appears as ‘Rahan or Raham’. The British travelers Relph Fitch (1586 AD) referred the name of Arakan as ‘Rocon’. In the Rennell’s map (1771 AD), it is ‘Rassawn’. Tripura Chronicle Rajmala mentions as ‘Roshang’. In the medieval works of the poets of Arakan and Chittagong, like Quazi Daulat, Mardan, Shamser Ali, Quraishi Magan, Alaol, Ainuddin, Abdul Ghani and others, they frequently referred to Arakan as ‘Roshang’, ‘Roshanga’, ‘Roshango Shar’, and ‘Roshango Des’. Famous European traveller Francis Buchanam (1762-1829 AD) in his accounts mentioned Arakan as “Rossawn, Rohhawn, Roang, Reng or Rung”. In one of his accounts, “A Comparative Vocabulary of some of the languages spoken in the Burman Empire” it was stated that, “The first is that spoken by the Mohammedans, who have long settled in Arakan, and who call themselves Rooinga, or natives of Arakan.” The Persians called it ‘Rekan’.” The Chakmas and Saks from 18th century called it ‘Roang’. Today the Muslims of Arakan call the country ‘Rohang’ or Roang’ or ‘Arakan’ and call themselves ‘Rohingya’ or native of Rohang.

Rohingya is not simply a self-referential group identity, but an official group and ethnic identity recognized by the post-independence state. In the early years of Myanmar’s independence, the Rohingya were recognized as a legitimate ethnic group that deserved a homeland in Burma.

- On 31st December 1942, Brig-Gen C E Lucas Phillips of 14th British Army declared the North Arakan as “Muslim National Area” As per Public Notice No. 11-OA-CC/42. Then formed a Peace Committed headed by Mr. Omra Meah and Mr. Zahir Uddin Ahmed and entrusted for administration of the area. On 1st January 1945 Brigadier C.E Lucas Phillips became the Chief Administrator of the area and appointed members of Peace Committee as administrative officers of the area. The British recognized the Muslims of Arakan as a distinct racial group and the British officer-in-command promised to grant more autonomy in North Arakan.

- In 1947, Hon’ble Bo Let Ya the Deputy Prime Minister, came to visit Maungdaw, to expound the principles laid down in the constitution of the Union of Burma, but it appeared on the "New Times of Burma" that he addressed the inhabitants of Maungdaw as "Chittagonians" which was objectionable and contradictory in relation to the Muslims of North Arakan forming parts and parcel of Indigenous races of Burma. The Prime Minister U Nu expressed regrets for the use of wrong terms "Chittagonians” and as per letter No.153/22 PM 48 dated; 20 February 1948, instructed that it should be either "Arakanese Muslims" or "Burmese Muslims". The term ‘Burmese Muslims’ published in the form of Press communiqué issued by His Excellency Sir Domon Smith, the Governor of Burma, on 27th September 1941.

- On 30th 1949, the Ministry of Home Affairs issued a Burma Gazette Extra Ordinary, as par letter No. 282/ HD- 49, in which it was, mentioned that the Arakanese Muslims of Maungdaw and Buthidaung townships of Akyab district as indigenous peoples of Burma.

- On September 1954, U Nu, the first elected Prime Minister of Burma, in his radio address to nation, announced that, “The people living in northern Arakan are our national brethren. They are called Rohingyas. They are on the same par in the status of nationality with Kachin, Kayah, Karen, Mon, Rakhine and Shan.”

- On 3rd and 4th November 1959, U Ba Swe, Prime Minister and Minister of Defense Affairs, in the public meetings of Maungdaw and Buthidaung, announced that, ‘The Rohingyas are equal in every way with other minority races like Shan, Kachin, Karen, kayah, Mon and Rakhine. They have lived in Burma ages according to historical facts. There is historical evidence that they have lived faithfully and harmoniously with other races of Burma.’

- On 4th July 1961, Brig-General Aung Gyi, Deputy Chief of Staff, officially explained that, ‘On the west, May Yu district borders with Pakistan. As is the case with all borderlands communities, there are Muslims on both sides of the borders. Those who are on Pakistan’s side are known as Pakistani while the Muslims on our Burmese side of the borders are referred to as ‘Rohingya.’ Here I must stress that this is not a case where one single race splits itself into two communities in two different neighbouring countries. If you look at the Sino-Burmese border region, you will see this kind of phenomenon, namely ‘adjacent people’. To give you a concrete example, take Lisu of Kachin state, or La-wa (or Wa) and E-kaw of the same Kachin State by the Chinese borderlands. They all straddle on both sides of the borders. Likewise, the Shan can be found on the Chinese side as well as in Thailand – and they are known as ‘Tai’ or ‘Dai’ over there...They speak similar language and they have a common religion.’

The Rohingyas were enfranchised in all the national and local elections of Burma except the latest 2015 election. Their representatives were in the Legislative Assembly, in the Constituent Assembly and in the Parliament. As members of the new Parliament, their representatives took the oath of allegiance to the Union of Burma on the 4th January 1948. Their representatives were appointed as cabinet ministers and parliamentary secretaries. They had their own political, cultural, social organizations and had their programme in their own language in the official Burma Broadcasting Services (BSS).

- As a Burma’s racial groups, they participated in the official “Union Day’ celebration in Burma’s capital, Rangoon, every year.

- To satisfy part of their demand, the government granted them limited local autonomy and declared establishment of Mayu Frontier Administration (MFA) in early 60s, a special frontier district to be ruled directly by the central government.

Thus, the Muslims of Rakhine region over the centuries have had many terms by which to identify themselves, including the terms Rakhine Muslim, Arakan Muslim, and Rohingya, the last of which has become more prominent in recent times. 

However, the Rakhine nationalist claims that, the term Rohingya was created in the 1950s to promote the political demands of the Bengalis in Myanmar.

Ethnic identity is not a God-given thing, but different forms of identities are invented and reworked thorough space and time. That’s why the process of identity formation is known as ‘social construction’. And Ethnicity is not just a ‘thing’ but also a ‘process’ in which the state actors impose identities, and the people themselves actively articulate their own identities for the sake of political and material livelihood.

As Burma and Arakan state are the products of the nation-sate formation through a relatively long, history, The name ‘Rakhine’ and the place ‘Arakan’ have been “invented” at particular points of time, just like the name “Rohingya’ was invented another points of time. If Rohingya ‘migrated’ from Bangladesh or somewhere else at one historical point of time Rakhines must have ‘migrated’ at similar or another historical points of time. But immigrating earlier of later does not negates the problematic reality that both groups have migrated from somewhere else. None of these groups fell from the sky. The claim that the name ‘Rohingya’ is invented is unacceptable and completely contradicts the very fundamental understanding of ethnicity and ethnic identity. 

- Since 1942, the Rakhine Buddhists pushed the Muslims from the southern Arakan to the northern Arakan. 

- Since 1962, successive military regimes labeled them as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.

- Since 1982, their right to citizenship denied and made them stateless people.

- Since 2012, the Thein Sein regime rejected their identity and forcefully making them Bengali. 

The Rohingya Muslims of Arakan, both home and abroad, believed that they belong to Burma and they are parts and parcel of indigenous races of Burma. They never try to be Bengali. At present there are more than 3 million Roghingyas both home and abroad. Their only blood related community is the Roai people, a third and fourth generation Rohingyas, who strongly believed that their ancestors were from Arakan or related to Arakan. Their population is round about 10 million lived in Cox’s Bazaar district and southern Chittagong district. These peoples are morally concerned to the Rohingyas Muslims of Arakan. 

However, now these peoples are going to forcefully making the Rohingya to Bengali. Then the Bengali peoples became concerned to the case and cause of the Rohingyas. In Bangladesh, there are 160 million Bengali, in India also about 100 million Bengali and other parts of the world also more than 40 million Bengali. So there are more than 300 million Bengali throughout the world. In the case of the Rohingya has forcefully became Bengali then they will be parts and parcel of other Bengali peoples, and the world’s over 300 million Bengali will try to stand behind the ill-fated 3 million Rohingya people. These peoples are playing with a great risk that will not good for the country and for the peoples of Burma, particularly for Arakan.

The Arakan problem can be easily solved to the satisfaction of all the stake holders if the Rakhine Buddhist is simply follow the golden rule of “Live and let Live”. This will definitely put an end to all the mutual ill-feeling and mistrusts; and there lies mutual happiness for all. 

By Hnin Yadana Zaw and Timothy Mclaughlin
April 28, 2016

Yangon, Myanmar -- Hundreds of demonstrators, including Buddhist monks, denounced the United States for its use of the term Rohingya to describe Myanmar's stateless Muslim community during a protest outside of the U.S. embassy in Yangon on Thursday.

The Rohingya, most of whom live in apartheid-like conditions, are seen by many Myanmar Buddhists as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and the term is a divisive topic.

The demonstration was sparked by a statement from the embassy last week expressing condolences for an estimated 21 people, who media said were Rohingya, who drowned off the coast of Rakhine State and came just a day after President Htin Kyaw accepted the credentials of the new U.S. Ambassador, Scot Marciel.

"Today, we, from here, want to declare to the U.S. embassy and the ambassador to Myanmar, to all the other countries, that there is no Rohingya in our country," Parmaukkha, a monk and member of the hardline Buddhist group Ma Ba Tha, told about 300 people who gathered on a busy road across from the embassy compound.

"If the U.S. accepts the term 'Rohingya,' you (U.S.) should take them back to your country."

The previous government referred to the group as Bengalis, implying they were illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, despite many having lived in Myanmar for generations.

Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of the ruling National League for Democracy party and state counsellor, has drawn criticism from rights groups for avoiding using the term Rohingya and not doing enough to address their plight.

Thousands have fled persecution and poverty in the country.

Some 125,000 Rohingya remain displaced and face severe travel restrictions in squalid camps since fighting erupted in Rakhine between Buddhists and Muslims in 2012.

Zaw Htay, spokesman at the state counsellor's office, said on Thursday that the name issue was being handled by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and would be addressed in a "diplomatic way" but did not provide further details.

A spokesman for the U.S. Embassy said the United States supports the right to demonstrate and added that "around the world, people have the ability to self-identifty".

Lt. Col. Kyaw Htut, head of the western Yangon region police, said the protest organisers would face charges for holding the demonstration in an unapproved location.

(Additional reporting by Aung Hla Tun; Editing by Nick Macfie)

A woman praying at a Catholic church in Loikaw, Kayah state, in eastern Myanmar, Oct. 12, 2014. (Photo: AFP)

April 28, 2016

A senior Myanmar official vowed on Wednesday to stop an influential Buddhist monk from building pagodas near churches and mosques as Christian and Muslim leaders appealed for calm in a country that has struggled with religious tensions.

Supporters of the monk Myaing Kyee Ngu erected a pagoda on Saturday on the grounds of a church in the eastern state of Karen and then build a pagoda near a mosque in a Muslim-majority village in the same township, the AFP news agency reported.

Karen State Chief Minister Nan Khin Htwe Myint told RFA’s Myanmar Service she is “very concerned about the situation” and would work to stop what one local newspaper called a “stupa-building spree” by zealous Buddhists.

“The pagodas should be built at suitable places for the sake of worshippers. Then, if we want to promote our religion, we shouldn’t bully or oppress other religions. It's not the right way to do so and it’s not our Buddhism’s teaching, either,” she said.

“I have already informed the religious department of the Union Government. I must try to stop further works of the monk,” Nan Khin Htwe Myint told RFA in a telephone interview.

AFP said the office of local MP Saw Chit Khin told the agency that Buddhist authorities had written to the monk to urge him to cease building at places of worship of other faiths.

But local Anglican Bishop Saw Stylo, who oversees Karen state and neighboring regions, told AFP that members of the community “feel very worried and sensitive about it. This might be political as well as religious."

"That is why I asked all local young people, whether they are Buddhist, Muslim or Christian, not to do anything wrong," AFP quoted Saw Stylo as saying.

The Myanmar Times quoted Thein Win Aung, leader of the KAFDG Islamic Organization, as calling on the government to step in quickly to stop the provocative construction.

“It is religious violence. We have been patient after the first time, but he should not be allowed to repeat what he did,” Thein Win Aung was quoted as saying.

Predominantly Buddhist Myanmar has experienced spates of violence directed at religious minorities.

In Rakhine State in western Myanmar, some 140,000 Rohingya Muslims were displaced in 2012 after violence erupted between them and local Buddhists, leaving more than 200 dead and tens of thousands homeless. The Rohingya, who bore the brunt of the attacks, were later forced to live in squalid camps.

About 120,000 Rohingya remain in the camps, while thousands of others have fled persecution in the Buddhist-dominated country on rickety boats to other Southeast Asian countries in recent years.

Reported by Nay Rein Kyaw for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Kyaw Kyaw Aung. Written in English by Paul Eckert.
Rohingya migrants on a boat drifting in Thai waters, pictured in May 2015 ©Christophe Archambault (Photo: AFP)

April 28, 2016

More than a dozen Rohingya refugees abandoned by people smugglers have been found in a southern Thai forest, police said Wednesday, almost a year on from a crackdown which has forced traffickers to find new routes.

Muslim Rohingya, an ethnic minority from Myanmar's western Rakhine state who are forced to live in apartheid-like conditions, have for years fled their homeland seeking work in Muslim-majority Malaysia.

"Fourteen Rohingyas, including kids as young as a few years old, were found at around 6am (Wednesday)," police captain Panuwat Chomyong, a highway officer in central Chumpon province, told AFP.

Smugglers abandoned the group ahead of a police checkpoint, Panuwat said, adding they had initially entered Thailand through Kanchanaburi province, a much more northern entry point than those usually used by traffickers.

The discovery suggests new routes are being sought by migrants and smugglers following Thailand's belated crackdown on the grim and lucrative trade last May which has seen boat crossings over the Bay of Bengal almost entirely cease.

For years Thailand turned a blind eye to well-worn trafficking routes in the deep south that carried tens of thousands Myanmar Rohingya refugees and Bangladeshi migrants over the border into Malaysia.

Human rights groups said officials both ignored and benefitted from the trade.

Most victims crossed the sea in rickety boats to be held in remote jungle camps where they were beaten, raped and abused until relatives paid release ransoms. They would then be moved to Malaysia.

The Thai crackdown saw more than 90 alleged traffickers arrested -- including a senior general -- and sparked a region-wide crisis as smugglers abandoned their cargo in jungle camps and at sea.

The dangerous sea crossings have since largely stopped and are unlikely to increase over the next few months with monsoon season approaching.

The group intercepted by police Wednesday was the first major discovery of Rohingya migrants in Thailand in many months, suggesting the flow has reduced to a trickle, though investigators say new ways into Thailand are being sought.

"Navy and marine police are strict along the borders of Myanmar now -- so I've noticed that most Rohingyas are going by overland routes now," said Panuwat.

Police said the group began their journey in Mottama town in Myanmar's eastern Mon state which does not have a Rohingya population. But it is a city close to one of the main border crossings between Thailand and Myanmar and a frequent jumping off point for journeys east.

Rohingya outside a displaced people’s camp in Arakan State in 2014. (Photo: Lawi Weng / The Irrawaddy)

By Lawi Weng
The Irrawaddy
April 28, 2016

RANGOON — Authorities in Arakan State have imposed new restrictions on the Rohingya minority’s access to medical treatment in Rangoon, after local sources reported that many patients did not return to the region after traveling to hospitals in the commercial capital.

Authorities including police, immigration officers, and the border affairs minister hosted a meeting with approximately 40 Rohingya community leaders in the Arakan State capital of Sittwe on Tuesday. Chief regional immigration officer Wai Lwin reportedly informed those at the meeting of the stricter regulations to be imposed on the Muslim minority, who are denied citizenship in Burma.

According to Aung Win, a Rohingya rights activist who participated in the meeting, the new rules state that Rohingya who are sick must now first visit the public hospital in Sittwe for an assessment of their condition; if further treatment is needed, they can apply for permission to travel to Rangoon.

Patients would now be required to obtain a recommendation from the head of the Sittwe hospital in order to make such a trip.

Aung Win estimated that up to 80 percent of those who had previously traveled to Rangoon for medical care did not return to the displaced people’s camps in Arakan State where over 100,000 Rohingya have been confined since ethnoreligious violence broke out in the area in 2012.

“They went to work in Ruili [on the Chinese border], Malaysia and Thailand,” he said.

Before the new restrictions came into effect, community leaders said that the Rohingya had avoided going to hospitals in Sittwe, where they reported experiencing discrimination. The medical care they received, they alleged, was not equal to that provided to the local Buddhist Arakanese population.

Maung Maung Sein, another Rohingya representative present at the meeting, told The Irrawaddy that the new rules would place extra financial strain on those in the camps.

“We need security to travel to the hospital in Sittwe. We have to pay at least 20,000 to 30,000 kyats (US$17 to $26) to rent a car to travel from the camp to the town,” he said, adding that patients would need food and accommodation in order to be able to stay in the hospital away from their homes. Paying for this expense is made particularly difficult by limitations placed on the Rohingyas’ ability to seek employment in the region.

Maung Maung Sein explained that Rohingya who could afford to do so once sought treatment in Rangoon, reportedly after obtaining permission from an immigration officer for the journey; without the correct paperwork, Rohingya attempting to travel outside of the region can be imprisoned.

“There were brokers who could help get recommendations from Immigration. We had to pay a lot of money to get the recommendation,” he said.

Burmese government authorities have allowed some clinics to open in the displaced people’s camps, but challenges regarding staffing and patient access remain ongoing.

Doctors and nurses from the camp hospitals will not be eligible to provide the recommendation needed for travel to Rangoon to seek more advanced treatment.

Tauseef Akbar
April 27, 2016

Promoted by American media as “a new breed of monk,” Sitagu Sayadaw celebrates extremist “race and religion” laws against ethnic minorities.

On April 8, the US embassy in Rangoon, Burma posted several photos to its Facebook page of US ambassador-designate Scot Marciel’s visit to the monk Sitagu Sayadaw. The purpose of the visit was “to pay his respects ahead of the Thingyan holiday.” We are told that Marciel “very much enjoyed speaking to the Sayadaw about the diversity of faiths in Myanmar and this country’s rich cultural history.”

Sitagu is one of the most popular - if not the most popular - Buddhist monk in Burma. A Wall Street Journal article that profiled Sitagu in 2008 noted that he is one of a new generation of monks that has risen to prominence in Burma in recent years: "Mr. Sitagu Sayadaw represents a new breed of monk who eschews traditional asceticism in favor of tactics more familiar to televangelism. Wherever he goes, a camera crew follows, recording material for the videos of him that are available on the street in major cities." Sitagu has branded himself before the outside world as a proponent of tolerance, a humble monk working for peace, and who is open to all religions. He attends interfaith friendship conferences where he makes feel-good statements that Christians, Muslims, Buddhists are “all the same.”

However, the benign and benevolent image projected by Sitagu conceals a racist and anti-democratic core that is barely hidden under the surface of his flowery, kumbaya rhetoric. Sitagu is a dyed-in-the-wool Buddhist nationalist. The Myanmar Times reports that he is “a senior member” of the extremist MaBaTha, holding the position of “vice-chair” in the organization.

His political and theological stances adhere more closely with the group’s ideology than the ideals of pluralistic democracy. Sitagu is in favor of making Buddhism the national religion of Burma, a demand he made while speaking at MaBaTha's massive rally celebrating the passage of the discriminatory “race and religion laws” last year. The laws have been roundly condemned by human rights organizations and experts in international law. A report by Georgetown’s Institute for Women, Security and Peace described them as “blatantly discriminatory” and “egregious violations of Burma’s obligations under International law and norms.”

Sitagu’s patronage of the MaBaTha isn’t limited to speeches at their rallies, he is an open ally of the Islamophobic monk, Wirathu, famously characterized by TIME as the “Buddhist Bin Laden.” At the rally, Sitagu defended the laws, saying that “These laws will not harm other religions and races.” He went on to claim that MaBaTha, “will also not get involved in politics for any religion, races, parties or conflicts. It is only to establish the interfaith laws.” This is a blatant lie, since the discriminatory and racist nature of the laws are obvious to any observer, as is the MaBaTha’s involvement in politics; Wirathu and the MaBaTha actively campaigned against the NLD, calling on “real” Buddhists to vote for the military-backed USDP, and not a party that “supports Islam.”

Sitagu "monk" with anti-Muslim Wirathu and anti-Christian Myaing Gyi Ngu "monks"

As disconcerting as his alignment with MaBaTha is what he preaches about Rohingya Muslims who are currently facing what leading Burmese scholar Maung Zarni and Alice Crowley have concluded is a “slow-burning genocide.” These findings have also been followed up by studies by Yale Law School, Queen Mary’s State Crime Initiative and conferences at Harvard and the London School of Economics that have come to similar conclusions.

In his description of non-Bama ethnicities as “guest” citizens and Bama as “hosts,” Sitagu is promoting and echoing the racist terminology of genocidal dictator General Ne Win. Sitagu not only denies the existence of the Rohingya, he propagates fear and hate of them as dangerous fifth-columnists and separatists. He is on the record denying that they suffered pogroms in 2012 at the hands of extremist Rakhine Buddhists, going so far as to say “they burned their houses by themselves as if it was done by Burmese Buddhists.”

Shifting blame for violence onto the victims is a common tactic among apologists for crimes against humanity. They seek to shield their community or group from the unpalatable truth, since it exposes their complicity in fomenting atrocities, even as they claim to be the paragons of virtue.

The US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), despite having its own sordid relationship to Islamophobia, responded directly to denials of Rohingya persecution, like that expressed by Sitagu, saying "No impartial observers question reports of systematic, large-scale & egregious abuses of human rights of this (Rohingya) community." (Ironically, one of those involved in the visit was Zuhdi Jasser, a Muslim-American Republican Party activist who supports blanket spying on Muslims, the Iraq War, and the Patriot Act).

In light of all this, why is the US embassy in Rangoon and its ambassador-designate meeting with a prominent MaBaTha monk whose horrid beliefs fit neatly into the Islamophobic narratives that continue to dehumanize the Rohingya? Of course some of the possible answers to these questions can be found in the Obama administration strategy of “pivoting toward Asia.” The goal of this policy is to challenge and compete against China for valuable resources in its own backyard and get a piece of the emerging neo-liberal economy of Burma, slated to have the world’s fastest growing economy this year. It is unfathomable that the US embassy is unaware of Sitagu’s views and role within the hate-mongering MaBaTha. And yet the leader of an organization that is actively involved in persecuting an ethnic minority and lobbying for the passage of laws that make religious discrimination official policy earned the ambassador’s “respects,” exposing the hollowness of US claims to upholding human rights in the region.

Tauseef Akbar is a Chicago-based human rights advocate, writer and researcher. Currently, he is web content director at the Burma Task Force USA.

RB News 
April 27, 2016

Tokyo, Japan -- A Human Rights hearing was held at the Japanese parliament building on 25th April 2016, organized by the Japan Bar Association in Tokyo. Parliamentarians and policy makers from the various political parties such as the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and Koimeto Party, as well as opposition Democratic Party, Liberal Party, Social Democratic Party and the Japan Communist Party were attended the hearing. The Lawyers, NGOs, Civil Society organizations and members of various media organizations also participated.

The main topics of the hearing were labour rights and Refugee rights. Lawyers from the Bar Association spoke about the violations of foreign labour rights in Japan. Also, some labourers from China had testified about their experiences at the Japanese firms.

The most famous Refugee Lawyer in Japan, Mr. Shogo Watanabe, explained about the difficulties of asylum seekers in Japan and how Japanese Asylum Law is tough for the Refugees.

Mr. Zaw Min Htut, who is the first recognized Rohingya refugee in Japan, testified about his own experience and how his fellow Rohingyas are still struggling to be recognized as refugees in Japan.

There are still some Rohingyas without legal status in Japan. Some have been in Japan for more than 10 years without legal status. Giving that example, Zaw Min Htut appeals to the policy makers of Japan to consider Rohingyas legal status by radically changing the current refugee policy. He also appealed to give more humanitarian assistance by the Japanese government to the Rohingyas in IDP Camps in Arakan State of Myanmar as well as to the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, Thailand, India, Malaysia and Indonesia.

In his conclusion remarks, Zaw Min Htut proposed to bring more Rohingya refugees to Japan as third country resettlement from refugee camps in Bangladesh, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and India.

(Photo: The New York Times)

By Thomas Daniel
New Straits Times Online
April 26, 2016

It is almost a year to the climax of last year’s Rohingya refugee crisis, the aftermath of a crackdown by Thai authorities on land-smuggling routes that led to the surge of boats packed with Rohingya and Bangladeshi refugees and economic migrants crossing the Andaman Sea. Many, if not all, were sailing for Malaysia.

Readers will remember the gripping headlines and even more gripping photos and videos of desperate, emaciated individuals on rickety boats, in some cases abandoned by their smugglers, begging for food, water and shelter. 

Policymakers feared being “swarmed” and Thai, Indonesian and Malaysian navies were involved in “human ping-pong pushbacks” of refugee boats. 

Individuals, non-governmental organisations and fishermen took it upon themselves to seek out boats and provide help. 

There was also criticism by international organisations of the initial reluctance of the three countries to accept refugees. 

Overall, it made for a tragic yet riveting media circus. 

The boats and media attention may have temporarily stopped, although an undetermined number of migrants still cross overland from Thailand. 

Regional governments and international organisations are working to provide for the displaced as best they can while efforts are ongoing to strengthen regional frameworks to better prepare for future displacement crises. 

Things seemed more or less settled, relatively speaking. 

Nevertheless, it is important that Malaysians — not just the policy makers, observers and scholars, but the people — take heed of the tragedy befalling Rohingyas, because it involves Malaysia. 

The following are three reasons why, as Malaysians, we should care and why the fate of the Rohingyas is important to Malaysia. 

First, they are here and have been so for some time. Rohingyas are a visible and significant part of undocumented migrants in Malaysia.

They reside in Malaysia, with larger communities in and around Kuala Lumpur, and in other states such as Penang, Johor, Kedah, Kelantan and Terengganu. 

Many have been here for years and generations, are well versed in Malaysian customs and the national language. 

Numbers from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) indicate there are at least 40,000 Rohingyas in Malaysia. 

An increasing number are families who fled violence in Rakhine state. 

A 2014 report indicated that nearly a quarter of Rohingyas in Malaysia are children. 

There are thousands more that the UNHCR, local aid organisations and the authorities know nothing about. 

They play a part in Malaysia’s informal economy that depends heavily on cheap labour that locals shun. Many, especially women and children, beg at traffic lights and walkways. 

Second, more are (probably) coming. For most Rohingyas fleeing for political or economic reasons, Malaysia is a destination of choice both in the short term and for long-term settlement. 

Few have taken up offers to be resettled in the West.

There are many reasons for this. They include Malaysia being a relatively close, peaceful and prosperous country, Malaysia’s dependence on cheap labour, having family and communities present and a belief that they would be welcomed as fellow Muslims and can integrate easily. 

Many of the nearly two million Rohingyas in Myanmar and Bangladesh, living in desperate conditions, are willing to risk their lives to reach Malaysia. They are not interested in heading or settling elsewhere in the region. 

Knowing this, neighbouring countries have been known to help on boats destined to Malaysia, not wanting to deal with the responsibilities and cost of detaining them. 

Third, concern for and finding a solution to the plight of Rohingyas is the right thing to do. 

The violence and displacement aren’t happening in a faraway corner of the world. This is happening in our backyard. 

Their persecution and displacement is a sensitive, sore and disconcerting point for Asean, especially as it moves forward as a Community. 

Yet, there appears to be little it can do. 

Even usage of the term Rohingya is contested in official meetings. 

As a founding nation and responsible member of Asean, Malaysians should be aware of key socio-political-economic issues impacting other Asean members, especially with such humanitarian dimensions. 

One should note that this isn’t Malaysia’s first post-independence experience with the mass arrival of undocumented migrants or refugees. 

For the past 40 years, Malaysia has become a destination for refugees to seek either temporary or permanent refuge, although it is not a party to the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol. 

Prior arrivals included southern Filipinos from Mindanao during the late 1970s and early 1980s, Cambodian and Vietnamese during the same period, a small number of Bosnian refugees in the early 1990s, and Indonesians from Aceh later on.

In most cases, they are eventually returned to their countries of origin, or resettled to third, mainly Western countries. 

In most cases, Malaysia, along with other countries, worked towards finding a political solution at the source of the refugee flow. 

In the case of southern Filipinos however, many have settled in Sabah. This has contributed to the complex ethnic, religious, political, social, economic and even security situation there today. 

As a nation, Malaysia is undergoing the process of nation building and managing religious-ethnic relations. 

An influx of a new ethnic group, especially in large numbers, will have significant and longstanding socio-cultural, economic, security and political implications to the future make-up of Malaysia. 

Thomas Daniel is an analyst, Institute of Strategic and International Studies (ISIS) Malaysia

Migrants who were found at sea are repatriated across the Myanmar-Bangladesh border in Maungdaw, Rakhine state, June 8, 2015. (Photo: AFP)

By Kamran Reza Chowdhury
Radio Free Asia
April 26, 2016

Myanmar’s government has rejected claims by the Border Guard Bangladesh that hundreds of Rohingya Muslims have been sent back to Myanmar.

A report of 340 Rohingya Muslims being sent back to Myanmar from Bangladesh this month was “not true,” Zaw Htay, a spokesman for Myanmar’s President’s Office, said in an interview Sunday.

“We checked with authorities concerned after seeing this story. The top levels didn’t know anything and then we asked security and border officials on the ground and learnt the event didn’t take place. That’s why we said this story was not true,” he said.

“It’s a highly sensitive issue between Bangladesh and Myanmar. If we have to accept people, the decision has to come from the Union government. And there are immigration procedures,” he went on to say.

“We have to make detail[ed] checks whether they are really from Myanmar. We can’t do it without [a] verification process. We won’t handle it lightly. And we’ll let the media know,” he went on to say, calling the story “unbalanced.”

BGB: 30 more Rohingyas sent back Monday

Imran Ullah Sarker, the commander and chief executive officer of the BBG’s Cox’s Bazar Battalion, stood by his statement last week that 340 Rohingya had recently been sent back to Myanmar.

In a statement Monday his office gave an updated tally of “432 Muslim Myanmar nationals” sent back thus far in April, including 30 returned to Myanmar on Monday from an operation in the Tombru and Betbunia areas east of Chittagong.

Sarker said Bangladesh shares 275 km (170.8 miles) of border with Myanmar, which has erected border fences along a 175 km- (108.7-mile) stretch. The remaining 100 km (62.1 miles) of the border is porous and in some places features tough terrain.

“The Rohingyas enter into Bangladesh through the porous portion of the border. The Myanmar border police do not stop them from entering to Bangladesh territory. So, the Rohingya infiltration has been on,” Sarker said.

The BGB battalion under his command had intensified surveillance along the porous portion of the border to stop flow of the Rohingyas.

“After the arrest of the illegal Myanmar nationals, we record personal data along with the photographs to register that they are the Myanmar nationals. Then we take them to up to 50 meters towards the border, and stand until they cross into Myanmar,” Sarker told BenarNews.

He said the Myanmar border police mainly remain posted at designated checkpoints. They either do not see or do not react to the cross border movement, according to Sarker.

Myanmar officials do not record the exit and entry of their nationals along the border with Bangladesh, he added.

Former diplomat: no option but to deny

Former Bangladeshi ambassador Ashfaqur Rahman, who was the administrative head in Cox’s Bazar in mid 1970s when the Rohingya influx started, said that since a military takeover of Myanmar in 1962, the country had been pushing the Rohingyas into Bangladesh, labelling them as “illegal Bengalees.”

“This is obvious that the Myanmar government would contradict on Rohingya reentry [from Bangladesh]. This is because the Rohingya issue is a very sensitive one in Burmese politics. No government in Myanmar will be interested in talking in favor of the Rohingyas, given the strong anti-Muslim sentiment among the majority Buddhists,” Rahman said.

He said the western powers want that democratically elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi to solve the Rohingya problem.

“I personally think Suu Kyi would settle the problem in some ways, but she would take time. At this moment, the Myanmar President’s office has no option left other than denying the repatriation or reentry of the Rohingyas [because of] political sensitivity associated with it,” Rahman said.

“The Myanmar people have high hopes about Suu Kyi’s government. They are not likely to do anything that would anger the majority Buddhists,” he said.

Aman Ullah
RB History
April 26, 2016

Mohan Ghosh wrote in his book ‘Magh Raiders of Bengal’ that, “In 8th century under the Hindu revivalist leader, Sankaracharijya, Buddhists in India were persecuted in large-scale. In Magadah, old Bihar of India, Buddhists were so ruthlessly oppressed by chauvinist Hindus and rival Mahayana sect of Buddhists that large numbers of Hinayana Buddhists had been compelled to flee eastward who ultimately found shelter in Arakan under the Chandra kings.” These Buddhist immigrants assumed the name Magh as they have migrated from Magadah. 

The term Magh suggests that the word is derived from Maghada, the country where the Buddha lived. That country is mentioned in the Arakanese Chronicles as the original residing place of the ancestors of the Arakanese kings who were the relatives of the Buddha.

At the time of the Buddha, Magadha formed one of the sixteen Mahajanapads, which was an important political and commercial centre, where peoples from all parts of Northern India used to visit in search of commerce and of learning.

The Language that was spoken in Magadha was called Magahi Language or Magadhi language. The ancestor of Magadhi, from which its name derives, Magadhi Prakrit, was created in the Indian subcontinent, in a region spanning what is now India and Nepal. These regions were part of the ancient kingdom of Magadha, the core of which was the area of Bihar south of the Ganges. It is believed to be the language spoken by Gautama Buddha. It was the official language of the Mauryan court, and the edicts of Ashoka were composed in it. [1] Cardona George Dhanesh in his book ‘The Indo-Aryan Languages’ wrote that, “The name Magahi is directly derived from the name Magadhi Prakrit, and the educated speakers of Magahi prefer to call it Magadhi rather than Magahi.” [2] Magahi is closely related to Bhojpuri and Maithili, and these languages are sometimes referred to as a single language, Bihari. These languages, together with several other related languages, are known as the Bihari languages, which form a sub-group of the Eastern Zone of Indo-Aryan languages.

Magh for Arakanese is commonly applied to the inhabitants of Arakan particularly those living near the Bengal district of Chittagong. There seems to some truth in the word being derived from "Maghad" of India. According to A. Phayre, the name Magh originated from the ruling race of Magadha (Bihar) and relying on a Burmese oral tradition, he says that they were originally a Kshartiya tribe of the north India and migrated from Magadha to Burma through eastern Bengal. Subsequently they spread over Arakan from Burma. [3] The derivation would probably be Magadhi, the adjective form of the proper name, Maghi-Magai-Magi-Mog or Magh. The New English Dictionary states that the word Mag, Mogen, Mogue appear as names of Arakan and the people in 15-16th centuries.[4]33 Among the old testimonies regarding Arakan association with Magadha is that of Daulat Kazi (1622-38), a well-known poet of Arakan, according to him, the rulers of Rosango (Arakan) belong to the Magadha dynasty and were Buddhists by faith. The poet in his Sati Mayna frequently uses the term Magadher pati and Magadha Raja to signify the kings and the Kingdom of Arakan respectively. [5] 

Mugh is a referent for the Rakhaing with very early roots. In 1585, Fitch referred to “the Kingdom of Recon and Mogen."[6] On the basis of this reference, one must reject Sukomal Chaudhuri's assertion that the Rakhaing came to be known as Mugh from the start of the seventeenth century. [7] In the seventeenth century, references to Mugh do increase rapidly. Portuguese accounts, for example, used Mogo to refer to the population of Rakhaing (1605, c. 1638), the King of Rakhaing (c. 1620, c. 1 638), and to Rakhaing language. In 1798, Buchanan referred to the Marma in Southeastern Bengal as Joomea Mugs. In 1835, Foley referred to the Rakhaing people within Rakhaing as Mughs or Magas. Persian accounts also used Mugh to refer to the Rakhaing in the early modern period, as in "the tribe of the Magh" (1590, c. 1641) and the 'Magh Raja' (1604, 1638, c. 1641). From the seventeenth century, Bengali sources also used Maghi to refer to the Rakhaing era. [8]

Westerners remained inconsistent in their references into the nineteenth century, using Rakhaing (and its versions) as a political term while also using Mugh as interchangeable with Rakhaing in both usages. Thus, Bernier (1665) referred to the 'Kingdom of Rakan, or Mog.” [9] Heath refers to "Muggs or Arrackanners" (1689), Ovington refers to "this Kingdom of Arracan, or Empire of Mogo."(1696), [10] and one anonymous account of Rakhaing refer to the "Mugs or Aracaners" (1777). [11] 

There was a simultaneous trend for using Mugh together with Rakhaing as a political or geographic term, as indicated in Fitch (1585). This occurred as well in some Persian accounts, as in the Tuzuk-I-Jahagiri (c. 1620) which referred to the Maghs, as opposed to state of Arracan. [12] Likewise, the Baharistan-I-Ghaybi (c.1641) applied "Mag” to the king and the people of Rakhaing, but "Achrang" and "Rakhang" to the country. [13] This usage as also adopted by British officials in the early part of the nineteenth century, for as Bayfield uses the terms, "Mugs, or native inhabitants of Arracan" (1834). [14] The last case can be explained, however, according to the annexation of Rakhaing and its establishment as a British province, which left Rakhaing on both sides of the provincial borders; hence, Rakhaing was used after the First Anglo-Burmese War (1824-1826) in its strictest geographical and political sense.

The origins of 'Mugh' are murky at best and have led to confusion at least since the eighteenth century. In 1696, John Ovington complained that he could not ascertain from “whence they [the kings] derive that Appellation of Moghi.”[15] There are perhaps as many, mutually irreconcilable, theories to explain the origins of Mugh as there are for Rakhaing. Nevertheless, Mugh appears to have been entirely an external ethnonym, applied to the Rakhaing, rather than accepted by them. [16] Hamilton (Buchanan) explained in the late eighteenth century that while the Rakhaing at Calcutta were called 'Muggs,' they "are scarcely known by that name in their native country" [17] AS Buchanan further explained in 1799:
Arakan, or the kingdom of the Mugs, as we often call it. Whence this name of Mug given by Europeans to the natives of Arakan, has been derived, I know not, but, as far as I could learn, it is totally unknown to the natives and their neighbours, except such of them as, by their intercourse with us, have learned its use. [18] 

Another theory that emerged among Bengali scholars was that Magh came from the Sanskrit word Magdu "meaning a sea-bird and therefore a pirate."[19] Ahmed Sharif’s recent explanation of this theory, however, suffers from a misunderstanding of the origins and nature of Rakhaing seafaring. Sharif argues that before the seventeenth cenury, Maghs did not practice piracy. They adopted piracy as a profession...when they came in close contact with the Portuguese who allured them to piratical; activities, With Portuguese assistant the Maghs became adept in sea-faring. [20]

After they did so, from the seventeenth century, Magh became associated with raiders and the terms "Magh and Magher Muluk stood for tyrant and tyranny respectively."[21]

Willem van Schendel explains that Mugh is a "general term for people living to the east of the Bengal" and includes Rakhaing, Borua, Burman, Kuki, Manna,Mnr, etc..[22] Ahmed Sharif specifies that Mugh is applied as a blanket term, but specifically for Buddhists: "'Magh' is used by the Chittagong people to mean the follower of Buddha in general, and all Buddhists whether living in Chittagong or Arakan or in other parts of the world are termed 'Magh."'[23] This does not appear to be correct, at least not until after the late eighteenth century. A Buchanan found in his travels in Bengal, the Manipuris, known to the Bunnans as Kathee (Kathi), were known as 'Muggaloos' by the Bengalis. Again, this led, as Buchanan complained, to the creation by Rennel of a country that really was not there. As Buchanan explained:

Notes of References: -

1. Bashan A.L., The Wonder that was India, Picador, 2004, pp.394 
2. Jain Dhanesh, Cardona George, The Indo-Aryan Languages, pp449
3. Phayre, "Note on the Name Mag or Maga.” 47
4. Shamsuddin Ahmed, Glimpses into History of the Burmese and Chinese Muslims, Chittagong 1978, p.72; 
5. Sharif, "On Arakan and the Arakanese," 354 
6. Ralph Fitch, "An Account of Pegu in 1586-1 587," SOAS Bulletin of Burma Research 2.2 (Autumn 2004). 168. 11
7. Sukomal Chaudhuri, Contemporary Buddhism in Bangladesh (Calcutta: Atisha Memorial Pulishing Society, 1982). 21.
8. Fernao Guerreiro, Relacao Annual das Coisas que Fizeram os Padres da Companhia de Jesus nas suas Missoes ... nos Anos de 1600 a 1609, ed. Artur Viegas (Coimbra: University of Coimbra. 1 930). 3.286; Boccarro, 1.122; Sebastlo Manrique, Itinerario de Sebastiao Manrique, Luis Silveira, ed. (Lisboa: Agencia Geral das Colonias, Divisao de Publicações e Biblioteca, 1946). 1.89; 1.116, 1.119, 2.9; Francis Buchanan, Francis Buchanan in Southeast Bengal (1798): His Journey to Chittagong, the Chittagong Hill Tracts, Noakhali and Comilla, edited by Willem van Schendel (Dhaka: University Press Limited. 1992). 32; William Foley "Joumal of a Tour Through the Isiand of Rambree, with a Geological Sketch of the Country and Brief Account of the Customs. &c. of Its Inhabitants," Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal 5 (1835): 82, 201; Yule & Bumell, Hobson Jobson, 594; Mirza Nathan, Baharistan-I-Ghaybi, translated from the Persian by M. I. Borah (Gauhati: Government of Assam, 1936). 2.629, 2.710; Sharif, "On Arakan and the Arakanese," 360.
9. François Bemier, Travels in the Mogul Empire AD 1665-1668 (New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal, 1992). 174.
10. John Ovington, A Voyage to Suratt, in the Year 1689 (n.p.: for Jacob Tonson, 1696). 568.
11. William Heath [1689], "The Adventure of Captain William Heath" Bengal: Past and Present 29.198, Ovington, A Voyage to Surart, 1696, 568; Anonymous, "History of the Mugs, 1777," SOAS Bulletin of Bunna Research 1.1 (Spring, 2003). 316.
12. Jahangir, Tuzuk-I-Jahagari' (or Memoirs of Jahangir), translated by Alexander Rogers & edited by Henry Beveridge (Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal, 1909). 1.236.
13. Nathan, Baharistan-l-Ghaybi, 1.419, 2.629, 2.632, 2.710,
14. G. T. Bayfield, "Historical Review of the Political Relations Between the British Government in India and the Empires of Ava," in R Boileau Pemberton (ed.) Report on the Eastern Frontier of British India (Gauhati: Government of Assam, 1966). xvi.
15. Ovington, A Voyage to Suratt, 582.
16. H. H. Risley, the Tribes and Castes of Bengal. Ethnographic Glossary, vol. II. (Calcutta: Bengal Secretariat Press, 1891). 28.
17. Francis Hamilton, "An Account of the Frontier Between Ava and the Part of Bengal Adjacent to the Kanlaphuli River (1 825)," SOAS Bulletin of Burma Research 1. 2 (Autmun 2003), 14.
18. Francis Buchanan, "A Comparative Vocabulary of Some of the Languages Spoken in the Burma Empire," SOAS Bulletin of Burma Research 1.1 (Spnng 2003). 43.
19. Sharif, "On Arakan and the Arakanese," 358.
20. Sharif, "On Arakan and the Arakanese," 358, 360.
21. Ibid, 360.
22. Sharif "On Arakan and the Arakanese," 358, citing Haq & Sahityavisarad, Arakan Rajasabhay Bamta Sahitya, 1.
23. Phayre, "Note on the Name Mag or Maga Applied to the Arakanese by the People of Bengal," 47-48; See also Tha Hla, "The Rakhaing," 2
24. Sharif, "On Arakan and the Arakanese," 359.

A Rohingya girl sits atop a fishing boat on the outskirts of an IDP camp in Sittwe, Arakan State, Burma, September 2015. © 2015 David Scott Mathieson/Human Rights Watch

By David Scott Mathieson
Human Rights Watch
April 26, 2016

Last week’s tragic boat accident off the coast of Burma’s Arakan State killed an estimated 20 Rohingya Muslims, including nine children, and left another 20 missing. The government-controlled newspaper, Global New Light of Myanmar, made a rare admission that the tragedy, in which a packed boat capsized in heavy seas, resulted from government travel restrictions that prevent Rohingya from traveling overland, forcing them to travel by boat even when conditions are dangerous.

The accident underscores the serious plight of Burma’s long-persecuted Rohingya minority. The boat was making a regular trip from an internally displaced persons’ (IDP) camp in Pauktaw to the markets near camps around the state capital, Sittwe.

Before leaving office, outgoing President Thein Sein lifted the state of emergency in Arakan State that had been imposed following the outbreak of communal violence between Buddhists and Muslims in 2012. Yet local authorities have maintained restrictions on the movement of Rohingya in IDP camps and in Maungdaw and Buthidaung townships that limit their access to health care and education, make it nearly impossible to work, and impinge on religious freedoms.

International attention has focused on Arakan State since an estimated 31,000 Rohingyafled the region by boat in the first half of 2015. But so far the feared resumption of the maritime exodus of Rohingya asylum seekers and migrant workers has not materialized, partly the result of limits on boat departures and harsh pushbacks from Malaysia and Thailand.

United Nations and European Union officials recently stated that the drop in maritime departures and a UN-backed government program to resettle 25,000 Rohingya in new homes heralds an improved situation. This is premature. Burmese government laws and policies that deny the country’s 1.2 million largely stateless Rohingya their rights and basic freedoms remain. The desperate humanitarian situation and the potential for anti-Rohingya violence needs to be urgently addressed. This is no time for complacency.

Despite statements from senior officials, such as the former chief minister of Arakan State, Gen. Maung Maung Ohn, that the 2012 violence should never be repeated, the Burmese government’s rejection of Rohingya claims to self-identification along with discriminatory citizenship and other laws fuels public animosity toward the group and encourages repressive local regulations.

The new government of Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy could markedly improve the everyday lives of the Rohingya by removing the restrictions that led to last week’s boat accident, and from there establish the Rohingya’s genuine inclusion in a more rights-respecting Burma.

Aman Ullah
RB Opinion
April 23, 2016

“In the fifteen century, Bengal helped Arakanese to resist the power of the king of Ava. From then on, the kings of Arakan used Islamic titles, although they and the majority of their subjects remained Buddhist. However, there are more people of Islamic faith to be found in Arakan than anywhere else in Burma.” Aung San Suu Kyi [Freedom from fear]

Our Honorable State Counsellor ,Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, in her New Year’s message, has made it crystal clear that the policies and principles of the new regime are to ensure national reconciliation, to achieve internal peace, to enforce the rule of law, to amend the constitution and to keep the democratic system dynamic and well-ingrained.

In the message, she emphasized that, “What matters most is national reconciliation. This is absolutely correct because a nation cannot develop without unity. If a nation has to progress and prosper, unity is of utmost importance. That’s why I’d like to make it clear that when we said we’re a regime oriented towards national reconciliation, I mean that I’m in favour of entire people regardless of voting for or against us.”

Yes, Madame Counsellor, you are not NLD counsellor only; you are counsellor of the entire nation that is for entire peoples of the country regardless of voting NLD or against NLD. Moreover, there are millions of people who lost their right to vote and right to be elected in the recent General Election although all of them are eligible to vote and to stand for. The government Thein Sein, deliberately barred them due to fear factor. They thought that these votes may be in favour of NLD. They did not want all the eggs in the single basket. 

Among them, there are hundreds thousands of voters from the Muslims of Arakan, who prefer to identify themselves as ‘Rohingya’. Most of them wanted to cast their vote in favour of NLD, but they did not able to do so. The unprecedented denial of their enfranchisement has eventually proved to be the last feather on the camel’s back.

The Rohingya Muslims of Arakan are the members of the ethnic, religious and lingual minority of Burma. They have a more than 1300 years old tradition, culture, history and civilization of their own expressed in their shrines, cemeteries, sanctuaries, social and cultural institutions found scattered even today in every nock and corner of the land. By preserving their own heritages from the impact of Buddhist environments, they formed their own society with a consolidated population in Arakan well before the Burmese invasions of Arakan in 1784.

According to the British government document on the cultures and inhabitants of Arakan by the Secret and Political Department, Fort William dated 26th April 1826, “The population of Arracan and its dependencies Ramree, Cheduba & Sandaway does not at present exceed 100,00 souls, may be classed as -- Mughs six tenths, - Mussalman three tenths, - Burmese one tenth, Total 100,000 Souls--.” As to Mr. Paton, Sub Commissioner of Arakan, who submitted this report from Akyab, “The extent of the Population has been tolerably well ascertained, proved a census taken by Mr. Robertson, and myself, and may be considered as approximating very nearly to the truth.”

That’s means that among the 100,000 souls; Mughs 60,000, Muslims 30,000 and Burmese 10,000. So in the date of conquest of Arakan by the British, there remained thirty-thousand Muslims and these thirty thousand Muslims were living there from before, now their descendants and successors have increased leaps and bounds.

According to the censuses of both 1921 and 1931, it has clearly mentioned that, ‘There was a Muslim community in Arakan, particularly in Akyab District, who prefers to call themselves Arakan-Mahomadens and were quite distinct from the Chittgonians and Bengali immigrants to Arakan.’ ‘According to Baxter report of 1940, paragraph 7, “This Arakanese Muslim community settled so long in Akyab District had for all intents and purposes to be regarded as an indigenous race.”

Indigenous peoples were the descendants of those peoples that inhabited a territory prior to colonization or formation of the present state. Hence, these Muslims of Arakan, who identify themselves as Rohingya, are for all intents and purposes to be regarded as an indigenous race and are also a racial group who had settled in Arakan/Union of Burma as their permanent home from a period anterior to 1823 A. D. (1185 B.E.). 

Being one of the indigenous races and bona fide citizens of Burma, the Rohingyas were enfranchised in all the national and local elections of Burma: - during the later colonial period (1935-1948), during the democratic period (1948-1962), during the BSPP regime (1962-1988), 1990 multi-party election held by SLORC and 2010 General Election held by SPDC. Their representatives were in the Legislative Assembly, in the Constituent Assembly and in the Parliament. As members of the new Parliament, their representatives took the oath of allegiance to the Union of Burma on the 4th January 1948. Their representatives were appointed as cabinet ministers and parliamentary secretaries. 

Legislative Assembly Election of 1936

The first and only election held under the Government of Burma Act 1935 that took place in November 1936. Before 1937, Burma was a province of British Indian Empire. In 1937 Burma was separated from India under the British Administration. A new constitution came into effect. Under its provisions the people of Burma were given a bigger role to play in the running of their country.

Under the 1935 Act there were 132 seats in the House of Representatives, 91 of the seats were general non-communal seats and the remaining 41 being reserved for communal and special interest groups of which 12 were reserved for Karen (of Ministerial Burma), 8 for Indians, 2 for Anglo-Burmans, and 3 for Europeans. But, according to Martin Smith, ‘there was no separate representation for the Mons of Lower Burma; the question of seats of the Southern Chin, the Arakanese Muslims including Kamans and Myedus, the Zerbadis from the mixed Burma Muslims union. The single exception has been North Arakan, where Muslims from distinct majority constituency in several districts along the Bangladesh border.’ {Martin Smith, Burma: Insurgency and the Politics of Ethnicity 1999} Thus, the Rohingya Muslims of Akyab district North constituency, a non-communal rural constituency, were recognize as children of the soil and in the first time taken as eligible to vote or to stand for election on the ground of their being one of the indigenous communities of Burma. Mr. Ghani Markin returned on the votes of those Rohingyas as a Member of Legislative Assembly.

Constituent Assembly election of 1947

The second election was held under the Aung San-Atlee Agreement that was signed on 27 January 1947. According to that agreement, which said, ‘in order to decide on the future of Burma a Constituent Assembly shall be elected within four months instead of Legislature under the Act of 1935. For this purpose the electoral machinery of 1935 Act will be used. Election will take place in April 1947 for the general non-communal, the Karen and the Anglo-Burman constituencies as constituted under the Act of 1935, and each constituency two member shall be returned. Any Burma nationals defined in the ‘Annex A’ of the Agreement registered in a general constituency other than one of those mentioned above shall be placed on the register of a general non-communal constituency.’

According to ‘Annex A’ of the Agreement, ‘A Burma National is defined for the purpose of eligibility to vote and to stand as a candidate at the forth coming election as British subject or the subject of an Indian State who was born in Burma and reside there for a total period not less than eight years in the ten years immediately preceding either 1st January, 1942 or 1st January 1947’.

Immediately before the last election, the Muslims of Akyab district North constituency were recognized as children of the soil and first taken as eligible to vote or to stand for election on the ground of their being one of the indigenous races of Burma, but when the Aung San - Atlee Agreement was out, the government misunderstood the position and it was notified that unless they declared themselves as Burma nationals, they would not be eligible to vote or to stand for election to the constituent Assembly.

The Muslims of that constituencies made strong protest against this decision on the ground of their being one of the indigenous races of Burma. The government withheld the first decision and allowed the Muslims to vote or stand for elections held in March 1947. Mr. Sultan Ahmed and Mr. Abdul Gaffar returned on the votes of this Muslims as members of the constituent Assembly. They continued in their office, representing the Akyab district North constituency till Burmese independence and took the oath of allegiance to the Union of Burma on the 4th January 1948 as members of the new parliament of the Union of Burma.

Parliamentary Elections during 1948-1962

Since the holding of the constituent Assembly till 1962 military took over, three general elections were held for both Chambers of the Parliament in 1952, 1956 and 1960 respectively. The Rohingyas had enjoyed the right to vote and the right to be elected in all the elections. In 1952, Mr. Sultan Ahmed, Daw Aye Nyunt (a) Zohora Begam, Mr. Abul Bashar and U Poe Khine (a) Nasir Uddin were elected as members of the Chamber of Deputies and Mr. Abdul Gaffer was elected as a member of the Chamber of Nationalities. In 1956, Mr. Sultan Ahmed, Mr. Abul Khair, Mr. Abul Bahsar and Mr. Ezahar Mian were elected as the members of the Chamber of Deputies and Mr. Abdul Gaffer remained as a member of the Chamber of Nationalities. A by-election was held for the Buthidaung North Constituency in 1957 as the election of Mr. Ezahar Main was challenged and the verdict was given against him. Mr. Sultan Mahmood was elected and he was inducted in the cabinet of U Nu as a Minister of Health. In 1960, Mr. Rashid Ahmed, Mr. Abul Khair, Mr. Abul Bahsar and Mr. Sultan Mahmood were elected as members of the Chamber of Deputies while Mr. Abdus Suban was elected as a member of the Chamber of Nationalities.

General Election during 1962- 1988 in BSPP Regime 

During the Burma Socialist Programme Party (BSPP) regime, four general elections for the People’s assembly and People’s Council at different levels were held in 1974, 1978, 1982 and 1986 respectively. These elections had been held on the basis of the 1974 Constitution.

Under the 1974 Constitution and 1973 Election Law, ‘citizens born of parents both of whom are Union nationals and citizens born of parents both of whom are Union citizens, have the right to be elected people’s representatives to the People’s Assembly or People’s Council at different levels. Persons who are not citizens of the Union of Burma have no right to vote.’

According to the 1974 Constitution, ‘citizens are those who are born of the parents whom are nationals of the Socialist Republic of Union of the Burma and who are vested with citizenship according to existing laws on the date of this constitution comes into force.’ 

Former Minister for Mines Dr. Nyi Nyi and Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs Minister U Win Ko had to resign from the position of the members of cabinet and People’s Assembly, as they could not fulfill the requirement of the said law.

The Rohingyas had enjoyed the right to vote and the right to be elected as people’s representatives to the Organ of State power at different levels. No Rohingya who had either been elected or who had applied for the nomination had neither been challenged nor barred from participation or asked to resign after being elected.

Multi-Party Election of 1990

SLORC held multi-party general election in May 1990. The Rohingya were not only allowed to vote but also, in their exercise of franchise, elected four Rohingya members of Parliament. U Chit Lwin (a) Ebrahim, Mr. Fazal Ahmed, U Kyaw Min (a) Shomshul Anwarul Haque, and U Tin Maung (a) Nur Ahmed have been elected as members of the Parliament.

Under the1989 election law ‘all citizens, associate citizens and naturalized citizens are permitted to vote, but only the citizens are allowed to stand for election. No foreign residents were allowed to vote.’ Thus, allowing taking part in the national elections must be upheld as a measure of recognition for the Rohingyas as full citizens.

In fact the Rohingyas were not only permitted to vote but also to form their own political parties during the May 1990 election. Two parties were formed the Students and Youth League for Mayu Development and the National Democratic and Human Rights (NDPHR). The NDPHR won all four seats in Maung Daw and Buthidaung constituencies, and in each constituency votes for the two parties counted for 80 per cent of the total votes cast. Moreover, the turnout in both constituencies equaled the national average, at 70 per cent of eligible voters. The NDPHR also fielded candidates in four other constituencies; Kyuk Taw-1, Minbya-1, Mrauk U -2 and Sittwe -2, and they gained an average of 17 per cent of the votes while the Government- backed National Unity Party got only 13 per cent. 

Although the name of Rohingya was not permitted to use in the party title, the NDPHR was allowed to produce a booklet in Burmese called ‘Arakan and the Rohingya people: a short History’ on August 31, 1991. 

General Election held by SPDC in 2010

A general election was held in Burma (Myanmar) on 7 November 2010, in accordance with the new constitution. This constitution was approved in a referendum held in May 2008, which was held in the midst of Cyclone Nargis.

Since 2008, Brig-Gen Phone Swe, Deputy Minister of Home Affairs, was assigned for the assessment of North Arakan situation and to organize the peoples residing there for the constitutional referendum. Brig-Gen Phone Swe managed over whelming support from Rohingyas 2008 constitutional referendum to the satisfaction of the junta. They want the same support and cooperation from Rohingyas at the coming 2010 election with joining Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA) a political affiliate of SPDC.

A total of 37 political parties contested in this election, which included two Rohingya political parties also contested - - National Democratic Party for Development (NDPD) and National Democratic and Peace Party (NDPP). Some independent Rohingya candidates also contested in the election.

Out 33 Rohingya contested in the polls, 21 contested with NDPD ticket, 6 with USDP ticket, 3 with NDPP ticket and 3 independent candidates. U Htay Win (a) Zahidur Rahman with USDP ticket was elected for the Nationalities Parliament. U Aung Zaw Win (a) Zakir Ahmed and U Shwe Maung (a) Abdul Razak both with USDP tickets were elected for the People’s Parliament. U Aung Myo Myint (a) Jahan Gir with USDP ticket, U Aung Myint (a) Zahiddullah and U Bashir Ahmed both with NDPD tickets were elected for the State Parliament. The Rohingyas of North Arakan were overwhelmingly gone to vote with average turnover of more than 90%.

The citizenship issue was a settled issue and the Muslims of Arakan who identify themselves Rohingya are citizens by birth. As they, their parents and their grandparents were born and bred in Burma and most of them were indigenous, under the sub clauses (i), (ii) and (iii) of Article 11, of 1947 Constitution of Union of Burma. These are fundamental rights of a citizen and the 1947 constitution provided safeguard for fundamental rights. Under this constitution, the people of Burma irrespective of ‘birth, religion, sex or race’ equally enjoyed all the citizenships rights including right to express, right to assemble, right to associations and unions, settle in any part of the Union, to acquire property and to follow any occupation, trade, business or profession.

In spite of the Rohingyas, being one of indigenous races of Burma, had enfranchised in all the national elections of Burma from later colonial period to present Then Sein regime, today they were barred from the recent election deliberately being branded as aliens. 

As you promise in your message that, “there shall not be whatsoever discrimination. A democratically elected government is responsible for all citizens, being fair and square to everybody, harbouring loving kindness and compassion towards all,” we do hope and pray Madame Counsellor, your loving kindness and compassion may be prevailed on these unfortunate Muslims community of Arakan.

James Freeman Clarke rightly says that, “A politician thinks of the next election. A statesman, of the next generation" 

We believe that you are not merely a political leader who is only engaged in politics, especially an elected or appointed government official; you are a statesman who put the needs of the country before the personal or party needs and acts for the better interests of the country.

We strongly believe your statesmanship in managing all issues during a critical stage of the country.

Rohingya Exodus