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Arakan Rohingya Union warmly welcomes the Report of the United Nations Special Rapporteur, Yanghee Lee, on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, including that in Arakan/Rakhine state. 

The report summarizes: The important transition and far-reaching reforms in Myanmar must be commended. Yet, possible signs of backtracking should be addressed so as not to undermine the progress achieved. The present report sets out the Special Rapporteur’s preliminary key areas of focus and recommendations aimed at contributing to Myanmar’s efforts towards respecting, protecting and promoting human rights and achieving democratization, national reconciliation and development.

Arakan Rohingya Union urgently appeals the Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and the members of the global community of nations to demand the Government of Myanmar to abide by the international rule of law, permanently cease the hostility toward Rohingya ethnic minority, and immediately address the following recommendations made by the Special Rapporteur to Myanmar in the report (UNGA A/69/398; Section VI. 82):

(a) Immediately address the critical health situation in camps for internally displaced person and isolated locations, in particular for those comparatively underserved, namely, the Rohingya, including by increasing the authorities’ capacity to provide adequate health services;

(b) Provide adequate basic services, including in camps for internally displaced persons, and remove any restrictions against the Rohingya on freedom of movement and other rights so as to ensure access to livelihoods, food, water and sanitation, and education;

(c) Investigate and prosecute those responsible for human rights violations perpetrated against the Rohingya community;

(d) Respect the Rohingyas’ as well as other minorities’ right to self-identification in compliance with international human rights standards, including by refraining from directing international actors to adopt positions that run counter to such standards;

(e) Immediately release the international NGO staff members imprisoned in connection with the violence of June 2012;

(f) Address the long-standing social and economic development challenges in Rakhine State through a human-rights-based approach, ensuring the participation of affected communities, including through greater cooperation with the international community;

(g) Develop reconciliation measures as a necessary step to rebuild integrated communities for inclusion in the Rakhine State Action Plan.

By International Crisis Group
October 22, 2014

The highly volatile situation in Myanmar’s Rakhine State adds dangerously to the country’s political and religious tensions. Long-term, incremental solutions are critical for the future of Rakhine State and the country as a whole.

The International Crisis Group’s latest report, Myanmar: The Politics of Rakhine State, looks at how the legacy of colonial history, decades of authoritarian rule and state-society conflict have laid the foundation for today’s complex mix of intercommunal and inter-religious tensions. Rakhine State, whose majority ethnic Rakhine population perceive themselves to be – with some justification – victims of discrimination by the political centre, has experienced a violent surge of Buddhist nationalism against minority Muslim communities, themselves also victims of discrimination. The government has taken steps to respond: by restoring security, starting a pilot citizenship verification process and developing a comprehensive action plan. However, parts of this plan are highly problematic, and risk deepening segregation and fuelling tensions further, particularly in the lead-up to the 2015 elections.

The report’s major findings and recommendations are:
  • Rakhine Buddhists have tended to be cast as violent extremists, which ignores the diversity of opinions that exists and the fact that they themselves are a long-oppressed minority. They are concerned that their culture is under threat and that they could soon become a minority in their state. These fears, whether well-founded or not, need to be acknowledged if solutions are to be developed. The desperate situation of Muslim communities including the Rohingya, who have been progressively marginalised, must also be frankly recognised and resolutely addressed.
  • The government faces a difficult challenge: the demands and expectations of Rakhine and Rohingya communities will be very difficult to reconcile. Ways must be found to allay Rakhine fears, while ensuring the fundamental rights of Muslim communities are respected. To end the climate of impunity, the government must bring to justice those who organised and participated in violence.
  • Clarifying the legal status of those without citizenship is important. But many Muslims will likely refuse to identify as “Bengali”, fearing this is a precursor to denial of citizenship. A negotiated solution should be pursued, or the citizenship process may stall. Coercion is likely to spark violence.
  • The international community – especially UN agencies on the ground – have a critical role in supporting the humanitarian and protection needs of vulnerable communities, which are likely to persist for years. The government itself must do more in this regard.
  • Unless Myanmar is successful in creating a new sense of national identity that embraces the country’s cultural, ethnic and religious diversity, peace and stability will remain elusive nationwide.

“Any policy approach to the problem must start from the recognition that there will be no easy fixes and that reconciliation will take a long time” says says Jonathan Prentice, Chief Policy Officer and Acting Asia Program Director. “Halting extremist violence requires starting a credible process now that can demonstrate to the Rakhine and Muslim communities that political avenues exist in which their legitimate aspirations might be realised”.

Tin Aye, chairman of the Union Election Commission, is seen giving a speech in this file photo. (Photo: The Irrawaddy)

October 21, 2014

RANGOON — Burma’s first democratic elections in 25 years are scheduled to be held in the last week of October or in the first week of November, the Union Election Commission has announced.

Commission Chairman Tin Aye told the media about the dates for the general election at a press conference on Monday.

In recent weeks, there had been some concern about a delay of the general elections, after President Thein Sein appeared to suggest that elections and a democratic transition could only be implemented successfully if the government reaches a nationwide ceasefire accord with ethnic rebel groups, something that has proved elusive so far.

Tin Aye told journalists that the commission has no intention of postponing the elections, as the Constitution requires a new government to start five years after the current government took office in January 2011.

“To do so, we have to hold a general election. According to the Constitution, we have to start Parliament within 90 days after the elections. To make this happen, we have to hold the elections either in the last week of October or in early November,” he said. “So we can’t postpone it.”

The commission chairman did not provide an exact date for the elections. “After we hold free and fair elections, I will resign,” added Tin Aye, a former top general in the previous military regime and former member of the central committee of the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP).

He made the remarks during a workshop on cooperation and coordination between the commission and civil society organizations during the elections.

His comments on the scheduled election dates were also carried by state media on Tuesday, which reported that Tin Aye had called on the NGOs to be free from political bias when they observe the elections.

The Burma Army gave up direct rule over the country in 2011, installing the nominally civilian government of President Thein Sein. Elections were announced for 2015 and are supposed to be a free and fair poll in the presence of local and international election observers.

The last time Burma had democratic elections was in 1990 when Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy won a landslide victory, a result that was ignored by the army, which continued to hold on to power for decades.

By John Sifton
October 21, 2014

A lot has changed here in Burma in the last three years. Large-scale political prisoner releases have occurred. There has been a lessening of censorship and surveillance. The government has permitted some movement toward democratic reforms—although much of that progress now appears to have stalled

Not all changes, however, have been positive. In the midst of Burma’s recent transformations, caustic and divisive anti-Muslim voices have been on the rise. In May and October 2012 in Burma’s western Arakan State, ethnic Arakanese Buddhists with the backing of local authorities carried out extensive attacks on vulnerable minority Rohingya Muslims and other Muslim populations in a campaign of “ethnic cleansing” that amounted to crimes against humanity. Hundreds of people were killed and ultimately more than 100,000 were displaced. The effects of that violence are still felt now. Today most Rohingya in Arakan State live in segregated neighborhoods and camps, unable to travel freely and left with inadequate food, water, sanitation, or access to livelihoods. Unsurprisingly, more than 100,000 Rohingya have fled Burma by boat to Malaysia or Bangladesh. Hundreds are believed to have died in perilous journeys in leaky open boats. 

Muslims in other parts of Burma also face persecution. Not all Muslims in Burma live in Arakan State, and most are not Rohingya. Rangoon and Mandalay, Burma’s two largest cities, have dozens of Shia and Sunni mosques, as throughout Burma, Hindu mosques, Protestant churches, and Catholic cathedrals sit side by side with Buddhist temples. This is why this new rise of Buddhist extremism is so worrying. 

Sadly, the government has done little to hold those responsible for the 2012 anti-Muslim violence. More recently, the government inflamed the situation by drafting an “Action Plan” that appears to formalize segregation through restrictive provisions imposed on Rohingya and denies most of them access to citizenship. Those who refuse to declare themselves as “Bengali” – or Bangladeshi national – in a citizenship assessment process, or fall short of the plan’s impossibly high standards for proving citizenship, face indefinite detention in closed camps. 

Meanwhile, at the national level, the government has encouraged the National Assembly to pass overbroad and discriminatory laws on interfaith marriage and religious conversion

In November, the government of Burma will host a large set of international leaders at the East Asia Summit and associated ASEAN summit, including US President Barack Obama, Indonesian President Joko Widodo, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. It is important that these world leaders press the Burmese President Thein Sein to address the anti-Muslim crisis in his country. President Jokowi is especially well-placed to do so because he has pledged to use his new presidency to lessen religious tensions in Indonesia. President Obama should use his influence on these issues as well. 

The Burmese government needs to commit to acting against groups such as Ma BaTha or the notorious 969 that have engaged in hate speech inciting violence, discrimination or other crimes. World leaders should make it crystal clear to President Thein Sein that any further signs of connivance between extremist groups and government officials will harm Burma’s efforts to garner more international support. That’s a message the government of Burma needs to hear loud and clear.

By Richard Potter
October 20, 2014

In a move to sway the public into believing it has taken pragmatic steps to resolve one of the greatest human rights catastrophes in the country, Myanmar has confirmed before the UN General Assembly. ”An action plan is being finalized and will soon be launched,” Foreign Minister Wunna Maung Lwin said in his address. “We are working for peace, stability, harmony and development of all people in Rakhine state,” he said. He spoke as an orator for reconciliation, but beneath the gentle slew of niceties and words reminiscent of progress is a call for a process of ethnic reclassification, resettlement, and indefinite detention of the country’s Muslim Rohingya minority, many of whom are already trapped in squalid camps throughout the country’s western Rakhine State. What is most alarming is the lack of response, outrage, and even possible silent approval by the international community.

The plan, which was first exposed to the international community by Reuters, proposes that in a measure to provide citizenship to the nearly one million Rohingyas living in Myanmar they must first renounce their ethnicity as Rohingya, and claim one instead as Bengali. To many observers this may seem as a simple matter of semantics but the implications are far deeper rooted. The Myanmar government has long considered and pushed a narrative that Rohingya are immigrants who entered the country illegally from neighboring Bengladesh, and in 1982 officially stripped the Rohingya of their citizenship and nearly all other rights. Forcing Rohingya to self describe themselves as Bengali is in actuality forcing them not only to deny their culture, history, ancestry, and identity, but also forcing them to take on a label of immigrants within their own homeland.

On top of denying their own ethnicity the plan then requires those who register as Bengali to then produce documentation that they fit the requirements of the 1982 Citizenship Law, which requires Burmese citizens to trace their ancestry back to 1823, the year before the British colonized the country. The problems here are numerous, but most outstanding remains that for hundreds of thousands of Rohingyas that if they ever possessed such documents they would have likely been lost, along with all of their other belongings during the riots of 2012 where violence that targeted Rohingya all across the state displaced countless Rohingya who fled for their lives and also had their homes and belongings burnt to the ground.

A third measure in Myanmar’s proposal states that Rohingya who do not register as Bengali, and for those who do but fail to meet the requirements for citizenship, will be placed in temporary camps until they can be relocated. In this instance relocated means deported to an undetermined location. Not only is this plan inhumane, it’s also wholly unrealistic where no country or international body will willingly agree to accept such a mass influx of refugees who were deported as part of an campaign of what is no less than ethnic cleansing. The real problem this creates is that the only outcome that can occur in this situation is an expansive encampment campaign, which will no doubt resemble the squalid camps already existing which are housing nearly 150,000 Rohingya who were displaced in 2012, further ensnaring the entire ethnic group to a life of open air prisons with little or no access to basic necessities or medical treatment, denial of basic human rights, and no sign of hope on the horizon.

For those few Rohingya who do register as Bengali and pass the citizenship verification process they will still find themselves segregated in Burmese society. A notably lacking element for reconciliation the plan is that it would take no measure to prevent the isolation of Rohingya within Rakhine State, and therein restrict their movement, communications, ability to engage in commerce, and seek medical attention. For those lucky few who can manage despite the system being leveled against them to obtain citizenship, it appears what they will actually receive will only be a hollow facade of it where there rights and safety lack guarantees. Phil Robertson, the Deputy Asia Director of Human Rights Watch, was quoted in a recent article on their website stating “The few that are found to be citizens in the assessment process will presumably have the rights to move and live where they wish – but as many commentators have noted, even if a Rohingya is able to achieve citizenship, that will not protect him if he strays into a Rakhine Buddhist area.” With memories of violence that targeted and displaced so many Rohingyas only two years ago this seems of utmost importance to address, yet it remains an elusive point of discussion.

The dangers of this plan are very plain for the world to see, and the moral obligation for the international community to stand against it is as clear as any case could be, but what is so especially alarming about this plan is that it seems as though the international community may sit back and let it happen without objection. The plan itself actually calls on the UNHRC to help resettle Rohingya from these proposed camps into undetermined countries. What is assumed is that the UNHCR will not accept to directly cooperate with relocation under these circumstances, but what is not clear is why when this plan has become open knowledge there has been little or no outcry from the international community against what many have suggested is an open campaign of forced displacement and ethnic cleansing.

If the international community does not condemn this plan and threaten actions against it as it now stands they will have allowed for a campaign that will almost undoubtedly result in the mass displacement to squalid locked down camps for countless lives and an inevitable aid and health crisis that will follow as it has already for the more than 100,000 Rohingya already living in these conditions. It is the international community alone that has the ability to pressure the Myanmar government to begin reversing the policies that for decades have been plaguing the Rohingya. For them not only allow them to continue, but also to worsen, is a mark on all our nations’ integrity, morality and credibility; It draws into question our sincerity and abilities as humanitarians wherever we may find ourselves in the world. What the international community fails to do for the Rohingya, so too will they have failed to do for the whole of humanity.

Richard Potter 

Richard Potter is a Social Worker and writer from Pittsburgh, PA. His work has been featured in Vice, Mondoweis, Your Middle East, and Rohingya Blogger.

By Neville Spykerman
October 20, 2014

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia should use its regional and international influence to promote positive changes in Myanmar to stem the tide of people fleeing that country, a Bar Council official said.

Datuk M. Ramachelvam (pic), who co-chairs the council’s migrants, refugees and immigration affairs committee, said Malaysia could take the lead in this matter since it now sits in the UN Security Council and is due to take over the Asean chair next year.

“Malaysia is in a perfect position to push for a regional solution to the problem of refugees and asylum seekers,” he said during the launch here on Friday of reports on the stateless Rohingya community in Malaysia and Thailand.

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

The reports, the result of more than three years of in-depth research, analysis and field work by a multi-disciplinary international team, include direct testimony by the Rohingya people and interviews with key government officials dealing with the issues.

They range from Rohingya children being unable to access education because their births were not registered by the authorities to Rohingya women and children being detained and starved and men tortured and beaten while being trafficked.

Ramachelvam quoted a UN report that described the Rohingyas as the most persecuted ethnic community in the world.

He said it was in Malaysia’s interest for conditions in Myanmar to improve for their minorities, so that those who fled could return.

Ramachelvam said Malaysia hosted nearly 138,800 refugees of various ethnicities from Myanmar, including about 39,700 Rohingyas.

“The governments of Asean must hold the authorities in Myanmar accountable for the oppression, inhuman treatment and the denial of rights of the Rohingya,” Rama­chelvam said.

Equal Rights Trust executive director Dr Dimitrina Petrova said both Malaysia and Thailand should take leadership roles to ensure the human rights protection of the Rohingyas was prioritised and addressed.

She added that tackling the issue needed the combined efforts of the international community.

“The problem won’t go away. It is time for the governments to convene and start talking,” Dr Petrova said.

Present at the launch of the reports at the Raja Aziz Addruse Auditorium in the Straits Trading Building were Dr Sripapha Petcharmesree, from the IHRP, and Tan Sri Muhammad Shafee Abdullah, Malaysia’s representative to the Asean Inter-governmental Commission on Human Rights.

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

By Nirmal Ghosh
The Straits Times
October 19, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Rashvinjeet S. Bedi
October 19, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Yiswaree Palansamy
October 17, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A similar report was also compiled on Thailand.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Steve Herman
Voice of America
October 17, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Petrova called the plan totally unacceptable. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Zarni Mann
October 16, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Suspected Bangladesh kidnap victims in southern Thailand. Photo: Phuketwan

By Lindsay Murdoch
October 16, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Police are searching for several others.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Australian-born baby Ferouz and his mother Latifar.

October 16, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ruling affects the fate of 100 other babies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

October 15, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rohingya living in a displacement camp outside Sittwe, Myanmar.

By Sarnata Reynolds
October 15, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Photo: AAP)

October 14, 2014

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

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

She initially arrived in Australia from Myanmar by sea.

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

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

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

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

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

(Photo: REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun)

By Emanuel Stoakes
October 14, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rohingya Exodus