|Refugee camps at Balapur & Shaheen Nagar. Photos: N Shiva Kumar Meru|
By T P Venu
The Hans India
May 26, 2016
The Hans India
May 26, 2016
Hyderabad: Dil Mohammed, 71, is not sure if he wants to go back to Myanmar and neither does he want to live in a state of penury. He just wants to have good food and a clean bed to sleep. Emerging out of his plastic tent near Fatima Masjid at Balapur, Dil just wants a refugee status and a settlement.
With certain death staring at them and hardly any chance of survival, 1,25,000 Rohingya Muslims had to flee from Myanmar during the 2012 Rakhine state riots. Nearly 3,000 of them have been living under plastic tents in Hyderabad
The plight of Rohingya Muslims, nearly 3,000 of them, who started making Hyderabad their temporary home since 2009 is no bed of roses. In each camp as they would like to call their colony, there are close to 60 families living in small plastic tents which are held together with bamboo.
With no proper drinking water facilities and lack of sanitation, these migrants are prone to diseases. Though Confederation of Voluntary Organisations (COVA) is helping asylum-seekers and refugees, almost 98 per cent of Rohingya Muslims who are illiterate are finding it difficult to get jobs.
With language being a problem, most of the men work as daily-wage labourers at construction sites and in small-time hotels. Rohingya Muslims are spread out in Balapur, Royal Colony, Fatima Masjid, Hafiz Baba Nagar, Hamza Colony, Shaheen Nagar, Jalpally, Shastripuram and Kishanbagh.
Md Younus, the only one who speaks English, teaches children on and off. “We want to live with dignity and want the Myanmar Government to give us citizenship or any other country. We have an identity and we no longer want to live like this,” he said.
“Aung San Suu Kyi herself spent 15 years under house arrest but now she isn’t willing to give us freedom and our rightful place,” he added. In a recent interview to the US Ambassador Scot Marciel, Suu Kyi suggested to him to not use the term Rohingya.
Rohingya Muslims are treated as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and for this reason, Myanmar denies them citizenship. According to United Nations, 1,20,000 of them have been forced to flee Myanmar in the last few years.
Mohammed-ul-Haq, spokesperson for the Rohingya Muslims in Hyderabad, said, “We have been living in Myanmar for Rakhine State in Myanmar for over a hundred and fifty years. Today, the government does not recognise us. We want to live as citizens and not refugees. There are a number of us who still have not got the refugee status.”
From a mere 30 people who landed in 2009, the number has swelled to 3,000. People who are eligible have to go through a four step process before a card is issued. The lack of English and local language skills and illiteracy is making it difficult for the Rohingya Muslims to make two-ends meet and as a result are also falling prey to anti-social elements.
Most of them had to take special permission even to visit Yangon and none of the refugees ever seen the place. With the government in Myanmar not too keen to receive them, they have been living in penury not only in Hyderabad but in several other states in India. The UNHCR regards that the Rohingya are among the most persecuted minorities in the world but no one seems to embrace the ‘nowhere people’ as of now.
May 25, 2016
Throughout Myanmar political history, in the election periods in northern Arakan/Rakhine state, Rohingyas delegates have conquered their electoral victories in the respective elections where there are Rohingyas majority.
Right now, the upper and lower house Rakhine Buddhist parliament representatives--from north Rakhine state townships such as Maungdaw, Buthidaung, Rathedaung and Sittwe-- were selected by the past election commission to be electing them without Rohingyas competitors among where there are Rohingyas Muslim majority, after conniving Rohingyas voters and competitors as disqualifiers for the election by the election commission.
Almost all Rohingyas people believe the current dacoit-like Rakhine representatives from these townships are being considered as illegal delegates to discuss the affairs due to Rohingyas’ in parliament, to bring proposal to the parliament and seeking parliaments’ approval about Rohingyas people’ citizenship affairs and beyond. The reason is Rakhine current self-centered and resentful delegates were never chosen by the Rohingyas community in north Rakhine state in the past November 2015 election.
If the election commission was fare and square, either Rohingyas or NLD representatives would have won in the Rohingyas people’ constituencies because Rohingyas people love National League for Democracy Party and that of the leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi instead of emerging rancorous Rakhine racial thugs as delegates, in parliaments, who all the times wanted to be quarrelling with honest and progressive NLD delegates in the parliament sessions and distracting the jobs of parliaments at this time of nascent democratic periods as block stone along the road.
In the past parliament sessions and at this very beginning of NLD led parliament sessions, the Rakhine fanatic and racial leaders in parliament are odd and ridiculous against others and they think they are superior by birth and the rest are inferior. Very awfully, it is found that there are some roller blind leaders from different constituencies in line grimy thoughts of the Rakhine leaders to blindly support the 1982 citizenship law which is unacceptable by both Rohingyas and international community because the law was compiled by dictator Ne Win whom no one wants in this time whilst he was regarded in the history as ‘the sole destroyer of the lifeline of fifty million people’ overall social devastation for sixty-three years’.
Considerably, if there are still some people to yearn and crave backward the system of Ne Win’s 1982-citizenship law -- then why are his economic structure; socialist ruling scheme to get ordinary people into poverty and some other authoritative programs that pushed the country into abysmal and have destroyed the social life of the entire Burmese not likened by those Rakhine nationalistic leaders?
Would Rakhine leaders and that of the Rakhine populace agree to go backward to Ne Win’s socialist Program? No one in the world would agree to accept any old system that does not fit today’s 21st century. If not, why then do you (Rakhine Buddhists) like to stick just the 1982 citizenship law which would only misplace the rights of Rohingyas not Rakhine Buddhist? Do Rakhine politicians’ politic only about to defeat and crush Rohingyas people’ rights? Rakhine Buddhists’ criminal policies have been very clear that the law is to make Rohingyas citizens as immigrants or interlopers in their ancestral land by the power of majority Buddhists in Myanmar. What a crooked and hooked notorious Rakhine Buddhist parliamentarians in the house of parliament today! The Majority should not bully the minority people as per the saying of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the state counselor. Simply, Rohingyas are not that much naive in these days.
If Rakhine political forces selectively worship only the 1982 citizenship law, which was in favor of Rakhine Racist mentor Dr. Aye Kyaw (passed away) and some other Rakhine colleagues to disenfranchise the rights of Rohingyas and penalize under the reason of national sovereignty, integrity, ethnicity, different physical appearance, religious differences, state safety and security, and now democratic flourish. Then not only Rohingyas who are prime targets by the law but no one in the world being as global community will accept this law because it is totally unacceptable, excessive, outrageous and forceful against the weak Rohingyas large minority community in Arakan/Rakhine state and Rohingyas tiny groups in other locations along the nation.
Date on 20th May 2016, the motion concerning the issue of citizenship scrutiny was put on record at the Pyithu Hluttaw after the voting turned to be 154 votes and 228 against, with 7 abstentions. That means yet there are 154 yes votes to advocate the 1982 citizenship law which has been dead law in the world. This is not house of parliament to carry on the task of the state by the optimistic way with the unanimous support for the goodness of the country. Right now, our country’s parliament needs a unanimous support to pass a good law or resolution after thoroughly examining all the facts and points from various angles rather than inconsiderably diving into factional gangs in the parliament houses.
To clarify details about the yes voters to 1982 citizenship law, these delegates might have been the entire unelected military representatives, all Rakhine Buddhist sectarian delegates and the rest are fellow Buddhists from NLD and some narrow-minded figures who do not want the development of our country. Recently the United States of American has extended the economic sanction against Myanmar for a year again, reasoning that yet there are still lack of human rights restoration and guarantees for minority Rohingyas, Kachine and others. Myanmarese politicians should have known not only the remedy of domestic pains, but also international political arenas whether their (international community) action over Myanmar is right or wrong after thoroughly thinking all relevant subjects rather than executing blindly as lame parliamentarians in the parliament houses.
These 154 voters in support of 1982 citizenship law are neither they are qualified to be the parliamentarians to discuss the affairs of the state as because their mentality show that they aren’t educated to be the carriers of such kind of state intellectual burdensome nor they are entitled to receive the parliamentarians salaries for doing fruitless business by idly siding with pessimistic guises in the seats and all against the good jobs of the parliament in this era. To have the first-rate discussions of the parliament in future, the naïve are to be handed out the necessary guidance of rules and regulations, which is concerned with domestic and international standard. If they do not gradually become as qualifiers in some days, then they should be warned that they could possibly be expelled from the parliament sessions. Unless they are threatened, they will not study more and will not become perfect to see the reality in future discussions.
I would very much like to urge the delegates -- such as U Aung Kyaw Zan of Pauktaw constituency, U Thein Tan of HleGu constituency, and U Pe Than of Myaybon constituency who discussed and articulated the short history of 1982 citizenship law why should this law be applied on ROHINGYAS—to examine again whether or not you all the persons’ discussion and recommendation to the parliament are in line principal of international law and as per the demand of the global community. Have you ever thought about that before shooting your presentation?
The Chair of Upper House one U Win Myint has earlier declared that he would perform and discharge all the relevant affairs of the state of Myanmar all the best in accord with the international norms which respect and recommend the Universal Human Rights declaration in which Burma has been a signatory nation of the Charter.
Rakhine Buddhist politicians and that of their fellow followers are nothing-good doing for the sake of the country but what their political demand not only in Rakhine state and the NAYPYIDAW are horribly leading to disunity, division among the people and disintegration of the nation into pieces.
|Immigration officers check documents in Aung Minglar on May 22. AFP|
May 24, 2016
May 24, 2016
Contrary to rumours reportedly sweeping Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine State, the number of Muslims living in Aung Mingalar quarter is actually falling, immigration officials say. A headcount, undertaken this past weekend in response to heightened tensions surrounding the enclave, has found barely 4000 residents, down from 4304 a few months ago and more than 4500 counted after violence erupted throughout the state in 2012.
The enclave was held by security forces during the 2012 riots, and has been under armed guard since. Until recently, security around the perimeters had been relaxed somewhat, although the ghetto’s food supply still comes largely from the IDP camp market. Sources told The Myanmar Times yesterday that since the headcount, no one has been allowed in or out of the quarter.
Last week, a government official said some Rakhine residents had written to Rakhine State Chief Minister U Nyi Pu asking for the population of Aung Mingalar to be counted because they feared that many more people had entered the quarter and were staying there illegally.
The official, who asked not to be named, said the complainants included local monks and elders from various civil society organisations.
“The claims by Rakhine ultra-nationalists of a growth rate surge in this isolated enclave is ludicrous, and could be a trigger for an expulsion,” said David Mathieson, Myanmar researcher for Human Rights Watch.
“This is an important first test of the government to stare down extremists and ensure security for all residents of Sittwe, especially extremely vulnerable Rohingya Muslims.”
Some within the nationalist community have demanded copies of the headcount, and rumours circulated yesterday that ghetto residents had been secretly removed to skew the count. “These are preliminary results. The final figures will be issued by the state government,” said U Thar Tun Aung, a senior official of Sittwe immigration department. “We need to find out why the number has fallen, if people were fleeing, and where they went,” he said.
Police have also confirmed that there is no rise in the quarter’s population. Sittwe Special Branch officer Ko Phoe Lone said a few people were found to be staying in the homes of relatives who were not registered in Aung Mingalar and did not match the names in the household lists. “We found only two,” he said.
U Tun Aung Kyaw, secretary of the Arakan National Party, said the climate around the enclave remained highly sensitive. “We don’t want any conflict in Sittwe because of this quarter. It should be controlled in accordance with the law. The main thing is to ensure that security is adequate,” he said, adding that there had been no problems with Aung Mingalar since the 2012 outbreak of violence. However, he said, the quarter should be relocated if security could not be guaranteed.
|The 15 Rohingya migrants were recaptured after escaping from Phang Nga Immigration Centre before dawn yesterday (May 23). Photo: Eakkapop Thongtub|
By Panarat Thepgumpanat
May 24, 2016
May 24, 2016
Bangkok -- Thai police shot dead a Rohingya Muslim from Myanmar on Monday during a dramatic mass escape of detainees from an immigration camp in southern Thailand, police said.
Police Lieutenant Colonel Noppadon Rakchart said 21 Rohingya fled the Phangnga Immigration Detention Centre at about 1 a.m. after sawing through an iron bar in their communal cell.
One was shot dead and three arrested after throwing stones and punches at police and immigration officers who gave chase, said Noppadon. The other 17 escaped.
Tens of thousands of Rohingya "boat people" have fled poverty and persecution in western Myanmar since religious violence erupted there in 2012.
Many headed for Malaysia but often got waylaid at human trafficking camps in the jungles of southern Thailand or arrested by the authorities.
Most Rohingya are stateless and unrecognised by the two countries, Bangladesh and Myanmar, they call home.
This complicates repatriation, which can lead to lengthy spells in overcrowded Thai detention centres, which Rohingya often try to escape.
The latest attempt was triggered by "stress and homesickness," said Noppadon. "They have been inside for almost a year."
The Rohingya was killed because "he resisted arrest and attacked the police", Police Major General Worawit Parnprung, Phangnga police chief, told Reuters.
"The police had to defend themselves," he said.
The Phangnga detention centre had held 28 Rohingya, all of whom illegally entered Thailand by boat, he said.
The number of migrants leaving Myanmar and Bangladesh by boat in the past year plunged after both countries cracked down on human smugglers and traffickers.
Thai police launched a sweeping operation against gangs in May 2015 after the bodies of 30 suspected migrants were found in jungle graves near the Malaysian border.
Myanmar's Aung San Suu Kyi asked to be given "enough space" at the weekend to address the plight of the Rohingya population, as visiting U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry pressed the Nobel peace laureate to promote respect for human rights.
(Additional reporting by Pairat Temphairojana; Writing by Andrew R.C. Marshall)
|Is Burma under Aung San Suu Kyi moving towards democracy, or a form of "liberal authoritarianism"?|
By Johanna Son
May 24, 2016
May 24, 2016
A tenuous civilian-military dance. Simmering Burman Buddhist nationalism. An impatient populace that is struggling with rising prices and power cuts, amid record-high GDP growth. A popular but inexperienced political leadership inching toward what some call “liberal authoritarianism”.
All these make for a powder keg of apprehension and impatience, at times reluctantly expressed but nevertheless real, that is fast tempering the heady optimism about Burma’s political change nearly two months into the Aung San Suu Kyi-led government.
This sense of discomfort peppered much of the insights from political figures to business people to academics and activists at the Myanmar Forum 2016, which was organised by the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS) in Singapore on 20 May.
“It’s not only that people expect too much … but people are trying to endure,” political leader and activist Ko Ko Gyi said, adding that Burmese people are impatient after decades of deprivation not only for political freedoms but for the basic essentials of life.
Ko Ko Gyi, general secretary of the 88 Generation who spent 19 years in prison under the military regime, used an anecdote about frequent power outages to explain that youngsters may not be as patient as older people who were part of the pro-democracy struggle when it comes to waiting for change.
“I can endure [things like] what was my second home, my prison. But my nine-month old baby daughter, when the electricity is shut down, she cries a lot,” he said. “I’m just always holding the fan in the hand but I try to endure this because I want the National League for Democracy [NLD party] to [achieve] success. So many [Burmese] people have expectations but they are ready to endure.”
Just do it
The government led by State Counsellor Suu Kyi and her NLD does not have a lot of time to produce results and must urgently decide on its priorities, Ko Ko Gyi said, be it about the peace process, constitutional changes and policies on the economy, electricity, education.
“This is not an everlasting period. It’s about how much our people can endure,” he added. “In the short, medium and long term, we need to set priorities. If not, we are talking about a variety of issues but we cannot solve anything.”
The NLD has not been laying down concrete policy, instead issuing “rhetorical” pronouncements on foreign and economy policy, said Min Zin, an analyst and a veteran of the 1988 student uprising. “[As activists] we tend to confuse, conflate slogans with programmes. The NLD government is now suffering from this confusion.”
In March, the Suu Kyi-led government announced a 100-day programme, which was to have started on 1 May, to show quick results. The government said it would make daily announcements about this on Facebook and a phone hotline, but there have been few details.
A feeling of waiting — and more waiting — for the government to make decisions and lay down policies reigns among different sectors.
The deep fissures in Burmese society, and the gulf between state and society, make the stakes of inaction or miscalculation by the NLD even higher. These fissures include trust issues between the government and the ethnic groups, the unstable compromise between civilian and military and decades-old distrust across communities in society.
“If we had to reduce the problems of the peace process to one word, it would be trust-building,” said Kyaw Yin Hlaung, director of the Center of Diversity and National Harmony.
The end to ethnic groups’ fighting came during Thein Sein’s military-backed government due to “personal-based trust between negotiators from both sides”, he recalled. “This is the legacy of Thein Sein,” Kyaw Yin Hlaung said. “But the government never managed to build this trust at the systemic level.”
Despite the NLD government’s decision to hold a “21st century Panglong Conference” with ethnic groups, few expect radical change from it.
The military has the edge when it comes to dealing with ethnic unrest, not least due to the pressure to produce results.
“Suu Kyi does not have much preparation on how to proceed. At the end she will likely adopt the military position as a default policy choice,” except for small changes like giving a new name to the organisation leading the peace process, Min Zin said. “Politically speaking, her view is more or less the same as the military.”
“The almost impossible barriers to overcome are the deep divisions in Myanmar [Burmese] society. It’s a sense of despair, especially from ordinary people, about the future of their kids,” the University of Washington’s Mary Callahan said. Over six decades of repression under a national-security mindset, on top of their isolation from the outside world, Burma’s people have had “negative socialisation over and over and distrust of anyone outside your intimate circle”, she said.
This same distrust of a “broken” society later bred “deeply distorted expectations” of Suu Kyi if she ever came into power, Callahan added.
“It’s been 15, 20 years since taxi drivers and rickshaw drivers have been telling me that when Aung San Suu Kyi is elected, there will be no more traffic, corruption, floods like last year, dengue fever. Street dogs will be gone and global warming will end, and everyone will have electricity for 24 hours,” she told the forum. But as patience thins, people now call the power outages “Daw Suu power cuts”, Callahan said.
While moves like the release of political prisoners are welcome, these are “elite-level reforms” that don’t affect people’s ordinary lives much, she said. They are more concerned about land-grabbing, poverty and inclusive growth.
“The opportunity has been opened for the new government, as the NLD holds 80 percent of seats. They can amend the law or dissolve an existing law by simple majority. This is easy to implement; this is the opportunity,” Ko Ko Gyi pointed out. “How much can we make use of this opportunity? How can we improve the daily lives of people?”
Not a few reminded Suu Kyi that her pro-democracy origins require her to use consultative processes — and look beyond today to build democratic institutions that will make sure democratisation stays.
Putting the NLD in electoral power is not the be-all and end-all of the struggle for democracy, so “there is a need to bring in all stakeholders”, Min Zin stressed, including civil society that has been sidelined by the government. “The goal must be go to beyond getting an electoral mandate; otherwise, what we have is benevolent authoritarianism.”
ISEAS’ Tin Maung Maung Than questioned the huge political power in Suu Kyi’s hands after the state counsellor’s portfolio was created to make her the country’s top leader in addition to her two cabinet posts. “We are changing from illiberal pluralism to liberal authoritarianism — but it can still change from illiberal pluralism to quasi-liberal democracy too because it’s only been less than 100 days.”
As it is, Tin Maung Maung Than said many find worrisome the arrests of anti-government protesters, since these sectors, which include workers, are part of those who invested in the democratic struggle.
“They [the government] need to listen to what is really happening, but only getting information from the party is not enough,” Ko Ko Gyi said. “We need to make open civil society and local media, so they can have a different perspective to find a solution.”
NLD has tended to “sideline mediating institutions” like civil society, political parties and media, but their involvement is key to governance, Min Zin pointed out. Suu Kyi’s bypassing of these is creating “a populist sentiment such as the Suu Kyi consensus, and if you deviate from the Suu Kyi consensus, you will be named and shamed, especially in social media”, he warned.
|Aung San Suu Kyi departs following a meeting with newly appointed ministers from the National League of Democracy (NLD) party at the parliament building in Naypyidaw. PHOTO: AFP|
May 22, 2016
NAYPYIDAW (REUTERS, AFP) - Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi asked to be given “enough space” to address the plight of her country’s Rohingya Muslim population, as visiting US Secretary of State John Kerry pressed the Nobel laureate to promote respect for human rights.
Some 125,000 Rohingya in Myanmar remain displaced and face severe travel restrictions in camps since fighting erupted in Rakhine State between the country’s Buddhists and Muslims in 2012. Thousands have fled persecution and poverty.
The United States has long supported Suu Kyi’s role in championing democratic change in Myanmar, but was surprised this month when she suggested to the new US ambassador Scot Marciel to refrain from using the term Rohingya for the persecuted Muslim minority.
“Emotive terms make it very difficult for us to find a peaceful and sensible resolution to our problems,” Suu Kyi told reporters at a joint news conference with Kerry in Naypyitaw on Sunday after their first meeting with Suu Kyi since Myanmar's civilian government took office in March.
“All that we are asking is that people should be aware of the difficulties we are facing and to give us enough space to solve all our problems.”
Kerry said he had discussed the Rohingya issue with Suu Kyi during their meeting, describing it as “very sensitive” and “divisive.”
“I know it arises strong passions here,” Kerry said. “What is critical to focus on is solving the problem...which is improving the situation on the ground, to promote development, promote respect for human rights and benefit all of those that live in Rakhine and throughout Myanmar.”
Last month hundreds of demonstrators protested in front of the US Embassy in Yangon in objection to the use of the term Rohingya in a statement issued by the embassy.
Speaking out for the group would carry a political cost for Suu Kyi, who took on the newly created role of state counsellor in April following the first-democratically elected government in some five decades.
The Rohingya are widely disliked in Myanmar, including by some within Suu Kyi’s party and its supporters. She risks losing support by taking up the cause of the beleaguered minority.
The Rohingya, most of whom live in apartheid-like conditions, are seen by many Myanmar Buddhists as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and referred to by many as Bengalis.
Ambassador Marciel has said he would keep using the term Rohingya because it is Washington’s policy to do so.
“What we want to do is avoid any terms that just add fuel to the fire,” Suu Kyi said in response to a question on her comments about the Rohingya. “I wasn’t talking about one particular term, I was talking about all the terms that are incendiary and which create greater divisions in the Rakhine and of course elsewhere too.”
Kerry was on a brief stop in the capital Naypyitaw before he joins President Barack Obama in Vietnam on Monday.
Kerry offered US support for Myanmar’s new government, saying Myanmar’s transition to a civilian government steered by Suu Kyi as a “remarkable statement” that furthers the global democratic cause.
Kerry told the Nobel laureate that her country’s evolution towards democracy after decades under the military was a “remarkable statement to people all over the world”.
But he said there were still “important hurdles” for the country to overcome in its transition to full democracy from military rule. He said he would discuss further political reforms in a meeting later with the commander in chief of the armed forces, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing.
Last week, the Obama administration further eased economic and financial sanctions against Myanmar, removing some state-owned banks and enterprises from a blacklist. It also lifted some restrictions on trade to ease concerns of US firms about doing business in Myanmar.
More than 100 individuals and groups remain on Washington’s sanctions blacklist for Myanmar, making them radioactive to the international community and barring US banks or companies from making deals with them.
Kerry said the easing of the sanctions was tied to progress made in the democratic process and further easing would not occur under the current constitution, which bars Suu Kyi from becoming president.
The meeting comes days after the US lifted a host of financial and trade embargoes in recognition of dramatic political changes that saw landmark elections sweep Suu Kyi and her party into office after decades of junta rule.
Suu Kyi, the foreign minister, also holds the newly-created position of state counsellor to enable her to steer the government despite a junta-scripted constitution that bars her from the presidency - a role now held by her longtime ally Htin Kyaw.
Myanmar president's office spokesman Zaw Htay said Kerry would only meet Suu Kyi, without giving details of the topics under discussion.
"He will meet the state counsellor, not the president," he told AFP, explaining that Htin Kyaw is yet to return from a summit in Russia.
According to the US State Department, Kerry's brief trip to Myanmar is to show "support for the new democratically-elected, civilian-led government" as well as to "further democratic and economic reforms".
US President Barack Obama has made two visits to the South-east Asian nation in recent years, seeking to widen engagement with the country as it embarked on a stunning transition towards democracy after half a century under a repressive military government.
Myanmar still faces huge challenges, including decrepit infrastructure, conflicts in resource-rich borderlands, religious tensions and the continued influence of the army and junta-era cronies, who still dominate the economy.
American investment in Myanmar remains relatively small compared to other nations, although some US companies including Coca-Cola and Pepsi, fast food restaurant KFC and carmakers Chevrolet and Ford have already established a sales presence.
Washington rolled back many of its sanctions to reward reforms since the end of outright military rule in 2011, but retains scores of names on its blacklists as it seeks to push further changes and promote human rights.
The latest sanctions rollback further eases constraints on trade.
It opened up all Myanmar banks to American business, while also extending indefinitely permission made in December enabling firms to import through Myanmar's ports and airports - many of which are operated by cronies still on the blacklist.
The US has come under pressure from hardline Buddhists, who have held protests in recent days against the use of the term "Rohingya" to refer to the persecuted Muslim minority in the western state of Rakhine.
Buddhist nationalists label the group "Bengalis" and view them as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, even though many can trace their roots in Myanmar back generations.
Kerry is due to continue on to Vietnam Sunday, where he will accompany Obama to Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City for a visit likely to focus on trade, security and human rights.
By Kyaw Ye Lynn
May 22, 2016
With US secretary of state visiting Myanmar, hardliners gather to protest US use of term in recent statement
YANGON, Myanmar -- Protests demanding the government ban the word “Rohingya” took place in Myanmar Sunday, with nationalists marching in commercial capital Yangon as well as in Taung Gyi in restive Shan State.
The demonstrations are aimed at pressuring President Htin Kyaw and state counselor-cum-foreign minister Aung San Suu Kyi to denounce the United States embassy in the country for using the word to describe the stateless and persecuted Muslim minority.
Hardline nationalists refuse to recognize the term, instead referring to the ethnic group as "Bengali", which suggests they are illegal immigrants from neighboring country Bangladesh.
In Taung Gyi, capital of eastern Shan, a march jointly organized by the Taung Gyi-based National Security Network and Yangon-based Myanmar National Network, saw around 100 protesters take to the streets with banners emblazoned “No Rohingya”.
“We are helping nationalists in other cities and towns across the country to protest against the use of the word,” Win Ko Ko Latt, founder of the Myanmar National Network, told Anadolu Agency by phone from Taung Gyi, the capital of Shan State around 644 kilometers (400 miles) northeast of Yangon.
“We want to let the U.S. embassy and other international organizations know that Myanmar people will never recognize that word. I want our government to announce that the country never has Rohingya ethnic group and will never recognize it.”
With the U.S secretary of state, John Kerry, visiting Myanmar on Sunday, monks from hardline Buddhist group Ma Ba Tha -- the Committee for Protection of Race and Religion – began to gather in Yangon to protest the country's use of the term in a recent statement.
The trip will see Kerry is meet Myanmar military chief Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing and state counselor-cum-foreign minister Aung San Suu Kyi before he joins U.S. President Barack Obama in Vietnam on Monday.
“I want to tell John Kerry to review their policy of terminology. The term 'Rohingya' is not good for Myanmar,” Buddhist monk Pyin Nyein Da -- one of the organizers of the protest -- told Anadolu Agency.
“It will only create chaos here,” he added.
The U.S. embassy used the term in a recent statement to illustrate its concerns about the situation in western Rakhine State, where communal violence between ethnic Buddhists and Muslims since 2012 has left dozens dead, around 100,000 people displaced in camps and more than 2,500 houses burned -- most of which belonged to Rohingya.
Following nationalist pressure, Suu Kyi’s foreign ministry asked the embassy to cease use of the word.
The U.S. ambassador to Myanmar, Scot Marciel, however, said last week that he was in favor of continued use of "Rohingya".
May 22, 2016
NAYPYIDAW, Myanmar — U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Sunday urged Myanmar's new civilian-led government to complete the Southeast Asian nation's transition to democracy by implementing further reforms to enshrine free markets, development and human rights.
Speaking with Myanmar's foreign minister and de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, after talks in the capital of Naypyidaw, Kerry pledged continuing U.S. support for the country and hailed progress it has made since Suu Kyi's political party took office in late March after winning historic elections that ended decades of military control.
"We strongly support the democratic transition that is taking place here," Kerry said.
His visit came less than a week after the Obama administration lifted sanctions against 10 state-run companies and banks in a sweeping modification of penalties imposed while Myanmar was under military rule. The administration, however, left in place restrictions on trade and investment with the nation's still-powerful military. The changes are intended to spur more U.S. investment and support economic growth under the new government, but also to encourage more reforms.
The U.S. waived its longstanding bans on investment and trade in 2012 after Myanmar began political and economic reforms, but retained restrictions on dozens of companies and individuals designated by the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control because they oppose reform, or are implicated in human rights abuses and military trade with North Korea. In addition, the U.S. continues to ban the import of jade and rubies from Myanmar.
"The key to the lifting of the (remaining) sanctions is really the progress that is made within Myanmar in continuing to move down the road of democratization," Kerry said, adding, "It is very difficult to complete that journey, in fact impossible to complete that journey, with the current constitution."
He called for the charter to be revised to fully respect civilian authority and clearly spell out a separation of powers among various branches of government as well as protect minority rights and promote inclusivity. And he said he would raise those issues with the commander in chief of Myanmar's military before leaving the country later Sunday to join President Barack Obama on a visit to Vietnam.
Suu Kyi said she did not believe the remaining sanctions would stay in place for long, but did not look at them as a punishment.
"We're not afraid of sanctions, we're not afraid of scrutiny," she said. "The time will come soon that the United States will know that this is no longer the time for sanctions."
Under the current, junta-era constitution, Myanmar's military controls the ministries for defense, home affairs and border affairs, and 25 percent of parliamentary seats. Rights groups say stateless Rohingya Muslims and other minorities still face repression.
The treatment of the Rohingya remains a major sticking point in U.S.-Myanmar ties, with the government complaining that even U.S. officials use the term to refer to the group, which many Buddhists inside Myanmar call "Bengalis." They say the 1 million or so members of the minority are mostly illegal immigrants and not a native ethnic group. In fact, the families of many Rohingya have lived in Myanmar for generations.
Because Myanmar does not officially recognize the Rohingya as an ethnic group, it denies most of them citizenship and basic rights. Conflict over land and resources in the western state of Rakhine, where most of them live, caused deadly violence between Buddhists and Muslims that later spread to other parts of the country. More than 100,000 Rohingya were forced to flee their homes and now live in poor conditions in decrepit camps.
Suu Kyi, who won international admiration and a Nobel Peace Prize for her nonviolent struggle for democracy during Myanmar's years of military rule, has in recent years disappointed many former fans by failing to speak on behalf of the Rohingya. Despite international expressions of concern, Myanmar's previous military-backed government did nothing to ease the Rohingya's plight.
She called on Myanmar's "well-wishers," like the United States, to give the authorities time and space to deal with what she acknowledged was a problem. But she also warned against using the term "Rohingya," saying it is a sensitive matter that complicates efforts to resolve the situation.
"Emotive terms make it very difficult for us to find a peaceful and sensible solution," she said. "People should be aware of the difficulties that we are facing and give us a safe distance. ... What we are saying is that there are more important things to deal with than issues of nomenclature."
Kerry agreed that the matter was a sensitive one, but said it is key to ease the crisis in Rakhine state.
"The name issue is obviously very sensitive, it is divisive and I know that it arouses strong passions here," he said, adding, however, that the matter could not be ignored. "What is critical to focus on is solving the problems."
|Myanmar’s de fecto leader and Foreign Minister Aung San Suu Kyi. (Aung Shine Oo/AP)|
By Editorial Board
May 22, 2016
THE TRANSITION from military rule and dictatorship to democracy is treacherous. In the past generation, not every nation that has embarked on that journey has arrived at its hoped-for destination, nor has every revolutionary leader delivered on the promise. Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, a champion of human rights and democracy in Burma who has taken most of the reins of power, no doubt has studied lessons from Lech Walesa, Boris Yeltsin and Nelson Mandela. In the weeks since her government assumed control, ending decades of military rule during which she was held under house arrest, she has moved gingerly and cautiously.
Beyond doubt, she realizes the enormity of the obstacles facing her and threatening Burma’s transition, but at the same time she sees that popular expectations are running high. She has freed political prisoners and set a new tone. Thin Yu Mon, a human rights activist in Rangoon who was recently in Washington, marveled at the atmosphere she encountered in a public festival. “Now we are really free,” she said.
But Burma’s democratic trajectory is not assured. The Obama administration properly recognized this Tuesday with a calibrated easing of sanctions on Burma, also called Myanmar, that left some in place, signaling a continuing concern over human rights abuses, ethnic conflict and the continuing influence of the military, which is trying to preserve undemocratic power through a constitution it wrote before allowing free elections.
One of Aung San Suu Kyi’s most daunting challenges, therefore, is to deal with these powerful and unelected generals, who control a quarter of the seats in parliament not subject to election and thus can block constitutional reform; who hold the key Defense, Home Affairs and Border Affairs ministries; and who have grown accustomed to profiting handsomely from the nation’s bounty. In the latest action, the United States has retained an arms ban, as well as sanctions on individuals and entities that are obstructing political reform, committing human rights abuses or engaging in illicit military trade with North Korea.
At the same time, Aung San Suu Kyi faces a cauldron of ethnic tension and conflict. Among the most severe is the plight of the 1 million Rohingya, a Muslim minority who have been subject to persecution and misery, denied citizenship and crowded into squalid camps. Some 100,000 Rohingya were driven from their homes in 2012 in a wave of violence. Subsequently, many fled and lost their lives on rickety ships at sea. Nationalist Buddhists have insisted the Rohingya are not Burmese and call them “Bengalis,” as did the former military government. Shockingly, after the U.S. Embassy expressed condolences recently for the loss of at least 20 people whose boat capsized on April 19, Aung San Suu Kyi suggested to the new U.S. ambassador that the United States should not use the word “Rohingya.” Ever careful, she may have been catering to Buddhist nationalists, but if so, it was an egregious error.
She must find a way to correct the mistakes of the past, not repeat them.
|U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry speaks during a news conference in Vienna, Austria, May 17, 2016.|
May 21, 2016
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will welcome democratic reforms in Myanmar and underscore the need for more change, including on human rights, during a visit on Sunday, his first since the formation of its first democratically elected government in 50 years, a senior U.S. official said.
During a brief stop, before he joins President Barack Obama in Vietnam on Monday, Kerry will meet Myanmar's Nobel Laureate, Aung San Suu Kyi, a leader barred from the presidency under a 2008 constitution drafted by the former military rulers.
Kerry, who last visited Myanmar in August 2014, will meet separately with the commander in chief of the armed forces, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing.
"We're looking for new ways to support this new government," a senior State Department official told reporters traveling with Kerry.
Last week, the Obama administration further eased economic and financial sanctions against Myanmar, removing some state-owned banks and enterprises from a blacklist. It also lifted some restrictions on trade to ease concerns of U.S. firms about doing business in Myanmar.
More than 100 individuals and groups remain on Washington's sanctions blacklist for Myanmar, making them radioactive to the international community and barring U.S. banks or companies from making deals with them.
"For the time being we have to accept the fact that there are some individuals and entities in the country that are not fully supportive of this transition to democracy and prefer the days of old," the official said.
"We also want to encourage the military in Burma to continue steps to continue a role of consolidating democracy designed to help additional democratic reforms."
The U.S. has long supported Suu Kyi's role in championing democratic change in Myanmar but was surprised this month when she suggested to the new U.S. ambassador, Scott Marciel, to refrain from using the term Rohingya for the persecuted Muslim minority.
Marciel said he would keep using the term Rohingya because it is Washington's policy to do so.
Pressed over whether Kerry will raise Suu Kyi's comments in their meeting, the official added: "I think it's safe to say a number of these specific ongoing conflicts and unresolved situations will be discussed."
Members of the 1.1 million-strong group, most of whom live in apartheid-like conditions in a remote part of western Myanmar, are seen by many Myanmar Buddhists as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. The term is a divisive issue.
Speaking out for the group would carry a political cost for Suu Kyi. The group is widely disliked in Myanmar, including by some in Suu Kyi's party and its supporters. She risks losing support by taking up the cause of the beleaguered minority.
Some 125,000 Rohingya remain displaced and face severe travel restrictions in camps since fighting erupted in Rakhine State between Buddhists and Muslims in 2012. Thousands have fled persecution and poverty.
|Displaced Rohingya people in Rakhine State|
By Tony Henderson
May 20, 2016
“China, of late, has been pitching to increase its influence in the Indian Ocean through Myanmar by building a deep-water port, which includes a special economic zone (SEZ) … The project is coming up at Kyaukphyu in the troubled southwestern Rakhine Province of Myanmar…”, says Joshy M. Paul, writing for the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA) which is under an Indian government department.
The Kyaukphyu project will serve China’s better connectivity with the Indian Ocean, even more than the Gwadar port in Pakistan. The Kyaukphyu SEZ project was awarded to a six-member international consortium headed by one of China’s biggest conglomerates, Citic Group. Four other Chinese industrial and investment groups and one of Thailand’s biggest conglomerates, Charoen Phokphand, constitute the other members of the consortium.
“The project is adjacent to the landing point of the dual pipeline that transports gas and crude oil to China,” Joshy Paul added. This pipeline runs into the Bay of Bengal, just below Bangladesh, in Rakhine province.
In May 2011, a memorandum of understanding (MoU) was signed between Myanmar’s railways ministry and China’s state-owned Railway Engineering Corporation that allows the building of a rail line linking Kyaukphyu with Kunming, capital of the Yunnan Province of China. The scheme fits well with China’s revamp of the Silk Road, called the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st-century Maritime Silk Road.
Also known as The Belt and Road (B&R), or One Belt, One Road (OBOR) this is a development strategy and framework, proposed by Chinese leader Xi Jinping that focuses on connectivity and cooperation among countries primarily between the People’s Republic of China and the rest of Eurasia. The strategy underlines China’s push to take a bigger role in global affairs, and its need to export China’s goods.
U Myint Thein, Deputy Rail Transportation Minister of Myanmar, who also chairs the Kyaukphyu SEZ management committee, has stated that local residents have been invited to join a monitoring group that will check the proceedings for any potential social, economic or environmental impingement. This is presumed to help avoid provoking local resistance as happened in Sri Lanka and Africa and even in Myanmar regarding other Chinese projects.
China had earlier faced trouble in Myanmar with local protests against the Letpadaung copper mine project in the northwest of the country. Before that, in 2010, the Myanmar Government had to suspend a $3.6 billion Chinese-led Myitsone Dam project because of the local opposition – 90 per cent of the power was expected to have gone to China. Beijing now wants to avoid similar situation in the case of Kyaukphyu project given its huge strategic value.
It may be recalled that Beijing invited Aung San Suu Kyi to China in June 2015 where she met President Xi Jinping, an unusual event as opposition leaders wouldn’t usually get to meet the president so her rise to power must have been a foregone conclusion.
Xinhua provided few details of the meeting but there was a note to the effect that China looks at its relationship with Myanmar “from a strategic and long-term perspective”. The five-day visit was at the invitation of the Chinese Communist Party and the purpose was to positively engage Suu Kyi and her party the National League for Democracy (NLD). The Chinese Government has also hosted politicians from the troubled Rakhine Province, where the Kyaukphyu SEZ project is located.
It would be imagined that instability in that province would be the last thing needed by any party to the project but still the Rohingya and their perennial troubles are not being attended to. Many observers presumed Suu Kyi, with her human rights fighter hat on, would tackle the issue but no. Nothing so far.
The plight of the Rohingya became a serious if temporary news item in 2012 when violence broke out in Rakhine, which lies next to the Bangladeshi border. The violence led to about 125,000 Muslims, including Rohingya, to be displaced from their homes.
Radical Buddhist monk Ashin Wirathu has led protests against Muslims, especially the Rohingya, in the Arakan state and has accused Burmese Muslims of establishing an Islamist state in Burma and has urged the Burmese people to avoid Muslim-run businesses.
Maung Zarni, founder-director of the Free Burma Coalition told AlterNet that a slow but sure genocide of the Rohingya people is taking place.
Zarni notes that since 2012, when the Rohingya crisis first made global headlines, the situation of the ethnic group has gone from bad to worse. While Burma’s transition to democracy and Aung San Suu Kyi are celebrated worldwide, the discrimination against Burmese Muslims is ignored. It was well noted by sympathisers to the Muslim cause that the Rohingya and other Burmese Muslims were barred by Suu Kyi from contesting in the National League For Democracy (NLD) elections.
China is big enough and rich enough to help the Rohingya get what they want, legal status as Myanmar nationals. Humanitarian efforts in that direction would really put the dissenting parties on the wrong foot and bring all round advantages as it would not do to have ethnicity conflicts in the very state where such huge amounts of money are to be spent.
|Syed Hamid (right) and Humaniti Malaysia committee member Zainudin Ismail (second from right) presenting the school packs comprising workbooks, exercise books and bags to the Rohingya children. — Photos: AZHAR MAHFOF/The Star|
By Jade Chan
May 20, 2016
THE children could barely contain their excitement as they received their packs with some ripping open the packaging and stuffing the books into their new bags.
Humaniti Malaysia had presented the books and bags to some 115 children aged between six and 14 from the Rohingya community.
“The books on Bahasa Malaysia, Mathematics, English and Science will be used for their sessions at Knowledge Garden Learning Centre.
“These refugee children can’t go to mainstream schools as they are stateless. So they receive an education at this centre in Seri Kembangan,” said Humaniti Malaysia secretary-general Ahmad Tarmizi Mukhtar, adding that the centre’s teachers are volunteers.
Humaniti Malaysia, he said, is a non-governmental organisation established in December 2014 that focuses on humanitarian and education causes. It is also linked to the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).
“We are active in Myanmar, where we provide food and medicine to those in need, as well as in Malaysia, where we provide school supplies and volunteers to teach Myanmar refugees,” said Ahmad Tarmizi.
Humaniti Malaysia president Tan Sri Syed Hamid Albar, who is the special representative to the OIC on Rohingya Muslims, presented the learning packs sponsored by the Islamic Solidarity Fund for Development.
Syed Hamid urged the Malaysian government to create an identification system for the Rohingya or issue cards similar to those given to refugees from Syria, Cambodia and Aceh.
“Having some form of identification would give them access to public health and education as well as look for jobs,” he said, adding that the Rohingya cannot even register deaths due to lack of documentation.
“This limits their freedom of movement and puts them at risk of social problems, including criminal activities.
“The worst part is that a majority of those at risk are women and children,” said Syed Hamid.
In line with the establishment of the Asean Economic Community in 2015, he said the governments of Asean countries should recognise the presence of the Rohingya and have a definitive policy to deal with refugees.
By Wai Wai Nu
May 20, 2016
May 20, 2016
I belong to an ethnic group that, according to my government, does not exist. In the past few weeks, ultra-nationalist protestors have proudly proclaimed, “There are no Rohingya in our country.” And then the NLD government requested foreign embassies to refrain from using the term “Rohingya”, reportedly stating that “the controversial term does not support the national reconciliation process and solving problems”. Their statement was disappointing because it was a capitulation to the hardliners and because I, as a Rohingya, want nothing more than national reconciliation. I want to live in a Myanmar where all of Myanmar’s peoples can live together in equality and peace.
I was born in Myanmar, my parents were born in Myanmar, and their parents were born in Myanmar. My family members have served in the Myanmar government and fought for Myanmar democracy. My father served as a teacher in government schools in Rakhine State for 30 years and was elected as a member of parliament in the 1990 elections. My mother, sister, father, brother and I were all imprisoned because of my father’s work alongside Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD in the democratic opposition. Even so, under the new NLD-led government, describing my ethnicity, language and culture has become a “controversial” political act.
It has not always been like this.
Growing up in Rakhine State, I knew myself to be Rohingya, and was thought of as such by my ethnically Rakhine neighbours. Depending on the context, we also referred to ourselves, and were referred to, as simply “Muslims”. Sadly, we were also frequently called “Kalar”, a derogatory name forced on us by our Rakhine and Bamar neighbours.
To be Rohingya is, in our language, to be the people of Rohang, the geographical region in modern Rakhine State that we have inhabited dating back to at least the Mrauk-U Kingdom in the 15th century. If you go to Mrauk-U today you will find inscriptions in our language at ancient historic sites.
Before the 1980s, the Myanmar government freely used the word Rohingya to describe us in many contexts. My family’s “household list” maintained by the local government in northern Rakhine State, where a majority of Rohingya live, listed our family’s ethnicity as Rohingya. My elder brothers’ birth certificates state Rohingya as their ethnicity.
The debate over the word Rohingya is much more than an argument over terminology. The effort to scrub the Rohingya name from Myanmar’s official lexicon has been part of a broad campaign by the previous military government and hardline Buddhist ultra-nationalists to label us as “foreigners” and “invaders” and deny our right to inhabit Myanmar. These groups have labelled us as “Bengali”, to suggest that we are from Bangladesh, despite the fact that we have resided in Myanmar for generations.
In part, we feel strongly about our identity as Rohingya because we have seen a direct correlation between the denial of our identity as a “national race” in Myanmar and the deterioration of our rights. Under the 1982 Citizenship Law, only certain “national races” identified by the government automatically qualify for citizenship.
When the government created its list of national races, Rohingya and several other Muslim groups were omitted. In the 1990s, the government targeted our community with discriminatory policies, including restrictions on movement, marriage and childbirth. Under the previous military government, we were subject to many of the same abuses that other ethnic nationalities of Myanmar suffered, such as forced labour, arbitrary detention and sexual assault.
Since 2011, when the first nominally civilian government took power, conditions for Rohingya have deteriorated even more rapidly. Mass violence in Rakhine State in 2012 resulted in hundreds of our community being killed and hundreds of thousands internally displaced, while thousands more have risked their lives to flee the country by sea. We were omitted from the first census held in 30 years. The vast majority of our community was denied the right to vote for the first time in the historic November 2015 elections that brought the NLD to power. Our candidates were singled out for disqualification. We have been segregated from our Buddhist neighbours and restricted in our movement. We have been denied access to hospitals, schools and jobs. As the situation for us has gotten worse, the call for us to deny our identity has gotten stronger.
Meanwhile, we watch as our brothers and sisters who have also suffered under the military dictatorship – democratic activists, ethnic nationalities and other marginalised groups – approach the new “democratic era” with great hope. We too have had hope, but wonder why we have been left behind. If the NLD is really concerned with “national reconciliation” as they suggest, they should seek to include all Myanmar’s peoples in the process. The first step is to allow us to join our brothers and sisters as equals, as human beings with the right to decide the name we think best reflects our culture and our history.
Wai Wai Nu is a human rights and peace activist from the Rohingya community and a former political prisoner.
By Matthew Smith, Tom Andrews
May 20, 2016
Southeast Asia’s newest democracy has made a lot of progress, but some sanctions should stay.
This week the Obama administration maintained some sanctions against Burma while lifting others, reflecting Washington’s internal conflict about how to effectively promote reforms in the country — by the carrot or by the stick.
“The flickers of progress that we have seen must not be extinguished — they must be strengthened.” President Obama delivered these words to a rapt audience at the University of Yangon in Burma in 2012. At the time, this Southeast Asian nation seemed to be emerging from more than 50 years of iron-fisted military rule.
The “flickers of progress” Obama noted in 2012 are brighter flashes today. But they’re not so bright — at least not yet — as to merit the full embrace of the United States.
Last month, the long-oppressed National League for Democracy (NLD) came to power after handily defeating the military’s ruling party in a historic November election. On her second day in office, NLD party leader and Nobel Prize-winner Aung San Suu Kyi freed more than 200 political prisoners, followed by 83 others less than two weeks later. Laws long used to imprison human rights activists, journalists, and dissidents may soon be repealed. Poets, bloggers, and activists now hold political office, wielding power once enjoyed only by members of the armed forces.
U.S. business leaders were quick to seize on this progress and pressed President Obama to lift all remaining sanctions on the country, which would have enabled U.S. firms to do business with Burma’s military — a military that is responsible for grave human rights violations and still controls a significant portion of the national economy. Obama didn’t go quite that far.
The United States’ sanctions regime dates back to 1988, when Burma’s ruling dictatorship crushed nationwide pro-democracy protests, killing and imprisoning thousands. Severe human rights abuses continued, prompting a complex patchwork of executive orders and legislation, spanning five U.S. administrations, that prohibited trade, investment, and extension of financial services to the regime. Arms sales were out of the question. Aid was cut. Dialogue was nonexistent.
Not much changed in U.S. policy until 2009, when then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced that the U.S. would combine sanctions with engagement — introducing carrots to go along with the sticks.
This made for a convenient fit with the Burmese military’s own efforts to wiggle out from underneath China, which has enjoyed outsized political and economic influence in the country due to the absence of Western competition. Dependence on China worried the generals.
When former Army Gen. Thein Sein became president of a quasi-civilian government in 2011, he made it his business to get sanctions lifted. He eased media censorship and freed some political prisoners, including Aung San Suu Kyi. A year later, by-elections brought her to parliament — startling progress, considering that just two years prior she had been under house arrest.
Naturally, this was music to American ears. The U.S. responded by lifting the investment ban, easing restrictions on financial services, and reestablishing aid after a 23-year hiatus. Select Burmese officials were granted travel visas and readied themselves for White House visits.
This week, the Obama administration went further, lifting sanctions against ten state-owned banks and companies to promote trade and investment. But it maintained a jade import ban and the Specially Designated Nationals (SDN) list — a “blacklist” preventing human rights abusers from doing business with the United States. Arms sales and investments with military-owned firms are still prohibited, and U.S. companies are required to report on investments exceeding $500,000.
In light of the new political landscape in Burma, why not lift all remaining sanctions as business lobbyists wanted?
The answer is simple. In Burma, all is not what it seems.
The same military that ruled the country for decades hasn’t really gone anywhere. It appoints 25 percent of parliamentary seats, providing it with the power to block changes to the constitution. Its control of three key ministries — Defense, Home Affairs, and Border Affairs – spreads its influence to every corner of the country.
Moreover, the army, state security forces, and other authorities continue to commit egregious human rights violations with impunity.
In Rakhine State, two waves of horrific arson attacks on ethnic Rohingya and other Muslims destroyed villages in 13 of 17 townships in 2012, prompting a regional refugee and human trafficking crisis.
The authorities still confine more than 140,000 displaced Muslims, mostly Rohingya, to at least 40 internment camps, where they’re deprived of adequate food, shelter, and health care. At least a million other Rohingya are refused citizenship and confined to ill-equipped, prison-like villages. On top of this, the government imposes marriage and childbirth restrictions against Muslims in Rakhine State.
These abuses have rightly been described as “ethnic cleansing,” apartheid, and genocide, and they show no signs of letting up.
In northern Shan and Kachin states — which boast jade mines worth tens of billions of dollars annually — deadly armed conflict with non-state ethnic armies continues. We’ve documented how soldiers have killed, raped,tortured, and indiscriminately attacked ethnic civilians since 2011. To our knowledge, no one has been held accountable.
The war has displaced more than 100,000 men, women, and children and — as in Rakhine State — the authorities continue to impose needless restrictions on U.N. agencies and aid groups.
For these reasons, it’s not enough that President Obama simply maintained existing sanctions on Burma. His administration should make use of the SDN list and target those responsible for atrocities and ongoing abuses, particularly with regard to the festering situations in Rakhine, Kachin, and Shan states. The individuals responsible for these abuses shouldn’t benefit from improved bilateral relations with the U.S.
Moreover, when Secretary of State John Kerry visits Burma on May 22, he should set crystal-clear targets for normalizing relations with the government.
For starters, Burma should support the establishment of a U.N.-mandated independent commission to look into the human rights situation facing Muslims and Buddhists in Rakhine State. Such a commission would help establish the facts — which are hotly contested in the country — and would make detailed recommendations for the new government to deal with the very difficult realities there.
The authorities should immediately lift restrictions on movement against Muslims and facilitate the right to return for all of the displaced in Rakhine State — Muslims and Buddhists alike.
They should also ensure Rohingya and other Muslims have equal access to full citizenship, and take a firm stand on the right of the Rohingya to self-identify as Rohingya. Suu Kyi has effectively denied them this basic token of dignity, going so far as to ask the U.S. embassy to avoid using the term. Secretary Kerry should not cave to that demand. He should speak directly about ongoing abuses against the Rohingya, and the government of Burma should do the same.
If the Burmese military wants to avoid U.S. sanctions, it should cease attacks and abuses against ethnic civilians, hold perpetrators accountable, and ensure unfettered humanitarian access to the displaced. The military should also work with parliament to amend the constitution and gracefully bow out of the political process.
Lastly, the NLD should ensure that all remaining political prisoners are released and that Burma’s laws are consistent with international human rights standards. A draft law on peaceful assembly already looks to be a misstep that would impose unnecessary restrictions on the rights to peaceful assembly and expression and bring criminal liability and jail time for violations, making it incompatible with human rights law.
This is a critical time for Burma, and the signals the U.S. sends are watched closely. Now, more than ever, those signals need to be clear.
In the photo, a demonstrator demanding labor rights looks out from a police van after being arrested in Tetkone township on May 18.
Photo credit: AUNG HTET/AFP/Getty Images
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Myanmar – Rohingya and US Realpolitik
In this 9-minute radio interview with Malaysia's top Business FM station Dr Zarni dissects the state of Burma and Washington's real agenda in his native country.