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A family looks from their temporary shelter at a Rohingya refugee camp as Burma's government embarks on a national census, in Sittwe on April 2, 2014. © 2014 Reuters

January 29, 2015

Repression of Rohingya, Attacks on Media, Stalled Political Reform

New York – Burma's human rights situation declined in 2014, setting back progress made since the reform process began three years ago, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2015. Donors and influential governments have done little to pressure the army and government to keep reforms on track.

The military-dominated government repressed ethnic Rohingya Muslims, curtailed burgeoning media freedoms, and blocked crucial constitutional changes in advance of the planned 2015 elections.

“After two years of steady if uneven progress, Burma’s human rights situation was a car crash in 2014,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The army is still calling the shots on major issues, while the government seems confident it has satisfied other countries to keep the aid and investment dollars flowing.”

In the 656-page world report, its 25th edition, Human Rights Watch reviews human rights practices in more than 90 countries. In his introductory essay, Executive Director Kenneth Roth urges governments to recognize that human rights offer an effective moral guide in turbulent times, and that violating rights can spark or aggravate serious security challenges. The short-term gains of undermining core values of freedom and non-discrimination are rarely worth the long-term price.

As the government’s systematic repression of Rohingya Muslims in Burma’s western Arakan State continued, the situation for 140,000 internally displaced Rohingya forced from their homes during the “ethnic cleansing” campaign in 2012 was especially dire. The nationwide census in March-April 2014 did not permit Rohingya to self-identify as such. According to results released in September, 1.2 million people in Arakan State were not included.

The number of Rohingya fleeing Arakan State by boat rose dramatically in 2014, with estimates suggesting that 50,000-100,000 have fled since the start of 2013. In October 2014, the government’s secret Rakhine [Arakan] State Action Plan for long-term development was leaked. The plan calls for the forced relocation of all Rohingya camps to unspecified sites and strict eligibility requirements for citizenship under the discriminatory 1982 Citizenship Law. Those deemed ineligible would remain stateless, be sent to camps, and face possible deportation.

The authorities backtracked on media reforms, passing laws curtailing media freedoms, unjustly convicting five journalists and an editor, and intimidating several publications over their content. A journalist taken into military custody in September 2014 in eastern Mon State died after apparent torture.

Despite large-scale political prisoner releases in Burma over the past three years, an estimated 27 to 72 remain. The authorities arrested increasing numbers of peaceful protesters under the flawed Peaceful Procession Law, particularly those demonstrating against illegal land grabs.

Legislation was introduced in 2014 that promotes Buddhism over other religions, including state control over religious conversion, inter-faith marriage, polygamy, and family planning. Ultra-nationalist Buddhist monk organizations created a climate of fear for threatened Burmese groups that criticized the proposed laws.

The army and government dismissed calls to amend the 2008 constitution, especially sections on eligibility for the presidency and the military quota of 25 percent of parliamentary seats. This called into question the possibility of free and fair elections in 2015 and the establishment of a democratic government.

“Burmese authorities and donors are sleepwalking arm-in-arm into an electoral disaster in 2015,” Adams said. “Unless constitutional changes are made, the donors will wake up after election day to a government still controlled by the military. They need to press now for real human rights and democratic reforms.”

A Rohingya Muslim family poses in a village at Maungdaw June 6, 2014. Photo: REUTERS/SOE ZEYA TUN

By Aubrey Belford 
January 29, 2015

BUKIT MERTAJAM, Malaysia -- Abul Kassim, a Rohingya asylum seeker, was snatched from his home in the northern Malaysian state of Penang on Jan. 12. The next morning, his beaten and bloodied body was found.

That day, police moved on the 40-year-old's alleged killers. Raiding a house in the neighbouring state of Kedah, they rescued 17 Rohingya migrants being held against their will, according to a statement by Penang police.

Eight alleged traffickers from Malaysia, Myanmar and Bangladesh were arrested.

The murder of Abul Kassim casts rare light on what Rohingya activists say is widespread abuse by human traffickers in Malaysia, who are willing to use extreme methods to protect their lucrative but illegal business.

Abul Kassim regularly supplied police with information on the activities of traffickers, said Abdul Hamid, president of the Kuala Lumpur-based Rohingya Society in Malaysia.

Since 2012, more than 100,000 stateless Rohingya Muslims have fled violence and poverty in Myanmar. Most travel in traffickers' boats to Thailand, where they are held by traffickers in squalid jungle camps before a ransom is paid.

Relatively wealthy Malaysia to the south is the destination for most Rohingya who flee. For some, it is far from safe.

Relatives and witnesses told Reuters of three abductions in Penang in 2013 and 2014, from a home, a coffee shop and the street. In addition, a Rohingya man was confined and tortured after being brought by traffickers through Thailand.

Three of the four cases ended in murder, they said.

Fortify Rights, a Southeast Asia-based rights group, documented another three suspected killings of Rohingya by traffickers last year.

Banned from legally working and fearful of police harassment, few victims bring their case to authorities. Those who do say police have taken little action.

Confirming cases is difficult. Local media give the issue little coverage and Penang state police did not respond to further questions about Abul Kassim's killing. National police spokeswoman Asmawati Ahmad did not reply to Reuters' questions on that case or other suspected Rohingya murders.

Interviewed by Reuters in late 2014, Penang police chief Abdul Rahim Hanafi denied traffickers had killed any Rohingya in the state that year.


Police quoted in the local media said Abul Kassim's killing was likely to be connected to a money dispute.

A Kuala Lumpur-based Rohingya leader, who declined to be named for fear of retribution, said quantifying crimes was difficult due to the power and reach of traffickers in northern Malaysia.

"If we try to get information about the traffickers, they will simply target the person who tries to get information. We are not safe," he said.

Such cases include the alleged abduction and murder of Rohingya cousins Harun and Sayed Noor in 2013 and 2014, according to witnesses interviewed by Reuters.

Harun, 35, had his first run-in with traffickers in early 2013, when he was kidnapped from a Penang shop and held for a week for a ransom of 7,000 ringgit ($1,942), recalled his uncle, Mohammad Salim, 50.

After his release, Harun lodged a complaint with police and fled into hiding, Salim said.

In retaliation, traffickers took his cousin Sayed Noor, aged about 30, and held him as barter for Harun and 50,000 ringgit, Salim said. Several months later, Sayed turned up dead, his body showing signs of torture and mutilation.

In early 2014, the traffickers caught up with Harun.

Months later, his uncle, Salim, received a call from a Thai mobile number, telling him to leave town.

"The trafficker told me himself he had killed Harun."

A similarly chilling message was sent with the alleged murder last March of Sadek Akbar, 17, who had travelled from Myanmar with the help of traffickers.

After passing through a Thai camp and being ransomed for release, Sadek was imprisoned in a safehouse in Penang. Traffickers then demanded 2,000 ringgit for Sadek's release, his uncle, Altaf Hussain, told Reuters.

"We couldn't afford it, so they beat him to death and dropped him by the side of the road," Altaf, 48, told Reuters.

Altaf's account of retrieving the body from hospital was verified by another Rohingya witness and a Malaysian journalist, who both declined to be named.


Hampering a full account of the problem is Malaysia's patchy record of protecting millions of migrants, including nearly 150,000 registered refugees and asylum seekers living there.

Relatives of victims are reluctant to report crimes to police, fearing months of detention for migration violations and shakedowns for bribes, according to Fortify Rights executive director Matthew Smith.

"There are millions of dollars being made through the trafficking of Rohingya. It's unsurprising that illicit profits of that magnitude would bring out violent behaviour," he said.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) declined to comment on specific criminal cases, but has received "regular reports of abuse, intimidation and exploitation of Rohingya refugees," said spokeswoman Yante Ismail.

"Under Malaysian law, all refugees are treated as undocumented and illegal migrants, and there is no national system in place to provide them with protection."

(Additional reporting by Trinna Leong in George Town, Malaysia; Editing by Mike Collett-White)

(Photo: DVB)

By Mong Palatino
The Diplomat
January 28, 2015

Radical monk draws ire at home and abroad for insulting a U.N. envoy.

U Wirathu, an ultranationalist Buddhist monk from Myanmar, publicly insulted a United Nations human rights envoy who was visiting the country to assess the progress of reforms initiated by the government. The video of Wirathu insulting the U.N. Special Rapporteur for Human Rights, Yanghee Lee, has gone viral in Myanmar.

Wirathu called Lee a whore for allegedly meddling in the affairs of Myanmar. “Just because you hold a position in the United Nations doesn’t make you an honorable woman,” he said.

Wirathu is the leader of the 969 Buddhist national movement that has gained popularity in recent years. It believes that the Rohingya and other Muslims are plotting to dominate Myanmar, which has a predominantly Buddhist population. The Rohingya are one of the world’s most persecuted minorities, according to the U.N. They are mostly Muslims living in Myanmar and other parts of South Asia and Southeast Asia, but the Myanmar government refuses to recognize them as citizens. Many are also denied of basic rights and access to welfare services. There are an estimated 1.3 million Rohingyas living in the country’s Rakhine State.

During her recent visit to the country, Lee said she saw no positive progress on either the conditions of the Rohingya or the tension between many radical Buddhist and Muslim groups. “The atmosphere between Buddhists and Muslims remains hostile. I saw internally displaced persons in Muslim camps living in abysmal conditions with limited access to food, health care and essential services,” she said.

She also warned against the passage of “race and religion” bills that “will legitimize discrimination, in particular against religious and ethnic minorities, and ingrain patriarchal attitudes towards women.” She was referring to bills relating to population control and healthcare, monogamy, religious conversion, and interfaith marriages involving Buddhist women and non-Buddhist men.

Lee’s objection to the proposed legislation angered Wirathu, who denounced the U.N. envoy in a mass assembly for being allegedly biased in favor of the Rohingya.

But Wirathu was quickly criticized for his “sexist” and “insulting” language against Lee. U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein called on the religious and political leaders of Myanmar to “unequivocally condemn all forms of incitement to hatred including this abhorrent public personal attack” against a U.N.-appointed envoy.

Lee herself reacted to the speech, writing in her official report that she was “personally subjected to the kind of sexist intimidation that female human rights defenders experience when advocating on controversial issues.”

Wirathu’s remarks also upset people in Myanmar. Presidential spokesperson and Minister of Information Ye Htut urged the Buddhist monk to focus on the topics of compassion, love, empathy, and good ethics. U Pandavunsa, a famous monk in the country, said that promoting hate speech is against the code of ethics of Buddhist monks. Meanwhile, U Thawbita, a monk who participated in the 2007 Saffron protest, said that Wirathu’s words “could hurt Buddhism very badly.” Khin Zaw Win, the director of the Tampadipa Institute in Yangon, expressed disappointment that “trouble is being fomented by extremists within the Buddhist clergy (but) the government is doing nothing about it.”

Wirathu, however, defended his decision to attack the U.N. envoy. “That was the harshest word (I could think of), so I used it. If I could find a harsher word, I would have used it. It is nothing compared to what she did to our country.” He added in an interview that he was simply “defending” Buddhism, and that he “should be glad that [he] succeeded in making this particular comment.”

“I am delightfully proud,” he added.

The Myanmar government announced that it will investigate the speech of Wirathu against the U.N. rapporteur. Perhaps after conducting a probe on this matter, the Ministry of Religious Affairs can also look into the past activities of nationalist monks that have inflamed communal hatred and violence in various parts of the country. Hopefully, and more importantly, this incident should embolden the country’s leaders to aggressively pursue meaningful and peaceful conversations and initiatives on religion, ethnicity, and civil rights.

For Immediate Release 
28 January 2015 

Burma’s Rohingya: Violations of International Law Require International Investigation – New Briefing Paper

Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK today publishes a new briefing paper ‘International investigation urgently needed into human rights abuses against the Rohingya’, detailing violations of international law against the Rohingya in Burma. 

Compiling evidence from the United Nations, Human Rights Watch and others, the briefing paper concludes that the overwhelming evidence indicates that human rights violations against Rohingya in Burma may constitute crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing.

It is also evident that the government of Burma is unwilling to undertake any credible investigation or hold perpetrators to account.

The briefing paper states: Given that there is no political will or desire from the government of Burma or indeed opposition parties in Burma to address this, it is the responsibility of international governments to intervene to support an investigation, which is then established by a body of the United Nations.

“Since 2012, we have seen a big increase in human rights violations against the Rohingya,” said Tun Khin, President of the Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK. At the same time as violations against the Rohingya increased, the international community relaxed pressure against the government. 

“Violations of international law require an international response. It is time that a UN Commission of Inquiry is established into the human rights abuses and repressive policies against the Rohingya in Burma. The United Nations Human Rights Council must include this in their next resolution on Burma.” said Tun Khin. 

For more information contact Tun Khin on +44(0)7888714866

Myanmar's parliament convenes in the capital of Nay Pyi Taw on January 21, 2015. Photo: NLD

By Tim McLaughlin
January 27, 2015

Referendum: MPs spurn President over ban on white card holders

Lawmakers have rejected a recommendation from President U Thein Sein that would allow temporary citizens to vote in the constitutional referendum scheduled for May. 

The decision by the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw Bill Committee on January 21 is the latest move to limit the voting and political assembly rights of temporary citizens, known as white card holders, whose ability to participate in politics has been severely curbed since last year. 

The move will have the greatest impact in Rakhine State, where most of the country’s estimated 1 million white card holders live. The majority are Muslims, who were given white cards by the government beginning in the early 1990s. 

White card holders were able to vote in the 2008 constitutional referendum, as well as the 2010 general election and 2012 by-elections. 

They were listed as eligible voters in a draft referendum bill submitted to the lower house of parliament in November by a member of the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party. 

An MP from the opposition National League for Democracy, Daw Khin San Hlaing, submitted a proposal to exclude white card holders from the vote and this version of the draft was approved by both houses of parliament. 

In late December, President U Thein Sein returned the bill to parliament with a recommendation that white card holders be reinstated on the list of eligible voters. This recommendation was rejected by the Bill Committee, barring white card holders from voting in May. 

U Ko Ni, the chairman of Laurel Law Firm and a legal advisor to the NLD on constitutional reform, criticised the decision, saying it could set a precedent for white card holders to lose more voting rights. 

The decision, he said, could be used as an excuse to remove white card holders from Myanmar’s three other voting laws, which stipulate who can vote for members of the upper and lower houses of the Union parliament and regional and state parliaments.

Parliamentarians could now argue that these laws need to have white card holders removed to be consistent with the national referendum bill, once it is signed into law, potentially setting off a series of dramatic amendments to voting legislation.

“They may be citizens, they are not foreigners, so I think they need to get the right to vote,”U Ko Ni said.

Daw Khin San Hlaing used a similar argument to that outlined by U Ko Ni in defending her decision to recommend the disenfranchisement of white card holders from the referendum bill in November. She said the law needed to be in line with preexisting legislation and cited amendments to the Political Parties Registration Law that took effect last year.

The Political Parties Registration Law was amended to prevent white card holders from forming and joining political parties. The amendment was proposed by the Rakhine National Party and was quietly signed into law by U Thein Sein in late September.

USDP Pyithu Hluttaw MP U Shwe Maung, a Rohingya who represents Buthidaung in Rakhine State, said that he feared the moves against white card holders could see them barred from voting in the general election due in November.

About 95 percent of U Shwe Maung’s constituents would be unable to participate in the referendum with white card holders and those holding pre-1982 citizenship cards ineligible to vote. The move, he said, was a sign of the rising influence of the RNP, Rakhine Buddhist activists and nationalist monks, who have lobbied to exclude white card holders from politics.

The decision to remove white card holders also raises serious questions about the logistics of the May vote.

Senior members of the Union Election Commission say they have not yet considered how the names of white card holders would be eliminated from voter lists and have even raised doubts about whether the referendum will take place.

The UEC is creating new voter lists for the general election. The four-step process began in November and the UEC plans to have the new voter lists finished by the last week of July, two months after the referendum on constitutional reform is due to take place.

Dr. Habib Siddiqui
RB Opinion
January 25, 2015

Myanmar's terrorist - Buddhist monk Wirathu is untouchable inside the country. In 2003 he was sentenced to 25 years in prison but was released in 2010 along with other political prisoners. Most keen observers knew the reason as to why this anti-Muslim zealot was freed by the regime. He was to serve as its pit bull and inciter for committing hate crimes and ethnic cleansing drives against the minority Muslims, esp. the Rohingya people that live in the Arakan (Rakhine) state of Myanmar, bordering Bangladesh. 

And Wirathu continues to deliver for the regime. He has effectively become the face of Burmese Buddhism. His '969' fascist movement has led to widespread hate crimes and genocidal campaigns against the minority Muslims all across the Buddhist-dominated country, and has brutally rendered more than a million Muslims homeless. Many Burmese Muslims are risking their lives to get out of this den of hatred and intolerance, once called Burma. So frightening is the situation inside Myanmar, esp. the Rakhine state, even the Rohingya refugees that live under horrible conditions in makeshift camps inside Cox's Bazar district of Bangladesh don't want to return to their ancestral land inside the Buddhist country. 

That is what Buddhist terrorism has done for its victims! And Wirathu's signature is everywhere in all such genocidal activities against the minority Muslims since his release from the prison. 

In recent days, Wirathu has again shown what a monster and ugly devil he is. He had the audacity of calling the UN special envoy - Yanghee Lee - a 'whore' and a 'bitch.' 

So what was Ms. Lee's crime? Well, Ms Lee, who was on a 10-day trip to the South East Asian country, said the Rohingya faced systematic discrimination. She criticized draft legislation, proposed by a coalition of nationalist Buddhist monks, which includes curbs on interfaith marriage and religious conversions.

All these proposals and calling a spade a spade were too much for the Buddhist monk Wirathu to swallow. Last Friday, he spoke at a public rally where he criticized the UN interference and personally attacked Ms Lee, according to local media. 

"We have explained about the race protection law, but the bitch criticized the laws without studying them properly," he said from the stage to the crowd.

"Don't assume that you are a respectable person because of your position. For us, you are a whore." He added, “You can offer your arse (ass) to the kalars if you so wish but you are not selling off our Rakhine State.”

And yet, despite world-wide condemnations for his sexist and insulting remarks, the Myanmar government has not silenced its pit bull - the foul-mouthed monk - Wirathu. 

I am not surprised. As already hinted, he is their guy, doing their evil, playing their games and ethnically cleansing Muslims from the face of Myanmar - which were/are all sanctioned by the Myanmar government for decades. 

The Fortify Rights, a human rights group, last year provided evidences showing that discrimination of the Rohingya Muslims was the state policy. It was premeditated and willful. It said that the government's orders, shown in leaked documents, amounted to "state policies of persecution" in Rakhine state. In a report, Fortify Rights said it had analyzed 12 government documents from 1993 to 2013, and found that government policies imposed "extensive restrictions on the basic freedoms of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar's Rakhine state". The policies restricted Rohingya's "movement, marriage, childbirth, home repairs and construction of houses of worship", it said. Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine state were also prohibited from travelling between townships, or out of Rakhine, without permission, the report said.

The report said a government order stipulated that married Rohingya couples in parts of Rakhine state could not have more than two children, while another document said Rohingya had to apply for permission to marry, in what the report described as a "humiliating and financially prohibitive" process.

One document published in the report said officials should force a woman to breastfeed her child if there were doubts over whether she was the birth mother.

The restrictions against the Rohingyas have been known about for some time, but what's new for the world community back in February of 2014 was that campaigners said they had the official orders issued by the Buddhist-dominated local government in Rakhine state. 

A year is approaching soon since the publication of the report from the Fortify Rights. And nothing has happened to motivate the criminal Myanmar regime and its murderous rank and file within the larger Buddhist community to change its genocidal policies against the Rohingya people, who remain the most persecuted people in our time. 

Last week, the UN passed a resolution calling on Myanmar to give the Rohingya people citizenship. 

It is highly unlikely that the Myanmar regime will oblige. Its pit bull – the face of Burmese Buddhism - has already opened its ugly mouth, insulting the UN, of which Myanmar remains a member state. The UN human rights chief Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein has called on religious and political leaders in Myanmar to unequivocally condemn all forms of incitement to hatred including abhorrent public personal attack against Ms. Lee. Instead of apologizing, Wirathu has defended his personal attack on United Nations special rapporteur Yanghee Lee, saying senior monks had used similar language in the past – even at the sacred Shwedagon Pagoda.

Buddhist monks are a powerful political lobby inside Myanmar. With a general election scheduled this year I doubt any political leader would speak up and risk Wirathu and the fascist monks turning on them. It should also be noted that Buddhist monastic code, called Patimokkha, allows for use of such abusive words that were used by Wirathu. 

It would be thus foolish of the world community to expect the unexpected from inside Myanmar. It has to take actions that are meaningful and that stop the extinction of the Rohingya people. 

As I have said a number of times, feeding only carrots to an unruly donkey won't do the tricks. Only biting sanctions can sober the Myanmar’s pariah regime and its pit bull Wirathu. When they feel the pain they will know what have contributed to their pains and hopefully, change their demonic course for the better.

Monk Ashin Wirathu, pictured in Mandalay in 2014. (PHOTO: Steve Tickner)

By Aye Nai
January 24, 2015

On 23 January, DVB interviewed Wirathu, the controversial and outspoken Buddhist monk from Mandalay who is at the forefront of the 969 movement in Burma. Following a speech last week in which he called UN Rapporteur on Human Rights Yanghee Lee a “whore”, he has faced condemnation both at home and abroad. We asked him if he had any regrets.

Q: The United Nations (UN) has called for political and religious leaders to condemn your comments about Special Rapporteur Human Rights to Burma Yanghee Lee. What is your response to this?

A: In response to the UN’s call, I would like to urge our political and religious leaders to oppose any representative from a foreign country interfering with our sovereignty. I would say, ‘Do not let them determine our future’.

Q: Do you regret making the comments?

A: ‘Regret’ means feeling sorry for doing or saying something wrong. I was defending our religion: the sasana, and I should be glad that I succeeded in making this particular comment. I am delightfully proud.

Q: According to commentators and observers, you promote Islamophobia and hate speech. Are you focused on the Rohingya issue? Or the Islamic issue?

A: I am against Jihadism but not against all Muslims. The Rohingya are Jihadists and so are the Islamic extremists and those plotting to conquer our country under the 786 banner. My activism is focused against them, but not the people who live in peace.

Q: There are rumours circulating on social media that officials from the Religious Affairs Department visited the New Masoyein Monastery on 22 January and informed the abbot that you are to face charges for your remarks. Do you know if that is true?

A: It was true that religious affairs officials visited the monastery. They came around 11:30am on Thursday. But I do not know what they discussed. The abbot has not yet told me anything.

Q: Do you think they came to discuss your comments amid all the international pressure?

A: Well, that is what people are speculating. But I was afraid to talk to the abbot, and I don’t know what they discussed as the meeting took place in his room.

Q: How would you like to respond to the UN statement [condemning your comments]?

A: I would like you to tell them that Burma’s stance on the Rohingya issue is not just about how the government feels about it, but our whole country. The entire national race shares the same sentiment. If [the UN] would like to see peace and coexistence in Burma, they must never use the word ‘Rohingya’, which is a bogus ethnic group.

(Photo: DVB)

By Aung Kyaw Min
January 24, 2015

U Wirathu has defended his personal attack on United Nations special rapporteur Yanghee Lee, saying senior monks had used similar language in the past – even at the sacred Shwedagon Pagoda.

U Wirathu labelled Ms Lee a “whore” for opposing a package of laws he is pushing the government and parliament to enact during a protest on January 16, the final day of her 10-day visit earlier this month.

According to one translation, he told the crowd of several hundred people, “Just because you hold a position in the United Nations doesn’t make you an honourable woman. In our country, you are just a whore.”

He added, “You can offer your arse to the kalars if you so wish but you are not selling off our Rakhine State.”

He told The Myanmar Times last week that the language had been used in the past by famous monks, but could not provide examples beyond a vague reference to Shwedagon Pagoda.

“Our famous sayardaws and senior monk have used these harsh or strong words if necessary according to the time and circumstance,” he said. “You can check the history books if you don’t believe me.”

His comments come as a senior member of Myanmar’s leading Buddhist body, the Sangha Maha Nayaka Committee, said it would only consider taking action against U Wirathu if it receives a formal complaint.

The outburst was provoked by her criticism of the treatment of Muslim Rohingya in Rakhine State and her opposition to four “protection of religion” laws proposed by the Committee for the Protection of Nationality and Religion, which is better known by its Myanmar-language acronym Ma Ba Tha. U Wirathu is a prominent member of Ma Ba Tha and released an initial draft of one of the laws, on interfaith marriage, to journalists in June 2013.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein described the “sexist, insulting language” used against Ms Lee as “intolerable”, and called on religious and political leaders “to unequivocally condemn all forms of incitement to hatred including this abhorrent public personal attack against a UN-appointed expert”.

The government, however, has distanced itself from the issue, saying it is up to the Sangha committee to respond.

But U Gunarlinkarra, the deputy head of the Yangon Region Sangha committee, said the committee “can't just take action because we want to”.

“We need a complaint from the person [targeted],” he said. “If we get a complaint we will investigate and then take action.”

He also refused to condemn U Wirathu’s comments and rejected suggestions he had tarnished the image of Buddhism.

''His words can't affect all Buddhists. It also seems he is saying this to protect the country and people. However, harsh words are not good for a monk,” he said.

Despite presidential spokesperson U Ye Htut being quoted as saying the government would ask the Ministry for Religious Affairs to investigate U Wirathu’s comments, President’s Office director U Zaw Htay told The Myanmar Times that the government would not act.

“It is up to the Sangha Maha Nayaka Committee to take action according to the Sangha organisation's rules. The President’s Office will not issue instructions,” he said.

“The Sangha will tackle the issue themselves and the Ministry of Religious Affairs will assist if necessary. The township administration or religious officials will be informed if he is prosecuted.”

A spokesperson for the UN in Yangon said it was “in communication with the government” on the issue but declined to give further information, including whether a formal complaint had been submitted. Spokesperson for the UN Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights did not respond to requests for comment.

During the protest, U Wirathu also directed abuse at local human rights activists who have opposed a draft interfaith marriage law that would stop Buddhist women marrying men of other faiths.

One of those targeted, U Aung Myo Min of Equality Myanmar, said he would not seek charges against U Wirathu.

“Anybody can say what they like according to their right to free speech,” he said. “However, I don’t think this harsh language should be used against anyone.”

The interfaith marriage law is one of four proposed by the Committee for the Protection of Nationality and Religion, of which U Wirathu is a founding member.

His words have drawn some stern rebukes – including, unusually, from within the Sangha.

"Ashin Wirathu's harsh words could harm the image of the Buddhist religion,” Myawaddy Sayardaw Ashin Ariya Vamsa Bhivamsa was quoted as saying in Daily Eleven.

“The dignity of the Sasana [religion] can be saved by invoking pakasaniya kamma,” he said, referring to a formal rejection by the Sangha of the words or actions of a monk.

But Paul Fuller, a Buddhist studies expert focused on “ethnocentric” Buddhism in Myanmar and Sri Lanka, said U Wirathu was unlikely to have violated the monastic code, known as the patimokkha.

“When a monk deviates from these rules, various sanctions of increasing severity can be enacted against the monastic who transgresses them,” said Mr Fuller, who holds a PhD in Buddhist Studies from the University of Bristol and has taught at universities in the United Kingdom, Southeast Asia and Australia.

“However, very few of the 227 rules could be interpreted to prohibit a monk from expressing their own opinions, even political opinions.”

He said there is “far more focus” in the rules on criticising fellow monks than on prohibiting and individual monk from expressing opinions.

“If the monk continues to follow the rules of the patimokkha, and acknowledges any transgression of them, then, according to the monastic code, he is not committing any offence.”

Tun Aung speaks with RFA following his release from Insein Prison in Yangon, Jan. 20, 2015. (Photo: RFA)

January 24, 2015

A Muslim community leader in Myanmar who was granted amnesty this week from a lengthy jail sentence stemming from a 2012 outbreak of communal violence says he wants to devote his energy to healing tensions in the multi-ethnic Southeast Asian country.

Physician Tun Aung had tried to calm down crowds as violence surged between Muslims and Buddhists in western Myanmar’s Rakhine state in mid-2012, but was jailed for 19 years for “inciting violence” and other charges his supporters in the international human rights community say were fabricated.

Tun Aung told RFA’s Myanmar Service after his release on Jan. 20 that prison authorities said he was to be “released through an amnesty given by the President” of Myanmar, Thein Sein, on short notice after serving two years and eight months.

“There is a Burmese saying that one of the happiest days [in life] is being released from jail,” said the 65-year-old Tun Aung, adding he was pleased to be united with his daughter and son-in-law. His daughter told RFA she planned to reunite her parents in Yangon.

Asked if he suffered torture while in captivity, Tun Aung said “not physically.”

He said that during his time in jail, his thoughts were dominated by the question of “what is it that I can do” to heal the conflict between Rohingya Muslims and Rakhine Buddhists which since June 2012 has left nearly 300 people dead and 140,000 homeless.

“I cannot say why this happened. I cannot understand it. There is no reason for such things to happen,” he said of the riots almost three years ago.

“I would like our region to be peaceful, stable and developed, for the various peoples to understand one another again, and to live together peacefully, like in the past many years,” said Tun Aung.

Tun Aung’s case was taken up by Amnesty International, Myanmar-focused advocacy groups the U.S. Campaign for Burma, The Burma Campaign UK and the Czech-based Prague Freedom Foundation (PFF). U.S. Congressman Aaron Schock of Illinois also fought for the doctor’s release.

Amnesty International said it believed that Tun Aung, who was chairman of the Islamic Religious Affairs Council in Maungdaw, Rakhine state, was persecuted for his role as a Muslim community leader.

Tun Aung (R) meets with an unnamed official following his release from Insein Prison in Yangon, Jan. 20, 2015. Photo: RFA

“Myanmar has taken a great step forward in human rights reform and in its transition of its government,” said the PFF’s John Todoroki, who along with Schock greeted Tun Aung upon his release from prison.

Rights groups, however, say many Rohingyas displaced in the June 2012 riots and subsequent clashes remain in squalid camps with no clear prospects of returning to their homes.

Call for dialogue

Tun Aung told RFA he thought the best way forward was for leaders of the two communities to discuss issues “openly and with transparency.”

“In actual fact both these two groups of people are honest people. So the best way is for the honest elders of these two groups of peoples to meet and discuss,” he said.

“The Rakhine people can say what they would like to happen; on the other side, the people of Islam can present their difficulties. I would hope that the opportunity would be given for this meeting to happen in a brotherly, friendly and open manner,” said Tun Aung.

Some1.3 million Rohingyas are stateless and vulnerable in Myanmar, with many denied citizenship, evicted from their homes, and left victims of land confiscation.

The Myanmar government has come up with the Rakhine Action Plan, requiring Rohingyas to meet stringent verification requirements for citizenship.

Under the policy, they must supply proof of a six-decade residency to qualify for naturalized citizenship—a second-class citizenship with fewer rights than full citizenship that would classify them as “Bengali” rather than Rohingya, indicating they have illegally immigrated from neighboring Bangladesh.

Those who fail to meet the requirement or refuse the Bengali classification would be housed in camps, and then deported.

Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Soe Thinn. Written in English by Paul Eckert.

January 24, 2015

The US sees the “real solution” to the Rohingya refugee issue lies in their going back to Myanmar when the situation changes in the Rakhine state.

International pressure could play a part in changing that situation, Assistant Secretary of State of the Department of Population, Refugees and Migration Anne Richard said on Friday before leaving Dhaka.

She was here on four-day tour to ‘learn about’ Rohingya refugee issues after her more than a week-long visit to Myanmar.

During her maiden visit to Bangladesh, she also went to the camps in Cox’s Bazaar to learn firsthand about the living conditions of the refugees.

She also spoke at a seminar at the Bangladesh Institute of International and Strategic Studies (BIISS). There she said Rohingyas deserved Burmese citizenship to end their statelessness, which she identified as a root cause of their plight and displacement.

On Friday at a media roundtable at American Club, she once again thanked Bangladesh for sheltering hundreds of thousands of Rohingya population over the decades and said it became an “important model” for rest of the world.

She said when she talked with them at the Cox’s Bazaar camps they also acknowledged that “this is a generous move” on the part of Bangladesh.

“They are very grateful”.

She asked them where they would like to live – Bangladesh or Burma.

“They said they would rather be here even as the conditions are not perfect (in camps). They enjoy certain amount of freedom here which they just don’t have in their home country.”

She said the situation in Rakhine state was not improving with the spirit of democratic reform in that country.

And to improve that, she believed international pressure could play a part.

“It’s pressure from the governments like us that interest the Burmese.

“They would like to have military-to-military relationship with the US military and that’s not going to happen until they have human rights in their country.

“They would like to have economic interest that is being explored but it could all be undone by the problems in Rakhine state,” she said.

She said the best part was that the US government, including its military, was “very clear in speaking in one voice” on Myanmar.

Rohingya refugee issue is a major irritant in Bangladesh-Myanmar relations.

Bangladesh has given shelter to thousands of refugees who fled the Rakhine province following sectarian clashes spread over the years, but Myanmar refused to grant them citizenship.

The assistant secretary said Bangladesh was not the only country raising the issue with Naypyidaw.

“This has become a major piece of foreign relations between many countries and Myanmar.”

“There is lot of economic interest in Burma as it is opening up, but we have to make sure that human rights are not neglected and that’s why our Ambassador, Secretary of State and even President raised it directly with Burmese government in a number of visits.

“Every single American government leaders going there are raising the issue,” she added.

“Our dream of course is that Rohingya people are gerting a place in Burmese society in Rakhine state and able to live with their neighbours, the Rakhine Buddhists, in a peaceful place where both communities thrive.”

She said this US dream was shared with Bangladesh.

“I know it’s possible,” she said.

As the US takes refugees from different parts of the world, the assistant secretary said settlement in a third country cannot be a solution.

“People who can never go back home, settlement in a third country is definitely an option.

“The real solution for most Rohingya is that we should strive for this that they go home.”

She said Myanmar authorities also had “responsibility” to make changes so that their people can go back home.

Communal violence has forced thousands of ethnic Rohingya Muslims into camps (Photo: David Longstreath/IRIN)

By Rachel Harvey
January 24, 2015

The trials, tribulations and recent relative triumph of the international health charity Médecins Sans Frontières in Myanmar are a salutary reminder that the South East Asian nation’s much heralded transition from military dictatorship to quasi-civilian administration has not been an entirely smooth ride. No one with any understanding of the country ever believed it would be. Early heady optimism has gradually settled into a mixture of cautious hope seasoned with liberal doses of regular frustration.

In a new report this week, the Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies described 2014 as a “year of ups and downs for Myanmar” and predicted that, with a general election scheduled, “2015 will be an eventful year for the country”. 

Hard to find fault with that analysis, and the start of the year has provided ample evidence of Myanmar’s stop-go progress. 

Small signs of progress

Médecins Sans Frontières-Holland (MSF) announced this week that it had quietly resumed work in Rakhine state after a 10-month hiatus. 

The Myanmar government ordered MSF out of the country last February accusing the organisation of being biased in favour of Rakhine’s Muslim Rohingya minority. 

Tens of thousands of Rohingya – who are not recognised by the government as citizens of Myanmar – have been displaced by fighting with Buddhists, which has flared sporadically since 2012. Rakhine state is named after the ethnic Rakhine Buddhist majority but also has a sizeable Muslim population, including the Rohingya minority. Communal violence in the past two years has killed more than 170 people and destroyed more than 10,000 homes. Those who fled to camps often endure squalid conditions. The resumption of MSF’s operations in Rakhine follows what the charity describes as “complicated negotiations” with the central government, state authorities and local community leaders. 

MSF is not alone in struggling for access to respond adequately to the crisis in Rakhine. "The humanitarian situation is still unacceptably dire for far too many people,” concluded John Ging, operations director at the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), after a two day visit to the state last September.

Perhaps MSF’s success is a sign of better things to come? 

In a written response to questions from IRIN, MSF’s operational advisor on Myanmar, Martine Flokstra, made clear the organisation was now able to provide health care to both communities in Rakhine. But MSF is calling on the government to go further. 

“While we welcome the progress made so far in renegotiating access to those populations unable to reach the medical care they need, it should be noted that we are not doing as much as we were previously (before Feb 2014),” Flokstra said. “Meanwhile, many people remain unable to access the healthcare they urgently need.” 

Brickbats and row backs

The atmosphere for fruitful discussion about the role of international humanitarian organisations in Myanmar in general, and Rakhine in particular, has, however, been poisoned after a controversial Buddhist monk yesterday aimed sexist remarks at a UN special envoy. Ashin Wirathu, a firebrand nationalist, described Yanghee Lee as a “bitch” and a “whore” after the South Korean envoy said publically that the Rohingya faced discrimination. The government is under pressure to resolve the row but is hugely reluctant to censure Wirathu – who commands a wide following. 

Meanwhile other ethnic tensions are faring no better. Signs for peace in northern Kachin state, home to one of the most intractable of Myanmar’s many ethnic conflagrations, look increasingly bleak. The government has been seeking a nationwide peace pact encompassing all groups to bring an end to six decades of volatility. But the chances of success in an election year look slim.

As does the prospect of further political reform, given recent statements from the military making clear what most had already assumed - it is not prepared to give up any of its still considerable power and influence. 

It’s been quite a week. Predicting that 2015 will be an eventful year for Myanmar is already looking like a staggering understatement.

Wirathu (PHOTO: DVB)

By Aye Nai
January 23, 2015

Officials from the government’s Religious Affairs Department in Mandalay have rejected rumours that they plan to sue controversial Buddhist monk Wirathu after he called the UN’s Special Human Rights Rapporteur Yanghee Lee a “whore”.

According to rumours circulated on social media, officials from the department visited the New Masoyein monastery in Mandalay – where Wirathu resides – on Thursday, when they informed the abbot Kethara Biwunsa of their intentions to sue the nationalist monk for his comments.

It was reported that the controversial monk, renowned for his firebrand anti-Mulsim rhetoric, was to be sued under Article 295(a): Deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings.

Wirathu was previously indicted for inciting religious hatred in 2003 and sentenced to 25 years in prison. He was freed in 2010 under a general amnesty.

Kyaw Hlaing, deputy-director of the Religious Affairs Department in Mandalay Division, said that while he and other officials did visit the monastery, they did not to talk about bringing legal action against Wirathu but discussed an upcoming Buddhist ceremony.

“We were at the monastery by invitation from the abbot to discuss an event planned for 2- 3 February to award academic monks who have passed exams,” said Kyaw Hlaing.

“We don’t have a plan to sue Wirathu as claimed by social media reports.”

In a phone interview with DVB on Friday, Wirathu said that officials were at the monastery in the morning of the day before, but that he did not know what they discussed with the abbot.

“They came to the monastery around 11:30am on Thursday – I have not yet spoken to the abbot and he has not told me anything.” said Wirathu.

“There is speculation that the officials are planning to sue me. I don’t know what they discussed because the talks were held privately,” he added.

The UN has condemned the monk’s slurs, which they alleged are sexist and insulting.

The Religious Affairs Department has been involved in some high-profile cases as religious incidents have spiralled in post-dictatorship Burma. Philip Blackwood from New Zealand is facing charges in court after being arrested for “insulting religion” and “hurting religious feelings” last year for posting on Facebook a picture of Buddha wearing headphones as part of a nightclub promotion.

Last year, Religious Affairs Minister Hsan Hsint was ousted from his position following a botched raid on the Mahasantisukha Monastery in Rangoon. He was found guilty of sedition and criminal breach of trust and sentenced to 13 years’ imprisonment.
Illegal Rohingya migrants arrested in Ranong province, Thailand, January 27, 2009. Photo: EPA

January 23, 2015

A Thai police investigation into the deaths of three Muslim Rohingya migrants being trafficked illegally through the country continued January 21 when a group of rescued people identified the cars used to transport them, according to a report in The Nation January 22.

Hua Sai police in Nakhon Si Thammarat in southern Thailand brought a small group of Rohingya to identify the cars they had been carried in. The cars are impounded at the police station.

One woman died on January 11 after being crushed in a vehicle while being transported. The provincial court has issued arrest warrants for three alleged human traffickers. She was among 98 Rohingya migrants from Myanmar crammed into five vehicles believed to have been trafficked through the country by the human trafficking ring. A further two of the migrants are reported to have subsequently died in hospital, one due to diarrhea and the other due to a blood infection, according to local media reports.

Thailand has been criticised over its efforts to crack down on the trafficking of Rohingya migrants from Myanmar who leave to look for work or flee poor security conditions in their country. Many set out from Myanmar by sea in rickety boats, heading for Thailand and Malaysia.

According to the newspaper report, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is said to be coordinating with related parties to move some Rohingya refugees in Thailand on a voluntary basis to a third county, initially set as the United States. The comment was reportedly made during a UNHCR Thailand official’s visit to a shelter where this group of migrants was being held in Hua Sai district.

However, the UNHCR has shown that it prefers to maintain a low-key approach that does not specify the country to which vulnerable individuals might be sent.

Ms Vivian Tan, UNHCR regional press officer in Bangkok, commenting in response to the media story, said the UNHCR's support for the Rohingya in southern Thailand remains unchanged.

“For several years now, we have been providing relief supplies to supplement government assistance to these arrivals. As you know, these Rohingya are being hosted in shelters managed by the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security, and immigration detention centres. The immigration detention centres are not designed to accommodate such large numbers of people for long periods of time,” she told Mizzima January 23.

“UNHCR has been advocating with the authorities to provide alternatives to detention for these individuals, many of whom are already traumatized by their flight from their country and their difficult journey to reach Thailand. We are also working with the authorities to find solutions, including exploring resettlement to third countries for the most vulnerable individuals. Again, these efforts have been ongoing for several years; they are not a new development,” Ms Tan said.

With no electricity, women in the camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs) make fuel to cook with, by coating sticks with cow dung. The work takes almost all day.

By Nirmal Ghosh
January 23, 2015

The no-nonsense general who has one of the most difficult jobs in Myanmar - chief minister of violence-torn Rakhine state - says he guarantees security in the state.

"The number of police has been reinforced. In addition, wherever necessary, I plan to get reinforcements from the army," Major-General Maung Maung Ohn told The Straits Times in an exclusive interview at his office in the state capital Sittwe.

"At this point of time, I can guarantee security," said the 54- year-old hand-picked for the job about eight months ago. His predecessor Hla Maung Tin was seen as siding with local Rakhine activists and creating difficulties for humanitarian aid efforts to help the stricken minority Muslims.

About 200 minority Muslims - identifying themselves as Rohingya but seen as "Bengalis" by local Rakhines and also by the Myanmar government - were killed, and another 140,000 driven from their homes in attacks by ethnic Rakhine Buddhists in 2012.

They live in wretched conditions in camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs), some just a couple of kilometres from Sittwe.

Rakhines were also attacked by the Rohingya in the state's north, where Muslims form the majority in some areas. But the Rohingya bore the brunt in the south.

The displaced Muslims, who lost everything and, in many cases, saw family and friends hacked and burned to death in 2012, are confined to the camps. Community ties are in shreds, with those remaining in town avoiding Rakhine neighbourhoods, and vice-versa.

Every month, hundreds of Rohingya risk life and limb to flee across the Bay of Bengal and Andaman Sea in boats run by people smugglers to Malaysia, often via Thailand.

The chief minister's comments came just days after the United Nations Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Myanmar, Ms Yanghee Lee, commended his efforts after visiting the IDP camps. But she said Rakhine state was still in crisis and called for more humanitarian access and speedy resettlement of the IDPs.

Asked to respond, he said: "I am very much aware of the fact that as chief minister, I am totally responsible for the humanitarian affairs of the communities."

He said he would continue with humanitarian assistance and "uphold the human rights of the IDPs in line with international standards and UN principles".

Global aid groups had full access to camps, he said, adding the only issue was international non- governmental organisations' (INGOs) "personal relations" with local communities, referring to Rakhines. There have been incidents where local INGO staff were attacked by Rakhines, who resent that aid is going to the Rohingya.

Buddhist sentiments have also been fanned by incendiary rhetoric by right-wing nationalists like Mandalay-based monk Wirathu.

As chief minister, Maj-Gen Maung Maung Ohn has to navigate between the Rohingya and Rakhine communities, dealing with extremists on both sides. This has become even more crucial with elections to be held later this year.

He said the Rohingya will be resettled once an ongoing citizen verification process is done, and camp conditions will improve.

But he made clear those who insist on identifying themselves as Rohingya will not get citizenship. "That's not going to happen," said the chief minister, referring to the Rohingya as Bengalis.

While this group has been in Rakhine for a long time, often for generations, the "Rohingya" label is a red rag for local Rakhines who view them as recent illegal immigrants from neighbouring Bangladesh, using the identity as a political tool to grab land, gain more rights and "Islamise" the state.

"The Rakhine community believe 'Rohingya' is a coined word," he said. "They say there is no such ethnicity in this country, so they reject it. This is the stand of the Rakhine people."

Myanmar law, too, does not recognise such an ethnic group, he added.

Some Rohingya refugees who fled communal violence in Burma live in temporary sheds built in Jammu and Kashmir. [Showkat Ahmad/Khabar]

By Adeel Shah
Khabar South Asia
January 23, 2015

Jammu and Kashmir is among the Indian states that have taken in Burmese Muslims fleeing violence in their homeland.

Thousands of Rohingya Muslims from Burma in the past few years have fled to neighbouring countries including India, in search of havens from communal violence at home.

In Jammu and Kashmir, the Rohingya have built temporary sheds in more than 15 locations and each month pay a few hundred rupees in rent to landowners.

Abdullah Hashim, who lives in the Bari Brahmana area, said he missed his hometown in Burma .

"We had to leave Burma after we were targeted for no reason," he said. "It is very unfortunate, nobody from the administration or even any leader from any Muslim country came to save us when we needed them the most."

Rajan Gupta, who owns a candle-making factory in Jammu, has hired Rohingya as workers.

"When they approached me, I provided them with jobs, so that they could survive," he said. "Many of factory owners here have employed these violence-hit people because they want to help them."

"Initially after we left our village in Burma and moved here, it was very tough for me to feed my family. But, then I started working at a candle-making factory," said Imdad Ahmad, a Rohingya who works at Gupta's factory.

"Now I feel, I am having a different life now – a new home, new work and a new life. After coming here to Jammu last year, I have started living a real life."

Sultan Ahmad, another victim of violence from Mungdaw, and his family now live in Jammu.

"I lost my uncle in the violence, and we quickly left everything and first moved to West Bengal and then here in 2012," he said. "Those extremist Buddhists who attacked us were very cruel."

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) gave the refugees identification cards, but they say they still lack basic necessities.

"I was working in a factory before leaving our village and moving here to save our lives. Only a few NGOs come here from time to time to provide us clothes and other things," Akram Mehmood, who lives in a makeshift tent, told Khabar.

Around 1,500 Rohingya Muslims are camping in Jammu, state officials estimate.

"There are no special facilities for them," Jammu Divisional Commissioner Shantanu said. "But we are providing shelters to all those people who are homeless during the winters."

Rohingya Exodus