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PRESS STATEMENT

Arakan Rohingya Union Strongly Urges the Government of Myanmar to Grant International Humanitarian Relief Groups Unfettered Access to All Areas of Arakan Hit by the Cyclone

Arakan Rohingya Union urges the Government of Myanmar to grant the international humanitarian relief groups unfettered access to all areas of Arakan State severely hit by the Cyclone Komen, in its strongest terms.

On July 31, 2015, tropical cyclone made its landfall at Arakan state, causing several deaths and extensive damage to homes and properties. The worst-hit areas by the storm in Rakhine state include the townships of Maungdaw, Minbya, Mrauk-U, Kyauktaw, Buthidaung, Ann and others, where hundreds of villages have been submerged, many washed away, and the Rohingya IDP camps in Sittwe area are currently inundated. 

Death of at least 18 Rohingya persons has been reported from various townships in Arakan, and a number of individuals have been unaccounted for. In Maungdaw Township, Myanmar Government officials have reportedly evacuated Buddhist Rakhine from the low-lying areas to highlands in Maungdaw East before the landfall of the storm. Emergency relief supplies from the Government of Myanmar for the Buddhist Rakhine residents reportedly began to arrive at the Buddhist Rakhine shelter areas. The UN and the limited numbers of international NGOs operating in parts of Arakan are reportedly surveying the areas and assessing the damage. Relief supplies for Rohingya from international relief groups or from the Government of Myanmar have not arrived to date. Currently, Rohingya communities in each township are providing shelters to the Rohingya victims who lost their homes. The continuous torrential monsoon rain is reportedly worsening the situation.

We strongly urge the Government of Myanmar to provide humanitarian assistance to all people of Arakan, including Rohingya, Kamen, and others, and assist in rebuilding their homes. Additionally, we urge the Government of Myanmar to grant the international NGOs unhindered access to Arakan state in order to provide assistance to all people of Arakan affected by the storm.

We appeal the international community to provide urgent humanitarian assistance in Arakan, including the Rohingya IDP camps, which are most vulnerable to destruction by natural disaster.

Dr. Wakar Uddin
Director General, Arakan Rohingya Union
Dated: August 1, 2015

For more information, contact: +1 814 777 4498

The 2nd European Rohingya Conference was held in Esbjerg, Denmark from August 1st to 2nd, 2015. 




























Declaration of the 2nd European Rohingya Conference

The second European Rohingya Conference was held between 1-2 August 2015 in Esbjerg, Denmark. It was participated by Rohingya leaders, representatives from Rohingya organisations and communities from all over Europe. The conference discussed issues relating to Rohingya people, their refugees and current deteriorating situation.

The conference:
  • Condemned the ruling Burmese/Myanmar government for its policies of ‘Rohingya ethnocide and extermination’ and practice of genocide and other ‘atrocity crimes’ against the Rohingya minority’ with manifest intention to destroy the entire Rohingya people from their ancestral homeland of Arakan/Burma. 
  • Condemned the ongoing conspiracy to deprive the Rohingya people of their time honoured rights to vote and to hold public offices after they were excluded from the UN sponsored 2014 general census held in March 2014 for identifying themselves as “Rohingya”. 
  • Condemned the government and extremist non-state actors for obstructing humanitarian aids to Rohingya and Muslim victims of recent devastating cyclone and flood in Arakan and other parts of Burma. 

The conference participants expressed seriously concern over the current forcing of temporary card known as green card on ethnic Rohingya requiring them to apply for citizenship by naturalization with ‘Bengali identity’ as foreign residents with a view to denationalizing and dividing the entire Rohingya people while puting them in permanent limbo. 

The conference urged upon the UN with the powerful countries to immediately intervene in Arakan on ground of humanitarianism in order to protect the lives, properties and honour of the defenceless Rohingya people so as to prevent further deaths and destructions and relieve the victims. 

The conference also called on the European Union to place its responsibility to end genocide and atrocity crimes against Rohingya before its business interests. 

The conference demanded the Burmese government to end Rohingya persecution and ghettoization of the internally displaced Rohingya people. 

The conference reiterated that by all legal standards the Rohingya are indigenous to Arakan and natural born citizens of Burma, and that political and democratic process in Burma should be all-inclusive and Rohingya must be a part of it. 

Meanwhile, the two day conference called on European Union, UN, UK, and USA for the followings: 
  • To support UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon to take the lead in negotiating free and unhindered humanitarian access in Rakhine State.
  • To support an international independent investigation in order to investigate the slow burning-genocide, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing and to publicly announce its findings and bring the perpetrators to justice.
  • To put pressure on the Burmese/Myanmar government to restore citizenship and ethnic rights of the Rohingya and to sincerely to contribute towards reconciliation between Muslim Rohingya and Buddhist Rakhine for restoring peace and stability in Arakan. 

Signatories;

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

For more information please contact; 

Tun Khin +44 7888714866 
Nay San Lwin +49 1796535213 

Dated: 2nd August 2015

National League for Democracy chairwoman Aung San Suu Kyi at the party’s 25th anniversary celebrations on Sept. 27, 2013. (Photo: Steve Tickner / The Irrawaddy)

By Hnin Yadana Zaw
August 2, 2015

RANGOON — The party of Aung San Suu Kyi has rejected bids by 17 members of Burma’s respected “88 generation” to join its ranks and contest November’s election, a controversial omission of a group that was expected to galvanize its bid to dominate the ballot.

The National League for Democracy (NLD) party selected only one member of the popular crop of activists, who suffered years of persecution after leading nationwide student protests in 1988 that were brutally crushed by the ruling military.

Their rebellion mushroomed into a pro-democracy uprising that thrust Suu Kyi, the daughter of late independence hero Aung San, into Burma’s political spotlight.

The most high-profile exclusion was the charismatic protest leader Ko Ko Gyi, who spent more than 17 years in and out of prison before his 2012 release. He declined to comment.

Some experts said the decision risks dividing groups that have a shared vision of a more democratic Burma under which the military, which is guaranteed three ministerial positions and a quarter of legislative seats, has no political role.

Pyone Cho was the sole member of the group selected to represent the party in the ballot. The NLD received 3,000 applications and will field 1,090 candidates.

The NLD’s candidate list does include several intellectuals and activists, including free speech advocate Nay Phone Latt and Susanna Hla Hla Soe, who heads a female empowerment group.

Party spokesman Nyan Win said it was the prerogative of the NLD’s central committee to choose who it wanted for its members of Parliament.

“We are choosing the most suitable MPs for the country,” he said. “Everyone have the right to apply as candidates but the committee needs to choose the best people.”

Among those absent from the list were rector of Rangoon University Aung Thu, a democracy activist who is pushing for education reform, and Nyo Nyo Thin, a prominent lawmaker in the Rangoon divisional parliament.

Political analyst and National Youth Congress member Thet Swe Win said the NLD’s exclusion of most 88 generation applicants would fragment the pro-reform camp.

It meant prominent people now had a race against time to register by the Aug. 8 deadline to form a new party or run as independents, he said.

“This is an insult and their decision will make the opposition force shatter,” he said. “It’s such a shame for them to make this kind of decision without even thinking for the country.” 

Angelina Jolie with Aung San Suu Kyi (Photo: The Telegraph)

August 2, 2015

Angelina Jolie is currently on a tour of Burma where she joins democracy hero Aung San Suu Kyi visit factory workers to talk about their poor conditions

Angelina Jolie met with Myanmar's opposition leader and democracy icon, Aung San Suu Kyi to visit female factory workers in Yangon to learn more about their dire conditions. 

Jolie, who is a special envoy for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, is on a four-day visit to the Southeast Asian nation. 

During her meeting with the factory workers, on the outskirts of an industrial zone in Myanmar's largest city, Yangon. Jolie and Suu Kyi witnessed first hand the conditions the women live in, mostly low cost hostels. Jolie also toured inside the factory. 

She traveled to Kachin state earlier this week, home to more than 10,000 displaced people since a ceasefire between Myanmar's government and ethnic rebels broke down in 2011.

According to her trip details, it is unlikely that Jolie will be able to travel to western Rakhine State, where more than 100,000 Muslim minority Rohingya live in apartheid-like conditons in camps. 

It is Jolie's first visit to Myanmar, Burma, which only recently emerged from decades of military rule. More than a dozen ethnic minority groups, mostly in Myanmar's border areas, have been fighting for greater autonomy. 

Recently, world attention has turned to the plight of stateless Rohingya Muslims who have been trafficked from Myanmar and Bangladesh on board overcrowded boats. Dozens of graves as well as pens likely used as human cages have been found in abandoned jungle camps on both sides of the Thailand-Malaysian border. 



Integrated Community Shelter built in Aceh with $420,000 in funding from various parties inside and outside of country

By Ainur Rohmah 
August 2, 2015

JAKARTA -- The government and volunteers from the Aceh community have finished a housing complex for Rohingya who arrived on Indonesian shores during the recent Southeast Asian crisis, with the intention of rehousing many of the regions more than 1000 refugees in the next 10 days. 

The Integrated Community Shelter has been built in Blang Adoe Village in North Aceh's Kuta Makmur subdistrict by Jakarta-based organization Aksi Cepat Tanggap (Fast Action Response) with Rp 6 billion ($420,000) in funding from various parties, both inside and outside of the country. 

Volunteer Zainal Bakri told Anadolu Agency on Saturday that the need was urgent, as the around 332 refugees to be housed in the new shelter had been placed in temporary accommodation in a village training center, in unhealthy and uncomfortable conditions. 

"The North Aceh government is targeting their removal before August 10," Bakri said. 

The complex stands on an area of 5 hectares, has 120 rooms and is divided into 15 blocks. 

It is equipped with 46 bathrooms, two teaching rooms, a health clinic, a children's playground, a park and a mosque. 

Bakri said each Rohingya family would receive their own room, while single refugees would be placed into two barracks - one for men and one for women. 

This week, North Aceh Regent Muhammad Thaib described the green, white and orange rooms, and the connecting corridors dotted with plants, as heavenly. 

"It's like being in heaven, yet this is real. Very beautiful," he said on visiting the shelters. 

Organization Executive Director Sri Eddy Kuncuro said that community development programs will also be run inside the complex, not just for Rohingya, but also for Acehnese. 

"It's also an opportunity for us to help the Acehnese people who live around the shelter," he told Anadolu Agency. 

He said that data has been collected on the resources in each nearby villages, so as to decide the best programs to be taught in the shelter. 

Training so far would including agriculture, keeping livestock and fishing, he added. 

The foundation's Documentation and Advocacy Program Officer, Zulfadli Kawom, said that the intention was to help the refugees become self-sufficient. 

"Now that the stage of emergency is over, they should be given training in order to be more independent," he told Anadolu Agency. 

Kawom sounded a word of warning about the new center, however, saying that communities around the shelter also needed to be empowered so as to avoid jealousy. 

Rohingya have been fleeing persecution in Buddhist majority Myanmar in the tens of thousands since sectarian violence erupted in 2012. 

In May, a crackdown on people smuggling in Thailand - to which many of the Rohingya had traveled by boat in an effort to get to Malaysia and beyond - scared traffickers into abandoning up to 4,500 migrants on boats in the Andaman Sea. 

Around 1000 of the Rohingya ended up in Aceh. 

Rohingya refugee Mohammed Hussein was quoted by MetroTV as saying that he greatly appreciates everything the government and volunteers had done, and that they couldn't wait to stay in the new complex. 

Many of the Rohingya have been staying in sports centers, warehouses, and fishing complexes since they first arrived. 

"We ask to be immediately be moved there," he said. 

Indonesia’s government - along with Malaysia - has offered to shelter the thousands of boat people, ascertain which are genuine refugees and which are migrants, and house them for one year. 

After that, it has asked the international community to take the refugees in.

Flooding in Kalay in Burma’s Sagaing region, which has been declared a disaster zone. Photograph: Sai Zaw/AFP/Getty Images

By AFP
August 2, 2015

Thousands have already been affected by the downpours and aid workers fear that the death toll of 27 is likely to grow significantly higher

The toll from flash floods and landslides in Burma after days of torrential rain is likely to spike, the UN has warned, as monsoonal downpours brought misery to thousands across the region.

At least 27 people have been killed and more than 150,000 affected by flooding in Burma in recent days with the government declaring the four worst-hit areas in the centre and west of the country as “national disaster-affected regions”.

Scores have also perished in India, Nepal, Pakistan and Vietnam following floods and landslides triggered by heavy seasonal rains. 

Rescue work in Burma has been hampered by continued downpours and the inaccessibility of many of the remote regions worst hit by the deluges.

The UN’s office for the coordination of humanitarian affairs (OCHA) said on Sunday it had been informed by the Burmese government that at least 156,000 people have been affected by the floods. 

But that figure was likely to be “significantly higher” because many areas “have still not been reached or reported on by assessment teams,” the agency warned.

OCHA said the official death toll of 27 was also likely an underestimate. 

“As further information becomes available, this figure is also expected to increase,” the statement said.

The sheer extent of the flooding is testing the government’s limited relief operations.

An official at Burma’s social welfare ministry who did not want to be named told AFP on Saturday that all but one of the country’s 14 provinces and regions were affected by flash floods with rescue workers “struggling to access flood-hit areas”.

Burma’s monsoon rains are a lifeline for farmers, but the rains and frequent powerful cyclones can also prove deadly, with landslides and flash floods a common occurrence.

In May 2008, Cyclone Nargis devastated Burma’s Irrawaddy delta killing about 140,000 people. The then ruling junta’s slow response to the disaster fuelled resentment against the isolated regime and sparked international criticism.

Three years later the army ceded control to a quasi-civilian reformist government and fresh elections are slated for 8 November.

The country’s leaders have been keen to show flood relief is a top priority.

State media has run reports on president Thein Sein visiting victims in northwestern Sagaing region while powerful army chief General Min Aung Hlaing flew to flood-hit Rakhine.

Seasonal monsoon rains have also brought death and destruction to other Asian nations.

In Pakistan, flooding has killed 81 people and affected almost 300,000 in the last two weeks. Flash floods in western India have killed 26 people while the Press Trust of India said at least 20 people died over the weekend in a landslide in Manipur state which borders Myanmar.

In Vietnam’s Quang Ninh province 14 people have been killed in flooding while 36 people have perished in landslides in Nepal.

Image Credit: Screenshot from @delphineschrank

By 

The Diplomat talks with Delphine Schrank about Myanmar’s trajectory.

Delphine Schrank is a contributing editor to the Virginia Quarterly Review and a co-founder of DECA Stories, a pioneering writers’ cooperative for deeply reported, global journalism. She was The Washington Post’s correspondent in Myanmar and is the recent author of The Rebel of Rangoon: A Tale of Defiance and Deliverance (Nation Books, 2015), a narrative, nonfiction account about dissidents in Myanmar and their multi-generational fight for democracy.

She recently spoke with The Diplomat’s associate editor Prashanth Parameswaran about the future of democracy and human rights in Myanmar ahead of upcoming historic elections expected this November. An edited version of that interview follows.

You had a chance to interact with the people who resisted the regime politically, which forms the basis of your book. Has that experience made you more optimistic or pessimistic regarding the trajectory of reform in the country?

Optimistic! Burma/Myanmar presents a rare case of a country with a social movement whose members have had decades of experience pursuing their goal of democracy and attendant freedoms under one of the world’s most repressive and whimsically cruel regimes. People across the years died or fled into exile or broke under the pressure. It wasn’t a story of victory – they failed time and again, or felt themselves fail. But they studied their mistakes and lessons from their history, or sought inspiration from outside, and they evolved. So they’ve developed an unparalleled sophistication, at least relative to other people’s struggles for freedom – and we are seeing this now, very visibly, as they take full advantage of the political space that has opened since 2011 to expand the reforms – beyond whatever limits the military-dominated government had intended. And that’s across all sectors – the media, in commerce, in education – people working to build civil society, or adapting to the flawed parameters of the parliamentary system. Very creatively, they’ll find ways to make sure the clocks don’t turn back.

You experienced the media environment in Myanmar first hand as a foreign journalist from 2008 to 2012. How was the environment and how do you think that has changed over time? What are the challenges that remain?

In 2008 to about 2011, Myanmar’s press censorship was among the worst in the world. Everything for print had to pass through the Press Scrutiny Board and the junta had complete control over the Internet – although people employed proxies to get around firewalls. But everything was licensed and regulated, from acquiring flash-drives to copy paper. It was nearly impossible to publish anything even vaguely subversive. The consequences for defying the censors, or laws such as the notorious Electronic Transactions Act, could be years in prison. For credible local news, people were forced to depend on the illicit broadcasts of the Burmese services of the British Broadcasting Corporation, Voice of America and Radio Free Asia, or the Oslo-based Democratic Voice of Burma.

But in the decade before 2011, a core of serious journalists managed to keep alive about 100-150 private journals, weekly or monthly publications. They could only obliquely or metaphorically pass messages about the economy, or political issues and many filled their pages with horoscopes and sports news. But there was a thirst for more substantive information.

So it’s no surprise to me that with the easing of censorship since 2011, there’s been a burst of new publications and a very vocal and combative journalism—some of it ready to take on the most sensitive political taboos such as corruption within the ranks or state-led crackdowns on protesters. The battle’s ongoing right now for freedom of the press. But journalists are covering it, and a whole slew of new journalists, not always abiding by the best editorial or ethical standards. So—there’s a long road ahead. And publications will be born and die as fast. But the fourth estate is very much alive, and with a little time, it’ll grow up.

Within Myanmar’s fight for democracy, democracy icon and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has loomed large. How was she perceived in the dissident underground in Myanmar, and how should we think about her role?

Aung San Suu Kyi remained the unchallenged leader of the democracy movement for members of the dissident underground– but largely without the cult of personality that wider society built around her. There was a strategic reason for this: dissidents saw her as the only public figure who could cultivate widespread trust, and bring together Burma/Myanmar’s different stakeholders in the interests of national reconciliation. No one else, they’d say, not even the iconic student leaders who had led the 1988 uprising, had her broad reach. At a personal level, dissidents who had worked beside her or were directly inspired by her to join her party, the National League for Democracy or the movement beyond, repeatedly told me anecdotes illustrating her qualities of leadership – her intelligence and strength of character. And even if they disagreed with some of her positions, they saw the need for her as a unifying force – as a focal point for the opposition.

But I think the reality now is more complex—and even as she remains the single greatest source of inspiration and the most eloquent defender of their rights and aspirations, there are multiple actors within the pro-democratic opposition who have begun to earn people’s trust and who are making their voices heard more independently, because now they can. Until now, few of them wanted to break rank, in that sense. They understood that even if they had their differences, working under the kinds of constraints of authoritarian rule meant keeping quiet and standing behind Aung San Suu Kyi.

Myanmar is expected to hold historic elections in November 2015. How do you think this will impact the country?

Among the 75 percent of parliamentary seats that will be up for election, it seems clear that the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) will lose its absolute majority – which it had secured in the last general elections in 2010 largely by rigging the vote. With the world watching, and if the elections are relatively clean (and that’s a big if), there will likely be a surge of new seats for the pro-democratic parties and representatives of the ethnic minorities. People are speculating the largest win for Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD).

And I think that can only be a good thing – because these are parties with clear and explicit mandates that have less to do with holding onto power than delivering on promises to the people on whose behalf they’ve been advocating for years. That might sound naïve, but these are politicians who couldn’t talk aloud for years, many of them jailed, and now they’ll be able speak openly in parliament and legislate on a raft of issues that deeply affect people’s livelihoods.

Before the last general elections, I heard people say that every five years they’d get a few more seats, and in that way, nibble away at the in-built undemocratic flaws within the parliamentary system. So even though the constitution still reserves a 25 percent bloc of seats for the military, and other clauses remain offensive to pro-democracy activists, it’ll be interesting to watch how forcefully they’ll push for aggressive changes within the parameters of the legal system.

So in sum: fewer military men or former military officers in parliament; a break-up of the old centers of power; and more reform, incrementally. And there’s also a slow, deep cultural change that comes of people learning to articulate their grievances through public discourse, and legislating accordingly, as opposed to resisting orders from men in uniform.

That’s a very optimistic reading, which is not to say it won’t be a battle at every turn, with spoilers who retain a lot of power looking for ways to trip up the reform process. But that’s the definition of politics!

The Rohingya migrant crisis has made the headlines the world over this year and focused global attention on a heavily persecuted group. How should we think about the Rohingya issue within Myanmar’s struggle towards democracy and freedom?

Since the violence escalated in 2012, the government has seemed either unable or unwilling to prevent attacks on the Rohingya, who are concentrated in eastern Arakan state. People have been quick to point out that security forces have no trouble cracking down on activists who are protesting for land or education rights, but meanwhile those same forces have done next to nothing to contain the ultra-nationalist movement that invokes the name of Buddhism and the Buddhist character of the country to spew invective and fan longstanding anti-Rohingya and anti-Muslim sentiment, despite the fact that those populations have lived for generations in the country. Why there is such visceral hatred of the Rohingya – and official refusal to acknowledge their rights as citizens or their historical presence – remains a mystery in a country that recognizes 135 other ethnic groups.

Aung San Suu Kyi has been criticized heavily, particularly outside the country, for not coming out explicitly to denounce persecution of the Rohingya, and the NLD has likewise been muted. And that seems indefensible – they are the best placed voices to stand up forcefully for the lofty goals and expansive rights that they’ve been fighting for – and those were never intended for exclusive enjoyment by the country’s Buddhist majority. So I think there’s a real challenge here that’s symptomatic of a country in which the question of national identity has always been fraught, complex and unresolved. But also it’s important to remember that the NLD and the democracy movement have yet to fully achieve their goals. Burma isn’t yet a democracy. The country is still run under a military-dominated system. There’s still a very delicate line to tread for the NLD and other pro-democracy forces—and they are well aware of this. The creativity I wrote of above, that’s in part a necessity because they still can’t always be direct—they have to be devious. History has shown them that head-on confrontation against the military can result in genuine setbacks.

So, without defending their failings, I think it’s important to recognize the inherent complexities of a democracy struggle that operates in a muddy and complex reality, particularly as the black-and-white struggle of junta-vs-people cedes space in people’s perceptions to Burma/Myanmar’s other emergencies. There’s still a long way to go.

A Rohingya woman carries her sick baby to a clinic at a refugee camp in Rakhine State of western Myanmar.

August 1, 2015

Dr Maleeha says Rohingya Muslims escaping from persecution, deadly violence

NEW YORK – Pakistan's permanent representative to United Nations Ambassador Dr Maleeha Lodhi has said that a large number of Rohingya Muslims were reported dead or missing as they made their journeys of escape from persecution, confinement and waves of deadly violence directed at them.

She was addressing a panel discussion - sponsored and initiated by Pakistan – on the plight of refugees and migrants at a full-to-the-capacity conference room at the United Nations. Dr Maleeha said that Pakistan took the initiative to convene this panel because the world was confronted with a humanitarian crisis of historic proportions – a global wave of displacement and forced migrations in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, in East Asia and elsewhere.

Of the world's refugees, the envoy said that more than half were children, up from 41 per cent in 2009, the highest figure in over a decade. This only magnifies the scale of the tragedy at hand, she said, and pointed out that thousands of men, women and children have lost their lives and drowned in the Mediterranean, as they made their journeys of escape from persecution, confinement and waves of deadly violence.

– Rwanda and Srebrenica –

But the international community was not doing enough and not acting decisively, she said. “The international community to its shame has ignored massive human suffering in the past. We are reminded of Rwanda and Srebrenica among other crises. The current crisis of refugees could mark a new flag of shame,” she said. "Why have we not seen a decisive humanitarian response to this unprecedented humanitarian catastrophe,” she asked.

“Why is the present toolkit of political, legal, diplomatic and economic measures, falling so short of what is needed? Why has the global response not been able to decisively address symptoms much less deal with the underlying causes of this humanitarian crisis,” she questioned. “I would like to speak out today because, when confronted with a major refugee flow, my country, with modest resources, responded with much greater humanity and generosity than that we witnessing elsewhere today,” she said.

– 40% increase in forced displacement –

Dr Maleeha said that forced displacement has topped a record 60 million people globally a 40 per cent increase in just three years. Every day, she said a staggering number of people 42,500 were forced to leave their homes due to conflict and persecution. “Worldwide, one in every 122 persons is now either a refugee, internally displaced or seeking asylum,” she told the delegates, citing Global Trends report of the UN’s refugee agency.

Mogens Lykketoft, former Dutch parliament speaker who was recently elected president of the UN General's Assembly's 70th session and Under Secretary General for Communication and Public Information Christina Gallach were also present, besides ambassadors and representatives of a number of countries including Afghanistan, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Myanmar as well senior UN officials.

Monks and protesters shout during a march to denounce foreign criticism of the country's treatment of stateless Rohingya Muslims, in Yangon, Myanmar, May 27, 2015. (Photo: Aubrey Belford/Reuters)

Myanmar's dangerously racist Ma-Ba-Tha (or Race And Faith Protection League) and un-officially Fascist Government are like hand and gloves. 

By Oren Samet 
July 29, 2015

It’s been a good month for the group of nationalist Buddhist monks in Myanmar known as the Association for the Protection of Race and Religion (or, more commonly, by the Burmese acronym Ma Ba Tha). Formed in the aftermath of deadly interreligious violence in western Myanmar in 2012, the group has been a fixture of the political scene as the country has struggled to sustain the forward momentum of its ongoing democratic transition. 

Along with the associated Buddhist extremist 969 movement, Ma Ba Tha’s main contribution to the political debate since its formation has been its effective fomentation of anti-Muslim sentiment nationwide. Prominent monk Wirathu—famed for his rabid anti-Muslim tirades—is a member of the group, and it has amassed a sizeable following as it has ratcheted up its xenophobic rhetoric. 

While Buddhist monks are constitutionally barred from voting in Myanmar, they still wield immense political influence in the conservative majority Buddhist country. Scoring two major victories on July 7, Ma Ba Tha made clear the extent to which it has the capacity to influence Burmese politics and policy decisions as the 2015 general election approaches. 

The first of these victories was the Myanmar parliament’s passage of the Buddhist Women’s Special Marriage Bill. The bill places restrictions on the ability of Buddhist women to marry men of other faiths, including requiring interfaith couples to seek permission from local authorities in order to wed. 

Ma Ba Tha had been promoting the bill for years as part of a series of legislation designed to “protect” Buddhism in Myanmar. The first of these bills, which enables the government to mandate birth spacing and other reproductive restrictions in specific areas of the country, was signed into law in May

Despite outcry from prominent international voices, which denounced the Marriage Bill as an affront to women’s and minority rights, the bill passed by an overwhelming margin—524 votes to just 44 in parliament. The lopsided tally demonstrated that few national politicians are willing to cross the powerful Ma Ba Tha lobby on issues it views as its core priorities. 

Ma Ba Tha secured its second major victory when the government signed an order backing down from its plans to build a series of new high-rise developments near the revered Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon. 

In the preceding months, Ma Ba Tha had led the charge against the projects, which critics argued would obstruct views of the Shwedagon Pagoda and possibly disrupt the foundations of the sacred site. Just before their cancellation, Ma Ba Tha had threatened to lead nationwide protests if the government moved ahead with them. 

Authorities in February had temporarily suspended the projects, but until recently they had been hesitant to scuttle plans entirely, having already inked agreements with developers. The ultimate decision to cancel them for good after Ma Ba Tha began aggressively campaigning therefore proved to be an impressive achievement for the monks. 

The political dynamics behind these recent victories are complex. Despite its leaders’ claims of political independence, many observers and activists contend that Ma Ba Tha’s real strength comes, in large part, from a mutually beneficial working relationship with the current government. 

Indeed, despite the group’s odious international profile as a xenophobic collection of “mad monks,” the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) has effectively embraced it. Government officials have, for the most part, looked the other way when Ma Ba Tha leaders have engaged in divisive hate speech against Muslims in Myanmar, allowing this type of rhetoric to proliferate, while cracking down on individuals accused of “insulting” Buddhism. 

In return, the USDP has benefited thus far from Ma Ba Tha’s presence on the political scene. Despite the fact that monks are generally supposed to remain above the fray of electoral politics, one Ma Ba Tha leader flat out told fellow members at a recent gathering in Yangon to rally support for the ruling party in advance of elections this November. 

Beyond such direct support, Ma Ba Tha’s rhetoric and actions have also yielded the added bonus of heightened religious tensions, which stir up divisive nationalist sentiment that threatens to undermine opposition parties, including the National League for Democracy (NLD)—the USDP’s biggest rival in elections this November. 

But the cancellation of the high-rise developments near Shwedagon Pagoda represents a harbinger of potential problems for the future of this presently productive relationship. The campaign—Ma Ba Tha’s first targeting development projects, rather than the country’s vulnerable Muslim minority—proved that the monks have their own broader agenda. 

In many ways, the campaign was a test of Ma Ba Tha’s true political heft. Getting the government to buy into a scheme to further restrict the rights of an already persecuted minority was relatively easy. But getting an administration, which has made economic development its key priority, to backtrack on firm commitments to developers was a much heavier lift. 

Government leaders, who’s tacit support (or at the very least hands-off approach) has allowed Ma Ba Tha to amass a sizeable public following, likely believed that the group would remain focused on pushing for anti-Muslim policies they had no problem enacting. 

But by enabling the group’s rise, the ruling party may have unwittingly created a monster it cannot so easily control. 

As Ma Ba Tha leaders flex their political muscles, more dramatic policy clashes with the current government could arise. Future governments, too, will have to contend with this powerful and increasingly unpredictable political force. 

Oren Samet is a researcher on domestic politics in Myanmar and democracy and human rights issues worldwide. He is a research and communications officer for ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR).

Mr Hugo Swire visiting Aung Mingalar Quarter in Sittwe (Photo: Rohingya Blogger)

Third visit to Burma formed part of a broader tour of South East Asia to promote ties with the United Kingdom.

Mr Swire spent Sunday and Monday in Rakhine State, where he met residents of Muslim and Buddhist IDP camps, community leaders and the state government, to assess the current political and humanitarian situation. On Tuesday he met senior government ministers in Naypyidaw. 

Mr Swire’s trip formed part of a wider visit to Burma, where he met senior political figures, including opposition leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. His discussions focused on the country’s preparations for elections due on 8 November and wider progress on democratic reform, including the peace process and constitutional change. 

Speaking at the end of his visit, Mr Swire said: 

“I am pleased to have been able to visit Burma as it prepares for historic elections in November. Burma has witnessed enormous change since it embarked on a process of reform in 2011. The elections will be a critical milestone in the transition process. My message throughout this visit has been that the elections must be credible and inclusive, and conducted with a respect for human rights. The United Kingdom is committed to supporting Burma’s transition to democracy and is providing support to the Union Election Commission and training local observers. 

“I am also pleased that I was able to visit Rakhine State for the second time. I met members of the Rakhine and Rohingya communities and spoke personally with residents of both Muslim and Buddhist IDP camps. I heard first hand accounts of the difficulties most continue to face. During my visit I met the foreign aid community to hear their perspectives on long-term solutions to poverty and violence. I also raised my concerns directly with local government officials about a range of human rights issues, including the urgent need for freedom of movement. 

“While I welcome the small improvements that have taken place in some areas in Rakhine State, much remains to be done. Access to healthcare and education remains insufficient for many people, in particular, in northern Rakhine State. I remain convinced that the only way to move towards a lasting solution to this dire situation is for there to be a clear, transparent and fair path to citizenship for all those who are eligible. 

“The United Kingdom has provided over £18 million of support to Rakhine since 2012, including an additional £6.2m this year, and during my visit I was able to witness the difference we are making as one of the largest bilateral donors of humanitarian aid to Rakhine State.” 

In Rakhine, Mr Swire also met the Rakhine Chief Minister, UN agencies, and the head monk at the Shwe Zedi monastery. 

Mr Swire met Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in Rangoon on Monday afternoon to discuss the upcoming elections. He also met representatives from the Burmese business community. 

Mr Swire travelled to Naypyitaw on Tuesday to meet senior government ministers including U Aung Min and Finance Minister U Win Shein to discuss a range of issues including the elections and peace process.

Original here.

Sittwe beach. All photos by the author

By Paul Gregoire
July 28, 2015

Sittwe is the capital of Rakhine, the second poorest state in Burma. The city sits at the point where the Kaladan River converges with the Bay of Bengal. Fishing is a major industry, and the economy is set to benefit from a deep-water port under construction that's funded by the Indian government. It was also one of the major set-off points for the estimated 25,000 Rohingya—an ethnic Muslim minority—that fled the country in boats between January and March this year.

VICE recently paid a visit to this restive city and found a state-sanctioned system of segregation that has left the Rohingya—a people the United Nations has described asone of the most persecuted minorities in the world —stateless and deprived.

A main intersection in Sittwe

In May, international attention was focused upon the humanitarian crisis unfolding in the Andaman Sea, when thousands of Rohingya and Bangladeshi refugees were stranded in rickety boats after Thai authorities cracked down on people-smuggling routes. As the asylum seekers made their way south, Malaysia and Indonesia began turning back the boats and reports emerged of smugglers abandoning their ships leaving their human cargo adrift.

Later in the month, Malaysia and Indonesia announced they would accept the refugees, as long as they were repatriated or resettled within a year.

Jama Mosque has been closed for three years

Today, Sittwe appears to be Muslim-free, with little trace of its former Rohingya population. One of the most prominent buildings on the main road is the Jama Mosque, but it has been closed for the last three years. The laneway leading to the mosque is cordoned off by barbwire stanchions and armed guards sit at the entrance. Sittwe market was once the site of many Rohingya-owned stores, but now none remain in Muslim hands.

Sittwe was one of the major flashpoints of the 2012 riots, which drove around 140,000 Rohingya people into internally displaced persons (IDP) camps throughout the state. The sectarian violence broke out that June, as extreme factions of the state's majority Rakhine Buddhist population began violently attacking and burning down Rohingya villages.

Rohingya-run stalls are no longer found at Sittwe market.

The violence was instigated by the alleged rape and murder of a Buddhist women by three Muslim men in Kyaukphyu township and the reprisal killings of ten Muslim people dragged off a bus in Taungup township a few days later.

In Sittwe, the attacks moved from one Rohingya area to the next while the violence spread statewide from township to township.

In October 2012, a more coordinated set of attacks was perpetrated upon Rohingya villages in nine townships throughout the state. The Burmese government and local authorities are reported to have stood by or participated in the attacks. The official death toll of the 2012 riots was around 200 people.

Attacks perpetrated against the Rohingya have continued periodically over the last three years, with a group of fishermen being attacked in Pauktaw township in January this year.

The Rohingya camp in Sittwe. An estimated 140,000 people live in camps like these in Burma.

Beyond the main road in Sittwe lies Aung Mingalar, a part of the city where an estimated 4,000 Rohingya still live. The area effectively functions as a prison: it's fenced off, the entrances are guarded by police, and the inhabitants are not allowed to leave. On the day I approached the roadblocks, the police were not welcoming foreigners in.

Aung Win, a Rohingyan rights activist, lives in Aung Mingalar with his family. He told me that the situation is dire for those living in the ghetto. They must seek permission to visit the market in government arranged security trucks and have no access to medical services.

"When we have the infection, we cannot go to the hospital that is very close," he said, adding the authorities are tightening security because the Burmese general election is about to take place in November.

But the majority of the nation's estimated 1.3 million Rohingya won't be able to vote in the elections, as their citizenship has been revoked.

The 1982 Citizenship Law doesn't recognize the Rohingya as a national ethnic group and denies citizenship to individuals who cannot provide evidence that their ancestors settled in the country before 1823, the year the British began their occupation of Rakhine state, then known as Arakan.

Even though there is evidence the Rohingya were living in the state between the mid 15th to late 18th centuries, if not more than 1,000 years ago, this law has rendered them stateless. The government refers to the Rohingya as Bengalis, effectively denying them a separate ethic group.

According to Aung Win, it's not average Rakhine people who are the problem, it's the nationalists, extremists, and politicians. "You must understand that. For nearly three years, we're living in the slum area without sufficient food and aid, so many Rakhine people are sending the items we need," he explained.

But the majority of the local Rohingya population are living in IDP camps, west of the city, along the coast of the Bay of Bengal. The conditions are grim: There's little food, no access to medical services, and no employment. Many live in flimsy huts without much protection against the monsoon rains.

Rohingya kids playing on the beach road

Walking down the road heading out to the camps, I again came across another roadblock. A police officer denied access, so I doubled back down to the beach. On the way, I passed a building with large UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) tents out the back.

Vivian Tan, UNHCR spokesperson for Southeast Asia, said the agency has been operating in the area since June 2012, alongside the governmental, UN, and NGO counterparts. "As part of the inter-agency humanitarian response, UNHCR has been leading efforts to provide relief supplies, temporary shelter, protection, monitoring, and advocacy, as well as camp coordination and management," she said.

Making my way down the beachside road towards the strip known as Ohn Daw Gyi—the area where many of the refugee boats leave—I came to a section where the road is no longer paved. In the distance there was a group of people and to the right, across the field, there were newly-built IDP camp shelters and beyond an area of makeshift ones.

On approach, the group made up of Rohingya children, came up close, some barely clothed. One older boy came to the front, putting his hand to his stomach and then his mouth in a gesture showing hunger. Three young women walked up. One, holding a piece of UNHCR tarpaulin fashioned as a bag, communicated that they were from the camps.

These people have been pushed to the edge, deprived of services, occupation, and legal recourse. With no place left to run, they're being forced to risk their lives on the high seas.

Thousands of Rohingya attempting to reach Malaysia end up in the hands of traffickers (Photo: MAPIM)

By Laignee Barron 
July 28, 2015

After a four-week delay and a leaked ranking controversy, the US released its 2015 Trafficking in Persons report last night, keeping Myanmar positioned one notch above the worst offenders.

The annual report ranks over 180 countries on efforts to comply with international standards on eliminating human trafficking, taking into account the number of cases recorded, pursued and prosecuted, as well as whether the country dedicates resources to counter trafficking. Tier 1 countries are considered to be doing the most to prevent trafficking, while tier 3 nations face sanctions on non-humanitarian aid.

For the fourth year in a row, Myanmar was given a second-lowest tier 2 watch list ranking. The spot was created to recognise countries plagued by rampant human trafficking, but that were seen to be making an effort – through official, written plans and dedicated funding – to comply with standards.

But the spot – called a “parking lot” by Ed Royce, chair of the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee – has garnered criticism for allegedly allowing some of the world’s trafficking hot spots to avoid penalties. To thwart last-ditch efforts to scrape together anti-trafficking measures, the US State Department instituted limits on the warning category. Myanmar this year has reached the end of its warnings before an automatic downgrade next year unless it seriously ratchets up its efforts.

Out of Myanmar’s 98 recorded cases of primarily sex trafficking during the reporting period of March 2014-2015, some 143 traffickers were prosecuted, compared with 183 the year before, according to the report. Only 18 cases of labour trafficking, considered by rights workers to be rampant in Myanmar, were recorded. No cases were recorded in Rakhine State, though the report notes “the 146,000 displaced persons in Rakhine State are particularly vulnerable to trafficking” with reports of Rohingya women “subjected to sex trafficking”.

The report’s publication follows raids on “death camps” in Thailand which exposed the region’s smuggling route for desperate Bangladeshis and Rohingya from Myanmar. The boat people crisis erupted after this year’s reporting period however, and will likely be incorporated into next year’s list.

While the State Department report is seen as exerting influence over the region, a controversy over its release this year has prompted questions over its usefulness. This month Reuters revealed that Malaysia had been upgraded from its tier 3 status, largely so it could participate in President Barack Obama’s legacy-making Transpacific Partnership, according to US legislators. Anti-trafficking experts slammed the State Department for such politicisation of the rankings.

Buddhist monks protest against a visit to Myanmar by a high-level delegation from the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), in Yangon in November 2013. The clergy play a leading role in stoking anti-Muslim feeling. (Photo: Soe Zeya Tun—Reuters)

By Yuriko Koike
July 28, 2015

TOKYO – The Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, composed no sutta to religious hatred or racial animus. And yet Buddhist chauvinism now threatens the democratic process in both Myanmar (Burma) and Sri Lanka. Some of the same Buddhist monks who braved Myanmar’s military junta in the “Saffron Revolution” of 2007 today incite violence against members of the country’s Muslim Rohingya minority. In Sri Lanka, the ethnic chauvinism of the Buddhist Sinhalese, stirred by a former president determined to reclaim power, mocks the supposed goal of reconciliation with the vanquished Hindu Tamils.

In Myanmar, Buddhist racism is at the root of a virtual civil war in the state of Rakhine and is fueling a humanitarian crisis in which hundreds of thousands of Muslim Rohingya have fled their country by land and sea. Most ominous for Myanmar’s future, given that all genocides are linked to official action, this racial and religious antagonism is in no way spontaneous. The Rohingya have already been stripped of their Myanmar citizenship, and a raft of new and proposed legislation that would further marginalize Islam seems certain to provoke further violence.

A new marriage law, for example, requires interfaith couples to register their intent to marry with local authorities, who will display a public notice of the engagement; only if no citizen objects to the union – highly unlikely in the present tense climate – is the couple permitted to wed. Another bill in the pipeline would forbid anyone under the age of 18 from converting to another religion, and would require even an adult seeking to convert to gain the permission – subject to repeated interrogation – of local officials.

Perhaps most disturbing, a third recent bill would allow for the imposition of Chinese-style population control on any group with a growth rate that is higher than the national average. Women could be ordered to wait, say, three years after the birth of a child before having another. Here, too, local governments, which are the most susceptible to popular prejudices, will be empowered to implement a law that seems specifically targeted at the Rohingyas, with their large families.

These laws do not yet amount to an updated version of the Nuremberg laws (the anti-Jewish legislation enacted by the Nazis in 1935). But they do reflect the agenda of those seeking to fan Buddhist resentment in order to thwart Myanmar’s democratic transition. That dark ambition has gained urgency, because the country is due to hold its first democratic presidential election since the transition began in 2011.

The Rohingyas are, of course, the main target of this strategy. But there is another target as well: Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate and opposition leader.

For now, Suu Kyi is precluded from running for President by a cynical constitutional provision that excludes anyone whose spouse or child has a foreign passport (Suu Kyi’s two sons by her late English husband hold British passports). Nonetheless, the regime, still fearing her popularity, is playing the race and religion card in order to discredit her and her party, the National League for Democracy, which won all but one of the parliamentary seats contested in the recent general election (and swept the annulled 1990 election).

By stoking Buddhist violence against the Rohingya, the regime aims to damage Suu Kyi and the NLD’s chances of victory in two ways. If she speaks out for the Rohingya, her appeal among Buddhists, the vast majority of Myanmar’s citizens, may be dented enough to preserve the army’s grip on power. If she does not defend the Rohingya, her aura of moral leadership may be dimmed among her own supporters, both at home and abroad.

So far, Suu Kyi has circumvented this booby trap with the verbal evasiveness that one would expect of an ordinary politician, rather than someone of her courage and standing. But, as the violence grows and the election nears, her room for maneuver will undoubtedly narrow. Instead of highlighting the country’s real needs – serious land reform, an anti-corruption drive, and freeing the economy from oligarchic control – she may instead be drawn into defending an unpopular minority.

A similar political imperative is at the heart of the Sinhalese chauvinism that has made a sudden return to public life in Sri Lanka. The religious and ethnic passions of the Sinhalese were encouraged during the final, bloody push that ended Sri Lanka’s quarter-century of civil war with the Tamil Tigers in 2009. But instead of seeking reconciliation with the Tamils following their defeat, then-President Mahinda Rajapaksa continued to play on ethnic hatred as he subverted Sri Lanka’s democracy.

Rajapaksa’s unexpected defeat by a coalition of Sri Lanka’s democrats and Tamil political parties in last January’s presidential election – a result that he then sought to annul – should have ended both his career and the politics of race-baiting. But the former president is now mounting a furious comeback bid and might well win the parliamentary election scheduled for August 17.

One reason for Rajapaksa’s potential victory is his deep pockets; another is that he can probably count on support from China, having allowed the construction of ports and other facilities for the People’s Liberation Army during his presidency. But the key to his fortunes has been his effort to stoke the fears of the majority Sinhalese.

Rajapaksa is thus placing Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe in the same difficult position faced in Myanmar by Suu Kyi. So far, Wickremesinghe has succeeded in suggesting that the Sinhalese have more to fear from the return of Rajapaksa than they do from the country’s ethnic minorities. But no one should ever underestimate the power of hatred to undermine a democracy from within.

Yuriko Koike, Japan's former defense minister and national security adviser, was Chairwoman of Japan's Liberal Democratic Party's General Council and currently is a member of the National Diet.

Rohingya Exodus