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The face of an old Rohingya man. – Pictures courtesy of Greg Constantine

By Kenny Mah
April 17, 2015

KUALA LUMPUR — This Saturday, Malaysians will be able to put a face to the persecuted Rohingya people of Myanmar courtesy of an exhibition by American documentary photographer Greg Constantine.

Open to the public from tomorrow to May 1, 2015 at Prototype Gallery L4 at Wisma Central on Jalan Ampang, the exhibition is called Exiled to Nowhere: Burma’s Rohingya.

Held in collaboration with the National Endowment for Democracy, Blue Earth Alliance, Tenaganita and Prototype Gallery, Exiled to Nowhere is the latest in a series of international exhibitions held in London, Canberra, Brussels, Jakarta, Bangkok, Tokyo, and most recently in Geneva.

Constantine, who has been recording the struggles of the Rohingya for the past nine years, hopes to highlight the persecution and human rights violations against this stateless community in Myanmar.

A book of the same title chronicling his project was published to critical acclaim in 2012. We chat with Constantine about his experiences and his passion for documenting the stories of the stateless.

What drew you to the Rohingya situation? 

It’s all about the issue of statelessness. My work on the Rohingya has been specifically in southern Bangladesh and inside Rakhine in Burma. I think for anyone who wants to know more about the issue of statelessness in Asia, you have to be exposed to the story of the Rohingya.

In my own experience, the Rohingya case is by far the most extreme situation of statelessness in the world today. And in so many ways, it is the most severe situation of human rights abuse I have experienced as well. For me to do the work that I needed to do for this project, Exiled to Nowhere: Burma’s Rohingya, I had to spend time in Bangladesh and when the violence erupted against the Rohingya in Burma in 2012, I had to go there to document it.

A stateless Rohingya family living in squalor

It is a story that changes for the worse every year and I wanted to create a long, sustained documentation of this story for people to see. I started photographing the Rohingya in southern Bangladesh in early 2006 and made 8 trips to Bangladesh from 2006-2012. Since the violence in Burma in 2012, I’ve travelled to Burma four times, most recently in November 2014.

You’ve been based in South-east Asia for the past 10 years. Has it been predominantly Burma and Bangladesh? 

Actually I’ve spent a lot of time in countries throughout the region working on stories for my Nowhere People project. In 2006/2007, I spent time in Sabah, Malaysia working on a story about stateless children there. I’ve created photo essays on stateless people in Burma, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Nepal and Sri Lanka.

The project has slowly spread beyond South-east Asia. Since 2008, I’ve created photo essays on stateless people in Kenya, Ivory Coast, Kuwait, Iraq, Lebanon, Ukraine, Serbia, Italy, Holland and the Dominican Republic. So, it truly is a comprehensive exploration of an issue that is global. 

How did you get started in documentary photography?

I made a big shift in careers when I was about 31 years old. For much of my 20s I worked for different companies related to the music industry in the US. I studied business in university; I’m a self-taught photographer.

When I was in my late 20s, I quit my job, cashed in my retirement savings and travelled in Asia for seven months. That trip in 1998 was followed by a second trip in 2000 that was eight months long and it was during these two trips that I fell in love with photography as a means to tell stories. 

It took several years, but slowly I transitioned into a full-time photographer working on long-term personal projects that focus on human rights and other social issues and injustices. In 2005, I moved from the US to South-east Asia and began my long-term project Nowhere People, which documents people and communities around the world who have been denied or stripped of the fundamental right to citizenship and as a result are stateless.

I’ve now spent nine years working almost exclusively on Nowhere People (www.nowherepeople.org) of which my work on the Rohingya is by far the biggest chapter.

What was your most challenging experience in chronicling the Rohingya situation?

I think the biggest struggle has been trying to find outlets actually interested in publishing the work. It’s become increasingly more difficult to find traditional magazines or newspapers that are willing to publish these stories. So in many ways, I’ve not put much faith in the traditional print media to get my work out there. 

How do you engage people? I’ve had to adapt and that is the reason why I’ve chosen exhibitions as the primary way to get the work out there and it has been incredibly rewarding to see how various audiences are engaged with this story. The situation for the Rohingya in Burma and Bangladesh gets worse every year. And seeing how nothing has changed over the years is another of the more frustrating aspects of documenting the Rohingya. 

After every trip to Bangladesh and especially after every trip to Burma since 2012, I always walk away saying, “How can this still be happening?” But it is still happening and people need to know it is happening. I’ve seen a lot of suffering with the Rohingya community all these years. 

Piling into a truck…with nowhere to go

Burma really is a beautiful country, but unfortunately, one experience that will stay in my memory for many years to come, will be the streets of downtown Sittwe, lined with ordinary citizens of the Rakhine community, clapping their hands and cheering as over 2,000 people (including hundreds of monks, students, men and women) marched through the streets of Sittwe shouting racist, anti-Rohingya chants. It was a very public display of hatred, bigotry and racism that is very different from the picture most people have in their head of Burma.

Exiled to Nowhere: Burma’s Rohingya

Prototype Gallery L4, Level 4, Wisma Central, Jalan Ampang, Kuala Lumpur 

April 18 — May 1, 2015


Opening Hours: Mon-Sat 10am - 8pm, Sun 10am – 5pm

Public Launch: Saturday, April 18th @ 3pm – 6pm

Photographer’s Talk: Sunday, April 19th @ 2pm – 4pm

For information, please contact Greg Constantine (grconstantine@gmail.com) or Syed Iskandar (skandar.uw@gmail.com).

On the weather-beaten porch of a small terrace house in the town of Kelang, 13-year-old Rohingya refugee Jamilah gives a lesson on Islamic studies. Her community can neither afford to hire a teacher nor send their children to public schools in Malaysia. (Photo: UNHCR/S.Hoibak)

By Karen Arukesamy
April 16, 2015

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia will not open its doors to refugees and asylum seekers, especially to the Rohingyas from Myanmar, even under humanitarian grounds, as they have become a security threat here.

Reiterating the government’s stand in not recognising or accepting refugees and asylum seekers in Malaysia, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Shahidan Kassim called on the United Nations High Commissioners for Refugees (UNHCR) to speed up the repatriation process.

“If we open the gates, the waters will gush in and flood the country … the problem is their presence here is a threat to our security, they are causing a lot of problems here,” Shahidan told the Dewan Negara today.

He was responding to Senator Datuk Noriah Mahat and Senator Datuk Asyraf Wajdi Dusuki on whether the government would consider opening doors to allow refugees and asylum seekers access for education in local institutions and/or welfare under humanitarian grounds.

“As we already know, we allow them to study in private schools, but that’s not the problem, their presence here is a threat to our security.

“The government’s stand is very clear, we will not allow them to stay unless there is a specific agreement made with regards to this,” Shahidan said.

He added that the government has constantly urged UNHCR to speed up repatriation to either the original country or a third country.

Pointing out that Malaysia is not party to the 1951 Refugee Convention or the Refugee Status Protocol 1967, Shahidan said these refugees and asylum seekers, especially the Rohingya community, could go to Cambodia or Philippines, which are signatories to the convention.



By David Reich
April 15, 2015

The word genocide calls to mind events like the Jewish and Armenian holocausts, but according to Maung Zarni, a Burmese scholar affiliated with Harvard and the London School of Economics, smaller-scale killing can also fit the definition “if done in an attempt to destroy a people.” 

Such is the case with the victimization of Burma’s Rohingya Muslim ethnic group by members of the Buddhist majority, which has involved explicit violence on a relatively modest scale but also forced birth control, forced relocation, and denial of access to food and medical care, said Zarni, who on April 13, delivered a lecture on the topic, sponsored by the Law School’s Owen M. Kupferschmid Holocaust and Human Rights Project

How could Buddhists, raised to spare the lives of all creatures, even insects, perpetrate a genocide? The answer, Zarni said, is common to every genocide: the perpetrator learns to see himself as a victim, and a defender of his nation or ethnic group. “We have to frame the target of the attack as a threat to our livelihood, a threat to our national community, as a virus, a leach, a bloodsucker,” he said. 

All genocides have another common element, Zarni said, in that the genocidal acts are orchestrated, not spontaneous. “This is not like football hooliganism,” he said, “where your team lost and you want to express your rage. You always find an organization, you always find leaders who are mobilizing public opinion [in favor of] an act that is otherwise unthinkable.”

April 15, 2015

KUALA LUMPUR -- Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) Secretary-General Tan Sri Iyad Ameen Madani sees Malaysia as a valuable asset to the Jeddah-based organisation, further elevated by its role as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) Chair this year.

Speaking to Bernama in an exclusive interview yesterday, Madani believed that Malaysia's central role in the regional body could help alleviate issues involving Muslims in Southeast Asia, such as the Rohingya of Myanmar and conflicts in Southern Thailand.

"Asean is the key in approaching this. We cannot do it without the help of Asean.

"As Malaysia is now the Chair of Asean, we certainly look forward to an active role, to more engagements and involvements. We need Malaysia," he said.

Madani, who arrived here yesterday for a three-day working visit called on Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak at Perdana Putra today.

He said among OIC's current commitments was to resolve the Rohingya issue, pointing out that Malaysia's former foreign minister, Tan Sri Syed Hamid Albar was selected as the organisation's special envoy to Myanmar last year to create opportunities for dialogue.

"The best way to engage with the government of Myanmar, which is also a member of Asean, is through the Asean family," he added.

Reports have stated that most of the 1.1 million Rohingya were denied citizenship by the Myanmar Government, with many of them living in internally displaced camps and not allowed to leave, deprived of education and occupation.

A series of violent incidents have been reported between ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims which left many dead, with the most famous incident being the 2012 Rakhine State Riots.

In the southern part of Thailand bordering Malaysia, where most of the Muslim minority are found, the OIC is concerned over a series of violent incidents in the area since the 1960s between the Thai authorities and insurgent groups.

Besides regional issues, Madani hoped that Malaysia could also engage more actively in all the organisation's activities.

"All member states are important, but Malaysia is especially important by being in a dynamic region.

"Malaysians have a way of speaking not emotionally, they always come across as rational, cool and level-headed. All these traits are needed when we hold discussions," said Madani, who has served in various posts in Saudi Arabia's Cabinet before being appointed OIC secretary-general in January last year.

Madani also noted that Malaysia had a lot to offer the organisation and other member states through sharing of experiences, especially on its success since gaining independence from British rule in 1957.

Malaysia has been a member of OIC since its establishment in 1969. Malaysia's first prime minister Tunku Abdul Rahman was the first OIC secretary-general.
By Zin Linn
April 14, 2015

Burma watchers around the world are paying special attention at the six-party talks held at the presidential residence in Nay-Pyi-Taw on 10 April. Present at the talks were President Thein Sein, the Union Parliament Speaker Thura Shwe Mann, Upper House Speaker Khin Aung Myint, Commander-in-Chief Senior-General Min Aung Hlaing, Chairperson of the National League for Democracy Aung San Suu Kyi and Dr. Aye Maung who represents the ethnic parties.

According to Ye Htut, Presidential spokesman, three points were settled at the meeting - the outline for talks, the type of talks to be arranged and the time of next meeting. He declined to disclose details. The six-party talks would likely focus on peace building, national consolidation, improving the nation’s socioeconomic status and holding free and fair elections — all national objectives to be taken immediate action, as said by the president office.

All participants agreed to talk about constitutional amendments, peace building, launching a free and fair election and ensuring stability after 2015 elections. The leaders approved to meet again when the parliaments resume, Ye Htut said. The parliament will be continued its sessions on 11 May 2015.

People from all walks of life displease with the current President Thein Sein Government. Burma still cannot go into its objective of ending hostilities in ethnic areas. After President Thein Sein took office, his government seems ignoring its own promises – good governance, national reconciliation, poverty alleviation etc. – made during the presidential inaugural ceremony in March 2011.

The most crucial promise the president needs to carry out is ending civil war against ethnic rebels to implement good governance, nationwide ceasefire and poverty alleviation. His government also needs honoring ethnic people’s equal rights and self-determination so as to prevent the war.

Looking back into last year, on 16 March 2014, President Thein Sein made an address to parliamentarians, ethnic leaders and local people at the town hall in Myitkyina, during a tour in Kachin state. In his speech, he promised to build a free and open society that encourages full participation of all national races, the state-run newspaper said.

Speaking on the comprehensive reforms and equal opportunity in the nation-building activities, he called for unwavering action to resolve the disputes. Drawing comparisons with the past, he called attention to a blame game that creates evil consequences.

Additionally, President Thein Sein assured the people in Kachin State of his determination to move towards a lasting peace inspired by all people. With the exception of reaching a ceasefire, a political dialogue is crucial to have room for trust between the two sides in making peace, he added.

According to the state-run newspapers, the President also pledged to start political dialogue soon after signing a nationwide ceasefire agreement. He guaranteed that the military and the government stand united in working on peace. He stressed that the implementation of peace and stability are his administration’s main goals.

The primary criticism from the ethnic groups is that the President Thein Sein and his person-in-charge of peace process maintain economic development as key strategy. They look like considering the economic development of ethnic regions will solve the peace and conflict problem. It is indisputable that economic growth and job opportunities are necessary issues, but without addressing the corruption among the government officials, economic improvement may be a castle in the air. Besides, president should not overlook the core of the impasse is political negotiation.

In addition, the President and the military spokespersons have repeatedly made complaint the ethnic armed groups to lay down their arms, establishing political parties, contesting the elections and entering into parliament, then amending the constitution. The idea is almost impracticable to the ethnic opposition groups. To lay down their arms without any political settlement is out of the question for the ethnic armed groups.

Moreover, ethnic groups disbelieve to hold dialogue under 2008 Constitution. Instead, ethnic groups have asked meaningful political dialogues with no precondition. The constitution was drawn by the previous military junta and prohibits presidential candidates with a foreign spouse or child, a paragraph intentionally put in charter rejecting Suu Kyi as her two sons are British citizens. The charter also allows a quarter of parliamentary seats for unelected military officers with promises to set aside the defense, home and border affairs ministries under the military.

Speaking while on a trip to Australia in November 2013, Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi told an audience at the Sydney Opera House that the country had still not “successfully taken the path to reform” because the military-written 2008 constitution bars the country from becoming a democracy.

Burma’s main opposition NLD party led by Aung San Suu Kyi has called, during recent nationwide campaign, for public support for her party’s proposal to ratify constitutional reform particularly for Article 436. Aung San Suu Kyi has called again and again that Article 436 barred to amend every article of the 2008 Constitution. It says every amendment proposal must be approved by 75 percent of representatives in both houses of parliament. As the military holds 25 percent of all seats, it effectively holds veto power over the Constitution, she says.

In an interview with Reuters on 3rd April, the Nobel laureate told Reuters that her opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) party was "ready to govern" but that President Thein Sein was insincere about reform and might try to postpone the election. It is also remarkable that Aung San Suu Kyi has an option of boycotting the upcoming elections.

If a military-drafted constitution unchanged barring her becoming president, Burma’s political scenario ahead of 2015 General Elections seems to be unrest and chaotic.

In last March, there were students’ protests against a freshly accepted education law that the students say cut back academic freedom, according to media news. According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma), there are 105 students under arrested including 27 facing trial in Thayawaddy and Myingyan prisons.

Detaining students who protest for academic freedom shows an undemocratic practice of previous regime. As a result, a serious doubt emerges among public. Will this government keep its words for certain free and fair elections in coming November?



April 14, 2015

A Yangon-based activist has suggested Bangladesh to be “proactive” in its engagement with Myanmar, keeping the decades-old Rohingya refugee issue aside for the benefit of both the neighbours.

“Bangladesh should appoint a PR in Myanmar for improving relations,” Khin Zaw Win says, “and solve refugee issue using third party, UN or others”.

Win, director of tTampadipa Institute that works on policy advocacy and capacity building, spoke to bdnews24.com on the sidelines of a conference on Bangladesh’s engagement with India and Myanmar that ended in Dhaka Monday.

Bangladesh’s relation with India is intense in almost all sectors, but there is nothing to talk about when it comes to ties with the other neighbour.

Though Myanmar, erstwhile Burma, was the sixth country that recognised Bangladesh in 1972, its internal politics and Rohingya refugee issue were being seen later as the stumbling blocks in building the relations.

Bangladesh did not focus on improving the ties, until recently.

But boosting ties was also “important” for Bangladesh, Win said, since Myanmar served as a “gateway” for Dhaka to connect the Southeast Asian economies.

“Let the UN and others solve the long-standing refugee issue,” he said.

Bangladesh gave shelter to thousands of Rohingya who fled sectarian violence in Rakhine state along the border. But Naypyidaw has denied them citizenship.

Dhaka showed interest to connect China by both road and railways through Myanmar.

It is also pushing for energy and power sector co-operations with Myanmar.

“The UN Human Rights Commission is working on it (Rohingya) and even the US is also critical about the (Myanmar) government on refugee issue. So you can urge the UN to redouble their effort to solve this.

“But at the same time, we can continue to talk on other issues. We can talk about people-to-people contacts, trade, tourism and many more,” he said, stressing on “track II” level engagements.

“The maritime boundary demarcation also gave opportunity to work together on blue economy,” he said.

“We have to consider that the relations are important. If you don’t improve the relations, the situation will get worse,” he said.

“This is something we need to work on,” he insisted.

Win is known for his liberal views in Myanmar. He served 11 years from 1994 behind bars as a prisoner of conscience for his writings against his country’s military junta.

He suggested appointing PR for Bangladesh in Myanmar and said this PR can help Dhaka even improve its trade with Naypyidaw.

Myanmar sells more than what it buys from Bangladesh, though the latter has diverse range of products to export.

“Your PR can organise trade fair regularly to showcase your products. People will know then (aboupt the products),” Win said.

He observed that improving relations between the two countries were never a priority.

“The interest was not very high, and also there are some misconceptions and other issues that countries did not prioritise to solve,” he said.

Foreign Minister Abul Hassan Mahmood Ali during the conference had said his government gave a “fresh start” to the relations in 2009.

He also offered a list of future engagements that he believed would take the relations to a “new height”.

Two sides held talks at the foreign secretary level and are currently working on the visit of the Myanmar foreign minister.

A proposal on Preferential Trade Agreement (PTA) is currently being considered, which, if implemented, will help improve the bilateral trade.

Political analyst Win said the mindset of the Myanmar leadership was also changing “slowly”.

“They had a totally different mindset,” he said, recalling those days when the authoritarian government used to jail dissenting voices.

He said “extremist” views still remained high in Myanmar, “but we can change many perceptions through regular interactions”.



April 13, 2015

Myanmar has so far remained the least engaged neighbour of Bangladesh, though it is a gateway to connect Dhaka with the ASEAN countries in the Southeast and East Asia.

Its internal politics twined with Rohingya refugee issue are being seen as the stumbling blocks to build the relations.

But foreign minister Abul Hassan Mahmood Ali on Sunday offered a list of ongoing and future engagements that he believed would take the relation to a “new height”.

Speaking at a conference on Bangladesh’s engagement with India and Myanmar, he said Dhaka pursued a neighbourhood foreign policy and that the relation with the neighbours was characterised by “intensive engagements”.

He said a “fresh start” in the relations began with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina assuming office in 2009 and it continued “to be strengthened and widened in our joint efforts to move ahead”.

He said a proposal on Preferential Trade Agreement (PTA) was currently being considered by both the countries, which, if implemented, will help improve the bilateral trade.

Bangladesh had advantage in some of the industries like the ready-made clothes, pharmaceuticals, leather, ceramics, jute, agricultural products, which the minister said can be exported to Myanmar.

In return, he said, Bangladesh can gain from “the abundance of agricultural, natural and mineral resources that Myanmar offers”.

“Recently, Myanmar has started to open up to foreign investments and therefore, Bangladesh may also look for suitable investment opportunities in Myanmar.

“There is also significant potential for bilateral cooperation in the energy sector,” he said, referring to the prime minister's energy adviser’s visit to Myanmar in early February.

The adviser proposed a number of areas for cooperation, including importing gas from Myanmar to produce electricity in Bangladesh and then sharing the electricity with Myanmar.

“Myanmar welcomed the proposals,” the foreign minister said.

“The power and energy sector cooperation has opened a new window of opportunity for strengthening of bilateral relations.

“Another important area of cooperation is the proposed road connectivity that between the two countries and beyond.

“It has the potential to establish inter-continental road linkages across Asia and Europe,” he said.

Bangladesh and Myanmar already agreed in 2007 to establish road link.

Further work is on in terms of connecting the growth centres, ports and key cities.

According to the decision of Foreign Office Consultations (FOC) held in 2014, Bangladesh has now prepared and forwarded texts of three draft MOU or agreements to establish formal mechanism of regular dialogue on security issues and maintain peaceful border.

Bangladesh has also initiated other processes to enhance people-to-people contact including forging academic collaboration between research organisations and universities of the two countries.

“We are working on the visit of my counterpart from Myanmar to Bangladesh soon for the first meeting of the Joint Commission formed during the visit of the Bangladesh Prime Minister to Myanmar in 2011,” the foreign minister said.

“Both the countries are optimistic to elevate the bilateral relationship to a new height through mutual visits of the two leaderships,” he said.

He said Myanmar server as a gateway for South Asia to connect with the ASEAN countries in the Southeast and East Asia.

So, he said, it was also “imperative” for Bangladesh and Myanmar “to continue maintain a peaceful and congenial relationship for enhancing regional cooperation, trade and investment that will ultimately benefit the two peoples”.

By Stanley Weiss
April 13, 2015

YANGON -- Of all the great films about American politics, one that has stood the test of time is a 1972 classic about the triumph of symbolism over substance called The Candidate. Starring Robert Redford, it tells the story of an inexperienced son of a beloved political leader who is pulled into politics on the strength of his family name. Turning the general election into a popularity contest, Redford's character encourages the media to play up the father/son angle, delivers a series of pleasant but empty speeches, and ultimately wins election to the United States Senate. In the film's iconic closing scene, as screaming fans chase him on the way to his victory speech, the Senator-elect dodges the crowd, pulls his political consultant into a room and asks blankly, "What do we do now?"

Here in the nascent democracy of Myanmar, it is hard not to think of that film when considering the latest chapter in the political career of Aung San Suu Kyi. The daughter of this nation's slain founding father, Suu Kyi was awarded the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize for her opposition to Myanmar's military junta, which kept her under house arrest for 15 of 21 years after winning and then being denied the presidency in 1990. Gaining a seat in parliament in 2012, in just the second election since this nation re-opened itself to the world; Suu Kyi has been heralded by many as Myanmar's great hope, described as the "one politician who could play the role (here) that Nelson Mandela played in South Africa."

That is not how the script has played out so far. Instead, like Redford in The Candidate, Suu Kyi's pursuit of the political spotlight has been relentless -- but her use of that spotlight to advocate for something other than herself has been absent. The result, a long-time Suu Kyi supporter tells me, is that "many of the people who love her have been disheartened by her." A former aide agrees, adding that "people once thought she was super-human, but many have changed their minds." For the first time, the global media is beginning to tell the same story -- suggesting recently that Suu Kyi is a "tarnished saint;" that her "halo" has been "dented;" that her reputation as "The Iron Orchid ... seems to have wilted;" that her leadership has fallen "short of expectations;" and even that her revered father, the assassinated General Aung San, "would be horrified" by the positions taken by his daughter.

But there is one influential audience that still sees Aung San Sui Kyi as largely infallible: Western leaders. British Prime Minister David Cameron has called himself one of her "greatest admirers." Europe, as a well-known European ambassador tells me, "looks at the country on a daily basis and only sees The Lady," as Suu Kyi is known here, adding, "If The Lady calls (German Chancellor) Angela Merkel and says 'go left' or 'go right,' she will." Above all, the new Republican leadership in the United States Congress is "completely in love with her," says a leading Western official. The head of that fan club is Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who not only counts himself as The Lady's foremost advocate in Washington, but has a framed letter from her on his office wall and a wife who is rumored to be personal friends with Suu Kyi.

It has locals here asking a pointed question: if the upcoming general election, due in November, doesn't end with Suu Kyi as President, will the West see the election as legitimate -- or will it be the trigger for new sanctions to be imposed on the people of Myanmar? Put another way: if Suu Kyi's party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), follows through on the threat it made this month to boycott the election if the military-drafted Constitution doesn't change, will that invalidate all of the progress this nation has made the past four years in the eyes of the West?

Drafted by junta leaders in 2008 in a process that deliberately excluded the NLD, and approved in a national referendum riddled with voting irregularities, Myanmar'sconstitution forbids anybody with a foreign spouse or children from becoming President. Since The Lady's late husband was British, as are their two sons, there is little doubt that the provision was drafted exclusively to prevent Suu Kyi from becoming president.

David Cameron has promised to lobby military leaders to have the provision overturned. U.S. President Barack Obama, in a visit here last November, said the law "doesn't make much sense." Yet Shwe Mann, the formidable speaker of Myanmar's parliament, has repeatedly asserted that such a change would require a national referendum and insists it would be impractical to hold such a referendum until May of 2016. And since it takes a 75 percent plus one vote of Parliament to call for such a referendum - at a time when unelected soldiers, by law, hold 25 percent of parliamentary seats - the odds are long.

It has left Suu Kyi with an inescapable paradox: if she doesn't personally and publicly lobby for the constitution to change before the election, then nobody else will, since "people are not ready to go to the barricades for her," as a respected Burmese venture capitalist said to me. But if she repeatedly lobbies (as she has) for the constitution to change merely to allow her to run for president, she risks looking like she only cares about herself - which is exactly what's happening. As a long-time ambassador from the Middle East puts it, her continual petitioning has led many to think, "She is self-centered and likes to lecture. She likes to play the role of being a symbol."

Of course, it might be a different story if Suu Kyi better balanced her constant attacks on the political authorities for a change that would benefit her with a much more rigorous use of her Nobel-enhanced moral authority for change that would benefit others. But as all those negative headlines indicate, that has not happened. Summing up the essential problem, journalist Jane Perlez observed of the criticism last November that Suu Kyi "has hesitated to take on many of her country's biggest issues ... and has failed those who expected a staunch human right advocate."

Since joining parliament, Suu Kyi has rarely spoken out against the government's ongoing violence against rebels in northern Kachin State -- part of a festering, 70-year war between Myanmar's military and its 135 ethnic minority groups. Her complete silence on atrocities being committed against more than one million Rohingya Muslims - who are being herded into squalid camps by the Buddhist majority in western Rakhine state -- has drawn outrage from human rights advocates. Yet, when Human Rights Watch came to Myanmar in January, she said she was too busy to meet with them. Last month, she even threatened legal action against an NLD member for supporting student protests against a controversial proposal to decentralize the education system, leading one publication to ask if she "turned her back on Burma's student protesters."

In one high-profile case where protesters were attacked by police for protesting a copper mine, Suu Kyi sided with elites and company officials. She has yet to raise her voice on a constitutional issue that will likely dominate discussion in 2016, which is the movement toward a federalist system of government that solidifies a cease-fire agreement signed this month between the government and 16 armed ethnic groups and grants minorities some degree of autonomy -- without which Myanmar will never be a real country.

The disappointment felt by many former supporters was summed up by lawmaker U Thein Nyunt, who told a journalist last year, "We've followed her leadership for two decades, but she's failed to get any results for her country. It is obvious now that she is not considering the people, but only her own power."

Like The Candidate, The Lady still uses the image of her father as often as possible. But maybe, deep in her heart, she believes that she'll never be in a position to make real change until she's President. Maybe being hailed as her nation's savior is more pressure than she, or many of us, could live up to. Or maybe the substance of Aung San Suu Kyi never really matched the symbol -- and the West would do well to see that Myanmar is much more than The Lady.

--
Stanley Weiss, a global mining executive and founder of Washington-based Business Executives for National Security, has been widely published on domestic and international issues for three decades.



April 12, 2015

The Burmese civil society is “divided” over the issue of citizenship for Rohingya refugees mostly lodged in Bangladesh, a Myanmar political analyst has said in a Dhaka conference.

“Some have liberal views and others have extremist views. But it is democracy now, so you can hear the cacophony of different voices,” said Dr Khin Zaw Win, Director of Tampadipa Institute, a Myanmar-based civil society organisation.

He was speaking at a conference on Bangladesh’s engagement with its two neighbours – India and Myanmar.

The Rohingya issue has been the main irritant between Dhaka and Naypyidaw since thousands of them fled sectarian violence in Rakhine state and took refuge in Bangladesh.

Myanmar’s military rulers have denied them citizenship for decades.

But the views of their common people have never been known due to lack of people-to-people dialogue.

Khin Zaw Win said he found the opinion “divided”.

He, however, advocated working closely as “for the first time Myanmar-Bangladesh-India have democracies”.

He said Myanmar can act as a bridge between South Asia and South East Asia.

Nurul Islam
RB Article
April 11, 2015

The word “Rohingya” is blacklisted in Burma. The hostile Buddhist Rakhines of Arakan pretend to feel it as a piercing knifelike pain. Their antipathy to this ‘ethnic identity’ of the Muslim Arakanese is for no other reason except that they don’t want to share power with the Rohingya. The analysts say that it is a necessary evil for the U Thein Sein government to make Rohingyas the scapegoats, under the influence of xenophobic Rakhine politicians, academics, and Buddhist extremists in order to appease them. They all have lied that the word “Rohngya” is non-existent, unheard and creation of Mujahids (Muslim rebels) and/or Rohingya leaders in 1951. 

But the historical evidence or observation by Scottish doctor Francis Buchanan in 1799 rebuts this politically motivated claim. He explained “... Mohammedans, who have long been settled in Arakan, and who called themselves Rooinga, or natives of Arakan”.[1] Historian Dr. Michael W Charney states, “it can be asserted, however, that one claim of the Buddhist school in Rakhine historiography, that Rohingya was an invention of the colonial period is contradicted by the evidence”.[2]

Even now the xenophobic Rakhine academics and imposters accept the existence of the word “Rohingya” although arguing that “Rohingya is the other name of Rakhine as derived from Rakhine, the other name of Arakan”. There are several historical and official records and statements on Rohingya. On top of that there is still an old Muslim village in the heart of the Sittwe/Akyab city by the name of Rohingya para. So the word “Rohingya” as an ethnic name for the Muslim Arakanese is substantiated and well established that developed naturally through historical process. Those who reject it are proved liars. 

The Rohingya have genealogical links with the ancient people of Chandra dynasty. They are among the first occupiers of the country as “Arakan was then an Indian land, its inhabitants being Indians similar to those resident in Bengal.”[3] It means that they were like present day Rohingya, not the Rakhine. As substantiated by 8th century Ananda kyukza (Ananda stone pillar inscription) the Rohingya still speak a language analogous to that of ancient Chandra dynasty. But Rakhine language of today, an archaic form of Burmese has no such connection. These bear witness that Rohingya are an inseparable part of the land and history of Arakan. 

In 1430, after nearly three decades in exile, the deposed king Naramithla was reinstated to his throne by Bengal Muslim king with a formidable force, largely made up of Afghan adventurers. “This was the start of a new golden age for this country – a period of power and prosperity – started and the creation of a remarkably hybrid Buddhist-Islamic court, fusing traditions from Persia and India as well as the Buddhist worlds to the east.”[4] The then Chairman of the Burma Historical Commission Col. Ba Shin stated “Arakan was virtually ruled by Muslims from 1430 to 1531. ‘Establishment of God’s rule over the earth’ was state emblem of Arakan. Coins and medallions were issued inscribing kalema (the profession of faith in Islam) in Arabic scripts. Even Buddhist women of those days practiced purda.”[5]

Arakan was turned to a sultanate. It was depicted as an Islamic State in the Times Complete History of the World showing cultural division of Southeast Asia (distribution of major religions) in 1500. (Edited by Richard Overy, Eighth edition 2010, page 148.) Its kings adopted Muslim names and titles while also appearing in Persian-inspired dress and conical hats of Isfahan and Mughal Delhi. Muslim etiquettes and manners were practiced in the court of Arakan. Muslims were in every branch of the administration. There were Muslim prime ministers, war ministers, other important ministers, administrators, Qazis (judges), court poets, elites, farmers and fishermen. The inhabitants of Mrauk-U included considerable number of Muslims consisting of mix Arakanese, Bengalis, other Indians, and Afghans, Abyssinians, Persians and natives. Persian and Bengali languages were used as official and court languages of the Arakan Kingdom. 

Muslims were an influential and well established community during Mrauk-U dynasty, before Burmese invasion and occupation of Arakan. The Rohingya population in north Arakan is united by ancient heritage and lived for ages in a contiguous area within well defined geographical boundaries. The group identity of Rohingya people has grown over the many centuries. The area between the rivers Naf and Kaladan – which was occupied by Nawab Shaista Khan, the Mughal viceroy of Bengal in 1666-- where Rohingya still predominate, amidst systematic Rohingya extermination and rapid demographic changes, has been known as “Traditional Homeland of Rohingya”. During colonial period, the British Military Command -- which recorded the Muslim Rohingyas as Arakanese and catalogued the Rakhine Buddhists as Maghs-- declared the northern part of Arakan as the “Muslim National Area”.(Vide its publication No. 11-OA-CC/42 dated December 31, 1942).[6] This area was later created as Special Mayu Frontier District for the development of the Rohingya people by former Parliamentary Government of Burma which had recognized Rohingya as an indigenous race of the Union of Burma. Let us have a look what the two leaders of the country said:

When Section II of the Constitution of the Union of Burma was being framed, in regard to the indigenous status of Rohingya, the first President of Burma Saw Shwe Theik emphatically said[7]: “Muslims of Arakan certainly belong to one of the indigenous races of Burma…In fact there are no pure indigenous races in Burma, if they do not belong to indigenous races of Burma, we also cannot be taken as indigenous races of Burma”. Recognizing the Rohingya as an indigenous ethnic group the former parliamentary government of Prime Minister U Nu officially announced on 25th September 1954 in a clear and unambiguous term: - “The people living in northern Arakan are our national brethren. They are called Rohingya. They are on the same par in the status of nationality with Kachin, Kayah, Karen, Mon, Rakhine, Shan. They are one of the ethnic races of Burma.”

As such, like other ethnic nationalities, Rohingya participated as State Guests in the Union Day Celebration held in Rangoon on 12 February every year. By cabinet decision Rohingya language was relayed thrice a week from the official Burma Broadcasting Service (BBS) Rangoon, in its “Indigenous Race Broadcasting Programme” from 15 May 1961 to 30 October 1965. Such facts were given in page 71 of the book, “30 years of Burma Radio” published by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. The Rangoon University Rohingya Students Association was one of the ethnic student associations that functioned from 1959 to 1961 under the registration numbers 113/99 December 1959 and 7/60 September 1960 respectively. The Burma official encyclopedia “Myanmar Swezon Kyan”, Vol.9, pages 89-90, provides the record that 75% of the population in Mayu Frontier District is Rohingya. In addition, in the current Text Book for first year History and Myanmar Studies students (Module No. Geog-1004-Gegraphy of Myanmar), published by the Yangon University Distance Education, under Ministry of Education, it is recorded that Rohinggas (Rohingyas) are one of the minority ethnic groups that had settled in Northern Rakhine State close to the border with Bangladesh since early date. 

The paragraph 7 in Baxter report of 1940 recommended, “The Arakanese Muslim community settled so long in Akyab District had for all intents and purposes to be regarded as an indigenous race”. The independent hero late Gen. Aung San had accepted them as an indigenous race. During his visit to Sittwe/Akyab in 1946 he urged the Muslims of Arakan to join hand with them saying “it would be difficult to achieve independence if indigenous peoples were divided. He asked them to demand what they wanted and he would fulfill them as much as possible”. 

Under Article 3 of the Nu-Attlee Treaty of 17 October 1947, and under Section 11(i) (ii) (iii) the Constitution of the Union of Burma 1947 effected 4 January 1948, the Rohingyas are citizens of Burma. They are a people settled in Arakan as a compact community anterior to 1823 or before British colonization of it and so by definition of the Constitution as well as under all legal standards they are an indigenous ethnic nationality. With respect to its inherent nature, the Rohingya are natural citizens of Burma having frontier culture and civilization, and practicing Islamic faith. Their forefathers were once welcome elite in the kingdom of Arakan, but now they have become unwanted aliens and have been reduced to diabolical serfdom. Had not Arakan been under Burmese occupation the question of Rohingya citizenship and their indigenous status would never ever arise in Arakan! 

The Muslim Arakanese have every right to claim their ‘Rohingya ethnic identity’ because they know and recognize each other by this name which they cherish and other communicate with them as such. As an indigenous people they also have right to change their group name by collective decision. If Buddhist Arakanese who were historically known as Magh could be Rakhine, and again if these Rakhine or same people could obtain recognition as Mrama as an indigenous race in Chittagong Hill Tracts (Bangladesh), why the Muslims of Arakan who had developed from peoples of different ethnical backgrounds over the centuries couldn’t be “Rohingya”. Anthropologically similar peoples inhabit on both sides of the international borders around the globe and so is the case with Burma-China, Burma-Laos, Burma-India and Burma-Bangladesh frontiers where they are recognized as indigenous groups with different ethnic identities in their respective countries. The fact that the Rohingya look like Chittagonians (Bangladeshis) is the historical phenomenon, nevertheless they are indigenous to Arakan.

Are the historical and official evidences together with internationally accepted norms and practices and legal standards mentioned above are not enough to affirm that Rohingya existed and are still exiting in Arakan/Burma as natural citizens, as an ethnic group and indigenous people of Burma? We know the imposters are like ostrich and refuse to recognize the truth. The disease in their heart is systematic racism, Islamophobia and intolerance. For the Rakhines they are blindfolded with the false dream of exterminating the Rohingya to the last man for ‘exclusive ownership’ and ‘totalitarian domination’ of Arakan. But without taking Rohingya into account with reciprocal respect and understanding the Rakhine could do nothing for the good and development of the people of Arakan. Without delay or hesitation, the Burmese administration, hostile Rakhines and extremists should stop all hostilities, violence and crimes against humanity against Rohingya and start to ponder making Arakan a place of perpetual peace and prosperity, in the interest of all people of the Union of Burma, by granting Rohingya their “Due Share”. 

Last not least, making ‘Rohingya ethnocide’, measure preventing their birth, denying their identity, history and legitimacy of their rights to live where they live are international crimes that could amount to genocide. Rohingya are tired of giving evidences of their long establishment in Arakan. They no longer need to make this ineffectual effort. Whether or not one accepts them they are truly Rohingya and will continue to remain as such under all circumstances, although currently they are facing setback one after another. This is their historic right! 

References:

[1] Dr. Michael W Charney, "Buddhism in Arakan: Theory and Historiography of Religious Basis of the Ethnonym”, a paper submitted to the Forgotten kingdom of Arakan Workshop, 23-24 November 2005, Bangkok, p.132 

In Buchanan, “Comparative Vocabulary”, p55 

[2] Ibid, p.20 

[3] Maurice Collis, “The Land of Great Image” Reissued with additional illustration in 1985, New Directions Publishing Cooperation, New York , p.135 

[4] Thant Myint-U, “The River of Lost Footsteps, a personal history of Burma”, first published 2007, printed by Mackays of Chatham, plc p.73. 

[5] Ba Shin,“Coming of Islam to Burma 1700 AD”, a research paper presented at Azad Bhavan, New Delhi in 1961, p.4. 

[6] “Silver Jubilee Anniversary Publication 1975-2000” of Arakan Historical Society, Chittagong, p.44. 

[7] “Memorandum to the Government of the Union of Burma” dated 18 June 1948, by Mr. Sultan Ahmed (MP) in his capacity as the President of Jamiat-e-Ulema, North Arakan.

Nurul Islam is President of Arakan Rohingya National Organisation.

Myanmar pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi arrives to attend Myanmar's top six-party talks at the Presidential palace in Naypyitaw April 10, 2015. REUTERS/SOE ZEYA TUN

By Andrew R.C. Marshall & Simon Webb
April 10, 2015

NAYPYITAW -- With an historic general election just seven months away, Myanmar opposition leader and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi is locked in a high-stakes showdown with a military-backed government she says isn't interested in reform.

Some of her supporters within Myanmar's pro-democracy movement have begun to question whether the country's most popular politician has the political ability to prevail.

They say she has already been outmaneuvered.

"At a grassroots level she is hugely popular. But people worry about her political maneuvering and strategy," said Aung Zaw, a former political exile and 1980s student activist who now edits Myanmar's leading independent news agency.

Aung Zaw and others, including some current student activists, say Suu Kyi made a critical mistake when she stood for parliament three years ago in a by-election, becoming a lawmaker in a system that remains far from fully democratic.

"She lent a whole undeserved legitimacy to the regime," Aung Zaw said.

Critics say Suu Kyi has received little in return for that move, which contributed to the United States and the European Union's suspending sanctions and burnished President Thein Sein's reformist image as "Myanmar's Gorbachev".

"She has been outsmarted to some extent," said Maung Moccy, a student activist, former political prisoner and a leader in the All Burma Federation of Student Unions. "... She hasn't got back in return anything that is worth what she gave," he added.

Others, though, express support.

Arakan National Party leader Aye Maung, who represents the nation's ethnic groups at reform talks between Myanmar's most powerful politicians, says Suu Kyi was pushing hard for the military-drafted constitution to be changed so that she could become eligible for the presidency after the election.

The charter effectively bars her from the top office.

"I think she's playing her game very smartly," he said, pointing to a round of talks due to take place on the constitution on Friday. Those talks include Suu Kyi, the president and the head of the armed forces.

"That's why today's talks came up very quickly. I wouldn't agree if someone said she's outmaneuvered," he added.

Suu Kyi shrugged off the criticism in an interview with Reuters on April 3.

When asked if contesting the 2012 by-election was a half measure that ultimately stymied reform, Suu Kyi replied, "No, I don't think so. It was a very good idea because we were able to move and operate as a political party."

Suu Kyi and 43 other members of the NLD entered parliament after winning the by-election by a landslide. Despite being a small opposition, they had been "quite effective" in forcing constitutional change onto the political agenda, she said.

Previously, talking about charter change "was regarded as a criminal offense", she said.

The constitution was written by the military, which ran the country for 49 years, and bars presidential candidates with a foreign spouse or child, a clause apparently written to exclude Suu Kyi, whose two sons are British.

The charter also reserves a quarter of parliamentary seats for military delegates and guarantees the ministries of defense, home affairs and border affairs are headed by serving officers.

The military block has an effective veto over constitutional change, which requires more than 75 percent approval in parliament before being sent to a referendum.

Changing the charter would require the cooperation of both the military and Thein Sein, himself a former general whose quasi-civilian government replaced the military rule in 2011.

Suu Kyi said in the interview she no longer thought Thein Sein was sincere about reform and that his government was "not interested" in amending the constitution.

While there was still time for charter change, the NLD has not ruled out boycotting the election expected to take place in November, she said.

Zaw Htay, a senior official from the president's office, said he was surprised Suu Kyi was considering a boycott.

"I wonder if she just said so to pressure the government into amending the constitution," he said. "Personally, I don't think they will cancel or postpone (the election) no matter whether the NLD boycotts it or not."

The military was unavailable for comment.

Shwe Man, center, speaker of Burma’s Lower House of Parliament, Burma Army commander in chief Snr-Gen Ming Aung Hlaing, left, and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi arrive for six-party talks at the Presidential Palace in Naypyidaw on April 10, 2015. (Photo: Reuters)


April 10, 2015

NAYPYIDAW / RANGOON — A six-party dialogue on constitutional reform and upcoming national elections, involving some of Burma’s biggest political players, concluded on Friday with the government calling the meeting “a success” and an ethnic leader included in the talks saying more discussions would come.

The meeting, involving President Thein Sein, opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, parliamentary leaders, an ethnic representative and the Burma Army commander in chief Min Aung Hlaing, was convened in Naypyidaw on Friday.

The President’s Office, quoting presidential spokesman Ye Htut, said a timetable for the next meeting had been agreed, though no date was provided. Ye Htut said the talks would resume sometime after Parliament reconvenes.

The legislature is on break until after the Buddhist New Year, which officially concludes on April 21.

At Friday’s meeting, “all participants freely and openly discussed in a brotherly way and reached agreement,” the President’s Office quoted Ye Htut as saying, though the specifics of that agreement were not immediately clear.

Aye Maung, the chairman of the Arakan National Party who was designated to represent ethnic minorities’ interests at the talks, said amendments to the country’s controversial military-drafted Constitution and elections due late this year were the primary topics addressed on Friday.

“But [discussion was] not thorough on constitutional fixes as we will discuss during the next round of meetings. We met today because Parliament requested it. Parliament has to submit details on constitutional amendments before we discuss it at the next meeting.”

Upper House Speaker Khin Aung Myint and his Lower House counterpart Shwe Mann were the designated representatives of Parliament, which first endorsed the six-party talks in November.

Suu Kyi, who has long-called for four-party talks but on Thursday told media she was satisfied with the six-party format, did not offer immediate comment following the meeting.

She has been campaigning for changes to the Constitution, including the removal of a clause that currently bars her from presidential eligibility and another that grants the military an effective veto over amendments to most of the charter.

The opposition leader originally pitched a four-party dialogue that did not include the Upper House speaker or an ethnic representative.

Like Suu Kyi, ethnic minorities have major objections to the Constitution, and are pushing for changes that would introduce a federal system in Burma, giving them greater control over regional governance and natural resources.

Friday’s high-level meeting followed talks earlier this week involving dozens of ethnic leaders and several of the six-party dialogue’s participants. It comes one week after Suu Kyi told Reuters that her National League for Democracy (NLD) party had not ruled out a boycott of the 2015 election, and called Thein Sein’s government a “hardline regime,” reflecting the feeling of many observers that Burma’s once-vaunted democratic reform program has stalled.

Dr. Habib Siddiqui
RB Article
April 9, 2015

In early February this year, the Myanmar parliament approved a proposal by President Thein Sein to allow people with temporary identification “white cards,” most of whom were Rohingya, to vote on a referendum on constitutional amendments to the country’s junta-backed constitution, which could come as early as May. Obviously, as most keen observers would tell you the government measure was a face-saving one under international pressure and never meant in intent and purpose. 

As it has become almost a routine and comical in Myanmar these days, led by ultra-racist and bigoted monks, hundreds of Buddhists took to the streets in Myanmar’s commercial capital Yangon on February 11 to protest the government’s decision to allow people without citizenship, including Rohingya, to take part in the referendum. Such protest marches are widely suspected of being stage managed and done at the behest of the policy makers within Thein Sein's government. 

In the Arakan (Rakhine) state capital of Sittwe (formerly Akyab), the fascist RNDP leaders who had hitherto played a major role in recent genocidal campaigns against the minority Rohingya community were quick to organize protest marches demanding disenfranchisement of the Rohingya. Copycatting the tactics of Hitler’s Sturmabteilung (SA) Brown Shirts, the racist Buddhist crowd - led by hundreds of Buddhist monks, waved placards reading "Never accept white card" and shouted "Anyone who allows foreigners to vote is our enemy."

As expected, Thein Sein government quickly reversed the decision disenfranchising millions of White Card holders. This oft-practiced tactics allows Thein Sein to kill two birds with a single stone. It helps to sell his image as a reform minded moderate ruler to the outside world who is also mindful of public reaction and support in his own country. 

More problematic, however, was the NLD's (the party led by Suu Kyi) objection to such voting rights of the White Card holders. Through such objections in the parliament, she and her party, once again proved what an evil politician she has become and how chauvinist her party is. It is surely no friend of the disadvantaged and persecuted people inside this den of hatred called Myanmar. By the way, with foreign born British children and husband (now dead), she still has not given up on her dream to become the president of the country, and is willing to sit in the lap of the military leaders, or so it seems, to please the ruling regime and dance at its tunes. 

White Cards were initially issued beginning in 1993 as a temporary measure pending a process to verify residents’ claims to citizenship against criteria set out in Myanmar’s 1982 Citizenship Law. All the White Card holders, which includes millions of Rohingya and other ethnic and religious minorities such as the Kokang and Wa, and people of Chinese and Indian descent are now being confiscated by (or forced to surrender to) the state. The White cards were accepted by Myanmar’s former military junta for the 2010 elections, which saw Thein Sein’s civilian-military hybrid government take power from the regime. The Rohingya community currently has five representatives in the national and state legislatures.

Many of the older citizens who were born under the British rule of Burma one time had the National Registration Card bearing their Burmese citizenship where the Rohingya name was clearly written down. [See the attached picture of U Kyaw Hla Aung, a lawyer whom the Amnesty International called a prisoner of conscience, holding his NRC, a document from the 1950s that proves that he has lived in Myanmar for a long time. He has been imprisoned multiple times for defending the rights of his people. He now lives in a bamboo hut in a camp for internally displaced people near Sittwe.]



But after Ne Win came to power all such documents were confiscated, and many were only given temporary cards towards national identification. And now with the White Cards confiscated, and their homes and neighborhoods already destroyed, and forced to live in concentration camps, most Rohingyas are naturally very apprehensive, and so are the human right activists. Many Rohingya families have lost everything, including documents like the White Cards, which they possessed in ethnic cleansing drives by the Rakhines in recent years. 

It is unclear whether those who surrendered their cards would be able to begin the citizenship process, because they do not or may not have any other form of national identification. Government reps, however, say that those who give up their white cards receive a “receipt” to prove that they had a temporary identity card and can begin the citizenship verification process in June. Previous experiences of targeted minorities like the Rohingya people have been rather unpleasant, which adds to their dilemma about surrendering such cards. 

A pilot project to verify the citizenship of Rohingya and other Muslims has foundered on Rakhine objections and the government's insistence that the Rohingyas identify themselves as "Bengali." Rohingya reject the term because it suggests they are illegal migrants from neighboring Bangladesh, when their tie to Arakan is older than most Rakhines. 

The published reports suggest that in the Arakan state alone some 10,000 White Cards were confiscated by the authorities or surrendered by the Rohingyas every day since February, and at this rate, the government will confiscate all those cards by the end of May. 

Yanghee Lee, the United Nations special rapporteur on Myanmar, said in a panel discussion at the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva on March 18 that the expiration of the temporary white cards beginning in March 31, 2015 and surrender thereof by May 31, 2015 raised more uncertainties about the status of the Rohingya and further increased their vulnerability. Lee also warned that Myanmar was backsliding because of continued discriminatory restrictions on the freedom of movement of Muslim internally displaced persons, which also infringed on other basic fundamental rights, the news release said. 

Chris Lewa, director of the Arakan Project, a research and advocacy group that focuses on the northern part of Rakhine state, denounced the citizenship verification process and the cancellation of white cards, because it could lead to a total exclusion of the Rohingya in Myanmar, the news release said. 

She believes that the withdrawal of the white cards goes beyond denial of the right to vote and risks leaving the Rohingya without any legal documentation and the right to reside in Myanmar.

Chris Lewa and Yanghee Lee are not alone in such criticisms of the Myanmar regime. I its October 2014 report, the Brussels-based think tank Crisis Group warned that disenfranchising white card holders in Rakhine State could be "incendiary". "It would be hard for (Rohingya) to avoid the conclusion that politics had failed them, which could prompt civil disobedience or even organized violence," said the report.

Only time would prove whether the Myanmar government is sincere with the citizenship process for the stateless Rohingya or the current process is only a smokescreen to ultimately expel them from the land of their ancestors. I hope that the Myanmar government is smart enough to reject the second option which is a sure recipe for creating an international crisis that would threaten the security of the entire region for decades.

(Photo: Reuters)


Min Khant
RB Article
April 9, 2015

The past SLORC and SPDC military governments have united to materialize the mischievous plan of dictator U Ne Win, who wanted Rohingyas people totally to be aliens , immigrants and at least to disenfranchise all their due rights as much possible as the government can against the Rohingyas who being the gazette indigenous ones along the history of Myanmar. 

To turn up the past governments’ criminal plan, the generations of full-blown NRC holders' offspring were trick-fully handed the white card which is neither FRC nor NRC but those temporary registration cards are regarded as only registered people in territory of Myanmar. 

Every single person knows about the President Thein Sein's inner policy regarding Rohingya people who have been under repressive condition and terrible atmosphere since more than sixty years ago in Myanmar.

After his ascension to the throne as a chosen president by his mentor, senior general Than Shwe, all the serious state affairs have gone deep down into wrong direction as people of the world know very well. Particularly Rohingyas people and that of the unsolved, uncertain question mark become as the major dirty playing cards in political instrument of Myanmar daily affairs which has been indoor and outside Myanmar, at all relevant regional and global forums.

What the cloak democratic government, right now, wants at the present is all the white card holders should agree to accept to be the Naturalized citizens. The Naturalized citizens are the ones whose parents are of foreign passport holders in initial, in accord the Myanmar 1982 citizenship law. 

The unique national historical continuation, the approved official documents and all simple affairs of the Rohingyas national concerns have always been put into puzzle and question to be confused by his unskilled presidency and his close devils advisers via the presidential palace as unfound allegation and insincere propagation. 

The white cards affair is not a totally new drama while he himself has been one of the cornerstones and masterpiece of that project to create the white cards group of marginalized citizens in north Arakan state where majority of Rohingyas Muslims reside since time immemorial.

President Thein Sein knows more about Myanmar politics which he once had handled during his premiership before becoming president of the state after the 2010 controversial election. Seeing this novice act of president Thein Sein and his administrators, people from within state and international community become so annoyed and astonished to define U Thein Sein that whether he becomes “foolish or simply doing all these” that no one accepts his model as per the norm of global standardization at this age of 21st century.

A new political fashion was planted and designed by forming so called investigation show off commissions in the country soon after being happened a communal violence, land confiscation demonstrations, civilians dead by the armed military, peaceful demonstration by students, and for so and so incidents along the country. 

To shun away ever from critics and criticism of local and international community, he usually quickly creates and forms an inquiry commission and he has been dubbed as the 'president of commissions’ creator' for nothing. 

To my surprise, none of the previous commissions could exhibit loudly and clearly even a single effective resulting solution or affirmative product in which could be verifiably and justifiably accepted by the relevant organizations of the world from the productivity of the already formed several commissions, but very apparently, all those have been in line adopted direction of the presidential office and the commissions activities and tricks too have been for the protection of Thein Sein's administrative immunity as a "big shield "for his executive political incentive. 

Throughout crisis after crisis starting from Rakhine state up to the last students' demonstration have been held by commission after commission time and again, usually the result coming out from the series of investigations have been within the excuse of sovereignty of the state integrity rather than abiding legality, respecting legitimacy and coordinating international community's advice and guidance.

Again dated on April 4, 2015, U Thein Sein has formed "an advisory commission to review laws, rules and regulations and tasks related to the temporary identity cards holders “with nine members under the notification no. (31/2015) dated 3, April 2015 issued by the President office. Nothing can be expected new-fangled from this commission while the members included in the commission are never ever known who/what they are and most notably whether or not are they the persons of honest, historical background intellectuals and intellegencia, unbiased, straightforward, nondiscriminatory manners, farsightedness and independent decisive decision makers to their real fact finding in regard the said assigned jobs? 

Up from president to every single lay person, regardless of race and creed in Myanmar, once, all were NRC card (three folding cards) holders till 1989-90. Afterwards, the immigration authorities have issued Pink Cards on those who were, in previous, the NRC card holders except Rohingyas people in Rakhine state. 

Government overriding and taking break of the passage of nearly three decades or after more than two and half decades, Rakhine and Myanmar authorities want all the white cards holders to be confessing as foreigners first and then to agree to be of Naturalized citizens if they (Rohingyas) want to stay in this land, what a unjust and upper hand master plan of the people of Rakhine Buddhists and that of the cruel Myanmar people’ government?

President Thein Sein is the one who has been properly and gently sowing the seeds of hatred among various ethnic groups in Myanmar particularly between Rohingyas and Rakhine. He has adopted a face of terror 'Wirathu' as head of all destructive forces that have been employing on behalf of President Thein Sein's privilege. 

In accord the constitutional section (364), any act which is intended or is likely to promote feeling of hatred, enmity or discord between racial or religious community or sect is contrary to the constitution, U Thein Sein being as a president of the state, he never ever thought seriously to take into consideration to abide and follow the state constitution albeit he himself was personified in drafting and approving the constitution with which he has had an oath to rule the country. 

In this country, in spite of there are many more unscrupulous humans who have been instigating hatred among humans, and who will destroy a harmonious and peaceful society sooner or later, President Thein Sein and his administration do not desire to bring to an end and take action against those destructive forces, but the administrative system has defended them from taking action. And as an alternative, government favored them to freely move where ever they want with in the country to raze the target. 

If the President is candid and plain to his contemporary state affairs, then at this moment, I would very much like to point out some points which are the most important for Rohingyas people to whom president Thein Sein has ever looked down to give the impression of being after. Well, my points are as the following mentioned:

1) Why didn't President Thein Sein take action against vet. Aye Maung who has been an ultimate architecture, creating communal problems between Rohingyas and Rakhine Magh Buddhists, who have strategically expelled nearly two hundred thousand people to several IDP camps for 2 and 1/2 years now?

2) While as if vet. Aye Maung has got state license to be propagating constant communal violence via several local journals in mood of very loud and clear, then why doesn't U Thein Sein regime take action on culprit Aye Maung who is blatantly breaching the constitutional provision (364)?

3) Why doesn't President Thein Sein take mind and grant clemency on some innocent Rohingyas who were arrested and later on being jailed in Sittwe and Buthidung jails for nothing but an obvious political motivation for long terms imprisonment by the respective Rakhine state coordinated townships authorities in line direction of ANP chair Vet. Aye Maung who is no.1 challenging, aggressive and is green-eyed being of Rohingyas people?

4) In the meantime, where there are Rohingyas and Kaman majority people in Rakhine state, none of Rakhine and Burmese Buddhists teachers have been stepping up to schools which are in villages, reasoning security that they might have been attacked by the Muslims vigilantes along their en route up-down travelling. Where there are many more unemployed graduated Rohingyas youths in localities, it has been nearly more than two decades now that any single Rohingyas man or woman ever been hired or employed in government departments. Forgetting the racial and religious discriminatory policies, why won't the government of Thein Sein warmly invite applications from Rohingyas community for their employment in education department exclusively for village primary education where Rakhine teachers haven’t been going to teach on ground of personal security? 

By the way for many years up to 2012, if any Rakhine Buddhist could evidently show that any Rohingya-being ever encounters in mood of ‘offensive aggravation’ against any single Rakhine Buddhist as life threatening in anywhere before 2012 and after that? If any, by the help of court, judges and police officers from respective township, Rakhine state, do bring the all right records of rudeness of a Muslim being not in favor of Rakhine Magh? The invent of Security reasons by the Rakhine teachers is none other than just a bulk of nonsense exaggeration, bluff and trick to the higher to find faults and hammer on innocent Rohingyas by the government.

5) Nowadays, many more people from around the countries are paying visits as globetrotters to every corner of the country. In contrast, local Rohingyas people have been restricted to travelling from one locality to another, from one township to another, from one state/division to another; it has been so much million and million hardships for innocent Rohingyas people for many years to have higher study, mutual social visits, qualitative medical treatment, livelihoods and so on. 

In that regards, has the President Thein Sein’s government ever suffered/benefited any privilege or lost of state budget or received any intimidation against state security because of Rohingyas people’ travelling with in the country? Quite the opposite, Rohingyas are the whole sale sufferers from all angles. 

If not, why won't the government lift movement restriction imposed on Rohingyas people so that they can study, can have medicaments and journey in purpose of trade and social visits with in the country. Above all, there is no reason to impose the movement restriction on a targeted minority on ground of race, color, creed and territorial division. 

6) Most importantly, if the government considers white card holders aren't qualified for full-fledge citizens, then surely U Thein Sein’s government is backsliding and following the dreams and misconducts of Rakhine people' racial prejudiced diagram. 

In fact, no one can deny that nowadays' white cards' parents or their senior forefathers are NRC three folding card holders, so they (white card holders) can't be designed as naturalized nor associated citizens by any way as per the preferences of entire Rakhine laymen and women who have been tirelessly insisting "to-be". 

If the government honestly wanted to be the successful accomplishment of the said advisory commission task’s in Rakhine state which should be open to all to be reviewed, after that U Thein Sein government is needed to suppress the destructive forces of Rakhine mob not only in Rakhine state but in elsewhere whilst the possible speeding up of naturalization motives by mass people along the country do not died out yet, and more possible political motivation and nationalistic activities, which have already been instilled into among the sentiment of Rakhine populace by ANP (Arakan National Party), could also be further inspired to discontinue the work of the advisory commission.

It is hoped that the advisory commission which was recently formed by the president may heavenly discover the ‘white card holders’ as the descendants of NRC holders and the commission honestly and ultimately may support them (Rohingyas) as the bona-fide citizens of the state who have had all due legitimate rights, including the right to vote and to be voted in coming election in accords previous several general elections. 

In order Rohingyas people to be participating in coming election as others, and while the 2015 election is draws nearer, the earlier and in time finishing of the task of white cards investigation conduct by the said advisory commission is better rather than procrastinating much time which may cost many chances of Rohingya people’ legitimate and constitutional rights.

Rohingya Exodus