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By World Bulletin
July 31, 2014

Buddhist Nationalist circles called for a boycott of Ooredoo amid a wave of anti-Muslim hate speech.

Phone shops in Myanmar have started selling SIM cards made by a global telecoms giant boycotted by Buddhist nationalists ahead of the official launch date, sparking speculation that the much-anticipated launch is imminent.

Nationalist circles have called for the boycott of Ooredoo - which is majority-owned by the Qatari government – amid a wave of anti-Muslim hate speech, spearheaded by radical monks who insist Muslims are trying to take over the country.

Despite this, vendors in the former capital Yangon as well as the country’s second city of Mandalay told local media Thursday that they have already received the company's SIM cards and started selling them for 1,500 Kyats ($1.50).

A vendor in Mandalay said he had been instructed to start selling the cards this Saturday, according to The Myanmar Times.

Myanmar’s mobile phone and Internet services are currently among the least reliable in the world.

Decades of isolation and censorship under military dictatorships left the country with dire infrastructure while ludicrous price controls meant SIM cards remained unaffordable for the majority of Myanmar’s roughly 60 million citizens.

But this has begun to change as the former pariah state opens up to the world. A quasi-civilian government that came to power in 2011 has brought in sweeping economic reform – a key pillar of which was inviting foreign telecoms firms to set up in the country.

Ooredoo has called a press conference for the same day - which a spokesperson described as “special” - adding that there would be an “exciting announcement.”

Both Ooredoo and its rival, Norwegian company Telenor, will spend billions of dollars on transmission towers and other infrastructure in a bold act of frontier investing in one of the last untapped mobile telecoms markets in the world.

In this file photo from June 2012, Aung San Suu Kyi talks to Muslim leaders at the NLD head office in Rangoon as they appeal to her to intervene following a wave of anti-Muslim attacks in Arakan State. (Photo: Reuters)

By Aye Nai
July 31, 2014

The Arakanese High Court has yet to announce its decision on whether to uphold an appeal against murder charges levelled at seven men indicted for the 2012 lynching of 10 Muslim pilgrims at a bus station in Taunggup.

The incident is widely seen as one of the main precursors to the communal violence between Buddhist and Muslim communities which erupted across the state two years ago.

Defence lawyers for the seven – who were convicted in May this year under Penal Code articles 302 and 34 by the district court in Sandoway, officially known as Thandwe – launched an appeal on 10 July to the High Court against the formal murder charges.

“I presented an argument at the High Court today [10 July] stating that the charges against my clients are not in conformity with legal procedures, and therefore should be dropped,” lawyer Aye Nu Sein told DVB earlier this month.

At that time, defence lawyers said they expected a decision by the High Court within seven to ten days. However, as weeks have passed, no official announcement has been made on this most sensitive of cases.

Aye Nu Sein, who represents six of the appellants, said she and lawyer Kyaw Nyunt Maung, representing the other defendant, believed Sittwe High Court was taking longer than usual to make a decision on the appeal.

However, Supreme Court lawyer Ko Ni said the delay is nothing unusual, and in some cases, the court may take up to about two months before announcing its verdict.

“It could be that the judge needs more time to thoroughly study the case,” said Ko Ni.

He said if the High Court rejects the appeal, the murder trial will proceed at the district court, but if it accepts the appeal the suspects will be unconditionally discharged.

The seven suspects, all local Taunggup Buddhist men, were arrested one year after the lynching, which involved at least 100 people.

President Thein Sein last year pledged that Burma’s judiciary would take firm action against all individuals and organisations convicted of instigating and committing acts of violence.

Aman Ullah
RB Article
July 31, 2014

They are generally known as Bengalis or Chittagonians, quite incorrectly, and took at they are quite unlike any other product of India or Burma that I have seen. They are resemble the Arab in name, in dress and in habit. The women, and more particularly the young girls, have distintictive Arab touch about them” wrote Anthony Irwin in his Burmese outpost (1946).

They are called Rohingyas. They are same par in the status of nationality with Kachin, Kaya, Karen, Mon, Rakhine and Shan. They are one of the ethnic races of Burma,” announced U Nu, the Burma’s first elected Prime Minister on September 25, 1954 at 8:00pm from BBS Rangoon. 

However, the present Thein Sein government vehemently denies the existence of a Rohingya ethnicity, referring to the group, even in official documents, as “Bengali.” Ultra-nationalist Rakhine Buddhists vehemently reject this view, framing the Rohingyas as illegal immigrants who migrated from East Bengal during the British rule of Burma and/or after Burma and Pakistan’s independence in 1948 and 1947, respectively. 

Although the Government did not convince President Obama and the US Government to use ‘Myanmar’ instead of ‘Burma’, now they have success to convince not to use the word ’Rohingya’ to the new United Nations Special Rapporteur on Myanmar, Ms Yanghee Lee, who has visited to gather the first-hand information on the country at the invitation of the Government. 

The President’s Office said in a July 29 statement that the UN special rapporteur for human rights in Myanmar, Ms Yanghee Lee, needs to pay “serious consideration to [using] the term” if a “long-term solution” to problems in Rakhine are to be achieved. “While the people of Myanmar are ready, and as it has been the case, to accept those who meet the criteria of the 1982 Citizenship Law as citizens, we do not accept the term ‘Rohingya’ which has never existed in the country’s history,” the statement said. “The term has been maliciously used by a group of people with wider political agenda. The people of Myanmar will never recognize the term.” 

On her briefing at Yangon International Airport, on 26 July 2014, Ms Lee said that, ‘issues around terminology and citizenship are particularly sensitive. I was repeatedly told not to use the term ‘Rohingya’ as this was not recognized by the Government.’

‘Yet, as a human rights independent expert, I am guided by international human rights law. In this regard, the rights of minorities to self-identify on the basis of their national, ethnic, religious and linguistic characteristics is related to the obligations of States to ensure non-discrimination against individuals and groups, which is a central principle of international human rights law. I also note that various human rights treaty bodies and intergovernmental bodies, including the Committee on the Rights of the Child, which I chaired for four years and of which I was a member for ten years, the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly use the term Rohingya,’ she added. 

Ethnic identity is an essential human need that provides a sense of belonging and historical continuity and created a foundation on which to build a concept of self. It is an individual’s self-concept developed from knowledge of membership in a cultural group. Ethnic identity and self-identity has supported a strong relationship between the two.

According to Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, ‘All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.’ For the ‘equal in dignity’ the right to self- identification is important. It is very significantly important to know differentially the incomparable difference between “ethnicity or ethnic group and ethno-religious group”. “Ethnicity or ethnic group” is a specific term to identify the ancestral background of each community who are eligible to belong an ethnicity—particular language, distinct culture, racial dress, populous territory.

The Rohingya are a nation with a population of more than 3 million (both home and abroad), having a supporting history, separate culture, civilization, language and literature, historically settled territory and reasonable size of population and area. They share a public culture different from the public culture of those around them. They are determined not only to preserve and develop their public culture, but also to transmit to future generations as the basis of their continued existence as people, in accordance with their own cultural pattern, social institution and legal system. 

The term Rohingya is widely used by the international community to identify a group of Muslims of Arakan. According to Dr. Ganganath Jha of Jawaharlal Nehru University of India, the term Rohingya is derived from Rohang the ancient name of Arakan. The Muslims of Arakan called their country, in their own language, ‘Rohang or Roang’ and called themselves as Rohangya (Rohang+ya) or Roangya (Roang+ya) means native of Rohang or Roang. In Burmese it is ‘ရိုဟင္ဂ်ာ’, in Rakhine’s pronunciation it will read as ‘Rohangya’ but in Burmese pronunciation it became ‘Rohingya’ and now it’s established as ‘Rohingya’. Like other peoples of the world, they have needed to identify as Rohingya to some degree for centuries.

In the work of Arab geographer Rashiduddin (1310 AD) it appears as ‘Rahan or Raham’. The British travelers Relph Fitch (1586 AD) referred the name of Arakan as ‘Rocon’. In the Rennell’s map (1771 AD), it is ‘Rassawn’. Tripura Chronicle Rajmala mentions as ‘Roshang’. In the medieval works of the poets of Arakan and Chittagong, like Quazi Daulat, Mardan, Shamser Ali, Quraishi Magan, Alaol, Ainuddin, Abdul Ghani and others, they frequently referred to Arakan as ‘Roshang’, ‘Roshanga’, ‘Roshango Shar’, and ‘Roshango Des’. Famous European traveller Francis Buchanam (1762-1829 AD) in his accounts mentioned Arakan as “Rossawn, Rohhawn, Roang, Reng or Rung”. In one of his accounts, “A Comparative Vocabulary of some of the languages spoken in the Burman Empire” it was stated that, “The first is that spoken by the Mohammedans, who have long settled in Arakan, and who call themselves Rooinga, or natives of Arakan.” . The Persians called it ‘Rekan’.” The Chakmas and Saks from 18th century called it ‘Roang’. Today the Muslims of Arakan call the country ‘Rohang’ or Roang’ or ‘Arakan’ and call themselves ‘Rohingya’ or native of Rohang.

Rohingya is not simply a self-referential group identity, but an official group and ethnic identity recognized by the post-independence state. In the early years of Myanmar’s independence, the Rohingya were recognized as a legitimate ethnic group that deserved a homeland in Burma.

· On 31st December 1942, Brig-Gen C E Lucas Phillips of 14th British Army declared the North Arakan as “Muslim National Area” As per Public Notice No. 11-OA-CC/42. Then formed a Peace Committed headed by Mr. Omra Meah and Mr. Zahir Uddin Ahmed and entrusted for administration of the area. On 1st January 1945 Brigadier C.E Lucas Phillips became the Chief Administrator of the area and appointed members of Peace Committee as administrative officers of the area. The British recognized the Muslims of Arakan as a distinct racial group and the British officer-in-command promised to grant more autonomy in North Arakan. 

· In 1947, Hon’ble Bo Let Ya the Deputy Prime Minister, came to visit Maungdaw, to expound the principles laid down in the constitution of the Union of Burma, but it appeared on the "New Times of Burma" that he addressed the inhabitants of Maungdaw as "Chittagonians" which was objectionable and contradictory in relation to the Muslims of North Arakan forming parts and parcel of Indigenous races of Burma. The Prime Minister U Nu expressed regrets for the use of wrong terms "Chittagonians” and as per letter No.153/22 PM 48 dated; 20 February 1948, instructed that it should be either "Arakanese Muslims" or "Burmese Muslims". The term ‘Burmese Muslims’ published in the form of Press communiqué issued by His Excellency Sir Domon Smith, the Governor of Burma, on 27th September 1941. 

· On 30th 1949, the Ministry of Home Affairs issued a Burma Gazette Extra Ordinary, as par letter No. 282/ HD- 49, in which it was, mentioned that the Arakanese Muslims of Maungdaw and Buthidaung townships of Akyab district as indigenous peoples of Burma.

· On September 1954, U Nu, the first elected Prime Minister of Burma, in his radio address to nation, announced that, “The people living in northern Arakan are our national brethren. They are called Rohingyas. They are on the same par in the status of nationality with Kachin, Kayah, Karen, Mon, Rakhine and Shan.” 

· On 3rd and 4th November 1959, U Ba Swe, Prime Minister and Minister of Defense Affairs, in the public meetings of Maungdaw and Buthidaung, announced that, ‘The Rohingyas are equal in every way with other minority races like Shan, Kachin, Karen, kayah, Mon and Rakhine. They have lived in Burma ages according to historical facts. There is historical evidence that they have lived faithfully and harmoniously with other races of Burma.’ 

· On 4th July 1961, Brig-General Aung Gyi, Deputy Chief of Staff, officially explained that, ‘On the west, May Yu district borders with Pakistan. As is the case with all borderlands communities, there are Muslims on both sides of the borders. Those who are on Pakistan’s side are known as Pakistani while the Muslims on our Burmese side of the borders are referred to as ‘Rohingya.’ Here I must stress that this is not a case where one single race splits itself into two communities in two different neighbouring countries. If you look at the Sino-Burmese border region, you will see this kind of phenomenon, namely ‘adjacent people’. To give you a concrete example, take Lisu of Kachin state, or La-wa (or Wa) and E-kaw of the same Kachin State by the Chinese borderlands. They all straddle on both sides of the borders. Likewise, the Shan can be found on the Chinese side as well as in Thailand – and they are known as ‘Tai’ or ‘Dai’ over there...They speak similar language and they have a common religion.’

· The Rohingyas were enfranchised in all the national and local elections of Burma. Their representatives were in the Legislative Assembly, in the Constituent Assembly and in the Parliament. As members of the new Parliament, their representatives took the oath of allegiance to the Union of Burma on the 4th January 1948. Their representatives were appointed as cabinet ministers and parliamentary secretaries. They had their own political, cultural, social organizations and had their programme in their own language in the official Burma Broadcasting Services (BSS).

· As a Burma’s racial groups, they participated in the official “Union Day’ celebration in Burma’s capital, Rangoon, every year.

· To satisfy part of their demand, the government granted them limited local autonomy and declared establishment of Mayu Frontier Administration (MFA) in early 60s, a special frontier district to be ruled directly by the central government.

Thus, the Muslims of Rakhine region over the centuries have had many terms by which to identify themselves, including the terms Rakhine Muslim, Arakan Muslim, and Rohingya, the last of which has become more prominent in recent times. 

However, the Rakhine nationalist claims that, the term Rohingya was created in the 1950s to promote the political demands of the Bengalis in Myanmar.

Ethnic identity is not a God-given thing, but different forms of identities are invented and reworked thorough space and time. That’s why the process of identity formation is known as ‘social construction’. And Ethnicity is not just a ‘thing’ but also a ‘process’ in which the state actors impose identities, and the people themselves actively articulate their own identities for the sake of political and material livelihood.

As Burma and Arakan state are the products of the nation-sate formation through a relatively long, history, The name ‘Rakhine’ and the place ‘Arakan’ have been “invented” at particular points of time, just like the name “Rohingya’ was invented another points of time. If Rohingya ‘migrated’ from Bangladesh of somewhere else at one historical point of time Rakhines must have ‘migrated’ at similar or another historical points of time. But immigrating earlier of later does not negates the problematic reality that both groups have migrated from somewhere else. None of these groups fell from the sky. The claim that the name ‘Rohingya’ is invented is unacceptable and completely contradicts the very foundational understanding of ethnicity and ethnic identity. 

Since 1942, the Rakhine Buddhists pushed the Muslims from the southern Arakan to the northern Arakan. 

Since 1962, successive military regimes denied their citizenship right by labeling that they are illegal immigrants from Bangaladesh.

Since 2012, the Thein Sein regime rejected their identity and forcefully making them Bengali. 

The Rohingya Muslims of Arakan, both home and abroad, believed that they belong to Burma and they are parts and parcel of indigenous races of Burma. They never try to be Bengali. At present there are more than 3 million Roghingyas both home and abroad. Their only blood related community is the Roai people, a third and fourth generation Rohingyas, who strongly believed that their ancestors were from Arakan or related to Arakan. Their population is round about 10 million lived in Cox’s Bazaar district and southern Chittagong district. These peoples are morally concerned to the Rohingyas Muslims of Arakan.

However, the present Thein Sein Government and Ultra- Natiionalits Rakhines are going to forcefully making the Rohingya to Bengali. Then the Bengali peoples became concerned to the case and cause of the Rohuingyas. In Bangladesh, there are 160 million Bengali, in India also about 100 million Bengali and other parts of the world also more than 40 million Bengali. So there are more than 300 million Bengali throughout the world. In the case of the Rohingya has forcefully became Bengali then they will be parts and parcel of other Bengali peoples, and the world’s over 300 million Bengali will try to stand behind the ill-fated 3 million Rohingya people. The Government is playing with a great risk that will not good for the country and for the peoples of Burma, particularly for Arakan.

The Arakan problem can be easily solved to the satisfaction of all the stake holders if the Rakhine Buddhist is simply follow the golden rule of “Live and let Live”. This will definitely put an end to all the mutual ill-feeling and mistrusts; and there lies mutual happiness for all. 

The pupils of Baitul Rahmah Rohingya Learning Centre yearn for their favourite Burmese food. Pic by Sharul Hafiz Zam

By Jasmime Kaur
July 30, 2014

SUNGAI PETANI: For many Rohingya refugee children, who are studying at the Baitul Rahmah Rohingya Learning Centre here, celebrating Hari Raya in Malaysia is better than what they had experienced in Myanmar.

Although many of the 60 children, aged 6 to 13, are marking their first Hari Raya in this country, they are happy with the festivities here.

Head school prefect, Jaber Shamsul, 12, said Hari Raya in Myanmar was no joy as the stateless Rohingyas refugees were never allowed to go anywhere during the festive season.

“We couldn’t visit our friends or neighbours as we were not allowed to go to other camps. We all lived in different refugee camps. Here, there is a lot of excitement and anticipation for the festive season.

“I only miss the festive food, especially dishes like ‘kao se’ and ‘la ba to’,” said Jaber.

Kao se is a noodle dish while la ba to is a special dish with lots of nuts.

Enamul Hassan, 12, said he has been in Malaysia for two years now. His father works as a labourer and they live in Kampung Lebai Man.

“I love Hari Raya because of the delicious food I get to eat, including fried chicken and meehoon. In Myanmar, shops are closed and there is no merriment at all,” he said.

Mohd Salim, 12, said he was craving for his favourite Burmese dish called ‘fulu semi’, a concoction of vermicelli cooked with raisins and milk.

Salim said he started fasting for Ramadan when he was nine.

The refugee children’s responses to questions were translated by their language teacher, Kamal Shafie, 29, a Rohingya who has been in Malaysia for four years.

Kamal teaches the children the Rohingya Language, English and Arabic.

According to Baitul Rahmah Rohingya Learning Centre director Masadah Sajadi, the centre was set up in July last year.

“It was a mosque that had been left vacant after a new mosque was built nearby. Many of the pupils here are lagging behind with their studies due to their difficult life and we teach them the basics and give them a good foundation to start.

“Although we charge a nominal school fee, many parents are too poor to pay as many are jobless or they work as labourers. So we have to waive the fees in some cases.

“The school is funded by the Malaysian Consultative Council for Islamic Organisation. We teach them subjects like Mathematics, English, Bahasa Malaysia, Rohingya language, Pendidikan Islam, Al Quran and Arabic. We also teach them art and physical education,” said Masadah.

He added that the school was preparing a special Hari Raya feast for the pupils.

“Some corporate sponsors have come forward to give them Hari Raya clothes. We hope someone can sponsor a special Burmese treat for these kids,” she added.

Burma President Thein Sein announced the reshuffle Tuesday night. (Photo: AP)

July 30, 2014

YANGON, Burma — Burma’s ministers for information and health have been allowed to retire, in the country’s second Cabinet reshuffle in two months.

State television reported Tuesday night that President Thein Sein announced the resignations of Information Minister Aung Kyi and Health Minister Pe Thet Khin. An official explanation that a minister is permitted to retire is generally taken to mean a resignation under pressure.

No reason was given for the resignations. No replacements were announced.

The last reshuffle in June saw the departure of the religious affairs minister, who was later charged with corruption and sedition. The chief minister for Rakhine state, which is plagued by conflicts between Buddhists and Muslims, also lost his job at the same time.

By Joshua Carroll
July 29, 2014

While sweeping gov't reforms raised hopes for many across Myanmar, Rohingya’s suffering goes from bad to worse

SITTWE, Myanmar -- Mabya Hadu isn’t able to celebrate the Islamic festival of Eid. For three years, she has been confined to a small, flimsy hut in a squalid camp on the outskirts of Sittwe in Myanmar, unable to move far after being struck by a motorbike.

Destitute, the elderly Rohingya lady bemoaned that she can’t even afford to make sudki - a traditional sweet dish enjoyed by Rohingya on Eid morning, which marks the end of the month of fasting during the holy festival of Ramadan.

Other modest traditions like buying and wearing new clothes to mark the day - among the most significant in the Islamic calendar - are also beyond her means. 

“Last year it was the same,” she told the Anadolu Agency on Tuesday, before pointing to the patches of scarred skin on her legs where the motorbike’s exhaust pipe burnt her.

Penniless, in pain, unable to work and surviving on handouts from the World Food Programme, desperate measures were called for.

“I had to sell some of my food rations for medical treatment,” she says

Hadu, however, is not alone in her pain. Many other Rohingya in Sitwe's camps will also miss Eid in this year. While a process of sweeping government reforms introduced in 2011 has raised the hopes of many across Myanmar, the Rohingya’s suffering has continued to get worse and worse.

In mid-2012 Buddhist rioters tore through Hadu's village near downtown Sittwe, the capital of Myanmar’s western Rakhine state. They burned it to the ground, hacking and beating Muslims to death as they went. Where once a thriving Muslim community stood, there is now little more than an empty field.

The violence swept across Rakhine and then into central Myanmar; around 140,000 people are believed to have fled their homes. Most were Rohingya, who are now confined under an apartheid-like system to Sittwe's disease-ridden camps.

“Eid is very different now,” Abdul Salam, a camp committee member at the Dapaing Internally Displaced Persons camp where Hadu lives, told AA. “People here are suffering with disease.”

He estimates that about 50 people in the camp have died of conditions including diarrhea and malaria since aid workers providing desperately needed medical care were forced to evacuate Sittwe in March after being targeted by rioters.

Nationalist Rakhine Buddhists regard many international aid groups working in the state as biased towards the Rohingya, who they say are interlopers from neighboring Bangladesh.

Most aid workers have been able to return since the March riots. And last week the Rohingya were offered a glimmer of hope when the government invited the Noble Prize-winning charity Medicins Sans Frontieres to return to the state after ejecting the group in February. But the terms on which MSF will be allowed to operate are unclear and the group says the people of Rakhine face a humanitarian crisis.

Hundreds of men in traditional white panjyama clothes and fori hats poured into a mosque in Baw Du Bar village on Tuesday morning for Eid prayers. Afterwards, choirs sang Islamic songs outside and many of the men made the short walk to pray at the graves of their loved ones, another Eid tradition, in the cemetery next to the mosque. 

In the middle of the waterlogged graveyard, soaked with the monsoon rain, three men stood around a bamboo fence surrounding a small rectangle of land that marked the final resting place of 14 people who died in the riots in 2012.

After the riots many of Myanmar’s Muslims refrained from celebrating Eid as a gesture of solidarity with the Rohingya, and also because of fears the festival could spark more violence.

Since then, in the face of desperate conditions, Rohingya have kept tradition alive in the camps. After morning prayers Tuesday, boys and girls in colorful new clothes made their way along dusty tracks to visit family members in neighboring villages.

Unlike most of the Islamic world, which celebrates Eid over three days, the Rohingya only celebrate for one day.

“We are happy on Eid, it’s a time of celebration,” said Aung Win, a local community leader and activist. “But really we are not happy in our hearts. After 2012 we became IDPs because the Rakhine… destroyed our houses.”

“Many people are languishing in these camps. Some people have no money to celebrate."

“I am very sorry for those people who cannot celebrate,” he added, holding back tears. “Maybe because of the mercy of Allah they can also be happy.”

Ma Muna, who fled to the camps around Sittwe after violence in her village of Pauktaw, has been unable to do anything for her six children this Eid.

“Today we got food rations but it isn’t enough… I have no money to buy flour so we can’t make sweets. I’ve just been sitting here with the other mothers.”

Hadu remembers the last she enjoyed the sweet dish of sudki - made with flour, butter, groundnuts and coconut shavings. It was 2011.

“I had just a little then,” she said, “but I was happy, what little money I had I spent on celebrating Eid.”

Muslims pray in a mosque in Rangoon on 6 April 2013. (Photo: Reuters)

By Peter Aung and Dene-Hern Chen
July 29, 2014

Despite religious freedom being a tenet of Burma’s Constitution, the US State Department reports that government practices and actions by security forces show that there exists apparent state-sanctioned religious discrimination and violence throughout the country, particularly towards Muslims.

According to the annual US State Department International Religious Freedom report – released on Monday morning in Washington DC as Muslims around the world celebrated the end of Ramadan – unwritten policies within the Burmese government restrict the freedom of Muslims and Christians in Burma, while a preference for Theravada Buddhism is apparent through state support for the funding of monasteries and Buddhist missionary activities.

Rohingya and non-Rohingya Muslims bear the brunt of both discrimination from their community and government security forces, said the report. In the contentious Arakan State, security forces isolated Muslim communities into camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs) as part of a national strategy.

“These restrictions impeded the ability of Muslims, including Rohingyas, to pursue livelihoods, access markets, and engage other communities,” the report said, adding that government officials also denied Muslims access to government hospitals.

It also singled out the ultra-nationalist, anti-Muslim 969 movement as an instigator of violence against Muslims, such as the attacks in Meiktila last March which left between 44 and 87 people dead and destroyed more than 1,500 homes. This violence displaced about 11,000 people, mainly Muslims.

“The emergence of the 969 Movement coincided with a series of violent attacks against Muslims, starting with attacks in Meiktila on March 20,” the report said. “Some proponents of the 969 Movement made widespread use of social media to propagate hate speech and incitement to violence and passed out pamphlets and DVDs in communities across the country calling for boycotts of Muslims businesses and justifying anti-Muslim discrimination.”

Christians in Burma – who make up a large part of Kachin, Karen, Karenni, Chin and Naga ethnic minority groups – have not fared well either in the past year, with reports of the Burmese army injuring Christian religious leaders, damaging buildings and blocking access to churches during clashes in Kachin State.

“In September, government soldiers in northern Kachin State’s Putao district reportedly detained and physically abused Baptist clergy and stole alms from a Baptist church in Nhka Ga village,” the report said. “In late October, soldiers reportedly shelled a Baptist church harboring an estimated 700 villagers in Mung Ding Pa village.”

Ko Ni, a prominent Muslim lawyer in Rangoon, agreed with the US State Department’s assessment of a discrepancy between how the Constitution promises religious freedom and how the government acts in reality.

“While the government claims that they have a policy of religious freedom, non-Buddhists are still discriminated under unwritten policies and laws,” Ko Ni said, adding that Muslims are currently not allowed to join military officer training courses or hold senior positions in the government.

“There are skilled Muslim professionals such as doctors, etc., but they are evidently pushed aside from the government and management sectors and this proves that the government is going by an unwritten policy that is directly contradictory to the official policy provided in the Constitution,” he said.

Lashi La Aung, a Christian community leader based in Kachin State’s capital Myitkyina, said that the Burmese Army has systematically targeted churches around Kachin State in the past.

“The Burmese Army set fire to churches in conflict areas and completely destroyed some. They deploy troops inside churches knowing that these are places of worship,” Lashi La Aung said. “They only selectively target churches but will not touch Buddhist monasteries.”

Hanna Hindstrom, Asia information officer for international human rights organisation Minority Rights Group, said the report was “comprehensive”, and that it is up to the Burmese government to ensure that religious freedom and rights are respected.

“We’ve seen repeatedly that the law of the courts have kept targeting certain communities or minorities unfairly, notably in the wake of the Rakhine [Arakan] violence, but also after other violence affecting non-Rohingya Muslims in Burma,” Hindstrom told DVB by phone.

“969 pretty much operates without [the government] doing anything about it,” she added. “There are laws they can use to rein them in but they choose not to. There is a discrepancy that shows the government is not willing or able to tackle this problem.”

This year’s report, which is intended to inform congressional foreign policy decisions, renewed Burma’s designation as a “Country of Particular Concern”, on account of “engaging in or tolerating particularly severe violations of religious freedom.” Burma has been recognised by the US State Department as a country of concern since 1999.

By Thin Lei Win
July 29, 2014

International news coverage of the plight of the stateless Rohingya Muslims has focused on those displaced by sectarian violence and living in sprawling, squalid camps outside the Rakhine state capital Sittwe. However, a majority of the country’s 1.3 million Rohingya live in northern Rakhine state in apartheid-like conditions.

Access to Northern Rakhine state along the Myanmar-Bangladesh border is tightly restricted. Only a handful of foreign journalists have been there, and getting in requires passing through numerous checkpoints and showing official documents to prove that the government has granted permission to visit.

It is one of the poorest, most remote and most densely populated parts of the country and suffers high levels of malnutrition.

Although the Rohingya have been living in Myanmar for generations, the government denies them citizenship and calls them illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, which also does not recognise the Rohingya as citizens. The United Nations has called them “virtually friendless”.

Reuters and Thomson Reuters Foundation were granted access to the region in early June and reached Maungdaw, the westernmost town in Myanmar, after a six-hour public boat ride from Sittwe and another hour’s drive on winding roads.

The bucolic setting of northern Rakhine state – its roads winding along stunning coastline and inland through sleepy farming villages – belies the harsh reality of life for the Rohingya.

Many of them cannot travel, get married or even seek medical treatment without official permission, which is costly and difficult to obtain.

Access to healthcare has worsened since Medecins Sans Frontieres-Holland (MSF-H) and Malteser International, which between them provided the bulk of medical consultations and referrals, were expelled from Rakhine earlier this year. 

In late February MSF-H, the primary healthcare provider for half a million Rohingya, was told to leave Rakhine. Local media reported that government officials had been angry with MSF for saying it had treated victims near the scene of an alleged massacre of Rohingya in a village in NRS. Myanmar’s government denies any killing took place. 

On the night of March 27, Buddhist nationalist mobs attacked aid agency offices over rumours a Malteser aid worker had handled a Buddhist flag inappropriately. A government-appointed commission found no justification for the rumour but Rakhine officials said Malteser must leave and could not return. 

Picture: Soe Zeya Tun, taken on June 6

“I have no appetite and I’m tired all the time,” said Zawrina Hattu, 52. She had been feeling ill for about a month. She and her husband first went to MSF-H and Malteser clinics, where they would normally get free treatment, but both were closed. 

They then went to the government clinic at the top of their village, a few miles from Maungdaw. The nurse gave Hattu some pills but did not tell her what was wrong with her, she said. 

Her husband, Momi Ramed, 60, said they have no money to go to Bangladesh for treatment and are barred from going to Sittwe hospital. 

Picture: Soe Zeya Tun, taken on June 6

Nurfasa was born in late May. All she has had for nutrition since then is ground rice powder mixed with water, as her mother, legs swollen and womb racked with pain, could not produce enough milk to feed her.

She will not be getting nutritional supplements or vaccinations any time soon because the MSF-H clinic in their village, a back-breaking two-hour drive south of Maungdaw, is shut indefinitely. There is a government clinic, but on the day of our visit it looked as if it had been closed for some time.

Nurfasa was fidgeting constantly in her grandmother’s arms, her breath laboured, her tongue sticking out. Her mouth opened wide as if she wanted to cry, but no sound came out. 

Picture: Soe Zeya Tun, taken on June 6

A border guard stands in a watch tower in Maungdaw, near the border fence and the Naf river separating Myanmar from Bangladesh. 

Bangladesh has lodged a protest with Myanmar over what it called an unprovoked attack on its border guards by Myanmar security forces on May 30, following an earlier exchange of fire in which one Bangladeshi guard was killed.

Myanmar has given a different version of events and has warned Bangladesh it will not tolerate any violation of its sovereignty or territory. It has also suggested that “suspected armed Bengalis” are to blame. In Myanmar, the term "Bengali" refers to the Rohingya. 

Picture: Soe Zeya Tun, taken on June 5

Everyday life in NRS may be hard but it is not without celebrations and laughter. We chanced upon a wedding party near a remote village south of Maungdaw, with music and dancing accompanying the bride and groom. 

Here, the Rohingya bride, centre, face covered, posed with members of the bridal entourage. 

The groom, walking a few steps in front of the bride, looked solemn but pleased. 

Pictures: Soe Zeya Tun, taken on June 6

We also came across a traditional wrestling festival at Kyaukpannu village. The wrestling, in which Rohingya men and children took part, was preceded by more music and dancing. 

The winners received some cash - usually a few hundred kyats (about 1,000 Kyats to a dollar) - and sweets, which they share with the enthusiastic audience. 

Picture: Thin Lei Win, taken on June 6

A sign is seen outside a Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) clinic in a village in Maungdaw Township, Arakan State, on June 6, 2014. (Photo: Reuters)

By Lawi Weng
July 29, 2014

RANGOON — A senior government official has reportedly told Arakanese community leaders that Burma’s decision to allow Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) to resume work in Arakan State was the result of significant pressure from the international community

The government last week invited the medical NGO to return to the state in western Burma after it was forced to leave in February amid opposition to the group’s presence from Arakanese Buddhist leaders, who believe MSF has shown bias in favor of Rohingya Muslims.

Before it was expelled, the NGO was a major health care provider in Arakan State, where inter-communal violence since mid-2012 has killed dozens of people and displaced about 140,000, mostly from the stateless Rohingya minority.

It is unclear on what terms MSF will return, but the move may spark opposition in the state, with a Twitter account linked to the President’s Office claiming a statewide protest is being planned.

President’s Office Minister Soe Thein met with more than 100 local leaders in the state capital, Sittwe, on Sunday, allegedly admitting that international pressure had forced the government’s hand.

“He [Soe Thein] told us that in order to give favor to the international community, our government has to let MSF come back to Arakan,” community leader Than Tun told The Irrawaddy.

“They [the international community] put a lot of pressure on our government about this. This is why our government had to invite MSF back.”

Soe Thein told the community leaders he wanted to “apologize to the ethnic Arakanese people” for the government’s decision, Than Tun said.

Burma has been criticized for its handling of the situation in Arakan State by the UN and Western governments, which are providing significant development aid to the reformist government that took power in 2011.

Prior to MSF’s expulsion, the aid group said it had treated patients wounded in a massacre of Rohingya in Maungdaw Township’s Du Chee Yar Tan village that the government said did not happen. Weeks later, riots broke out in Sittwe against other foreign aid organizations’ offices and staff, and since then a panel involving Arakanese leaders, including Than Tun, has scrutinized applications to conduct humanitarian projects in Arakan State.

Pe Than, a Lower House lawmaker for the Rakhine Nationalities Development Party, said that the government should find a compromise with the ethnic Arakanese community before allowing MSF to return.

“There will be no problem with our ethnic people if the government maintains that MSF must not act with bias when offering aid to refugees. Of course, our region needs help from MSF, but it’s important that the government listens to the desires of our people,” said Pe Than, adding that MSF, which has been accused of disproportionately hiring Muslims, must employ more Arakanese people.

A delegation led by Soe Thein, which also included Immigration Minister Khin Yi and US Ambassador Derek Mitchell, met with Muslim leaders in Sittwe on Sunday. Aung Win, a Rohingya rights activist in Sittwe, said that discussions centered on an ongoing citizenship verification process, rather than the return of MSF to the state.

When MSF left the region, the Ministry of Health said it would step up its delivery of medical services in Arakan State, but numerous reports suggest that many have been left without access to medical services.

MSF issued a statement on Friday in which it welcomed the government’s invitation to return to Arakan State.

“MSF is cautiously optimistic about this development,” said Marcel Langenbach, director of operations for MSF in Amsterdam in the statement.

“Given that for many people in Rakhine access to medical services remains a major challenge, we hope that MSF can restart treating patients as soon as possible.”

Buddhist monks feed pigeons near the Shwedagon pagoda in Yangon on May 9, 2014. (SOE THAN WIN/AFP/Getty Images)

By Patrick Winn
July 29, 2014

The specter of rapacious Muslim men, plotting a slow genocide of Buddhists through sexual conquest, is actually quite old in Myanmar.

In the minds of Myanmar’s Buddhist extremists, Muslim men are constantly scheming for their women.

There are plots to systematically seduce naive Buddhist girls into converting to Islam. There are plots to infiltrate the military by marrying daughters of high-ranking officers. And there is the ultimate plot: to overthrow the government and transform Myanmar — the land of shimmering Buddhist pagodas — into an Islamic state.

No evidence suggests these plots actually exist. Yet vigilante extremists — whose views on racial and religious purity evoke the Ku Klux Klan — are successfully exploiting these fears to spark deadly anti-Muslim riots. Rape allegations have proven particularly effective in whipping up a mob rampage through anti-Muslim neighborhoods.

The latest riot, in the sun-baked city of Mandalay, broke out after a Buddhist maid accused two Muslim tea shop owners of rape. Soon afterward, according to accounts provided to GlobalPost, men on motorbikes zoomed into Muslim neighborhoods and began smashing windows.

Some Muslims fled. Others weren’t so lucky. The riots ended with 20 injuries and the deaths of two men — one Buddhist, one Muslim.

The Buddhists who fought to avenge the woman’s honor, however, were misled. Myanmar’s Ministry of Home Affairs confirmed the woman was paid $1,000 to report a made-up rape. She’s now in prison along with the men accused of paying her off.

This isn’t the first string of violence set off by rape allegations. At least three other anti-Muslim mob attacks — two in coastal Rakhine State, another in the dusty plains of Sagaing State — were waged by angry Buddhists seeking revenge following rape accusations. Some rapes appear to be genuine; other cases still await trial.

In total, a dozen-odd villages and cities in Myanmar have suffered through riots in recent years. The attacks have left hundreds dead and — in some areas — reduced Muslim districts to rubble and forced families into squalid refugee camps. Muslims are a minority in Myanmar, which is overwhelmingly Buddhist, and they are simply outnumbered when their communities clash with Buddhist mobs.

“They think Muslims are taking their ladies. They think we’re taking their money. It’s all propaganda,” said Myo Win, a senior member of the Burmese Muslim Association. (The title Burma, Myanmar’s name under colonial British rule, is still widely used.)

“People easily accept these rumors," Myo Win said. “When you have a lack of education, it’s easy for people to accept hate speech — especially when it’s preached by influential monks.”

Myanmar is plagued with a long list of troubles. It is still emerging from five decades of military dictatorship. Its hills are patrolled by guerrillas allegiant to armed ethnic groups that resist the central government. Child labor, malnutrition and corruption are rife. In recent years, a new wave of leaders — in a parliament under the army’s sway — have vowed to transform Myanmar into a freer and more harmonious society.

But that dream has been stained by persistent anti-Muslim riots. A monk-led movement known as 969, a reference to Buddhist numerology, has sown bizarre rumors of imminent Muslim takeover financed by Middle East oil money. Many of these conspiracy theories involve Muslim men plotting to seduce, convert and impregnate Buddhist women.

The specter of rapacious Muslim men, plotting a slow genocide of Buddhists through sexual conquest, is actually quite old in Myanmar.

A 1938 newspaper article, translated by The Journal of Burma Studies, offers a stern warning to Buddhist ladies who marry Muslims brought over by British colonizers: “You Burmese women who fail to safeguard your own race ... are responsible for the ruination of the race.”

Another book, written by a retired veteran of the Myanmar government’s foreign service named Maung Tha La, alleges these Muslim plots began decades ago. Young Muslim men, he writes, are led by a global Islamic conspiracy to “emigrate into the Union of Burma, the land of abundant food and pretty damsels, to marry the native maidens ... to spread Islam ... and ultimately overthrow the government.”

There are many books like this in Myanmar. A more recent tract is titled “If You Marry a Man of a Different Race and Religion.” It’s described by a local news outlet as containing “11 stories about Buddhist women who were sexually abused, raped or forced to marry members of another ‘evil’ religion.”

Buddhist extremists are operating under a “demographics siege mentality,” said Kyaw San Wai, a senior analyst of Myanmar’s politics at Singapore’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies.

“With views of Muslim men poorly treating their spouses, and of supposed plots to systematically marry and convert Buddhist women,” he said, “it becomes a potent and volatile mindset that just needs an accusation of rape or murder to spark off violence.”

These rumors aren’t new, he said. Kyaw San Wai recalls dubious gossip from the 1990s that oil-rich Arabs were rewarding Myanmar’s Muslim men with cash if they could marry Buddhist women. The men get bonus pay — so the rumor goes — if they marry and convert a woman of high status such as a lawyer or doctor.

But that rhetoric is lightweight compared to other calls to arms. Articles in a magazine published by a political party, the Rakhine Nationalities Development Party, can be downright chilling.

The Buddhist-led party is popular in a coastal region that has witnessed wave after wave of bloody anti-Muslim purges in the last two years. Local Buddhist mobs have explicitly targeted an ethnically Bengali and highly persecuted Muslim sect called the Rohingya.

“Hitler and Eichmann were the enemy of the Jews. But they were probably heroes to the Germans,” the party magazine stated in 2012, according to a translation by the Los Angeles Review of Books. “Inhuman acts may justifiably be committed. ... We will go down in history as cowards if we pass on these [Muslim Rohingya] issues to the next generation without getting it over and done with.”

The average Buddhist in Myanmar is kindly toward Muslims and doesn’t harbor such extreme ideas, Myo Win said. But the revival of old stereotypes — particularly about scheming Muslim men — has many Muslim neighborhoods tense with fear.

“These rumors are tactics. They’re tools to mobilize people,” he said. “But if you look more closely, you see they don’t make any sense.”

A crowd gathers at the corner of 27th and 82nd roads in Mandalay during a clash between Buddhist and Muslim communities in early July. (Photo: Teza Hlaing / The Irrawaddy)

By Htet Naing Zaw
July 29, 2014

RANGOON — Members of the Burmese media have rejected a message from President Thein Sein to Parliament on Friday, in which he claimed that local and international journalists share blame for outbreaks of anti-Muslim violence that have marred Burma’s democratic transition.

Last week, Union Parliament Speaker Shwe Mann asked the president questions about concerns over a deterioration of Burma’s media climate, and urged him to defuse growing tensions between the government and local media.

The tensions follow an increase in threats and arrests of journalists by authorities in recent months. At least seven journalists at the now-defunct Bi Mon Te Nay journal were arrested in the past weeks, while four journalists and the CEO of the closed down Unity journal were sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment with hard labor for a report on an alleged chemical weapons factory.

Special Branch Police have also launched vaguely defined investigations into the finances of numerous media outlets and questioned many editors.

In his reply to the speaker, Thein Sein questioned the role of media in Burma and said it had contributed to inter-communal violence that has recurrently erupted across the country in the past two years. During the most recent outbreak in early July, Burma’s second biggest city Mandalay was rocked anti-Muslim violence that left two people dead and 14 injured.

“Improper, wedge-driving, unethical and instigating reports by some local and foreign media have resulted in mutual violence, killing and arson between two communities, and have tarnished the image [of Burma] on an international stage,” the president said.

“People want their press free but at the same time they want responsible, accountable and dignified reporting from the media, too,” he added.

Thein Sein maintained the government had nothing to do with the trial against the Unity journal reporters. A lawyer of the convicted men has said that it was the President’s Office that brought forth a complaint that led to their sentencing over trespassing and violating the State Secrets Act.

Violence erupted in Mandalay after unconfirmed allegations were circulated on social media claiming that a Muslim tea shop owner had raped a Buddhist maid, a type of allegation that has often appeared ahead of an outbreak of anti-Muslim violence.

Local authorities said at the time that they were holding two suspects in the rape case, but three weeks after violence had abated they announced that the accusations were false.

The Irrawaddy contacted Zaw Htay, director of the President’s Office asking for further explanation of Thein Sein’s remarks about the media, but he was unable to add any comments. “You can just read the message. For the time being, that’s all I can say,” he said.

Members of the Burmese media said Thein Sein’s opinion on the media was misguided and that he should recognize its constructive role.

“I don’t want [the government to say] things like the media are instigating unrest and being irresponsible,” said Thiha Saw, member of the interim Myanmar Press Council. “The government needs to see things differently; it is journalists who are providing the public with information. I want the government to see that we, journalists, are serving the people.”

He said the government seemingly fails to distinguish between mainstream objective news reporting and social media networks, such as Facebook which have become widely popular in Burma.

“Which [media] does the government refer to when it says some local and foreign media [are to blame]? Just name them exactly,” said Kyaw Min Swe, secretary of the interim Myanmar Press Council, while speaking at a media forum in Rangoon on the weekend. “The president’s words that conflict and violence are caused by media are simply provocative,” he added.

Phoe Thuakkyar, vice-chairman of the council, told the forum that the government was actively shrinking the space for independent media after a two year period of relative freedom, which followed the lifting of military regime-era media restrictions under Thein Sein’s nominally civilian government.

Last week, Shwe Mann said some Burmese media were eager to aggressively report after media restrictions were lifted, but were inexperienced and had sometimes made mistakes. He said Parliament and government should exercise patience and maintain good relations with the media in order to aid the reform process.

Children study at a religious school teaching daily classes in Islamic studies at the Say Tha Mar Gyi IDP camp. (Paula Bronstein/Washington Post)

By Annie Gowen
July 29, 2014

SITTWE, Burma — A little girl balances a bag of donated rice on her head as she begs for her family of eight. Other children play in fetid, trash-clogged pools of water. And at a religious class at a makeshift mosque, more than a third of the children had not eaten that day. Or the day before.

The United Nations says that 135,000 ethnic Rohingya Muslims are still stuck in refugee camps on the western coast of Burma, two years after the government rounded them up in the wake of religious violence that left villages scorched, thousands homeless and more than 200 dead.

Rohingya, a long-persecuted ethnic minority, have been forced to live as virtual prisoners in temporary huts, scraping by on donated bags of rice and chickpeas and whatever fish they could pull from the ocean. The situation is so dire that some 86,000 people have tried to flee by boat, and Human Rights Watch has accused the government of a campaign of “ethnic cleansing.” Yanghee Lee, the United Nations special rapporteur for human rights in Myanmar, said Saturday that the situation was “deplorable” and that restrictions on movement have had a severe impact on the Rohingyas’ access to jobs, water and sanitation, health care and education.

“The Muslim community . . . continues to face systematic discrimination, which include restrictions in the freedom of movement, restrictions in access to land, food, water, education and health care, and restrictions on marriages and birth registration,” Lee said.

The humanitarian crisis worsened over the winter, after the Burmese government suspended operations of the aid group Doctors Without Borders in the area, leaving more than 700,000 people without proper medical care, and said only late last week that the doctors could return. Violence forced other organizations to evacuate, then struggle to ramp up aid again.

Now, children are starving. Aid workers say they have seen an alarming uptick in child malnutrition in recent months because for so long, local hostilities hindered their access to mothers and pregnant women and interrupted water, food and sanitation supplies.

“What we have observed from March to June is a dramatic increase in admissions for severe acute malnutrition. We saw the figures doubling,” said Bertrand Bainvel, Unicef’s representative in Burma. “We’re all still very concerned about the situation.”

‘Economic isolation’

The Rohingya camps are spread out over miles of the western state of Rakhine, some so remote they are reachable only by boat. With so much time having passed, life has established a rhythm of its own for the residents. In some camps, small markets have sprung up, with goods supplied by Rakhine traders on the outside, the same ethnic group they have long clashed with.

Fish from the nearby ocean dries on long poles, and some residents have planted gardens next to their huts with donated seeds to augment the meager food supply. They are not allowed to leave for the most part, although the residents near the town of Sittwe can take trips in guarded trucks to the one remaining Muslim neighborhood across town.

The Rohingya Muslims are an ethnic minority in Burma, the predominantly Buddhist Southeast Asian nation of more than 55 million people. Tensions between the Rohingya and their ethnic Rakhine Buddhist neighbors existed long before the recent flare-up of violence.

During five decades of harsh military rule in Burma, the Rohingya were persecuted by the government, human rights experts say, forced to endure hard labor, relocations, rape and torture. Although Rohingya have lived in Burma for generations, a strict 1982 citizenship law rendered many of them stateless, and the government continues to consider them refugees from Bangladesh. This year, census workers refused to count those who identified themselves as Rohingya.

Ye Htut, the spokesman for the Burmese president, Thein Sein, bristled when the word “Rohingya” was used in an interview.

“I would like to point out that the government of Myanmar and Myanmar people didn’t accept the word Rohingya,” Ye Htut said. “We recognize there are Islamic Bengalis in our country.” But, he said, “We recognize there are tensions and challenges in our country, especially communal violence.”

Phil Robertson, the deputy director of Human Rights Watch in Asia, said that the government has engaged in a policy of “social and economic isolation of the Rohingya” for years, particularly since June 2012, when three Muslim men allegedly raped a Buddhist woman.

Since then, Robertson said, “It’s been a downward spiral in terms of humanitarian access and accountability. The situation is going badly downhill. You have about 140,000 people in displaced persons camps and another 40,000 locked in their villages without adequate access to food and medical services.”

Ye Htut said that the Rohingya are being kept in the camps for their own protection.

The crisis has given rise to widespread international outrage, and questions about whether the United States — which eased economic sanctions on Burma after the government began a process of democratic reform in 2011 — has painted a rosier picture of the emerging democracy than is warranted.

“No one is turning a blind eye to anything. In fact we’re working continually to help address problems on the ground,” said Derek Mitchell, the U.S. ambassador to Burma. “What we are doing out here is in anticipation of continued reform, although we need to remain patient as the country deals with increasingly difficult issues going forward.”

Doctors Without Borders said in a statement Friday that they were “cautiously optimistic” after the government’s surprise announcement that they could return to the area after they were expelled in February for treating victims of a January clash that left more than 40 Rohingya dead — a confrontation the government denies took place. Some, however, viewed the news with skepticism, arguing it could be a public relations ploy ahead of an expected visit by U.S. Secretary of State John F. Kerry in August.

The group was the main provider of medical care for more than 700,000 people in Rakhine state, and the ouster of the 600 staffers and the shuttering of clinics and traveling medical teams left huge gaps. The government compensated with a small mobile team that now numbers around 100.

The impact of the suspension has been profound. One recent humid day in the back of a makeshift pharmacy at a camp just outside Sittwe, dozens of Rohingya waited in line to receive a few tablets of donated medicine. A woman, Ommar Khulsom, 30, clutched her feverish newborn niece. The little girl’s mother had suffered from edema throughout her pregnancy and had been under the care of Doctors Without Borders, a local staffer who had worked with the aid group said. When they were forced out, however, her treatment stopped. The night she gave birth, the woman bled to death.

Looking for hope

Maung Hla Tin, 33, a carpenter and camp leader, said that about 50 people had died in his section, including more than a dozen babies, in the past two years. His area was without food for 15 days in April, and a nongovernmental organization completely stopped delivering soap, fresh water and other sanitary supplies, which gave rise to widespread diarrhea and other diseases, he said.

“We have no hope,” he said.

The government’s unexpected decision to allow Doctors Without Borders back into the camps followed a June meeting at which local leaders, U.N. officials, civil activists and others drew up an action plan to address the crisis. While that was viewed as a positive step, some feel little is being done to address the larger question of the Rohingya’s fate.

“In the long term, solutions must be found” for the displaced people and thousands of others living in isolated villages, said Pierre Peron, spokesman for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Rangoon.

Many Rohingya said they fear they may never resume normal lives.

“We’re suffering here. We want to go back to our homes,” said Thin Mg, 44, who had a small goods trading business before the violence displaced his family. “One day is like one year.”

By Tim McLaughlin
July 29, 2014

The government has cautioned a senior UN official over her use of the word “Rohingya”, warning that continued use of the term could hinder efforts to address humanitarian and rights issues in Rakhine State.

The President’s Office said in a July 29 statement that the UN special rapporteur for human rights in Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, needs to pay “serious consideration to [using] the term” if a “long-term solution” to problems in Rakhine are to be achieved.

“While the people of Myanmar are ready, and as it has been the case, to accept those who meet the criteria of the 1982 Citizenship Law as citizens, we do not accept the term ‘Rohingya’ which has never existed in the country’s history,” the statement said.

“The term has been maliciously used by a group of people with wider political agenda. The people of Myanmar will never recognise the term.”

The term Rohingya is widely used by the international community to identify a group of Muslims, thought to number more than 1 million, who reside predominantly in Rakhine State. The government rejects the term, saying that they are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, and refers to them instead as “Bengalis”.

Neither the Rohingya nor Bengali names are included in Myanmar’s 135 official ethnic groups, and most self-described Rohingya have been denied access to citizenship.

Ms Lee said on July 26 during a press conference at the end of her trip that she was told repeatedly not to use the term during her 10-day visit, but said that human rights laws respecting the freedom to self-identify drove her to do so.

“As a human rights independent expert, I am guided by international human rights law. In this regard, the rights of minorities to self-identify on the basis of their national, ethnic, religious and linguistic characteristics is related to the obligations of states to ensure non-discrimination against individuals and groups, which is a central principle of international human rights law,” she said.

“I also note that various human rights treaty bodies and intergovernmental bodies, including the Committee on the Rights of the Child, which I chaired for four years and of which I was a member for 10 years, the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly use the term ‘Rohingya’.”

Ms Lee made the comments during her first trip to Myanmar as special rapporteur since being appointed to the position in June. She took over from Argentinean lawyer Tomas Quintana, who had served the maximum mandate of six years and whose later visits had been met with hostility, particularly in Rakhine State. Many media members and government perceived his reports to be biased in favour of Myanmar’s Muslim community, particularly on the issue of Rakhine State and the Rohingya.

The government said that it was pleased by Ms Lee’s recognition of the Rakhine community, which it said Mr Quintana had “consistently ignored”.

Rohingya Exodus