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Burma’s census scam

September 4, 2014

The United Nations and international donors have allowed themselves to become party to a dangerous fraud in Burma. Using outside funding from these bodies, the country has just conducted its first census in 30 years and has completely ignored the Muslim Rohingya minority in an act of blatant racism that cannot be allowed. 

President Thein Sein’s administration, which is so busy welcoming eager foreign businessmen to the country, has deliberately excluded between 800,000 and 900,000 Rohingya, thus perpetuating a bloody injustice which casts into serious doubt Burma’s right to be welcomed back into the international community. 

Burma has long refused to accept the right of the Rohingya to Burmese citizenship, even as it has generally acknowledged the same rights for the 135 other ethnic groups that make up this extraordinarily diverse country. The result, since the military junta has stepped back into the shadows of power, has been an odious “open season” on the country’s Muslims, led by Buddhist thugs, many of them supposedly peaceable and tolerant monks. Hundreds of Rohingya have been murdered and tens of thousands driven from their homes in ethnic violence which the police and army have done precious little to stop. 

Since the Rohingya are denied their rights as Burmese citizens, they are also unable to access justice. They have been barred from prosecuting their persecutors, just as they have been unable to use the courts to defend their property rights in Arakan province where most of them live.

The deeply inadequate results of this census only continue this atrocious scandal. The census takers visiting Arakan simply did not see the Rohingya. The government’s contradictory explanations for this deliberate blindness are pathetic. On the one hand, it was stated that this sizable minority had been left out because of “a technicality”. This presumably refers to the so-called “household cards” which most Rohingya hold, which identify them as “Bengali”. These cards of course were issued by the Burmese authorities themselves and by no one else. Moreover, the cards are actually a piece of racism, since the word “Bengali” is used in Burma as a term of general abuse.

However, another official came up with a different explanation for the omission of the Rohingya from the count. He said that they had been left out “as a security measure”. This seemed to suggest that local Buddhist ruffians would have rioted had the census been conducted properly. No responsible government should be seen to be bowing to such a threat to law and order. But then the Burmese government is not a responsible government. Yet the international community continues to ignore its naked racism and officially-sanctioned persecution of a helpless and vulnerable minority. Moreover, it has just funded a deeply-flawed national head-count which underpins that racism. 

It is clear that the UN should lead the outright rejection of this sham census and insist it be completed properly. Whatever the arguments about the inadmissibility of the Rohingya as citizens - and they are extremely weak - a proper census must include everyone living in the country. If the UN does nothing, then it will have been party to a racist maneuver that is surely the precursor to greater bloody crimes and injustices against hundreds of thousands of helpless people, whom it seems have no one willing to stick up for them.

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