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Letter to the President U Htin Kyaw

H.E. U Htin Kyaw
President of Republic of the Union of Burma
Nay Pyi Daw

1st April 2016

Dear President U Htin Kyaw,

We, Burmese Rohingya Organization UK welcome your inauguration as the new President of Burma. This is a significant milestone on the path to democracy for our country. We also congratulate our mother Daw Aung San Suu Kyi for her significant achievement after sacrificing so much for so many years for our country. 

Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK has been advocating for human rights and democracy for all the people of Burma regardless of religion and ethnicity, for many years. We worked with the NLD LA and Burmese communities in the UK campaigning to release political prisoners, and end human rights violations in all ethnic areas as well as where Rohingya face serious persecution in the western part of Burma. BROUK is very pleased to see former political prisoners whom BROUK advocated for, now MPs in Parliament, government ministers and other high-level civilian government posts. 

For decades successive regimes and governments in Burma have pursued a twin-track policy of impoverishment and human rights violations in order to attempt to wipe out Rohingya from the country. Under the government of President Thein Sein human rights violations against the Rohingya sharply escalated, as he attempted to use Buddhist nationalism and anti-Muslim prejudice in the country to win public support.

Human Rights Watch stated that human rights violations against the Rohingya met the legal definition of ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. Fortify Rights also found evidence of crimes against humanity. Studies by the Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic at Yale Law School and Fortify Rights, and by the International State Crime Initiative of Queen Mary University London, found evidence that amounts to genocide of the Rohingya. There is a humanitarian crisis in camps that Rohingya fled to in 2012, and senior members of the nationalist Arakan National Party continue to whip up hatred against the Rohingya. 

The NLD government presents the first opportunity in decades to not only halt the escalation of anti-Rohingya policies and laws, but also put it into reverse, ending violations of international law and applying the rule of law and international human rights standards. 

Addressing the root causes of prejudice and human rights violations against the Rohingya will take many years, but in order to start this process, and to have an immediate impact saving lives and reducing human rights violations, here are practical steps an NLD government can take in its first six months. 

1) Action against hate-speech and extremists
2) Humanitarian access and the safe return of IDPs to their homes. 
3) Reform or repeal of the 1982 Citizenship Law
4) Justice and accountability

Four Steps:

1) Action against hate-speech and extremists

Long term a comprehensive multi-faceted strategy needs to be adopted, and the international community should provide significant resources and expertise to develop and implement such a plan, starting with a national conference bringing together representatives of all areas of Burmese society together with international experts and high level government ministers from the international community. This will take time but planning should begin immediately.

In the short term, there are two other practical steps the NLD could take.

First is to take action to prevent hate speech and incitement of violence, including prosecuting those inciting or organising violence. To date those inciting hatred and violence have done so with complete impunity. 

Second is to demonstrate moral leadership, with Aung San Suu Kyi and other NLD leaders personally and specifically speaking out against prejudice and hatred, and challenging the extreme nationalist narrative. The election result demonstrates the support and power Aung San Suu Kyi has. Her leadership on this issue would make a significant difference and give others in Burma who support human rights for the Rohingya to have the ‘cover’ and confidence to add their voices. In this way the terms of the discussion and debate over the Rohingya can start to be changed.

2) Humanitarian access

An NLD-led government should immediately lift all restrictions on the operations of international aid agencies in Rakhine State and take action to ensure the security of aid workers.

An NLD government should also start to devote more government resources to assisting IDPs and isolated villagers.

State level restrictions and rules should all be immediately lifted. These need to be comprehensively identified.

We all must learn to live side by side, in tolerance and in peace. For many years Rohingya and Rakhine were living side by side. We Rohingya reject violence as a way of solving political problems. We simply want to live in peace in Burma, our homeland. We do not seek our own state, or the imposition of our religion or culture on anyone. Burma is a country of many ethnicities and many religions. 

The state government has to ensure that displaced Rohingya people can return to their original villages safely and provide them protection as needed.

3) Reform or repeal of the 1982 Citizenship Law

At the root cause of the denial of rights of the Rohingya is the 1982 Citizenship Law. The lack of full citizenship lies at the root of most of the discrimination faced by the Rohingya, including lack of freedom of movement, and access to health and education services. There is no way this issue can be avoided, and it is much better that an NLD-led government bite the bullet and deal with it at the start of their period in government when they have a new and strong mandate, strong party unity, and elections are years away. Changing this law will undoubtedly be controversial but it cannot be avoided. It will have to be addressed at some point. Better it is done while the NLD-led government is strongest.

4) Justice and accountability

There is credible evidence of multiple violations of international law, including ethnic cleansing, crimes against humanity, and possible genocide, against the Rohingya. These crimes cannot go unaddressed and those responsible cannot remain unaccountable for their actions. Impunity encourages and enables continuing human rights violations against the Rohingya. Justice and accountability are a highly effective tool to discourage further violations.

An NLD government should set up a credible independent investigation with international experts to investigate these crimes and propose action. If the NLD led government fails to set up an inquiry, the United Nations should establish its own Commission of Inquiry.

We hope that you will consider and implement these proposals and would welcome the opportunity to meet with you or your representatives to discuss them further. 


Tun Khin
Burmese Rohingya Organization UK

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