Saturday 29 June 2013

Fleeing Rohingya find safety but not peace in Malaysia

Source trust, 28 June
Mohammad Hashim, 18, fled Myanmar after his house was burnt down and life in a displacement camp became unbearable. He was detained by Malaysian authorities for four months. Taken by Thomson Reuters Foundation Correspondent in Kuala Lumpur, on June 1, 2013.

KUALA LUMPUR (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - On New Year's Day, Mohammad Hashim left Rakhine state in western Myanmar with only the clothes on his back and a small pack of food and water. He knew the journey would be dangerous and exhausting, but the 18-year-old stateless Rohingya Muslim felt it was his duty as the eldest child to find work in Malaysia.

Hashim had been stuck with his parents and seven siblings - his youngest brother only 2 years old - in the sprawling, squalid The Chaung displacement camp in rural Sittwe ever since Buddhist mobs torched their house last June in the first of two bloody bouts of sectarian violence that erupted last year.

His parents, who used to sell fruits and vegetables at the Sittwe market, became jobless and when their life in the displacement camp became unbearable, they passed the duty of breadwinner on to Hashim.

"Son, we're old so even if we die that's fine, but you're still young. You should leave," he recounted his parents telling him.

So Hashim, who had never left his village before and does not know how to swim, boarded a small wooden, engine-powered boat with 179 others at a jetty near the camp on January 1.

Their goal was to reach Malaysia - about 2,000 km away via the Bay of Bengal and the Malacca Strait - where tens of thousands of other fleeing Rohingya have found refuge.

Hashim had paid a smuggler 200,000 kyats (about $220) - a sum his family could ill afford but managed to raise by selling whatever they had and asking relatives for help - for a space on the boat, the passengers packed like sardines.

"We couldn't move," Hashim said.

The journey took 15 days, but food and water had run out by day nine. They survived with help from passing fishermen.


The clandestine nature of the boat trips makes it difficult to know exactly how many Rohingya have left Myanmar, but estimates put the number at more than 27,000 since last June, the largest in years. For the first time, large numbers of women and children are also embarking on the treacherous - and often deadly - journeys.

Yet leaving has become a means of survival for the Muslim Rohingya in Myanmar, where last year's violence left 192 dead and forced 140,000, mostly Muslims, to flee their homes. The unfettered riots raised concerns over the government's commitment to its nascent democratic reforms.

Although the Rohingya have been in Rakhine state for centuries, Myanmar has excluded them from the country's 135 recognised ethnic groups and denied them citizenship, rendering them stateless.

Ethnic hatred and apartheid-like policies segregating minority Muslims from the Buddhist majority mean they are denied employment and even medical treatment.

However, many who embark for Malaysia do not make it. About 2,000 are languishing in detention centres in Thailand. Those who do make it have limited job opportunities and are vulnerable to corrupt officials and unscrupulous employers.

Rohingya refugees in Malaysia who are not registered with the U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR) - a process some Rohingya say can take two to three years - can be arrested by police looking for "tea money", are unable to negotiate their wages and have no recourse if the employers do not pay them.

Abdul Hamid, head of the Rohingya Society in Malaysia, told Thomson Reuters Foundation he believes there are about 10,000 new arrivals who are not registered and thus have no protection. Some 28,000 Rohingya are currently registered.

They may be safer from Myanmar's marauding mobs, but they are far from finding peace, especially after violence spilled over to Malaysia recently. When four Buddhists from Myanmar were killed, the police rounded up more than 900 Myanmar nationals, and authorities said they would expel Myanmar workers.

"All refugees in Malaysia (are living) in fear of getting arrested," Hamid said.

Still, it trumps life back home. Interviews by this correspondent with displaced Rohingya in Sittwe found that many are desperate and determined to take to the seas if the situation does not improve in Myanmar by October – when the monsoon rains end and the boat journey is safe again.


Malaysian authorities intercepted the boat that Hashim was on before it reached Langkawi, a popular island resort. They brought it to shore.

"When we reached land, many people couldn't walk because we had all been sitting so tightly for so long. We were all weak," Hashim said.

He was taken to two detention centres in two states, sleeping with tens of other detainees in one room. They were not allowed out of the room except for meals, Hashim said.

"I didn't feel good at all (in detention)," he said. "I regretted coming. If I had known it would be like this, maybe I wouldn't have come."

Like many others who arrived in Malaysia by boat, authorities had detained him for four months. Gangly, quiet, and looking younger than his 18 years, Hashim was nowhere near finding a job when he gave this interview in early June on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur. He had been released only two weeks earlier.

There was a silver lining, however. UNHCR visited and interviewed Hashim and the others from his boat, worked on their release and provided them with documentation that makes their stay in Malaysia legal.

A little sheet of white paper, folded neatly and kept in the pocket of his trousers, says Hashim is an asylum seeker whose appeal is being processed and permits him to stay in Malaysia till October 2014. It is his most precious possession.

Although the paper does not allow him to work, Hashim is determined to find a job, raise money and bring his family over to Malaysia.

A Rohingya man from Hashim's village who has taken him in because the young man has no friends or family in Malaysia said getting a good job would be difficult. "Because of his age and size, he has limited options and we haven't found a job for him yet."


Way of authority's dispersing the crowd killed two Rohingya victims of genocide

Source UN, 28 June 
28 June 2013 – The United Nations refugee agency today voiced concern about a violent incident in western Myanmar's Rakhine state that killed two internally displaced persons (IDPs) and wounded six others, including two minors.

A displaced mother and her two children in Rakhine state. They originally came from the Pauktaw area. Photo: UNHCR/P. Behan

28 June 2013 – The United Nations refugee agency today voiced concern about a violent incident in western Myanmar's Rakhine state that killed two internally displaced persons (IDPs) and wounded six others, including two minors.

The incident took place yesterday morning in the Kyein Ni Pyin IDP camp in Pauktaw township, a site where the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has been building temporary shelters for some 4,400 ethnic Rohingya displaced by last year's inter-communal violence.

"The [latest] violence is believed to have been triggered by a dispute between displaced people and a village leader," UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards told a news conference in Geneva. "A reportedly poor relationship between them had been compounded by false rumours that displaced people would be isolated and prevented from returning to their places of origin.

"When some of the displaced gathered at a nearby military post asking that the leader be handed over, gunfire was used by the authorities to disperse the crowd and resulting in the fatalities and wounding," he said.

UNHCR staff arrived at the scene shortly after to follow up with the victims' families and facilitate medical attention to the injured. "We are also concerned about the safety of the village leader and his family," said Mr. Edwards.

The agency is calling for an investigation into the incident, and appealing to the authorities to handle the matter in a peaceful and calm way to avoid fuelling further violence and loss of life. It is also calling for dialogue between the involved parties to resolve the grievance.

"Joint efforts by the Government, community leaders and humanitarian actors are also needed to dispel rumours about the rights of displaced people to return to their places of origin in Kyein Ni Pyin and other villages where these sentiments have been emerging," said Mr. Edwards.

UNHCR is the lead agency for shelter, camp coordination, camp management and protection in the humanitarian response in Rakhine state. Its current priority is to provide temporary relief for the displaced during the rainy season.

"We strongly believe that the Government must build confidence with the communities and promote reconciliation, so that those displaced can eventually return to their areas of origin," Mr. Edwards stated.

He added that Thursday's tragic incident also highlights the urgent need to strengthen the camp coordination and camp management work which is grossly underfunded despite current needs. A year after the first wave of inter-communal violence erupted, there are still up to 140,000 people displaced within Rakhine state.

Rohingya detainees in Thailand face dire conditions

Source Irinnews, 28 June
Cage like detention in Phang Nga
HAT YAI, 28 June 2013 (IRIN) - Human rights groups are calling for improved living conditions for close to 2,000 Rohingya boat people now in detention in Thailand.

"Thailand locks away Rohingya in heavily overcrowded detention centres when they should be treating them as asylum seekers who need to be protected," Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch's (HRW) Asia division, told IRIN.

Since January, 1,958 people have been apprehended by Thai authorities as they make their way to southern Thailand from Myanmar and Bangladesh, often in rickety, overcrowded boats, after weeks at sea.

Calling them "illegal immigrants," authorities have put 1,554 Rohingya men in overcrowded immigration detention centres (IDCs). Some 404 women and children are being held in government-run shelters where, according to HRW, reports of trafficking are emerging.

Most claim to be Rohingya - a de jure stateless, linguistic and religious minority group that has long faced persecution in Myanmar - fleeing the sectarian violence in Myanmar's western Rakhine State. The violence there, between the Buddhist ethnic Rakhine and the Muslim Rohingya, has been going on for over year.

Since March, according to National Human Rights Commission of Thailand, four male detainees have died of septicaemia while in detention.

Unacceptable conditions

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), which has had access to the detainees since January, says the cramped living conditions are a source of concern.

"These IDCs were not designed to accommodate so many people for long periods of time. Overcrowding and movement restrictions can lead to physical and psychological problems for these groups that have already faced trauma in their villages and on the long journey here," Vivian Tan, an agency spokeswoman, said.

Thai officials say that new quarters for the detainees are in the development stages, including a facility in the southern province of Songkla.

"I know [the men's detention centres] are very crowded places, and that's why we are going to build a new centre for them to stay, which will be considered a waiting place," said Lt Gen Paradorn Pattanatabut, secretary-general of the National Security Council.

The new centre was initially slated for construction near a former Thai army base in Thailand's southern Nakhon Sri Thammarat Province, but those plans were put on hold following protests by local communities, who said the centre would be too close to schools and villages.

In the south, local Muslim civil society groups are providing food and meals for the men being held. Muslim women prepare meal packages containing rice, fish and curry for the men at the nearby Dan Nok IDC in Songkla.

Head volunteer Fateemoh Kaewsalam, from Ban Pru Tiew Muslim Village, was shocked by the crowded conditions for the male detainees, who are not allowed to go outside.
Local Muslim volunteers prepare food for detainees


At the end of May, international media secretly filmed 276 male detainees in two cells meant to hold 15 people each at an IDC in Phang Nga Province.

"A normal prisoner can go outside their cells sometime for exercise or [to] work a little bit, but the Rohingya must stay in the closed quarters because the police say they may try to escape," Kaewsalam said.

Thai authorities have acknowledged that no third country has come forward to offer asylum to those seeking protection as a "six-month temporary stay" that the government allowed them in January comes to an end. Under immense international pressure, the government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra agreed in January 2013 to let these Rohingya stay in Thailand temporarily, until they could be safely repatriated to their places of origin or resettled in third countries.

"We hope the relocation can happen soon, as the current situation is not sustainable. We are also hopeful that the Thai authorities will extend the initial six months of temporary protection for this group, ensuring that they will not be sent back to Myanmar given the tense situation in Rakhine state," said UNHCR's Tan.

On 26 June, a joint civil society statement endorsed by 76 organizations worldwide reiterated that concern, calling on governments of refugee-recipient countries to protect all refugee and asylum seekers from Myanmar, and to take into account the acute and specific protection needs of stateless Rohingya.

Governments should desist from arbitrarily detaining Rohingya refugees and asylum seekers and from attempting to return them to Myanmar in violation of the principle of non-refoulement, the statement said.

According to UNHCR, over the past year, more than 27,000 Rohingya - the majority from Rakhine State - have embarked on dangerous boat journeys from the Bay of Bengal in search of safety and stability in other countries. Scores have died in their attempts, the agency says, while many have endured weeks of drifting at sea with little food or water. Some were reportedly pushed back from the shores of neighbouring countries, while others have been detained upon arrival. UNHCR continues to appeal to governments in the region to keep their doors open to people in need of international protection.

Thursday 27 June 2013

Asylum Seekers

Source thejakartapost, 26 June

Marisa Duma description:
Social and political sciences student aficionado on a mission to moon. You may find several writing
samples on the blog. Contact me at or LinkedIn. Thank you for reading!

Rohingya asylum seekers find shelter at Kebon Baru, Jakarta. Having fled from conflicting Myanmar, the Rohingyas are a portion of around 6,000 asylum seekers–due for refugee status–to temporarily settle in Indonesia. Rohingya asylum seekers are not settling permanently in Indonesia, despite the fact Indonesia with Islam as religion of the majority may be an appropriate country for Muslim Rohingyas. Coordinated by United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UN HCR) for Indonesia, a social intervention of asylum seekers as crisis group is a preliminary, and supposedly obligatory, phase prior to a resettlement. Crisis situation arising from hazardous events–"suffered (or fear) persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or because they are a member of a persecuted 'social group' or because they are fleeing a war or natural disaster" (UN HCR)–cause social disintegration and disorganization to which a crisis group is deprived from its social functioning. Methods of intervention serve either curative, preventive, promotive, or developmental purposes, also attributing certain purpose to another. The main purpose of social intervention is for the crisis group to regain social functioning. Misconception of "seeking refuge" often occurs when the social function to acquire coping and adapting mechanisms deliberately or not omitted from intervention process and inevitably, crippling its outcome. When granted permission, lacking proper social functioning may induce worsened social issues at designated "third" countries. Understanding a place of refuge as social environment, it then ought to contain and maintain elements of: transaction, energy, interface, adaptation, coping, interdependency within social interaction. Thus, not merely measured on geopolitical dimension however also sociological dimension, signifying granted refugees as subject of their assigned sociopolitical resource and surroundings.

Readings: Boediman Hardjomarsono, dkk (2007), Zastrow & Ashman (1987)

Concern over rise in Rohingyas in Thailand

Source nationalmultimedia, 27 June

Leader of the People's Network of Ranong is demanding action after discovering 20 temples allegedly set up by Rohingyas in the province.

Sucheep Patthong said locals insist on legal inspections of the temples, set up by Rohingya migrants, the number of whom has jumped. Sucheep said some illegal workers were found living in the temples as they prepared to relocate to other parts of the country. Buddhist migrants who use the temples to provide refuge for illegal workers and receive donations from Myanmar residents, he said.

There has been an increase in religious activities by Rohingya migrants. An inspection of their finances should be carried out, he said.

Tuesday 25 June 2013


by Dr. Abid Bahar

Who is Wirathu? Wirathu is a Burmese monk based in Mandalay.. Hannah Beech of the Time magazine met him and describes:'His face as still and serene as a statue's, the Buddhist monk who has taken the title "the Burmese bin Laden" begins his sermon. Hundreds of worshipers sit before him, palms pressed together, sweat trickling silently down their sticky backs. On cue, the crowd chants with the man in burgundy robes, the mantras drifting through the sultry air of a temple in Mandalay, Burma's second biggest city after Rangoon. It seems a peaceful scene, but Wirathu's message crackles with hate. "Now is not the time for calm," the 46-year-old monk intones, as he spends 90 minutes describing the many ways in which he detests the minority Muslims in this Buddhist-majority land. "Now is the time to rise up, to make your blood boil."

.Is Wirathu an educated monk? Report published in the Time magazine shows: Wirathu is "uneducated outlier with little doctrinal basis for his bigotry, one of eight children who ended up in a monastery because his parents wanted one less mouth to feed."

True, we shouldn't blame him for his poverty and the lack of education due to the prevailing circumstances in his life, but his illiteracy is no excuse for spreading extremism to commit genocide in Burma. By using fictions stories about minorities especially against Muslims he became so notorious that the July edition of the TIME magazine called him "the face of Buddhist terror." What are the fictions he uses to call his followers to action against the Muslim minority?

FICTION#1: Among the Burman — ethnic group, "as well as across Buddhist parts of Asia, there's a vague sense that their religion is under siege, that Islam has already conquered Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan, Afghanistan — all these formerly Buddhist lands — and that other dominoes could fall.". Wirathu takes advantage of this fiction to stir emotion among Burmese citizens. But as opposed to the fiction what are the facts about it?

FACT: The lands of Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan, and Afghanistan became Muslim before the beginning of colonial rule when Muslim rule predominated worldwide..

Muslim lands stopped expanding immediately after colonial rule set in place. Muslim rulers first lost Spain and Portugal. Muslims began to lose lands during the entire period of colonial and post colonial period. Example abounds: Southern part of Thailand was a Muslim Sultanate but with Portuguese help it became part of Thailand. Cambodia's recent genocide took the life of mostly the Malayan Champa people. East Timur was separated from Indonesia. China occupied the former Ottoman ruled central Asian Kasgor and other adjacent regions. Soviet Russia even conquered the entire central Asian countries. There is christian missionary activities going on in almost every Muslim country converting the consenting Muslims.

Muslims also lost the Moghul India. After the British occupied India from the Muslim Moghuls, when it left it handed most of it to the Hindu rulers of India. Muslims also lost Ottoman occupied Greece and Eastern Europe,and in the Middle East lost Palestine and Lebanon. In Africa it recently lost the Southern part of Sudan.

Coming back to the Burmese scenerio, we see due to continuous Burmese Invasions of Arakan, there has been non Bengali settlements in Chittagong and Chittagong Hill Tracts. Most Rohingyas and tribes of Bangladesh are from Arakanese background.The continued oppressive nature of military rule led to the influx of minorities to Bangladesh and to Thailand.

FICTION #2: Wirathu says Muslims are like catfish: They are dangerous to the rest of the fishes. He applies this understanding in Burmese scenerio."

Fact: Here he is comparing apple with orange. Compared to Islam, Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish, Santu, and Jaine religion are localized religion. Islam is comparable only to Christianity. Despite the former's decline, began over a century ago, it still spread around the world now with more than a billion following. Therefore, population wise, Buddhism is not comparable to Islam.

FICTION#3: Burmese Buddhists are non violent people.Wirathu says:"You can be full of kindness and love, but you cannot sleep next to a mad dog," He said of the country's Muslims, whom he called "the enemy." He told the New York Times, "I am proud to be called a radical Buddhist."

FACT: Burmese Buddhism is a Sri Lankan Theraveda variety. In this type, in Sri Lanka, Burma, Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos it shows the potential of causing genocide. Truly, Wirathu with his illiteracy and his use of prejudices, is part of the 696 Nazi movement the "face of Buddhist terror in Burma, committing genocide"

FICTION#4: Wirathu says Muslims are occupying Burma.:"[Muslims] are breeding so fast "They would like to occupy our country, but I won't let them. We must keep Myanmar Buddhist."

FACT: Burmese Muslims have been almost wiped out after the 1962 expulsion of the nonburmese by the military strongman, Ne Win. The expulsion still continues. Now Muslims are only 4% of the Burmese population. How is it possible by 4% population is capable to occupy Burma when Burma has its alert monks and even xenophobic Burmese army against the non burman minorities. The fact is, Muslim population including the other minority population of Burma has been declining due to Burma's Buddhist nationalist policy.

FICTION #5 Muslims are raping Buddhist women

FACT: History shows, this has been a common excuse for a long time. On the other hand, Burmese army routinely rape, Chin, Kachine and Rohingya women and kill their husbands. Rohingya husbands die either in the sea or are killed by the Burmese army. Those still in Burma are even restricted to move from one village to other and marriage is restricted to them without government permission.

(Dead Rohingya Muslim mother and her children)

FICTION #6 The murder of a Rakhine woman that triggering the Rohingya Rakhine clash in 2012 was raped by Rohingya Muslims.

FACT: The attending doctor of the Rakhine women killed testified that she was not raped. The medical report wasn't published. The Rakhine Court quickly sentenced some Rohingya man including a Rakhine teenager to death. It seems that like all the other anti Muslim attacks in Burma, these pretexts for bigger tragedies were doctored by the Buddhist extremists.

FICTION #7: Wirathu claims that he is neither a terrorist nor a racist but only defending human rights of the Burman people

FACT: Due to Burma's long military rule with divide and rule policy and xenophobia, people have been demoted to widespread illiteracy. Under the circumstances, people like Wirathu find it convenient to operate feeding prejudices about minorities. In the process, it uses Buddhism to cover up its crimes against humanity. It also uses Buddhism to defend its selfrightous behavior that its people are kind and forgiving.

Wirathu is not kind Buddhist but a perfect example of Burma's backwardness that exploits on the people against Muslims and the fictious Muslim history.

The true crimes has been committed by the quasi military government,using him as a decoy and Muslims as the whipping boy to ultimately serve its policy of keeping the military's grip over power.

Is Wirathu a racist? Yes of course, he uses prejudices, racial hatred and turns the Burma and its citizens into " Us(Buddhist) vs them (Muslim). relationship. Wirathu's "anti Muslim 969 movement conducting business boycott campaign against Myanmar Muslims which is very much resembled to Nazi anti Jewish business boycott. 969 groups are allegedly involved in recent anti Muslim violence across the country."

What needs to be done:to bring democracy in Burma?
Due to Burma's long military rule,with campaign against its minorities, the concept of citizenship rights has not been properly understood by most Burmese people. What Burma needs human rights education
and the separate of religion from government.. In the lack of it, we regularly see Burmese police, security personnel, the NASAKKA and even the fire brigades instead of protecting its citizens, protects only Buddhist violator of rights. That is why there is the ongoing Muslim genocide in Burma. If the present trend is not reversed, Burma will continue to live in the past.

Monday 24 June 2013

Muslims student kicked out of school after refusing to pray in Namtu

Source M-media, 21 June

Natmattu:           : It is reported that the principal of a government school from Namtu, Northern Shan state forced Muslim students to pray Buddhist prayer and a student was expelled out of the school on June 19thwhen she refused to pray.

In Basic Educational Primary School (3) situated in Bogyoke road, Namtu, Muslim students were forced to pray along with their Buddhist friends during the Buddhist prayer which is a routine procedure in government schools.  A Muslim student was reprimanded by the principal when she found out she did not pray. It is reported that the principal said if any student did not want to pray she will issue a school dismissal letter for them.

Next day, when the student went to the school she was told that she was expelled out of the school. The student went back home and informed the situation to her mother. Her mother asked help from Muslim elders and they went to the school and met with the principal in the same day.

The principal explained to them that the order to pray Buddhist prayer is issued from Ministry of Education and the student was expelled because she failed to obey this order. So, Muslim elders who accompanied the mother demanded to issue school dismissal letters to all Muslim students as they will not be able to follow the order to pray Buddhist prayer. Upon hearing this demand, the principal called to Myo Oo monastery and requested monks to come to the school. Two monks from Myo Oo monastery came to the school. After a while, the mob of people on 30 motorcycles armed with sticks and knifes arrived to the school.

After inquiring the situation, the monk returned to his monastery commenting that it is the religious issue and everyone has freedom of worship. However, the principal insisted that it is the order from the Ministry and she must execute it. At that time, the mob carrying sticks and knifes are waiting outside the school and the authorities did not take any action. At about 11:30 am, the crowd dispersed and the situation became calm.

At about 3 pm, Township education officer called the emergency meeting. According to the report, he said repeatedly in the meeting, "There are just a handful of Kalar (Muslims) in this area. We, Burmese are majority. If we did something to them, they will be in great trouble". From that day on, the security forces have tightened the security.

In Namtu, there are about 1000 households and population of about 20000 in which only 186 households and about 400 people are Muslims. There are 4 mosques in Namtu.

According to reports, such kind of religious discrimination is widely spread in schools throughout the country including Yangon, Mandalay and Mawlamyaing. In the past, although Buddhist prayer at the beginning of classes in schools is mandatory for Buddhist kids, non Buddhist kids were exempted from reciting Buddhist prayer. It can be considered that such religious discrimination in schools being the source of stress for children will become a barrier for the development of the country.

Sunday 23 June 2013

Four Rohingya killed in Buthidaung

Source Kaladanpress, 22 June

Buthidaung, Arakan State: Four Rohingya villagers were brutally killed by a group of Natala villagers on June 16, said an elder from the village on condition of anonymity. 

The deceased have been identified as Mohamed Habib (47), son of Nazir Ahamed, Mohamed Yasin (17), son of Mohamed Habib, Abdul Goni (18), son of Mohamed Yousuf and another one ( not available ).  They all hailed from Singdi Parang village tract of Buthidaung south.
The deceased Rohingya went to the forest to collect firewood and vegetables in morning of June 16, but they didn't back to their home in the evening of that day, according to sources

A group of victims' relatives went to different areas of mountains side to look for their love one whereabouts in the morning of June 17. But, they didn't get any information, sources said.
However, on June 19, the relatives got information from some sources that they were killed by a group of Natala villagers in the Mountain-pass -- people cross from Buthidaung to Maungdaw-- which is called Singdi Parang-Gudusara Dala, the younger brother of victim Mohamed Habib said.
Later, the relatives of the victims went to the spot and saw the dead bodies in the forest. After that, some of the relatives went to the Nasaka camp and gave complaint to the concerned authorities regarding the murdering.
The relatives tried to get permission from the authorities to bring dead bodies to their homes but the authorities refused it, said an aide of Nasaka.
A local youth said, "It is a big human rights violation that the Nasaks doesn't allow the relatives to carry the dead bodies to their homes for funeral."


"The Natala villagers of Singdi Parang, frequently disturb and threat to kill the Rohingya villagers if Rohingya villagers go to the forest for collecting firewood and others, said  Rafique from Singdi Parang village.
"Habib and his son Yasin are daily workers; they support their family members by selling firewood after collecting firewood from forest. Others two are also daily workers."
The President Sein Thein is systematically killing Rohingya people by bluffing the world community that showing as a reformist for the democracy in Burma. Thousands of Rohingyas have been displaced by the government and hundreds of innocent Rohingya people have also been killed by Natala villagers and concerned authorities, said a local trader from Buthidaung.

Friday 21 June 2013

What lies beneath the rash of anti-Muslim violence in Burma?

Source dvb,
21 June 2013A Muslim religious leader speaks to Muslims seeking shelter at a monastery in Lashio township
A Muslim religious leader speaks to Muslims seeking shelter at a monastery in Lashio township on 31 May 2013. (Reuters)

Over the past twelve months, brutal attacks on Burma's Muslim community have taken place across the country, spreading from Arakan state in the west to, most recently, Shan state in the east.

Serious atrocities have occurred, including acts that allegedly amount to crimes against humanity. Many of the worst offences are believed to have perpetrated with the aid of state agencies; in other incidents, the police stood by and did nothing to prevent loss of life.

Such extremely grave abuses have elicited widespread concern, but in an alarming number of cases, perhaps even the majority, impunity for the perpetrators has followed. By contrast, Muslims accused of crimes related to the same incidents have felt the full force of the law quickly, excessively and unmistakably.

These patterns are disturbingly instructive and hint at institutional prejudices that have survived Burma's recent reforms; insufficient responses to Muslim persecution from the international community, on the other hand, are far harder to explain.

Such moral laxity has helped to condemn the Burmese Islamic community to ongoing suffering and vulnerability in the face of increasingly militant Buddhist-chauvinist hostility. In lieu of adequate foreign or internal pressure, it falls to journalists, rights campaigners and other interested groups both within and outside of Burma to step up and confront this plague of violence and bigotry. The best way that this can be done, in my view, is to expose those most responsible for its recrudescence.

I say this with a conviction that there is some level of organisation behind the recent attacks on the Muslim community, and that the simplistic narrative that such acts are merely the product of relaxed state authoritarianism is pernicious and unconvincing. In fact, I felt prompted to write this op-ed precisely because of information that I have received from reliable sources on the issue.

Their claims were made prior to an important piece featured in the Straits Times recently by Nirmal Ghosh. Many will have read Mr Ghosh's article "Old Monsters Stirring Up Trouble", in which he cites a military source within Naypyidaw who points the finger at a notorious paramilitary group linked to the former regime and a controversial ex-minister- namely, the Swan Arshin and Aung Thaung respectively.

"There are appear to be common features to most of the major anti-Muslim incidents"

Prior to reading Ghosh's article, I was told by a separate figure in Naypyidaw that Aung Thaung was central to the violence, and yet another reliable source within the Sangha asserted that the infamous anti-Muslim 969 movement had deep links to the Swan Arshin.

Another, very solid source with access to privileged government information shared with me his awareness that Wirathu, the demagogic monk famously associated with the 969 group, had been present in Lashio the day before the attacks in the town began. It is a claim that seems plausible given that it was reported he was spotted in Shan state in late May.

It is worth noting that Wirathu was also recognised to have been preaching in Meikhtila not long before the atrocities that took place there occurred, and was present in the city on the day of the attacks. Links between Wirathu and Aung Thaung in themselves have been subjected to a great deal of speculation, in particular the Abbot's meeting with the former minister immediately prior to the attacks in Arakan state in October.

According to my own interviews with eyewitnesses to the attacks throughout the country, conducted both while I have been in Burma and from abroad, there are appear to be common features to most of the major anti-Muslim incidents.

Witnesses in Sittwe with whom I met were very clear that many of the 'attackers were strangers'; in Meikhtila, this was again a recurrent message from sources I contacted; finally in Lashio the presence of outsiders was confirmed by multiple sources.

Another witness to a separate act of violence, this time in Rangoon, told me that he saw groups of young men attack a mosque near Annawratha Road from their vehicles with projectiles in the middle of the night. In his words it was 'definitely an organised attack', in keeping with many other reported mosque assaults. The presence of men on motorbikes behaving similarly was confirmed by another source who saw events take place in Oakkan.

I mention the above allegations without endorsing them, but acknowledging that they certainly merit reporting- and further investigation. Aung Thaung for his part has unsurprisingly denied the claims reported by the Straits Times.

Regardless, urgent questions need to be asked: who are these people that my sources- and many others- have seen in vehicles, throwing projectiles and coming from out of town? Why was it consistently reported that the outsiders in Lashio were heard singing Burmese nationalist songs, and being of Burmese not Shan appearance? What was Wirathu doing so close to the action, before and during several incidents?

Why are the perpetrators, and in the indeed the whole 969 operation not adequately subjected to the censure of the law; and why have police and firefighters been to reluctant to intervene as Muslims are being assaulted and their homes burnt, as has been so often reported?

It is up to responsible journalists to aggressively dig out the answers to these questions and expose the agendas at work behind the terror campaign being conducted against Muslims in Burma. In my opinion, not doing so would be yet another gutless betrayal of the victims of these egregious crimes by those with the power to do something to help.

Emanuel Stoakes is a freelance journalist based in the United Kingdom and New Zealand

-The opinions and views expressed in this piece are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect DVB's editorial policy.

Extremism Rises Among Myanmar Buddhists

Source nytimes, 20 June
Adam Dean for The New York Times
Buddhist monasteries associated with the fundamentalist movement, which calls itself 969, have opened community centers and a Sunday school program for children nationwide

TAUNGGYI, Myanmar — After a ritual prayer atoning for past sins, Ashin Wirathu, a Buddhist monk with a rock-star following in Myanmar, sat before an overflowing crowd of thousands of devotees and launched into a rant against what he called "the enemy" — the country's Muslim minority.
"You can be full of kindness and love, but you cannot sleep next to a mad dog," Ashin Wirathu said, referring to Muslims.
"I call them troublemakers, because they are troublemakers," Ashin Wirathu told a reporter after his two-hour sermon. "I am proud to be called a radical Buddhist."
The world has grown accustomed to a gentle image of Buddhism defined by the self-effacing words of the Dalai Lama, the global popularity of Buddhist-inspired meditation and postcard-perfect scenes from Southeast Asia and beyond of crimson-robed, barefoot monks receiving alms from villagers at dawn.

But over the past year, images of rampaging Burmese Buddhists carrying swords and the vituperative sermons of monks like Ashin Wirathu have underlined the rise of extreme Buddhism in Myanmar — and revealed a darker side of the country's greater freedoms after decades of military rule. Buddhist lynch mobs have killed more than 200 Muslims and forced more than 150,000 people, mostly Muslims, from their homes.
Ashin Wirathu denies any role in the riots. But his critics say that at the very least his anti-Muslim preaching is helping to inspire the violence.

What began last year on the fringes of Burmese society has grown into a nationwide movement whose agenda now includes boycotts of Muslim-made goods. Its message is spreading through regular sermons across the country that draw thousands of people and through widely distributed DVDs of those talks. Buddhist monasteries associated with the movement are also opening community centers and a Sunday school program for 60,000 Buddhist children nationwide.
The hate-filled speeches and violence have endangered Myanmar's path to democracy, raising questions about the government's ability to keep the country's towns and cities safe and its willingness to crack down or prosecute Buddhists in a Buddhist-majority country. The killings have also reverberated in Muslim countries across the region, tarnishing what was almost universally seen abroad as a remarkable and rare peaceful transition from military rule to democracy. In May, the Indonesian authorities foiled what they said was a plot to bomb the Myanmar Embassy in Jakarta in retaliation for the assaults on Muslims.

Ashin Wirathu, the spiritual leader of the radical movement, skates a thin line between free speech and incitement, taking advantage of loosened restrictions on expression during a fragile time of transition. He was himself jailed for eight years by the now-defunct military junta for inciting hatred. Last year, as part of a release of hundreds of political prisoners, he was freed.
In his recent sermon, he described the reported massacre of schoolchildren and other Muslim inhabitants in the central city of Meiktila in March, documented by a human rights group, as a show of strength.
"If we are weak," he said, "our land will become Muslim."

Buddhism would seem to have a secure place in Myanmar. Nine in 10 people are Buddhist, as are nearly all the top leaders in the business world, the government, the military and the police. Estimates of the Muslim minority range from 4 percent to 8 percent of Myanmar's roughly 55 million people while the rest are mostly Christian or Hindu.

But Ashin Wirathu, who describes himself as a nationalist, says Buddhism is under siege by Muslims who are having more children than Buddhists and buying up Buddhist-owned land. In part, he is tapping into historical grievances that date from British colonial days when Indians, many of them Muslims, were brought into the country as civil servants and soldiers.

The muscular and nationalist messages he has spread have alarmed Buddhists in other countries.
The Dalai Lama, after the riots in March, said killing in the name of religion was "unthinkable" and urged Myanmar's Buddhists to contemplate the face of the Buddha for guidance.

Phra Paisal Visalo, a Buddhist scholar and prominent monk in neighboring Thailand, says the notion of “us and them” promoted by Myanmar’s radical monks is anathema to Buddhism. But he lamented that his criticism and that of other leading Buddhists outside the country have had “very little impact.”

“Myanmar monks are quite isolated and have a thin relationship with Buddhists in other parts of the world,” Phra Paisal said. One exception is Sri Lanka, another country historically bedeviled by ethnic strife. Burmese monks have been inspired by the assertive political role played by monks from Sri Lanka’s Sinhalese majority.
As Myanmar has grown more polarized, there have been nascent signs of a backlash against the anti-Muslim preaching.
Among the most disappointed with the outbreaks of violence and hateful rhetoric are some of the leaders of the 2007 Saffron Revolution, a peaceful uprising led by Buddhist monks against military rule.
“We were not expecting this violence when we chanted for peace and reconciliation in 2007,” said the abbot of Pauk Jadi monastery, Ashin Nyana Nika, 55, who attended a meeting earlier this month sponsored by Muslim groups to discuss the issue. (Ashin is the honorific for Burmese monks.) Ashin Sanda Wara, the head of a monastic school in Yangon, says the monks in the country are divided nearly equally between moderates and extremists.
He considers himself in the moderate camp. But as a measure of the deeply ingrained suspicions toward Muslims in the society, he said he was “afraid of Muslims because their population is increasing so rapidly.”
Ashin Wirathu has tapped into that anxiety, which some describe as the “demographic pressures” coming from neighboring Bangladesh. There is wide disdain in Myanmar for a group of about one million stateless Muslims, who call themselves Rohingya, some of whom migrated from Bangladesh. Clashes between the Rohingya and Buddhists last year in western Myanmar roiled the Buddhist community and appear to have played a role in later outbreaks of violence throughout the country. Ashin Wirathu said they served as his inspiration to spread his teachings.
The theme song to Ashin Wirathu’s movement speaks of people who “live in our land, drink our water, and are ungrateful to us.”
“We will build a fence with our bones if necessary,” runs the song’s refrain. Muslims are not explicitly mentioned in the song but Ashin Wirathu said the lyrics refer to them. Pamphlets handed out at his sermon demonizing Muslims said that “Myanmar is currently facing a most dangerous and fearful poison that is severe enough to eradicate all civilization.”
Many in Myanmar speculate, without offering proof, that Ashin Wirathu is allied with hard-line Buddhist elements in the country who want to harness the nationalism of his movement to rally support ahead of elections in 2015. Ashin Wirathu denies any such links.
But the government has done little to rein him in. During Ashin Wirathu’s visit here in Taunggyi, traffic policemen cleared intersections for his motorcade.
Once inside the monastery, as part of a highly choreographed visit, his followers led a procession through crowds of followers who prostrated themselves as he passed.
Ashin Wirathu’s movement calls itself 969, three digits that monks say symbolize the virtues of the Buddha, Buddhist practices and the Buddhist community.
Stickers with the movement’s logo are now ubiquitous nationwide on cars, motorcycles and shops. The movement has also begun a signature campaign calling for a ban on interfaith marriages, and pamphlets are distributed at sermons listing Muslim brands and shops to be avoided.
In Mawlamyine, a multicultural city southeast of Yangon, a monastery linked to the 969 movement has established the courses of Buddhist instruction for children, which it calls “Sunday dhamma schools.” Leaders of the monasteries there seek to portray their campaign as a sort of Buddhist revivalist movement.
“The main thing is that our religion and our nationality don’t disappear,” said Ashin Zadila, a senior monk at the Myazedi Nanoo monastery outside the city.
Yet despite efforts at describing the movement as nonthreatening, many Muslims are worried.
Two hours before Ashin Wirathu rolled into Taunggyi in a motorcade that included 60 honking motorcycles, Tun Tun Naing, a Muslim vendor in the city’s central market, spoke of the visit in a whisper.
“I’m really frightened,” he said, stopping in midsentence when customers entered his shop. “We tell the children not to go outside unless absolutely necessary.”
Wai Moe contributed reporting from Mandalay and Yangon, Myanmar, and Poypiti Amatatham from Bangkok

Thursday 20 June 2013

Failure to address discrimination could undermine reforms in Myanmar – UN official

Source UN,, 19 June

An assessment team talks to displaced people in Pauktaw camp in rural Rakhine, Myanmar, where more than 20,000 Rohingya live. Photo: mildren/OCHA

19 June 2013 – The United Nations human rights chief today urged Myanmar's Government to tackle continuing discrimination against ethnic minorities, warning that failure to act could undermine the reform process in the country.

"Myanmar today can act as a source of inspiration by showing how governments can be transformed by a renewed commitment to human rights," said the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay.

"However, the ongoing human rights violations against the Rohingya community in Rakhine state and the spread of anti-Muslim sentiment across the State and beyond is threatening the reform process and requires focused attention from the Government."

Several waves of clashes between ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims, the first of which occurred in June 2012, have affected hundreds of thousands of families in the country's western region. Some 140,000 people, mostly Rohingya, remain displaced in Rakhine and tens of thousands of others have fled by boat.

In March, anti-Muslim violence spread to Meiktila in Mandalay region, leaving 43 people dead and more than 1,500 buildings destroyed, according to Government figures. Last month in Lashio Township, Shan State, anti-Muslim violence displaced some 1,400 people and destroyed property, including a mosque and an Islamic boarding school.

"The President of Myanmar has made some important statements on the need to end discrimination and violence and foster mutual respect and tolerance between people of different faiths and ethnicities," Ms. Pillay said. "I believe that the political will is there, but encourage the Government to translate this will into concrete actions."

The High Commissioner said she hoped that discussions on Myanmar during the session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva earlier this month would further encourage the Government to combat discrimination.

In its latest session, the Council urged the Government to allow humanitarian assistance and aid to reach the people and communities affected, and called on authorities to end impunity for all violations of human rights.

Ms. Pillay noted that her Office (OHCHR) continues to receive reports of widespread and systematic human rights violations against Muslims in Rakhine, including arbitrary detention and torture by security forces, as well as extrajudicial killings and sexual violence.

"I am concerned that those involved in mob violence against Muslim communities in Meiktila, Lashio and elsewhere are not being held to account, which sends out a message that violence directed against Muslim communities in Myanmar is somehow acceptable or justified," Ms. Pillay said.

"The Government must urgently pursue legal and institutional reforms, including reforming local orders and national laws that discriminate along lines of ethnicity and religion."

Ms. Pillay also condemned a local order limiting the number of children Rohingya Muslims can have to two, as well as a citizenship law that discriminates against unlisted groups and has left some 800,000 Rohingya stateless.

"This is blatantly discriminatory," Ms. Pillay said. "This order should be rescinded immediately."

In addition, she urged for a full investigation into the shooting of three Rohingya women earlier this month. The women were killed as they took part in a peaceful demonstration in Rakhine, when police allegedly fired into a crowd of demonstrators in Pa Rein village, Mrauk-U Township.

"My Office is ready to support the Government's progressive reforms and to assist in addressing all forms of discrimination and other human rights challenges. I therefore hope to see quick progress in the establishment of an OHCHR Country Office in Myanmar with a full mandate," Ms. Pillay added.

Tun Abdullah Urges Myanmar Muslim Minorities To Give Priorty To Education

Tun Abdullah Urges Myanmar Muslim Minorities To Give Priorty To Education
Source Bernama, 19 June
KUALA LUMPUR, June 19 (Bernama) -- Former Prime Minister Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi urged the Muslim minority in Asean countries, including those in Myanmar, to give priority to education.

He said that the Muslim communities should seek to empower themselves with education and pursue knowledge which is relevant to their needs in the 21st century.

Abdullah said this in his keynote address at the International Forum on Plight of Muslims in Burma in the 21st century: An Initiative for Solution and the Way Forward, held at the International Institute of Advanced Islamic Studies (IAIS), here, Wednesday.

He said that apart from education, the development of youths and economy of the Muslim communities were also important aspects to be considered in order to achieve a better future for the respective Muslim minority.

However, Abdullah, who is patron of IAIS Malaysia, stressed that in trying to achieve this, they should not sought to violence but instead adopt peaceful means and work in tandem with the non-Muslim communities.

He also pointed out that the more developed Muslim communities could also help the less developed ones in order to achieve this success and to secure their rights in society.

Speakers at the half-day forum, organised by IAIS Malaysia, included President of the International Movement for a Just World (JUST) Dr Chandra Muzaffar, while the moderator was Deputy CEO of IAIS Associate Professor Dr Mohamed Azam Mohamed Adil.

Dr Chandra said that it was true that Myanmar has made some changes such as parliamentary elections, changes in economy and was now more open to foreign investment.

"But perhaps these changes will not bring about fundamental transformation in the Myanmar society," he said adding that Asean had a responsibility to try to bring about the change.

"We would like to see Asean governments adopt a more proactive approach to the question of the Rohingyas in Myanmar and of the other minorities," he added.

He said it was important for Asean to speak up and say "lets try to resolve this problem, you must resolve the root of the problem," which is the question of the citizenship and the question of the nature of the regime in Myanmar.

However, Dr Chandra emphasised that the issue must be resolved through non-violence and peaceful methods.

Asean (Association of Southeast Nations) comprise Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam..

South Thailand Villagers Protest Against Rohingya Refugee Camp Construction
Source Bernama, 9 June
BANGKOK, June 19 (Bernama) -- Villagers of a southern Thailand province are currently protesting against the planned construction of a temporary camp for Rohingya migrants in their neighbourhood, China's Xinhua news agency reported quoting police as saying.

An estimated 5,000 villagers of Cha-uad district in Nakorn Sri Thammarat province have signed up a petition in protest of the government's plan to build the camp for Rohingya refugees, who may have fled a sectorial strife inside Myanmar's Rakhine state by boat sailing toward Thai waters in the Andaman Sea.

The planned site for the camp to accommodate thousands of refugees is inside the compound of the 427th Border Patrol Company which lies in proximity of the local schools and villages, according to the Cha-uad protesters.

The local villagers feared that Rohingya migrants might carry epidemics and other diseases as well as jeopardise their safety and livelihood.

However, Deputy Interior Minister Pracha Prasopdee is scheduled to visit the area where the planned refugee camp is located and meet with the protesters on Friday in a bid to solve the problem.

The Muslim Rohingya "boat people", including children and elderly persons, had earlier landed on shore in southern Thailand, exhausted and underfed, sickly and desperately looking for a third country to settle down. Thai authorities provided the migrants with food and temporary shelter before finally sending them off to the sea.

While some of the Rohingyas were taken care of by Thai authorities and southern villagers purely on humanitarian basis, others were reported to have been robbed, assaulted and killed by suspected human traffickers.


Wednesday 19 June 2013

SPECIAL REPORT: A Buddhist Minister’s Experience of the Myanmar Muslims Genocide Awareness Convention

Source patheos, 17 June
At the Myanmar Muslims Genocide Awareness Convention at the Veterans Memorial Complex Auditorium, Culver City, CA, on June 9th, 2013. Photo by the author.

Two weekends ago, I had the pleasure of attending the Myanmar Muslims Genocide Awareness Convention in Culver City, CA. I went because I felt it was important to put my presence where my mouth was: as I've indicated here at this blog, the situation in Burma has been incredibly distressing to me, and rather than simply talk about it, I want to be more involved in helping in any small way that I can to get it resolved.

I've certainly tried to be involved, at least from my desk. My friend Joshua Eaton and I collaborated last year on an open letter from Buddhist teachers and scholars and others on Islamophobia that you can read at (Joshua authored the letter — though a few of us offered little tweaks and edits — and I put together the website and helped him get the word out and generate signatures.) Not long after I also added my name to "A Joint Buddhist-Muslim Statement on Inter–Communal Violence in Burma", authored by my friend Bill Aiken at SGI-USA. In addition, I took the time to write a substantial post about Engaged Buddhist icon Aung San Suu Kyi's silence and lack of action on this matter back in November, and you can read that post here.

Satellite imagery by Human Rights Watch that shows "widespread destruction of Rohingya homes, property."
As I explained in that post, for the uninitiated: the Rohingyas are the 800,000 or so Muslims who live in the western part of Burma. They have lived in the area of the Rakhine state for centuries, with much immigration and flight between Burma and Bangladesh — the result of ever-changing political fortunes and conquest. British colonialists encouraged their immigration from Bangladesh in the nineteenth century to boost their agricultural yield in the region. By 1939, the population of Rohingya Muslims (and tensions with local Rakhine Buddhists) had risen to such a degree that a commission of inquiry decided to close the border. Once World War II began, the British left the region, and terrible violence erupted between the two groups. Thousands died. More bloodshed ensued when the Japanese arrived: the Rohingyas were supporters of the Allies — some of them even served as spies for the British — who had promised to support them in their goal of a separate Muslim state. Tens of thousands are believed to have fled to Bangladesh at this point. Following the coup of 1962, more were forced to seek refuge in Bangladesh and Pakistan due to the junta's targeted attacks on the Rohingya community. In 1982, General Ne Win tightened a nationality law in the country and effectively (and illegally) rendered the Rohingyas a stateless people.

Today, the United Nations consider the Rohingyas "one of the most persecuted minorities in the world." Right now there is considerable unrest and devastating violence — dozens are dead, whole villages have been razed, and well over 100,000 have been displaced — in the Rakhine state as a result of what the Agence France-Presse identified as "the rape and murder of a Rakhine women and the revenge mob killing of 10 Muslims." By last fall, Human Rights Watch had issued a report noting that "recent events in Arakan State demonstrate… state-sponsored persecution and discrimination [of the Rohingyas]," including murder, rape, and mass arrest. Reuters released a shocking special investigative report not long after which led with what was essentially a confirmation of HRW's report: "The wave of attacks was organized, central-government military sources told Reuters. They were led by Rakhine nationalists tied to a powerful political party in the state, incited by Buddhist monks, and, some witnesses said, abetted at times by local security forces."

International news agencies and the Buddhist media have since been following the situation closely, and have reported on those in the Burmese sangha who are encouraging violence, as well as those trying to do something to help. It was all this news and information that brought me to the Myanmar Muslims Genocide Convention on June 9th.

Attendees at the Myanmar Muslims Genocide Awareness Convention. Photo by the author.
Attended by easily 250-300 people or more — the crowd grew steadily throughout — the audience at the convention was made of largely persons of South Asian heritage, quite a few of them readily identifiable as Muslim from their hijab, kufi, and other distinctive dress. Things got off to a very strong start with some simple, important points of clarification from host Devin Hennessy. In the context of the event, a "Myanmar Muslim," he stated, was "any Muslim living in the borders of the country, regardless of ethnicity." This is an important point considering that, even though the Rohingya Muslims of the Rakhine state are dominating news coverage right now, there are more than one-hundred ethnic groups in Burma, and many of them have Muslims in their ranks. Hennessy also laid the groundwork for later discussion about proper terminology in this situation by stating that it had "escalated to a genocidal level," and that the word "genocide" was being used specifically because what is happening is "within the criteria" for its use.

These introductory remarks were followed by a dua from a young boy in attendance, and a statement from Culver City Mayor Jeffrey Cooper. As the mayor took to the stage, I braced myself for the usual, rote politician's speech at these sorts of things, only to be very pleasantly surprised: he spoke movingly as both "a Jew and the husband of a Burmese Muslim woman" about how much the cause and the event "hit home" for him. The powerful launch of the event wrapped with the singing of two national anthems: the United States and Burma's.

Before speakers and others rose to speak, the Burmese American Muslims Association presented a video of their own making (with quite a lot of clips from this Al Jazeera English report) to set the stage for anyone unfamiliar with the situation in Burma. Two things in particular struck me in the video presentation, though neither were surprises exactly — just shocking to see explicitly: first, this clip from the BBC, which shows an attack on Muslim-owned gold shop, with police doing nothing and Buddhist monks joining in the violence. Second, the explication of how precisely what's happening in Burma now fits with scholar and Genocide Watch president Dr. Gregory H. Stanton's "8 Stages of Genocide" was arresting.
This segued nicely into Dr. Stanton himself, who presented prepared remarks for the conference via video. He noted that the plight of the Rohingya has been on Genocide Watch's radar for at least two years, and offered useful perspective on what it means to be a Rohingya right now: no ID cards (needed for education and travel), placement in displaced persons camps and forced labor for many, no government employment, limits on marriage/childbirth, coercive situations, and a host of other indignities. Dr. Stanton also highlighted the unique threats to Rohingya refugees and "boat people" fleeing Burma.

In addition, he noted that the attacks on Muslims in Burma had reached the level of genocidal massacre, saying that "the world must speak out." He chastised Aung San Suu Kyi, calling her much-discussed silence as a Nobel Peace Prize laureate "unacceptable." Dr. Stanton also outlined other things that he felt must happen now: (i) Burma's parliament must pass legislation to make the Rohingya citizens with full rights; (ii) displaced persons camps must be dissolved with UN and ASEAN assistance; (iii) authorities must cease all rights violations; and (iv) Bangladesh must stop turning away and pushing back refugees. This was the first of many times that the issue of Rohingya citizenship would come up in the proceedings.

The second instance came with the next speaker, who also spoke via video: Wai Hnin Pwint Thon, campaign officer for Burma Campaign UK. She began by lamenting that the international community still hadn't "gotten the balance right" in terms of praise for Burma's reforms and concrn/penalty over human rights violations. She pointed out that sanctions on Burma had been lifted despite stated benchmarks not being met; by her count, at least eight international laws and treaties are currently being violated by the Burmese government. As many others have pointed out, she reminded the audience that the Rohingya's exclusion from citizenship in particular represents a clear violation of Article XV of the UN Declaration of Human Rights. "Casual racism and intolerance exist and must be acknowledged and confronted," she said. "The Burmese have to decide what it means to be Burmese."

Rev. John Iwohara. Photo by the author.
At this point, after quite a bit of information had been presented, the organizers wisely changed up the pace and brought Rev. John Iwohara of the Venice Hongwanji Buddhist Temple to the stage. "It is difficult to receive a human form," he preached, explaining the Buddhist way of helping others, or, at the very least, "acting less inhumanely." "The pain and loss of losing a loved one is the same for everyone; you don't feel more or less if you're a Buddhist or a Muslim or a Christian or a…" he continued. He invoked the Dhammapada's fifth verse and King Ashoka's experience at the Kalinga War as resources for Buddhists thinking about their approach to this situation. "Let us take this opportunity to exchange anger for love, and violence for beauty. May every life help us find beauty and joy."

The Buddhist representation at the conference continued in a way with Gordon Welty from the U.S. Campaign for Burma, who named Soka Gakkai International president Daisaku Ikeda as "his mentor" during his remarks. A board member of the organization, he offered a helpful blow-by-blow of how things in Burma have escalated to the point of genocide. Like his predecessors, Welty stated that the removal of the 1982 citizenship law was the "first step" in fixing the problem. He also said authorities must "unambiguously" devote themselves to ending mob violence.
A rousing speech by Omar Jubran, executive member of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR)-LA, was followed by a presentation of photographs by Matt Rains. Rains has done striking, groundbreaking work photographing Muslims in Burma, and jolted the audience as much with his words as his images. He claimed to have seen "boxes of DVDs from the national government" delivered to monasteries and video halls, which were then used to stir up anti-Muslim sentiment. "This has all been devised by the government," he said flatly.

Naama Haviv, a genocide expert with Jewish World Watch, spoke next about genocide in general. She joked about being the only speaker who didn't know anything about Burma, but added that genocide happens in places where leaders are "habituated" to it. The 1994 genocide in Rwanda, she reminded us, was actually the second (arguably third) such event in that country's history. With such a violent past in the form of the military junta's reign, she felt Burma was definitely a place that we should continue to watch closely.

Statements of support from House Committee on Foreign Affairs Chairman Ed Royce and Los Angeles Police Department Deputy Chief Michael Downing were read by Hennessy before the mighty Dr. Maung Zarni rose to speak. Buddhist magazine readers will undoubtedly recognize Dr. Zarni, whose name has been coming up a lot lately: his piece "Buddhist Nationalism in Burma" was a feature in one of the most recent issues of Tricycle: The Buddhist Review, and Alex Caring-Lobel interviewed him not long ago for Trike's Awake in the World blog. A Visiting Fellow at the London School of Economics, Dr. Zarni received applause when he began his remarks by saying, "I offer my apologies as a Burmese — and a Buddhist at that." Saying he felt compelled to "speak truth at any cost," he castigated his fellow Burmese for "sleepwalking into a genocidal space," adding that "the Buddha himself was not a Burmese, so he would be treated as such an outsider [under current laws and conditions]." Joining the chorus of voices decrying the 1982 citizenship law, he noted that "this problem has come to the Rohingya," and not the other way around.

Dr. Zarni was followed by Dr. Wakkar Uddin (Director General of the All Rohingya Union), Dr. Nora E. Rowley (a humanitarian doctor who works with refugees in Burma), and Htay Lwin Oo (Myanmar Muslims Civil Rights Movement). Dr. Rowley's comments in particular made an impression. She referred to the country's leadership as the "Burman supremacist regime," took the international media to task for "lazily or complicitly" framing the situation as "Rakhine versus Rohingya," and pointed out what Human Rights Watch has observed about the national police force in the country.

A panel discussion and Q&A with Haviv, Dr. Zarni, Dr. Rowley, Dr. Uddin, and Lwin Oo followed. Among the questions addressed was, "Why haven't a majority of Buddhists — who are supposedly against violence — come out to strongly denounce the racist '969 Movement'? Are they silently supporting them?" Dr. Zarni spoke about the false, fear-based narrative of 969, and how it "criminalizes" Islam, and produces a largely complicit Burmese Buddhist population in the country. He then went "on the record" to say that the 969 Movement enjoys "the full backing of the Burmese state." He continued, "In this [current] scenario, the 969 Movement is going to thrive and help destroy the Muslim communities. Therefore, I think it is important for the Buddhist community to wake up to the danger of 969, which is self-destructing the Burmese society."

Dr. Maung Zarni. Photo by the author.
While the question, and Dr. Zarni's response, were helpful, the question that was more important to me personally was, "What can Buddhists, particularly Buddhists outside of Burma, do to help?" So I set out to ask a few of the conference organizers and participants this question.

"Burmese Buddhist is different from other forms of Buddhism," one of the conference's spokesmen, Yousef Iqbal, told me. "So they don't actually look at other Buddhists as ones who can inspire them. Unless you can find a Burmese Buddhist, in Burma's Theravada Buddhist tradition, to say, 'Killing people is wrong and you should not do it,' I'm not sure how much it will do." While he acknowledged the important contributions of Buddhists from other traditions, like Rev. Iwohara, he was clear about what was needed: "More participation from the Theravada, the Burmese Theravada Buddhists. They should be involved, especially those who have spiritual authority."

Iqbal's co-spokesman, Yusman Madha, was more optimistic about the wider Buddhist community. "It would definitely be helpful — definitely," he said in response to my question of whether or not a more pronounced, ecumenical Buddhist response to the situation would be useful. "The teachings of their faith are being flouted by these thugs, and they should now speak up. There are Buddhist monks in Burma speaking up, but they are in the minority."

Dr. Uddin agreed, and told me, "American Buddhist organization can do a lot to influence the [anti-Muslim] monks in Burma. We really believe that American Buddhist leaders can have a tremendous influence on this situation, and teach the heretical Buddhists in Burma that this is not the right path. We would like to open up more of a dialogue with the American Buddhist community, in fact. We've spoken to some monks here in America, and they've been receptive. The vast majority of Burmese Buddhists in America have a totally different vision [then their fellows within Burma]. We can work together — the Rohingya in diaspora and the American Buddhist community."

As we talked, Dr. Uddin added, "We look forward to making these connections with American Buddhists, but we don't have the means and know-how. We don't know who to approach, or how to approach them. We've asked ISNA, the Islamic Society of North America, to help us open up a dialogue. We need to get connected to Buddhist leaders and discuss this and develop strategies."
Before the conference, but even more so after, I was determined to help. After talking with Dr. Uddin about approach, I'd like to say, for whatever it's worth, that I'm happy to help in any way I can to make these connections and get this conversation started. If you're the leader of a Myanmar Muslim group and you'd like assistance making connections, please leave a comment. And if you're a Buddhist leader, please feel free to leave a comment alerting us to anything you might be willing to do or offer.

Dr. Uddin offers a good starting point for us as concerned Buddhists in America: just get Buddhist American leaders to the table with Rohingya in diaspora to talk. At the very least, let's all of us, as Buddhists in America, make sure this happens.
At one point during the conference, it was observed that the event bore the year 2013 in its title, implying that the Myanmar Muslim community is digging in for what portends to be a long struggle. If we as Buddhists in America truly aspire to love all beings the way a mother loves her only child, we need to get to that table with Rohingya leaders and see to it that this doesn't become a yearly event.
- See more at: