Government 'explicitly agreed' with the U.N. that it would allow all people to declare own ethnicity on census, according to UNFPA statement.
World Bulletin / News Desk
The United Nations group backing Myanmar's shambolic census has spoken out against a ban on Rohingya Muslims listing their ethnicity on the form amid reports that thousands of the persecuted minority are being excluded from the historic tally altogether.
Myanmar's government "explicitly agreed" with the U.N. that it would allow all people to declare their own ethnicity on the census, according to a statement released Monday by the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA).
But on Saturday, the day before the count began, Myanmar's Deputy Information Minister Ye Htut reneged on that promise by announcing Rohingya would be banned from self-identifying.
"If a household wants to identify themselves as 'Rohingya,' we will not register it," he said.
Thousands of Rohingya households have been left out altogether, villagers in western Rakhine state have reported. They added that census takers are asking people their ethnicity first and walking away if they reply "Rohingya."
The government denies citizenship to the Rohingya, a long-persecuted minority, and claims they are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.
Myanmar's first census in three decades has been blamed for Buddhist-led riots that erupted last Wednesday and Thursday in Rakhine state. The region has seen regular outbursts of violence that have killed hundreds since 2012.
Nationalist Rakhines threatened to boycott the census because they objected to Rohingya being allowed to register their ethnic name under a category reserved for ethnicities that fall outside of the official 135 groups recognized by the government.
The U.N. fund described the ban on the term Rohingya as "a departure from international standards, human rights principles and agreed procedures."
"We are concerned that this could heighten tensions in Rakhine state, which has a history of communal violence, as well as undermining the credibility of census data collected," it added.
But critics will scoff at the statement. It comes after three days of silence from the fund following the ban on the Rohingya name and months of warnings from campaigners who said the count would inflame ethnic tensions and lead to human rights abuses.
Until late last week the U.N. group claimed that the census was unlikely to make ethnic tensions worse.