Sunday 29 May 2016

Migrants from 2015 refugee crisis stuck in detention limbo

Source themalaymailonline, 27 May

A boat that carried Rohingya migrants for three months is seen at Langkawi island, in Malaysia's northern state of Kedah, Malaysia, May 12, 2015. According to an Amnesty International study, 325 Rohingya refugees and 65 from Bangladesh remain in captivity in Malaysia despite technically being freed in 2015. — Reuters pic

A boat that carried Rohingya migrants for three months is seen at Langkawi island, in Malaysia's northern state of Kedah, Malaysia, May 12, 2015. According to an Amnesty International study, 325 Rohingya refugees and 65 from Bangladesh remain in captivity in Malaysia despite technically being freed in 2015. — Reuters pic - See more at:

KUALA LUMPUR, May 27 — Hundreds of refugees rescued from the humanitarian crisis off Malaysia's water last year are now languishing in the country's detention centres with no recourse.

According to an Amnesty International study reported by UK newspaper The Guardian, 325 Rohingya refugees and 65 from Bangladesh remain in captivity here despite technically being freed in 2015.

The 390 are among the thousands of people-smuggling victims abandoned and left to die at sea in boats and other makeshift craft last year after their captors fled a crackdown in the region.

The incident triggered an embarrassing crisis as affected countries including Malaysia initially refused to accept the victims, saying they did not recognise the group as refugees and instead sought for them to be returned to their countries of origin.

Although most of the 2,900 that Malaysia eventually accepted have been variously repatriated, resettled and otherwise released, authorities continue to hold the remaining 390 in the Belantik immigration depot in Sik, Kedah. 

"One year on, these people who have been through this horrific journey are still being punished, rather than being treated as victims of human trafficking," Khairunissa Dhala, an Amnesty researcher who helped prepare the report, was quoted as saying by The Guardian.

Aside from the continued detention, the refugees also face overcrowding at the centre that was previously flagged for its conditions. Filled beyond its capacity, humanitarian groups and lawmakers have cited health concerns in Belantik.

Amnesty's report found that at least one Rohingya woman died in the centre before she was able to be resettled; it also received unconfirmed information on the death of a Bangladeshi inmate at the centre.

"The conditions of [Malaysia's] detention centres are appallingly bad," Dhala was further quoted as saying.

According to The Guardian, Putrajaya did not respond to questions regarding the Amnesty report.

In the crisis last year, an estimated 6,000 to 20,000 migrants fleeing ethnic persecution in Myanmar and poverty in Bangladesh were left adrift in the Andaman Sea and the Straits of Malacca.

In what was dubbed a massive humanitarian disaster by the United Nations, the boat people were believed abandoned by their traffickers with little food or water.

Both Malaysia and Indonesia initially declared that they would turn away any who attempted to land on their territory, but later relented.

Putrajaya's initial refusal to aid the migrants prompted ordinary Malaysians to launch their own missions of mercy to supply them with food, water and medical supplies out at sea.

36 Rohingya refugees resettled in the US

Source thestar, 27 May

Two of the Rohingya refugees who were resettled in the US. - Photo courtesy of UNHCRTwo of the Rohingya refugees who were resettled in the US. - Photo courtesy of UNHCR

PETALING JAYA: One year after landing in Malaysia, following a harrowing ordeal in the Bay of Bengal, 36 Rohingya refugees have been resettled in the United States.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said that the 36 refugees departed Malaysia early Thursday morning under its resettlement programme. 

The refugees had been released from the Belantik Immigration Detention Centre the previous afternoon.

"UNHCR welcomes the move by the Malaysian Government to release the 36 extremely vulnerable Rohingya refugees from the Belantik Immigration Detention Centre," said Richard Towle, UNHCR Representative in Malaysia in a statement on Friday.

"We are also extremely grateful to the Government of the United States of America for their generosity in providing resettlement spaces for this group of extremely vulnerable individuals, for whom no other safe, long-term solution would be an option," he added.

In May last year, over 1,000 people from Bangladesh and Myanmar had arrived by boat after being stranded in the Bay of Bengal.

They were stranded at sea after human trafficking syndicates abandoned them following the discovery of mass graves and detention camps for Rohingya and Bangladeshis in Thailand and Malaysia.

According to UNHCR, 371 of the refugees were identified as Rohingya from Myanmar and of concern to the commission.

Towle, however, expressed concern for the remaining 334 Rohingya "boat arrivals" who are still at the Belantik centre.

"These people have undergone traumatic experiences at the hands of smugglers and traffickers, and are in need of specialised care.

"The best option for them is to be released into UNHCR's care where we can assess their protection needs and help find support for them within the refugee communities in Malaysia," he said.

The Rohingya are considered by the United Nations as one of the most persecuted minorities in the world.

They are considered to be stateless and were often subjected to arbitrary violence and forced labour in Myanmar.

They come mainly from the Arakan state in Myanmar, which borders Bangladesh.

To escape persecution back home, they took long and arduous journeys by boat to other countries in the region.

As of February this year, there are 53,700 Rohingya refugees registered with the UNHCR in Malaysia.

The Malaysian Government does not legally recognise refugees, although they are allowed to work in informal sectors

Friday 27 May 2016

Suu Kyi’s 21st Century Panglong Convention: Old wine in a new bottle?

Source english.panlong, 25 May

Two issues regarding the plight of the Muslim in Arakan State and heightened armed conflict in Kachin and Shan States dominated the political arena during these few weeks.

The flared up old issue of "Rohingya", due to the US ambassador to  Burma, Scot Marciel's stand point of addressing the chosen nomenclature as it is preferred by the said ethnic group and the US Secretary of State John Kerry's inquiry following his recent visit, pushed Aung San Suu Kyi to take up position that she has so far tried to avoid.

While this tip-toeing around or asking for sympathy and more space, regarding the Rohingya issue might be necessary for a short period of time, the armed ethnic conflict that have flared up to a new height in Kachin and Shan States these days is alarming and disturbing, which needs immediate attention for the National League for Democracy's (NLD) national reconciliation commitment hinges upon on how fast and effective the so-called Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) could be implemented, in words and deeds.

In this respect, the Suu Kyi-led, newly renamed, National Reconciliation Peace Center (NRPC) seems to be moving towards adopting the previous regime's well-beaten path of peace process, so much so, people are starting to say that her program is, in fact, "an old wine in a new bottle".

Let us examine in the light of recent political development, if this is really the case.

The Rohingya terminology

Her tip-toeing around the racial and religious conflict was explained as largely due to the fact that the risk of inflaming the issue was so high, only by just mentioning and using the terms "Rohingya" and "Bengalis," that are politically and emotionally highly charged.

The Buddhist nationalists label the group "Bengalis", casting Burma's more than one million Rohingya as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, according to various news reports.

"The  Arakan Buddhists object to the term 'Rohingya' just as much as the Muslims object to the term 'Bengali'," Suu Kyi said during a press conference with US Secretary of State John Kerry in the capital Naypyitaw.

One positive statement Suu Kyi said was that her new government was determined to address deep hatreds in western Rakhine State. And in addition,  Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and Mr Kerry both stressed that the ability to self-identity was important for people all over the world. "We are not in any way undermining people's desire to establish their own identity," Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said.

Suu Kyi, who has faced criticism internationally for not speaking up for the Rohingya, pledged to work towards a situation where the communities "live peacefully and securely outside the camps".

"That is why we say that we need the space to build up trust and security within the community", Suu Kyi added.

The 21st Century Panglong Convention

According to U Khun Myint Tun, chair of the Pa-Oh National Liberation Organisation, the new government's peace plan will be built on the foundation laid by former president U Thein Sein, though non-signatories will also be invited.

"What we understand is the 21st-century Panglong Conference will be held in accordance with the provisional timeline of the NCA. It is just a replacement to the Union Peace Conference. With a few changes, I think the new government will follow the old peace process laid out by President U Thein Sein," he said.

The newly renamed NRPC, which formerly was Myanmar Peace Center (MPC), meanwhile has formed two sub-committees, one headed by Lieutenant General Yar Pyae would meet with the signatory Ethnic Armed Organizations (EAOs), while the other led by U Tin Myo Myo, who is also head of the NRPC,  would liaise with the non-signatories. Reportedly, in U Tin Myo Win's team prominent ethnic politician U Khun Tun Oo was said to be included as a member, according to Myanmar Times report.

However, regarding the new regime's soliciting of the remaining EAOs to join the political dialogue, it is not clear whether all the 13 non-signatory EAOs will be included or the military, also known as Tatmadaw and Burma Army, rejected 3 EAOs – Kokang or Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), Palaung or Ta'ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) and Arakan Army (AA) – will be left out.

The military has said that the said 3 EAOs would have to surrender first, before they could participate in the peace process.

On top of this, the NLD usage of the word phrase "those that deserves and appropriate to participate" in the peace process would be included is hardly an all-inclusive pledge, even if the party's political commitment is said to be so.

Burma Army position on peace process

According to the Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing's much publicized press conference of 13 May, the military position on the peace process could be summarized as the following:

  • It adheres to the constitution and thus also accepts the President leading role of the country;
  • It will support Suu Kyi's Panglong-like convention;
  • EAOs need to sign NCA first before participating in the peace process; and
  • MNDAA, TNLA, AA must surrender first to be part of the peace process.

Apart from that,  on question of 25% military's non-elected, allotment in the parliament and its subsequent withdrawal from politics, Min Aung Hlaing reiterated with his usual answer that it would be according to the desire of the people, if armed conflicts ended and peace is restored.

But to underpin the military's independence from that of the administration, the military leaders, including the Commander-in-Chief, maintained that they could continue to take up responsibility and run their own affairs, even after the pensioned age of 60.

Military activities and development

Meanwhile, the military despite its public commitment to support Suu Kyi's 21st Century Panglong Convention, it has been conducting military offensives in the Shan and Kachin States.

On 19 May, Shan State Progress Party/Shan State Army (SSPP/SSA) issued an eight point statement, of which its doubtfulness on Burma Army was stressed and its aim to derail the Suu Kyi initiated Panglong-like convention by staging offensives on SSA positions in Lashio and Hsipaw Townships was mentioned. It went on to protest the onslaught and demand the Burma Army to immediately stop the offensives.

Again on the 58th anniversary of  Shan Revolution Day, that has been started by 31 Shan patriots in Mong Ton Township, on 21 May 1958, called on all EAOs to unite and strive for ethnic rights.

"(We) urge all our ethnic armed brethren to unite hand-in-hand to fight for our ethnic rights in unison, using diverse actions," stated the statement.

On 21 May, Daung Khar, Chief technical advisor of the Kachin Independence Organization/Army (KIO/KIA) , told BBC that he was disappointed and ruminated for the new government's silence on the military using of  combat aircraft against the KIA and that they won't be asking for help from the regime, for it has already known the situation. He went on to stressed that the 21st Century Panglong Convention will be meaningless, with the war on ethnic groups going on.

During these few weeks, the MNDAA, TNLA, that the military refused to accept as negotiating partners, tendered resignation to the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC) a coalition of 11 EAOs alliance, which is still pending,  has led many to think that the United Wa State Army (UWSA)-led military alliance in the north of the country, might become a reality. This means, the alliance to be formed would include some 5 to 6 EAOs that would weaken the UNFC militarily.

Meanwhile, the escalation of wars in Shan and Kachin States continue unabated, citing criminal activities like illegal logging, taxation of the EAOs and also "area clearance and control" policy, to create more "white areas" or government control areas, before the Panglong-like Convention really started.


Apart from the possible problematic or debacle of all-inclusive policy line of the NLD with the military demanded non-inclusive posture, vis a vis the EAOs, the time has also come for the NLD to tackle the  mentioned issues head on.

The Rohingya issue, which is based on religious hatred and racism, would need a clear policy on how to go about. This should be a kind of "denazification" –  "entnazifizierung" in German -, which was an Allied initiative to rid German and Austrian society of the National Socialist ideology (Nazism), to build awareness of how a responsible democracy-adhering society needs to behave and thus is a long term undertaking. But beating around the bush won't help. The civilian-based initiative of harmonious living together among different races and religions are already there, albeit at a very rudimentary stage, but needs institutional support and as well, decisive "secular form of governance" commitment that is a must in a democratic society.

Similarly, ethnic conflict that have plagued the country for so long needs bold, innovative approach rather than being bogged down in the first step of actual nationwide ceasefire, due to lack of political will.

 The Burma Army's usual mantra of protecting sovereignty and upholding national unity is not conducive and helpful. More so, if it combines this with its commitment of creating more "white areas" prior to the actual political dialogue, to be at an advantaged bargaining position.

Actually, this doesn't make sense as an agreed "Union Accord" will resolve all these problems with one stroke, for soon as a political settlement of a genuine federalism solution is reached.

 In a nutshell, if Suu Kyi and NLD don't want its peace initiative to be termed as "an old wine in a new bottle", there is only one option open. And that is, as time and again being advocated by well-wishers and keen observer of the country, to wipe the slate clean or create a level playing field, by unilateral ceasefire declaration from the part of the government, for it is a must and necessary step, rather than beating around the bush. Of course this will be only possible with the Burma Army's willingness and commitment, so that the initiated 21st Century Panglong Convention will have its real meaning and become a reality.

Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslims still waiting for Democracy

Source theindianpanorama,26 May

Aung San Suu Kyi was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 for her "non-violent struggle for democracy and human rights". Back then, she was a campaigner for those things, spending a total of 15 years under house arrest.

She knows what it's like to have rights and freedom taken away.

But now that she is in perhaps the ultimate position of power in Myanmar, there is no sign that she is going to defend the rights of people who have been detained simply because of who they are.

Tens of thousands of Muslims, mainly Rohingya, have been kept in camps in western Myanmar's Rakhine State for almost four years since their homes and communities were attacked.

They were horrific events that were fanned by a powerful, nationalist Buddhist agenda – alive and well today – and it's a movement Aung San Suu Kyi seems afraid of upsetting.

After decades of campaigning against the previous military regime, her National League for Democracy party won last November's general election and, even though the constitution prevents her from becoming president, she made it clear that she would be in charge and gave herself the title of State Counsellor.

Her choice of Religious and Cultural Affairs Minister raised eyebrows. Thura Aung Ko is a former army general and was a deputy in the same ministry under the previous military-backed government. And, so far, the new government isn't sending any signals that it will adopt a policy to give rights to Rohingya who, in Myanmar, are widely regarded as illegal immigrants from neighbouring Bangladesh.

On his first day on the job in the new administration, Thura Aung Ko gave a media interview in which he said that Muslims and Hindus were "associate citizens", referring to the 1982 citizenship law that places people into three categories depending on their status.

He then visited leaders of a nationalist Buddhist movement who regularly spew anti-Islam rhetoric. It's not known what was discussed at the meeting but it sent a bad message, something Aung San Suu Kyi herself has also been guilty of.

In April, the United States embassy in Yangon released a statement, offering their condolences for people who were killed when a boat sunk off Rakhine State. The people onboard were Rohingya and that's exactly what the US statement called them.

That led to protests outside the embassy by people who refuse to recognise the term Rohingya because it's not one of the official ethnic minority groups in Myanmar.

The response from Suu Kyi? Government officials sent a letter to the US ambassador and other diplomats urging them to refrain from using the word Rohingya.

Yes, it's very early days in the life of the new government and there are many problems in this country to solve. Yes, the plight of the Rohingya is a very complex issue. Yes, the new government is talking about new laws to safeguard religious freedom and to get tough on hate speech.

But it's not enough.

Here's what we also know: Around 100,000 people have been living in squalid conditions for almost four years. They have no rights and many have died in a desperate attempt to leave. Over the past year though, the number of departures fell, partly because people wanted to see what the new government would do for them.

What Aung San Suu Kyi has at her disposal now is the power to speak out. Words can be powerful. They can offer hope. Particularly when they come from someone who built her name on a fight for freedom and rights.

But when it comes to the Rohingya, there has been nothing but silence; meaning for them, hope is already fading so early in Myanmar's new democracy.

Thursday 26 May 2016

Watch Research Conference on Burma's Rohingya Genocide at Oxford

Source maungzarni, 23 may

Proceedings of the Oxford Conference on the Rohingya Conference Host's Welcome by Professor Barbara Harriss-White
Arakan or Rakhine in Myanmar since the 14th Century: From Inclusion to Polarisation and Exclusion by Professor Michael W Charney, SOAS

Matthew Smith on Myanmar's International Crimes in Rakhine State
"Why the world must listen to the Rohingya", keynote address by Gayatri C. Spivak

The Slow Genocide of the Rohingya by Amartya Sen

Only the world can end the Rohingya genocide by Dr Azeem Ibrahim

Myanmar's Genocide of the Rohingya: Research Findings by Penny Green & Thomas MacManus

What have happened to the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh (since 1978)?

Professor Shapan Adnan, Associate, Contemporary South Asian Studies Programme, Oxford University & Former Associate Professor, National University of Singapore (NUS) & Professor, University of Chittagong, Bangladesh
Myanmar's Denial of Public Health Services to the Rohingya by Dr Ambia Perveen
Video Myanmar's Denial of Public Health Services to the Rohingya - by Dr Ambia Perveen
Q & A on Myanmar Rohingya Genocide with Prof. Penny Green, Dr Thomas MacManus and Maung Zarni

Why do Myanmar Buddhists kill? by Maung Zarni 
 Video Why do Myanmar Buddhists kill? - Maung Zarni
Perspective from ASEAN Region and Malaysia by Azril Mohd Amin
Indonesia's Perspective on the Rohingya Genocide by Adnan Armas 

Leaked Documents Show How the UN Failed to Protect Myanmar's Persecuted Rohingya

Source vice, 22 May

The Rohingya, a predominantly Muslim ethnic minority from Myanmar's western Rakhine state, have been subjected to decades of persecution in the Buddhist-majority nation, culminating in massacres in 2012. The violence of that year was described by Human Rights Watch as a campaign of "ethnic cleansing," which involved "crimes against humanity" perpetrated by local mobs, at times with the support of state agencies. A 2015 report prepared by a team at Yale Law School for the NGO Fortify Rights found "strong evidence that genocide is being committed" against the Rohingya.

Myanmar's government confines more than 140,000 Rohingya, who were rendered homeless by the violence four years ago, to squalid camps. Across the state, basic rights such as freedom of movement and access to healthcare are severely curtailed by government measures, while apartheid-like conditions further limit the prospects of the group in the highly militarized northern Rakhine region.

Related: Backed By China, a Massive Narco-Army Angles for More Power in Myanmar

Stripped of their citizenship rights in 1982, the minority are among the world's largest stateless populations. Last year, their plight caught the attention of the international press when boats full of Rohingya and some Bangladeshi passengers were abandoned on the open seas by human traffickers, and mass graves of many of the same "boat people" were found in Thailand.

Perhaps the most damning charge contained in the cache of documents obtained by VICE News is found in a report commissioned by the UN to review the "human rights implications" of the world body's recent record in Rakhine state. The independent study, titled "A Slippery Slope: Helping Victims or Supporting Systems of Abuse?" and meant for an internal UN audience, concluded that the "situation in Rakhine state is forcing international institutions into complicity with systematic abuses" against the Rohingya, partly due to "excessive self-censorship" on rights.

The "current UN strategy of emphasizing development investment as the solution to the problems in Rakhine state," the study said, "fails to take into account that development initiatives carried out by discriminatory state actors through discriminatory structures will likely have a discriminatory outcome." In other words, pouring money into "development" without changing the government-imposed structures that oppress the Rohingya will not solve the problem. The paper added that such schemes are "aimed at mollifying" hostile populations that have targeted the Rohingya with acts of violence in the past.

The authors of the report, which is marked "confidential" and was prepared in late 2015, had access to a raft of internal documents, and they conducted private interviews with dozens of staffers from the UN and international NGOs. It is perhaps the most thorough internal review of the UN's Rohingya policy to date.

The findings of the paper are particularly damning in light of repeated internal warnings about the inadequacy of the UN response, contained in material seen by VICE News.

Watch the VICE News documentary Left for Dead: Myanmar's Muslim Minority:

A report produced by the Office for the High Commission for Human Rights or OHCHR, the UN's leading rights watchdog, in November 2014 observed that serious abuses such as "killings, torture, rape" were "ongoing," and called for "concrete action" to stop them, including the establishment of a UN-designed "human security" system which could prevent future atrocities.

A document from the same time, also obtained by VICE News and marked "confidential," contains the minutes of a meeting of the UN's "Senior Action Group," a high-level body including representatives from leading UN agencies and the Deputy Secretary General, Jan Eliasson.

The 2014 memo records that Eliasson "stressed the need to prioritize preventative efforts... [and] taking a firm stance on Human Rights Up Front," while a specialist within the organization identified "some risk factors associated with genocide" with regard to the Rohingya.

The UN established the "Human Rights Up Front" initiative in response to a damning internal inquiry into its failure to prevent mass atrocities in Sri Lanka during the end of the country's civil war in 2009. Launched by Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in 2013, the strategy "encourages staff to take a principled stance and to act with moral courage to prevent serious and large-scale violations" of human rights, and suggests a series of actions that can be taken to ensure this.

The "Slippery Slope" review paper, however, describes Myanmar as a near-rerun of the Sri Lanka crisis, albeit with very different circumstances. "[T]he dynamic of passivity and complicity with state strategies of abuse... is being repeated in Myanmar to an alarming level," it notes in its conclusions.

A section in the document that deals specifically with Human Rights Up Front lists the requirements set out by the initiative in a table, finding that the UN at the ground level had yet to properly fulfill its obligations in every single category.

Related: Myanmar Elects Aung San Suu Kyi's Aide as Its New President

An end-of-assignment report written by a veteran UN staff member who worked in Myanmar, leaked to VICE News by sources in the US, lays the blame for these failings largely at the door of the country's resident coordinator, or RC. The resident coordinator is the highest in-country role a UN official can occupy, and is comparable to a country's ambassador.

The end-of-assignment report, which takes the form of a letter directed at the author's former colleagues, notes that "I had to conclude time and time again that the RC discarded or simply ignored information that underscored the seriousness of the situation" for the Rohingya. It alleges that the coordinator instructed her staff to undermine other UN agencies that were taking a stronger line on Rohingya rights.

While the letter does not explain why the RC allegedly behaved in such a way, the "Slippery Slope" report observes that the UN country team led by the RC pursued a strategy that valued quiet diplomacy and the belief that "development investment itself will reduce tensions" in Rakhine state, an approach that drew criticism from other agencies in the organization.

The author of the end-of-assignment report goes on to allege in the letter that the Coordinator was insistent on pursuing the strategies she favored and would engage in "bullying, intimidating and discrediting people that had a different view."

'I was instructed to rewrite history'

At one point, the author claims that the RC told them "repeatedly to find out when the Head of OCHA [Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] and / or OHCHR staff in the country was NOT available... so she could organize meetings at that time without having to listen to [their views]," which did not agree with hers.

The ex-employee's end-of-assignment report also claims that attempts to uphold Human Rights Up Front and the establishment of a human security system as other UN officials had requested were "put in the bottom drawer," as "the RC did not review and/or release the information and analysis provided."

This allegation is seemingly supported by broader observations contained in the "Slippery Slope" paper, which noted that there had been a "failure to implement a system-wide protection strategy," an outcome that suggests a "lack of the kind of teamwork and collaboration demanded by Human Rights Up Front."

Related: Islamic Countries Are Blocking LGBT Groups From a UN Meeting on AIDS

The letter also referred to a "prevailing atmosphere of intimidation, non-accountability, and manipulation of information," which worsened in the aftermath of an alleged massacre in early 2014 near Maungdaw in Rakhine state. This event was likewise described in the "Slippery Slope" review as a turning point, which noted that "when the government disputed the facts and denied the massacre, the Resident Coordinator took a more cautious approach, no longer standing by the original allegation."

What followed this reversal, the official contends in the letter, was that OHCHR was effectively blamed for the "tense relation[ship] with the Government," due to its explosive claims of a massacre. This occurred, despite the RC's strong support for the OHCHR report which was privately retracted only after the publication came out.

"I was instructed to rewrite history," the author of the letter complained, referring to a "lesson learned" document drafted in the aftermath of the fallout over the massacre; a section of the piece which dealt with the RC's initial response was allegedly excised on the orders of the coordinator herself.

Watch the VICE News documentary Escape From Myanmar:

When the official confronted the RC about this, a threat was issued: they were told "never to raise this again with her or anyone else 'if you want to continue your career at the UN.'"

"The discrediting of OHCHR continued throughout 2014 and the truth was often distorted vis-à-vis senior officials," the former official further alleged.

Michael Shaikh, the author of an initial UN report into the alleged massacre, told VICE News that he stands by his work. In his view, the UN changed its position on the incident because it "prioritized its relationship with the government over the people that it was in the business of protecting."

Speaking to VICE News, Renata Lok-Dessalien, the resident coordinator referred to in the end-of-assignment report, denied allegations that the UN was failing to uphold human rights. "I don't think anyone has spoken out as loudly as the UN on rights violations," she said. In response to allegations of complicity in abuses, she added that there had been "absolutely no complicity whatsoever."

However, the claim on outspokenness over rights is contradicted by the testimony of a former senior-level UN representative. Tomas Ojea Quintana, special rapporteur for human rights in Myanmar until last year, recalled that Lok-Dessalien had asked him personally not to be so vocal on the issue of Rohingya rights, and even not to visit Rohingya displacement camps.

'Everyone became engaged with the crisis, but no one took overall responsibility to come up with a common vision of what needed to be done.'

"She advocated for another approach, which did not include a big focus on human rights but more on development and so on... her advice was not to be so outspoken or to visit Rakhine state," he recalled.

Other UN veterans feel that a critical focus on the actions of the in-country team is misplaced, and view failures at the central level in New York as far more significant. Charles Petrie, whose 2011 report into Sri Lanka helped spur Human Rights Up Front, and who was himself Myanmar's resident coordinator between 2003 and 2007, is among them.

"I see a lot of parallels with what happened in Sri Lanka," he said. "One of the the major problems then was the dysfunctionality of the UN system at the level of headquarters in New York. Everyone became engaged with the crisis, but no one took overall responsibility to come up with a common vision of what needed to be done. The same thing is happening in Myanmar."

Related: Ignoring the Facts, Australia's Immigration Minister Calls Refugees 'Illiterate and Innumerate'

A spokesperson for the office of the Secretary General of the UN in New York told VICE News that, contrary to some of the allegations above, "[t]he UN has systems in place that aim to respond effectively to serious human rights violations, as well as to prevent them," and that Rohingya rights abuses were a serious concern, adding "we have proactively spoken up on this issue both publicly and in our official contacts."

However, sources within the NGO community close to events, who wish to remain anonymous due to the risk to their careers, maintain that deep divisions remain over how best to deal with the crisis in Rakhine state.

Those sources also said that the organization has initiated what they called an internal "witch hunt" in response to the VICE News documentary Left For Dead: Myanmar's Muslim Minority, which featured some of the material cited in this story.

Follow Emanuel Stoakes on Twitter: @EmanuelStoakes

Rohingya refugee: We were hunted down by mob in Myanmar

Source Aljazeera, 22 may

Abu Siddiq, belonging to Muslim minority, says he fled to Malaysia after four of his children were hacked to death.

For decades, Rohingya Muslims have been fleeing Myanmar, a Buddhist majority country where they are forced to live in apartheid-like conditions and denied access to jobs, education and healthcare.

"Four of my children aged, two, three, five and 10 were brutally killed - hacked to death. A Rohingya woman was killed during Ramadhan [the Muslim holy month of fasting] which started a riot"

Abu Siddiq, Rohingya refugee

But in recent years the exodus of refugees has surged. Since 2012, more than 100,000 people have braved perilous boat journeys in search of better lives in Malaysia, Indonesia and other Southeast Asian countries.

Abu Siddiq, a Rohingya refugee living in the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur, told Al Jazeera that he was forced to flee his home after ethnic Buddhists launched a brutal campaign against his family and community.

Also read Al Jazeera correspondent's blog: Myanmar's shame

"We were beaten, harrassed and our houses burned down," Siddiq told Al Jazeera. "We dug trenches, and put dry grass in them to sleep. We soon had no food to eat and were often hunted down."

"With 6,000 people living in a field, we drank water from drains and puddles, there was no food or medical care," he added.

"Four of my children aged, two, three, five and 10 were brutally killed - hacked to death. A Rohingya woman was killed during Ramadan [the Muslim holy month of fasting] which started a riot."

WATCH: Exclusive: 'Strong evidence' of genocide in Myanmar

Not regarded as one of the country's 135 official ethnic groups, Myanmar government views the Rohingya as illegal Bangladeshi immigrants despite the fact that many of them have been living there for more than a century.

The government has denied them citizenship, which renders them stateless.

Fearing for the safety of his other remaining family members, Siddiq joined over 120 others and crammed onto a boat headed for Malaysia, where the Rohingya eke out a living on the margins of society.

Video:Outcast: Adrift with Burma's Rohingya 

Outcast: Adrift with Burma's Rohingya

Many first cross the border into neighbouring Bangladesh, from where they try to get to countries with better treatment - but most are turned away by authorities who shirk responsibility, claiming they don't have the resources to look after them.

"After being turned away... we quickly finished our food and water, arriving in Thailand's waters a week later. We were stopped by human traffickers who were waiting in speedboats, they had guns - we were loaded up on speed boats and beaten. We were taken ashore and locked in cages - they wanted ransom money. At night they would take young women and rape them."

After contacting a relative for help, Siddiq says his captors were payed $3,000 and he was released in Malaysia.

INTERACTIVE: Desperate Journeys - The Rohingya People

Siddiq, like most Rohingya in Malaysia has found a poorly paid job - working as a drain cleaner in Kuala Lumpur - but lives in constant fear of deportation as he doesn't have legal status in the country.

Malaysia, like many of its neighbours, hasn't signed the UN Convention on Refugees which means there are  no laws to protect refugees.

The UNHCR says there are 53,700 Rohingya registered in Malaysia, but the numbers are believed to be much higher.

In October, Al Jazeera's Investigative Unit uncovered "strong evidence" of a genocide coordinated by the Myanmar government against the Rohingya.

The evidence revealed that the government was triggering communal violence for political gain by inciting anti-Muslim riots, using hate speech to stoke fear among the Myanmarese about Muslims, and offering money to hardline Buddhist groups who threw their support behind the leadership.

Rohingya man shot dead in Phang Nga Immigration breakout Read more at

by admin: Rohingya Detainees are detained indefinitely for seeking refugees when the agency UNHCR does not interfere for them. 
So, they find simply escaping is the best solution. The Thai guards shooting dead of one of them, is inhumane and racist. They don't attack the guards and it just a lie to avoid from killing charges.

Source thephuketnews, 23 May

An officer exits the Phang Nga Immigration centre detention block. Photo: Eakkapop Thongtub
An officer exits the Phang Nga Immigration centre detention block. Photo: Eakkapop Thongtub

Police are claiming self-defence, as they say the escapees allegedly attacked the officers who were trying to take them into custody.

The alarm was raised at 3am, when guards at the centre noticed that bars on the windows of a second-floor cell had been cut. Police believe the escapees used hacksaw blades to cut the bars.

The escapees broke into two groups, with 15 heading down a canal which joins Phang Nga Bay and another six fleeing into the hills.

Officers in pursuit closed in on the six escapees in the hills, who they say attacked the officers. In the ensuing struggle, say police, one of the Rohingya escapees was fatally shot.

Police reported that three of the six in the hills were recaptured. No clarification was given on whether or not the remaining two of the six were taken into custody.

Police have yet to reveal any progress on apprehending the 15 escapees who fled down the canal.

Tuesday 24 May 2016

'No Muslims allowed': how nationalism is rising in Aung San Suu Kyi's Myanmar

Source the guardian, 22 May

Nationalists rally against the Rohingya people – Muslims confined to internal displacement camps in western Myanmar – claiming they are illegal immigrants. Photograph: Soe Zeya Tun/Reuters

At the entrance to Thaungtan village there's a brand new sign, bright yellow, and bearing a message: "No Muslims allowed to stay overnight. No Muslims allowed to rent houses. No marriage with Muslims."

The post was erected in late March by Buddhist residents of the village in Myanmar's lush Irrawaddy Delta region who signed, or were strong-armed into signing, a document asserting that they wanted to live separately.

Since then a couple of other villages across the country have followed suit. Small but viciously insular, these "Buddhist-only" outposts serve as microcosms of the festering religious tensions that threaten Myanmar's nascent experiment with democracy.

The post was erected in late March by Buddhist residents of the village in Myanmar's lush Irrawaddy Delta region who signed, or were strong-armed into signing, a document asserting that they wanted to live separately.

Since then a couple of other villages across the country have followed suit. Small but viciously insular, these "Buddhist-only" outposts serve as microcosms of the festering religious tensions that threaten Myanmar's nascent experiment with democracy.

 A sign barring Muslims from staying overnight, doing commerce, or marrying in Thaungtan village, in Myanmar's Irrawaddy Delta Region. Photograph: POPPY MCPHERSON for the Guardian

After decades of military rule, Myanmar has entered a new era. As state counsellor, Aung San Suu Kyi is in charge, though key institutions remain under the army's control.

Recent weeks, however, have brought a surge in nationalist activity. Scores rallied outside the US embassy in Yangon last month to demand diplomats stop using the word Rohingya to describe millions of Muslims confined to internal displacement camps and villages in western Myanmar. Nationalists insist the group are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.

The few public comments Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy has given on the issue have not been encouraging.

Suu Kyi reportedly instructed the new US ambassador not to use the term Rohingya. The new minister for religion, former general Thura Aung Ko, recently called Muslims and Hindus "associate citizens".

The fact that nationalist rhetoric has gone unchallenged, and has in some cases been echoed, by the new government has left some wondering what place the country's minorities have in its future.

Thaungtan is a small village of about 700 people, mostly farmers. At the end of a long dirt road flanked by tall grass and banana trees, it is extremely isolated.

Recently, residents formed the Patriotic Youth Network, a nationalist group dedicated to developing the village and keeping it out of foreign hands.

At the local monastery, a young monk with piercing black eyes named Ma Ni Ta sits unsmiling as villagers clamour to explain the new sign.

"The village has talked and seen that the NLD didn't do anything on the religious matter," he says.

It has fallen to the village to handle the mission to "protect religion" themselves.

Young monk Ma Ni Ta pictured inside the monastery in Thaungtan village, Myanmar.Young monk Ma Ni Ta pictured inside the monastery in Thaungtan village, Myanmar. Photograph: Poppy McPherson for the Guardian

In early 2015 a stranger of south Asian origin moved to Thaungtan.

According to the villagers' version of events he initially got along well with his neighbours. He said he was Hindu. Then he started buying land. That's when they jumped to the conclusion that he must be Muslim.

"It's like ghosts. We have never seen a ghost but we're afraid," says one villager, with a rueful laugh. He was part of a small minority who opposed the sign, he says, asking not to be named for fear of reprisals.

Members of the Patriotic Youth Network found the new arrival and his family did not all have identity cards. "They might have sneaked in from Bangladesh," says Ma Ni Ta.

"If we live together, we might have some problems with donations and religious ceremonies," he says.

Kyaw San Win was the stranger who came under suspicion. A stocky 28-year-old with large, long-lashed eyes, he stands in his cousin's drinks shop in Yangon, three hours drive from Thaungtan.

He points at a small Buddha statue on a shelf and explains how his family followed both Buddhist and Hindu traditions.

Kyaw San Win says he was living in Yangon when his elderly father decided to retire to the countryside. Kyaw San Win's cousin suggested his wife's village: Thaungtan. They bought and renovated an old wooden house.

The monks and villagers were immediately unfriendly, he says.

After they bought another piece of land, planning to open a teashop, he and his wife got an urgent call from his father.

"Please, my son," he said. "Please come back to the village because the villagers and the monks, they don't really want us to live here."

At the monastery, they were told that residents didn't want "kalar", an offensive term for Muslims, in their village.

"I ate pork in front of them," Kyaw San Win recalls with an exasperated laugh. "They said I was just pretending so I could do some mission, like jihad."

Later he says members of the Patriotic Youth Network warned him: "Someone may come and burn your house down."

Then groups of young men took to walking and running around the house at all hours. They revved motorbikes outside.

According to Kyaw San Win, the village administrator said he couldn't guarantee their security. So they left the village, eventually selling the home last month. Around the same time, pictures on Facebook showed members of the Youth Patriotic Network standing beside their new sign.

"Every religion, every person, should be able to live in every part of the country," says San Htay, Kyaw San Win's cousin. "Every person should be under the same law … The nationalist guys want to rule the village."

"We're really lucky we are Buddhist," adds Kyaw San Win. "If we were Muslim there would be a conflict in that village."

Recently it has seemed to some as though Myanmar could again be teetering on the verge of religious violence. After the disappointment of last November's election, nationalist groups, who backed the losing military-backed Union and Solidarity Party, are again making noises.

"Now that the post-election dust has settled, it's business as usual for religious extremists throughout the country," says Matthew Smith, executive director of the nonprofit Fortify Rights. "Without a stronger counter-movement, this brand of religious discrimination will continue to flourish. Violence is inevitable."

The Youth Patriotic Network in Thaungtan denies links to extremist nationalist organization Ma Ba Tha, which has waged an anti-Muslim campaign of hate in recent years.

The firebrand monk Ashin Wirathu has been accused of inciting deadly riots through his Facebook page, where he posts unsubstantiated rumours about Muslims.

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Religious Affairs says he hasn't heard about the "no-Muslim" villages. "Basically [complaints] should come from the regional level," he said. He could not be reached to answer further questions.

The NLD is in a precarious position. Hatred of the Rohingya penetrates all levels of society. Recently, local magazine the Irrawaddy, which is run by human rights activists, published a cartoon that featured a dark-skinned half-naked man holding a sign that said "boat people".

When students from the Yangon School of Political Science held a small peace march across the city, a few dozen men, women and children carried banners saying: "Accept Diversity. Promote Tolerance." Police said they planned to charge the activists with unauthorised protest.

Myanmar Taxi driver Nanda Kyaw has scars on his left arm from a beating.Myanmar Taxi driver Nanda Kyaw has scars on his left arm from a beating. Photograph: Aung Naing Soe for the Guardian

Nanda Kyaw, a Muslim taxi driver who was beaten outside Shwedagon Pagoda, from which Islamic vendors were evicted a few weeks earlier, says he is still getting headaches.

"I have to drive every day for my survival," says the slight 31-year-old.

At least once a day, he says, a passenger waves him on when they see his goatee. But the attack in April came as a surprise.

A group of young people wound down their windows and shouted racially charged insults. Then, he said, they swerved in front of his car and beat him with iron rods. They left him bleeding from his mouth and head.

"Some people stopped their cars and watched a little bit. It's because it was a problem between a Muslim guy and a Buddhist guy, they are afraid."

He declines to have his picture taken, for fear of inflaming tensions.

Kyaw San Win feels the same. It's the reason his family haven't pursued charges against the people who hounded them from the village. Besides, he says, they wouldn't want to move back now.

"The people, they are very narrow-minded, we don't want to live with them," his cousin says.

Additional reporting by Cape Diamond and Aung Naing Soe

Friday 20 May 2016

Searching for a safe space: The story of a young Rohingya woman displaced in Myanmar

Source UNFPA, 19 May

Searching for a safe space: The story of a young Rohingya woman displaced in Myanmar Khin Me Me Htun has been displaced from her home in Rakhine state for four years. © UNFPA Myanmar/Yenny Gamming

RAKHINE, Myanmar – Khin Me Me Htun was 22-years old when a wave of inter-communal violence swept across the state of Rakhine in 2012. At the time, she had just graduated with a degree in English from Sittwe University, and was planning to move to Yangon to start post-graduate studies and pursue her long-time dream of a career in diplomacy.

Then one night, riots broke out in her town, Sittwe, and her carefully planned future was upended. She saw her neighbours being beaten with steel sticks and stabbed with knives. And she watched as her father nearly died from a beating.

"I could see my father's brain," she says. "I saw my friend die from a knife wound. There was blood everywhere. That was the last time I saw my neighbourhood."

Khin Me is one of the approximately 1 million people in Myanmar who self-identify as Rohingya, a Muslim minority that came into international focus in 2015 when thousands fleeing persecution were left floating at sea in rickety boats, unable to find a country willing to grant them refuge.

And today, four years after she was forced to flee her home, Khin Me and 120,000 others affected by the 2012 conflict remain displaced within Myanmar's borders.

Most live in restricted zones, often just kilometres from their home villages and towns, but the zones' perimeters are policed, and they are barred from leaving or returning home.

Inside the walls, they are shut off from jobs, education and health care, including sexual and reproductive health services. Most struggle to survive day to day, and, while there is no data available from the camps, anecdotal evidence suggests that women and girls in the zones faced an increased risk of sexual and gender-based violence.

A village in the restricted zones where many displaced Rohingya now live.  © UNFPA Myanmar/Yenny Gamming

So close, but so far from home

As she scrolls through photos on her phone of her old, more urban life in Sittwe – going to the cinema, goofing around with friends, Khin Me discusses living in the restricted zone. "At first, it was strange," she says, her demeanour quiet and serious and very different from the smiling, light-hearted Khin Me floating by in her photos. "I cannot wear trousers here. Women don't go to the tea stall. And there is nowhere to borrow or buy books."

In the camps, water is collected from a shared pump, electricity is intermittent and the latrines are outdoors. For many women and girls, venturing out to use the latrines at night is the time they most fear experiencing sexual assault. However, the huts where most live have no locks, and even staying inside after dark is no guarantee of protection.

In addition, families live day after day, year in and year out, in these small, stiflingly hot makeshift huts, without privacy, and the conditions breed despair and frustration that contribute to domestic violence.

Finding a safe space

In response to the displacement, UNFPA has established 15 Women and Girls Centres in Myanmar, in partnership with the International Rescue Committee and the Metta Development Foundation, to provide women and girls with social support, information about sexual and reproductive health, family planning, psychosocial counselling, other violence-related services and transport to a nearby hospital for those in need of medical attention. In 2015 alone, 16,000 women and girls accessed the centres.

All staff members at these safe spaces are themselves internally displaced women and girls, and the work not only provides them with financial security, but also allows them to use their first-hand knowledge of life in the camps to shape and improve the response to gender-based violence.

Khin Me laughs with her colleague at a UNFPA Women and Girls Centre in Rakhine. © UNFPA Myanmar/Yenny Gamming

Khin Me is among those on staff at the seven centres in Rakhine. She says her position as a response manager gives her a sense of purpose. And as she sits there, talking and laughing with her colleagues and the women visiting the centre, she begins to look more like the playful young woman in her photos.

"I feel that my work really matters," she says. "Many of the women who come here have little or no education, and we teach them not only about gender-based violence, but also about health and sanitation."

However, despite the fulfilling work, Khin Me says she constantly teeters between hope and hopelessness.

To date, there has been little progress towards an agreement or reconciliation that would allow Khin Me and the rest of the Muslim community to return to their homes. And in the centre of Sittwe, there remains only a vacant lot where her family's house and tea stop once stood.

But Khin Me still holds out hope for returning there. "My dream has changed," she says. "I don't want to go to Yangon anymore, or to America, or anywhere else in the world. I just want to go home."