Friday 29 July 2016

Muslims not welcome at Ethnic Youth Conference in Myanmar’s Shan State

Source CoconutsYangon, 27 July

Photo supplied.

Despite somewhat confusing attempts to suspend it, Myanmar's Ethnic Youth Conference in Shan State went ahead on Tuesday in Panlong Town, the historic site of the 1947 peace deal between independence leader Aung San and ethnic rebel groups.

But amid the last-minute questions of whether the conference, involving hundreds of young people from a number of Myanmar's ethnic groups, would proceed or not, another depressing drama was playing out behind the scenes.

Two Muslims attached to the ethnic Burmese delegation were being pushed out.

The trouble, according to interviews with the two, started when the Burmese (or Bamar, the largest ethnic group in Myanmar) delegation arrived at a guesthouse in Panlong.

In the group there were 30 people, including the two Muslims, a man named Hlwan Moe Aung, 33, and a woman named Thet Suu Yee, 34. Both are from Bago region.

Hlwan Moe Aung said his National Registration Card identifies him as Muslim, and he was told after arriving by the coordination committee for the National Ethnic Youth Conference that he could not participate, only observe. He left in frustration.

"They told me I am not a member of an ethnic group and they want pure Bamar [Burmese]," he toldCoconuts Yangon in an interview on Wednesday.

To understand what happened, you have to understand the composition of a National Registration Card.

There is one space for "Ethnicity/Religion."

Hlwan Moe Aung said that this space on his card lists him as "Myanmar Muslim/Islam."

That would seemingly explain the committee's decision, but he said that in the past, a man named U Phay Khin attended the original conference in 1947 as a "Bamar Muslim."

The same should be applied to him, his reasoning suggested, and he believed he had a right to a seat at the table.

"This conference was done by a lot of Civil Society Organizations and I am feeling so sad about this," he said. "My dad was a political prisoner and he died in prison because of a hunger strike. We also sacrificed for the better future. I want to ask them, who loves the country more, us or them?"

The committee also started worrying about Thet Suu Yee, who is of South Asian heritage, a fact reflected on her card in the ethnicity and religion section. It says: "India+Bamar/Islam."

Responding to the issue, the Burmese delegation was split over what to do, but ultimately agreed not to put up a fight for either of them, according to interviews.

Both believe it had little to do with splitting hairs over ethnic affiliation and more to do with religious prejudice and fears that Buddhist nationalists would react angrily to the inclusion of Muslims.

Thet Suu Yee also left in frustration, speaking by phone on the road back.

"They shouldn't do this. This is discrimination not only on the religion but also the ethnicity. I am feeling sad. They shouldn't do this because our country is now on the way to a federal state," she said.

Around 600 people are attending the five-day conference, whose discussions are of a nonbinding, brainstorming nature.

These aren't official talks, but they are happening at the same time as ethnic rebel leaders are meeting in Kachin state, and as Aung San Suu Kyi prepares to meet with a handful of holdout rebel groups in Naypyitaw.

Min Hnaung Htaw, the 31-year-old spokesman for the conference and a member of the coordination committee, confirmed that the two left, but said they were not pushed out.

"Actually, we didn't ask them to leave. They just left when we talked about representation. We told them that this is prioritized for the ethnic [groups] in Myanmar," he said in an interview.

"We let them attend as observers [not as participants]. If they have an ethnic base, it is fine," he said. "We're not inviting individuals. We just invited Bamars so Bamars have to explain about this."

Members of the delegation could not immediately be reached for comment.

One of the organizers, however, later said on Facebook that the Kaman ethnic group, a Muslim minority in Rakhine state, was represented at the conference.

Buddhist-Muslim tensions have been running high since 2012 clashes in Rakhine State that left scores dead.

In the run-up to last year's election, Myanmar's ultimately victorious National League for Democracy came under fire from rights groups for not fielding a single Muslim candidate, something that many believed happened out of fear of angering Buddhist nationalists.

The situation has left Muslims, who make up about 4 percent of the population, feeling left out of the discussion for the new Myanmar.

When the election was over and parliament convened in February, it was said to be the first time in Myanmar's history that Muslims had no seats.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story neglected to note that the Kaman, an ethnic group of Muslims from Rakhine state, were said to participate in the conference. Both the headline and the article have been amended to reflect this information.

Thursday 21 July 2016

Ma Ba Tha monks a “divisive” minority, other clergymen say

Source Myanmarnow, 20 July

Ma Ba Tha monks gathered during a major convention in Yangon's Insein township in 2015. (Photo: Swe Win/Myanmar Now)

By Htet Khaung Linn

YANGON (Myanmar Now) - Several revered Buddhist monks from across Myanmar have spoken out against the nationalist Ma Ba Tha movement, describing it as a minority group, and its actions as divisive and politicised.

The monks joined a growing chorus of criticism of the movement, which was recently disowned by the State Sangha, hit with legal complaints andwarned by the National League for Democracy (NLD) government.

U Ariya Bhivamsa, an abbot at Myawaddi Mingyi Monastery in Mandalay, said some monks had initially viewed Ma Ba Tha as a protector of Buddhism, but most had come to realise that it was radical and close to the military-linked Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP). 

"The majority of the Sangha community do not support Ma Ba Tha. But while the good and disciplined monks keep silent to avoid disputes, Ma Ba Tha monks are being boastful," he told Myanmar Now.

U Sandar Siri, an abbott at Shwe Thein Monastery in Yangon who participated in the 2007 Saffron Revolution, said Ma Ba Tha was a malign influence and caused disagreements among monks.

"Myanmar's Sangha [Buddhist order] never experienced any rift since Theravada Buddhism started to flourish here. But Ma Ba Tha has now caused a rift," he said. "They must stop their works as they are going against the will of the majority of the monks."

U Eissaria from Vimutisukha Viraha Monastery in Hpakant Township, Kayin State, another leading monk during the Saffron Revolution, said Ma Ba Tha's attacks on other religions and its support for the USDP during the 2015 elections had undermined relations between the public and clergymen. 

"There has been a remarkable division among people and monks. The works of Ma Ba Tha are disturbing Myanmar's communities - instead of protecting race and religion," he said.

U Eissaria added that the Ma Ba Tha "attacked the NLD with extremist ideology."


U Eissaria said Ma Ba Tha had also done considerable damage to the international reputation of Myanmar's monks, noting that he and fellow clergymen had been labelled nationalists during their trips abroad to Denmark, France and Sweden.

"My friends told me such disturbances are happening in these countries since the emergence of Ma Ba Tha," he said.

U Cintika, an abbott from Maha Vijitarama Monastery in Mandalay, said Ma Ba Tha's supporters were so aggressive that they would even threaten moderate monks who publicly questioned the movement.

"There have been disputes and accusations between pro- and anti-Ma Ba Tha monks," he said, adding that he recently received a phone call in which supposed supporters of U Wirathu, a firebrand nationalist monk based in Mandalay, had threatened to kill him.

An unexplained incident last month had raised further concerns. U Cintika said a motorbike crashed into him while he was walking back from a local pagoda at night and the drivers sped away without identifying themselves.

Ma Ba Tha monks contacted by Myanmar Now offered a limited response to the criticisms levelled against the organisation.

U Vimala Buddhi, another firebrand monk based in the Mon State capital Moulmein, said Ma Ba Tha had no political affiliation and only worked to defend Buddhism.

U Sopaka, a Buddhist monk who is the official spokesperson of Ma Ba Tha, said the organisation would continue to strengthen Buddhism, regardless of the statements by other monks, the State Sangha or the government.

"We have clear objectives and a roadmap - we will implement them in the future," he said.


The Ma Ba Tha rose to prominence in the wake of the 2012 communal violence between Rakhine State Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims, and it initially gained sympathy for their views from Myanmar's Buddhist majority.

Ahead of the 2015 elections, Ma Ba Tha monks portrayed Buddhism as threatened by Myanmar's Muslim minority and said the USDP should continue to run the country in order to protect Buddhism.

Tensions between Ma Ba Tha and the government have been steadily rising since the NLD assumed power in April, as the movement tried to pressure the NLD during its attempts to resolve the Rakhine crisis.

On July 3, the NLD's Yangon Region Chief Minister said the country does not need Ma Ba Tha. The monks said they would respond with a large protest, but eventually backed out.

It appears to have been somewhat of a turning point and the government, NLD members and senior monks have all begun to criticise and pressure the Ma Ba Tha.

Last week, the State Sangha Maha Nayaka Committee distanced itself from Ma Ba Tha, saying it had never officially endorsed the movement and that it was operating outside of Sangha rules and regulations.

A day later, U Wirathu was hit with a defamation suit filed with police by a Yangon charity over highly insulting remarks he made against UN Human Rights Rapporteur for Myanmar Yanghee Lee.

(Editing by Paul Vrieze)

Wednesday 20 July 2016

Myanmar's military investigates a 'war crime' in an era of reform

Source Reuters, 19 jul

Women pose while holding portraits of their killed relatives (L-R) Aik Sai, Aik Maung and Aik Lort after their bodies were found in a grave last June at Mong Yaw village in Lashio, Myanmar July 10, 2016.Reuters/Soe Zeya Tun

Women pose while holding portraits of their killed relatives (L-R) Aik Sai, Aik Maung and Aik Lort after their bodies were found in a grave last June at Mong Yaw village in Lashio, Myanmar July 10, 2016. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun

A portrait of Sai Shw Lu,17, is seen at his home after his body was found in a grave last June at Mong Yaw village in Lashio, Myanmar July 10, 2016. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun

Women sit with a baby, son of one of their killed relatives next to pictures of victims Aik Lu (L) and Aik Sai after their bodies were found in a grave last June at Mong Yaw village in Lashio, Myanmar July 10, 2016. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun

Women pose while holding portraits of their killed relatives (L-R) Aik Sai, Aik Maung and Aik Lort after their bodies were found in a grave last June at Mong Yaw village in Lashio, Myanmar July 10, 2016. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun

The first and second bodies pulled from the shallow grave in northern Myanmar didn't belong to Aik Chin's missing son. Nor, he prayed, did the third, whose face was unrecognizable from a severe beating.

But then Aik Chin checked the corpse's fingertips - his 17-year-old son had lost one in a childhood accident - and his legs began to buckle.

"When I realized it was my little boy, I collapsed and blacked out," he said. "I don't remember anything after that."

Soldiers entered the village of Mong Yaw on June 25 and rounded up dozens of men, witnesses told Reuters. Aik Chin's son and four others were led away, never to be seen alive again. Two other men - brothers - were shot while trying to escape on a motorbike and their bodies found in a ditch, villagers said.

Myanmar's armed forces have often been accused of abuses by human rights groups and Western governments during decades of conflict with ethnic armed separatists in its wild border zones. What is unusual in this case is that the military high command has been taking the allegations seriously.

Major Thein Zaw of the army's Northeast Command said a court martial had begun, although he could not say how many soldiers were on trial or what charges they faced, and local government officials said several soldiers had been arrested.

Villagers say a senior army officer has promised them a full investigation.

However, multiple requests by Reuters for comment from the army in the northern city Lashio and the capital Naypyitaw were declined or went unanswered. The military said it would address the issue at a news conference on Wednesday.

Ringed by misty hills, Mong Yaw lies in a remote corner of northern Shan State, a region ravaged by war and poverty. Thousands of people have been displaced by decades of fighting between the military and ethnic insurgents.

Last year the military lost hundreds of men in a bid to re-take a rebel-held region bordering China. Fuelling the conflict is Myanmar's lucrative narcotics trade, which is centered in lawless Shan state.


It is extremely rare in Myanmar for soldiers to be held accountable for alleged abuses, or for such allegations to be investigated transparently, rights groups such as Amnesty International say.

The military's response this time suggests a heightened sensitivity about its image as it tries to present itself as a responsible partner in Myanmar's democratic transition and seeks closer ties with its Western counterparts.

Myanmar was a military dictatorship for nearly half a century until a quasi-civilian government of former generals replaced the junta in 2011 and launched a series of political and economic reforms.

Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi was swept into office in April after winning a landslide election last year, but the military still holds immense power.

Police and local officials told villagers in Mong Yaw in the days after the late June killings that they couldn't investigate because the military was already doing so.

Then, on July 3, the region's vice-commander, Major General Kyaw Kyaw Soe, visited Mong Yaw and promised a full probe, said villagers. He also gave each bereaved family 300,000 kyat ($250) as a gesture of sympathy, local people said.

General Kyaw Kyaw Soe said some soldiers had been arrested, but gave no further details.

This surprised local activists, who say they have spent decades documenting similar incidents by ill-disciplined troops amid a culture of impunity.

"The military has never done anything like this," said Sai Han, an ethnic Shan leader of the Tai Youth Organization, based in Lashio. He called what happened at Mong Yaw a "war crime" committed by soldiers against civilians.

News of the killings had spread fast, aided by cellphones that have only recently become ubiquitous in Myanmar and by testimony from a population emboldened in an era of reform, Sai Han said, suggesting that the publicity had made it impossible for the military to brush aside the allegations.


Sai Mong Tan, 22, was weeding a cornfield with his 17-year-old brother, Sai Shwe Lu, when the soldiers arrived. "They seemed drunk," he told Reuters. "I could smell alcohol on them. They were very angry."

The military later said they had come under attack from rebels in the area, although Sai Han and other local activists said there had been no insurgent activity.

The brothers were marched to a nearby road, where dozens more soldiers had detained about a hundred people, and were forced to squat with their hands behind their heads.

The soldiers beat and interrogated the men, demanding to know if anyone had spotted insurgents in the area, said Sai Mong Tan.

He then watched as soldiers tied up his younger brother and the four other victims and led them away.

Reuters could not independently confirm this account, although it matched the version of events described by other villagers and local officials and rights activists.

Sai Mong Tan believes his brother was singled out because he didn't speak Burmese and couldn't answer the soldiers' questions.

Most people in Mong Yaw are from the Shan or Palaung ethnic minorities. Soldiers mostly hail from the majority Bamar ethnic group, and often accuse villagers of harboring insurgents.

Aik Sai, 23, was also among the five men led away. By nightfall, his fretful wife Aye Lu, 18, was hiding at home with their newborn child.

"The soldiers came to the village and told us to stay inside," she said. "I didn't dare go out."

Only three days later, when the soldiers had left, did the villagers start looking for the missing men. A blood-spattered path above a cornfield led them to patches of recently turned soil.

(Reporting by Andrew R.C. Marshall and Wa Lone; Editing by Alex Richardson)

Monday 18 July 2016

Malaysians hold mass rally calling for end to Burmese persecution of Rohingyas

Source Asian correspiondent, 15 July

Thousands of protesters marched to the Burmese embassy in Kuala Lumpur calling for an end to the persecution of the Rohingyan Muslim minorities on July 15, 2016. Image via @PAS Pusat

Thousands of protesters marched to the Burmese embassy in Kuala Lumpur calling for an end to the persecution of the Rohingyan Muslim minorities on July 15, 2016. Image via @PAS Pusat

SEVERAL thousand protesters marched to the Burmese (Myanmar) embassy in Kuala Lumpur on Friday to denounce the treatment of the Rohingya Muslim minority in the predominantly Buddhist country.

Local reports say about 5,000 people took part in the rally to submit a memorandum to the Burmese mission in the Malaysian capital, but other estimates place the number at around 2,000 protesters who carried banners calling for the end of Burma's alleged silence on systematic genocide and persecution of Muslims in Rakhine state.

Image via @PAS Pusat

Image via @PAS Pusat

The procession, which was organised by Malaysia's Pan Islamic Party (PAS) and other non-governmental organisations, began after Friday prayers at the Tabung Haji mosque on Jalan Tun Razak at about 2pm, before the crowd made its way to the embassy some 2 kilometers away from where they gathered.

According to local newspaper Sinar Harian, the memorandum addressed to the Burmese government called for the country to recognize the rights of the stateless Rohingyas.

Sectarian violence, which erupted in 2012, has seen dozens of Muslim Rohingyas killed by vigilante mobs comprising hardline Buddhist nationalist groups and followers, with thousands more displaced.

SEE ALSO: Human rights group unimpressed by Burma's new government

However, PAS deputy president Tuan Ibrahim Tuan Man, who was present at the rally, said the Burmese embassy did not send a representative to accept the protest note, adding he was disappointed that the envoy "turned a cold shoulder" to the crowd.

"We urge the ambassador to Kuala Lumpur to apologize for failing to send a representative," he said.

"They should at least send some one to receive the memorandum."

He said PAS also condemned the Burmese government and its leaders for their alleged silence on the killing of Rohingyas and the violation of their human rights.

Tuan Man also called on the Malaysian and ASEAN governments, as well as Organisation of Islamic Countries (OIC) member states, to take action on the matter.

"The governments must discuss the issue in ASEAN (meetings) to resolve the issue of refugees who have created a burden in other countries," he said.

Wednesday 13 July 2016

Burma: Rohingya abandoned by NLD and Aung San Suu Kyi

Source Greenleftweekly, July 11, 2016
By Habib
Right-wing Buddhist extremists.
The entire population of Burma supported Aung San Suu Kyi when she fought to get rid of the military dictatorship of Burma (Myanmar) during the 1990s.
She received tremendous support from all communities, including non-Buddhist ethnicities and Muslim communities. No one considered what her policy on other religions and ethnic areas was. People just wanted to get rid of the regime.
Suu Kyi campaigned all over Burma, organising and educating people living in remote areas. She formed the National League for Democracy (NLD), and issued a membership card with her signature to whoever joined the party.
Many Rohingyas, a predominantly Muslim ethnic group, joined the NLD because they were the most oppressed people under the military government. Some were jailed for working with the NLD. They believed Suu Kyi to be the one to restore their livelihoods.
Today, Suu Kyi says she does not know whether the Rohingya people are citizens of Burma. Nowadays, she no longer speaks the words "unity" and "solidarity".

No rule of law
We would like to see the government the NLD is participating in uphold the rule of law and respect the dignity and rights of the entire population regardless of race, religion and colour.
We call on the government to act in a timely and appropriate manner to ensure the safety, security and dignity of all people and to ensure a free, fair and equal justice system is available to all.
The NLD government must immediately halt all forms of ongoing persecution, oppression, restriction, segregation and vigilante attacks against minority groups; particularly the Rohingya from Arakan (Rakhine) state of western Burma.
We also call for effective action to prevent ongoing campaigns of racial hatred organised by radical groups, such as the ultra-nationalist Buddhist group MaBaTha (969) Association, which is supported by some politicians, ex-generals and their family members, along with Yangon-based Rakhine people.
MaBaTha, led by Abbot Thi Dagu and the radical monk Wira Thu, has been making wide-ranging attempts to destabilise the country's peace and harmony by preaching racial hatred. Such campaigns are illegal and contravene the current law, but authorities have taken no action.

Backing the Buddhist majority
Despite her accolades, Suu Kyi's party has not demonstrated a resolve to protect the rights of the most vulnerable people in Burma. Rather, her party has cleansed itself of all Muslim members who had been NLD members for decades.
Suu Kyi has sided with majority Buddhist opinion. She has been unwilling to address either the Rohingya crisis or other Muslim communities' plight. Conciliation began with Buddhist communities and left minority issues to be dealt with by the military.
Suu Kyi has never visited or shown her condolences to the hundreds of thousands of displaced people who are victims of state-sponsored ethnic cleansing pogroms. Rather she has remained silent and disregarded their plight because they are not of the Buddhist faith.
Since she was released from house arrest, Suu Kyi has picked up medals across the world, adding to her fame — but she stayed away from Muslim countries.
Before coming to power, Suu Kyi blamed the problems of her country on the lack of the rule of law. She also referred the question of the Rohingya to government, saying it is the government's responsibility to ensure the safety and security of the entire population.
Since becoming head of state, Suu Kyi has failed to uphold the same laws she once insisted upon. Suu Kyi has been reluctant to protect the Rohingya people from ongoing racist vigilante attacks. She has made no effort to ease the humanitarian crisis or to lift the restrictions across the Arakan/Rakhine state and minority areas.
Despite ample historical evidence and the recognition of past governments, Suu Kyi continues to ignore the Rohingya people. Suu Kyi, on behalf of the NLD, has even requested the United States ambassador not use the term Rohingya.
This is a manipulation against existing communities who are daily enduring the country's worst crisis. Suu Kyi's actions demonstrate that rather than standing with victims for an inclusive society, she always takes side of those sharing her Burmese ethnicity.
Suu Kyi's actions are difficult to understand. Her stance on a robust democracy has been stained.
The reasons are that, although a global icon for democracy, Suu Kyi has never believed in federalism for Burma, as she knows ethnic minorities do not want to live under the rule of the Burmese.

Backing the generals
The military regime's generals are taking advantage of her dislike of federalism and avoidance of the Rohingya issue. As a result, the generals have been able to gain much needed protection for themselves for the crimes they committed over the past 50 years.
After several meetings with generals, both sides agreed to allow the military to continue to hold three cabinet posts — defence, immigration and border affairs — and the interior ministry, in accordance with the 2008 constitution. Suu Kyi calculated the agreement was the best way to maintain the image of a democracy icon and Nobel Peace Laureate while sharing power with the military. It gives her no responsibility for the Burmese army controlling minority ethnic areas or the Rohingya issue.
Under this agreement, minorities' rights and federal democracy will no doubt be quashed by military power or languish in a parliament dominated by the Buddhist majority. This is evidenced by the recent parliamentary vote against Rohingya citizenship rights.
The Suu Kyi government's support for the military-drafted citizenship law of 1982 is an excuse to exclude the Rohingya. It has since been applied to the entire Muslim population of the country.
Despite the fact that Rohingya have become de-facto stateless people, they still have historical evidence and official documents proving themselves as native people of Arakan State.
However, the central rulers are reluctant to recognise their identities, allow admission of this evidence or provide citizenship rights. For example, the government has released Buddhist political prisoners, but gives no consideration to Muslim political prisoners from the central regions and Arakan State.
Suu Kyi has also appointed two ex-military personnel from Thein Sein's former military government. This action confused and disappointed the followers of other faiths.
Minister for Religious Affairs Ag Ko was the deputy minister of religious affairs under Thein Sein and only favoured the welfare of the majority Buddhist population. And Zaw Htay, who has spread violence across Burma since 2012 via social media, has been appointed spokesperson for the presidential office. That Suu Kyi knowingly appointed these two figures in her cabinet shows what she truly has in mind.
There is no reason for a government controlling the country not to restore and apply the rule of law. Yet today, we still see some politicians, Buddhist monks, famous icons and academics feeling confident to insult non-Buddhist minorities. For example, the Yangon-based actor of Rakhine origin Ne Toe starred in a movie called Stray Grass that openly insults non-Buddhist religions.
In another example, during the middle of the continuing humanitarian crisis in Arakan State, immigration authorities are conducting population checks in accordance with the demands of the Rakhine Buddhist people. At the same time, the government has provided complete assistance for hundreds of Bangladeshi Rakhine settling on Rohingya people's land in Arakan State.
The new NLD government is keeping the rigid policy of restrictions over Rohingya people's movement, health care, education, rations, livelihood and rights. It allows the continuation of segregation, divided law, oppression, persecution and mass killings. This has not only affected the Rohingya, but anyone of Islamic faith and other minorities. There are about 150,000 displaced people locked up inside ghetto camps across 42 locations in Arakan State and about 1 million people who have remained in systematic confinement since 2012. International aid workers are also systematically removed and threatened.
These people's rights have been taken away by the misuse of power. The actions are reminiscent of the treatment of Jewish people in Nazi Germany and are tantamount to genocide. The situation can be improved and resolved if Suu Kyi wishes.

International action needed
In this regard, the Melbourne-based Australian Burmese Rohingya Organisation calls on the international community, the United Nations and its agencies, neighbouring countries and developed countries, including Australia, to pressure the current government to:
• Install equality in laws, a justice system for all regardless of race, religion and colour, and take effective action against incidents of racial attacks and hate speech;
• End all restrictions, oppression, persecution, segregation, attacks and tyrannical abuses against minorities;
• Assist in the relocation of displaced Rohingya and Kaman people of Arakan state and other displaced people from northern regions to return to their villages of origin and provide facilities to rebuild their houses. Return properties and lands seized by Rakhine people and Rakhine authorities;
• Pave the way to equal access to public services such as education, health care and other welfare services;
• Restore citizenship rights for Rohingya and Kaman people and allow for the application for citizenship using access to evidence fairly;
• Stop the relocation of Bangladeshi Rakhine people from Bangladesh into Arakan state; and
• Immediately free all Muslim prisoners including those from Arakan state and central Burma.
We also encourage countries such as Singapore, Malaysia, Japan, Australia, Britain, the US and Canada to scrutinise and block the entry visas of Burmese people who actively preach racial hatred and anti-social behaviours.
[Habib blogs at Arakan Diary and works with the Australian Burmese Rohingya Organisation.]
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Monday 4 July 2016

Mob Burns Down Mosque in 2nd Such Recent Attack in Myanmar

Source nytimes, 2 July

YANGON, Myanmar — A mob has burned down a mosque in northern Myanmar in the second such attack in just over a week in the predominantly Buddhist nation, a newspaper reported Saturday.

The state-owned Global New Light of Myanmar said security forces in Hpakant in Kachin state were unable to control Friday's attackers, who were armed with sticks, knives and other weapons.
It said the mosque's leaders had failed to meet a June 30 deadline set by local authorities to tear down the structure to make way for construction of a bridge.

On June 23, a mob demolished a mosque and a Muslim cemetery in a village in Bago Region, about 60 kilometers (36 miles) northeast of Yangon, reportedly as a consequence of a personal dispute.

Sporadic but fierce violence against Muslims in predominantly Buddhist Myanmar has occurred since rioting in 2012 forced more than 100,000 members of the Muslim Rohingya minority to flee their homes in western Rakhine State.

Discrimination against the Rohingya is widespread and the government refuses to recognize most as citizens, treating even long-term residents as illegal immigrants.

The U.N. special human rights envoy to Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, ended a 12-day tour of the country urging that the recently seated government of Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi clamp down on such attacks.

"It is clear that tensions along religious lines remain pervasive across Myanmar society. Incidents of hate speech, incitement to discrimination, hatred and violence, and of religious intolerance continue to be a cause for concern," Lee said in a statement Friday.

She expressed specific concern over attacks on religious properties.

"It is vital that the government take prompt action, including by conducting thorough investigations and holding perpetrators to account. I am therefore concerned by reports that the government will not pursue action in the most recent case due to fears of fueling greater tensions and provoking more conflict. This is precisely the wrong signal to send," she said, referring to the June 23 incident.

No one has been arrested for the destruction of the mosques, though the Global New Light of Myanmar said authorities were investigating the attack in Hpakant.

Human rights groups have criticized Suu Kyi for failing to act decisively against the Buddhist extremists encouraging the attacks. The military-backed government she succeeded also did little to ease tensions.

Friday 1 July 2016

Azeem Ibrahim: Myanmar's ethnic minorities still need the world's protection

Source Asianreview, 30 June

People gather at the Baw Du Pa camp for stateless Rohingya people in the western state of Rakhine, Myanmar, on May 3. A fire there left 440 families homeless. © AP
The U.S. in late May eased but did not remove sanctions against Myanmar -- sending a signal that summed up the view among many Western governments of the situation in the once closed and repressive country. Myanmar has made progress toward democratizing in recent years, including electing its first civilian government since 1962 in November 2015, when the National League for Democracy, led by Aung San Suu Kyi, stormed to power by winning absolute majorities in both chambers of Myanmar's parliament.

But on some other measures the country has been slipping backward. On humanitarian issues, the move toward democracy has been accompanied not by an opening of society and increased rights and protections for all the citizens of the country, but quite the contrary. As the majority of the population is finding its political voice after decades of repression, radical nationalists from the Buddhist majority are using that voice to abuse the country's minorities -- particularly the Muslim Rohingya, who account for an estimated 1 million to 1.3 million people out of the total population of 53 million or more.

What are we in the West to make of this conundrum? How can we approach a country where an increase in democracy does not correlate with an increase in the other social values we hold dear, but where humanitarian concerns and democracy are pulling in different directions? And how can we approach sanctions policy in these circumstances?

Myanmar is perhaps one of the toughest nuts to crack in international diplomacy. Since it gained independence from Britain in 1948, it has largely withdrawn from the international community. From 1962 to 2011 it was governed by a reclusive, xenophobic military establishment -- so much so that its closest allies during this time were China and North Korea.

But in the last decade, things have changed dramatically. Growing unrest in the country in 2007, topped off by the government's disastrous response to Cyclone Nargis, which killed an estimated 140,000 people in 2008, has seriously undermined the position of the once all-powerful military establishment. From this came the country's bold step toward the democratic civilian administration it has today.

This movement toward democracy has been matched by increasing rapprochement with the international community. Long-standing sanctions have been eased, new trade and investment deals have been struck, and U.S. President Barack Obama visited the country in 2012 and 2014, while British Prime Minister David Cameron called for lifting sanctions against Myanmar as early as 2012.

Clearly, we want to encourage Myanmar to continue to make progress on this metric. We want it to become a full member of the international community, and we want its citizens to become full citizens of the world. And we want to trade with them and help the country develop economically, as well as politically.
But as things stand, it is difficult to figure out how to reward the progress they have made, without also seeming to tolerate the human rights abuses in the country. In this regard, even Suu Kyi is making things much more difficult for us than they should be.

STATELESS ROHINGYA The Rohingya, the people at the center of this issue, are a Muslim minority in a country that is Buddhist by law and constitution, and have been denied citizenship as a group since 1982, rendering them one of the world's largest stateless populations. They have suffered repeated attempts at what some claim is a deliberate policy of ethnic cleansing, and United Nations agencies and international nongovernmental organizations have described them as "the most oppressed people on Earth."
Some estimate there are roughly 2 million Rohingya from Myanmar, and that nearly half have been driven from the country in recent decades. Many are languishing in refugee camps in Bangladesh, Malaysia and Indonesia, or have been forced into slavery in Thailand and elsewhere.
Since 2012, repeated waves of violence, instigated by Buddhist extremists in their native state of Rakhine (formerly known as Arakan), and aided and abetted by elements in the police, military and border agencies, have corralled as many as 120,000 to 140,000 Rohingya into makeshift camps for internally displaced people, where they are routinely denied medical care, education and adequate food, to say nothing of work or other economic opportunities.
For her part, Nobel Laureate Suu Kyi has been disappointingly slow to address this issue. She may have decided that political expediency trumps human decency, showing herself open to doing deals with extremist Buddhist monks linked to abuses and the radical Rakhine nationalists who have been instigating and carrying out the violence.

Along with those extremists who wear ethnic cleansing as a badge of patriotic honor, she has refused to even acknowledge the existence of the group. Just the other week she reprimanded the U.S. ambassador to Myanmar for using the word "Rohingya" in expressing his condolences to the families of the victims of a boat accident in which some 30 Rohingya died, along with members of other minority groups. They had been trying to get from their camp to the nearby town to visit the hospital and the market -- amenities they are denied in the camp.
Suu Kyi does, however, seem to understand the frustration of U.N. agencies and nongovernmental organizations with the situation of the Rohingya. She will be heading a new, 27-member committee just set up for the "implementation of peace, stability and development in Rakhine state." But there are reasons to be skeptical about how much this committee will achieve -- the Rohingya will not be represented on it, while officials from Rakhine state who were in office at the height of the violence will be part of the committee.

This will be a serious test for the new government's international reputation. But until there is tangible progress, can the West really reduce sanctions in good conscience? Perhaps not, but we must not take it off the agenda. We should not, of course, punish Myanmar's population for the abuses of an extremist minority. If we want to welcome the people of Myanmar into the 21st century, we cannot do so without dangling a carrot in front of them.
But it is equally obvious that we still need to wave the stick. We must attach conditions to sanctions relief on the metric of progress toward democratization, but we should put at least as much emphasis on the way Myanmar treats the Rohingya and other oppressed minorities.

Any further exemptions and licenses to trade from the U.S. and other allies should be strictly regulated to make sure no individual, company or community that contributes to oppression is rewarded. Individuals, organizations and institutions that push for, enable or acquiesce to ethnic cleansing should be targeted and should see tightening sanctions. And the legal framework for sanctions we currently have in place should remain in force in perpetuity until such time as all those born in Myanmar are granted equal citizenship and full protections of all their rights, irrespective of ethnicity or religion.
Azeem Ibrahim is a fellow at Mansfield College at the University of Oxford and author of "The Rohingyas: Inside Myanmar's Hidden Genocide."