speaking out against Aung San Suu Kyi covering up Rohingya genocide, The Guildhall protest against "Freedom of the City Award", London, 8 May 2017

At the London School of Economic "Rule of Law Roundtable", 16 June 2012

Speaking on the Slow Burning Genocide of Rohingyas in Burma, with Professor Amartya Sen, Harvard University, Nov 2014

N. Ireland peace activist Mairead Maguire presenting Zarni with the Cultivation of Harmony Award on behalf of the Parliament of the World's Religions, Salt Lake City, USA 18 Oct 2015

Drafting the Oslo Communique calling for the end to Myanmar's Rohingya Genocide, Voksanaasen, Oslo, 27 May 2015

"National Traitor and Enemy of the State" for his opposition to Rohingya Genocide. Sun Rays, 16/9/17

Myanmar monks’ latest power play

Monks and protesters shout during a march to denounce foreign criticism of the country's treatment of stateless Rohingya Muslims, in Yangon, Myanmar, May 27, 2015. (Photo: Aubrey Belford/Reuters)

Myanmar's dangerously racist Ma-Ba-Tha (or Race And Faith Protection League) and un-officially Fascist Government are like hand and gloves. 

By Oren Samet 
July 29, 2015

It’s been a good month for the group of nationalist Buddhist monks in Myanmar known as the Association for the Protection of Race and Religion (or, more commonly, by the Burmese acronym Ma Ba Tha). Formed in the aftermath of deadly interreligious violence in western Myanmar in 2012, the group has been a fixture of the political scene as the country has struggled to sustain the forward momentum of its ongoing democratic transition. 

Along with the associated Buddhist extremist 969 movement, Ma Ba Tha’s main contribution to the political debate since its formation has been its effective fomentation of anti-Muslim sentiment nationwide. Prominent monk Wirathu—famed for his rabid anti-Muslim tirades—is a member of the group, and it has amassed a sizeable following as it has ratcheted up its xenophobic rhetoric. 

While Buddhist monks are constitutionally barred from voting in Myanmar, they still wield immense political influence in the conservative majority Buddhist country. Scoring two major victories on July 7, Ma Ba Tha made clear the extent to which it has the capacity to influence Burmese politics and policy decisions as the 2015 general election approaches. 

The first of these victories was the Myanmar parliament’s passage of the Buddhist Women’s Special Marriage Bill. The bill places restrictions on the ability of Buddhist women to marry men of other faiths, including requiring interfaith couples to seek permission from local authorities in order to wed. 

Ma Ba Tha had been promoting the bill for years as part of a series of legislation designed to “protect” Buddhism in Myanmar. The first of these bills, which enables the government to mandate birth spacing and other reproductive restrictions in specific areas of the country, was signed into law in May

Despite outcry from prominent international voices, which denounced the Marriage Bill as an affront to women’s and minority rights, the bill passed by an overwhelming margin—524 votes to just 44 in parliament. The lopsided tally demonstrated that few national politicians are willing to cross the powerful Ma Ba Tha lobby on issues it views as its core priorities. 

Ma Ba Tha secured its second major victory when the government signed an order backing down from its plans to build a series of new high-rise developments near the revered Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon. 

In the preceding months, Ma Ba Tha had led the charge against the projects, which critics argued would obstruct views of the Shwedagon Pagoda and possibly disrupt the foundations of the sacred site. Just before their cancellation, Ma Ba Tha had threatened to lead nationwide protests if the government moved ahead with them. 

Authorities in February had temporarily suspended the projects, but until recently they had been hesitant to scuttle plans entirely, having already inked agreements with developers. The ultimate decision to cancel them for good after Ma Ba Tha began aggressively campaigning therefore proved to be an impressive achievement for the monks. 

The political dynamics behind these recent victories are complex. Despite its leaders’ claims of political independence, many observers and activists contend that Ma Ba Tha’s real strength comes, in large part, from a mutually beneficial working relationship with the current government. 

Indeed, despite the group’s odious international profile as a xenophobic collection of “mad monks,” the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) has effectively embraced it. Government officials have, for the most part, looked the other way when Ma Ba Tha leaders have engaged in divisive hate speech against Muslims in Myanmar, allowing this type of rhetoric to proliferate, while cracking down on individuals accused of “insulting” Buddhism. 

In return, the USDP has benefited thus far from Ma Ba Tha’s presence on the political scene. Despite the fact that monks are generally supposed to remain above the fray of electoral politics, one Ma Ba Tha leader flat out told fellow members at a recent gathering in Yangon to rally support for the ruling party in advance of elections this November. 

Beyond such direct support, Ma Ba Tha’s rhetoric and actions have also yielded the added bonus of heightened religious tensions, which stir up divisive nationalist sentiment that threatens to undermine opposition parties, including the National League for Democracy (NLD)—the USDP’s biggest rival in elections this November. 

But the cancellation of the high-rise developments near Shwedagon Pagoda represents a harbinger of potential problems for the future of this presently productive relationship. The campaign—Ma Ba Tha’s first targeting development projects, rather than the country’s vulnerable Muslim minority—proved that the monks have their own broader agenda. 

In many ways, the campaign was a test of Ma Ba Tha’s true political heft. Getting the government to buy into a scheme to further restrict the rights of an already persecuted minority was relatively easy. But getting an administration, which has made economic development its key priority, to backtrack on firm commitments to developers was a much heavier lift. 

Government leaders, who’s tacit support (or at the very least hands-off approach) has allowed Ma Ba Tha to amass a sizeable public following, likely believed that the group would remain focused on pushing for anti-Muslim policies they had no problem enacting. 

But by enabling the group’s rise, the ruling party may have unwittingly created a monster it cannot so easily control. 

As Ma Ba Tha leaders flex their political muscles, more dramatic policy clashes with the current government could arise. Future governments, too, will have to contend with this powerful and increasingly unpredictable political force. 

Oren Samet is a researcher on domestic politics in Myanmar and democracy and human rights issues worldwide. He is a research and communications officer for ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR).

The Dangerous Rise of Buddhist Chauvinism

Buddhist monks protest against a visit to Myanmar by a high-level delegation from the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), in Yangon in November 2013. The clergy play a leading role in stoking anti-Muslim feeling. (Photo: Soe Zeya Tun—Reuters)

By Yuriko Koike
July 28, 2015

TOKYO – The Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, composed no sutta to religious hatred or racial animus. And yet Buddhist chauvinism now threatens the democratic process in both Myanmar (Burma) and Sri Lanka. Some of the same Buddhist monks who braved Myanmar’s military junta in the “Saffron Revolution” of 2007 today incite violence against members of the country’s Muslim Rohingya minority. In Sri Lanka, the ethnic chauvinism of the Buddhist Sinhalese, stirred by a former president determined to reclaim power, mocks the supposed goal of reconciliation with the vanquished Hindu Tamils.

In Myanmar, Buddhist racism is at the root of a virtual civil war in the state of Rakhine and is fueling a humanitarian crisis in which hundreds of thousands of Muslim Rohingya have fled their country by land and sea. Most ominous for Myanmar’s future, given that all genocides are linked to official action, this racial and religious antagonism is in no way spontaneous. The Rohingya have already been stripped of their Myanmar citizenship, and a raft of new and proposed legislation that would further marginalize Islam seems certain to provoke further violence.

A new marriage law, for example, requires interfaith couples to register their intent to marry with local authorities, who will display a public notice of the engagement; only if no citizen objects to the union – highly unlikely in the present tense climate – is the couple permitted to wed. Another bill in the pipeline would forbid anyone under the age of 18 from converting to another religion, and would require even an adult seeking to convert to gain the permission – subject to repeated interrogation – of local officials.

Perhaps most disturbing, a third recent bill would allow for the imposition of Chinese-style population control on any group with a growth rate that is higher than the national average. Women could be ordered to wait, say, three years after the birth of a child before having another. Here, too, local governments, which are the most susceptible to popular prejudices, will be empowered to implement a law that seems specifically targeted at the Rohingyas, with their large families.

These laws do not yet amount to an updated version of the Nuremberg laws (the anti-Jewish legislation enacted by the Nazis in 1935). But they do reflect the agenda of those seeking to fan Buddhist resentment in order to thwart Myanmar’s democratic transition. That dark ambition has gained urgency, because the country is due to hold its first democratic presidential election since the transition began in 2011.

The Rohingyas are, of course, the main target of this strategy. But there is another target as well: Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate and opposition leader.

For now, Suu Kyi is precluded from running for President by a cynical constitutional provision that excludes anyone whose spouse or child has a foreign passport (Suu Kyi’s two sons by her late English husband hold British passports). Nonetheless, the regime, still fearing her popularity, is playing the race and religion card in order to discredit her and her party, the National League for Democracy, which won all but one of the parliamentary seats contested in the recent general election (and swept the annulled 1990 election).

By stoking Buddhist violence against the Rohingya, the regime aims to damage Suu Kyi and the NLD’s chances of victory in two ways. If she speaks out for the Rohingya, her appeal among Buddhists, the vast majority of Myanmar’s citizens, may be dented enough to preserve the army’s grip on power. If she does not defend the Rohingya, her aura of moral leadership may be dimmed among her own supporters, both at home and abroad.

So far, Suu Kyi has circumvented this booby trap with the verbal evasiveness that one would expect of an ordinary politician, rather than someone of her courage and standing. But, as the violence grows and the election nears, her room for maneuver will undoubtedly narrow. Instead of highlighting the country’s real needs – serious land reform, an anti-corruption drive, and freeing the economy from oligarchic control – she may instead be drawn into defending an unpopular minority.

A similar political imperative is at the heart of the Sinhalese chauvinism that has made a sudden return to public life in Sri Lanka. The religious and ethnic passions of the Sinhalese were encouraged during the final, bloody push that ended Sri Lanka’s quarter-century of civil war with the Tamil Tigers in 2009. But instead of seeking reconciliation with the Tamils following their defeat, then-President Mahinda Rajapaksa continued to play on ethnic hatred as he subverted Sri Lanka’s democracy.

Rajapaksa’s unexpected defeat by a coalition of Sri Lanka’s democrats and Tamil political parties in last January’s presidential election – a result that he then sought to annul – should have ended both his career and the politics of race-baiting. But the former president is now mounting a furious comeback bid and might well win the parliamentary election scheduled for August 17.

One reason for Rajapaksa’s potential victory is his deep pockets; another is that he can probably count on support from China, having allowed the construction of ports and other facilities for the People’s Liberation Army during his presidency. But the key to his fortunes has been his effort to stoke the fears of the majority Sinhalese.

Rajapaksa is thus placing Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe in the same difficult position faced in Myanmar by Suu Kyi. So far, Wickremesinghe has succeeded in suggesting that the Sinhalese have more to fear from the return of Rajapaksa than they do from the country’s ethnic minorities. But no one should ever underestimate the power of hatred to undermine a democracy from within.

Yuriko Koike, Japan's former defense minister and national security adviser, was Chairwoman of Japan's Liberal Democratic Party's General Council and currently is a member of the National Diet.

Election will be neither historic nor consequential

File photo of military appointees at a parliamentary session in April 2012. (PHOTO: Reuters)

By Maung Zarni
July 26, 2015

Last week on BBC, Myanmar’s Commander-in-Chief Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing said confidently that he “expects a free and fair election” sponsored by his military scheduled for November this year, and will honour the electoral results. The BBC hailed not only the general’s pro-democracy pledge, labelling this year’s polls “historic”, but also the very fact that the country’s most powerful soldier – generals in Myanmar are traditionally media-shy – sat down with the BBC for an interview.

Sitting across from a row of microphones in the BBC’s London studio, the World Service Newsday’s presenter Clare McDonnell asked me what I thought of the general’s promise and his unprecedented interview to the BBC. My answer: the generals are getting PR-wise.

Alas, the once media-shy Burmese soldiers have come of age: they have grown media-savvy and supremely confident in dealing with the outside world.

Over the last four years, since US-led Western powers embraced Myanmar’s quasi-civilian government of ex-general and current president Thein Sein, Burmese generals have acted incredibly relaxed about talking to the international media, whether to the regime-friendly outlets such as Singapore’s Channel News Asia or the Voice of American Burmese Service, or more professional programs like BBC’s Hard Talk.

After all, the Burmese generals have forcibly pushed through their amendment-proof constitution of 2008, which effectively elevates the military, both as an institution, and the generals, as a class, above the law. It shields the most powerful institution from any popular pressure, accords the military a veto on any policy and institutional measures, and, most importantly, legalises any future military coup deemed necessary by the commander-in-chief.

In addition, today’s Burmese generals and ex-generals have been ably assisted on public relations matters by a small but highly educated group of Burmese advisers, as well as international friends including the regime-friendly diplomats, politicians, academics and policy lobbyists. As a consequence, the generals have learned to parrot pro-democracy liberal spins while pursuing the same old illiberal agenda dictated by the typical anti-democratic mindset instilled through military academies and decades of working in the country’s militaristic, authoritarian political culture.

Upon closer look, in spite of being touted as “historic” in Western media, world’s capitals and investors’ circles, Myanmar’s upcoming elections lack any democratic substance.

Burma’s Commander-in-Chief Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing (PHOTO: DVB)

One only needs a cursory glance at how political power is divided – or not divided – among the country’s stakeholders: non-Myanmar or non-Burman ethnic communities such as the Kachin, the Karen, the Shan, the Mon, the Rakhine [Arakanese], the Karenni, the Chin, etc. who make up roughly 30-40 percent of the total population of 51 million; and the pro-democracy Myanmar civilian communities.

As a matter of fact, Myanmar’s power set-up in 2015 resembles far more closely that of India under British colonial rule in 1918 than any political system that can be characterised as even remotely “democratic”. In his book The Future of Burma (1937), F. Burton Leach, the then chief secretary to the (colonial) Government of Burma and the political secretary to the Burma Chamber of Commerce in Rangoon, wrote: “When Mr Montague and Lord Chelmsford set about to prepare their scheme of reform in 1918, the two outstanding features of the system of Government in India which had survived all previous changes, were …. first, the marked centralisation of power in the hands of the [British colonial] Government of India, and the small amount of power, either legislative, administrative or financial, possessed by the Provincial Governments, and secondly the complete independence of the [colonial] Executive from any control by the Legislature, either in the Central or in the Provincial Governments”.

Anchored in their constitution adopted in 2008, Myanmar’s military leaders introduced a new political system – “Discipline-flourishing Democracy” – after the military’s political proxy – the Union Solidarity and Democratic Party (USDP) – won over 80 percent of the popular votes in a country where the military and the generals are most widely reviled. This new system devised by and for the military contains the two anti-democratic features which were the pillars of British colonial rule in India almost 100 years ago.

While ignoring the blatant disenfranchisement of nearly one million Rohingya in western Burma and possible disenfranchisement of Kachins, Karen, Shan and Rakhine in active war zones in the upcoming elections, Western governments have made an issue out of Aung San Suu Kyi, the 1990 Nobel Peace Prize winner and the most popular Burmese politician, being constitutionally barred from holding the highest office in the land on grounds of her two children – and late husband – being foreigners.

However, structurally speaking, the two most important issues that expose the most anti-democratic pillars of Myanmar’s “democratic system” hark back to the British colonial era political system that was deemed necessary to reform even as early as 1918: the concentration of political and administrative power in the central government vis-à-vis the non-ethnic Myanmar “peripheries”, for lack of a better term, and the constitutionally guaranteed absence of democratic accountability for those in the Executive branch, made up almost exclusively of Myanmar generals and ex-generals.

Just last week, the military bloc-voted against a motion designed to devolve the central/national government’s existing power to appoint chief ministers of states and divisions to local legislatures, dealing a blow to any hope for an evolution of the military-controlled Parliament over time.

Furthermore, only Myanmar’s commander-in-chief is endowed with the power to appoint crucial cabinet posts such as defense; home affairs; foreign affairs; border affairs; as well as endorse or reject any presidential and vice-presidential nominees from the elected political parties; assign military officers to man the 25 percent of parliamentary seats in all national and state/provincial legislatures; and organise a military take-over against any sitting parliamentary government.

The fact that any constitutional amendment requires more than 75 percent of the approving votes gives the commander-in-chief veto power over virtually all aspects of Myanmar’s political system. The 25 percent of military representatives are organised as a brigade within the parliament. Unfailingly, the military representatives vote as a bloc, whatever the issue, as ordered from the Office of the Commander-in-Chief.

Aside from the categorically anti-democratic constitutional arrangements of political and administrative power, there is also a profoundly disturbing issue, namely the military’s capture of what academics call the State, that is, the governmental/administrative ethos, culture and practices, institutions, and personnel. During the past 53 years – of which 49 were direct military rule and four are quasi-civilian – the Burmese generals have staffed virtually all strategic administrative positions at both state and national/central government levels with military personnel: literally thousands upon thousands of bureaucrats are either in-service military officers or military veterans.

Some token civilian administrative heads and advisors notwithstanding, all important decisions are taken by the officer-cum-civilianised-bureaucrats. The buck stops at the military’s desk. The futility of ceasefire negotiations in the face of the Burmese military’s push for the surrender of the ethnic armed resistance organisations is a case in point.

To ensure there is no split in culture, ethos and loyalty in the country’s vast security sector, the military has infused its loyal officers into police and intelligence services. Further, the military has organised a vast nationwide circle of veterans whose loyalty and support can be counted upon in terms of popular mobilisation for the military’s strategic ends. This is in addition to the military’s ultimate control of the ruling USDP.

With these kind of British colonial-style safeguards for the ruling military’s vested interests, both political and economic, there is little wonder that the commander-in-chief had no problem making the promise of respecting the outcome of the November elections.

Economically, since the early 1950s when the country’s civil war with multiple fronts increased the central role of the military in Burma’s national politics, the generals have built up an economic base for the military as an institution. To date, virtually all important sectors of Burma’s national economy – including an informal economy – is tied to the military’s interests, and is under either the direct or indirect influence of the Ministry of Defence.

The military’s conglomerates, and their associates – known as cronies – run vast economic enterprises and mega-development projects. Not only are the Burmese generals and their base – the military – above the law and beyond accountability, but their conglomerates not only oppose any external audit but also laugh at any foreign ideas such as “corporate social responsibility”.

To be sure, transition from 50 years of military rule to a representative system of government is going to take years and monumental efforts – even in cases where the military leaders are aware of their own failures at nation-building and as policy makers.

In the case of the Burmese military leadership and the military, this transition from dictatorship to democracy is made incomparably harder. For the military has internalised the self-serving justification that without its strong hand – that is, concentration of power and control in the military and its loyalists – the multi-ethnic country is going to disintegrate.

No number of election cycles nor amount of election monitoring will make a dent in the military’s structures of power. Seen in this light, Burma’s upcoming elections will change nothing in terms of power and control.

Maung Zarni is a dissident scholar and activist with 27 years’ involvement in international activism, pushing for democratic change in his native Burma.

Dr Zarni's Analysis of the Latest Development in China-Myanmar Relations

Chinese nationals, believed to be involved in illegal logging, arrive at a court in Myitkyina on 22 July. (PHOTO: Reuters).

Myanmar sentences 153 Chinese illegal loggers to life imprisonment

Embassy in Yangon says it has launched representations over 'too heavy' sentences

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 22 July, 2015, 11:50pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 22 July, 2015, 11:50pm


=================================================

Here is China's reaction - from its official mouthpiece Global Times:


Editorial: Harsh sentence on Chinese loggers unfair

Source:Global Times Published: 2015-7-23 0:53:03
______________________

This one, my analysis of the latest development between China and Myanmar -
​ was broadcast​ on the VOA English service this morning - UK time -

​Transcript of the broadcast:​

​"​China has expressed concern over the decision by a court in Myanmar, also known as Burma, to sentence more than 150 Chinese to lengthy jail terms for illegal logging. The state-run Global Times says the Chinese embassy has launched "solemn representations" to the Myanmar government and describes the punishment as "probably unfair."

Most of the Chinese were given life terms, although media reports indicate that may actually translate to 20 years in jail. One was given an additional 15-year sentence on a drug charge, while two minors received 10-year sentences each. An appeal is likely.

Once Myanmar's closest political and economic partner, relations have been strained with some of Beijing's infrastructure and mining projects deemed environmentally insensitive. China is also seen as providing safe haven for members of the Kokang rebels of Chinese descent. China protested a bombing attack by Myanmar in southern Yunnan province in March that killed four and wounded nine.

Exiled Myanmar activist and resident scholar-in-exile Maung Zarni in London told me (VOA's Victor Beattie) the harsh sentences may have something to do with the red-carpet treatment China gave to democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi when she visited Beijing in June:


Maung Zarni says he believes, with Chinese pressure coupled with a lack of strong support for Myanmar's leadership by Washington, the Chinese nationals will not serve out their full sentences, but will be released early and sent back to China. The state-run Global Times expressed hope Myanmar authorities would consider humanitarian factors in deciding how to handle these cases.

Soros: As a Jew in Budapest, I Too Was a Rohingya

A migrant who arrived by boat, part of a group of Rohingya and Bangladeshis, receives medical assistance at an aid station in Kuala Langsa in Indonesia's Aceh Province May 15, 2015. George Soros recently said the plight of the Rohingyas has "alarming" parallels to the Nazi genocide. Roni Bintang/Reuters

By George Soros
Newsweek
Published on May 31, 2015

I have been a supporter of Burma's democracy movement since 1993. For most of that time, the prospect of change seemed remote, and I felt increasingly discouraged.

Then, in 2010, quite suddenly, or so it seemed, the ruling military junta decided to abandon absolute authoritarian rule. The world was stunned. 

My engagement in Burma during those dark days taught me an important lesson. Sometimes it's necessary to support a lost cause for a long time just to keep the flame alive. That way, when the situation changes, groundwork for progress has already been laid.

As of today, I find myself again growing discouraged. Making the transition from military rule to a more open society is not easy, and in many ways the government of Burma has made real progress in its reform efforts. 

I fear that many of these reforms are not sustainable, because they have not yet been institutionalized. It's also true that political and economic power remains mostly concentrated in the hands of a privileged few who monopolize the revenue from Burma's abandoned natural resources. 

The most immediate threat to Burma's transition is the rising anti-Muslim sentiment and officially condoned abuse of the Rohingya people. That has occurred under the watch of the current rulers in Naypyidaw. 

From private conversations with progressive Burmese officials, I know that some in power genuinely want to see a Burma where all are treated equally, but these officials also fear the potential of extremist violence from the small but powerful group of religious radicals. These extremists have created a tinderbox that could blow up the entire reform process.


The government must confront these extremists and their financial supporters. In January, when I visited Burma for the fourth time in as many years, I made a short visit to Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine State, in order to see for myself the situation on the ground. I met with state and local leaders and both Rakhine and Rohingya populations, and also talked to internally displaced persons and those mostly Rohingya living in a section of Sittwe called Aung Mingalar, a part of the city that can only be called a ghetto. 

In Aung Mingalar, I heard the echoes of my childhood. You see, in 1944, as a Jew in Budapest, I too was a Rohingya. Much like the Jewish ghettos set up by Nazis around Eastern Europe during World War II, Aung Mingalar has become the involuntary home to thousands of families who once had access to health care, education and employment. 

Now, they are forced to remain segregated in a state of abject deprivation. 

The parallels to the Nazi genocide are alarming. Fortunately, we have not reached a stage of mass killing. 

I feel very strongly that we must speak out before it is too late, individually and collectively. The Burmese government's insistence that they are keeping the Rohingya in the ghetto for their own protection simply is not credible. 

Government authorities have tried to reassure me. They say things are under control and not as bad as reported by outsiders, who they claim don't understand the local culture or the long and complicated history of Rakhine State. 

I understand that half a century of living in isolation under repression can make a population vulnerable to intermediation and exploitation in all sorts of ways, but I also know that most of the people of Burma are fair-minded and would like their country to be a place where all can live in freedom. 

2015 is a crucial year for Burma; a tipping point, in the words of Yanghee Lee, U.S. Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar. With the prospect of democratic changes to the 2008 constitution and the holding of free and fair elections, meaningful reform could take hold. 

As a longtime friend and supporter of Burma, I hope for a positive outcome for all the people of the country. But where I once felt a great sense of optimism, I am now filled with trepidation for the future. 

I hope those in power will immediately take the steps necessary to counter extremism and allow open society to take root. In the lead-up to the elections, it's crucial that official acts should be taken to counter the pervasive hate and anti-Rohingya propaganda on social media and the racist public campaigns of the 969 movement

The promise of Burma as a flourishing and vibrant open society is still within reach. It's up to Burma's leaders and people whether this promise is fulfilled. 

George Soros is the founder of the Open Society Foundations and chairman of Soros Fund Management LLC. This was his contribution to last week’s Oslo Conference on Rohingyas.

This was originally published here.

Desmond Tutu: The Slow Genocide Against the Rohingya, Newsweek

Rohingya migrants who arrived in Indonesia last week by boat walk back after collecting breakfast at a temporary shelter near Langsa on Wednesday. Darren Whiteside/Reuters

By Archbishop Desmond Tutu
Newsweek
Published on May 29, 2015

The credit that is due to the government of Myanmar for reforms undertaken over the past couple of years does not blind us to the ongoing disavowal and repression of its ethnic minorities, the Rohingya population in particular. 

A country that is not at peace with itself, that fails to acknowledge and protect the dignity and worth of all its people, is not a free country. Freedom is indivisible. All must be invited. All, a part. 

The Rohingya people were not consulted when the British drew the Burmese border on the map. With those strokes of a pen, they became a borderland people; people whose ancestral land traverses political boundaries.

Burma's post-colonial government, elected in 1948, officially recognized the Rohingya as an indigenous community, as did its first military government that ruled from 1962 to 1974. 

Manipulation by the military of ethnic minorities in the west of the country dates back to the late 1950s. At first, the military sought to co-opt the Muslim Rohingya to quell the Buddhist Rakhine after Rakhine separatists had been crushed. The military turned only Rohingya. 

In 1978, the Far Eastern Economic Review described the Rohingya as the victims of Burmese apartheid. A few years later, a citizenship law left the Rohingya off the list of indigenous people, describing them as Muslim immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh. 

In the context of rising anti-Muslim sentiment in Myanmar, many Buddhists, particularly in Rakhine state, regard the Rohingya as illegal immigrants. More than 100,000 Rohingya are trapped in internment camps. They may not leave “for their own protection.” They hold only temporary identity cards. In February, they lost all voting rights. 

The government of Myanmar has sought to absolve itself of responsibility for the conflict between the Rakhine and the Rohingya, projecting it as sectarian or communal violence. 

I would be more inclined to heed the warnings of eminent scholars and researchers including Amartya Sen, the Nobel laureate in economics, who say this is a deliberately false narrative to camouflage the slow genocide being committed against the Rohingya people. There's evidence, they say, that anti-Rohingya sentiment has been carefully cultivated by the government itself. 

Human beings may look and behave differently to one another, but ultimately none of us can claim any kind of supremacy. We are all the same. There are no natural differences between Buddhists and Muslims. It is possible to transplant a Christian heart into a Hindu chest and for a citizen of Israel to donate a kidney to a Palestinian. 

We're born to love—without prejudice, without distrust. Members of one family, the human family—made for each other and for goodness. All of us! 

We are taught to discriminate, to dislike and to hate. 

As lovers of peace and believers in the right of all members of the family to dignity and security, we have particular responsibilities to the Rohingya. 2015 is a big year for Myanmar, with both a referendum on its constitution and a general election on its calendar. 

Even as we seek to encourage the country to build on the reforms it has started, we have a responsibility to ensure that the plight of the Rohingya is not lost. We have a responsibility to hold to account those of our governments and corporations that seek to profit from new relationships with Myanmar to ensure their relationships are established on a sound ethical basis. 

We have a responsibility to persuade our international and regional aid and grant making institutions, including the European Union, to adopt a common position making funding the development of Myanmar conditional on the restoration of citizenship, nationality and basic human rights to the Rohingya. 

Desmond Tutu is the Nobel Peace Prize-winning former Archbishop of Cape Town. This was his contribution to last week’s Oslo Conference on Rohingyas.

This was originally published here.  

Myanmar: How the Rohingya and other resident minorities became disenfranchised, EU Democracy Observatory on Citizenship

By EUDO CITIZENSHIP expert Luicy Pedroza
Published on Friday, 17 July 2015

Over the past weeks, the plight of Rohingya refugees has caught the eye of the international media (see, for instance, news reports in the New York Times and Guardian). They are emigrants from Myanmar (Burma) who were adrift for weeks in the seas of South-East Asia after having fled from appalling living conditions in their native Myanmar, only to be firmly rebuffed by neighbouring countries who refused to admit them on their shores.



The Rohingya are a Muslim minority in predominantly Theravada-Buddhist Myanmar, who are treated as illegal migrants even though they have lived in Myanmar for generations. They are called “Bengalis” by authorities, as their own self-definition, Rohingya, is not recognised officially as either a minority group or “race”, of which there is otherwise a clear number defined by the regime. Needless to say, the nationality law of Myanmar does not allow for their inclusion in the polity, and there seems to be no desire to change this. In 2013 the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Myanmar recommended an amendment of the Citizenship Act, but the ultimate response of the government was that “we see no reason whatsoever to review or amend this Act.”(1) Yet, an amendment of the current Myanmar Citizenship Law could improve the status of the Rohingya, who currently reside in the Rakhine (Arakan) state without citizenship. 

Violence erupted in the Rakhine state in June 2012: around 100 died and 80,000 people were displaced. In October the same year, a second wave of riots elevated the number of displaced people to 140,000. Many Rohingyas are stateless and thus are restricted in several basic aspects of life, from their right to move within the country to the right to work, with many living in camps, in extremely precarious conditions. Prejudice and discrimination against the Rohingya are so widespread that not even local human rights defenders can be trusted to raise the issue of their exclusion. 

Until recently the Rohingyas – as other stateless minority populations, such as the Burma-born ethnic Chinese and Indian - at least had ID cards (“white cards”) that allowed them to vote in two occasions. Allegedly, the ruling party, Union Solidarity and Development Party, chaired by the current President Thein Sein, coerced or bought Rohingya votes to secure a majority in parliament in the 2010 elections. Other reports have suggested that the Rohingyas were successively given and deprived of their ID cards at their own will. In these circumstances, the fact that few support the extension of voting rights to the Rohingyas and other noncitizen minorities in Myanmar comes as no surprise. The President’s position has been particularly ambivalent, as he personally advocated their enfranchisement for a referendum on a constitutional amendment, only to declare the white cards invalid when protests erupted in several parts of the country to prevent their participation in any kind of upcoming election. Alarmingly, the protesters were not rallying behind opposition parties to demand clean, transparent elections, but rather behind Buddhist monks with nationalistic and openly racist slogans demanding their expulsion from Myanmar. By now, the Rohingyas have been disenfranchised by the Burmese Parliament, President, and Constitutional Court, successively.

The disenfranchisement of the Rohingya and other ethnic minorities has proceeded in three steps. First, the white cards were declared invalid after March 31. Subsequently, white card holders were deleted from the electoral registries and finally, the white cards were confiscated. This means that the Rohingya, already a stateless group, have been deprived of their only identification documents. In Myanmar, the absence of an identity card precludes access to health, restricts freedom of movement within the country, as well as access to school, university and jobs. Allegedly, several thousand white card holders were given a receipt in order to be issued a “green card” later, if they are found to be legal residents, or to be eligible for naturalisation. However, the latter option is unlikely, given how restrictive the nationality law is and how difficult providing the required documents will eventually be: Applicants would have to provide proof that their family has resided in Myanmar for over three generations if they want to obtain Myanmar citizenship and have an identity card. In a way, the disenfranchisement of the Rohingya began 25 years ago: in 1990 all identity cards were changed in Myanmar in order to include mention of ethnicity and religion. Ever since, the Rohingya minority has been denied the use of the term to identify themselves. Still, they have never been more vulnerable than today, as they are deprived of their most basic rights, including the right to an identification document and to reside in Myanmar. 

(1) See Di Gaetano, 2013. How to protect the rights of the stateless Rohingya people in Myanmar?, MA Thesis, Institute of Law, Politics and Development, Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna, p. 6.

This article was originally published here.

UN Human Rights Council adopts a strongly worded resolution on Myanmar's systematic rights abuses, persecution of Rohingya and anti-Muslim religious discrimination

Opening of the 29th regular session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland. UN Photo/Pierre Albouy

A​dopted without a vote (by consensus). Myanmar rejects the resolution in its entirety. 

India, Russia, and China distanced themselves from the resolution.

India which officially and unsuccessfully pushed for ending annual human rights resolutions on Myanmar gave Myanmar regime's genocidal point man - ex-Major General Maung Maung Ohn, (now Chief Minister of Rakhine) who headed the military's Army Psychological Warfare Directorate and counter-intelligence division - a free mic. 



Human Rights Council
Twenty-ninth session
Agenda item 2

Annual report of the United Nations High Commissioner
for Human Rights and reports of the Office of the 
High Commissioner and the Secretary-General

Pakistan (on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation): draft resolution

29/… Situation of human rights of Rohingya Muslims and other minorities in Myanmar

The Human Rights Council,

Guided by the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations,

Reaffirming the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights,

Recalling President’s statement PRST 23/1 of 14 June 2015,

Noting all relevant resolutions of the General Assembly and the Human Rights Council, the latest being Council resolution 28/23 of 27 March 2015,

Stressing that States have the primary responsibility for the promotion and protection of human rights,

Condemning all violations and abuses of human rights in Myanmar, in particular against Rohingya Muslims and other minorities, resulting in their socioeconomic exploitation, including forced displacement,

Noting with concern the irregular migration in the Andaman Sea of Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar and their exploitation by criminal rings, and welcoming the commitments by Governments in the region to provide temporary shelter and protection to them,

Acknowledging that the denial of citizenship status and related rights to Rohingya Muslims and others, including voting rights, is a serious human rights concern,

Reaffirming the importance of cooperation with the Government of Myanmar in taking all necessary measures to promote and protect human rights in its territory without any discrimination, including against Rohingya Muslims and members of other communities in Myanmar,

Condemns the systematic gross violations of human rights and abuses committed in Rakhine State, in particular against Rohingya Muslims;

2. Calls upon the Government of Myanmar to ensure the protection of human rights of all persons in Myanmar, including of Rohingya Muslims;

3. Also calls upon the Government of Myanmar to take the necessary measures to address the spread of discrimination and prejudice against Muslims and members of national, ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities across the country, and to put an end to the incitement of hatred against Muslims by publicly condemning such acts;

4. Calls upon political and religious leaders in the country to work for a peaceful resolution through dialogue towards national unity;

5. Calls upon the Government of Myanmar to take all necessary measures to ensure accountability and to end impunity for all violations of human rights, including in particular against Muslims, by undertaking a full, transparent and independent investigation into reports of all violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law;

6. Urges the Government of Myanmar to take all necessary measures to prevent the discrimination and exploitation, including through trafficking, of Rohingya Muslims and others by addressing the root causes compelling them to be more vulnerable and exposed to such acts;

7. Also urges the Government of Myanmar to protect places of worship belonging to all religions;

8. Calls upon the Government of Myanmar, in conjunction with the international community and in accordance with international law, to ensure the return of all refugees and persons displaced from their homes, including Muslims;

9. Urges the Government of Myanmar to grant full citizenship rights, in keeping within a transparent due process, to Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine State, including by reviewing the 1982 Citizenship Law;

10. Calls upon the Government of Myanmar to ensure full cooperation with all parties and to allow full access of humanitarian assistance to affected persons and communities, and in this regard urges the Government to implement the various cooperation agreements not yet implemented made between the authorities of Myanmar and the international community for the distribution of humanitarian aid to all affected areas, including Rakhine State, without any discrimination;

11. Requests the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to present an oral update to the Human Rights Council at its thirtieth session and a report at its thirty-second session, on the human rights violations and abuses against Rohingya Muslims and other minorities in Myanmar, particularly the recent incidents of trafficking and forced displacement of Rohingya Muslims.




Why there is no prospect for peace in Myanmar

Myanmar President Thein Sein (front, third from left) and Naing Han Tha (front, third from right), a leader of the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordinating Team, shake hands after signing the draft cease-fire agreement in Yangon. Photo: Reuters

By Nai Hong Sar
July 7, 2015

Myanmar must not let pass this moment for peace

After 60 years of war, our people dream about peace. If the government and the Tatmadaw are truly committed, we can achieve a Nationwide Ceasefire deal soon

Over the last 17 months negotiations between the Myanmar government and the Ethnic Armed Organisations (EAOs) have sought a nationwide ceasefire agreement. Negotiations must continue until a path to peace is found. 

We hope the negotiating team from the Tatmadaw (the military) and the government are united in this desire. U Aung Min leads the government's delegation. I head the ethnic delegation, consisting of 16 EAOs that form the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT). Both parties share many perspectives but disagree on others. Both sides have put a great deal of effort into reaching a nationwide ceasefire agreement, and we are almost there. 

After the recent summit of EAO leaders in Law Khee Lar in Karen State, the draft text is ready to be signed with some minor, but essential, amendments. To proceed, the Tatmadaw must cease its armed offensives and include all members of the NCCT as signatories to the ceasefire accord. In addition to the United Nations, Asean and the Chinese government, the United States government as well as other foreign governments should be included as witnesses to the signing. By taking these relatively minor steps, the Tatmadaw and the government would be demonstrating a true willingness to working towards a peaceful future. 

We believe these demands are reasonable, given the ongoing deadly offensives against the EAOs that have resulted in thousands of refugees fleeing their homes and homelands. We cannot celebrate progress towards a ceasefire when immense suffering continues. Instead, we remain on a knife edge between failure and success. The endorsement of an agreement that does not deal with the difficult realities of obtaining true peace does not walk the last mile towards a nationwide ceasefire. 

The past year and a half of talks have been fraught with difficulty and tension, but there has been an underlying friendship and faith. Together, both sides have faced many challenges, but have always returned to the negotiating table, trusting that a ceasefire agreement can be reached. 

Distrust of the government is a by-product of decades of civil war. Memories are not quickly erased. Trust is based not only on words but on actions that back up those words. Trust is built over time. I believe that all ethnic and Bamar nationalities strongly desire peace throughout the country, and that they want each and every nationality to share equally in the same rights. 

That aim, however, can only be achieved with appropriate protections and actions. Rights must be guaranteed and enshrined, not offered in a light or cursory manner. The constitution must lay out a true federal union for Myanmar. 

We appreciate President Thein Sein's acknowledgement of federalism as an essential component and stepping stone towards peace and democracy. These words have kept alive our hope in the government's willingness to enact peace. These words, though, are challenged by the military's insistence on continuing its offensives during the whole negotiation process. 

We want peace, but we must face the facts. The Tatmadaw has been launching major offensives in Kachin and Shan states, and most recently in Rakhine (Arakan) State. It has clashed with the Kachin, Kokang and Rakhine people. Hundreds of thousands of displaced persons occupy Kachin, and the same numbers are beginning to appear in Shan. 

These incidents are not positive indicators for the willingness to create peace in our time, but we have moved on. 

We have been encouraged by messages from U Aung Min and U Thein Sein, but equally discouraged to see that the military realities on the ground do not correspond. We hope that the Tatmadaw and the government are on the same path for peace.

We should not forget that for 50 years Burma was ruled by military dictatorship, with a defined policy of suppressing and discriminating against the ethnic nationalities along the borders, including in Bamar areas. 

Most Burmese have suffered under harsh repression, but only the non-Bamar ethnic nationalities have lived with the constant cruelty of war. The negotiations are between the oppressor and those oppressed under the former regime. 

No one wants peace more than us. We are not holding onto arms to attack, but to defend our people's rights, as was promised us in the Panglong Agreement in 1947. 

War is cruelty. It destroys our minds. It destroys our livelihoods, our hopes for the future and our natural resources. Our children have had limited access to education and prospects for better lives. We have seen too many lost generations in the ethnic states and in the Bamar areas too. If we are able to move forward on equal terms, we will succeed. 

The negotiations concern a nationwide ceasefire as a first step towards negotiations for a political solution. Without amendments in the existing political framework, defined in the military constitution of 2008, there will be no peace. We are all aware that the political talks will be even more difficult, but also more important, since it must include power-sharing and federalism. The president should be credited for being clear about the importance of federalism. Last week military members of parliament, under direct command of the military chiefs, voted against amending Article 436(A), which gives the military veto power over amendments to the constitution. The president said one thing regarding the offensive against the Kachin, and the commander-in-chief did the opposite. 

The voting in parliament is a concern. For any success, a commitment from the president and Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing are needed because the latter holds veto power. This will be a main issue in the political talks. It will be a challenge, but one that we have been fighting over for 70 years.

It is possible to come together and sign a final agreement for an NCA. And, in doing so, we should indeed close our eyes and consider our children and grandchildren. This must occur before anyone pulls the trigger. 

Let us remind ourselves that we are now in a unique position to sign the nationwide ceasefire agreement. If it will lead to successful talks, it will be an act for the history books, for the president, for the opposition, for the military, for the EAOs, but most of all, for the people of Burma, in Bamar and the ethnic areas, whom we all should serve. 

Nai Hong Sar is leader of the ethnic negotiation team and head of the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team.

Original here:

Myanmar's Official Lies as told by ex-Major General and now Rakhine Chief Minister Maung Maung Ohn



Outlook Interviews Maung Maung Ohn

‘There’s No Persecution, Just That Govt Will Not Use Rohingya In Official National Documents’           

Maung Maung Ohn, the Chief Minister of Rakhine, Myanmar on the refugee crisis in the Bay of Bengal.           

As the world lashes out against Rakhine, Myanmar’s southwestern coastal state and the port of origin of the refugee crisis in the Bay of Bengal, Outlook speaks to Maung Maung Ohn, chief minister of the state. Sitting in his office at the state secretariat in capital Sittwe, in his first-ever interview to any international media, Ohn took out nearly two hours from his busy pre-election schedule to answer questions through his interpreter Khain Kyaw Htoo, discussing what has been referred to as the biggest humanitarian crisis of the 21st century. 

How do you respond to the persecution of Rohingya Muslims in your state? 

There are two major ethnic groups in the state of Rakhine, those who have inhabi­ted this land for a very long time and those who migrated from another country, the Bengalis. Myanmar has accepted the outsiders and has agreed to give them citizenship and provide them with national cards but they insist on being given a special status and want the name ‘Rohingya’ mentioned in their identity proofs. There is no persecution. Just that the Myanmar government doesn’t agree to the use of the word ‘Rohingya’ in official national documentations.

Why do you object to it?

First, it poses great difficulties for the government. Any ethnic group demanding this kind of recognition must establish their origins. Even if that is done, incorporating it into the records entails lengthy administrative and legal changes. The term ‘Rohingya’ was not mentioned anywhere before the ’50s or ’60s. Additionally, granting such special status has other significant implications. It would entitle them to special social, political and even legal benefits. If they are given this privilege, their next step will be to demand separate statehood.

If others in Myanmar have the freedom of movement, why is the movement of Rohingyas being restricted? Why are they in concentrated camps?

There has been communal violence in the state. Not just 2012 but in 1942 they had carried out a genocide in north Rakhine and an entire village was wiped out. Over 2,000 Rakhine people, including old men and women as well as children, were killed. The people of Rakhine continue to be afraid of them. They run away from them whenever they see them.

How long will they be confined? 

We are in the process of verifying their identities. Infiltration of illegal immigrants is a reality in most countries in the world. It is the same here and there is movement both in and out of the country. We need to check that and it takes careful scrutiny to distinguish between genuine citizens and illegal migrants.

How are you making that distinction? 

In the absence of papers and documentation, one of the most important distinguishing characteristics is physical features.

What about their right to vote? 

Not immediately. It can be done once the process is completed. The Myanmar government has been urging them to respect and follow the law of the land. But they want to insist only on one thing, this in turn is delaying the process further.

If there is no persecution, why are so many people fleeing by boat and becoming sea refugees?

The people on the boat are believed to be victims of human trafficking. Some bodies were discovered in Thailand and the government there took stern action against human smuggling and closed the channels. After this crackdown, the boats that were headed there were abandoned midway. Of two boats carrying 208 and 733 people respectively that reached Myanmar, 200 of the first boat and 546 of the second boat were found to be carrying Bangladeshi nationals. We have taken all the Myanmaris back.

Myanmar has been widely criticised by the world community for being at the source of this humanitarian crisis.

In fact, when other countries were returning the boats, we were amongst the first to welcome them. Incorrect information has been disseminated by the international media and the world community. Myanmar never turned away the boats. We are all human beings and stay on the same planet. Our first and only consideration is humanitarian. We believe that every person should have a country, no one should be stateless. We have accepted all those who claimed to be from Myanmar. People should come here and see the real situation instead of sending out false reports. We are disappointed with the international media and organisations criticising us without bothering to find out the whole story.

The United Nations calls it the biggest humanitarian crisis?

The UN is doing an excellent job in providing humanitarian relief to people irrespective of their nationality and nothing can be more important. But no one should blame Myanmar as though this tragic situation was our creation. We are as much aggrieved by the human suffering as anyone else.

Yet minorities in Myanmar feel persecuted?

That is not correct. In Myanmar, minorities coexist harmoniously. There are four major religious groups, Buddhists, Hindus, Christians and Muslims. But we cannot have separate laws for them, they must abide and follow the law of the land. The majority Buddhists are known for their love for peace. Religion teaches us tolerance, not to kill and harm people.

Original here.