Calling on Canada to help end Myanmar Genocide of Rohingya at Toronto City Council on 23 Nov 2017

Saying "Sorry!" to a Rohingya brother who survived Myanmar Genocide, Kutupalong Camp, Bangladesh, 7 Nov 2017.

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

Meeting with The Minister of Foreign Affairs Rt. Honourable Abul Hassan Mahmood Ali, M.P., State Guest House, Dhaka, 4 Nov 2017

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

When Law Is Not Justice, (a Conversation with Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak), NY Times 13 July 2016

Out of the Darkness, the Lord Gave Us Light, 2003 Credit Thornton Dial, Collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art
By Brad Evans and Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak
THE STONE, The New York Times
July 13, 2016

This is the sixth in a series of dialogues with philosophers and critical theorists on the question of violence. This conversation is with Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, who is a university professor in the humanities at Columbia University. She is the author of “An Aesthetic Education in the Era of Globalization,” and other books.

Brad Evans: Throughout your work, you have written about the conditions faced by the globally disadvantaged, notably in places such as India, China and Africa. How might we use philosophy to better understand the various types of violence that erupt as a result of the plight of the marginalized in the world today?

Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak: While violence is not beyond naming and diagnosis, it does raise many challenging questions all the same. I am a pacifist. I truly believe in the power of nonviolence. But we cannot categorically deny a people the right to resist violence, even, under certain conditions, with violence. Sometimes situations become so intolerable that moral certainties are no longer meaningful. There is a difference here between condoning such a response and trying to understand why the recourse to violence becomes inevitable.

When human beings are valued as less than human, violence begins to emerge as the only response. When one group designates another as lesser, they are saying the “inferior” group cannot think in a “reasonable” way. It is important to remember that this is an intellectual violation, and in fact that the oppressed group’s right to manual labor is not something they are necessarily denied. In fact, the oppressed group is often pushed to take on much of society’s necessary physical labor. Hence, it is not that people are denied agency; it is rather that an unreasonable or brutish type of agency is imposed on them. And, the power inherent in this physical agency eventually comes to intimidate the oppressors. The oppressed, for their part, have been left with only one possible identity, which is one of violence. That becomes their politics and it appropriates their intellect.

This brings us directly to the issue of “reasonable” versus “unreasonable” violence. When dealing with violence deemed unreasonable, the dominating groups demonize violent responses, saying that “those other people are just like that,” not just that they are worth less, but also that they are essentially evil, essentially criminal or essentially have a religion that is prone to killing.

And yet, on the other side, state-legitimized violence, considered “reasonable” by many, is altogether more frightening. Such violence argues that if a person wears a certain kind of clothing or belongs to a particular background, he or she is legally killable. Such violence is more alarming, because it is continuously justified by those in power.

B.E.: At least some violent resistance in the 20th century was tied to struggles for national liberation, whether anti-colonial or (more common in Europe) anti-fascist. Is there some new insight needed to recognize forces of domination and exploitation that are separated from nation states and yet are often explained as some return to localism and ethnicity?

G.C.S.: This is a complicated question demanding serious philosophical thought. I have just come back from the World Economic Forum, and their understanding of power and resistance is very different from that of a group such as the ethnic Muslim Rohingya who live on the western coast of Myanmar; though both are already deeply embedded in global systems of power and influence, even if from opposing sides. The Rohingya have been the victims of a slow genocide as described by Maung Zarni, Amartya Sen and others. This disrupts an Orientalist reading of Buddhism as forever the peace-loving religion. Today, we see Buddhists from Thailand, Sri Lanka and Myanmar engage in state-sanctioned violence against minorities.

The fact is that when the pro-democracy spokesperson Aung San Suu Kyi was under house arrest there, she could bravely work against oppressive behavior on the part of the military government. But once she was released and wanted to secure and retain power, she became largely silent on the plight of these people and has sided with the majority party, which has continued to wage violence against non-Buddhist minorities. One school of thought says that in order to bring democracy in the future, she has to align herself with the majority party now. I want to give Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi the benefit of the doubt. But when the majority party is genocidal, there is a need to address that. Aligning with them cannot possibly bring democracy.

However, rather than retreating back into focused identity politics, resistance in this context means connecting the plight of the Rohingya to global struggles, the context of which is needed in order to address any particular situation. Older, national, identity-based struggles like those you mention are less persuasive in a globalized world. All of this is especially relevant as Myanmar sets up its first stock exchange and prepares to enter the global capitalist system.

In globalization as such, when the nation states are working in the interest of global capital, democracy is reduced to body counting, which often works against educated judgments. The state is trapped in the demands of finance capital. Resistance must know about financial regulation in order to demand it. This is bloodless resistance, and it has to be learned. We must produce knowledge of these seemingly abstract globalized systems so that we can challenge the social violence of unregulated capitalism.

B.E.: What are the implications when the promotion of human rights is left to what you have called “self-appointed entrepreneurs” and philanthropists, from individuals such as Bill Gates onto organizations like the World Bank, who have a very particular conception of rights and the “rule of law?”

G.C.S.: It is just that there be law, but law is not justice.

The passing of a law and the proof of its existence is not enough to assure effective resistance to oppression. Some of the gravest violations of rights have occurred within legal frameworks. And, if that law governs a society never trained in what Michel Foucault would call “the practice of freedom,” it is there to be enforced by force alone, and the ones thus forced will find better and better loopholes around it.

That is why the “intuition” of democracy is so vital when dealing with the poorest of the poor, groups who have come to believe their wretchedness is normal. And when it comes time to starve, they just tighten their nonexistent belts and have to suffer, fatefully accepting this in silence. It’s more than children playing with rocks in the streets. It takes over every aspect of the people’s existence. And yet these people still work, in the blazing heat, for little or next to nothing for wealthy landowners. This is a different kind of poverty. 

Against this, we have this glamorization of urban poverty by the wealthier philanthropist and aid agencies. There is always a fascination with the picture-perfect idea of poverty; children playing in open sewers and the rest of it. Of course, such lives are proof of grave social injustice. But top-down philanthropy, with no interest in an education that strengthens the soul, is counterproductive, an assurance that there will be no future resistance, only instant celebrity for the philanthropist.

I say “self-appointed” entrepreneurs because there is often little or no regulation placed upon workers in the nongovernmental sector. At best, they are ad hoc workers picking up the slack for a neo-liberal state whose managerial ethos cannot be strong on redistribution,, and where structural constitutional resistance by citizens cannot be effective in the face of an unconstituted “rule of law” operating, again, to protect the efficiency of global capital growth. The human rights lobby moves in to shame the state, and in ad hoc ways restores rights. But there is then no democratic follow-up, and these organizations rarely stick around long enough to see that.

Another problem with these organizations is the way they emphasize capitalism’s social productivity without mentioning capital’s consistent need to sustain itself at the expense of curtailing the rights of some sectors of the population. This is all about the removal of access to structures of reparation: the disappearance of the welfare state, or its not coming into being at all.

If we turn to “development,” we often see that what is sustained in sustainable development is cost-effectiveness and profit-maximization, with the minimum action necessary in terms of environmental responsibility. We could call such a thing “sustainable underdevelopment.” 

Today everything is about urbanization, urban studies, metropolitan concerns, network societies and so on. Nobody in policy circles talks about the capitalization of land and how this links directly to the dispossession of people’s rights. This is another line of inquiry any consideration of violence must take into account.

B.E.: While you have shown appreciation for a number of thinkers known for their revolutionary interventions, such as Frantz Fanon, you have also critiqued the limits of their work when it comes to issues of gender and the liberation of women. Why?

G.C.S.: I stand by my criticism of Fanon, but he is not alone here. In fact he is like most other men who talk about revolutionary struggle. Feminist struggle can’t be learned from them. And yet, in “A Dying Colonialism,” Fanon is really trying from within to understand the position of women by asking questions about patriarchal structures of domination. 

After the revolution, in postcolonial Algeria and elsewhere, those women who were part of the struggle had to separate themselves from revolutionary liberation organizations that were running the state in order to continue fighting for their rights under separate initiatives. Gender is bigger and older than state formations and its fight is older than the fight for national liberation or the fight between capitalism and socialism. So we have to let questions of gender interrupt these revolutionary ideas, otherwise revolution simply reworks marked gender divisions in societies.

B.E.: You are clearly committed to the power of education based on aesthetic practices, yet you want to challenge the canonical Western aesthetic ideas from which they are derived using your concepts of “imaginative activism” and “affirmative sabotage.” How can this work?

G.C.S.: Imaginative activism takes the trouble to imagine a text — understood as a textile, woven web rather than narrowly as a printed page — as having its own demands and prerogatives. This is why the literary is so important. The simplest teaching of literature was to grasp the vision of the writer. This was disrupted in the 1960s by the preposterous concern “Is this book of relevance to me?” which represented a tremendous assault on the literary, a tremendous group narcissism. For literature to be meaningful it should not necessarily be of obvious relevance. That is the aesthetic challenge, to imagine that which is not immediately apparent. This can fight what is implicit in voting bloc democracy. Relevant to me, rather than flexible enough to work for others who are not like me at all. The inbuilt challenge of democracy – needing an educated, not just informed, electorate.

I used the term “affirmative sabotage” to gloss on the usual meaning of sabotage: the deliberate ruining of the master’s machine from the inside. Affirmative sabotage doesn’t just ruin; the idea is of entering the discourse that you are criticizing fully, so that you can turn it around from inside. The only real and effective way you can sabotage something this way is when you are working intimately within it.

This is particularly the case with the imperial intellectual tools, which have been developed not just upon the shoulders, but upon the backs of people for centuries. Let’s take as a final example what Immanuel Kant says when developing his “Critique of Aesthetic Judgment.” Not only does Kant insist that we need to imagine another person, he also insists for the need to internalize it to such an extent that it becomes second nature to think and feel with the other person.

Leaving aside the fact that Kant doesn’t talk about slavery whatsoever in his book, he even states that women and domestic servants are incapable of the civic imagination that would make them capable of cosmopolitan thinking. But, if you really think about it, it’s women and domestic servants who were actually trained to think and feel like their masters. They constantly had to put themselves in the master’s shoes, to enter into their thoughts and desires so much that it became second nature for them to serve.

So this is how one sabotages. You accept the unbelievable and unrelenting brilliance of Kant’s work, while confronting the imperial qualities he reproduces and showing the contradictions in this work. It is, in effect, to jolt philosophy with a reality check. It is to ask, for example, if this second-naturing of women, servants and others can be done without coercion, constraint and brainwashing. And, when the ruling race or class claims the right to do this, is there a problem of power being ignored in all their claimed benevolence? What would educated resistance look like in this case? It would misfire, because society is not ready for it. For that reason, one must continue to work — to quote Marx — for the possibility of a poetry of the future.

Ex-General Khin Nyunt's Version of anti-Rohingya Operations (from 1978 on)

Myanmar military leaders have waged a war against the "Muslims of Rakhine" or Rohingya based on the deliberate un-truths, not unlike the Cold War's Arms Race which was waged by USA, on the knowingly FALSE information, according to Colonel & Dr Daniel Ellsberg of the Pentagon, the Snowden of 1960's.

Here, Ex-General and Founder of Na Sa Ka Khin Nyunt tells his version of Nagamin of King Dragon Operations (racially and religiously-targeted campaign immigration check operation of Feb 1978) and Hamsa or Hintha Operations (Receiving back the repatriated Rohingya). 

1) Ex-intelligence chief who served in the front line of Western Burma as Regiment Commander (Lt-Colonel) from Jan 1978 to 1981 was instrumental in Naga Min Operation (launched in the second week of February of 1978), under the command of Western Command Commander Brigadier Min Gaung who later became Home Minister. 

(Min Gaung's original name was Than Maung and was a hanger-on at my grandfather's travelling casino business in Eastern Mandalay in the 1950's. I learned about Min Gaung's background direct from my late grandfather). 

2) Khin Nyunt talked about 'fleeing Muslims from Rakhine' into Bangladesh - never the other way around. 

In his 1993 "top secret" lecture, which initially appeared on the Internet and later reprinted in the compiled interviews with Myat Khaing in 2014, he described one major source of tensions between Bangladesh and Burma as "fleeing Muslims from Rakhine".

Noteworthy is this: this characterization - "fleeing Muslims from Rakhine" - was repeated by Khin Nyunt in his biography published in 2016.

3) Khin Nyunt described the agreement between Burma and Bangladesh to take back those Muslims who fled to Bangladesh as a result of Naga Min Operation. The repatriated "Muslims from Rakhine" were received under the banner of Hin Tha ( Burmese traditional mythical bird operation). But he did not give any explantion as to why Ne Win's military government - then known as Burma Socialist Programme Party Gov. had to take all the Muslims back - over 200,000. - with UNHCR oversight and involvement in the summer of 1978. 

Besides he stated that 11 reception camps were opened to receive, return and resettle the returnees, that they were all carefully scrutinized in terms of their country of origin, and that the small number who came along, from Bangladesh, with the returning Muslims from Rakhine were sent back to their country.

4) Finally, he offered an explanation as to the growth of the population of the Muslims in Rakhine as the direct result of the intermingling between those who lived on Bangladesh side and those who live in Northern Arakan state of Western Burma. 

He argued that because many a Muslim in Northern Rakhine - overwhelmingly Rohingya special administration district - do not speak Burmese or Rakhine, but only "Bengali", they must all be from Bangladesh, not from Burma!

(Zarni's comment: there are Kachins, Karens, Karenni, Shan, Wa, etc. who have very little contact with the dominant Bama, from cradle to grave, and they hardly speak Burmese. Internationally, there are Chinese diasporas where it is not uncommon to find Chinese who do not speak a word of English, living in places like Brighton, UK or San Francisco, USA. For their communities are large and their social interactions confined to among themselves. In the Rohingya situation where for nearly 2 generations, the Rohingya are forced to exist, in effect, in an enforced apartheid it would be impossible to find many linguistically integrated Rohingya. Besides Rohingya and Bengali languages have similarities, but are NOT the same - the same way Rakhine and Bama languages share similar features and words, but are more than sufficiently different. 

Using the lack of Bama or Rakhine language command among the segregated Rohingya - or Muslims from Rakhine, as Khin Nyunt refers to them - as a key indicator or marker of 'foreignness' 'immigrants' is empirically and analytically false.

But the country has been fed a fabricated lie that there have been a constant flow of "Bengali" - there are east Bengali now named "Bangladeshi" - and west Bengali - with its center in Kolkata, named "Indians". They share a common language, but two different national identities and political consciousnesses. 

As long as Myanmar's top civilian and military leaders - including Aung San Suu Kyi today - are intellectually and psychologically unable to overcome their deep personal racist views towards Muslims and particularly the Rohingya there can be no peaceful and/or internal Myanmar solution to the Rohingya persecution - now widely considered a slow genocide and crime against humanity, internationally.

End of mission statement by the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar

End of mission statement by the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar Yangon, 1 July 2016 

I have just concluded my fourth official visit to the country as Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar. I would like to thank the Government of Myanmar for its invitation and for granting me an extended visit of twelve days. This has not only allowed to me to travel to Kachin, Rakhine and Shan States, but also to devote more time in Nay Pyi Taw to engage with different ministers in the new Government. I would also like to thank the United Nations Country Team for their assistance throughout my visit. Additionally, I would like express my appreciation to the broad range of interlocutors with whom I met for their openness and cooperation with my mandate. My programme is listed in detail in the Annex. 

The peaceful transition to a democratically-elected and civilian-led government after five decades is a significant milestone for Myanmar. My visit thus takes place at an important juncture for the country. After the euphoria in the wake of last year’s elections, the reality of the significant and wide-ranging challenges facing the new Government has not significantly dampened the sense of optimism and hope amongst many sectors of the population. It will therefore be the key test for this new Government to capitalize on the overwhelming public support and current momentum to push forward its priority agenda and reforms. 

I welcome the Government’s commitment to furthering democratic transition, national reconciliation, sustainable development and peace, and the important steps already taken in this regard. The objective of my visit, therefore, was to make a comprehensive, objective and balanced assessment of the human rights situation in this new landscape. Today, I wish to highlight some preliminary observations from my visit. I will present a full report to the 71st session of the General Assembly later this year. 

Forging human rights in a young democracy 

Consolidating democracy and building a culture of respect for human rights is a complex undertaking that requires political will and sustained investment in enhancing the functioning and integrity of State institutions and bodies. Important human rights principles must underpin this process so that State institutions and bodies prioritize the needs and rights of the people in Myanmar’s diverse society. 

In meeting with various interlocutors in Government and Parliament, I was encouraged to see a burgeoning understanding of this role and a broad commitment to further reform. I was struck by the candid exchange of views on human rights concerns, and the frank assessment of the remaining challenges ahead. At the same time, I observed the very real tension between a new civilian leadership and a bureaucracy inherited from previous military regimes which often resulted in a duality in policy and approach. I also observed the challenges in trying to enhance democratic governance within an institutional framework that impedes the development of democratic practices and respect for human rights. Overcoming these challenges will require further reforms and a change in behaviour and mindset. While this will take time, these issues cannot be overlooked and must be continually prioritized. 

I was pleased to note that many aspects of the various 100-day plans of union ministries were broadly in line with the human rights priority areas set out in my last report to the Human Rights Council. I encouraged closer cooperation with my mandate and the international community in their implementation. At the same time, I noted that many of these plans were not well-publicized and had, for the most part, been developed with little or no public consultation or input from relevant stakeholders, in particular civil society. Looking ahead to the development of a longer-term five-year plan for the Government, greater efforts must be made to address these shortcomings. 

Parliament also has a central role in the promotion of democracy. During my visit, I had the opportunity to engage with parliamentarians and various parliamentary bodies. While there was a clear need to enhance the capacity and functioning of this young institution and its new members, I was impressed by the understanding shown of their important check and balance functions over the executive. I welcomed their frank assessment of current structural challenges, such as the 25 percent military bloc, and the lack of a separate professional secretariat (with current support provided by the General Administrative Department under the Ministry of Home Affairs). In order to ensure a properly functioning parliamentary culture, the independence of Parliament must be ensured and members of Parliament should be able to exercise the right to freedom of speech in the course of discharging their duties. It is crucial that Parliament be a forum for expressing opinions reflecting the different interests of Myanmar’s multi-ethnic society. 

I also met members of the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission and encouraged the Commission to more fully step into its role as an independent advocate for human rights. While welcoming the many promotional and awareness-raising activities undertaken, the Commission should not shy away from addressing issues deemed sensitive to the Government; this is precisely when a neutral and objective human rights voice is most needed. 

The foundation for any functioning democracy is the rule of law. I therefore welcome the priority given to upholding the rule of law and to strengthening legal and judicial institutions. Central to this is the continuing review and reform of legislation, particularly outdated laws that have been deemed to be inconsistent with international human rights standards. I am encouraged to see quick and real progress on the recommendations of the Legal Affairs and Special Cases Assessment Commission to amend 142 laws, including the recent repeal of the State Protection Act. While noting some improvements to the Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Act, several shortcomings remain and I hope to see these remedied before the Law is promulgated. 

However, I am acutely aware that more needs to be done. During my visit, I consistently drew attention to many laws still on the books that continue to limit the full enjoyment of human rights. I therefore renew my call for a comprehensive legislative review to be undertaken, with clear target dates for the conclusion of the review. 

Also during my visit, I continued to hear concerns about the lack of systematic consultation on draft laws and the opaque process of legislative reform. Clear timelines should be established for the review of draft laws and an appropriate consultation process should be developed to ensure transparency and adequate engagement by civil society organizations and members of the public. A vetting mechanism should also be established to ensure that all draft legislation complies with international human rights standards. 

Finally, in the current transitional environment with delicate relationships still being forged between different constituents, Myanmar must not lose sight of the need for constitutional reform. Many shared my view but acknowledged that this remained sensitive and would not likely be feasible soon. Nevertheless, I urged continued discussion and consideration of this important issue particularly within Parliament and by the public at large. 

Enhancing democratic space

The enjoyment of the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly are essential ingredients for Myanmar’s democracy. Many are hopeful that continuing restrictions on the exercise of these rights will soon be lifted by the new Government. However, recent incidents, such as the banning of a film during a human rights film festival and the denial of permission for a press conference on a civil society report alleging grave violations by the military, are worrying signals. Additionally, I was informed by several civil society actors that they are facing visa restrictions, or have once again been placed on the ‘blacklist’. 

I have previously highlighted concerns regarding the arrests and prosecution of individuals exercising fundamental rights. I stated that such practices were creating a new generation of political prisoners. While I have not seen the same frequency and scale of arrests, problematic legal provisions continue to be applied and the practice of bringing multiple charges across different townships for the same offence or historic offences also continues. Additionally, journalists and media workers continue to face legal action under outdated defamation laws. 

I also continue to receive reports of monitoring and surveillance of civil society actors and human rights defenders. During this visit, I unfortunately was informed that my interlocutors were photographed by security officials, and were questioned prior to and following our meetings. During a private meeting with a village community in Rakhine State, I discovered a recording device placed in the room by a Government official. 

I therefore renew my request to all civil society actors, media workers and prisoners with whom I met to report to me any cases of reprisal. I also reiterate that the Government (in particular the Ministry of Home Affairs and Special Branch police) must ensure the safety of all my interlocutors and guarantee that they will not face any reprisals, including threats, harassment, punishment or judicial proceedings as required by the Human Rights Council. I have been assured by the Deputy Minister of Home Affairs that these practices will cease in future visits and that no reprisals will occur. In my previous visits, I had also been assured by the then Minister of Home Affairs that these practices will cease. Nevertheless, they are still continuing. Old habits do die hard. 

As the United Nations Secretary-General has said “civil society is the oxygen of democracy”. It is clear that a change of mind-set is still needed at all levels of Government to allow civil society and the media to flourish. Going forward, the fundamental role of civil society in supporting further democratic reforms and in advocating for human rights must be better understood and fully recognized. Civil society can also monitor the abuse of power and corruption and hold state institutions to account. Criticism helps to strengthen democratic institutions and critical voices should not be excluded or restricted, but rather, empowered and supported. Partnerships with civil society should be built and strengthened. 

Political prisoners 

I commend the recent amnesties granted to political prisoners. This is a significant step which affirms the Government’s commitment to democratic transition and national reconciliation. I note that many individuals, whose cases I had previously raised, have been released with the charges against them dropped or pardoned. I met with some of them during my visit, including U Gambira earlier today upon his release. 

Many political prisoners remain behind bars however and their cases should be urgently resolved. I am aware that there continues to be discrepancies in the number of remaining political prisoners from different sources. Accordingly, a comprehensive and thorough review of all cases by the Government, based on broad consultations with all relevant stakeholders, is needed to clarify records. Related to this, in my view, is the need to develop a formal definition of political prisoner in consultation with all relevant actors. 

I also hold the view that former and released political prisoners should not be subject to administrative and other restrictions that impede re-integration into society. These include restrictions in the acquisition of passports and professional work licenses, and in enrollment in formal university education. Additionally, released political prisoners, particularly those who suffered ill-treatment or prolonged periods of solitary confinement, should be given the necessary medical and psycho-social support. 

National reconciliation 

The impact of conflict and looking towards peace 

The Government informed me that the peace process and the need to end continuing armed conflict in several areas of the country is a priority. In a worrying development since my last visit, a new front of fighting has broken out in Rakhine State. Fighting also continues in Kachin State and has taken on new dimensions in Northern Shan State. 

On the ground, this violence continues to have a severe effect on the lives of civilians. In particular, I continue to receive reports of human rights violations committed by all parties to the conflict and in all areas where active fighting continues. One individual told me that her sibling had been kidnapped and there was still no news of his fate many weeks later. This is sadly not an isolated case: reports of abductions for forced recruitment and for use as hostages, predominantly by ethnic armed groups, are increasing. I also continue to receive reports of other grave violations, including sexual and gender-based violence, torture, killings and arbitrary arrest by all sides. I reiterate that investigations should be conducted into all such allegations and that perpetrators be held to account. Military personnel who are alleged to have perpetrated violations against civilians must also be held accountable and should be prosecuted in a civilian court. 

Also of concern is the continuing detention and reported torture of individuals with suspected ties to ethnic armed groups under section 17 (1) of the Unlawful Associations Act. In particular, there has been a sharp increase in cases in Rakhine where reportedly some arrests have been made with little supporting evidence. 

During my visit, I also met with internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Kachin, Rakhine and Shan States and heard of their daily struggles to survive, earn a basic living and access basic services such as education and healthcare. In this context, humanitarian assistance provides a lifeline to communities and I was concerned to hear of the extensive difficulties in accessing and delivering such aid to several areas. In Rakhine State, I was informed that international non-governmental organizations are required to seek travel authorisations through a cumbersome procedure, with additional authorizations required for areas in the northern part of the State. Muslim staff members face restrictions in their freedom of movement and require additional travel authorisations which hamper their ability to perform their functions. 

In Kachin State, humanitarian access is shrinking particularly to non-government controlled areas. Previously there was access albeit subject to some limitations to the more than 40,000 IDPs in non-government controlled areas. However, access has been blocked in recent months with a proposal made to deliver assistance to neutral or government controlled areas – a 1.5 day walk for many of those affected. I had hoped to visit Laiza to look into these developments, but unfortunately was refused access to security considerations. 

In Northern Shan State, access is hampered by shifting front lines. The situation is becoming more complex with multiplying numbers of actors using armed force. I am particularly concerned by reports from civil society actors that the fighting between the TNLA and RCSS is starting to create tensions between civilian communities in affected areas. Their work in ensuring that communities are not further divided is even more vital now. Whilst I was given positive signals on the feasibility of a visit to Kutkai until the day before my arrival in Shan State, my request was ultimately denied due to ‘security considerations’ forcing a late change in my schedule. I regret that I was unable to see the realities on the ground for myself. 

During my visit, I repeatedly heard the sentiment that for communities affected by conflict, things have yet to change. They saw the recent elections as a sign of hope but they are still awaiting real change. Durable peace must be achieved to allow these areas of the country, and others to see the change they have been waiting for. 

I discussed the peace process and the 21st Century Panglong Conference with many interlocutors. I was encouraged to hear that efforts are being made to reach out to all ethnic armed groups. It is vital that the process is truly inclusive, collaborative and open in order to build a sustainable peace going forward. Civil society actors must be seen as partners in this process, and have a voice in all areas of discussion. This includes issues which are seen by some as political, but in fact have significant impact on human rights. 

The previous Government made a commitment to ensure at least 30% representation of women at all levels of the peace dialogue. This commitment should be met as a minimum. During my visit, I met with a number of qualified women working in the area of human rights and conflict, who would be an asset to the process. I hope that an effort will be made to ensure such individuals are included. A gender perspective must also be incorporated into all areas of the dialogue. 

IDPs informed me that they are afraid to return to their villages due to the continuing presence of soldiers and the risk posed by landmines. I was pleased to hear from the Ministry of Defence that demining has been completed in a small area in Kayin State. I urge that such programmes be extended throughout the country where there has not been recent active conflict, with assistance from the international community. 

Respect for the rights of minorities 

During my visit, I addressed continuing reports of discrimination against ethnic minorities, including through restrictions on the freedom of religion or belief. These issues must be addressed in future political dialogues in order to tackle the root causes of conflict and the long-standing grievances of ethnic communities. While the creation of an Ethnic Affairs Ministry is a welcome step, the necessary institutional, legal and policy framework should be established to ensure greater respect for the rights of minorities. In this regard, the Government should consider developing a comprehensive anti-discrimination law or policy to ensure that minorities can exercise their rights without any discrimination and in full equality before the law. 

The recent establishment of the Central Committee on Implementation of Peace, Stability and Development of Rakhine State signals the priority given by the Government to addressing the complex challenges facing both communities. Nevertheless, my visit to Rakhine State unfortunately confirmed that the situation on the ground has yet to significantly change. 

The conditions in the IDP camps I visited remain poor with concerns about overcrowding, the deterioration of temporary shelters and housing, and the lack of proper sanitation facilities. 

While there is rightful emphasis on ensuring development and humanitarian assistance to all communities, ending institutionalized discrimination against the Muslim communities in Rakhine State must also be an urgent priority. The continuing restrictions on the freedom of movement of the Rohingya and Kaman communities cannot be justified on any grounds of security or maintaining stability. In fact, as I have previously highlighted, such restrictions severely affect all aspects of life, including access to basic services and livelihoods. They also hamper community interactions and impede any prospects for long-term stability and reconciliation. Progress is needed on this key issue in order to address other human rights concerns in Rakhine State. 

I note that the Government has re-initiated a citizenship verification exercise in several townships and villages, with plans to roll out the exercise throughout the State. Identity cards for national verification are being issued – without designations of race and ethnicity and without expiration dates. I must acknowledge the Government’s attempt to learn lessons from a similar verification pilot exercise conducted in Myebon last year. Yet, response to this latest initiative has been lukewarm at best. Many with whom I spoke, including representatives of the Kaman community, expressed frustration that citizens or those entitled to citizenship were required to undergo this process. Some in the Rohingya community also provided me with copies of National Registration Cards (pink cards) held by their parents and grandparents dating back generations. There was also distrust and scepticism of the Government’s initiatives given the revocation of the Temporary Registration Cards (white cards) last year and previous citizenship verification exercises. The residents in one village in Rakhine State refused to participate in the verification exercise for these reasons. Additionally, I was informed that they had not been given prior information on the exercise and had received no further explanation subsequently. 

If the verification exercise is extended throughout Rakhine State, it would be important to fully consult and involve those directly affected by this process. Clear timeframes should be established on when participants will have their status reviewed and when decisions on their applications can be expected. The Government must address the situation in Myebon where those granted citizenship continue to face restrictions and demonstrate that all those granted citizenship will automatically acquire the rights to which they are entitled. 

Religious intolerance; incitement to hatred 

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. While I commend Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s commitment to combating and publicly condemning hate speech and incitement to violence against minorities, other public officials and political leaders must also speak out. 

During my visit, I specifically addressed recent reported attempts to build pagodas or stupas on the property of or in close proximity to churches and mosques in Karen State. I also expressed concern at the recent mob attack resulting in the destruction of a house, mosque, a school and a Muslim cemetery in Bago. Whether deliberate or not, the incident can be seen as an attack on the past, present and future of one community. 

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 fuelling greater tensions and provoking more conflict. This is precisely the wrong signal to send. The Government must demonstrate that instigating and committing violence against an ethnic or religious minority community has no place in Myanmar. Perpetrators will be treated seriously in accordance with the law regardless of race, religious or ethnic background. 

At the same time, comprehensive measures to address the root causes of such tensions and violence must also be taken. Prevention should be prioritized, including through education, and information and media campaigns, in order to deconstruct discriminatory and negative stereotypes. Initiatives to promote interfaith and intercommunal harmony must also be taken in cooperation with civil society, as well as religious and community leaders. 

Realizing economic, social and cultural rights for the prosperity of all 

Priority attention on economic, social and cultural rights is also of fundamental importance. As Myanmar continues to open up, the impact of development projects on these rights is becoming increasingly prominent. Development is needed for increased prosperity but should not come at the cost of human rights. Careful planning should be undertaken to ensure a rights-based approach which maximises the benefits for all. 

I met an individual who will shortly lose her family home to a mega-development project. She and other villagers were given no opportunity to discuss the project, but were instead summoned and informed that they would have to leave their village. She does not know if or when she will receive compensation or if there will be relocation options provided. Across the country, hundreds of others face a similar situation. This is unacceptable, and priority must be given to ensuring that communities are consulted in a meaningful process, and that relocations are conducted in line with international standards. 

Time will be needed to develop and enforce the normative framework in this area, and to gain the capacity and expertise to properly scrutinise projects. In this vein, I welcome the decision of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation to halt Government timber extraction for one year. This will enable the Ministry to review the current state of forests and to ensure that they are used sustainably. In this regard, a similar temporary moratorium on large-scale development projects should be considered in order to conduct meaningful consultations with affected communities and full social and environmental impact assessments. 

During my visit, I met with civil society groups active in the jade mining areas. They told me of the dire conditions faced by local communities, including extensive environmental degradation, continuing land confiscations as the mines expand, and weekly deaths from vehicles and landslides, all conducted against a backdrop of disregard for the rule of law. I was pleased to hear that all companies were now required to complete environmental impact assessments in accordance with the new procedures, but further steps are needed. 

I have repeatedly underlined the need to resolve the issue of land confiscations, both historic and continuing. I was therefore pleased that the new Government quickly formed a new Central Committee to address this issue. The Committee recently completed its first returns, giving 7000 acres back to farmers. This is welcome progress. The Committee assured me of their desire to resolve the remaining cases, but many are complex and will take time. Whilst this process is continuing, priority should also be given to drafting a national land law, which can serve as a basis for fair and transparent land management going forward. Building on the National Land Use Policy, this should be done in a participatory manner, drawing on the expertise of civil society and international organizations. 

Realizing the right to education will be key to improving the prospects of Myanmar’s next generation. A recent census report on employment showed that one in five children are in employment rather than education. Birth registration rates remain low across the country, but particularly in some conflict areas where no registrations have taken place due to difficulties accessing registration centers. The birth registration rate of Muslim communities in Rakhine State is also alarmingly low. Given my professional background, I have a particular interest in this area and have offered my assistance to parliamentarians and others working on issues related to the rights of children. I hope this is one of several areas where we can work together going forward. 

Education for IDPs continues to be limited across the country. In all IDP camps I visited, ensuring access to education was the primary concern. In Kachin State, I was told of the lack of schools at the secondary and tertiary levels and low quality of education in the primary schools provided in the camps. In Rakhine State, I visited an IDP camp for the Rakhine community, where I was informed that children have to walk three hours each morning to reach a secondary school. In camps for Muslim communities around Sittwe, there is only one secondary school. Steps should be taken to secure universal access to education for all across the country, and priority attention should be given to IDP communities facing protracted displacement due to conflict. In Rakhine State, improving access to and the quality of education is one concrete and feasible step which can go a long way to improving the situation for all communities. It is particularly vital that restrictions impeding access to education for Muslim communities are removed. 

Improving access to health care continues to be a priority for Myanmar, but particularly for IDPs in conflict-affected areas. This was another priority concern expressed to me in all IDP camps I visited. In Rakhine State, extending access to health care is vital for all communities and could provide a similar tangible step towards improving the situation on the ground. Of particular urgency is the need to remove restrictions preventing Muslims from accessing medical treatment in some Township Hospitals. Currently, Muslim communities are only able to seek treatment at Sittwe Hospital which, for some, is several hours’ travel. Even in medical emergencies, special permission to be referred to Sittwe Hospital is required, which is time consuming and cumbersome. This has resulted in preventable deaths and could lead to more if not urgently addressed. It is vital that all people are granted safe and timely access to health services without discrimination. As a minimum, it is important to ensure that all people (including Muslims and people of unresolved citizenship status) have safe access to all Township Hospitals in emergency cases. I raised this suggestion with several interlocutors and received assurances that steps towards this will be taken in this regard. I look forward to hearing of prompt action in this area. 


Let me conclude by reiterating my firm belief that Myanmar’s young democracy can only progress if human rights are fully mainstreamed into its institutional, legal and policy framework. Building a culture of respect for human rights must be a priority now and in the future. While I am aware of the need to give space and time for the new Government to address the many complex challenges facing the country, I must remain constructively and critically engaged and vocal in encouraging and advocating for greater progress on human rights. I must also continue to hold Myanmar accountable to its international human rights obligations. That is my mandate as Special Rapporteur. 

The international community also has a responsibility in this regard. In the rush to forge or strengthen political or economic ties, international actors must continue to prioritize human rights, particularly in business and investment relations. International actors should not undermine human rights priorities, including by remaining silent when confronted with human rights concerns or at worst, becoming complicit in perpetuating human rights abuses. The international community must remain fully engaged on human rights issues in Myanmar. It should also remain committed to providing necessary assistance and support to further the reforms in line with international human rights standards. It is vital that all actors work together to ensure human rights are respected and protected across Myanmar. 

At the start of my visit, I stated that my objective, as Special Rapporteur, is to continue to work closely with the Government and people of Myanmar, for the promotion and protection of human rights in the country. I reaffirm that pledge to you now. 

Thank you. 


Annex – List of Meetings 

Union Government Officials 
  • State Counsellor, Union Minister for Foreign Affairs, Minister in the President’s Office 
  • Union Minister, State Counsellor’s Office; Working Committee for Cooperation with United Nations Agencies and International Organizations 
  • Union Minister of Defence 
  • Union Minister of Border Affairs; Central Committee for the Implementation of Stability, Peace and Development of Rakhine State 
  • Union Minister of Labour, Immigration and Population 
  • Union Minister of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement; National Disaster Management Committee 
  • Attorney General 
  • Union Minister of Ethnic Affairs 
  • Union Minister of Religious Affairs and Culture 
  • Union Minister of Education 
  • Union Minister of Information 
  • Union Minister of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation 
  • Deputy Minister of Home Affairs 
  • Deputy Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces 

  • Patron for the Union Parliament and Speaker of the Amyotha Hluttaw 
  • Speaker of the Pyithu Hluttaw 
  • Bills Committee of the Amyotha Hluttaw and Pyithu Hluttaw 
  • Fundamental Rights, Democracy and Human Rights Committee of the Amyotha Hluttaw and Pyithu Hluttaw 
  • Chair and members of the Legal Affairs and Special Cases Assessment Commission 

Other institutions 
  • Myanmar National Human Rights Commission 
  • Myanmar Press Council 
  • Central Committee on Confiscated Farmlands and Other Lands 
  • Preparation Committee for the 21st Century Panglong Conference and members of the Joint Monitoring Committee 

Rakhine State 
  • Chief Minister and representatives of the Rakhine State Government 
  • Members of the Rakhine Elders 
  • Muslim and Rakhine communities in Ponnagyun 
  • Displaced communities in Pyinnwar Wa 
  • Displaced Rakhine communities around Sittwe 
  • Muslim community in Aung Mingalar 
  • Representatives of United Nations entities 
  • Representatives of international non-governmental organizations 
  • Consul of Bangladesh 
  • Former Chief Minister of Rakhine State and Member of State Parliament 
  • Human rights defenders 

Kachin State 
  • Chief Minister and representatives of the Kachin State Government 
  • Civil society actors working on the peace process; jade mining and extractive industries; humanitarian assistance to IDPs 
  • Jan Mai Kawng Catholic Church IDP Camp 
  • Le Kone Zion Baptist Church IDP Camp 

Shan State 
  • Representatives of the Shan State Government in Lashio 
  • Representatives of United Nations entities 
  • Victims of human rights violations 
  • Civil society actors working on the peace process; humanitarian assistance to IDPs; human rights; women’s rights and gender issues 

Civil society actors 
  • Lawyers 
  • Media workers 
  • Actors working on land rights issues; environmental issues; women’s rights and gender issues; youth issues; labour rights issues; peace process; freedom of religion 
  • 88 Generation Peace and Open Society; 
  • Representatives of the Kaman community 
  • Representatives of international human rights non-governmental organizations 
  • Recently released political prisoners 
  • Center for Diversity and National Harmony 

  • Members of the United Nations Country Team 
  • Representatives of the diplomatic community 
  • Rakhine Heads of Mission Group 
  • Religious leaders 

Detainee in Myitkyina Prison 
  • Laphai Gam 

Insein Prison 
  • Min Min 
  • Maung Maung Lwin 
  • Win Hwe 
  • Win Naing 
  • Ye Thu Aung 
  • Zaw Min Oo
Original here.

Self-Identification and Non-Discrimination Rights for Minorities: A Legal Analysis

Self-Identification and Non-Discrimination Rights for Minorities: A Legal Analysis

Myanmar Tai Yin Thar: The Cancerous National Idea

Myanmar Tai Yin Thar: The Cancerous National Idea 

Tai Yin Thar is one big fictional idea that has long poisoned "the Burmese Mind", alongside the anti-intellectual racist view of Buddhist-Host versus Non-Buddhist-Guests of Myanmar. 

Myanmar's popular and official thinking about ethnic identity is stuck in the fixed, blood-based notion of "race" that emerged out of the pseudo-scientific notion of 'races' imported to the colonies by the European colonizers. 

The Nazi Genocide of the people of Jewish ancestry was one most tragic consequence of such blood-based, fixed notion originating out of the militarily and technologically advanced Western Europe in the 19th. 

Empirically speaking, there are no Tai Yin Thar in Burma nor are there blood-based, fixed and pure identities in Burma - or for that matter, any nation-states. 

The origin of Burma is a contested, unfinished and unsettled narrative, all groups claiming from having migrated from somewhere else, outside today's borders of Burma or Myanmar. 

As such it is utterly stupid, delusional and counter-productive to continue using both the term "Tai Yin Thar" and the narrative that embraces uncritically the hierarchy of 'national races' (for instance, Bama is implicitly assumed superior to the Shan, the Kachin, etc. in terms of the Bama's contributions to building the Union of Burma). 

The Bama suffer from this superiority complex as a national mental disease. Aung San Suu Kyi is not immune from this cancer herself as she shares the Tatmadaw's institutionalized "Big Brother" mentality and the Bama-centric/racist history according to which it is essentially the Bama Buddhists who have built the Union. 

Similarly, it is also utterly counter-productive to promote the racist view that the non-Buddhists are "guests" in Burma and Buddists are "hosts" as is popularized by fork-tongued snake Sitagu "monk" - who would have been catalogued under the category of 64-Kalars, were he alive in AD1400. 

The idea of Tai Yin Tha is among the most poisonous ideologies harmful to the crucial task of building a multi-ethnic and multi-faith nation where migration, both external and internal/domestic, has been on-going for centuries. 

The current controversy over the term Rohingya is in part Government-manufactured/-instigated and in part rooted in the Old World's fixed idea of racial/ethnic identity as something based on 'blood'.

In both the real world and theoretically driven academic/research work, the idea of 'blood-based' racial identity is rejected as a farce; there simply is no immutable 'race' and 'ethnicity' on this earth. 

The old Orientalist Anthropology catalogued and thus helped legitimize the hierarchy of races, with savages, tribes, civilized races, etc. at the bottom of this civilizational hierarchy while the top spots were occupied by White colonizing identities - for instance, English, French, German, etc. 

The belief in the racial/ethnic "purity" and "superiority" of a particular group pervades European colonial administrations - and colonial societies, both colonized and colonizing. Heard of "White Only Clubs" "Class", etc.? 

With no exception, all colonial systems were systems of apartheid; every aspect of colonial administration and society was racist and built on racist thoughts, deeds and paradigms. The differences were in the degree, not in kind. 

Nazism and what the Nazi did were only the worst version among Racisms. 

Independence of formerly colonized societies - such as Myanmar or Malaysia - did NOT dismantle the old racist thinking and racist practices. Post-independence nations after WWII retain the racist thoughts and ideas that were embedded in the old colonial administrations, practices including cataloguing peoples within the new national borders along racist lines. 

Upon independence, Burmese nationalists who replaced the old British masters as Lords of the new country, simply morphed into a new crop of racially minded and racist rulers. 

In that sense, political independence did not signify progress - either ideologically, culturally, societally or intellectually.

In place of White-skinned racist colonizers, the Burmese, or those who identified themselves as Burmese (such as Ne Win and his gang of military leaders with Chinese ancestry) became new Brown- and/or Yellow-sgkinned coloniers, sitting at the top of the new ethnic hierarchy. 

Despite the bogus separation between ethnic identity and political identity, served up by White-racist "experts", for instance, the likes of Jacque Leider from Luxumberg, the fact that all ethnic and racial identity has a significant element of voluntary political group identification.

Common language, regional dialect, visible hues of skin colour, bio-physical features, shared religions, geographic regions, etc. may serve as 'ethnic markers', but they do NOT determine nor do they override the voluntary identification or choice of identity as 'ethnic group'. 

For instance, Rakhine and Bama languages share many linguistic similarities and both groups generally are Buddhists. Not all Burmese are Buddhists nor the Rakhine. 

But - this is a big BUT - neither Rakhine nor Bama people will ever accept collapsing of their group identities as 'Rakhine' or 'Bama'. Rakhine have their own "ethnic" or "political" consciousness and group history, entirely separate from the Burmese consciousness and political history. 

By the same token, the 'blood" does NOT mean anything in terms of ethnic or group identity or consciousness. 

Millions of Burmese in what generally called "Upper Burma" or A-nyar have Mon ancestry, based on their family oral history: The Mon of the Lower Burma were scattered all throughout Burma for centuries. And no Burmese in Upper Burma with mixed Mon ancestral background - including myself and my extended family of dozens of relatives - would ever choose to identify ourselves as "Mon". A

This applies to anyone with any combination of ethnic identities - Burmese-Karen, Karen-Shan, Mon-Rakhine, etc. 

By the same token, millions of those who identify themselves as Burmese - Burmese Muslim, Burmese Christians, Burmese Buddhists, etc. have Kalar (Indian sub-continental groups), Tayoke (Chinese) , European, African, etc. "blood" - or more, mixed ancestral backgrounds. Nonetheless, many choose to call themselves as "Burmese" "Bama" "Burman" "Myanmar". 

Because of the elastic and shifting regional and national boundaries of Burma under different local and colonial administrations throughout the recorded histories of Burma, spanning centuries, ethnic/racial identities emerge, disappear, re-emerge, are re-made and invented, depending on the waves of migration, political and military histories, economic patterns, etc. 

Just as the boundaries of Burma and the regions that make up Burma - or more accurately, clusters of kingdoms that existed in the country which we call Burma today - are ever changing, over time, so are the total number of ethnic groups, their names, their relative positions of influence, wealth and power. 

(Just across Burma's western borders, there were no Bangladeshi until 1973, and there were no Pakistanis until August 1947 - the year of partitioning of Indian sub-continent.)

That is why, in AD1400, the Bama court came up with its tally and catalogue of "races" living within the Kingdom - "101 races".

There were no Kokant, no Wa or Lawa, no Jing Hpaw or no Naga in that '101 races' listed in the Royal Orders of the Old Burmese Court going back to the 14th century. And yet they are all considered "Tai Yin Thar" in Myanmar today, in 2016.

In AD1800, the British colonial censuses listed over 30 'races' (30?).

In the post-independence era, the number of races in Burma was different from that of the British colonial censuses. 

Then, in 1970s, the education deputy minister and geologist Dr Nyi Nyi came up with a different tally.

And yet another tally during the Burmese Socialist Program Party dictatorship of General Ne Win: 135 national races. 

Sandwiched between the combined genocidal force of the Tatmadaw and the racist Rakhine Buddhists or the Rakhine Kalar, to borrow the term recorded in the Royal Orders of Burmese Court, AND the international community that observe the Rohingya's group right to self-identify, the Aung San Suu Kyi government is grappling with the explosive issue of what to call officially the Rohingya - "Muslims from Rakhine state" because it has ruled out calling them either Rohingya or Bengali. 

When a national society wraps itself around a flag of religion and swallow and internalise the blood-based notion of 'race' and 'ethnicity' nothing - absolutely nothing - positive will result.

Quite the contrary, a dark, and Nazi-like future awaits for the public in Burma. That is stemming from the delusion of Tai Yin Thar and Buddhist Host-versus-non-Buddhist Guests.