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Saturday, 19 April 2014

Can Malaysia demand justice for the Rohingyas?

By Rama Ramanathan
Yesterday I was at a Proham-Aman-GMMF discussion titled Human Rights Violations and Remedies: The Rohingyan Case. The 3 hours I spent there caused me to think deeply about asylum seekers, citizenship, Asean diplomacy and Malay Supremacists.

The Rohingyas are Muslims of Indian origin who are being erased in Myanmar. The Rohingyas comprise the largest number of asylum seekers in Malaysia. The Rohingyas are a vocal group of dispossessed, frustrated, marginalized people in Malaysia.

Why are Rohingyas fleeing Myanmar and arriving in Malaysia?

A February 2009 article in the Sydney Morning Herald (SMH) explains:

“The Rohingyas, an ethnic minority not recognized [as citizens] by Burma’s military government, number about 800,000 in that country. Hundreds of thousands have fled to Bangladesh, Malaysia and the Middle East.”

Bangladesh doesn’t even allow relief agencies to assist Rohingyas in Bangladeshi camps.

Malaysia on the other hand, in 2004, under Prime Minister Badawi, granted “legal status to some 10,000 ethnic Rohingya refugees and asylum seekers from Myanmar, which should enable them legally to reside, enjoy some freedom of movement, seek employment, and send their children to school” (source).

Four years later, at an Asean summit, Badawi urged other nations to push asylum seekers back into the sea (source). Badawi may have said this to elicit a response of horror from Thailand which was reported to have pushed Rohingyas out to die at sea.

Badawi must have regretted Malaysia’s 2004 decision to give asylum to Rohingyas, as the decision was viewed as a signal that Malaysia would welcome Rohingyas.

From the same Asean summit, a BBC correspondent reported Myanmar’s stance:

“The Burmese foreign minister told his Thai counterpart that his country might be willing to take back Rohingyas - but only if they were categorised as Bengalis who reside in Burma, not Burmese citizens.

This is in keeping with a bizarre official policy which denies Rohingyas official status, the right to move around, even to marry without permission, despite the fact that they have lived in western Burma for more than a thousand years.

A memo faxed to journalists by the Burmese consul in Hong Kong last week insisted Rohingyas could not be real Burmese, as they were dark-skinned and "as ugly as ogres".”

Rohingya? Bengali? Burmese? Indian?

A Wikipedia entry about Rohingyas was affirmed by Datuk Kuthubul Zaman, Chairman of Proham in his welcoming speech yesterday:

“The Rohingyas have been described . . . as a ‘fabricated people’ – in fact, one of the biggest debates in the Rohingya crisis is the use of the term ‘Rohingya’ itself. Burmese historians and scholars deny the use of the term ‘Rohingyas’. . . and prefer to call these people as Bengali Muslims.

This is despite the evidence that in 1799 Francis Buchanan published “A Comparative Vocabulary of Some of the Languages Spoken in the Burma Empire” where he chronicles a language “spoken by the Mohammedans, who have long settled in Arakan, and who call themselves Rooinga”.

Wikipedia also says “the word Rohingya is not used in the 1824 census conducted by the British.

Since race was so important to the British, the absence of Rohingya as a census classification probably means self-identification as Rohingya was rare 2 centuries ago. I find it hard to believe they could have grown to 800,000 strong now.

I do know Burmese Indians are labelled non-citizens in Myanmar. Burmese Indians are disenfranchised because of how they came to Burma.

Indians first came to Burma as soldiers in the British army which defeated the Burmese in 1824. The Indians thus humiliated the Burmese. Indians next came as workers in all classes of occupations to rapidly develop Burma. The Indians thus limited the opportunities available to the Burmese.

The second wave included Chettiar moneylenders who, by the late 1930’s, had acquired over a quarter of the agricultural land. Though businesses were soon dominated by Indians, the vast majority of Indians in Burma were poor, being greatly indebted to Indian maistries (source, page 36: Raj Rai, University of Singapore).

In light of that history, rather than split hairs over the origins of Rohingyas, it seems better to ask: What prevents the Burmese and the Indians in Myanmar from living together harmoniously? Can the Indians forgive the Burmese who nationalized their wealth? Can the Burmese “forgive” the Indians who invaded their land? Why bother with ethnic/racial classifications? Should citizenship be based on ethnic considerations?

Current events concerning Rohingyas

Yesterday I learned much.
A visiting Thai-Buddhist photographer (Mr Suthep Kritsanavarin) gave a heart-rending presentation about the hardships Rohingyas endure in their journeys of escape.

A visiting Rohingya-Muslim (Ms Win Win Nu) spoke of the hardships Rohingyas face in their own country: being brutalized instead of being treated at hospitals; having their homes and businesses burned down; being compelled to identify themselves as “Bengalis” in a census funded by the UN Population Fund, and the list goes on.

Resident Rohingya-Muslims spoke about their disappointments with the Malaysian authorities, access to healthcare, schooling, UNHCR, etc.

A Malaysian spoke about the biggest fear of Rohingyas in Malaysia: RELA members who get money prizes for each undocumented Rohingyas they take captive.

Debbie Stothard, Secretary-General of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) spoke about the ‘special way’ in which the Myanmar regime is treated by the world despite the atrocities it commits against minorities.

They did not say whether Rohingyas speak Bengali or any other Indian language.

The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Myanmar

On 24 March 2011 Myanmar underwent a Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in Geneva. The word “Rohingya” appears 6 times in the report of the review. The following nations used the word “Rohingya:” Algeria, Ireland, Belgium (x 3) and the USA. The word “Rohingya” was never used by an Asean nation.

Malaysia gave Myanmar this recommendation: “106.46. Intensify cooperation particularly at the regional and bilateral level with neighbouring States in the effort to find a lasting solution to the issue of the Myanmar refugees.”

Belgium gave Myanmar this recommendation: “107.26. Put an end to racial discrimination against the Rohingya and join ICERD.” Malaysia cannot support Belgium’s recommendation because Malaysia has refused to even consider joining the International Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

Does a nation which espouses Malay Supremacy have the moral credibility to demand just treatment for Rohingyas in Myanmar?

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Aung San Suu Kyi's 'silence' on the Rohingya: Has 'The Lady' lost her voice?

By Tim Hume, CNN

Myanmar's National League for Democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi pictured at a polling station in 2012.
Myanmar's National League for Democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi pictured at a polling station in 2012.
  • U.N.: Persecution of Myanmar's Rohingya minority could be crime against humanity
  • Yet revered human rights icon Aung San Suu Kyi has been notably quiet on their ordeal
  • Human rights bodies criticize her for her perceived failure to speak out on their behalf
  • Others are more forgiving, say she faces complex challenges in bid to become president
(CNN) -- Having endured nearly 15 years of house arrest with grace and courage, Aung San Suu Kyi has earned a reputation throughout the world as a political superstar of rare moral stature.
But for some, mostly from outside the country but also from within, the aura surrounding Myanmar's most famous daughter has dimmed in recent years.
"I think everyone agrees now she has been a disappointment when it comes to human rights promotion," said David Mathieson, Human Rights Watch's senior researcher on Myanmar.
The Nobel Peace Prize winner's glittering international reputation means that visiting dignitaries still clamor for a meeting since she emerged from detention in 2010 and set about pressing her case to become the next president of post-reform Myanmar. "Everyone that arrives in Rangoon (Yangon) expects to get a photo op," said Mathieson. "They all want that Suu Kyi photo on the mantelpiece."
But for some observers of Myanmar's emergence from nearly half a century of authoritarian military rule, the 68-year-old's perceived failure to speak out against rising violence towards the mainly Buddhist country's Muslim Rohingya minority is grounds for criticism.
HRW executive director Kenneth Roth was withering in a recent report: "The world was apparently mistaken to assume that as a revered victim of rights abuse she would also be a principled defender of rights."
I think everyone agrees now she has been a disappointment when it comes to human rights promotion
David Mathieson, Human Rights Watch
Aung Zaw, editor of Myanmar news magazine The Irrawaddy, said that while she remained popular among Burmese, Suu Kyi had eroded some of her domestic support in recent years.
Her failure to speak out on ethnic issues and the communal violence that had wracked the country was "shocking," he said, and had been met with disappointment in quarters of the country's ethnic communities.
"People expected her -- as she is a Nobel Peace Prize winner -- to say a few words to stop the bloodshed," he said.
Ethnic conflict has been a recurring feature of Myanmar's political landscape since it gained independence from Britain in 1948.
But following the 2011 transition from military rule to quasi-civilian governance, the country has witnessed a significant spike in violence targeting Muslims, with Buddhist extremists blamed for fanning the flames of hatred.
The Rohingya -- a Muslim minority concentrated in impoverished Rakhine state in the west of the country -- has borne the worst of it, prompting the U.N.'s Special Rapporteur on Myanmar, Tomas Ojea Quintana, to declare this month that the recent persecution of the group "could amount to crimes against humanity." Myanmar presidential spokesman Ye Htut told CNN the government rejected the remarks.
Myanmar's most persecuted minority
The Rohingya -- regarded by many in Myanmar as interlopers from neighboring Bangladesh -- are de jure stateless due to their lack of official recognition as one of the country's 135 ethnic groups. During the controversial recent national census, the country's first in 31 years, officials forbade respondents from identifying as Rohingya, drawing international criticism.
The Rohingya face "very, very strong" antipathy throughout the country, according to Georgetown University expert David Steinberg, being subjected to restrictions on marriage, employment, health care, education and movement, and are the only group in the country barred from having more than two children.
I am not condemning because I have not found that condemnation brings good results
Aung San Suu Kyi
In 2012, outbreaks of communal violence in Rakhine -- home to an estimated 800,000 Rohingya -- left hundreds dead, the majority of them Muslims. The bloodshed displaced huge populations from their homes into squalid camps, where 140,000, mostly Rohingya, remain, completely reliant on humanitarian aid supplies that are increasingly being restricted.
Last month, Doctors Without Borders -- the largest NGO healthcare provider in Rakhine -- was banned from operating in the state, where it had worked for more than 20 years, because officials accused it of providing preferential treatment to Rohingya. Weeks later, international aid workers were driven from the state during rioting by Buddhist-led mobs angry at the aid workers' perceived support for the Rohingya, a development Quintana warned would have severe consequences for the 140,000 within the camps, and 700,000 vulnerable people outside them.
The killings have persisted as well, according to reports. The U.N. says that in January, at least 40 Rohingya men, women and children were killed by security forces and civilians from the Rakhine ethnic group at a village in Rakhine state called Du Chee Yar Tan. An official inquiry by Myanmar's government found no evidence to support the claims of a massacre, said Htut.
While Suu Kyi -- who, through her staff, declined to comment for this story -- has joined rights activists in criticizing the two-child limit for Rohingya as discriminatory, her critics say she has been less than emphatic about the communal violence that has disproportionately affected the Rohingya.
When drawn on the Rohingya issue, "The Lady," as she is known in Myanmar, has consistently hewn to familiar talking points: stressing the rule of law and a commitment to non-violence, while refusing to condemn either side -- a position that many rights activists find untenable.
She has rejected the HRW's characterization of the situation as "ethnic cleansing," and told an Indian television interviewer in 2012 not to "forget that violence has been committed by both sides." "This is why I prefer not to take sides and also I want to work towards reconciliation between these two communities. I'm not going to be able to do that if I'm going to take sides."
In November, she told an audience in Sydney that "what people want is not defense but condemnation. I am not condemning because I have not found that condemnation brings good results."
Silence is not remaining neutral. It's giving a green light to those who want violence, keeping this climate of impunity and insecurity
Chris Lewa, Rohingya advocate
Suu Kyi's stance, said Chris Lewa, director of Rohingya advocacy group The Arakan Project, was "very disappointing," in that it falsely equated the suffering of Buddhists and Muslims in Rakhine. "Silence is not remaining neutral. It's giving a green light to those who want violence, keeping this climate of impunity and insecurity."
A 'politically calculated silence'?
So why has this outspoken defender of human rights seemingly lost her voice?
It is, says Mathieson, "a politically calculated silence" that reflects the re-entry of Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy into the political fold in earnest.
The former political prisoner, who described herself to CNN last year as having "been a politician all along," has repeatedly said she wants to be the next president of Myanmar. The 2015 general election will see her compete against the military-backed party of President Thein Sein on one flank, and hardline anti-regime activists on the other.
"She's playing a different game now," said Mathieson. "People still see her as this great Nobel Peace Prize-winning icon for human rights and democracy -- what they don't get now is she wants to be a politician taking on one of the most brutal militaries in the world."
Mathieson said Suu Kyi's political fortunes depended on negotiating several challenges, including trying to strike a balance between international expectations -- "most of which are outlandishly unfair and ill-informed" -- and a "very complicated domestic setting where if she suddenly did do a volte-face and spoke out on behalf of Muslims, it would be politically disastrous."
Moreover, she was operating in a complicated post-authoritarian domestic environment in which she had opted to work inside the system as a lawmaker and was compelled to keep senior military figures, who still hold a strong grip on the reins of power, onside. "I can understand why she's walking on eggshells," he said.
The regime is clever at using her political legitimacy to advance its goal to legitimize its rule
Aung Zaw, editor, The Irrawaddy
Suu Kyi's political ambitions were complicated by the fact that a clause in Myanmar's 2008 military-drafted constitution prohibits anyone with a foreign spouse or children from becoming president, said Mathieson. Suu Kyi's late husband was a foreign-born Oxford academic, and her two adult sons are British.
While Suu Kyi and her supporters are seeking to have this clause removed from the constitution before 2015, the time frame to achieve this is short, and parliament has indicated any changes to the constitution would prioritize other reforms first.
For some in Myanmar, it is her perceived failure to successfully negotiate her new relationship with the military that is the biggest source of disappointment. To Zaw, her accommodations to the military establishment have led to her, and others in the opposition, being co-opted by a "completely flawed system."
"Her reading of the government, an offshoot of the repressive regime, has been wrong," said Zaw, citing her controversial support for a Chinese-backed copper mine in Letpadeung, which saw her sharply criticized by local residents opposed to the project, as one such misstep to have alienated supporters.
"The regime is clever at using her political legitimacy to advance its goal to legitimize its rule, and to change the perceptions of Western governments towards the country -- from pariah to darling of the West.
While she retained popularity among many Burmese, he said, the result was that Suu Kyi had lost some of her allies "inside and outside of Burma."
'Not so simple'
But others are more forgiving of her position. Influential blogger and activist Nay Phone Latt, who was a political prisoner for four years under the junta and is currently campaigning against a wave of "hate speech" in Myanmar, stressed that Suu Kyi was negotiating a complex political environment at a critical juncture for the country.
"The political situation (in) our country is not so simple," he said. "I don't want to blame her."
I think she thinks she's the person in that country who best understands what democracy is about, and what's best for the future of Burma
David Steinberg, Georgetown University
Steinberg said he interpreted Suu Kyi's politically expedient stance on the Rohingya issue as motivated out of concern for Myanmar's national interest, rather than being a purely self-interested act.
"I think she thinks she's the person in that country who best understands what democracy is about, and what's best for the future of Burma."
He believed that Suu Kyi remained "very important" to Myanmar's future, but that her significance would diminish over time, if the government's rapid reforms of recent years continued apace and brought about significant change.
"If the government can deliver improvement in the lives of the people, if they do things with the environment and pay attention to minorities, then her status will quietly diminish," he said. Suu Kyi would likely retain a high profile to the rest of the world regardless, he predicted, "because we like Joans of Arc."
For Zaw, despite his criticisms, Suu Kyi remained "one of the hopes in Burma," alongside "many other democrats and ethnic leaders who continue to push for genuine change."
She retained the support of many, he said, and crucially, she was not corrupt.
"I still think there's time for her to change her tactics, reconnect to the roots and rebuild her base," he said. "If she can mobilize people and her allies, inside and outside, the other side will negotiate and make more meaningful concessions.
"She is someone Burma was expecting for many decades. She should know that the country needs her."

A Rohingya Voice on Violations & Remedies

Wai Wai & Debbie Stothard at the RTD on Rohingya at GMM (April17, 2014
By Wai Wai Nu, Director, Women Peace Network Arakan

             I feel honored to have the chance to speak as a panel in this discussion on Rohingya issue. I myself is a Rohingya, and I hope participants in this group will finally give me some hopeful and practical assurances that I can take a long with me to convey to my persecuted Rohingya people. I am very much thankful to the sponsors of this meeting who invited me.

             Here I would like to present a short and precise analysis of the Human right situation in Rakhine state. Since Rohingya’s identity is denied by Myanmar Government their citizenship question became on stake.

            1982 Myanmar citizenship law which the world regards as an arbitrary and harsh law, short of international norm and standard, section 3 says “Only the 8 major indigenous races and sub races associated to them are, Myanmar citizen”. Since Myanmar’s independence in 1948, Rohingya were listed as one of the ethnic races but the 1982 law excluded them. From that time various forms of discriminatory and suppressive rules and mechanism have been in continuation until today. Rohingyas are no longer regarded as Human being. Their socio-economic life is so suffocated that almost all Rohingyas are just eking for survival.

            What the successive military Governments intentionally did to strip Rohingya of everything vital for their livelihoods are;

            Firstly, they are deprived of their history: despite their existence in Arakan for thousand years they are portrayed as Indians who came into Arakan (Rakhine) since British occupation in 1824.

            Secondly, their ethnicity is misinterpreted and branded them as Bengali. This is a deliberate attempt took place since 1973 and 1983 censuses to make them stateless. Though they themselves enlisted them as Rohingya then, census reports said this people are Bengali which are about 29% of total Arakan’s population of 3.3million.

            Thirdly, the government looted away Rohingya’s citizenship under a new and arbitrary citizenship law in 1982. Now Rohingyas are branded as noncitizen or stateless. As there were conventions under UN supervision for the protection and reduction of stateless people, Myanmar government prefers the term noncitizen.

            Finally, in the 2014 Myanmar census which started on April 1, there are 135 code numbers for each of so called national (ethnic) peoples but not for Rohingya. The government gave two different stories to international and to local media. To international media they said Rohingya must list themselves under the category 914 which means “other” but can write “Rohingya” to give more detail. This means that Rohingya will not be counted as an ethnic group but people were free to identify themselves. BUT some local media reported the Immigration and Population Minister  said, “Rohingya must enlist as Bengali. Otherwise, one who enumerate as Rohingya is liable to legal punishment.” The worst is the demonstrations, led by extremist Monk Werathu, to totally ban the word “Rohingya” from the census. Rakhine politicians are threatening for more intensive violence unless Government bans the inclusion of Rohingya.  So, now, if we want write “Rohingya” as our ethnic identity in the census, we will be stopped from joining the census. We are forced to write we are “Bengali” or we will not be counted at all. This census is funded by the UN Population Fund, European Union and other western countries, so it is extremely disappointing that the census is so racist.

The lead monk of hate the speech monk  “Wirathu”  whom Time magazine remark as “the face of Buddhist terror” visited Maung Daw Town (northern Arakan) in first week of January. Here on 13th January a big terrorized incidence occurred where dozens of people were injured and killed, the whole villagers had to flee away from the village and their belongings were looted away by Rakhine mobs and security personnel. The government “investigated” this violence two times and said there was no evidence of violence against Rohingya. They just said one police was killed but they couldn’t find his body, and recommended that police should be given better weapons. The international NGO Medicins Sans Frontiers (MSF) said they treated 25 Rohingya people who were injured in that violence, so the government banned MSF from Rakhine state. Now more and more international NGOs giving humanitarian aid are being banned or attacked. The Burma Bulletin for March is distributed here, so you can read about the attacks last month.

Abuses and discriminations against Rohingya are intentional, well prepared well organized. Rohingyas have been dehumanized, demonized, pushed into camps  and persecuted in so many other ways. This includes restriction on movement, on marriage, on child birth and access to education and medical treatment. The restrictions on marriage and birth means about 60,000 Rohingya children could not get birth certificates. Rohingya children and youth have found it difficult to get education, especially girls. After the violence started in 2012, the situation got much worse. Now, there are more than 20,000 children unable to go to school and  1,000 students unable to continue their university education. Most Rohingya in Rakhine state cannot not get any health services at all. The government hospitals treat us as an enemy and we keep getting reports that hospital staff have beaten or mistreated Rohingya who seek medical treatment.

Economic life is stagnated. All most one third of Rohingyas’ farming lands were seized for distribution among non Rohingya newly settled model villages and military installations. Forced eviction and removing of Rohingya villages are routine. Due to one-sided attack and assault 150,000 Rohingya became IDPs, living in squalid camps without necessary facilities. Other Rohingya whose villages were not burned are virtually in confinement. No freedom of movement and freedom of access to any means of livelihood. There is no visible plan to resettle the IDPs. Even after kicking out all the INGOs from Sittwe last month, it’s  become the question of serious humanitarian problem. Women and children are dying every day due to lack of food, water and heath care.

The systematic and widespread human rights violations of Rohingya is not an internal matter. It has caused tens of thousands of Rohingya to flee as refugees to neighbouring countries including Malaysia and other ASEAN countries.
Our request to justice loving people, specially to ASEAN countries is as follows:

1.     Insist for protection of Rohingya from violence and access to basic needs such as safe shelter, food, water, health and education. Rohingya are being segregated in camps in cyclone- sensitive areas. They could easily die from bad weather and deprivation of food, so they need to move to a safer location. For this, the government must also ensure protection and assistance to NGOs providing services to Rohingya and any other displaced people in Rakhine state.

2.     Pressure Myanmar government to restore to Rohingya their right to get listed as Rohingya in the present census process which will last for next two months. Forcing rohingya to register as “Bengali” under the census may lead to all of us being forcibly deported from our own country as illegals.

3.     Work with the rest of the international community to ensure that Rohingya are restored their full citizenship and equal rights. Now the government is hinting that only some of us will get naturalized citizenship. However naturalized citizenship means we cannot run in elections, we cannot own certain kinds of property or pursue professional education, and this citizenship can be revoked anytime.

4.     Health and education is extremely important for our survival as Rohingya. Please allow Rohingya children living in Malaysia to get education so they can grow up as capable and moderate Muslims. Please allow our people to have access to basic health services.

5.     Next year, Malaysia will be the Chair of ASEAN. This year, Myanmar is the Chair and it has censored even ASEAN leaders and ASEAN civil society from talking about Rohingya. Please make a space for this to be discussed openly next year. We need governments and civil society to have the freedom to openly and honestly discuss and work for long term peaceful solutions for our people.

I sincerely hope Malaysia, as a leading member of ASEAN and of the OIC, will wholeheartedly work with other states, civil society and international mechanisms to solve this issue. ASEAN has been aware of the situation for more than 20 years but have not taken decisive action to address it, so this situation is getting critical. We have a justified fear that the mass killings will continue, with the aim of totally wiping out Rohingya from Myanmar.

We know Malaysia and other ASEAN countries are concerned about Rohingya boatpeople, refugees and asylum-seekers but if they do not help stop violence against Rohingya,  Rohingya will be forced to leave their homes and seek survival somewhere else. It is definitely in ASEAN’s interest to have a coordinated strategy to ensure Rohingya’s human rights are protected.

We Rohingya people hope Malaysia will take a prompt and concrete initiative to solve this Rohingya crisis. Please work with us and other moderate Burmese in our country to get a peaceful and fair solution.

Thank you.
Text of speech presented at the GMM-AMAN-Proham RTD on Human Rights Violations & Remedies: The Rohingyan CASE on April 17, 2014

Human Rights Violations & Rohingyas

By Datuk Kuthubul Zaman (Proham Chairman)

On behalf of PROHAM, permit me to extend a warm welcome to all of you. Before we begin, special thanks to Dato Saifuddin Abdullah, Global Movement for Moderates, Asian Muslim Action Network and Angkatan Belia Islam Malaysia for co-hosting this roundtable discussion.

 And to all of you here, thank you for your willingness to participate in today’s discussion of the human rights perils of the Rohingyas; a people fleeing the land where they were born; a people deprived of citizenship in their homeland, a people whose very existence is denied!

The Rohingyas have been described by a Burmese Historian as a ‘fabricated people’ – in fact, one of the biggest debates in the Rohingya crisis is the use of the term ‘Rohingya’ itself. Burmese historians and scholars deny the use of the term ‘Rohingyas’ in their history and prefer to call these people as Bengali Muslims.

 This is despite the evidence that in 1799 Francis Buchanan published “A Comparative Vocabulary of Some of the Languages Spoken in the Burma Empire” where he chronicles a language “spoken by the Mohammedans, who have long settled in Arakan, and who call themselves Rooinga”.

 Arakan lies on Myanmar’s western coast with its northern tip bordering Bangladesh. When Britain invaded Burma [Myanmar as it was known then] in 1824, many Burmese believe that it was their Colonial Masters that brought the Muslims from what is now Bangladesh to work in Arakan. Centuries and generations later, the Rohingya’s are still believed to be illegal immigrants! The state run press perpetuates this believe by distinguishing the Arakans and the Rohingyas by referring to the Arakans as locals and the Rohingyas as Bengalis.

When Burma became independent in 1948, the constitution via article 11 guaranteed citizenship to, amongst others:-

 every person who was born in any of the territories which at the time of his birth was included within His Britannic Majesty’s dominions and who has resided in any of the territories included within the Union for a period of not less than eight years in the ten years immediately preceding the date of the commencement of this Constitution

In 1951, Resident of Burma Registration Act of 1949 was implemented through the 1951 Residents of Burma Registration Rules and the Rohingyas were issued with National Registration Cards.

The 2nd Prime Minister of Burma, U Ba Swe said the Rohingya are a race like other races in Burma and have equal rights. The Rohingyas in 1960 exercised their rights as citizens and participated in the elections.

 However, in 1962 in a coup d’etat, General Ne Win overthrew U Nu’s government and set forth the “Burmese way to Socialism” which would further adversely affect the Rohingyas till today.

Significant amongst his policies was Operation Naga Min literally Operation Dragon King which authorized a sweeping check of identity papers throughout the country in order to purge Burma of the Rohingyas deemed illegal foreigners. There were widespread cases of summary execution, rape and brutality targeted specifically at the Rohingya population. An estimated 250,000 Rohingya refugees fled into neighbouring Bangladesh.

In 1982, the Ne Win Government enacted the Burma Citizenship Law which made it nigh impossible for the Rohingyas to gain citizenship and effectively made them stateless. This is in contravention to Article 15 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which states unequivocally that “Everyone has the right to a nationality”. This principle is especially important in relation to children. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child provides that every child “shall have from birth...the right to acquire a nationality”. As a party to that Convention, Burma is obliged to ensure the implementation of every child’s right to acquire a nationality. Since it is almost impossible for a Rohingya, and in particular a Rohingya child, to acquire Burmese citizenship, the 1982 Burma Citizenship Law violates the fundamental right to a nationality. The effect of this denial is profound - Rohingya are limited in their ability to vote, be elected for public office, move freely with Burma, own land or receive public services such as education.

In 1992, Burmese authorities established the border security/military force NaSaKa in North Rakhine. NaSaKa consisted of the police, immigration customs, military intelligence, and anti-riot police. From 1992 until its abolishment in July 2013, NaSaKa were the main perpetrators of human right abuses against the Rohingya in Rakhine. NaSaKa then introduced orders which restricted the marriages of the Rohingyas – requiring them to obtain permission from the NaSaKa before they marry. Failure to obey the requirement was punishable by fines, prosecution or imprisonment. After the hurdle of actually getting married, the NaSaKa imposed a limit of 2 children per Rohingya couple. NaSaKa were also known to target mosques.

When the military dictatorship ended and a new government democratically elected, the fates of the Rohingyas were sealed when the new government affirmed the exclusion and restriction policies of the Rohingyas.

In June 2012, horrific violence erupted in Arakan State between Muslim Rohingya, and the predominantly Buddhist Rakhines. The violence had been encouraged by racist organisations and individuals, and what could be described as communal violence quickly evolved into organised and systematic attacks against the Rohingya. The violence has led to the displacement more than 200,000 people, the vast majority of them Rohingya. Human rights abuses reported include “beheadings, stabbings, shootings, beatings and widespread arson”

On June 10, state of emergency was declared in Rakhine, allowing military to participate in administration of the region. The Burmese army and police were accused of targeting Rohingyas through mass arrests and arbitrary violence. A number of monks' organizations that played vital role in Burma's struggle for democracy took measures to block any humanitarian assistance to the Rohingya community.

On 17 August, two months after the violence started, President Thein Sein announced the formation of a 27-person commission to investigate the situation in Rakhine/Arakan State. The commission includes religious leaders, artists and former dissidents, but no Rohingya representative was included. Represented in the commission however was Dr Aye Maung; President of the Rakhine Nationalist Development Party described by some as a Neo-Nazi Political Party. It should therefore come as no surprise that the Commission reported no human right abuses.

At this juncture I would like to recommend, for those of you who have not already done so, watch the Al Jazeera Documentary titled The Hidden Genocide which chronicles the riots in detail. With reference to the title of the documentary, according to Prof. William Schabas, one of the foremost experts on international criminal law, Myanmar is “moving into a zone where the word can be used (in the case of the Rohingya). When you see measures preventing births, trying to deny the identity of the people, hoping to see that they really are eventually, that they no longer exist, denying their history, denying the legitimacy of the right to live where they live, these are all warning signs that mean that it’s not frivolous to envisage the use of the term genocide.”

Genocide is defined in Article 2 the The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide: any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, such as:

(a) Killing members of the group;
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

The Rohingya crisis does alarmingly look like it fits the bill. It is a shame then that the icon of Myanmar’s democracy Aung San Suu Kyi and winner of the nobel Peace Prize has remained quiet about the plight of the Rohingyas.

Consequently, according to the 2005 Outcome Document adopted by the General Assembly, when a State fails to protect its own population, the rest of the UN states have a responsibility to use appropriate diplomatic, humanitarian and other peaceful means, to help protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. This ideal became popular with the moniker Responsibility to Protect, sometimes abbreviated as R2P.

In accordance with the norm of Responsibility to Protect, in December of 2013, the UN General Assembly passed Resolution 68/242 which called upon the Government of Myanmar to protect the civilian population from ongoing violence, to ensure full respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms including full access to humanitarian assistance without discrimination, unhindered access across Rakhine State and the voluntary return of internally displaced persons and refugees to their communities of origin, to allow freedom of movement, equal access to full citizenship for the Rohingya minority and to address issues of land ownership and restitution of Property.

What then of Malaysia’s and ASEAN’s R2P - PROHAM therefore urges Malaysia and the rest of the ASEAN nations to undertake this responsibility to protect a people whose human rights violation frankly borders on the most serious international crime of genocide!
Here to address this issue and to further elaborate on the horrors facing the Rohingyas is this panel of esteemed speakers whose personal experience and wealth of knowledge make them experts in their own right. I myself am rather enthused to hear them today like I’m sure most of you are.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Karpal - a legacy for nation building


"The late Karpal Singh was an outstanding lawyer, parliamentarian, politician and human rights defender. This is a loss not just to his family, party but the nation as a whole. He has been a VOICE for the oppressed and he was fearless in his defence for truth, justice, fairness and equality. His reflections and actions will continue to be remembered as a legacy for nation building. Our prayers for the family and for God Almighty to comfort them all".
Datuk Dr Denison Jayasooria (Secretary General, Proham) 5.30am April 17, 2014

Saturday, 12 April 2014


Emerging concerns and policy directions
to strengthen human rights compliance

Proham and GMM hosted a Roundtable Discussion on the final UPR Working Group report which was discussed and agreed upon on March 20, 2014 at the UN Human Rights Council at Geneva.

This RTD was held on April 10, 2014 at the GMM Conference room attended by 30 people and we received input from Rama Ramanathn (Proham) who gave a detailed data analysis of the recommendations, Jerald Joseph (KOMAS) & Andrew Khoo (Bar Council). There was a healthy discussion amon the participants. The RTD was moderated by Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah. Datuk Kuthubul Zaman welcomed the participants, set the agenda for the discussion and charted some pointers to the future.

In the final analysis a number of key concerns and pointers to the way forward were highlighted by Datuk Dr Denison Jayasooria in providing a summary of the conclusions arising from the discussions.

1          Appreciation of Malaysian action

Proham congratulates the Malaysian Government for playing an active role in human rights matters at the regional –Asean level and at the International level especially in the promotion of Moderation as a key component of international relations and conflict management.

Proham notes that Malaysia took a serious approach in addressing the UPR matters through the UN mechanism. Malaysia’s open commitment to develop the long delayed National Human Rights Action Plan is a step in the right direction.

2          Major concerns on rejected recommendations

While noting this aspect of active Malaysian involvement in the UPR process, however Proham has major concerns in the recommendations from UN member states that we either rejected or not considered by Malaysia.

Proham is of the opinion that Malaysia adopted the more straight forward or weaker/softer human rights matters. Malaysia in not adopting the more substantive aspects of human rights reveals its weak commitment and lip service to human rights based on the bench mark of international human rights norms.

Among the rejected recommendations are the following six major rejects:-

·         Malaysia’s unwillingness to ratify major human rights conventions such as Convention on the elimination of racial discrimination (ICERD), International convention against Torture (CAT), International Convention of civil and political rights (ICCPR) and the International Convention of economic, social and cultural rights (ICESCR)


·         Malaysia adopting a position not to consider the establishment of a ‘structured interfaith dialogue’. This is most basic to Malaysia’s diverse ethnic and religious diversity and in line with Malaysia’s moderation strategy.


·         Malaysia’s inaccurate portrayal that there is no ‘conflict of competence’ between the Civil and Syariah Courts in Malaysia based on Federal Constitution Article 121 (1A). In reality this is one of the major unresolved issues impacting religious freedom from a practical dimension with regular conflict situations among recent Muslim converts where one spouse converts and another does not.


·         Malaysia’s position on the Suhakam report on Land rights of indigenous people. Instead of adopting the major recommendation of the Human Rights Commission in the establishment of a special land tribunal, the establishment of a Task Force and the slowness in the way it is carrying out its duty seems to reveal a delay strategy adopted. Its UPR position reveals a very weak position on a major grievances of the indigenous people.


·         Malaysia’s rejection of the Royal Police Commission’s recommendation in not wanting to establishment the IPCMC and its insistence that the EAIC plays that role is in denial of the major human rights violations committed by the Malaysian Police as revealed in the Royal Police Commission report as well as based on the SUHAKAM inquiry reports on Police excessive use of force.


·         Malaysia’s unwillingness to establish a moratorium on death penalty and its inability to review it as torture, inhuman, cruel or degrading including that of corporal punishment is indicative that Malaysian officials are not able to appreciate the universal principles of human rights benched marked on international standards.

3          The Way Forward – Human Rights Priorities for Malaysia

Five major pointers were discussed.

·         There is a need to strengthen stakeholder participation and consultation. Engagement with all parties especially civil society is imperative. It was noted that this openness was lacking in the recent UPR process where engagement with civil society was selective.  The Malaysian selective approach is unacceptable. There is a need to establish an open and transparent participatory approach like that instituted by the UN which has developed clear guidelines and accreditation process including making all documents public through their website.


·         There is a need to strengthen SUHAKAM as the national human rights institution with adequate powers to ensure that agencies comply with their findings and the power to take human rights violators to court without the approval of the Attorney General. In this context too to mandate Parliament to allocate time to debate the annual Human Rights Report and a permanent parliamentary committee on human rights be established.


·         There is a need for political leadership and greater role played by elected members of parliament as well as those in public office. We have an impression that the UPR process within government is largely a civil service and bureaucrat’s process and very little role played by parliamentarians and politicians in public office. Therefore the human rights agenda must have an active parliamentary process as well as elected public officials in government.


·         It is significant that Malaysia has made a public commitment to the establishment of the National Human Rights Action Plan. This is long overdue. Furthermore the current committee working on this must be more inclusive and participatory. A more public dialogue approach must be adopted in the setting the priorities including active participation of civil society human rights organisations


·         There is a need to establish a People’s Monitoring Group on the implication of the human rights commitments as a way of monitoring the commitments and implementation over the next few years leading to the 3rd UPR review in 2017.

Joint Statement issued by:-
Datuk Kuthubul Zaman (Proham Chairman), Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah (GMM CEO) and Datuk Dr Denison Jayasooria (Proham Secretary-General)
April 13, 2014



It is said a picture says a thousand words or as the Chinese proverb indicates “one picture is worth ten thousand words.". The photographic documentation by Mr Suthep Kristanavarin (AMAN) on the plight and human rights violations on Rohingyas  in a recent publication entitled Stateless Rohungya, Running on empty (2013) provides the opportunity for this human rights discussion.

Suthep Kristanavarin has brought his 30 pictures to Malaysia to share his documentation and call us to reflect on public policy responses to address these human rights violations and abuses. This discussion has relevance not just for the Rohingya minorities but also other religious minorities especially within the Asean context.

Global Movement of Moderates (GMM), Proham, AMAN & ABIM are jointly hosting this Roundtable Discussion.

Date:                April 17, 2014 (Thursday)

Time:                2pm till 4.30pm

Venue               Global Movement of Moderates

15th Floor, Menara Manulife, No. 6, Jalan

Gelenggang, Damansara Heights, Kuala Lumpur.


To review the human rights violations & Rohingya community

To chart strategies which will address effectively these violations with specific reference to the role of the Malaysian Government and ASEAN community of nations.

To draw out the implications from the Rohingya for all ethnic and religious minorities and note how a human rights framework based on the UDHR will guarantee an end to these abuses

Word of Welcome: Datuk Kuthbul Zaman (Proham Chairman)

Panel of Speakers

Mr Suthep Kristanavarin  (Asian Muslim Action Network (AMAN) from Thailand )

Ms Debbie Stothard  (Coordinator for Alternative Asean Network on Burma (ALTASEAN))

Ms Wai Wai Nu  (Founder of Women’s Peace Network – Arakan  from Myanmar)

Mr Hj. Ahmad Azam Abdul Rahman  (Assistant Secretary General, Union of NGO in the Islamic World (UNIW) from Malaysia

Panel is Moderated by Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah (GMM) & Datuk Dr Denison Jayasooria (Proham)


Register for participation: or (GMM)