Two child limit imposed on Myanmar’s Muslim Rohingya #Vaw #WTFnews


New measure, which applies to Muslim Rohingya families in western Rakhine state, does not affect Buddhists in the area.
Last Modified: 25 May 2013 14:34
Authorities in Myanmar‘s western Rakhine state have imposed a two-child limit for Muslim Rohingya families, a policy that does not apply to Buddhists in the area, and comes amid accusations of ethnic cleansing in the aftermath of sectarian violence.

Local officials said on Saturday that the new measure would be applied to two Rakhine townships that border Bangladesh and have the highest Muslim populations in the state.

The townships, Buthidaung and Maundaw, are about 95 percent Muslim.

The unusual order makes Myanmar perhaps the only country in the world to impose such a restriction on a religious group, and is likely to fuel further criticism that Muslims are being discriminated against in the Buddhist-majority country.

China has a one-child policy, but it is not based on religion and exceptions apply to minority ethnic groups.

India briefly practised forced sterilisation of men in a bid to control the population in the mid-1970s when civil liberties were suspended during a period of emergency rule, but a nationwide outcry quickly shut down the programme.

‘Overpopulation causes tension’

Rakhine state spokesman Win Myaing said the new programme was meant to stem rapid population growth in the Muslim community, which a government-appointed commission identified as one of the causes of the sectarian violence.

Although Muslims are the majority in the two townships in which the new policy applies, they account for only about 4 percent of Myanmar’s roughly 60 million people.

The measure was enacted a week ago after the commission recommended family planning programs to stem population growth among Muslims, Win Myaing said.

The commission also recommended doubling the number of security forces in the volatile region.

“The population growth of Rohingya Muslims is 10 times higher than that of the Rakhine (Buddhists),” Win Myaing said. “Overpopulation is one of the causes of tension.”

Sectarian violence in Myanmar first flared nearly a year ago in Rakhine state between the region’s Rakhine Buddhists and Muslim Rohingya.

Mobs of Buddhists armed with machetes razed thousands of Muslim homes, leaving hundreds of people dead and forcing 125,000 to flee, mostly Muslims.

Witnesses and human rights groups said riot police stood by as crowds attacked Muslims and burned their villages.

New York-based Human Rights Watch has accused authorities in Rakhine of fomenting an organised campaign of “ethnic cleansing” against the Rohingya.

 

Outbreak of Violence of in Mumbai – ASSAM AND BURMA KILLING OF MUSLIMS- #mustread


 

English: , a prominent Indian muslim scholar i...

English: , a prominent Indian muslim scholar in a seminar in Pune University. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

OUTBREAK OF VIOLENCE IN MUMBAI – ASSAM AND BURMA KILLING OF MUSLIMS

 

Asghar Ali Engineer

 

(Secular Perspective August 16-31, 2012)

 

The way things were happening for last few weeks it was not surprising that violence on such scale took place. It was, as if, in store, large scale propaganda was going on that Muslims are being killed all over the world. There is conspiracy to kill Muslims everywhere and on Bodo-Muslim clashes and about Rohingiyah Muslims in Burma prayers were being organized in every mosque and SMSs were circulating about it. Urdu papers were carrying articles saying there is world-wide conspiracy to kill Muslims. Articles simply appealing to emotions, not to reason.

 

I have not seen any sober and analytical article in the Urdu press in Mumbai. The Muslim leadership was creating a psychology of victimhood in the minds of Muslims and pent up emotions were waiting to explode with some triggering event. The photographs about killing of Muslims in Burma had greatly disturbed the Muslim youth. All photographs, I must say, were not authentic but they circulated on large scale and ignited emotions.

 

Muslim leadership which hardly does anything for the real welfare of the community always has an eye on such sensitive situations and wants to grab the opportunity to enhance their own interests. Also, mosques were used to announce about rally giving it further religious colour. For those who go to mosques to pray, in large numbers, particularly in the holy month of Ramadan, are gullible and the moment religious colour is given to an issue they become extra-sensitive.

 

These religious leaders and also some non-religious leaders of Muslims neither fully understand the problem what is the conflict about nor they care to know the facts what is going on the ground. They simply make it a case of conspiracy against Muslims. In Azad Maidan too where rally was organized despite knowing that huge crowd is there with all sorts of people, including anti-social elements, the speakers made highly emotional speeches especially attacking media for not covering killing of Muslims in Burma. Then what more do you want to incite emotions for anything to happen.

 

It was not only question of managing the crowd; it was utterly irresponsible act on the part of leadership of the rally. If they had expected only 1500 persons to come and 50,000 turned up the leaders should have clearly understood that situation can get out of control any time as they were simply dealing with raw emotions. A wise leadership would not have allowed highly emotional speeches in the midst of such huge crowd and fuel emotions further.

 

It is also not correct to say that they expected only 1500 people to turn up as they were making announcements inside the mosque on Friday and also posters were put up. It means they aimed higher and made efforts to mobilize large number of people and succeeded in it. Ideal thing would have been to have a dharnaby about 1000-1500 seriously interested people for a day long dharna and then they could have met Chief Minister or Home Minister. There was no need at all for such a huge rally.

 

And if at all such a huge rally was organized why such emotional speeches were made? They should have understood the sensitivity of the problem. But then if they did, how can they be Muslims leadership without arousing religious sentiments? In fact as far as Assam is concerned hardly any one of those who actively organized the rally knew anything about the nature of conflict except that Muslims were killed.

 

What was the history of Bodo-Muslim conflict in Assam? Bodos are not killing Muslims because of their Muslimness but the fundamental problem is of land. Bodos are in conflict with other communities also like Adibashis, Santhals and others and they have come in conflict with all these communities. Though it is not true that Bangla Deshis are migrating in large numbers (this is largely the Sangh Parivar propaganda) by unfortunately Bodos, in order to fulfill their ambition of Bodo-land and for evicting Bengali Muslims and other ethnic communities from the 4 districts of Bodo Territorial Council, are using this propaganda for their own purposes. One can of course blame the Congress Government for giving Bodos BTC to buy peace with militant Bodo outfits. They should not have without taking other ethnic communities in confidence and giving them proper representation. We have dealt with this issue on our last article on Bodo-Muslim riots in Kokrajhar and other districts.

 

As for Rohingiyah Muslims it is the Military Government of Myanmar which is to be blamed. I visited Rangoon after the recent riots and interviewed large number of Rohingya Muslims. No such problem existed until 1981. They were treated as regular citizens and had voting rights. It was the Military Government of Myanmar which suddenly and without any proper reason, took away their papers from them and tried to expel them from Rakhine district of Western Myanmar.

 

It treats these Muslims as foreigners and wants Bangla Desh to settle them in its territory which is totally unjust. Rohingya Muslims have been in that province for centuries and there is no case to describe them as outsiders. Most of them had settled there with Muslim rule. But the Military Government of Myanmar has been killing Burmese of other provinces too and killed several Buddhist monks also during pro-democracy demonstrations.

 

It is true that some Buddhist monks have issued pamphlets against Rakhine Muslims to show solidarity with their co-religionists which they should not have done. But then like others Buddhists monks also are getting politicized as their pro-democracy demonstration also shows. But in both cases (i.e. Assam and Rohingya Muslims) it is not part of any world wide conspiracy to kill Muslims as it is being propagated.

 

In Mumbai violence media came under attack for no reason except that provocative speeches were made against media. It was quite ill-advise. A wise leadership would rather try to win over media rather than antagonize it this way. Also, one cannot tar the media with the same brush. Both print and electronic media has different ideological and commercial approaches. A blatant attack is totally wrong and even if a section of media is ideologically against or indifferent to Muslim problems, solution does not lie in attacking its journalists, or OB vans. It is at best foolish.

 

Urdu papers often write that let Ulama-kiram (Honourable Ulama) guide the Muslim ummah and give it a lead. How can one expect Ulama who hardly have knowledge of the modern world and for whom provoking religious sentiments is part of their orientation, can provide leadership. It is not to say that all Ulama are like this but a large number of Ulama – and this has been proved repeatedly in political matters – behave either in opportunistic or emotional way.

 

And let us remember all this happened in the holy month of Ramadan. The ulama never tire of telling us that this month of fasting so that we become more patient and able to control our anger and we must devote us entirely to ‘ibadat i.e. acts of worship, compassion and charity. What was then hurry to take out this rally in this holy month when no fresh incidents were taking place. The Assam situation had come under control and what was urgently needed was to collect money, clothes, shoes and medicines for those in relief camps in those four districts.

 

In this holy month of charity they could have concentrated on collecting relief for those unfortunate 4 million people who are rotting in relief camps in most unspeakable conditions. Many Bodos also have been killed in retaliatory actions and quite a few Bodos are also living in these relief camps in as bad a condition as Bengali speaking Muslims. As a good and compassionate Muslims, in this month of charity they should adopt inclusive approach and collect relief for Bodos too. This is what the Holy Qur’an also requires of them.

 

If instead of making it a conspiracy against Muslims, if they had condemned killing of Bodos too and prayed for all it would not have acquired such emotional proportions. Also the rally also should not have been exclusively a Muslim rally but a rally with the support of all sections of Indian society i.e. Hindus, Christians, Buddhists and all others – besides Muslims – to strengthen our secular character. It was not only exclusively Muslim but organized by Raza Academy – representing Barelvi Muslims. What a sectarian approach. Deobandis were to organize separately a day after but was postponed because of violent turn which the rally on Saturday took.

 

If we have to be against violence and it should be our serious commitment – we have to be more and more inclusive. When ever sectarian approach is adopted, it becomes easier to resort to violence and if it is inclusive of all sections it is not only more democratic but also likely to be more non-violent. Sectarian approach also results in competitive approach and inclusive approach is also cooperative approach.

 

The police is now saying the violence was pre-planned which may result in harassment of many Muslim youth. It is shameful that some rallyists molested women constables and seized revolvers from them. The police may take revenge for this. Let us hope police does not. But one must say the police had shown lot of restraint and Police Commissioner Arup Patnaik himself had come and spoken from the platform appealing Muslims to show restraint in this holy month of Ramadan.

 

Let us hope wiser counsel will prevail and peace would not be disturbed.    

————————————————-

Centre for Study of Society and Secularism

Mumbai.

E-mail: csss@mtnl.net.in

 

Myanmar lifts BAN on journals after protests #CENSORSHIP #GOODNEWS


Journalists pose with a shirt during a protest along the streets of Yangon, August 4, 2012. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun

YANGON | Mon Aug 6, 2012 6:51pm IST

(Reuters) – Myanmar‘s government has agreed to lift suspensions on two weekly journals within two weeks, their editors said on Monday, just days after rare protests by journalists in two cities to demand more press freedom.

Editors of the Burmese-language Voice Weekly and The Envoy told Reuters that Myanmar’s censorship board had informed them they could resume publishing by August 18, without giving a reason for why the suspensions would be lifted.

Publication of the journals was halted indefinitely late last month, promoting an outcry among journalists who are enjoying freedom to publish not seen under the five decades of authoritarian military rule that ended in March last year.

The quasi-civilian government has loosened its grip on the press as part of a surprise reform drive. But some press censorship still remains and journalists pushing the boundaries of the restrictions have complained that suspensions are tantamount to intimidation.

Nearly 100 journalists rallied against the suspension in Yangon on Saturday and about 60 protested in the second-biggest city, Mandalay a day later, most wearing black T shirts saying “stop killing the press”.

“The reason for lifting the suspension, I think, would be because of the rallies by the journalists,” said an editor of another journal, who asked not to be named.

Monday’s edition of the Messenger journal blacked-out its entire front page and cited a line from the constitution that guarantees freedom of expression.

The Nation journal went a step further, uploading on its Facebook page what it said was a censored copy of its front page story of the protest, which was covered with crosses in red ink.

It was not known exactly why the two publications were suspended. The Press Scrutiny and Registration Division, as the censors are called, said they had “violated rules and regulations”, without elaborating.

The Voice is also facing a lawsuit, lodged by Myanmar’s Ministry of Mines, after it published a report alleging graft by ministries under the previous government.

Myanmar’s government has insisted it will scrap censorship as soon as a press law is promulgated, but journalists are concerned some restrictions will remain and recommendations for the legislation might be ignored.

The government’s mouthpiece, the New Light of Myanmar, carried an editorial in its Sunday edition, apparently in response to the protests, calling for patience and reiterating that censorship would soon be abolished.

It said the country was “not still accustomed to the freedom we have not enjoyed before” and to “rush could ruin results.”

(Reporting by Thu Rein Hlaing; Editing by Martin Petty and Ed Lane; Editing by Ed Lane)

 

Myanmar censors publication of magazines #Censorship


 

Icon for censorship

Icon for censorship (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

YANGON, Myanmar — Myanmar’s censors have suspended two weekly magazines indefinitely in the latest confrontation between the government and the newly aggressive press.

The Press Scrutiny Board informed Voice Weekly and Envoy editors Tuesday that their publications have been suspended for violating regulations. The authorities did not explain the reasons for the bans.

Reporters at the publications said privately they suspected they were linked to articles speculating about the details of an anticipated Cabinet reshuffle.

President Thein Sein eased censorship as one of his reforms after decades of repressive military rule. The flourishing of press freedom has brought serious investigative reporting and sensationalism, both of which make the government uncomfortable.

Voice Weekly also faces a defamation suit over a story alleging irregularities in several government ministries’ accounts.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

 

Rohingya Muslims: A brief history of centuries-long persecution


 

By Syed Zubair Ahmad, Two circles. net

The recent ethnic clashes between the Rohingya Muslims and the Buddhist community in the Rakhine (or Arakan) province of Myanmar have attracted global attention though late – the latest is the UN’s decision to probe into the killings and human rights violation there. An ugly incident of rape and murder of a Buddhist woman allegedly by three Rohingya Muslims in the end of May this year turned into a disaster for Rohingya Muslim community in Myanmar.

There are more than 800,000 Rohingyas residing in Burma, mostly in the province of Rakhine. According to several UN reports, Rohingyas are one of the most persecuted minorities in the world. The military Junta striped Rohingyas off all the rights of a citizen through a law called Citizenship Law in 1982, thus making Rohingyas the only stateless community of the world.

Who are Rohingyas?
The history of Rohingya community in Burma goes back to 8th century as they claim to be original settlers of Rakhine (Arakan) province the country while tracing their ancestry to Arab traders. Bengali Muslims from neighboring Bengal (which then included Bangladesh also) started arriving in Rakhine after King Narameikhla (1430–1434) retained his throne with the help of Sultan of Bengal of that time. Besides, a large number of Bengalis migrated to Rakhine during the British rule which encouraged Bengali inhabitants to migrate to fertile valleys of Arakan as agriculturalists.

Rohingyas practice Sunni Islam. Because the government restricts educational opportunities for them, many pursue only basic Islamic studies.


A group of Rohingya Muslims fleeing Rakhine state in Myanmar – photo:Reuters

The British census of 1891 reported 58,255 Muslims in Arakan. By 1911, the Muslim population had increased to 178,647. However as of 2012, there are more than 800,000 Rohingyas residing in Myanmar, most of them in the province of Rakhine.

A brief history of persecution of Rohingyas
This is not the first time that Rohingya Muslims were persecuted in Myanmar. In their history, such mass killings and exodus have happened several times.

The annexation of the independent province of Rakhine in 1784 by the Burmese government came up with discriminatory policies and persecution of Rohingyas. They were marginalized and the Myanmar government put several restrictions on their movement, their marriage, and constantly confiscated their land and drove them to annihilation. It is said as many as 35,000 Arakanese people fled to the neighbouring Chittagong region of British Bengal in 1799 to avoid Burmese persecution and seek protection from British India. The Burmese rulers executed thousands of Arakanese men and deported a considerable portion of the Arakanese population to central Burma, leaving Arakan as a scarcely populated area by the time the British occupied it

During World War II, Japanese forces invaded Burma, then under British colonial rule. The British forces retreated and in the power vacuum left behind, considerable violence erupted. This included communal violence between Buddhist Rakhine people and Muslim Rohingya villagers. The period also witnessed violence between groups loyal to the British and Burmese nationalists. The Rohingyas supported the Allies during the war and opposed the Japanese forces. The Japanese committed atrocities toward thousands of Rohingyas, including rape, torture, and murder. In this period, some 22,000 Rohingya are believed to have crossed the border into Bengal, then part of British India, to escape the violence. Some 40,000 Rohingya eventually fled to Chittagong after repeated massacres by the Burmese and Japanese forces.

In 1947, Rohingyas formed Mujahid Party which supported jihad movement in northern Arakan. The aim of Mujahid Party was to create a Muslim Autonomous state in Arakan. But after the 1962 coup d’etat by General Ne Win, military operations targeted them over a period of two decades. The prominent one was “Operation King Dragon” which took place in 1978; as a result, many Muslims in the region fled to neighboring country Bangladesh as refugees. Over 200,000 Rohingyas are said to have fled to Bangladesh following the ‘King Dragon’ operation of the Myanmar army. Officially this campaign aimed at “scrutinizing each individual living in the state, designating citizens and foreigners in accordance with the law and taking actions against foreigners who have filtered into the country illegally.” This military campaign, in effect, directly targeted civilians, and resulted in widespread killings, rape and destruction of mosques and further religious persecution.

During 1991-92 a new wave of atrocities forced over a quarter of a million Rohingyas to flee to Bangladesh. They reported widespread forced labor, as well as summary executions, torture, and rape. They said they were forced to work without pay by the Burmese army on infrastructure and economic projects, often under harsh conditions. Many other human rights violations occurred in the context of forced labor of Rohingya civilians by the security forces.

The present alarming situation
In its latest report issued on July 19, 2012 the rights group Amnesty International has slammed the increasing human rights abuses and arbitrary detention of Muslims in Myanmar’s western Rakhine state.

“It is the duty of security forces to defend the rights of everyone – without exception or discrimination – from abuses by others, while abiding by human rights standards themselves,” said Benjamin Zawacki, Amnesty International’s Myanmar Researcher.


A group of Rohingya Muslim asylum seekers in Delhi in May 2012

The group accused both security forces and ethnic Rakhine Buddhists of increasing attacks on the Rohingya Muslims, killing, rape, arbitrary detention of Muslims and destroying their properties, urging the Myanmarese authorities to put an end to the violent action.

“Amnesty International has also received credible reports of other human rights abuses against Rohingyas and other Rakhine Muslims– including physical abuse, rape, destruction of property, and unlawful killings – carried out by both Rakhine Buddhists and security forces,” said the group in its report.

After the recent wave of ethnic cleansing (May-July 2012), according to the Amnesty report, between 50,000 and 90,000 people – with lower figures coming from the government and higher ones from UN agencies– are estimated to have been displaced.

Amnesty International has called on Myanmar’s Parliament to amend or repeal the 1982 Citizenship Law to ensure that Rohingyas are no longer stateless.

“Under international human rights law and standards, no one may be left or rendered stateless. For too long Myanmar’s human rights record has been marred by the continued denial of citizenship for Rohingyas and a host of discriminatory practices against them,” concluded the report.

Decades of discrimination have left the Rohingya Muslims stateless, with Myanmar implementing restrictions on their movement and withholding land rights, education and public services, according to another report released by Turkish charity group the Humanitarian Aid Foundation (İHH).

The report, released on 21st July 2012, states that Rohingya Muslims, who are seen as foreigners by nationalist Myanmar leaders and extremist Buddhists and are denied citizenship by the government because it considers them illegal settlers from neighboring Bangladesh, do not have the freedom to travel. In order to travel from one village to another, they have to pay taxes to the government.

The report underlines that there is a great number of Rohingya Muslims who are detained, subjected to torture and raped, adding that it was difficult to accurately determine their identities or numbers.


Rohingya Muslim asylum seekers who were given a shelter by Zakat Foundation of India with makeshift huts in Kanchan Kunj locality near Sarita Vihar in Delhi

According to this report, Rohingya Muslims are not allowed to renovate their mosques or schools without the permission of the government, adding that anyone caught renovating these buildings without permission would be sent to jail. The report also adds that a new mosque or school has not been built in over 20 years.

They cannot benefit from the social services provided by the state, including health services, underlines the report, adding that Muslims do not have the right to work in government offices.

According to the report, a Muslim who commits an illegal act is not allowed to defend himself and is sent directly to jail. The report also underlines that Muslims can be forced to work for Buddhists or the government without any payment.

A human catastrophe is happening in Burma which needs immediate attention of the world community. The world community should intervene into this inhuman genocide that has been happening in Burma for a long time.
(Syed Zubair Ahmad is a Writer & Journalist. He can be reached at smzubairahmad@gmail.com)

 

Statement by Pakistani civil society on Human Rights violation in Myanmar


Myanmar

Myanmar (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Recent weeks have witnessed horrific events in Myanmar. Mobs have targeted the Rohingya population, resulting in the brutal murder of scores of Rohingya and displacement of tens of thousands of children, women, and men. Appallingly, the Myanmar military leadership has labelled Rohingyas as an ethnic and religious minority not deserving of full protection as citizens. Neighbouring Bangladesh behaves most callously, forcing thousands to live in hiding or squalid refugee settlements along the border.

This situation is intolerable for all those committed to universal human rights, including secure lives and prosperous livelihoods.

We demand of the people and government of Myanmar to abide by the international consensus on the rights of people. Having suffered under oppressive, military rule for decades, the people of Myanmar well know of the terror afflicted by the absence of democracy. Only through full and sincere protection of all residents as equal citizens would Myanmar commit adherence to desperately sought democracy.

We urge the winner of a Noble Peace Prize, the venerated Aung San Suu Ski to assume leadership of moves towards an end of violence, and to create conditions for a safe return of refugees to their homes in Myanmar. Her voice is heard around the world, and hence compels her to take bold steps immediately, which must include indiscriminating state and social protection of the Rohingya community.

We urge the Buddhist community around the world to remind the people of Myanmar of the priority given to peace and respect of all nature in the exemplary teachings of Buddha.

We demand of Pakistan as well as other SAARC and ASEAN governments to forcefully remind the government of Myanmar that the inhuman violence sharply retards the progress towards democracy for its people and is therefore unacceptable for full inclusion in regional cooperation.

We demand of the people and government of Bangladesh to provide full refugee status to those compelled to flee Myanmar. Security of adequate food and humane shelter must be the first priority in sincere protection of refugees. SAARC and ASEAN countries must consider their obligation to assist Bangladesh in supporting refugees.

Endorsed by:
Human Rights Commission of Pakistan
Pakistan Peace Coalition
Karamat Ali, Executive Director, Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (PILER)
B. M. Kutty
Aly Ercelan
Adam Malik
Qamrul Hasan
Lala Hasan Pathan
Iqbal Alv;
Mahnaz Rahman (Aurat Foundation and Women Action Forum)
Latif Mughal
Ziaur Rahman (journalist)
Syed Moazzam Ali
Muneer Memon
Jawaid Ashraf Hussain, former Chief Secretary of Sindh;
Shaheen Salahuddin (TV anchorperson, Indus TV)
Qazi Javed

Released by:
Shujauddin Qureshi
Senior Research Associate
Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (PILER)
Gulshan-e-Maymar, Karachi-75340
Ph: +(92-21) 36351145-7
Fax: +(92-21) 36350345
Cell: +(92)300-3929788
URL: www.piler.org.pk

Immediate Release- Indian activists ask PMO to sincerely engage with Burma


8 May 2012

Indian civil societies urge the Prime Minister of India to sincerely engage with Burma

New Delhi: Today, Burma Centre Delhi submitted a memorandum on behalf of Indian civil society groups to the Prime Minister of India, Dr. Manmohan Singh before his upcoming landmark visit to Burma.

The memorandum conveys important message to end atrocities targeting ethnic areas, to follow proper environmental standard on the ongoing developmental projects implemented by the two countries and to strengthen historical and bilateral ties.

A copy of memorandum submitted to the PM of India is below

MEMORANDUM

May 8, 2012

To

Dr. Manmohan Singh

Hon’ble Prime Minister of India

Respected Prime Minister,

We heartily welcome your proposed landmark visit to Burma from 10-12 May 2012 which is taking place at a time when the country is going through political reforms and not long after the country witnessed the thumping victory of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her party, the National League for Democracy in the April 1 Parliamentary by-elections. You are also aware that these political developments are welcomed by other international communities as is evident from the series of visits made by prominent dignitariesfrom governments around the world including US Secretary of State Hillary ClintonBritish Prime Minister David Cameron and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

This much-awaited political reform will enhance Burma’s engagement with other countries like EU, US and ASEAN. Thus, at this important turn of events in its immediate strategic neighbour, India should also take an opportunity and play a significant role by strengthening its historical relations and engage with pro-democracy groups led by Aung San Suu Kyi and her party, the National League for Democracy and other ethnic political parties.

As this landmark visit will strengthen bilateral ties between the two neighboring countries, it is pertinent for India to develop a fresh thinking in this new political scenario in Burma.Alongside its national interest, India must be sincerely committed to strengthen democracy and facilitate the process of national reconciliation in Burma.

We the Civil Society Groups and citizens of India would like to draw your kind attention before your upcoming landmark visit to Burma on the following crucial issues that urgently need your kind intervention and action.

1.       The issue of ethnic nationalities remains a serious concern and must be made a priority while engaging with President Thein Sein’s government in order to secure a durable political settlement. India should also press for an end to atrocities targeting ethnic areas particularly in Kachin state, restoration of the civil and democratic rights of the Rohingya, end of atrocities in Arakan and safe repatriation of the Rohingya refugees.

2.       The ongoing developmental joint ventures implemented by the two countries for which a standard Environmental Impact Assessment, implementation process such as public consultation should be conducted as envisaged in the project to ensure the desired vision is achieved. Project related documents should also be made public. That these developmental projects should not have undesired effect such as displacement of the communities in both the countries.

3.       Construction of Tamanthi Hydroelectric Power Project (THPP) on the Chindwin River in northwest Burma’s Sagaing Division is another serious concern. The water current due to construction of this proposed Dam is estimated to wipe out an area of approximately 1,400 sq km. (the size of Delhi) displacing over 45,000 people living nearby. Over 2,400 villagers have already been forcibly evicted in 2007 from the Dam site, with a mere compensation of US $ 5 (Rs 500 INR).

4.       The Kaladan Multi-Modal Project, developed by India in 2008 to improve connectivity between the two countries has raised several concerns in border areas of Burma and India. The project requires an estimated 196.75 hectares of forest land to be cleared. The development along the port and river will displace thousands of people from their homes and livelihood. While an environmental and Social Impact Assessments have not been conducted till date, the project implementation is already way behind its stipulated time frame of 2010. Communities specifically beneficiaries inhabiting border areas in Burma and India have no information about the proposed project.

We strongly urge the Honourable Prime Minister to take these matters into utmost importance while meeting with President Thein Sein.

We urged Hon’ble Prime Minister to ensure democratic process and people’s participation in the development process of the two countries, whereby developing strong ties and strengthening neighbourly relations.

We are confident that the visit of our Honorable Prime Minister to Burma will bring encouraging results and strengthen ties not only in trade and security but also enhance co-operation at the people-to-people level.

Sincerely,

Indian Civil Society Groups

Endorsed by:

1.       Burma Centre Delhi

2.       Grassroot Development Network

3.       Zo Indigenous Forum

4.       MANUSHI

5.       Vinish Gupta

6.       Campaign for Peace & Democracy (Manipur)

7.       Arun Khote

8.       Peoples Media Advocacy & Resources Center- PMARC

9.       Dalits Media Watch

10.   Anand Bala – Bangalore

11.   Peoples’ Vigilance Committee on Human Rights (PVCHR)

12.   Vidya Bhushan Rawat

13.   Journalists’ Forum Assam, Guwahati

14.   CACIM

15.   Dr. Vandana Shiva, Navdanya/Research Foundation for Science Technology & Ecology

16.   Himalayan Peoples Forum

17.   Uttarakhand Parivartan Party (UKPP)

18.   Dr Zafarul-Islam Khan, Editor, The Milli Gazette, New Delhi

19.    Mahtab Alam, Civil Rights Activist and Journalist

20.   Kamayani Bali Mahabal, Human rights lawyer and activist, Mumbai

21.   Amar Kanwar

22.   Anjuman Ara Begum, Guwahati

23.   Pradeep Esteves, Context India, Bangalore

24.   Dr. Subash Mohapatra, Journalist

25.   Indian Social Action Forum (INSAF)

26.   Jharkhand Alternative Development Forum

27.   Hiren Gandhi and Saroop Dhruv, DARSHAN, Ahmedabad

Contact:

Burma Centre Delhi

Vikaspuri, New Delhi – 110018

Tele:             +91-11-45660619

Email: office@burmacentredelhi.org

www.burmacentredelhi.org

Women ‘Invisible’ in Myanmar


Aung San Suu Kyi visits polling-stations in AprilAung San Suu Kyi visits polling-stations in April

Source: IPS: Roberto Tofani

While Aung San Suu Kyi enjoys iconic status in Myanmar (also known as Burma), women remain invisible in this country steeped in Buddhist tradition and emerging from decades of military rule.

“Her (Suu Kyi’s) image suggests that there is space for women,” Ma Thida, a surgeon who is also a director of the ‘Myanmar Independent’ weekly newspaper published from Yangon (also Rangoon), tells IPS. “She is a great example for all Burmese women.”

Ma Thida was sentenced to 20 years’ imprisonment in 1993 on charges of “endangering public peace, having contact with illegal organisations and distributing unlawful literature.” She was released after five years in the notorious Insein prison.

“Today, the overall situation seems better compared to two or three years ago, but it’s far from ideal,” says Ma Thida, one of thousands of women who have contributed to bringing about changes towards democracy in Burma.

According to the Assistance Association of Political Prisoners, an independent non-profit founded by former political prisoners living in exile and based out of the border town of Mae Sot in Thailand, there are 18 females among the 473 political prisoners in Myanmar.

On paper, women suffer no discrimination with restrictions on civil liberties applying equally to all, regardless of gender.

Myanmar has ratified the international convention on elimination of all forms of discrimination against women (CEDAW), but the 2008 constitution does not quite conform to it.

For example, in appointing or assigning duties to civil services personnel the constitution prescribes that there be no discrimination “based on race, birth, religion, and sex”, but it also says that “nothing shall prevent appointment of men to the positions that are suitable for men only.”

Burmese activists shout anti-China slogans during a protest against the Myitsone dam in 2011. Photo: Ahmad Yusni/EPABurmese activists shout anti-China slogans during a protest against the Myitsone dam in 2011. Photo: Ahmad Yusni/EPA”At the moment we cannot still talk or discuss freely about gender discrimination or gender equality,” says a female rights activist who prefers not to be named because of her involvement in the campaign against the construction of the Myitsone dam on the Irrawaddy River.

The controversial hydroelectric project, developed jointly by Myanmar’s power ministry, the privately-owned Asia World Company of Burma and China Power Investment Corporation, was suspended by Myanmar authorities last year, following protests.

“That controversial decision to suspend construction, which was welcomed by environment groups, was the result of protests held mostly by women,” the activist said.

“When Burmese official media reported the decision to suspend construction the women seemed to have disappeared because they were asked to sit on the ground while the cameras focused on government officials,” she said. “The presence of women in our society is extensive but we are still invisible.”

The same paradox extends through Myanmar’s political life in which women have been struggling behind the lines for years and are happy to take a back seat when it comes to leadership roles.

“Sometimes it’s not so easy to raise these kinds of issues even within women’s groups as the majority of women think that their role is within the family and that their role in society cannot change,” says Mon Mon Myat, a writer and women’s rights activist.

“In a male-dominated, Theravada Buddhist society there are many cultural barriers that limit women’s behaviour and functioning,” Mon Mon Myat told IPS.

“Female journalists, for example, cannot take pictures or videos of the audience, because they are not allowed to go up to vantage positions because as women they cannot stay above men or Buddhist monks,” explained Mon Mon Myat.

That cultural barrier contrasts sharply with the images of Suu Kyi waving or talking to people from a balcony at her house or at a party office.

An exception

Suu Kyi, according to Mon Mon Myat, is an exception because she is the daughter of Gen. Aung San, a venerated national hero closely associated with Myanmar’s independence movement.

In fact, Suu Kyi takes care to prefix her father’s name to hers, although the custom in Myanmar is for women to use their own given names through life without taking on the name of father or husband.

“Though she is a woman, Suu Kyi is a symbol of peace and democracy in our country. That is why, we can see big crowds of monks and men strongly showing their support for her,” Mon Mon Myat said.

“The outlook of the country has to change if this country is going to be democratic, but for that there has to be more freedom in the media first,” says ‘Vic’, a 24-year-old writer who goes by that pen name.

Women activists and journalists who dared oppose the junta paid a heavy price with many of them systematically tortured, raped or killed by troops fighting a long war against ethnic militias in the Shan, Kachin and Karen states,

In 2002, the Shan Women’s Action Network denounced the systematic use of rape by the Burmese military in a report where some found the courage to speak out about their own experiences.

“It is still not possible to talk freely about rape cases committed by Burmese soldiers on ethnic women in remote areas,” said Mon Mon Myat.

In many cases, she said, women do not think of rape as gender discrimination but as a problem “of fate in a society that frowns on the weaker sex wearing inappropriate dress or going to inappropriate places.”

“In Myanmar, families may prefer to be silent about a rape, making it difficult for the victim to seek justice in the courts,” said Mon Mon Myat.

Women, inside and outside Myanmar, have been able to network through the Women’s League of Burma, an organisation of women drawn from 13 different ethnic groups that is “working for the advancement of the status of women towards a peaceful and just society.”

“Changing mindsets, especially among mid-level administrators and ordinary people is essential,” says Grace Swe Zin Htaik, a former actress who devotes herself to campaigning for health and gender issues. “It will take a long time before we achieve gender equality in Burma,” she told IPS.

Though poorly represented in legislative bodies and government positions, women like Mon Mon Myat draw hope for the future from the fact that females slightly outnumber males in Myanmar’s population, presently estimated at 55 million.

There is also the memory of better times before British colonial rule (1824–1948) when Myanmar followed a matriarchal system and women held rights to own property and hold high office.

AFSPA has to go: Human Rights Watch’s Kenneth Roth


Human Rights Watch executive director Kenneth Roth, who has headed several human rights investigations and missions around the world, was in Mumbai to address an Observer Research Foundation talk on ‘Human Rights in the Changing World Today.’Yogesh Pawar caught him on the sidelines of his talk. Excerpts from an interview:

Some say that by voting for a US-backed resolution urging Sri Lanka to probe rights abuses in the war with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), India has only ended up pushing the island nation further into China’s arms?

Short term geo-strategic gains can’t be weighed against the long term right thing to do. We were quite confident India would come on board given the huge domestic sentiment in favour of such a move. In the last stages of the war, the Sri Lankan army indiscriminately shelled the Tigers trapped on a beach. Along with them, 40,000 civilians were also killed. These are substantial war crimes. Surely India wouldn’t have wanted to align itself with this brutality.

India has also been in a bind with other neighbours like Myanmar (Burma) as it has been unsure how much geo-strategic depth it can sacrifice for human rights concerns.

And to what avail? Today Chinese FDI in Myanmar is over 40% and India’s is a mere 2%. India realised the importance of engaging with the army since rebel groups in the North East were using Myanmar as a base. Having said that, creating pressure for a functional democracy, however, continues to remain important.

I would say current accelerated changes are being driven by the junta’s fears of an Arab Spring contagion. Mere gestures like releasing Aung San Suu Kyi will not help. The army just wants to change its clothes for civilian ones, leverage how Suu Kyi has reached the parliament and then demand for international sanctions to be dropped. India has a big role to play in the days to come if we want the change to be more than cosmetic.

How is that?

Already the junta has been unhappy about being under so much Chinese influence that Myanmar had almost become a Chinese province. The cancellation of the $3.6 billion China-funded Myitsonedam contract in September last year was the first sign of this change. India can use this opportunity to work with its neighbour and prevail upon it to accelerate the democratic process.

But many feel India’s own track record on human rights is not very good…

It is true that there are huge concerns in Kashmir, the North East, Central India and Gujarat. We continue to work closely with the Indian government on all these issues. This should not, however, take away from India’s role in the global human rights movement. We have seen India taking strong human rights positions in South Africa, in Myanmar, and now Sri Lanka and Syria, as well as for Tibetans. As a growing power it has emerged as a significant voice on the global stage.

You mention Kashmir and the North East. There has been a lot of criticism of the role of the armed forces in both these regions.

At Human Rights Watch we believe in working with both the government and those on the other side. There are human rights excesses from both sides which evoke concern. Having said that, there can be no two ways about the fact that the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) has to go. We continue in our efforts to persuade India and hope it sees our point.

What about the situation in Pakistan?

There is a lot to be concerned about in Pakistan which seems to be going through a state of flux. The honour killings and the blatant misuse of the anti-blasphemy laws against minorities is of grave concern and we want the government there to urgently address this.

There is a feeling in the sub-continent that the West has double standards on human rights. It raises this bogey as and when it suits its own interests.

It is a charge that is hurled at us often. Particularly by dictators who want to deflect attention from their own wanton disregard for human rights. It is very convenient to turn this into a North-South ‘us and them’ debate.

We have been, for example, very vocal in our opposition to the US’ policy of extraordinary rendition. We have got the European Union to back us on this opposition to picking up foreign nationals suspected of involvement in terrorism to detention and interrogation in countries where federal and international legal safeguards do not apply.

But the West seems to have no problems doing business with China despite its human rights track record…

This is exactly why so many dictators cite China’s model of development. Despite its magnificent rise as an economic superpower, there are huge problems with the way China has grown. There is a dark underside to the Chinese miracle. History has proven again and again that such model cannot be sustainable. In comparison, India represents a more accountable way of governance.As a vibrant democracy, India has demonstrably shown that its concern for human rights is not a western import.

What is HRW’s assessment of the current situation in Syria?

It is disastrous. Syrian forces are using military means against an opposition that is itself increasingly armed. A lot of the violence from the Syrian security forces is still directed at peaceful demonstrators. And much of the deaths are of peaceful protesters who want democracy.

Russia and China block most efforts by the international community, from the prosecution of the Assad regime by the ICC to a condemnation by the UN Security Council to the peacekeeping plan proposed by the Arab League. In light of the ongoing violence in Syria what would you say to Moscow and Beijing?

I find that those vetoes, which were really led by Russia and China followed up represent a callous indifference to the lives of Syrians. It is like playing global politics at their expense. Clearly Russia is concerned that the Assad regime is its last remaining friend in the Middle East and North Africa apart from being a major purchaser of Russian arms. Russia seems to look at the fight for democracy in the region through the lens of the Cold War. We hope Russia is widely condemned for this. This is not the way a permanent member of the UN Security Council should act.

DNA Article here

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