(London, 27th June 2016) – Burma Human Rights Network (BHRN) welcomes the new report published on 20th June 2016 by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) of the United Nations pointing out the gross human rights violations committed against the Rohingya, Kachin and Shan peoples of Myanmar. BHRN fully agrees with the conclusion that these violations could be regarded as crimes against humanity in a court of law.
We are concerned that the new government led by the State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi is not giving any sign of working to remedy that situation, particularly regarding the situation in Rakhine State and the plight of the Rohingya minority.
On 17th June 2016, the Burmese envoy to the United Nations in Geneva suggested that the international community should use “Muslim from Rakhine State” instead of the term “Rohingya”. The new NLD government has been engaging in a diplomatic campaign to persuade foreign governments and the international community to avoid using the word “Rohingya” on the basis that the word is inflammatory.
While it is highly debatable that the roots of the conflict in Rakhine State lie in a mere semantic controversy, there is little doubt that the attempts to erase the word “Rohingya” constitute in themselves a denial of the right of self-identification. BHRN believes that the attempts to banish the term “Rohingya” from public discourse amount to a denial of collective identity and, as such, constitute a breach of fundamental human rights norms.
We believe that the term “Muslim from Rakhine state” is inadequate because Islam is a religion, not an ethnic group, and because it ignores the identity of the people of Kaman ethnicity who have been living in the state for centuries. Kaman communities have shared much of the plight of Rohingya people since 2012, and we believe that an all-encompassing term like “Muslims from Rakhine State” is as potentially harmful to their identity as it is for the Rohingya.
Moreover, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi claimed during the visit of the US Secretary of State, Mr John Kerry, that she wished to avoid “emotive” terms unacceptable to opposing parties: while Rakhine Buddhists object to the term “Rohingya”, Rohingya people themselves can’t accept the term preferred by the former, “Bengali”, implying that they are foreigners from Bangladesh.
We believe that the argument put forth by Aung San Suu Kyi establishes a false equivalence between both positions, and that the right of the Rohingya people to self-identification overrides any possible “offence” which it may cause to others who, in any case, are not labelled under such term. But the reasoning also smacks to disingenuousness considering that the NLD government is not putting any effort in preventing extremists and hardliners from using the term Bengali.
We also call the NLD government to lift all restrictions on domestic and international aid in Rakhine state. The NLD government should prioritise the improvement of the dire living conditions of the people interned in IDP camps since 2012. The lack of adequate healthcare, appropriate food supplies and potable water in those camps is nothing less than a protracted humanitarian crisis.
The citizenship verification process launched recently by the NLD government is also a matter of concern. It is deeply problematic because it is based on the 1982 citizenship law. According to the UN, the 1982 Citizenship Law produced nearly 1.1 million stateless people in Burma, which is the largest stateless population living in a single country in the world. The law arbitrarily predicates citizenship on indigeneity, labelling as “national ethnic groups” those who had settled in Burma before 1824. Combined with a twisted reading of history, which denies the presence of Rohingya people in Rakhine before that date.
The draconian Citizenship Law should not have any place in a truly democratic country. We urge the democratically elected NLD government to draft a new citizenship law based on international standards and human rights norms. If the NLD government wishes to live up to the values it claims to hold, we urge it to take meaningful measures to restore the human rights that the military regime took violently from the Rohingya people, and to promote peaceful coexistence between the different communities that make up the rich ethnic tapestry in Rakhine state and Burma at large.
Further information please contact:
Kyaw Win, Executive Director, +44 (0) 740 345 2378