The Hindu – Myanmar to bar UN human rights investigators from entering

Yangon-Myanmar-(Burma), 30 June 2017. Myanmar’s government said on Thursday it will instruct its embassies around the world to bar members of a UN-approved fact-finding mission from entering the country to investigate alleged human rights violations by security forces against the Muslim Rohingya minority and other groups.

Deputy Foreign Minister Kyaw Tin told parliament that the government will not cooperate with the mission, reiterating the position taken by the country’s leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, that its work would be counterproductive.

The UN Human Rights Council approved the mission by consensus in March in response to international pressure, and in May, it appointed three legal experts and human rights advocates to lead it.

Last October, the army launched counterinsurgency operations in Rohingya areas in the western state of Rakhine after the killing of nine border guards. UN human rights investigators and independent rights organizations charge that soldiers and police killed and raped civilians and burned down more than 1,000 homes during the operations.

The Rohingya face severe discrimination in Buddhist-majority Myanmar and were the targets of inter-communal violence in 2012 that killed hundreds and drove about 140,000 people predominantly Rohingya from their homes to camps for the internally displaced, where most remain.

Myanmar officials insist their own efforts to deal with the problem are adequate. Mr Kyaw Tin said the government is complying with and implementing recommendations made by an advisory committee appointed by Ms Suu Kyi and led by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

Critics charge the government’s initiatives cannot come up with a fair solution because some of the people involved are biased.

The government’s position was applauded by Than Tun, a senior leader of the Rakhine Buddhist community, which has generally promoted confrontations with its Rohingya neighbors and sought to exclude third party observers and mediators.

“I think the government is doing what they should do,” he said. “We have disagreed since the beginning with the formation of Kofi Annan’s Rakhine Advisory Committee, because this is our country and we have the right to solve the problems under the sovereignty of our country and there shouldn’t be any outsiders’ interference in our issues.

That’s why we accept and support the Myanmar government’s decision on rejecting the fact-finding mission.”

BBC News – Myanmar says ‘no evidence’ of Rohingya genocide

Myamar, 4 January 2017. A commission set up by Myanmar’s government says it has so far found no evidence of genocide against Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine state.

In its interim report, the commission also said there was not enough evidence to support widespread rape allegations.

It did not mention claims that security forces had been killing people.

There have been repeated allegations of abuses of Rohingya people since a military counter-insurgency campaign was launched in Rakhine in October.

Some have even said the state’s actions amount to ethnic cleansing, and Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel peace laureate, has faced international criticism.

The commission, set up by the Myanmar government and led by a former general, Myint Swe, is due to make its final conclusions before the end of January.

But, in its interim findings, it dismissed allegations of genocide on the basis that there are still Rohingya Muslims living in Rakhine and that Islamic religious buildings have not been destroyed.

It said it had so far found “insufficient evidence” that anyone had been raped by security forces, despite widespread claims. Accusations of arson, arbitrary arrest and torture are still being investigated.

Strangely, the commission made no mention of the most serious claim – that Burmese security forces have been killing civilians as collective punishment for attacks by Rohingya militants, the BBC’s Myanmar correspondent Jonah Fisher reports.

Three months since this crisis began, little progress appears to have been made to solve it, he notes. The report says hundreds of Rohingya have been arrested but armed militants are still moving around easily and that looted weapons have yet to be recovered.

Earlier in the week, several police were detained after a video surfaced appearing to show officers beating Rohingya Muslims during a security operation in November.

The admission that security forces may have carried out abuses is an unusual development, as leaders have previously insisted they are following the rule of law.

Rakhine state is closed to journalists and investigators, making it difficult to independently verify any allegations.

Who are the Rohingya?

The estimated one million Muslim Rohingya are seen by many in mainly Buddhist Myanmar as illegal migrants from Bangladesh. They are denied citizenship by the government despite tracing their ancestry back generations.

Communal violence in Rakhine state in 2012 left scores dead and displaced more than 100,000 people, with many Rohingya still remaining in decrepit camps.

They face widespread discrimination and mistreatment.

Hundreds of thousands of undocumented Rohingya are estimated to live in Bangladesh, having fled Myanmar over decades.

Bangladesh says around 50,000 Rohingya have crossed its border over the past two months.

The situation has drawn global condemnation. Over a dozen Nobel laureates wrote to the UN Security Council demanding action to stop the “human tragedy amounting to ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity” in northern Rakhine.

The Hindu – In Cox’s Bazaar, Rohingyas huddle together in shacks in a harsh winter

Suvojit Bagchi

Kolkata, 1 January 2017. The Bangladesh district struggles to provide amenities to the refugees from Myanmar.

Describing the influx of refugees from Myanmar to southeast Bangladesh as a “forgotten crisis”, Sarat Dash, chief of mission of the International Organisation for Migration in Bangladesh, has said the crisis is worsening in the Rohingya refugee camps.

Mr. Dash, who visited the camps in Cox’s Bazaar district with the Foreign Ministers of Indonesia and Bangladesh, said “34,000 refugees” had moved from Myanmar to Bangladesh since the recent spate of ethnic violence in Rakhine state of Myanmar.

While at least half-a-dozen international humanitarian agencies were working in the area, the situation was worsening with the advent of winter, Mr. Dash said.

Difficult times

“With severe crisis of shelter and food as the winter is approaching, there is a serious need of winter clothes; also an urgent need of medical assistance and psycho-social help,” Mr. Dash said. He said a “lot of the refugees are visibly depressed as they had traumatic experiences”.

Since the beginning of an anti-Rohingya cleansing drive in parts of Myanmar from the early 1990s, three lakh to five lakh refugees have settled in southeastern Bangladesh, according to the National Strategy on Myanmar Refugees report by the Bangladesh Government in 2013.

Besides the 32,000 officially registered refugees, there are nearly 50,000 in the makeshift settlements near the camps, says the Prime Minister’s National Strategy report.

The report also says that another three lakh to five lakh “undocumented Myanmar nationals” are living across Cox’s Bazaar. They are mainly settled in the upazilas (sub-districts) along the 62-km western bank of the Naaf river.

The Foreign Ministers and Mr. Dash visited these sub-districts and the IOM has concluded that 34,000 more refugees have arrived since early October.

Influx on

“The condition of the refugees already settled is not any good. But since they are staying over a period of time, they have managed to somewhat put together their lives.

But these new people came empty-handed and without resources and thus their living condition is worse than pavement dwellers in Kolkata. Unlike the pavement dwellers, they are living in forest land or uninhabited land,” Mr. Dash said.

As the Rohingya refugees, many of whom speak Bengali, are pouring in large numbers, on an average of 500 a day, the sub-districts are getting crowded by the hour, increasing pressure on hygiene, sanitation and security.

“But do we have an option other than to give them shelter in our tiny plastic thatched boxes,” asked Mahmudulla, a schoolteacher. Mr. Mahmudulla came to Cox’s Bazaar in the early 1990s and speaks urban Bengali.

He has documented the violence on the Rohingyas in Rakhine state on the other side of the Naaf river.

“The villages on the other side, at least 20, are decimated and we could only see the smoke, hear them screaming for help. It is gut-wrenching as I had experienced similar attacks a quarter century ago,” Mr. Mahmudulla told The Hindu on the phone from Cox’s Bazaar.

The photographs, mutilated bodies, charred corpses covered with banana leaves and burning villages, that Mr. Mahmudulla received on his mobile phone, describe the trauma that the Rohingyas are experiencing. Nearly 90 people are officially killed till last week.

While the killings are denied by the Myanmar government, Rohingya refugees in the camps in Bangladesh said they had now “stopped counting the bodies” of their family members.

Horrible stories

“Two of my family were killed and my daughter was raped in front of her mother,” said Arshad (name changed), a farmer from Khawar Bil village near Muang Daw town in Rakhine. Mr. Arshad checked in to his cousin’s house in the Nayapara refugee camp in Ukhia sub-district.

Mr. Dash said the refugees were staying with their distant relatives or acquaintances.

Fifteen to a room

“It is locally called “doubling” as the refugees are entering the semi-permanent shack of another refugee family, which perhaps arrived few years ago,” Mr. Dash said. The space shortage was acute. “Fifteen or 16 persons living in a tiny room which has only plastic on all sides.”

At night, the men take their turn to rest in the local mosque.

“The temperature is dropping and there is an immediate need to provide some basic comfort, especially to children,” Mr. Dash said. One in every three children was severely malnourished.

The IOM has set up medical camps, provided drinking water and set up toilets in the camps.

Yet Mr. Dash called it a crisis which has been “forgotten”.

He expects the situation to improve in the New Year.

Muslim Voices – Rohingya solidarity meeting in London calls for an end to genocide in Myanmar

Thursday 8 December 2016. A large solidarity meeting, titled “Silence over Rohingya Genocide”, was held at the London Muslim Centre on 30 November 2016, to protest the Burmese military’s brutal subjugation and human rights abuses of Rohingya Muslims, including executions, arrests, torture, forced relocations, blocking of humanitarian aid, burning of entire villages, and mass rape of women.

Jointly called by the Rohingya Minority Crisis Group, Muslim Voices, Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK, Muslim Association of Britain and supported by IlmFeed, the meeting was hailed a success as nearly 500 people packed the conference hall at short-notice.

It was streamed live, including by Aljazeera TV, allowing many more to view the event proceedings in other countries. Concerned members of the public who attended the meeting watched recent video footage of the genocide, listened to speeches and first-hand accounts from the ground, then generously committed £45,000 to help the Rohingya.

Tun Khin Ghaffar, a prominent human rights activist from Arakan State in Burma and president of the Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK, highlighted the recent escalation in violence, rape and torture.

He argued that “innocent people in Myanmar are being subjected to all kinds of attacks because they are Muslims”, and “the global silence and inaction to rescue the Rohingya is unacceptable and shameful. The British government did not do anything, not even issue a statement”, he complained.

Pleading with the international community, particularly the UN to intervene, Ghaffar thanked the organisers and people concerned for Rohingya for their solidarity, “we need your help as we are voiceless”.

Carl Buckley, Director at Guernica 37 International Justice Chambers, who had made representations before the International Criminal Court and the UN, described Burmese leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s inaction to stop the persecution of the Rohingya as “undermining everything that she had stood for during her decades of incarceration”.

Further, “in failing to act, the international community is in effect tacitly approving the on-going mass human rights violations; the Rohingya are being subjected to Genocide.”

He added, “the lack of action being taken is yet another example of the hypocritical and myopic approach taken by many countries and their approach to foreign policy. The international community has a moral obligation to act.”

Lord Nazir Ahmed, member of the British House of Lords and a long-time campaigner for the Rohingya and other persecuted communities across the globe, said, “the UN should demand an end to the genocide and ethnic cleansing of Rohingya people immediately”, and called for “an investigation into rape, torture and killings of civilians by the Burmese Army.”

Highlighting the sheer silence over the Rohingya persecution and duplicity of world powers, Lord Ahmed recollected his discussions in various UN and other international arenas where he is always told Islam is not a peaceful religion due to bloodshed in the Middle East and elsewhere, but “I sometimes also remind my friends about the genocide of Muslims in Central African Republic, India and other parts of the world.”

He continued, “the Buddhist faith is classed the most peaceful religion on earth but it is Buddhist monks that have burnt Muslims in Sri Lanka and more in Burma. Thousands of innocent people have been killed by the military and Buddhist monks.

It is time we start talking about these monks as they have blood on their hands. Just like Muslims are required to condemn extremists within us, I say to Buddhist leaders that they should call these Buddhist monks the Daesh of your religion and they too should be condemned.”

He further remarked that “had it been another community [faced with such an atrocity], God forbid say a Christian community, the whole of Europe would have stood up. It is time those who lecture us on human rights and about common humanity, that they too should speak about the Rohingya.”

Lord Ahmed ended by calling on the Bangladesh government to allow refugees; that the Nobel Peace Prize committee should consider withdrawing the prize from Aung San Suu Kyi; and he appealed to all to support anyone oppressed irrespective of background, colour or creed.

John Biggs, Mayor of the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, home to the highest proportion of Muslims in England, joined other speakers expressing solidarity with the Rohingya:

“The Rohingya Muslims deserve absolutely the same human rights and justice as everyone else in that country [Burma]. It is an outrage, a human rights disaster, and a disgrace for a country considering to be civilised to allow such persecution of the Rohingya Muslims. Burma does not deserve the respect it seeks as a democracy until and unless it gives the rights and protection to the Rohingya.”

Mayor Biggs called on the packed audience, mostly locals, to “improve their understanding of the Rohingya crisis, as knowledge is power.” He also asked for the profile of this issue to be raised and for all to speak up for people facing persecution.

“This is an issue that resonates strongly in the East End of London, but most people in our country have not heard about the situation in Rohingya yet. We need to make sure as moral upstanding people that we stand for human rights of people persecuted.”

Margaret Minolleti, a Dementia Care Advisor for the East London NHS Foundation Trust, related her son’s story who is stationed in Myanmar.

“My son is an Economic Development Worker who has been awarded a PhD to work in Myanmar, to help the Rohingya. He has been working there for five years and is due back this week to London to spend Christmas with family.”

Margaret spent one month herself in Myanmar two years ago and recalled the devastation and the calamity faced by Rohingya Muslims, especially children and mothers. She recalls how young children would stop her in her visits asking for pens and paper so they can study.

But she was overwhelmed by the sheer devastation, torture and inhumanity inflicted on the Rohingya by the Burmese. Despite all this and the restrictions in her son’s path, he remains committed to serving the Rohingya as a fellow human being.

Margaret ended her brief unplanned interjection at the meeting saying the “the trauma we witnessed in Myanmar is still with me. In Myanmar, the torture and the horrific ordeal is ongoing”. Putting aside the politics in Burma, she appealed to all that “We need to take action. We know with our hearts what happens to human beings.”

Dr Anas Altikriti, CEO of The Cordoba Foundation, rounded up the evening by weighing the costs of our collective inaction in the face of an unravelling genocide in Myanmar.

“The first cost is that of democracy. With military regimes such as that which rules Burma being allowed to commit these heinous crimes against the defenceless Rohingya, our very democracy is severely undermined and becomes tokenistic and vacant.

The second cost is that to the very concept of the international community, and particularly to the United Nations, as a symbol of human unity and hope. The fact that so much suffering can engulf the world while the UN proves toothless, inept and helpless, erodes not only its authority, but deems its very presence an irrelevance.

The third and most significant cost is that of terrorism. The suffering of the Rohingya and the failure of the international community and international institutions to intervene, presents an ideal scenario for global terrorism, namely Al-Qaeda or ISIS to occupy that vacuum and claim this issue as their own.

Should that happen, the world will then face another epic crisis in another fragile and vital region of the world, which might be even more difficult to address than those in Iraq or Syria.”

Mark Farmaner, Director of the Burma Campaign UK and someone active in advocacy for human rights in Burma since 1998 and the Anti-Apartheid campaign, could not attend the meeting due to illness but welcomed the solidarity meeting at the London Muslim Centre.

Rushanara Ali, MP for Bethnal Green and Bow also could not attend but sent a statement, which was read out by Mayor Biggs: “I am deeply concerned about the recent escalation in violence towards thousands of Rohingya Muslims…

I have made representations to the UK Ambassador to Burma, Andrew Patrick and the Burmese Education Minister, Professor Myo Thein Gyi during his visit to London this week. I am also making representations to our Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson MP.”

“Together with the international community, the UK Government must intensify its pressure on the Burmese government to allow full humanitarian access to the Rohingya [who] have recently been displaced [and are in need] of urgent protection, and I call on the Government to do all in its power to help those fleeing the violence to find a safe passage home.”

Imam Ajmal Masroor, TV presenter and broadcaster, ended the evening with an engaging fundraising appeal, with £45,000 raised within half an hour. He made, among other things, the following points:

“The massacre of Rohingya Muslims is one cause that has been forgotten for too long. The slogan by politicians, ‘never again’ not only sounds empty but actually is empty,” he lamented because “politicians don’t mean what they say.

They saw what happened in Bosnia, Syria, Palestine, Kashmir, Sudan and elsewhere – yet they keep saying ‘never again’ but it keeps on happening.

“Rohingya Muslims are not forgotten people, we will never forget them! But we must rise to the challenge, we have a moral duty to respond to the plight of the Rohingya.”

Dr Abdullah Faliq, chairman of Muslim Voices and the convener of the Rohingya Minority Crisis Group, opened and closed the evening.

He explained the purpose of the meeting was to “show solidarity with the fallen and persecuted in Myanmar by raising the profile and plight of the Rohingya. We need to help break the shameful and deafening silence over the genocide.

We thought we had moved on from the dark days of genocide and massacres such as in Rwanda and in Srebrenica, but the reality on the ground is different – the international community needs to rise to the challenge.

We are humbled by the level of interest shown in this meeting, and hope it is a small step towards greater awareness by engaging communities in the UK and abroad.”

Mohammed Kozbar, Vice President of the Muslim Association of Britain, and member of the Rohingya Minority Crisis Group, appealed for action, not just words. He said, “the Rohingya genocide is a very important issue not only because it is a human tragedy but because it has been forgotten for so long. It is a disaster that affects so many people, men and women.

The horrific images of children burnt alive in front of their parents are no movie, but a reality!”

The meeting concluded with a list of actions people can take to help the Rohingya.

Organisers of this event:

Rohingya Minority Crisis Group –
Muslim Voices –
Muslim Association of Britain –
Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK –
Supported by IlmFeed –

The Statesman – Myanmar Foreign Minister Aung San to visit India

New Delhi, 12 October 2016. In what can be seen as a milestone in New Delhi’s “Neighbourhood First” policy, Myanmar’s State Counsellor and Foreign Minister Aung San Suu Kyi will pay a state visit to India at the invitation of Prime Minister Narendra Modi from October 17 to 19.

“The State Counsellor will be accompanied by several key Ministers and senior officials,” the External Affairs Ministry said in a statement on Wednesday.

“During her visit, the State Counsellor will call on President of India Pranab Mukherjee and have meetings with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj,” it stated.

Suu Kyi will also attend a business event during which she will interact with leading Indian business leaders on ways of bolstering bilateral economic and commercial relations.

“The visit of the State Counsellor will provide an opportunity for the two sides to discuss issues of mutual interest and seek ways to further strengthen the close and friendly ties that exist between the two countries,” the statement said.

This will be first official visit of Suu Kyi to New Delhi since her National League for Democracy (NLD) assumed power in Myanmar in March this year.

Last month, Modi met Suu Kyi on the sidelines of the 14th India-Asean Summit and the 11th East Asia Summit in Vientiane, Laos.

Suu Kyi spent a considerable part of her early life in India and was educated at Lady Shri Ram College in New Delhi.

On April 6 this year, the 70-year-old Nobel peace laureate assumed charge as State Counsellor as she was constitutionally barred from the presidency after becoming the country’s first female foreign minister on March 30.

Prior to visiting New Delhi, Suu Kyi will attend the BRICS-Bimstec Outreach Summit to be held in Goa on October 15-16.

In August, Myanmar President U Htin Kyaw was in New Delhi on his first official visit abroad after assuming charge.

His visit came less than a week after External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj’s visit to Nay Pyi Taw.

The Asian Age – Seven magnitude quake hits Myanmar, tremors felt in Bengal, Bihar, Assam

Tremors lasted for at least 10 seconds, spreading panic among people

New Delhi, 24 August 2016. A powerful earthquake measuring 6.8 on the Richter Scale and epicentred in Myanmar today shook several parts of east and northeast India.

According to National Centre for Seismology, a unit of Ministry of Earth Sciences, the epicenter of the quake was in Myanmar and it occurred at 4:04 pm at a depth of 58 kms.

Tremors were felt in Bihar, West Bengal and Assam, spreading panic among people. According to reports, offices, colleges and buildings were evacuated. People said tremors lasted for at least 10 seconds. There were no immediate reports of loss to life or property.

The northeast is one of the most earthquake prone regions in the world.

The epicentre was near Chauk, a town on the Irrawaddy River several hundred kilometres northwest of Myanmar’s capital Naypyidaw. The tremors lasted for several minutes.

“There was also some sound as well. A pagoda collapsed in Salay and a building also collapsed,” Soe Win, a regional MP from the township in Magway region, said, adding that he has not yet heard of any casualties.

The USGS estimated that the impact would be “relatively localised” but noted that many buildings in the region are “highly vulnerable” to earthquake shaking.

Earthquakes are relatively common in Myanmar, though the country has not seen a major quake since 2012.

The last major quake struck in a nearby region in April and caused minor damages but no casualties.

Dawn – Buddhists torch mosque in Myanmar as anti-Muslim sentiment swells

Yangon, 2 July 2016. Nearly 100 police guarded a northern Myanmar village on Saturday after a Buddhist mob burned down a mosque, a police officer said, in the second attack of its kind in just over a week as anti-Muslim sentiment swells in the Southeast Asian nation.

The state-owned Global New Light of Myanmar said security forces in Hpakant in Kachin state were unable to control Friday’s attackers, who were armed with sticks, knives and other weapons.

It said the mosque’s leaders had failed to meet a June 30 deadline set by local authorities to tear down the structure to make way for construction of a bridge.

On June 23, a mob demolished a mosque and a Muslim cemetery in a village in Bago Region, about 60 kilometers northeast of Yangon, reportedly as a consequence of a personal dispute.

Tensions are also simmering in western Rakhine, a state scarred by deadly riots in 2012 that left communities almost completely divided along religious lines.

The region is home to the stateless Rohingya, a Muslim minority largely relegated to destitute displacement camps and subject to host of restrictions on their movements and access to basic services.

Suu Kyi, a veteran democracy activist who championed her country’s struggle against repressive military rulers, has drawn criticism from rights groups for not taking swifter moves to carve out a solution for the ethnic minority.

Her government recently ordered officials to refer to the group as “people who believe in Islam in Rakhine State” instead of Rohingya, a term whose use has set off protests by hardline Buddhists who insist the group are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.

Yet even the government’s broad phrase has failed to placate local Rakhine Buddhists, who demand the group be referred to only as “Bengalis” and say they are preparing to rally in protest at the order on Sunday.

After a 12-day visit to troubled Rakhine and other conflict sites in Myanmar, a UN rights investigator warned Friday that “tensions along religious lines remain pervasive across Myanmar society”.

Yanghee Lee urged the country’s new civilian government to make “ending institutionalised discrimination against the Muslim communities in Rakhine State… an urgent priority”.