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Posts tagged ‘Injustice in Burma’

New reports emerge of army attacks on Myanmar’s Rohingya

October 31, 2016

YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — Just five months after her party took power, Myanmar’s Nobel Peace Prize-winning leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, is facing international pressure over recent reports that soldiers have been killing, raping and burning homes of the country’s long-persecuted Rohingya Muslims.

The U.S. State Department joined activist and aid groups in raising concerns about new reports of rape and murder, while satellite imagery released Monday by Human Rights Watch shows that at least three villages in the western state of Rakhine have been burned.

Myanmar government officials deny the reports of attacks, and presidential spokesman Zaw Htay said Monday that United Nations representatives should visit “and see the actual situation in that region.” The government has long made access to the region a challenge, generally banning foreign aid workers and journalists.

But the U.N.’s special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, said serious violations, including torture, summary executions, arbitrary arrests and destruction of mosques and homes, threaten the country’s fledgling democracy.

“The big picture is that the government does not seem to have any influence over the military,” said Chris Lewa, director of the Arakan Project, an advocacy group that focuses on the Rohingya. Myanmar’s widely criticized constitution was designed to give the armed forces power and independence.

A three-week surge in violence by the military was prompted by the killings of nine police officers at border posts on Oct. 9 in Rakhine, home to Myanmar’s 800,000 Rohingya. There have been no arrests, and a formerly unknown Islamist militant group has taken responsibility.

Although they’ve lived in Myanmar for generations, Rohingya are barred from citizenship in the nation of 50 million, and instead live as some of the most oppressed people in the world. Since communal violence broke out in 2012, more than 100,000 people have been driven from their homes to live in squalid camps guarded by police. Some have tried to flee by boat, but many ended up becoming victims of human trafficking or were held for ransom.

When Suu Kyi’s party was elected earlier this year after more than five decades of military rule, the political shift offered a short, tense window of peace. But that quickly ended as the former political prisoner and champion of human rights failed to clamp down on military atrocities.

The current crackdown has prompted an estimated 15,000 people in the Rakhine area to flee their homes in the past few weeks. The satellite images from Human Rights Watch show villages burning, and residents report food supplies are growing scarce as they are living under siege.

U.S. Ambassador Scot Marciel has urged Myanmar’s Foreign Ministry to investigate the allegations of attacks and restore access for humanitarian groups trying to help. “We take reports of abuses very seriously,” said U.S. Embassy spokesman Jamie Ravetz in Yangon, Myanmar. “We have raised concerns with senior government officials and continue to urge the government to ?be transparent, follow the rule of law, and respect the human rights of all people in responding to the original attacks and subsequent reports of abuses.”

Families in Rakhine depend largely on humanitarian aid for food and health care, but that support has been cut off for weeks by officials who will not allow outsiders into the region. A government-sponsored delegation of aid agencies and foreign diplomats was supposed to visit the region on Monday, but local officials said they hadn’t seen anyone yet, and have not been informed they were coming.

“The government should end its blanket denial of wrongdoing and blocking of aid agencies, and stop making excuses for keeping international monitors from the area,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

Mendoza reported from Bangkok.

Rohingya groups say Rakhine deaths now excuse for purge

17 October 2016 Monday

Rohingya advocacy groups worldwide are continuing to express serious concerns over what they claim is a continued military and police crackdown in western Myanmar, as authorities seek those responsible for the murder of nine police officers.

The nine died along with eight armed men in three separate attacks on police outposts on the Myanmar-Bangladesh border in western Rakhine State on Oct. 9.

The outposts are located in Maungdaw and Yathay Taung townships, two areas predominantly occupied by the country’s stateless Rohingya Muslim population — described by United Nations as one of the most persecuted minority groups in the world.

Late Sunday, a statement from the groups headlined Save Rohingya from Annihilation claimed that military and police have since been indiscriminately killing Rohingya and torching and plundering their homes and villages, under the pretext of looking for the attackers.

“Two mass graves were found, and about 100 Rohingya civilians were extra-judicially killed that included old men, women and children,” it said.

According to Myanmar media, however, since Oct. 9 no more than 33 people — including four soldiers and 29 suspected attackers — have been killed, including two women.

Monday’s statement added that at least five Rohingya villages had also been set ablaze as the army sought those responsible.

“The grave situation has caused many Rohingya to flee their villages. An estimated 5000 Rohingya have been internally displaced causing great humanitarian disaster. Due to curfew order and blockade, there is an acute shortage of food, medicine, and other essentials. The situation is exponentially worsening,” it underlined.

On Oct. 14, Myanmar’s government said that the initial raids on the police outposts were conducted by the Aqa Mul Mujahidin organization, which it described as being affiliated with the Rohingya Solidarity Organization (RSO), a shadowy extremist group that takes its name from the Rohingya.

It has blamed the attacks on non-Myanmar nationals, but has said they were aided by some members of the local community.

“The attacks in Maungdaw Township were systematically planned in advance over a long period of time, assisted by foreign funding and the support of members of foreign terrorist organizations,” said a president’s office statement.

Though most experts believe the RSO’s continued existence is a myth, the government has classified it as an extremist group and officials blame it for recent attacks on border areas.

While Muslim organizations in Myanmar condemned the original attacks, Sunday’s statement said that they have since been used as an excuse to attack innocent Rohingya, and then claim that the Muslim community was burning down its own homes in an effort to gain international sympathy.

“Whilst these crimes against humanity have been manifestly committed by the joint armed forces with impunity, the authorities, as a part of an evil design, are spreading lies to the media that ‘Bengalis’ — a racial slur in reference to the Rohingya people — are burning down their own houses to leave the international community in a state of confusion,” it said.

Local nationalists have long labelled Rohingya “Bengali” — a term suggesting they are illegal immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh, and therefore have no right to Myanmar citizenship.

It called on the European Union, United Nations and other members of the international community to make an objective assessment of the situation and help the victims of human rights violations on humanitarian grounds.

“We also request the State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi to intervene into the matter and put an end to the military crackdowns on the civilian population,” it added.

On Oct. 3, Suu Kyi called on Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) member states for support in solving the “complex situation” in Rakhine, home to around 1.2 million Rohingya.

Since her party’s victory in the Nov. 8 election, Suu Kyi has been placed under tremendous international pressure to solve problems faced by Rohingya but has had to play a careful balancing act for fear of upsetting the country’s nationalists, many of whom have accused Muslims of trying to eradicate the country’s Buddhist traditions.

Suu Kyi has, however, enforced the notion that the root of many of the impoverished region’s problems are economic, and is encouraging investment in the area, which in turn the National League for Democracy hopes will lead to reconciliation between the Buddhist and Muslim communities.

Monday’s statement was signed by Rohingya organizations from the United Kingdom, Denmark, Japan, Australia, Germany, Switzerland, Norway, Finland, Italy, Sweden, the Netherlands, Malaysia, and the Rohingya Arakanese Refugee Committee.

Source: World Bulletin.

Link: http://www.worldbulletin.net/todays-news/178794/rohingya-groups-say-rakhine-deaths-now-excuse-for-purge.

1,000 in Myanmar protest Annan examining religious conflict

September 06, 2016

SITTWE, Myanmar (AP) — More than 1,000 Buddhists in a Myanmar state wracked by religious and ethnic strife protested Tuesday’s arrival of former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, saying the Ghanaian is meddling in the country’s affairs by leading a government-appointed commission to find solutions to the conflict.

The Southeast Asian country set up the commission last month to help find solutions to “protracted issues” in western Rakhine state, where human rights groups have documented widespread abuses by majority Rakhine Buddhists against minority Rohingya Muslims.

The state’s dominant Arakan National Party and the Rakhine Women Network led the protest about 300 meters (yards) from the airport in Sittwe, the Rakhine capital, where Annan and other members of the Rakhine Advisory Commission arrived Tuesday morning. As Annan’s car passed, the crowd shouted, “Dismiss the Kofi Annan-led Rakhine Advisory Commission now.”

“We came here because we don’t want that foreigner coming to our state,” said May Phyu, a local Rakhine Buddhist resident. “I don’t know exactly what this group is and what they are doing, but I came here to protest as I don’t like them to come here.

“I cannot accept them talking about the Rakhine and kalar case in our state,” said protester Soe Thein. “Kalar” is a derogatory word used in Myanmar to refer to Muslims. Many Buddhists in Rakhine and across Myanmar consider Rohingya to be Bangladeshis living in the country illegally, though the ethnic group has been in Myanmar for generations. Hundreds of Rohingya were killed and tens of thousands forced to flee their homes in 2012 unrest in Rakhine state, and many continue to be confined to squalid camps there.

“We are here to help provide ideas and advice,” Annan said at the Rakhine state government office, where he met government and police officials, community leaders and members of nongovernmental organizations.

“To build the future, the two major communities have to move beyond decades of mistrust and find ways to embrace, share values of justice, fairness and equity,” he said. “Ultimately, the people of Rakhine state must charge their own way forward.”

Before Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s government created the commission, her international reputation as a Nobel Peace Prize-winning democracy icon had been diminished by what some have viewed as her inaction on the Rohingya issue. Her government still does not even use the word “Rohingya.”

“You will see for yourself all the problems on the ground now,” Suu Kyi, officially Myanmar state counselor and foreign minister, told Annan and other commission members at a news conference Monday. “You will be able to assess for yourself the roots of the problems itself, not in one day, not in one week. But I am confident that you will get there, that you will find the answers because you are truly intent on looking for them.”

The commission is to address human rights, ensuring humanitarian assistance, rights and reconciliation, establishing basic infrastructure and promoting long-term development plans. During their six-day Rakhine trip, the commission will visit the Rohingya camps and meet members of political and religious groups. But the Arakan National Party said it will not meet or work with the commission.

“Rakhine state is in Myanmar and our country has its own sovereignty and there is no way we can accept a commission that is formed by foreigners,” ANP official Aung Than Wai said Tuesday.

Myanmar leader says Rakhine commission will help heal wounds

September 05, 2016

YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi expressed confidence Monday that former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and a commission he is leading to resolve religious conflict in western Rakhine state will help heal the “wounds of our people,” even as the state’s most powerful political party refused to meet with the panel.

The Southeast Asian country set up the commission last month to help find solutions to “protracted issues” in Rakhine, where human rights groups have documented widespread abuses against minority Rohingya Muslims.

Majority Buddhists in Rakhine and across Myanmar consider Rohingya to be Bangladeshis living in the country illegally, though the ethnic group has been in Myanmar for generations. Hundreds of Rohingya were killed and tens of thousands forced to flee their homes in 2012 unrest, and many continue to be confined to squalid camps.

“You will see for yourself all the problems on the ground now,” Suu Kyi, officially Myanmar state counselor and foreign minister, told commission members at a news conference. “You will be able to assess for yourself of the roots of the problems itself, not in one day, not in one week. But I am confident that you will get there, that you will find the answers because you are truly intent on looking for them.”

The effort is separate from peace talks that began last week with the government and many ethnic groups that have been at war with it for decades. “There is a wound that hurts all of us,” Suu Kyi said. “And it is because we wish to heal all the wounds of our nation, all the wounds of our people that we look toward Kofi Annan and all the members of the commission to help us to find a way forward.”

The commission is to address human rights, ensuring humanitarian assistance, rights and reconciliation, establishing basic infrastructure and promoting long-term development plans. Annan said he is “confident that we can assist the people of Rakhine to chart the common path to the peaceful and prosperous future.”

Annan and the commission on Tuesday begin a six-day Rakhine trip during which they will see the camps and meet members of political and religious groups. But Rakhine’s largest party, the Arakan National Party, which represents the interests of the Buddhist Rakhine majority, said it will not work with the commission.

“We don’t want this commission because we don’t want a foreigner’s human rights perspectives without actually understanding and evaluating the history of Rakhine people, and how can they know the root causes of the conflicts,” ANP secretary Tun Aung Kyaw told The Associated Press by telephone. “Whenever the United Nations’ representatives … came here, they never stood for Rakhine and didn’t do the true reports from Rakhine side.”

He said that if Annan “wants to meet us personally, not as a commission, then we can meet him to show respect.”

Prominent political prisoner freed in Myanmar, many remain

April 01, 2016

YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — A prominent political prisoner was released Friday after he finished his six-month jail sentence, coincidentally on the day that Myanmar’s new, democratically-elected government began working.

Patrick Kum Ja Lee’s release was on schedule and not ordered freed by the new government. But it serves as a reminder that President Htin Kyaw will soon have to confront the military to free scores of other political prisoners still in jail for speaking out against its rule. Many are supporters of Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, the force behind the new government.

“I’ve seen many political activists who are imprisoned by the oppressive laws of the previous government,” said Patrick as he walked out of the prison gates, where he was met by his wife, May Sabe Phyu, another human rights activist. “I want the new government to be able to release all the political prisoners.”

Patrick, an ethnic Kachin, was arrested in October and sentenced to six months in prison for writing a social media post that was considered offensive to the military commander, Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlain.

Amnesty International recently called on the new government to work to immediately release all political prisoners jailed by the military that has been in power since 1962, and by a subsequent pro-military, quasi-civilian government.

The military loosened its grip on power in 2010 and allowed free elections in November 2015, which Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy swept, allowing it to form a government on Thursday. Suu Kyi has pledged to release all the remaining 100 or so prisoners but whether that pledge is even practical remains to be seen. The military still controls some key institutions including the Home Affairs Ministry, which runs the Corrections Department. Under the Constitution the president is required to consult the ministry, run by a former general, in order to grant amnesties.

“Aung San Suu Kyi used to say, ‘The truth shall make you free,'” said Patrick, “and I hope that really happens to all the political prisoners under her government.”

Myanmar’s parliament blocks changes to constitution

June 25, 2015

YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — Myanmar’s parliament voted against several constitutional amendments Thursday, ensuring that the military’s veto power remains intact and that opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi cannot become president in an election this year.

The legislature ended a 3-day debate on proposed changes to the 2008 constitution, which bars Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, from seeking the presidency and gives the military an effective veto over constitutional amendments.

Changes to both those clauses were rejected in the vote, which was viewed as a final chance to lift obstacles blocking Myanmar’s most famous politician from a shot at the presidency in the immediate future. Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy is expected to see heavy gains against the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party in an election likely to take place by November. No date has been set.

“I am not surprised with the result,” Suu Kyi told reporters after the vote. “This makes it very clear that the constitution can never be changed if the military representatives are opposed.” She said she didn’t see the vote as a loss, since the result had been anticipated, so her supporters should not lose hope.

Suu Kyi and her party had said that the current constitution needed to be amended to meet democratic norms and that the amendments were essential for a free and fair election. “The people should not be disappointed with the decision. It is clearer now how to proceed,” she told reporters after the vote, looking defiant and energetic. “The public will clearly understand who wants change and it will help the public to clearly decide who they should vote for in the election.”

The NLD swept the last free general election in 1990 but the then-ruling military junta ignored the results and kept Suu Kyi under house arrest and detention for a total of 15 years. The nation’s transition from a half-century of brutal military rule to a nominally civilian government in 2011 was marked by early, fast-moving successes. Suu Kyi’s 2010 release and her 2012 election to parliament were a catalyst for the West to end years of diplomatic isolation of Myanmar, also called Burma, and roll back sanctions.

But four years after President Thein Sein took office, the military has refused to loosen its grip on parliament or amend the junta-era constitution, which ensures the military’s continuing influence in government. It gives the military a mandatory 25 percent of parliamentary seats, handing it veto power over any change in the constitution, which requires greater than 75 percent approval, followed by a nationwide referendum.

Thursday’s vote rejected a proposal to trim the share of ballots required to amend the constitution from over 75 percent to 70 percent, a change that would essentially have removed the veto power. The U.S. State Department said Thursday the lack of civilian control over the military and the military’s veto power contradicted democratic principles. The U.S. would continue to encourage the government “to allow the people of Burma to elect freely the leaders of their choice,” said Michael Quinlan, a spokesman for the department’s East Asia bureau.

Two prominent voices in Congress on U.S. policy toward Myanmar said the legitimacy of the November elections was in doubt. “Today’s move by the Burmese military in the parliament only solidifies concerns that the country’s upcoming elections cannot be free, fair, or credible,” Democratic Rep. Joe Crowley and Republican Rep. Steve Chabot said in a statement.

Many viewed the proposed amendment, which could have paved the way for more constitutional change, as key to Suu Kyi’s chances for gaining eligibility for the presidency. The opposition leader turned 70 last Friday, raising concerns that time is running out in her political career.

The parliament also rejected amending a clause that bars anyone whose spouse or children are loyal to foreign countries from becoming president or vice president. Suu Kyi’s late husband and her two sons are British citizens. The proposed amendment would not have stricken the clause entirely, just dropped the reference to foreign spouses as an obstacle to candidacy.

During this week’s debate, lawmakers in military uniforms said it was necessary to keep the clauses intact. “If the person who will become the country’s head of state and his or her family members owe allegiance to foreign countries, the country will indirectly fall under foreign subjugation,” Brig. Gen. Tin Soe, one of 166 military appointees in parliament, told fellow lawmakers on Wednesday.

Brig. Gen Tin San Naing said Tuesday that the military’s veto power helped ensure stability as the country moves away from military rule. “Myanmar is in a democratic transition period,” he said. “It has not reached its maturity in democratic practices to ensure peace and security in the country.”

Associated Press writer Matthew Pennington in Washington contributed to this report.

Myanmar police charge at student protesters with batons

March 10, 2015

LETPADAN, Myanmar (AP) — Hundreds of riot police charged at students protesting Myanmar’s new education law on Tuesday, pummeling them with batons and then dragging them into trucks, bringing a quick, harsh end to a weeklong standoff. Authorities said more than 120 people were arrested.

Security forces threw stones and jumped over fences as they broke up the demonstration. Dozens of students and monks were chased into a Buddhist monastery, said Honey Oo, a student leader. “Many people were beaten and several arrested,” she said by telephone.

After the crackdown, police were seen celebrating and shouting, “Victory! Victory!” Information minister Ye Htut said 127 people, including 65 students, were detained and 16 police and eight demonstrators had been injured.

While there were no reported deaths, Tuesday’s violence served as a reminder of Myanmar’s recent days of brutal, authoritarian rule. A European Union delegation that has been training Myanmar’s police in crowd control issued a statement expressing deep concern over the use of force against protesters and calling for a formal investigation.

The nominally civilian government installed four years ago has been grappling with the consequences of newfound freedoms of expression. It has been especially sensitive about public protests, arresting hundreds of people since taking office for peacefully expressing their views.

In January, about a hundred students started marching from Myanmar’s second biggest city, Mandalay, to the old capital, Yangon, to protest a new law that puts all decisions about education policy and curriculum in the hands of a group largely made up of government ministers, which critics say undermines the autonomy of universities.

The demonstrators were joined by monks and other activists, bringing their number to around 200 in the last nine days, when they were blocked by police and began a sit-in on a road near a monastery in Letpadan, about 140 kilometers (90 miles) north of Yangon.

Early Tuesday, the two sides had appeared close to reaching an agreement. Police said the students could march to a nearby town and then be transported to Yangon in government-provided trucks, but then demanded that the protesters refrain from shouting slogans or waving flags.

Hundreds of police wearing helmets and camouflage fatigues formed a human chain several layers deep across the road while setting up barbed-wire barriers. The protesters, many wearing red T-shirts and bandanas, tried to push their way through. Some monks in maroon robes joined the students.

The police then abruptly turned on the students, chasing them with batons and sticks. Associated Press photographers said some protesters were beaten on the head, punched and kicked as they were dragged to the waiting trucks.

Those arrested included two student leaders, Min Thwe Thit and Phyo Phyo Aung. Myanmar’s government is especially sensitive about protests in Yangon because the city was the scene of 1988 pro-democracy demonstrations largely led by students and brutally crushed by the former military junta, with an estimated 3,000 people killed.

Similar protests spread across the country, eventually leading to the collapse of the previous 26-year socialist military regime. In recent days the government has crushed several protests in and around Yangon, usually by dragging demonstrators into trucks.

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