Monday, January 30, 2012

Burma on the brink: Dr. Wakar Uddin with Radio Australia

But on the brink of what? With political reform apparently under way, both Burmese and international observers are optimistic about Burma’s future. But there are dangers ahead, and some feel that the Burmese government is opting for economic growth and stability rather than true freedom. Certainly for Burma’s long-suffering Christian and Muslim populations, the future looks uncertain.

Dr. Wakar Uddin, the Director General of the Arakan Rohingya Union, based in USA was interviewed by the ABC Radio Australia on the Rohingya ethnic minority issues in Burma's Arakan State. That can be listened at: Source: ABC Radio

Thursday, January 26, 2012

New video on Rohingya people

Rohingyas, the ethnic Muslim minority in Burma, are treated as aliens and discriminated in their own country despite their continued existence there for centuries. They face systematic oppression of forced labor, arbitrary arrest, and land confiscation.

Only Rohingyas must apply for travel passes to go to the next village less than a mile away. So, they cannot go to mosques for prayer or to marry or even study or work. Only Rohingyas, but not Buddhist Arakanese, face exorbitant and outrageous taxation for land, property, and activities such as repairing houses, marrying someone, and giving birth. Thus, they are without human and civil rights. They live in fear and without freedom.
 
A new video has been released on the plight of the Rohingya people.  You can find it here http://youtu.be/wShJ0dv121U

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Rohingya: The Difficulties Faced By Refugees in Australia

Refugees face an uphill battle in the Australian immigration processing system. Very few have been absorbed and now many face indefinite incarceration because of their status.

Bobby Castro is the online editor at the Australia Forum, where he has published a number of articles about Australian news for immigrants and many other topics.

In its latest communique, the Australian government has recently announced that over fifty of the refugees currently incarcerated in the immigration detention centers throughout Australia have been informed that their chances of obtaining an Australian visa is nearly none to nil.

These fifty individuals have been tagged as security threats by the Australian Security Intelligence Organization. This goes against the very recognition obtained by these individuals from the United Nations High Commission on Refugees as falling within the definition of refugee status.
 
Because of this conflict and the ASIO’s assessment, these fifty individuals would face indefinite detention. One of these individuals is Harun Roshid. He is Burmese national seeking asylum in Australia. He has been incarcerated for over two years and was included in the ASIO tagged list as security threats.

He was tagged as a security threat because of his ethnicity as a member of the Rohingya people. After escaping the Burmese military regime, Roshid remained in Malaysia for nearly fifteen years before boarding a vessel for Australia. He had hoped that this travel would be able to secure the protection of his family who remained in Burma. He was apprehended in April 2010 and has remained in custody as Australian immigration authorities processed his application of refugee status. He is currently located at the Northern Immigration Detention Center in Darwin.

Of his experience, he felt like he was being punished. Last November 2011, the ASIO returned an “adverse assessment” of his case. This was the basis for the denial of his application for a protection visa. This has an effect of being a deportable individual from Australia and would be returned to his country of birth.

There is another complication to his case. Since he had already obtained refugee status, the Australian government cannot deport the individual. He is thus disallowed from ever leaving the detention center that has been his home for the past two years. His chances too of being resettled in another country have also been dashed after the adverse assessment upon him by the ASIO.

The current process of immigration processing has been under increasing fire from both cause-oriented groups and opposition parliamentarians. Many have called the process “arbitrary” and “high handed” leading to further exploitation and difficulty for the individual seeking asylum in the country. This together with the security issues in detention centers, especially after the escape of two detainees, it is essential that a full review be undertaken at the soonest possible time.

Source: here

Around 200 Malaysia voyages missing in Bay of Bengal

 
Teknaf, Bangladesh: Around 200 were missing and about 60 boatpeople were rescued while a Malaysia voyage’s boat capsized in the Bay of Bengal on January 19, said a boatpeople who swam in the sea and arrived at Saint-Martian.

“The boat was capsized after crossing Saint Martin Island in the Bay of Bengal near Burma side.”

“The boat was capsized for overloaded and sunk under the water while the bottom of the trawler was damaged.”

“On that day, at night, a big trawler was anchored in the Bay of Bengal nearby Saint Martin, and some of the human traffickers secretly ferried over 100 boatpeople to the said trawler by small boats from Shapuri Dip for fear of police, BGB (Border Guard Bangladesh and Coast Guards. There were more than 260 boatpeople on board which has no capacity.”  

He refused his name that he rescued 26 boatpeople by small boat of Saint-Martain with cooperation of local fishermen as he was a fisherman before and know the situation of the area.

“I was not able to save more boatpeople for fear of arrest as the Saint-Martain police personnel know the information of boat capsized in the sea and were coming to the spot, he said to the Kaladan News.

According to a fishing boat, we saw some boat-people in the floating nearby Nakondia Dia between Saint-Martain and Shapuri Dip and informed to the coastguards.

On being tipped off, the Bangladeshi Coastguards went to the spot and rescued 33 boat-people. They were kept safely by Coastguard, a Coastguard officer, Obidul Haque said.

The officer also thinks that many boatpeople are missing in the Bay of Bengal because of there were nearly 200 people in a big trawler.

According to sources, the 33 arrested boatpeople were sent to Teknaf police station for further investigation.

The trawler from Bowal Khali river of Chittagong left for Malaysia with some people and other some were taken from Shapuri Dip, according to sources.

On November 23, about 17 people were rescued and around 138 were missing while a Malaysia voyage’s boat capsized in the Bay of Bengal, at night. The boat was capsized while it attacked the rock between Saint Martin and Shapuri Dip Island,” according to an elder from Alaythankyaw, Maungdaw south.

A fisherman said from Shapuri Dip, 10 dead bodies of boat-people were rescued from Naikondia of Burma side on January 20, 2012.

An officer from Coastguard said that the dead bodies of boat-people who rescued from Burma side, how many Bangladeshi there, it is not confirmed.

The Teknaf police sent 33 boat-people to Cox’s Bazar jail yesterday morning, who were illegally trying to stowaway to Malaysia. They were rescued by Coast Guards on Thursday and handed over to police.

The Teknaf police, quoting the arrested ones, said the arrested voyagers had to pay Tk 25,000 to Tk 35,000 per head to the brokers to get on the boat.

“I began to swim and keep afloat for five hours,” fisherman Dil Mohammad of Shaouri Dip under Teknaf said, adding that the coast guard members rescued and arrested him.

Monday, January 23, 2012

World sees breakthrough on tackling statelessness - UN

20 Jan 2012 15:25
Source: alertnet // Emma Batha
A Rohingya mother is seen with her child in a refugee camp in Cox's Bazar, August 19, 2011. in a refugee camp in Cox's Bazar. REUTERS/Andrew Biraj
 By Emma Batha
LONDON (AlertNet) - A major campaign to shine a spotlight on the world’s estimated 12 million stateless people has led to “a real sea change” in attitudes, with many countries now taking steps to tackle the problem, a U.N. expert says.

They include Senegal, Liberia and Benin which have promised to ditch discriminatory laws that bar women from passing on their nationality to their children – a key cause of statelessness in many countries.

Turkmenistan has started granting nationality to thousands of stateless people, Georgia has amended its citizenship legislation and Croatia and Serbia are helping stateless Roma obtain documents.

A stateless person is someone who is not recognised as a citizen by any country and has no rights to the benefits most of us take for granted. They are often unable to work, access healthcare or send their children to school.

Statelessness exacerbates poverty and can even fuel wars, yet the issue has gone largely neglected for decades.

Last year the U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR) made a concerted push to get the world to sit up and take notice of the world’s most invisible people.

The campaign culminated last month with a ministerial meeting in Geneva where 24 countries promised to join one or both U.N. conventions on statelessness. Many other governments pledged to address specific issues on their territory.

 “It was the first time ever that we’ve seen so many states come forward and say that they are concerned about statelessness and are willing to take action to address it,” said Jorunn Brandvoll, legal officer at the UNHCR’s statelessness unit.

 “For the first time this was a sentiment expressed by countries all over the world, in all regions,” she told AlertNet. “I think we will see real progress made in the year or two to come.”

Experts are particularly encouraged by Turkmenistan which has carried out a massive drive to map statelessness throughout the country, registering some 20,000 people. More than 3,000 were granted citizenship last year.

Brandvoll said Turkmenistan would set a positive example for other countries in the region where many people were left stateless after the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Turkmenistan also hopes to raise greater awareness of statelessness among Muslim countries when it holds a large conference on refugees in May hosted by the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation.

Several Muslim countries in the Gulf region have large stateless populations. The issue hit the headlines last week when Kuwait cracked down hard on protests by stateless Bidoons asking for citizenship.

TAKING ACTION
Campaigners hope to keep up the pressure on governments in 2012 with the publication of three key reports on statelessness in Europe, the United States and the Middle East/North Africa. 

Eight countries joined one or both U.N. conventions in 2011 – a record number of accessions for any given year. They are:
Brandvoll praised Georgia for amending its citizenship legislation, improving its civil registration system and establishing a stateless determination procedure.

The UNHCR also hopes other countries will follow the example of the three West African countries which have promised to get rid of legislation preventing mothers passing on their nationality.

At least 30 countries only allow fathers to transfer their citizenship to their children. This means that where a woman is married to a foreigner or a stateless person her children often end up stateless. Experts say this is one of the key factors perpetuating statelessness.

Stateless Children in Western Burma

by Bill Davis, MA, MPH on January 23, 2012

Last week the human rights group Arakan Project released a report on children’s rights in Northern Arakan State, in western Burma. Arakan State is home to about 735,000 Rohingya Muslims, one of the most oppressed ethnic minorities in Burma.

The report stated that over 40,000 Rohingya minority children in Arakan State do not have Burmese (or any), citizenship, despite being born and having parents who live in Burma. The children’s stateless status, along with several other draconian laws that discriminate against Rohingya, are in fact severe human rights violations and can have dire consequences on their health.

According to the report, Rohingya children are not given birth certificates, and if they receive a government registration card (which many do not), there is no documentation of place of birth on the card, and therefore none of these children have proof they were born in Burma. Children born to parents that have not paid exorbitant fees to obtain a marriage license do not receive registration cards. Later in life these children cannot attend public schools, try to obtain travel permits, or get marriage licenses.

All Rohingya living in Burma, according to Arakan Project, are required to pay bribes to get permission to travel outside of their villages. Some are forced by the Army or border forces to build roads and guard and clean bases. Rohingya have been pushed off their land, and Arakan Project estimates that only 30% of Rohingyas have access to farmland, with the rest working mostly as casual day laborers.

These kinds of human rights violations have been linked to high rates of child malnutrition and increased maternal and child mortality in other ethnic minority areas in Burma. Human rights violations in Arakan State may have similar consequences. An FAO survey in 2009 found that 60% of children under 5 years old were moderately underweight and that 27% were severely underweight. The UN reported in 2010 that the under-5 mortality rate—the probability of a child dying before he or she reaches 5 years of age-- in Buthidaung township, Arakan State was 224/1000, higher than that of Afghanistan (at 144/1000 the country with the highest U5M), and much higher than the Burma national average.

Exceptionally poor living conditions and government discrimination against Rohingya have caused many to flee. However, the Rohingya who have left Arakan State have faced similarly bad conditions. PHR reported atrocious conditions in refugee camps in Bangladesh in 2010, and Rohingya attempting to flee by boat have been detained, shipwrecked, and allegedly set to drift at sea by the Thai Navy.

The history of abuses against Rohingya is continuing into 2012, despite the changes going on in other parts of Burma. The Arakan Project report highlights the need for the international community to maintain pressure on the Burmese government to extend the policy changes to ethnic minorities in addition to the Burmans living in the central part of the country.

Rohingyas have a right to belong to a state, they have a right to be free from forced labor and land confiscation, and they have a right to travel without restriction. The Burmese government should work to uphold these rights, in addition to fulfilling the right to health, of the Rohingyas and all other ethnic peoples in Burma.
 
Places: Burma
 

Rohingya photo exhibit to open

Monday, 23 January 2012 12:25 Mizzima News 
(Mizzima) – A photography exhibition depicting the plight of Rohingya refugees, “Exiled To Nowhere: Burma’s Rohingya,” by Greg Constantine will run from January 28 to February 29 in Chiang Mai.

The exhibit marks the opening of Documentary Arts Asia, a group dedicated to photojournalism, which will hold an opening party at 7 p.m. on Sunday, January 28.

The gallery, located near Chiang Mai Gate at 12/7 Waulai Road, Soi 3, will also offer a course in photography and photojournalism on February 10-11. For more information contact Ryan Libre at ryan@cdaf.asia

Source: Mizzima

No school, no travel for Myanmar’s blacklisted Rohingya kids –report

23 Jan 2012 12:49
Source: alertnet
Rohingyas carry water from a pond near a refugee camp in Cox's Bazar, August 19, 2011. REUTERS/Andrew Biraj/
BANGKOK (AlertNet) – More than 40,000 Rohingya children in western Myanmar have been deprived of rights to travel, go to school or to marry in future, because their parents had an unauthorised marriage or exceeded a two-child limit, a report said

Rights groups say the Rohingyas, a Muslim minority in predominantly Buddhist Myanmar, face some of the worst discrimination in the world, have suffered abuses and deprived of free movement, education and employment under the country's former military rulers and now under the current government. They are also denied Myanmar citizenship.

These blacklisted children are refused birth registration, and so are not included in the family list and get hidden during the authorities’ population checks, said the report, which human rights organisation Arakan Project on Thursday submitted to the United Nations’ Committee on the Rights of the Child.

“All Rohingya children suffer unmitigated discrimination with regard to education, health care and access to food,” the report said.

The report say there are close to 750,000 Rohingyas in the country’s Northern Rakhine State and hundreds of thousands more scattered in Bangladesh, Malaysia and the Middle East following exoduses in the past few decades.

Families with blacklisted children also suffer from “unending extortion” by local authorities because the parents can be arrested for hosting an unregistered guest, the report added.

According to The Arakan Project, Rohingyas need official authorisation to marry and the authorities can take several years to grant it. Those who marry have to sign an undertaking that they will have no more than two children, and marriage or cohabitation without authorisation is punishable by up to 10 years’ imprisonment.

REGISTRATION
The authorities have started a process of registering these children in the past two months, but some parents fear this is a ploy to prosecute them for unauthorised marriage, The Arakan Project said.

Registered Rohingya children hardly fare any better, as they are denied citizenship and remain stateless, the report said.

Rohingya children in Myanmar are exposed to preventable diseases due to chronic malnutrition and a lack of access to healthcare, while many are subjected to forced labour. 

Four in every five Rohingyas in Myanmar are illiterate, the report said. The main reason for Rohingya children not attending school is widespread poverty as children must contribute to the family income, it said.

“Forced labour has a severe economic impact, driving down the poor already surviving hand-to-mouth into abject poverty, exposing children to hunger and malnutrition,” the report said.

The report cites the story of a 9-year-old Rohingya boy who looked after a neighbouring farmer’s cows for the whole day for a fee. He said he was forced to carry loads, repair roads or cut grass for the local authorities and the army for free.

“Being hungry is very painful. When I am hungry I feel like crying,” said the boy who is registered as the son of his grandmother, after his parents married without official authorisation and had to flee to Bangladesh.

“When there is no food, my grandmother borrows rice from the neighbour but sometimes the neighbours cannot give any rice to her because they also have no rice,” he added.

THE RIGHT TO IDENTIFICATION
Myanmar’s nominally civilian government, which took power last March after half a century of iron-fished military rule, has surprised both its citizens and foreign countries with the speed of its reforms.

The government has begun peace talks with ethnic rebels, relaxed its strict media censorship and allowed trade unions and protests.

However, “deeply discriminatory policies” against the Rohingyas remain. The authorities justify these policies as illegal immigration management and population control, said Chris Lewa, coordinator of The Arakan Project.

This discrimination is rooted in the belief, both by the government and by many in Myanmar, that the Rohingyas are a product of recent migration from Bangladesh, the report said.

Consistently referred to as ‘illegal immigrants from Bangladesh,’ Myanmar’s Rohingyas are deprived of one of the most basic human rights – the right to an identification.

“Rohingya children, in particular, bear the full brunt of the devastating impact of these (discriminatory) policies, which gravely impair their physical and mental development as children and will affect the long-term future of their community,” the report said.

(Editing by Rebekah Curtis)

Friday, January 20, 2012

A Rohingya minor student killed, another one serious wounded in Arakan , Burma

One minor student killed, another one serious wounded in Buthidaung
Thursday, 19 January 2012

Buthidaung, Arakan State: One minor Rohingya student, aged 9-year was killed, another one aged 8 -year was become unconscious state by school guard (Rakhine community) on January 10, at about 8:00 pm, while on the way to home after finishing their annual school farewell party of Myoma Zedidaung middle school, said a close relative of the victim. 
  

The dead body of Ma Asma after autopsy


“The students are identified as Ma Asma alias Khin Ma Cho (9), daughter of Maulana Yunus, and Ma Hawthiza (7), daughter of Hafez Mohammed Hussain, hailed from Zabber Para (village) of Buthidaung, nearby Railway Station. They are learning at class II of Zedidaung middle school.” 

The young two little girls joined the annual school farewell party at 2:00pm on January 10 and finishing at 5:00pm, but, the school guard kept the two students after finishing the school event till dark and try to snatch the ear rings of Hawtiza while the two students were trying to go back to their home as the area become dark, according to victim.

The two students screamed for help but the guard twisted the neck of Asma which made her to died and throttled Hawtiza with his bare hands. He kept the two students inside the bushes at the bottom of hill which is near the school.


Family with Asma dead body


As both girls did not come back home till 9:00 pm, their parents accompanied by other relatives went to the school to look for their daughters. But on the way, they heard a howl from Haetiza, so they rushed to the spot and found that the 9-year-old girl was already dead and the 7-year-old was lying on the road with unconscious state near a hillside at the last part of the Rakhine village. There were many wounds on the bodies, said another relative of the victim. 

“The dead girl had already been buried after taking permission from the authority concerned, and the other one has been taking medical treatment at the Buthidaung general hospital. Hawtiza was released from hospital on January 12.”

After released of Hawtiza, the authority arrested the school guard and kept in the police station for intergradation. The authority didn’t give any decision and didn’t process the school guard to the court for trail. 

Source : Kaladan Press

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Preventing Inter-ethnic Unity & Pro Democracy Movement by Prof. Kanbawza Win

Even though there was a euphoria over the political prisoners’ release and the US reward it with the raising of the diplomatic relations to the ambassador lever one has to take caution that the “Divide and Rule Policy” which the various Burmese administration inherited from the British, has been put to good use by waging an all out war against the Kachin and simultaneously inking the peace deal with Shan, Chin and Karen and the lesser resistance forces. What more it was able to wean away Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD from the pro-democracy Burmese populace and was able to lure the West to give up their punitive actions that will lead to lifting of sanctions while keeping some prisoners hush hush still under lock and key. This whole concept proves the superb diplomacy of the regime. But on the whole the people of Burma and the world are happy. 

Gen Thein Sein has been widely seen as a more moderate and reform-minded but to the Kachin he is just another general whose words cannot be trusted. It has been more than a month since he made public his directive to end the army’s offensive against the Kachin but there has been no cessation of hostilities. On the contrary, more than 90 battles or clashes have taken place, with a steady surge in troop reinforcement. The ferocity is of the attack and the methods of scotch earth policy is such that it is in the category of the war of genocide and the Kachin have no choice but force to fight the war of survival.[1] 

Most of the ethnic nationalities are simple people and like to live in their own way of life and at that time the time of British colonization there was no such thing as ethnic conflicts in Burma because one ethnic has been living peacefully with the other for centuries. When Britain was about to give independence to this region, the majority of the ethnic nationalities readily join the Union which was formed by an accord signed at a little town in Shan State called Panglong in 1947, one year prior to the emergence of Burma as an independent, post-colonial state (in 1948). 

In this sense, both historically and conceptually, the ethnic Burma’s so-called ethnic conflict is more aptly described as a political conflict against the ruling military rather than a conflict between warring ethnic groups. The conflict is primarily a conflict between the ruling military exercising a monopolistic control of the state in Burma and the ethnic nationalities. It is a vertical conflict between the state and various ethnically defined societies. It is a conflict about how the state is to be constituted and how the relation between the constituent components of society and the state are to be ordered. It is not the case of ethnic segments feuding with and killing each other, nor is it driven by the secessionist impulses. Looking at Burma’s history since 1948, a long-standing and seriously dysfunctional relationship between the state and broader society can be observed and it has been exacerbated by four decades of monopolistic military rule. 

To understand the ethnic conflict, it is essential to look into the issues of conceptual differences, constitutional crisis, national identity, majority-minority configuration and other pressing issues like human rights violations, drugs and environmental management. The successive military regimes see Burma as an existing unified nation since the reign of king Anurudha (Anawrahta) 1044 AD. As such, all other non-Myanmar - Shan, Kachin, Chin, Arakanese, Mon, Karen and Karenni - are seen as ethnic nationalities, which must be controlled and suppressed, lest they break up the country. This is what most of the international and the world understand or comprehend. Incidentally this is also what most of the chauvinist Myanmar or in Burmese better known as Mahar Bamar (r[mArm) wants to portray.[2] This is the crux of the Burmese problem. 

On the other hand, some of the educated and well meaning very few Myanmar and all the non-Myanmar maintain that the Union of Burma is a newly developed territorial entity, founded by a treaty, the Panglong Accord, where independent territories merged together on equal basis to obtain independence from Britain and this is what Bogyoke Aung San, the architect of Modern Burma envisage. In this aspect it may seen that the genuine Burman/Myanmar headed by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi wants to instil the real Union Spirit but still fell short by her actions So far the NLD has not issue any statement of sympathy or solidarity with the suffering internally displaced persons. No appeals made to international organizations or governments for humanitarian assistance and moral courage seems to be lacking not only on the Kachin but also on the ethnic nationalities. The instigator of this genocide is not identified or condemned [3]and this is detrimental to the Pyidaungsu Spirit (yifvHkpdwf"gwf). Given such conceptual differences, the Burmese military goes about with its implementation of protecting "national sovereignty" and "national unity" at all cost. This, in turn, gives way to open conflict resulting in more suppression and gross human rights violations. The intolerance of the military and its inspiration to "racial supremacy" and to political domination and control has no limit and the climax of it could be seen by its refusal to hand over power to the winners of 1990 nation-wide election, the NLD,SNLD and other ethnic parties. [4] 

The woes of Burma today are deeply rooted in the inadequate constitutional drafting of 1947. The Union Constitution was rushed through to completion without reflecting the spirit of Panglong, or Panglong Seikdat. And lamentably it was still repeated today in the current Nargis Constitution, The ethnic homelands were recognized as constituent states but all power was concentrated in the central government. Almost all the non-Myanmar and Burmese democratic opposition groups are in agreement that the ethnic conflict and reform of social, political and economic cannot be separated from one another. And the only solution and answer is to amend the 1947 Constitution according to Panglong Agreement, where equality, voluntary participation and self-determination, of the constituent states, formed the basis for the Federal Republic of the Union of Burma or rather the Genuine Union of Burma.[5] The ethnic nationalities, especially in the cases of the Karen, Kachin and WA remained such a stumbling block as the Myanmar administrations fails to honours the principles of the Panglong Agreement.[6] 

Burma’s fundamental problem is not just about leadership, policy failure, dysfunctional institutions, rights abuses or fractured opposition movements. Categorically speaking, Burma is confronted with nothing less than a full-scale pathological process of internal colonization, this time by its own military. This is an evolutionary process which was set in motion since the coup of 1962 decisively established one-party military rule, where the military and the State cannot be separated. Indeed Burma has evolved into a dual-colony in which the population of more than 50 million citizens is being herded into a political space via the Orwellian “7-steps road map for democracy.” The ruling military clique backed by its 400,000-strong military will continue to make all decisions with massive societal and ecological consequences for the whole population; only this time their decisions are going to be made to sound constitutionally mandated, and in accord with the laws of the land. Further, this small group of men subscribe to an irredeemably myopic and toxic version of ethno-nationalism which refashions Burma along the old feudal lines where the majority “Myanmar and Buddhists,” as defined by these men in generals’ uniform, will be more equal in their Union of Republic of Myanmar. 

Needless to say, the generals will pay lip service to ethnic unity and create nominal space for the ethnic people while pursuing “Divide and Rule” as the overarching strategy. The ruling generals have rejected the federal spirit of ethnic equality and violently opposed any struggle towards a genuine federated Union. They have declared dead the Panglong Agreement of 1947, the founding document of a modern, post-colonial Burma, wherein ethnic equality was enshrined as an inviolable pillar of multi-ethnic Burma. Hence in new colonial rule under its own military, will control, subjugated or crushed. 

For those who have viewed the emerging parliamentary and formal political processes as the only space in which the people’s voices can be heard, policies debated and public welfare advanced, it is time for a serious rethinking and soul-searching. The opposition have made repeated calls for national and ethnic reconciliation as well as genuine public expressions of inter-ethnic solidarity, which is the last thing any colonial power would want and would tolerate is social and ethnic solidarity across communities, regions and classes. The colonized ethnic nationalities are to be exploited, crushed, subjugated or co-opted. 

The generals, of course, don’t see themselves as “native colonialists.” They feel no need for reconciliation along ethnic or political lines with any person, organization or community. In short, they have done nothing wrong, and they can do no wrong. For they perceive themselves as the country’s sole national guardian, untainted by partisan politics. They are committed to the abstract idea of a multi-ethnic nation while trampling on the very idea in reality. And they embrace an absolutist notion of sovereignty where the military, not the people in whose name it exists, is sovereign. They love the country, but they can’t stand the people, especially the kind who refuse to go along with their design for the rest of the country. Political, defiant ethnic communities and political prisoners spring to mind. Their politics is all about resuming and completing the process of re-consolidation of the power of the ethnic Burmese majority, most specifically the soldiering class, over the rest of the ethnic nationalities –a process only interrupted by the old kingdom’s 19th century defeat by Great Britain. Sixty years after independence, the military has built its own version of local colonial rule serving as the constitutionally-mandated ruling class and where the rest of the civilian society, especially the ethnic nationalities and the majority of the Myanmar who does not goes along with the generals are classified as second class citizens. 

Throughout modern history, no colonialism is ever known to have offered the colonized political processes or institutions which would undo, or even undermine, such broad colonial objectives as economic exploitation of land, labour and natural resource, political domination and subjugation of populations under colonial rule, and control over the cultural and intellectual life of colonies. Whether one has in mind the formal and classical version, which dissolved, thanks in no small part to colonialists slaughtering one another during the two 20th century world wars, or the subsequent and newer versions characteristic of the Cold War, the essence, objectives and nature of colonial rules remain virtually the same.[7] 

Humanitarian assistance, developmental aid, foreign direct investment, increased trade or commerce may be needed in any systemic efforts to rebuild poverty-stricken Burma emerging from decades of war and conflicts. But they are no substitute for forging inter-ethnic and class solidarity, on which an inter-generational political resistance, armed and non-violent, depending on one’s own location, needs to be built. 

The fact is the colonial state in the Union of the Republic of Myanmar stands in between public welfare and international assistance and increased foreign direct investment, which has been in the billions thanks to Burma’s economically predatory regional friends such as China, Thailand, India, Malaysia, South Korea and Singapore. Precisely because this ethno-nationalist bond between the Burmese Generals and the majority Buddhist Myanmar has been irreparably broken down, the recent call by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and ethnic nationalities leaders for reconciliation and inter-ethnic solidarity against oppression poses the greatest threat to the ruling Generals uniform or otherwise. While Burma’s issues are complex, as far as the regime’s strategy is concerned it is a simple, time-tested “Divide-and-Rule.” The only way the opposition movements in particular and multi-ethnic communities in general can defeat these native colonizers is through inter-ethnic—and inter-class—solidarity and we hope that UNFC would recruit the think tanks of Burmese Diaspora to be more effective. 

Last, but not the least is that the West must give up their Sanctions which the regime so craved. The Constructive Engagement Policy of China, India and especially ASEAN has prolonged the change up to this day. It was the punitive actions of the West that made the Burmese generals relent as they are so desirous to keep their ill gotten wealth to the near and dear ones once they leave this earth. Sanctions must be maintained at all cost. 

Prof. Kanbawza Win can be reached at bathannwin@gmail.com

[1]Laphai, Nang-Kai; General, You Lied in The Irrawaddy 13-1-2012 



[2] Mahar Bama spirit defines the Myanmar chauvinist attitude which can be seen even in the peripherals of Burma and in Diaspora, not to mention inside the country, where the ethnic cleansing is going on with might and main. That is they want to be have a finger in every pie and they always want to be a leader in every aspect of the movement. A classic example is that to play soccer as a team with the other ethnic nationalities he is the one who not only wants to be the captain but always want to shoot the winning goal. He tends to treat the other ethnic as inferior and that only he can lead. The other ethnic must follow him 



[3] Laphai, Nang-Kai; General, You Lied in The Irrawaddy 13-1-2012 

[4] Sai Wan Sai in Shan-EU “Causes of Ethnic conflict and contemporary politics.” 



[5] Ibid 



[6] Aung; Htet A Tip of ASEAN: Ethnic: Reality beyond the Election in The Irrawaddy 25-1-2010 

[7] Zarni; Dr Maun Burma Needs Inter-Ethnic and Inter-Class Solidarity in Irrawaddy 14-12-2010

Prison Doors Open in Burma, But No Sign of Hope for Rohingya

Friday, January 13, 2012
 
PHUKET: Burma's latest release of prominent dissidents under an amnesty raises fresh hope of real change. But we have to ask: What's changed for the Rohingya? What real hope is there for them?

Even Human Rights Watch has today delivered muted praise for Burma's latest efforts. Yet for the mistreated Muslim-minority Rohingya, there is no guarantee that they will ever be regarded as human beings.

It's two years this week since Phuketwan and the South China Morning Post newspaper broke the news that the Thai military was secretly ''pushing back'' Rohingya boatpeople from Thailand, setting them adrift on the open sea in secrecy, where hundreds are thought to have perished.

For a time after that revelation, it seemed that the countries of the region most likely to be affected by Burma's brutal treatment of the Rohingya could achieve a changed approach by Burma, or perhaps even citizenship for them.

Since then, hopes have faded. Thailand, Bangladesh, Indonesia, India and Malaysia have found the disturbing treatment of the Rohingya too difficult an issue to resolve.

We have been led to believe that Thailand and Malaysia now covertly cooperate in transferring boatpeople who happen to land in southern Thailand to Malaysia.

Those who come ashore north of Phuket are more likely to be trucked to Ranong, on the border with Burma, and surreptitiously transferred at sea back to people smugglers.

A surge of boats arriving in Thailand from Bangladesh, where many Rohingya live in exile, has ceased. Since mid-December, when the number of boatpeople looked likely to increase, authorities in Bangladesh have stopped the people-smugglers.

Rohingya who did arrive in Thailand were either handed straight back to the Thai military or, so Phuketwan has been told, ''helped'' across the border into Malaysia.

In practice, the covert but deadly ''push backs'' have been replaced by a ''help on'' policy for those who are intercepted at sea or fortunate enough to land in Thailand close to the Malaysian border.

The others who come ashore north of Phuket are less fortunate, and are taken north.

While the present method for dealing with the Rohingya boatpeople is not open and transparent, NGOs say that as long as the lives of boatpeople are not being put at risk, the process remains ''acceptable.''

Long-term, though, the Rohingya continue to lead repressed lives in northern Burma or Bangladesh, where their movement is controlled or strictly monitored, and where brutality frequently occurs.

Even the Rohingya's most ardent supporters among the international community - especially in Europe and the US - have fallen silent for fear of somehow dampening the 'Burma Spring.'

For us, there can be no 'spring' until the Rohingya have equal rights with other citizens of Burma.

Here's the full text of the latest media announcement from Human Rights Watch:

The release of key political prisoners on January 13, 2012 is a crucial development in promoting respect for human rights in Burma, but all remaining political prisoners should be freed immediately and unconditionally, Human Rights Watch said today.

Among those released are members of the 88 Generation student group that led the 1988 uprising, including leader Min Ko Naing, Nilar Thein, her husband Kyaw Min Yu, known as Ko Jimmy, as well as Htay Kywe. Shan ethnic leader Khun Tun Oo, monk leader U Gambira, journalists Zaw Thet Htwe, Ngwe Soe Linn, Hla Hla Win, and blogger Nay Phone Latt were also released today.

Burma state media said on January 12 that 651 prisoners would be freed so they can participate in the task of nation-building.

''Years of international calls to release long-detained political prisoners seem to have pushed the government to finally do the right thing,'' said Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. ''The government should ensure that there are no obstacles to these activists participating in public life and upcoming elections.''

The US State Department had estimated that at least 1100 political prisoners were detained in Burma and the Thai-based Association of Political Prisoners in Burma counted more than 1500. Given the closed nature of Burma's justice system, the lack of a free press and unsophisticated communications in one of Asia's poorest countries - particularly in remote ethnic areas affected by conflict - each of these lists may omit significant numbers of people being held for the peaceful expression of their political views.

Human Rights Watch called on the Burmese government to allow international independent monitors to publicly account for all remaining political prisoners.

''The latest releases are wonderful news for the individuals and their families, but foreign governments should continue to push for the release of all political prisoners, and for international monitors to verify the process,'' said Pearson.

''For years Burma's prisons have been off-limits to any independent monitoring mechanism. The next step for Burma's government is to allow international monitors to verify the whereabouts and conditions of remaining political prisoners.'' 
 
Source: Phuketwan

Rohingya refugees' lives in limbo in Australia

ASIO rulings put refugees' lives in limbo

Saturday, January 14, 2012
Refugee rights rally outside the ALP conference, Sydney, December 4. 
 
Rohingya refugee Harun Roshid had been in Australian detention for more than two years when he was told by letter that he would never be a free man in Australia.

Despite being a recognised refugee under the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the Australian immigration system, Australia’s secret security organisation had decided he was a “threat” and should not be given a protection visa.

Speaking through an interpreter, he told Green Left Weekly from inside the Northern Immigration Detention Centre in Darwin that he feels he is “being punished”. Roshid fled Burma and lived in Malaysia for more than 15 years before he took a boat to Australia to try to win protection for his family.

The department of immigration found Roshid to be a genuine refugee in April 2010, only a few months after he arrived. But, as with most refugee applications from those who have arrived by boat, the department referred Roshid’s case to the Australia Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) for a “security assessment”.

In November, ASIO returned an “adverse assessment” against Roshid. The immigration department will use this to deny him a permanent protection visa, without which he cannot be released from detention.

As he has already been proven a genuine refugee, the Australian government cannot deport him back to Burma, where Rohingya people are a persecuted minority.

Resettlement in a different country is a distant possibility, made more difficult now that ASIO has branded him a threat.

This is the case for more than 50 refugees in Australia’s detention centres, who face indefinite detention as a result of an arbitrary process which has come under fire from numerous human rights groups.

One such refugee is 17-year-old Ali Abbas, a Kuwaiti detained for more than a year who has made several suicide attempts. He was told on December 15 that “ASIO had in effect blocked his protection visa application — and his lawyers’ request to move him into the community on medical grounds — by labelling him a security risk”, The Age said on January 7.

Abbas was granted refugee status in April, but like all refugees going through this system he was kept in detention while being investigated by ASIO.

Carl O’Connor from the Darwin Asylum Seekers Advocacy and Support Network told GLW Abbas tried to hang himself shortly after hearing the news ASIO had failed him, and had “scratched ‘freedom’ into his arm with a razor”.

The federal court ruled in late December that he should be released from detention into supervised community accommodation where he can receive better care for “mental trauma”, ABC Online said. But the immigration department has not acted. The Greens have also called for an immediate end to ASIO’s security checks on those under 18 because of potential breaches of human rights. ASIO said it had issued 304 “non-adverse security assessment” rulings to unaccompanied minors between 16 and 18. Abbas was the first to be given a negative check.



ASIO is not obliged to be transparent or accountable in the security assessment process. Roshid and Abbas have not been told what information or sources were used in their assessments. And ASIO does not need to provide proof because, under the act, the agency can refuse to disclose any information that may “in the opinion of the Director-General, be contrary to the requirements of security”.

They were never able to give any evidence in their defence. Roshid said he tried to submit a letter of recommendation from a lawyer he worked for in Malaysia, “but they refused it”.

As “non-citizens”, refugees cannot challenge or appeal ASIO’s decision.

Roshid has considered taking his case to the High Court to seek a judicial review. But for refugees who can rely on only legal aid or pro bono support, this is another drawn out process. He said it would take six to nine months to even have his application to be heard in court accepted.

During questioning by the Joint Select Committee on Australia’s Immigration Detention Network, ASIO director-general David Irvine said assessments were categorised according to Section 4 of the ASIO Act. “That includes espionage, sabotage, threats to our defence systems, promotion of communal violence, and protection of border integrity”, he said.

“Here, the particularly relevant one is an issue of politically motivated violence, which of course, contains within it the whole question of terrorism.”

This taps into heavily stoked fears in Australia that terrorists will enter Australia disguised as refugees in boats, despite the fact that this has never happened.

Irvine also told the committee that between January 2010 and November last year, of the roughly 7000 refugees arriving by boat that ASIO assessed, 54 were labelled a security threat (11 of these have been in the last three months).

This includes a Tamil couple held in Villawood detention centre with their three young children, many other Tamils, Afghans, Pakistanis, Rohingyas from Burma and Kurdish Iranians.

Irvine said 66,000 security checks on asylum seekers not arriving by boat were completed in the last two financial years resulting in only 24 “adverse assessments”.

Roshid said he has no interest in remaining in Australia after being locked up, demonised and ignored. He now hopes to return to Malaysia. He relies on sleeping pills and anti-depressants to cope with the despair and isolation.

Refugees advocates hold strong fears for Abbas, who was continuing to self-harm after being moved from detention in Darwin to Melbourne.

Source: Green Left

Letter from America: Is the change in Myanmar for real?

By Dr. Habib Siddiqui
Habib_Siddiqui_99.jpg
In its latest gesture of amnesties, the military-backed regime of Thein Sein in Myanmar has released many political prisoners. Those freed included veterans of the 1988 student protest movement, monks involved in the 2007 demonstrations and ethnic-minority activists like U Kyaw Min (a member of the Committee Representing the People’s Parliament led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi). Truly, the names of those released read like a who's who of Burma's most prominent political detainees. In a statement broadcast on the TV, President Thein Sein said those released were people who could "play a constructive role in the political process".
The releases came a day after the government had signed a landmark ceasefire with the rebel Karen National Union in Hpa-an, capital of eastern Karen state. The release of all political prisoners has been a long-standing demand of the international community. As a human rights activist who for years has demanded reform inside Burma, I warmly welcome these releases.

My hope is that the new regime is serious about a transformational change that would allow the released politicians and former prisoners of conscience to play a positive role to unite the otherwise fragmented country of many nations, races, ethnicities and religions under a federal formula. For too long, the former military regimes and their ultra-racist supporters have used one community against another, and created an atmosphere where bigotry, racism, xenophobia and hatred ruled supreme. Of special mention is the 1982 Burma Citizenship Law which ensured such state policies of exclusions that would rob millions of Rohingya and other religious and ethnic minorities of their citizenship rights. Forgotten there was the time honored realization that narrow ethno-centric nationalism in a country of diverse races and ethnicities is suicidal.

With the release of ethnic minority leaders like U Kyaw Min of Arakan (alias) Shamsul Anwarul Haque, my hope is that President Thein Sein and his new regime is serious about a genuine reform. Pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi has welcomed the move as a "positive sign" and so did many international leaders.

When Thein Sein’s Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), a military-backed civilian government, came to power in November 2010, after the country's first elections in 20 years [in which Daw Suu Kyi’s The National League for Democracy (NLD) did not participate], no one was sure which direction the new regime would follow. Many considered the regime change as a sham -- the same old stuff: serving new wine in an old bottle. But soon after coming to power, Thein Sein took reform steps that were meant to show the world that he was serious about a transformational change. He opened dialogue with Suu Kyi and her NLD. He released her from house arrest within a week of coming to power. Last May, the government released some 1500 prisoners, which did not, however, include any prominent politician. Last September, Thein Sein suspended construction of controversial Chinese-funded Myitsone hydroelectric dam, a move which was seen as showing greater openness to public opinion. Then in October, he freed more than 200 political prisoners as part of a general amnesty, and passed new labor laws allowing unions to function.

All such reforms were not lost in the minds of ASEAN leaders who met last November agreeing that Myanmar would chair the grouping in 2014. The award was meant to show that Burma was moving in the right direction with the steps taken thus far and also as a sign of encouragement to keep it up. The pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi soon announced that she would stand for election to parliament, as her party rejoined the political process.

There has been such an unmistakable aura of change in Myanmar that the U.S. President Barack Obama called such the "flickers of progress." Before sending his top diplomat to Myanmar, Obama said, "We want to seize what could be a historic opportunity for progress, and to make it clear that if Burma continues to travel down the road of democratic reform, it can forge a new relationship with the United States of America."

The U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited the country in December and also met with Suu Kyi. This year the British Foreign Secretary William Hague visited the country in which he expressed his strong concern saying, “Minorities like the Rohingya in many cases lack basic civil and political rights.” These and other western leaders hinted that they would help to ease sanctions against the regime if it releases its political prisoners and is serious about reform that would resolve ethnic conflicts around the border regions.

Last month President Thein Sein signed a law allowing peaceful demonstrations for the first time. The NLD re-registered as a political party in advance of by-elections for parliament due to be held early in 2012. In recent weeks, the government has agreed a truce deal with rebels of Shan ethnic group and ordered the military to stop operations against ethnic Kachin rebels.

Now with the release of high ranking political prisoners there is little doubt that Thein Sein is serious about genuine reform in his country. Suu Kyi described the past 12 months as "eventful, energizing and to a certain extent encouraging". And she is right. Myanmar is seemingly taking irreversible baby steps for a viable democracy.

Never before in the last 50 years did we ever see such a ray of hope gleaming in the country that was once Burma. We can pray and hope that Thein Sein is no charlatan change agent but is as genuine as it comes. Sure, there are several steps that need to be taken before Myanmar becomes a country with a functioning democracy where its people would enjoy political and economic freedom like many other citizens of our planet -- the release of all remaining political prisoners; repealing the racist and xenophobic Burma Citizenship Law of 1982 which has resulted in unfathomed discrimination, violations of human rights and forced exodus of millions of its inhabitants to settle for a life of unwanted refugees in neighboring countries like Bangladesh and Thailand; addressing the rights of Burma’s ethnic and religious minorities (especially, the Rohingya, Karen and Shan peoples) and ensuring the fair and independent application of the rule of law for all its inhabitants.

Objective and unbiased researches have amply shown that the Rohingya people are an indigenous group whose ancestry and root to the soil of Arakan state of today’s Myanmar predates the British colonial era. [See, e.g., this author’s book -Muslim Identity and Demography in the Arakan State of Burma, available in the Amazon.com] Accordingly, they had exercised the right of franchise in all elections in the pre- and post-colonial periods, including the SPDC’s 2010 election. And yet, this unfortunate people have been denied citizenship and rendered stateless for a xenophobic law that violates every principle enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The sad plight of the Rohingya people was duly observed by Tomas Ojea Quintana, the U.N. Special Rapporteur, who said, “Despite being in this region for generations, this population is stateless. This population is not recognized by the Government as one of the ethnic groups of the Union of Myanmar and is subject to discrimination…. However the Government allowed them to participate in the referendum on the adoption of the new Constitution…. What is more significant than the possibility to vote for the Constitution of a nation to show that one belongs to the nation? If this population was considered apt to give its views on the adoption of the Constitution, then it should be granted all other privileges, including the citizenship, which recognized ethnic groups, citizens of Myanmar do enjoy in the Union.”

As Thien Sein reforms and changes the old orders yielding place to the new, I wish he is mindful of the views and concerns expressed by dignitaries like Tomas Quintana, and stops discriminatory practices against the Rohingya and other vulnerable minorities, plus restores dialogue with each of the ethnic and religious groups on the principle of unity in diversity.

Only the coming months will show how serious is the new government in Myanmar about its commitment to reform. Let’s hope that Thein Sein will not be like any of his hateful predecessors and will do all that is required to ensure human rights for all and bring glory to Myanmar.

We know it is a risky journey, but we have no other option

BANGLADESH: Rohingya Muslims wary of Burmese reforms


COX'S BAZAR, (IRIN): While the Myanmar government takes significant strides in political reform, Rohingya refugees in southern Bangladesh fear their condition may not change any time soon. 

They are skeptical about a string of reform moves by the Burmese government, saying they are not aware of any real improvement in the conditions which forced them to flee their country. 

"The situation has not improved," Mostak Ahmad, 35, an undocumented Rohingya refugee who fled 10 years ago, told IRIN. "We were hopeful during the 2010 election as we were given voting powers but now we are frustrated."

Since taking office in March 2011, President U Thein Sein, a former general, has released hundreds of political prisoners, legalized labour unions, eased censorship, held talks with Washington and London, and signed a ceasefire with ethnic Karen rebels - a major step towards ending one of the world's longest-running ethnic insurgencies. 

But for Rohingya, an ethnic group who fled to Bangladesh en masse from neighbouring Myanmar years earlier, there is little optimism. 

Fazal Karim, 40, who fled to avoid forced labour, had recently spoken with his relatives in Myanmar." They said that in some cases the situation had worsened," he said. 

Rohingyas - an ethnic, linguistic and religious (Muslim) minority who fled persecution decades ago - are caught between a rock and a hard place, activists say. 

Under Burmese law, the Rohingyas are de jure stateless, but they fare little better in Bangladesh. 

Most Rohingyas in Bangladesh have no legal rights and few employment opportunities. 

According to Refugees International, they live in squalor, receive limited aid and are vulnerable to arrest, extortion and even physical attack. 

According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), there are some 200,000 Rohingyas in Bangladesh, of whom only 28,000 are documented and living in two government camps assisted by the agency. Close to 11,000 live at the Kutupalong camp, with another 17,000 farther south at Nayapara - both within 2km of Myanmar. 

Rakhine State 

Activists say Rohingyas in Myanmar's northern Rakhine State still have no freedom to travel or marry and remain subject to extortion, intimidation and abuse. 

"While there are some improvements in the Burmese government's rhetoric, there is no change on the ground," said Lynn Yoshikawa, a campaigner with Washington-based Refugees International. 

Following the 2010 elections, forced labour was as pervasive as ever and may have increased, with some labourers as young as 10, a 2011 report by the Arakan Project, a group campaigning for Rohingya rights, revealed. 

Chris Lewa, the group's coordinator, said there had been no sign of improvement for Rohingyas in Myanmar, either in terms of policy towards them, or on the ground, "and little hope" that things could change in the near future. 

The new Burmese government still considered Rohingyas "illegal immigrants from a neighbouring country" and has no intention of granting them citizenship or relaxing restrictions on them, she added. 

Straws in the wind 

However, during a December visit to Myanmar by Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, Burmese President U Thein Sein expressed his desire to cooperate with Bangladesh in resolving the Rohingya issue, and two days after the visit Bangladesh officials said Myanmar had agreed to take back documented Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh after verification by its authorities. 

But the agreement will have no impact on the vast majority of Rohingyas who are unregistered, Yoshikawa said. 

There is little chance that many registered refugees would agree to return under the present conditions in Myanmar, though if conditions were to improve significantly many would not hesitate, said Lewa. 

"Who wants a refugee's life?" asked Faruque Ahmed, a documented Rohingya refugee at the Kutupalong refugee camp. "We are always prepared to go back to Myanmar but we demand the same rights as other citizens," he said. 

Each year scores of Rohingyas - from Myanmar and Bangladesh - attempt to escape by boat, often turning up in Thailand, Malaysia or as far away as Indonesia. 

In December, at least 23 Rohingyas are known to have died when the two boats carrying them and 200 others capsized in the Bay of Bengal, while on 2 January a number of Rohingyas reached the Australian coast after an arduous voyage from Malaysia, the Arakan Project reported. 

"We know it is a risky journey, but we have no other option," said Hasan Ali, a documented Rohingya at Kutupalong camp.

Source: The Muslim News

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Rohingya MP U Kyaw Min (CRPP) released!


Jailed Rohingya MP U Kyaw Min, who was election in the 1990 polls, has been released along with his family. A volunteer with Burma Campaign UK spoke to him this morning: “U Kyaw Min thanked those around the world who have campaigned for the release of political prisoners. He says he is in good health.”

BROUK Welcomes Rohingya MP Kyaw Min and other High Profile Political Prisoners Release

BURMESE ROHINGYA ORGANISATION UK (BROUK)
10 Station Road, Walthamstow, London E17 8AA
Tel: +44 2082 571 143, E-mail: brorg_uk@yahoo.co.uk, web : www.bro-uk.org

Date: 13/01/2012

BROUK Welcomes Rohingya MP Kyaw Min and other High Profile Political Prisoners Release

Today, BROUK welcomed the release of high profile political prisoners, including
Rohingya MP U Kyaw Min, and member of the Committee Representing the People’s
Parliament (CRPP) and family members, Shan ethnic leader U Khun Htun Oo and
members of the 88 Generation Students and journalists from the Democratic Voice of
Burma. The release of high profile politicians and activists is great news for their families
and friends.

These releases take place after UK Foreign Secretary William Hague delivered a strong
message that sanctions will not be lifted without real progress in key areas, including the
release of all political prisoners. Late last year US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
delivered a similar message.

BROUK would like to remind the international community that sanctions should not be
lifted in return for only releasing high profile political prisoners. There could still be
around 600 political prisoners in jail. The next step should be for the Burmese
government to allow international independent monitors to publicly account for all
remaining political prisoners.

It is encouraging that the new civilianized government of U Thein Sein is showing signs
of change in Burma but all remaining political prisoners should be freed immediately and
unconditionally. If U Thein Sein’s government wants real reform, they have to release all
remaining political prisoners, stop attacking and oppressing ethnic civilians, and must lift
restrictions on their own citizens, the Rohingyas. The government must restore Rohingya
citizenship rights and ethnic rights.”

A top priority for the international community must now be to continue to push for the
release of all political prisoners, and for international monitors to verify the process.

Maung Tun Khin
President,
Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK.
Contact + 447888714866

I have never heard of a Rohingya involved in terrorism


Without hope, without reason

January 14, 2012
Endless detention ... the mother of Atputha, 7, and Abinayan Rahavan, 4, is considered a security risk by ASIO.
Legitimate refugees, including toddlers, are imprisoned indefinitely. Only ASIO knows why and it will tell no one, writes Kirsty Needham.

'I live like a dead man walking,'' says Suvenran Kathirdamathambi, or ''Sutha'', 32. ''This is supposed to be the golden period in anyone's life - your 20s and 30s. But I can't even say when the day starts.''

Sutha is married, but his wife lives alone in Sri Lanka, unable to tell anyone she has a husband who has spent 30 months locked up in Australia. The former paramedic sleeps in short spurts, sharing a room at Villawood detention centre with men who sporadically wake at different times, miss breakfast, smoke heavily, shun exercise and mope around under trees.

''No one is in their right mindset,'' he says by telephone. ''To pass one day is a massive effort. Sutha has been homeless since his father and two brothers were killed by the Sri Lankan army. His mother had to keep moving with her son, disrupting Sutha's education but surviving.

During the civil war, he worked for an international non-government organisation then fled with a huge wave of Tamil asylum seekers when the conflict ended. ''I thought this country would give me protection.''

A year ago, the Immigration Department did indeed tell Sutha it accepted he was a refugee. The same day, he was also told ASIO had labelled him an ''adverse security risk'', for reasons the agency has refused to explain.
''It was agonising,'' Sutha recalls, still unable to believe such a profound decision could be made after just one interview. The secretive ASIO ruling blocks him from setting foot in the suburban Sydney streets outside. ''OK, we are safe, but it is a terrible life,'' he says.

Mirnalini Sasikumar, 27, travels daily by public transport to Villawood to see her husband, another Tamil refugee from Sri Lanka's bloody civil war. The separation is devastating for their five-year-old son, Sharthi. When the boy is at home, he continually runs to the door and cries, ''Daddy is here''. But he is not. His father, labelled an adverse security risk by ASIO, faces indefinite detention, yet the entire family are approved refugees.

A Tamil widow and her four-year-old child joined the ranks of Villawood's dispossessed ''security risks'' before Christmas. She was plucked from a community house in Melbourne when the dreaded ASIO decision arrived - an adverse finding and she wasn't told why. She cries continually.

Her neighbours at Villawood, the Rahavan family, have seen it all. But the government is doing its best to make the Tamil family of five, and the problem created by ASIO's verdict that the mother, Sumathi, is a security risk, disappear. One-year-old Vaheson may be the only infant in Australia to grow up without constantly being photographed by proud parents - no photographs of detainees are allowed, even toddlers, under department rules. His brother Abinajan, 4, was forced off the stage at his preschool graduation by guards keen to enforce the photo ban.

A few months earlier, the children's playmate ''Shooty'' Vikadan, a friendly 27-year-old neighbour, killed himself by taking poison. Refused permission to leave Villawood for a day to celebrate the Diwali Hindu festival with friends - an interim ASIO security assessment was cited - the uncertainty of endless detention became too much for Vikadan.

Lawyers are now fighting in the federal court to save a suicidal Kuwaiti Bedouin teenager, locked up for a year and repeatedly taken to hospital, from the same fate. Just before Christmas, Ali Abbas was the first minor deemed a security risk by ASIO. It means the boy, who arrived by boat as an unaccompanied 16-year-old, will never be released.

What is happening to these refugees is an aberration internationally. Fifty-four refugees, mostly Sri Lankan and Burmese, have been blocked from permanent visas since January 2010 because ASIO has labelled them a security risk. Another 463 await security assessment, often living for years behind wire in uncertainty. And the boats keep coming.

Subjects cannot challenge ASIO decisions or even be given an explanation. A standard letter outlines five broad possible grounds: suspicion of espionage, sabotage, threats to defence, promotion of communal violence and border integrity. Their lawyers have no idea what they are charged with, let alone the federal politicians now examining the issue. Only once has the Immigration Department asked ASIO to rethink a verdict, and ASIO upheld its decision.

The refugees cannot be sent home, because this would be a breach of the United Nations Refugee Convention, which Australia has signed. But no other country, so far, has offered to take them, largely because of the ASIO security insinuation.

The Australian office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees says it simply does not believe the ASIO decisions are warranted, and its own assessment has found the refugees don't reach ''that serious level of threshold'' that would exclude a person from refugee protection on security grounds under the refugee convention.

The UNHCR is urging the federal government to introduce some oversight to ASIO's decisions on refugees. It has provided details on how New Zealand, Canada and Britain allow a court or special advocate to review security assessments and give the subject a summary of the case against them. This is basic fairness, which can be balanced with national security and the need to protect classified information, says the UNHCR's regional representative, Richard Towle. The Administrative Appeals Tribunal could act in this role, UNHCR has suggested.

The push to rein in ASIO appears to be gathering political weight.

The Labor MP Daryl Melham, the chairman of the parliamentary inquiry into immigration detention, recently told the department head, Andrew Metcalfe: ''I have a philosophical problem with 'who guards the guard while the guard guards you' … I am not comfortable with people remaining in detention without charge, technically for the term of their natural life, and saying, 'There is not one person in the whole of Australia who can safely review an initial assessment from ASIO.'''

Labor's national conference passed a resolution calling for the National Security Monitor, a position within the Prime Minister's office held by Bret Walker, SC, to investigate ways to provide an independent review mechanism for refugees with an adverse security findings. The federal government has said it will make a statement soon on the matter.

But a spokesman for the NSW Council for Civil Liberties, Stephen Blanks, who is also the Rahavans' lawyer, is concerned such a review will only delay action. He argues it will take too long to set up an independent monitor and says the existing system available for Australian citizens to seek review of ASIO decisions through the Administrative Appeals Tribunal could instead be expanded quickly to include asylum seekers.

ASIO is resistant to any independent scrutiny of its refugee decisions, with its director-general, David Irvine, arguing not only national security but also ASIO's ''sources and methods'' could be at risk. The system was last reviewed in 1977, the agency argues, and it was decided then that appeal rights shouldn't be given to non-citizens.

But this was before the modern era of asylum seekers arriving by boat facing prolonged mandatory detention. And the problem isn't solved by the federal government's recent policy shift to release new boat arrivals into the community on bridging visas. Those failing ASIO security checks are excluded from community release, the Immigration Minister, Chris Bowen, has said.

Blanks has called for the Attorney-General, Nicola Roxon, to sack Irvine, claiming his evidence to the parliamentary inquiry showed a failure to appreciate basic democratic principles.

If there is no change, the judiciary, which last year scuttled the government's Malaysia refugee swap, is likely to make its own challenge. The law firm Slater & Gordon has been approached by several refugees in detention and the legal community is considering a class action.

''We are dealing with a government agency woefully under-resourced, required to conduct complex assessments of large numbers of people held in detention, where the length of detention is creating mental illness,'' the firm's Ben Phi said.

No one knows exactly what ASIO looks at when it ''checks'' a refugee, and Irvine refused to tell the parliamentary inquiry when asked, saying if he divulged to the politicians the criteria for security checks, refugees would find ways to evade them.

But he gave a hint, saying ''the particularly relevant'' issue is politically motivated violence, specifically the potential to support terrorism from Australia and ''the financing of terrorism overseas''.

Many Tamils fled to Australia by boat after the Tamil Tigers (or LTTE) were crushed by the Sri Lankan army, fearing persecution after thousands of displaced Tamils were herded into huge military camps by the Sri Lankan government.

The Tamil Tigers are listed as a terrorist group in Australia. But Bala Vigneswaran, the refugee co-ordinator for the Australian community group the National Tamil Congress, says the LTTE ran a ''shadow government'' in the north of Sri Lanka during the war. ''If you were there and you worked, you had some involvement,'' says Vigneswaran.

Sumathi Rahavan was a clerk in the LTTE court. Other refugees in Villawood are believed to have known people in the LTTE or were said to be ''open sympathisers''.

''But we are open people. We talk,'' protests Vigneswaran. ''If someone says, 'These people are always talking about Tamils needing freedom', well, so do I. Does it make me a terrorist?''

He says ASIO needs to have actual proof of terrorism, not an opinion.

Rohingya Burmese, an ethnic Muslim group persecuted by the Burmese junta, are another cohort being held for years in detention on security grounds, with at least four Rohingya given an adverse ASIO finding.

Sayed Kasim spent 14 months in detention waiting for ASIO. Unable to work, he couldn't send money to his wife stuck in Malaysia to support their four children. She became suicidal after she was forced to put their eldest son in an orphanage.

Kasim fled Burma after being bound and threatened with execution by soldiers. Living in Malaysia as an illegal immigrant, he established a school for Rohingya refugee children and became politically active. Harassed by Islamic religious extremists, he was again forced to run.

His story has a happy ending. Kasim was finally cleared by ASIO late last year, and now works at a coffee cart in Liverpool. ''I didn't know what freedom meant until the day I was released from detention,'' he says. Kasim counts himself lucky, and is trying to bring his family to Australia.

But he puzzles over why ASIO took so long. It was only after Kasim took the initiative to write to ASIO and invited them to visit him that officers interviewed him. ''They asked me about terrorism. I said, 'We are simple people in Burma, we can't do anything. We are Muslim but I have never heard of a Rohingya involved in terrorism.'''

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