Myanmar (formerly Burma) is going through a deep crisis in dealing with ethnic conflicts, especially in its western Rakhine (formerly Arakan) state. To find probable solutions to the existing problems, Arakan Rohingya Organization – Japan (JARO) and Rohingya National Organization in Thailand (RNOT) jointly sponsored an International Rohingya Conference in Bangkok, Thailand. The theme of the conference was “Contemplating Burma’s Rohingya People’s Future in Reconciliation and (Democratic) Reform.”
The conference was held on August 15, 2012 at Thammasat University, Thaprachan, Bangkok. Besides the participants coming from Japan, Canada, USA, Myanmar, Malaysia, Australia, Bangladesh, Cambodia and Singapore, the members from the local/international media, NGOs, ASEAN countries, and Thai-based foreign embassies attended this conference.
The conference was moderated by Mrs. Chalida Tajaroensuk, Director of People’s Empowerment Foundation and started with an opening speech from Mr. Salim Ullah, President of JARO. I was invited as the keynote speaker. The other speakers included Professor Abid Bahar (author of the book – Burma’s Missing Dots) from Canada and Mr. Azmi Abdul Hamid (Secretary General of MAPIM and a human rights activist) from Malaysia.
At the end of the conference the following declaration was made.
The international conference duly notes the followings:
1. The on-going violence against the Rohingya people of Myanmar (Burma) is part of a very sinister and calculated national project towards ethnically cleansing them that is orchestrated by the Myanmar government and widely supported and promoted at the central and local levels by the ultra-racist elements within the government and civilian population of the Rakhine (formerly Arakan) state.
2. The latest pogrom, which started on June 3 with the gruesome murder of ten Tablighi Burmese Muslims by an organized Rakhine mob, has already resulted in the estimated deaths of tens of thousands of Rohingya Muslims, and destruction of their villages, townships and schools, madrasas, mosques and business centers. Thousands of Muslim girls and women have also been raped by the armed members of the government security forces and local Buddhist population within the Rakhine state. As a result, nearly a hundred thousand Rohingyas are internally displaced, who are also denied access to food and shelter. Tens of thousands of panicked Rohingya population have been pushed to seek refuge or asylum in any country willing to provide them shelter.
3. The Myanmar government and the Rakhine state administration are guilty of practicing an apartheid policy towards the Rohingya people. They are also guilty of committing crimes against humanity.
4. The Muslim minority community that identifies itself as the “Rohingya” is an indigenous people of the Rakhine (former Arakan) state of Myanmar. They were neither implanted by the British administration since 1826 nor did they intrude into Arakan from Bangladesh after the Union of Burma (Myanmar) achieved her independence in 1948.
5. The 1982 Citizenship Law of Burma, which has effectively declared the Rohingya as “stateless”, is inconsistent with the United Nations and international laws recognizing inherent dignity, equality and inalienable rights of ALL members of the human family. Through its discriminatory laws and practices against the Rohingya people, the Myanmar government is in violation of each and every Article of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, making the Rohingya an “endangered” people of the 21st century who need protection of their human rights.
6. The 1982 Citizenship Law has essentially made the Rohingya an endangered people, the most persecuted on earth – as once again clearly demonstrated by the current ethnic cleansing efforts by the Thein Sein government that is enthusiastically aided by ultra-racist and bigoted elements within the Rakhine Buddhist monks and populace.
7. As recently demonstrated by the statement issued from the office of the President, the Thein Sein Government of Myanmar appears not to be serious about resolving the Rohingya problem in a peaceful manner that is consistent with its international obligations.
8. The Rohingyas are victims of neo-Nazi Racism in which they are targeted for marginalization and total elimination from the soil of Myanmar.
9. The statements from the so-called democratic icon Daw Suu Kyi and other leaders (including those of the 8888 student movement) have been deceptive, hypocritical and unacceptable revealing that none of them are serious about democracy and human rights.
10. The Thein Sein government has miserably failed to stop the carnage against and suffering of the Rohingya people, and as such, is guilty of abetting crime against humanity.
11. The Thein Sein government is guilty of evading its responsibility for protecting the lives and properties of the Rohingya people, who are not refugees from outside but are internally displaced because of the government’s apartheid policy.
12. The Myanmar government’s latest announcement of forming a 27-member commission to investigate the current unrest in Arakan, although a welcome gesture, seems self-defeating and inadequate for a transparent, fair and unbiased inquiry process. It is aimed once again to ease mounting pressure on the regime and to block or dodge a much needed UN inquiry. By including members who not too long ago had either organized or encouraged ethnic cleansing of the targeted Rohingya minorities, the commission’s intents and purposes are highly questionable, and appear to produce a document to cover up unfathomable crimes of the Rakhine community and Myanmar government. Regrettably, while the majority Rakhaing community is represented, not a single member of the affected minority Rohingya community is represented in this commission of inquiry.
13. The Rakhine populace, in general, and their racist community leaders and monks are guilty of starving the Rohingya people by denying accessibility to food, medicine and other essential commodities. As a result hundreds of thousands of the Rohingya people now face serious starvation and dehydration.
14. The conference welcomes every effort to ensure that life-saving materials reach the general population without any hindrance immediately, and it also endorses sending Aid Flotillas from international NGOs like the MAPIM to help alleviate the serious humanitarian crisis prevailing now in Arakan.
Now, therefore, the participants of the Bangkok International Conference calls upon —
(A) The Myanmar Government:
(1) To immediately amend or repeal the 1982 Burma Citizenship Law thereby removing the burdensome standard of proof for attaining citizenship. The government should grant the Rohingya and other minority entities full citizenship and accompanying rights. The Myanmar government should furthermore sign and ratify the 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons and the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness and fulfill its international obligation to prevent statelessness of all affected people.
(2) To address the other fundamental human rights problems which have caused the Rohingya and other minority communities to flee to Bangladesh, Thailand, Malaysia, India and elsewhere. Specifically, it should abolish the practice of forced labor in compliance with the 1930 International Labor Organization (ILO) Convention on Forced Labor, which the Burmese government signed in 1955. Towards this end, as recommended by the ILO, the Myanmar government should amend or repeal the sections of the Village and Towns Acts that legally sanction the conscription of labor.
(3) To protect the rights of the children, in accordance with the government’s commitment to children’s rights through its ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1991. In particular, all children born of Rohingya parents (and other “stateless” minorities) should be granted Myanmar nationality, including those born in refugee camps in Bangladesh, Thailand and elsewhere. Children must not be forced to work under any circumstance, and the government should not discriminate against Muslim (and non-Buddhist) children in its provision of education benefits.
(4) To ensure that all refugees are able to exercise their right to return and must guarantee their full reintegration with full respect for their human rights.
(5) To release ALL its political prisoners, dropping all charges against them and their family members.
(6) To exclude certain members (e.g., Dr. Aye Maung, Khin Maung Swe, Zarganar, and Ko Ko Gyi, and others) from the currently announced Commission of Inquiry whose statements during the crisis had been anything but neutral, and had instead contributed to the added misery and suffering of the Rohingya people. For the inquiry commission to be fair, it must ensure equal participation from the affected Rohingya community. It must also ensure absolute accuracy and neutrality of the commission so that truth is not compromised in any way. Once the internal inquiry report identifies the criminals, the government must prosecute and punish the culprits in an open trial (and not make a mockery of the judicial system via a kangaroo court).
(7) To pay due compensation for the loss of lives and properties of the victims of the current pogrom.
(8) To repatriate and rehabilitate each one of the fleeing refugees who had fled or sought refugee status outside.
(9) To allow for an independent international inquiry at the behest of either the ASEAN or the UN to investigate the current crisis and to honor its findings and to take appropriate actions needed to not only punish the criminal elements but also to ensure through reconciliation efforts so that such crimes will never be committed in the future. (The government’s internal inquiry commission is biased and does not guarantee the needed neutrality required for an objective and scrupulous investigation.)
(10) To allow international NGOs and aid agencies to provide material and medical aid to the suffering people.
(11) To allow the presence of international monitors, e.g., human rights groups and journalists, to continuously monitor the restive region so as to provide needed and accurate information on a timely manner.
(12) To open a dialogue with the leaders of the Rohingya community immediately towards reconciliation, inclusion and integration within Myanmar without any prejudice.
(13) To understand that citizenship based on ethnicity or race is a feudal concept that has no place in the 21st century, as such, it must do whatever is necessary to amend its constitution to bring it at par with those of the civilized world.
(14) To understand that the protection of minorities against injustice and intolerance is not a matter of compassion or sympathy of the majority. Human rights in a democracy are held to be inalienable – no human being could be deprived of those rights in a democracy by the will of the majority of the sovereign people. As such, the government must correct its age-old xenophobia, hatred and intolerance of the Rohingya people through all means necessary including education and media outlets. By punishing the culprits – both the perpetrators and promoters of hatred, it must make it absolutely clear that there is no place for hatred and intolerance in new Myanmar.
(15) To understand that the failure to resolve the crisis — by amending or removing the Citizenship Law, which is at the heart of the Rohingya problem — can result in its leaders being pursued in the International Criminal Court (similar to those faced by the likes of Slobodan Milosevic of former Yugoslavia) for serious violations of international humanitarian laws against the Rohingyas of Myanmar.
(B) The Rohingya brotherly Organizations:
(1) To foster unity and work in their individual capacities at the local, regional and international levels towards promoting the cause of the Rohingya people so that their suffering ends and they live as equals within Myanmar. Any activity that is detrimental to Rohingya interest and unity should be shunned at all costs. Members and leaders should iron out their petty differences and find common grounds to unite and cooperate like organs of a single body.
(C)The Democratic Forces of Myanmar:
(1) To promote and practice true democratic values of inclusion and participation away from curses of racism and xenophobia, which are crimes against humanity. They must also ensure that they have no tolerance for all those hate provocateurs (the likes of Aye Chan and late Aye Kyaw) that have smeared their purported claims, goals and records about genuine democracy and human rights.
(2) To realize that the ideology of the Myanmar regime has been “Myanmarism”, which is arrogant, racist, militaristic, feudal, exclusionary and thus, self-defeating. It is a recipe for a ‘failed’ state, setting off perpetual war within itself, and destabilizing the region. Thus, all the leaders must work towards promoting the spirit of Republicanism.
(3) To realize that the Rohingya rights cannot take a back seat while demands for equality, freedom, democracy and human rights are sought from the quasi-civil-military regime. That is hypocrisy! The dissident leaders must treat Rohingyas as their equal partners and comrades, craving for equity and human rights.
(4) To ensure that the ENC includes representation from the Rohingya community to address and accommodate their legitimate grievances, especially those relating to the 1982 Citizenship Act.
(5) To effectively engage in correcting the old and false notions of exclusionism through education, preaching and reconciliations (much like what has happened in South Africa) so that the general public and government agencies understand that racism and discrimination against any minority community (including the Rohingya) are unacceptable and are in violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. If Myanmar is to survive as a Federal Union, enough trust-building provisions must be made so that every minority community – religious, ethnic, or otherwise – feels equal with other dominant races and groups. The true spirit of Republicanism, in clear distinction to ‘Myanmarism’, must be embraced as the only alternative for survival of a future democratic Myanmar.
(6) To understand that there is absolutely no place for neo-Nazi Fascism, racism and bigotry in our time.
(7) To also understand that their willful failure to arresting intolerance and genocidal urges against the Rohingya and other persecuted minorities are tantamount to promoting crimes against humanity for which they can face prosecution in the international courts (much like what has happened with Julius Streicher of the Nazi era in the Nuremburg Trial).
(D)The United Nations Member States:
(1) To press the Myanmar government to immediately repeal its 1982 Citizenship Act that is highly discriminatory and in violations of several international laws and charters of the UN and its member agencies.
(2) To press the Myanmar government to stop its inhuman and degrading treatment of all minorities, esp. the Rohingyas of the Rakhine State.
(3) To stop the ‘push back’ of fleeing refugees from Myanmar against their wishes. And, instead, they should be given shelter with adequate provisions for food, education, job and healthcare. They should not be barred from seeking asylum in a third country.
(4) To improve, through the offices of the UNHCR, the living conditions within the refugee camps, and to ensure that the returning refugees are not mistreated and abused by the Myanmar regime.
(5) To ensure, esp. through the offices of the ASEAN countries, that the legitimate demand for full citizenship rights of the Rohingya and other affected minorities of Myanmar are restored within the current year (2012).
(6) To ensure that none of the UN member states, esp. the ASEAN countries, reward the Thein Sein regime with trade and other benefits unless the citizenship and human rights are fully restored to the Rohingya and other affected minorities.
(7) To immediately demand an independent inquiry into the crisis through its own fact-finding mission.
(E)The United Nations Security Council:
(1) To pass UNSC Resolutions so that the Myanmar government is forced to repeal its highly discriminatory 1982 Citizenship Act, which has epitomized racism, xenophobia, inequality, intolerance and discrimination against minority communities like the Rohingya. The Act has effectively reduced the Rohingya people to be deprived of their fundamental rights to citizenship, movement, education, job, marriage, property and healthcare. The Act must be recognized as challenging the very principle and spirit of the UN. Myanmar’s membership to the United Nations must, therefore, be revoked for its monumental crimes against humanity unless the Myanmar government fulfils its international obligations by restoring full citizenship rights of the Rohingyas and other affected minorities of Myanmar.
(2) To ensure that the Myanmar government understands that as per UN Charter – Article 55 (c) and 56, Myanmar being a member of the UN, it is legally obliged to honor the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and promote human rights and fundamental freedom for all without distinction as to race, sex, language and religion.
(3) To ensure that the Myanmar government understands that its genocidal actions against the Rohingyas, the Myanmar regime have proven itself to be guilty of crimes against humanity, and as such, deserve serious punitive actions from the UN — from annulling its membership in the world body to sanctions that force the regime to change its uncivilized and brutal ways.
(3) To ensure that unless, the Myanmar government amends its ways to integrate the Rohingya people as equals within the state, it can face a total ban, cutting it off from the rest of the world, including losing its UN membership.
(4) To ensure that trade and economic bans are not immaturely lifted from the member states without a true change restoring the dignity and human rights of the minorities within Myanmar.
(5) To ensure that the Myanmar government releases all its political prisoners, and allowing them to leave the country voluntarily, if they so choose.
(6) To stop Myanmar government’s crime against its own people.