Saturday, February 28, 2009

Stop pushing back Rohingyas to Burma: Protect the Rohingya refugee boat people

By Vang i Valdres

Norway, 01 March, ( In a statement released by Rohingya Human Rights Council based in Norway has said “We are appalled to know that the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has decided to send hundreds of Rohingya boat people back to military-ruled Burma. Meeting at its annual summit, the 10-member bloc agreed to compile and pool information and interviews on the Rohingyas, who washed up on the shores of Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia having fled oppression in Burma."

On the other hand, the Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya said Burma is ready to take back the Rohingya migrants if they can prove they are of Bengali descent.

The statement released by the Norway based Rohingya Human Rights Council further said, "The Rohingyas have been fleeing Burma because of extreme human rights violations unleashed by the Burmese military regime to annihilate the entire Rohingya populations from Arakan which is a state under the Union of Burma. They have been subjected to severe persecutions including denial of citizenship, a ban on marriage without government permission, severe restrictions of movement, religious persecution, extortion, land confiscation and restrictions on access to education.

The Rohingyas are not the descendants of the Bengalese. They are an indigenous group of Arakan where they have been living since the 7th century.

These unfortunate Rohingya refugee boat people have already suffered a lot. They have come back to life from the mouth of death after passing many days in the deep sea without food and water. And hundreds of them have perished in the deep sea after the Thailand's navy has left around 1,000 Rohingya refugees adrift in the ocean in boats without engine or food or water.

Under the above circumstances, the decision of the ASEAN to send the Rohingya refugees back to Burma is a clear violation of human rights and international law for refugees.
So, we fervently appeal to the ASEAN nations to stop push back of the Rohingya boat people and to grant them asylum.

We also fervently appeal to the international community, the world bodies including the UNHCR to stop push back of the Rohingyas to Burma and to
take necessary steps for the protection of the Rohingya refugee boat people.

- Asian Tribune -

READ MORE---> Stop pushing back Rohingyas to Burma: Protect the Rohingya refugee boat people...

Civil Society Representatives Challenge Asean Leaders on Burma

The Irrawaddy News

CHA-AM, Thailand — Burmese issues were raised once again at the 14th Asean Summit in Cha-am, Thailand, this time at Saturday’s midday meeting between representatives of Southeast Asian civil society and the 10 heads of state of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean).

The meeting—termed “historic” by Asean Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan because it was the first time Asean leaders had scheduled a face-to-face meeting with civil society groups—was threatened with a boycott by Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen and Burmese premier Gen Thein Sein because they did not agree with the participation of certain members of the civil society grouping.

The matter was resolved at the 11th hour when two civil society representatives—including Burma’s Khin Ohmar of the Network for Democracy and Development—were barred from attending the meeting.

“This afternoon’s interface meeting between the 10 Asean leaders and civil society groups spread doubt whether the Asean is ready to make Article 1 of the Asean Charter on civil society participation come into reality,” said a press release by three civil society activists, including Khin Ohmar.

But the 20-minute meeting was most notable for the united stance by the civil society representatives against policies of the Burmese military government.

Speaking to The Irrawaddy after the meeting, Wathshlash G. Naidu of Malaysia-based International Women’s Rights Action Watch—Asia Pacific said;

* “We raised the issue of political participation [in Burma].
* We raised the issue of the political [opposition] leadership in Burma being detained and
* we raised the issue of the illegal constitution.”

She said that the civic group had called for the release of all political prisoners in the country, including pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, and had urged Asean members not to recognize the 2010 elections in Burma.

“We want Asean countries to really pay attention to these issues,” she said.

Naidu said that Burmese Prime Minister Gen Thein Sein had read a prepared statement at the meeting, but did not respond to criticisms. (JEG's: do they ever respond? )

According to Naidu, the Rohingya crisis was also highlighted by the civil society representatives at the interface meeting.

On Friday at a foreign ministers’ meeting, the Burmese government for the first time addressed the matter of the Rohingya, saying it would take back any boatpeople who were ascertained to have been born in Burma. However, Burmese Foreign Minister Nyan Win rejected the term “Rohingya” and would only refer to the ethnic group as “Bengalis.” (JEG's: not a good approach here, if we allow the Rohingya to be returned their lives are in more danger than adrift)

Analysts said that the question of semantics signaled the Burmese junta’s policy of rejecting the estimated 800,000 Rohingyas living in Arakan State as among Burma’s 135 ethnicities.

Earlier on Saturday, a small group of activists held a protest against the Burmese regime in Hua Hin, close to the venue of the Asean Summit. Calling the protest “Peace for Burma,” about 15 human rights activists, most of whom were Thai, held a cycling rally through the coastal town.

“We choose the Burma issue among others in Asean countries because Burma is the hottest issue in the Asean democratization process,”
said a Thai female activist who joined the protest.

READ MORE---> Civil Society Representatives Challenge Asean Leaders on Burma...

Activists raise Burma issues with ASEAN leaders

by Salai Pi Pi

New Delhi (Mizzima) - Activists representing civil society organizations in Southeast Asian countries raised the Burma issue including freedom for Nobel Peace Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi in the forum of ASEAN leaders on Saturday.

Malaysian woman activist Wathshlah, who also participated in the meeting, said that civil society organizations' representatives held talks with ASEAN leaders including Burmese Prime Minister Thein Sein on Burma's affairs such as Suu Kyi, Burmese refugees including Rohingya boat people and the ensuing 2010 election.

"During the meeting, we raised the detention of Aung San Suu Kyi, Burmese refugees and Rohingya people and the 2010 election," Wathshlah from Malaysia based International Women Rights Action Watch Asia-pacific told Mizzima.

The 20-minute interface between ASEAN Leaders and civil society organizations took place at the Dusit Thani Hotel in Hua Hin in Thailand shortly before the start of the on going ASEAN summit from February 27 to March 1.

Though Thein Sein did not reply to questions on Burma, Wathshlah said, Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva agreed on the need to start a dialogue on Burma but ruled out interference in the internal affairs of the country.

"He [Abhisit] recognized the need to engage in dialogue, however he said that it is important to preserve the principle of state, sovereignty and non-interference," Wathshlah said.

However, Wathshlah added, "He promised that all ASEAN members will engage in the issue to start a dialogue on Burma"

The 10-nation members of ASEAN in December ratified a charter, which pledged to protect human rights and promote democracy in the region.

However, the charter maintains ASEAN’s tradition of non-interference in member states, and does not have provisions for the punishment of states if they flout it.

Wathshlah said, the representatives of civil society organizations also discussed with ASEAN leaders about people participating in a regional grouping, human right bodies, promoting and protection of the rights of migrant workers in the region and gender issues.

Abhisit told the activists that the human rights body will be set up according to the principle of Asean Charter to ensure the protection of human rights and the people’s participation in the body, Wathshlah said.

"He said that human rights body is to be in line with the Asean Charter. He will try as much as possible to ensure the protection of human rights", Wathshlah said and added, "He encouraged people’s participation".

Earlier, the Thai government arranged for 10 persons representing civil society organizations including the exiled Burmese women activist Khin Ohmar to participate and hold a dialogue with ASEAN leaders on Saturday.

However, Burma and Cambodia objected to the participation of Khin Ohmar and Cambodian volunteer activist Pen Somony at the meeting, saying they will boycott the meeting if civil society organizations, which were not affiliated with them, were involved.

Khin Ohmar, the chair of the Network for Democracy and Development (Burma) in exile said that Burmese regime's delegates to the 14th ASEAN summit objected to her participating in the 30-minute talk between ASEAN leaders and civil society organizations.

"Without giving any reason, they [Burmese representatives] rejected my involvement in the meeting," Khin Ohmar told Mizzima. (JEG's: do they ever give reasons?)

However, on Thursday, Khin Ohmar could meet Abhisit for 10 minutes.

Khin Ohmar said Abhisit told her to raise Burma's human rights and political reform issues at the ongoing regional summit.

"He said that he will raise the matters related to human rights, national reconciliation and 2010 election in Burma," Khin Ohmar said.

READ MORE---> Activists raise Burma issues with ASEAN leaders...

US to boycott UN racism conference

(The Jakarta Post) -The Obama administration said Friday that the United States will boycott an upcoming U.N. conference on racism unless its final document is changed to drop all references to Israel and the defamation of religion.

At the same time, it said the U.S. would participate as an observer in meetings of the U.N. Human Rights Council, a body that was shunned by the Bush administration for anti-Israel statements and failing to act on abuses in Sudan and other states.

The racism conference is a follow-up to the contentious 2001 meeting in the South African city of Durban that was dominated by clashes over the Middle East and the legacy of slavery.

The U.S. and Israel walked out midway through that meeting over a draft resolution that singled out Israel for criticism and likened Zionism - the movement to establish and maintain a Jewish state - to racism.

Israel and Canada had already announced they would will boycott the next World Conference Against Racism in Geneva from April 20-25, known as Durban II, but the Obama administration decided it wanted to assess the negotiations before making a decision on U.S. participation.

Last week, the State Department sent a team to Geneva to attend preparatory meetings for the conference but on Friday it said the closing statement under consideration mirrored the 2001 draft and was was unacceptable.

"Sadly ... the document being negotiated has gone from bad to worse, and the current text of the draft outcome document is not salvageable," spokesman Robert Wood said in a statement.

"As a result, the United States will not engage in further negotiations on this text, nor will we participate in a conference based on this text," he said.

The United States will not take part in the conference unless its final statement does not single out any one country or conflict for criticism nor embrace the draft's stance on the condemnation or take up the issue of reparations for slavery, Wood said.

"We would be prepared to re-engage if a document that meets these criteria becomes the basis for deliberations," he said.

Israel, which was deeply concerned when the administration sent a delegation to the preparatory meeting, lobbied hard for the U.S. to stay away from the conference and pro-Israel groups hailed the decision.

"President Obama's decision not to send U.S. representation to the April event is the right thing to do and underscores America's unstinting commitment to combating intolerance and racism in all its foms and in all settings," the American Israel Public Affairs Committee said.

"It's a clear signal to the international community that this administration refuses to validate the hijacking of human rights by regimes led by Libya and Iran," said the Simon Wiesenthal Center, referring to countries that are supporting the draft statement.

U.S. officials said they are pressing European nations to boycott the conference unless there are revisions to the final statement. The Netherlands and France have already expressed concern about the contents.

Howard Berman, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee said he hoped the U.S, position "will galvanize like-minded countries and those who have been sitting on the sidelines to end this mindless march toward an outcome that serves none of the victims of racism, xenophobia and intolerance."

Although it announced the boycott of the Durban II conference, the tate Department also said it would attend, as an observer, meetings of the U.N. Human Rights Council that the United States had previously stayed away from of criticism of Israel it said was one-sided.

Despite those concerns, Wood said the Obama administration believes that "it furthers our interests and will do more (to) advance human rights if we are part of the conversation and present at the council's proceedings."

"These times demand seriousness and candor, and we pledge to closely work with our partners in the international community to avoid politicization and to achieve our shared goals," he said.

The Obama administration had declined to speak during the council's review earlier this month of the human rights records of China, Russia and other countries the United States has previously criticized for abuses.

READ MORE---> US to boycott UN racism conference...

Best of Harn Lay's for this season

READ MORE---> Best of Harn Lay's for this season...

New Report Slams Junta for Nargis ‘Crimes’

A new report says that the Burmese junta’s response to Cyclone Nargis could constitute crimes against humanity. (Photo:

The Irrawaddy News

In stark contrast to an earlier assessment of the Cyclone Nargis relief effort by Burma’s ruling junta and its international partners, a new report released today accuses the regime of widespread rights abuses that “may constitute crimes against humanity.”

The report, “After the Storm: Voices from the Delta,” is the first independent inquiry into the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis, which struck Burma on May 2-3 last year, killing as many as 140,000 people.

Unlike the Post-Nargis Joint Assessment (PONJA) report released last July by the Tripartite Core Group (TCG), consisting of the junta, the United Nations and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), the new report does not shy away from the issue of human rights abuses by the Burmese regime.

“We did not prompt this. We asked a number of questions about relief efforts and agencies, and what kept coming out was people trying to struggle and negotiate their communities’ relationships with the junta,” said Dr Chris Beyrer, director of the Center for Public Health and Human Rights at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, which released the report.

The report is based on interviews with 90 private relief workers and cyclone survivors conducted between June and November 2008. The interviews were carried out by the Emergency Assistance Team—Burma (EAT), a social organization based on the Thai-Burmese border and staffed by community aid workers from cyclone-affected areas.

The interviews detail a pattern of abuses by the military authorities, including the misappropriation of relief supplies, forced labor and harassment and arrest of local aid workers.

“After one month, they came to the village, saw my supplies and started asking—they sent my information to Yangon [Rangoon] to investigate me. They were asking why there were so many supplies. They think it was anti-government. So I left; I don’t like prison,” recounted one relief worker who was interviewed for the report.

The authors of the report say that such abuses “may constitute crimes against humanity through the creation of conditions whereby the basic survival needs of victims cannot be adequately met,” in violation of Article 7(1)(k) of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.

“These allegations, taken together, may amount to crimes against humanity and may need to be investigated,” said Beyrer, adding that the case could be referred to the UN Security Council for consideration.

The report also highlights the international relief effort’s failure to engage community-based groups, and calls for a more thorough assessment of the situation in the cyclone-stricken Irrawaddy delta, including the junta’s role in obstructing aid.

“There are some [international] groups working directly with community organizations, but they have to be very careful about how they work together. It is very risky. That is why we want the UN and Asean to tell the government to allow the community-based organizations to work freely to do their humanitarian work,” said Dr Cynthia Maung, who serves as the chairperson of EAT.

“We would also like to recommend that the UN or the international community do a more thorough assessment,” she added. “Unless we get a proper assessment or report, it may be very hard to continue working to improve the situation [in the cyclone-affected area].”

The report was released as Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya, speaking at the annual Asean summit being held in the Thai resort town of Hua Hin, revealed that the Burmese regime was set to extend the TCG’s role in the delta.

It is unclear how the regional grouping, which has generally closed ranks in defense of the Burmese junta in the past, will respond to the report.

“We hope that there is a positive and constructive response, not a response of denial or obfuscation, but rather that people will say, all right, these kinds of practices must cease and desist,” said Beyrer.

“These kinds of allegations simply cannot be ignored. The people of the Irrawaddy delta deserve to have a reconstruction effort that’s free of rights abuses,” he added.

READ MORE---> New Report Slams Junta for Nargis ‘Crimes’...

ILO, Burma extend ‘supplementary understanding’

by Mungpi

New Delhi (Mizzima) - The International Labour Organization and Burma’s military regime on Thursday extended Supplementary Understanding on the treatment of complaints lodged against forced labour for another 12 months, Burma’s state-run newspaper said.

The New Light of Myanmar, Burma’s military junta’s mouthpiece, on Friday reported that Burma’s Labour Minister Aung Kyi and ILO’s Executive Director Mr. Kari Tapiola on Thursday signed the extension of the Supplementary Understanding.

The ILO and Burma reached an agreement in February 2007 to establish a complaint mechanism for victims of forced labour. Under the agreement, the ILO was allowed to have a liaison officer in Rangoon.

This Supplementary Understanding supports the application of existing laws prohibiting the use of forced labour in Burma and provides a complaints’ mechanism, facilitated by the ILO Liaison Officer in Rangoon.

Under Article 1 of the Supplementary Understanding, Burmese citizens can, with protection from reprisal, seek justice under the law if they are subjected to forced labour.

The Burmese junta’s Labour Minister Aung Kyi said, signing the extension of the Supplementary Understanding supports Burma’s “political commitment to the eradication of forced labour.”

Human Rights groups have criticised military-ruled Burma for its appalling human rights records and has documented the widespread use of forced labour in building army camps, constructing roads and even including forced conscription of children into the army.

Aung Myo Min, the director of the Thailand-based Human Rights Education Institute of Burma (HREIB), in an earlier interview with Mizzima said, the Burmese Army has at least 60,000 child soldiers.

READ MORE---> ILO, Burma extend ‘supplementary understanding’...

Singing a requiem for the rohingya boat people

"We can also perhaps stop all payments to the United Nations and its numerous agencies, use the money to feed the refugees and send a debit note for that amount as our annual subscription to the world body…
The Nation Multimedia

THIRTY YEARS AGO, I wrote the article that is partly reprinted below. It was published in The Nation on June 27, 1979, against the backdrop of the Vietnamese boat people. Things have not changed much since then. Today's inhumanity still rears its ugly head while our leaders cling to the excuses of "national interest" or "security concerns" to justify the drowning of the Rohingya boat people, instead of taking a moral stand.

A few generations ago, prisoners of war, refugees or economic migrants, as many of our forebears were, having come from Shantou in South China, were welcomed as a positive economic force for the Kingdom. Going back further in history, in the 16th century, my ancestors were Mon refugees from Burma (namely Phya Kien and Phya Ram). I feel that we, refugees or descendants of refugees, made this country - against all odds, against the inhumanity and the animal-like cruelty of modern day nationalists.

This then, was my requiem for the boat people of the world as it would be for today.

"In my student days, I remember marching behind Bertrand Russell and participating in his rallies. Since that time, I assume that the world no longer has a conscience.

"But a few days ago Sartre came out of the oblivion to speak for the Indo-Chinese refugees and, in effect on behalf of what remains of homo sapiens. I felt then that in humanity's four-million-year progression, there may yet be a ray of hope.

"Here, in this part of the world, to entertain views other than towing the desperate refugees back to sea or pushing them back to their war-torn country is to be unpatriotic. This being the case, I want everyone to know that I am the most unpatriotic person around. Whatever the wickedness, passiveness and guilt of other nations in regard to the refugee problem in Southeast Asia, I cannot enlist my soul to repeat after the popular cry to evict those unfortunate people regardless of everything else.

"We can also perhaps stop all payments to the United Nations and its numerous agencies, use the money to feed the refugees and send a debit note for that amount as our annual subscription to the world body…

"I have no idea what people see when they look at pictures of old folk, young people, children and women being towed out to drift in the sea. Certainly at this point in time, I am witnessing the lowest ebb in human evolution.

"What is happening in [a neighbouring country] makes us seem relatively humane. Nevertheless, except for the social workers along the border who toil without saying a word, the lack of compassion or metta amongst our rank and file convinces me that ours is hardly a Buddhist country. Notwithstanding, I believe that karma or the reciprocal law applies whether the country is Christian, Muslim, Buddhist or nothing at all. Whoever tows out those poor souls into the sea will find themselves recompensed accordingly.

"Setting people adrift to die is as cruel as processing Jews in the Nazi solution for Europe. I ask myself whether it would not be easier, and perhaps less cruel, to make the refugees queue up and take the 'showers' in the chambers. At any rate, if I were a refugee I would ask the authorities to issue death pills instead of towing me out in a junk to eventually drown in the middle of nowhere. At least I shall not have to see old folks, women and children going through such an ordeal.

"Actually the entire humanity is in the same boat - Spaceship Earth as R Buckminster Fuller called it - a tiny craft amongst nine others orbiting around a tiny star called the Sun, which in turn is the centre of a minute system amongst 30,000 million such systems in one of the myriad of galaxies.

"In this grand scheme of things - and we can see it clearly if we only look to the sky on a clear night - humans on a tiny spacecraft quarrel over 300 metres of ill-defined borders which cannot even be seen with the most powerful telescope from the nearest spacecraft called Mars, and whether people should be defined as refugees or displaced persons.

"In spite of fantastic tool inventions, I now question whether humans without the capability to understand the universe will survive into the 21st century. It must seem a long time ago since hominids took the road to become human or since life germinated on our spacecraft four billions years ago. Scientists now see a rapid deterioration on the latter's physical condition: man-made pollution in both the stratosphere and atmosphere, the destruction of the natural balance of land and sea, and the burning up of the spacecraft's non-renewable energy.

"As a humanist, I can see that perhaps long before the craft's self-automated mechanism stops functioning completely, the human race may have already raced itself out of existence through incredible selfishness. For humans, the four million years of evolutionary effort might yet be undone in less than a hundred!

"With this article, I take leave of my readers in order to research into the origins of our species. Perhaps something worthwhile did exist then, in which case this column might be reactivated."

READ MORE---> Singing a requiem for the rohingya boat people...

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