Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Myanmar: Myanmar’s “Rohingya” - what’s in a name?

Photo: David Swanson/IRIN. Despite promises "Rohingya" was not included on the 2014 census

Source: IRIN

BANGKOK, 15 September 2014 (IRIN) - Already widely reduced to statelessness and in many cases forced into camps for displaced people, an 800,000-strong population of Muslims in western Myanmar now faces increasing efforts to eradicate the very word they use to identify themselves as a group. Under pressure from Myanmar’s nominally-civilian government, the international community sometimes appears complicit in the airbrushing of “Rohingya” from official discourse.

In this briefing, IRIN breaks down some of the questions about a group of people that has been called one of the most persecuted minorities in the world.

Who are the Rohingya?

Approximately 800,000 Rohingyas live in Myanmar. Tens of thousands have fled in recent decades to Malaysia, up to half a million to neighbouring Bangladesh, and an unknown number are scattered from Thailand, to India, to Saudi Arabia.

A 1799 study lists an identity called “Rooinga” in what is now Myanmar’s Rakhine State. However, a historian in March 2014 argued that “this term has only become popular since the late 1990s”.

Some Muslims were brought to Myanmar territory under British rule in the 19th and 20th centuries, fuelling a popular claim that more continue to pour over the border from Bangladesh, which has been refuted by economists.

Why are they so marginalized?

For years, Rohingyas have had their rights - from movement to reproduction to citizenship - restricted by what a Bangkok-based human rights organization called deliberate state-designed "policies of persecution".

In July and October 2012, violence erupted between ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingyas. The outbursts and ensuing round-ups by security forces resulted in 140,000 people, mostly Rohingyas, being held in government-built camps.

Meanwhile, government officials openly promised to tighten regulations on Rohingya movement and other rights.

Nearly two years later, the outgoing UN special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar said: “The pattern of widespread and systematic human rights violations in Rakhine State may constitute crimes against humanity.”

What does the Burmese government say?

When Myanmar’s reform-minded president, Thein Sein, addressed the UN General Assembly in 2012, he referenced the Rakhine violence without naming parties to the conflict.

U Shwe Maung, a Rohingya member of parliament, told IRIN: “When I talk about the Rohingyas with government officials, they just go silent. They know their silence is extremely powerful.”

The politician argues that the term appeared in a government-published geography textbook as recently as 2008.

However, in response to a September 2014 announcement that Bangladesh would repatriate some of the verified Myanmar citizens it hosts, the Burmese government rejected the name of the group itself, saying: “We have never had ethnic nationals called ‘Rohingya’”.

What happened on the 2014 census?

Myanmar had not conducted a census in 30 years, and partnered with the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) for its 2014 survey.

Despite warnings from local leaders, the Transnational Institute (TNI), the International Crisis Group (ICG) and Human Rights Watch (HRW), the questionnaire included a particularly contentious item: a question about ethnicity for which a 1982 list of 135 ethnic groups, which does not include “Rohingya,” would be used.

The government initially promised they would allow Rohingyas to self identify on an open-ended “other” option. But two days before the start of enumeration in March 2014, international aid workers fled western Myanmar after being targeted by Buddhist mobs who attacked their offices over perceived humanitarian bias towards Rohingyas. The government reneged on its promise to record “Rohingya” on security grounds.

Anyone who asked to be recorded as “Rohingya” went uncounted; some were allowed to be listed as “Bengali”. “Both options entailed denial of the ethnic group's existence,” prominent international lawyer Geoffrey Nice and analyst Francis Wade wrote in a May 2014 article, which warned that the Rohingya were likely to fall victim to more organized violence.

“The census team asked me ‘what is your ethnicity?’ When I answered ‘Rohingya’, they walked away. They didn’t even ask me any of the other questions,” Nor Mohammed, 60, who lives in the Dar Paign camp in Rakhine State, told IRIN. “Now if we don’t appear in the census, are we really here?”

UNFPA’s country representative Janet Jackson explained: “In Rakhine State before enumeration, opposition to any use of the term Rohingya proved far more serious than anticipated” and that “UNFPA voiced regret that people could not self-identify and were consequently not included in the census.” In a statement the agency said the move “could heighten tensions in Rakhine State.”

In the wake of the census, David Matheison, HRW’s senior Burma researcher lamented “the failure of the government, the UN and international donors to take action to effectively address the ethnic and religious divides that help fuel instability, violence and disenfranchisement”.

An international observer report called the census process in Rohingya areas “a complete failure”, explaining that Rohingyas “very much wanted to participate in the census but were prevented from doing so by the census field staff and the Department of Population officials.”

Why does exclusion from the census matter?

Srdjan Mrkic, chief of demographic statistics at the UN Statistics Division, explained that while an ethnicity question (along with religion and language) is not mandatory on a census, about 85 percent of countries do include it.

However, he explained, if ethnicity is included, there are guidelines for asking the question: “Ethnicity should be a completely blank line. Even if you list five options for ethnicity and have a line marked 'other', you are in a certain way appearing to limit the choice of responses. The enumerator must not guide responses in any way.”

In September the government released provisional results from the census, but said ethnicity data would not be published until 2015 on the grounds that such data could enflame intercommunal tensions.

Nonetheless, census information, with a zero count for Rohingya and an unknown number of people registered as “Bengali”, appears to be informing citizenship verification programmes, designed to determine who is eligible for documents based on how long their families have lived in Myanmar.

However, for those who qualify, documents will come without the label “Rohingya,” and probably with “Bengali” instead. According to HRW, “the stipulations of the Burma Citizenship Law governing the right to one of the three types of Burmese citizenship effectively deny to the Rohingya the possibility of acquiring a nationality.”

The government is running verification programmes in several locations, including Rakhine’s Myebon Township, which was razed in the 2012 violence, and where a high percentage of people reportedly accepted “Bengali” as their ethnicity on the 2014 census.

Some cling intensely to the identity term.

“I am Rohingya, I am not Bengali,” said Muhammad Uslan, 58. “I’m holding onto the name no matter what. In 2012 the Rakhines attacked us for our ethnicity, and today if they want to try to kill me again, they can - I’m not changing it.”

Others are open to the idea of shedding the Rohingya label in exchange for more rights.

“If we get equal rights with other ethnic groups by calling ourselves Bengalis, then we should accept that name,” said Hamid Huq, a 36-year-old living in a camp outside Sittwe.

However, even in his assertions, Huq retains distrust of the government and acknowledges pressure to change identity terms has been increasing.

“At every meeting we have with government officials, they always tell us we are going to have to register as Bengalis. But the government must declare it genuinely equal citizenship. I don’t trust this government so they must say this specifically or I won’t believe them,” he said.

“Even when foreign missions come to meet with us, Western government officials take us to the side and tell us that we should accept Bengali so we can leave the camps.”

What do international actors say?

In June 2014 after local media reported that the government had asked the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) to apologize for using “Rohingya” in a presentation, UNICEF called the incident “an oversight”, asserting that the agency “had no intention of engaging in a discussion on [the] sensitive issue of ethnicity at that forum”.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon continues to use the term in his speeches about Myanmar.

In July, the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar explained at the conclusion of her mission to the country: “I was repeatedly told not to use the term ‘Rohingya’ as this was not recognized by the government.”

A joint OCHA/UNDP mission to Rakhine ending on 11 September mentioned “ethnic Rakhine” and “Muslim” communities, but not “Rohingya”. An ICRC statement one day earlier used the same terms. 

Russia: Witness: Girl Interrupted – Nika’s Story

Source: Human Rights Watch
Witness: Girl Interrupted – Nika’s Story
Amy Braunschweiger

Seven year-old Nika brims over with life, dancing and singing her way around the kitchen of her family’s home outside Moscow. All smiles, she pauses to tell a visitor about the ballerinas she saw perform at a recent Christmas show, recites bits of poetry and then scampers off to the living room – littered with toys and children’s books – to play with her younger sister.

It’s hard to believe that hours after Nika’s birth, doctors told her mother, Lyudmila, or Mila, Kirillova, that as a Down's syndrome baby, Nika would never develop – that in the best-case scenario, she would say “Mama” by age 36. That day, doctors began pressuring Mila and her husband to institutionalize Nika, to leave their baby in a special hospital ward for abandoned children, Mila told Human Rights Watch researcher Andrea Mazzarino.

Nearly 30 percent of children with disabilities in Russia live in state orphanages, where they may face violence and neglect, and where they often lack adequate nutrition and health care. These children – most of whom have one living parent – can be confined to their cribs for days or even weeks, according to a new Human Rights Watch report. Often the only attention they receive is having their feeding tubes adjusted and diapers changed. Many are heavily sedated by an overwhelmed staff which lacks training in non-violent childrearing methods and which views sedation as the only way to discipline children or prevent them from behaviors like banging their heads against the cribs.

Stunted by this environment, some children who are school age or even teenagers, appear to be no bigger or older than toddlers. Human Rights Watch interviewed children who said that orphanage staff beat them and sent them to psychiatric hospitals for days or weeks at a time to control or punish them.

While the Russian government has committed itself to moving away from institutionalization, officials have not focused enough attention on the special circumstances of children with disabilities. So healthcare workers are still pressuring parents to give these children up, claiming they won’t develop and that their parents wouldn’t be able to care for them.

Doctors painted a bleak picture of Nika’s future in the days after her birth. She would never be able to walk or talk. She wouldn’t be able to go to school. Mila was told she and her husband would never be able to care for Nika. Give her up, move on, the doctors said. Two days after Nika’s birth, Mila and her husband signed the papers giving up custody of their child. Mila left the hospital feeling embarrassed and humiliated, she said.

Although many parents who give up their children are discouraged from visiting, Mila visited Nika regularly. As the months passed, doctors told Mila that Nika wasn’t developing the way a baby should. Mila began to worry that Nika wasn’t getting enough attention.

Mila thought constantly about her daughter and decided she wanted her back.

She told the hospital officials of her decision. They repeatedly tried to talk her out of it. One official said Nika needed to stay institutionalized for observation and medical procedures. The hospital suggested Mila needed to consult a psychologist.

Ultimately, Mila prevailed. Nika had spent more than a year of her life in a hospital, but once home she grew in ways that far surpassed her parents’ expectation, learning how to walk and talk and engage with the people around her.

It wasn’t always easy. Because it’s so common to institutionalize children with disabilities, Mila had a hard time finding community-based services to support their family. Nika couldn’t be enrolled in a mainstream school, but Mila found a school for children with vision problems that Nika attends, where she has access to speech therapists as well as other specialists, including tutors. She eventually found a network of other parents through a nongovernmental organization called Downside Up, for kids with Down’s syndrome.

Today, Mila talks about Nika with pride, calling her a happy, friendly kid. She’s pleased that Nika appreciates beauty, be it music, dance or poetry. Her daughter is having trouble counting, Mila says, but they’re working on it. In the future, she’d like to see Nika in a mainstream school, or maybe even go to college. She hopes she can be self-sufficient and be able to take care of herself. She also looks forward to Nika one day falling in love and maybe having a family of her own.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Looking Good For Tuesday!

I have not had time to publish this blog for the last two days - and it is never published Sunday and Monday! However, all is on track for it to resume on Tuesday, Sept 16 - hopefully with a clear run!

Wherever you may be - be safe

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Education: Online Girls’ School Aims to Offer New Opportunities

In a 21st century classroom, the essential tools for learning often include computers as well as books. Some students are even taking entire classes on the Internet. While an on-line course may seem impersonal, there is a virtual school called Online School for Girls that aims to create a close knit community in the virtual world to give girls confidence so they can excel academically. Elizabeth Lee has the details.

Iran: Iran mineral reserves worth $770 bn

Source: IRNA
Iran mineral reserves worth $770 bn

Ilam, Sept 11, IRNA – A senior Iranian official said that the value of mineral reserves in the country has been estimated at $770 billion according to the latest assessment.

Behrouz Borna, Mineral Exploration Deputy at Iran Geology Organization, said that Iran possesses three percent of the world’s known mineral reserves.

Pointing to Iran’s position with regard to the discovery and exploration of mineral reserves as compared to other world countries, he said that Iran stands first in the Middle East, third in Asia in terms of mineral reserves and is among the world’s top 10 countries in this regard.

He said the value of these mines has been estimated at $770 billion.

Borna said so far 23 thousand industrial units in the field of industry and mines have been founded in the country of which four thousand are major industrial units.

“Given the presence of efficient, young and ready to work forces in the country job opportunities should be increased in this category through establishment of major industries. The mining sector should be used optimally as a major income generating and important source.”

Over 7,500 mines have been identified in the country so far of which 30% are abandoned.

Currently a workforce of 90 thousand is involved in the mining sector and according to the planning of the officials of the Industry, Mines and Trade Ministry mineral production will reach 570 million tons by the end of the Fifth Development Plan (2015-2016).

Some 32% of non-oil exports of the country are allocated to the mining and mineral industry sector.