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Karen Worldwide Call for Burma’s Census to be Postponed

By Karen Communities Worldwide  •  March 14, 2014

28 Karen community organisations from 11 countries are writing to the United Nations Population Fund and their respective governments, expressing deep concern over Burma’s upcoming census, and calling for it to be postponed.

In the letter, the Karen community organisations state; “The Burmese government has arbitrarily made decisions on this issue. The lack of proper consultation with ethnic community leaders resulted in incorrect information in the way ethnic groups and sub-groups have been coded and categorised. Some of the Karen sub-groups are found to be listed in other ethnic nationalities groups. Moreover, the Burmanised version of our Karen name ‘Kayin’ is used without approval of our people. This goes against UN’s own recommendations that ethnic groups be allowed to self-identify.”

Whilst all the Karen subgroups should be able to register under any name they want, it is also important that all Karen subgroups are allowed to register as Karen to ensure proper acknowledgment of our people as a national race. Many of our people will face difficulties in taking part in the census as the forms are only in Burmese language.

Karen communities are concerned that there is a risk of the census facilitating increased human rights abuses by the Burmese Army in Karen areas. Based on our past experience in Burma, local military officers used our information to carry out abuses against villagers. Many of our people have been displaced several times fleeing attacks from the Burmese Army. Some villagers managed to stay away from the Burmese Army’s area of operations to avoid human rights abuses such as forced labour, looting, rape and arbitrary taxation.  We are worried that if the Burmese government has more information about our population, it would be even easier for them to target us in order to increase control over our people, property and natural resources.

These problems exit not just in Karen areas, but also across Burma, and have been causing disagreements and tensions among different ethnic nationalities. Division within vulnerable ethnic communities and between ethnic groups has already been caused by the census. For the peace process to be effective we need reconciliation and people coming together, but the census is pushing people apart, and this will negatively affect the peace process.

We are also concerned for the thousands of Internally Displaced People (IDPs) and refugees along the border of Thailand and Burma. We fear that many of them might not be included in the census enumeration, and not receive the aid and support they need as a result.

For us, who have been forced to flee from our homeland because of attacks by the Burmese Army, the census is not just a technical exercise where the government can tick the many boxes to improve its international image. It is about our lives, our people, our country, our survival as a race and our future.

The Karen communities appreciate the UNFPA’s technical and financial support for the upcoming census. We understand that it is an important step for the development of our country. However, whilst we welcome the opportunity for some ethnic and religious minorities to be officially recognised, given the current fragile political climate and various concerns, including the risk of increasing ethnic tensions, we strongly feel that this is not the right time for the census to go ahead.

The Karen communities strongly believe that the census should only go ahead when there is adequate consultation with all ethnic nationalities, and there is guaranteed security, protection and rights for ethnic nationalities.

Media Contact:
Htoo Ku Hsar Say- UK time +44 7940522425
Padoh Zaw Naung- Norway time +47 41175421
Myra Dahgaypaw- USA time +1 718 207 2556

Karen communities from 11 countries are:
Anglican Karen Church, TN, USA
Australia Karen Organisation
Bowling Green Karen Baptist Church, KY, USA
Burma Community Ranges Organization, CO, USA
Burmese Ethnic Based Community Organization Of Jacksonville, FL, USA
Country-side Karen Community of Georgia, GA, USA
Czech Republic Karen Community
Denmark Karen Organisation
European Karen Network
Indiana Karen Baptist Fellowship, IN, USA
Karen Association of Iowa, IA, USA
Karen Community Association UK
Karen Community of Canada
Karen Community Finland
Karen Community of Kansas City, KS, USA
Karen community of Minnesota, MN, USA
Karen Community of New Bern, NC, USA
Karen Community of Norway
Karen Community Society of British Columbia, Canada
Karen Community of Utica, NY, USA
Karen National Community The Netherlands
Karen Swedish Community
Louisville Karen Community, KY, USA
Methodist Karen church, TN, USA
New Zealand Karen Association Incorporated
Owensboro Karen Baptist Church, KY, USA
Rockford Karen Baptist church, IL, USA
Zion Karen Baptist Church, IL, USA

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This post is in: Press Release

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