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Weekly Highlights: Facilitating Hate from the Highest Levels of Power

April 1, 2014

By Facebook Myanmar Police Force IrrawaddyThe situation in Arakan State is deteriorating rapidly as extremist monks continue to spread hate speech and incite violence against the Muslim community with impunity. With the upcoming census set to inflame tensions over the issue of Rohingya, Arakanese nationalists have been exacerbating these tensions by campaigning for the census to be changed. Such protests descended into violence as United Nations (UN) and non-governmental organizations’ (NGO) offices were ransacked and aid workers forced to flee. Meanwhile, at the national level, highly discriminatory laws are being drafted by certain ministries to be presented to Parliament.

The leader of the extremist Buddhist 969 movement, Wirathu, has been whipping up anti-Muslim fervor among the local Arakanese Buddhist population, demanding that the UN-planned census be changed. The All Rakhine Committee for the Census (ARCC) had threatened a state-wide boycott of the census due to the option for Rohingya to identify themselves as Rohingya.  Adding to the tension has been the antagonism towards international relief and UN agencies for allegedly favouring Rohingya Muslims in their work. This is, of course, a preposterous claim given that such organizations engage in service provision for those who need it most, regardless of their ethnicity, religion or political affiliation, with the majority of such victims happening to be Rohingya. This fervor came to a head as mobs descended on UN and NGO offices in the state capital, Sittwe, late last week.

That the government has allowed the situation to descend into such chaos is testament to the lack of political will to protect Rohingya communities. Wirathu has been in Arakan State for weeks, spreading hate filled rhetoric about the Rohingya, and indeed, all the Muslims populations in Burma. Impunity is perhaps too weak a word to describe how such movements are acting in relation to the government. It would be more apt to describe how the actions of these extremist leaders are a complement to those of the government. Four laws are to be discussed in Parliament that pander to the extremists who support the monks’ campaign. These laws place restrictions on marriage, such as forcing Buddhist women to seek permission before marrying a man from another faith with that man obligated to convert to Buddhism, while the other laws impose limits on the number of children Muslims can have, and ban polygamy. Such restrictions are a flagrant violation of the rights of women and deepen existing wounds in Burma’s delicate society. Eva Kusuma, president of the ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights, succinctly summarizes the proposed marriage law: “There is no place in the future of this region for such a restrictive and discriminatory law. It is extremely concerning that it has even been accepted for drafting by the House Speaker in the first place, especially given existing inter-faith tensions in the country.”

Not only are these laws to be debated in Parliament, it was in fact President Thein Sein who forwarded the four draft laws to Parliament last month, which were written by the Committee for the Protection of Nationalism and Religion, a committee of which Wirathu is the chairman. So while extremist monks are in Arakan State inciting hatred and violence, the very perpetrators have the ear of the President of Burma. Not only is the government not doing anything to take action against these extremists, they are facilitating the religious and racial animosity that is one of the most difficult and depressing problems in Burma today.

Furthermore, the demands of the protesters in Arakan State regarding the census have been heeded by the government. Presidential spokesman, Ye Htut, stated that after a meeting with the ARCC, enumerators of the census are to write down the word ‘Bengali’ rather than Rohingya, thus implying they are illegal immigrants from neighbouring Bangladesh.  Yet as pointed out by the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) who are planning the census, “In accordance with international standards and human rights principles and as a part of its agreement with the UN and donors, the government has made a commitment that everyone who is in the country will be counted in the census and that all respondents will have the option to self-identify their ethnicity.” The question now is whether the UNFPA and the foreign governments who are funding this census will take action and delay the census until international human rights standards are met. While statements of criticism from foreign governments and donors are helpful, it is action that is needed, otherwise said governments will be complicit in the further victimization of the Rohingya.

Burma is a tinderbox of religious and ethnic tensions, yet the situation is getting worse. Extremist monks are given carte blanche to spread the poison that will destroy communities of some of the most vulnerable people in the world right now. Not only that, but the government is exacerbating tensions by bringing highly discriminatory laws that are astonishingly regressive. If parliamentarians have respect for basic human rights, they will vote down the proposed laws. If the government has respect for the rule of law, it will take action to stop the spread of the movement that is filling Arakan State and the whole country with hatred. If the international community, and in particular the donors of the census, do not want to be associated with continuing persecution of a whole race of people, they would at the very least delay the census until the existence of Rohingya people is recognized

News Highlights

Four activists from the 88 Generation Peace and Open Society group are briefly detained under section 18 of the Peaceful Assembly Law, as they did not have the required permission to stage a demonstration calling for constitutional change and a court in Monywa sentences activist Thaw Zin to 15-month prison for protesting against land seizures at the Latpadaung copper mine while police arrest four activists in Mandalay for protesting against the government-backed electricity hike which will be in effect in April  

Inside Burma

Parliament approves the budget for the 2014/2015 financial year, with military spending still much higher than education and healthcare put together

Ko Si Thu Lwin, a senior reporter from The Myanmar Times to appeal a defamation charge and a fine of 10,000 kyat after covering a conflict over the installation of power lines in Mandalay Region

Global writers’ group PEN International meets with Burma’s senior government officials to urge them to include laws that improve transparency and protect freedom of expression

Novelists and poets criticize the new law section 2(g) subjecting them to a journalists’ code of ethics

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and parliamentary speaker, Shwe Mann, hold a joint press conference calling for a four way dialogue with President Thein Sein and army chief, Min Aung Hlaing to discuss constitutional reform


Nearly a thousand migrant workers from Burma call for improved working conditions and wages from the Thai-owned Yuan Jiou Garment Co Ltd based in the border town Mae Sot, Thailand

Approximately 300 people homeless after demolishing 31 homes to prevent a fire from spreading throughout Mae La refugee camp

Burma’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs issues an aide-memoire to the Bangladeshi Ministry of Foreign Affairs and summons Anup Kumar Chakma after an article in the Dhaka Tribune suggests holding a referendum to separate Sittwe and Maungdaw from Rakhine State and have them join Bangladesh’s Chittagong divisio


International oil companies, including Total, Royal Dutch Shell and Statoil win exploration rights to Burma’s offshore oil

The World Bank’s private sector arm, the International Finance Corporation, will lend $80 million for investment in hospitality facilities in Burma


Why Donors Should Insist the Census be Postponed
By Robert Finch and Alex Moodie
The Myanmar Times

Why Burma is Heading Downhill Fast
By Min Zin
Foreign Policy

Refugees on the Thai-Burma Border: Ready for Return?
By Zoya Phan

Latest from the Blog

People of ASEAN Stand Up To Be Counted
By Burma Partnership


Hundreds of activists begin a 1225-km (765-mile) march to Myitsone to call for the complete shutdown of a China-backed hydroelectric mega-dam

Activists call for an immediate investigation into corruption within the legal system, namely the corrupt judges who accept bribes and instructions from the government

More than 100 residents have resumed a demonstration against the 1990 land confiscation by Burma’s military in Maha Bandula Park, Rangoon

200 demonstrators call for constitutional amendments at Pyin Oo Lwin, home of the Defence Service Academy in Mandalay, while their request to have 500 demonstrators was reduced to 200 by the police

Statements and Press Releases

Proposed Law Restricting Inter-faith Marriage in Myanmar is Dangerous, Discriminatory and Unnecessary, ASEAN MPs Warn
By ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights

One Year on From Meiktila Violence – Hate Speech Unchallenged – Prejudice To Become Law
By European Burma Network

Burma: Scrap Proposed Discriminatory Marriage Law
By Human Rights Watch

Burma: Postpone Flawed Census to Avert Violence
By Human Rights Watch

Largest-ever ASEAN Civil Society Conference Urges Regional Governments to Establish Human Rights Protection Mechanisms
By International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and Alternative ASEAN Network on Burma (ALTSEAN-Burma)

Myanmar: Malteser International Calls for Reopening of Humanitarian Space
By Malteser international

Myanmar: MSF Acknowledges Encouraging Dialogue on Rakhine but Clinics Remain Closed
By Médecins Sans Frontières

The Elders: Myanmar’s Grassroots Should Have a Role in National Reforms, Peace Talks
By The Elders

Myanmar’s Six Billion Dollar Timber Corruption Black Hole Revealed by Official Data
By The Environmental Investigation Agency

Spreading Burma Army Attacks and Abuses Against Civilians in Shan State Undermine Nationwide Ceasefire Negotiation
By Shan Human Rights Foundation

UNFPA Statement on Myanmar Census and Violence in Rakhine State
By United Nations Population Fund


Data Corruption: Exposing the True Scale of Logging in Myanmar
By The Environmental Investigation Agency

Marching to Genocide in Burma
By United To End Genocide

POLICY MEMORANDUM: Preventing Indiscriminate Attacks and Willful Killings of Civilians by the Myanmar Military
By Harvard Law School International Human Rights Clinic

This post is in: Weekly Highlights