88 Generation Leaders to UN Envoy: Consider Context When Tackling Arakan’s Woes


Prominent activists from the 88 Generation Peace and Open Society have asked the United Nations’ special rapporteur for human rights in Burma to approach his job with greater emphasis on understanding the country’s cultural and historical underpinnings, after the UN envoy spoke critically of conditions in Arakan State.

Pyone Cho, a leader from the 88 Generation Peace and Open Society, told The Irrawaddy on Thursday that his group advised Tomás Ojea Quintana to consider the deep-seated nature of the region’s troubles.

“There have been rights abuses for a long time in this community and it is not only recently the case. We should not speak out suddenly without an approach that understands what the main causes of this conflict are,” Pyone Cho said.

“This is why we told him to understand the customary law, religion and culture of the country first. It is good to approach it this way in working on human rights issues,” he said.

During a meeting on Wednesday with 88 Generation Peace and Open Society leaders including Min Ko Naing, Quintana said he was displeased at being met by protesters during his trip this week to Sittwe, the Arakan State capital.

About 90 ethnic Arakanese people came out to a demonstration there on Monday, with some holding banners that described the UN envoy as a “one-sided Bengali lobbyist” and urging him to leave the western Burma state, which was his first stop on an 11-day visit to assess the human rights situation in the country.

The protesters accused Quintana of bias toward the state’s Rohingya Muslims, who many Arakanese—and Burma’s government—refer to as “Bengali,” reflecting the widespread belief that the Rohingya are illegal immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh.

Last year, the UN rapporteur drew criticism from Arakanese activists and some 24 political parties after submitting a report to the United Nations about communal clashes between Buddhists and Muslims in the state. Critics said the report was biased, favoring the Rohingya, and they called on the United Nations to remove Quintana from his post.

During this trip, some Rangoon-based daily newspapers and Burmese Facebook users posted photos claiming to show that Quintana had behaved differently in his interactions with the two communities’ leaders. They noted that while he paid respect by kneeling down in front of Muslim leaders, he sat without showing similar deference in discussions with some Arakanese Buddhist monks.

The BBC Burmese service reported on Wednesday that Quintana told the Arakan State government that he was concerned by the continued divides that exist between the two religious communities.

Ko Ko Gyi, an 88 Generation Peace and Open Society leader, told the BBC that the situation on the ground at present required the separation.

“At the moment, there is only one solution: to let them stay divided in order to avoid [further] conflict. If violence results from letting them stay together in the community, will they [the international community] come to help with security?

“He has to look at both sides, the politics and human rights, when solving this conflict. Quintana should not look only at human rights,” Ko Ko Gyi said.

The Arakan State government has allowed the two communities to stay divided after Buddhists and Muslims clashed in 2012. A commission tasked with investigating the violence released a report in April that said a lack of trust between the two groups was a major problem preventing inter-communal harmony.

The commission, which Ko Ko Gyi was a member of, recommended that reintegration of the communities be postponed until further reconciliation efforts could be undertaken. It also suggested voluntary family planning programs be implemented for Rohingya Muslims, whose rapid population growth was cited as one element fueling tensions. The commission proposal was widely condemned by the human rights community, and a two-child limit for Rohingya was later imposed in one Arakan district.

The violence last year displaced 140,000 people, most of whom were Rohingya Muslims. The internally displaced persons (IDPs) remain in 76 camps and other temporary shelters, with government restrictions imposed on their movements.

Movement restrictions on Rohingya Muslims have also left as many as 36,000 people isolated in communities in several townships, including Minbya, Myebon, Pauktaw, Mrauk-U, Kyauktaw and Sittwe, according to the United Nations. These communities have been affected socially and economically, with limited or no access to basic services including markets, education and health care.


17 Responses to 88 Generation Leaders to UN Envoy: Consider Context When Tackling Arakan’s Woes

  1. I wonder how such a shallow person has become such an important official at UN. He not only failed to understand the context but obviously was biased – the first time he went to Arakan, he did not even speak to Arakanese!

  2. Rakhines know best that Bengali people who live in Rakhine State came from Bangladesh. Now these Bengali claim that they have been in Rakhine for thousands of years. Many of them do not even speak Burmese. Bengali is not one of the ethnic groups in the Union of Myanmar. Instead of having this problem further, kick them out of our country now.

  3. Listen first what has that monk said in his interview in 2012 and the one of the Muslim leader. Then you will learn who deserves respect and who not!!

  4. Isn’t it obvious that Bangladesh doesn’t want to be drawn into this mess? They do not want these people, they are neither Bengali’s nor those of the Burmese but more like the Chittagonians. They do not speak Bengali and since the birth of Bangladesh their loyaity towards the new state was questionable. We should feel sorry for the state they are in but their resort to violence do not help their situation either.

  5. This demonstrates the real facet of today’s (Budhist) Burmese societies. There might be divide among themselves in all other issues, but not about the Muslims/Rohyngya. Each and every Burmese hates them equally and equivocally. At least in one thing Burmese has shown unprecedented unity – whether they are dictators, democrats, conservative, liberal – all alike – that’s this extreme hatred to part of their own population. Long-lasting anti-muslim propaganda in Myanmar has completely dehumanized this people that not a single Burmese consider them anywhere near a human being. And the Burmese even don’t try to hide that any more. I have never seen anywhere in the world people talking racially-incorrect so comfortably, without any sense of guilt or hesitation. Here you see the heroes of 88 saying the same. The speech some monks are giving in Myanmar is far worse than any muslim extremist can talk, for example against jewish. Reconciliation is a far cry in Myanmar. The monster mind-set that has been created over 60 years of propaganda has no immediate coming back, unfortunately though.

    • It’s actually not only about religion. Burmese usually identify nationality with ethnicity and so often judge nationality based on physical attributes, mainly skin colour, hair colour and the shape of the eyes. I think some Burmese might even find it a bit “weird” that Obama is not white! If you look at the Burmese entertainment industry and the advertisements in Burmese magazines, it is obvious to the naked eye that the Chinese-Korean-Japanese fair-skinned look is the ideal in Burma presently. I don’t know how that happened, but some Burmese now even think that any mixture of darker-skinned people will make the “beautiful Burmese race” impure. You don’t see Wirathu and his 969ers complain too much about the much more serious Chinese invasion. If people really think the borders are too porous and there are too many illegal immigrants, then the place to control and exercise sovereignty is clearly the border to China, but no Burmese would dare to do that. Too many double-standards in Burma. It’s always bully the people beneath you and suck up to the people above you!

  6. I really hesitate to touch the complicated issue of the Rohingya.
    But out of concern for the future of Myanmar let me share some of my thoughts.

    ” Creating a Future: Using Natural Resources for New Federalism and Unity” by David Dapice and Nguyen Xuan Thanh, is a paper written in July 2013, published by an institute in USA and available in the internet under The authors make some suggestions how Myanmar could build up a good future. There are eight pages on the roots of the Rohingya problem, and I learned something new from them:

    .1) The authors call the sectarian fighting in Rakhine “A MORTAL THREAT TO THE FUTURE [of Myanmar]”. In this they are right. If Myanmar cannot solve this conflict IN A PEACEFUL WAY, it can become a problem, that will give even more trouble, than it has given in the past. You cannot solve it by ill-treating the Rohingya, by shooting at them, or by disinviting a leading official from the UN. Mr. Quintana is only doing his job. The whole world is now looking at the Rohingya in the “concentration camps” without food, health care, and schooling. Martyrs have been created.

    Consider the breaking up of Yugoslavia. It started with Bosnia, where the Serbian majority wanted to clean out the Muslim minority. British India broke up into several states mainly because of religious tensions, even Gandhi could not prevent it. On a world wide level there are many other examples.

    2) High level immigration of Muslims from Begal to Yakhine/Arakan took place a hundred years ago between 1891 (58.000 Bengali Muslims) and 1911 (178.000 Bengali Muslims). An annual increase of 1,4% for 100 years gives 700.000 people today. In fact the population of Yakhine has increased less than the average for all Myanmar (1,4 Mill. in 1953/54 to 3,3 Mill. in 2010) because it is so poor.
    The Bengali Muslim immigrants of those days were poor, uneducated workers. Their descendents living today are probably lucky, if they know their own grandparents, who lived 50 years ago: “No school, work early, marry early, have many children (many dead infants also), and die early”, that is the life of poor people.

    3) It is not necessary to suspect them of coming from Bangladesh recently, because – surprise, surprise – the living standard in Bangladesh is at present much higher than in Yakhine/Arakan. It has improved considerably in the last 20 years (see the above source), even though the population density there is over 1.000 persons/per sq km (compared to 70 persons/per sq km in Myanmar).

    4) Yakhine/Arakan is the poorest part of Myanmar after the Chin Hills with a poverty rate of 38% (Bangladesh 31%) and child malnutrition 87% (Bangladesh only 41%). Many Buddhist Yakhine have moved to other parts of Myanmar, but the Rohingya were not allowed to leave.

    5) The authors hold out the prospect to develop Yakhaing state economically to such a high standard that it will be able to feed all its people, the Buddhists, as well as the Muslims.

    This, of course, depends on the central government, because these authors recommend the creation of a federal state for the Union of Myanmar, where the income from taxes is shared between the local administration and the central authority, and where the natural resources (oil, gas, deep sea port, fish farms) are developed in such a way, that the local population can prosper.

    If densely over-populated Bangladesh can do it, why not Myanmar?

    Remember, I do not say: give citizenship to all Rohingyas!
    It is a deep problem, and not easily solved. Maybe it is necessary to keep the Muslims and the Buddhist in Yakhine separate for the time being.
    But maybe the Myanmar people could start by returning the Mahamuni Image to Yakhine? And by sharing the revenues from the Chinese pipelines with Yakhine?

    And then give citizenship to Rohingya babys, if at least one parent is a citizen.
    Yakhine was the part of Myanmar that received Buddhism first, because it is closest to India. And for the same reason it has more Muslims than other parts of Myanmar.

    • I agree with you.

    • Dear Daw Ohnmar,
      Thanks for bringing some elements of interest in this discussion. But please note that this is also very partial. The period you mentioned (1891-1911) is not the only period that muslims came or existed in Myanmar. It is far more before. Following are some examples:

      1) If you look at any neutral Burmese history (not the ones created by the xenophobic regimes of last 60 years) many of your kings had muslim and most trusted regiments in their army. Great King Alaungpaya even had special muslim regimen to protect his own family.

      2) Just on this page, you will see another article describing nat spirits and cultural diversities in Myanmar. Many of the nats Burmese people believes and worships are muslims and hindus. These nats are in existence in Myanmar since many hundreds years thus muslims and hindus.

      3) Arakan (Rakhine) kindom was famous for having special muslim army regiments. Not only that many late middle age/early modern age Bengali literature was written at and appreciated by Arakan kings. One of the such famous poet is Alaol and the famous epic he wrote is Padmawati. This is contrary to today’s popular believe, as you mentioned, that all muslims were poor, uneducated….

      4) Your compatriot Shwe Yoe’s remark (above) that these people do not speak Burmese or speak Bengali disqualify themselves to be Burmese is extremely flawed. They existed there for thousands of years practising their language which was appreciated and patronised in the past was revoked by the military regime in your country. Please note that from my personal experience I can say half of Chins, Kayin, Mon, Kachin, Wa etc. also do not speak Burmese. Just to compare, for example, in India more than 50% people also do not speak Hindi. In China many people do not speak Mandarin.

      Here what I want to say is people of Myanmar needs to learn proper history of Myanmar if they want to change this what I say monster mind set about muslims in Myanmar.

      Now I would like to ask you why you think the Rohyngyas (or other muslims and hindus in Myanmar) shouldn’t be given nationality? Immigration and naturalisation has made the world history and it is still a major elements in current functioning of world economy and population dynamic. You (Myanmar) now even more became a part of the global community where you should know and comply with global norms. That is exactly what Mr. Quintana is trying to look at in your country. Many Myanmar origin people also migrated to Bangladesh and live there with full privileges and I have never seen Bangladesh either rescinded their citizenship or demanded them to be Burmese. Why then it is so particular for Myanmar? If we stay with Burmese position on migration, then:

      1) The almost whole Australasian continent should be evacuated to today’s UK;
      2) The whole North America should be evacuated to UK and France;
      3) Half of Central and South America to be evacuated to Spain and Portugal;
      4) Three-fourth of South Africa to be evacuated to UK and Netherlands.

      These are just few examples, what do you think of this?

      A last word, Bamar race is also a migrated race and mix of Chinese (and/or Tibetan) and Indian. So the purity of blood, what some of your compatriots are proudly saying in the language of the Nazis, is not that pure. And depending on when you start to count your history the Bamar should also loose their citizenship and go back to their place of origin. How would you feel about it?

      They only way out from what Myanmar is up today with regards to race and religion is to open Myanmar mind and extend its vision, to learn the real history and resort to global norms.

  7. Still in 2013 Burma remained as uncivilised country.Isolation of Burma is not the sole answer.World bodies should come forward to change attitudes of Bumese people & govt.

  8. Of course, Ko Ko Gyi, Ko Ko Gyi, the situation on the ground at present required the separation because you bigots do not control the racists stealing the land of the Rohingyas.

    It is an abomination that Ko Ko Gyi is referred to as the leader of this so called open society.

  9. Thein Sein’s government has found a perfect recipe to continue running the country as long as the clash between Buddhist an Muslims exist. At this point, majority of Buddhist Barman including some 88 generation student leaders stand behind Thein Sein’s government while Aung San Suu Kyi has kept her voice silence on the issue. She is in a dilemma_ if she shows sympathy on minority Muslims, the majority Barman will turn her down. She does not have much to say except repeating the same word “Rule of law” while Thein Sein is scoring credit. People of so-called Union of Myanmar need to think twice on this issue why and how this problem start under this quasi-civilian government. This government transforms from Burmese army who had had ruled the country by intimating and killing innocent civilians and Buddhist monks. When the Burmese troops lunched offensive against ethnic nationalities rebel army, in some areas, they used local (Kala_ in Burmese) to inform the activities of the rebel. So, regardless of the ongoing reform which is on the crossroad, it is a necessity to be vigilant. The most troublesome is when a lion says that it stop eating meat which is hard to believe.

  10. All the Myanmar ethnic tribes_Chins,Karens,Shans,Kachins,Kayahs,Mons,Pa Laungs, Nagas and of course Arakanese has their own right to safeguard their own local communities.

  11. During recent DVB interview at a hospital, one of Bengali patients hospitalized after a clash with the police said that most of the brutal police they had faced were Rakhines, Bamar police would not do the same (rude) work against them.

    This gives an impression that Bamars have had for so long betrayed Rakine nationals in the history in favour of the Bengalis. The Bengali problem is the problem of Bamars especially the Burmese generals who attempted to crush everyone of their own blood whenever they see as threats to their power including all the ethnic races who are indigenous nationals of the country.

    On the far north in Kokang and Mongla areas Chinese were allowed by these same generals to control the territories against the will of our own ethnic Shans. The difference between the Bengalis and the Chinese is that Bengalis got a clear No from all and the Chinese can still maintain a good historic fear in the country not to do anything strong against them.

    At the moment there seems no practicable solution for all the aliens who are already in the country today when power is at lost without clear sharing in the country. The government should let everyone openly discuss about these aliens, black and white alike, in order to get as many ideas as possible. Among them some good answers acceptable to all could come out if we discuss the same subject repeatedly.

    Thura Zaw Hein

  12. During New Win’s era, all Muslims in Rakhine (Arakan) were citizens even though 1982 citizenship law was promulgated. The immigration did not discriminate against the Muslims at the time. The elder brother of my father was also immigration officer in Rakhine. National Registration Cards were issued equally to all people of Arakan. In 1989, both communities: Rakhine Buddhists and Muslims established political parties and voted in 1990 election as their will.
    Rakhine Buddhist also tried to get votes from the Muslims. In 1991, the former military government started to prevent the Muslims and Hindus from traveling to central Myanmar from Rakhine. It also prevented from issuing National Registration Cards to both Muslims and Hindus. Here it must be noticeable that all became already the citizens of Myanmar (Burma) before 1991.

    After few years, the military government started mentioning they are Bengali. Now some extremists say they are illegal immigrants.

    I have many questions to both extremists and the government.

    I tend to say these people who are pretending are foolish.

  13. Hasan, if Burma is uncivilized, how brute, and barabaric could Saudi Arabia is, where people never get citizenship on grounds of his birth or other human rights. Why you guys fence your own boundary before commenting on whatever the Burmese are doing? These socalled Rohingyas even denounce their original name of Bengali and invent a new name for turning part of Burma into an islamic republic! You guys should be ashamed of your blatant support for the illegal demands and whimsical history.

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