UN Resolution Urges Burma to Drop Identity Plan

By Cara Anna 3 November 2014

UNITED NATIONS — A new UN draft resolution takes aim at Burma’s aggressive campaign to have its Rohingya Muslims identify as a term they reject, urging “access to full citizenship on an equal basis.”

The European Union-drafted resolution, obtained Friday by The Associated Press, is one piece of international pressure on the Southeast Asian country to change its campaign, preferably before world leaders including US President Barack Obama arrive for a regional summit in less than two weeks.

Burma’s 1.3 million Rohingya have emerged as a sensitive issue as Burma, a predominantly Buddhist state, tries to move away from decades of repressive military rule toward democracy.

The Rohingya have been denied citizenship and have almost no rights. Attacks by Buddhist mobs have left hundreds dead and 140,000 trapped in camps. Others are fleeing the country.

Authorities want to officially categorize the Rohingya as “Bengalis,” implying they are illegal migrants from neighboring Bangladesh. The Rohingya counter that many of their families have been in Burma for generations. Effectively stateless, they are wanted by neither country and say the Burmese government’s campaign feels like an effort to have them systematically erased.

The vast majority of Rohingya live in the state of Arakan. President Thein Sein, a former general, is considering a “Rakhine [Arakan] Action Plan” that would make people who identify themselves as Rohingya not only ineligible for citizenship but candidates for detainment and possible deportation.

The resolution now before the General Assembly’s human rights committee is nonbinding, but a strong vote in its support would send a message that international opinion is not on Burma’s side.

A Burmese diplomat assigned to that committee, reached by telephone Friday for comment, said, “It’s too early to say.”

The resolution expresses “serious concern” about the Rohingya’s status. It calls on the government to “allow freedom of movement and equal access to full citizenship for the Rohingya minority” and to “allow self-identification.”

Burma’s plan worries some in the Muslim world, and the Organization for Islamic Cooperation pushed for strong language in the resolution.

This week, Burma’s ambassador to the United Nations, Tim Kyaw, told the General Assembly’s human rights committee that his country is not “targeting a religion.” He warned that “insisting on the right to self-identification will only impose obstacles to finding a lasting solution” to ethnic tensions.

Vijay Nambiar, the UN secretary-general’s special adviser on Burma, told The Associated Press this week that Burma’s government is facing increasing pressure to allow the Rohingya to identify as something other than Rohingya or Bengali.

But, Nambiar said, “In the immediate future, the government says that’s not possible.”