Use Controversial Citizenship Law to Assess Rohingyas' Rights: Govt Report

By Kyaw Phyo Tha 29 April 2013

RANGOON—A long-awaited government report on last year’s violence between the Muslim Rohingya and Arakanese Buddhists recommends that the government upholds the controversial 1982 Citizenship Law and that it beefs up its security presence in Arakan State, while also tightening immigration controls along Burma’s border with Bangladesh.

It calls for examining the Muslim group’s citizenship status in accordance with the Citizenship Law, which does not recognize the Rohingya as an ethnic minority.

However, the Muslim minority in northern Arakan State, which is estimated to number about one million, claim they are called Rohingyas and say that they are Burmese citizens as they have lived in the region for many generations.

The report only refers to the Rohingya population in Arakan State as “Bengalis” from Bangladesh and said the group’s supposed rapid population growth had led to the communal clashes with Buddhist communities. It recommends implementing voluntary family-planning programs among the “Bengalis.”

“One factor that has fueled tensions between the [Arakan] public and Bengali populations relates to the sense of insecurity among many [Arakanese] stemming from the rapid population growth of the Bengali population, which they view as a serious threat,” the commission wrote.

In August 2012, President Thein Sein ordered the 27-member investigation commission, which comprises government officials, activists and a journalist, to investigate the sectarian violence, which has flared up twice since June 2012. The report said the violence left 192 dead, 256 injured, 8,614 houses damaged, while displacing nearly 100,000 people.

During a media briefing on Monday at the Myanmar Peace Center, the commission secretary Dr Kyaw Yin Hlaing, insisted that his team was “independent,” adding that it had traveled to Arakan State numerous times to interview officials, politicians and members from both communities.

“It’s a very complex and broad issue. We tried to collect data as correct as we could,” he said, adding that by seven committees appointed by the government would implement the report’s recommendations.

“All we could do is just make suggestions and submit what we have found. We have to wait and see to what extent they could implement it,’ he said. “Mr. President agrees with our recommendations for he doesn’t want to see that kind of violence again.”

Ko Ko Gyi, commission member and a leader of the 88 Students Generation activists, said the report wants to promote peaceful co-existence between two communities and resolve the refugee issue, but he added that the citizenship status of the Rohingyas should be decided on the basis of the controversial 1982 law.

“To grant the citizenship to Bengalis, we’ve recommended to stick to the 1982 Citizenship Law,” he said, adding that communal tensions would also lessen if the Muslim minority in Arakan State would change its attitudes. “If they are more liberal and loyal to the country they are living in, then peaceful co-existence will surely materialize faster,” he claimed.

The commission said it interviewed hundreds of members of both communities to ask what they believed had caused the violent clashes.

Among 1,200 Arakanese respondents, 96 percent said they felt that the government had failed to protect their communities and that “corrupt government officials take bribes from Bengalis to let them across the border” from Bangladesh into Arakan State.

Ninety-two percent of the 800 interviewed Rohingyas said the violence was sparked by “Arakanese feeling superiority” towards the Rohingya community.

The report recommends that the roughly 100,000 displaced persons, which are mostly Rohingyas, receive “urgent” humanitarian aid so that they can get “access to safe and secure temporary shelters prior to the monsoon season.”

Other recommendations that it puts forth include that “the government needs to ban the use of hate language against any religion, to ban extremist teachings and activities.”

The commission puts a heavy focus on strengthening the security government forces in Arakan State and control immigration from Bangladesh into the state, located on western Burma’s border.

“Border security must be increased. A skilled force especially trained and prepared in preventing and resolving conflicts needs to be put in place,” the report says, while also advising that “A Special Team comprising a civil-military mix needs to be established and made responsible for gathering intelligence on extremist organizations and violent groups.”

An investigation by the New York-based group Human Rights Watch, released last week, accused Thein Sein’s government of “ethnic cleansing” and crimes against humanity, and it said government security forces, local Buddhist monks and Arakanese politicians, had played a key role in the violence.

HRW alleged that government security forces had failed to end and in some cases supported Buddhist attacks on Rohingya communities during the violence on October, while they were also actively blocking aid deliveries to Rohingya refugee camps.