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9642News from Myanmar and Rohingya Muslims: Aung S an Suu Kyi Asks U.S. Not to Refer to ‘Rohingya’

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  • Zafar Khan
    May 29, 2016

      Aung San Suu Kyi Asks U.S. Not to Refer to ‘Rohingya’

      By RICHARD C. PADDOCK MAY 6, 2016

      BANGKOK — Myanmar recognizes 135 ethnic groups within its borders. But the people who constitute No. 136? They are the people-who-must-not-be-named.
      Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of Myanmar’s first democratically elected government since 1962, embraced that view last week when she advised the United States ambassador against using the term “Rohingya” to describe the persecuted Muslim population that has lived in Myanmar for generations.
      Her government, like the previous military-led one, will not call the Rohingya people by that name because it does not recognize them as citizens, said her spokesman, U Kyaw Zay Ya, a Foreign Ministry official.
      “We won’t use the term Rohingya because Rohingya are not recognized as among the 135 official ethnic groups,” said Mr. Kyaw Zay Ya, who was at the meeting. “Our position is that using the controversial term does not support the national reconciliation process and solving problems.”
      The stance does not bode well for the Rohingya or for rights activists who had hoped Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, would reverse discriminatory policies that have marginalized the Rohingya and prompted many to flee.
      “She is not saying anything about the Rohingya people in Myanmar and their rights to religion and education and health care,” said U Aung Win, a Rohingya community leader in Rakhine State. “As a Nobel Peace Prize winner, why is she so silent?”
      The United States Embassy confirmed that the newly arrived ambassador, Scot A. Marciel, had met with Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi but would not comment on their discussions.
      Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi’s position on the name has taken on great significance as her party, the National League for Democracy, or N.L.D., establishes the country’s first nonmilitary government in decades. Barred by the military-drafted Constitution from serving as president, Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi holds the posts of state counselor and foreign minister, among others, but she is the country’s de facto leader. The new government took over in March.
      The Rohingya in Myanmar, Muslims in a primarily Buddhist land, are denied basic rights, including citizenship, freedom of worship, education, marriage and freedom of travel. More than 100,000 who were driven from their homes by violence in 2012 are in resettlement camps. Many fled on dangerous sea voyages.
      Many nationalist Buddhists reject the name Rohingya and call them Bengalis, implying that they are interlopers from Bangladesh, a position also taken by the former military government.
      The United States Embassy recently drew criticism for using the word Rohingya in a statement expressing condolences for the deaths of at least 20 people whose boat capsized on April 19 off the coast of Rakhine.
      Nationalist Buddhists challenged the new Myanmar government to protest the Americans’ use of the word and staged a demonstration outside the United States Embassy in Yangon.
      At an April 28 news conference, Mr. Marciel responded by saying that it was standard practice around the world to let communities decide for themselves what to be called. “And normally, when that happens, we would call them what they want to be called,” he said. “It’s not a political decision; it’s just a normal practice.”
      Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi’s decision to raise the issue with Mr. Marciel the next day was an apparent concession to the extremists and was welcomed by the nationalist Association for the Protection of Race and Religion, also known as Ma Ba Tha.
      “We don’t want that word because they are not our nationality,” said U Thaw Bar Ka, a leader of the group. “And now I read the news that the Foreign Ministry agrees with us. It’s really good. At first, I thought the new government would be useless on this issue.”
      Rights advocates expressed disappointment that Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi was not willing to go against popular opinion and support a dispossessed people.
      “It’s dismaying that the new N.L.D.-led government is continuing this wrongheaded effort to police the language of Yangon-based diplomats about the Rohingya,” said Phil Robertson, deputy director for Asia at Human Rights Watch.
      Mr. Kyaw Zay Ya said that Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi had not ordered the Americans to stop using the word or threatened consequences if they did.
      Saw Nang contributed reporting from Mandalay, Myanmar.


      HUMAN RIGHTS 22 MAY 2016

      Myanmar's shame

      Rohingya Muslims, in camps, wait for what democracy led by a Nobel peace prize winner will bring them. So far: Nothing.

      Aung San Suu Kyi was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 for her "non-violent struggle for democracy and human rights". Back then, she was a campaigner for those things, spending a total of 15 years under house arrest.
      She knows what it's like to have rights and freedom taken away.
      But now that she is in perhaps the ultimate position of power in Myanmar, there is no sign that she is going to defend the rights of people who have been detained simply because of who they are.
      Tens of thousands of Muslims, mainly Rohingya, have been kept in camps in western Myanmar's Rakhine State for almost four years since their homes and communities were attacked.
      They were horrific events that were fanned by a powerful, nationalist Buddhist agenda - alive and well today - and it's a movement Aung San Suu Kyi seems afraid of upsetting.

      Grim prospects for democracy

      After decades of campaigning against the previous military regime, her National League for Democracy party won last November's general election and, even though the constitution prevents her from becoming president, she made it clear that she would be in charge and gave herself the title of State Counsellor.
      Her choice of Religious and Cultural Affairs Minister raised eyebrows. Thura Aung Ko is a former army general and was a deputy in the same ministry under the previous military-backed government. And, so far, the new government isn't sending any signals that it will adopt a policy to give rights to Rohingya who, in Myanmar, are widely regarded as illegal immigrants from neighbouring Bangladesh.
      On his first day on the job in the new administration, Thura Aung Ko gave a media interview in which he said that Muslims and Hindus were "associate citizens", referring to the 1982 citizenship law that places people into three categories depending on their status.
      He then visited leaders of a nationalist Buddhist movement who regularly spew anti-Islam rhetoric. It's not known what was discussed at the meeting but it sent a bad message, something Aung San Suu Kyi herself has also been guilty of.
      In April, the United States embassy in Yangon released a statement, offering their condolences for people who were killed when a boat sunk off Rakhine State. The people onboard were Rohingya and that's exactly what the US statement called them.
      That led to protests outside the embassy by people who refuse to recognise the term Rohingya because it's not one of the official ethnic minority groups in Myanmar.
      The response from Suu Kyi? Government officials sent a letter to the US ambassador and other diplomats urging them to refrain from using the word Rohingya.
      Yes, it's very early days in the life of the new government and there are many problems in this country to solve. Yes, the plight of the Rohingya is a very complex issue. Yes, the new government is talking about new laws to safeguard religious freedom and to get tough on hate speech.
      But it's not enough.
      Here's what we also know: Around 100,000 people have been living in squalid conditions for almost four years. They have no rights and many have died in a desperate attempt to leave. Over the past year though, the number of departures fell, partly because people wanted to see what the new government would do for them.
      What Aung San Suu Kyi has at her disposal now is the power to speak out. Words can be powerful. They can offer hope. Particularly when they come from someone who built her name on a fight for freedom and rights.
      But when it comes to the Rohingya, there has been nothing but silence; meaning for them, hope is already fading so early in Myanmar's new democracy.

      Aung San Suu Kyi in anti-Muslim spat with BBC presenter

      25 MARCH 2016 • 10:09AM
      Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi made an anti-Muslim comment about a BBC presenter after being challenged on violence suffered by Burma’s Muslim minority.

      The Burmese politician, who was once under house arrest for 15 years in her native Burma, made an off-air comment about BBC Today presenter Mishal Husain after losing her temper during an interview where Husain asked her to condemn anti-Islamic sentiment.

      Following the interview, Suu Kyi was heard to mutter: "No one told me I was going to be interviewed by a Muslim."

      The comments were revealed in a new book, The Lady And The Generals: Aung San Suu Kyi And Burma’s Struggle For Freedom, by Peter Popham.

      The book reveals that the 70-year-old president of Myanmar’s National League for Democracy refused to condemn anti-Islamic sentiment and massacres of Muslims in Myanmar when she was repeatedly asked to do so by Husain, the first Muslim presenter of Radio 4’s Today programme, during the interview.

      Her response was: "I think there are many, many Buddhists who have also left the country for various reasons.

      "This is a result of our sufferings under a dictatorial regime."

      Last year Suu Kyi was criticised for not speaking out in defence of a persecuted Muslim minority, the Rohingya of Rakhine state where many are confined to squalid internment camps.

      Buddhist nationalist activists, including some firebrand monks, had whipped up anti-Muslim sentiments during a charged election campaign.

      Muslims are only 4 per cent of Burma’s population.


      5 MARCH 2016

      A trafficked fisherman's tale: 'My life was destroyed’

      A man from Myanmar who spent more than a decade as a slave on a Thai fishing boat shares his story.

      In recent years, migrant men from poor countries in Southeast Asia who were forced to work on Thai fishing boats have begun to come forward, revealing a dirty secret that powered the world's third-largest exporter of seafood.
      Thailand's $7bn industry has in part been built on the backs of trafficked labour, with thousands of men from places such as Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia being sold into slavery.
      The United States consumes more of Thailand's catch than any other country. According to investigations by the Associated Press and The New York Times, the ill-gotten fish is known to have entered the supply chain of popular brands such as Chicken of the Sea tuna and Fancy Feast pet food.
      While reporting for the film 'Seafood Slaves', Fault Lines connected with dozens of men in Indonesia who were waiting to be repatriated to their home country, Myanmar.
      Since 2011, about 1,500 men have been repatriated back to Myanmar. According to figures from the Bangkok-based, anti-trafficking group Project Issara, which has examined 478 of those cases, on average, the fishermen have been given only $66 in compensation for each month they were enslaved. Some 88 percent of the migrant workers received less than half of the salary they were promised - or even worse, no pay at all.
      In January, Fault Lines spoke to a middle-aged man from Myanmar at a camp set up for trafficked fishermen in Ambon, Indonesia. At that time, about 81 men at the camp were still waiting to collect their wages and return to their homeland.
      This is a translation of the story he told of his experience working in the Thai fishing industry:
      I worked on a farm before. I worked on rubber farms. When I worked in my village, I couldn't support my family. I thought I could find more money here. That's why I left Myanmar. I heard there was good income here. That's why I left. I came through a broker. I didn't know I would be deceived.
      Now I'm 55, almost 56. I left home about 20 years ago.
      My father died a long time ago. Then my mother passed away while I was working here. While I was working here, my children sometimes didn't have enough food. I have three children.

      Myanmar’s Muslims win no seats in new parliament