Showing posts tagged as "burma"

Showing posts tagged burma

12 Feb
Myanmar Conflict Alert: A Risky Census
Brussels  |   12 Feb 2014
The nationwide census planned for 30 March to 10 April 2014 risks inflaming tensions at a critical moment in Myanmar’s peace process and democratic transition. The census process should be urgently amended to focus only on key demographic questions, postponing those which are needlessly antagonistic and divisive – on ethnicity, religion, citizenship status – to a more appropriate moment. By doing so, the government, United Nations and donors can demonstrate that they are sensitive to the serious risks presented by the census as currently conceived, and that they are willing to respond to the deep reservations expressed by many important groups in the country.
While the collection of accurate demographic data is crucial for national planning and development – it has been over 30 years since the last census – the coming census, consisting of 41 questions, is overly complicated and fraught with danger. Myanmar is one of the most diverse countries in the region, and ethnicity is a complex, contested and politically sensitive issue, in a context where ethnic communities have long believed that the government manipulates ethnic categories for political purposes. In addition to navigating its political transition from authoritarian military rule to democratic governance, Myanmar is struggling to end decades-old, multiple and overlapping ethnic conflicts in its peripheries. At the same time, recent months have seen an increasingly virulent Burman-Buddhist nationalist movement lead to assaults on Muslim minority communities. A census which risks further increasing these tensions is ill-advised.
There are many flaws in the ethnic classification system being used for the census, which is based on an old and much-criticised list of 135 groups produced in the 1980s. In some cases, this creates too many subdivisions (the small Chin group, for example, is divided into 53 categories, many of them village or clan names, which has no justification on ethno-linguistic grounds). In others, groups are lumped together who have separate ethnic identities (for example, several groups in Shan State such as the Palaung, Lahu and Intha are included as subdivisions of the Shan ethnicity when they are not related in any way ethnically or linguistically). A number of these groups – including ethnic political parties and ethnically based armed organisations – have issued statements highly critical of the census, some demanding a postponement and reclassification based on consultation with ethnic communities.
The classification is related to more than ethnic identity; it will have direct political ramifications. The constitution and election laws provide for a set of ethnically delineated constituencies for those groups that meet a certain population threshold, with representatives being appointed as ministers in local governments. Groups fear that if their communities are subdivided or misclassified, they may be denied that political representation. There is no possibility to report mixed ethnicity, forcing people into a single identity, to the potential disadvantage of some smaller groups.
Religion adds yet another layer of controversy. Rising Burman-Buddhist nationalism in the country – typified by the “969” movement (see our report The Dark Side of Transition: Violence Against Muslims in Myanmar) – projects a fantastical narrative that Myanmar and the majority Buddhist faith are being overrun by Muslims. The census could serve to unwittingly support such sentiment. Currently, it is widely believed that Myanmar’s population is 4 per cent Muslim, a figure reported in the 1983 census. However, there are strong indications that the real figure collected then was over 10 per cent, but that a political decision was taken to publish a more acceptable figure of 4 per cent. The results of the current census could therefore be mistakenly interpreted as providing evidence for a three-fold increase in the Muslim population in the country over the last 30 years, a potentially dangerous call to arms for extremist movements.
Issues of ethnicity, religion and citizenship form a particularly potent mix in Rakhine State, the site of serious recent violence. Many in the Buddhist Rakhine community feel that they are fighting for their ethnic and religious survival in the face of a Rohingya Muslim population that is perceived to be growing rapidly – but which is currently denied citizenship and basic human rights. They claim that many Rohingya are recent illegal immigrants from Bangladesh – a narrative that has been repeated for decades, despite evidence to the contrary. In addition to the tensions that could flare when official figures on the Muslim population in the state become known, some extremist Rakhine political actors undoubtedly fear that the census would establish a baseline Rohingya population that would make it more difficult to sustain the narrative of recent migration in the future. Rakhine politicians are already claiming that additional populations of Bengali Muslims are now infiltrating Rakhine State in order to be included in the census count. These politicians are demanding that they be allowed to form an armed Rakhine militia to prevent such a migration.
Myanmar is at a very sensitive moment in its transition. The peace process with ethnic armed groups is in a delicate phase, with all sides engaged in a concerted effort to bridge gaps and build trust. Elections in late 2015 will likely be the first relatively free and fair polls in a generation and will radically transform the political landscape. The next two years will thus be highly volatile. A poorly timed census that enters into controversial areas of ethnicity and religion in an ill-conceived way will further complicate the situation.
The Department of Population and other officials are to be commended for their tireless efforts over the last two years to make all the technical and administrative preparations for this enormous exercise. However, the plans have proceeded with apparently little concern at the political level – by government, the United Nations and donors – over the potential risks. For a country that has no recent experience of conducting a census, comparative lessons from other transitional and conflict-affected contexts could have informed Myanmar’s efforts and helped to significantly mitigate the risks.
There is still time to adjust the process by limiting the census to just the key demographic questions on age, sex and marital status – that is, the first six questions on the census form. This will provide the most important data without touching at this stage on the controversial issues of identity and citizenship. The limited technical complication of adjusting the process pales into insignificance when placed against the much larger risk – to the very fabric of Myanmar society at this delicate stage in the country’s transition – of proceeding with the current, ill-thought-out process.
crisisgroup.org
PHOTO: Reuters/Staff

Myanmar Conflict Alert: A Risky Census

Brussels  |   12 Feb 2014

The nationwide census planned for 30 March to 10 April 2014 risks inflaming tensions at a critical moment in Myanmar’s peace process and democratic transition. The census process should be urgently amended to focus only on key demographic questions, postponing those which are needlessly antagonistic and divisive – on ethnicity, religion, citizenship status – to a more appropriate moment. By doing so, the government, United Nations and donors can demonstrate that they are sensitive to the serious risks presented by the census as currently conceived, and that they are willing to respond to the deep reservations expressed by many important groups in the country.

While the collection of accurate demographic data is crucial for national planning and development – it has been over 30 years since the last census – the coming census, consisting of 41 questions, is overly complicated and fraught with danger. Myanmar is one of the most diverse countries in the region, and ethnicity is a complex, contested and politically sensitive issue, in a context where ethnic communities have long believed that the government manipulates ethnic categories for political purposes. In addition to navigating its political transition from authoritarian military rule to democratic governance, Myanmar is struggling to end decades-old, multiple and overlapping ethnic conflicts in its peripheries. At the same time, recent months have seen an increasingly virulent Burman-Buddhist nationalist movement lead to assaults on Muslim minority communities. A census which risks further increasing these tensions is ill-advised.

There are many flaws in the ethnic classification system being used for the census, which is based on an old and much-criticised list of 135 groups produced in the 1980s. In some cases, this creates too many subdivisions (the small Chin group, for example, is divided into 53 categories, many of them village or clan names, which has no justification on ethno-linguistic grounds). In others, groups are lumped together who have separate ethnic identities (for example, several groups in Shan State such as the Palaung, Lahu and Intha are included as subdivisions of the Shan ethnicity when they are not related in any way ethnically or linguistically). A number of these groups – including ethnic political parties and ethnically based armed organisations – have issued statements highly critical of the census, some demanding a postponement and reclassification based on consultation with ethnic communities.

The classification is related to more than ethnic identity; it will have direct political ramifications. The constitution and election laws provide for a set of ethnically delineated constituencies for those groups that meet a certain population threshold, with representatives being appointed as ministers in local governments. Groups fear that if their communities are subdivided or misclassified, they may be denied that political representation. There is no possibility to report mixed ethnicity, forcing people into a single identity, to the potential disadvantage of some smaller groups.

Religion adds yet another layer of controversy. Rising Burman-Buddhist nationalism in the country – typified by the “969” movement (see our report The Dark Side of Transition: Violence Against Muslims in Myanmar) – projects a fantastical narrative that Myanmar and the majority Buddhist faith are being overrun by Muslims. The census could serve to unwittingly support such sentiment. Currently, it is widely believed that Myanmar’s population is 4 per cent Muslim, a figure reported in the 1983 census. However, there are strong indications that the real figure collected then was over 10 per cent, but that a political decision was taken to publish a more acceptable figure of 4 per cent. The results of the current census could therefore be mistakenly interpreted as providing evidence for a three-fold increase in the Muslim population in the country over the last 30 years, a potentially dangerous call to arms for extremist movements.

Issues of ethnicity, religion and citizenship form a particularly potent mix in Rakhine State, the site of serious recent violence. Many in the Buddhist Rakhine community feel that they are fighting for their ethnic and religious survival in the face of a Rohingya Muslim population that is perceived to be growing rapidly – but which is currently denied citizenship and basic human rights. They claim that many Rohingya are recent illegal immigrants from Bangladesh – a narrative that has been repeated for decades, despite evidence to the contrary. In addition to the tensions that could flare when official figures on the Muslim population in the state become known, some extremist Rakhine political actors undoubtedly fear that the census would establish a baseline Rohingya population that would make it more difficult to sustain the narrative of recent migration in the future. Rakhine politicians are already claiming that additional populations of Bengali Muslims are now infiltrating Rakhine State in order to be included in the census count. These politicians are demanding that they be allowed to form an armed Rakhine militia to prevent such a migration.

Myanmar is at a very sensitive moment in its transition. The peace process with ethnic armed groups is in a delicate phase, with all sides engaged in a concerted effort to bridge gaps and build trust. Elections in late 2015 will likely be the first relatively free and fair polls in a generation and will radically transform the political landscape. The next two years will thus be highly volatile. A poorly timed census that enters into controversial areas of ethnicity and religion in an ill-conceived way will further complicate the situation.

The Department of Population and other officials are to be commended for their tireless efforts over the last two years to make all the technical and administrative preparations for this enormous exercise. However, the plans have proceeded with apparently little concern at the political level – by government, the United Nations and donors – over the potential risks. For a country that has no recent experience of conducting a census, comparative lessons from other transitional and conflict-affected contexts could have informed Myanmar’s efforts and helped to significantly mitigate the risks.

There is still time to adjust the process by limiting the census to just the key demographic questions on age, sex and marital status – that is, the first six questions on the census form. This will provide the most important data without touching at this stage on the controversial issues of identity and citizenship. The limited technical complication of adjusting the process pales into insignificance when placed against the much larger risk – to the very fabric of Myanmar society at this delicate stage in the country’s transition – of proceeding with the current, ill-thought-out process.

crisisgroup.org

PHOTO: Reuters/Staff

11 Sep
A House Divided: Finding Peace in Multiethnic Myanmar | Jim Della-Giacoma, Richard Horsey
The West’s perception of Myanmar’s problems is often limited to the image of Aung San Suu Kyi’s struggle for political opening against the country’s ruling military junta. But Myanmar, or Burma as it is still known by many in the West, is ethnically and religiously complex, and the inability to reconcile those many differences led to decades of civil war with multiple ethnic insurgencies. While outright hostilities have for the most part ebbed, the grievances that have historically driven these conflicts are by no means resolved.
FULL ARTICLE (World Politics Review)
Photo: eGuide Travel/Flickr

A House Divided: Finding Peace in Multiethnic Myanmar | Jim Della-Giacoma, Richard Horsey

The West’s perception of Myanmar’s problems is often limited to the image of Aung San Suu Kyi’s struggle for political opening against the country’s ruling military junta. But Myanmar, or Burma as it is still known by many in the West, is ethnically and religiously complex, and the inability to reconcile those many differences led to decades of civil war with multiple ethnic insurgencies. While outright hostilities have for the most part ebbed, the grievances that have historically driven these conflicts are by no means resolved.

FULL ARTICLE (World Politics Review)

Photo: eGuide Travel/Flickr

16 Jul
Myanmar’s “Nasaka”: Disbanding an Abusive Agency
by Jim Della-Giacoma
On 12 July, President Thein Sein of Myanmar issued notification no. 59/2013 abolishing the Nasaka border security force, which has been active mainly in Rakhine State (formerly known as Arakan) and in particular along the border with Bangladesh. This is a very positive move. Rakhine State has seen repeated violence between the Buddhist Rakhine and Muslim Rohingya communities, and official and semi-official policies of discrimination against the Muslim population.
The Nasaka, or “Border Immigration Headquarters” as it is sometimes known, is an inter-agency force established in 1992 and comprised of around 1200 immigration, police, intelligence and customs officials. It operates in the Muslim-majority northern part of the state, near the Bangladesh border.
In this area, it is the most prominent state authority, and as such is charged not only with securing the border, but also with enforcing the various discriminatory policies against the Rohingya – including travel restrictions, marriage restrictions, and the recently reactivated “two child” limit. It has also faced many allegations of serious human rights abuses, imposition of forced labour and extortion.
In our report Myanmar: Storm Clouds on the Horizon (12 Nov 2012), Crisis Group urged disbanding the Nasaka:

“Local government and the local security forces (the police and the paramilitary border force known as the “Nasaka”), which are dominated by Rakhine Buddhists, often have a strongly anti-Rohingya agenda. Disbanding the Nasaka, which is seen as the most corrupt and abusive government agency in the area, would address both Rohingya concerns of abusive practices and go some way to addressing Rakhine concerns of lax or corrupt border security.”

President Thein Sein gave no explanation for the notification, and the rest of the government has also been silent. But in a speech at Chatham House in London on 15 July, the president promised “a zero-tolerance approach” to any renewed communal violence. Describing Myanmar as a multi-faith country, he stressed the need for a “more inclusive national identity” encompassing people of all ethnic backgrounds and faiths.
The full impact of the decision to abolish the Nasaka remains to be seen. The move took many people by surprise, including the local authorities in Rakhine, who were apparently not informed in advance. It seems that the Nasaka’s main functions will be taken over by the police.
The removal of an agency created for oppressive purposes, and with an institutional culture of corruption and abuse, can only be a good thing. The discriminatory policies aimed at the Rohingya, especially movement restrictions, will very likely remain in force. But no other existing agency is likely to have the power and the reach of the Nasaka, and its abolition should reduce the level of abuse faced by the Rohingya. Attention must now turn to ending the denial of basic rights to this population, including the right of citizenship. There also remains an urgent need to ensure humanitarian access to those displaced Muslim populations in other parts of Rakhine State that are living in desperate conditions, and to ensure them a safe and permanent return to their homes.
Resolving Conflict in South East Asia
Photo: Reuters

Myanmar’s “Nasaka”: Disbanding an Abusive Agency

by Jim Della-Giacoma

On 12 July, President Thein Sein of Myanmar issued notification no. 59/2013 abolishing the Nasaka border security force, which has been active mainly in Rakhine State (formerly known as Arakan) and in particular along the border with Bangladesh. This is a very positive move. Rakhine State has seen repeated violence between the Buddhist Rakhine and Muslim Rohingya communities, and official and semi-official policies of discrimination against the Muslim population.

The Nasaka, or “Border Immigration Headquarters” as it is sometimes known, is an inter-agency force established in 1992 and comprised of around 1200 immigration, police, intelligence and customs officials. It operates in the Muslim-majority northern part of the state, near the Bangladesh border.

In this area, it is the most prominent state authority, and as such is charged not only with securing the border, but also with enforcing the various discriminatory policies against the Rohingya – including travel restrictions, marriage restrictions, and the recently reactivated “two child” limit. It has also faced many allegations of serious human rights abuses, imposition of forced labour and extortion.

In our report Myanmar: Storm Clouds on the Horizon (12 Nov 2012), Crisis Group urged disbanding the Nasaka:

“Local government and the local security forces (the police and the paramilitary border force known as the “Nasaka”), which are dominated by Rakhine Buddhists, often have a strongly anti-Rohingya agenda. Disbanding the Nasaka, which is seen as the most corrupt and abusive government agency in the area, would address both Rohingya concerns of abusive practices and go some way to addressing Rakhine concerns of lax or corrupt border security.”

President Thein Sein gave no explanation for the notification, and the rest of the government has also been silent. But in a speech at Chatham House in London on 15 July, the president promised “a zero-tolerance approach” to any renewed communal violence. Describing Myanmar as a multi-faith country, he stressed the need for a “more inclusive national identity” encompassing people of all ethnic backgrounds and faiths.

The full impact of the decision to abolish the Nasaka remains to be seen. The move took many people by surprise, including the local authorities in Rakhine, who were apparently not informed in advance. It seems that the Nasaka’s main functions will be taken over by the police.

The removal of an agency created for oppressive purposes, and with an institutional culture of corruption and abuse, can only be a good thing. The discriminatory policies aimed at the Rohingya, especially movement restrictions, will very likely remain in force. But no other existing agency is likely to have the power and the reach of the Nasaka, and its abolition should reduce the level of abuse faced by the Rohingya. Attention must now turn to ending the denial of basic rights to this population, including the right of citizenship. There also remains an urgent need to ensure humanitarian access to those displaced Muslim populations in other parts of Rakhine State that are living in desperate conditions, and to ensure them a safe and permanent return to their homes.

Resolving Conflict in South East Asia

Photo: Reuters

12 Jun
"Managing the state’s valuable natural resources in a sustainable and equitable way – including billions of dollars of jade production annually – will be key."

—from Crisis Group’s recent report, A Tentative Peace in Myanmar’s Kachin Conflict

"Access to displaced people for provision of humanitarian assistance is vital. It is also critical to address the longer-term development needs of Kachin communities."

—from Crisis Group’s recent report, A Tentative Peace in Myanmar’s Kachin Conflict

"This is a major step forward. Securing a sustainable peace will not be easy, and depends on more detailed negotiations."

—from Crisis Group’s recent report, A Tentative Peace in Myanmar’s Kachin Conflict

"The Kachin conflict is one of the longest-running ethnic insurgencies in Myanmar and in the world."

—from Crisis Group’s recent report, A Tentative Peace in Myanmar’s Kachin Conflict

A Tentative Peace in Myanmar’s Kachin Conflict
Yangon/Jakarta/Brussels  |  12 Jun 2013
The deal that has now been struck between the Myanmar government and the Kachin armed group is a major step forward, but securing a sustainable peace will require much more work.
In its latest briefing, A Tentative Peace in Myanmar’s Kachin Conflict, the International Crisis Group examines the preliminary peace agreement that the Myanmar government signed with the Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO), the last of the eleven major armed ethnic groups to sign an agreement since 2011. This represents a major opportunity to secure lasting peace not only in Kachin State, but in the country as a whole. Yet, there will be major challenges in doing so.
The briefing’s major findings and recommendations are:
This agreement is different from the last ceasefire agreement signed with the KIO in 1994 as it comes after a period of unprecedented political and economic reform in the country. If more far-sighted decisions are taken this time around by the central government, the KIO and Kachin civic leaders, a more sustainable peace economy could emerge that would distribute greater economic and social benefits to communities.
Key issues still need to be discussed and agreed, including the repositioning of troops from both sides to reduce the chance of clashes, a monitoring mechanism, and a comprehensive political dialogue.
Major steps also need to be taken to develop an equitable peace economy. In particular, the exploitation of Kachin’s significant natural resources, if not appropriately regulated, could compound inequalities and trigger renewed conflict.
Much remains to be done to avoid a repeat of the failures of the previous ceasefire process. More detailed negotiations will be required with all the groups that have signed ceasefires. A broader multiparty political dialogue needs to be started that addresses the ethnic aspirations and grievances of all these groups.
“An end to the conflict is crucial for relief, rehabilitation and development initiatives to begin, but peace brings with it new risks for the people of Kachin State”, says Jim Della-Giacoma, Crisis Group’s Asia Program Director. “Recent experience from ceasefires in other parts of Myanmar points to a potential increase in land grabs and exploitative and environmentally damaging resource extraction activities. This is a particular risk in Kachin State, given its enormously valuable natural resources”.
“Reaching a peace agreement between the government and the KIO has been one of the biggest challenges of the overall ethnic peace process”, says Della-Giacoma. “But before this peace can be claimed, many difficult underlying political issues need to be resolved. There is no guarantee of success”.
FULL REPORT

A Tentative Peace in Myanmar’s Kachin Conflict

Yangon/Jakarta/Brussels  |  12 Jun 2013

The deal that has now been struck between the Myanmar government and the Kachin armed group is a major step forward, but securing a sustainable peace will require much more work.

In its latest briefing, A Tentative Peace in Myanmar’s Kachin Conflict, the International Crisis Group examines the preliminary peace agreement that the Myanmar government signed with the Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO), the last of the eleven major armed ethnic groups to sign an agreement since 2011. This represents a major opportunity to secure lasting peace not only in Kachin State, but in the country as a whole. Yet, there will be major challenges in doing so.

The briefing’s major findings and recommendations are:

  • This agreement is different from the last ceasefire agreement signed with the KIO in 1994 as it comes after a period of unprecedented political and economic reform in the country. If more far-sighted decisions are taken this time around by the central government, the KIO and Kachin civic leaders, a more sustainable peace economy could emerge that would distribute greater economic and social benefits to communities.
  • Key issues still need to be discussed and agreed, including the repositioning of troops from both sides to reduce the chance of clashes, a monitoring mechanism, and a comprehensive political dialogue.
  • Major steps also need to be taken to develop an equitable peace economy. In particular, the exploitation of Kachin’s significant natural resources, if not appropriately regulated, could compound inequalities and trigger renewed conflict.
  • Much remains to be done to avoid a repeat of the failures of the previous ceasefire process. More detailed negotiations will be required with all the groups that have signed ceasefires. A broader multiparty political dialogue needs to be started that addresses the ethnic aspirations and grievances of all these groups.

“An end to the conflict is crucial for relief, rehabilitation and development initiatives to begin, but peace brings with it new risks for the people of Kachin State”, says Jim Della-Giacoma, Crisis Group’s Asia Program Director. “Recent experience from ceasefires in other parts of Myanmar points to a potential increase in land grabs and exploitative and environmentally damaging resource extraction activities. This is a particular risk in Kachin State, given its enormously valuable natural resources”.

“Reaching a peace agreement between the government and the KIO has been one of the biggest challenges of the overall ethnic peace process”, says Della-Giacoma. “But before this peace can be claimed, many difficult underlying political issues need to be resolved. There is no guarantee of success”.

FULL REPORT

29 May

Watch Jim Della-Giacoma, Crisis Group’s Asia Program Director, discuss sectarian violence in Myanmar in this video from Al Jazeera.

1 Apr
Anti-Muslim ‘radicals’ driving Myanmar unrest, experts say | South China Morning Post
Two years after a repressive junta ceded power, Myanmar is grappling with a surge in religious extremism that experts trace to anti-Muslim “provocateurs” including radical Buddhist monks.
At least 43 people have been killed while mosques and Muslim homes have been destroyed over the past fortnight in central Myanmar, in a wave of violence that witnesses say seems to have been well organised.
“It is clear that there are some agents provocateurs with radical anti-Muslim agendas at work in the country – including influential Buddhist monks preaching intolerance and hatred of Muslims,” said Jim Della-Giacoma, a Myanmar expert with the International Crisis Group think-tank.
FULL ARTICLE (AFP via South China Morning Post)
Photo: Jason Tabarias/Flickr

Anti-Muslim ‘radicals’ driving Myanmar unrest, experts say | South China Morning Post

Two years after a repressive junta ceded power, Myanmar is grappling with a surge in religious extremism that experts trace to anti-Muslim “provocateurs” including radical Buddhist monks.

At least 43 people have been killed while mosques and Muslim homes have been destroyed over the past fortnight in central Myanmar, in a wave of violence that witnesses say seems to have been well organised.

“It is clear that there are some agents provocateurs with radical anti-Muslim agendas at work in the country – including influential Buddhist monks preaching intolerance and hatred of Muslims,” said Jim Della-Giacoma, a Myanmar expert with the International Crisis Group think-tank.

FULL ARTICLE (AFP via South China Morning Post)

Photo: Jason Tabarias/Flickr