Showing posts tagged as "myanmar"

Showing posts tagged myanmar

15 May
Counting the Costs: Myanmar’s Problematic Census
Asia Briefing N°144 | 15 May 2014
OVERVIEW
Myanmar’s first census in over 30 years, an ambitious project conducted in April 2014 with technical advice from the UN and significant funding from bilateral donors, has proved to be highly controversial and deeply divisive. A process that was largely blind to the political and conflict risks has inflamed ethnic and religious tensions in this diverse country. The release of the inevitably controversial results in the coming months will have to be handled with great sensitivity if further dangers are to be minimised.
The census will provide information vital for Myanmar’s government, development partners and investors in planning their activities. But it has also created political tensions and sparked conflict at a crucial moment in the country’s transition and peace process. Some controversies are inevitable in any census. However, the way that the process has been designed and prepared, insufficiently sensitive to the country’s evolving realities and the major risks that they present, has greatly exacerbated its negative impact.
Such problems were not inevitable, nor were they unforeseen. They largely stem from the way data on ethnicity, religion and citizenship status are being collected and classified, and the lack of consultation with key constituencies in the design of the process. The serious risks involved were anticipated and clearly laid out in the political risk assessment that the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) – the lead technical agency involved – commissioned at the beginning of the process, and they were subsequently repeated and amplified by many other stakeholders and observers, including Crisis Group. However, UNFPA rejected such concerns, consistently presented a panglossian perspective on the census and failed to acknowledge specific political or conflict risks.
Key census donors failed to recommend fundamental revisions to the process, even when a census pilot had to be cancelled in Rakhine State due to fears of violence and when key ethnic armed groups called for the enumeration to be postponed. Only at the last minute, when a Rakhine census boycott morphed into violent attacks on international aid agencies that sparked a humanitarian crisis, did most push for such changes.
The impact of these problems has been far-reaching, exacerbating inter-ethnic and inter-religious tensions. The census has been interrupted in parts of Rakhine State, following a last-minute government decision to prevent the Rohingya population from self-identifying its ethnicity – a move intended to placate Rakhine radicals, who were committed to a boycott and could have unleashed deadly violence. Amid a massive and intimidatory security operation in Rohingya communities, those households who insisted on identifying as such – the great majority in many areas – were left out of the census entirely. In Kachin State, no census has been allowed to take place in areas controlled by the Kachin Independence Organisation armed group, due in part to concerns about how ethnicity data are being collected. The Myanmar military has been used to secure contested areas in Kachin and northern Shan States in order to allow access to census enumerators. In the process, serious clashes have broken out between the two sides, and hundreds of civilians have had to flee. This has put further strain on the peace process at a critical time.
Without doubt, the government has been found wanting in its approach to addressing the communal tensions that have proved so threatening to Myanmar’s Muslim community and particularly its Rohingya population. These problems pre-date talk of a census. The authorities, through their public statements, the behaviour of law enforcement personnel and in the laws enacted have to do a lot more to demonstrate that the state’s concern is for the welfare of all. Equally, a census that was more sensitive to political realities, or one conducted at a less volatile time, could have limited or avoided some of the problems now being stoked. Further risks exist in the timing and manner in which census data are released. These will not be easy to mitigate at this point, and UNFPA and the donors will have much less influence now that the most technically demanding and costly aspects of the process have been completed.
Rather than accept their share of responsibility for designing and pushing ahead with a flawed process in the face of clear warnings from multiple quarters, UNFPA and key census donors have sought to shift the blame wholly onto the government. They have criticised its last-minute decision to deny Rohingya the right to self-identify, while failing to acknowledge that by pushing it not to amend or postpone the process earlier on, they left the government in a difficult position with few good options to avoid violence. The narrative that is thereby being presented – that the process was going well until the government’s last-minute volte-face – is inaccurate and in the circumstances unhelpful.
Yangon/Brussels, 15 May 2014
READ THE FULL REPORT

Counting the Costs: Myanmar’s Problematic Census

Asia Briefing N°144 | 15 May 2014

OVERVIEW

Myanmar’s first census in over 30 years, an ambitious project conducted in April 2014 with technical advice from the UN and significant funding from bilateral donors, has proved to be highly controversial and deeply divisive. A process that was largely blind to the political and conflict risks has inflamed ethnic and religious tensions in this diverse country. The release of the inevitably controversial results in the coming months will have to be handled with great sensitivity if further dangers are to be minimised.

The census will provide information vital for Myanmar’s government, development partners and investors in planning their activities. But it has also created political tensions and sparked conflict at a crucial moment in the country’s transition and peace process. Some controversies are inevitable in any census. However, the way that the process has been designed and prepared, insufficiently sensitive to the country’s evolving realities and the major risks that they present, has greatly exacerbated its negative impact.

Such problems were not inevitable, nor were they unforeseen. They largely stem from the way data on ethnicity, religion and citizenship status are being collected and classified, and the lack of consultation with key constituencies in the design of the process. The serious risks involved were anticipated and clearly laid out in the political risk assessment that the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) – the lead technical agency involved – commissioned at the beginning of the process, and they were subsequently repeated and amplified by many other stakeholders and observers, including Crisis Group. However, UNFPA rejected such concerns, consistently presented a panglossian perspective on the census and failed to acknowledge specific political or conflict risks.

Key census donors failed to recommend fundamental revisions to the process, even when a census pilot had to be cancelled in Rakhine State due to fears of violence and when key ethnic armed groups called for the enumeration to be postponed. Only at the last minute, when a Rakhine census boycott morphed into violent attacks on international aid agencies that sparked a humanitarian crisis, did most push for such changes.

The impact of these problems has been far-reaching, exacerbating inter-ethnic and inter-religious tensions. The census has been interrupted in parts of Rakhine State, following a last-minute government decision to prevent the Rohingya population from self-identifying its ethnicity – a move intended to placate Rakhine radicals, who were committed to a boycott and could have unleashed deadly violence. Amid a massive and intimidatory security operation in Rohingya communities, those households who insisted on identifying as such – the great majority in many areas – were left out of the census entirely. In Kachin State, no census has been allowed to take place in areas controlled by the Kachin Independence Organisation armed group, due in part to concerns about how ethnicity data are being collected. The Myanmar military has been used to secure contested areas in Kachin and northern Shan States in order to allow access to census enumerators. In the process, serious clashes have broken out between the two sides, and hundreds of civilians have had to flee. This has put further strain on the peace process at a critical time.

Without doubt, the government has been found wanting in its approach to addressing the communal tensions that have proved so threatening to Myanmar’s Muslim community and particularly its Rohingya population. These problems pre-date talk of a census. The authorities, through their public statements, the behaviour of law enforcement personnel and in the laws enacted have to do a lot more to demonstrate that the state’s concern is for the welfare of all. Equally, a census that was more sensitive to political realities, or one conducted at a less volatile time, could have limited or avoided some of the problems now being stoked. Further risks exist in the timing and manner in which census data are released. These will not be easy to mitigate at this point, and UNFPA and the donors will have much less influence now that the most technically demanding and costly aspects of the process have been completed.

Rather than accept their share of responsibility for designing and pushing ahead with a flawed process in the face of clear warnings from multiple quarters, UNFPA and key census donors have sought to shift the blame wholly onto the government. They have criticised its last-minute decision to deny Rohingya the right to self-identify, while failing to acknowledge that by pushing it not to amend or postpone the process earlier on, they left the government in a difficult position with few good options to avoid violence. The narrative that is thereby being presented – that the process was going well until the government’s last-minute volte-face – is inaccurate and in the circumstances unhelpful.

Yangon/Brussels, 15 May 2014

READ THE FULL REPORT

22 Apr
Myanmar’s Military: Back to the Barracks?
Yangon/Brussels  |   22 Apr 2014
It was Myanmar’s military that initiated the end of its own dictatorship; to advance stable reform, it needs to continue withdrawing from civilian life.
In its latest briefing, Myanmar’s Military: Back to the Barracks?, the International Crisis Group examines the military’s key role in political and economic reforms. The military has preserved its essential interests, including through the constitution, while reducing its share of power. But the armed forces are still far from having dealt with the legacy of dictatorship.
The briefing’s major findings and recommendations are:
It is sometimes wrongly assumed that the military is the main brake on reform, or its potential spoiler. Myanmar’s political transition has been top-down; the military initiated the shift away from dictatorship.
The military has generally been supportive of political and economic reforms, even when these have impacted negatively on its interests, including through loss of power, greater scrutiny and loss of economic rents.
The military began this process as it saw a significant strategic threat from the country’s increasing dependence (both political and economic) on China and because economically Myanmar was falling dangerously behind even its poorest neighbours. The military believed the only viable responses were to counterbalance China’s influence and open up the economy, for both of which improved relations with the West were indispensable.
For Myanmar’s full democratic transition to take place, the military needs to accept that its political role, as enshrined in the current constitution, must be reduced and civilian control of the armed forces increased.
The military must end ongoing rights abuses and change how it interacts with civilians, particularly in the ethnic borderlands, in order to restore its damaged reputation and transform itself into a professional institution that is reflective of – and serves to defend – Myanmar’s ethnic and religious diversity.
“While the military proved more integral to Myanmar’s reform than perhaps many anticipated, its role in the country is still problematic” says Acting Asia Program Director, Jonathan Prentice. “It needs to transcend decades of dictatorship and internal armed conflict and move from being seen as the oppressor, or enemy, to being a respected national institution. If the military hangs on to its constitutional prerogatives for too long, it will be detrimental to the democratisation and future prospects of the country”.
FULL BRIEFING

Myanmar’s Military: Back to the Barracks?

Yangon/Brussels  |   22 Apr 2014

It was Myanmar’s military that initiated the end of its own dictatorship; to advance stable reform, it needs to continue withdrawing from civilian life.

In its latest briefing, Myanmar’s Military: Back to the Barracks?, the International Crisis Group examines the military’s key role in political and economic reforms. The military has preserved its essential interests, including through the constitution, while reducing its share of power. But the armed forces are still far from having dealt with the legacy of dictatorship.

The briefing’s major findings and recommendations are:

It is sometimes wrongly assumed that the military is the main brake on reform, or its potential spoiler. Myanmar’s political transition has been top-down; the military initiated the shift away from dictatorship.

The military has generally been supportive of political and economic reforms, even when these have impacted negatively on its interests, including through loss of power, greater scrutiny and loss of economic rents.

The military began this process as it saw a significant strategic threat from the country’s increasing dependence (both political and economic) on China and because economically Myanmar was falling dangerously behind even its poorest neighbours. The military believed the only viable responses were to counterbalance China’s influence and open up the economy, for both of which improved relations with the West were indispensable.

For Myanmar’s full democratic transition to take place, the military needs to accept that its political role, as enshrined in the current constitution, must be reduced and civilian control of the armed forces increased.

The military must end ongoing rights abuses and change how it interacts with civilians, particularly in the ethnic borderlands, in order to restore its damaged reputation and transform itself into a professional institution that is reflective of – and serves to defend – Myanmar’s ethnic and religious diversity.

“While the military proved more integral to Myanmar’s reform than perhaps many anticipated, its role in the country is still problematic” says Acting Asia Program Director, Jonathan Prentice. “It needs to transcend decades of dictatorship and internal armed conflict and move from being seen as the oppressor, or enemy, to being a respected national institution. If the military hangs on to its constitutional prerogatives for too long, it will be detrimental to the democratisation and future prospects of the country”.

FULL BRIEFING

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 Oct
Myanmar must embrace minorities | Jim Della-Giacoma
Myanmar’s transition has been remarkable, but it has also been tarnished by violence against its Muslim community. Indeed, these deadly attacks pose a threat to Myanmar’s nascent democracy, as well as its image regionally and internationally.
Visiting Rakhine state, where violence took place this past week, President Thein Sein said: “It is important not to have more riots while we are working very hard to recover the losses we had because of previous incidents. The Rakhine state government needs to cooperate with the people to avoid more conflict by learning from the lessons of previous riots.”
FULL ARTICLE (CNN GPS) 
Photo: EU Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection/Flickr

Myanmar must embrace minorities | Jim Della-Giacoma

Myanmar’s transition has been remarkable, but it has also been tarnished by violence against its Muslim community. Indeed, these deadly attacks pose a threat to Myanmar’s nascent democracy, as well as its image regionally and internationally.

Visiting Rakhine state, where violence took place this past week, President Thein Sein said: “It is important not to have more riots while we are working very hard to recover the losses we had because of previous incidents. The Rakhine state government needs to cooperate with the people to avoid more conflict by learning from the lessons of previous riots.”

FULL ARTICLE (CNN GPS) 

Photo: EU Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection/Flickr

10 Oct
"Myanmar needs to delegitimise hate speech masquerading as economic nationalism. Such language is anti-democratic, encourages violence, causes instability and undermines much-needed economic development."

—Jim Della-Giacoma, Project Director for Asia at Crisis Group. Read full commentary here.

3 Oct
Elderly woman killed in Myanmar sectarian violence | Associated Press
Terrified Muslim families hid in forests in western Myanmar on Wednesday, one day after rampaging Buddhist mobs killed a 94-year-old woman and burned dozens of homes despite the first trip to the volatile region by President Thein Sein since unrest erupted last year.
The violence near Thandwe, a coastal town the president was due to visit later Wednesday on the second day of his tour of Rakhine state, raised new questions about government’s failure to curb anti-Muslim attacks and or protect the embattled minority.
FULL ARTICLE (Boston Herald)
Photo: Rusty Stewart/Flickr

Elderly woman killed in Myanmar sectarian violence | Associated Press

Terrified Muslim families hid in forests in western Myanmar on Wednesday, one day after rampaging Buddhist mobs killed a 94-year-old woman and burned dozens of homes despite the first trip to the volatile region by President Thein Sein since unrest erupted last year.

The violence near Thandwe, a coastal town the president was due to visit later Wednesday on the second day of his tour of Rakhine state, raised new questions about government’s failure to curb anti-Muslim attacks and or protect the embattled minority.

FULL ARTICLE (Boston Herald)

Photo: Rusty Stewart/Flickr

16 Sep
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A weekly roundup summarising everything we have published over the past week.

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 Jul
Myanmar Muslim leaders in talks to get fighters and weapons | ABC Radio Australia
A post on the radical Islamic website Ar Rahmah Media Network claims that leaders from Myanmar’s ethnic Rohingya community have been in Indonesia for talks with hardline groups about recruiting fighters and weapon supplies.
FULL STORY (ABC Radio Australia) 
Photo: Evangelos Petratos (European Commission DG ECHO)/Flickr

Myanmar Muslim leaders in talks to get fighters and weapons | ABC Radio Australia

A post on the radical Islamic website Ar Rahmah Media Network claims that leaders from Myanmar’s ethnic Rohingya community have been in Indonesia for talks with hardline groups about recruiting fighters and weapon supplies.

FULL STORY (ABC Radio Australia) 

Photo: Evangelos Petratos (European Commission DG ECHO)/Flickr