Statement: U.S. Campaign for Burma on the Situation in Rakhine (Arakan) State, Burma
November 1, 2012
- United States Campaign for Burma today expresses its concern over the ongoing violence in Rakhine (Arakan) State in the western part of Burma, also known as Myanmar, between the Rakhine Buddhist community and the Muslim community, known as the Rohingya. Violence has erupted between the two communities since May of this year and continued to this day with the great loss of hundreds of lives, thousands of houses and properties, and more than one hundred thousand peoples displaced. USCB demands extreme elements from both sides immediately stop utilizing violence as a solution, and to end the distribution of false and fabricated information with an aim to fuel further violence and instigating discrimination.
- Preventing violence, protecting and providing safety for civilian populations, making the rule of law effective and bringing those responsible for the violence to justice are the responsibilities of President Thein Sein’s so-called civilian government. However, the ongoing and continued crisis in Rakhine State proves that this government has continuously failed its own responsibilities in serving the people of Burma. We strongly urge Thein Sein’s government to have enough political will and sufficient actions to protect the people and prevent the violence, as well as finding a peaceful solution.
- On June 6, President Thein Sein appointed a 16-member investigative commission led by the Deputy Minister for Home Affairs to find the causes of the violence and take legal action on those responsible for murders and destruction of public lives. President Thein Sein also declared a state of emergency in Rakhine State on June 10 and instructed the military to restore law and order in Rakhine State. Since then thousands of people from both communities were arrested and put in detention without due process. And these security measures are yet to find any culprits who brutally murdered 10 Muslim pilgrimages in Taung Gup Township in the broad daylight on June 3. We demand that Thein Sein’s government and the military to stop using excessive measures in the name of national security, and to make sure that the murderers should be brought to the justice and all those arrested face fair legal process.
- On August 17, President Thein Sein established a 27-member commission, comprising retired public officials, ethnic and religious figures and members of civil society, to investigate the violence in Rakhine State and make recommendations for the solution. However, with the lack of full commitment by some members of the commission, 3-month limited time frame, lack of public cooperation and resources, and recent re-emergence of violence in the region, we don’t think the commission will be able to serve its mandate effectively. We insist that President Thein Sein invite experts on conflict resolution and international law from the United Nations and the international community to reinforce the scope and work of the commission to make the credible recommendations.
- The 1982 Citizenship Law, adopted by then General Ne Win’s socialist regime and being used by successive regimes until today, is one of the most discriminative laws in Burma and not in line with international standard. Even this law is not fully implemented yet. This law allows the third generation of foreigners who were born in Burma to obtain citizenship. So far, hundreds of thousands of people who have been living in the country for generations are not recognized as citizens. As a member of the United Nations and signatory of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, we insist the Burmese government to prioritize to grant citizenship to the stateless persons in the country in accordance with the existing law.
- We also demand the Parliament (Hluttaw) in Burma to review the 1982 Citizenship Law and amend the law in accordance with the international standard. Failure to do so will only strengthen the hatred and discrimination between the communities. Repealing the unfair laws and making laws that will protect the rights of the people are major responsibilities of the legislature, especially the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), which is chaired by President Thein Sein and holds super majority in the Parliament, and the military which holds the veto power in the Parliament to kill any amendment to the Constitution.
- We call upon the Thein Sein’s government to allow international humanitarian organizations and media unhindered access to Rakhine State, so they can deliver necessary assistance to affected communities and the most vulnerable populations, and find out the true situation on the ground.
- Although the government is the most responsible party for preventing violence, maintaining rule of law and finding solutions, all political parties, civil society organizations, ethnic communities and the people of Burma also have an important duty to help their country develop and prosper without any form of discrimination and exclusion. Both Buddhism and Islam are two of the major religions in the world built on peace, loving kindness, tolerance and abstaining from any form of violence. We request the people of Burma to prevent their country from falling into the hands of religious extremists and hardliners who want to bring the country back to the dark days.
- We request the international community not to exclude human rights issues in their respective dialogue with the Burmese government. Improvement on the respect of human rights and the realization of justice and accountability should be important factors to measure the progress of the so-called reform process taking place in the country. We appeal to the international community to support the recommendations made by UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Burma/Myanmar Mr. Tomas Quintana to the 67th UN General Assembly and approve the resolution on Burma unanimously.
- The recent communal violence in Rakhine State is a product of decades-long, deep-seeded cultural distrust between the two communities. When people are committed to the democratic principle to tolerate and respect differences, such distrust can be overcome, which sets up the future possibility of unity. Diversity is the destiny of Burma. Thein Sein’s government is known more for its heavy-handed policies than sophisticated understanding of the basic principles which constitute a democracy. But with the widespread support or pressure of the international community, we hope his government can utilize the current situation in Rakhine State as an exercise to begin building the foundation for a democratic culture in Burma.