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Rohingya/Muslim issues - 2014


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290 Mujahid rebels surrender: Rohinja is one of the Minorities of the Union
Archival: The Guardian - 6 July, 12 November and 16 November 1961
"Two hundred and ninety Mujahid insurgents led by President of the South Buthidaung Mujahid Party Mr Rehi Haja surrendered en masse to a formal ceremony on July 4 at Maungdaw in Mayu Frontier District. Brigadier Aung Gyi, VCGS [Vice Chief of the General Staff], in accepting the surrender emphasised that the Rohinjas were Union citizens and as members of the Union "family" they should foster "family spirit" and exhorted them to be loyal to the country.

"The VCGS pointed out that like all other minorities like Nagas, Skaws, Yingphaws, Lissu, people of Chinese origin in Kokang and others who live on both sides of the 2,000 mile long frontier, there are people of Chittagonian origin living on both sides of the border. As the Lissu on the Burma side of the frontier is taken as the Burmese citizens, similar status applies to the Rohinjas who have been living on Burma side of the frontier for generations. But these minorities must be loyal to the Union, Brigadier Aung Gyi emphasized…..

"Over three thousand Rohinjas led by Moolvis [Mawlavis] greeted the arrival of the party with welcoming arches and young Muslim and Rohinja girls presented bouquets to the arriving party. The Rohinjas constitute about 500,000 of the population of the Mayu Frontier District."

Derek Tonkin writes: I came across this report on microfilm at the British Library in London. It would indeed appear to show that at the time the Myanmar authorities regarded those Arakan Muslims who described themselves as "Rohinja" as citizens of the Union of Burma. The text of Brigadier Aung Gyi's address in Burmese, and documents related to the surrender of this group of Mujahids, may be found at this link. The situation became blurred after the military coup by General Ne Win in March 1962 and the influx of many thousands of Bengalis in the wake of the civil war which lead to the founding of Bangladesh in December 1971.

"Rohinja" is an alternative transliteration to "Rohingya". At the time, other variations with most probably differing etymologies included Rwangya, Roehwengya and Ruhangya. The first two may still be found to this day as alternative designations to "Rohingya".


Senate Resolution introduced expressing US concern for rights of Rohingya
Senator Robert Menendez - 24 November 2014
U.S. Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) was joined by Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL) today in introducing a resolution condemning all forms of persecution and discrimination against the Muslim Rohingya ethnic group in Burma, and calling on the regional governments to protect the rights of Rohingya refugees.

The bipartisan resolution addresses the plight of the Rohingya in Burma as they confront a dire humanitarian situation, targeted ethnic violence, and government policies that render them stateless and vulnerable to exploitation and human trafficking. 


Burma: Written Question in the House of Commons
Asked by Dr Matthew Offord (Hendon) on 18 November 2014

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, what guidance his Department has issued on the use of the word Rohingya in communications with the government of Burma. 

Answered by: Mr Hugo Swire on 25 November 2014 
"No guidance has been issued and it is a word that we continue to use in communications with the government of Burma. The history of the word Rohingya is contested in Burma, but whatever the history we believe in the right of minorities to choose the name by which they are identified. I and other British Ministers are on record using the word Rohingya."

Derek Tonkin writes: The history of the word is contested as much outside Myanmar as inside. There are concerns about a regrettable lack of transparency concerning its origins. It is accordingly seen by some as contrived, synthetic and divisive, which tends to hinder rather than promote a solution of the several serious problems facing Muslim communities in Myanmar.

Two days ago I popped into the British Library near St Pancras Station in London and looked at a microfilm of “The Guardian” (Rangoon daily) for the second half of 1960: July to December. I found during this six month period only three references to Arakan Muslims, two to “Ruhangya” and one to “Rohingya”. The second “Ruhangya” reference dated 3 August 1960 reports that there is a population of 400,000 in Arakan and 700,000 altogether in Burma. So it’s not just about Arakan?

I have no problem at all if anyone who feels he/she is a Ruhangya or Rohingya or Rwangya or Roewenya wants to say so during a census or when applying for a job or passport etc. But when, for example, the UN Secretary-General uses any of these terms, he thereby gives that particular designation his personal support and legitimacy. In such circumstances it would surely be better to avoid controversy by using a neutral term like “Muslims in Rakhine State".


UN urges citizenship for Rohingya in Myanmar
Al Jazeera/Agencies - 22 November 2014

The UN General Assembly’s human rights committee has approved a resolution urging Myanmar to allow its persecuted Rohingya minority "access to full citizenship on an equal basis" and to scrap its controversial identity plan. The resolution adopted on Friday expresses "serious concern" over the plight of the Muslim minority in Rakhine state.

So far, Myanmar's 1.3 million Rohingya have been denied citizenship and enjoyed limited rights. Many within the government and local Buddhists see the Rohingya as illegal immigrants though the Rohingya community maintains it has ancestral roots in the country. The UN resolution urges the government protect the rights of all those residing within its borders and allow "equal access to full citizenship for the Rohingya minority," to "allow self-identification" and ensure equal access to services.

Meanwhile, Myanmar's representative voiced concern over the use of the term "Rohingya" stating that its usage would heighten tensions in Rakhine state. "Use of the word by the United Nations will draw strong resentment from the people of Myanmar, making the government's effort more difficult in addressing this issue," Myanmar Ambassador Tim Kyaw told the committee.

Derek Tonkin writes: The Resolution is likely to be approved by the full UN General Assembly shortly before the Christmas break. Myanmar had sought to bring these annual Resolutions to a close, but the troubles in Rakhine State and other continuing human rights issues had ensured that this would not happen this year. The Republic of Korea did not sponsor the draft Resolution as they had in previous years. There were accordingly no Asian sponsors. The UN coverage report suggests that the discussion was a low-key affair with only Italy speaking as representative of the EU sponsors  and Myanmar making a number of reservations on the draft text, which was however agreed without a vote.


Thein Sein says plight of Rohingya minority a fabrication
Reuters - 21 November 2014
Myanmar President Thein Sein has denied that minority Muslim Rohingya are fleeing "torture" in western Rakhine state, telling the Voice of America Burmese Service such media reports were fabrication. International concern was overblown, Thein Sein told the VOA on Thursday at his presidential residence in Naypyitaw. "It is just a media story that boat people are fleeing torture," he said. The president said that there were more people who wanted to live in Myanmar "because it is spacious, (with) many places to live in and work. Some people are writing negative things with malice. International organizations are also helping them well."


No easy solution for Myanmar's Rakhine crisis
IRIN - 4 November 2014
As the number of ethnic Rohingya Muslims fleeing Myanmar hits record levels, the prospects for a lasting settlement of the crisis in Myanmar's Rakhine State look bleak. Push factors include squalid camp conditions, a history of restricted movement , de facto statelessness , and empty gestures from the authorities to resolve the situation.

"We are caged like animals here," Muhammad Uslan, who has lived in a camp outside Sittwe (Rakhine State's capital) since July 2012, told IRIN. "We cannot work or go to the town to buy things. Our young people grow up knowing they will never be able to go to university."


Myanmar's Muslim mosaic and the politics of belonging
Melissa Crouch: New Mandala - 4 November 2014
"I want to make an argument today for why we need more scholars to choose to study Islam in Myanmar, the gaps that they need to fill and the broader contribution this could make to discussions on the human rights of Muslims in Myanmar......

"The Muslims of Myanmar clearly constitute an understudied area of research for Burma Studies, Islamic Studies and Asian Studies more broadly. I want to suggest that future scholarship in this area must do two things in particular.

  • First, we need to displace Buddhism from its privileged place in the field of Burma Studies......
  • The second aspect is that....we must stop acting as if Islam in Myanmar is peripheral and irrelevant, or an anomaly that does not really fit.

Continue reading this perceptive presentation....


Myanmar Times - 24 October 2014

A pilot project to assess the citizenship credentials of IDPs in Myebon township has been suspended, sources say, following complaints that the program had enabled “Bengalis” to gain citizenship by saying they are ethnic Kaman. Sittwe residents said Rakhine State Chief Minister U Maung Maung Ohn informed them of the suspension during a recent meeting with township leaders and monks on October 24.

“[U Maung Maung Ohn] said the government need to take more time to scrutinise those who have sent in applicants [for citizenship] in order to ensure citizenship is granted according to law," said Sittwe resident U Than Htun, who attended the meeting.

RFA reported that U Maung Maung Ohn told members of the regional government the same day that no more pilot projects would be implemented. Instead, the citizenship verification program would be rolled out nationally by the Union government’s Ministry of Immigration and Population.

On September 22, the Rakhine State government granted citizenship to 40 people and naturalised citizenship to 169, after receiving 1094 applications. Most applicants were ethnic Kaman, while some applied as Bengalis. The government refused to accept applications in which the stated ethnicity was “Rohingya”. However, the citizenship ceremony prompted complaints from Buddhist residents, who said some Bengalis were registering as Kaman, which is one of Myanmar’s 135 official ethnic groups. 


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Myanmar: The Politics of Rakhine State
International Crisis Group: 22 October 2014
The International Crisis Group’s latest report, Myanmar: The Politics of Rakhine State, looks at how the legacy of colonial history, decades of authoritarian rule and state-society conflict have laid the foundation for today’s complex mix of intercommunal and inter-religious tensions. Rakhine State, whose majority ethnic Rakhine population perceive themselves to be – with some justification – victims of discrimination by the political centre, has experienced a violent surge of Buddhist nationalism against minority Muslim communities, themselves also victims of discrimination. The government has taken steps to respond: by restoring security, starting a pilot citizenship verification process and developing a comprehensive action plan. However, parts of this plan are highly problematic, and risk deepening segregation and fuelling tensions further, particularly in the lead-up to the 2015 elections.

Derek Tonkin writes: This is a balanced and perceptive report and its conclusions are likely to find resonance in Western capitals. In particular the concerns of the Rakhine Buddhist population have for the first time been poignantly and convincingly articulated.

I would personally have welcomed a closer analysis of the 'Rohingya' label, in an endeavour to discover its origins. It is not correct (Page 22) that the term "was not widely used in written records from the colonial and precolonial periods". The fact is that it is not to be found at all. Although after independence the term was used on isolated occasions in official documents and speeches during the 1950s, this usage was in my view neither significant nor remarkable. In the late 1940s/early 1950s, other designations like "Rwangya" were more current, but even then had only limited application. 

The report (Page 33) that "camp leaders have considerable coercive powers" must throw further doubt on the uncritical acceptance of "self-identification" as an unquestionable principle of ethnicity.

Operation 'Dragon King' - Repatriation of Muslim Refugees from Bangladesh 1978-79

  1. British Embassy report on the reception arrangements - 23 February 1979
  2. British Ambassador's despatch on the completion of the repatriation - 3 July 1979
  3. Associated Press (AP) report from Teknaf Road - 5 June 1978
  4. Unoited Press International (UPI) report from Dacca - 29 June 1978
  5. United Press International (UPI) report from Cox's Bazaar - 10 October 1978

Extract from the UPI report from Dacca: "Most Burmese Rohingya originally came from Bangladesh in the days of British rule, when the entire Indian subcontinent was a colonial unit and former national borders meant little. Others fled to Burma during the Indo-Pakistani war, which gave birth  to Bangladesh in 1971.”


Why does Myanmar keep persecuting the Rohingya Muslims?
Editorial: Los Angeles Times - 14 October 2014
"For years, the government of Myanmar has treated its Rohingya Muslim people as intruders - an impoverished minority among a Buddhist majority, considered illegal immigrants, restricted in where they can live and work. The United Nations considers them one of the most persecuted groups in the world . Even as Myanmar has liberalized its political system, moving from military rule to democracy, the government has declined to ease its treatment of the Rohingya despite constant urging to do so by the human rights community and U.S. officials." Read on.....

Derek Tonkin writes: Debate about the treatment of Rakhine Muslims continues unabated. I thought however that I would offer to the Los Angeles Times  a comment on the sentence highlighted above. The LA Times has confirmed receipt of my comment, but has not (yet) chosen to publish it. I wrote:

In your editorial of 14 October on the Rohingya Muslims, you say: "The United Nations considers them as one of the most persecuted  groups in the world." They have certainly been treated appallingly over the years, as UN, governmental and human rights bodies have made starkly and repeatedly clear in their reporting. 

It is however the case that the UN as such, from the Secretary-General downwards through the various rapporteurs, special advisers and agencies, has never made such an assessment. The nearest any UN spokesperson came to this was on 31 May 2013 when the UN Special Rapporteur on Myanmar at the time Tomás Ojea Quintana rightly described the Rohingya Muslims as “the most vulnerable and marginalised group in Myanmar.” 

No UN spokesperson  however would ever presume to make an assessment of this nature covering the whole world.

Derek Tonkin
British Ambassador to Thailand (1986-89) and Vietnam (1980-82)
 


The Muslims of Myanmar  
Bertil Lintner: The Irrawaddy - 13 October 2014
The veteran author and commentator reviews the position of Muslims in Myanmar today, and concludes:

"During the darkest weeks after the massacres in August and September 1988, people of different religious persuasions got together and formed the Burma Interfaith Relief Committee. In a unique show of inter-religious harmony, they delivered supplies to Yangon’s poor neighborhoods in a battered, World War Two-era truck with a banner displaying symbols of their respective faiths: the Buddhist dhammachakka wheel, the Christian cross, the Muslim crescent and star, and the Hindu om symbol. Although it was never registered as such, the group could be seen as one of modern Myanmar’s first community-based NGOs. Among the leaders were S.A. Ginwalla, a Muslim, and U Bo, the head of the well-established Young Men’s Buddhist Association. According to Chris Lamb, Australia’s ambassador to Myanmar at the time: “They did not come from particular designations within their faiths, but rather everyone wanted to make sure that the IFRC had the capacity to reach the most vulnerable irrespective of their religion or other status.” Piety, not fanaticism, was the guiding principle of those NGO pioneers.

"On the more humorous side, everyone in Myanmar loves U Shwe Yoe, the jolly dancer with his broken umbrella and ill-fitting longyi who for almost a century has been a major figure in any pwe (traditional dance troupe performance). The character was invented in 1923 by Ba Galay, a prominent Myanmar actor, comedian, dancer and cartoonist. Ba Galay was a Myanmar Muslim, born in Pathein, and his other name was Mohammed Bashir. And is there anyone who would seriously suggest that U Shwe Yoe was or is a jihadist and a proponent of shariah law? Zawahiri may be fooling himself, but nobody else, when he issues silly videos like the one recorded from his hideout in Pakistan in early September. There is no fertile ground for that kind of gobbledygook in Myanmar."


Myanmar and the UN General Assembly: A Final Balance Sheet in 2014?
Derek Tonkin - 2 October 2014
This year a number of UN member countries may well wish to ask themselves whether the now ritual General Assembly Resolutions on the "Situation of human rights in Myanmar", if maintained, might not be in danger of becoming counter-productive, by pressurizing Myanmar not towards, but away from further democratic reform. 

The Resolutions have served a useful purpose in the past. But with Myanmar about to enter what may be a somewhat fraught period of constitutional change, peace negotiations and general elections in 2015, sitting as it were in perpetual judgement on the situation in Myanmar may have lost its appeal and purposefulness to many UN members
. Continue reading.....

It should be noted that theUN Secretary-General in his Report to the UNGA, which has just been released, has concluded:

"The understanding and support extended to my Special Adviser in his efforts to reach out to all relevant stakeholders in Myanmar has been invaluable. While reaffirming the need for continued constructive engagement between the United Nations and Myanmar through a fully fledged country programme, I would like to invite Member States to assess the continuation of my good offices during the coming year as the country moves towards the decisive phase of the 2015 elections, fulfilling its reform agenda and an entirely new phase of national reconciliation.
Taking note of the expression of support from Member States for my good offices and recognizing that the United Nations can offer much constructive assistance in maintaining and reinforcing the positive trajectory of the reform process, I urge the international community to positively consider recalibrating the mandate of my Special Adviser to focus on the areas of democratic reform, peace process support and the strengthening intercommunal cohesion."


Government plan would segregate Rohingya
Human Rights Watch - 3 October 2014
A draft government plan would entrench discriminatory policies that deprive Rohingya Muslims of citizenship and lead to the forced resettlement of over 130,000 displaced Rohingya into closed camps, Human Rights Watch said today. Burma’s international donors, the United Nations, and other influential actors should press the government to substantively revise or rescind its “Rakhine State Action Plan.”

The plan follows the April 2013 recommendations of the Rakhine Investigative Commission, established by President Thein Sein after widespread killings and violence against Rohingya in 2012 in the state. The plan, a copy of which was obtained by Human Rights Watch, does not recognize the term Rohingya, referring throughout to “Bengalis,” an inaccurate and derogatory term commonly used by Burmese officials and nationalist Buddhists. Muslims are only mentioned in the plan with reference to religious schools.

Derek Tonkin writes: HRW do not say how they would reintegrate Rohingya Muslims into a totally hostile local Rakhine environment. In the short term, the problem has no solution, but it still needs to be effectively managed. Reports suggest that more enlightened Myanmar Ministers believe a substantial majority of Rohingya Muslims could be granted some form of citizenship under present legislation. International pressures should be exerted to achieving that goal, while ensuring that those not eligible for immediate citizenship are deported only with the consent of the Bangladeshi authorities. 

As U Soe Nyunt, Controller of Immigration, put it to a senior British official in 1956: "Illegal immigration of Pakistanis was a much more serious problem than that of Indians or Chinese. In some parts of the frontier area only about five per cent of the population is of Burmese origin; the remainder are Moslems of Pakistani origin and are only too ready to help their friends and compatriots to cross the border. The Burmese would like the Pakistanis to help them check this flow into Burma." [Letter from British Embassy Rangoon to the Foreign Office dated 3 March 1956 on File DB 10399.]

HRW calls on all international donors to reject the Government's Action Plan for Rakhine in its current form. No doubt donors have reservations about aspects of the Action Plan, which is still in draft, but in his Annual Report to the UN General Assembly, the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon observes in Paragraph 48 that: "Recommendations of the Rakhine Commission of Inquiry in 2013, together with the Rakhine State Action Plan (2014-2017), provide the basis for a solid foundation upon which to restore fundamental human rights in Rakhine State regardless of race, language or religion."

US State Department Spokesperson Ms Jen Psaki commented on the record on 3 October 2014 as follows:

"The Burmese Government has shared a draft copy of its Rakhine Action Plan with our embassy and other members of the diplomatic community for review and comment. We welcome the union government’s efforts to develop a comprehensive plan that seeks to address the complex challenges. The embassy and other members of the international community submitted collective feedback, namely to ensure the plan is designed and implemented in a transparent, consultative, and voluntary manner and in accordance with international standards.

"We jointly expressed some concern over some components of the draft plan, such as the provision stating that those who do not receive citizenship will be held in temporary camps. We encourage the Burmese Government to incorporate the input and feedback of the international community into the revision and implementation of the Action Plan, and we welcome further opportunities to provide input to the government’s refinement of the draft."


U Wirathu visits Sri Lanka: Muslims concerned. So is US
Asian Tribune - 27 September 2014
The United States Department of State is deeply concerned about the public discourse of a section of Buddhist clergy in Sri Lanka and its radicalism toward the Muslim minorities. An official pronouncement by the American Embassy in Colombo about the radical Buddhist organization called the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS- Buddhist Power Force) accused it of being instrumental in attacking Muslim places of worship and business institutions. Iit will be an added concern for US officials here in Washington when they learn of the arrival of a radical Buddhist monk from Myanmar to attend a BBS-organized event in Sri Lanka on September 28.

It has been reported that the radical and outspoken Buddhist monk from Myanmar Ashin Wirathu is expected to attend the BBS Great Sangha Council meeting on 28. Continue reading.....


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The Mujahid Rebellion in Arakan
An internal British Foreign Office analysis made in 1952
Derek Tonkin reviews an internal memorandum prepared by the Research Department of the Foreign Office in late 1952. The analysis is of particular interest because it was intended solely for the confidential use of the British Government in the formulation of its policy on Burma. For that reason its judgements on the situation in Arakan merit close attention. In particular it highlights the situation of what the memorandum described as "Arakan Mohamedans", the indigenous Muslim settlers in the former Kingdom of Arakan, in relation to the later arrivals under British rule of "Chittagonian" Muslims.

The "Arakan Mohamedans" or "Yakhaing Kala" were in the process of taking the name "Rwangya", but with a  (probably) different etymology to the as yet unknown designation "Rohingya" which was to gain currency at a later date. 

Derek Tonkin writes: Aman Ullah writes frequently for Rohingya Blogger and presents the standard 'Rohingya' case for recognition. In his article he states: "The Rohingya are a nation with a population of more than 3 million (both home and abroad) having a supporting history, separate culture, civilization, language and literature, historically settled territory and reasonable size of population and area."

The British colonial view was to regard the Muslim population of Arakan as secondary and of mainly Bengali origin, a result of inward flows from Bengal over 400 years or more, while acknowledging that "the phenomenon is as much an annexation of part of India by Burma as an invasion of Akyab [northern Arakan] by Indians" - 1921 Census Report Part I Page 220. 

The present 'Rohingya' case as elaborated by Aman Ullah must seem to most external observers as not merely pretentious, but quite fanciful and for that reason wholly unconvincing. It may be no coincidence the this article and a later one which mentions the Indo-Burma Agreement on Indian Immigration of 1941 have appeared only after I wrote my trilogy of articles about the Rohingya identity.


IRIN  - 16 September 2014

Already widely reduced to statelessness and in many cases forced into camps for displaced people, an 800,000-strong population of Muslims in western Myanmar now faces increasing efforts to eradicate the very word they use to identify themselves as a group. Under pressure from Myanmar’s nominally-civilian government, the international community sometimes appears complicit in the airbrushing of “Rohingya” from official discourse.

Derek Tonkin writes: This briefing is both superficial and tendentious. It relies too heavily on activist sources and is lacking in any historical perspective. It repeats a number of myths, for example, that the Rohingya community "has been called one of the most persecuted minorities in the world". The link claims that it was the UN which said so, but the UN does not make such sweeping comments.

A reasoned and polite comment on the article which I sent to IRIN has not been accepted. I have asked them why, but have received no reply. It would seem that, on Rakhine State, IRIN are not willing to accept comment which is not "politically correct", in their analysis.


Myanmar Muslims not interested in al-Qaeda
The Nation (Bangkok) Editorial - 14 September 2014
Despite appalling treatment of the Rohingya, most Muslims aren't interested in challenging the military or the government. They may be at the receiving end of an ongoing hate-filled campaign by their own countrymen but Myanmar Muslims are not about to sell their soul just to get back at the people who don't think they deserve the same rights and respect as the rest of the country's people. 


No, we are not talking about Myanmar Muslims adopting the Christian philosophy of turning the other cheek when some one hits you. We are talking about their decision to reject a recent stated aim by al-Qaeda leader Ayman al Zawahiri about how his terror network will be focusing on Bangladesh, India and Myanmar, also known as Burma. 

The Burmese Muslim Association (BMA), in a statement, urged people in the country to live in harmony regardless of racial and religious differences. The BMA statement called Myanmar their "motherland" and said that they would not tolerate any threat to it.Continue reading.....

Derek Tonkin writes: The Burmese Muslim Association appears to be based outside Myanmar, with branches in the UK and the US. 

UN weighs in on blame game over census tensions
Myanmar Times - 13 September 2014
The head of the United Nations’ technical advisory board for Myanmar’s census has dismissed criticisms of the process and blamed civil society and human rights groups for having “inflamed” tensions surrounding the count.

Paul Cheung, chair the International Technical Advisory Board, a group of international experts assembled by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) to advise the government, said critics of the census had made the situation worse. He said the criticisms had harmed the UN’s efforts to discreetly resolve some of the more contentious issues surrounding the count.

“The so-called ‘civil society groups’ have their own agenda. Personally I think they inflamed the situation,” said Mr Cheung, a professor in social policy and analytics at the National University of Singapore who headed the UN Statistics Division until 2012.

Daw Khon Ja, a program director with the Kachin Women’s Peace Network, said that her organisation and others had made many attempts to warn the government and UN of the likely problems with the census but these were ignored. “The census methodologies were not conflict sensitive, they did not comply with [the] ‘Do No Harm’ principle and were not appropriate for Myanmar,” she said. “The Central Census Commission, [and] especially the UNFPA and technical teams, should have listened to [the warnings] and the ethnic CSOs since the beginning.”

The “quite diplomacy” approach espoused by Mr Cheung also came in for criticism. Dave Mathieson, a Yangon-based researcher with Human Rights Watch, said this had only contributed to the problems. “There is a standard trope in elite circles about ‘quiet diplomacy’,” he said, “which actually means ‘tunnel diplomacy’ and in everyday parlance means mumbling to bullies, not standing up to them ... That isn’t diplomacy, it’s called accommodation, and it’s the method of apologists.”

Derek Tonkin writes: The criticisms of the UN approach on the 'Rohingya' issue were fully justified. However, there was something demonic, almost fanatic about the clear intention of some human rights organisations to wreck the census in any way that they could. 

On balance, it was right that the census went ahead, despite its faults and the risks. It is only regrettable that in Rakhine State the UN got it wrong from the start and should not have insisted on 'self-identification' for the 'Rohingya' in a situation where the reaction from the non-Muslim population was so predictable, leaving the government with no choice but to renege on their reluctant acquiescence to 'self-identification' and thus incurring considerable international opprobrium. Other unique solutions for Rakhine State should have been explored, but were not.


UN officials urge greater support for Rakhine
UN News Centre - 11 September 2014
Two senior United Nations officials have called for increased humanitarian assistance and development efforts to meet the needs of all communities in Myanmar’s Rakhine state following a visit there this week. 

“Stability and sustainable peace can be achieved in Rakhine state when the needs of all communities are met,” said Haoliang Xu, Director of the Regional Bureau for Asia and the Pacific of the UN Development Programme.  Continue reading.....


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The Muslims of Arakan and the Baxter Report
Rohingya Blogger - 30 August 2014
Aman Ullah, a leading Rohingya activist seemingly resident in Bangladesh, reviews the circumstances which gave rise to the 1940 Report on Indian Immigration by Financial Secretary James Baxter. Quoting from the Report and the subsequent Indo-Burma Agreement of 1941, he notes in conclusion that:

Aman Ullah reviews the circumstances which gave rise to the 1940 Report by Financial Secretary James Baxter. Quoting from the Report and the subsequent Indo-Burma Agreement of 1941, he notes in conclusion that:

  • There was an Arakanese Muslim community settled so long in Akyab District that it had for all intents and purposes to be regarded as an indigenous race. There were also a few Mohamedan Kamans in Arakan and a small but long established Muslim community around Moulemin which could not be regarded as Indian. [Quotation from Paragraph 7 of the Baxter Report of 1940]
  • At the time of 1931 census nearly 77% of the Indians in Arakan were born in Burma. [Taken from Paragraph 21 of the Baxter Report of 1940]
  • The Government of Burma recognized that Indians who were born and bred in Burma, have made Burma their permanent home and regard their future and the future of their families as bound up with its interest are entitled to be regarded as having established a claim if they which to make it, to a Burma domicile and therefore on the benefit of section 144 of the Government of Burma Act, 1935. [Quotation from the Indo-Burma Agreement of 1941] 

Derek Tonkin writes: What is so significant about this article is that it implicitly recognises in the citations it presents that there was large-scale immigration from the Chittagong region into Arakan after the British conquest in 1826. It quotes from (though fails to identify precisely) the Indo-Burma Agreement of 1941 - and could have gone further by pointing out that Indians who were not born and bred in Burma were classed as "priority  immigrants" under the Agreement if they had spent at least seven years in the country prior to the cut-off date of 15 July 1941 and so were allowed to remain indefinitely. This even applied to those with less than seven years' residence, provided they did not leave Burma "for any period" (not defined). The Agreement was unfortunately not ratified because of the Japanese invasion in December 1941, but its intention was crystal clear.

The fact that the British recognised the permanent residence of all Indians, whatever their religion, present in Burma as at 15 July 1941 is a very important support for their claim and that of their descendants to citizenship of Myanmar.

Articles in the Rohingya Blogger have in the past frequently denied that there was any large-scale migration into Arakan from Bengal under British rule, claiming that "Chittagonians" enumerated in the 1921 and 1931 Census were only seasonal workers. The present article implicitly acknowledges that this was not the case, highlighting the fact that only 23.2% of all Indians in Arakan were born in India which meant that the remaining 76.8% born in Burma were not temporary residents.


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Derek Tonkin writes: The following comment was sent to Rohingya Blogger, but has not been published.

The writer is selective in his use of sources. For example, he quotes from the 1921 Census thus:

“The Arakanese Buddhist in Akyab asked the Deputy Commissioner there not to let the Arakan Mahomedans be included under Arakanese in the census. The instruction issued to enumerators with reference to Arkan Mahomedan was that this race should be recorded for those Mahomedans who were domiciled in Burma and had adopted certain mode of dress which is neither Arakanese nor Indian.”

What the Census actually stated was:

“The Arakanese Buddhists in Akyab asked the Deputy Commissioner there not to let the Arakan-Mahomedans be included under Arakanese in the census. The instruction issued to enumerators with reference to Arakan-Mahomedans was that this race-name (in Burmese Yakaing-kala) should be recorded for those Mahomedans who were domiciled in Burma and had adopted a certain mode of dress which is neither Arakanese nor Indian and who call themselves and are generally called by others Yakaing-kala.”

There is clearly a difference between ‘race’ and ‘race-name’. ‘Yakaing-kala’ appeared in Buchanan 1799 as “Kulaw Yakain”, though the latter was used for both Muslim and Hindus.

I doubt even so that the Yakaing-kala actually called themselves by this name, though they probably accepted the designation tacitly in order to be recognised as indigenous.

The instructions to enumerators were thus fairly restrictive, and as they would mostly have been Rakhine they might not have been all that generous in granting the status of Yakaing-kala  to everyone who sought it. The likelihood in any case is that Muslims in the process of a closer association in certain localities with Rakhine might have felt that they did not wish to be associated with the more conservative, traditional community of Yakaing-kala any longer and so recorded themselves instead as Zerbadis [see Paragraph 198 of the 1921 Census report] of whom there were 117,151 enumerated in the 1931 Census throughout Burma, mostly I assume in Arakan.

Finally, I place little credence on the rough estimate of 100,000 souls in Arakan in 1826 which appeared in Charles Paton's manuscript account mostly taken from other writers and sources. More reliable accounts of the state of affairs around 1826 may be found in works by Robertson, Furnivall, Ogilvy, Comstock and various gazetteers.

[The main purpose of Uman Allah's article would seem to be to show that the true count of "Arakan Muslims" in the 1931 Census was not some 50,000 as given, but rather some 300,000. He does not however provide any indication of where these "missing" 250,000 might have been listed in the Census. The intention though is to demonstrate that the vast majority of Muslims in Arakan can trace their ancestry directly back to before 1823 so that they thus qualify for citizenship under the 1982 Act. This does however mean the rejection as mistaken of reports in the 1911, 1921 and 1931 Censuses and other official reports of increasing immigration into Arakan from the Chittagong region and wider afield in Bengali of some 200,000 persons, notably after 1870. Such an interpretation however is unlikely to be thought probable let alone convincing by the international community.]

Derek Tonkin writes:  The following comment was sent to The Daily Star, but has not been published.

Fakhruddin Ahmed rightly draws attention to the vital need to make Rohingya Muslims full citizens of Myanmar.

It should be recalled that, under the terms of the Indo-Burma Agreement of October 1941, which was never ratified because of the Japanese invasion of Burma two months later, all Indians of whatever religion resident in the country at the time were either accorded the right of full "domicile" if they were born and bred in Burma, or allowed to remain as "privileged immigrants" if they had been in Burma for at least seven years, or permitted to remain indefinitely unless they left Burma "for any period".

The 1931 Census (under British rule)  showed that of 186,327 "Chittagonians" enumerated in Arakan, 156,833 or 84% were indeed "born in" Burma, and this didn't include other Bengalis from wider afield in Bengal who like the Chittagonians had migrated into Burma after 1870. The British enumerated separately today's "Rohingya" (a term not used by the British) as indigenous (pre-1823) "Arakan Muslims" of whom there were 51,612. Also included were 117,151 Zerbaidi Muslims of mixed race, though mostly not pre-1823. But there were as well smaller numbers of undoubtedly indigenous Muslim communities like the Kaman and Myedu.

What this rich mosaic of Muslim residents of Arakan over the years shows however is that by the outbreak of the Second World War a majority were in fact migrants from Bengal after 1870. If  we were to enquire as to their race, it must be that most Rohingya today are Bengali by origin, even if they were those forcibly transported as slaves to Arakan in the 17th Century. But if we regard "race" as a static DNA-oriented concept, the dynamic ethnicity of Arakan Muslims today must be as they have identified themselves, that is, as "Rohingyas" based on their culture, dialect, environment and all those other attributes which create ethnicity.

The difficulty which the Rohingyas of today have met is that they need to deny their Bengali roots in order to qualify under the restrictive 1982 Citizenship Act. This denial leads them unfortunately to assert that they have no historical links at all with Bengal, which clearly is not the case.

Their claim to Myanmar nationality should be based on their status when Burma achieved independence, which was as British Subjects with full rights of legal residence in the country.


Religion for Peace and Freedom from Fear
Address by the Sitagu Sayadaw to a visiting US delegation
On 21 August 2014 the Sitagu Sayadaw delivered an address to members of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom who yesterday issued a press release on their visit. The essence of the Sayadaw's message is contained in the conclusion of his address: 

"I would like to say that Myanmar is facing various problems and difficulties. Because it was under colonial rule for nearly a hundred years and even after independence, it was fighting civil and communal war for nearly sixty years. Many organizations from abroad came to Myanmar with the intention of solving such problems. But, instead of solving it, we found that they sometimes made the situation worse and worse. Therefore I would like to request you to find a better solution for such problems.

"What I would next like to say is that the Myanmar government is now trying to establish internal peace and stability with the intention of ceasing civil war and communal violence. At this crucial juncture, some religious extremists are frustrating the process with provocative statements and actions. I would like to request you to give your hands in the process of solving problems and conflicts. A methodical approach is essential for the peace process. It is also necessary not to make things from bad to worse and more complicated.


"As devout Buddhists, we also promise that we are going to solve these problems without violence and we will do it firmly standing on the teaching of the Buddha, that is tolerance, forgiveness, serving society, sacrifice for others and rationality."

Derek Tonkin writes: The Sayadaw' s message is one we can all take to our hearts. He also had some strong words to say about British colonialism. While some of his comments are difficult to refute, his remark that "many Africans were imported as slaves when the United States of America was established. In the same way, the English rulers illegally imported labourers from India and Bangladesh to Myanmar for the hard labour during their rule," merits some respectful comment.

As is well known, until 1 April 1937 Burma was a province of India, and there were no border controls between India and Burma. Indeed, until the Japanese invasion in late 1941, Bengalis crossed freely into Arakan without let or hindrance. As both Burmese and Indians were "British Subjects", this meant that they had the same status and could visit and take up legal residence in either country virtually at will. In October 1941 an agreement between the (British) Governments of India and Burma regulated Indian migration into Burma for the first time ever, but the Agreement was not ratified by the time of the Japanese invasion two months later, and so never came into force. The Agreement recognised however that all Indians who had taken up residence in Burma were there legally, subject to conditions attaching to particular groups.

It is therefore difficult to see how Indian migration into Burma at the time could be classed as "illegal" when it was indeed promoted by the British authorities of both India and Burma. 

It is also worth recalling that many Muslims were taken from Bengal as slaves into Arakan in the 17th century. These slaves were in no sense a consequence of any British action. The Sayadaw would know who was responsible.

In contrast to their colonies in Africa, the British in Burma did not own vast landed estates. Bengalis were attracted to work in Arakan by mainly local landowners, who either owned lands privately, or as "grantees" or zemindars from the government. Rakhine landowners welcomed Bengalis because they were industrious and thrifty, did not drink alcohol, did not gamble and invariably paid their fees and dues promptly. As time went by, however, Bengali workers began to settle in Arakan, buying land from local Rakhine and grantees, although there had initially been no shortage of land for acquisition and  cultivation.

[The 'Arakan News' of 27 October 1877 had a rumbustious article about supposed Chittagonian exploitation of Rakhine residents: "Yes; Akyab is a prey to the Chittagonians, who look upon it as the vulture on its  victim, and scrape it to the bone". We might ask who is to protect the "lazy Arakanese" from these depredations.]


That mercurial 'enfant terrible' Maung Zar Ni has seemingly launched a verbal assault on the Sayadaw in most immoderate language. In my own case I was recently described by Zar Ni as "senile, racist, ill-informed and intellectually incompetent", but I think I may have been let off lightly by comparison with others who have been the object of his ire. I gather I may also have incurred his disapproval because I am suspected, single-handed, of training Pol Pot's murderous Khmer Rouge guerrillas in Cambodian jungle warfare. I would not myself have thought that the Khmer Rouge would have needed any military training from me.

Some have questioned whether Zar Ni has a doctorate from the University of Wisconsin. Attached is his doctoral thesis. I leave it to readers to judge its academic merits.



The R-word and its ramifications
Democratic Voice of Burma - 17 August 2014
Derek Tonkin examines the strategic error made by those who claim 'Rohingya' ethnicity in seeking to meet the requirements of the much criticised 1982 Citizenship Act by denying, in many cases, their recent Bengali origins. They have sought to prove their direct ancestry in Arakan dating back well before the British arrival in 1824, but in a situation where the historical evidence of the migration of most Arakan Muslims from Bengal into Burma after 1870 is overhwelming and the facts beyond any reasonable doubt. 

Under the Indo-Burma Agreement of 1941, all Indians of whatever religion resident in Burma at the time were permitted to remain in the country indefinitely and either immediately or at a later date acquire 'domicile'. The Japanese invasion of Burma in December 1941 made the formal implementation of the Agreement impossible.


Kerry presses Myanmar leaders on human rights, reforms
Reuters - 9 August 2014
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Saturday pressed Myanmar's political leaders on Washington's human rights concerns and urged its President Thein Sein to step up constitutional reforms to ensure elections next year are fully credible.

The United States has promised to ease sanctions further if there are more reforms, including the withdrawal of the military from politics. But U.S. officials said the lifting of remaining sanctions was unlikely until the process of reform and respect for human rights advances. "Right now the focus is entirely on bearing down on these more fundamental challenges that they are now coming face to face with," the senior official said.

Kerry got into "quite a few details" about the situation in Rakhine state and the minority Muslim Rohingya community, the official said. In particular, he addressed the designation of the term "Bengali" which the Rohingya see as underscoring an assertion they are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, even though many have lived in western Myanmar for generations. "The name issue should be set aside," the official said.  "To force any community to accept a name they consider to be offensive is to invite conflict, and if the goal is to prevent conflict, then it's better to set that aside."

Derek Tonkin writes: There is an increasing consensus among experts that most Rakhine Muslims originally came from Bengal, but their ethnicity has evolved over the years and they are entitled to choose what this should be. 'Rohingya' though might be the worst of all possible choices.  Rakhine Muslims are not for the most part illegal Bengali immigrants and they must surely resent such a description, although their ancestry and race are mostly Bengali. By the same token, there are many Burmese for whom the designation 'Rohingya' is anthema. It works both ways.

I am doubtful that "setting aside" the name issue is the right approach. It needs to be confronted.   


The plural society and its enemies
The Economist - 2 August 2014
Myanmar is just one of several South-East Asian countries recently forced to confront old questions of race and religion. In Malaysia, a prominent Malay Muslim leader, Abdullah Zaik Abdul Rahman, has been charged with sedition for accusing ethnic Chinese, a minority in Malaysia, of being “trespassers”. And in Indonesia the winner of the presidential election, Joko Widodo, or Jokowi, squeaked home after a huge early lead over his rival evaporated, in part because of unfounded rumours that he was a Christian Chinese rather than in fact a good Javanese Muslim.

These events may appear disparate, but they reflect a common thread running through the history of race and religion in South-East Asia. Specifically, they reflect the legacy of those colonial territories which one British academic and colonial administrator, John Furnivall, first characterised as “plural societies”.....

Regrettably, a supposedly modernising Myanmar government is now supporting the chauvinists against the South Asians and Muslims. In a new democratic era it has an election to win. It faces annihilation at the hands of Aung San Suu Kyi’s popular National League for Democracy in next year’s general election, so it is exploiting old resentments against the plural society for electoral gain.

The army-backed ruling party is supporting four pieces of legislation, proposed by the monks, to protect “race and religion”, implicitly that of the Burman Buddhist majority against an imagined Muslim takeover. The laws would make it very hard for people to convert to other religions or for Buddhist women to marry Muslim men. Thus the ruling party hopes to turn the election into a debate about Burman rights and privileges rather than democracy. It presents Miss Suu Kyi with a quandary. Many foreigners criticise the Nobel peace-prize winner for not standing up more for the Rohingyas in Rakhine and other Muslims. She knows that if she did speak out she would forfeit much sympathy among Burmans and undermine her hopes of restoring democracy - and coming to power. 

Derek Tonkin writes. This article makes compulsive reading. It also explains why any 'integration' of historically immigrant Muslim communities into Myanmar is never likely to work when their only point of contact is the market-place.


Government reactions to the visit by Ms Yanghee Lee


Statement by Ms Yanghee Lee on the conclusion of her visit
Mizzima - 27 July 2014
At link is an edited text of the Statement made on 26 July 2014 by Ms Yanghee Lee, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar, on her departure. She said: "I have just concluded my first official ten- day mission as Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar. The objective of my visit was to assess the human rights situation in Myanmar through a better understanding of the realities on the ground. Accordingly, I sought to engage constructively with a broad spectrum of stakeholders, including Government officials, political, religious and community leaders, civil society representatives, as well as victims of human rights violations and members of the international community. I was pleased to have had a frank and open exchange of views on a range of matters related to my mandate. And I am grateful that many were so forthcoming in their views on sensitive issues. 

"Today, I would wish to highlight some preliminary observations from my mission and from additional background research."Continue reading.....  


Myanmar media say latest clashes caused by false rape claim
Agence France-Presse - 20 July 2014 
Myanmar's latest clashes began after a Buddhist woman was paid to make false rape claims against two Muslim men, state media reported Sunday. Two men - a Buddhist and a Muslim - died in riots in Mandalay that flared on July 1 following social media reports that the Muslim men had raped a Buddhist employee at their tea shop. More than 20 others were wounded as violence rocked the city for several days, the latest in a series of sectarian clashes that have troubled the nation for two years.

But a police investigation found the woman was paid to fabricate the accusation against the men, the New Light of Myanmar [in fact, only the Burmese-language version 'Myanmar Ahlin'] reported. The report, citing the Ministry of Home Affairs, said a medical examination of the woman - named as Phyu Phyu Min - found "no sign of rape or other violence. After a detailed investigation she confessed that she accused the two men because she was paid" to do so by two other people who apparently had a personal dispute with the tea shop owners. The woman has been arrested alongside one of the people alleged to have paid her.  


Latest News  


Burma: The Clash of Church, State and Society
David Mathieson: Human Rights Watch - 9 July 2014

Burma’s simmering religious tensions flared in its second biggest city, Mandalay this week, as Buddhists and Muslims clashed over reports of an alleged rape involving a young Buddhist girl and a Muslim man. Clashes between mobs of men of both communities occurred on the nights of 2 and 3 July before the authorities imposed a curfew. As usual with Burma’s communal violence, the plot thickens as the dust settles, and it appears as if the violence was not just an organic eruption of communal resentment but another incident in a tableau of nationwide religious tensions. Continue reading.....

Derek Tonkin writes: A compelling analysis of the murky background to recent inter-communal rioting in Mandalay, set against the wider implications of policies on religious issues currently in the process of elaboration by the Myanmar Government. 


On the complexity of the issues surrounding the causes of recent rioting, the following interview with a human rights advocate is both credible and disturbing, notably his criticisms of the extremist monk U Wirathu for seeking to infuence the legal process. There is circumstantial evidence that the alleged rape of a Buddhist girl by the Muslim sons of a café owner, and which led to the rioting, was fabricated to distract attention from the rape of a Muslim girl by a Buddhist court official protected by U Wirathu. A third case of alleged rape involving a Muslim man, no less spurious than the cause of the rioting, could also have influenced the situation. 



Mandalay Riots: Aftermath


Latest News and Views 


General appointed Arakan Chief Minister
The Irrawaddy - 25 June 2014
President Thein Sein has appointed Burma Army general and Deputy Home Affairs Minister [Network Myanmar: Deputy Border Affairs Minister] Maung Maung Ohn as the new chief minister of Arakan State, a decision that was announced in the state’s legislature on Wednesday, Arakanese lawmakers said. The Arakanese politicians said they would try to resist the appointment in the coming days as they object to the conflict-torn state being governed by the military.



Rohingya leaders, who have no say whatsoever in the governance of Arakan State, said they hoped that the appointment of a Burma Army general might result in a more stable situation in northern Arakan, where tensions remain high and Muslims continue to experience daily rights abuses.

“There are many things here that need to be done to restore law and order. We don’t need people who just stand and watch when violence occurs. We need a person who can stop violence,” said Aung Win, a Rohingya rights activist based in Sittwe. “I think that he has in mind what he wants to do to have peace and reconciliation here as soon as he can. It is appropriate to appoint someone who can restore law and order. We welcome him.”  


Rohingyas screened to assess citizenship claims
Democratic Voice of Burma - 24 June 2014
A pilot programme to register stateless Muslim IDPs is continuing at Myebon camp in Arakan State. The project invites those born before 1982, around 700 out of the camp population of 3,000, to prove that they or their parents lived in the country before Independence in 1948.

If they have documents to prove this, they are in with a chance of becoming a naturalised citizen. However, many do not retain such records.More than 400 people have been tallied since the project began on 15 June. Those papers are to be sent to Naypyidaw, where a central board will decide who is eligible for citizenship.


Kang Kyung-wha gives Press Conference in New York
Relief Web: New York - 17 June 2014
The full video-cast of the press conference may be viewed at the link above. Ms Kang Kyung-wha is the UN Assistant Secretary-General and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator. In her formal remarks Ms Kang noted:

"In Rakhine, I witnessed a level of human suffering in IDP camps that I have personally never seen before, with men, women, and children living in appalling conditions with severe restrictions on their freedom of movement, both in camps and isolated villages. Many people have wholly inadequate access to basic services including health, education, water and sanitation.

"Two years into the crisis in Rakhine, hundreds of thousands of people continue to rely on humanitarian aid because they cannot rebuild their lives and livelihoods. Farmers can’t go to their fields, fishermen can’t go to the sea, and traders can’t go to the markets.

"Humanitarian workers in Rakhine are carrying out their work under extremely difficult circumstances and I was humbled by their commitment to stay and deliver. However, unless the Myanmar authorities ensure that the perpetrators of the attacks on UN and NGO premises in late March are brought to justice, the safety and security of our staff will continue to be at risk." 


Government resumes citizenship verification of Rohingyas
The Irrawaddy - 16 June 2014
Immigration officials have restarted their verification process in parts of Arakan State where most Rohingyas agreed to identify as Bengali two months ago during the nationwide census, after being told that they would not be counted if they did not identify this way.

As a pilot project in Myebon Township, immigration officials are accepting citizenship applications from anyone who identifies as Bengali, according to Maung Maung Than, director-general of the Department of Immigration and National Registration.

About 3,042 Muslims live in the township, the department says. Of these, 47 people have already applied for citizenship, according to Maung Maung Than, who added that applications would be considered according to the 1982 Citizenship Law.

Derek Tonkin writes: This would seem to establish a link between registering under the census and applying for citizenship. The report would suggest that only those who have agreed to take part in the census are eligible to apply for citizenship under the 1982 Citizenship Law. 

In terms of race, the vast majority of Rohingyas are of Bengali origin, though this may go back several decades, if not centuries. 'Rohingya' on the other hand might reasonably be claimed by many as an emerging ethnicity, where the term implies more than racial origin, but also covers such attributes as culture, dialect and social cohesion.


Latest News and Views 


Bangladesh and Myanmar move to break ice
BdNews 24.com - 22 May 2014
Bangladesh and Myanmar are set to break the ice in their relations by narrowing the decades-old “trust deficit” between the two neighbours. Bangladesh Foreign Secretary Md Shahidul Haque on Wednesday said Naypyidaw responded positively to Dhaka’s proposal to have a “security dialogue” to discuss “the problems in the bordering area. Once we have security dialogue, we would have close, intense discussion between two bordering forces,” he said speaking at a seminar on Bangladesh-Myanmar relations that he said faced “trust deficit”.

The Bangladesh Institute of International and Strategic Studies (BIISS) organised the seminar bringing in a delegation of Myanmar Institute of Strategic and International Studies (MISIS), with BIISS director general Major General SM Shafiuddin Ahmed in chair. The Secretary said under the security dialogue “we will focus discussion on security issues which is hurting the relationship including irregular movement of people in that area”. Continue reading.....


Latest News and Comment 


Interview with British Ambassador Andrew Patrick
Mizzima Business Weekly - 8 May 2014
In a wide-ranging interview with Hans Hulst of Myanmar Business Weekly, British Ambassador Andrew Patrick made a number of points:

What happened in Rakhine is very disappointing, but in most of the rest of the country, as far as I can tell, the census has actually been collected without incident. The data will be incredibly useful.

So I think one of the risks hasn’t yet come to pass, which was the idea we wouldn’t get this far because the situation would be too volatile. 

Of course when we use it, that’s not to say we’re expecting some sort of special status or a recognition of the Rohingya as an ethnic group. That is for the Burmese parliament to decide. 
It is pretty important for us and the media not to lose sight of the fact that the Rakhine community has good reason to be angry and disappointed. Rakhine is the second least developed part of the country. Only a minority of that community supports violence. 


Renewed fighting not linked to census-taking 
The Irrawaddy - 7 May 2014
Khin Yi, the minister responsible for the United Nations-backed national census, held a press conference at the Rangoon Division Parliament on Wednesday, in which he explained the government’s efforts to collect data in conflict areas, as well as in Arakan State, where Muslims have been declined the right to self-identify their ethnicity in the census. “What is happening in Kachin is not because of census data collection,” said Khin Yi, when asked to comment on a news report that quoted President’s Office Minister Aung Min, the government’s chief peace negotiator, linking the fighting to the census-taking process.

“What Aung Min said might be misunderstood. We collect data only when we have permission for collection. We will continue to negotiate to collect in Kachin without giving up,” Khin Yi said. Khin Yi said the census was successfully conducted in almost all areas where ethnic armed groups are still active, with the exception of about 25 village tracts, consisting of 97 villages, in Kachin State. The KIO controls a section of the Burmese-Chinese border, and its territory includes camps for thousands of internally displaced persons.

The minister said he would continue making efforts to have the census fully completed in Kachin State, as well as in Arakan State, where many people were also not counted during the initial 12 days of data collection, which ended on April 10. He noted that under census rules, data can still be collected for six to eight weeks after the initial collection. Despite saying ahead of the census that Muslims in Arakan State who call themselves Rohingya would be able to do so in the census, the government at the last minute declared that the term would not be allowed in the census. The government does not recognize Rohingya as an ethnic group and Muslims in Arakan State have been passed over by enumerators unless they agree to complete the census under the government’s preferred term, Bengali.

Khin Yi said there were in total about 1.33 million “Bengalis” in Burma and an estimated 300,000 people had been counted as such in the census. In Arakan State, he said, only 20,000 of the estimated 1.05 million “Bengali” population in the state had been included in the census.


Citizenship for Rohingya Impractical and Impossible
Eleven Media - 5 May 2014
The government has responded to a recent speech by Vijay Nambiar, the UN Secretary General's Special Advisor on Myanmar, in which he requested that citizenship rights be granted to Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, by saying that such suggestions were impractical and impossible. 

Regarding Bengalis in Rakhine State, a high ranking official from the President’s Office said that those who were in conformity with the 1982 citizenship law could enjoy citizenship. If not, the rights to citizenship could not be achieved. 

Derek Tonkin writes: Although they are reluctant to admit this, Muslims in Rakhine State are overwhelmingly of Bengali origin, though this may well go back to the 16th Century and even earlier. Those who emigrated from the Chittagong District and from further afield in Bengal from the mid-1850s onwards were already well established as permanent residents at least a century ago. The percentage of all Indians, Hindu as well as Muslim, born in India, remained static in Arakan at 23.5% (1911), 25.0% (1921) and 23.2% (1931) according to the censuses in those years. By 1940 when Financial Secretary James Baxter issued his Report on Indian Immigration, it was not thought that there had been any change of substance. The detailed figures for 1931, given on page 49 of the Baxter Report, for Akyab District where about 97% of the Indian population in Arakan was concentrated, and which under British administration included both present-day Sittwe and Maungdaw Districts, are:


    

It will be noted that there was a reasonable balance between Chittagonian males and females, which reflected a well established community, in contrast to Indian immigration elsewhere in Burma where a preponderance of males and a much higher proportion of 'born out' was the norm. Chittagonians 'born in' were indeed 84% of all Chittagonians in Aklyab District.

It has been suggested that  Chittagonian immigration was only seasonal, connected with the rice harvest, and that "once the working season is over, they returned to their native land. Rohingya has nothing to do with them". But by the 1911 Census that was no longer the case. In 1934 the Commissioner for Arakan estimated that casual labour from Chittagong was "probably about 20,000 for the harvest season", a minor percentage of the settled community. It should also be noted that the 1931 Census was taken on 24 February 1931 "when the paddy had all been harvested and most of the immigrant Chittagonians had either returned to their homes or had gone in search of work in the rice mills, in the port of Akyab, as boatmen or elsewhere".

The Arakan Chittagonians of pre-war Burma are surely the 'Rohingya' Muslims of today, though the latter flatly deny this. This very denial and their continuing attachment to the myth of a centuries-old instead of emerging 'Rohingya' ethnicity are particularly damaging to their strong and legitimate claim to citizenship.

The British however were prepared to recognise their right to permanent residence ("domicile") in the wake of and subject to the provisions of the Indo-Burma Immigration Agreement of 1941. The Baxter Report and relevant historical texts are at these two links: Part A and Part B.  


Vijay Nambiar - Rohingya must get citizenship rights
South China Morning Post/AP - 2 May 2014
UN Special Adviser Vijay Nambiar told the International Peace Institute in New York yesterday that the status of Rakhine's Muslim population remains unaddressed despite many promises by government authorities for early action to provide temporary identity certificates, register new births, and allow the Rohingya to move freely.

"The utmost necessity now for the Muslim community in Rakhine," he said, is to have their status verified and regularised, and to obtain a national registration card from the government and then citizenship, which would enable the Rohingya to travel throughout the country and get passports to go abroad.

Nambiar said there are many elements in the Muslim community who are willing to go incrementally in this direction. "I think that is a better way towards realising immediate objectives, and then gradually move towards using that status to establish a political constituency. That's what would happen in any democratic process."

Derek Tonkin: The 'Rohingya' Identity - Arithmetic of the Absurd: 9 May 2914
A response to U Kyaw Min who challenged my understanding of the 'Rohingya' issue.

Derek Tonkin:The 'Rohingya' Identity - Further Thoughts: 19 April 2014
Further history on the identity of Muslim groups in Arakan and its relevance today

Derek Tonkin: The British Experience in Arakan 1826 - 1948 - 9 April 2014

A brief review of how the British coped with the Muslim issue in Arakan in their censuses  


Latest News and Comment on the 'Rohingya' Issue

Derek Tonkin writes: The interpretation of the 1982 Citizenship Act in the article by Benjamin Zawacki is in my opinion too narrow. In 1982 General Ne Win went so far as to say that the intention of the Act was to resolve the issue of citizenship within three generations. The International Crisis Group has expressed the view that: “If the 1982 law had been applied without active discrimination by local officials against Rohingya, the majority of them would have long ago achieved full citizenship."

Enlightened senior officials incline to the view that up to 90% of 'Rohingya' ought to be granted citizenship, but this view is probably not shared by some of their more conservative colleagues, or by officials in Rakhine State. It is however worth noting that FCO Minister of State Baroness Warsi was particularly forthcoming on 20 January this year when she told the House of Lords: "The Burmese Government view is that over 90% of the Rohingya will be eligible for citizenship under the existing 1982 law."

So far, only 80 out of 193 UN Members have acceded to the 1954 Convention on Statelessness and only 55 to the 1961 Convention. This illustrates the difficulty in reaching international agreement on the issue of statelessness.


Rohingya meet Australian Chief Government whip at UWS Open Forum
Kaladan News - 27 April 2014
Dr. Hla Myint, the coordinator of the International Advocacy Group – Bangkok Rohingya Conference held in 2013 – and other Rohingya living in Australia met the Chief Government Whip, Federal Member for Berowra and Australia’s longest serving Minister for Immigration, Phillip Ruddock, MP, at an open forum in the University of Western Sydney (UWS)’s Parramatta campus on April 24, 2014

Derek Tonkin writes: The last paragraph of this article reads:


“British censuses in Burma of 1872, 1881, 1891, 1901, 1911, 1921, 1931 and (what has not been lost of) 1941 make no mention of 'Rohingya' as an ethnic or language group in Burma, according to Derek Tonkin. But, a Rohingya researcher - Mohammed Asharff Alam - said there is also no name of Rakhine in the census at that time in Arakan.”

With all respect, both the 1921 and 1931 Census Reports make specific reference to the designation 'Rakhine'.

The 1921 Census makes it clear on page 214 of Part I (Report) that enumerators, when recording language and race, may use the phrase 'Yakhaing-kala' ['Rakhine Strangers'] in relation to Arakan Muslims when they meet specific conditions. Enumerators were recording data in Burmese, which means that 'Yakhaing' was only to be used for Arakanese (Buddhists).

The 1931 Census Report is even more specific. On Page 221 of Part II (Tables) a series of alternative designations is given. Against 'Arakanese' we read: “Rakhaing, Yakhaing. Distribution is shown in Part 1E of this Table” The 'Remarks' at the top of the column refer the reader back to Note 4 on Page 219, which states: “The names given in italics in the Remarks column are alternative names, names of dialects or names which have appeared in previous census reports”.

In short, the designations Rakhaing/Yakhaing are formally recorded in the 1931 Census as alternatives to Arakan/Arakanese.

The 1921 and 1931 references remind us that the basic enumeration was conducted in Burmese. The Arakanese (Buddhist) population was designated in Burmese as 'Rakhaing' by the enumerators, while the final Census Report in English used Arakan/Arakanese.

'Arakan' and 'Rakhine' are probably related  etymologically. Arakan would seem to be of foreign interpretation, while Rakhine is from the local language. The British by choice generally used 'Arakan' and 'Arakanese'. But the Burmese word was always 'Rakhaing' (Arakanese pronunciation) and 'Yakhaing' (Burman pronunciation). 'Rakhaing' and its variations were frequently used in their writings by British scholars from Francis Buchanan-Hamilton (late 18th Century) onwards, often alongside the more popular 'Arakan'.


UNSG addresses "Partnership Group on Myanmar"
UN Department of Public Information - 25 April 2014
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon recalled in New York today that it was agreed unanimously at the Ministerial Meeting of the Group of Friends last September to reconfigure that forum as the 'Partnership Group on Myanmar' to better reflect the positive developments on the ground and further broaden the scope of the partnership between Myanmar and the United Nations.

The UNSG made the following comments on the 'Rohingya' issue:
 

Naypyitaw must also resume, without any further delay, its status verification exercise aimed at addressing the statelessness of the Rohingya population, and begin the process of granting citizenship to those whose legal status in the country can be established.  More broadly, a unified nationwide appeal by Myanmar’s key leaders against incitement and hate literature and social media messages would help to heal the rift between the communities. 
Finally, this month Myanmar conducted a census for the first time in three decades - a hugely important undertaking for advancing development and reform.  The enumeration exercise was not without its problems, especially with respect to the Rohingya in Rakhine and access to people in Kachin State.  I encourage the Government to address those issues concretely and ensure that this process conforms with international standards.  The United Nations and UNFPA [United Nations Population Fund] in particular are engaged and ready to assist further. 


Census collection  winds down
Myanmar Times - 25 April 2014

Nearly all data collection for the national census is set to end this week but debate over the process is likely to continue as the government moves on to analysing the results – a process that will begin in the first half of May. 

The major problems occurred in Rakhine State, where enumerators refused to accept data from Muslims who wanted to self-identify as Rohingya, and Kachin State, where the census could not be conducted in areas controlled by the Kachin Independence Army. The Ministry of Immigration and Population said the decision on self-identification was taken because allowing Muslims to identify as “Rohingya” could create “serious problems” in the state and elsewhere, because many perceive it as a step toward granting them citizenship.....

International observers reported that the process “went smoothly” in most parts of the country, apart from Rakhine State. “The events in Rakhine state had cast a cloud over what was otherwise appears to have been a promising census,” said UNFPA representative for Myanmar Janet Jackson. The positive reports are only “preliminary” assessments, however. “A more conclusive report is in preparation", the statement said.

Ministry of Immigration and Population officials have dismissed most of the criticisms, with some last week describing the process as “very successful”. More than 90 percent of the population has already been counted and officials say they are working to gather the “missing” data in Rakhine and Kachin states.

Derek Tonkin writes: There was never likely to be a right time to hold the census, and with general elections planned in late 2015 it was better to complete the task now rather than postpone it, possibly indefinitely. International groups which criticised the holding of the census are unlikely to admit that their worst fears have not been realised. No one expected a completely trouble free exercise and provided the technical objectives of the census are independently judged to have been substantially achieved, then the decision to go ahead with the census would seem to have been fully justified.  


US Envoy Power urges action to stop Rakhine violence
Reuters - 17 April 2014
U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power on Thursday urged the Myanmar government to intervene in Rakhine State to stop violence between ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims and ensure the delivery of humanitarian aid. Power's remarks came after U.N. special adviser on Myanmar Vijay Nambiar briefed the 15-member U.N. Security Council on Thursday on the crisis in the country formerly known as Burma.

At least 237 have been killed in religious violence in Myanmar since June 2012 and more than 140,000 displaced, many of them stateless Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine State, one of Myanmar's poorest regions that is home to 1 million Rohingya. U.N. officials have warned that the violence poses a serious threat to the country's dramatic economic and political reforms as it emerges from a half century of military rule.

"We continue to support Burma's reforms, but are greatly concerned that without effective government intervention violence in Rakhine could worsen, lives will be lost, and the critically needed humanitarian presence will not be sustainable," Power said in a statement.


Statement by UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator
UNIC Yangon - 9 April 2014
United Nations Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Myanmar Ms. Renata Dessallien has issued the following statement concerning the  Investigation Commission which examined Incidents in Sittwe on 26-27 March 2014:

"I welcome the response of the Government of the Union of Myanmar to the attacks against the UN and INGO premises in Sittwe, in particular the Government’s public condemnation of the violence, the rapid establishment by the President of the Investigation Commission chaired by the Deputy Minister of Border Affairs, and the recognition that the incident which sparked the attacks was purely unintentional……[see full text at this link]

The statement concludes: "If we are perceived as being culturally insensitive, we need to build back better with more cultural and conflict sensitivity. If we are perceived as not transparent, we need to find ways to be more transparent without hampering vital humanitarian services. If we are perceived as being biased, we need to explain better what we do and why, both in our humanitarian and development work, and we must increase our development assistance to Rakhine communities.

"I join the Investigation Commission in expressing deep sorrow for the death of the 11 year old girl during the violence of the 27 March. It is so often the innocent who suffer most by violence. We look forward to a building back better with the full support and understanding of the Government and Rakhine communities so that such violence never recurs.


Government accuses UK of interfering in Rakhine
Myanmar Times - 10 April 2014
Presidential spokesperson U Ye Htut has accused Britain of interfering in Myanmar's internal affairs after it summoned the Myanmar Ambassador in an effort to convince the government to allow humanitarian aid activities to resume in Rakhine State.

"The president has already explained to the secretary-general of the UN [Ban Ki-moon] that the government has taken the necessary measures to ensure the safety and protection of all international organisations [working in Rakhine State]," U Ye Htut said. "So we don't need to say anything more."

U Ye Htut, who is also a deputy minister for information, also took issue with Britain's usage of the term "Rohingya" in a statement issued following the meeting with the ambassador. He said no official documents from the British colonial period had ever referred to Muslims in Rakhine State as Rohingya. "It's unreasonable for the British to now urge recognition of the term," he said. "It appears they are trying to intervene in our internal affairs and we don't accept it."

The 'Rohingya' Identity - The British Experience in Arakan 1826 - 1948 
Derek Tonkin examines the British experience in coping with the Muslim issue in Arakan in their censuses [1872, 1881, 1901, 1911, 1921, 1931, 1941]


Call for restoration of humanitarian access in Rakhine
FCO Press Release - 7 April 2014
"We continue to be gravely concerned by the situation in Rakhine State. The already dire humanitarian situation has deteriorated following the expulsion of Médecins Sans Frontières in February, and violence against the offices and residences of humanitarian aid workers in March, leading to the forced cessation of critical humanitarian relief operations. As a result, hundreds of thousands of vulnerable people in Rakhine, mainly from the Rohingya community, are not receiving vital medical and humanitarian aid.

"Minister for Asia, the Rt Hon Hugo Swire MP, summoned the Burmese Ambassador to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on 7 April. He called on the Burmese Government urgently to restore humanitarian access to all communities in need, and to ensure the security of humanitarian aid workers and all communities in Rakhine State. He also expressed the Government’s deep concern about the conduct of the census - in particular the reversal of the Burmese Government’s commitment to allow the Rohingya to self-identify their ethnicity. We have repeatedly urged the Burmese Government to ensure the conduct of the census meets international norms and standards. We are engaging in further discussions, together with the UN and other donors, on further steps we might take."


Call for restoration of humanitarian access in Rakhine
FCO Press release - 7 April 2014
"We continue to be gravely concerned by the situation in Rakhine State. The already dire humanitarian situation has deteriorated following the expulsion of Médecins Sans Frontières in February, and violence against the offices and residences of humanitarian aid workers in March, leading to the forced cessation of critical humanitarian relief operations. As a result, hundreds of thousands of vulnerable people in Rakhine, mainly from the Rohingya community, are not receiving vital medical and humanitarian aid.

"Minister for Asia, the Rt Hon Hugo Swire MP, summoned the Burmese Ambassador to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on 7 April. He called on the Burmese Government urgently to restore humanitarian access to all communities in need, and to ensure the security of humanitarian aid workers and all communities in Rakhine State. He also expressed the Government’s deep concern about the conduct of the census - in particular the reversal of the Burmese Government’s commitment to allow the Rohingya to self-identify their ethnicity. We have repeatedly urged the Burmese Government to ensure the conduct of the census meets international norms and standards. We are engaging in further discussions, together with the UN and other donors, on further steps we might take." 

A brief review of how the British coped with the Muslim issue in Arakan in their censuses 


Severe disruption of humanitarian assistance in Rakhine
Relief Web - 2 April 2014

A UN delegation led by the Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Myanmar Renata Dessallien and country heads of UN agencies returned from Sittwe today after visiting camps for Internally Displaced People (IDPs) and meeting with State and Union level authorities.

“What happened in Sittwe last week was not just an attack on international organisations, but an attack on the entire humanitarian response in Rakhine State,” said Ms. Dessallien. “We have had constructive discussions with the Myanmar authorities, who have assured us that their international obligations to ensure the safety and security of humanitarian staff will be met. Our main priority now is to work with the Government to put the necessary conditions in place to allow more than a thousand humanitarian staff to get back to work to assist vulnerable people from all communities.”


Government rejects 'Rohingya' census classification
The Irrawaddy - 31 March 2014
Burmese officials said the government has made a last-minute change to its position on registering the ethnicity of the Muslim minority in northern Arakan State during the current national census, saying enumerators would refuse to register any respondent who identifies themselves as Rohingya.

The decision means the government is backing away from earlier promises that the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)-funded census would be implemented in accordance with international standards, which allow any respondents to identify their own ethnicity. Continue reading.....


Derek Tonkin writes: There is no easy solution to this dilemma. 'Rohingya' is generally seen as a self-designation, and is not universally recognised as an ethnic description. The British conducted eight censuses from 1872 to 1941, but in the voluminous reports issued on each occasion (except for 1941, when most of the data were lost), the term 'Rohingya' is not to be found. It is therefore perhaps more appropriate to see 'Rohingya' as a post-Second World War political label, though in the 1950s and 1960s the term was used very infrequently in Government publications and official speeches to designate Muslim residents in northern Rakhine State. 

Though the British designated Muslim residents in Arakan by race as Chittagonian, Bengali and Arakan Mohamedan, by language they were all classified as Bengali speakers. The British acknowledged the limitations of this ethno-linguistic approach. Arakan Kaman, Zerbadis and other Muslim or part-Muslim groups (Chulia, Kaka, Maimon, Nursapuri, Oriya, Pathan etc.) were classified separately. 


Rioting targets foreign aid workers in Sittwe


Sittwe violence 'organised, structured': Malteser International - Democratic Voice of Burma 


US House Committee - End Persecution of Muslims

Associated Press - 25 March 2014

The US House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee is calling for an end to persecution of Myanmar's minority Rohingya Muslims. It is one of the strongest U.S. congressional criticisms yet of Myanmar's reformist government. The committee passed a Resolution unanimously Tuesday urging the U.S. to press Myanmar to protect ethnic and religious minorities. The Resolution has been passed to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs for consideration. The prognosis is that the bill has a 34% chance of being agreed to by the House of Representatives or Senate (or both).

While the prospects of the full House taking up the resolution thus remain uncertain, its approval by Committee reflects growing concern over the outbreaks of communal violence in Myanmar as it transitions to democracy after decades of direct military rule. 


Arakan officials ask Rohingya to leave census race question  blank
The Irrawaddy - 25 March 2014
The Arakan State government has asked Muslim leaders in Sittwe to urge their fellow followers of Islam not to identify their “race” in Burma’s upcoming census, with authorities worried that allowing Rohingya Muslims to self-identify as such could spark a violent backlash from Buddhists in the troubled region.

State authorities including Police Col. Tun Oo met Muslim community leaders on Tuesday morning and told them that the request was intended to defuse tensions in the State, which has seen protests by Arakanese Buddhists against the census in recent weeks that continued in Sittwe on Tuesday. The census, Burma’s first in more than 30 years, will officially begin next week.

Derek Tonkin writes: An insight into the tense state of relations between Buddhists and Muslims in Sittwe (Akyab) almost a century ago is to found in the extract at this link from the "Burma Gazetteer: Akyab District" compiled by Commissioner RB Smart and printed in 1917: "That the Arakanese are being pushed out of Arakan before the steady wave of Chittagonian immigration from the west is only too well known.....the Arakanese not having been accustomed to hard manual labour for generations cannot and will not do it now; it has to be brought home to him that if he will not do more for himself he must give way to the thrifty and hard-working Chittagonian and his only reply is to move on......the Arakanese proper are not likely to survive long."  


Digitalised materials on the 1931 Census of Burma

These materials are available online from the Digital Library of India (DLI). Click on either of the above links and follow the instructions to download and install the reader programme 'Alternatiff'. After installation, register with the DLI whose entire library is then available to read online.

Present-day Rohingya might possibly be enumerated in the 1931 Census as 'Arakan-Mohamedans' who are distiguished from Bengalis, Chittagonians and other mainly Muslim Indian and Indo-Burman races like the Arakan-Kaman. Arakan-Mohamedans were all enumerated as Muslims (apart from 3 Buddhist males), but were "not Indians" (see top of Page 12 in Part I). They numbered 26,153 males and 25,462 females (Classification S1 on Page 245 in Part II). By 1941 Arakan-Mohamedans were regarded as quasi-indigenous - The Baxter Report 1941 recorded that: “There was an Arakanese Muslim community settled so long in Akyab (Sittwe) District that it had for all intents and purposes to be regarded as an indigenous race. There were also a few Mahomedan Kamans in Arakan and a small but long established Muslim community around Moulmein which could not be regarded as Indian." The 1921 Census Report noted on page 213 that: "Although so closely connected with Chittagonians racially the Arakan-Mohamedans do not associate with them at all; they consequently marry almost solely among themselves and have become recognised locally as a distinct race." 

Investigation Commission Report February 2014 


Historical Note on the Ethno-Linguistic Classification at the 1931 Census
Extract from Paragraph 99, Chapter X, Volume I of the Census of Burma 1931

"99. Classification Scheme - The classification scheme for languages is the same as that adopted at the 1921 census……For the sake of convenience all Chinese languages have been regarded as indigenous…..this classification of languages lays no claim to finality and is merely based on the scanty materials collected up-to-date. After the 1921 census, Mr Taylor.....was on special duty in this connection, but apparently nothing further has been published [Mr LF Taylor - Indian Educational Servce]. The non-indigenous languages were formed into three artificial groups X, Y Z, representing Indian, European, and Other languages respectively. 

"The classification scheme for races is the same as for languages, the only difference being that an additional group S has been formed to represent the Indo-Burman races, who do not have separate languages. Each race or language group has been subdivided and the words "race" and "language" are used in this Report to denote the lowest classes into which the groups have been subdivided. The names of these races and languages are given in Part I of Imperial Table XVII and Part IB of Imperial Table XV, respectively."

Derek Tonkin writes: These Tables are reproduced because they help to identify, if you add up the separate divisions, some 135 indigenous races and languages in what was in essence a convenient ethno-linguistic classification originally prepared for the 1921 census and not claiming any profound scientific basis, derived as it was from admittedly "scanty materials" and seemingly not updated for the 1931 census.

An Account of Indians in the 1931 Burma Census Report - Rangoon 1933
An extract from Chapter XII of Part I of the Census of Burma Report, covering Sections 141 (Indians), 142 (Indian Races) and 143 (Indo-Burman Races).  

Derek Tonkin continues: I have asked myself whether the 'Arakan-Mahomedans' resident in Akyab (Sittwe) and tabulated as S1 in Imperial Table XVII, including 26,153 males and 25,462 females, might be the antecedents of present-day Rohingyas. I have yet to discover what has happened to them since 1945. They are classed separately from 'Arakan-Kaman' (S3), Chittagonian (X7) and Bengali (X3). I do not know how many of the other 13 Indian and 2 Indo-Burman recorded races who included Muslims might also have been resident in Arakan, presumably very few.

The Baxter Report 1941 recorded that: “There was an Arakanese Muslim community settled so long in Akyab (Sittwe) District that it had for all intents and purposes to be regarded as an indigenous race. There were also a few Mahomedan Kamans in Arakan and a small but long established Muslim community around Moulmein which could not be regarded as Indian” (Paragraph 7 of Chapter II). Baxter would no doubt have had these 51,615 'Arakan Mahomedans' in mind when he spoke of "an Arakanese Muslim community" quite separate from Chittagonians and Bengalis (whom the 1931 Census noted could have been amalgamated “but there is no harm done in giving separate figures for them”.)

From 1942 there must have been a traumatic internal migration of Muslims in Arakan as they went north to escape communal violence in the wake of the Japanese invasion and the Buddhists went south. This would surely have resulted in an amorphous melting pot of the Muslim population in Arakan from 1942 onwards and the resultant geographic and political polarisation of the Muslim and Buddhist communities, though only some of the Muslim community could reasonably trace their ancestry back to the 'Arakan Mahomedans', while others would be the descendants of Chittagonian and Bengali immigrants.     

Government investigation dismisses allegations of Rohingya killings
The Irrawaddy - 11 March 2014
The Burmese government on Tuesday released its final report on the alleged killings of dozens of Rohingya Muslims in Du Chee Yar Tan village in northern Arakan State in January and it again strongly denied that any such violence took place. The official summary of the report in English is attached at this link.

Much of the English-language 20 page summary of the report also focused on expressing the government’s displeasure with the UN and Médicins Sans Frontières (MSF) Holland, which have made statements indicating that violence did occur in the Rohingya village.

UN human rights rapporteur Tomás Ojea Quintana said on 20 Feburary that Arakan authorities had informed him that “100 policemen with live ammunition” had carried out the operation. He said he received “allegations of the brutal killing of men, women and children, sexual violence against women, and the looting and burning of properties” during the operation.


However, the government has vehemently denied such claims and several investigations have backed up the government’s position. The final report by the Investigation Commission for the Du Chee Yar Tan Incident released Tuesday was no different.




Troubles made by Western NGO raised protest by Myanmar people
Guangming Daily (Beijing)  - 5 March 2014
This article by the Yangon-based commentator Tang Xianying, who writes on Myanmar affairs for the long-established and prestigious newspaper Guangming Daily, reviews events in the village tract of Du Chee Yar Tan in January and concludes: "The embassies of the US and UK, as well as the western media, seem to have made a big mistake on this issue... Looking at the whole event, western media were particularly exercised about the so-called 'massacre' in Rakhine state and the Myanmar Government’s order for 'Doctors Without Borders' to leave the area. They were also selectively blind about the facts published by the Myanmar Government, demonstrating their pride and prejudice.

"Local media analysis has found that certain western powers and mainstream media have exhibited stereotypical thinking and have sided selectively with one party against the other based on pre-existing biases when the event happened. Their reports and statements of concern were released without verification of the authenticity of the information. This is virtually a double standard. The so-called media freedom praised by the West might be free but definitely not fair."

Derek Tonkin writes: This comment by a Chinese journalist is of interest because it represents the first substantive view from a Chinese perspective of what they believe actually happened, or rather didn't happen, in Du Chee Yar Tan.

It is unfortunate that the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has not yet been willing to release the evidence on which their
 Press Statement of 23 January 2014 was based. Leakage, possibly contrived, of the contents (article by Jane Perlez in the New York Times)  has however started and this is bound to cause confusion.  I understand that the OHCHR report was prepared by one of their more experienced Human Rights Officers on the basis of interviews with Rohingya witnesses. Photographs provided by these witnesses however have been adjudged in at least one capital city as of doubtful reliability, and possibly spurious. 

While the OHCHR Press Statement described the evidence as "credible", their unpublished report acknowledged that this evidence had not yet been confirmed and could not be corroborated. Nonetheless, some Western Governments have chosen to interpret the OHCHR report as confirmation that a massacre in fact took place.  

This affair is likely to have set back very considerably the prospects for the opening of an OHCHR office in Myanmar.


Laws enforce discrimination in Myanmar
David Steinberg: Asia Times - 18 March 2014

A special commission in Myanmar is now drafting legislation that if passed would effectively limit the rights of certain minority groups. At the request of the speaker of the parliament, President Thein Sein earlier this month formed a commission charged with drafting legislation on two laws: one concerning restricting religious conversions and another on controlling population growth. 

Although the official notification creating the commission does not mention religion, both laws are directed against the country's minority Muslim community. The first will severely limit the conversion of Buddhist women to Islam and the second will restrict Muslim families to no more than two children. Continue reading.....

Derek Tonkin writes: The headline is misleading. There has been much speculation about what the laws might contain. Preliminary versions, guided by the extremist monk U Wirathu, have already been drafted and sent to the Union Parliament. Their content, though, is unlikely to influence the drafting Commission unduly.


Proposed laws to safeguard nationality and religion  



Myanmar denies kicking MSF out of the country
SBS - 2 March 2014
Myanmar has denied reports it expelled medical aid organisation Médicins Sans Frontières (MSF) from the country, saying that group had only been "temporarily suspended" from working in the western state of Rakhine, media reports say. "The government will allow its operations in other regions and states for the sake of the people," the state-run New Light of Myanmar reported.

Authorities and MSF agreed Friday that "all functions being operated by MSF Holland in Rakhine State will be temporarily suspended," the daily cited Health Ministry officials as saying. MSF-Holland is one of the main providers of treatment to HIV/AIDS patients across Myanmar. Its suspension in the Rakhine follows local protests at its alleged support of the Rohingya ethnic minority group. 



Rise in bigotry fuels massacre inside Myanmar
Jane Perlez: New York Times - 1 March 2014
"The villagers’ accounts [of recent reported killings] back up a United Nations  investigation, which concluded that the attack on Du Chee Yar Tan that night resulted in the deaths of at least 40 men, women and children, one of the worst instances of violence against the country’s long-persecuted Rohingya Muslims. They were killed, the United Nations says, by local security forces and civilians of the rival Rakhine ethnic group, many of them adherents of an extreme Buddhist ideology who were angered by the kidnapping of a Rakhine policeman by some Rohingya men.

"The world organization’s report - presented to the government by the United Nations and United States but not made public - documents the initial discovery of the massacre by five Muslim men who sneaked into the area after the attack. They found the severed heads of at least 10 Rohingya bobbing in a water tank. Some of those were children’s."

Derek Tonkin writes: It is instructive to read the UN (Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights) press release of the reported incidents of (a)  9 January 2014 and (b) 13 January 2014. OHCHR did not say that they had carried out an investigation as such, only that they had received "credible evidence" that 8 Rohingya passing through on 9 January were killed  by local Rakhine villagers and that at least 40 men, women and children were killed on 13 January, and that their information had been passed to the authorities.

I do not know what "credible evidence" there was of the killing of 8 Rohingyas on 9 January. To date, this has not been confirmed by any other source. So we are entitled to ask whether it ever happened. As regards the events of 13 January, no doubt the police went into the village in a very heavy-handed way, searching for the body of a missing, almost certainly murdered Police Sergeant. The severed heads of at least 10 Rohingya reportedly found by villagers were seemingly part of the UN's "credible evidence", but it is not clear whether their evidence was more than a report at third hand, or whether they had other evidence, such as photographic. There have been no further reports about this gruesome discovery. Has the evidence since simply disappeared? Where was the water tank? Has this gone as well?

It is also not clear whether this evidence has been shared with other Governments, apart from the United States (as Jane Perlez reports). I would have thought that the evidence was very important to other members of the UN. No doubt the Myanmar Government feels it cannot comment on it publicly, as it has been given to them in confidence. I am told it came from a very reliable source, which might need to be protected. But, as things stand at present, we are all left in the dark, unable ourselves to judge the "credibility" of the evidence received by the UN. 

Clearly, there needs to be an inquiry with international participation, in which the credibility of the UN's evidence needs to be examined as well as the events themselves.  


Abolish restrictions and practices against Rohingya

Press Release: Fortify Rights - February 2014


Derek Tonkin writes: This latest report by a relatively new activist organisation established in Thailand is based on supposedly "leaked" local official documents which are however known to, if not already held by most organisations concerned with the plight of the Rohingya in Rakhine State. To that extent, there is nothing particularly new in the report which has not already been meticulously examined by other commentators.

The report by Fortify Rights in my view accordingly serves no useful purpose except to aggravate a complex and difficult situation. It is at root mischievous and  seemingly designed to secure maximum self-aggrandisement for the authors no doubt anxious to establish their new enterprise. The organisation has already been criticised for making allegations about the killing of 8 Rohingyas near Maungdaw in Rakhine State on 9 January 2014 for which absolutely no supporting evidence has yet been found.

Particularly unfortunate is the statement in the report that: "Certain members of the international community might also be implicated in denying the Rohingya ethnicity or at least attempting to placate to [sic] Myanmar authorities on the issue. On February 3,  2014, the European Union Heads of Mission in Myanmar issued a communiqué following a four-day mission to northern Rakhine State, failing to mention the word 'Rohingya'. The document mentioned  'Rakhine Buddhists' and 'Muslim communities'." There is not a shred of evidence for these unwarranted allegations concerning the European Union.


Myanmar's Religious Violence: A Buddhist 'Siege Mentality' at Work
S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies - 20 February 2014

Kyaw San Wai, Senior Analyst at RSIS, argues that the root causes for the violence by Burmese Buddhists against Muslims in Myanmar are complex. Contrary to the simplified narratives carried by the international media, a nuanced understanding of the situation is needed to attain a viable solution. A PDF copy is at this link.  A record of the discussion between the British and Bangladeshi Ambassadors on 23 December 1975 and referred to in the article may be found at this link.

Derek Tonkin writes: I warmly recommend this balanced and perceptive analysis of the underlying causes, some frequently overlooked, of recent religious violence in Myanmar. The article is a refreshing antidote to the simplistic accounts which tend to dominate the Western media and which are too often accompanied, notably in the US and the UK, by political grandstanding, but where a much more thoughtful approach is needed if we are to help Myanmar manage a potentially explosive situation.


Questions arise over 'assassination attempt' of Malaysian politicians
The Star Online (Malaysia) - 20 February 2014
Dr Aye Maung and U Aye Thar Aung went back to Myanmar on Feb 7 to be greeted by a “hero’s welcome” following an attempt on their lives in downtown Kuala Lumpur. This so-called “assassination attempt” has got a lot of traction in the Myanmar media with the politicians milking it for all its worth.

“These Arakanese leaders come to Malaysia frequently but this is the first time that such a thing has happened,” Myanmar Muslim activist in Malaysia who wants to be known as Ahmad told The Star Online. The Rakhine leaders were in Malaysia for an event “Political Reforms in Myanmar and the Politics of the Rakhine State” which was held on Feb 4 at the Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall.

While not completely ruling out the assassination attempt, Ahmad believed that it could have been staged to fabricate lies about the Rohingya and to gain the sympathy of people back home.


Muslim activists denied chance to speak at Mandalay literature event
The Irrawaddy - 18 February 2014
Three activists, including a leader from the influential 88 Generation Peace and Open Society, were prevented from appearing at a public event in Mandalay over the weekend, after dozens of Buddhist monks protested their inclusion on the roster of scheduled speakers.

The three activists had planned to give remarks at a literature discussion in Mandalay’s Mye Par quarter on Saturday, but about 40 monks approached organizers in advance of the event and demanded that the trio be removed from the list of speakers. The event was ultimately cancelled.


Myanmar Human Rights Commission report on incidents at Ducheeratan
New Light of Myanmar -15 February 2014

A report by the MHRC released today concludes that they found no evidence of the alleged murder of 8 Bengalis on 9 January 2014, nor of the killing of over 40 Bengalis on 13 January 2014. As regards the treatment reportedly given to 22 injured Bengalis by Médecins sans Frontiêres, for reasons of patient confidentiality their names could not be released. Only one suffered from gunshot wounds, but this was not reported to the authorities.Two  MSF doctors reportedly told a local official and a local doctor that "their clinics did not treat any such patients".

Derek Tonkin writes: It looks increasingly as though the alleged murder of 8 Rohingya on 9 January did not take place, and that reports of the killing of over 40 Rohingya men, women and children on 13 January have been greatly exaggerated. U Aye Win, spokesman for the UN Yangon Office, is reported by the 'Myanmar Times' 3-9  February as saying that "it was certain that at least one person had died" on 13 January. This sounds rather more credible and plausible. 

However, for alternative views on the seriousness of events, see:




EU calls on Rakhine State to "break the vicious circle"
Myanmar Times - 7 February 2014
In a statement issued on 5 February, the EU delegation to Rakhine State said the visit planned last December had enabled it to "get a balanced picture of the situation on the ground". A photographic record is at this link.

"It emerged clearly from the discussions that both Buddhist and Muslim communities have suffered tremendous trauma in recent months. Both communities live in poverty and fear. Despite some radical voices, the mission understands that what both sides have in common is the aspiration of achieving security, peace and prosperity in Rakhine State," the statement said.

Speaking to reporters during the visit, Mr Kobia said that EU would act as a mediator in resolving conflicts between different groups in Rakhine State without bias.


Announcement of Formation of Investigation Commission
New Light of Myanmar - 7 February 2014
NLM has reported the formation of a 10-person Commission under the Chairmanship of Dr Tha Hla Shwe, Chairman of the Myanmar Red Cross Society, to investigate the death of Police Sergeant Aung Kyaw Thein, to probe the causes of the fire at Duchertan West Village on 28 January. and "to probe false and groundless reports" relating to Duchertan. The Commission is required to report to the President directly "on 28 February 2014".

The Myanmar National Human Rights Commission (MNHRC) has concluded an inquiry into the alleged Rohingya massacre in Maungdaw’s Duchira Dan-West village, saying it has found no solid evidence of any massacre taking place.

The MNHRC’s secretary Sitt Myaing said that a four-member investigation team including himself visited Duchira Dan [also written as Du Char Yar Tan] from 30 January to 3 February to investigate the alleged killing of Rohingya people in the village on two separate occasions, but found no evidence to support the allegations. “We went to investigate allegations of incidents where eight people were killed and then 40 more on another occasion,” said Sitt Myaing. “We collected testimonies from regional to village-level meetings, including statements from Arakanese and Bengali [Rohingya] witnesses in Duchira Dan.

“In conclusion, we did not find any evidence or testimony that could prove that either of the alleged incidents took place.”

Derek Tonkin writes: The lack of "solid evidence" suggests that there is still some uncertainty about what actually happened. There has been no explanation so far about the cause of the injuries suffered by some 22 people who were treated by Médecins sans Frontières at the time.


Missing Bengalis trying to avoid arrest, say villagers
Eleven Media - 31 January 2014
EU Ambassador Roland Kobia and representatives from the UK, France, Italy, Germany and other European countries, officials from the EU office and Rakhine State Chief Minister Hla Maung Tin, arrived in Maungdaw yesterday and met with Bengalis from Ducheertan village. Bengali women said they are having difficulty getting food because men in the village are hiding from the authorities. When asked by the EU Ambassador why the men were hiding, a woman said that the men are afraid of being arrested by the authorities in connection with the murder of police sergeant Aung Kyaw Thein.


An official from the EU delegation asked Police Brigadier General Tin Ko Ko from the Rakhine State police force whether the police will arrest the hiding villagers or not. The brigadier general answered, “They will not arrest them but only interrogate them.”

However, the villagers said nothing to the EU delegation about the killing of Bengali children and women as reported in international media. Nor did they say anything about Bengali men who have been killed or arrested, sources say.

Derek Tonkin writes: Allegations of a massacre have been vigorously proclaimed by a recently formed activist group known as "Fortify Rights" led by an American campaigner Matthew Smith whose work for EarthRights International and Human Rights Watch has not endeared him to those who seek independent, credible and responsible analysis. This incident appears to be an excuse for the second substantive venture by Fortify Rights into Myanmar. It is sadly unlikely to be their last.


New Light of Myanmar - 29 January 2014

The Myanmar Foreign Minister Wunna Maung Lwin, Home Affairs Minister Lt Gen Ko Ko and other senior officials held a press conference in Yangon on 28 January concerning recent events in Rakhine State. They confirmed that the incident in Du Chee Yar Tan middle village, one of nine villages in Du Chee Yar Tan village tract,  was an isolated event and that the only casualty was a Police Sergeant who was believed to have been killed. 

According to preliminary investigations by at least two teams, no evidence was found of any other casualties in any other incident in any of the nine villages in the tract. Further investigations would however be conducted.

The village concerned was the home of 1,030 people in 140 households. 431 people from 75 households had already returned. 80% of the population in the nine-village tract  are Muslim and 20% ethnic Rakhine.

A diplomatic team led by the EU Ambassador would visit the locality "in the near future".

Derek Tonkin writes:  The report in the New Light of Myanmar merits careful reading. Allegations that eight 'Rohingya' were killed in one incident and more than 40 in other communal attacks are still flatly denied. 

There remains a yawning gap between what the UN and the US, UK diplomatic missions have publicly protested and what the Myanmar Government continues to assert.


Burmese census will offer ethnicity of choice
Democratic Voice of Burma - 27 January 2014
Dr Nyi Nyi, director general of Burma’s Department of Population, said on Friday that each person in the country shall be given the opportunity to refer to themselves by whatever ethnicity they choose in the upcoming national census.

Speaking at a press conference in Naypyidaw, Nyi Nyi said that the decision to expand the parameters of “ethnicity” was in response to concerns raised by various ethnic leaders over the harm to national unity which may arise from forcing people to identify themselves as an ethnicity that they say does not represent their group or sub-group.

Asked whether the ability to choose one’s own ethnicity in the upcoming census would extend to the Rohingya Muslim community - referred to by many Burmese as “Bengalis” and widely regarded as illegal immigrants - Nyi Nyi said, “The Rohingya issue is a recent case. We have conducted censuses in 1973 and 1983, and each person was permitted to refer to themselves by the ethnicity of their choice. We intend to do the same at the upcoming census – we will register anyone under any ethnic entity that they refer to themselves.” 


Recent Events in Du Chee Yar Tan Village in Rakhine State
Anagha Neelakantan: International Crisis Group - 26 January 2014
Extract: "Reports are now emerging of deadly attacks on Muslim villagers in northern Rakhine State’s Maungdaw township, an area near the Bangladesh border where the great majority of the population is Rohingya. Crisis Group has spoken to a number of individuals and organizations who have visited the area and interviewed people who said they witnessed the events. These accounts paint an alarming and consistent picture. Around 49 people are believed to have been killed in two violent incidents between 9 and 13 January. The allegations suggest that some of these killings were carried out by the police, and that the victims included women and children."


Contradictory reports on communal violence in Rakhine State 

Derek Tonkin writes: Allegations which have appeared in the international press about reported killings at Du Chee Yar Tan in Maungdaw Township in northern Rakhine State have been formally rejected as unfounded by the Myanmar Ministry of Foreign Affairs, though not before senior UN officials (Tomás Ojea Quintana, Baroness Amos and Navi Pillay) and the US and UK Ambassadors in Yangon as well as the US State Department and a UK Minister had all expressed their serious concern, condemned acts of violence (which may or may not have taken place) and called for an inquiry. The UN Secretary-General's Special Adviser, the eminently sensible Vijay Nambiar, is currently in Myanmar and is in discussion with the authorities about these events. 


Written Reply to Question in the House of Lords
Hansard - 20 January 2014
Baroness Nye: To ask Her Majesty’s Government how the government of Burma has responded to requests to change the 1982 citizenship law to allow the Rohingya to have citizenship in Burma.

The Senior Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government & Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Warsi) (Con): The Burmese government view is that over 90% of the Rohingya will be eligible for citizenship under the existing 1982 law. We continue to lobby the government on the need to address the lack of citizenship for Rohingya to ensure their fundamental human rights are fully respected in Burma. The situation in Rakhine State and the rights of the Rohingya community were at the heart of discussions between my Rt Hon. Friend the Prime Minister and President Thein Sein during his visit to the UK in July 2013. We note the government’s commitment to initiate a process to find a long term solution on the issue.  


The international community expresses concern over IDPs in Rakhine
Joint Statement in Yangon by the US, EU, Turkey and Switzerland - 2 January 2014
The international community is deeply concerned by the dire humanitarian situation faced by internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Taung Paw camp in Myebon Township, Rakhine State and strongly urges the Union Government to ensure immediate, full, and unimpeded humanitarian access to those in need. The deteriorating living conditions in the camp have created an inhumane environment for camp residents.

The 752 families living in the camp for the past 14 months face very poor living conditions, including lack of safe drinking water, limited healthcare services, malnutrition, and restrictions on movement outside the camp. Continue reading.....