Monday 10th December 2012
Monday saw a very busy day for Rohingya advocacy - we delivered a presentation at the House of Lords, a student meeting at London School of Economics, delivered an interview to an independent film maker who is charting recent persecution towards Rohingya and finally the UK airing of the Al Jazeera documentary, 'The Hidden Genocide'.
Policy Recommendations at House of Lords
Restless Beings was invited to make policy recommendations to the All Party Parliamentary Group of Burma and Bangladesh. Others invited to speak were, Melanie Teff of Refugees International (discussing the situation of Internally Displaced People in Rohingya camps), Tun Khin of Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK (discussing the history of the Rohingya conflict as well as calling for UN peace-keeping mission).
Being invited to address the parliamentarians offered a very real opportunity for us to present policy recommendations to the British Government. Our approach was simple, to address the 1982 Citizenship Law as it renders more than a million in Burma stateless, despite generations of communities living in the country and calling it a homeland. We spoke briefly about the rather loose rhetoric used by Hague and Obama and whilst they call for human rights to be respected, they have not, to date, addressed the main legislation which is blocking that respect for the human rights of the Rohingya; the 1982 Citizenship Law.
Following on, the use of language by media and its changing from a less serious tone in June's conflict to a more accurate description in October's violence and even use of the word like genocide by Al-Jazeera was discussed. We finished off by addressing the role of the UK and policy recommendations for the future.
Two main issues of concern regarding the Rohingya are:
1. The UK along with other nations, through the EU, has suspended all sanctions (excluding the import and export of arms) on Burma since April. Many have commented that this was 'too much, too soon'. One of the stipulations of the suspension of sanctions was that, to paraphrase, 'all political prisoners must be freed...the status of Rohingya must be addressed' - Firstly, since President Thein Sein gained power in 2010, Burma has tripled its numbers of political prisoners, most notably, hundreds of new Rohingya prisoners since June (many of whose locations are unknown). Secondly, the regime has not addressed the status of Rohingya, in fact they don't even recognise the term Rohingya!
2. The UK is one of the largest donors of aid to Burma and recently pledged £187 million over the next four years. Whilst this is positive, it must ensure that this money is accounted for properly and one of the ways it can do this is to ensure that the 1982 Citizenship Law is repealed. The EU collectively, is in fact the largest donor of aid and as such has an even bigger role to play in this regard.
Our recommendations were based around these two points, where we urged parliamentarians to use them as tools of leverage to ensure that 1982 Citizenship law is addressed. Consequently, it is not just the Rohingya who will benefit, but also the rights of over 1 million Indo-Burman and an unknown (thought to be in the millions) of Thai born Burmese will have the right of citizenship in Burma, their homeland. (http://www.nationalityforall.org/burma-myanmar)
In essence, we know that the UK Government can do very little as the main tool of leverage; the suspension of sanctions, was done pluralistically through the EU. Therefore, you guessed it, we go to the EU level next and details of our plan of action will be shared in due course.
Ideology Vs Pragmatism
Ideologically, to engage in the discussion of sanctions and/with old imperial powers is not in line with our organisational stance. However, when the fact remains that without any protection of citizenship, or the basic tenements of human rights, hundreds of Rohingya have perished and even as recently as this week we have heard of more than 160 Rohingya who are feared dead whilst trying to seek an escape from Burma, it is absolutely necessary for us to take a pragmatic approach. Our engagement as such with the UK Government and the EU Body will be purely from a pragmatic perspective, offering policy recommendations. At the heart of this ongoing and aggressive violation of human rights is the suffering of almost 1 million Rohingya - for them, pragmatism, rather than ideologies will bring hope.
Currently, the UK's Foreign Minister Hugo Swire is in Burma and other ASEAN countries on a 'Trade Mission' to ensure that the UK and its corporate partners can create maximum benefit from the 'opening up' of Burma. Under Thein Sein, the number of political prisoners has tripled, and yet Governments across the world continue to call him a reformist. In July, Thein Sein clearly stated his xenophobic plan smacking of apartheid. And yet, the UK minister is on a 'trade mission' to Burma. As Baroness Kinnock mentioned on Monday, 'Foreign Ministers do diplomacy NOT trade missions!'.
Your Voice Counts
As recommended by our friends, Burma Campaign UK, we urge all of our supporters, in the next few days to tweet to Hugo Swire (@HugoSwire) challenging him to speak up for the human rights of the Rohingya alongside other persecuted communities in Burma. We are using the hashtag #RestlessBurma and you can click on that link to see posts by others too.