Thursday, May 31, 2012

Rohingya tangled in Burma citizenship politics By Nurul Islam (UK)

Burma is a multi-cultural society with multi-ethnicities. During its independence a feeling of awareness for an ethnic togetherness and comprehensive identity to form joint feelings for tranquillity and safety developed. On the basis of the agreed upon principle of ‘unity in diversity’, articulated by the father of the nation General Aung San, the ‘Union of Burma’ came to existence on January 4, 1948.
Burma is a country where various streamlets of culture and civilization join together. In a pluralistic society like Burma there must be a joint life on the diversity of cultures. But due to racism and racial discrimination,

the culture of Burman majority is assumed as the national culture and on its margins, there are small cultures of the numerous ethnic groups and are assumed as non-national or inferior cultures. Regrettably, today Rohingyas are considered practising foreign way of life having no origin in Burma, despite the fact that the heyday of independent Arakan began with the Muslim civilization, which reached its zenith during the most glorious period of Mrauk-U, “the creation of a remarkably hybrid Buddhist-Islamic court, fusing tradition from Persia and India as well as the Buddhist Worlds to the east.”[1] On top of that “Arakan was virtually ruled by Muslims from 1430 to 1531.”[2]

‘Rohingya problem’ started in Burma from British colonial period onwards. There were violent anti-Indian (including anti-Muslim) riots in 1930-31 and again in 1938 in which several hundreds Indians and Muslims were killed in Burma. Muslim properties: shops, houses and mosques were looted, destroyed and burned under the campaign of ‘Burma for Burmese only’. Similar anti-Muslim sentiment blew up in Arakan too. In April 1942, armed Rakhine in connivance with Burmese nationalists carried out a pogrom in Akyab district and massacred about 100,000 unarmed Muslims. Bulk of the Muslims was internally displaced, and nearly 50,000 of them took refuge in the British held territories of Chittagong and Rangpur. The resultant damages were enormous causing serious demographic changes in North Arakan. The Muslim population in the alluvial Kaladan and Lemro deltas were depopulated to be populated by Buddhists. The hard-nosed hate mongers in Arakan have continued the hostility signing the mantra of Rohingya extermination. Martin Smith observes:

“In Arakan itself, there is little evidence of such communal flare-ups but as a result of these experiences, many Burmese nationalists and politicians have never really bothered to distinguish between Indians or Muslims in general and the indigenous Muslims of Arakan. The word commonly used to describe Muslims in Arakan is the pejorative word “Kala” or foreigner, which is exactly the same word commonly used to describe Muslims or Indians anywhere else they live in Burma (anti-Muslim prejudice is not just confined to Arakan today).”[3]

The successive Burmese governments have had pursued policies of exclusion and persecution against Rohingyas while some hardhearted Rakhine academic and politicians are engaged in racist and xenophobic plans to marginalize and exterminate them. With preoccupation of ‘Muslim phobia’ the former dictator Ne Win promulgated an oppressive Burma Citizenship law in 1982 in order to deprive the Rohingyas of their time-honoured citizenship and ethnic rights in Burma.

Despite some recent reforms towards democratization, civilianized military government of U Thein Sein has so far no change of attitude towards Rohingya and has created hostile climate in North Arakan. The government continues to treat them as aliens using this oppressive nationality law in a random manner. While the authorities and xenophobes reject or exclude Rohingyas, nevertheless their distinct South Asian physical feature, language and frontier civilization are a true manifestation of the ancient people of Indian Bengali Chandra dynasty in Arakan. Conversely, the Rakhines and no-one else are treated as natives of Arakan for being Buddhists in shared characteristics with the majority Burman, speaking an archaic form of Burmese. This favourable reception of ‘Rakhine only policy’ is a threat of Buddhistization through assimilation.

In the situation of Rohingya, the 1982 citizenship law promotes Burmanization or Rakhinization aims at exterminating the Rohingya population from Arakan. Let us examine this unjust nationality law.


Citizenship is same as nationality but the Burmese law uses the expression of citizenship and not nationality. Nationality is often described as the connecting link between the individual and international law. Nationality indicates the status of belonging to a particular state. Nationality or citizenship is the social and legal link between individuals and their democratic political community. By virtue of this, an individual may be entitled to certain benefits and obligations under municipal and international law. There is no accepted definition of nationality. As a general rule each state is free to define who its nationals are though this description can be circumscribed by specific treaties (eg Treaties concerning the elimination of statelessness). Thus article 1 of the 1930 Hague Convention on the Conflict of Nationality Laws stated that:

“….it is for each state to determine under its own law who are the nationals. This law shall be recognized by other states in so far as it is consistent with international conventions, international custom and principles of law generally recognized with regard to nationality. “

Thus the nationality law of a state is required to conform to international law, international human rights law, international conventions, customs and practices. The most important of these principles concerning acquisition of nationality are first, descent from parents who are nationals (jus sanguinis) and secondly, the territorial location of birth (jus soli). Nationality may also be acquired by marriage, adoption, legalization, naturalization (the proceeding whereby a foreigner is granted citizenship) or as a result of transfer of territory from one state to another. It should be noted that since international law recognizes the primacy of the state in this regard, the practice of acquiring nationality varies considerably.

The 1982 Citizenship Law:

Burma Citizenship Law of 1982 was the most restrictive citizenship law in the world promulgated by late dictator Ne Win’s BSPP (Burma Socialist Programme Party) regime on October 15, 1982. Unlike 1948 Citizenship Act, the 1982 law is essentially the principle of jus sanguinis and has repealed the Union Citizenship (Election) Act, 1948, and the Union Citizenship Act, 1948. Based on how one’s forebears obtained citizenship, Ne Win stratified citizenship into three status groups: full, associate and naturalized.

Full citizens are those belonging to one of the so-called 135 ‘national races’, who lived in Burma prior to 1823 -- just prior to the conquest of parts of lower Burma (Arakan and Tenassarim) by the British, or were born to parents who were citizens at the time of birth. Associate citizenship was only granted to those whose application for citizenship under the 1948 Act was pending on the date the Act came into force. Thus the associate citizens are those who acquired citizenship through the 1948 Union Citizenship Law. Naturalized citizenship could only be granted to those who could furnish “conclusive evidence” of entry and residence before Burma’s independence on 4 January 1948, who could speak one of the national languages well and whose children were born in Burma. Thus naturalized citizens refer to persons who lived in Burma before independence and applied for citizenship after 1982. Foreigners cannot become naturalized citizens unless they can prove a close familial connection to the country.

It is worthy of mention that the previous parliamentary government listed 144 ethnic groups in Burma. But Ne Win put only 135 groups on a short list, and then was approved by his BSPP regime’s constitution of 1974. The three Muslim groups of Rohingya (Muslim Arakanese), Panthay (Chinese Muslims), Bashu (Malay Muslims) and six other ethnic groups were deleted. It was an injustice founded on religious rancour and racial prejudice towards Muslims and smaller non-Burman groups, particularly against the Rohingya, who are not a manageable minority. Even the so called 135 ethnic groups are highly divisive splitting some of the national races into so many groupings. However, this creation of the military is unjustified.

Generally the 1982 citizenship law deprives most people of Indian and Chinese descent of citizenship. “However, the timing of its promulgation shortly after the refugee repatriation (from Bangladesh) of 1979, strongly suggests that it was specifically designed to exclude the Rohingya”[4] who had previously been recognized as citizens as well as a national race of Burma. According to Ne Win, “racially, only pure-blooded nationals will be called citizens.”[5] Shockingly, the Rakhine academic late Dr. Aye Kyaw was instrumental to the making of this discriminatory racist law under infamous Ne Win. He proudly claimed to have devised a mechanism to denationalize the Rohingya people.

The Rohingya are in a situation of permanent limbo. Burmese government recognizes them as neither citizens nor foreigners. But it has deliberately declared them non-nationals describing them as ‘illegal immigrants’ from Bangladesh’ while accepting them all at once as ‘Burmese residents’, which is not a legal status. Thus “the law made the Rohingya ethnic group a stateless one in the country, where they have been living for generation.”[6]

“In 1998, in a letter to UNHCR, Burma’s then Prime Minister General Khin Nyunt wrote: These people are not originally from Myanmar but have illegally migrated to Myanmar because of population pressures in their own country”[7] In February 1996, U.N. Special Rapporteur on Burma Professor Yozu Yokota quoted Lt. Gen. Mya Thinn, the then Home Minister (of SPDC) as saying “Muslim population of Rakhine (Arakan) State was not recognized as citizens of Myanmar under the existing naturalization regulations and they were not even registered as so-called foreign residents …Their status situation did not permit them to travel in the country…They are also not allowed to serve in the state positions and are barred from attending higher educational institution.” The government authorities and xenophobes time and again stated that “there is no race by the name of Rohingya”.

Now the term ‘Rohingya’ was stamped out from the list of Burma’s national races; and Rohingya language features to be non-national. On the other hand, a few Rohingya could speak the languages that the military regime recognized, and very few Rohingyas could fulfil these requirements. Whether one is citizen or not is to be decided by the single authoritarian body, Council of State not the court. “Moreover, the wide powers assigned to a government-controlled ‘Central Body’ to decide on matters pertaining to citizenship mean that, in practice, the Rohingyas’ entitlement to citizenship will not be recognized.”[8]

Rohingyas were not issued identity cards since 1970s. In 1989, colour-coded Citizens Scrutiny Cards (CRCs) were introduced: pink cards for the full citizens, blue for associate citizens and green for naturalized citizens. Rohingya were not issued with any identity cards which are very essentials in all their activities. “In 1995, in response to UNHCR’s intensive advocacy efforts to document the Rohingyas, the Burmese authorities started issuing them with Temporary Registration Card (TRC), a white card, pursuant to the 1949 Residents of Burma Registration Act. The TRC does not mention the bearer’s place of birth and cannot be used to claim citizenship. The family list, which every family residing in Burma possesses, only records family members and their date of birth. It does not indicate the place of birth and therefore provides no official evidence of birth in Burma - and so perpetuate their statelessness.”[9] By jus sanguinis rule and any accepted citizenship concepts, the Rohingya have to be issued no documents other than full citizenship cards. As a matter of fact, such issuance of white cards, many believe, has an adverse affect on their status.

1982 Citizenship Law violates the terms of international law

1982 citizenship law violates several fundamental principles of international customary law standards, offends the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and leaves Rohingyas exposed to no legal protection of their rights. The law has perpetuated the Rohingya citizenship crisis making them object of persecution and of discrimination which render them a very difficult life as stateless people in their native country, where they have absolute rights to be on an equal footing with all other citizens. Such persecution and discrimination constitute them a total disregard of the most elementary humanitarian principles and was contrary to the purposes of the United Nations. Burma, as an UN member state has obligation to follow the UN resolutions. One of such resolution unanimously adopted at 48th plenary meeting of the General Assembly reads: “The General Assembly declares that it is in the higher interests of humanity to put an immediate end to religious and so-called racial persecution and discrimination, and calls on the Governments and responsible authorities to conform both to the letter and spirit of the Charter of the United Nations, and to take the most prompt and energetic steps to the end.”[10]

In addition, the 1982 Citizenship Law offends, inter alia, the following laws of humanity:
  1. Article 15 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) which states that “everyone has the right to a nationality” and that “no one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality”. But the “citizenship law declared the Rohingyas as ‘non-nationals’ or ‘foreign residents’”[11] rendering them ‘stateless’ in their own homeland, where they have been living for generations with a long history.

  1. It is conflicting government’s obligation to fulfil the rights of the child as stipulated by Article 7(1) of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, 1989 which states that the Child shall be registered immediately after birth and shall have the right to a name, and to acquire a nationality. The Burmese government ratified this convention in 1991 and is obliged to grant citizenship to Rohingyas.

  1. Article 24(3) of the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights 1966 also states, “Every child has the right to acquire a nationality.” But most Rohingya children were denied registration and recently more than 40,000 Rohingya children have been blacklisted reasoning that their parents had not married with official permission. “Under Myanmar's 1982 citizenship law, Rohingya children - both registered and unregistered - are stateless and hence, face limited access to food and healthcare, leaving them susceptible to preventable diseases and malnutrition. Many are prevented from attending school and used for forced labour, contributing to a Rohingya illiteracy rate of 80 percent. More than 60 percent of children aged between five and 17 have never enrolled in school”..[12]

  1. Article 9 of the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEADAW), 1979 states: (a) States Parties shall grant women equal rights with men to acquire, change or retain their nationality… (b) States Parties shall grant women equal rights with men with respect to the nationality of their children. Burmese government ratified this convention on 22 July 1997. But Rohingya women and their children have been deprived of their Burmese nationality forcing them to live in servitude as stateless within Burma and refugees beyond its border -- wondering from place to place -- with ultimate aim of destroying this minority community.

  1. Article 5(d) (iii) of the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination 1965 which states that States Parties undertake to prohibit and to eliminate racial discrimination in all its forms and to guarantee the right of everyone, without distinction as to race, colour, or national or ethnic origin, to equality before the law…[and to] the enjoyment of …the right to nationality. But the Rohingyas are discriminated against and exterminated from their ancestral homeland on ground of ethnicity and religion. They have been subjected to ‘systematic racism’.

  1. The law promotes discrimination against Rohingya and arbitrary deprivation of their Burmese citizenship. The deprivation of one’s nationality is not only a serious violation of human rights but also an international crime. The law does not oblige the state to protect stateless persons (i.e. victims of a serious human rights violation), thus largely ignoring state’s ‘obligation to respect the right to nationality’.

  1. The law continues to create outflows of refugees, which overburden other countries posing threats to peace and tranquillity within the region. An estimated 1.5 million Rohingya disporas are in Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, UAE, KSA, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, USA, UK, Republic of Ireland Europe, Australia, New Zealand and Japan etc. The Rohingya refugee issue with their boat people crisis has become a regional problem with international dimension.

  1. In his report to the United Nations Prof. Yokota states: “The 1982 Citizenship Law should be revised or amended to abolish its over burdensome requirements for citizens in a manner which has discriminatory effects on racial or ethnic minorities particularly the Rakhine (Arakan) Muslims. It should be brought in line with the principles embodied in the Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness of 30 august 1961.”

Citizenship concepts in Burma and the Rohingyas

The Nu-Attlee Agreement (Treaty between the Government of the United Kingdom and the Provincial Government of Burma, 1947) was very important as to the determination of the nationality status of the peoples and races in Burma. Article 3 of the Agreement states:

“Any person who at the date of the coming into force of the present Treaty is, by virtue of the Constitution of the Union of Burma, a citizen thereof and who is, or by virtue of a subsequent election is deemed to be, also a British subject, may make a declaration of alienage in the manner prescribed by the law of the Union, and thereupon shall cease to be a citizen of the Union.

The Section 10 of the 1947 Constitution of the Union of Burma states “there shall be but only one citizenship though out the Union; that is to say, there shall be no citizenship of the unit as distinct from the citizenship of the Union.”

Citizens, as defined by the 1947 Constitution, are persons who belong to an "indigenous race", have a grandparent from an "indigenous race", are children of citizens, or lived in British Burma prior to 1942. Under this law, citizens are required to obtain a National Registration Card (NRC), while non-citizens are given a Foreign Registration Certificate (FRC). Citizens whose parents hold FRCs are not allowed to run for public office.

Who are indigenous races was defined in Article 3 (1) of the Burma Citizenship Law 1948, which states: “ For the purposes of section 11 of the Constitution the expression any of the indigenous races of Burma shall mean the Arakanese, Burmese, Chin, Kachin, Karen, Kayah, Mon or Shan race and such racial group as has settled in any of the territories included within the Union as their permanent home from a period anterior to 1823 A. D. (1185 B.E.). These two categories of people and those descended from them are automatic citizens. They did not require applying to court for naturalization. Rohingya are for all intent and purposes Arakanese and they are also a racial group who had settled in Arakan/Union of Burma as their permanent home from a period anterior to 1823 A. D. (1185 B.E.).

Therefore, the parliamentary government (1948-1962) had officially declared Rohingya as one of the indigenous ethnic groups of Burma. The declaration reads: “The people living in Maungdaw and Buthidaung regions are our national brethren. They are called Rohingya. They are on the same par in status of nationality with Kachin, Kayah, Karen, Mon, Rakhine and Shan. They are one of the ethnic races of Burma.”[13]

But Article 3 of the 1982 Burma Citizenship Law defines indigenous ethnic groups (Taing-Yin-Tha) stating “Nationals such as the Kachin, Karen, Chin, Burma, Mon, Rakhine or Shan and ethnic groups as have settled in any of the territories included within the States as their permanent home from a period anterior to 1185 B.E., 1823 A.D” are Burma citizens. Here the word ‘Rakhine’ replaced the word ‘Arakanese’ and is designedly attributed to the Buddhist Arakanese at the exclusion of the Muslim Rohingya Arakanese.

Unlike 1947 Constitution and 1948 Citizenship Law, 1982 Citizenship Law established three-tired system of citizenship (full, associate and naturalized), which is actually more a question of categorisation and discrimination, and is an instrument of oppression against Rohingyas and so-called non-indigenous racial groups. The category of associate citizenship should be abolished as it tends to create high class citizens and low class citizens within a nation. In conformity with the generally accepted citizenship concept, associate citizenship should be abolished. All citizens whether full citizens or naturalized citizens should be constitutionally treated as equal in dignity and rights. No special privileges should be granted to any individuals or groups on grounds of ethnicity and religion.

Article 44( c) states an applicant for naturalized citizenship shall have “to be able to speak well one of the national languages.” This clauses pose very much oppressive tool towards anyone to denationalize the marginalized groups like Rohingya and to generate a lot of IDPs and refugees and it should be permanently deleted. Burma is an ethnically diverse country. There are people particularly those living in remote areas or isolated places of the country have no knowledge of Burmese nor are unable to speak well one of the so-called indigenous languages. In the case of Hasan Ali and Meher Ali[14] their Lordships of the Supreme Court observed: “Today in various parts of Burma there are people who, because of their origin and isolated way of life, are totally unlike the Burmese in appearance or speak of events which has occurred outside the limits of their habitation, They are nevertheless statutory citizens under the Union Citizenship Act (1948)….Thus mere race or appearance of a person or whether he has a knowledge of language of the Union is not the test as to whether he is a citizen of the Union.“

Article 71 of the 1982 law states “Organisations conferred with authority under this law shall give no reasons in matters carried out under this law”. It is not at all compatible with democracy and human rights. It should be scrapped for good. Every action should be answerable to law and constitution.

Rohingya were never legally treated as aliens

Rohingyas were not subjected to any laws related to Registration of Foreigners before or after Burma’s independence such as the Foreigner Act (Indian Act III, 1846), the Registration of Foreigners Act (Burma Act VII, 1940) and the Registration of Foreigners Rules, 1948. During colonial administration Rohingya representatives were elected from North Arakan as Burmese nationals from national quotas. In 1946, as an indigenous people, General Aung San assured full rights and privileges to Muslim Rohingya Arakanese saying “I give (offer) you a blank cheque. We will live together and die together. Demand what you want. I will do my best to fulfil them. If native people are divided, it will be difficult to achieve independence for Burma.[15]

Rohingya exercised the right of franchise (the right of citizenship and the right to vote) in all elections held in Burma from British colonial rule up to the present such as, 91 Department Administration election (1936), Aung San’s Constituent Assembly election (1947), all elections during parliamentary rule (1952, 1956, 1960), Ne Win’s BSPP (Burma Socialist Programme Party) constitutional referendum and election (1974) and SLORC military multiparty election (1990), military SPDC’s constitutional referendum (2008) and its multi-party election (2010).

In post independence, during parliamentary rule, the Burmese government issued two kinds of Identity Cards: -- National Registration Cards (NRCs) to all Burmese residents and Foreigner’s Registration Certificates (FRCs) to all registered foreigners. As a matter of fact, as there was no citizenship certificate/card then, the NRC was the only ID generally used as a proof of one’s citizenship in Burma. NRC was first issued in 1952 starting from Maungdaw Township, where 96% population, at that time, was Rohingya. These NRCs are the same IDs issued to Rakhine and all other ethnic groups and citizens in the country. Under state programme, the immigration and national registration teams went round the villages, checked the family lists and took photographs of the inmates for the purpose of issuing NRCs. It was a bona fide document that allowed one to carry on all his national activities, without let or hindrance: -- to possess moveable and immovable or landed properties, pursue education, including higher studies and professional courses in the country’s seats of learning, right to work and public services, including armed forces, and to obtain Burmese passport for travelling abroad, including pilgrimage to Holy Makkah. Like all other NRC holders the Rohingya enjoyed all basic rights and privileges although serious discrimination existed since 1962 military takeover.

What citizenship status do the Rohingya have in Burma?

The Rohingya are sons of the soil of Arakan/Burma cannot be overruled. Yet the government with xenophobes are denying Rohingya’s existence in Burma. They used to say that “there were no people existed in Burma by the name of Rohingya; the word Rohingya was not in the history, the word Rohingya was never hard of… etc.etc”. It is a blatant lie and is a shame because the critics know that they are lying perfidiously. With hatred against this people, they may instead say that “there was Rohingya, recognized by the Burmese parliamentary government as an ethnic group on par with other ethnic nationalities of the country; but now we reject them to be a part of us simply because we don’t like them for their physical feature, language, culture and religion.” They are blind to see and are ostriches to face reality and recognise the truth. Following are some of the realities:

1.      The word ‘Rohingya’ was not coined but a historical name for the Muslim Arakanese. There is still Muslim village in Akayab (Sittwe) city by the name of Rohingya para. The word was conspicuous in various annals and is in the pages of history. “It can be asserted, however, that one claim of the Buddhist school in Rakhaing historiography, that Rohingya was an invention of the colonial period, is contradicted by the evidence.”[16]
2.      Rohingyas were an integral part of the Mrauk U Empire before Burman occupation of it in 1784. They were kingmakers who virtually ruled Arakan with sublime civilization.

3.      During British colonial period part of their traditional homeland was recognized as ‘Muslim Area of North Arakan’.

4.      In 1946, Genreal Aung San assured them rights and freedom on par with other people of the country as natives of Arakan as well as one of the indigenous nationalities of Burma.

5.      Under Article 3 of the Aung San-Attlee Treaty (1947) and the First Schedule to the Burma Independence Act 1947, the Rohingya are citizens of the Union of Burma. They are also one of the indigenous races of the country under Section 11 (1) (II) and (III) of the 1947 Constitution.

6.      The parliamentary government (1948-1962) had recognized ‘Rohingya’ as one of the indigenous ethnic nationalities of Burma.

7.      Giving special significance on the indigenous status of Rohingya, the former first Pesident of Burma Sao Shwe Theik stated, “Muslims of Arakan certainly belong to one of the indigenous races of Burma. If they do not belong to the indigenous races, we also cannot be taken as indigenous races.”[17]

8.      Rohingya were never legally treated as foreigners by the British colonial administration and all governments that ruled Burma from independence in 1948, in various shape and manifestation. They duly exercised the right of franchise in all elections held in Burma and voted their representatives to legislative bodies or parliaments and various levels of administrative councils.

9.      There were Rohingya MPs. Minister, parliamentary secretaries, professionals, doctors, engineers, lawyers, academics, civil and military officers, and others who run for public office. It is noteworthy that citizens whose parents hold FRCs are not allowed to run for public office.

The above are some of the many facts which bear witness that Rohingyas are an integral part of Burma’s society, and are bona fide citizens like any other recognized ethnic groups or national races of the country. Rohingya issue is not a question of ‘illegal immigration’ that the government with the vested interests is pretending and trying to hoodwink the international opinion to justify Rohingya persecution. It is a case of intolerance deeply entrenched in ‘systematic racism’ and preoccupation of the ‘Muslim phobia’. The only solution for their due accommodation in the family of the Union of Burma solely rests on the will of the ruling government.

Last not least, arbitrary deprivation of Rohingya’s citizenship is an international crime. Nonetheless, the Rohingya problem is first and foremost to be resolved within Burma that requires effective international pressure. Again in the face of the exhaustion of all domestic remedies the international community is the only hope for the restoration of their citizenship with collective rights. It will be sagacity on the part of the ruling government to response to the outcry of Rohingya and international reaction without delay.

[1] Thant Myint-U , “ The River of Lost Footsteps”, Mackays of Chatham, plc, 2008, p.73.
[2] Ba Shi, “Coming of Islam to Burma 1700 AD”, a research paper presented at Azad Bhavan, New Delhi in 1961, p.4.
[3] Martin Smith, “The Muslim “Rohingyas” of Burma, Draft for Consultation at Conference of Burma Centrum Nederland, !! December 1995, p. 5.
[4] Chris Lewa, “North Arakan: An open prison for the Rohingya in Burma”, April, 15, 2009.
[5] Speech by General Ne Win on 8 October 1982, provided in the Working People’s Daily, 9 October 1982.
[6] Abdur Razzaq Mahfuzul Haque, “A Tale of Refugees: Rohingyas in Bangladesh”, published by Centre for Human Rights, 1995, p.52.
[7] Chris Lewa, “North Arakan: An open prison for the Rohingya in Burma”, April, 15, 2009.
[8] Ibid.
[9] Chris Lewa, “North Arakan: An open prison for the Rohingya in Burma”, April, 15, 2009.
[10] General Assembly resolution 103(1) of 19 November 1946.
[11] The Times of India, “ Delhi plays reluctant host to Myanmar’s nowhere people”, Nandita Sengupta, May 26, 2012.
[12] IRIN news, “In Brief: 40,000 Rohingya Children in Myanmar Unregistered”, Bangkok, 19 January 2012
[13] Radio speech by Prime Minister U Nu, 25 September 1954 at 8:00 PM
Public speech by Prime Minister U Nu and Defence Minister U Ba Swe at Maungdaw and Buthidaung respectively on 3& 4 November 1959.
[14] Criminal Miscellaneous applications No. 155 and 156 of 1959 of the Supreme Court
[15] Prof. Dr. Aung Zaw, “Tineyin Muslims Sapyusasu Poggu-kyawmya-2” (Indigenous gazetted Muslim elite-2), (in Burmese), 20009, p.188.
[16] Dr. Michael W. Charney, Buddhism in Arakan: Theory and Historiography of the religious Basis of the Ethnonym” Forgotten Kingdom of Arakan Workshop, 23-24 November 2005, Bangkok, p.15.
[17] “The Rohingyas: Bengali Muslims or Arakan Muslim”, Euro Burma Office (EBO) Briefing Paper No.2, 2009. In Dr. San Oo Aung http://sannaung 22 January 2008.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Refugee Repatriation underway to fearful condition


Is Refugee Return Already Underway?

Bamboo huts with leaf roofs, built by refugees, dot the hills of
Mae La Oon camp southwest of Mae Sariang. (Photo : DIETER TELEMANS/ TBBC)

Representatives from refugee support agencies and international nongovernmental organizations are engaged in meetings with Burmese officials in Naypyidaw to discuss plans for the resettlement of internally displaced persons (IDPs) and war refugees in eastern Burma.

Included in the talks are the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), and Burma’s Minister for Border Affairs. Several meetings have been held in recent weeks, but no group has been willing to disclose detail of the negotiations.

On April 25, Johannes Gerhard Ten Feld, the resident representative of the UNHCR, met with Burmese Minister for Border Affairs Lt-Gen Thein Htay in the capital to discuss ways to enhance cooperation between both parties in matters relating to the delivery of humanitarian assistance and the resettlement of displaced families, according to The New Light of Myanmar.

On May 15, the same newspaper reported that the Bangkok-based UNHCR office’s Southeast Asian Coordinator, James Lynch, had met with Lt-Gen Thein Htay and Deputy Minister for Border Affairs Maj-Gen Zaw Win in Naypyidaw where they “spoke frankly” about those same issues.

The level of talks is seen by many Burmese observers as a preparatory step for the repatriation of Burmese war refugees and the closure of nine refugee camps on the Thai-Burmese border. There are more than 1 million IDPs in eastern Burma and 150,000 Burmese refugees at camps along the border.

NGOs working at the Thai-Burmese border have been quick to surmise that both the Thai and Burmese governments are engaging with international organizations because they are paving the way for the repatriation of the refugees.

NGO sources said that three camps are being built in Myawaddy District in southern Karen State to house repatriated Burmese from two refugee camps in Thailand’s Tak Province, most likely Nu Po and Umpieng camps.

According to Thai military sources, a group of eight Burmese officials from Karenni State held a meeting with Thai authorities from bordering Mae Hong Son Province on May 17 in the northern Thai town of Mae Sariang.

The Burmese officials reportedly called on the Thai authorities to shut down refugee camps in Mae Hong Son and to repatriate Karenni refugees, as well as long-neck ethnic Padaung people who are currently housed in temporary camps in Mae Hong Son.

In a recent meeting with the rebel Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP) in Mae Hong Son, the leading Burmese government peace negotiator, Aung Min, stated that Naypyidaw wants to begin the resettlement of Karenni refugees by the rainy season this year, presumably in June.

Recently, local Thai authorities have been informally surveying refugees from three camps along the Thai-Burmese border about their opinions and their intentions for the near future, said Sally Thompson, the deputy director of the Thailand Burma Border Consortium, the main humanitarian agency providing aid to the 150,000 refugees.

Thai authorities have reportedly been conducting the informal survey in Mae La camp, the largest refugee center in Tak Province, and two Karenni refugee camps in Mae Hong Son, northern Thailand, since mid-March.

“We have to prepare for the return of refugees, but there is still no timeframe for it,” said Thompson.

Some NGO sources said that any possibility of Burmese refugee repatriation must be conducted voluntarily and not until the peace process between the government and rebel Karen National Union (KNU) is guaranteed.

Since peace negotiations have begun, several refugees have returned to their abandoned villages in Karen State and other parts of eastern Burma to assess the damage, the safety, and the feasibility of returning.

And few refugee families in Ban Don Yang camp in Kanchanaburi Province were reportedly repatriated recently by Thai authorities, but voluntarily, said the sources.

Naw Dee, a housewife in Mae La Oon refugee camp in Mae Hong Son Province said that she has recently visited her hometown in Papun District in northern Karen State to observe the conditions on the ground.

She said that local villagers in Papun District are now rushing to buy (or seize) more land and marking their territories as the potential of a relative economic boom takers root in anticipation of a successful peace agreement.

Naw Dee, also a landowner in Papun District, said that she and other landowners now have to pay a local land tax to respective village heads.

Other refugees have been reported visiting their hometowns across Karen State. While leaving their wives and children at the camps, many men are returning to begin rebuilding their homes and planting crops.

Meanwhile, Norwegian Initiative, a pilot project which is believed to have received some US $5 million in funding from the Norwegian government, is consulting with local communities and conducting assessments among local villagers in IDP zones, as well as in Kyaukkyi District in Pegu Division.

Based on the findings of the needs assessments, the Norwegian Initiative said it will continue to work with ethnic armed groups, the government, international and national NGOs, and communities to support projects which provide peace dividends for people living in areas affected by armed conflict, a source said.

Kitty McKinsey, the regional spokeswoman for the UNHCR in Asia, said, “We know Myanmar is changing very quickly and we want to be prepared. But the return [of refugees] has to be voluntary.”

Source: Irrawaddy

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Rohingya Should Join in International Dialogue

UNHCR representative discusses Rohingya repatriation with Food Minister

Reported by: UNBconnect
Reported on: May 27, 2012 19:45 PM
Reported in: National
News - UNHCR representative discusses Rohingya repatriation with Food Minister
Dhaka, May 27 (UNB) – Regional Representative of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) James Lynch met Food and Disaster Management Minister Dr M Abdur Razzak at his office on Sunday.

During the meeting, they discussed various issues, including Rohingya refugee problem.

James Lynch said a meeting has been convened in Bangkok followed by a conference in Bali, Indonesia to decide on the method of refugee repatriation where Bangladesh can play raise its voice regarding repatriation of the Rohingya refugees.

He said talks are continuing with the Myanmar government to repatriate about 25,000 registered Rohingyas from Bangladesh. “The Myanmar government did not discuss the issue in the past. But now the situation has improved much and it is paying heed to the problem,” he said.

The Food and Disaster Management Minister underscored the need for finding out the root cause of the migration of the refugees to effectively deal with the refugee problem.

He said Bangladesh, being a poor country, has been giving shelter and assistance to the Rohingyas for the last 20 years on humanitarian consideration.

The Food Minister further said the Rohingya refugee problem is no longer a problem of Bangladesh only. “It has turned into an international issue.”

Disaster Management and Relief Secretary Dr M Aslam Alam said step will be taken to organise an international dialogue in Cox’s Bazar to discuss the overall situation of North Rakhaine State of Myanmar on humanitarian ground.

A similar dialogue was earlier held in Singapore, he said.
Source: UNB Connect

Delhi plays reluctant host to Myanmar's nowhere people

The Times of India

Delhi plays reluctant host to Myanmar's nowhere people

NEW DELHI: Hands clasped behind his back, Nazeer Ahmad stands stiff. He's in a lungi, kurta and skullcap at the edge of a huddle of men speaking to a reporter in the shade of a barely-there tin sheet propped up on bamboo stilts. Listless as he stands on a dusty, barren plot at southeast Delhi's Madanpur Khadar, he doesn't join the group. Only when the reporter moves away, he steps up.

"The UN has wronged us," he says. "The UN has given refugee status to all other Burmese refugees but for us. It says India doesn't allow it. Why?" His eyes redden in frustration and shoulders droop as he pulls an 8- or 9-year-old girl to stand in front of him. "Why can't I send her to school? Are my children different from others?" Ahmad is a Rohingya Muslim, one of an estimated 4,000 now in India's cities. The Rohingyas are from Myanmar's Arakan region, a strip of land the size of Kerala. It has India (Manipur) to its north, Bangladesh to its northwest across the river Naf, a range of difficult hills cut it off from the rest of Myanmar on the west and the Bay of Bengal to its south.

Activists say Rohingya Muslims are among the world's most persecuted people. Bias against this ethnic Muslim group is racial and religious, say Rohingya scholars, and is rooted in history. Their 'Indian' - read non-Burmese - looks and their religion have been held against them ever since the 18th century when Buddhists conquered the Muslim-ruled Arakan. The hill tracts separating them from the rest of Myanmar added to their woes. They remained "outsiders". The attempt to depopulate the area and push Arakanese Muslims out has been a sustained campaign, says Tun Khin, London-based leader-activist of the UK's Burmese Rohingya Organization.

Things turned ugly when the military junta came to power in 1972 and in two years, Rohingya Muslims were stripped of their nationality. Killings, confiscation of property, destruction of mosques and sexual attacks forced more than 200,000 out of the country. In 1982, a citizenship law declared the Rohingyas as "non-national" or "foreign residents". The Burmese authorities call them "naikanzha" (non-resident without right to land, law or rights) and the region's Buddhists "thairansa" (residents), says Ahmad, flashing his non-resident Burmese ID card. Arakan's people are Buddhist and Muslim, and the region was renamed Rakhine in 1989 when Burma was renamed Myanmar.

Their madrassas are padlocked, they have to pay heavy fines if they want to marry, which means most cannot, says 26-year-old Omer Hamza. They can't send their children to school and they can't stay over in other villages. The last is the reason most of them make the transit to India via Bangladesh, not directly through Manipur. Reaching the Indian border requires them to pass through villages in Myanmar, which is disallowed so the risk of being jailed is high.

Chased out, they live in the largest numbers in Bangladesh. About 600,000 live in camps in Saudi Arabia, 200,000 in Pakistan. Arakan has about 1.2 million Muslims, says Khin and the 900,000 who remain in Arakan form Myanmar's largest minority group.

Ahmad fled with his children, wife and mother. The 50-year-old registered himself and his family at the UN's human rights office in 2009. They issued him a letter recording his registration and a UNHCR card was issued to him in 2011.

Ahmad's story repeats itself, with changes in details, in each of the approximately 50 tents under the banner of Darul Hijrat of Zakat Foundation, which are now home to about 300 Rohingya Muslims. They were sheltered here by the charity after they were chased out of their Vasant Kunj camp earlier in May.

Inside a tent, Rashida carelessly cradles a weeping three-year-old boy. Both she and the child are running fever; Rashida's eyes are drawn and she sits tight. The 37-year-old finds it difficult to hold a full bladder all day.

Ever since they were brought here on May 15, the empty plot became 'home', but since the bathroom is an adjoining empty plot, the women wait till night to relieve themselves and bathe. "Where to go in these barren fields? It's all in the open. It's scary," says the mother of two daughters and five sons, hastily adding that she is not complaining. It's not a matter they can discuss with the men, so Fatima simply sits tight.

She rushes to say she is grateful to the NGO for giving them ground under their feet, a cover over their heads, firewood for cooking and rice. The local MLA has promised to provide a water tanker every day.

Toilet inconveniences and health issues that the women face are, after all, no issue at all, they say, compared with the grave matter of their place in the world. Rashida says she simply can't figure out why they aren't granted refugee status, which would ensure "a taleem" (education) for her children - five boys and two girls.

But nations are cagey about Rashida and her fellow Rohingyas, uncertain where to fit them in a terror-wary and energy-hungry world.

Who is their leader? Are they a security risk?

About 620 Rohingya families hit the headlines in Delhi in April when they landed up unannounced in tony Vasant Vihar's UNHCR office to demand refugee status. They first camped in Vasant Vihar, were evicted, squatted in Vasant Kunj, were thrown out, and then many dispersed while 50 families were given shelter by the charity which took pity on them. "It's a humanitarian effort. We don't know how long we can keep them. Let's see," says the NGO.

As far as organizing protests go, it was a puny affair, their fight reduced to being a "nuisance factor" in new-age Delhi, the city that's known to make space for refugees. Yet, the coming together of a poor people, rudderless and on the face of it leaderless, raised an alarm. Who is behind them?

The Rohingya leadership is elusive. Some of the more articulate are being pushed to speak up, following the media coverage of their protest outside the UNHCR office. A file of their papers includes appeals filed by a group named Myanmar Rohingya Refugee Committee, led apparently by Delhi-based Shomshul Alam, who lives in Khajuri Khas, Jammu-based Abul Hossin and a Mohammed Salim, who is also from Delhi, says Hamza.

In their Madanpur Khadar group, Nazeer Ahmad and Zia-ur-Rahman are engaging with outsiders. A couple of 'leaders' are studying in Deoband too. These are faceless people. It looks more like a desperate poor community cobbling together a representation of sorts.

Tun Khin says he doesn't know of any organized group of the Rohingya Muslims in India. "The poorer ones with very little provisions are in India."

But many suspect a "hand" behind them. Their synchronized appearance, apparently out of thin air from across the country, led to a question in the Rajya Sabha with BJP's Balbir Punj objecting to their remaining in the country and demanding a probe to identify the "organizer". After a monthlong standoff from April between the Indian government, UNHCR and the protesters, they were given permission to stay in the country till 2015 pending a series of verifications by sundry agencies.

Alongside, a strident letter to the PM and all-who-matter from VHP leader Praveen Togadia has demanded the Rohingyas be thrown out as they were a "security risk". Togadia, whose letter and a series of attachments are available online refers to a 2005 paper by security analyst B Raman. The paper says the Bangladesh wing of HUJI recruited a "number of Rohingya Muslims" and took them "to Afghanistan to fight Soviet and Afghan troops" in the 1980s. The VHP's note on Raman's paper names "24 Bangladeshi/ Rohingya mujahideen" who died during the Afghanistan jihad.

Raman also mentions that a Rohingya group is "projecting itself as HUJI Myanmar".
The Burmese regimes accuse them of being Bangladeshi infiltrators. One of the main attacks is to red-flag the bogey of Islamization of Myanmar via these 'Bangladeshi Muslim infiltrators'. In Bangladesh, where lakhs have taken shelter, they are called Burmese. "Where do I go?" asks Khin.

In India, the call to throw out the Rohingyas is also based on reports of a number of such Muslims joining terror outfits. How much is the security risk from shelterless people mired in misery? B Raman says, "We don't know their background. We don't know who they were in contact with. One has to be cautious." One of the reasons, says Raman, that Aung San Suu Kyi is not supporting the Rohingyas is because of certain Rohingya groups' actions against the Burmese army. "While she is talking about some ethnic groupings, she has stayed quiet on the Rohingya," says Raman, adding that they should simply be repatriated.

One-way ticket out of Myanmar

They look hunted at the idea of a return to Myanmar. Hamza says the very thought of repatriation terrifies; refugee is the only status they can aspire to. "Whatever happens, we can't return. They've taken our houses, our land."

"We can't return to Myanmar and we aren't allowed to be refugees. Where do we go?" says a shaking Ahmad, father of four sons and three daughters. "It will be double 'zulum'. It's not an option," chorus the refugees.

The trip from Arakan to Delhi took him just a week, says Hamza, now the maulana among the Madanpur Khadar group. He had a tiny farm in Arakan. Hamza escaped to India in 2009 in 'jamadil awal' or winter. The last straw was when the Burmese army picked him up in an extortion bid. Hamza's brother, a petty shopkeeper, paid a hefty sum for his release. "We knew that now that they had got the money, they would target me again," he says.

The exit plan didn't take long. "The route and arrangements are in place because people have been leaving for a long time now," says Hamza. From his Arakan village, it was a kishti (canoe) to Chittagong. He bussed it from Chittagong to Dhaka, which ferried "only Burmese", then a private vehicle from Dhaka to Kolkata and by train to Delhi. It took a week and cash changed hands at every checkpost from his village onwards, ranging from Rs 200 to Rs 3,000 at each point. "When a group moves, many get caught and are dumped in prisons. I was lucky," he says.

Being cautious over security reasons is one thing, hawkish another. The UN's denying them refugee status and being satisfied with the Indian government's extension of their stay is a big dampener for them. "We came to India because it is the land of 'raham-karam' (mercy and fate/ providence)," says Hamza.

The UNHCR card that they flash will "only ensure that the police don't harass us. But we can't send our children to school," says Fatima. This concern about the children is not a parrot-like drone; it seems born of watching the very many half-clothed kids running around in the dirt. "My life is finished, but I must think of the children's future," says Hamza, aged 26.

Fatima (27), mother of three kids, reached India several years ago, got married here and has lived in several cities for stretches of six to seven months, returning to a given town after a gap. Jalalabad, Jammu, Muzaffarnagar, "some place in Haryana", and now in Delhi, she racks her memory. She says with a quiet smile: "We have no place to go. 'Jaane ka koi rasta nahin'. (There are no roads leading anywhere). Wherever we go, we are chased away."

The Rohingyas live across India from Jammu to Hyderabad, from Uttarkhand's Bagwari to Jaipur, in pockets in Jalalabad, Baghpat and Muzaffarnagar. These are the main places from where the 620 families came to Delhi, says Hamza, each city having its own loose network of "Burmese refugees". "We reach the country but have no fixed schedule. We move from a city when we are thrown out," he says matter-of-factly.

World salivates over energy-rich Arakan

The Rohingya Muslims need help in two ways: with a refugee status to those who have fled the country and putting pressure on the Burmese government to restore land rights to those who remain in the country. Rehabilitation of this ethnic group seems all the more important especially because of the terror links that have surfaced. But nations seem more likely to look the other way.

It's not as if the world hasn't heard of Arakan in resource-rich Myanmar, the country abundant in oil, natural gas, coal, zinc, copper, precious stones, timber and hydropower with uranium deposits thrown in too.

Arakan is Myanmar's richest oil-producing region. Arakanese locals claim they have been extracting oil for over 300 years using makeshift pulleys. Whatever the actual history, Myanmar is certainly one of the world's oldest oil producers, its first barrel exported in the 1850s. As per CIA figures, Myanmar could have 50 million barrels of oil and 283 cubic metres of natural gas. According to experts, gas will be the main focus of the much-needed foreign investment over the coming years, though there is little data on the extent of reserves.

With the military junta giving way to a civilian government that came to power in February last, the world is eyeing Myanmar hungrily. Strategic affairs analyst Robert Kaplan wrote in Stratfor, "Geographically, Myanmar ... is where the spheres of influence of China and India overlap. Think of Myanmar as another Afghanistan in terms of its potential to change a region: a key, geostrategic puzzle piece ravaged by war and ineffective government that, if only normalized, would unroll trade routes in all directions."

He goes on to talk about the immense potential of the region. "At Ramree Island off the Arakan coast, the Chinese are constructing pipelines to take oil and natural gas from Africa, the Persian Gulf and Bay of Bengal across the heart of Myanmar to Kunming. There will also be a high-speed rail line roughly along this route by 2015.
"India too is constructing an energy terminal at Sittwe [Arakan] that will potentially carry offshore natural gas northwest through Bangladesh to West Bengal. The Indian pipeline would split into two directions, with another proposed route going to the north around Bangladesh. Commercial goods will follow along new highways to be built to India. Kolkata, Chittagong and Yangon, rather than being cities in three separate countries, will finally be part of one Indian Ocean world."

If that weren't euphoric enough, "The salient fact here is that by liberating Myanmar, India's hitherto landlocked northeast, lying on the far side of Bangladesh, will also be opened up to the outside. Northeast India has suffered from bad geography and underdevelopment, and as a consequence it has experienced about a dozen insurgencies in recent decades ... Myanmar's political opening and economic development changes this geopolitical fact, because both India's northeast and Bangladesh will benefit from Myanmar's political and economic renewal.

"With poverty reduced somewhat in all these areas, the pressure on Kolkata and West Bengal to absorb economic refugees will be alleviated." He signs off on an impossibly positive note, "If Myanmar can build pan-ethnic institutions ... it could come close to being a midlevel power in its own right..."

The operative words being "if" and "pan-ethnic". A look at the state of the Rohingya Muslims, one can only wonder.

The road ahead

Rohingyas saw a ray of hope when the civilian government promised to talk with the many dispossessed ethnic groups in Myanmar including the insurgent groups. But once the government announced the groups it would be talking to, their name was conspicuously missing. "While the government has engaged in talks with several other ethnic groups, not even a whisper in the wind of talking about Rohingyas," says Khin.

Discrimination is growing, says Nurul Islam, president of the London-based Arakan Rohingya National Organization. In a March 29 interview, he said, "There is no change of attitude of the new civilian government of U Thein Sein towards Rohingya people; there is no sign of change in the human rights situation of Rohingya people. Persecution against them is actually greater than before."

For the world, their predicament has remained a blind spot. There's little coverage on their plight.

The UNHCR, which takes care of 'Arakanese Muslims' in the region, does not mention the term Rohingya in its online literature on Myanmar, choosing to refer to them as Arakanese Muslims. "The UNHCR works in Arakan with an understanding with the regime. It is on a contract. Though Rohingya is established in international community, UNHCR avoids using the term," says Khin. Can lopping off their core identity help assimilate or mainstream this ethnic group?

The UNHCR says it supports the 800,000 Muslim residents in the northern part of the region that was renamed Rakhine state (NRS), who do not have citizenship." Its website says, "There has been no improvement in the legal status or living conditions of the Muslim residents of NRS. With the government's response to the proposals being a reiteration of current policies, UNHCR foresees a continuing need for programmes to assist residents without citizenship in NRS."

Fears are strong that the coming 2014 census that the Burmese government has promised may bypass the existence of the Rohingya Muslims altogether. NGOs are stepping up their agitation in the run-up to the census, says Khin.

These fears were given credence by recent reports that senior government officials have said that there are no 'stateless people in Myanmar' while the immigration minister reiterated the allegation that the Rohingyas are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.

At Madanpur Khadar, they have no place to go. And they are praying they will not outstay their welcome. The charity has taken no decision, but has provisioned for about a month, says Dr Najaf, its secretary.

Does India have reason to fear Rashida? If you look at the plight of this young population, not today. But if we don't take care of her and her children, who knows what these kids will be doing a few years from now? They're sitting ducks, easy prey.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Burma's Rohingya: A panel discussion

LSE Arts and Centre for the Study of Human Rights panel discussion

Date: Monday 16 July 2012
Time: 6.30-7.30pm
Venue: Hong Kong Theatre, Clement House
Speakers: Greg Constantine, Chris Lewa, Melanie Teff
Chair: Professor Chetan Bhatt

The recent developments in Myanmar (Burma) have captured the attention and interest of governments and policy makers around the world.

Governments like the US, UK and the EU have eased sanctions, high level diplomatic missions have met with Burma's leaders and democracy icon and leader of the NLD, Aung San Suu Kyi, is now sitting as a Member of Parliament. Yet with all of the changes, the future for Burma's stateless Rohingya community in the North Rakhine State--recognized as one of the most oppressed people in the world--has received little or no attention and remains one of the most sensitive issues not only in Burma but also in the SE Asia region.
This event corresponds to the photography exhibition and book launch of, 'Exiled To Nowhere: Burma's Rohingya' by Greg Constantine. It discusses the situation for the Rohingya in Burma, Bangladesh and beyond as well as how protracted statelessness, exclusion and the denial of citizenship and fundamental rights have impacted this community.

Greg Constantine is a freelance photojournalist from the United States. Since early 2006, he has worked on one long-term project titled "Nowhere People," which documents the struggles of stateless minority groups around the world. Over the past six years Constantine has made eight trips to southern Bangladesh to document and expose the plight and stories of the Rohingya community. His work has been widely published and exhibited and has been recognized with numerous awards.

In 2011, he was selected by the Open Society Institute for the group exhibition, Moving Walls 19 and he was shortlisted for the Amnesty International Media Award for Photojournalism in the UK. His first book, Kenya’s Nubians: Then & Now, was published in late 2011 and his second book, Exiled To Nowhere: Burma’s Rohingya, will be released in June 2012. Constantine has been based in Southeast Asia since late 2005.

Melanie Teff is Senior Advocate, European Representative, Refugees International and has conducted numerous research missions with Refugees International to assess the situation of refugees, internally-displaced and stateless people in Liberia, northern Uganda, Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Ethiopia, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Colombia, northern Iraq, Syria, and Kuwait, as well as the Rohingya communities in Bangladesh and Malaysia. She previously worked as international advocacy officer for the Jesuit Refugee Service and has coordinated the International Coalition on the Detention of Refugees, Asylum Seekers and Migrants. She has worked as a human rights advocacy trainer in the Dominican Republic, where her focus was on the issue of statelessness. She has also worked as legal advisor to a local nongovernmental organization in the Solomon Islands combating domestic violence and child abuse. Prior to getting involved with international work, she worked as a lawyer in the UK with a focus on child rights. Ms. Teff has a Master of Laws degree in International Human Rights Law from the University of Essex.

Chris Lewa is Director of The Arakan Project, an NGO based in Asia, and is a leading expert on the Rohingya minority of Burma/Myanmar. For the last 12 years, she has been engaged in research-based advocacy on the situation of the Rohingya's in Burma, on their predicament as refugees in Bangladesh and on their migratory movements throughout Asia. She has also worked as a consultant for the UNHCR, donor governments and international human rights organizations.

Professor Chetan Bhatt is the Director of the Centre for the Study of Human Rights at LSE.
Suggested hashtag for this event for Twitter users: #lseBurma
This event is free and open to all with no ticket required. Entry is on a first come, first served basis. For any queries email or call 020 7949 4909.
Media queries: please contact the Press Office if you would like to reserve a press seat or have a media query about this event, email

Source: LSE