Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Communal conflicts in Rakhine State

Wednesday, 18 July 2012 13:10 Tin Maung Htoo

(Commentary) – I am making this clarification in response to some concerns over my stand on the recent communal conflicts in Arakan State of Burma.

As a point of departure to this clarification, I note that as a human rights activist, I passionately support fundamental rights and freedoms of all human beings and hold in high value the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Also, it is my understanding that the international solidarity campaign started since early 1990s is one in response to the call and needs of Burmese people who have been struggling for freedom and democracy in their homeland – in other words, it is my belief that the international solidarity campaign was intended to be, and should continue as such, an extension of the Burmese people’s needs/aspirations.

Tin Maung Htoo Photo: Facebook

Applying the liberties of a free and democratic society, I, over the past few weeks, presented my personal points of view and shared information in an attempt to balance what I perceive to be some unfair and imbalanced reports disseminated on some media and social media websites regarding the conflicts occurring in Burma’s Arakan State.

In the time that has ensued since I released my personal points of view, some people made judgments on my stand that have resulted in confusion among Burma supporters in Canada and elsewhere.

For example, I wrote a brief note, citing as historical background, "In 1950s, a Jihad movement started in Burma and Mujahedeen took up arms. When failed, Rohingyas started seeking for an ethnic nationality status that is widely rejected by the majority of people in Burma" [sic.]. However, a journalist who wrote an article titled “The hypocrisy of Burma’s pro-democracy movement” on the Asian Correspondent website interpreted my note as followed: "Tin Maung Htoo, director of Canadian Friends of Burma (CFOB)... said the Rohingya were the remnants of a Mujahideen movement in western Burma that had tried to gain citizenship after their 'Jihad' failed." Furthermore, and unfortunately, many of the personal views that I expressed as an individual have been misinterpreted as the views and positions of the organization with which I work and am affiliated, Canadian Friends of Burma (CFOB). Therefore, there is an urgent need for me to clarify my position. The following is entirely my own personal view and is in no ways meant to reflect upon CFOB.

In my perspective, Burma is a country with diversity in culture, ethnicity and religion. The majority of Burmese Buddhist population is tolerant of such differences. For example, churches and mosques are everywhere in Burma – even at the centers of major cities.

The recent communal conflicts that broke out in Arakan State run counter to such tolerance and what is occurring is beyond my comprehension due to the back-and-forth of accusations regarding the various atrocities that have taken place.

Due to my role in a campaign and advocacy group, I have tried to stay personally neutral to the best of my abilities. However, I had a hard time keeping my personal views silent due to what I perceived to be unbalanced reports and fabricated information disseminated by some exiled Rohingya Organizations and news groups, portraying one side of the conflict as “racists” and “oppressors.” They are even calling for  “international intervention” for what they call “genocide,” “ethnic cleansing” and “apartheid” in Burma. I am sure those descriptions are used for their convenience rather than to describe objective events.  Such accusations are one-sided, orchestrated and quite ridiculous to me. I chose to speak out.

Using the social media, I presented some facts and evidence in order for my colleagues and friends to see an alternative to what I perceive to be unbalanced and fabricated information on the situation on the ground.

However, my personal opinion does not mean to reflect or represent the organization I am working for. I am simply taking up my liberty and freedom of expression afforded to me in a democratic country to speak my mind. I apologize for any confusion caused when some of my personal opinions were inaccurately understood to represent or reflect the organization for which I work.

In terms of  “conflict resolution” for the situation in Arakan State, I personally support the position of Burmese democracy leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. That is, the importance of the rule of law and the pursuit of a review process for the country’s citizenship law, in order to address the plight of the stateless people in the western part of Burma.

However, as a note of caution, what we need to keep in mind in the pursuit of this solution is that there is no country on earth with a perfect immigration law that fully embraces the international norms and standards set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In the case of Burma, the stipulation of Article 15 of the Declaration, "Everyone has the right to a nationality," is a challenging one.

Note that “ethic nationality status” and “citizenship status” is different in Burma and “nationality” refers specifically to Kachin, Kayah, Karen, Chin, Mon, Bama, Rakhine, Shan persons/groups. Both the Burmese citizenship laws enacted in 1948 and 1982 made it clear that ethnic people of Burma are the ones who lived in Burma on a permanent basis prior to 1823. Both laws defined the citizenship rights to people who are decedents of those ethnic people of Burma and people who can prove that two generations of their accentors lived in Burma prior to 1948. In other words, Burma’s laws do not interface perfectly with Article 15 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and I am of the opinion that due to the sensitive situation in Burma, it is unhelpful to insist from abroad that this Declaration be instituted in Burma until the Burmese have themselves addressed their domestic laws.   

In that regards, I am personally concerned with some international campaign groups trying to impose their ideal immigration law reform goals upon Burma by uncompromisingly taking up this contentious issue without carefully considering consequences for Burma’s delicate transition process and without undertaking comprehensive consultation with Burmese colleagues.

Such a stance by international campaign groups is indeed contentious, in my opinion: I am aware of growing sentiments among Burmese people against those international campaign and interest groups for their lack of understanding and consideration on the issue and for their throwing support and showing solidarity with only one side of the conflict.

Ultimately, though I believe in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, immigration reform in Burma is indeed the “immigration issue” of a sovereign state, and Burmese people I know deeply perceive it as a “national issue” which needs to be resolved locally. Such people and I believe that, because sentiments are so high amongst Burmese on this issue and because the country is in such a delicate transition, there are serious potential backfires if the immigration law reform is not carefully sorted out and handled. Therefore, I do not want the international campaign groups to cross this extremely sensitive line for the time being, especially when the democratic transition in Burma is in its embryonic stage and the ongoing “reform process” is still a long way from fruition. In the case of this specific issue, I think a greater sensitivity to the desires of most Burmese and a less hasty approach should be adopted by the international campaign groups.

In conclusion, we might have differences in our opinion but when it comes to freedom, democracy and human rights, we have a common goal. However, I think the means to the ends of this shared goal need to be reconsidered so as to avoid upsetting the majority of Burmese population at a moment of high emotion and delicate political transition. Ultimately, I hope we can work out our differences and continue to work for a free and democratic Burma.

 - Tin Maung Htoo is executive director of Canadian Friends of Burma.

Leave a Reply