March 20-26, 2015
Compiled by Kate McFarland
- NLD to help expelled members get citizenship
- Lower House approves ‘race and religion’ laws
- Myanmar military to maintain political control, president says
- Buddhist, Muslim leaders push for peace in conflict areas
- Seeking better life, fleeing Rohingya become soft targets
- Myanmar hardliners sowing unrest to undermine democratic reform: report
1. NLD to help expelled members get citizenship
Myanmar Times, March 20: “NLD to help expelled members get citizenship”
- The National League for Democracy has been forced to expel more than 8000 members who hold associate or temporary citizenship, but says it will help them get full citizenship if they are eligible so they can rejoin the party.
- Due to amendments to the Political Parties Registration Law passed in September 2014, parties can no longer accept holders of associate or temporary IDs – white cards – as members.
- NLD spokesperson U Nyan Win said the party had complied with the order by March 9, as it was granted a two-month extension to examine the eligibility of its approximately 3 million members.
- He said about 8000 members from 10 states and regions were “halted from being party members”, rejecting reports that put the number at 20,000.
- “For now the NLD will maintain these people as ‘reserve members’. They will help the NLD in some party tasks but they are not members. They are just partners,” he said.
- The party’s membership is mostly Muslim. The change in the law has predominantly affected Muslims, particularly those in Rakhine State who self-identify as Rohingya.
2. Lower House approves two “race and religion” laws
Irrawaddy, March 20: “Lower House approves two ‘race and religion’ laws”
- Burma’s Lower House passed two of four controversial “Race and Religion Protection” bills, bringing the legislation, which is being pushed by an influential group of nationalist Buddhist monks, closer to becoming law.
- House majority approved the Population Control bill, which aims to establish government control over women’s reproductive rights, and the Buddhist Women’s Special Marriage bill, which would require Buddhist women to seek permission from local authorities before marrying a man of another faith.
3. Myanmar military to maintain political control, president says
Reuters, March 20: “Myanmar military to maintain political control, president says”
- Myanmar's military will maintain its role in politics in order to support a transition to democracy but will eventually submit to civilian rule, President Thein Sein said in an interview broadcast.
- Myanmar was ruled by the military for 49 years before a semi-civilian government took power in 2011 and initiated widespread political and economic reforms.
- Under a 2008 constitution drafted under military rule, a quarter of parliamentary seats are reserved for unelected serving officers, along with some key cabinet posts, giving the military an effective veto on any constitutional reform.
- The opposition National League for Democracy party, led by Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, has called for the military to step away from politics. Thein Sein, a former general, said the military initiated the reform process and still needed to play a political role in order to support the transition to democracy.
4. Buddhist, Muslim leaders push for peace in conflict areas
Huffington Post, March 20: “Buddhist, Muslim leaders push for peace in conflict areas”
- Buddhist and Muslim leaders in South and Southeast Asia are working to spread a message of peace and dialogue as interreligious conflict continues to threaten stability in Myanmar, Sri Lanka and other nations in the region.
- Religious leaders from 15 countries released the "Yogyakarta Statement," named for the city where it was written, on March 5, reaffirming that Islam and Buddhism "are religions of mercy and compassion committed to justice for all humankind." Now the group is working to translate their message into as many languages as possible and give it to Buddhist and Muslim leaders and believers around the world.
- The Yogyakarta Statement came out of a summit called "Overcoming Extremism and Advancing Peace with Justice.”
- Both Islam and Buddhism "respect the sacredness of life and inherent dignity of human existence, which is the foundation of all human rights without any distinction as to race, color, language, or religion," the statement says.
- Much of the ongoing conflict in the region centres on treatment of Muslim Rohingya.
5. Seeking better life, fleeing Rohingya become soft targets
Myanmar Times, March 25: “Seeking better life, fleeing Rohingya become soft targets”
- Analysis piece on human trafficking of Rohingyas fleeing Burma.
- A UN Refugee Agency report on irregular maritime migration in Southeast Asia released in December 2014 estimated that 50,000 refugees had “departed from the Bangladesh-Myanmar maritime border, a 15 percent increase over the same period in 2013, and more than triple the number of departures estimated during the same period in 2012”.
- “Serious and often deadly criminal activity and human rights abuses are commonplace along this route in particular, with survivors saying that human smugglers and boat crews routinely kill passengers with impunity,” the UNHCR report said.
- It estimated that smuggling gangs working along the Bay of Bengal to Malaysia route netted a combined $100 million last year, much of that from demanding “additional payments” from their victims.
- “Calls to relatives demanding payment were accompanied by threats or, when payment was not immediate, beatings and other acts of torture,” said the report.
6. Myanmar hardliners sowing unrest to undermine democratic reform: report
Radio Free Asia, March 23: “Myanmar hardliners sowing unrest to undermine democratic reform: report”
- Hard-liners in Myanmar’s government are deliberately instigating communal violence in the country in a bid to derail democracy and maintain their grip on power, according to a report released Monday by a U.S.-based rights group Justice Trust.
- In its report entitled “Hidden Hands Behind Communal Violence in Myanmar: Case Study of the Mandalay Riots,” Justice Trust documents what it said was the use of organized gangs of armed men to commit anti-Muslim riots under the guise of spontaneous mob violence.
- The riots followed a common pattern found in previous instances of communal violence, the report said, including allegations of honor crimes, violence incited by gangs believed to be outsiders, the failure of law enforcement to prevent violence and the legal system to punish perpetrators, and suspicious timing of the incident to divert attention from popular demands for justice and democracy.
The Irrawaddy, March 24: “Authorities supported ‘outsiders’ who incited Mandalay violence”
- A new report by Justice Trust released on Monday said it found evidence to suggest that the 2014 outbreak of inter-communal violence between Muslims and Buddhists in Mandalay was caused by a group of outside thugs who operated with tacit support from authorities.
- At the time, a Buddhist man named Tun Tun was killed, as was a Muslim man named Soe Min Htwe. Tensions between the communities remained high for days and authorities responded with heavy police deployment. During a funeral for the Buddhist victim, the Muslim part of a cemetery on the outskirts of Mandalay was destroyed by angry mourners o Justice Trust concluded that this violence was orchestrated by elements outside of Mandalay.
- Several eye witnesses told the Justice Trust they noticed a group of around two dozen men on motorbikes enter Mandalay and make their way through the city while exhibiting rowdy behavior.