Myanmar - ReliefWeb News
World: Alternative Crops Vital to Fighting World’s Drug Problem, Promoting Progress, Secretary-General Tells Economic and Social Council
Economic and Social Council
2014 Substantive Session
43rd & 44th Meetings (AM & PM
Organized crime and illicit criminal activity undermined essential institutions like the rule of law and delivery of education and health, the United Nations leading expert on drugs and crime told the Economic and Social Council today.
Opening a high-level panel discussion entitled “Sustainable development and the world drug problem: challenges and opportunities”, Yury Fedotov, Executive Director, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), said that drug cultivation hindered growth of legitimate economies and businesses. Alternative development strategies promoted by UNODC had reduced cultivation, but farmers also needed infrastructure in order that the new crops they produced could be marketed and income generated.
Joining Mr. Fedotov in making opening statements were United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, and Economic and Social Council President Martin Sajdik.
On the panel were Khaled Abdel-Rahman Shamaa, Permanent Representative of Egypt to the United Nations in Vienna and Chair of the fifty-seventh session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs; Norachit Sinhaseni, Permanent Representative of Thailand to the United Nations; Mary Chinery-Hesse, Commissioner, West Africa Commission on Drugs; Lochan Naidoo, President, International Narcotics Control Board, Aldo Lale-Demoz, Deputy Executive-Director, UNODC; and Alberto Otárola Peñaranda, Executive Director of DEVIDA.
Mr. Ban agreed on the negative impact drugs and organized crime could have on people’s lives and on societies. Drugs and crime were corrosive and harmed justice systems, State institutions and communities.
“That is why it is so important to help farmers choose alternative crops,” he said, stressing the need to stabilize markets and create decent jobs. “When we take these measures, we do more than fight drugs and crime — we promote progress and peace.”
Panellists shared their experiences in addressing the drug problem from the State and regional level, as well as from within international institutions.
Mr. Shamaa said alternative development featured heavily in the 2009 Political Declaration and Plan of Action on International Cooperation, which promoted an integrated and balanced strategy to counter the world drug problem. In preparations for the 2016 United Nations General Assembly Special Session on the World Drug Problem, he had seen the link between sustainable development and the drug problem repeatedly raised. There was also broad international agreement on the need to tackle the problem, even if differing views remained on how the issue should be integrated into the post-2015 development agenda.
Mr. Sinhanesi described Thailand’s efforts to apply supply side alternative development. Crop substitution, allied with efforts to improve health care and education in rural communities were central to the strategy. An enormous decline in opium cultivation had been recorded, from 17,920 hectares in the 1960s to an insignificant level in 2001. Decreased opium cultivation was matched by increased income, showing the importance of efforts to address root causes, such as poverty.
Ms. Chinery-Hesse said Africa’s voice had been muted in the past, but its full participation had to be ensured during the 2016 General Assembly Special Session on Drugs. In the past, West Africa was known as a transit point, but consumption and production were now increasing. She called on Governments to deal with that as a health issue, rather than putting extra pressure on their criminal justice systems.
The Economic and Social Council also took up several reports relating to social and human rights questions, with Mr. Naidoo presenting the International Narcotics Control Board’s Annual Report for 2013 and Mr. Shamaa introducing the report of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs on its fifty-seventh session (document E/2014/28). Vladimir Galuska, Chair of the twenty-third session of the Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice, introduced the report of the Commission on its twenty-third session (document E/2014/30) and Jay Karia presented the report of the Board of Trustees of the United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute on behalf of the President of the Board of Trustees of the Institute.
During a discussion of social and human rights questions, Mexico’s delegate noted that it was crucial to properly prepare for the General Assembly Special Session on Drugs slated for 2016. It must be inclusive and based on scientific evidence. The involvement of the General Assembly President in preparatory work was vital as resolving the drug problem required concerted international action.
Her counterpart from the Russian Federation emphasized the threat posed by illicit production of narcotic drugs to international peace and security. He was concerned particularly about the situation in Afghanistan, where international troops were withdrawing.
Following that discussion, Simona Petrova, Director of the Secretariat of the United Nations System Chief Executives Board for Coordination, introduced the “Annual overview report of the United Nations System Chief Executives Board for Coordination for 2013” (document E/2014/69).
In an ensuing discussion, the representative of Cuba praised the Chief Executive Board’s work to promote coordination and coherence and to simplify institutional practices, saying that would increase administrative efficiency. Action and initiatives that the Board undertook had to be aligned with the priorities of Member States.
The Council postponed action on 10 draft resolutions and six draft decisions contained within the recommendations of several reports because it did not have a quorum present.
The Council will meet again at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, 16 July, to take action on drafts and continue its coordination and management segment.
Oh Joon ( Republic of Korea), Vice-President of the Economic and Social Council, introduced the panel, “Sustainable development and the world drug problem: challenges and opportunities”.
Opening statements were made by Martin Sajdik ( Austria), President of the Economic and Social Council, Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations, via video message, and also via video message by Yury Fedotov, Executive Director, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).
On the panel were Khaled Abdel-Rahman Shamaa, Permanent Representative of Egypt to the United Nations in Vienna and Chair of the fifty-seventh session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs; Norachit Sinhaseni, Permanent Representative of Thailand to the United Nations; Mary Chinery-Hesse, Commissioner, West Africa Commission on Drugs; Lochan Naidoo, President, International Narcotics Control Board; Aldo Lale-Demoz, Deputy Executive-Director, UNODC; and Alberto Otárola Peñaranda, Executive Director of DEVIDA.
Mr. SAJDIK, opening the panel, recalled that, in 2009, the Commission on Narcotic Drugs adopted the Political Declaration and Plan of Action on International Cooperation towards an Integrated and Balanced Strategy to Counter the World Drug Problem. The Declaration called on the Council to devote a session and to contribute to the preparations for the 2016 General Assembly Special Session on Drugs. He highlighted several key points to consider in the run-up to the adoption of the post-2015 development agenda and the 2016 special session.
First, he said, drug addiction was a health problem and many States had achieved significant success in reducing demand by adopting national drug strategies, including primary prevention, early intervention, treatment, care, rehabilitation, recovery and social reintegration measures, as well as steps aimed at minimizing the public health and social consequences of drug abuse. Effective national drug control strategies must be further strengthened based on scientific evidence. Second, alternative development was vital to counter the world drug problem as it drew together sustainable development and the challenge of illicit drugs and organized crime. In that regard, the work of UNODC in Afghanistan, Colombia, Myanmar and many other places was commendable.
Third, he said, all relevant efforts must respect human dignity, liberty, democracy, equality, solidarity, the rule of law and human rights. Lastly, tackling the world drug problem required international cooperation. Civil society, including the scientific community, non-governmental organizations and young people had an important role to play. Cooperation between relevant United Nations bodies and entities were also essential. “Throughout the world, illicit drugs and organized crime weaken democratic institutions, undermine peace and hinder sustainable development, particularly ongoing efforts to rid the world of poverty, conflict and inequality.” That highlighted the need to deal with development and illicit drugs as a single holistic issue.
Mr. BAN said that delegates met today as the international community worked to reach the Millennium Development Goals by the year 2015 — and shape a new long-term vision for sustainable development. Illicit drugs and organized crime undermined people’s lives and devastated societies. Drugs and crime corroded fragile countries. They weakened criminal justice systems and other State institutions. And they destroyed communities. Development activities could address those concerns.
“That is why it is so important to help farmers choose alternative crops,” he said, stressing the need to stabilize markets and to create decent jobs. “When we take these measures, we do more than fight drugs and crime — we promote progress and peace.” Today’s discussion would help pave the way for success at the General Assembly’s Special Session on the World Drug Problem in 2016. That would be a valuable opportunity for Member States to openly exchange ideas and lessons on what works in addressing the drug problem.
Mr. FEDOTOV said that organized crime and illicit criminal activity undermined essential institutions like the rule of law and delivery of education and health, including efforts to combat HIV/AIDS. Drug cultivation hindered growth of legitimate economies and businesses and interfered with efforts to improve education and protect the environment. The importance of alternative development had been stressed at the High-level Review of the Fifty-seventh Session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs in March.
Alternative development strategies promoted by UNODC had reduced cultivation, and in Myanmar and Afghanistan it had loosened the grip of drug lords. Equally important as providing farmers with alternative crops was the provision of infrastructure, so that the crops they produced could be sold and income generated. He said that $32 million worth of alternative development had been delivered in Colombia, helping 136,000 families, and similar work was under way in Peru.
Mr. SHAMAA said replacing illicit crops with legal ones would help tackle hunger and promote sustainable development. Alternative development had featured strongly in the 2009 Political Declaration and Plan of Action on International Cooperation, which promoted an integrated and balanced strategy to counter the world drug problem. The midterm review of progress in March had resulted in a ministerial statement reflecting a global commitment to tackling the problem. In preparations for the 2016 United Nations General Assembly Special Session on the World Drug Problem, the link between sustainable development and the world drug problem was repeatedly raised. States had differing views on integrating efforts to tackle the problem in the post-2015 development agenda, but broad support existed for a focus on practical, operational, field level work that supported Member States in fulfilling the goals of the Political Declaration. The youth dimension had been stressed, as was the need to engage a broad range of stakeholders in efforts to address the problem and promote sustainable development.
Mr. SINHASENI shared Thailand’s experiences in tackling the drug problem through supply side alternative development strategies. Lack of development and opportunities had promoted illicit drug cultivation and Thailand’s efforts had sought to address that. In the 1960s, 17,920 hectares of opium was cultivated, but by 2001, UNODC considered Thai opium production to be insignificant. Crop substitution was central, as were efforts to improve health care and education in rural communities. As opium cultivation had decreased, incomes in the highlands had increased tenfold, showing the importance of sustainable development and addressing root causes, like poverty, to tackling the drug problem. Thailand’s strategies had been applied in Myanmar, Aceh and Afghanistan. His country advocated for alternative development internationally, having helped establish the United Nations Guiding Principles on Alternative Development, and called for including alternative development strategies in the post-2015 development agenda.
Ms. CHINERY-HESSE said that Africa’s voice had been muted in the past and the 2016 General Assembly Special Session on Drugs must ensure full participation of African stakeholders in all fora. West Africa achieved fast economic growth. In 2013, the West African Commission on Drugs had been established so that the drug problem did not disrupt that positive trend. In the past, West Africa was known as a transit point. But, consumption and production were now increasing. The Committee’s June 2014 report, titled “Not Just in Transit”, reflected the changing landscape. The Commission had worked with non-governmental organizations, regional entities and other partners. Its work had been adequately plugged into international efforts. There was a need to move from anecdotes to concrete evidence, as well to target those running the drug network rather than the “foot soldiers”. Drug money could undermine development and derail democratic processes. She said tackling the drug problem required a shift in thinking. Rather than putting pressure on the criminal justice system, Governments must consider the problem as a health issue. The United Republic of Tanzania initiated efforts to send drug users to hospitals rather than prison.
Mr. NAIDOO said that the International Narcotics Control Board was mandated to monitor and promote the three international drug control conventions. The objective of the global drug control system was twofold — to ensure availability of internationally controlled substances for medical and scientific use while preventing their diversion to illicit channels, trafficking and abuse. As for alternative development, efforts had evolved from straightforward crop substitution to promoting rural development and provision of sustainable livelihoods for those growing illicit drugs. The concept must expand to include urban societies. Those efforts would only be viable they were implemented as part of a comprehensive national development programme that raised the economic and social well-being of the entire population.
Mr. LALE-DEMOZ described lessons he had learned supervising large-scale alternative development programmes with UNODC. The viability and sustainability of programmes aimed at preventing, reducing or eliminating illicit crops had increased in proportion to the presence of sound drug control policies, a strong commitment to multisectoral social and economic rural development and the full participation of local farm communities in designing and implementing schemes. Despite diverse realities seen in different countries, international standards like the 2009 Political Declaration and the United Nations Guiding Principles on Alternative Development could apply. Outlining successes in Afghanistan, Colombia, Peru and elsewhere, he described how reductions in illicit crop cultivation were possible if farm communities were empowered to meet broader development goals. The strategies used to combat the world drug problem were valid for counteracting other forms of organized crime.
Mr. PEÑARANDA outlined results yielded by Peru’s alternative development efforts, including coca eradication efforts that had been heralded as a “historic breakthrough” by UNODC. State policies to tackle drug production had been backed by a 300 per cent increase in the budget for implementing the national strategy. Eradication had to be accompanied by alternative development if the strategy was to work. Under the Government’s strategy, illegal crop producers were presented with alternative, sustainable development opportunities; the Government had extended the rule of law, with interdiction, prevention and treatment of drug use; and there was a cross-cutting commitment to linking international and national efforts. In Monzon, a rapid change had occurred in the last three years. The area had been considered impregnable because of the presence of subversive groups that impeded Government efforts to extend its authority and institutions, but the Government policy had seen a reduction in coca leaf cultivation from 7,000 hectares in 2011 to 227 hectares in 2014.
In the ensuing discussion, the representative of the Russian Federation noted the key role alternative development could play in addressing the world drug problem. In Afghanistan, the largest producer of heroin, farmers needed alternative livelihoods following the withdrawal of the international forces. He hoped that the General Assembly Special Session on Drugs would provide an opportunity to give a clear definition of alternative development. Further, the drug issue should be included in the sustainable development goals.
The representative of Iran stressed that his country wished to strengthen cooperation with European countries. About 4,000 Iranian soldiers had been killed in the fight against illicit drugs.
The representative of Cuba said tackling illicit drugs required a multidisciplinary approach based on shared but differentiated responsibility, taking into account different realities of States and respecting full sovereignty of each country. She asked panellists what challenges lie in international cooperation and technical assistance.
The representative of Colombia noted that, with the support of UNODC, her country had implemented a programme on alternative development aimed at reducing coca crops. The General Assembly Special Session would provide an opportunity for transparent evaluation of existing strategies and help find new ways to deal with the drug issue. Her delegation, however, felt it was counterproductive to include drug control in the sustainable development goals.
The representative of China described how his country had stepped up its international cooperation efforts through bilateral and multilateral frameworks, most notably by providing funding and technical assistance to help poppy producers find alternative cultivation in the Golden Triangle area consisting of Myanmar, Laos and Thailand.
The representative of Guatemala asked panellists if a strategy to find alternative livelihood in drug producing countries could be applied in transit countries, where trafficking was a primary source of income for a large portion of the population.
Mr. PEÑARANDA said that Peru had seen cocoa production replacing coca cultivation due to such schemes as supporting smallholder farmers, improving the soil and providing technical training. The process of switching to alternative crops would be a success if products became competitive in markets.
Mr. LALE-DEMOZ highlighted challenges, including implementation of the international conventions, coordination of work between many stakeholders and engagement of civil society. Alternative development could apply to transit countries, as well.
Mr. NAIDOO said profiling drug users could be an effective way to counter trafficking. In high security risk areas, it was also vital to find crops that could grow quickly. It all came down to consistent implementation of the global treaties.
Ms. CHINERY-HESSE stressed shared but differentiated responsibility because imperatives differed from place to place. West Africa would carefully examine the question about alternative livelihood in transit countries posed by the delegate of Guatemala as the subregion was a transit point.
Mr. SHAMAA emphasized the need for a hybrid approach that took into account each country’s specificity while using existing regional and global regimes. On the question of alternative livelihood to traffickers, careful consideration was necessary as it entailed implications on the criminal justice system.
For information media • not an official record
R2P Monitor is a bi-monthly bulletin applying the Responsibility to Protect lens to populations at risk of mass atrocities around the world. Issue 16 looks at developments in Syria, Sudan, South Sudan, DR Congo, Nigeria, Burma/Myanmar, Central African Republic, and Iraq.
By LAWI WENG / THE IRRAWADDY
RANGOON — A Shan ethnic lawmaker in the Lower House asked the Burmese government on Tuesday to cease military operations in Kyaythee Township in northern Shan State, where several hundred villagers have been displaced after fighting between the Shan State Army-North (SSA-North) and the Burma Army has recently escalated.
Sai Um Hseng Mong, an MP with the Shan Nationalities Democratic Party (SNDP), said he received a letter from his constituents in Kyaythee Township asking him for help in requesting an end to the operations.
“A lot of farmers who are there are having problems. They say they could not grow paddy as there is fighting even though it is the paddy-growing season. So they asked me to discuss this issue in Parliament,” he said.
Sai Um Hseng Mong asked the government to explain the situation in northern Shan State in an urgent parliamentary meeting on Tuesday.
Deputy Defense Minister Maj-Gen. Kyaw Nyunt replied that the Burma Army had been holding operations in the area to flush out rebels who had supposedly been reinforcing their troops and recruiting soldiers among local Shan villagers, according to Sai Um Hseng Mong.
According to government mouthpiece The New Light of Myanmar, the minister also “explained that the commander-in-chief of the defense services has always strived for regional peace and stability, expressing his understanding that civilians are innocent victims of clashes.”
The newspaper said Kyaw Nyunt “pledged prompt action by watching [sic] the incident in question closely.”
It remains unclear what the steps the Defense Ministry, which is directly controlled by a Burma Army general, will do to address the SNDP lawmaker’s concerns.
More than 200 Shan villagers have been displaced by the fighting in recent weeks and they are hiding in a local monastery, local villagers and aid workers have said.
Three weeks after the fighting erupted, tension remains high in the area around Pha Saung village, with government soldiers reportedly still present at the village.
The SSA-North is one the largest ethnic armed groups in Shan State, and although it has had a bilateral ceasefire with the Burmese government since 2012 hundreds of skirmishes and clashes have been reported since.
The SSA-North has claimed that Burma Army units has attempted to enter rebel-held areas and has taken several rebel bases in recent months. Northern Shan State has also been the scene of frequent clashes and Burma Army operations against Kachin, Palaung and Kokang rebel troops recently.
The fighting continues despite the government’s publicly stated goal of wanting a nationwide ceasefire with more than a dozen ethnic armed groups, including the SSA-North, in the coming months.
The Annual Report meets DFID’s obligation to report on its activities and progress toward the Millennium Development Goals under the International Development (Reporting and Transparency) Act 2006. It includes information on DFID’s results achieved, spending, performance and efficiency. The audited statutory accounts include spend against Parliamentary Estimate, and a statement of DFID’s assets and liabilities.
DFID’s Accounts are prepared in accordance with the 2013-14 Government Financial Reporting Manual (FReM), issued by HM Treasury. The accounting policies contained in the FReM apply International Financial Reporting Standards as adapted or interpreted for the public sector context. DFID’s Accounts are similar in many respects to the annual accounts prepared by private sector businesses. They contain the primary financial statements recording the full costs of activities, DFID’s assets and liabilities as well as providing information on how resources have been used to meet objectives. The format is tailored to central government accounting including, for example, financial comparisons against the Department’s resource-based estimates. Those not familiar with the format of the accounts might like to focus on the Financial Review within the Strategic Report to the Accounts, which summarises the key areas of performance. The accounts are audited by the National Audit Office before they are presented to Parliament.
By 2013–14, DFID had achieved the following results:*
provided 43.1 million people with access to clean water, better sanitation or improved hygiene conditions
supported 10.2 million children – 4.9 million girls – to go to primary and lower secondary school
ensured that 3.6 million bir ths took place safely with the help of nurses, midwives or doctors
prevented 19.3 million children under 5 and pregnant women from going hungry
reached 11.4 million people with emergency food assistance
provided 54.4 million people, including 26.9 million women, with access to ﬁnancial services to help them work their way out of poverty
reached 6.7 million people with cash transfers programmes
helped 85.8 million people to hold their authorities to account and have a say in their community’s development
In 2013, the multilateral organisations that DFID supported:
provided food assistance to 80.9 million people in 75 countries; of these 67.9 million were women and children (World Food Programme)
immunised 48 million children against preventable diseases (GAVI Alliance)
detected and treated 1.5 million cases of tuberculosis (The Global Fund to Fight AIDS,
TB and Malaria)
gave 1.0 million new households a water supply (Asian Development Bank)
provided 9.7 million people with new or improved electricity connections (African Development Bank)
supported over 4.5 million children in primary education, including 2.2 million girls (Global Par tnership for Education)
enabled 11.5 million people to beneﬁt from healthcare facilities (International Committee of the Red Cross)
generated 6.5 million jobs and livelihoods in 113 countries, of which 58% were for women (United Nations Development Programme)
Snapshot 9–15 July
oPT: 178 Palestinians have been killed since the launch of Israel’s Operation Protective Edge on 8 July. Around 17,000 people have sought shelter in UNRWA schools. Rockets from Syria and Lebanon have hit the north of Israel, raising fears of the conflict spreading.
Democratic Republic of Congo: More than 30,000 people are estimated to have been displaced in North Kivu, South Kivu, and Katanga in June, due to FARDC military operations and fighting between armed groups.
Syria: Host populations are struggling to cope with growing camp populations, and people in informal settlements are receiving very little assistance. The population of Lattakia and Tartous has grown by 50%. The conflict death toll has passed 170,000.
Updated: 15/07/2014. Next update: 22/07/2014
By SAW YAN NAING / THE IRRAWADDY
CHIANG MAI — Burmese refugees have criticized the Thai junta’s plan to send them home within the next year, saying they have been left in the dark about the repatriation process and are not yet ready to return.
Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha, who leads the Thai junta, known as the National Council for Peace and Order, said on Monday that Thailand and Burma would work together to repatriate more than 120,000 Burmese refugees who live in camps along the border.
“They can make it happen if they do not consider how our human rights will be affected,” said Naw Day Day Poe, deputy secretary of the Mae La refugee camp, which is the largest Burmese refugee camp in Thailand with about 40,000 residents. “There are still on-and-off conflicts in Burma. It’s not safe yet for the refugees to return home.”
She criticized a lack of transparency in the repatriation process.
“We are like victims. We are not informed about how repatriation will work. They should not repatriate us if the conditions are not right in terms of safety, food and job security for the refugees,” she said.
Prayuth met with his Burmese counterpart Gen. Min Aung Hlaing last week to discuss a timetable for returning the refugees to their homeland. While repatriation is expected to take one year, Thai officials will likely start counting the populations in some camps as early as this week, to verify the nationality and ages of residents, and to ensure that everyone is a registered refugee.
This “verification program” is expected to begin at Mae La Oon camp in Mae Hong Son Province on Thursday or Friday, according to camp residents. Chi Poe, a teacher at the camp, said refugees who are not present during the inspection will be deleted from the list of registered refugees, losing their rights to assistance.
“Every refugee must stay at home during the inspection. If they don’t see a refugee in person, they will delete his or her name,” she said.
Officials from the Bangkok-based Mae Fah Luang Foundation and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) are working with Thai authorities and other NGOs to conduct interviews in some refugee camps. They say they have identified about 3,000 residents who are not refugees, particularly in Kanchanaburi and Ratchaburi provinces, according to The Bangkok Post newspaper.
Many of the refugees in Thailand fled from Karen State in southeast Burma, where the Burmese military fought for decades against ethnic armed groups. Since Burma’s quasi-civilian government began signing ceasefire deals with the armed groups in 2012, the refugees have faced increasing pressure to return home.
However, international NGOs and the Thai and Burmese governments have said in the past that repatriation must be voluntary. They have said that returning refugees would require protection from armed attacks and material security, such as land access and a means of livelihood.
YANGON, 15 July 2014 (IRIN) - In early July, a hundreds-strong mob of Buddhists converged on a shop in Mandalay, Myanmar’s second largest city. According to rumours spread on social media, its Muslim owner had raped a Buddhist woman. The ensuing violence left two dead and a dozen injured.
Since 2012 more than 240 people have died in communal violence fought along religious and ethnic lines, the victims overwhelmingly Muslim.
Than Nyunt of the Interfaith Religious Group of Mandalay, told IRIN it was the intervention of both Muslim and Buddhist leaders that stopped violence in Mandalay from spreading - a significant achievement, experts and community leaders say, given the current polarized political atmosphere in the country.
“We approached the crowd in the streets and people in communities and urged them not to get involved in the fights, not to believe the circulating rumours,” Than Nyunt said.
On 8 July, a week after the outburst, Myanmar’s reformist president, Thein Sein, addressed the nation on the radio, saying: “We have faced various challenges with ethnic and religious conflicts…. [M]any of the conflicts were deliberate instigations to derail our aim of achieving a society based on democratic principles.”
After the violence, the government imposed a curfew on Mandalay and deployed security forces.
“With the presence of the police deployed across the city, people no longer need to worry about their safety,” said Chit Htoo, vice-chairman of Byamaso Social Services, an NGO in Mandalay. Chit Htoo is a member of the Peace Restoration Committee of Mandalay, a citizens’ group formed in the wake of the July violence by senior citizens in Mandalay with guidance from Buddhist monks. Other community groups followed suit.
“For the sake of our country’s future, our next generation, we must ensure that rule of law is in place, communities are well-educated and harmonious, and the government must respond instantly and effectively,” said Shine Win, a founding member of Interfaith Youth Coalition on AIDS in Myanmar.
But, some analysts say, community-led initiatives will be up against increasing - and often politically manipulated - polarization as the country approaches an election in 2015.
Religious leaders, particularly Buddhist monks, hold considerable political stature in Myanmar: They were major players both in the struggle to regain independence from British colonial rule and in democracy movements. However, in an environment the International Crisis Group (ICG) has called a “context of rising Burman-Buddhist nationalism” being pushed by a monk-led “populist political force that cloaks itself in religious respectability and moral authority”, monastic influence can fan the flames of hatred as well.
“As usual with Burma’s communal violence, the plot thickens as the dust settles,” said Dave Matheison, senior researcher on Burma at Human Rights Watch. “So the question hangs: was this another case of organic, spontaneous religious violence, or an orchestrated piece of a broader political puzzle utilizing racism ahead of Burma’s 2015 elections?”
Weak reactions feed the rumour mill
In his national address, President Thein Sein said: “Everyone must avoid hate speech and incitement, and sensibly, bravely and with foresight cooperate to bring legal action against those responsible for such acts.”
However, government failure to prevent clashes or investigate and prosecute those involved suggests a weak grip on instigators.
“As long as rule of law is weak and the government doesn’t take actions instantly and effectively, the [sectarian] conflict could spread far and wide,” said Phyo Min Thein, lawmaker in Hlegu Township in Yangon Region, which saw a small brawl between groups of Buddhists and Muslims in April 2013.
“Repeated failure by the government does suggest that there are elements of the government who may be not only sympathizing with the perpetrators but possibly actively creating the problem,” said Benedict Rogers, East Asia team leader at Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW). “There may be political reasons behind this. There is a lot of speculation, a lot of theories and rumours, some of which sound plausible,” he said.
One popular theory involves democracy leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, who was scheduled to visit Mandalay this week for a rally on constitutional reform. Suu Kyi, who was under house arrest for 15 years, is prevented from running in the 2015 presidential election by Myanmar’s 2008 constitution.
“It is probably no coincidence that a fake memo from her National League for Democracy (NLD) party circulated throughout Facebook in Burma claiming the NLD was planning on taking advantage of the [Mandalay] riots to protect Muslims,” explained HRW’s Matheison, adding that U Wirathu, a Mandalay-based influential and well-known monk who has sparked fierce criticism for his anti-Muslim speeches, is publicly opposed to amending that clause of the constitution which would permit Suu Kyi’s eligibility to be president.
“The best way the government can prove the conspiracy theorists wrong would be by taking clear action to prevent further violence, to bring the perpetrators of violence to justice, to end discrimination, and to address hate speech,” said Rogers.
Tensions on the rise
The violence in Mandalay comes 15 months after a bloody communal clash between Buddhists and Muslims broke out in Meiktila - about two hours from Mandalay - killing 40 people and displacing 1,200. In June 2012, a mob of Buddhists in western Rakhine State attacked Muslim men in retaliation for an alleged rape, setting off riots that left 80 dead and tens of thousands displaced.
Renewed violence in October of that year left more than 100,000 displaced, where they remain today.
Stoking tensions, in May 2014 the government published the first of four religious conversion laws, which drew criticism for breaching human right standards. And in June Thein Sein fired Minister of Religious Affairs U San Hsint and replaced him with advisers including a military official implicated in a 2012 crackdown that injured several Buddhist monks.
Ethnic and religious tensions in Rakhine State, home to the beleaguered Rohingya Muslim minority, continue to fester.
Myanmar’s first census in 30 years did not include the word “Rohingya”, a move analysts with the International State Crime Initiative called part of the “dehumanization process”, a precursor for genocide, arguing that “the Burmese state has had decades to ‘rationalize’ violence against Rohingya.”
In March Rakhine Buddhist mob violence against aid agencies over perceived pro-Rohingya bias triggered mass humanitarian withdrawal from Rakhine State. During a 13 June visit to internally displaced persons’ camps in the state, the assistant secretary-general for humanitarian affairs and deputy emergency relief coordinator, Kyung-wha Kang, called the situation “appalling, with wholly inadequate access to basic services including health, education, water and sanitation”.
Grassroots and online responses
Amid limited action from the government, some community leaders are taking initiatives into their own hands.
“Interfaith education should be given at the community levels,” said Bo Bo Lwin of Kalyana Mitta Development Foundation, a Buddhist group that has conducted workshops and promoted peace in collaboration with other faith-based groups in several cities.
Shine Win, of the Interfaith Youth Coalition on AIDS in Myanmar, said school reform will need to be part of the solution.
“The government needs to institute lessons on history of different religions in the curriculum. If children learn about other religions in school, the communities can be better integrated as they grow up,” he said.
Shine Win told IRIN that part of inter-faith groups’ community outreach must be to counter hate speech and rumours on social media.
“Here the problem is that many people believe information they get from blogs or websites, without considering whether it is reliable or not,” he explained.
“One of the campaigns we’re going to conduct is to raise awareness among the people not to believe the rumours that they get [from different channels] such as through social networks like Facebook,” Shine Win said, adding that they had attempted such a campaign when rumours of the Mandalay rape began spreading on the Internet, but it was too limited in reach to prevent the violent clash.
“We need to do this sort of outreach on a larger scale and with multiple inter-faith groups, reminding people to check the sources of information and not believe inciters on the Internet,” he said.
Yangon, 14 July— The Meteorology and Hydrology Department has forecast that regionally very heavy rain is likey to fall in Rakhine and Mon States, with isolated heavy rain in Yangon, Ayeyawady and Tanin- thayi Regions and Kachin State on Tuesday.
The low pressure area over the Northwest Bay of Bengal still persists and the monsoon is strong to vigorous in the Andaman Sea and Bay of Bengal, the weather department said.
U Tun Lwin, weather expert and ex director-general of the MHD has warned of potential landslides in hilly regions due to the heavy rain.
The heavy rain on Saturday at mid-night caused landslides in Tachilek in eastern Shan State, leaving seven dead.
Rain or thunder showers will be scattered in lower Sagaing, Mandalay and Magway Regions, Kayah State, fairly widespread in Bago Region, Shan and Chin States and widespread in the remaining regions and states, according to the forecast by the MHD.
Occasional squalls with rough sea will be experienced off and along the Myanmar coasts with surface wind speed in squalls reaching 40 m.p.h, according to the MHD.
Meanwhile, the coast al areas will experience continuation of increased rain, said the department.
The Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) 2013 Annual Report provides a comprehensive overview of our work between July 2012 and June 2013 (PHR’s fiscal year).
As mass atrocities and serious human rights abuses continue around the world, PHR remains committed to exposing and preventing such violations and ensuring that those responsible are brought to justice. In 2013, PHR gained significant ground on a number of global human rights issues, while also making successful transitions as an organization.
By NAW NOREEN And DENE-HERN CHEN 14 July 2014
A Thai Army spokesman denied reports on Monday regarding the Thai military’s intentions to repatriate within a year roughly 130,000 Burmese refugees living in border camps.
According to a 14 July report in the Bangkok Post, an unnamed source from the Thai Royal Army’s 9th Infantry Division said that the military, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and rights group Mae Fah Luang Foundation have conducted interviews with the roughly 130,000 Burmese refugees living in Thailand’s nine border camps to find out who wishes to return, resettle in another country, and remain in Thailand. The unnamed source also said that the repatriation process would take at least a year.
Col. Weerachon Sukondhadpatipak, a spokesman for the Thai Army, told DVB that the repatriation is not something that will happen immediately as the government is still sorting out the details.
“I don’t think this [repatriation] will happen at this moment. It is an issue we need to solve, but it doesn’t mean we are sending the Burmese people back to Myanmar,” Weerachon said. “It is a long process that needs to be discussed with all concerned parties.”
“It would be difficult [to send all the refugees back] within one year,” he added.
Iain Hall, senior coordinator for UNHCR, said the two governments have been discussing the repatriation of the refugees for years, but there is no set time frame yet for when this will happen.
“People may share a view, but there is no plan, there is no document, there is no start date or no end date for voluntary repatriation – although there is all good intent, which is the legal and natural intention towards helping refugees secure their durable solutions, including for the government of Myanmar to welcome home its citizens one day when the time is right,” Hall said by email. “But the time is not [right] yet for promoting voluntary return.”
Hall added that the refugees should have the choice to return to their home states if they wish to do so, but many remain very “cautious”, as the Burmese government has not concluded peace negotiations with the armed ethnic groups.
“If refugees don’t have too much confidence in the peace process, then that must be fully understood by everyone involved,” he said.
“The Royal Thai Government has consistently reassured us that any refugee returns to Myanmar must be voluntary and conducted in safety and dignity. UNHCR is not aware of any changes in this government policy, or of any government time frame to repatriate refugees,” Hall reiterated.
Naw Baw Nyaw, a refugee staying in the Umpiem Mai camp – which borders Karen State – said that although everyone wishes to return home to Karen State, the security situation remains precarious.
“It is not at all safe for us to go. There have been no developments with the ceasefire, and we don’t know how genuine it would be,” she said. “Moreover, there has been no progress in the talks taking place between the armed groups and the government.”
Naw Blooming Night Zan, the second secretary for the Karen Refugee Committee, said that no systematic procedures are in place to collect data on the camps’ populations, and that both governments are unlikely to advance on repatriation until that process has been completed.
“Even if they plan to repatriate the refugees, I don’t think they would do it blindly,” she said. “We believe they will consider the current situation and on meeting international standards.”
Tachilek, 13 July—Collapse of the 20-foot -high gravel-filled wall caused damage to the house of U Kyaw Htwe Lin and a three-apartment house at No 6/433 in My-anmar Village of Wamk-oung Ward in Tachilek at 2 am on Sunday due to heavy rains that started on Satur-day midnight.
Those who died in the collapse were house owner U Kyaw Htwe Lin, 38, wife Daw Yin Nu, 37 and a baby and tenantU Khin Maung Thaung, 45, wife Daw Win Hsan,25, son Hmon Gyi, and daughter Ma Pauk Tu, 5.
Deputy Commissioner of the district U Tin Win Shwe, Township Admin-istrator U Tun Tun Win, Shan State Hluttaw MP Daw Tin May Tun, depart-mental officials, military servicemen, policemen, members of Red Cross and Auxiliary Fire Brigades and local people participated in the rescue works. Officials carried out the cremation of the dead persons and manage rehabilitation of the home-less.
Geneva, 11 July 2014 (WMO) - Weather, climate and water-related disasters are on the rise worldwide, causing loss of life and setting back economic and social development by years, if not decades. From 1970 to 2012, 8 835 disasters, 1.94 million deaths, and US$ 2.4 trillion of economic losses were reported globally as a result of hazards such as droughts, extreme temperatures, floods, tropical cyclones and related health epidemics, according to a new report.
The Atlas of Mortality and Economic Losses from Weather, Climate and Water Extremes 1970-2012 describes the distribution and impacts of weather, climate, and water-related disasters and highlights measures to increase resilience. It is a joint publication of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED) of the Catholic University of Louvain (UCL) in Belgium.
The Atlas aims to provide decision-makers with actionable information for protecting life and property.
It is also highlights the need for stronger efforts to report, standardize and analyze data on weather, climate, and water-related hazards to improve understanding of disasters and reinforce the platform for prevention.
The report was published ahead of the First Session of the Preparatory Committee Meeting (Geneva 14-15 July) for the Third United Nations World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction. It seeks to inform debate on the post-2015 framework both for disaster risk reduction and sustainable development.
Storms and floods accounted for 79 per cent of the total number of disasters due to weather, climate and water extremes and caused 55 per cent of lives lost and 86 per cent of economic losses between 1970 and 2012, according to the Atlas. Droughts caused 35 per cent of lives lost, mainly due to the severe African droughts of 1975 and 1983–1984.
The 1983 drought in Ethiopia ranked top of the list of human casualties, claiming 300 000 lives, as did Cyclone Bhola in Bangladesh in 1970. Drought in Sudan in 1984 killed 150 000 people, whilst the Cyclone locally known as Gorky killed 138 866 people in Bangladesh in 1991.
Hurricane Katrina in the United States of America in 2005 caused the worst economic losses, at US$ 146.89 billion, followed by Sandy in 2012 with a cost of $ 50 billion.
The worst ten reported disasters in terms of lives lost occurred primarily in least developed and developing countries, whereas the economic losses were mainly in more developed countries.
“Disasters caused by weather, climate, and water-related hazards are on the rise worldwide. Both industrialized and non-industrialized countries are bearing the burden of repeated floods, droughts, temperature extremes and storms,” said WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud.
“Improved early warning systems and disaster management are helping to prevent loss of life. But the socio-economic impact of disasters is escalating because of their increasing frequency and severity and the growing vulnerability of human societies.”
The report highlighted the importance of historical, geo-referenced information about deaths and damages to estimate risks before the next disaster occurs. This information can support practical decisions on reducing potential impacts by, for example, improved early warning systems, retrofitting critical infrastructure, or enforcing new building codes.
“Collecting global loss data that are comparable and complete is a major challenge. Climate and weather services are working with disaster-impact researchers and data centers to meet this challenge. This partnership is producing analyses that support practical decisions on reducing the human consequences of disasters, for example by investing in early warning systems or targeting the most vulnerable communities,” said CRED Director, Prof. Debarati Sapir.
The United Nation’s Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction 2013 concluded that direct and indirect losses from natural hazards of all kinds have been underestimated by at least 50 per cent because of the data collection challenges. Because better reporting of disaster impacts is vital for strengthening disaster risk reduction, the international community should help vulnerable countries improve their capacity for developing and maintaining high-quality damage and loss databases.
Another challenge for users of risk information is the changing characteristics (frequency, location, severity) of weather-, climate- and water-related hazards. Natural climate variability is now exacerbated by long-term, human-induced climate change, so that yesterday’s norms will not be the same as tomorrow’s.
The WMO-CRED-Louvain report seeks to raise awareness of these and other challenges to collecting and analyzing disaster risk information. It presents a worldwide analysis of extreme weather, climate and water events drawing on the Emergency Events Database (EM-DAT), compiled by CRED. The Atlas compares the reported impacts of meteorological, climatic and hydrological extremes (as categorized by CRED) on people and economies at both the global and regional levels.
In addition to global statistics and maps, the Atlas also provides details on disasters at the regional level.
Africa: From 1970 to 2012, there were 1 319 reported disasters caused the loss of 698 380 lives and economic damages of US$ 26.6 billion. Although floods were the most prevalent type of disaster (61 per cent), droughts led to the highest number of deaths. The severe droughts in Ethiopia in 1975 and in Mozambique and Sudan in 1983–1984 caused the majority of deaths. Storms and floods, however, caused the highest economic losses (79 per cent).
Asia: Some 2 681 disasters were reported in the 1970–2012 period, causing the loss of 915 389 lives and economic damages of US$ 789.8 billion. Most of these disasters were attributed to floods (45 per cent) and storms (35 per cent). Storms had the highest impact on life, causing 76 per cent of the lives lost, while floods caused the greatest economic loss (60 per cent). Three tropical cyclones were the most significant events, striking Bangladesh and Myanmar and leading to over 500 000 deaths. The largest economic losses were caused primarily by disasters in China, most notably by the 1998 floods.
South America: From 1970 to 2012, South America experienced 696 reported disasters that resulted in 54 995 lives lost and US$ 71.8 billion in economic damages. With regard to impacts, floods caused the greatest loss of life (80 per cent) and the most economic loss (64 per cent). The most significant event during the period was a flood and land and mudslide that occurred in Venezuela in late 1999 and caused 30 000 deaths. This single event skews the loss of life statistics significantly for the entire region.
North America, Central America and the Caribbean reported 1 631 disasters that caused the loss of 71,246 lives and economic damages of US$ 1 008.5 billion. The majority of the reported disasters in this region were attributed to storms (55 per cent) and floods (30 per cent). Storms were reported to be the greatest cause of lives lost (72 per cent) and of economic loss (79 per cent).
The South-West Pacific region experienced 1 156 reported disasters in 1970–2012 that resulted in 54684 deaths and US$ 118.4 billion in economic loss. The majority were caused by storms (46 per cent) and floods (38 per cent). The most significant reported disasters with regard to lives lost were tropical cyclones, mainly in the Philippines, including the event of 1991, which killed 5956 people. The 1981 drought in Australia caused US$ 15.2 billion in economic losses and the 1997 wildfires in Indonesia caused nearly US$ 11.4 billion in losses.
In Europe, 1 352 reported disasters claimed 149 959 lives and caused US$ 375.7 billion in economic damages. Floods (38 per cent) and storms (30 per cent) were the most reported cause of disasters, but extreme temperatures led to the highest proportion of deaths (94 per cent), with 72 210 lives lost during the 2003 western European heat wave and 55 736 during the 2010 heat wave in the Russian Federation. In contrast, floods and storms accounted for most of the economic losses during the period.
Weather, Climate and Water
For more information: Clare Nullis, Media Officer, Communications and Public Affairs, Tel: +(41 22) 730 8478; (41-79) 7091397, email: cnullis (at) wmo.int
Harsh sentences seen as grave setback for press freedom in Burma
In the latest in a series of reverses for media freedom in Burma, a court in the central region of Magway today sentenced five newspaper journalists to ten years in prison with hard labour on charges of violating state secrets for reporting the existence of a chemical weapons factory.
After considerable progress since 2012, the harsh sentences confirmed that Burma has done a U-turn on freedom of information.
“This decision by the Magway court is a grave setback for press freedom,” said Benjamin Ismaïl, the head of the Reporters Without Borders Asia-Pacific Desk. “Progress had been made but this case marks a return to a dark time when journalists and bloggers who did their job were jailed on national security charges or for allegedly trying to overthrow the government.”
The five journalists are Tint San, the CEO of Unity Weekly, and four of his reporters – Lu Maw Naing, Yarzar Oo, Paing Thet Kyaw (Aung Thura) and Sithu Soe. They were arrested in February over an article reporting that a factory had been turned into a chemical weapons plant and was getting frequents visits from top generals.
Their conviction comes at a tense time for journalists, with police investigations and threatening statements by politicians being used in an attempt to intimidate them.
Burma is ranked 145th out of 180 countries in the Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.
07/10/2014 11:37 GMT
DHAKA, July 10, 2014 (AFP) - Bangladesh said Thursday it has barred official marriages between its nationals and Myanmar's Muslim Rohingya refugees, whom it claims are attempting to wed to gain citizenship.
Law minister Syed Anisul Haque said he has ordered marriage registrars not to officiate any unions between Bangladeshi nationals and Rohingyas and also between Rohingyas themselves, thousands of whom have fled to Bangladesh.
He said Rohingyas try to use the resulting wedding certificate to gain Bangladeshi passports and other documents, while Rohingyas who marry Bangladeshis could automatically qualify for citizenship.
"By registering their marriage in Bangladesh they try to prove that they're Bangladeshi citizens," he told AFP.
"We've told the marriage registers not to list any marriage of Rohingyas and also between a Rohingya and a Bangladeshi citizen in Bangladesh."
Law ministry spokesman Abdullah Al Shahin said marriage registrars have been warned of punitive action if they officiate any such marriages.
There are around 300,000 Rohingyas living in Bangladesh's southern coastal districts bordering Myanmar who have fled alleged persecution in the Buddhist-majority nation since the 1990s.
Sectarian clashes flared up two years ago in Myanmar's western Rakhine state, with fighting that has displaced about 140,000 people, mainly stateless Rohingya Muslims.
Bangladesh recognises only around 28,000 of the refugees in its country, who are entitled to food, basic housing and other aid provided by the United Nations.
The rest of the Rohingyas in Bangladesh live in slums set up in cleared forests and on beaches.
Bangladesh border guards regularly turn back Rohingyas caught trying to cross the Myanmar border.
Rights groups and charities have criticised Bangladesh's treatment of Rohingyas, claiming they lack basic healthcare and many are on the verge of starvation.
© 1994-2014 Agence France-Presse
Imagine making $4 per day. Now imagine that money has to support a family of six. For Lin Lin, a 30-year-old wife and mother in Myanmar, that was her reality. In the Coca-Cola-produced video, “Every Bottle Has a Story: Meet Ma Lin Lin from Myanmar,” Lin Lin tells her story of working in the rock mines near her village in central Myanmar. Through a partnership between the Coca-Cola Foundation and Pact, Lin Lin now owns her own business and can provide for the needs of her family.
Since 2012, the Swan Yi project has been empowering women entrepreneurs in Myanmar. The project offers training and capacity building for women on how to create a business, market their products, and save money. Through savings-led village banks, woman can access loans to start small businesses and improve their livelihoods. Lin Lin’s story is one of thousands among women in Myanmar who the project will help by 2015.
By DVB 9 July 2014
Thailand’s authorities have banned Burmese refugees living on the Thai-Burmese border from leaving their camps, while they conduct a census to determine the exact number of refugees living in the country. There are nine refugee camps along the border and aid agencies say they provide relief to no less than 120,000 people.
Saw Honest, leader of Mae La, the biggest refugee camp in Thailand, said authorities have strictly warned its residents not to leave the camp and said they would punish those who do.
Anyone found in violation of the travel ban may face a series of punishments ranging from a week of labour or ration cuts to having their refugee status revoked, he said.
Residents who are staying outside their camps, including students and those working in nearby towns, have been ordered to return for the population count.
On Tuesday, a team of military officials and police officers began the census in the Umpiem refugee camp, which lies 90 kilometres south of Mae Sot.
“Officials have begun work to verify the number of people living in the Umpiem camp,” said camp chairman Saw Wahtee. “They came there at around 7am on Tuesday and gathered residents in one area together. Then they issued some papers to each person and told them to walk through a gate to another zone.”
“The Thai authorities said they just wanted to know the exact number of refugees in the country,” he said.
Recently, donor funding to the refugees has been cut and resettlement programmes terminated.
In June, a meeting was held in Mae Sot between the Thai army’s Internal Security Operations Command, regional commanders of border provinces, and NGOs that provide assistance to the refugees, to discuss whether it is time to begin preparing for the refugees to be repatriated.
No official decision was made.
By NANG MYA NADI 9 July 2014
A Shan State Army-North (SSA-N) delegation met with Burmese government officials in Naypyidaw on Tuesday to discuss how to prevent future clashes from happening between the ethnic armed group and the Burmese army in Shan State.
Khun Hseng, secretary general of the SSA-N, said that these clashes were happening in Kensi Mansam Township, home to the ethnic armed group’s Wanhai headquarters. He added that the mobilisation and reinforcement of government troops have led to heightened tensions between the two sides.
“We discussed how we can reduce tensions in the area — to prevent exacerbation of the issues and to keep clashes from breaking out – by demarcating territories from each side,” Khun Hseng said. “We believe that for now, the withdrawal of troops from both sides will relieve the situation.”
The establishment of a joint committee to monitor clashes was also proposed during the meeting, he said, adding that “delicate” issues such as the withdrawal of troops or demarcation of territory would take further negotiation.
According to the SSA-N, roughly seven Burmese army battalions entered the area and took positions across the town last week, causing locals to flee their homes in fear of renewed fighting. The SSA-N reiterated the need for the Burmese government to control their troops and their actions.
Union Minister Aung Min, deputy chairman of the government’s Internal Peace-making Work Committee and the government’s chief negotiator, joined the meeting, along with Union Minister Thein Zaw and deputy attorney-general Tun Tun Oo.
Although the SSA-N reached a union-level ceasefire agreement in 2012 with the government, more than 100 clashes have erupted between both sides since then.
07/08/2014 08:06 GMT
YANGON, July 8, 2014 (AFP) - Myanmar's reformist president has warned that newly-won media freedoms could be curtailed if stability is threatened by religious bloodshed shaking the former military-ruled country.
Thein Sein, whose administration has been accused of failing to stem two years of sporadic anti-Muslim violence, vowed "zero tolerance" against the perpetrators of fighting in the second largest city Mandalay that left two dead last week.
But he also fired a shot across the bows of the media, after inflammatory material posted online was blamed for stoking the unrest.
"We have attained one of the highest levels of press freedom in Southeast Asia, with the right to speak and write freely, because of political reform which is crucial in the transition process," the former general said in a speech published by state media Tuesday.
"However, if media freedom threatens national security instead of helping the nation, we warn that we will take action under existing laws," he added.
The latest unrest broke out on July 1 after an accusation of a rape of a Buddhist woman by two Muslim men from a local tea shop was spread on social media websites, prompting a crowd of hundreds to gather near the business, hurling stones and damaging property.
Violence continued for several days, despite a heavily increased security presence in the city, leaving one Muslim and one Buddhist dead and more than 20 people injured.
Police told AFP they had arrested nearly 400 people, mainly for breaking an overnight curfew.
Social media users were unable to access Facebook on Thursday and Friday nights, amid speculation that Myanmar had blocked the site to curb the spread of inflammatory comment online.
The website has since been accessible and neither the government nor Facebook have yet commented on the outage.
Buddhist-Muslim clashes have left at least 250 people dead and tens of thousands displaced since fighting first broke out in Myanmar's western Rakhine state in 2012.
Most of the victims have been Muslim and violence has often erupted as a result of rumours or individual criminal acts.
Radical Buddhist monks have been accused of fanning religious tensions, with Mandalay-based hardline cleric Wirathu posting a link to the rape allegations just hours before the unrest broke out.
Thein Sein said "serious action" would be taken against those involved in conflict.
Reforms under his quasi-civilian government, which took power in 2011, have included ending pre-publication censorship.
But activists have accused the government of backsliding on press reforms with the introduction of vague media laws and the prosecution of several local journalists.
© 1994-2014 Agence France-Presse
Myanmar: Myanmar: IDPs in Kachin, Rakhine and the south-east face different challenges, but all need solutions
While Myanmar is proceeding with political and economic reforms and nationwide ceasefire negotiations, conflict in Kachin and northern Shan states is ongoing, and tensions in Rakhine persist. Up to 642,600 internally displaced people (IDPs) in these areas as well as the south-eastern part of the country still need support to rebuild their lives. During a recent mission to the country, IDMC’s Regional Analyst was able to identify some of the key issues that the different groups of IDPs in the country are faced with. These are analysed further in IDMC’s latest report.
Since the ceasefire agreements of 2011 and 2012 between the Government of Myanmar (officially known as the Government of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar) and most ethnic non-state armed groups (NSAGs) operating in the south-east, armed conflict has waned and the lives of people in this area have improved.
In particular, up to 400,000 people internally displaced there can now move around more freely without fearing for their safety, and they are able to pursue a wider variety of job options. As well as this, negotiations over a nationwide ceasefire agreement are in the process, and a second draft was agreed between the government and the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT) in May.
In Kachin state and the northern part of Shan state, however, there have been fresh waves of fighting since 2011 between the Myanmar Armed Forces, also referred to as Tatmadaw, and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) as well as with smaller non-state armed groups (NSAGs). Here, a staggering 98,000 people are internally displaced, with many having had to escape again and again as clashes have followed them from one place of refuge to another.
In April, for example, thousands were displaced, and for some of them this was the second or third time they have had to flee since the resumption of fighting in 2011. Two thirds of all IDPs in Kachin and northern Shan are currently in areas controlled by NSAGs that are often remote and isolated, which makes it challenging to get aid to them. Local aid organisations are stretched beyond their capacity, while UN agencies and other international organisations face government restrictions on accessing IDPs in areas outside of government control.
Restricted access for humanitarian organisations has also been a challenge in Rakhine state in the west of the country. Here around 140,000 people, most of them Rohingya Muslims, were forced to flee their homes in 2012 when inter-communal violence flared between the state’s Buddhists and Muslims, and they remain internally displaced to this day. Most of them are staying in camps which they are not allowed to leave. This severely limits their livelihood opportunities and access to education and primary health care.
In March, support to the displaced in Rakhine state was interrupted after an extremist Buddhist mob attacked the premises and property of international organisations in the town of Sittwe. Those organisations withdrew their staff from the state, but they are now returning and resuming their assistance to the IDPs. Challenges remain, however, as they are only allowed to establish themselves in one designated neighbourhood of Sittwe town, and there is simply not enough space for all organisations whose help is crucially needed.
The inter-communal violence and displacement in Rakhine state has to be understood against a backdrop of a long history of deprivation and neglect of all of the state’s inhabitants by the central government. In a context of political and socio-economic exclusion, local Buddhists have increasingly targeted their grievances against Rohingya and other Muslims. While Rohingya have lived in Rakhine state’s territory for generations, they are effectively stateless because the Myanmar government sees them as illegal Bangladeshi immigrants, while Bangladesh does not recognise them as Bangladeshis.
Durable solutions for Myanmar’s IDPs?
While the complexity of each of these situations must not be underestimated, the following elements are key for Myanmar’s IDPs to achieve durable solutions:
In Rakhine state, internally displaced people will only be able to rebuild their lives if a process of reconciliation between Buddhists and Muslims is initiated. Ideally, such a process would be linked to concrete steps to address the needs of all of the state’s inhabitants, particularly in terms of economic development and political representation. This, in turn, would help prevent further tensions, violence and, ultimately, future displacement.
In Kachin and northern Shan, international organisations should be granted unfettered access to IDPs, including those in areas controlled by NSAGs. Only measures taken by both sides will prevent further displacement, and ensure that these areas are included in the nationwide ceasefire agreement currently being developed. Further, the existence of landmines and unexploded ordnance prevents IDPs from going home. These need to be cleared so that they can safely return if they choose to do so. In addition, it is essential that internally displaced people receive the support they need to get their lives back on track.
In the south-eastern part of the country, it is hard to know the exact numbers of internally displaced people in the area because displacement has been going on for a long time and because it is difficult to distinguish IDPs from people who are not displaced. More organisations currently present on the ground should strive to gain a better overview of the numbers of people still facing challenges resulting from their displacement, and of their current situation.
Lastly, in order to facilitate peace-building, it is imperative that the government and the NCCT consult IDPs and enable them to participate more in the ceasefire and peace negotiations so that their needs can be addressed as part of this complex process that is happening in tandem with comprehensive nation- and state-building at this time.
There is no one-size-fits-all solution to Myanmar’s different situations of internal displacement – each needs to be analysed and addressed within its own respective context. Only then will the country’s IDPs be able to rebuild their lives in a sustainable way.
For more information on the internal displacement situation in Myanmar, please see IDMC’s latest country overview: Comprehensive solutions needed for recent and long-term IDPs alike
Pakistan: Water, sanitation, and health services are urgent needs among the 780,000 registered displaced from North Waziristan (government figures). The data is being cleaned to check for duplication.
Iraq: Access to areas within the governorates of Anbar, Babylon, Diyala, Salah al Din, Kirkuk, and Ninevah remains difficult due to ongoing violence clashes, disruption of communication and transportation routes, and a widespread shortage of fuel.
Syria: Islamic State has reportedly expelled 60,000 people from the homes in Deir-ez-Zor. In Dar’a and Rural Damascus, barrel bomb attacks were reported. Some 200,000 Syrians are estimated to have died from chronic illnesses since the start of the conflict due to lack of access to treatment and medicines. Water and sanitation systems are deteriorating significantly.
Updated: 08/07/2014 Next Update: 15/07/2014