Myanmar - ReliefWeb News
By KHIN OO THAR / THE IRRAWADDY
Without a political settlement between ethnic armed groups and the government, the continuation of dam projects on eastern Burma’s Salween River could impact upon the current peace efforts in the country, a leading Shan human rights group says.
“The project area is not stable yet and it’s close to Kokang troops and the Wa region, and also, war refugees are being scattered in the area due to fighting between the Burma Army and Palaung rebels,” Nang Kwarn Lake, a spokesperson from the Shan Human Rights Foundation (SHRF), told The Irrawaddy.
In a report released on Feb. 13, SHRF said a dam project area in Kunlong Township is adjacent to Kutkhaing Township in the Wa self-administered region, where clashes between the government troops and that of the ethnic Palaung Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) or the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) often take place. There are currently about five battalions of the Burma Army stationed in the dam area, it said.
Myint Zaw, the deputy minister for Burma’s Ministry of Electric Power, has told lawmakers in a parliamentary meeting that six foreign-backed hydropower projects would be constructed on the currently undammed Salween River, also known as the Thanlwin.
The SHRF report called for the projects to be stopped completely because they lack transparency, locals have not been properly consulted, and human rights violations have taken place both within and outside of the project areas.
Nang Kwarn Lake said farmland belonging to about 20,000 people living in more than 60 villages along the Salween River has so far been damaged, and many homes have been destroyed, since the project-related works started. Many more problems are likely to occur in the future that’s why this project should be ended, she said.
“No compensation has been given although houses, rubber plantations and farmland were destroyed as roads were constructed for the project,” complained the SHRF spokesperson. “Locals are not benefited from this so, it should be stopped. We are now launching a petition campaign, calling for an end of the dam projects and collecting signatures form people living by the Salween River in Shan and Karen states.”
The SHRF said it will send the petition to President Thein Sein, Parliament, other authorities and the companies taking care of project construction as well as to the Chinese and Thai governments.
The six dam projects will reportedly have a combined capacity of about 15,000 megawatts.
“We have learned that 90 percent of electricity produced by these dams will be exported to China and Thailand, and 10 percent will be delivered to other cities in Burma, so locals will be given nothing,” said Nang Kwarn Lake.
According to the Burma Rivers Network, a coalition of several environmental groups from eastern Burma, the dam projects on Salween River will be jointly constructed by the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand, China Three Gorges Project Development Corporation, and Burma’s Shwe Taung Hydropower Company and the state-run Myanmar Electric Power Enterprise.
Other Burmese business firms such as Asia World and IGE are also working on the dams, according to SHRF.
World: Children and Armed Conflict: Security Council Open Debate on Children and Armed Conflict - Special Update: March 2014
On 7 March, the Security Council will be holding an Open Debate on Children and Armed Conflict under the Luxembourg Presidency. This will be one of two thematic debates on Children and Armed Conflict in 2014. The second Open Debate is expected to occur in the months following the 13th Annual Report of the Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict, expected to be published in June.
The Security Council has succeeded in creating a strong normative framework for the protection of children in armed conflict. However, more remains to be done to ensure that children’s rights are protected in situations of armed conflict, and that parties to conflict who commit grave violations against children are held to account. Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict urged the Security Council to commit to the following actions to strengthen implementation of the Children and Armed Conflict agenda:
1 Take specific and concrete measures to encourage action plan implementation by States and the UN;
2 Call for enhanced engagement by all actors with non-state armed groups for the purpose of ending violations and concluding action plans;
3 Call for enhanced preparedness of Security Sector actors in the face of issues affecting children in situations of armed conflict;
4 Mainstream children and armed conflict concerns in the Security Council’s country-specific work;
5 Revitalize the Security Council Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict.
Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict is a network of local, national and international non-governmental organizations striving to end violations against children in armed conflicts and to guarantee their rights. This special update is based on the experience of Watchlist and its member organizations in over a decade of engagement with the Security Council’s children and armed conflict agenda.
YANGON, 18 February 2014 (IRIN) - Increasing economic migration is straining families in Myanmar, leaving the elderly to care for grandchildren as their own health diminishes, according to NGO HelpAge International, which warns this phenomenon will intensify in the coming years as migration increases.
A “skip generation” - households with older people living only with grandchildren - is emerging, and places a double burden on older people struggling to care for themselves.
In 2013 HelpAge, with support from the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), carried out the country’s first comprehensive study on the elderly population in decades, which found that people over 60 accounted for about 9 percent of Myanmar’s estimated population of 60 million, a figure that had “virtually quadrupled over the past 60 years”.
But these are only estimates, and “need to be replaced with accurate information and it is a census which can help validate this,” said Janet Jackson, UNFPA’s Myanmar representative, in reference to the upcoming census in March and April this year - the first for more than 30 years.
“The number of elderly people is increasing steadily in Myanmar, but no one knows how many there are. This means that planning for them in terms of policy or services is not easy,” Jackson added.
By 2050, older people are expected to form a quarter of the population, a huge challenge for a nation that does not yet have a policy on elderly care.
With no pension system in place, more than half of people aged 60 or over in Myanmar are still economically active, while a quarter of those aged 70 to 74 are still working, mostly in agriculture.
A third of the roughly 4,000 elderly people the NGO interviewed reported a lack of electricity, while almost 60 percent had no running water. A quarter of the survey’s respondents said they had not been able to afford health care in 2012. Half are illiterate, with a disproportionate number being women.
The “skip generation”
Even by Southeast Asian standards, the elderly in Myanmar are “exceptionally” close to their families, noted HelpAge.
“Economic migration is becoming an increasingly important issue. We’ve found that as many as 70 percent of households in villages in Kayin and Mon states have a child living in bordering Thailand or an urban hub in Myanmar. Many parents aren’t sending any money home and as the grandparents start to struggle with their own health and mental health issues, it’s having an impact on [grand]children,” Tapan Barman, country director of HelpAge, told IRIN.
“In Hpa-An Township [in Kayin State], I was struck by the huge extent of migration... Virtually every older person said they had at least one child working in Thailand,” Peter Morrison, HelpAge’s regional programme manager, said.
According to Sister Mary Andrew at the Home for Aged Poor in Yangon which cares for 134 older people, cases of children abandoning their parents are relatively common.
“We find some [older people] on the street, whereas others come knocking on the door, saying, ‘I have no shelter or food and no one to take care of me.’ Others have families, but the children don’t want to care for them. We’ve taken in many older people whose children have gone abroad, left their parents and never come back for them,” she told IRIN.
She added that there is now a waiting list as the home has reached maximum capacity and funding from private donors decreased dramatically following Cyclone Nargis in 2008.
“Myanmar’s traditional social support system, whether it be a church, pagoda or mosque, fills the gap - to some extent. But if you ask older people, most will say that they don’t want to leave their villages and live in an institution,” Barman added.
Although a National Action Plan on Ageing was expected to be approved during the 2013-14 financial year, Barman said it was delayed due to a ministerial shuffle.
“Unlike Thailand, which began the process [of introducing pensions] about 30 years ago, Myanmar was a closed country for so long and social protection is completely new to the government. It wasn’t until last year that there was any interest in the idea,” Barman said.
Aung Tun Khaing, deputy director-general of the Ministry of Social Welfare, told IRIN parliament is “likely” to approve a plan by the end of 2014.
An ageing policy, and implementation legislation, is expected to follow the action plan, which will set up a pension system and subsidized health care. The law (HelpAge will advise on drafting) is expected to contain a section on gender equity, said Barman, which aims to prevent discrimination against women in land ownership and employment.
“A universal pension isn’t affordable at this stage. The government has so many other priorities and the health sector is weak. It will need to be introduced in phases - for example, by covering those above 80. In The Philippines, the pension is really small. But it helps - something is better than nothing,” Barman concluded.
Syria: Conflict continues in the country with further infighting reported between armed groups in Deir-ez-Zor, clashes between opposition and government forces in Idleb, and governmental bombardments on the governorates of Rif Dimashq, Dar’a and Aleppo. To date, over 2.4 million people have fled the country, and an estimated 6.5 million are internally displaced. Meanwhile, the latest round of Geneva II peace talks between Syrian Government representatives and opposition leaders came to an end with little progress being made. No date has been set to resume the talks with the discussion about political transition proving a major stumbling block.
Central African Republic: Violence and ethnic-religious clashes between armed groups continue to trigger significant population displacement, notably in the northwest of the country. To date, the conflict has displaced an estimated 714,000 people including over 288,000 in the capital Bangui alone. At least 1.6 million are considered severely food insecure and fears of a full-scale food and nutrition crisis are growing. Security risks continue to hinder the delivery of humanitarian assistance. Some actors have called for a more robust military intervention, and plans are underway to increase French military presence in the country to at least 2,000 soldiers.
South Sudan: Access is reportedly improving in several parts of the country, but hostilities are still reported in Jonglei and Unity states. To date, the crisis has displaced an estimated 857,000 people, 150,000 of whom have crossed to neighbouring countries such as Uganda and Ethiopia. Meanwhile, the second round of peace talks between the Government of South Sudan and insurgent representatives began in neighbouring Ethiopia, following negotiations which secured a ceasefire in late January.
Last Updated: 18/02/2014 Next Update: 25/02/2014
NAY PYI TAW, MYANMAR – The Government of Myanmar and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) have signed two grant agreements financed by the Government of Japan through Japan Fund for Poverty Reduction (JFPR) grants to help cut rural poverty and to expand HIV/AIDS services to vulnerable groups and into remote areas.
“The livelihoods grant will help communities develop viable new income opportunities needed to end the vicious cycle of rural poverty,” said Putu Kamayana, ADB’s Myanmar Country Head at the signing ceremony. “The HIV/AIDS assistance will strengthen treatment and prevention of the disease, in collaboration with non-governmental organizations (NGOs).”
The $12 million livelihoods grant will benefit at least 700,000 people in villages in Ayeyarwady Delta, Central Dry Zone, Tanintharyi Region, and Shan State, where some rural communities face poverty rates more than double the urban level.
“Grants under the project will help to identify and prioritize community specific needs, which can then be financed through community block funds to enable rural people to benefit from political and economic reforms,” said U Tin Ngwe, Deputy Minister for Livestock, Fisheries and Rural Development.
A key feature of the project is its community-driven approach, under which village infrastructure like access roads, jetties, water and irrigation facilities, schools and community health centers will be improved. New income earning opportunities will be developed in areas such as fish, shrimp and pearl farming, livestock husbandry, and production of cash crops, including garlic and chilies. Basic English skills training will allow communities to take advantage of the country’s fast growing tourism market.
An estimated 200,000 people in Myanmar are thought to be living with HIV. The $10 million HIV/AIDS JFPR grant will increase access and quality to health and HIV/AIDS services, along fast developing economic corridors in Mon, Kayin, and Shan states, where new opportunities attract migrant workers and mobile populations. In these underserved areas, these mobile populations as well as local communities are at increased risk of communicable diseases, including HIV/AIDS.
The JFPR project will support innovative partnerships between the Government and NGOs to develop and deliver better health services for underserved population. The project will also enhance the Government’s capacity to manage public services delivery and to design innovative models for reaching out the people at risk.
“This JFPR funding will build 47 rural health centers and sub-health centers, refurbish three townships hospitals, supply medical equipment and training, and lead to better access to basic health services to some of the country’s most vulnerable people,” said Kazuhiko Koguchi, ADB’s Executive Director for Japan.
“We are committed to improving health services for all people, both structurally and functionally, and this project will help us achieve that goal,” said Union Minister for Health U Pe Thet Khin. Both projects aim to pilot approaches that can then be replicated in other parts of Myanmar and abroad. These large grants represent the special commitment of the Government of Japan to provide fast, meaningful assistance since the resumption of ADB operations in Myanmar in January 2013. Since its establishment in 2000, JFPR has provided over $620 million for 308 grant and technical assistance projects in ADB developing member countries.
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Myanmar: Support by the Government of Japan for National Reconciliation with Ethnic Minorities in the Republic of the Union of Myanmar
At 1:00 p.m. on January 6 (local time; 3:00 p.m. Japan time), Mr. Mikio Numata, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Japan to the Republic of the Union of Myanmar, and Mr. Yohei Sasakawa, Special Envoy of the Government of Japan for National Reconciliation in Myanmar, held a press conference in Yangon, Myanmar and announced that the Government of Japan plans to support up to 10 billion JPY to Myanmar for the next five years depending on progress in the peace process, in order to achieve national reconciliation and improve livelihoods etc. particularly in conflict-affected areas. The specific details are as follows:
Based on the standpoint that peace between the Government of Myanmar and ethnic minorities is essential to Myanmar’s medium- to long-term stability and development, the Government of Japan welcomes the concessions that both sides are currently making toward the nationwide agreement on cease-fire in Myanmar. This was also discussed in the Japan-Myanmar Summit Meeting between Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and H.E. U Thein Sein, President of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar, on December 15 last year.
With this momentum as an opportunity, the Government of Japan recently decided that it plans to support up to 10 billion JPY in Myanmar for the next five years depending on progress in the peace process, in order to achieve national reconciliation as expeditiously as possible and have members of ethnic minorities gain the “fruits of peace,” and in order to improve livelihoods etc. particularly in conflict-affected areas.
This support totaling up to 10 billion JPY will be part of the Government of Japan’s support for Myanmar, which involves the implementation of broad and well-balanced assistance in the fields of (1) improvement of people’s livelihoods (including assistance for ethnic minorities and poverty groups as well as agricultural and rural development) , (2) capacity building, development of systems and institutions to sustain economy and society (including those for promotion of democratization) and (3) development of infrastructure and related systems necessary for the sustainable economic development.. It will be implemented alongside existing support.
From the standpoint of ensuring the safety of aid personnel, it is envisaged that the implementing organizations of this support will be Japanese civil organization that meet specific standards, such as having their activities in conflict-affected areas officially approved by the Government of Myanmar, and accepted by ethnic minorities.
Incidentally, Mr. Sasakawa has been working for peace between the government and ethnic minorities in Myanmar for many years, and since February last year he has been working actively as the Special Envoy of the Government of Japan for National Reconciliation in Myanmar. The Government of Japan’s decision to provide the latest support was based in part on advice from Special Envoy Sasakawa’s experiences, and the Government of Japan intends to continue to cooperate closely with Special Envoy Sasakawa, and to further encourage moves toward peace while utilizing the latest support.
14/02/2014 – Take-off from Bangkok at 8am, touchdown 2pm in the small airport of Bhamo in war-torn Southern Kachin State, Myanmar/Burma. The trip from the glittering skyscrapers of Thailand’s capital to the small riverside trading town of Bhamo symbolises both the progress and the challenges of Myanmar/Burma’s transformation in the past three years.
It may be easy to travel to isolated regions of this once deeply closed society, but the team from the European Commission visiting the displaced camps in government-held areas still needed special travel authorisations just to get off the small commercial flight in Bhamo.
And while investors and tourists rush in, peace negotiations between the central government and the Kachin representatives grind on, accompanied by sporadic fighting symbolising the intractable nature of this conflict – just one of several ethnic conflicts along Myanmar/Burma’s Eastern border.
Straddling the border of China, Kachin State is three times the size of Belgium and has a population of around 1.4 million. Renewed fighting between the Kachin Independence Army and the Burmese army began in June 2011, and continued throughout 2012. As of 9 October 2012, over 100 000 Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) had taken shelter in various camps across Kachin and Northern Shan states. The majority of IDPs (estimated at 70 000) is currently finding shelter in territories controlled by KIA – Kachin Independence Army.
Most IDPs in government-controlled areas have found shelter at properties of several Christian churches, especially the Kachin Baptist Convention and the Catholic Church. A number of international organisations such as the UNHCR, WFP and several international NGOs have received significant EU funding to provide humanitarian aid to the IDPs. The European Commission Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department ECHO has provided some €14.5 million for 2012-2013, which has been used primarily to provide shelter, clean drinking water, food and sanitation to the IDPs. Access remains one of the main challenges as the government often denies travel authorisations for international aid agencies.
However, when the European Commission’s team visited the area, it was able to join a three-truck convoy organised by WFP bringing much needed food supplies to several hundred IDP households living in and around the border town of Lwege. This trading post lies right on the Chinese border and the influence of this huge neighbour is undeniable. All signs are in Chinese, the currency is the Yuan, and shops and trucks are loaded with low-price Chinese goods.
In one church compound in the village, several bunkhouses provide shelter to 100 000 IDP families who fled the fighting over the past two years. Camp leader Maludi is concerned about the cramped conditions: “We struggle to keep this place clean”, she explains. “Our biggest concern is the water supply during the winter when there is no rain and springs can run dry.” For now, basic humanitarian needs are being covered by the international community and the local authorities in the government-controlled areas.
There is great concern about the conditions in the camps in non-government controlled areas which are virtually sealed off by the government. Reports indicate that some supplies are getting in from across the border with China.
Back in Bhamo, life appears normal and calm. Yet, there is a subtle but distinct presence of military and civilian security everywhere. There have been attacks at the outskirts of Bhamo as recently as three months ago. Insecurity is one of the major reasons why many of the Kachin IDPs refuse to even consider returning to their original villages. “I had to flee with my child in the middle of the night when the soldiers arrived” explains Daw Tin Aye. “I am just too scared for the lives of my three children.”
By KYAW HSU MON / THE IRRAWADDY| Thursday, February 13, 2014 |
Burma’s first Consumer Protection Association was founded only two years ago to root out unhealthy foods and medicines in the local market. The Rangoon-based volunteer group, whose members include doctors, traditional practitioners, chemists and authors, has claimed over the past year that certain imported fish sauces, instant coffee mixes and cooking oils contain harmful substances. CPA founder Ba Oak Khine, who is writing a book about traditional herbal medicines, recently explained some of the challenges in getting the group off the ground, including opposition from the Ministry of Health.
Question: Why does Burma need a consumer protection association?
Answer: Burma is a country that’s lacking food safety. We’re neighboring China, which produces a lot of fake products, so we need this kind of association to protect ourselves.
Q: How’s your relationship with the Ministry of Health’s Food and Drug Administration (FDA)?
A: Our relationship is almost nonexistent. In previous months, Soe Tun of the 88 Generation Students has tried to collaborate with other small groups working on consumer protection. We were invited, as were the Ministry of Commerce and the FDA, but they didn’t join. When we found that some local fish pastes were made with fertilizer, we sent three samples to the FDA, but so far the FDA has not taken action. After that we tried to open our own laboratory.
We’re trying to register our association with the Ministry of Home Affairs, but the Ministry of Health objects. They said they would not be opposed if we conducted workshops and examined school food stalls, but that we should inform them before announcing anything to media. We agreed. …We want to work with them when we can, but if not we will go ahead ourselves.
Q: What methods do you use to detect fake products?
A: We work with the public. People on the ground give us information and we study to confirm. Most of the time, their information is correct. For example, our sources showed us that one kind of fish sauce from Thailand was fake. The fake brand lacks a product seal and changes color within 15 days, unlike the authentic brands. It’s really obvious.
Q: Whether you test products in your own laboratories or send samples to other laboratories, how are you qualified to analyze the results?
A: There are chemists in our group, and consultants from Yangon [Rangoon] University’s chemistry department, as well as medical doctors. We just ask them to help us.
Q: Can you tell me more about the fish sauce from Thailand? How did it get to the local market, and what are the side effects?
A: Bottles are coming here through the Myawaddy trade route from Thailand, and they end up in the Mingalar wholesale market in Rangoon. A retail shop told us about the fake bottles, but after we made a public announcement the bottles disappeared. Traders took them back to Myawaddy. We can distinguish between the fake and real, although I still can’t answer about the health effects because we haven’t sent samples to a foreign lab yet. But Thailand-based medical research has suggested that about half the fish sauces made in Thailand are unhealthy, and four brands are distributed here. Even some real brands are not suitable. They have too much nitric acid, which can lead to heat stroke or impact the nerves.
Q: How do businesses respond when you allege that local products contain harmful ingredients?
A: Some local businesses say they’ll sue, but we threaten to counter sue and it always stops in the conversation stage. We believe our activities are correct.
Q: What kind of consumer protections does Burma have?
A: Parliament is drawing up the Consumer Protection Law. We already have the National Food Law, but it’s weakly enforced. They should amend the food safety law and take action. They must do it for the people.
SEOUL, Republic of Korea, February 12 (UNHCR) – In this highly-wired country of 50 million tech-savvy people, it is almost impossible for anyone to spend a lifetime completely hidden from the public eye.
Refugees, however, have remained largely unseen by people in South Korea for decades. "I would like to be seen and heard by the people," said Choto Chakma, a refugee from Bangladesh who came to Korea in 2007. "It is not pity that I want. I just hope to be a part of Korean society in some way."
To shed light on the lives of refugees like Chakma, UNHCR, Cheil Worldwide and the Seoul Museum of Art have joined hands to hold a 3D refugee figurine exhibition in Seoul. Titled "Invisible People," the exhibition is aimed at making refugees in and outside South Korea "visible," using advanced technology that helped create the miniature figurines.
Organized as part of Cheil Worldwide's corporate social responsibility activities, UNHCR and the firm together met refugees in South Korea and Niger over the last two months. The refugees had their photographs taken and three-dimensional mini figurines were produced based on their images. In-depth interviews with the refugees were also captured on video.
The results – dozens of figurines, each no larger than a handspan – are displayed in hidden places such as stairways, shelves and windowsills of the Seoul Museum of Art. Visitors who find the figurines can listen to the refugees' stories by connecting their mobile phones with the QR/NFC codes inserted in each figurine.
To reflect the widespread indifference towards refugees, several large screens have been displayed in the main exhibition hall showing real-time video of people walking past the refugee figurines nonchalantly.
The small size of the figurines and the unusual places where they are displayed are in line with the goal of the exhibition to help visitors find refugees and "make the invisible, visible," organizers explained.
"Instead of telling people about refugees in a straightforward message, we were hoping to help visitors think and understand the difficulties and needs of refugees while finding them and listening to their stories one by one," said Song-ha Lee, a copywriter at Cheil Worldwide and co-director of the exhibition.
South Korea became signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention in 1992 and recognized its first refugee in 2001. A growing number of people have been seeking asylum in the country, seeing it as the homeland of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and a country with advanced human rights.
By the end of 2013, more than 6,600 people had sought asylum in South Korea from countries such as Pakistan, Syria and Myanmar. Some 370 of them were recognized as refugees by the Korean government.
During an interview with UNHCR and Cheil Worldwide in Niger, Ouda Ag Mohamad, a refugee from Mali, wished that people in South Korea and around the world would "never have to leave their homes and become refugees" like himself. "I hope you can live in dignity and security throughout your life," he said. "I also hope peace will be restored in my country as soon as possible so that I can return home."
Dirk Hebecker, UNHCR's representative in Seoul, asked people to never forget that "refugees leave their homes and family not because they want to, but because they have to." He said he hoped more people would get to know about the plight of refugees in and outside Korea, and recognize them as visible people. "We are thrilled to be part of such a great exhibition made possible by a creative, dynamic team of young advertising professionals."
The exhibition of 3D refugee figurines opened on February 7 and will run through March 2 at the Seoul Museum of Art in central Seoul.
For more information, please watch the video
By Heinn Shin in Seoul, the Republic of Korea
Approximately 26 officials representing the UNFPA, the Department of Population, Department of Immigration and a team of international census experts attended the 3rd International Technical Advisory Board (ITAB) meeting on census preparations in Nay Pyi Taw on 22-24 January 2014. The purpose of the two day meeting was to provide advice to the Government of Myanmar on technical, logistical and administrative issues concerning the implementation of the upcoming census as well as to ensure that the census complies with international standards including the reliability of the process and the outcome of the census result. The International Technical Advisory Board (ITAB) consists of a group of 15 global experts in the field of statistics, demography and census taking.
H.E. U Khin Yi, Minister for Immigration and Population gave the opening remarks and thanked the ITAB for their support by saying that “I would like to assure you that the Government of the Union of Myanmar values the importance of the ITAB, particularly in ensuring that the Myanmar census benefits from the diverse knowledge and expertise that exists in the ITAB member countries and that the census itself is carried out to the highest possible internationally acceptable standards.”
The Minister outlined that due to more than 30 years having passed since the last Myanmar census took place the amount of preparatory work required for the forthcoming census has been “enormous”. He went on to say that there are still challenges that are specific to Myanmar’s socio-economic context and they will continue to “work hard to address these, so that they do not compromise the quality and credibility of the census exercise” and that it is vital to clear any misconceptions and to motivate people to participate in the census. “We want to ensure that people in Myanmar understand what the census is and how important it is for our country.”
Ms. Janet Jackson, UNFPA Myanmar Representative emphasized the importance of the census for the country and that it should comply with international standards in order to “reinforce the legitimacy of the census” as it sends a “strong signal to the population of Myanmar for everyone to participate.”
“Myanmar has come a long way since the last the last census took place, and it is crucial that it is seen as a national exercise to ensure a success outcome,” said Ms. Jackson.
Over the two day meetings the issues discussed focused on updates relating to the preparations of the census such as training of enumerators, mapping of enumeration areas and consultations with ethnic group leaders, community leaders, armed group leaders and conflict advisors, including the possible inclusion of international observers during the data collection, how the data processing would be carried out, the analysis and dissemination of collected census data and the plans for the country-wide planned census publicity and advocacy campaign.
The Minister concluded by thanking the ITAB members, the international community, other development partners and UNFPA for their technical, financial and advisory support. “With this support we are confident that the 2014 census will be a success.”
The ITAB also undertook at field trip to a nearby township where they had to opportunity to meet with enumerators and villages to get a first-hand impression of how the census would be carried out in practice.
It was the third time the International Technical Advisory Board met to share their expertise with the Government prior to the Myanmar census. They previously met twice in January and in July 2013.
The Myanmar population count will take place from 29th March to 10 April 2014.
SITTWE, 13 February 2014 (IRIN) - More than 170,000 people remain displaced and in need in Myanmar’s western Rakhine State after two rounds of inter-communal violence between Buddhist ethnic Rakhine and Muslim Rohingya communities in 2012. The vast majority - 138,000 - are Rohingya, while close to 5,000 are ethnic Rakhine. Another 36,000 people are living in 113 isolated villages, with minimal access to livelihoods and basic services.
According to government figures, a total of 167 people were killed in the violence (78 in June and 89 in October), while 223 were injured (87 in June and 136 in October), and more than 10,000 buildings and homes were damaged or destroyed.
IRIN visited two camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs) located outside Sittwe, the provincial capital of Rakhine State, where much of the violence took place: Basare, a Muslim Rohingya camp, and Set Yoe Kya, an ethnic Rakhine camp, to see how residents were faring. Many in both camps wonder whether life will ever return to normal.
02/13/2014 11:22 GMT
BANGKOK, February 13, 2014 (AFP) - Thailand has sent around 1,300 Rohingya refugees back to Myanmar, a top official said Thursday, dismaying rights campaigners who warned the minority Muslims face persecution in the former junta-ruled country.
Thousands of Rohingya, described by the United Nations as among the world's most persecuted minorities, have fled sectarian violence in western Myanmar in rickety boats since 2012, mostly heading for Malaysia.
About 2,000 who arrived in Thai waters were locked up in overcrowded immigration prisons or held in shelters for women and children.
Thai authorities began deporting the Rohingya in September through a border checkpoint in the province of Ranong, national immigration chief Lieutenant General Pharnu Kerdlarpphon told AFP.
"The whole deportation process was completed in early November," he added.
It was the first official news of the deportation. It is unclear what happened to them after they left.
Rights activists criticised the move to return them to Myanmar, where they face travel restrictions, forced labour and limited access to healthcare and education.
"The deportation of Rohingya is a blatant violation of international laws that prohibit sending back refugees and asylum-seekers to a place where they can face danger and persecution," said Sunai Phasuk, a senior researcher with New York-based Human Rights Watch.
Rights groups say the Rohingya often fall into the hands of people-traffickers, sometimes after they are deported by Thailand.
Sunai urged the Thai authorities to explain what had happened to the 1,300 Rohingya, saying the foreign ministry did not appear to have been involved in the deportation.
There was no immediate comment from the ministry.
But National Security Council chief Paradorn Pattanatabut said the majority of the Rohingya had wanted to leave Thailand.
"Most of them volunteered to go back because Thailand was not their destination anyway," he said. "We facilitated their return and I am sure that in Myanmar they have their place."
Thailand said last year it was investigating allegations that some army officials in the kingdom were involved in the trafficking of Rohingya.
Rights groups have also raised concerns about alleged cases of boats being pushed back out to sea after entering Thai waters.
Hundreds are believed to have died making the perilous sea voyage from Myanmar.
Roughly 500 Rohingya are believed to remain in detention in Thailand following a raid on a suspected people-trafficking camp last month.
Myanmar views its population of roughly 800,000 Rohingya as illegal Bangladeshi immigrants and denies them citizenship.
More than 200 people have been killed and more than 140,000 left homeless in several outbreaks of Buddhist-Muslim violence since June 2012 in Myanmar's Rakhine state.
The United Nations has called on Myanmar to investigate reports -- denied by the authorities -- that dozens of men, women and children were killed in attacks on Rohingya last month with the alleged involvement of police.
Rakhine has been left almost completely segregated on religious and communal grounds by the unrest, with many thousands of Muslims living in squalid camps nearly two years after being displaced.
Many people who are displaced, or become ‘trapped’, in the context of diverse humanitarian crises do not fit well within existing legal, policy and operational frameworks for the protection of refugees and IDPs. This raises questions about whether there needs to be – or can be – more systematic ways of dealing with assistance and protection for people affected by ‘crises’ such as environmental disruption, gang violence, nuclear disasters, food shortages and so on.
FMR 45 contains 33 ‘theme’ articles on crisis, migration and displacement, and eight ‘general’ articles on subjects including Typhoon Haiyan, reparations in Latin America, discrimination in Burma, IDPs in Kenya, asylum in Lebanon, and contextualising educational standards.
By LAWI WENG & SANAY LIN
DU CHEE YAR TAN, Maungdaw Township — Zuu Lar Har is living in deep distress as she has been waiting more than three weeks for her 18-year-old daughter Zuu Kai to turn up.
The 60-year-old Muslim resident of Du Chee Yar Tan village in Maungdaw Township, Arakan State, said she feared for the life of Zuu Kai after she disappeared during the tumultuous events of Jan. 13, when, according to accounts of local villagers, an Arakanese Buddhist mob violently raided the village.
Zuu Lar Har said her daughter had been sick and bed-ridden when the alleged attack took place, and as the Muslim villagers fled Zuu Kai went missing. “I thought my daughter had come along with the family, but later I found she hadn’t,” Zuu Lar Har said.
“I do not know whether she is still alive or not. I am really worried about her security. I only trust that Allah provides for her safety,” she told Irrawaddy reporters who visited Du Chee Yar Tan village early last week. “If she is still alive, she would have contacted us or came back to our family because she is 18 years old already and her mind is fine.”
The village in the south of Maungdaw Township, located in northern Arakan State, is the site of the alleged killing of dozens of Rohingyas, according to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, who said that police and an Arakanese mob were involved in the supposed attack on Jan. 13. Médicine Sans Frontières (MSF) said it treated 22 wounded people from the village in days following the supposed attack.
Burma’s government has, however, vehemently denied mob violence took place and has insisted that a police sergeant named Aung Kyaw Thein was attacked by Muslim villagers during a patrol on Jan. 13 and subsequently went missing. The government claims that the Rohingya Solidarity Organization (RSO), a little-known Islamic militant group, was involved in the killing of the policeman.
Officials reject allegations, made by the UN rights office, that police might have let an Arakanese Buddhist mob loose on the Muslim village in an apparent retaliation for the killing of the policeman. Inter-communal violence between Muslims and Buddhists in western Burma’s Arakan State has killed scores and left more than 140,000 people displaced since 2012.
Burma’s government has allowed UN staff and foreign diplomats to inspect Du Chee Yar Tan village, and encouraged journalists to visit the site in Maungdaw, a Muslim-majority region on the border with Bangladesh where access is severely restricted.
Irrawaddy reporters were allowed to travel outside of Maungdaw town last week, but were warned against entering Du Chee Yar Tan village alone.
“They do not trust other people except Muslims. So, if you are going inside the village it will be dangerous for you,” police lieutenant Wai Phyo Zaw said, adding that he would send no less than 10 well-armed officers into the area for any operation.
During an unaccompanied visit to Du Chee Yar Tan village, reporters witnessed ample signs of recent violence as dozens of the wooden and thatched-roofed homes appeared destroyed, looted or abandoned. Only about 60 villagers remained of the original population of several thousand Muslims, most of who are believed to have fled to surrounding villages.
The impoverished villagers appeared anxious and an atmosphere of fear prevailed in the village. Interviews with about 20 villagers revealed that all had fled on the night of Jan. 13 when word spread of an approaching Arakanese mob from the nearby village of Na Da La, located about a kilometer away.
None of the interviewees could provide an eye witness account of the mob attack as they fled to other nearby Muslim villages, but all were adamant that the destruction in the village had been caused by the mob, while many said that they had lost touch with family members. Few disputed the report that a policeman had been attacked earlier on Jan. 13.
Har Ja Ra, a 45-year-old woman from the southern part of the village, said two of her daughters, Saw May Dar, 16, and Ah Gyi Dar, 14, had gone missing since the alleged Arakanese mob attack.
Villagers said they worried that their missing family members had been arrested or killed, but none stated that they had witnessed any dead bodies in the village. “We will only know the exact number of disappeared when all people come back to the village,” said Ahmed Hussein.
Police lieutenant Wai Phyo Zaw said 16 Muslim villagers had been arrested in relation to the disappearance of the police sergeant.
Representatives of the Arakanese community flatly rejected allegations of an Arakanese mob attack on Jan. 13 and dismissed the claims that dozens of inhabitants of Du Chee Yar Tan village had since gone missing.
Khin Maung Gyi, a senior member of the recently-formed Arakan National Party, said in a phone call from Sittwe, “They [Muslims] always say their people have disappeared when they feel that they are not safe. Now [they do so] because the police is trying to make arrests among them because they killed a police officer.”
Nyo Aye, an Arakanese activist who has led campaigns calling on international aid groups to stop providing care to Muslim communities, claimed the inhabitants of Du Chee Yar Tan village were receiving instructions from MSF. “They lie about how their people were killed in the village. They do what MSF told them to do. But, it is not true about the killings,” she said.
Preliminary investigations by the Myanmar Human Rights Commission and an Arakan State government commission have so far found no evidence of a mob attack and only established that a police officer has gone missing.
The US government has called on Naypyidaw to set up an independent investigation team that includes at least one international expert—a suggestion that Burmese officials have rejected.
On Friday, the government announced that a new commission will investigate events in Du Chee Yar Tan village in order to establish the “root cause” of the death of a policeman. The announcement, however, failed to specify if the investigation will address allegations made by the United Nations that dozens of Muslims were killed.
Germany signed an agreement to waive half of the 1,084 million euros in debt it is owed by Myanmar at a ceremony in Nay Pyi Taw on February 10.
The agreement was signed in the presence of President U Thein Sein and his visiting German counterpart, Mr Joachim Gauck.
It provides for Myanmar to repay the remaining 542 million euros (K731,393,142,295) over 15 years at an interest rate of three percent, said Myanmar state radio.
The waiving of half the debt is in line with an agreement reached by the Paris Club of nations, of which Germany is a member, and Myanmar on February 28, 2013.
The agreement provided for Paris Club creditors other than Japan to write off half of the debt owed them by Myanmar in two phases, and the balance to be repaid over 15 years, with a seven-year grace period.
The signing of the debt relief agreement on February 10 came as Mr Gauck held talks with U Thein Sein and Myanmar government ministers at the President’s Nay Pyi Taw residence.
The promotion of trade ties was among the topics discussed.
Mr Gauck had earlier met the chair of the National League of Democracy, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, for about an hour at a Nay Pyi Taw hotel.
Speaking later at news conference, Mr Gauck said Germany was closely watching the constitutional reform process.
“Political reform and the review of the constitution are the topics I discussed with the Myanmar government, the opposition and civil society,” he said.
Mr Gauck said he had also touched on human rights issues during his talks with Myanmar leaders.
The Burmese government’s chief peace negotiator, Aung Min, suggested that women’s involvement in the ongoing peace process will be on the agenda during upcoming negotiations.
The minister, who spoke to DVB at an art exhibition in Rangoon last Saturday, said future meetings with ethnic armed groups, geared towards achieving a nationwide ceasefire and long term political settlements, will devote some attention to the as yet near total absence of female voices in the historic discussions.
Thailand-based Women’s League of Burma (WLB), an umbrella group of 13 women’s rights organisations, welcomed the minister’s remarks. However, WLB asserted that women who take part in the peace process should be individuals who truly represent women in the country.
“This is good news for us. However, we are concerned that there is a tendency for women to be invited to meetings just for the sake of their presence — only to sit at the table without participating,” said Mi Sue Pwint, a WLB senior official.
“I would like those who are invited to peace talks to be women who really represent women’s societies and are actively focused on the subject; those who will monitor and provide feedback on developments over time,” she added.
Mi Sue Pwint said that women have born much of the brunt of the country’s on-going civil wars.
WLB member groups have been educating women for better political knowledge — priming them for a role in state affairs through skill training programs.
The 88 Generation Peace and Open Society deputy-women’s coordinator, Mee Mee, said it is necessary for government officials to undertake practical measures in order to keep promises made by senior government leaders.
“Officials such as the President and Union ministers make remarks promising changes, but they need to turn words in actions – we are hopeful to be able to take part in the peace process and make practical inputs,” she said.
Mra Raza Linn is chairperson of the Rakhine [Arakan] Women’s Union and the sole female member of the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT) — which represents ethnic groups engaged in talks with the government. Mra Raza Linn confirmed that women have had little to no role in the ceasefire talks.
NCCT committee member Hkun Okker believes that the participation of women would lead to more successful negotiations. However, he suggested that the presence of women in future meetings is dependent on the decisions of individual groups and who they appoint to attend the meeting.
“All we can do is to urge the groups to appoint female representatives to the meetings. Whether they do or not is only up to them,” said Hkun Okker.
The nationwide census planned for 30 March to 10 April 2014 risks inflaming tensions at a critical moment in Myanmar’s peace process and democratic transition. The census process should be urgently amended to focus only on key demographic questions, postponing those which are needlessly antagonistic and divisive – on ethnicity, religion, citizenship status – to a more appropriate moment. By doing so, the government, United Nations and donors can demonstrate that they are sensitive to the serious risks presented by the census as currently conceived, and that they are willing to respond to the deep reservations expressed by many important groups in the country.
While the collection of accurate demographic data is crucial for national planning and development – it has been over 30 years since the last census – the coming census, consisting of 41 questions, is overly complicated and fraught with danger. Myanmar is one of the most diverse countries in the region, and ethnicity is a complex, contested and politically sensitive issue, in a context where ethnic communities have long believed that the government manipulates ethnic categories for political purposes. In addition to navigating its political transition from authoritarian military rule to democratic governance, Myanmar is struggling to end decades-old, multiple and overlapping ethnic conflicts in its peripheries. At the same time, recent months have seen an increasingly virulent Burman-Buddhist nationalist movement lead to assaults on Muslim minority communities. A census which risks further increasing these tensions is ill-advised.
There are many flaws in the ethnic classification system being used for the census, which is based on an old and much-criticised list of 135 groups produced in the 1980s. In some cases, this creates too many subdivisions (the small Chin group, for example, is divided into 53 categories, many of them village or clan names, which has no justification on ethno-linguistic grounds). In others, groups are lumped together who have separate ethnic identities (for example, several groups in Shan State such as the Palaung, Lahu and Intha are included as subdivisions of the Shan ethnicity when they are not related in any way ethnically or linguistically). A number of these groups – including ethnic political parties and ethnically based armed organisations – have issued statements highly critical of the census, some demanding a postponement and reclassification based on consultation with ethnic communities.
The classification is related to more than ethnic identity; it will have direct political ramifications. The constitution and election laws provide for a set of ethnically delineated constituencies for those groups that meet a certain population threshold, with representatives being appointed as ministers in local governments. Groups fear that if their communities are subdivided or misclassified, they may be denied that political representation. There is no possibility to report mixed ethnicity, forcing people into a single identity, to the potential disadvantage of some smaller groups.
Religion adds yet another layer of controversy. Rising Burman-Buddhist nationalism in the country – typified by the “969” movement (see our report The Dark Side of Transition: Violence Against Muslims in Myanmar) – projects a fantastical narrative that Myanmar and the majority Buddhist faith are being overrun by Muslims. The census could serve to unwittingly support such sentiment. Currently, it is widely believed that Myanmar’s population is 4 per cent Muslim, a figure reported in the 1983 census. However, there are strong indications that the real figure collected then was over 10 per cent, but that a political decision was taken to publish a more acceptable figure of 4 per cent. The results of the current census could therefore be mistakenly interpreted as providing evidence for a three-fold increase in the Muslim population in the country over the last 30 years, a potentially dangerous call to arms for extremist movements.
Issues of ethnicity, religion and citizenship form a particularly potent mix in Rakhine State, the site of serious recent violence. Many in the Buddhist Rakhine community feel that they are fighting for their ethnic and religious survival in the face of a Rohingya Muslim population that is perceived to be growing rapidly – but which is currently denied citizenship and basic human rights. They claim that many Rohingya are recent illegal immigrants from Bangladesh – a narrative that has been repeated for decades, despite evidence to the contrary. In addition to the tensions that could flare when official figures on the Muslim population in the state become known, some extremist Rakhine political actors undoubtedly fear that the census would establish a baseline Rohingya population that would make it more difficult to sustain the narrative of recent migration in the future. Rakhine politicians are already claiming that additional populations of Bengali Muslims are now infiltrating Rakhine State in order to be included in the census count. These politicians are demanding that they be allowed to form an armed Rakhine militia to prevent such a migration.
Myanmar is at a very sensitive moment in its transition. The peace process with ethnic armed groups is in a delicate phase, with all sides engaged in a concerted effort to bridge gaps and build trust. Elections in late 2015 will likely be the first relatively free and fair polls in a generation and will radically transform the political landscape. The next two years will thus be highly volatile. A poorly timed census that enters into controversial areas of ethnicity and religion in an ill-conceived way will further complicate the situation.
The Department of Population and other officials are to be commended for their tireless efforts over the last two years to make all the technical and administrative preparations for this enormous exercise. However, the plans have proceeded with apparently little concern at the political level – by government, the United Nations and donors – over the potential risks. For a country that has no recent experience of conducting a census, comparative lessons from other transitional and conflict-affected contexts could have informed Myanmar’s efforts and helped to significantly mitigate the risks.
There is still time to adjust the process by limiting the census to just the key demographic questions on age, sex and marital status – that is, the first six questions on the census form. This will provide the most important data without touching at this stage on the controversial issues of identity and citizenship. The limited technical complication of adjusting the process pales into insignificance when placed against the much larger risk – to the very fabric of Myanmar society at this delicate stage in the country’s transition – of proceeding with the current, ill-thought-out process.
GENEVA (11 February 2014) – The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Myanmar, Tomás Ojea Quintana, will undertake his final official visit to Myanmar from 14 to 19 February 2014 to assess the current situation in the country and follow up on his previous recommendations*.
Mr. Ojea Quintana plans to visit Rakhine State, Kachin State, the Monywa copper mine in Sagaing Region, and the Thilawa Deep Sea Port near Yangon in his final mission, prior to the end of his six-year mandate as Special Rapporteur and the appointment of a new independent expert by the UN Human Rights Council. He has also requested a visit to Kayin State.
“In Rakhine State, I hope to be able to assess what steps the Government has taken to improve the human rights situation there, including in Maungdaw township,” said the human rights expert, who will meet with members of the state and central Government, and with members of the Rohingya Muslim and Rakhine Buddhist communities.
Visits to the Monywa cooper mine and the Thilawa deep sea port will focus on the extent to which economic development is serving the needs of the people.
“These development projects can have a positive impact on a whole range of human rights, including healthcare, an adequate standard of living and education. However, if not pursued in accordance with human rights standards, they can lead to land confiscations, forced evictions and the further disempowerment of local populations,” he noted. “Now is the time to set in stone the standards for development.”
During his visit to Kachin State, the Special Rapporteur will assess progress towards a ceasefire with the Kachin Independence Organisation and discuss with local communities their hopes and aspirations.
“Important progress is being made to stop the fighting in ethnic border areas. I want to look at the implementation of the ceasefire agreements and how the underlying grievances of Myanmar’s different ethnic groups will be listened to and addressed when the post-ceasefire talks start,” Mr. Ojea Quintana explained.
In Nay Pyi Taw, the Special Rapporteur will meet with a range of Government officials and Parliamentarians, as well as senior members of the judiciary “to highlight the need to make key changes to the Constitution to keep Myanmar’s democratic transition on track.”
“I will also follow up on my recommendations for the amendment of laws affecting the right to peaceful assembly, freedom of association and media freedom, which can set the framework for a society that upholds fundamental rights.”
On 19 February, at the end of his mission, Mr. Quintana will present preliminary observations at a press conference at Yangon International Airport at 6.15pm.
His full report on the visit will be presented to the Human Rights Council on 17 March 2014.
(*) Read the Special Rapporteur’s latest report to the UN General Assembly (October 2013): http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Countries/MM/A-68-397_en.pdf
Mr. Tomás Ojea Quintana (Argentina) was appointed by the United Nations Human Rights Council in May 2008. As Special Rapporteur, he is independent from any government or organization and serves in his individual capacity. Learn more, log on to: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/SP/CountriesMandates/MM/Pages/SRMyanmar...
UN Human Rights, country page – Myanmar: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/countries/AsiaRegion/Pages/MMIndex.aspx
For more information and media requests, please contact: In Yangon (during the mission): U Aye Win, National Information Officer, (+95 9 421060343 / email@example.com) In Bangkok (before and after the mission): Daniel Collinge, (+41 79 444 3707 / firstname.lastname@example.org)
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In Syria, violence is ongoing with government bombardments on Aleppo and infighting between rival rebel factions in Deir-ez-Zor and Al-Hasakeh. Between 07-11 February, a temporary ceasefire in the city of Homs allowed for the evacuation of over 1,200 people and the entry of humanitarian convoys into the Old City for the first time in two years. To date, at least 242,000 people are trapped in besieged areas across the country. Meanwhile, the second round of the Geneva II peace talks began, with expectations regarding aid deliveries and the release of prisoners.
In Central African Republic, the security situation remains highly volatile in the capital Bangui and in the northwest, with reports of repeated violence, looting, and clashes between rival factions. At least 2,000 people have been killed in the country since the start of the crisis, including 1,118 since early December 2013. An estimated 838,000 people have been internally displaced, including over 413,000 in Bangui alone, and at least 34,400 people have crossed into neighbouring countries since December 2013.
In South Sudan, the security situation is reportedly improving across most conflict-affected areas, but sporadic clashes continue to be reported in the east. To date, an estimated 868,000 people have been displaced by the crisis, 130,000 of whom have crossed to neighbouring countries such as Uganda and Ethiopia. Meanwhile, the second round of peace talks, which aim to bring about a comprehensive and political agreement between the warring parties, has been delayed.
In Iraq, fighting is ongoing between government troops and Sunni Islamist militants, over a month after violence erupted in Anbar province. While there seems to be no chance of negotiations, authorities have issued a one-week ultimatum for the insurgents to surrender. Fighting in Anbar has displaced at least 266,000 people, and ongoing military operations continue to hamper the delivery of humanitarian assistance.
Updated: 11/02/2014 Next Update: 18/02/2014
By SAMANTHA MICHAELS / THE IRRAWADDY| Saturday, February 8, 2014 |
RANGOON — A select group of students from Burmese medical schools are starting a new program aimed at moving them beyond the classroom and into outpatient clinics earlier in their studies, as part of a larger push to improve the professionalism of doctors.
Twenty students in their second year at the University of Medicine 1 and the University of Medicine 2 in Rangoon are making their first clinic visits on Saturday to observe doctors at work with patients. The doctors, private physicians from the Myanmar Medical Association (MMA), will serve as mentors to two students each, to discuss critical issues including autonomy, respect for patients and how to handle conflicts of interest.
The mentorship program, only in its pilot stage this year, is a departure from the current system at the country’s four medical universities, which are all government run. Usually students begin clinical work one year later, with less individual attention, and they spend their time in inpatient settings.
The hope is that students can get a better understanding of positive doctor-patient relationships in an outpatient setting, where patients are less sick and more capable of discussing their options.
“We want students to learn professional and ethical relationships between doctors and patients,” says Dr. Win Zaw, a member of the MMA who helped select the students from a pool of about 150 applicants.
Aung Soe, a professor at the University of Medicine 2, says that with the current system at his university, about five students are assigned to one attending doctor when they start clinical work in their third year of studies. A bigger problem, he says, is the student-teacher ratio in the classroom.
“Actually, one teacher should have 10 to 20 students, but for our department one teacher has 125 students,” he says. “I think it’s not effective for teaching. They cannot learn well.”
He adds that it would be better if students could begin clinical work in their first year at school, as is the practice in some other countries.
“At most medical schools in the United States, we start our clinical exposure as soon as we start medical school,” says Myaing Myaing Nyunt, a Burmese doctor and public health researcher who helped design the mentorship program along with the Ministry of Health, the universities and the MMA. She went to medical school in Rangoon during the 1980s before moving to the United States, where she now works at the University of Maryland’s School of Medicine.
“In the West, and also in some Eastern countries, we have shown that this early introduction of young medical students to these doctors in the real setting, community setting, improves their understanding not only of the doctor-patient relationship, but also they have a more meaningful experience learning anatomy, physiology, biochemistry—these dry, extremely boring subjects.”
The doctor-patient relationship is crucial not only to improve the quality of medical care, she says, but also to protect doctors.
“We are starting to see lawsuits here—the patients are questioning—which I have never seen in my life in Myanmar,” she says.
As part of the transition from military rule, Burma has in the past three years begun to allocate more funds to education and health care, although defense spending still constitutes a much larger share of the national budget. The government is working with international donors toward an ambitious goal of achieving universal health care by 2030, in a country where a majority of people currently lack access to hospitals and doctors. In the education realm, reformers are calling for greater autonomy for universities, which were tightly controlled by the former regime.
The mentorship program is perhaps another sign of the growing desire for academic freedom.
“In the graduate level or undergraduate level, schools are still government-sponsored programs. What we’re doing is really taking the students with fresh minds out of these traditional programs and putting them in the hands of outsiders, of community physicians,” Myaing Myaing Nyunt says.
With funding from the Open Society Foundations, a grant-making operation founded by George Soros, she is also working to promote bioethics training for medical school teachers, as well as the development of the country’s two Ethical Review Committees (ERC), which review the ethical soundness of research protocols. Burma has ERCs under the government’s Department of Medical Research and the military’s medical research center, but they are not currently up to international standards.
“In the composition of the committee, a woman has to be included, community members have to be included, and somebody who is non-science or non-medical has to be included, to ensure there are different perspectives for the patient’s sake,” she says.
She is helping the ERCs register for Federalwide Assurance (FWA), or an agreement with the US Department of Health and Human Services about ethical oversight. This US-led global standard for ethics committees is intended to ensure the protection of human subjects, and compliance is helpful for obtaining research grants.
As Burma continues to seek international development assistance, she says institutional development is a crucial area that should not be forgotten.
“Myanmar is the darling of the whole world right now, but that’s not going to last long, and at some point people will go on with other popular countries,” she says.
“Foreign aid is good, but I think there should be a very constructive way to promote institutional development, investing in more long-lasting kinds of activities. This is why I don’t just like doing workshops—it’s a lot of money and a lot of time, and then people leave and nothing is left behind.”