Myanmar - ReliefWeb News
11/11/2014 - 02:29 GMT
by Kelly MACNAMARA
Myanmar faces uncomfortable scrutiny this week over fears its reforms have hit the buffers as Barack Obama joins global leaders in Naypyidaw, with the country's transition towards democracy entering a pivotal phase.
The former pariah state, which currently holds the chairmanship of Southeast Asia's regional bloc, has come under fire from opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi who sought to temper US "over-optimism" in comments just days before the American leader's arrival.
The US president, making his second trip to the country since it shed full junta rule, has invested heavily in Myanmar's opening up as he hunts a prized foreign policy win from a two-term presidency dogged by turmoil on the international stage.
Obama, who will meet both Suu Kyi and President Thein Sein during his visit, will highlight America's commitment to "keep reforms on track", according to National Security Adviser Susan Rice.
"The United States recognises the progress that Burma has made but notes that real challenges remain and missteps have been made in the course of this transition," she added, using Myanmar's former name.
Activists have urged the US president to toughen his stance amid worries Myanmar is backtracking on reforms as elections slated for late 2015 loom.
Wrangles over the nation's constitution, the cramping of media freedom as well as tinderbox issues such as burgeoning Buddhist extremism and anti-Muslim violence, have taken the sheen off its emergence from isolation after decades of iron-fisted army rule.
Last week Suu Kyi said reforms had been "stalling" for almost two years, although she stopped short of saying they were in reverse.
She is campaigning to change a junta-era constitution that bars her from becoming president and earmarks a quarter of parliamentary seats for unelected soldiers.
Washington remains sensitive to the opinions of Myanmar's renowned democracy activist, who spent 15 years under house arrest during the junta but was released after a controversial 2010 poll that heralded the start of a quasi-civilian rule that has seen her enter parliament for the first time.
"Aung San Sui Kyi's view of the election will be enormously important to ensuring that it is seen as credible by the people of Burma and the international community," Patrick Ventrell, a spokesman for the US National Security Council, told AFP.
Suu Kyi's "exasperation will be noted" when Obama meets her in Yangon on November 14, said Nicholas Farrelly of Australian National University.
But the US leader would be wrong to "mimic" her downbeat stance as fears of backsliding were "mostly overblown" -- as are expectations that Myanmar would undergo a relatively painless transition to democracy, he added.
Obama, who is on an extended tour of Asia including a trip to China, also travels with Washington's so-called "pivot" to Asia in mind as the superpower seeks to counterbalance Beijing's regional dominance.
Myanmar, a resource-rich nation of more than 50 million strategically nestled between China, India and Southeast Asia, has long been under the influence of Beijing, whose support shielded the former generals from the full force of international sanctions.
Myanmar's Information Minister Ye Htut said his country was satisfied with "improving" US ties, but would not "give sole priority" to the US at the summit.
Obama will receive a warm welcome in Naypyidaw for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) meeting from November 12 to 13.
But behind the bright face Myanmar will present to the world, troubles are mounting.
Journalists have been jailed, one reporter shot dead while in army custody and dozens of activists arrested in recent months, mainly for protesting land disputes.
Myanmar is also struggling to win peace after years of ethnic minority insurgency, while grappling with waves of deadly anti-Muslim violence and accusations of state complicity in the plight of tens of thousands of stateless Rohingya Muslims in desperate displacement camps.
Authorities have promised a free and fair vote in the first general election fought by Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy since its decisive win in 1990, which was ignored by the generals.
Parliament will then choose a president, but the 69-year-old is ineligible because of a constitutional clause bans anyone with a foreign spouse or children from top office.
Her late husband and two sons are British.
US officials said Washington would not specifically support Suu Kyi's presidential bid, but stands behind the principle that people should be able to choose their leaders.
Thein Sein sought to strike a tone of inclusivity in a speech following a landmark meeting with Suu Kyi, military top brass and other parties in late October, citing the need to "find common solutions together".
But he conceded the country was facing "trying times", as it tries to build a "free society".
© 1994-2014 Agence France-Presse
Source: Reuters - Mon, 10 Nov 2014 10:43 GMT
By Amy Sawitta Lefevre
BANGKOK, Nov 10 (Reuters) - More than 200 boat people held in southern Thailand will be pushed back out to sea, police said on Monday, despite calls by rights group to stop a policy that puts would-be asylum seekers at risk.
Read more on AlertNet.
Ethnic refugees fleeing fighting in Kachin State who have been resettled in Ngwe Pyaw Standard Village near Myitkyinar Township, a government built village constructed especially for refugees, are having difficulties surviving, according to a report by the Shan Herald Agency for News.
The village was built as part of the government resettlement programme for war refugees. The population is a mixture of different ethnicities including Kachin, Shan, Lisu, Burman and Rawan, according to U Aung Swe the village headman.
Though the French NGO Agency for Technical Cooperation and Development or ACTED is supplying food such as rice, cooking oil, beans and salt to the villagers, they have no opportunities to make money and their long-term survival seems very uncertain.
Nan Tin Moe Khaing, a Shan woman from village said: “Currently, we cannot grow anything. They [ACTED] gave us some seeds to grow as a test, but we were unsuccessful due to the bad quality of the topsoil.”
Her husband said they could get work clearing weeds from around rubber trees in rubber plantations on the In-Khaing-Bum mountain near the village. They are paid K100 for each tree they weed and they rely on this money. Unfortunately there are only two or three days work a month doing this work, meaning that most of the time they have no work.
Currently the couple is trying to establish a business where they collect amber, polish it and then try to sell it, but at present the business is not viable and they are having difficulties in supplying the essentials for their daughter’s kindergarten education.
Previously they paid their daughter’s school K6,000 a month to feed her, but now they cannot afford that and can only afford to give her boiled rice to eat at school.
The unmade road to Myitkyina is in a very bad condition because it was built by hand without machinery and no vehicles use the road, which makes it very difficult for the villagers to go and work in Myitkyina. Though the refugees have been given homes they also need to have regular work, said Aung Swe.
Nan Tin Moe Khaing said, “We want farmland that can support crops and jobs.”
Daw Bauk Ja, the state minister for social affairs, said that by the end of the year they will seal the road to Ngwe Pyaw.
Currently, in Ngwe Pyaw 600 people occupy 115 out of 283 houses in the village.
By SHWE AUNG
Heavy non- seasonal showers, which lasted for four to five days in the lower delta region of Irrawaddy, has destroyed paddy fields and left farmers pondering the fate of their livelihoods.
A local farmer, Thein Aung told DVB that the rains inundated paddy fields in the area.
The flooding comes just as harvest season is set to begin in Burma. On Monday, DVB reported that the Myanmar Farmers Association (MFA) pledged to fix a set price for the new harvest, due in early December, at 350,000 kyat (US$350) per 100 baskets of paddy.
“As the heavy rains took place during the harvest season, lots of paddy was destroyed,” said Thein Aung.
He further pointed out that 2014 has been a rather unlucky year for rice farmers. “We suffered losses due to rat infestation,” he said. “We tried to regrow the crops but heavy rains submerged the paddy fields and we lost the produce. Now, we almost reached harvest time and the grains are underwater again and destroyed.”
Usually during November, the grains are harvested. However due to this unforeseen occurrence the farmers now have to sundry the grains in an effort to recover as much as they can. Industry observers say this process is bound to cost farmers a significant amount of money and manpower.
In a series of unfortunate events that have affected the agro industry in Burma, earlier this month rice prices and export experience a record price drop.
China, one of the major exporters of Burmese rice, has halted its rice export until legal trade agreements with Burma materialise. These setbacks in the agriculture sector are serious concerns for farmers like Thein Aung, whose livelihoods are at stake.
Heavy rainfall and flooding was also reported in Rangoon, leaving the streets waterlogged and daily life at a standstill. The weather department has announced that an atmospheric pressure area around the Bay of Bengal might result in further storms in Burma within two days.
Renewed fighting between Burmese government forces and ethnic rebel groups in Karen State has forced more than 2,000 villagers from their homes, many of whom now require immediate humanitarian assistance, according to a report released this week by Karen Rivers Watch (KRW).
“Between October 7 and October 18, at least six different incidents of fighting occurred in Hpa-an District’s Hlaing Bwe (Lu Pleh) Township and Hpapun District’s Bu Tho and Dwe Lo Townships. These clashes, fought between combined Burma Army/BGF forces and the DKBA, involved heavy mortar fire … Villagers in the area once again suffered the consequences of violent conflict. Over 2,000 people were forced to flee their homes, and most remain in hiding, fearing for their safety,” the report said.
Titled “Afraid to Go Home: Recent Violent Conflict and Human Rights Abuses in Karen State”, the Karen NGO describes the recent surge in fighting as “part of a calculated military strategy” by the Burmese army and its allies, the Karen Border Guard Force (BGF).
It said the move was directed at seizing territory, “possibly motivated by plans to construct the Hatgyi Dam on the Salween River.”
The Hatgyi Dam is a mega-hydroelectric dam project contracted between the Burmese government and the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand.
The report said last month’s hostilities in Karen State forced more than 2,000 people to cross the border into neighbouring Thailand. KRW urged the Thai authorities not to force the displaced villagers back into conflict zones.
Burma’s state security forces are profiting directly from the trafficking of stateless Rohingya Muslims, earning up to $7,000 per boatload in exchange for passage to sea, a human rights group has found.
Police, navy and army officials have been working directly with transnational crime syndicates by escorting boats to international waters, providing rations or extorting bribes from passengers, many of whom are forced to hand over cash or jewellery as payment, according to Fortify Rights, a Bangkok-based group which conducts independent monitoring of rights violations. “Not only are the authorities making life so intolerable for Rohingya that they’re forced to flee, but they’re also profiting from the exodus,” said its executive director, Matthew Smith. “This is a regional crisis that’s worsening while Myanmar [Burmese] authorities are treating it like a perverse payday.”
The Ethnic Community Development Forum (ECDF) released a statement on Thursday which slammed Burma’s draft National Land Use Policy for failing to protect small-scale farmers and ethnic minorities—in part because the policy’s approach to “virgin lands” overlooks traditional shifting agricultural practices of certain ethnic groups in Burma.
In its statement, the coalition of local ethnic NGOs said, “We do not accept the land classification of ‘Vacant, Fallow, Virgin Land.’ There is no [such land] in ethnic territories.”
The Burmese government seems to think otherwise, and is planning to convert what it considers “wasteland” into “productive” land by selling it to large-scale agriculture and industrial companies.
The Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation has created a “30-year Master Plan” which it hopes will encourage foreign investors to transform 10 million acres of “wasteland” into textile factories and rubber, palm oil and cassava plantations.
The idea is to use Burma’s cheap labour force and supposedly ample supply of “unused” land to mass produce exports for its three large neighbouring markets: China, India and ASEAN.
Danny Marks, a PhD Candidate at the University of Sydney who has researched smallholder agriculture in Southeast Asia, told DVB that the National Land Use Policy is just another way of legitimising the government’s master agricultural plan—a process that could destroy the livelihoods of millions of small-scale farmers.
“It’s a shame that the draft Land Use Policy gives higher priority to the interests of foreign investors than smallholder farmers even though smallholders are the backbone of Myanmar’s [Burma’s] economy. This policy could ignite already-existing social discontent among smallholder farmers,” he said.
Marks also said the draft policy is driven by short-term economic interest, and that “in the long run, it will worsen food security and degrade the country’s environment.”
According to a paper written by Kevin Woods, an expert on Southeast Asian resource politics at the Transnational Institute (TNI), the draft land use policy will serve as a blueprint for the third major land law passed by Burma’s quasi-civilian government. Woods indicates that these laws—coupled with Burma’s generous foreign investment rules—are designed to dispossess local farmers from their land in favour of foreign investors. He also indicates that Burma’s land law regime will only perpetuate a process that has been going on for years.
Wood’s paper, entitled “The politics of the emerging agro-industrial complex in Asia’s ‘final frontier’,” says that as of March 2012, the government had allocated 3.5 million hectares of land to local agribusiness companies—the vast majority of which were affiliated with the Burmese military. During this “allocation” process, Woods notes that smallholder farmers were forcibly evicted, received scant compensation and were even arrested for protesting.
Recently, many farmers have attempted to fight back by engaging in “plough protests,” whereby they grow crops on land which the military previously confiscated from them. DVB has covered several of these protests, and often times the protestors have wound up in prison.
In August, for example, local farmers from Mandalay Division’s Sintgai Township were sentenced to eight months’ imprisonment for trespassing and destroying property during a plough protest.
According to the ECDF statement, another sticking point is that large-scale development projects continue to be launched in many ethnic areas where ongoing armed conflict has already ravaged communities. These projects also have a tendency to exacerbate old conflicts and spark new clashes.
Perhaps the most destructive example of the latter situation is the role played by the Myitsone Dam in sparking widespread conflict in Kachin State. In the past few years, NGOs have issued multiple statements and reports condemning large-scale development projects for destroying local ecosystems; forcing people off their land; and damaging ethnic communities in various ways.
The Karen Human Rights Group (KHRG) issued a report in May which documented a rising number of landgrabbing cases in southeastern Burma following the 2011 ceasefire between the Karen National Union and the Burmese army—a phenomenon which the NGO attributed, in part, to large-scale development projects in the region.
In its report, KHRG cited the Hatgyi Dam as just one of several examples in which development projects have incited conflict and displaced locals from their land. In an article published by the Karen News Group (KNG), the KHRG report was cited as saying the following:
“Armed conflict broke out between [government-allied border guard forces and Democratic Karen Benevolent Army (DKBA) soldiers] over the Hatgyi Dam in 2012, which caused villagers to flee and be displaced from their homes for a short period of time. Because of land confiscation, tens of thousands of villagers have been displaced and communities face increasing water contamination and damage to land because of development projects.”
KNG also reported in September that a coalition of local NGOs in Shan State called for a moratorium on large resource-extraction projects after locals complained that one project had “contaminated the water supplies of nine villages in the area and destroyed 100 acres of farmland because of pollution.”
The draft National Land Use Policy appears to address some of these problems by proposing a “temporary suspension of investments which require land acquisitions” until the policy is approved, but ECDF says the draft’s focus on “investments which require land acquisitions” is actually a red-herring that ignores the larger problem.
Instead of suspending just one subset of projects, ECDF insists there is an “immediate need … to postpone all … investments in ethnic areas during the current national reconciliation and peace-building process” in order to avoid further land conflict.
In its statement, ECDF said it rejects the draft policy on grounds that it was drawn up without sufficient public input. The government gave the public three weeks to submit comments on the draft, but ECDF believes this time period was not long enough given the length and complexity of the document—not to mention the lack of a political atmosphere conducive to open dialogue. As a result, the NGO coalition said that many important stakeholders did not have a meaningful opportunity to participate in the process.
In particular, ECDF said the land use policy was drawn up without consulting small-scale farmers, ethnic groups, women and others who are liable to suffer if the draft policy is approved.
Speaking to DVB by telephone, Danny Marks said, “The three-week time period was just too short. The government should have had meaningful public consultations and allowed smallholder farmers to suggest amendments because they’re the ones who will be most affected by this policy.”
Since 2011, more than 247,000 people in total have been displaced in Myanmar, primarily in Rakhine and Kachin states. In south eastern Myanmar, a large number of people remain displaced following many years of armed conflict. Emergency preparedness is a major challenge as Myanmar is one of the most disaster prone countries in the Asia-Pacific region.
In January 2011, the Harvard Law School International Human Rights Clinic (“the Clinic”) began to investigate the actions of the Myanmar Army during a military offensive in eastern Myanmar (“the Offensive”) that began in late 2005 and lasted approximately three years. The Clinic sought to determine whether violations of international criminal law occurred during the Offensive, and whether there exist reasonable grounds to assert that individual military officers could be held responsible for those crimes. The Clinic’s investigation focused specifically on the conduct of two military units—Southern Regional Military Command (“Southern Command”) and Light Infantry Division 66 (“LID 66”)—in Thandaung Township, Kayin State.
In Thandaung Township, Myanmar Army soldiers involved in the Offensive violently cleared civilian areas and indiscriminately attacked villagers, including by firing mortars at villages; opening fire on fleeing villagers; destroying homes, crops, and food stores; laying landmines in civilian locations; forcing civilians to work and porter; and capturing and executing civilians. Tens of thousands of individuals were displaced during the campaign, and many were killed. Nearly every village in Thandaung Township was affected by the Offensive, and in large swathes of territory almost all villagers were forced to flee.
Based on evidence gathered during its investigation, the Clinic has concluded that Myanmar Army personnel from Southern Command and LID 66 committed crimes against humanity and war crimes, as defined by Articles 7 and 8, respectively, of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. Moreover, the Clinic has found that officers from Southern Command and LID 66 could—pending further investigation—be held legally responsible for these crimes under two theories of liability: individual criminal responsibility under Article 25 and command responsibility under Article 28.
In relation to three specific military commanders, the Clinic has collected evidence sufficient to satisfy the standard required for the issuance of an arrest warrant by the International Criminal Court as set forth in Article 58 of the Rome Statute. These three commanders are:
• Major General Ko Ko, the commander of Southern Command during the Offensive, and currently Myanmar’s Home Affairs Minister;
• Brigadier General Khin Zaw Oo, the commander of LID 66 during the Offensive until May 2006, and currently commander of Myanmar Army Bureau of Special Operations (“BSO”) 4; and
• Brigadier General Maung Maung Aye, the commander of LID 66 during the Offensive after May 2006, who was subsequently promoted to be the Naypyidaw Regional Commander. There are unconfirmed reports that he has since retired.
In light of these findings, the Clinic believes that dealing with Myanmar’s history of abuse is necessary to help ensure a successful transition. Addressing the past should include further investigation into the actions of the commanders named in this memorandum, their units, and other military personnel involved in the Offensive.
Scrutiny into other military operations, particularly those that are ongoing, is also warranted. Such investigations would help contribute to accountability for human rights abuses and create an historical record. Finally and just as importantly, to break the prevailing cycles of violence in Myanmar, there is a need for concerted effort to reform military policies and practices that have fueled indiscriminate attacks against innocent civilians.
SITTWE, Myanmar — The Myanmar government has given the estimated one million Rohingya people in this coastal region of the country a dispiriting choice: Prove your family has lived here for more than 60 years and qualify for second-class citizenship, or be placed in camps and face deportation.
The policy, accompanied by a wave of decrees and legislation, has made life for the Rohingya, a long-persecuted Muslim minority, ever more desperate, spurring the biggest flow of Rohingya refugees since a major exodus two years ago.
In the last three weeks alone, 14,500 Rohingya have sailed from the beaches of Rakhine State to Thailand, with the ultimate goal of reaching Malaysia, according to the Arakan Project, a group that monitors Rohingya refugees.
Bangkok/Yangon – As Myanmar’s government prepares to host the ASEAN Summit next week, conflict-affected communities are wondering if and how the peace process can get back on track. Negotiations for a nationwide ceasefire agreement are stumbling and national elections are due at the end of 2015. However, political dialogue to address ethnic conflict is essential to promote national reconciliation according to a new report from a consortium of relief and development agencies.
Eleven civil society organisations surveyed the perceptions of community leaders in 222 village tracts across South East Myanmar about protection and security concerns. The findings were released this week as part of The Border Consortium’s (TBC’s) Annual General Meeting and Donors Forum. TBC has been providing food, shelter and camp management support for refugees who have fled from armed conflict into Thailand for the past 30 years.
The report documents changes in the patterns of abuse since the latest round of ceasefire negotiations began in late 2011. While there has been a reduction in fighting, there has been no respite from militarisation which is increasingly related to resource extraction and commercial development.
“We have only seen small scale and tentative return of refugees from Thailand, and this survey suggests that the overall number of internally displaced persons has not reduced significantly either. Efforts to prepare for the return and resettlement of displaced persons have been thwarted by ongoing militarisation and insecurity”, commented Sally Thompson, TBC’s Executive Director.
Village leaders are recognised as the primary mechanism for dealing with serious disputes and violent crimes. Confidence in Myanmar’s formal judiciary is undermined by corruption, lack of awareness about legal processes and the inconsistent application of law.
The withdrawal of Myanmar Army troops and establishment of ceasefire monitoring mechanisms are identified as local priorities for stopping violence and abuse. Community leaders also emphasised the importance of human rights and legal education for empowering villagers to claim their rights and strengthen access to justice.
“Structural issues like security sector reform and land rights need to be addressed in an inclusive national dialogue. In addition, strengthening ethnic policing and judicial capacities could reinforce community protection strategies and help prevent the reoccurrence of crimes and abuse”, said Ms Thompson.
- A Burmese language version of this press release is available here.
- The english language version of the full report is available here.
- The Burmese language version of the full report is available here.
- A video of interviews with community leaders is available here.
For more information or interview requests:
Bangkok (English): Duncan McArthur, email: firstname.lastname@example.org, phone +66 (0)89-850-8457
Yangon (English & Burmese): Nilar Myaing, email: email@example.com, phone +95(0)9250156110
Republished with permission. © Post Publishing PCL. www.bangkokpost.com
Writer: Ramon C Bacani
Ramon C Bacani is director of Southeast Asian Ministers of Education – Regional Centre for Educational Innovation and Technology (SEAMEO Innotech).
It took 10 days for Raul Basa, principal of Cabalawan Elementary School in Tacloban City, to get to his school after Typhoon Haiyan struck the Philippines on Nov 8, 2013. The huge amount of debris left left by the record-breaking typhoon blocked all roads.
When he reached his school, Mr Basa's heart sank at the sight of two collapsed classrooms and seven partially damaged ones of the 14 in total. Even the school gate and perimeter fence were blown away.
After checking that none of his teachers had perished in the typhoon, Mr Basa looked for ways to keep his school functioning.
With help from Unicef, the government and private groups, in just three weeks, classes resumed in hastily repaired classrooms with tarpaulins serving as temporary roofs. Some classes had to be held in tents, causing one teacher to collapse from the heat. Teachers held classes in two shifts so all students could be accommodated in what remained of the damaged classrooms.
Mr Basa said he expects repairs to be completed by the end of the year and classes to return to normal then.
And as devastating as Haiyan was, natural disasters that wipe out lives, endanger health and security and threaten livelihoods are a reality for many countries throughout East Asia and the Pacific. A 2013 World Bank study said that 40% of floods worldwide from 1980 to 2011 hit countries in the region, and 1.6 billion of its residents have been affected by disasters since 2000.
Along with being the most disaster-stricken region in the world, East Asia and the Pacific is also saddled with various forms of conflicts within countries and among communities.
Within the Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Organisation (SEAMEO), the Philippines serves as lead country for education in emergencies. One of the organisation's main aims is reaching the unreached as countries pursue education for all.
Southeast Asian countries grapple with different types of disasters of varying intensities and impact. In recent years, at least five countries dealt with the haze crisis, while other countries struggle with the steady onslaught of cyclones and floods.
As the Pacific Ring of Fire straddles some parts of the region, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, and tsunamis have caused severe devastation. Outbreaks of viruses such as avian flu and H1N1 threatened the region's public health systems. Man-made emergencies through conflict worsen matters.
A common government response in Southeast Asia has been for inter-agency bodies to lead disaster recovery efforts. This approach, common in Singapore and Indonesia, for example, is holistic, involving coordination between national agencies and the public.
Within the education sector, the ministries in Laos, the Philippines, Myanmar and Singapore have formed working groups to help develop disaster resilience. Other countries reported having disaster management bodies at the school-community level.
Across the region, efforts to protect education in emergencies include capacity building towards disaster resilience and response, building safe schools, and developing action plans that aim to lessen school disruption during emergencies.
Mr Basa's school in the Philippines, back in operation while still reeling from Haiyan, is an example of the kind of difference this type of coordinated approach can make.
A recent forum by SEAMEO Innotech, an international, not-for-profit organisation helping to find technology-based solutions to the pressing problems of basic education in the Philippines and Southeast Asia, proposed that the education sector could be an active player in building a disaster resilient nation. This can be done by integrating disaster risk reduction into schools' curricula and extracurricular activities and continuing to provide uninterrupted learning opportunities during emergencies to soften the impact of disasters on learners.
Meanwhile, Unicef East Asia and Pacific Regional Office, Unesco Bangkok and SEAMEO are collaborating to develop the Regional Guidelines for Education Programmes and Policies that Promote Social Cohesion and Comprehensive School Safety.
A regional consultation jointly held by the three organisations is now taking place at SEAMEO Innotech in Quezon City. The consultation aims to strengthen the capacities of East Asia and the Pacific in developing comprehensive school safety and social cohesion approaches to address all risks faced faced by children, schools, communities, and education systems and reinforce their total resilience.
It is expected to bring together the different perspectives on education and resilience from representatives of government, particularly ministries of education and the national bodies tasked with disaster mitigation and management, of more than 14 countries in the region.
We realise that we need to recognise all challenges — urbanisation, climate change, natural hazard and disaster, conflict, and economic volatility — and work through them in a systematic manner. Neglecting any one of them would blunt any potential gains in educating for resilience.
Through education, we hope to build our children's dreams and shield them from the angry fits of nature and man.
Rangoun, Birmanie | AFP | Wednesday 11/5/2014 - 13:22 GMT
ADDS THEIN SEIN QUOTES, DETAIL, BACKGROUND
by Nan Tin HTWE
Myanmar's reform process is "stalling", opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi said Wednesday, warning the United States against over-optimism before a visit by President Barack Obama to the former pariah state.
Suu Kyi, who has long looked to the West to bolster her efforts to promote democracy, voiced caution at the pace of reforms since the country began emerging in 2011 from almost a half-century of military rule.
"There have been times when the United States government has seemed over-optimistic about the reform process," she told reporters at her National League for Democracy party (NLD) headquarters in Yangon.
"This reform process started stalling early last year," she said, adding that she would question whether any major positive changes had happened "in the last 24 months".
The Nobel laureate's remarks come a week before she is due to hold talks with the US leader as part of his two-day visit to Myanmar for a regional summit.
Obama, who is also scheduled to meet Myanmar's former general turned-reformist leader Thein Sein, is likely to reiterate a call he made last week for "inclusive and credible" elections next year.
Thein Sein's quasi-civilian regime has earned international plaudits and the removal of most Western sanctions in return for reforms, including releasing most political prisoners and allowing Suu Kyi and her party into parliament.
But the government has faced growing accusations that it has backtracked on rights issues in recent months, with journalists jailed in several high-profile cases and dozens of activists arrested.
Suu Kyi, who spent a total of 15 years under house arrest under junta rule, is due to contest the elections in October or November next year.
But the veteran campaigner is currently barred from taking the presidency -- a position appointed by parliament -- because of a clause in the junta-drafted constitution.
This bars anyone with a foreign spouse or children from taking the top political office -- a provision widely thought to have been written specifically to thwart her political rise.
Suu Kyi, 69, said she did not object to the clause because it blocks her political aspirations "but because it is intended to keep one particular citizen out of the presidency... a constitution should not be written with one person in mind".
Her party this year gained around five million signatures on a petition to end the army's veto on amending the charter.
Parliament has agreed to discuss the possibility of changing several parts of the constitution -- including the provision that bars Suu Kyi -- in debates expected to coincide with Obama's visit next week.
A majority of more than 75 percent of parliament is currently required to change the constitution, however, and unelected soldiers effectively have the final say because they make up a quarter of the legislature.
Suu Kyi said Myanmar's reforms were not going in reverse. But she added that her historic meeting last week with Thein Sein and military top brass and other parties had fallen short of expectations.
In a monthly speech published in state-backed media on Wednesday, Thein Sein acknowledged that Myanmar faced significant challenges, including holding next year's polls as well as ending multiple conflicts in ethnic-minority border areas.
But he urged all sectors to "find common solutions" to the problems in the fast-changing nation and work to create a "culture of dialogue".
Snapshot 29 October – 4 November
Yemen: As a government was agreed by Houthi and other opposition parties, the Southern Movement announced a merger to represent all southerners in the campaign for independence. Houthi insurgents attacked the Sunni opposition Al Islah party headquarters in Ibb, while Al Qaeda killed 18 Yemeni troops during an attack in Hudaydah.
Nigeria: Boko Haram denied any truce with the Government and ruled out talks, as its fighters took control of the city of Mubi in Adamawa state, displacing thousands of people. 4,500 cases of cholera have been reported in Maiduguri, Borno state, and there is a high risk of the outbreak spreading to areas inaccessible to humanitarian agencies. Food security for the households worst affected by conflict is predicted to remain at Crisis level until March 2015.
South Sudan: Fierce fighting between government and opposition forces in Bentiu, Unity state, has caused displacement and an unconfirmed number of casualties. In Lakes state, intercommunal violence is increasing. The nutrition situation remains dire dire in Jonglei, Unity, Warrap and Northern Bahr el Ghazal states.
Updated: 04/11/2014. Next update: 11/11/2014
SITTWE, 4 November 2014 (IRIN) - As the number of ethnic Rohingya Muslims fleeing Myanmar hits record levels, the prospects for a lasting settlement of the crisis in Myanmar's Rakhine State look bleak.
Chris Lewa, the director of The Arakan Project, a research and advocacy group which monitors Rakhine State, told IRIN the number of Rohingyas that have fled western Myanmar since 2012 has now topped 100,000.
"We have been monitoring these exits for years, and this is the most we had ever seen," she said, adding that in late October up to 900 left in a single day. Lewa attributes the surge to multiple factors. "The last sailing season [period of calm water for boat departures] was just before the census, and many of them felt confident because the government had promised they could self-identify as Rohingya," she said. "Then the rains started, the census didn't count them, and they settled into another wet summer in the camps."
"We are caged like animals here," Muhammad Uslan, who has lived in a camp outside Sittwe (Rakhine State's capital) since July 2012, told IRIN. "We cannot work or go to the town to buy things. Our young people grow up knowing they will never be able to go to university."
Rakhine Buddhists, much like Myanmar's other ethnic minorities, feel marginalized by a history of restrictions imposed by the central ethnic Burman government, which ruled with an iron fist until reforms began in 2010. According to an October 2014 report by the International Crisis Group (ICG), "decades of Rakhine [Buddhist] anger at their treatment at the hands of Burman-dominated regime have not gone away - but they have begun to morph." Much of the ethnic Rakhine anxiety as they assert themselves in increasingly open political space, has been directed at the minority ethnic Rohingya.
Two bouts of communal violence between Buddhist ethnic Rakhines and Muslim Rohingyas in June and October 2012 killed 176 and destroyed more than 10,000 homes and buildings. The government moved some 140,000 Muslims into camps, where most remain today. Communal tensions continue to fester.
Not just a humanitarian crisis
The most recent bulletin from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said access to health care for those in the camps remains a "major challenge", and the UN World Food Programme announced in October that without US$37 million more in assistance, rice distribution in the camps, where nearly all residents rely on food aid, would be interrupted from December onwards.
However, analysts caution, humanitarian action is only one part of the solution. According to ICG, "ultimately, ways must be found to ease [Buddhist] Rakhine fears, while protecting the rights of Muslim communities." However, the report warned, "any plan that meets international concerns may not be able to satisfy local demands."
An October 2014 report by the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) says the Myanmar government "has abdicated its leadership responsibilities, passively standing on the sidelines" as aid workers fled in March 2014 after Buddhist mobs targeted their offices.
However, ICG cautioned: "The situation in Rakhine State should not be seen as a simple humanitarian emergency." According to ICG, "a humanitarian response is essential, but such interventions are only one component of addressing a situation to which there are no easy solutions and which is likely to take many years to resolve in an effective and sustainable way."
Stephen Morrison, senior vice-president at CSIS and co-author of their report explained: "It is an exceptionally treacherous territory. There is no simple short-term answer." According to Morrison, interventions in Rakhine State need to "address the legitimate dire needs of the Rohingya and the legitimate sense of marginality of the host [Buddhist Rakhine] community."
Economic issues and demography underlie the tensions. Rakhine State is Myanmar's second poorest region: a popular Rakhine Buddhist fear is that Muslims are pouring over the border from Bangladesh (which currently hosts up to 500,000 Rohingyas who have fled Myanmar) and that they might soon become a majority in the state.
Tufts University economist David Dapice said the facts do not suggest this fear is warranted: "Levels of living in Bangladesh, even among the bottom quarter, are better than the average levels in Rakhine and more Bangladeshi kids are healthy, go to school, and get clean water or electricity. Would you move to a place to be worse off?"
However, assuaging this fear might prove more complicated than analysing it. ICG confirmed the lack of evidence about a Bangladeshi influx, but explained: "What is most important to recognize is the political reality of these strong demographic fears in Rakhine communities."
Segregation hurts economy
Segregation, whether through camps or by restricting movement in majority-Muslim villages, has not been good for the economy. As the internment of Muslims stretched into its first year in 2013, food security indicators across the state dropped. ICG found that some Rakhine business leaders "decry the segregation of Muslims as economic folly".
However, in a September 2014 paper, Dapice explained: "Not all Rakhine people realize how important the Muslim workforce was for the local economy. Now that many [Muslims] are confined to camps or fearful of leaving their villages, wages have risen sharply and some land is not even being farmed due to shortages of labor."
Aid agencies have called in recent months for increased economic development,including infrastructure to attract investment. But the UK-based corporate risk analysis firm Maplecroft warned in October 2014 of "potential disruption companies face if they are perceived to support minorities," including by hiring foreigners or Muslims.
The Arakan Project's Lewa cautions that aid should be delivered based on need, and not a tool for negotiations: "Using aid projects to negotiate peace with the Rakhines would be a disaster. At the first instance, it's a reward for horrible behavior."
ICG agrees, and further warns that development could also unintentionally appear to make underlying fears come true: "There is also great concern that an economically prosperous Rakhine State. could attract significant numbers of illegal economic migrants from neighbouring Bangladesh, creating further demographic pressure on the Rakhine."
Leaked plan creates waves
The Myanmar government has made some moves that suggest increased attention to the Rakhine crisis. In June, a high-ranking general was appointed the state's chief minister. In October, the government jailed seven men who were involved in lynching 10 Muslims during the June 2012 riots.
However, a leaked draft of the Rakhine Action Plan, which was meant to chart stability in the state, sparked criticism. Human Rights Watch said it was "nothing less than a blueprint for permanent segregation and statelessness that appears designed to strip the Rohingya of hope and force them to flee the country."
The first phase of the plan, a pilot citizenship verification programme, ran for several months in an area where a large number of Muslim respondents in the 2014 census agreed to be registered as "Bengali" (instead of "Rohingya" - a term the government, and most Rakhines, reject). However, in October the programme was suspended, reportedly because Rakhine Buddhists had criticized the very notion of some interned Muslims becoming citizens.
Government pushes back
Meanwhile, the government of Myanmar is pushing back strongly on international human rights criticism - including by mentioning the Rakhine crisis and, although not by name, the Rohingya identity question.
U Wunna Maung Lwin, Myanmar's foreign minister, addressing the UN General Assembly on 29 September, said: "Myanmar should no longer remain on the agendas of the Human Rights Council and The Third Committee of the UN General Assembly." Speaking on Rakhine at the Third Committee meeting on 30 October, Myanmar's representative to the UN, U Kyaw Tin, said: "The right of self-identification. should not be at the cost of placing obstacles to finding a durable solution to this issue."
In advance of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit in Myanmar on 12-14 November, US president Barack Obama phoned the Burmese reformist president, Thein Sein. The US government record of the conversation mentioned "Rohingya"; the Myanmar government's did not.
Development actors in-country appear to be toeing a more cautious line. For example, the US Agency for International Development has begun designing Myanmar's first ever Demographic and Health Survey. While the majority of DHS questionnaires worldwide contain a question about ethnicity, the Myanmar DHS will not, USAID officials confirmed to IRIN, appearing to heed recommendations before the 2014 census to nix the ethnicity question altogether.
Mohammed Uslan, who was moved to a Sittwe camp by police in 2012 under the guise of his own protection from further communal violence, argued: "The government doesn't need to ask the angry Rakhine people if we have rights as Rohingya. They need to govern all of the people like they are in charge."
RANGOON— Burma’s Union Election Commission (UEC) today announced that it is beginning to compile a list of eligible voters for next year’s general election.
“We will start the compilation of national voter list with 10 townships in Rangoon in the first phase, and we will continue to the other townships over four phases,” said UEC member Win Kyi.
Staff from 10 township election commissions in Rangoon have spent the past two days training in the data computerization process used to compile voter lists, according to state-run paper The Mirror Daily.
“[In the second phase] we will continue to 41 townships in Rangoon, Taunggyi, southern Shan State and Mandalay,” said Thaung Hlaing, director of the UEC. “From there, the process will continue to other townships across the country.”
Any citizen at least 18 years of age whose name appears on ward-level population lists and household registration lists would be included in voter lists, Thaung Hlaing said.
Voter lists in all 330 townships across the country will be finished by next July. Once the lists are complete, members of the public will have 14 days to check the township voter lists for any wrongful inclusions or exclusions.
“If people believe they have been wrongfully excluded or any persons are wrongfully included, they can file an appeal to the township commission,” he said, adding that voter lists will be open to the public for appeal from seven days after the election date is officially announced next year.
The 2010 elections were widely criticized for reported instances of irregularities and fraud. In addition to reports of coercion and inducements to vote for the incumbent Union Solidarity and Development Party, many eligible voters reported that they were prevented from casting ballots after being excluded from electoral rolls.
Thaung Hlaing said that anomalies in the voter lists prepared for the 2010 elections were the result of the rushed two-month preparation period. With more time to finalize electoral rolls and computerization of voter records, he expects that there will be no wrongful inclusions or exclusions ahead of the 2015 poll.
“Transparency is improved for voter registration now,” he said. “We also have more civil society organizations collaborating in voter registration, whereas in the past, the commission carried out its duties alone.”
At present, 25 civil society groups are collaborating with the UEC on the voter list project, with more expected to join in the coming months.
The UEC made lists of voters in Ahlone Township in Rangoon, Tiddim Township in Chin State, and the Myitkyina constituency in Kachin State in July and August as a trial run for the nationwide voter list preparations now underway.
Than Htay, director of The Serenity Initiative, a civil society group that is assisting with educating the public about the voter list project, said that the pilot project revealed some problems with the compilation process.
“In some lists, deceased people and people who moved to other locations were included on lists, and those who were on the verge of turning 18 years old soon were not included,” he said.
Than Htay stressed the importance of raising public awareness of the voter registration process, so that eligible voters would check to see if they were included on township lists.
“We will educate the public to check their names on the voter list, and how to file an appeal if their name does not appear on the list,” he said.
Echoing comments made to The Irrawaddy at the start of the pilot voter list program in July, Than Htay said that ensuring voter list accuracy was a paramount concern.
“Inclusion on the list of voters is the most important thing for an election. If a person is not included, he or she cannot vote and unfair things can happen,” he said.
The UEC chairman Tin Aye announced on October 20 that the election is scheduled to be held in either the last week of October or the first week of November next year.
For an idea of the extent of Myanmar’s landmine problem, consider the following:
• More than five million people are suspected of living in areas contaminated by landmines.
• Myanmar has the sad distinction of being the only country in which landmines have been used every year since the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty came into force.
• The latest report on the issue showed that the conflict-affected state was one of only two places in the world where the government and non-state actors laid mines during 2012/13.
It’s in this situation that people in the villages of Kayah (or Karenni) state, on the country’s rugged eastern border with Thailand, are living – many unaware of the scale of the problem and the risks they take on a daily basis.
Mine Risk Education
MAG began work in Kayah in 2014, giving lifesaving Mine Risk Education (MRE) to communities dependent for their livelihoods on land that is riddled with mines and unexploded ordnance (UXO) from decades of internal conflict.
"MRE activities in our village are really helpful," says Oo Aung Win, who as the leader of Lawpita Shan is responsible for more than 200 households. This is a position he has held for 30 years and one which, as village leaders do not receive any support from the Government, is essentially voluntary.
"Before, we did not know how dangerous mines and UXO really are," he says, "and how to live more safely in a contaminated area."
While the public announcement by President Thein Sein in 2012 that Myanmar had a landmine problem and would need help from the international community raised hopes that mine clearance would soon follow, no such activities have been able to start. As such, many humanitarian mine action organisations such as MAG have prioritised MRE to begin addressing the dangers related to contamination.
And in the meantime it is vital that the people forced to live with landmines and UXO can keep themselves safe.
So far, 3,221 people have attended our MRE sessions in Kayah, and more than a third of these were children.
In total, an estimated 15,139 people have benefited from these sessions, with attendees encouraged to spread the lifesaving messages to their families and friends.
The lifesaving potential of Mine Risk Education is underlined by Oo Paku, leader of Kan Ni village, which is home to 78 families:
"Shortly after MAG gave an MRE session for the elders in our village, they noticed some boys hitting a rock against what the elders were able to recognise as a piece of UXO. They immediately went over to stop the boys, and told them about the danger of explosion and injury."
"We need this"
MAG has also helped 16 at-risk villages, including Lawpita Shan and Kan Ni, to produce community safety maps that indicate the locations of landmines in their area. Hand-drawn by residents and displayed at a central point in these villages for all to see, the maps are designed to protect communities living with this dangerous contamination.
"This is very good," says Oo Paku. "Some villages did not receive any education on mines and UXO, meaning people still take risks."
Both the village leaders expressed hope that the landmines will be cleared soon, but they acknowledged this might not start until peace is secured.
In the meantime, MAG’s Community Liaison teams will continue to do as much as they can to raise awareness and promote safe behaviour for the communities in Kayah state.
Producing community safety maps will remain a part of that, even though discussing contamination – and especially mapping the areas where mines are laid – is still a highly sensitive issue in Myanmar.
When MAG’s Community Liaison team asked Oo Aung Win if he feared any problems for displaying the map, his reply is clear: "It will not matter. I will make it so they accept this. As long as the mines are not cleared, we need this."
About Kayah/Karenni state
Kayah, or Karenni, is the smallest of Myanmar’s states. It is, though, home to a variety of ethnic groups and has plentiful natural resources. When Myanmar, then known as Burma, became independent from Britain in 1948, the level of autonomy for minority ethnic groups remained a highly controversial matter.
Unhappy with the position they were given within the new country's borders, several of these groups took up arms to fight the Yangon-based Government. In 1957, a number of these groups joined forces under the banner of the Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP).
Most split again in the 1990s, and since President Thein Sein took office in 2011 all of Kayah’s active major ethnic armed groups have signed individual ceasefire agreements with the Government, bringing hope for a lasting peace.
Until a final peace agreement is signed, however, landmine clearance seems unlikely to begin.
The Karenni Nationalities People's Liberation Front (KNPLF) controls much of northern Kayah state near the border with Shan state, and is one of the groups that split from the KNPP. “MRE is very necessary for us all, for the state,” the KNPLF’s Youth Leader Peter Gathui told MAG. "Here, because peace is not achieved we cannot clear the mines yet."
MAG’s Community Liaison Teams work in both government-controlled and so-called contested areas where ethnic armed groups and the local authorities have had to found ways to coexist and govern together until peace is secured.
This report is a combinatory exercise conducted in November 2013. The focus was WFP emergency relief (ER) operations in 11 townships/locations in Kachin (Bhamo, Kar Maing, Man Si, Moe Guang, Moe Mauk, Moe Nyin, Myitkyina, Myotit, Pharkant, Shwe Ku and Waing Maw).
This report is made up of both programme reflective data, through the M&E PDM related questions, and, existing food security concerns through an analysis of the data collected through VAM formulated inquiries.
The data was collected through the following methods:
Quantitative data collection through household (HH) questionnaires - conducted less than two weeks after a distribution;
Qualitative data collection through structured Focus-group discussions - conducted in the same camp and at the same time as the above HH questionnaire but with a group of beneficiaries, men and women together and then separated for gender specific questions.*
The following report is not exhaustive and focuses on information derived from the dataset which is of immediate relevance to WFP’s programs. The table provided in Annex summarizes the quantitative data in a basic descriptive manner and can therefore provide additional insights on the overall findings of the exercise.
BANGKOK, 3 November 2014 (NNT) – The Department of Employment (DOE) says it will need two weeks to complete the registration of 22,000 more migrant workers who could not be registered in time for the October 31 deadline.
According to Mr Pichit Nilthongkham, Director of the Office of Foreign Workers Administration of the DOE, a total of 1.56 million immigrants from Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia applied for work permits during the registration period between June 26 and October 31. However, on the final day, employers reportedly brought in an unusually large number of workers for registration, causing a backlog of applications.
As a consequence, the officials were unable to serve over 22,000 applicants and had to arrange appointments with them for later dates. Most of these applicants are residing within Bangkok. Mr Pichit expects that they will be gradually called in to initiate the procedure within two weeks’ time.
Following the registration, the Director said the DOE will coordinate with the neighboring countries in the nationality verification process until March 31 next year, after which the one-year work permits will be issued for qualified registrants.
From now on, any employers found to be hiring illegal migrant workers will be subject to a fine of 10,000-100,000 baht per head while each worker will face a fine of 2,000-100,000 baht or a jail term of up to five years or both.
This is a Post Distribution Monitoring (PDM) and Food Security Report of the WFP Emergency Relief (ER) operations in Sittwe. Data was collected in November 2013, from Sittwe and 7 townships (Kyauk Taw, Kyauk Phyu, Pauk Taw, Min Bya, Mrauk Oo and Myae Bo).
Post-Distribution monitoring household (HH) questionnaires - conducted less than two weeks after a distribution at the household level;
Focus-group questionnaire - conducted in the same location and at the same time as the above HH questionnaire but with a group of beneficiaries, men and women together and then separated for gender specific questions.
The sampling framework utilized was a complete list of IDP locations/camps where emergency relief activities are conducted. Proportional to Size sampling techniques were utilized to select the surveyed villages.