Thursday, October 23, 2014

Ghosts of Tak Bai still haunt Thais 10 years on


Ten years ago, on the morning of October 25, 2004, Thai security forces surrounded a large group of unarmed demonstrators, ordering them to cease their protest and go home.

The demonstrators were demanding the release of local village-defence volunteers accused of handing their weapons over to insurgents. The volunteers had said they were overpowered by the militants and decided not to put up a fight.

It's strange how the military expected these villagers to put their lives on the line, yet then had no qualms about taking the lives of the unarmed demonstrators, who were pinned down on all sides and backed up against the Tak Bai River.

In the afternoon, troops from various units commenced firing into the crowd, killing at least six at the scene before stacking the rest, one on top the other, on the back of military transport trucks.
By the time the demonstrators reached a military camp in Pattani about four hours later, 79 had suffocated to death.

The head of the Fourth Army Area was transferred out of the region, but that was all that happened in terms of responsibility for the deaths being assigned. Sometime later, the families of the dead received monetary "compensation" for their loss.

A decade later "the Tak Bai massacre" continues to haunt Thailand and radicalise a new generation of Patani Malay insurgents, who point to the incident as an example of the indifference of the Thai state and public to the plight of Muslims in the southernmost provinces.

Perhaps the most meaningful effort to heal the wound and bring reconciliation was made in 2006 by then-prime minister Surayud Chulanont, who apologised for the Tak Bai incident and other violence committed against local residents by the state.

But Thai bureaucrats and the rest of society and were largely indifferent to the gesture and no one took the time to build on it. A precious opportunity was lost.

Today, 10 years on, another military-appointed government is in place. In the absence of effective opposition in or outside Parliament, the spotlight is solely on coup leader Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha to show the political courage to follow Surayud's lead.

Prayut might choose to ignore the anniversary of Tak Bai tomorrow, but he cannot ignore the reality that Thai security forces are paying the price with their lives as they go up against vengeful separatist militants who continue to show the world that they haven't forgotten the tragic incident.

Prayut knows that any move to reach out to separatist elements in the South would gain little support among the rest of the Thai public, given the widespread indifference to the Patani Malays' distinct cultural and historical identity.

The Tak Bai protest and the armed insurgency itself are viewed by most as a challenge to the official narrative of Thai statehood constructed by the establishment. That explains the widespread lack of sympathy for victims at Tak Bai and, indeed, for any other Malays mistreated by state officials. Is it any wonder then that, even amid talk of peace efforts through negotiations, a culture of impunity continues to prevail in the South?

No one said being prime minister would be easy, but Prayut must avoid the temptation to treat his term in office as a popularity contest. In due time, no one will remember the small efforts made for national "happiness", such as the free World Cup matches on television or the crackdown on petty criminals.

His other option is to do the right thing and go down in history as a man who showed political courage at a time when the situation called for it.

Prayut can talk about peace and reconciliation all he wants, but if he ignores justice and equality for the residents of the deep South, it won't mean a thing. The Nation, Bangkok

Trans-Pacific Partnership, China and the future of global trade order


Beijing has deep concerns over being left out of the deal, but there is an alternative that could avert trade war


The fact that the US-led Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) does not include China raises questions: Is the TPP meant to be an "anyone but China" club to contain the middle kingdom? Will China react with competing trading blocks to escalate economic hostility against the US? What does this mean for the future of the global trade order?

While TPP could eventually help China, Beijing has deep reservations about the rules being drafted. From China's point of view, deepening of the World Trade Organisation with passage of the Doha Round is a greater priority than creating a new trade grouping.

The TPP is a mega-free-trade agreement (FTA) currently under negotiation that encompasses 12 Asia-Pacific countries. In 2006, Brunei, Chile, New Zealand and Singapore initiated a four-way FTA, termed Pacific-4. Later, five additional countries, namely the United States, Australia, Malaysia, Peru and Vietnam, joined the agreement and this led to the creation of TPP, which held its first round negotiations in Australia, March 2010. Since then, Mexico, Canada, Japan and South Korea have requested to join the TPP. Members approved participation of the first three candidates, but did not accept South Korea's application.

The goal of TPP is to "craft a high-standard, 21st-century agreement", as stated by the Office of United States Trade Representative, or USTR. It is reported that TPP aims to achieve duty-free access for trade in industrial products and comprehensive liberalisation in services, and entails deeper regulatory convergence among members in the areas of investment, government procurement, competition policies, technical barriers to trade, intellectual property rights enforcement, state-owned enterprises, e-commerce, labour and environment.

The allegation that the United States is building an "anyone but China" club is hard to substantiate, suggested David Pilling of the Financial Times. In theory, the TPP does not prevent China from membership. As the USTR explained, if an economy is interested in joining TPP, it must send a formal request, and existing members then decide on admission by consensus.

China last expressed interest in TPP was May 2013. A spokesman for the Ministry of Commerce said that China "will analyse the pros and cons as well as the possibility of joining the TPP, based on careful research and according to principles of equality and mutual benefit".

It makes economic sense for China to participate. Excluded from the TPP, Chinese firms would face discriminatory treatment in TPP markets. For example, TPP uses cumulation of origin to encourage member countries' firms to source from within the TPP, instead of from non-members such as China, the world's biggest producer of components.

From a systemic perspective, China would be better off taking part in setting the rules now than to accepting rules passively in the future. Some of the new trade and trade-related norms stemming from TPP will likely supersede those already existing in WTO rules stamped in 1995.

Nevertheless, China has not applied to participate yet and has two kinds of concerns:

First is its domestic stability concern. China could benefit from further liberalisation in manufacturing and services, a high-standard protection and promotion of investment, even from tougher anti-corruption rules, as these issues are in line with the reform agenda of Chinese leaders. China, though, worries about the possible economic hardship resulting from quick, nationwide application of new TPP rules, which may trigger social or even political turmoil.

The second concern is that some high standards of TPP may not be necessarily good standards for China. TPP chapter on intellectual property rights is such an example. As certain public interest groups pointed out, the IP chapter is "heavily weighted toward big industry interests" of developed countries and has "negative impact on development."

Many commentators argue that, in responding to TPP, China has proactively built its own rival trading blocs such as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, RCEP, and the Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific, FTAAP.

Such observations - and perceptions - have factual errors. RCEP is not China's initiative. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or Asean, that launched regional group during the 2012 summit in Cambodia, encompassing 10 Asean member countries plus the six countries with which Asean has existing FTAs - Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand). Members agreed that Asean, not China or any other non-Asean member, is in the driver's seat of these negotiations.

FTAAP is neither a Chinese initiative nor new. As the host of the 2014 Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, China does actively push for the realisation of FTAAP. But Apec leaders agreed to examine the prospect of an FTAAP as early as in 2006. In the recent ministerial meeting in May 2014, all 21 APEC members, including the US and China, agreed to establish a working group to discuss possible way forward for FTAAP.

China does not react by setting up competing FTAs against the US, mainly because China sees not only challenges but also opportunities that TPP may bring, such as a chance for China to study the high standards of developed countries. China aims to become a medium-level developed country until the mid-21st century. In this regard, China has responded by establishing the Shanghai Free Trade Zone in 2013 with the backing of Chinese Premier Li Keqiang. This zone aims to follow emerging international standards and regulations such as those in TPP, and to carry out unilateral liberalisation and autonomous reforms. On the one hand, by limiting the deeper liberalisation and higher standards to a fixed region, such an experiment can control impacts and avoid big scaled economic and social disruptions. On the other hand, it will prepare the nation to join the TPP in the future.

Countries have a right to negotiate mega-FTAs, driven by various geopolitical, economic or commercial considerations.

But these mega-FTA negotiations have two serious problems. Firstly, they take up political and financial resources could otherwise be used in concluding the Doha Round. Secondly, they do not address sensitive but critical issues for the sustainability of the global economy, such as agricultural domestic support and export subsidies, fisheries subsidies, and anti-dumping rules.

Therefore, China, the United States and other major economies can and should do more to reengage in the WTO. A multilateral deal is the most cost-effective legal framework available to ensure non-discriminatory trading terms for all, in particular for the smallest and poorest groups. It is fundamentally essential to foster inclusive globalisation, without which abject poverty gives rise to terrorism and crime.

The Bali Package that all WTO members agreed on in December 2013 offers a silver lining for the multilateral negotiations. At Bali, members also promised to make a post-Bali work programme by the end of 2014 with a view to concluding the Doha Round.

The clock is ticking. When Chinese President Xi and US President Obama meet at the Apec Summit in Beijing next month, or even before, they should focus on neither the TPP nor the FTAAP. Instead, they should manifest their joint leadership, engagement and commitment to conclude the Doha Round, which the Asia-Pacific and the rest of the world badly need.

Shuaihua Cheng is managing director of ICTSD China, International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development.



 

Blackwater contractors convicted




WASHINGTON - A federal jury here on Wednesday convicted one former Blackwater contractor of murder and three of his colleagues of voluntary manslaughter in the deadly shootings of 14 unarmed civilians killed in Baghdad's Nisour Square seven years ago. The judge in the case ordered the men detained pending sentencing.

The massacre, which resulted in a wave of popular anger in Iraq against the United States, and especially the army of private security contractors which it employed there, contributed heavily to the Iraqi government's later refusal to sign an agreement with Washington to extend the US military presence there.


It also sealed the reputation of Blackwater, a "private military" firm headed by Erik Prince, a right-wing former Navy Seal, as a trigger-happy mercenary outfit whose recklessness and insensitivity to local populations jeopardzed Washington's interests in conflict situations.

After the incident, the Iraqi government banned the company, which had a US$1 billion contract at the time to protect US diplomats. Iraq's parliament subsequently enacted laws making foreign contractors working in the country subject to Iraqi legal jurisdiction for criminal acts they committed.


It was Baghdad's insistence in 2011 that such a condition also apply to all US military forces that scotched a proposed Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) that would have permitted Washington to maintain thousands US troops in Iraq after the December 31, 2011 deadline for their final withdrawal.

"The verdict is a resounding affirmation of the commitment of the American people to the rule of law, even in times of war," said Ronald Machen, the US attorney who prosecuted the case, after the Wednesday's verdicts were announced.

"Seven years ago, these Blackwater contractors unleashed powerful sniper fire, machine guns and grenade launchers on innocent men, women and children. Today, they were held accountable for that outrageous attack and its devastating consequences for so many Iraqi families," he said in a statement.


While praising the verdicts, some observers said that Blackwater itself should have been on trial. "[H]olding individuals responsible is not enough," noted Baher Azmy, the legal director of the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), which represented Iraqi victims of the killings in a human-rights case against Blackwater that settled in 2010.

"Private military contractors … have engaged in a variety of war crimes and atrocities during the [2003 Iraq] invasion and occupation while reaping billions of dollars in profits from the war. To this day, the US government continues to award Blackwater and its successor entities millions of dollars each year in contracts, essentially rewarding war crimes," he said.

Wednesday's verdicts, which confirmed initial findings by a Federal Bureau of Investigation probe carried out within two months of the massacre, are likely to be appealed to a higher court by the defendants' attorneys, who contend that the convoy they were leading had come under attack and that their clients were acting in self-defense at the time.

They are also likely to challenge the verdicts on the grounds that key evidence presented to the jury consisted of initial statements of what took place that were effectively "coerced" by interrogators, who allegedly assured them that what they said would not be used in court. That issue has been bounced between courts since the Justice Department filed the case in 2010.

Altogether, 17 Iraqi civilians, including two boys aged nine and 11, were killed and 20 more injured when, on September 16, 2007, a State Department convoy entered Baghdad's busy Nisour Square with the armored Blackwater vehicle in the lead.

While defendants and Blackwater itself insisted that the convoy came under attack, the FBI and prosecution contended there was no evidence to sustain such a conclusion.

According to the latter, the unit's sniper, Nicholas Slatten, opened fire on a car which, according to the defense, had approached the Blackwater vehicle in a suspicious manner. Slatten's shots, which killed the car's driver, a medical student, triggered chaos throughout the circle.

In addition to Slatten, who was convicted of first-degree murder, a total of six members of the Blackwater team fired their weapons as they moved through the circle, according to the prosecution.

One team member, Jeremy Ridgeway, pleaded guilty to one count of voluntary manslaughter in 2008 and served as a prosecution witness in the case. Charges against another defendant were dropped shortly afterwards. Several other team members also testified against the defendants.

Aside from Slatten's conviction, three other guards Wednesday were found guilty of voluntary manslaughter, as well as various weapons offenses.

The Justice Department had charged that they "unlawfully and intentionally, upon a sudden quarrel and heat of passion, did commit voluntary manslaughter".

If sustained, Slatten's murder conviction requires a sentence of life imprisonment. Each count of voluntary manslaughter - and each of the other three defendants were convicted of multiple counts - can carry a prison sentence of up to 15 years.

The trial itself began earlier this summer and lasted two months. In addition to the Blackwater guards who testified for the prosecution, the Justice Department brought 30 Iraqi witnesses, including surviving family members who witnessed or were injured in the incident, to testify. Despite their dramatic and often wrenching accounts, the trial received relatively little media attention.

The verdicts were hailed by Paul Dickinson, an attorney who represented six of the families - including the nine-year-old victim, Ali Kinani, whose father was the first witness to testify for the prosecution in the current case - whose members were killed or injured in the massacre in a separate civil lawsuit filed against Blackwater in North Carolina in 2009. That case was settled with an undisclosed compensation agreement in 2012.

"I am confident that my clients are pleased with today's verdict, knowing that the men they alleged killed their family members have been brought to justice and held criminally accountable for their actions," he told IPS in an email. "While a criminal conviction can never fully satisfy a family that lost a loved one, it does provide some closure for my clients."

The verdict, he said, was "significant because it shows that government contractors who commit crimes abroad can be prosecuted in US courts for their criminal actions".

Pratap Chatterjee, an investigative reporter who has focused on the operations of US military contractors, including Blackwater, in Iraq and Afghanistan, agreed with that assessment, but, echoing CCR's Asmy, stressed that it was "only one step of many that need to be taken in bringing justice to Iraq".

"Many similar incidents have neither been investigated nor anyone prosecuted," Chatterjee, who currently heads California-based Corpwatch, told IPS. "To this day, the private companies and their executives who turned Baghdad into a free-fire zone have yet to be charged."

Earlier this summer, the New York Times reported that the State Department had initiated an investigation of Blackwater's operations in Iraq just before the Nisour incident but had abandoned it after Blackwater's top manager there issued an apparent death threat. According to a State Department memo of the conversation, the Blackwater official said "that he could kill" the government's chief investigator and "no one could or would do anything about it as we were in Iraq".

Jim Lobe'

WILL IT TAKE AN ATTACK in Australia TO WAKE US UP?


 

Well, I guess legislators will have to wake up soon and it might take an Islamic terrorist attack on their own damned Legislative Assemblies where legislators’ own lives are at risk before they take the Islamic curse seriously and act to protect their constituents. Is Canberra at risk? You bet your bloody booty it is. 

Attacks on high-profile sites encourage recruitment to the Islamic State. Terrorists foretell an attack and when successful they ring 911 to report it to ensure they get credit. They have no fear of being killed, they welcome it.

Canada’s commitment to Iraq is a carbon copy of Canberra’s and Canada was warned in the same way as Tony Abbott was warned yesterday. 

Parliament’s proximity to our National War Memorial is the same as Ottawa’s Parliament to its National War Memorial.

Still our politicians refrain from calling even the Ottawa outrage Islamic terrorism, preferring the nomenclature of “lone wolf”, and still they insist it has nothing to do with Islam. 

How the hell can a mad Muslim carry a gun into any Parliament and how can authorities be actually following the very vehicle that runs down soldiers in the street is a politically correct mystery.

When mad Muslims ran down British soldier Lee Rigby and partially beheaded him they hung around waiting for police to turn up. Surely now it’s time for Western governments to become proactive rather than reactive. 

Surely it’s time to now realise terrorists’ funds are being raised within mosques using the insidious halal certification of our food and radicalisation and recruitment begins with hate-preaching clerics in those very same mosques. But we allow it to happen under the guise of free speech. 

Well, free speech ain’t much good to anyone who has just been separated from his head.

Terrorism, dare I mention, has one common thread... and that’s Islam. 

Many Australian Islamic households will be waking this morning to high fives all round at brekky. I doubt there will be many high fives in Presbyterian households.

The power of an inane mind-bending cult was seen in Jonestown where hundreds of gullible dolts poisoned themselves and their children en masse for a cause... and on instruction. 

By 7am today no-one in authority in Canada the US or Australia has been prepared to call the attack an act of terrorism, let alone an act of Islamic terrorism. 

There needs to be an awakening to what we are dealing with and it will probably take a terrorist attack affecting those who need to barricade themselves in parliaments before that happens.

No plague can be dealt with effectively until it is recognised for what it is.

Pickering Post

America's sunk into a funk and lost it's mojo




The botched response to Ebola. Embarrassing breaches of security at the White House. The mayhem in Ferguson, Missouri. The scandal at a veterans hospital in Phoenix, Arizona, where dozens of former military personnel died while awaiting care. The faulty rollout of Obamacare. For those who fear that American greatness is more a part of the country's past than its future, this has been an especially worrisome phase in national life. Even American football is in crisis, following a string of domestic violence cases involving star players that were handled ineptly by the game's administrators.

That an armed intruder could so easily enter the White House in the same month that an Ebola-infected patient was turned away from a Dallas hospital could in more self-confident times be written off merely as coincidence. In a country that looks tired and broken they seem part of the same downward trend.

The listlessness of Barack Obama, written on his face and audible in his meandering answers to reporters' questions, reflects this sense of national fatigue. Only six years ago, this youthful politician personified a uniquely American capacity to renew itself. Now, with voters about to go to the polls in the midterm congressional elections, candidates from his own party are scrambling to disassociate themselves from him. The Democratic candidate in the Kentucky Senate race, Alison Lundergan Grimes, will not even reveal whether she has ever voted for Obama.

The president and the country both appear to have lost their mojo.

Warnings of US decline are by no means new. Rather, they provide a common thread for much of American history. The national conversation was just as gloomy in the aftermath of Sputnik, Vietnam, the inner-city race riots of the late 1960s, Watergate and the Iranian hostage crisis. Yet America has always rebounded. As the wit and commentator Andy Rooney once reflected: "It's amazing how long this country has been going to hell without ever having got there."

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This time, however, America's problems are more profound. The sense of decline is more deep-rooted. It is not just the effect of two morale-sapping wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is not just the challenge posed by China, which, unlike the Soviet Union and Japan, has both a sizeable enough middle class and a strong enough economic model to challenge America. It is not just the rapidly ageing population – by 2030, a fifth of Americans will be 65 or older, compared to 13 per cent in 2010. Nor is it just because of a malfunctioning education system that has left America languishing at the bottom of OECD league tables on mathematics, science and technology.

More worrying is the loss of faith in the animating idea that has given America the drive, energy and resilience to rally, even at moments of national despondency: that belief in individual and generational advancement that lies at the heart of the American dream. In a recent survey conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute only 42 per cent of respondents agreed that the American dream still held true, compared to 53 per cent in 2012. In August, a Wall Street Journal poll found that only a fifth of respondents felt confident that life for their children's generation would be better than their own. In short, fewer Americans think their children will enjoy more abundant lives, a massive mental shift.

This Middle Class Funk is explained by an income freeze and also the perception of an opportunity gap. Since 2000, earnings for low and middle-income families have been stagnant. For the first time since the Great Depression, the average US family earns less than it did 15  years ago.

As for opportunity, a recent large-scale study showed that rates of social mobility in America have not changed much since the early 1970s. But that is not how ordinary Americans see it. A Gallup poll this time last year suggested fewer Americans see their country as a land of plenty of economic opportunity – 52 per cent, barely a majority. That compares to 81 per cent in 1998.

For the country as a whole, there is a more positive economic story to tell, and President Obama continually tries to tell it. Unemployment, which stood at 10 per cent in 2009, has dropped to 5.9 per cent. Ten million jobs have been created in less than five years, which is more than Europe, Japan and other advanced countries combined. Healthcare costs are slowing down and high school completion rates are up. But many Americans see only a wage and opportunity slowdown.

To further dampen their spirits, income inequality has increased dramatically. The share of income going to the top 1 per cent has more than doubled since 1980.

Even in the depths of the 2008 Great Recession, there was a sense that the economic crisis would be fleeting. Six years on, flatlining incomes seem part of the new normal, as do vast disparities of wealth.

Compounding these problems is the poverty of American politics. This era of frenzied partisanship, evident most visibly in the rise of the Tea Party Movement and its "Hell No" caucus on Capitol Hill, has led to stasis and public revulsion. Just 7 per cent of Americans have confidence in Congress according to Gallup, a record low. Confidence in the presidency has also slumped to 29 per cent, a six-year low.

The midterm elections will deliver two more years of divided government, with the Republicans certain to retain control of the House and poised to take a majority in the Senate, where the Democrats currently hold sway.

It would be an act of folly to write off America. It stills boasts powerhouse universities, like MIT and Harvard, the technological smarts of Silicon Valley, the financial acumen of Wall Street and an abundance of creative talent concentrated in Hollywood and New York. The US military spends more than the next 10 highest national defence budgets combined. But the American spirit, something much harder to quantify, no longer seems anywhere as optimistic or indomitable. It is rare these days to meet middle-income Americans who think they are getting ahead.

During this campaign season, the most buoyant speech I have heard came not from a US politician but the new Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Before a rapturous crowd of Indian-Americans at Madison Square Garden, Modi argued that this century would belong to India rather than America, an assertion that only a few years ago would have been met with howls of laughter. In 2014 America, a country that's losing the knack of dreaming, it no longer sounds so outlandish.

Nick Bryant is the BBC's New York correspondent, and the author of The Rise and Fall of Australia: How A Great Nation Lost its Way.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

China 'executed 2,400 people last year', rights group reveals


 

China put 2,400 people to death last year, a US-based human rights group said yesterday, shedding rare light on a statistic Beijing considers a state secret.

The figure was a fall of 20 per cent from 2012, the Dui Hua Foundation said, and a fraction of the 12,000 in 2002.

China is so reticent on the issue that it has done nothing to publicise the long-term decline in its use of the death penalty. But it still executes more people than every other country put together, human rights groups say.

The total for the rest of the world combined was 778 people in 2013, according to campaign group Amnesty International's annual report earlier this year. It did not give an estimate for Chinese executions.

Dui Hua said it obtained its figures from "a judicial official with access to the number of executions carried out each year".

But the annual declines were "likely to be offset" this year, it said, due to factors including the "strike hard" campaign in the violence-wracked region of Xinjiang .

Hundreds of people have been convicted of terrorist offences in the area, and last week a court condemned 12 to death in connection with a July attack.

"China currently executes more people every year than the rest of the world combined, but it has executed far fewer people since the power of final review of death sentences was returned to the [Supreme People's Court] in 2007," Dui Hua said.

The top court examined all death sentences issued in the country, and sent back 39 per cent of those it reviewed last year to lower courts for more evidence, Dui Hua said, citing the Southern Weekly newspaper.

The legal system is tightly controlled by the ruling Communist Party and courts have a virtual 100 per cent conviction rate in criminal cases.

The use of force to extract confessions remains widespread in the country, leading to a number of miscarriages of justice.

The authorities have occasionally exonerated wrongfully executed convicts after others came forward to confess, or because the supposed murder victim was later found alive.

In one landmark case in June, the Supreme People's Court overturned the death sentence on Li Yan, a woman who killed her abusive husband.

Earlier this year the director of Amnesty International Hong Kong, Mabel Au Mei-po, said that in 2011 Beijing took 13 offences off a list of 68 crimes punishable by death, including financial crimes.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as Executions down but China 'still leads the world'

INTERNATIONAL CRISIS GROUP - NEW REPORT - Myanmar: The Politics of Rakhine State



The highly volatile situation in Myanmar’s Rakhine State adds dangerously to the country’s political and religious tensions. Long-term, incremental solutions are critical for the future of Rakhine State and the country as a whole.

The International Crisis Group’s latest report, Myanmar: The Politics of Rakhine State, looks at how the legacy of colonial history, decades of authoritarian rule and state-society conflict have laid the foundation for today’s complex mix of intercommunal and inter-religious tensions. Rakhine State, whose majority ethnic Rakhine population perceive themselves to be – with some justification – victims of discrimination by the political centre, has experienced a violent surge of Buddhist nationalism against minority Muslim communities, themselves also victims of discrimination. The government has taken steps to respond: by restoring security, starting a pilot citizenship verification process and developing a comprehensive action plan. However, parts of this plan are highly problematic, and risk deepening segregation and fuelling tensions further, particularly in the lead-up to the 2015 elections.

The report’s major findings and recommendations are:

  • Rakhine Buddhists have tended to be cast as violent extremists, which ignores the diversity of opinions that exists and the fact that they themselves are a long-oppressed minority. They are concerned that their culture is under threat and that they could soon become a minority in their state. These fears, whether well-founded or not, need to be acknowledged if solutions are to be developed. The desperate situation of Muslim communities including the Rohingya, who have been progressively marginalised, must also be frankly recognised and resolutely addressed.

 

  • The government faces a difficult challenge: the demands and expectations of Rakhine and Rohingya communities will be very difficult to reconcile. Ways must be found to allay Rakhine fears, while ensuring the fundamental rights of Muslim communities are respected. To end the climate of impunity, the government must bring to justice those who organised and participated in violence.

 

  • Clarifying the legal status of those without citizenship is important. But many Muslims will likely refuse to identify as “Bengali”, fearing this is a precursor to denial of citizenship. A negotiated solution should be pursued, or the citizenship process may stall. Coercion is likely to spark violence.

 

  • The international community – especially UN agencies on the ground – have a critical role in supporting the humanitarian and protection needs of vulnerable communities, which are likely to persist for years. The government itself must do more in this regard.

 

  • Unless Myanmar is successful in creating a new sense of national identity that embraces the country’s cultural, ethnic and religious diversity, peace and stability will remain elusive nationwide.

“Any policy approach to the problem must start from the recognition that there will be no easy fixes and that reconciliation will take a long time”, says Jonathan Prentice, Chief Policy Officer and Acting Asia Program Director. “Halting extremist violence requires starting a credible process now that can demonstrate to the Rakhine and Muslim communities that political avenues exist in which their legitimate aspirations might be realised”.