HRW appeals to Myanmar gov't to abandon census

The Human Rights Watch said recent mob attacks in Rakhine State illustrate risks of proceeding with census, puts vulnerable Muslim communities and aid workers at risk.

HRW appeals to Myanmar gov't to abandon census

World Bulletin / News Desk

The Human Rights Watch appealed to the Myanmar government Saturday to postpone a planned nationwide census to bring a halt to communal violence and attacks on the international aid community which have forced some workers to flee Rakhine state this week.

It said in a statement that at greatest risk were vulnerable Muslim communities and aid workers from international organizations.

Buddhist mobs attacked aid workers’ homes and offices in the capital of Myanmar’s violence-torn Rakhine State on Thursday, throwing stones and forcing workers to flee under police protection.

The violence started Wednesday night when rocks were lobbed at an office owned by Malteser International, a medical relief group, following reports that one of its female workers had removed a Buddhist flag from the building. It emerged Friday that police accidentally shot an 11-year-old Rakhine girl while firing warning rounds into the air to disperse a crowd of around 300 people, according to police and an NGO source.

Human Rights Watch said Saturday that around 14 properties, including offices, residences, and food storage facilities belonging to international aid organizations were either damaged or destroyed in the violence.

Rakhine Buddhists object to a persecuted Muslim minority called the Rohingya being allowed to be included in the census, which is slated to begin nationwide March 29. They insist they should be forced to be recorded as Bengali, a name that enforces the spurious claim that they are illegal immigrants.

Some ethnic groups have also said they will not permit census-takers access to their territory, while others have also expressed concern over the impact of the census on their areas. Many ethnic minorities say the census could potentially weaken their political representation or claim to ethnicity, if the process undercounts their group.

“The mob attacks in Arakan State illustrate the risks of proceeding with the census in such a volatile atmosphere,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch, on Saturday. “The government should suspend the census until it can ensure adequate security and a fair process for everyone involved.”

Arakan State is the previous name of Rakhine State, likewise Burma the previous name of Myanmar.

Adams referred to the census as "a technical project" and said that it had taken on major political overtones.

"(The Census) risks inflaming an already tense environment, with particular potential to spark violence against Rohingya Muslims and the foreign aid workers trying to help people in desperate need,” he said.

“The government and the UN should listen to the concerns of ethnic minorities and go back to the drawing board to make sure they get this process right.”

Güncelleme Tarihi: 29 Mart 2014, 14:24