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UN Warns Myanmar Against Declaring Rohingya Muslims As ‘Bengali’

The Rohingya of Myanmar are one of the most persecuted minorities in the world according to the United Nations.They have suffered pogroms at the hands of extremist. EPA/Lynn Bo Bo

Draft resolution calls on Yangon to abandon plans to force Rohingya Muslims to identify as ‘Bengali’ – term used to brand them as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh

By Joshua Carroll 

YANGON, Myanmar —  The United Nations is set to vote on a new draft resolution urging Myanmar’s government to abandon its plans to force Rohingya Muslims to identify as “Bengali” – a term used to brand the minority as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.

The resolution – obtained Friday by the Associated Press news agency – also urges Myanmar to grant the largely stateless Rohingya “access to full citizenship.”

But rights group Burma Campaign UK told the Anadolu Agency on Saturday that the resolution “will be ignored” by the government.

“Almost every General Assembly resolution on Burma [Myanmar’s previous name] in the past decade has called for action on the Rohingya and the Burmese government has not only ignored these calls, but stepped up repression,” Mark Farmer, director of the rights group, told the AA.

“The Burmese government know full well that the EU, which drafted this resolution, is just going through the motions, and they can continue to defy these resolutions without facing any consequences.”

Internally displaced Rohingya boys shiver in rain in a makeshift camp for Rohingya people in Sittwe, Burma.

The UN has previously described the Rohingya as one of the world’s most persecuted minorities. They face severe restrictions on freedom of movement and live in fear of arbitrary arrests and violence in the predominantly Buddhist country.

Around 140,000 are confined by armed guards and checkpoints to squalid camps on the outskirts of the Sittwe, the capital of northwestern Rakhine state, after mob attacks on their villages in 2012 forced them to flee their homes.

Since then more than 100,000 have fled Myanmar on overcrowded, rickety boats.

The government wants to register Myanmar’s roughly one million Rohingya as part of an “action plan,” and says those who register as Bengali will have the chance of obtaining citizenship. Those who refuse will face possible detainment and deportation.

The U.N. resolution, drafted by the European Union, urges the government to “allow self-identification” for the Rohingya and to allow them “freedom of movement and equal access to full citizenship.”

After a visit to Rakhine, the U.N.’s special rapporteur on human rights, Yanghee Lee, stated July 26 during a press conference at Yangon International Airport that she was “repeatedly told not to use the term ‘Rohingya’ as this was not recognized by the government.”

But she countered that “the rights of minorities to self-identify… is related to the obligations of States to ensure non-discrimination against individuals and groups.”

The resolution is now before the General Assembly. Even though it is non-binding it is hoped it will add to pressure on Myanmar’s government ahead of a visit by United States President Barack Obama for a regional summit in less than two weeks.

Myanmar began emerging from harsh military rule in 2011, when a nominally civilian government made up of former generals came to power and introduced a series of democratic reforms.

But the Rohingya have ironically seen their lot worsen under President Thein Sein’s government, as new freedoms have emboldened Buddhist extremists. 

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