Posted on May 21, 2013

Burma Proposes Family Planning Regime to Control Muslims

Damien McElroy, Telegraph (London), April 29, 2013

Burma should place limits on the growth of Muslims by introducing a family planning programme in areas where sectarian clashes organised by Buddhists have killed hundreds, an official report has said.

Recommendations of the report into the organised attacks and allegations of collusion by security forces sparked an outcry among activists and campaigners against the Burmese regime.

Despite documented involvement of police in attacks on Muslim towns and villages, the inquiry said the number of security forces in faultline districts must be doubled.

It also offered no hope for 125,000 displaced resident of Rakhine state who have looked to the state to ensure they could return home.

President Thein Sein appointed the 27-member panel last year to investigate the causes of the conflict and recommend measures to prevent further violence. Its findings had been delayed several times. The panel included former political prisoners, Christians, a Hindu, Muslims, and Rakhine Buddhists, but did not include any Rohingya Muslims.

Two outbreaks of unrest between ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims in June and October left nearly 200 people dead and forced tens of thousands of people, mostly Muslims, to flee burning homes.

The violence appeared to begin spontaneously, but by October were clearly organised by extremists and under the leadership of monks. The attacks spread last month into central Burma.

The report, which calls the Muslims “Bengalis”, urged the government to assess their citizenship, but under a 1982 law that Rohingya activists said was drafted by the former junta to exclude them.

The commission said Rakhine Buddhists felt threatened by “the rapid population growth of the Bengali population”.

“While keeping the two communities apart is not a long-term solution, it must be enforced at least until the overt emotions subside,” the report said.

Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch, said the recommendation that the population Muslims should be controlled in the long term was outrageous.

“It’s quite chilling to start talking about limiting births of one particular group,” he said. “Will coercive measures get taken on the ground even if the union government says people can take this voluntarily?”

The report said concerns expressed by Buddhists in Rakhine state over the rising population of Muslims they see as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh had “undermined peaceful coexistence” between the two groups. It said the introduction of family planning education “would go some way to mitigating” the crisis.

Committee members emphasized that all family planning initiatives should be voluntary and would focus on educating women about their choices.

Committee members emphasized that all family planning initiatives should be voluntary and would focus on educating women about their choices.

“I interviewed those women myself,” said Yin Yin New, a former UNICEF official on the committee. “I said why do you have so many children because it makes you poor. She said yes, but we are afraid we’ll be penalized by God. The religious leaders have told us we cannot take any contraception.”

The clashes have dealt a major blow to the reformist reputation of Thein Sein, who took office after a long-ruling military junta stepped down two years ago and has since made a series of concessions, including prison releases and allowing Aung San Suu Kyi, the opposition leader, to enter parliament.

Even the very use of the term Bengali reflected the divisions over the community. Most Muslims come from families moved from British India.

Shwe Maung, a Rohingya member of parliament from Rakhine state, objected to the commission’s terminology.

“The report is unfair,” he said. “The usage and recommendations are similar to what Rakhine ethnic people have been demanding.”