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Rohingya Citizenship a Burmese Decision: Suu Kyi to Foreign Critics

NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi in Burma’s Parliament. (Photo: The Irrawaddy)

By Tha Lun Zaung Htet
The Irrawaddy News
February 26, 2013

NAYPYIDAW—Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has said that
Burma “must decide for itself” whether or not to grant citizenship to the
Muslim minority Rohingya, but she added that the government “should listen” to
foreign experts and uphold international standards in its citizenship laws.

Suu Kyi was responding to criticism by Jose Ramos-Horta, the
former president of Timor Leste, and Muhammad Yunus, founder of microfinance
institution Grameen Bank in Bangladesh, who wrote in The Huffington Post on
Feb. 20 that Burma should amend its laws and grant the Rohingya “full

The two Nobel Peace Prize laureates said Burma was failing to
address the ongoing “ethnic cleansing” of the group in Arakan State, western
Burma. Other international rights workers have previously also called on Burma
to accept Rohingya citizenship.

A 1982 Citizenship Law, introduced by Burma’s military
regime, excluded the Rohingya from the recognized 135 minorities in the
country, rendering them effectively stateless.

When asked about the criticism in Naypyidaw on Friday, Suu
Kyi said, “A country must decide its citizenship for itself, but in doing so it
should meet international standards.”

“We should listen to and learn from what foreign scholars
say,” she said of her fellow Nobel laureates. “And, finally, we have to make a
decision by ourselves if what they say is appropriate in our country’s
situation,” Suu Kyi told The Irrawaddy.

The government of President Thein Sein has given conflicting
signals on how it seeks to resolve the issue of Rohingya citizenship. Most
recently, on Feb. 20, Deputy Minister of Immigration and Population Kyaw Kyaw
Win told Parliament that Burma knows “no Rohingya” ethnic group.

Since mid-2012 ethnic violence has plagued Arakan State.
Scores of people, including women and children, have been killed and about
110,000 people, mostly Rohingyas, were displaced after inter-communal violence
broke out between Arakanese Buddhist and Muslim Rohingya communities, according
to UN estimates.

Local Arakanese authorities have been accused of being
complicit in the violence against the Rohingya, who are referred to locally as
“Bengali’s” from neighboring Bangladesh. Thousands of Rohingya have fled Arakan
State in small boats since violence flared.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Antonio
Guterres has repeatedly expressed deep concern over the plight of those who
flee on boats into the Bay of Bengal. The UN said about 13,000 Rohingya fled
western Burma and Bangladesh in 2012, and an estimated 500 refugees died at

In recent weeks there have been almost daily reports of
Rohingya’s being picked up on boats in the open ocean.

On Tuesday, Guterres again called for governments in the Asia
Pacific region to work together to end the humanitarian tragedy taking place in
the Bay of Bengal.

“This is an alarmingly high number of lives lost, and begs a
far more concerted effort by countries of the region both with regard to
addressing the causes and to preventing lives being lost,” he said.

“Push-backs, denial of disembarkation, and boats adrift for
weeks will not solve a regional problem that clearly needs better, more
joined-up, and more compassionate approaches by everyone,” Guterres said

The commissioner referred to some of the approaches taken by
regional governments such as Thailand, which, on occasion, has pushed back
boats of Rohingya into the open ocean.

The UNHCR said it plans to facilitate a regional government
meeting in mid-March in Indonesia on irregular movements by sea in the
Asia-Pacific, in order to address the Rohingya refugee crisis.

Additional reporting by Paul Vrieze.