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Party calls for security for Rohingya during census

By Tim McLaughlin
The Myanmar Times
March 19, 2014

A political party has called for Rohingya to participate in the upcoming national census but also urged the government to ensure they are able to respond to questions freely and without intimidation.

The Democracy and Human Rights Party said it “enthusiastically welcome[es] the 2014 nationwide census” and “urged all Rohingya to fill in your ethnic name correctly and independently without any spelling errors”. The statement was released by the group’s chairman last week.

Because the Rohingya is not an officially recognised ethnic group it has not been assigned a numerical code for the census. However, individuals who wish to identify as Rohingya will be able to select “other” and then write in Rohingya. Members of the DHRP and the National Democratic Party for Development (NDPD) had in January called for Rohingya to be given a numerical code, but their attempts to have the census changed were unsuccessful.

The Democracy and Human Rights Party, a Rohingya group, is now focusing its attention on security surrounding the census. It has warned that some groups and individuals may attempt to intimidate census enumerators and respondents in order to stop the word “Rohingya” appearing on census documents.

The party has called on the government to take action against “social networks, organisations and political groups” that are issuing threats against anyone who lists Rohingya as their ethnicity on a census form.

On March 18, Rakhine Buddhists held demonstrations in cities across Rakhine State to protest against individuals being allowed to self-describe as Rohingya on the census. The demonstrations were organised by Rakhine civil society groups, members of the Rakhine Nationalities Development Party and Buddhist monks, including U Wirathu, leader of the “969” movement who was preaching in Rakhine State over the weekend.

DHRP officials also expressed concerns that many of the government school teachers who are acting as enumerators in Rakhine state for the census do not speak the language of the Rohingya. A number of teachers previously told The Myanmar Times that they were mis-identified as speaking the language on census-related materials posted at schools in northern Rakhine.

The DHRP has said that they would like the government to provide interpreters but the request seems unlikely to be filled, as the government has indicated it will likely not allow Muslims to act as enumerators.

The census is set to take place March 30 to April 10 and is being implemented with help from the United Nations Population Fund.