I wrote an article after coming back from Mynmar on a mission dated 16th to 20th of August 2016. I was invited by International Parliamentarian Platform for Freedom of Religion and Beliefs (IPPFoRB) base in Oslow. Actually I was asked by the organization to write a piece on Mynmar and it was published in IPPFoRB bulletin distributed during the annual conference in Berlin this year.
Our mission is Freedom of Religion as stated in the UN charter. We were not permitted to go to Rakhine state but were able to meet officials from ministries and some parliamentarian and the party leaders in power.
I hope my reflection on a 4 days visit will give some ideas on the situation faced by minorities Rohingyas including Chin Christians and the need for respect to Human Rights and Freedom of Religion. Ultimately the need to fight racism and religious extremisim.
My Reflections on Mynmar Mission
I was honored to be on board with group of parliamentarian across the continent on a Mynmar Mission. Although we were made out of different political ideologies, various faith and culture, we were united in our stand for Freedom of religion and belief. The uniting factor was our passion and enthusiasm to see the world free from persecution of religious beliefs and discrimination base on race and religion. I never knew my comrades in the mission prior to meeting them in Yanggon but our common goal and passion to achieve it has made it easy for us to get acquainted quickly and get in action as a team. We were made out of parliamentarian from Canada, South africa, Thailand, Panama, Norway and officials from House Of Lord of England.
Its not easy to conclude a black and white answer in the case of Mynmar and the Rohingyas plight in particular but the framework of our understanding was build upon UN report and other resource of information on religious persecution and human rights perspective. Nevertheless, we were very carefull not to have pre-conceived ideas on the issue of freedom of religion in Mynmar, that was why we conducted meetings with the civil society organizations (cso) and individuals who provided us perspectives on the issue of rights to freedom of beliefs and their thoughts on what is going on in the Muslim and Christians minorities.
We also had the opportunity to meet the relevant ministries and officials from the official standpoint of view. Our chance to meet with few MPs from the ruling party also provided us the bigger outlook of what is going on from a legaslative point of view. We also had a good prespective from the party in power who spoke from the party’s stand on the related issue.
We held postmortems among the team members after every meeting we had to conclude our perspective and revisited our framework of understanding for a fresh additional thoughts. We sometimes challenge our own biasity so that we can explore any new possibilities to our fact finding mission.
My reflections and thoughts on Mynmar religious feeedom and beliefs in regards to minorities rights especially Rohingyas are as follows,
1. The official stand negate any form of religious persecution, simply because the Mynmar Union State Constitution provided such provisos on the freedom of belief and religion. Such given stand do not answer the dire state of the Rohingyas minorities (mainly muslims) and the Chin(mainly christians) who from the actual record have suffered discrimination and persecution on the religious grounds.
2. The inconsistencies of the enshrined freedom of belief appeared in the contradictory policies and other laws that to some extent lead to selective judgement in case of religious issues.
3. Buddhism, although not stated as the official religion but its status commands a high respect as raison d’être to the Union. I have no qualms about such status as historical narratives has a strong influence over the state constitution but it shall not intrude into the speheres of freedom to other faiths and the universal human rights guidelines.
4. The Rakhine State where the majority of Rohingyas reside have many narratives to the ordinary public, cso’s and the officials. There were attempts to dictate a common understanding by the government. As such Rohingyas Muslim were redefined the name to Benggalis, the Rohingyas were also related to illegal border crossing from Bangladesh and that caused a major border security problem to the auhorities and for those who refused to be veted for verification process for citizenship are considered illegals.For many Rohingyas who refused to be vetted for citizenship process contributed to escelate the problem more. But undoubtly killings and slaughtering will definitely not help to solve the problem.
5. The rise of extreme religious organization such as Ma Ba Ta (A Buddhist Extremist movement) added fuel to the existing problem. What was worse is that the previous government kept numbed over the extreme actions taken by Ma Ba Ta by persecuting Muslims and Christians alike although the current goverment tried to keep away from any attachment to the Ma Ba Ta. The fear is that a similar reactions of violence in retaliation by Muslim would incite more bloody clashes between followers of the faith. Violence begets violence, a vicious cirles that never ends.
6. The new government lead by Ang Syu Ki landfall victories inherited whole lot of baggage handed down by the previous junta government. It would not be easy for the new democratic government as there are a lot of priorities for her reform ideas on Mynmar.
As such the National Reconciliation project she is embarking on is hoped to include the stop to religious violence and opens up more space for freedom of religion. Ang Syu Ki reputation as an icon for democracy has been tarnished for her slow reactions to stop persecution on the Rohingyas.
7. Freedom of religion is essential in the aspired developement for the nation. The more freedom we give the more propsperous the nation will be. It will be a great opportunity for the new blooming democracy in Mynmar to grab such timing. Failure to do so will dampen the hope of a truly democratic Mynmar where religious right of the minorities is not just protected but must be seen protected.
8. Incidents where religious minorities place of worship have been intruded, demolished or action deemed insulting the main faith ie Buddhism have been recorded. It is feared that such incidents will dampen the hope for a greater freedom of faith.
9. Attempt by individuals and CSO to propose a law known as The National Harmony Bill modelled by the Singaporean law has yet to see the light. Although such laws is needed , the public must be aware the need to live peacefully among different faith. Among others are interreligious dialogue, leaders of different faith must get together to symbolize peace and harmony while other recreational activities across different beliefes will help increase peaceful interactions.
10. CSOs must exert a concerted effort together in educating the public and pressures their agendas through public engagement. It is observed that the CSO’s in Mynmar have not combined their effort in synergy, rather they are scattered whilst they enjoy a common objectives.
To conclude, Freedom of Religion in Mynmar is not just about religious persecution, although the surface of it emerged in such form. The underlying problems are deep rooted in racial, political and security problems and ultimately the rise of religious extremism.
The world perceived it strongly as religious violence and consequently it affected the effort worldwide to foster harmony between different faith as it aggravates the relationship in other part of the world where the presecuted minorities are the majorities.
World wide Muslims protest to the persecution on Muslim minorities of Rohingyas especially the majority muslim ASEAN members such as Indonesia and Malaysia symbolizes a wave of hatred in reactions to the persecution on the Rohingyas. The Asean non-interference policy to other countries members must not be used to justify killings and murdering on the minorities. Human rights must prevail over non- interference as an alert to the rise of racism, religious extrimism and violence and thus destroying ASEAN hope of unity in diversity principle.
Finally, It is hoped that this is not the first and the last mission, as the process will take longer time untill Freedom of Religion take the centre stage in Mynmar and in other part of the world. I look forward for more mission for peace and harmony so that the people of the world and especially in the South East Asia region are trully blessed with the touch of human dignity and compassion.
Stop the killings!
Dato’ Dr. Mujahid Yusof Rawa
Member of Parliament Malaysia
Team Member Mynmar Mission IPPFoRB