The Rakhine State government is considering amending a controversial plan drafted in response to outbreaks of communal conflict based on feedback from international NGOs and UN agencies, says Chief Minister U Maung Maung Ohn.
By Lun Min Mang | Friday, 09 January 2015
He said the introduction of the plan has been delayed because of widespread opposition to a proposed citizenship verification process.
Details of the Rakhine State Action Plan were leaked to the media in October 2014, with some rights groups warning it was a “blueprint for permanent segregation and statelessness” for Muslims. The plan requires Muslims who do not hold citizenship to apply as Bengalis or face resettlement, together with those who are not eligible.
But Chief Minister U Maung Maung Ohn said the draft plan had not yet been finalised, and the government is still reviewing feedback and amending some sections of it.
“The action plan will soon be introduced but right now it is being edited,” he told The Myanmar Times last week.
“Suggestions and recommendations from international non-government organisations and UN agencies are being considered. After these have been reviewed and considered for inclusion, the plan will be made publicly available.”
U Maung Maung Ohn refused to reveal what suggestions had been received, while a spokesperson for a prominent international NGO operating in Rakhine State declined to comment last week.
He said the main reason for the delayed release of the plan was problems associated with a citizenship verification process in Rakhine State, which has been suspended since October 2014.
Some Muslims have opposed the plan on the basis it would require them to register as Bengali, while Rakhine activists have protested against the citizenship verification process because they say Bengalis should not be eligible for citizenship at all.
In September, Rakhine groups staged protests after more than 200 people, including about 160 who agreed to register as Bengalis, were granted citizenship or naturalised citizenship in the state’s Myebon township under a citizenship verification pilot project.
Additionally, U Maung Maung Ohn said there had been complaints from some “ethnic nationalities” that the program should be nationwide and open to all, rather than just Muslims in Rakhine State.
But while he has previously warned Rakhine groups not to oppose the verification process, U Maung Maung Ohn said that opposition from the Muslim community was mostly to blame for the program’s delay.
“Their claim for a name that the state does not accept has stopped the verification citizenship process. As a result, we can see there is no progress,” he said. “Previously we planned to finish the verification and then move on to resettlement.”
The nature of the resettlement process remains unclear and U Maung Maung Ohn declined to discuss the plan’s contents in detail.
But a draft of the plan provided to The Myanmar Times states that the government will ask the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) for help to resettle those ineligible for citizenship in a third country.
In October, a UNHCR spokeswoman told Reuters it would be impossible for the agency to do so, because they would not be “recognised refugees who have fled persecution and conflict across international borders”. This has prompted fears from rights groups that those who are not granted citizenship could be kept .
Meanwhile, the UN’s special rapporteur for human rights in Myanmar Yanghee Lee arrived in Yangon on January 7 for her second visit to Myanmar since taking up the position in 2014. She was due to arrive in Rakhine State on January 8, and was later expected to travel to northern Shan State.
U Maung Maung Ohn said he would likely discuss the recent UN resolution on human rights in Myanmar with the envoy “and make some clarifications”.
“I will take her to the [internally displaced persons] camps and let her see the differences between the conditions last year and this year,” he said.