Friday, March 22, 2013

UNHCR to interview Rohingya migrants in southern Thailand

Mizzima News  

The Thai authorities are to allow the UN’s refugee agency access to 843 Rohingya boatpeople who were arrested over the past week in southern Thailand.
Migrants thought to be from Burma's Rohingya community are pictured on January 16, 2013, at a detention center in southern Thailand after they were rounded up in raids on hidden camps in the Thai south. (Photo: AFP)
Migrants thought to be from Burma's Rohingya community are pictured on January 16, 2013, at a detention center in southern Thailand after they were rounded up in raids on hidden camps in the Thai south. (Photo: AFP)
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) will then assess whether the immigrants are seeking asylum or employment, and whether any of them are victims of human trafficking.

A UNHCR spokesperson in Bangkok is quoted by the Bangkok Post as saying that no dates have yet been agreed but that the UN was pushing to do the interviews as soon as possible.

However, no announcement has yet been made to confirm that the migrants arrived from Burma.

Thailand’s Defense Minister Sukumpol Suwanatat said on Wednesday the UN and the international community should play a greater role in addressing the migration of Rohingya.

"We have to take care of them when they come ashore," he is reported by the Bangkok Post as saying, noting the next step would be to send them to a third country.

Despite reports in regional media speculating that the Rohingya migrants might join in the Muslim insurgency in Thailand’s southern provinces, the Thai Defense Minister said there was no reason to believe the Rohingyas are linked to such activities.

Between December and February is Southeast Asia’s cool season when economic migrants and refugees from Burma and Bangladesh traditionally take advantage of the calmer waters to attempt journeys across the Andaman Sea, usually aiming to get to Malaysia or Indonesia.

This “sailing season” has seen a particularly high number of Rohingya boatpeople fleeing sectarian violence in Burma’s restive Rakhine State.

Help needed to deal with influx of refugees

Thailand needs assistance from neighbouring governments and international organisations to help resolve the Rohingya issue

The call from Chularatchamontri, Thailand's Muslim spiritual leader, for the international community to help around 850 Rohingya refugees should be responded to with concrete action. While the international community and non-governmental organisations are calling for Thailand not to deport these people back to Myanmar, for safety reasons, they must also help Thailand resettle these illegal migrants. Thailand has provided basic humanitarian care for these people, who were smuggled into Thailand earlier this month.

Earlier this week, representatives of more than 20 countries attended a teleconference to hear the grievances of these people. Delegates from Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Australia, the United States and New Zealand, as well as the European Union, expressed sympathy for the Rohingya plight. But sympathy alone is not enough. All parties concerned have to help the Rohingya find a solution to their plight.

At least 843 Rohingya have been arrested in police sweeps of remote areas and rubber plantations near the border with Malaysia, leading the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to try to confirm whether any of them plan to seek asylum. An additional 60 Rohingya were found a couple of days ago, making the total of new arrivals 917.

The Thai government has provided temporary care while they wait to hear whether they will be deported back to Myanmar or sent to a third country. Thailand has given the go-ahead to the UNHCR to help these people, but there are important issues that need to be addressed. First, who is smuggling these people into Thailand? They must be found and prosecuted. Second, Thailand and other countries cannot ignore the plight of these illegal migrants by shipping them on to other places as quickly as possible.

This group of illegal migrants is not the first to arrive here and they are unlikely to be the last. When inter-communal violence broke out in Myanmar's Rakhine State in October and December, 2,817 Rohingya refugees entered the country and were detained. This is not to mention previous waves of Rohingya who have sought refuge in Thailand over the past few years.

The Thai government has given access to the UNHCR to visit the recently detained group to identify them and find out whether any were illegally trafficked. The UNHCR and other responsible agencies must carry out their task promptly and proceed to the next step urgently, instead of leaving these people waiting desperately. Thailand cannot deal with an influx of Rohingya without the sincere cooperation of the international community to help solve the problem. A lack of action would simply encourage more Rohingya migrants into the country.

The root cause of the problem must be addressed, and that is the ethnic conflict between the predominantly Buddhist people of Myanmar and the Rohingya, a Muslim minority.

The international community has so far inadequately pressured the governments of Myanmar and Bangladesh to address the issue.

The Burmese Rohingya Association of Thailand has called on the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand to prevent any deportation. They are now calling for Muslim nations such as Malaysia and Indonesia to take in these migrants. Apparently these 800 people wanted to migrate to Malaysia before they were detained in Thailand.

Lieutenant-General Paradorn Pattanathabutr, secretary-general of the National Security Council, has said Thai authorities will have to deal carefully with the migrants. If they are left to suffer in poor conditions, he warned, they could be lured into joining campaigns against the authorities.

Thailand has provided shelter for displaced people since the 1970s, during the Vietnam War and subsequent conflicts in Cambodia and Laos. And the record shows that limited resources for displaced people can result in poor conditions and ill will towards the Thai authorities.

The Thai government has decided not to open an encampment for the Rohingya. Some of them will find temporary shelter at mosques until the international community and UNHCR can find a solution to their situation.The efficiency and sincerity of the UNHCR and international community in handling this issue will be shown by their actions.

A refuge for Myanmar refugee kids


Volunteers Heidy Quah and Khoo Ghee Ken (right) make lessons fun and interactive for the refugee kids. Volunteers Heidy Quah and Khoo Ghee Ken (right) make lessons fun and interactive for the refugee kids.
A group of 18-year-olds take on the responsibility of providing education for over 70 Myanmar refugee kids.
IT is way after midnight and college student Heidy Quah is hunched over her desk, her brows furrowed in concentration.
Instead of surfing the Net, watching her favourite drama series or rushing to finish up some last-minute assignments like most of her peers, Quah is busy drawing and cutting out caricatures of various shapes and sizes.
“Sometimes I stay up till 4am to prepare my teaching materials,” says Quah.
The Diploma in Business student at a local college is a committed volunteer teacher at a refugee school where she conducts art and craft lessons, among others.
At just 18, Quah is the founder of a registered non-government organisation, Persatuan Kebajikan Perlindungan Kanak-kanak Pelarian (Refuge For The Refugees), which aims to provide education for Myanmar refugee children.
As of October last year, 91,520 Myanmar refugees and asylum seekers who are hoping to build a better life for themselves in First World countries like Australia, Canada and the United States, are temporarily placed in Malaysia. The immigration process usually takes up to several years before they are finally resettled in their designated countries.
Meanwhile, precious time goes by as children of these refugees – at the height of their formative years – have no access to the local education system due to their refugee status. The United Nations High Commissioner For Refugees (UNHCR) has teamed up with various NGOs to set up learning centres for them but out of 13,800 children who are of school-going age, only 40% of them have access to education.
Chin Children’s Education Centre (CCEC) is one such school. Over 70 Myanmar refugee children from ages four to 16 fill the dilapidated community hall of a low-cost flat in Kuala Lumpur, for five hours every weekday. The learning environment is far from conducive as the classes, which are separated by sheets of cloth, are all held in the small hall.
Five teachers – two sponsored by UNHCR while three are hired – work tirelessly to help the children learn English, Mathematics and Science. Due to the overwhelming number of students, the teachers are often unable to step into every class, leaving many of them unattended.
Ten-year-old Pari’s favourite subject is Science and she names Heidy her favourite teacher. Ten-year-old Pari’s favourite subject is Science and she names Heidy her favourite teacher.
Early last year, Quah had just finished secondary school and was waiting to start college. After hearing about a volunteer opportunity at a school camp, she roped in her friends Andrea Prisha, Chan Weili and Khoo Ghee Ken to volunteer as teachers at CCEC on a weekly basis.
As time went by, the youths established a bond with the refugee kids and were devastated when they heard that the school had to close down in a matter of months.
“CCEC was funded by UNHCR for two years under the Social Protection Fund. The contract expired in July 2012 and was not renewed,” explains Quah.
With college just around the corner, the group was faced with the difficult decision of whether they should continue helping the school.
Eventually, Quah and her friends made the bold choice of not only continuing to teach the students every week but to take on the school’s financial burden as well.
Refuge For The Refugees came into the picture when Quah realised that corporations were sceptical about providing funding to an unregistered NGO. Apart from a few phone calls from apprehensive officials of the Registrar of Societies, the application process went smoothly and before they knew it, RFTR was up and running.
Six months have passed since its inception and Quah confesses that running the NGO has not been easy. They need about RM1,200 a month to keep the school going. This sum covers the rental, utility bills and stationery for the kids.
Sponsorships are hard to come by at times.
A curtain separates one class from another due to space constraints. A curtain separates one class from another due to space constraints.
“When we e-mail companies for sponsorships and they find out that we are a bunch of 18-year-olds, many people think that we are up to no good,” says Quah. Thankfully, some sponsors are willing to keep an open mind. Quah recalls a man who wanted to see the school for himself before making a donation.
Online volunteer portals Do Good. Volunteer. and Do Something Good have also served as effective avenues for them to get the word out, fetching sizeable donations from the public. In times of financial drought, they manage to get by, raising small sums through fundraisers like bake sales.
When it comes to ensuring quality education for every child, the youths have to work doubly hard as they are not formally trained teachers. They even come up with their own educational materials to supplement those provided by UNHCR.
Quah and her friends sure know how to make lessons fun for the kids. Sweets are used to help the younger kids learn how to count, while art and craft lessons provide an avenue for the students to develop their creativity.
“RFTR is compiling a proper syllabus for the year, so volunteers can start teaching immediately without having to prepare any material,” shares Quah.
“To get round the language barrier, we carry an English to Chin (dialect) dictionary,” Khoo adds.
The team volunteers for two hours on Wednesdays but every visit to CCEC takes a whopping three hours for the team to travel to and fro, as they rely on public transport. On top of that, they have to allocate time to plan for the day’s lesson besides finding ways to raise funds.
Andrea, a Foundation in Arts student at a local university, asserts that volunteering does not affect her studies.
“College is a priority for me, but these kids mean a lot to me as well. If I have assignments, I will finish them first to make time to volunteer; it is workable,” says Andrea.
Although Khoo, an A-Level student, is unable to teach during weekdays, he helps out with events on weekends, drafts proposals and letters, and updates their Facebook page.
Chan, an Australian Matriculation student, does not mind turning down movie outings and skipping teh tarik sessions with friends, just so she can find time for her volunteer work. “Sacrifices have to be made from time to time if I am to teach at the centre,” says Chan.
It helps that the parents of these dedicated and committed youths are supportive of their activities.
Quah and her team of enthusiastic volunteers dispel the common perception that young people just want to have fun and take little interest in the plight of the less fortunate. Khoo points out that many of his peers are not involved in volunteer work because the avenues just aren’t presented to them.
Quah believes parents play an important role in instilling compassion for the underprivileged, in their children. “My parents exposed me to people who were less fortunate from a very young age. We used to celebrate Chinese New Year in orphanages where we would play and sing songs with the kids,” she recalls.
“When I don’t see them for a week and they tell me they miss me, that makes me happy,” says Andrea.
Quah finds great satisfaction in charting the children’s progress. “There was this boy in my class who used to be very destructive. He would hit other kids for no apparent reason. I later learned that his dad is an alcoholic who physically abuses him. I decided to pay more attention to him and appointed him as class monitor. So instead of starting fights, he is now the one who stops fights,” says Quah, who is proud to note a change in the boy’s behaviour.
Indeed, it is positive changes like these which keep the youths going. Quah is driven by a vision to take RFTR to a new level and reach out to more refugee children so that they can also enjoy the gift of education.
To make a donation or find out more about volunteer opportunities at Refuge For The Refugees, call Heidy Quah (012-307 3714) or visit or e-mail

Burmese refugees sold on by Thai officials

Ahmed, a Rohingya, said he was caught by the Thai navy and traded to traffickers

An investigation by the BBC has revealed that Thai officials have been selling boat people from Burma to human traffickers.

Thousands of Muslim Rohingya have fled to sea in recent months after deadly communal violence in Rakhine State, with many heading east across the Andaman Sea to Thailand.
The BBC found that boats were being intercepted by the Thai navy and police, with deals then made to sell the people on to traffickers who transport them south towards Malaysia.
The Thai government say they are taking the allegations seriously and have promised to investigate.
'Canned fish'
In November Ahmed said goodbye to his wife and eight children and left western Burma.

Background: Burma unrest

What sparked recent violence?
The rape and murder of a young Buddhist woman in Rakhine in May set off a chain of deadly religious clashes in June and then October.
Who are the Rohingyas?
The United Nations describes Rohingya as a persecuted religious and linguistic minority from western Burma. The Burmese government, on the other hand, says they are relatively recent migrants from the Indian sub-continent. Neighbouring Bangladesh already hosts several hundred thousand refugees from Burma and says it cannot take any more.
His fishing boat had been destroyed in clashes between Muslim Rohingya and Rakhine Buddhists, and he needed to earn a living.
With 60 others he travelled for 13 days on a flimsy wooden boat across the Andaman Sea to the coast of Thailand.
When they were caught by the Thai navy not far from shore Ahmed thought his ordeal was over. In fact it had just begun.
That night the Rohingya were taken from the border town of Ranong in a police van. After two hours they were bundled out and put in the back of six smaller vehicles and hidden under nets.
"We were forced to lay down next to each other just like canned fish," he said.
Ahmed did not know it at the time but a trade had taken place. The 61 Rohingya were now heading south towards Malaysia in the custody of people-smugglers.
When they got out of the vehicles they were prisoners in Su Ngai Kolok, a town on the Thai Malaysia border.
"They dug a hole for us to use as a toilet. We ate, slept and excreted in the same place," he said. "The smell was horrible. I was poked with an iron and beaten with a chain."
Ahmed's back, scarred from being beaten Ahmed's back is scarred from the beatings he received
The traffickers had paid money for the Rohingya and were determined to get their money back. Ahmed and the other Rohingya were periodically given a phone to call friends and family to beg for help.
"The broker said that they bought us from police," he said. "If we don't give them money they won't let us go. They said: 'We don't care if you die here'."
The price for Ahmed's life was set at 40,000 Thai Baht, about $1,300 (£820) - a substantial amount for an ex-fisherman. Ahmed called his wife and instructed her to sell a cow. But that only raised half the amount.
After a month as a captive, as he began to despair a fellow Rohingya in Thailand came to his rescue and loaned him the rest.
Ahmed was set free and put on a bus back north to Phuket. Despite all that happened to him, he is surprisingly calm about his treatment by Thai officials.
"I'm not angry at the navy. I don't hold any anger or grudge with me anymore. I'm so grateful that I'm alive," he said.
'Natural solution'
With weather conditions favourable Rohingya boats are now arriving on the Thai coast almost everyday. And Ahmed is not the only one being sold by Thai officials.
Newly-arrived Rohingya boy in Phuket Whole families are trying to escape the communal violence in western Burma
We took a close look at the fate of one particular boat which arrived on New Year's Day off the holiday island of Phuket.
On 2 January the 73 men, women and children were brought onshore, put in trucks and it was announced that they were being driven to the Thai/Burma border crossing at Ranong and deported.
But they did not get that far. A deal had been struck to sell the Rohingya to people smugglers.
When the trucks reached the town of Kuraburi, the Rohingya were transferred back into a boat and pushed back out to sea.
We spoke to one of the brokers involved in the deal. They said that 1.5 million baht (about $50,000, £31,500) had been transferred from Malaysia and paid to officials in Thailand. That amount was confirmed to us by other members of the Rohingya community in Thailand.
The Thai authorities told us they believe there are just a few corrupt officials. But in the border town of Ranong a Thai official closely linked with the Rohingya issue told us that working with the brokers was now regarded as the "natural" solution.
With the Rohingya denied Burmese citizenship, deportation is fraught with difficulties.
A Thai police van to take newly-arrived Rohingya away Thailand considers the Rohingya to be economic migrants
Thailand in turn does not want to encourage people that it considers to be almost almost exclusively economic migrants.
"The Rohingya want to go Malaysia and Malaysia accepts these people because they are Muslims too," the official said. "No matter what they will try and go there, the question is how they get there."
Malaysia has allowed the United Nations Refugee Agency to assess Rohingya claims for asylum. Thailand does not, reserving the right to determine for itself who it considers to be a refugee.
'Systematic solution'
We took our information to the Thai foreign ministry. Permanent Secretary Sihasak Puangketkaew told us an investigation was underway.
"We cannot at this moment conclude who these perpetrators are but the Thai government is determined to get to the bottom of the problem," he said.
"At the same time the Thai government is doing its best to take care of these people on the basis of humanitarian principles.
"At the same time we feel very strongly that all of us will have to work together through international co-operation to see how we can put on place a durable and systematic solution."
There have been influxes of Rohingya before and in 2009 the Thai government was heavily criticised for its policy of towing boats back out to sea.
Those boats were almost exclusively male and the Thai government said they were economic migrants. This time it is different.
Ethnic clashes in western Burma have forced more than 100,000 Rohingya into camps and for the first time the boats crossing the Andaman Sea are a mix of men, women and children.

Burmese refugees find a place in Victoria's parks

Burmese refugees in the Australian state of Victoria are being encouraged to use the state's parks to help them face the challenges of a new and unfamiliar Australian environment.
In Werribee Park, in Melbourne's West, a group of refugees has revitalised the park's kitchen garden, while learning valuable life skills and making new connections with their local community.
Dr Melika Yassin Sheikh-Eldin from Adult Migrant Educational Service says the project is helping Karen refugees address the feelings of isolation and language barriers felt by new refugees.
"Organising programs like this garden helps them get connected to the land and do things they enjoy," she said.
"It helps address isolation by bringing the women together, and also we are planning to help them improve their language, and their communication skills as well."
Nanthu Kunoo and her family are members of the persecuted ethnic Karen minority and were driven out of Burma by the military, amid a long and bloody civil war.
They had spent seventeen years in refugee camps before being resettled - eventually arriving in Australia.
"We'd never seen a big city like this, and our family arrived in September, and at that time it was very, very cold," she said.
"My eldest daughter said 'Dad, this is Australia? Why so cold?'."
When they found this garden, they were very, very happy, and physically and mentally they are joyful, healthful, better for the communities.
Nanthu Kunoo, Burmese Community Liaison Officer
She's now at home working with local Karen refugees who've been volunteering to help revive the park's kitchen garden, helping others make the transition to life in Australia.
"This is a good thing for our communities, especially women over 50 because they are so isolated, and also they just only stay home," she said.
"[With a] lack of language, or a lack of understanding many things, they can't catch up.
"When they found this garden, they were very, very happy and physically and mentally they are joyful, healthful, better for the communities."
Dr Melika says for communities scarred by war and persecution, it's about familiarising them with a new environment, and introducing them to Victoria's wide, open spaces.
"We have done a number of excursions - some of them were planting trees [because] where people can get connected with the environment, they feel they are part of this country," she said.
"We always try to encourage them, they are putting their roots in this beautiful country.
"One day they will tell their children and grandchildren that they are really part of this country."
We always try to encourage them, they are putting their roots in this beautiful country. One day they will tell their children and grandchildren that they are really part of this country.
Dr Melika Yassin Sheikh-Eldin, Adult Migrant Educational Service
The project is a partnership between Parks Victoria and the refugee settlement service, AMES.
Victorian Multicultural Affairs Minister Nick Kotsiras says it is about engaging the community.
"It's about giving people a go so they can have a go," he said.
"It's about lifting people's ability to be able to stand on their own two feet, and that's important."
The benefits flow both ways - with park rangers like James Brincat learning first-hand about the refugee experience.
"The reality is, and I'm hearing this in other communities where they say, 'if you're a refugee you get a free car, and a free house'," he said.
"It's absolutely not the case - if you're a refugee here, you're behind the eight ball.
"You're going to be battling with languages, you're going to be battling with culture."

Refugees Relying More on Cash From Family, Friends Abroad

MAE HONG SON, Thailand — From dawn until late at night they queue up, waiting to call their relatives, friends and loved ones overseas. The crowd waiting at the phone booth are refugees from Mae La Oon camp in northern Thailand’s Mae Hong Son Province. About 15,000 people call the camp a temporary home.
At the common phone centers, set up by ethnic Karens with Thai citizenship, many of the refugees end up discussing kote pway, or pocket money, which is the small remittances sent to them by their families abroad.
Although no official statistics exist, it has been estimated that about half of the refugees in Mae La Oon use remittances to survive. As non-governmental organizations pull aid donations out of the Thai-Burma border, preferring to invest in “development” in-country, life for those who receive nothing from abroad will become harder.
Sha Lo, a refugee who often gets money sent from abroad from relatives and friends in Canada, said: “It will be very hard for us if we don’t get the remittance. But many don’t receive any remittances as they have no relatives and friends in third countries. Those people survive very poorly. They eat a meal [worth less than US $1] per day. And they don’t dare to complain.
“It [the remittance] is very helpful as we receive less food and supplies from the NGOs now. Now they cut food such as cans of cooked fish and chilli, and reduced cooking oil, yellow beans, salt and other supplies. We can buy some extra food because of the remittances.”
Sha Lo said he gets between 3,000 and 10,000 Thai baht ($100-$336), several times a year. Others get far less, he said, while some receive several times what he does each year.
Kyaw Mu, a Karen refugee who resettled in the US state of Wisconsin, said he has to send about $330 each month to his family in Mae La Oon, as he has to cover his mother’s medical bills.
Refugees who resettle in Canada, Australia and Europe are often able to send back more money, as those who move to the US often can only get very low-paid jobs.
Several refugees in Mae La Oon camp said that they see the remittance not only as a source of financial support to individual families, but also as a business. Some invest in businesses, setting up shops, while others buy motorbikes to use for better transportation. A few people buy cars and land in accordance with Thai law with the help of their relatives or friends who are members of the local hill tribe.
Vivian Tan, the Asia spokeswoman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), said 81,700 refugees from Burma have been moved to other countries from Thailand since the UN resettlement program started in 2005.
As the government and ethnic armed groups have signed ceasefire agreements in recent years, and as the outside world pushes for opening Burma up for business, the resettlement program has ebbed and the prospect of closing it down altogether is on the table. The US has already said it will stop taking in Burmese refugees by June.
Peace processes and attempts at national reconciliation will eventually lead to “a situation conducive to the repatriation and return of displaced persons,” according to a recent report by the Thailand Burma Border Consortium (TBBC), an umbrella group responsible for the refugee camps in Thailand.
Naw Paw Mu Na, secretary of the Mae La Oon camp, said remittances would decrease as refugees resettled in third countries are struggling to make ends meet themselves.
Sha Lo criticized the international aid groups for pulling out funding for the refugees in Thailand, saying they were opening offices in Rangoon, but not in border regions, where most people live in poverty.
There are about 150,000 Burmese refugees living in nine refugee camps on the Thai-Burmese border and most of them are ethnic Karen from eastern Burma who fled their homes due to the government army’s offensive in their homeland.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Malaysia 2013 Universal Periodic Review Submission

Human Rights Watch
Freedom of Peaceful Assembly, Expression, and Association
Despite rights-protectingrhetoric, the Malaysian government has continued to curtail the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly, association and expression.
Peaceful Assembly
In early 2010a coalition of civil society groups organized Bersih 2.0, a social movement demanding clean and fair elections. In May 2011, its steering committee authorized a major public rallyfor July 9. In response, the minister of home affairs announced that a required police permit would not be granted and declared Bersih an illegal organization under the Societies Act, an order overturned in court a year later. Police raided the Bersih secretariat office, arresting staff and confiscating equipment, and on the streets harassed and arbitrarily arrestedBersihsupporters.On July 9, police broke up the event, using excessive force, beatings, tear gas, water cannon and arbitrary arrests. Less than a year later, at anotherBersih-organized rally held in Kuala Lumpur on April 28, 2012, police again respondedwith widespread excessive use of force.
The Peaceful Assembly Act (PAA), hastily passed by parliament in November 2012 over the objections of the Malaysian Bar Association and other civil society groups, formally revoked the provision in article 27 of the Police Act requiring police permission for public rallies. But in practice the PAA has been used to severelyrestrict rights. It forbids so-called “moving” assemblies, allows the police to impose broad and arbitrary conditions on proposed events, and sostrictly limits appropriate rally sites that organizing a legal gathering in an urban setting is difficult. The law makes it an offense for children under 15 to attend rallies and for adults to bring children to assemblies, effectively restrictingboth children and caregivers from exercising their rights to assembly.
At the People’s Uprising Rally on January 12, 2013, the first organized under the PAA, the police set 27 conditions and followed up by investigating rule violationsthat were either trivial or protected under international law, such as carrying placardswith “inappropriate slogans.”In Sabah, police ordered organizers of aFebruary 22 “Idle No More Long March” for indigenous rights and fair electionsto apply for a permitbecausepolice claimed it was not an “ordinary” march.
Freedom of Expression
The government employs a number of methods to limit the right to free expression.The print and broadcast media remain dominated by media companies with close ties to political parties aligned with the ruling coalition.
Government regulation of printed publications through the Printing Presses and Publication Act (PPPA) impedes access to information. An April 2012 amendment to the PPPA is less of a reform than the government has touted. It ends a yearly renewal requirement for publication licenses and provides for court review of the home minister’s previously unlimited power to arbitrarily approve or revoke publishing permits. However, the law still imposes a three-year prison term for “maliciously published false news” and places the legal burden on the accused to disprove guilt. The PPPA has been used to block printing of publications that the government considers hostile, such as books by Zunar, apolitical cartoonist, and it has succeeded in limiting distribution of opposition party newspapers.After the Kuala Lumpur High Court's Appellate and Special Powers division ruled in October 2012that there was no legitimate reason for the minister to reject on-line news portal Malaysiakini’sapplication to produce a print edition, the government immediately appealed. The case is still pending.
Amendments to theEvidence Actin August 2012 mark the government’s first overt attempt to censor the Internet. They tighten restraints by classifying computer owners and operators of computer networks as publishers, responsible for whatever is displayed on their screens. Unless those accused can prove they had nothing to do with the offending content, they can be convicted, raising serious concerns about presumption of innocence as well as the right to free expression.
In addition, the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Act provides that “no content applications service provider, or other person using a content applications service shall provide content which is indecent, obscene, false, menacing or offensive in character with intent to annoy, abuse, threaten or harass any person,”a broad definition permittingthe government to block a wide array of websites.
The Sedition Actand the Penal Code control public expression by criminalizing speech that the government allegestocontain a “seditious tendency,” such as “to excite disaffection against the administration of justice in Malaysia,” or to “promote feelings of ill will…between different races or classes.”
In July 2012 the government announced that the Sedition Act would be replaced by a National Harmony Actthat would permit criticism of the government,but draw the line against speech or actions that could create tensions in a multi-ethnic society.
Freedom of Association
The Malaysian government compromises the right to freedom of association by regulations requiring that any society (other than trade unions, cooperative societies, and school committees) comprisingseven or more peoplebe registeredby the Registrar of Societies. Such societies shall “in conducting its affairs,” uphold democratic government and Islam as the religion of Malaysia. The home affairs minister has “absolute discretion” to declare a society unlawful if he believes it would prejudice the “security of Malaysia” or “public order or morality.” The Registrar of Societies may refuse or cancel the registration of a society on similar grounds.
Beginning in July 2012at least six government agencies alleged that Suaram, a leading nongovernmental organization, had illegally circumvented registration. Accusations included“hiding its true agenda,” undermining the government of Malaysia, seeking foreign funds, and engaging in a series of “highly suspicious” financialtransactions.In late January 2013, the investigationby the Registrar of Societies was terminated with no charges filed.
Justice System
Administrative Detention
In a positive step, the government permitted the Emergency (Public Order and Crime Prevention) Ordinance 1969, which had been regularly used to hold criminal suspects without charge or trial, to expire in June 2012.
While the government’s revocation of the notorious Internal Security Act (ISA) promised an end to the use of abusive administrative detention in Malaysia, the replacement Security Offenses (Special Measures) 2012 Act (SOSMA) provides only marginal improvements. SOSMA reducespreviously unlimited administrative detention to 28days, curtails the unchecked power of the home affairs minister to decide cases, mandates judicial oversight and a fair trial, and provides immediate access to relatives and legal counsel. However, the definition of a security offense is overbroad, police rather than judgesmay authorize communicationintercepts, and prosecutors may utilize secret witnesses and unsourcedinformation as evidence.Acquitteddefendants may be held indefinitely while their cases are on appeal.
The first SOSMA detentions demonstrated the police’s ability to circumvent the law. After MohdHilmiHasim was arrested under the law on February 7, 2013, he was detained more than a week without access to a family member or a lawyer while police attempted to convince him to become a state witness against two others. He was finally charged with abetment on February 21. His mother, whom police had attempted to enlist in their efforts, reportedthat the police subjected her to threats and intimidation.
Police Abuse
Since Malaysia’s first UPR review, the Royal Malaysia Police have continued to use unnecessary or excessive force to shut down protests, obtain coerced confessions, and mistreat persons in custody. Suspicious deaths in police custody, including three in January 2013 alone, are frequently attributed to suspects’ pre-existing medical conditions or drug use. Post mortem inquiries, which must be conducted at a government facility, are often delayed and inadequate. Second inquiries require judicial approval and costs must be paid by those seeking the inquest.
The government continues to reject the establishment of an independent and impartial police complaints commission in accordance with therecommendations of the Royal Commission on police reform. A weaker substitute, the Enforcement Agencies Integrity Commission (EAIC), which focuses on not just the police but a total of 19 government agencies, has blamed a lack of adequate staff and budget to explain the delays in investigating complaints filed with it.
Lack of accountability for custodial deaths is exemplified by the case of GunasegaramRajasundrum, who died in police custody in July 2009. Despitewitnesses who testified topolice abuseand identified officers responsible, the coroner stated he could not reach a conclusion as to whether death resulted from drug use or police beatings.In 2013, Gunasegaram’s family brought a civil suit against the government, the police, and the hospital. The proceedings revealed police threats to witnesses and claims by police that ‘special rules’ existedfor late night interrogations.To date, there is no available police report on the case and the civil suit is ongoing.
Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
In violation of international standards against discrimination, Malaysian leaders continue to denigratelesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) persons. Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak gave speeches in June and July 2012 in which he asserted that the activities of LGBT people do not “have a place in the country.” In November2011, police closed down the SeksualitiMerdeka (“Sexual Diversity”) Festival, stated the event was a threat to national security, and harassed and threatened organizers. The festival wasorganized tocelebrate“unity in diversity,”and planned to feature talks, workshops, literary events, stage performances, and an art exhibition.
Malaysia still criminalizes what it terms “carnal intercourse against the order of nature,” under article 377 B of the penal code. Those convicted face penalties includingfines, whippings, and imprisonment for up to 20 years. Transsexuals are refused the right to change their gender classification on their national identity cards and cross dressing is prohibited.
Refugees, Asylum-Seekers, Migrants, and Trafficked Persons
Malaysia has not signed or ratified the 1951 Refugee Convention and has no refugee law or asylum procedure. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) exercises its protection mandate in Malaysia by conducting refugee status determinations, but there is no guarantee that UNHCR-recognized refugees or asylum seekers with refugee claims pending will not be forcibly returned to their countries, thus violating the internationally protected prohibition against refoulement.
Twice in 2012-2013 the Malaysian authorities forcibly returned ethnic Uighurs with pending asylum claims to China, and in 2012 forcibly returned a Saudi national facing severe punishment for statements he made on his Twitter account.
Refugeesand asylum seekers in Malaysia face extortion and abuse from law enforcement officers. They are refused legal authorization to work, which increases their risk of exploitation, particularly as they often wait years for resettlement. Refugees’ children have little or no access to education, and basic medical care is often beyond their financial reach.
Malaysia has not signed the Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families and has acted to stall adoption of a regional framework (pursuant to the ASEAN Declaration on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers) that would protect and promote the rights of all migrant workers in the ASEAN region.
In 2009 migrant domestic workers were excluded from key provisions of Malaysia’s labor law. Although the government said it would take measures to bring the law into compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women which has been ratified by Malaysia, little has changed. A 2011 memorandum of understanding with Indonesia allowsIndonesian domestic workers to keep their passports and guarantees a weekly rest day, but it has weakenforcement mechanisms. Malaysia still permits deduction of workers’ wages to pay exploitive recruitment fees. Migrant workers remain subject to excessively long hours, lack of rest days, unpaid wages, restrictions on freedom of movement and association, and physical and sexual abuse, in some cases amounting to forced labor or trafficking.
Malaysia has failed to effectively combat human trafficking, preferring to focus on the criminal aspect of cases without permitting victims access to necessary social services. Trafficking victims are often locked away for extended periods in government-run shelters. Amendments to the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act conflate people smuggling with human trafficking and create similarly harsh penalties for both acts, creating difficulties for effective and timely identification of trafficking victims, and extension of protection to them.
Recommendations to the Government of Malaysia
On Rights to Peaceful Assembly, and Free Expression and Association:
· Revise the Peaceful Assembly Act so that itpreserves freedom of peaceful assembly in line with international law and standards by permitting “moving” assemblies, eliminating a pre-determined list of proscribed places, narrowing permissible police restrictions to clearly defined acts to maintain public safety and order, and allowingchildren’s participation in public assemblies.
· Repeal the Printing Presses and Publications Act, which requires government licensing of publications and interference with content.
· Revoke amendment 114 A to the Evidence Act, which extends culpability for Internet content to intermediate users.
· Rescind the Sedition Act, and ensure that any replacement legislation complies with international human rights standards.
· Revise the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Act to eliminate overly broad definitions in the law of Internet content that the government is authorized to block.
· Ensure the government-appointed Registrar of Societies applies impartial and non-partisan standards to consider applications for registration.
Criminal Justice and Administrative Detention:
· Immediately release, or charge and prosecute under appropriate provisions of the penal code all those being held under the Internal Security Act. Ensure due process rights of those tried.
· Repeal or revise SOSMA and sections of the Penal Code and the Criminal Procedure Code that interfere with judicial independence for those detained under anti-terrorism legislation.Draft replacement legislation that requires immediate judicial oversight and limits police authority to interfere with court-ordered protections.
· Require investigation by an independent body, not including police personnel, of all cases of custodial deaths.
· Pass legislation setting up a fully Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission modeled on the recommendation of the Royal Commission to Enhance the Operation and Management of the Royal Malaysia Police to investigate all cases of alleged police misconduct.
· Eliminate whipping as a form of punishment for sentenced criminals, military offenders and students.
Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity:
· Repeal article 377B of Malaysia’s penal code, which criminalizes adult consensual “carnal intercourse against the order of nature” and is punishable by up to 20 years in prison and whipping.
· Replace article 377C on non-consensual sexual acts with a modern gender-neutral law on rape.
· Permit cross-dressing, sex-change operations, and changes in gender recorded on identity cards to reflect change in gender identity.
Refugees, Asylum Seekers, Migrants, and Trafficked Persons:
· Sign and ratify the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol, and enact domestic refugee law in line with international standards.
· Respect the international legal prohibition against refoulement.
· Permit refugees and asylum seekers the right to work and ensure the provision of education services for all refugee children.
· Amend the Employment Act and other labor legislation to ensure full and equal protections for domestic workers.
· Ratify International LabourOrganization Convention No. 189 on Domestic Workers and bring domestic law and practice into compliance.
· Train police and immigration officials to screen for cases of domestic worker abuse and human trafficking.Rescind all the 2010 amendments to the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act that relate to people smuggling and revise the Immigration Act and other legislation focused on border control to ensure that there are separate legal frameworks for dealing with human trafficking and with people smuggling.
· Sign and ratify the Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families.
Human Rights Treaties:
· Sign and ratify without reservations the following four core human rights treaties: the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. Bring all domestic law into conformity with the provisions of thesehuman rights treaties.
· Remove all reservations to the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
· Remove reservations to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW); incorporate CEDAW into domestic law; amend the definition of rape to criminalize the full range of sexual assault including penetrative and non-penetrative offenses including rape with objects and marital rape: amend the Domestic Violence Act to recognize domestic violation as a separate offense under the Penal Code; pass a comprehensive law on sexual harassment covering women workers in organized and unorganized sectors.
· Remove reservations to articles 15 and 18 of the Conventionon the Rights of Persons with Disabilities; revoke the declaration limiting application of non-discrimination and equality; sign and ratify the Optional Protocol to the convention; and enhance efforts to ensure that buildings, facilities, and services open to the public are accessible for people with different disabilities.

UNHCR commends Malaysia for rescuing Myanmars from sinking boat

KUALA LUMPUR: The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has commended the Malaysia for rescuing 136 Myanmars from a sinking boat and allowing them to disembark on its territory.
UNHCR Representative, Alan Vernon, said the body also commended Malaysia for providing food and medical attention, thus saving dozens of lives which would have otherwise, perished at sea.
"We consider this is a very positive humanitarian gesture on the part of the Malaysian Government, and consistent with international norms for the protection of asylum-seekers and persons at risk at sea," he said in a statement on Monday.
According to a news report, 136 Myanmars were found by fishermen several miles from Teluk Bahang, Penang, adrift on a boat which was on the verge of sinking.
They were reported to have been at sea for 25 days and had run out of food and water for more than two days.
The Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency intercepted the boat and rescued the passengers.
According to reports, 11 boats ferrying about 2,500 people, mostly believed Rohingnyas, landed on Malaysian territory since the beginning of this year. - Bernama

Malaysia rescues 136 Myanmar refugees

MALAYSIAN authorities have rescued at least 136 people believed to be ethnic Rohingya Muslims fleeing strife in Myanmar (Burma) aboard a leaking boat with no food or water. 
The rescue brings the number of boats intercepted this year to 11, marking a "big increase" in refugee arrivals, said Tan Kok Kwee of the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency, following deadly sectarian violence in Myanmar.
The boats have typically carried at least 120-240 people, added Tan, the agency's northern region enforcement chief, but could not provide a total figure for the year so far.
The latest boat was intercepted off the northern state of Penang on Sunday with at least 96 adults and 40 children aboard, he said on Monday, adding that he was awaiting a final tally.
The passengers said they were at sea for 25 days in the rickety and overcrowded wooden vessel and had run out of food and water, Tan said.
Among them were 10 children less than a year old, including a two-month-old infant. They will be sent to an immigration detention centre.
A wave of violence in Myanmar's western state of Rakhine last year has accelerated an already steady flow of refugees, typically Rohingya who increasingly have sought haven in Muslim-majority Malaysia.
The Rohingya have been described by the UN as one of the world's most persecuted minorities. About 800,000 are estimated to live in Myanmar, which denies them citizenship, rendering them stateless.
The UN said in January that about 13,000 boat people, including many Rohingya, fled Myanmar and neighbouring Bangladesh last year with hundreds dying at sea.
Malaysia does not grant Rohingya refugee status but has turned a blind eye to the steady arrivals in recent years, allowing them to stay.

Foreign children sell flowers at Kuala Lumpur nightspots

Two of the Rohingya children chatting between attempts to sell flowers to bar patrons and club-goers along Changkat Bukit Bintang, Kuala Lumpur. –By VINCENT TAN/The Star Two of the Rohingya children chatting between attempts to sell flowers to bar patrons and club-goers along Changkat Bukit Bintang, Kuala Lumpur. –By VINCENT TAN/The Star
IN KUALA Lumpur’s Changkat Bukit Bintang, children clutching stalks of roses to sell, are a common sight at night, especially after 11pm.
Weaving their way through the crowd, they boldly approach strangers, especially couples, and plead with them to buy the flowers for RM10 a stalk. More often than not, they are ignored or rebuffed.
Only some, who feel pity for these children, buy a stalk or two.
The children, who are Rohingya from Myanmar are quite fluent in Bahasa Malaysia. They live and go to school in Ampang.
“We only sell the flowers on Friday and Saturday nights, not on Sunday because we have to go to school the next morning,” said eight-year-old Hafiz.
The children, usually three girls and two boys aged between eight and 12, have been plying their trade in the area for more than five months.
They come at night and stay until wee hours of the morning, when the nightspots close.
A bar employee, who declined to be named, said the children would try to sell flowers to guests seated outside as they were not allowed into the clubs and bars.
“Business owners tell us to keep them out as irritated customers may be nasty, but we feel sorry for them. Sometimes we let them in to use the washroom or give them something to drink,” he added.
Siti, 11, said she usually sold about three to four stalks a night.
<b>Respite:</b> A Rohingya child (right) having a snack from one of the “lok-lok” stalls during a break between trying to sell flowers to bar patrons and clubbers along Changkat Bukit Bintang. Respite: A Rohingya child (right) having a snack from one of the “lok-lok” stalls during a break between trying to sell flowers to bar patrons and clubbers along Changkat Bukit Bintang.
When asked if she had the United Nations High Com­missioner for Refugees (UNHCR) card, Siti said her mother had one.
Often, after selling a few stalks, the children would head back to their mother, who would be seated at an alley between two clubs in Changkat Bukit Bintang, to replenish their stock.
Other children had also been seen selling flowers in Jalan Bukit Bintang, especially at the intersection in front of Lot 10 recently.
They target motorists waiting in traffic, knocking on their car windows and begging them to buy flowers.
“We have the same problem in Manila, where I come from. Many syndicates use children to sell things and keep watch from afar,” said Filipino tourist Roberto Aguilar who has seen the children in action.
According to employees of nightspots, the foreign children are present almost every night.
Retiree Dr Rajendran Prasad said he too had seen the children trying to to sell roses to locals and tourists alike in a few places in the Golden Triangle, as far as Jalan P. Ramlee.
“I have foreign friends who frequent these areas and they are shocked to see the children peddling here,” he said.
Dr Rajendran said he had complained about the situation to Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL), the police as well as Rela several times but nothing was done.
“I was advised to make a police report instead.
“The children used to go around begging, now they are selling flowers. Something must be done,” he said.
UNHCR Malaysia spokesman Yante Ismail said they were alerted about the matter only recently, by several non-governmental organisations.
“Pending investigations, we cannot verify this information, including if there are syndicates involved,” she said.
Yante added that refugees in Malaysia could not hold a job here so they resorted to taking on odd jobs to survive.
“Some are exploited, paid low wages for working long hours or sometimes not paid at all.
“There are cases where youths and children are forced to take on odd jobs to help support their families,” said Yante.
As of February, there are 101,290 refugees and asylum-seekers registered with UNHCR in Malaysia and 92% of them originate from Myanmar.
Finding a solution for the refugee population remains challenging as the Malaysian Immigration Act 1959/63 does not differentiate between refugees and illegal migrants and they can be arrested and deported.
“As in most communities, it is poverty and desperation that drive families to allow their children to go out and earn an income.
“There are cases when the head of a household is unable to work, and in such cases, mothers and children are forced to find odd jobs to make ends meet.
“The most practical solution to improve the overall condition of refugees living in Malaysia is to allow them to legally work here.
“Many refugees are skilled and can contribute to the Malaysian economy. With a regular income, they can pay for basic needs such as food, shelter and health care, as well as their children’s education,” said Yante.
When contacted, the Federal Territory Welfare Department declined to comment.

Concerns over visit of Burma's President

The Federal Government is being urged to raise human rights issues during a visit next week by Burma's President Thein Sein.

The calls follow a United Nations report expressing concern over how Burma is making the transition from military rule to democracy.

Recently, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Burma released a report highlighting developments in Burma after decades of military rule.

Tomas Ojea Quintana says despite progress, Burma still needs to tackle serious human rights challenges.

Mr Quintana says only then can democratic transition and national reconciliation succeed.

"It requires ensuring that new legislation such as the proposed Printing and Publishing Law does not claw back advances in freedom of expression. It includes repealing legislation that remains a legacy from previous military governments such as the 1908 Unlawful Association Act and it requires capacity for the police and army personnel so that people are no longer beaten for the acts of peacefully expressing their views. This reform process must address these shortfalls now."

Activist group, Burma Campaign Australia, says President Thein Sein's visit to Australia provides an opportunity to raise concerns about fundamental freedoms.

Spokeswoman Zetty Brake says all ethnic groups should be able to enjoy the same freedoms in Burma.

"We want to see equality given to those ethnic nationalities and for different religions to be respected as well. This means we want to see ethnic groups having self determination and being able to have control over their lands and their resources. This is very much not the case at the moment, where we're seeing conflict happening to get control over resources. People should be respected for their different ethnic nationalities and that really is something that needs to change in Burma and its something the Australian government can raise and push further the Burmese government on."

One such group are the ethnic Rohingya Muslims.

Estimated to number about 800,000, the United Nations have called the Rohingya one of the most persecuted minority groups in the world.

Unrest between the Muslim Rohingya and Buddhists since June last year has left almost 200 people dead and about 120,000 displaced.

The UN says this has led thousands of Rohingya to seek refuge in Bangladesh and other neighbouring countries.

Mohammed Anwar is from the Burmese Rohingya Community in Australia.

Mr Anwar says Australia is in a strong position to help end discrimination against Rohingya in Burma.

"Australia should show off its human rights capabilities to Burma otherwise, I believe that because Australia has got its security post on the UN [Security] Council, Australia has a big role to bring justice for the people or to bring rights for the abused people."

Mr Anwar says the plight of the Rohingya - and those fleeing as refugees - needs to be recognised.

"If the international community leaves it as an internal matter of Burma, the Rohingya issue, then it will not be solved maybe even in 100 years because the majority of the Burmese people do not like the Rohingya, and they are against them. That [hate] has been created by the media and also some respected political figures. They all use different terms for Rohingya and they are all claiming that these people are illegal immigrants. That's why we need international support, we need international help."

In addition to talks with government officials while in Australia, President Thein Sein will also meet business leaders.

However, Zetty Brake from Burma Campaign Australia says it's too soon to be holding business talks with Burma.

"What we haven't seen in Burma is significant reforms to the business environment and what we do know is that foreign investment often has been linked to human rights abuses, to the displacement of tens of thousands of people in Burma and to the loss of livelihood for many of those people. Many local communities do not benefit from foreign investment and meeting with business leaders is premature."

President Thein Sein will visit between Sunday and Wednesday, and is expected to make a trip to Canberra.

It will be the first visit to Australia by a Burmese head of state since 1974.

UNHCR concern at reports of shooting involving Rohingya boat people

UNHCR has asked the Royal Thai Government to verify recent reports that a Rohingya boat was towed out from Thai waters, and that shots were fired during the interception.
UNHCR has met the survivors of a boat incident reported in Phang Nga, southern Thailand, cross-checked their accounts with other sources and established that the incident is the same one reported by boat people who arrived in Aceh, Indonesia on 26 February. UNHCR staff in Indonesia have spoken to some of the 121 arrivals in this group, which includes women and children.
Those interviewed in both countries said that they left their village in Myanmar's northern Rakhine state around 5 February. During the journey lasting three weeks, they ran out of food and water. When intercepted by authorities in Thai waters, they were provided with some assistance and then twice towed from Thai waters out to sea. According to converging accounts, at least three shots were fired during interception, but information is conflicting as to whether these were warning shots or actually aimed at the passengers. Survivors and local fishermen near Phuket said two dead bodies were recovered from the sea, though it was unclear if the cause of death was shooting or drowning.
UNHCR is gravely concerned that people fleeing unrest could have been turned away and exposed to further distress in their search for safety. We are seeking access to such boats intercepted in the high seas.
Following the inter-communal violence in Myanmar's Rakhine state last year, thousands of people have boarded smugglers' boats from the Bay of Bengal to seek safety and stability further south. More than 7,000 people are estimated to have taken this dangerous voyage in the first two months of this year, though the clandestine nature of these movements makes it difficult to know the real scale of the movements.
Amid news reports of boats being pushed back to sea, some boats have arrived on the shores of countries in South-east and South Asia.
Since January, more than 1,800 boat arrivals - the vast majority Rohingya from Rakhine state - have been accepted on Thai soil and provided assistance in shelters and immigration detention facilities mainly in the south. UNHCR has welcomed the Thai government's decision to provide them with six months of temporary protection while solutions are sought.
In Indonesia's Aceh province, more than 180 presumed Rohingya have arrived so far this year, among them 12 women and 58 children. The youngest is a seven-month-old baby. The local authorities in Aceh are providing medical and other assistance. The International Organization for Migration is providing food and relief supplies. The local community and civil society have also donated food, clothes and sanitary items. UNHCR is interviewing them to assess their protection needs.
In Malaysia, two boats have been picked up in the last week with some 320 people believed to be Rohingya in need of international protection.
In mid-February, a boat with over 30 people was rescued in Sri Lanka, reportedly after some 90 of their fellow passengers had died of starvation and dehydration during the long journey from the Bay of Bengal. The survivors joined another 130 people reportedly originating in Myanmar and Bangladesh who had arrived in Sri Lanka earlier this year.
UNHCR is appealing to all States in the region to keep their borders open to people fleeing persecution. Our offices are ready to support States in assisting and protecting these individuals.
For more information on this topic, please contact:
  • In Bangkok, Vivian Tan on mobile: +66 818 270 280
  • In Jakarta: Mitra Salima Suryono on office number: +62 21 391 2888
  • In Geneva, Babar Baloch on mobile: +41 79 557 9106

How much has changed in the nation formerly known as Burma?

Reporter: Hayden Cooper
With Myanmar's President Thein Sein visiting Australia, his country has been promised aid and military cooperation as his country moves towards democracy, but just how much has changed in the nation formerly known as Burma
LEIGH SALES, PRESENTER: It's been three decades since a president of Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, has been welcomed as a guest to Australia. Today a new era began as President Thein Sein met Australia's Prime Minister in Canberra. The country has been one of the most egregious abusers of human rights in the world, but the Myanmar leader is easing towards democracy, and for his efforts, the world is rewarding him with access and investment. But how far does the change extend? Hayden Cooper reports.

HAYDEN COOPER, REPORTER: The nation of Myanmar is emerging from the shadows. Political renegades are finding new voice and the world's powerbrokers are watching and responding.

BARACK OBAMA, US PRESIDENT: You can see progress being made. You can taste freedom.

HAYDEN COOPER: This momentous handshake between two presidents last November showed the world that Myanmar is back in the international fold. And now Australia too is extending a hand of friendship.

JULIA GILLARD, PRIME MINISTER: The President's visit reflects the remarkable progress of reform in Myanmar since civilian government was established in 2011. You Excellency, I would like to pay particular tribute today to the important role you have played in initiating and driving the reform process.

THEIN SEIN, MYANMAR PRESIDENT (voiceover translation): It is my sincere wish that like Australia, Myanmar will enjoy peace, democracy and prosperity. We have much to learn from Australia. I feel certain that our relations will now enter a new and special phase.

HAYDEN COOPER: The former military ruler and now President Thein Sein is overseeing a program of significant reform. Some political prisoners have been released, media censorship has eased and opposition parties have cautiously taken their place in Myanmar's parliament.

The reward from Canberra is the lifting of sanctions, the offer of joint Defence cooperation and the encouragement of Australian investment.

JULIA GILLARD: Of course, there's much work to do. Myanmar's transition has only just begun, and great transitions like this face many difficult challenges.

HAYDEN COOPER: Outside there was no such diplomacy for the man who many Myanmar refugees consider a murderous dictator. Protestors crowded the country's embassy to condemn the military violence that's still directed at ethnic minority groups. They called for the release of hundreds of political prisoners still behind bars and they accused President Sein of committing genocide against the Rohingya Muslim population.

Cheery Zahau is a human rights activist with little hope in the new regime.

CHEERY ZAHAU, HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVIST: In a sense, no, human rights is getting worse. Although there are a lot of exciting reforms happening in Rangoon and in Naypyidaw, but in ethnic areas it's not getting better. ... In Kachin states, in Shan states we see a lot of human rights violations happening, including torture, including landmine issues, all of this still happening.

HAYDEN COOPER: The story of Myanmar's Rohingya Muslims is one of severe persecution. Over decades, hundreds of thousands have fled to neighbouring countries. In 2012, violent clashes continued. The Rohingya community says hundreds have been killed. Human rights watch accuses Myanmar security forces of targeting the ethnic group in an effort to drive them out. These satellite images show one village before and after it was burnt to the ground in ethnic clashes. The red dots represent destroyed houses.

In Sydney, Mohammed Anwar is one Rohingya refugee who finds no comfort in the new Myanmar.

MOHAMMED ANWAR, BURMESE ROHINGYA COMMUNITY: For a minority, we are losing more rights, we are suffering more and we're at the verge of even losing our existence there.

HAYDEN COOPER: As the daughter of Myanmar's first post-colonial leader, Door Tan Tan Nu recognises the historical significance of this moment. She now heads an opposition Democratic Party and in this Australian visit she wants human rights to be prominent.

DAW THAN THAN NU, GENERAL SECRETARY, DEMOCRATIC PARTY: Yes, this is up to the Australian Prime Minister, that if she wants to raise that kind of human rights question, are there any other questions she should raise? Because as the civilian president, he should also have the answers.

HAYDEN COOPER: Aware of the criticism, President Thein Sein raised the issue himself at this morning's joint press conference.

THEIN SEIN (voiceover translation): I know that for many years the Australian Government and the Australian people were concerned over the situation of human rights in Myanmar. I am grateful for that. I am here in part to display the changes that have been taking place.

HAYDEN COOPER: To these protestors, President Thein Sein is not a champion of reform. And images of him striding the world stage are especially offensive. It's why the message of a new government ready to change is one that victims of the former military regime won't accept.

LEIGH SALES: Hayden Cooper with that report.

Suaram questions inaction against errant employers

Suaram has questioned why no action is being taken against employers for not abiding by the government's minimum wage requirement, but instead against Nepali workers who had intended to hold a demonstration over the matter.

protest at nilai negeri sembilanThe human rights group said there was nothing to be proud off in regards to police’s action yesterday.

R Thevarajan, of Suaram's Police, Accountability and Reform desk, claimed that police do not understand the real issue behind the proposed peaceful protest.

He claimed, in a statement today, that the workers had no choice but to show their displeasure by organising a peaceful demonstration.

What is strange, he added, is that the workers were arrested even before the actual protest took place.

“What is their offence and what is the charge against them?” he asked in the statement.

“Why should the foreign workers be arrested and why are the employers, who failed to abide by this (minimum wage) requirement, not brought to justice?”

He went on to call for the Human Resources Ministry to respond to yesterday’s detention.

He said it was not enough to merely state that implementation of the minimum wage policy, which came into effect on Jan 1, could be deferred to a later date.

Right to assemble

Thevarajan said the authorities should respect Article 10 of the federal constitution over the right of citizens to assemble peacefully and urged those picked-up by police to be released.

Police, he said, should understand the bread-and-butter issues affecting workers, regardless if they are locals or foreigners, as their rights are being exploited by the employers.

Earlier, Bernama reported that Muar police had foiled an attempt by 5,000 foreign workers from Nepal to hold a demonstration at the town centre at noon, yesterday.

They had wished to protest against their employers for allegedly failing to pay salaries according to the minimum salary scheme as decided by the government.

It was reported that based on a tip off, police moved in to prevent the group from gathering in front of a supermarket in Jalan Ali, Muar.

Muar police chief ACP Mohd Nasir Ramli had said 106 people, including the alleged masterminds, were detained for further investigations until 1pm, after which they were released.

Last week, Muar police arrested 32 Nepalese workers for creating a riot at a furniture factory as they were unhappy that their salaries had not been paid according to the minimum salary scheme.- Bernama - Malaysiakini, 18/3/2013,
Suaram questions inaction against errant employers