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In Myanmar, UN-Funded Census Bans Rohingya, UN in Denial, Violence

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, March 31 -- The UN appears to be in denial about the exclusionary census it has supporting in Myanmar, particularly now that the government refuses to allow any "Rohingya" answer, and violence has broken out.

  On the violence, on March 28 Inner City Press asked UN deputy spokesperson Farhan Haq:

Inner City Press: On the unrest in Sittwe, in Rakhine State in Myanmar. And there are various articles saying that basically the census that the UN funded and participated in, which your office previously answered a question explaining the involvement in, was largely the cause of the unrest. I wonder, what does the UN say to that and what is its own kind of risk assessment that it conducted before the census? Does it now acknowledge that the risk assessment was erroneous?

Deputy Spokesman: Well, first of all, I wouldn’t have any comment on our risk assessments. We make them based on available data at the time. You know, it’s not that they are predictive tools, they’re efforts to assess what the situation on the ground is at the current point in time. Regarding the incidents in Sittwe, you’ll have seen, we mentioned yesterday what the Humanitarian Coordinator had to say about the situation. Regarding that, following the attacks reported earlier this week on UN and non-governmental organizations premises in Sittwe, in Rakhine State, initial assessments show substantial damage to UN and NGO [non-governmental organization] property and vehicles. The humanitarian community in Myanmar remains concerned about the safety and security of aid workers, as well as constraints on access to communities in need. Despite the insecurity, the United Nations and its humanitarian partners are determined to resume aid operations and continue to consult with the Government and local authorities. So, that is what we’re trying to do in response. We don’t believe that there should be any excuse made, by the way, regarding trying to impede the work of humanitarian agencies. That needs to happen unobstructed.

  But the census does not even allow Rohingya to answer as such, according to the government, here.

   Back on January 24, Inner City Press asked the UN's Haq:

Inner City Press: another Myanmar question. There is a census coming up. It seems that the United Nations system is involved in funding and maybe even participating in it. Both Kachin and Rohingya groups have expressed a lot of concerns. One, there is no box in the census thus far to check Rohingya, meaning… implying that they are not citizens. Also, Kachin, they have other complaints. I wanted to know: is UN aware of these? What steps are they taking, and will they fund a census that many groups think makes things worse rather than better?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson Haq: Well, we will look into what we are doing on that question. We need some details about that.

  It was 19 days later, on February 12, that the UN Spokesperson's Office finally sent this response:

Subject: In response to your question on the Myanmar census.
From: UN Spokesperson - Do Not Reply [at]
Date: Wed, Feb 12, 2014 at 5:02 PM
To: Matthew.Lee [at]

The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) is the focal UN agency for providing technical and programmatic assistance to the Government for the census. It says that everyone in Myanmar will be counted in the census. UNFPA is supporting the Government to ensure that the census is fully inclusive and conducted according to international standards. Respondents will be asked to identify their ethnicity, with the option of selecting one of the categories used in the 1983 census or selecting "other" and writing in the name of another group. All of the responses will be coded and tabulated.

  Compare this belated Pollyanna answer by the UN and UNFPA to what the Myanmar government Minister for Immigration and Population U Khin Yi openly says:

"They say that their race is Rohingya. When a person says that his race is “B”, because he doesn’t want to mention his race as “A”, that means that race “A” no longer exists, but the race “B” is a new race. Since race “B” is a new race, there will be questions, such as “how did the race enter (the country)?” or “are they encroaching here?” When things become radical, I worry that it could harm peace and stability...We will record what the person says. If he says “A” then we will fill the form as “A”. The result will be, like I said before, that even if that term “A” is Rohingya, we will not recognize Rohingya as one of the 135 ethnic groups in Myanmar."

So this is "fully inclusive and conducted according to international standards"? The UN is at best in denial. Watch this site.

Footnote: It appears that on-again, off-again UN official Charles Petrie is about to set sail from Myanmar. He was quoted earlier this year: "In terms of MPSI we want to make sure whatever we do adds value, and there’s a clear sense that if there isn’t we won’t continue." Watch this site.


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