Kitchener, Ontario, Canada: The Rohingya community in Canada participated in the first ever Burma Ethnic Nationalities Conference in Canada, which was held at York University, Toronto, Canada on October 2-3, according to Nur Hashim, a member of the Central Executive Committee of the Canadian Burmese Rohingya Organization (CBRO).
The conference was attended by over 100 representatives of Burma’s ethnic communities from across Canada as well as specially invited guests, including Canadian Members of Parliament; ethnic leaders and women activists based near the Thai-Burma border, pro-democracy activists and solidarity groups in Canada, according to the organizer.
The conference discussed and reviewed recent political developments in Burma, as well as the escalating violence and military offensives in ethnic areas. It also explored effective ethnic responses to the challenges posed by the planned 2010 elections, the conference’s media release said.
The conference noted with growing concern the ever deteriorating human rights and humanitarian conditions in ethnic States and their continuing devastating impact on the ethnic populations across the Union of Burma. The conference was also concerned about the increasing environmental devastation in ethnic areas, as a result of development projects and unregulated and excessive resource extraction activities.
Rohingya representative Nur Hashim and two other Rohingyas participated in the conference and Hashim delivered a speech at the conference. In his speech, he mentioned about the human rights violations of ruling junta on the Rohingya people in Northern Arakan, according to a CBRO report.
The Rohingyas are a predominantly Muslim community living primarily in northern Arakan State in Burma. They have a long history and have grown with distinct ethnic characteristics in Arakan, from peoples of different ethnic backgrounds, over the past several centuries. They trace their ancestry to Arabs, Turks, Moors, Pathans, Moghuls, Central Asians, Bengalis and some Indo-Mongoloid people. Early Muslim settlements in Arakan date back to the 7th century A.D. There are more than 3 million Rohingyas in Burma and overseas or in Diasporas. At present, about 1.5 million Rohingya people live in Arakan and other parts of Burma, Hashim said.
“The Rohingya problem is a problem of ‘Religious, Ethnic and Political persecution’ to rid Arakan of the Muslim population,” he stated at the conference.
The Rohingyas are the worst victims of crimes against humanity perpetrated by the ruling SPDC. The human rights abuses and violations against them are systematic, consistent and widespread. They include denial of citizenship rights, severe restrictions on freedom of movement, education, marriage and religion, extrajudicial killings, rape, torture, forced labour, forced relocation, land confiscation, internal displacement and arbitrary arrests and extortion on daily basis and expulsion from their hearths and homes in the most inhuman manner. The regime has declared the Rohingya as non-nationals, rendering them stateless in their own homeland, Hashim explained about the situation of the Rohingyas in northern Arakan at the conference.
Over the years, the Rohingya people have been forced to leave their homeland and at present there are 28,000 registered refugees staying in squalid conditions in two camps in Cox’s Bazaar, while the numbers of undocumented refugees are more than 400,000. Unfortunately they are branded as ‘economic migrants’, he said to the participants at the conference.
Finally, he stated that it is important to address effectively the root cause of the Rohingya problem, including the refugees and boat people, since the Rohingya are an integral part of the Burmese society and their citizenship and ethnic rights have to be ensured in future democratic Burma. It is, therefore, imperative that the democratic and political process in Burma must be genuinely all-inclusive and the Rohingya must be allowed to be a part of it enabling them to coexist as equals in Arakan State.
“With the view of fostering closer cooperation and understanding, the conference established the Burma Ethnic Nationalities Network –Canada. BENN-Canada is a network composed of ethnic nationalities from across Canada, whose purpose is to broaden the Canadian debate on Burma so that the concerns and issues of ethnic nationalities are included in the larger Canadian foreign policy framework on Burma,” the conference’s media release stated.
The Conference was inaugurated by Prof. Dean of Environmental Studies, Introduction on the ethnic perspective of the Pang-long agreement with the beginning of the Union of Burma by Michael Jala, where Saw David Taw discussed the role and responsibilities of the UN and international communities over current Burma’s political crisis. The specific role of the government of Canada in terms of democracy and human rights in Burma by Hon. Jim Karygiannis, MP of Toronto, and Harn Yawnghwe, the director of Euro-Burma office explained about the national reconciliation plans. Others speakers were Dr. Cynthina Maung & Naw K’nyaw Paw, Nang Charm Tong and Kyaw Zaw Wai.