27 June 2015
As a regular reader of The Economist and other news sources, I have long been aware of the way Burma discriminates against its Rohingya minority, and the way that its government fails to protect them against pogroms organised by Burmese Buddhists. (The legal name of the country is "The Republic of the Union of Myanmar" but I find Myanmar does not roll off the tongue like Burma.)
However, apart from signing the occasional electronic petition that came my way, I have until recently not taken any other action. The sad reality is that there are so many tragedies of this kind in the world that one cannot get involved in tackling all of them.
I accepted an invitation from Mumtaz Khan, President of the British Bangladeshi Women's Forum to speak at an event on 13 June 2015 about Rohingya Muslims. Having done so, I felt I could not turn up without having taken a greater amount of action, since a recurrent theme in my writings and speeches is the need for each of us to take what action we can to make the world better.
Accordingly I did three things before attending the event.
I wrote to the Burmese ambassador. Such letters by themselves are unlikely to produce a change in government policy, but each letter an ambassador receives gives him or her a better appreciation of the strength of feeling in the UK about the issue concerned.
The name and address of the Burmese ambassador are:
His Excellency Kyaw Zwar Minn
Ambassador Extraordinary & Plenipotentiary
Embassy of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar
19A Charles Street
The Foreign & Commonwealth Office publishes a full copy of the diplomatic list each month. That was helpful in this case as the Burmese embassy's website gives insufficient details.
I have not shared the text of my letter here. While it is not private, having others send in identical letters achieves little since all recipients discount copied letters. Instead each person who cares about the issue should compose and send their own letter.
In my letter I majored on the utter unacceptability of Burma's citizenship law. Burma Campaign UK has a 10 page briefing. To quote the briefing: "Burma’s 1982 Citizenship Law violates the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and international norms prohibiting discrimination of racial and religious minorities, such as the UN General Assembly Resolution on the International Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination."
I did that because citizenship law is always under the control of the government. If I had concentrated on attacks by Buddhists on Rohingyas (where I believe the Burmese government is doing insufficient to protect them) it would be much easier for the Burmese government to say that it is doing what it can with limited resources etc..
I sent an email to my MP about Burma's treatment of the Rohingyas. Again I focused on Burma's citizenship law and asked my MP to take the issue up with the government.
My email acknowledged the sensitivity of the international relations issues since Burma is treading a slow path towards democracy and is also being heavily courted by China. Realism is always good if you want the recipient of your communications to take you seriously.
My MP has responded to say that he has written to the Foreign Secretary.
As explained above, I believe it is much better for each person to compose their own email, since recipients of multiple copies of a standard email or letter give little or now weight to the extra copies. However as there are 650 separate MPs, even if each one receives a copy of my email, it will be no bad thing.
I am writing about an issue which concerns many British citizens, both Muslim and non-Muslim. That is Myanmar’s (I have to struggle each time to stop myself writing Burma) treatment of its Rohingya Muslim minority. It is deplorable that Myanmar has an ethnically based citizenship law (seehttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burmese_nationality_law) which has the effect of denying them citizenship. No country with such laws can ever claim to be civilised. In recent years this denial of citizenship has been compounded by increased discrimination and physical attacks which the armed forces and police authorities of Myanmar have done little to prevent.
I am aware that in geostrategic terms Myanmar is regarded as a sensitive country, since the Peoples Republic of China is trying to draw Myanmar into its sphere of influence. I suspect this has constrained the willingness of the UK to criticise Myanmar or to propose sanctions against Myanmar if its behaviour does not change. However there comes a point where the UK can no longer allow geostrategic issues to override moral imperatives.
I would be grateful if you could convey my concerns to the Government and ask them what the UK is doing, both by itself and through international organisations of which the UK is a member, to make the Myanmar Government aware that its citizenship law is regarded as offensive and unacceptable for a country which wishes to be a full player in the modern world.
GIVE FULL NAME AND FULL POSTAL ADDRESS SO THAT THE MP CAN VERIFY THAT YOU ARE A CONSTITUENT.
Burma Campaign UK works for human rights, democracy and development in Burma. Founded in 1991, Burma Campaign UK is one of the leading Burma campaign organisations in the world. It plays a crucial role in coordinating the international campaign to free Burma. I have signed up for their Action Network.
At the British Bangladeshi Women's Forum event I shared all these points where individuals can take action without waiting for others.
There are a number of petitions that one can sign. I have signed all of the ones below.
AVAAZ - This petition has been around for two years and passed its 1 million target some time ago. However it is still open to new signatures.
United to end genocide - This calls upon the USA to take action, and appears to be relatively new. There is no indication how many have signed.
There is also a long list of Rohingya related petitions on GoPetition. Many of these are aimed at specific overseas governments.
There are a number of charities which provide relief for Rohingyas, for example Muslim Aid and Muslim Charity.