European Burma Network Joins Calls to Postpone Census

The European Burma Network has added its voice to a large and growing coalition of political, humanitarian and community organisations calling on Burma’s government to postpone the country’s national census that is set to start on March 30.

“We believe that carrying out the census at the current time will exacerbate ethnic and religious tensions in the country,” the European Burma Network said in a statement signed by 10 members, including the European Karen Network and Burma Campaign UK.

The group claim that the census – which is being carried out by Burma’s government and the United Nations Population Fund – was “not just a technical exercise,” and failed to take into account the country’s ethnic tensions.

“It is taking place in a country that has suffered from ethnic related conflict for almost seventy years. The country is also afflicted by growing religious tensions, particularly targeting Muslims, which are being stoked by nationalist extremists,” the group said.

The European Burma Network said that many people are concerned how the information that they provide will be used.

“The civilian population is deeply suspicious of the government and a significant proportion of the population is unwilling to divulge information which they fear the government may use against them.”

Burma’s exclusion of the Rohingya on the census form was also criticized by the group, which they argued is discrimination.

“The failure to include Rohingya on the census form, instead requiring them to register under ‘other’, endorses the discriminatory approach by the government of Burma towards the Rohingya. The international community and United Nations should not have accepted and supported a census that reinforces this discrimination.”

Burma’s census has been criticized by a number of human rights groups. Executive director of Fortify Rights, Mr Matthew Smith, expressed similar concerns in a recent interview with Karen News stating that the voices of ethnic minorities “were not being heard” in the census process.

This week a worldwide coalition of Karen community based organisations sent a letter to the United Nations Population Fund expressing “deep concern” regarding the census and urging it to be postponed, arguing that the census was being carried out without the consultation of ethnic minorities.

“Some of the Karen sub-groups are found to be listed in other ethnic nationalities groups. Moreover, the Burmanised version of our Karen name ‘Kayin’ is used without approval of our people. This goes against [the] UN’s own recommendations that ethnic groups be allowed to self-identify,” the letter said.

The census is set to take place from the March 30 until April 10, with first results expected to be available in the end of July and final results available in 2015.

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