Internationally Funded Burma Census Cops Criticism

A human rights advocacy group calls for investigation into Britain’s decision to give millions in aid money to assist the Burma government’s census as international criticism mounts over the census process.

Burma Campaign UK, a human rights advocacy group based in Britain, has called for an official inquiry into the “decision making process” that saw Britain’s government decide to give $16m in aid money for Burma’s census.
Burma Campaign UK questioned why Britain’s’ Department for International Development (DFID) was funding the census that is racist. “British aid is paying for a census which discriminates against the Rohingya.”

Mark Farmener, Director of Burma Campaign UK, claimed that the census trampled human rights. “This census has been disastrous, and led to children dying, and it’s all underpinned by international aid, including £10m from DFID,” he said.

Burma’s government is facing mounting criticism from international human rights groups for excluding the country’s ethnic Rohingya in the national census – instead labeling them as ‘Bengali’ thus implying they are foreigners – with even the United Nations agency tasked with carrying out the census expressing “deep concern” over the process.

In an April 1st statement, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) went as far as to point out that the census it was funding was a “departure from international census standards, human rights principles and agreed procedures.”

The UNPA said that Burma’s government had reneged on a previous understanding that ethnic groups could freely declare their ethnicity, including the Rohingya.

“It [the Burma government] explicitly agreed with the condition that each person would be able to declare what ethnicity they belong to, including those who wish to record their identity as of mixed ethnicity… Just before the start of the census, however, senior officials announced that people who wish to define their ethnicity as Rohingya will not be able to do so,” the UNFPA said.

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Myanmar, Tomás Ojea Quintana, warned that the deteriorating situation in Rakhine State could amount to “crimes against humanity.”

Mr. Quintana was also critical of the Burma government census. “It is not only in Rakhine State that people object to the ethnic categories included in the census,” he said. “It became clear during my discussions with communities in Kachin State that the Government has approached the census without sufficient or meaningful consultation with all affected communities.”

UNHCR estimates that there are 140,000 people now living in displacement camps who had fled inter-communal violence in Rakhine State, with perhaps a further 700,000 vulnerable people outside the camps.

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