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muslims-in-myanmar
In the Republic of the Union of Myanmar, also known as Burma, displaced Rohingya Muslims face a severe health crisis as malnutrition spreads, and treatable illnesses and injuries go unattended.

The country’s recent history of ethnic tension has disfavored the minority Muslims, pushing them to regions along coastal Myanmar where many of the displaced are settled in refugee camps. The plight of the Rohingya has caught the attention of international aid organizations that set up medical centers and ration distribution facilities.

However, medical aid to the ostracized group was all but completely cut off by government officials who accused Medicins Sans Frontieres-Holland (Doctors Without Borders-Holland) of favoritism to Muslims in Myanmar, promoting anti-government sentiment, and ordered them to leave in February of 2014.

As a result of the expulsion, the 700,000 people that depended on MSF’s service were left without proper medical care. By late July, when the government declared that MSF could return, the Rohingya had already endured months of a bleak health crisis with no help to turn to.

In a Reuters report from one of the camps, Aisyah Begum told the story of her husband who was injured while working in the forest. The man would have been taken to the nearby MSF clinic had it been open. The couple was left with no other option but to drive two hours to the nearest private doctor in Maungdaw who then refused to help. The man eventually passed away from what was most likely a treatable infection.

Around the time MSF was granted permission to return, the United Nations publicly commented on the refugee camps’ inhumane conditions. Yanghee Lee of the UN human rights envoy for Myanmar released a 10 page report, calling the living situation of the camps’ inhabitants “deplorable,” noting concern that “the government’s plan for peaceful co-existence may likely result in a permanent segregation” of the two groups.

Ethnic tensions between the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar and the dominant Rakhine Buddhists spans back a few years. It erupted in 2012, leaving 200 dead and an estimated 140,000 internally displaced – 135,000 of which were Rohingya. The clash between the ethnic groups left the bitter taste of mistrust in the mouths of both sides, with one side much more disadvantaged than the other.

The Rohingya suffer from continued apathy and exclusion on part of the Rakhine, and face the threat of violent attacks if they cross the wrong person, keeping them isolated in their lacking communities. They essentially live as prisoners, eating only donated rice and chickpeas, fishing their protein from the nearby ocean.

Ethnic persecution is systemic in Myanmar, to the point where those in the minority group are not even recognized as citizens by the government. They are classified as illegal Bengali immigrants and therefore have no legal rights or representation. They severely lack the means to sustain themselves.

Conditions have reached such a critical point in recent years that tens of thousands have tried fleeing by boat. Human Rights Watch has accused the government of leading an ethnic cleansing campaign against the Muslims in Myanmar.

“By virtue of their legal status (or lack of), the Muslim community has faced and continues to face systematic discrimination, which includes restrictions in the freedom of movement, restrictions in access to land, food, water, education and health care, and restrictions on marriages and birth registrations,” said Lee in her report.

Myanmar is a country of 55 million people. In sheer numbers alone, it is clear what the Rohingya are up against as the nation’s abhorred minority. Years of military rule subjected them to hard labor, rape, torture and relocation, extending from a 1982 citizenship law that declared them stateless. However, the increasingly democratic reform of its government brings some hope.

Many Rohingya retain complete skepticism of the future and MSF is “cautiously optimistic” about their invitation to return. However, it appears that the bind of Myanmar’s displaced Muslims may quickly improve with increased international attention and the possibility of greater involvement by the United States.

“We’re working to continually help address problems on the ground,” said Derek Mitchell, the US ambassador to Myanmar. “What we are doing out here is in anticipation of continued reform, although we need to remain patient as the country deals with increasingly difficult issues going forward.”

– Edward Heinrich

Sources: Reuters, Helsinki Times, Al Jazeera
Photo: Reuters

journalists jailed in myanmar
Public demonstrations and collective anger arose mid-July after the Southeast Asian country of Myanmar, also known as Burma, handed down 10-year jail sentences to five journalists accused of violating state secrets.

The four reporters and chief executive of current affairs at magazine Unity Weekly published stories in January alleging that the government had grabbed large swaths of land to construct a chemical weapons factory.

The government convicted the journalists on the grounds of a 1923 State Secrets Law, a law from the British colonial days. United Weekly has since been shut down.

A January 25 story published in Unity Weekly referenced local villagers that stated that Chinese technicians frequently appeared at a facility that was creating chemical weapons.

The Committee to Protect Journalists released a statement July 10 expressing outrage at the conviction and the sentence.

“The conviction should shatter any illusions that President Thein Sein’s government grasps the role of a free press in a democracy,” CPJ Asia Program Coordinator Bob Dietz said.

Dietz said the international community should act in response to the verdict to “not only get this decision reversed, but to impress upon the government that its anti-media stance will jeopardize future economic assistance.”

To many observers, the move on behalf of the government to implement strict punishments to the journalists is a disparaging albeit curious decision. In recent years, the Myanmar government promised to enact substantial reforms to promote freedom of the press within the country.

President Thein Sein has enacted a number of attempted reforms since taking the oath of office in 2011. These include the release of journalists jailed under the previous military regime, the ending of pre-publication censorship of local press and the lifting of some Internet restrictions.

Yet some, including the Committee to Protect Journalists, have expressed doubts as to whether Thein Sein’s reforms are legitimate and long-lasting, especially in the face of last week’s conviction. Currently, Myanmar is ranked 145 out of a possible 180 in the Reporters Without Borders press freedom index, an aggregate of the press freedoms of 180 different countries.

Barring domestic protests and calls for reform, the coming weeks and months will determine whether international reaction and pressure will play a role in reshaping the government’s policies.

– Ethan Safran

Sources: The New York Times, CNN, CPJ 1, CPJ 2
Photo: TodayOnline

Rohingya Muslims
On July 9, the House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs held a hearing on human rights in Southeast Asia.

The representatives focused, in particular, on human rights violations in The Republic Union of Myanmar (Burma). Over 100,000 Rohingya Muslims, a minority group in Burma, have been expelled from their homes and placed into internally displaced persons camps.

Republican and Democratic representatives alike recognize the human rights abuses occurring in Burma. The Republican chair of the committee, Representative Ed Royce, drew similarities between IDP camps and concentration camps. Democratic Representative David Cicilline criticized the actions of the government and radical Buddhists. Further, he questioned whether or not the situation could be labeled genocide.

Tom Andrews, a former Democratic congressman and human rights activist, testified that the situation qualifies as genocide.

The House previously took action to protect the rights of the Rohingya in May, when they passed Resolution 418 “urging the Government of Burma to end the persecution of the Rohingya people and respect internationally recognized human rights for all ethnic and religious minority groups within Burma.”

Proposed by Representative James McGovern, D-MA, in November 2013, the resolution was co-sponsored by 50 representatives across party lines. The resolution identified the high number of Rohingya expelled from their homes and significant limitations on their access to healthcare, education and general safety, as well as violence toward non-Rohingya Muslims.

Following these observations, the House recommended that the Burmese government make greater progress toward “democracy, constitutional reform, and national reconciliation,” end persecution of the Rohingya and recognize Rohingya citizenship.

The House also called upon the U.S. government to take action by putting “consistent pressure” on the Burmese government to end discrimination and to focus on Burma’s human rights violations when dealing with the government of Burma.

The actions of the House of Representatives starkly contrasts with statements made by President Obama. On May 20, the U.S. President met with President Thein Sein of Myanmar. In public statements, he complimented the increase in democracy and representation of all groups in Myamnar, though the Rhoningya are still not considered citizens.

Though, he did call attention to the “communal violence” inflicted on Muslims, he lauded the government for its successful transition from a military to a civilian-led government and release of political prisoners.

In a speech at West Point on May 28, the president described the U.S. foreign policy in Burma as a success. He stated, “Thanks to the enormous courage of the people in that country, and because we took the diplomatic initiative, American leadership, we have seen political reforms opening a once-closed society; a movement by Burmese leadership away from partnership with North Korea in favor of engagement with America and our allies.”

Though the House called on the president to take action by putting pressure on the Burmese government, the actions of President Obama suggest that the “consistent pressure” will not be intense. Furthermore, this approach suggests that the president does prioritize the image of a democratic government over true democratic governance when considering whether or not a country is a diplomatic success.

Continual pressure on the president, along with continued attention to the increasing human rights violations against the Rohingya Muslims by both citizens and congressional leaders, could push the federal government to take more significant action.

– Tara Wilson

Sources: The White House, Yahoo, Congress.gov, New York Times
Photo: Muslim Village

myanmar
Two more Muslims have been killed by the Buddhist mobs rampaging through the streets of Myanmar’s second largest city. Muslims make up only four percent of the predominantly Buddhist nation, and they often experience hatred and attacks that displace their communities.

Since 2012, over 140,000 Muslims have become homeless due to the violence inflicted upon them by Buddhist extremists. In order to grapple with these events, the Myanmar government imposed a 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew beginning the day after the attacks that left two dead. The Mandalay region chief minister Ye Myint said four people were arrested in response to the deaths, showing they will not allow for this violence to continue.

Myanmar faces intense criticism for their lack of attention to the violence, leading National League for Democracy leader and famed humanitarian, Aung San Suu Kyi, to speak out. She took to Radio Free Asia to share her thoughts. “Unless the authorities seriously maintain the rule of law, violence will grow,” she said. Suu Kyi believes that social media hype has intensified the criticism and instability felt throughout Myanmar. She is not the only person in power to share those beliefs; Mandalay police chief Colonel Za Win Aungagreed is in agreement with her sentiments.

What concerns the international crowd is that Mandalay rarely experiences religious violence, this attack is the first sectarian violence in years. At one point in time, Mandalay represented a point of unity between Muslims and Buddhists where peace prospered and fear was rare.

The president is not taking these attacks lightly. In response to the attacks, President Thein Sein has formed a religious-affairs advisory group that is headed by a former religious affairs minister. This action demonstrates the dissent shown by the government toward the acts committed by the Buddhist extremists.

This was not always the case, however, considering the Religious Conversion Law. This law serves as a reminder of the intolerance for Muslims in the majority Buddhist population. In January of 2014, Buddhist monks murdered 48 Rohingya Muslims as revenge for the death of a Buddhist police officer. The brutality seen in Myanmar threatens its international strength as foreign aid looks closely at the religious intolerance taking place.

– Elena Lopez

Sources: Big Story, IBN, Liberty Voice, Wall Street Journal
Photo: The New York Times

myanmar
This Tuesday the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) stated that refugees fleeing the western Rakhine state in Myanmar, also known as Burma, are suffering increasing instances of abuse. This is an ongoing humanitarian issue as violence in the Rakhine state began almost exactly two years ago when clashes and riots between the Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims erupted. The roots of this crisis come from the fact that the Rohingya Muslims are a linguistic and religious minority who the Rakhine Buddhists have long resented.

Regardless of the long-standing tensions between these two groups, the initial cause of the riots happened in May of 2012 when a Muslim woman was raped and murdered. Hundreds of people have since died and thousands have been displaced. Many of those affected are innocent women and children.

Authorities are considered to have exacerbated the problem by not acting quickly enough to stop the violence. Few people have been prosecuted and some of the local police even partake in the riots. Human Rights Watch called on the Myanmar government to take action but they have denied any wrongdoing.

This crisis has come into the news again because of the worsening conditions of refugees. Mostly Rohingya women and children, these refugees are fleeing to places such as Thailand, Malaysia or Indonesia. A spokesperson for UNHCR said that “more than 86,000 people have left on boats since June 2012. This includes more than 16,000 people in the second half of 2012, some 55,000 in 2013 and nearly 15,000 from January to April this year.” These boats are overcrowded and there is little access to food or water. Sadly, at least 730 people have died trying to make this journey.

The problems continue once these refugees reach land. In Thailand and Malaysia, reports of smuggling have begun to emerge. The smugglers take the refugees to camps where they are forced to live in squalor and minimal space until their families can pay the ransom for their release. The refugees suffer from malnutrition and are often beaten; some even die.

Luckily, Thai authorities are working with UNHCR to remove these smuggler camps and to offer services to the refugees. This means rehabilitation centers that offer educational services and basic community activities.

Problems still persist though as the Thai government has refused to sign the 1951 U.N. Refugee Convention. This convention regulates the treatment of asylum seekers. In 2005 Thailand stopped registering refugees in an attempt to slow their arrival. However, this has not stopped the flow of refugees from Myanmar, causing many to be trapped in these refugee camps.

If the violence in Myanmar continues, as it has been for two years, the refugees will continue to leave their homes hoping to find safety elsewhere. What they find instead are smuggling camps and refugee camps as they wait with no legal status in either their home country or the country where they are trying to seek refuge. The UNHCR is trying to implement potential programs to help the refugee camps, but Myanmar as well as Thai and Malaysian governments need to work with this intergovernmental organization to to resolve this humanitarian crisis.

– Eleni Marino

Sources: Aljazeera, BBC News, UNHCR
Photo: Taipei Times

On June 7, GAP Inc. announced its partnership with USAID to invest in the growth of Burma. The signing ceremony was joined by U.S. Ambassador to Burma, Derek J. Mitchell, and USAID/Burma Mission Director, Chris Milligan.

GAP outlined plans to produce at two factories in Rangoon. By doing so, it will become the first American store to compete in the Burma market. USAID will support GAP Inc. in laying the groundwork for providing growth and economic opportunities.

The partnership is anticipated to provide economic opportunities for women in Burma.

GAP Inc. is in a good position to supply many jobs and opportunities for Burma. They will apply practices such as audits by a reliable non-government organization and make sure that human rights and labor standards are maintained in the factories. This is consistent with GAP Inc.’s attempts to better global working conditions.

GAP Inc. will provide its women’s advancement program, P.A.C.E. (Personal Advancement & Career Enhancement), in the factories in Burma by the end of 2014.

Established in 2007, P.A.C.E., an award-winning program, pursues encouraging female garment workers by providing “life skills education and technical training to help them become more successful both personally and professionally.” GAP Inc. will also collaborate with Indiana University and Hewlett-Packard to cultivate their P.A.C.E. program.

GAP Inc. will disclose any information about its practices in Burma as a part of their pledge to be transparent.

“This is a historic moment for Burma and we are committed to working with the U.S. government and local government alongside local and international NGOs, to help create the economic opportunities that the citizens of Burma so richly deserve. By entering Burma, we hope to help accelerate economic and social growth in the country, and build on our track record of improving working conditions and building local capacity in garment factories around the world,” said Wilma Wallace, Vice President, Global Responsibility, Business and Human Rights, GAP Inc.

– Colleen Moore

Sources: Retail Business Review, The Wall Street Transcript
Photo: Asia Foundation

liberia-health-care
The World’s Health Organization (WHO) ranked the world’s health systems in the year 2000. WHO ranked Liberia, Nigeria, Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic and Myanmar as the top 5 countries in need of better healthcare and as the nations with the lowest healthcare quality. While these nations have undergone reforms since the 2000 assessment, they continue to face critical healthcare obstacles. The countries are listed in descending order based on the World’s Health Organization Ranking of the World’s Health Systems. 

 

Top 5 Countries in Need of Better Healthcare

 

1. Liberia

According to Doctors Without Borders, Liberians suffer from epidemic disease, social violence and healthcare exclusion. During the past twelve years, Liberia’s Ministry of Health has taken steps to address healthcare issues but disease and access to adequate healthcare remain crucial issues in the country. In March 2014, the media announced an outbreak of the Ebola virus in Liberia, suggesting epidemic disease continues to be a primary healthcare concern.  Liberian health authorities expressed a concern over the virus spreading to other countries while attempting to quell public panic. Furthermore, access to sufficient healthcare and healthcare equipment remains limited. In a 2012 Korle-Bu Neuroscience Foundation report, Jocelyne Lapointe stated that Liberia has only one medical center, John F. Kennedy Memorial Medical Center (JFKH), with up-to-date medical imaging systems. JFKH has a modern CT scanner, ultrasound and x-ray equipment. However, the hospital does not have adequate staffing to install and operate all the imaging equipment and desperately seeks the aid of radiologists.

 

2. Nigeria

Nigeria also suffers from epidemic diseases such as malaria, HIV/AIDS and typhoid which affect a large portion of the population. The lack of government aid in response to these diseases has led to distrust in government healthcare initiatives.  The Guardian’s September 2013 article, “The toughest job in Nigerian healthcare,” Dr. Ado Jimada Gana Muhammad, the chief executive of Nigeria’s National Primary Healthcare Development Agency, stated, “If customers – I call patients ‘customers’ – attend a health facility and the level of care is not what he or she expects the confidence is eroded even further.” Muhammad strives to reinstate Nigerians’ lost trust in the healthcare system, hoping that the public will become consumers of recent additions to the system, including better access to vaccinations and new distribution of resources.  In April 2014, Nigeria’s National Health Bill will attempt to revitalize the country’s healthcare system via a $380 million pledge. The bill will focus on primary healthcare, offering free healthcare to many Nigerians.

 

3. Democratic Republic of the Congo

A 2013 IRIN News article, “Boost for healthcare in DRC,” stated, “Civil war has destroyed much of the country’s health infrastructure, as well as the road networks and vital services such as electricity, meaning patients often have to travel long distances to health centers that may not be equipped to handle their complications.” In a country with high rates of infant/maternal mortality, HIV/AIDS, malaria and sexual violence, access to medical care plays an essential role in the success of the country’s healthcare system. Currently, a British program, providing $179 million to the country, is attempting to help six million people in the Congo access healthcare.

 

4. Central African Republic

Lack of healthcare access and healthcare workers plague Central African Republic. After a 2010 rebel attack, volunteer medical workers fled dangerous regions of the country. Thus, large portions of the country’s population have been cut off from all medical resources. Furthermore, an IRIN News article, “Central African Republic: Struggling for healthcare,” states, “Since 2008, the government has spent only 1.5% of GDP on public health, hence its dependency on some 19 medical NGOs to provide drugs and medical equipment and improve the skills of health workers.” For the people of Central African Republic, health care depends on NGO’s rather than the government and therefore, when NGO workers do not feel safe in the country, the healthcare system suffers drastically. IRIN news also noted that vaccination coverage dropped with NGO displacement. The government needs to increase healthcare funding or increase safety measures for medical volunteers to improve the ailing healthcare system.

 

5. Myanmar

Despite Myanmar’s history of wealth via international trade, Myanmar’s economy has changed significantly in recent years. Poor road infrastructure and low government contribution to healthcare systems has led to healthcare inaccessibility for a large portion of the nation’s population. According to the Burnet Institute, an organization that conducts research on public health in Myanmar, the country has high rates of malaria, tuberculosis and HIV. Ten percent of the population suffers from HIV and tuberculosis simultaneously.  Myanmar needs more government funding and outside support from other nations to establish an effective healthcare system and build access to healthcare centers.

– Jaclyn Ambrecht

Sources: Think Africa Press, Burnet Institute, Doctors Without Borders, IRIN News, IRIN News, KBNF, The Guardian, The Inquirer, WHO
Photo: International Rescue Committee

rohingya_muslims_thailand
Rohingya Muslims are a stateless people.

Their homeland is in dispute; some argue that it is Bangladesh and others argue that it is Myanmar. The sitting government in Myanmar’s organized persecution of the Rohingya has caused hundreds of thousands to flee to other countries in any means that they are able.

A great number have fled to nearby Thailand assuming that they would be safe from deportation back to a state that does not recognize or want them; however, they were wrong.

The situation in Thailand for the Rohingya is not a welcome one. Since the early 2000s, the Rohingya have been fleeing persecution in Myanmar to any country that is close at hand. However, Thailand is not the sanctuary that it used to be for the Rohingya, according to Abdul Kalam, a Rohingya who has lived in Thailand after escaping forced labor in his home.

Kalam is the head of the Thailand’s Rohingya national organization. The plight of the Rohingya in Thailand is not widely known save for a brief international spotlight in 2009, when media captured boatloads of Rohingya refugees being towed back out to see by Thai naval ships.

The Rohingya are trapped in vicious circle.

Thailand is one of the few countries in the world that has indefinite imprisonment terms and due to this unusual fact, this is often the fate of those being detained by Thai authorities. A group of reporters filmed the appalling conditions that many Rohingya face while being indefinitely detained in Thailand.

The conditions that the Rohingya were found in are deplorable and it is a travesty that such treatment of human beings is still occurring. The cells that were being used as holding areas were designed to house just 15 men each, yet Thai authorities had placed 276 Rohingya men in them. The Thai government should be aiding the Rohingya in their escape from persecution; however, Thailand does not recognize the Rohingya as refugees.

The troubling news for the Rohingya in Thailand is compounded by the fact that reports document how the Thai government has been secretly selling Rohingya to human trafficking camps deep within the Thai jungle. Reuters found evidence of these camps and reported on the plight of the Rohingya trapped in them. Reuters presented one of Thailand’s highest police officials with the evidence that was uncovered about the camps and when asked, police Major-General Chatchawal Suksomjit, Deputy Commissioner General of the Thai Royal Police gave the startling reply that he indeed knew about the camps, but called them “holding cells.”

The plight of the Rohingya is known to the world, but little is being done by the United Nations or any other international aid group. The persecution that the Rohingya face at every turn in their struggle to cement their lives somewhere should be considered one of the most flagrant abuses of human rights in the 21st century.

There are many pressing issues occurring around the world every day, but people can exist in a world free of persecution for any peoples regardless of ethnic or religious status.

Arthur Fuller

Sources: BBC, Fox, Time, CNN, Reuters, IRIN, Human Rights Watch
Photo: Press TV

Rohingya Abuse
You probably have never heard of the Rohingya, as they are arguably one of the world’s least known and more persecuted indigenous groups. They are making the news lately, however, as their culture and very way of life is under attack by the Myanmar government.  A number of leaked documents have come to light that reveal the deplorable and insidious nature of these crimes.

The South Asian human rights organization, called Fortify Rights, recently released an 80-page report that details the abuses that the Rohingya people are suffering, with the added twist that the Myanmar government has given these various abuses their consent and blessing. Some background is needed in order to fully understand the situation.

Rohingya in Myanmar are widely considered to be illegal immigrants and are not widely welcome due to their practice of Islam. Myanmar is a predominately Buddhist country, and tensions erupted in 2012 which resulted in 88 deaths and the displacement of nearly 100,000 people. There was evidence during these riots, according to various United Kingdom-based NGOs, that both the Burmese police and military played a large role in the persecution of the Rohingya.

The abuses that the Rohingya are enduring have been ignored by members of the international community; however, the sanctioning of these abuses by the government of Myanmar is a new development. The report that was published by the human rights organization Fortify Rights gives a behind the curtain look at what is really occurring to the Rohingyas in Myanmar.

The sheer number of ways in which the Rohingyas are limited or hindered by the regulations and sanctions is quite astonishing. The sanctions seem to be an attempt to drive the Rohingya’s from Myanmar.  On July 23, 2012, Myanmar Minister of Home Affairs Lieutenant-General Ko Ko told parliament that the authorities were “tightening the regulations [against the Rohingya] in order to handle traveling, birth, death, immigration, migration, marriage, etc…”

There are over 1.5 million Rohingya living in Myanmar, but a 1982 citizenship law stripped their citizenship status. To complicate the matter even more, the government of Myanmar does not recognize the Rohingya as a group. For example, the United Nations and the government of Myanmar are working together to conduct a nation-wide census. However, there is no “Rohingya” nationality to select as an option, the Rohingya will have to identify themselves as “other.”

The government of Myanmar has also imposed a two-child policy on Rohingya who live in the northern townships of Maungdaw and Buthidaung. Fortify Rights obtained “Regional Order 1/2005,” which only applies to the Rohingya. It states “Starting the date of this regional order, those who have permission to marry must limit the number of children, in order to control the birth rate so there is enough food and shelter.

The Rohingya are in dire need of assistance from the outside world. The fact that there is no rampant violence occurring on a daily basis does not mean that the Rohingya are in any less need of assistance. The sanctions that are being placed on the Rohingya are being used as a tool to eliminate their presence inside Myanmar and the international community has to step up and help protect them.

Arthur Fuller

Sources: Fortify Rights, BBC, BBC, Wall Street Journal, Reuters, DVB
Photo: Press TV

Child Soldiers Released in Myanmar
With over 400,000 soldiers serving in the national army of Myanmar (known as 
Tatmadaw Kyi), it’s nearly impossible to estimate the number of child soldiers hidden among the hundreds of base camps all over the country – nor is it easy to track down the ones that have been reported. In 2011 the International Labour Organization (ILO) reported that it had received 236 complaints of child soldier recruits, and that in response to these complaints 57 underage soldiers had been released.

Children find their way into combat when they run out of other ways to feed themselves, when they are forced at gunpoint to accept a forged birth certificate and enlist, when they are dropped off by their families to be taught discipline, or when they volunteer for any number of nationalistic reasons. Regardless of how they get there, all are under violation of the UN’s Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which sets the minimum age of volunteering for armed combat at 18.

In June 2012, Myanmar’s Ministry of Defense signed a joint Action Plan with the UN that promised to work toward the release all of its soldiers and guards under 18, as well as prevent future underage recruits. The army also stated that they meant to assist the released children in attending school or finding civilian employment, as well as providing the necessities for their trip back home.

The plan was set to be implemented within the first 18 months of it being signed, and within that time, a total of 272 children, as well as adults who were recruited as children, have been released. Moreover, while the act is now due to be extended, representatives of the UN are planning to meet with armed groups across the country to discuss and encourage more releases.

As Human Rights Watch (HRW) representative Smith suggests, “The real test [of Myanmar’s dedication to eradicating underage soldiers] will be if the army is willing to give full access to the UN and hold soldiers and officers accountable for falsifying documents, and for other crimes related to the recruitment of child soldiers.”

Since the signing of the Action Plan on behalf of the Country Task Force on Monitoring and Reporting of grave violations of child rights in armed conflict (CTFMR), actions have been taken against 40 military officers and 229 military personnel for their role in the recruitment of underage soldiers.

While the UN praised this as a “historic step” toward ending the practice of using children in the military, Myanmar still employs more child soldiers than nearly any other country, and the work of eradicating all involvement of children in armed forces is far from over.

Lydia Caswell
Sources: Australian Network News, Child Soldiers International, Eleven , GMA News , Irin News
Photo: AATOP