Include the Rohingya in Elections

The following has been submitted in the format of an Oral Statement to the 45th session of the UN Human Right’s Council, and was prepared by Next Century Foundation Research Officer, Grace Cornish.

The Next Century Foundation asks the government of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar to re-enfranchise the Rohingya minority in time for the upcoming elections on November 8 2020. By doing so, they would grant the Rohingya the status of a legally recognized ethnic minority. 

At present, the Citizenship Act of 1982 prohibits some 600,000 Rohingya from legal recognition, reinforcing their marginalization. 

The Next Century Foundation recognises the difficulties faced by the Myanmar government in dealing with Buddhist nationalist opposition to the assimilation of the Rohingya. In 2010, the Rohingya were briefly enfranchised, but only if they registered as Bengali at the cost of their ethnic identity.

We note the passing of the ‘Race and Religion Protection Laws’ in 2014, which reduced the autonomy of Rohingya to marry freely, have children and determine their lifestyle.

Underlining which, the inability to influence legislative outcomes has compromised the ability of the Rohingya to enjoy their social human rights. 

Taking note of the 2020 ruling by the International Court of Justice in “Gambia v. Myanmar”, the Next Century Foundation welcomes the consequent military reforms, but encourages the Myanmar government to implement all aspects of the ruling. 

Bearing in mind that UN General Assembly Resolution 69/248, adopted in 2014, demanded ‘equal access to full citizenship of the Rohingya minority’, we ask that Myanmar ratify the Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons. This recognises the right to a nationality provided for by Article 15 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to which Myanmar is a signatory. 

The Next Century Foundation endorses the words of UN Special Rapporteur on Minority Issues, Fernand De Vareness, ‘Without citizenship, people who are stateless become humans without rights’. 

We ask that the Rohingya be given their due electoral rights. 

Black Lives Matter – Healing the Nations

We thank Reverend Larry Wright for providing us with his material from the BLM session on 30th July. It was very interesting listening to him as a speaker, so we hope this post is useful if you would like to recall the session or couldn’t attend the meeting at all.

I speak as a white privileged male, who has been a priest for nearly 30 years in a part of the global Anglican Church that has just set up a commission to investigate endemic racism within its structures and institutions and I’m a former Police Officer.

As a Christian priest I subscribe to a mandate of inclusive love while in practice I wrestle with my own prejudices daily. Within the churches and communities we serve I sense the fears and anxieties of many who feel overwhelmed and besieged by current trends in society which challenge their assumptions and values.  Some respond with bewilderment others with anger, others with an uncomfortable aversion or awkward attempts at engagement.   

As a priest in one of the most ethnically diverse and dynamic cities in Britain, the fruits and blessings of multi-culturalism are all around me. Birmingham has a good record of racial harmony but we must not be complacent. The immediacy of social media brings international incidents directly to our attention and the killing of George Floyd resonated globally exposing the unhealed, unresolved character of institutionalised and inculturated racism.

The expressions of grief and outpourings of protest witnessed in America, the UK and elsewhere have accelerated the need for a comprehensive re-assessment of our attitudes, our values and our use of history. From my perspective, there are two distinct though interconnected aspects to the BLM upsurge of protests:

  • Raising consciousness of the depth of racism still prevalent in society
  • And the pressing need to reconsider accepted views of history

As a person of faith, I search the sacred texts of my religion for guidance and inspiration. In them I find challenge and hope for they are both an historical witness to the struggles of faithful people while containing truth and wisdom for future generations.

A prophet revered by Jews, Christians and Muslims is known to me as Ezekiel.  In the prophetic book of writings bearing his name a key chapter is found in what we know as chapter18 in our Christian Bible. In this chapter the prophet draws a profound distinction between the wrongdoings of parents and children (one generation and another) and who bears the consequences of those wrongdoings. Previously, it was widely believed children were punished for the sins of their parents:  God’s anger would punish the many for the sins of the few. Ezekiel reforms this sense of collective punishment so the sins of a previous generation are not to be regarded as the responsibility of the next. The current generation must bear the consequences of its wrongdoings and sin, says the prophet.

In the current campaigns for retrospective justice and recompense for the sins of previous generations who exploited, abused and enslaved millions, many of my generation and background acknowledge the legitimacy of these campaigns while sensing we are being perceived as complicit. The discomfort this generates becomes an obstacle to addressing current issues of racism, exploitation, abuse and slavery.

Some of my generation and background ask ourselves: Can we be sure that the pulling down of statues, violent and non-violent protests, the reform of historical narratives, national acts of remorse and where possible compensation awarded, help to address and overcome racism and exploitation in this generation?  Or, put another way, are these campaigns necessary preliminaries before a new enlightenment era of racial justice can dawn? While they may be powerful acts of protest and demolition, they appear nihilistic and we are fearful they will harden attitudes among those whom we are seeking to transform attitudes.

Retrospective justice is important and necessary but the victims of racism and exploitation now must take the highest priority, let not the campaigns for the former detract from the urgency of the latter.

Reverend Larry Wright

 

If Black Lives Matter – where do you stand?

Issues of the Week

We all have something to answer for – from God in his Heaven to you as you sit there in lockdown. What do you care when it comes down to it? To listen to William’s podcast click here.

HOWEVER MORE IMPORTANTLY: Everyone seems to be busy campaigning to tear down statues and blue plaques – alienating some in the process as well as obliterating part of our history. Instead why don’t they campaign to celebrate the greatest British warriors to end slavery?

William Wilberforce for instance. Where is his statue? Well there is one in his home city of Hull and there is a smaller one tucked away in Westminster Abbey. But there should be a proper one out of doors in Central London don’t you think?

You could argue that John Newton, the ex-slaver that became an abolitionist (and incidentally wrote the hymn Amazing Grace after he shifted over to the side of the great and the good) deserves a statue. After all he was the one that mentored William Wilberforce. But all he has is a large bronze bust somewhere in Ireland.

However this Cornish warrior against slavery nobody celebrates. Stick him on the empty plinth in Trafalgar Square I reckon. He at least deserves a statue somewhere. Barrington Reynolds, the Cornishman who helped put an end to international slavery. Now there’s an unsung hero.  Looks a little strange but – What a guy. In fact forget the statue, they should make a movie about him:

BArrington-Reynolds

India continues to fail its Dalit Women

India’s 2011 census stated that 16% of the Indian population, some 200 million people, are Dalits. Historically, being a Dalit in India means being at the bottom of an outdated and abysmal caste system. This idea still persists and as a result, Dalit people are vulnerable to a host of human rights abuses. Dalit women are particularly vulnerable must also struggle against patriarchal structures. A UN report from February 2018 highlights the fact that the discrimination Dalit women face, alongside factors such as lack of healthcare and sanitation, has resulted in Dalit women living, on average, 14.6 years less than ‘higher’ caste women. This is a shocking statistic. The report emphasises the fact that it is not just being of a lower-caste and one’s gender that acts as a barrier to mobility, opportunity and equality. The colour of one’s skin can also play a factor in how you are treated in India. A fair complexion is praised and promoted across society, through the media and beauty ideals. As a result, racism becomes a pertinent issue. If you are a dark-skinned Dalit women, your prospects in Indian society are not as fortunate as those of higher-caste, fairer women. This is particularly true in terms of employment with statistical evidence demonstrating that Dalit women are less likely to gain employment and when they do, they earn significantly less than their non-Dalit female counterparts. Literacy rates and levels of education of Dalit peoples are also significantly lower than their ‘higher’ caste counterparts. This huge problem persists across the nation and needs continuous attention.

There is a radical Indian feminist push within the country that seeks to move away from more homogenous feminist movements that fail to take into account the further oppression one may face as not just a woman, but a Dalit woman. As a result, we have seen the development of ‘intersectional feminism’ at both a grassroots and international level. Both Dalit and non-Dalit Indian women have used the concept of intersectional feminism to raise the profile of injustices against the Dalits. The ‘Dalit Women Fight‘ in India and the Feminist Dalit Organisation (FEDO) in Nepal are two such groups campaigning for visibility and change. There are other platforms that have established themselves as a means of articulating the voice of Dalit women, notably All India Dalit Mahila Adhikar Manch (AIDMAM) which is a movement born from the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights (NCDHR). Womankind Worldwide is an international women’s organisation that lends its support to groups such as FEDO. The voice of these Dalit women is growing in prominence. This gives hope to those that believe in the improvement of the welfare and wellbeing of Dalit women in a country that has historically seen them marginalised and oppressed.

The position of Dalit women in India, a nation infamous for its failure to protect its women and facilitate true equality, is deplorable. Whilst there are grassroots and international efforts making noise, this is not enough. The Indian government has continuously been the subject of great criticism for the position of its women, minorities and those from ‘lower’ castes, yet they continually fail to do anything substantive about it. The international community needs to raise the profile of Dalit women in India and apply pressure where it is needed to ensure that the future for these women is one of hope and change.