May 11, 2016

Renowned scholars, practitioners and experts in law, politics, history, criminology and sociology as well as Rohingya refugee activists will gather today (11th May) at Oxford University in the UK for a one day Conference: Myanmar’s Democratic Transition and the Rohingya Persecution.

There will be a live webcast of the conference here.

The South Asia Research Cluster (SARC) at Oxford University is hosting an open, one-day research conference on what the Dhaka-born, Harvard economist Amartya Sen calls “the slow genocide” of the Rohingya.

The Rohingya are native people of the present-day borderlands straddling present day Bangladesh and Western Myanmar. Myanmar’s successive military governments have stripped them of citizenship, deprived them of basic human rights including access to medicine, employment, and freedom of movement. Since the late 1970s the military governments have denied them the right to self-identify as Rohingya, have referred to them as “Bengali”, to signal that they belong to Bangladesh, not to Myanmar.  Bangladesh for its part views the Rohingya as Myanmar natives.

SARC’s research conference is bringing together 50 concerned researchers and practitioners in international law, history, public health, sociology, politics and economics as well as Rohingya human rights defenders from about one dozen countries including Myanmar, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Australia, USA, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland, India, Argentina, and UK.

The conference’s host Emeritus Professor and SARC’s Coordinator Barbara Harriss-White said: “The conference intends to shine a critical spotlight of university and independent research on the persecution of Myanmar’s  Rohingya people, a persecution that some scholars have labelled genocide, to examine its relation to Myanmar’s democratic transition, and to examine the evidence for convincing the Aung San Suu Kyi government that the recognition of their citizenship and the ending persecution of the Rohingya minority should be a top priority.”

Professor Gaytri Chakravorty Spivak, University Professor at the Institute of Comparative Literature and Society at Columbia University in New York, will deliver the keynote address entitled “Why the world must listen to the Rohingya”.  Born in India, Spivak is a globally renowned co-founder of Post-Colonial Studies.

“As an activist from the region, I will be giving witness rather than offer fresh information for public awareness.  I will emphasize why this is a genocide.  I will suggest that all of us need to go beyond passive digital intervention because of information overload,” urges Spivak.


Rohingya a top challenge Aung San Suu Kyi:
Writing in the Washington Post ( Maya Tudor, Associate Professor of Politics and Public Policy at the Blavatnik School of Government, Oxford University identified Myanmar’s state persecution and popular violence against the Rohingya minority as one of the 4 most important challenges confronting Aung San Suu Kyi’s leadership.

Tudor who served, during Myanmar’s elections last year, as an international election observer for the Carter Center set up by former US President Jimmy Carter, asked, “armed with an absolute majority in parliament and the still-copious goodwill of the international community, will she spend some of her newfound political capital condemning the Rohingya violence and speaking out in favor of human rights for all those living within Burma’s borders? Or, paralleling Prime Minister Modi in neighboring India, will she continue to be silent and pander to an extremist base? Her actions at this formative moment will have enduring consequences for whether Myanmar will continue on the bumpy road towards democratic consolidation or falter on the basis of minority exclusion.”

International experts on human rights, international law and Burma attend:
The line-up of the panellists and speakers include former UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar (from 2008-2014) and Argentinian human rights lawyer Tomas Ojea Quinta; Professor Penny Green of Queen Mary University of London who directs the International State Crime Initiative at the university; Professor Daniel Feierstein, past President of the International Association of Genocide Scholars (2013-15) & Director, Centro de Estudios Sobre at the National University of Argentina and author of Genocide as Social Practice: Reorganizing Society Under the Nazis and Argentina’s Military Juntas (Rutgers University Press, 2014); Dr Nancy Hudson-Rodd, Canadian human geographer and Honorary Fellow, Tasmania Asia Institute, Australia; Azril Mohd Amin, Lawyer & Chief Executive, Centre for Human Rights Research & Advocacy (CENTHRA), Malaysia; Professor Michael Charney of the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London and Tun Khin, a Rohingya human rights activist with the Burmese Rohingya Organization UK.

Oxford University Scholars attend:
A group of Oxford University scholars will also participate in the conference, including Emeritus Professor Barbara Harrell-Bond, Founder, Refugees Studies Centre, Oxford University & Director, Fahamu Refugee Programme, Oxford;  Professor Shapan Adnan, Associate, Contemporary South Asian Studies Programme, Oxford University and Professor at the University of Chittagong, Bangladesh; Dr Azeem Ibrahim, Rothermere American Institute Fellow, Oxford University and author of The Rohingyas: Inside Myanmar’s Hidden Genocide (Hurst, 2016); and Maya Tudor, Associate Professor of Politics and Public Policy at the Blavatnik School of Government.

Continuing a series of academic gatherings:
Since the organized violence against the Rohingya erupted in June 2012, similar international gatherings of academics and practitioners have been held at various institutions including the Norwegian Nobel Institute in Oslo, the British House of Commons, the London School of Economics and Political Science, Queen Mary University of London, Columbia and Harvard universities in USA, the Perdana Global Peace Foundation and the University of Malaya in Malaysia and Mahidol University in Thailand.

Old and new Myanmar government ignored calls for action:
So far, successive Myanmar military leaders and the new democratic government of Aung San Suu Kyi have ignored calls from the international community to restore basic human rights to the Rohingya, their right to Myanmar citizenship, and their group right to self-identify as Rohingya.

The  conference will be webcast LIVE here:

The complete programme may be downloaded from here.

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