April 2, 2014

Burma Campaign UK today called on the United Nations, the Department for International Development (DFID) and other donors to Burma’s census to withdraw their political, technical and financial support in order to avoid further endorsement of discriminatory policies against the Rohingya being applied in the census.

The United Nations Population Fund and international donors went ahead with support for Burma’s census despite numerous organisations inside and outside Burma warning about the dangers of going ahead, including that the census would trigger violence and increase ethnic tensions.

In recent weeks those warnings have sadly proven correct, with rising tensions caused by the census in Rakhine State leading to violent protests in which a child has been killed, international aid agencies being attacked and staff forced to flee the state, and tens of thousands of internally displaced Rohingya are in danger of running out of food and water.

In addition to violence and attacks on aid agencies triggered by the census, the government of Burma has broken undertakings to allow Rohingya to self-identify as Rohingya in the census, and broken an agreement on allowing Rohingya enumerators to conduct the census. The census does not comply with international standards.

“DFID, the United Nations and other donors have either been incredibly incompetent or incredibly gullible to allow themselves to be duped by President Thein Sein in this way,” said Mark Farmaner, Director of Burma Campaign UK. “The Burmese government told donors what they wanted to hear, and then on the eve of the census, once they had the money and technical support, went back on their word and excluded the Rohingya.”

It would not have been possible for the government of Burma to go ahead with the census without technical support from the United Nations, and financial support from international donors, including £10 million ($16million) from the British Department for International Development (DFID). This means that they bear a degree of responsibility for the negative outcomes of the census. Although most financial support is already likely to have been disbursed, the British government and other donors have also given strong political support to the census. Their strong endorsement of the census gives it the appearance of credibility.

“The United Nations, DFID and other donors to the census must go beyond just saying they are concerned, and publicly withdraw support for Burma’s census,” said Mark Farmaner. “It is bad enough that British and other international aid has paid for a census which discriminates against the Rohingya, they should not continue to give it political support and credibility as well.”

Burma Campaign UK published a briefing paper: ‘Burma’s Census – Not Worth Dying For’ in February 2014 which warned of the dangers of Burma’s census raising ethnic tensions and triggering violence. The briefing paper is available here.

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