Burma Plans First Census in 31 Years

U.N. estimates indicate nearly one million ethnic Rohingya Muslims live in Burma's Rakhine State. A 1982 Burmese law denied Rohingyas citizenship, forcing the flight of many, like these stateless refugees in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, Aug. 2011 (file photo)
U.N. estimates indicate nearly one million ethnic Rohingya Muslims live in Burma's Rakhine State. A 1982 Burmese law denied Rohingyas citizenship, forcing the flight of many, like these stateless refugees in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, Aug. 2011 (file photo)
Danielle Bernstein

Burma plans to conduct its first census in 31 years, a key step in political reforms that could have a big impact on the country’s marginalized minorities.

Burma's minister of immigration and population Khin Yi signed a letter confirming his government's commitment to conduct the nationwide census by 2014. The letter says the first survey in 31 years will adhere to global standards, include "all national races," and give census workers access to all areas of the country.

During the signing ceremony in Naypyitaw, U.N. Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon said he hopes ongoing ceasefire talks will make the census possible, and will involve minorities and civil society.

Dave Mathieson, senior Burma researcher for Human Rights Watch, said an accurate count of the population is a critical part of the government’s political reforms.

"Potentially, if you have a census that extends the right to vote to everyone in the country, you are going to have a far more equal and credible election in 2015," said Mathieson. "If you have actually empowered people enough that they can actually cast votes."

Burma’s last official census in 1983 failed to count people living in areas where insurgencies were raging. Before that, the last credible census was conducted in 1931, during British rule.

Official denial of the stateless
Rights groups worry that if not conducted properly, the census could marginalize minorities such as the Rohingya or those living in one of Burma's many conflict areas.

The United Nations estimates nearly one-million ethnic Rohingya Muslims live in Rakhine State.

Myint Kyaing, Director General of Burma's Department of Population, an office which denies the existence of stateless people, is responsible for conducting the survey.

"We have no stateless people in Myanmar and there is no Rohingya in Myanmar as well, because no Bengali people are residing in Myanmar," he said.

A key test

Analysts say resolving such classification disputes will be a key test of the census’ accuracy and the government’s commitment to reform.

For years, economists and academics studying Burma have been forced to use the government's notoriously unreliable data.

Professor Sean Turnell of Australia's Maquarie University, editor of Burma Economics Watch, said the census will allow the government to more accurately estimate key economic indicators such as GDP.

"Under the previous government there was very little, even in pretense, about having the numbers right," said Turnell. "You know there were certain objectives that the government wanted to achieve and, when pressed, those numbers usually added up to achieving those ends. And so I think the classic example was GDP growth rates, which for decades were in double digits."

Those GDP rates, he added, would have made Burma the best performing economy in the world.

In the two years leading up to the data-collection period, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) will be assisting in surveyor training and drafting survey documents. UNFPA's country representative Mohamed Abdel-Ahad called it an especially steep challenge due to the amount of time elapsed since the last census, but one that is a critical step.

"As you know the public does not know enough about the census," he said. "The census has not been taken for 30 years, so those who were born after 1983 in Myanmar do not know and have not gone through the experience of conducting census, and we need to inform them that it is their right to be counted."

Abdel-Ahad said workers expect to carry out the census in April, 2014. The United Nations is expected to at least partially cover the estimated $53-million cost.

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Comment Sorting
by: Mohammad Rauf from: Jeddah-KSA
May 27, 2012 8:31 PM
Mynamar Census 2014 news gives RED alert to our Rohingyas. Really it shocked Rohingyas that Myanmar's government would only consider to include in this census people belonging to the 'national races' that is now 135 only. It is a great challenge of ensuring that everyone living in Myanmar, regardless of race, is covered, including the Rohingya, who are officially classified as "stateless".
We Rohingyas are still stateless since we were born in our mother land Arakan. Once it was also as a Sultanate of Arakan before around 350 years back where we have been there by generation and generation. Also state Radio of Burma “Burma Broadcasting Service” BBS had department broadcasting for Rohingya. We have many historical records that cannot be hidden and all knows.
Therefore, today UN and world communities should pressure to Myanmar government to consider first Rohingyas to be as a citizen of Myanmar and native Arakan. Rohingya must be added in the ethnic list to be 136th then to decide for the Census later otherwise Rohingyas issues will be more far beyond the situation as well as Rohingya refugee problems will never be ended. Rohingya refugee problems will be floating around the world and world communities will be watching like endless disasters.

by: Nurul Islam
May 01, 2012 4:22 PM
Many minorities still believe that no true population census has ever been taken in Burma. 1982 citizenship law must be amended or scrapped in line with the principles embodied in the Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness of 30 August 1961. Still DG of Burma’s Department of population Myint Kyaing denied the existence of Rohingya in Burma. UN intervention is urgent and UNFPA should not support the census plan unless it is universal and inclusive of Rohingya as a national race.

by: Mohammad Rauf, Jeddah, K.S.A.
April 30, 2012 4:51 PM
If World Community wants fair census 2014, means all ethnic minority issues must be solved by 2014 otherwise it will be a fake census and abusing democracy. All population living abroad must be counted in the census. Ethnic minorities especially majority Rohingyas are living in many countries. Census must be fair and it should be delayed if there is no complete democratic reform in Myanmar.

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