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Rohingya excluded from Burma census

The nationwide census conducted by the Burmese regime deliberately excluded Rohingya Muslims, independent observers charged.

The Myanmar Census Observation Team said the government rejected census forms from those who self-identified as Rohingya, the Myanmar Times reports.

"The exclusion of the Rohingya/Bengali population from the census enumeration poses serious methodological problems," a report from the 47-member census monitor group said.

"The resulting undercount will not only have a negative impact on the census results at the state and region levels but also at the national level if the missing population is not included, based on a proper count."

The government does not recognise the term Rohingya, referring to the people as Bengalis.

UN officials said they avoid the term Rohingya in public, for fear of stirring tensions between majority Buddhists and the Muslims.

After US Secretary of State John Kerry recent meeting with Burma’s leaders, a senior State Department official told reporters the US thinks the name issue should be "set aside", reported AP.

When President Barack Obama visited the country in 2012, he told students at Yangon University: "There is no excuse for violence against innocent people. And the Rohingya hold themselves — hold within themselves the same dignity as you do, and I do."

However, this year, neither Kerry, nor top human rights envoy Tom Malinowski, used the term at their news conferences when they expressed concern about the situation in Rakhine state.

According to AP, the State Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the US position is that to force either community to accept a name that they consider offensive — including the term "Bengali" — is to "invite conflict." However the department says its policy on using "Rohingya" hasn't changed.

Staff of foreign embassies and aid agencies in Myanmar are reported to be avoiding the term in public these days, and may simply say "Muslims."

In June, the UN children's agency apologised for using the term "Rohingya", drawing criticism from rights activists.

"Any humanitarian agency or donor who refuses to use the term is not just betraying fundamental tenants of human rights law, but displaying cowardice that has no place in any modern humanitarian project," said David Mathieson, senior researcher on Myanmar for Human Rights Watch.

In March the government said it would not accept Rohingya as an ethnicity on the form, but that individuals can choose "Other" on the question of ethnicity, then self-identify.

However, the government back-tracked the day before the census commenced, saying that it would not count those who attempted to identify as Rohingya.

The UN Population Fund (UNFPA), who supported the government in conducting the census, accused the government of reneging on its commitment to the census process.

"In its agreement with the United Nations ... the government made a commitment to conduct the exercise in accordance with international census standards and human rights principles," the UNFPA said in a statement at the time.

"It explicitly agreed with the condition that each person would be able to declare what ethnicity they belong to."

The census cost over $70 million, with much of the funding coming from international donors, including the British, Norwegian, Australian and Swiss governments.

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