Burmese President Thein Sein on Saturday pledged that the upcoming census will be conducted in accordance with international standards and human rights principles, at an opening ceremony held in Naypyidaw.
Thein Sein, joined by representatives of the government, political parties and leaders of ethnic armed groups, urged civilians to respond to all questions without “any hesitations”, assuring that their information will be kept confidential.
The president described the survey as, “a noble process, making an investment for at least a decade”, which he said will provide data necessary for the country’s development and impressed the importance of giving accurate information.
International Technical Advisory Board (ITAB), an independent census review panel, gave Burma the green light in a statement published in January, reading, “ITAB have found that the [Burmese Department of Population] have done a good job and that now the rest is up to the people of Myanmar [Burma].”
Burma’s 2014 census, which is set to begin on 30 March, will be the first nationwide census since 1983, though statistics gleaned from the previous surveys are almost universally dismissed as inaccurate due to lack of independent supervision and obstacles to geographical access.
The upcoming census has been a subject of controversy in recent weeks, as the current questionnaire inquires about racial and religious identity. The census form allows individuals to select their ethnicity from an official list of 135, which many have decried as arbitrary.
Rights groups have called it “divisive”, and some ethnic civil society groups have vowed not to participate because of the classification system.
“We are prepared to ensure that the census does not go ahead as it stands. That much is clear,” said Khon Ja, renowned activist and member of the Kachin Peace Network.
The Central Census Committee, however, has resolved not to make requested adjustments until after the census is complete.