Myanmar’s Rohingya crisis is moving backwards. Here’s how to resolve it

Opinion >Jan Egeland

Myanmar’s Rohingya crisis is moving backwards. Here’s how to resolve it

  • Regional powers, including China and Asean, must help ensure Kofi Annan’s Rakhine Advisory Commission recommendations are met
  • The author, formerly at the UN and now Secretary General of the Norwegian Refugee Council, visited Myanmar recently
    Jan Egeland  Published: 3:00pm, 25 Nov, 2019

Rohingya refugees walk with their belongings after crossing the Naf river from Myanmar into Bangladesh in 2017. Photo: AFP

Myanmar’s Rohingya crisis is sliding dangerously backwards. The denial of civil rights, a massive land grab and an upsurge in armed fighting undermine any real hope for change.

 Despite reports that some Rohingya refugees  have returned to Myanmar, the suggestion that more will follow stands in stark contrast to what I witnessed recently when visiting the areas from which they fled. International solidarity with these stateless people needs a fundamental rethink. If we succeed to only administer the crisis, we will fail to ever resolve it.

In 2012, the world watched as a wave of violence pushed at least 110,000 Rohingya people in Myanmar’s western Rakhine state from their land. Families wound up in overcrowded, flood-prone displacement camps, surrounded by armed guards, with neither the permission nor security to return home. The unmaking of their communities began. They were still waiting for permission to return and security when I met them in camps outside Sittwe town at the end of October.

             Violent forced displacement exploded again on an even larger scale in 2017. Armed men brutally attacked thousands of families in their homes. An unprecedented 740,000 people fled en masse across the border into Bangladesh, where they joined 200,000 who had earlier been displaced. Overnight, a small fishing port called Cox Bazaar became the world’s largest refugee camp.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights labelled the attacks as ‘textbook ethnic cleaning’. The world gasped in horror.Two years later, families confined to camps in Bangladesh continue to live in limbo. Despite a formal agreement signed between the two governments to repatriate the refugees, alarming developments on the ground have made this impossible. Continuing down this path will serve only to spawn another hopeless and unending refugee crisis.

Three developments must be reversed.

First, a massive land grab is under way in Myanmar’s poorest state. As the country opens for business, foreign investors, construction companies, local and national authorities, and other Burmese communities have rushed in to occupy the land where torched villages once stood. Rohingya and other displaced communities are unaware that others are stealing their homes and their ancestral land. One of the world’s greatest mass land grabs is happening on our watch.

A Myanmar security officer walks past burnt Rohingya houses in Ka Nyin Tan village in Maungdaw, northern Rakhine state. Photo: AP

Satellite images released by Amnesty International last year show whole villages and surrounding forests being cleared to make room for new military bases. If these developments continue, there will be nothing left for the Rohingya to return to. I saw with my own eyes how construction companies laid claim to the land of others, sometimes next to the very camps of displaced families. This systematic takeover and exploitation of houses, land and property must stop. Myanmar’s authorities and foreign investors from Asean nations and China are well placed to end it.

Myanmar accused at UN court of genocide against Rohingya

Second, conflict is raging in northern Rakhine. Armed clashes between government forces and the local Arakan armed group have driven tens of thousands of people from their homes since January.

Restricted access to communities living in these areas has prevented my organisation, the Norwegian Refugee Council, and other aid agencies from meeting humanitarian needs. The government’s shutdown of internet usage in many townships is preventing us from communicating with people caught up in the violence.

Not safe for Rohingya to return to Myanmar, UN investigator says

Third, the recommendations of the Rakhine Advisory Commission, led by the late Kofi Annan, have been largely ignored since they were published in 2017. The report rightly determined that land, property and citizenship rights must be given to Rohingya communities. Ministers and army generals I spoke with in Myanmar’s capital Naypyidaw reconfirmed the government’s commitment to the report’s proposals. This rhetoric is welcome, but their words have yet to translate to real action on the ground to make areas safe for repatriation, returning land and granting citizenship rights.

     A refugee camp for Rohingya Muslims who crossed over from Myanmar into Bangladesh. Photo: AP

Recent government plans to shut down displacement camps by converting them into so-called “villages” are deeply worrying. Building new homes in or next to closed camps instead of allowing people to return to the areas from which they fled will only serve to cement marginalising exiled communities. Families should have freedom of movement and be helped to safely return to land they have lived on for generations.

The primary responsibility to protect the Rohingya people lies with the government of Myanmar. But more effective international engagement is sorely needed to move this frozen process forward.

Mahathir blasts Myanmar and UN over Rohingya ‘genocide’

 Regional nations with influence and investments, including China, JapanIndia and Southeast Asian neighbours, should make it their policy to guarantee security and citizenship for stateless communities, and end the shameless land grab.

Rohingya, Kaman and other vulnerable communities I met do not believe they are safe from new attacks, abuse or discrimination if they return today. I stressed this to Min Aung Hlaing, the commander-in-chief of Myanmar’s army, when I met him. His armed forces must break with the past and enable peace with local armed groups to ensure the future safety of all communities in Myanmar.

    A Rohingya refugee performs prayers as he attends a ceremony to commemorate the military crackdown that prompted a massive exodus of people from Myanmar to Bangladesh. Photo: AFP

 Sadly, the Rohingya crisis is the worst example of an issue affecting many groups across the country, all crises that are completely neglected. In northern Shan and Kachin states, people have experienced similar barriers for return from conflict, and a lack of land and property rights.

For the Rohingya people, we can take action today to improve their plight. We must more energetically hold regional powers and UN member states accountable for ensuring that Kofi Annan’s proposals are matched with actions. They remain the best chance to end this crisis and must not be squandered.

Jan Egeland  is Secretary General of the Norwegian Refugee Council, and a former UN Under-Secretary-General of Humanitarian Affairs.

Tags: Myanmar, Myanmar’s democratic transition, Rohingya Muslims, Diplomacy


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Rohingya refugees need rights, not restrictions

BANGLADESH > REFUGEES > OPINION                                                                                                                   NOVEMBER 21, 2019

Rohingya refugees need rights, not restrictions


 Some high-level officials of the Bangladeshi government have recently expressed concern that the Rohingya refugees residing in their country represent a security threat to Bangladesh and the wider region. Under this premise, they have implemented a series of restrictions on the Rohingya communities in the refugee camps. But there no facts to back up their claim. We Rohingya believe the restrictions have been put in place mostly to try to persuade us to go back to Myanmar before adequate safety measures are in place there.

Historically Rohingya have not been the perpetrators, but rather the victims of persecution and genocide. In order to rebuilt positive and safe communities, we need access to our rights – not to be treated as criminals.

Syed Muazzem Ali, Bangladesh’s high commissioner to India, addressing a conference on “Tackling Insurgent Ideologies,” stated that the Rohingya crisis could create a threat to peace and security in region and pressed for its early resolution through the repatriation of refugees to their home country. He said the Rohingya people could become an easy target for radicalization, so the sooner they are settled back in their homes in Myanmar, the better.

The fact is, we have come from the killing fields to escape persecution, not to settle in Bangladesh, which is not our country. We are reliant on others to secure sustainable solutions for us in Myanmar in order to return. We are waiting until that time.

Recently Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina underlined the need for the quick repatriation of displaced Rohingya to their country of origin in Myanmar. She said, “It will be better for Bangladesh if they go back as early as possible.” While her statement is correct, the situation and conditions do not allow us to repatriate yet, as there are no guarantees for our security, our safety and our citizenship rights. Further, fighting has broken out between the Arakan Army (AA) and the Myanmar Army, causing the security situation in Rakhine state to deteriorate further. There will be no safety for Rohingya without peace between the AA and the Myanmar military.

Security is another major concern for those living in the camps. The Bangladeshi government has said that it plans to place fences around the camps, under the premise that this will help to protect them. We Rohingya are doubtful about the effectiveness of this measure. We feel the fences will not make us safer, but rather will create further restrictions on our lives.

“Bangladesh is not our country, and we are not citizens here. Nonetheless, we are entitled to basic human rights”

Bangladesh is not our country, and we are not citizens here. Nonetheless, we are entitled to basic human rights. We need access to education, security and health, like all human beings. These things also help us to build supportive communities that are less vulnerable and less likely to resort to crime.

The Internet has been blocked since September and Rohingya face the confiscation of their mobile phones by security personnel. Blocking Internet services in the camps, as though we are a threat in Bangladesh, has many negative consequences. The communication blackout will isolate us from our families in Myanmar. And if we face security threats in the camps, we are unable to inform the police.

In order to stop criminal activity, we need a greater presence of security forces and law enforcement inside the camps and continued access to communications. Criminal activities such as kidnapping and trafficking will increase day by day if we cannot inform the authorities in time. We need to be protected as survivors of genocide, not vilified as criminals.

Recently, we Rohingya have had other new restrictions imposed on us. It is not only the shutdown of mobile-phone services in the camps, but also restrictions on working voluntarily for non-governmental organizations (NGOs) providing services to our own communities. There are increasing restrictions on our access to basic education and freedom of movement within the refugee-camp areas and to the Cox’s Bazaar area to access medical treatment and training opportunities. In short, our human rights are increasingly being curtailed and we are being treated as though we are all criminals.

On August 25 every year, Rohingya commemorate the day on which the Myanmar military resumed its genocidal campaign that drove around 700,000 of us into Bangladesh in 2017. This year we came together to remember those who lost their lives as a result of the genocide. The gathering of Rohingya people was misunderstood as a threat by the local community. A lot of hate speech spread in Bangladesh and tensions increased between Rohingya and the local communities.

The local media were implicated. No measures were taken to prevent hate speech. Instead, further restrictions were imposed on us and our rights were further limited. Also, the NGOs that provided funds for us to commemorate the Rohingya victims of Myanmar’s genocide faced restrictions. As a community rebuilding after the devastating events of genocide, we have a need to remember the victims and mark the atrocities perpetrated against us. Restrictions will not curtail that inherent need in the years to come.

We can never forget the humanity Bangladesh showed in our time of need in 2017, when the borders were opened to us as we fled for our lives. Our gratitude to Bangladesh is also reflected on as part of our commemoration events. We are not a threat to our Bangladeshi brothers and sisters. Please allow us to continue to live in dignity in your country, until safety is restored in Rakhine, and conditions allow us to return to our country and to our homes.

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 Tags:  Bangladesh, Rakhine State, Arakan Army, Rohingya Crisis, Myanmar Military, Cox’s Bazaar


The writer is coordinator of the Free Rohingya Coalition and founder and executive director of the Rohingya Youth Association.


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Rohingya Genocide Case Against Myanmar Based on ‘Compelling’ Evidence: Lawyer


Rohingya Genocide Case Against Myanmar Based on ‘Compelling’ Evidence: Lawyer


Paul Reichler, an attorney at Foley Hoag LLC in Washington, D.C., discusses the genocide case filed                against Myanmar by the law firm’s client Gambia, Nov. 21, 2019.   RFA video screenshot                             UPDATED at 10:43 A.M. ET on 2019-11-22

An attorney assisting Gambia with its lawsuit against Myanmar alleging state-sponsored genocide at the U.N.’s top court said Thursday that he is confident that the West African nation will win the case based on copious, strong evidence of army atrocities against the Muslim Rohingyas.

“The evidence is plentiful,” Paul Reichler, an attorney at Foley Hoag LLC in Washington, told RFA’s Myanmar Service. He spoke a day after the Myanmar government announced that State Counselor and Foreign Affairs Minister Aung San Suu Kyi would lead a team in defending the country at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague, the Netherlands.

“There are many, many fact-finding reports by U.N. missions, by special rapporteurs, by human rights organizations,” Reichler said. “There is satellite photography, and there are many, many statements by officials and army personnel from Myanmar which altogether show that the intention of the state of Myanmar has been to destroy the Rohingya as a group in whole or in part,” he said.

“And we’re very confident that at the end of the day the evidence will be so compelling that the court will agree with The Gambia,” he said.

Paul Reichler, Foley Hoag LLC 1 | Radio Free Asia (RFA) >

In the lawsuit filed 10 days ago, Muslim-majority Gambia accuses Myanmar of breaching the 1948 Genocide Convention for the brutal military-led crackdown on the Rohingya in 2017 that left thousands dead and drove more than 740,000 across the border into Bangladesh.

The West African country filed the lawsuit on behalf of the 57-member Organization of Islamic Cooperation. The first public hearings at the ICJ will be held on Dec. 10-12.

Myanmar has largely denied that its military was responsible for the violence in Rakhine state, which included indiscriminate killings, mass rape, torture, and village burnings, and has defended the crackdown as a legitimate counterinsurgency against a group of Muslim militants.

The government has also dismissed credible evidence in numerous reports and satellite imagery that points to the atrocities, and claimed that the Rohingya burned down their own communities and blamed soldiers for the destruction.

Myanmar’s powerful military and civilian-led government are together working with legal experts to take on the lawsuit, Agence France-Presse reported Thursday, quoting military spokesman Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun.

Separate cases pertaining to the persecution of the Rohingya have been filed at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague and in an Argentine court, the latter of which names Aung San Suu Kyi and top military commanders deemed responsible for the atrocities.

Myanmar has refused to cooperate with the ICC because the country is not a party to the Rome Statute which created the international court. On Thursday, Christine Schraner Burgener, the U.N.’s special envoy on Myanmar, welcomed the Southeast Asia country’s decision to defend itself before the ICJ.

Burgener ended a 10-day mission to Myanmar on Nov. 21, during which she met with government and military official, diplomats, think tanks, and U.N. agencies.

“She welcomed the government’s position on the case filed by The Gambia to the International Court of Justice that, as a party to the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide since 1956, Myanmar would take its international obligations seriously and would defend itself in front of the ICJ,” said a statement issued by the U.N.’s Myanmar office.

Myanmar’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi participates in ASEAN-United Nations summit in Nonthaburi, Thailand, Nov. 3, 2019 Credit: Associated Press

State responsible for army actions

Some of Myanmar’s top rights attorneys meanwhile weighed in on Aung San Suu Kyi’s decision to appear before the ICJ. “As foreign minister, it is reasonable that she will lead the defense team,” said Thein Than Oo, one of the founding members of the Myanmar Lawyers’ Network.

“As a leader of the country, Daw [honorific] Aung San Suu Kyi has consistently denied the accusations. This charge is not just for human rights violations. She will be defending the genocide accusation. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has consistently denied that charge. I think she will deny it in the court too. She has to.”

Kyee Myint, chairman of the Union Attorney and Legal Aid Association, noted that the state counselor’s team has very little time to prepare itself for the case.

“We’ve got a very short period for preparation,” he said. “It’s less than 20 days. They should give us between three and six months, so that we have enough time to prepare the defense.”

Kyee Myint also said that Aung San Suu Kyi should point out to the ICJ her limited authority over the military, as mandated in Myanmar’s constitution.

“During the defense at the court, she should demonstrate her limited authority over the military, showing them a copy of the 2008 constitution,” he said. “If she is willing to take the fall when the military is silent, that’s up to her.”

But Reichler said that would provide no protection for Aung San Suu Kyi. “The army is part of the state. The civilian government is part of the state,” he said. “The state is responsible for the behavior of agents, of its organs, of its entities, of its ministries and of its military forces,” he added.

“The idea that there are people in the government who oppose genocide … does not absolve the state of the responsibility that it has for operations of a different part of its government,” Reichler said.

“The state is responsible whether the civilians support that genocide or not. It is the state that is carrying it out, whether it is the civilians or the military,” he said.

Paul Reichler, Foley Hoag LLC 2 | Radio Free Asia (RFA)

Damage to country’s image

Representatives from Myanmar’s political parties defended the government.

Pyone Kathy Naing, a lawmaker from the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) party, said that the West has misunderstood the term “clearance operation,” referring to the action that Myanmar security forces took in Rohingya communities in Rakhine state in 2017 in response to deadly attacks by a Muslim militant group.

‘The term ‘clearance operation’ is misunderstood in the Western world,” she said. “The military’s clearance operations were to clear out the terrorists — not to drive out the [Muslims]. We need to clarify it.’

“For the lawsuit, we need to counter strategically with a highly expert legal team,” she added.

Soe Thein, an independent legislator and former minister of the President’s Office agreed, saying, “We need to fight back with an expert international legal teams — spending millions of dollars.”

Oo Hla Saw, a lower house lawmaker from the Arakan National Party (ANP), raised concern over the impact that the ICJ lawsuit would have on Myanmar.

“This lawsuit’s impact on our society will be huge, especially because our country’s image will be damaged whether we win or lose since we are accused of rights violations,” he said.

“The second thing is economic impact,” he said. “We will be isolated. We might be sanctioned by large western countries. Nobody can be sure, but the impact will be huge because Western countries and the OIC countries will be influencing these motives.”

“This will be a very big problem for us,” he added.

Reported by Ye Kaung Myint Maung, Khin Khin Ei, Nay Myo Htun, Thet Su Aung, Thiha Tun, and Phyu Phyu Khaing for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Ye Kaung Myint Maung and Kyaw Min Htun. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.


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Argentina Lawsuit Seeks to Hold Aung San Suu Kyi Accountable For Atrocities Against Rohingya



Argentina Lawsuit Seeks to Hold Aung San Suu Kyi Accountable For Atrocities Against Rohingya


  Tun Khin (L), president the Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK, and Argentine human rights lawyer Tomas Ojea Quintana (R) leave Argentine federal court in Buenos Aires after filing a lawsuit against Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi and others for crimes against the Rohingya, Nov. 13, 2019. AFP

Argentina has become the latest member of the international community to pursue legal action against top Myanmar officials over the military-led crackdown on Rohingya Muslims, amid mounting global pressure that the government be held accountable for the extreme violence that left thousands dead and drove more than 740,000 across the border and into Bangladesh.

Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi was named among several officials in a lawsuit submitted Wednesday in Argentina by Rohingya and South American human rights organizations for serious crimes, including genocide, against the minority group.

It is the first time that Aung San Suu Kyi has been legally targeted over the crackdown, which she and other officials have justified as a necessary countermeasure to deadly insurgent attacks by a Rohingya militant group in Rakhine state in 2017.

“This complaint seeks the criminal sanction of the perpetrators, accomplices and cover-ups of the genocide,” Tomas Ojea Quintana, an Argentine human rights lawyer and former U.N. special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar who is assisting the Rohingya plaintiffs, told AFP.

“We are doing it through Argentina because they have no other possibility of filing the criminal complaint anywhere else,” he was quoted as saying.

The Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK (BROUK) and other groups filed the lawsuit in Argentina under the principle of “universal jurisdiction,” a legal concept that allows national courts to prosecute individuals for serious crimes against international law, such as crimes against humanity, war crimes, genocide, and torture.

BROUK president Tun Khin told RFA that others named in the lawsuit are former president Thein Sein, former president Htin Kyaw, current president Win Myint, and top military brass deemed responsible for the atrocities, including Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, commander-in-chief of Myanmar’s armed forces.

Nickey Diamond, a Myanmar human rights specialist with Fortify Rights, said that Aung San Suu Kyi has been named in the lawsuit because she failed to speak out against the military’s actions against the Rohingya.

“Daw [honorific] Aung San Suu Kyi is looked upon internationally as the country’s leader, and because she was seen as covering up for the military, she has been dragged into this as an accomplice,” he told RFA.

“We know that she has no power over the military, as is mandated by the constitution, but she should have given ‘a warning’ to the military that they should not commit these rights violations,” he said. “She failed to do so, and that worsened the problem.”

‘A very positive step’

New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) called the lawsuit — the third such international case to be filed against Myanmar officials — a “very positive step” and encouraged Aung San Suu Kyi to cooperate with the Argentine court to claim innocence if she is officially summoned instead of declining a trial.

“It’s a very positive step that Argentina is raising these issues because it will force the Myanmar government to respond in a substantive way to serious allegations against them and the security forces,” said Phil Robertson, HRW’s deputy Asia director, in an email response to RFA’s Myanmar Service.

“Aung San Suu Kyi should agree to cooperate with lawful requests from Argentina since she claims that she has nothing to hide,” he added.

The legal petition seeks to persuade Argentina’s courts to exercise universal jurisdiction to prosecute everyone in Myanmar who may be criminally responsible for crimes designated as genocide and crimes against humanity, he said.

“The fact people are even talking about universal jurisdiction reflects the reality that Myanmar’s national government and military have totally failed to credibly investigate and address the atrocities committed against the Rohingya,” he said. “The big issue for Aung San Suu Kyi is whether she was involved in a cover-up of the rights abuses against the Rohingya or not.”

Myo Nyunt, spokesman of the ruling civilian-led National League for Democracy (NLD) party said the prosecution of civilian and military leaders by Argentina would violate Myanmar’s national sovereignty and that the country would not comply with the court.

“We’ve seen dishonesty in that campaign,” he said. “I view this as an attempt to garner international pressure to gain rights as an indigenous ethnic group for those who fled from conflicts in northern Rakhine state.”

“We will not comply with or be obliged by demands that violate the sovereignty of the nation,” he said, adding that the Myanmar government is conducting sufficient investigations and taking legal action on incidents involving Muslims in northern Rakhine.

On Monday, Gambia filed a separate lawsuit against Myanmar at the International Court of Justice, the U.N.’s highest court in The Hague, the Netherlands, accusing the Southeast Asia nation of state-sponsored genocide for the crackdown on the Rohingya.

In a third legal action on Thursday, judges at the International Criminal Court approved a request from prosecutors to launch an investigation into widespread acts of violence during the crackdown to determine if they qualify as the crime against humanity of deportation across the Myanmar-Bangladesh border and persecution of the Rohingya based on ethnicity and/or religion.

The run-down Jama mosque, a center of Islamic worship built in 1859 and permanently closed in 2012 following deadly clashes between Muslims and Buddhists, sits amid overgrown vegetation in Sittwe, capital of western Myanmar’s Rakhine state, Sept. 7, 2016. Credit: AFP  

Shuttered mosques, madrassas

In a sign of long-lasting damage to persecuted Rohingya communities in Myanmar, a survey by a Yangon-based Muslim committee has determined that at least 900 Islamic mosques and madrassas were demolished or forced to shut down during sectarian violence with Buddhists in Rakhine state in 2012, and they have not been rebuilt or reopened.

The committee, comprising Muslims leaders and organizations from across the country, is pressing the government to reopen the buildings. They have been compiling the list of mosques and Muslim religious schools since September, and have sent appeals to President Win Myint and military commander-in-chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing to reopen more than 60 of them.

“We have identified 900 of them in Rakhine state alone,” said committee spokesman Maung Myint. “The list includes more than 200 mosques, over 200 Arabic language schools, and 500 schools teaching basic education. All of them have been either shut down or destroyed.”

Records used to compile the report focus on 13 townships in Rakhine state where Muslims live — most of them located in Sittwe, Buthidaung, and Maungdaw townships — areas that were mainly affected between 2012 and 2017.

Rakhine state government spokesman Win Myint, no relation to the country’s president, said he did not have figures pertaining to mosques that have been shut down.

Kyaw Hla Aung, a Rohingya community leader who lives in Sittwe, said that between 40 and 50 mosques there were destroyed during the 2012 communal riots. “Many religious schools had been burned down,” he said. “The mosques were destroyed. Some were totally flattened later by bulldozers.”

The riots left more than 200 people dead and displaced roughly 120,000 Rohingya who were placed in camps outside Sittwe to avoid further clashes between Rakhine Buddhist and Muslim communities.

Kyaw Hla Aung said displaced Rohingya have been forced to live in camps enclosed by barbed-wire since 2012 and are not allowed to travel without permission. The camps also lack mosques and formal Islamic schools, he said.

Aung San Win, a spokesman for the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Culture, said he was not aware of the list of mosques that have been shut down.

Naung Taw Lay, also known as Nay Win Aung, secretary of the Myanmar Nationalist Network, a nationalist group that has participated in anti-Muslim rallies, said he has no objection to the reopening of the mosques.

“As nationalists, we just want to prevent terrorism,” he told RFA. Human rights activist Thet Swe Win said he believes that the government will not allow the places of worship to reopen.

“The government has a responsibility to allow the reopening, but I question whether the authorities actually have the motivation to let them reopen,” he said. “I don’t think we can trust them. I don’t think they will let them reopen.”

Reported by Moe Myint, Nay Myo Htun, and Kyaw Lwin Oo for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Ye Kaung Myint Maung. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.


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Myanmar accused of genocide against Rohingya Muslims at UN’s highest court

Southeast Asia

                                                                                          Myanmar accused of genocide against Rohingya Muslims at UN’s highest court

Gambia filed the case against Myanmar on behalf of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation

Associated Press  > Published: 6:38am, 12 Nov, 2019

 Representatives of the Rohingya community and Gambia’s Justice Minister Aboubacarr Tambadou, left,         listen to a testimony during a press conference in The Hague. Photo: AP Photo

 Myanmar was accused Monday of genocide at the UN’s highest court for its campaign against the country’s Rohingya Muslim minority, as lawyers asked the International Court of Justice to urgently order measures “to stop Myanmar’s genocidal conduct immediately.”

Gambia filed the case on behalf of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation.Gambia’s justice minister and attorney general, Abubacarr Marie Tambadou, told The Associated Press he wanted to “send a clear message to Myanmar and to the rest of the international community that the world must not stand by and do nothing in the face of terrible atrocities that are occurring around us. It is a shame for our generation that we do nothing while genocide is unfolding right before our own eyes.”

Myanmar officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment.Myanmar’s military began a harsh counter-insurgency campaign against the Rohingya in August 2017 in response to an insurgent attack. More than 700,000 Rohingya fled to neighbouring Bangladesh to escape what has been called an ethnic cleansing campaign involving mass rapes, killings and the torching of homes.

      A Rohingya Muslim man, who crossed over from Myanmar into Bangladesh, builds a shelter for his family in Taiy Khali refugee camp, Bangladesh. Photo: AP Photo

The head of a UN fact-finding mission on Myanmar warned last month that “there is a serious risk of genocide recurring.”The mission also said in its final report in September that Myanmar should be held responsible in international legal forums for alleged genocide against the Rohingya.

The case filed at the International Court of Justice, also known as the world court, alleges that Myanmar’s campaign against the Rohingya, which includes “killing, causing serious bodily and mental harm, inflicting conditions that are calculated to bring about physical destruction, imposing measures to prevent births, and forcible transfers, are genocidal in character because they are intended to destroy the Rohingya group in whole or in part.”

Gambia’s delegation with Justice Minister Aboubacarr Tambadou, far left, leave the Peace Palace which houses the International Court in The Hague, Netherlands. Photo: AP Photo

Tambadou said in a statement: “Gambia is taking this action to seek justice and accountability for the genocide being committed by Myanmar against the Rohingya, and to uphold and strengthen the global norm against genocide that is binding upon all states.”

Param-Preet Singh, associate international justice director at Human Rights Watch, called the case a “game changer” and called on other states to support it. The world court ordering provisional measures “could help stop the worst ongoing abuses against the Rohingya in Myanmar,” she said.

The International Criminal Court’s prosecutor also asked judges at that court in July for permission to open a formal investigation into alleged crimes against humanity committed against Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar.

Not safe for Rohingya to return to Myanmar, UN investigator says

Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said she wants to investigate crimes of deportation, inhumane acts and persecution allegedly committed as Rohingya were driven from Myanmar, which is not a member of the global court, into Bangladesh, which is.

The International Criminal Court holds individuals responsible for crimes while the International Court of Justice settles disputes between nations. Both courts are based in The Hague.

Last month, Myanmar’s UN ambassador, Hau Do Suan, called the UN fact-finding mission “one-sided” and based on “misleading information and secondary sources.” He said Myanmar’s government takes accountability seriously and that perpetrators of all human rights violations “causing the large outflow of displaced persons to Bangladesh must be held accountable.”

Simon Adams, Executive Director of the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, welcomed the filing. “The international community failed to prevent a genocide in Myanmar, but it is not too late to hold the State of Myanmar accountable for its crimes,” he said.

Yasmin Ullah, a Rohingya activist based in Canada, said the court case helps by recognising the suffering of her people.

“It is so important for us to feel like our pain is recognised because we’ve internalised all our lives that we’re not worthy and so that is why it’s such an emotional moment,” she told AP after a panel discussion in The Hague. “But it also is important that the word ‘genocide’ has been uttered so much within one hour … and we’ve pushed so hard for it for such a long time and finally it is being heard.”

Tags: Rohingya Muslims, Myanmar, International Criminal Court, Human rights


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Muslim Nations Bring Genocide Suit Against Myanmar Over 2017 Expulsion of Rohingya


 Muslim Nations Bring Genocide Suit Against Myanmar Over 2017 Expulsion of Rohingya


Representatives from the Rohingya community and Gambia’s Justice Minister Aboubacarr Marie Tambadou (L) listen to testimony during a press conference in The Hague, the Netherlands, where the West African nation filed a case at the International Court of Justice accusing Myanmar of genocide against Rohingya Muslims, Nov. 11, 2019. Associated Press

Gambia on Monday filed a lawsuit against Myanmar in the highest court of the United Nations, accusing the Southeast Asia nation of state-sponsored genocide for the brutal military-led crackdown against Rohingya Muslims in 2017 that left thousands dead and drove more than 740,000 across the border into Bangladesh.

Myanmar has largely denied that its forces were responsible for widespread violence that included indiscriminate killings, mass rape, torture, and the burning of Rohingya villages in Rakhine state, saying its measures were a justified response to deadly attacks on police outposts by a militant Rohingya group.

Gambia, a predominantly Muslim African country, filed the case with the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague, the Netherlands, on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), a group of 57 Muslim countries.

The lawsuit alleges that Buddhist-majority Myanmar breached the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, adopted by the U.N. in 1948, with the military-led crackdown targeting the Rohingya minority.

It also asks the ICJ to order Myanmar to cease and desist from all acts of genocide, to punish those responsible, including senior government officials and military officers, and to issue reparations to victims, according to a statement issued by Foley Hoag LLC, the international law firm assisting Gambia with the case.

“The Gambia is taking this action to seek justice and accountability for the genocide being committed by Myanmar against the Rohingya, and to uphold and strengthen the global norm against genocide that is binding upon all states,” the West African nation’s justice minister and attorney general, Aboubacarr Marie Tambadou, said in a statement, according to news agencies.

Gambia has also called for urgent provisional measures “to stop Myanmar’s genocidal conduct immediately” to prevent further harm to the Rohingya while the case is pending, Foley Hoag’s statement said. The court is expected to hold oral hearings on the request in December, it said.

Myanmar government officials have not yet issued a response, but Hau Do Suan, Myanmar’s ambassador to the U.N., told RFA’s Myanmar Service Monday that Myanmar and Bangladesh should resolve the issue themselves.

“As far as we know, Gambia has been assigned to the task by the decision from the OIC ministerial meeting to prosecute Myanmar for the displaced Muslims,” he said. “In my opinion, the issue we have here is between Myanmar and Bangladesh. It has nothing to do with the OIC or Gambia.”

A bilateral issue

Hau Do Suan said he did not have any other comments to make since lawsuit was just submitted today.

“But the point is the ICJ is meant to settle disputes between member countries for issues like border disputes or legal disputes,” he said. “As far as I know, there has never been a single lawsuit on settling humanitarian issues. Now, since they have filed the lawsuit formally, we have to face the proceeding through legal means.”

“This is an issue to be resolved bilaterally between Myanmar and Bangladesh,” he said. “It is obvious that they are trying to utilize international pressure instead of helping to resolve this humanitarian issue.”

Bangladesh’s Foreign Minister A.K. Abdul Momen told the state-run news service BSS that officials welcomed the news. “This is good news that OIC is taking some responsibility,” he said.

Shahriar Alam, a junior minister at Bangladesh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service, in Dhaka that the lawsuit was filed after the OIC appointed lawyers and created a committee.

“The committee discussed the issue and later, at a meeting of foreign ministers, a resolution was adopted to file a case,” Alam said. “It took a few days for preparation and appointment of lawyers.”

In March, the OIC unanimously adopted a resolution to pursue legal recourse through the ICJ, which settles disputes between nations, to seek accountability and justice for human rights violations committed against the Rohingya in Myanmar.

Fatou Bensouda (L), top prosecutor at the International Criminal Court, sits in one of the body’s courtrooms at                     The Hague, the Netherlands, July 8, 2019. Credit: AFP

Rights groups welcome move

Rights groups said they were pleased by the latest action to hold Myanmar accountable for violations against the Rohingya. “We Rohingya welcome Gambia’s lawsuit against Myanmar,” Tun Khin, president of the Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK (BROUK), told RFA. “I think this lawsuit will be very effective since Myanmar is one of the signatories of the Genocide Convention.”

“Government-to-government lawsuits are more likely to proceed because only that kind of action will save the Rohingya from genocide,” he said. “Otherwise, it will keep going on for many years to come. We don’t know how long these atrocities will keep happening in the future since it is part of government policy.”

New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) also welcomed the move, saying it could help stop further abuses against the Rohingya.

“The Gambia’s legal action triggers a judicial process before the world’s highest court that could determine that Myanmar’s atrocities against the Rohingya violate the Genocide Convention,” said Param-Preet Singh, HRW’s associate international justice director. “The court’s prompt adoption of provisional measures could help stop the worst ongoing abuses against the Rohingya in Myanmar.”

Other NGOs supporting the initiative include No Peace Without Justice, the Association pour la Lutte Contre l’Impunité et pour la Justice Transitionnelle, the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, the Global Justice Center, the International Bar Association Human Rights Institute, Parliamentarians for Global Action, and the Women’s Initiatives for Gender Justice, HRW said.

Southeast Asia-based Fortify Rights called on U.N. member states to support Gambia’s case against Myanmar for failing to prevent or punish genocide against the Rohingya. “Governments have condemned atrocities against Rohingya in Myanmar, but now it’s time to act,” said Matthew Smith, the group’s chief executive officer, in a printed statement.

“The Gambia’s leadership on this issue is monumental, and its government shouldn’t have to do it alone,” he said. “States can start by providing financial, diplomatic, and substantive support through public statements and submissions to the court on interpretations of the genocide convention.”

Signs of genocidal intent

An Independent International Fact-Finding Mission (FFM) appointed by the U.N. Human Rights Council in its final report issued in mid-September found signs of genocidal intent in the 2017 military campaign and warned that the roughly 600,000 Rohingya currently living in Myanmar face a “serious risk of genocide.”

Hau Do Suan derided the FFM’s findings in October, saying they were based on “one-sided views, unsubstantiated allegations, misleading information based on secondary sources, and narratives.”

He added that Myanmar takes the issue of accountability seriously and has repeatedly stated that the perpetrators of human right violations “causing the large outflow of displaced persons to Bangladesh must be held accountable.”

The move by Gambia follows a notice filed in June by Fatou Bensouda, chief prosecutor of The Hague-based International Criminal Court (ICC), which tries individuals accused of committing crimes against humanity, about her intention to seek authorization to open a formal investigation into alleged crimes against humanity committed against Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar.

Bensouda said she wanted to investigate crimes of deportation, inhumane acts, and persecution allegedly committed as Rohingya were driven from Myanmar, which is not a member of the ICC, into Bangladesh, which is a member.

A month after Bensouda filed the notice, ICC prosecutor James Stewart and a court delegation conducted a six-day trip to southeast Bangladesh and the Rohingya refugee camps as part of preparations for the potential investigation.

Reported by Khin Maung Nyane and Soe San Aung for RFA’s Myanmar Service, and by BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane and Ye Kaung Myint Maung. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.


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The Unwanted: A Haunting Look At The Rohingya Who Escaped Genocide

The Unwanted: A Haunting Look At The Rohingya Who Escaped Genocide

       A Haunting Look at the Rohingya Who Escaped from Burmese Genocide – Photo – Paula Bronstein – Getty Images

October 29, 2019, 8:23 p.m.

STRANDED, STATELESS, UNWANTED, they are citizens of no country. Myanmar and Bangladesh toss their fate back and forth, even as Myanmar’s army makes one thing clear to every Rohingya they aren’t raping, murdering, burning, or shooting: “Get out and don’t come back.” So they flee from their villages until they reach the border of Rakhine state, their ostensible home in Myanmar.

When they can, they board boats to escape, some are so rickety they capsize, and many can’t swim across the riverDrowned children and young women wash up on the shores of Bangladesh. Sometimes an entire family is gone to the sea. You can see the nighttime devastation of families gathering their dead, washing their bodies, wrapping them in shrouds for burial, here in Paula Bronstein’s photographs.

This article includes graphic images that some readers may find disturbing.

Rohingya wait in line for hours as an emergency food distribution is organized by the World Food Program and Save the Children. Rice, lentils, sugar, salt, and oil are given out, Oct. 7, Kutupalong, Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. Photo: Paula Bronstein/Getty Images

Madia Khatun, a relative, grieves next to the bodies of five children, after an overcrowded boat carrying Rohingya fleeing Myanmar capsized overnight, killing about 12 people, Oct. 9, on Shah Porir Dwip Island, Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. Photo: Paula Bronstein/Getty Images

     A man hits anxious Rohingya children with a cane during a humanitarian aid distribution while monsoon rains continue to batter the area causing more difficulties, Oct. 7, Thainkhali camp, Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. Photo: Paula Bronstein/Getty Images


Most of the Rohingya amass in villages near Bangladesh waiting for the mysterious crossings. Photographers, fixers, aid agencies get whispers: the crossing is coming. Then suddenly, in the pre-dawn light, tens of thousands of Rohingya are on the move, wading through green, sodden, rice paddies, belongings cabbaged on the head, babies in arms, wounded on shoulders. “The faucet is turned on and then suddenly turned off,” says Bronstein, who photographed two of these monumental migrations, October 9 and October 16. Is there coordination between the Myanmar and Bangladeshi authorities? Is it a temporary solution? A permanent ethnic cleansing? Coordinated cleansing?

Laundry hangs on a line overlooking the sprawling refugee camp on Oct. 2, 2017 in Balukhali, Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. Photo: Paula Bronstein/Getty Images

Thousands of Rohingya refugees fleeing from Myanmar walk along a muddy rice field after crossing the border in Palang Khali, Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. Photo: Paula Bronstein/Getty Images

The refugees then walk for miles inside Bangladesh. Some stop in abandoned villages, some make it to decades-old refugee camps, some are whacked with bamboo rods by the Bangladeshi border guards, ordered to stay in the fields with no idea of what’s going on, where they will end up, when it will end.

Why? Perhaps to get more money, Bronstein says.

“It was outrageously inhuman. They made it to where they’d get water and biscuits from WFP [the World Food Program] and the authorities said, ‘No we’re sorry you have to go back into the field, the rice paddy.’ They were crying, especially the children, ‘These horrible Bangladeshi border guards are threatening to beat us, and we don’t know what is going on.’ They kept them for three days in muddy fields and then processed them. It was atrocious. Why they did this, I can’t get a straight answer.”

Aneta Begum, 25, is treated for a head injury by staff member Jacqueline Murekezi at a Doctors Without Borders clinic on Oct. 4, 2017 in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. Doctors Without Borders has been providing comprehensive basic health care services at their Kutupalong clinic since 2009. Due to the current crisis, the clinic has expanded its inpatient capacity, dealing with approximately 2,500 outpatient treatments and around 1,000 emergency room patients per week. Photo: Paula Bronstein/Getty Images

A severely malnourished and premature baby, 15 days old, is treated in the pediatric-neonatal unit at the Doctors Without Borders Kutupalong clinic on Oct. 4, 2017 in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. Doctors Without Borders has been providing comprehensive basic health care services at this clinic since 2009.Photo: Paula Bronstein/Getty Images

It rained while they were stranded. There was nowhere to sit or sleep. “And then the sun comes out and you get a rainbow,” Bronstein notes. “It’s beautiful, and people are in agony. Nature does funny things. There’s always beauty where people are suffering.”

Just down the road from the camps where tens of thousands of Rohingya languish, there is a beach resort where tourists take selfies, swim, and drink cocktails.

THE ROHINGYA CRISIS is not new. Aid groups have provided relief in Bangladeshi camps that are decades old. The Rohingya keep coming with each new wave of violence doled out to them by the Myanmar authorities. Reports are now emerging, from clinics and those who escaped, of soldiers and Buddhist extremists slaughtering the men and dragging girls as young as 9 years old into the forest to gang rape them. Rape is one of the tools of ethnic cleansing. Burn the villages. Slaughter the men. Rape the girls. Decimate a people.

Is there any political will or authoritative moral institution that will indict anyone for war crimes? Who would bring the charges? Russia? The Chinese? They have too much at stake in Burma economically, geographically. They’ve been involved in building a new Economic Zone with an industrial park, oil and gas terminals, and a railway line all in Rakhine state, where the Rohingya reside. As for the U.S., it has far diminished influence in Asia — not to mention the world —and no credibility left with regard to human rights or internationalism.

Sajida Begum, 18, sits in her makeshift tent, washing rice for dinner as smoke catches the late-afternoon light, Sept. 25, 2017 in Thainkhali camp, Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. Photo: Paula Bronstein/Getty Images

There are close to 2 million Rohingya in the world. Until recently, most lived in Myanmar for generations with their identity questioned, their history denied. Even the name Rohingya is a source of controversy. Is it an ethnic, political, or religious grouping? The best one can say is that it’s a complex identity rooted in fluctuating kingdoms, Muslim conquests, colonialism, nationalist movements, and ethnic cleansing.

Today about 4.3% of the Burmese population is Muslim. More than half are Rohingya. The 1982 citizenship law in Myanmar made it virtually impossible for Rohingya to qualify as citizens. (You had to either prove roots in Burma before 1823, when the British colonized the area, or you have to belong to one of the approved ethnic groups — which doesn’t include Rohingya). Successive Burmese governments simply call the Rohingya as Bengalis. So they have no rights to free movement, higher education, voting, or public office. They even have to get permission to marry. Since the 1970s, with each successive onslaught of violence, the Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh, where they are also given no rights and often sent back.

The ethnic cleansing of the last two months is the most severe and systematic to date. Some 600,000 people have been forced out of Rakhine state by the Myanmar army and Buddhist extremists. And so today, some 1.3 million Rohingya exist in limbo without a place on earth to call “my country.”

Boats full of people continue to arrive along the shores of the Naf River as Rohingya come in the safety of darkness Sept. 30, on Shah Porir Dwip Island, Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. Photo: Paula Bronstein/Getty Images

People cross a bamboo bridge over a stream as the sun sets on Oct. 13, 2017 at the Kutuplaong refugee camp, Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. Photo: Paula Bronstein/Getty Images

Text by Elizabeth Rubin and photography by Paula Bronstein.

This article was first published The Intercept on 29 October  2017.

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