Aung San Suu Kyi: I know nothing

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Aung San Suu Kyi: I know nothing

Shafiur Rahman > Published at 01:18 am December 9th, 2019

FIle photo: Myanmar’s State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi attends the joint news conference of the Japan-        Mekong Summit Meeting at the Akasaka Palace State Guest House in Tokyo, Japan October 9, 2018 Reuters

 Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s state counsellor, once said: “Some people have been saying that I know nothing of Burmese politics. The trouble is that I know too much.” Those words were uttered in another era when Aung San Suu Kyi was the focal point of democratic efforts in Myanmar. Now, three decades later, Aung San Suu Kyi claims to know nothing about the alleged ongoing genocide in her country. Such is her assuredness that she has decided to lead the delegation to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in defence of Myanmar in a landmark case, brought by Gambia, which alleges that Myanmar has been violating the Genocide Convention. DhakaTribune asked some of the world’s foremost experts and also Rohingya activists on what they think about Aung San Suu Ky’s decision to go to The Hague.

Professor Penny Green, Queen Mary University of London, one of the first academics to analyze the Rohingya crisis as one of genocide.

 Aung San Suu Kyi will go to the Hague to defend her political class and Myanmar’s generals against the charge of genocide with a well-rehearsed repertoire of denial. And in denial, both material and rhetorical, she is particularly well practiced. Since her rise to power she has denied the right of Rohingya to self-identify, she has denied them the most basic human rights, she has denied that they are held in concentration camps in Rakhine state at the same time as denying them adequate food, health care, freedom of movement and access to livelihood in those very camps. When the military launched its final assault on the Rohingya in Northern Rakhine State in 2016-17 Aung San Suu Kyi was quick to deny well proven accusations of mass killings and mass rape.

And she defended the military in their denial of the worst human right violations imaginable. The Hague will provide yet another forum for genocide denial. Her leadership of Myanmar’s delegation is a clear illustration of the intimate relationship she and her government have with the military. They have spoken with one voice and acted with one barbarous intention – to eliminate the Rohingya from Myanmar soil, polity and history. Claims that Suu Kyi had no alternative but to acquiesce in the face of Tatmadaw (official name of the Armed Forces of Myanmar) power hold no water given her record of human rights violations, while her decision to lead Myanmar’s defence of its indefensible brutality at the ICJ demonstrates her iron-clad complicity and belief in the crimes that she and her co-conspirators perpetrated. The evidence is incontrovertible, Aung San Suu Kyi is a genocidaire who both supported, assisted in engineering and participated in the coordinated destruction of the Myanmar Rohingya people.

Laetitia van den Assum, Dutch diplomat and former member of Kofi Annan’s Advisory Commission on Rakhine State, Myanmar.

First of all, I think it is good that Myanmar is engaging with Gambia and the ICJ. And it is not at all unusual that foreign ministers lead missions to the Court. Remember, for example, Thailand v. Cambodia about a border dispute which related to the ancient Preah Vihear temple a few years ago.

What is different though, is that in this case the Court is asked to establish whether or not the state of Myanmar can be held accountable for genocide, the crime of crimes.  And even though the case is not about individual criminal responsibility but about state responsibility, the person who has been the de facto head of government since early 2016 will come into strong focus.

Of course, Myanmar has the right to obtain the best international law experts it can find. I hope that the Myanmar team will listen to them and that a sound legal strategy is developed. The political arguments we continue to hear may satisfy a domestic audience but not the court.

More generally, the three legal cases (International Criminal Court, International Court of Justice and the Universal Jurisdiction case in Argentina) are welcome if they can halt impunity and obtain justice for the Rohingya. But accountability is only one element of a much broader strategy to achieve peace, stability, justice and development for all who call Rakhine state their home. Security sector reform, judiciary reform as well as ensuring the equality of all before the law should be part of the mix. At present they are not.

 Professor John Packer, Neuberger-Jesin Professor of International Conflict Resolution at the Faculty of Law, University of Ottawa.

The appearance of Aung San Suu Kyi leading the defence in The Hague is certainly striking – unusual to say the least for a Head of Government and even Foreign Minister to appear, especially without legal education or training.  This indicates it is almost entirely about politics… and likely more about the domestic effect in Myanmar where she may enhance her position in “defending the nation”.  But internationally her participation has raised considerably attention to the case, and inescapably adds legitimacy to the process which can hardly later be condemned.  In addition, the Lady’s choice to lead the defence erases the idea of a bright red line between her and the civilian Government, on the one hand, and the Tatmadaw and security forces on the other hand: before the Court, they are one and the same.  And the exercise of her choice indicates either concurrence with the attributed actions (and shared responsibility) or an extraordinary absence of judgement (or both).

Wai Wai Nu, Rohingya lawyer and activist. At the age of 18, she and her family were imprisoned by Myanmar authorities for seven years. She is currently a visiting scholar at Columbia University and also runs the Women’s Peace Network in Myanmar.

Aung San Suu Kyi is receiving increasing public support as she might have calculated. However, her decision has also created a severe division among the people. She would do well to remember that at the end of the day, the public will come to realize the truth, and then the people of Myanmar will blame her.   Internationally, she will be losing more credibility for her continuous denial and defence of the military.  Things are much more serious than she is assuming. Many actors, including UN Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar, are monitoring all her and her government’s actions.


Mark Farmaner, director of Burma Campaign UK. He campaigned for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi. In 2012, he personally discussed Rohingya issues with her.

At the end of the day the only beneficiary will be the military. They can sit back and watch Aung San Suu Kyi, whom they see as one of their greatest threats, having her reputation with the international community and ethnic people in Burma even further damaged defending the Tatmadaw’s crimes. The real problem with Aung San Suu Kyi is not just that she defends the actions of the military. As leader of the civilian government she is also pursuing racist genocidal policies against the Rohingya denying them rights, access to education, food, and healthcare. Her policies are killing people on a weekly basis.Politically this case is a good opportunity for her.  Ahead of an election year she can play the nationalist card defending the country against foreign attacks, and by defending the military she can use this in her attempts to try to win round the military into accepting democratic reforms. One motivation is that Aung San Suu Kyi genuinely does not believe that genocide is being committed. Like many people in Burma, she seems to believe that, as they think, Rohingya are illegal immigrants and therefore human rights violations against them don’t count.  They are less than human.

Even before the Rohingya issue came to the fore, Aung San Suu Kyi has always opposed international justice mechanisms. She calls it revenge rather than justice.

Sareta Ashraph, International criminal lawyer working on accountability for ISIS genocidal crimes against the Yazidis. 

Aung San Suu Kyi’s role in the proceedings – an agent – is a specific one. While the agent has the same rights and obligations as a solicitor in a national court, she or he also serves, effectively, as the head of a special diplomatic mission with powers to commit a sovereign State. For Aung San Suu Kyi, her decision to act as Myanmar’s agent in the ICJ hearings is significant. The Gambia alleges that Myanmar has violated the Genocide Convention as a result of its campaign of killing, sexual violence and other atrocities against Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslim community. Aung San Suu Kyi consistent refusal to criticise Myanmar’s army for its attacks on the Rohingya has been described as “a sustained exercise in moral equivalence.”  As she rises to her feet before the Court, any lingering hopes one may have for this former human rights icon and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize are likely to be extinguished.

Dr Hla Kyaw Khubybe is a Rohingya and chairman of the European Rohingya Council. He is based in the Netherlands and will be organizing demonstrations against Aung San Suu Kyi.

There are two big reasons behind Aung San Suu Kyi’s intention to lead the Myanmar delegation, I believe. Firstly, she still believes that her popularity in the West is still present to some extent. Therefore, she might think that her presence could influence the ICJ process to an extent. She might also believe that her words of denials of genocidal crimes committed by the military and other governmental institutions under her watch would be taken as the truth. As a con artist with a Nobel prize, she excels in lying and denying empirical truths concerning her government and military and the heinous crimes they committed against our people.

Secondly, she is preparing for the upcoming election. Due to her incompetence and failure to bring Myanmar forward, her popularity is gradually fading away in Myanmar. However, ICJ case is bringing Burmese people out in support of her. She is mobilizing Burmese nationalism in order to stay in power.

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Trafficking in Rohingya: Exploiting the desperate

Home > Opinion > A Closer Look
December 07, 2019 / LAST MODIFIED: 01:01 AM, December 07, 2019

Trafficking in Rohingya: Exploiting the desperate

Bangladesh police rescued 15 refugees near Kutupalong. PHOTO: REUTERS/FILE PHOTO

Tasneem Tayeb

In Myanmar, the Rohingya have faced persecution, witnessed murder, endured sexual violence. While fleeing the genocide perpetrated by the Myanmar military, they had only one aim: survival. And survive they did once they crossed the border and made it to the world’s largest refugee camp in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar.

While coping with the changed circumstances—from having a life in their native Rakhine State to finding themselves displaced and stateless—the Rohingya population has had to face up to another insidious and menacing threat lurking in the shadows in their place of refuge: human trafficking.

As it turns out, refugees are some of the easier prey for the human traffickers.Human trafficking is a profitable business. Data from International Labor Organization (ILO), as reported by Fortune, suggests that “Human trafficking is estimated to bring in global profits of about USD150 billion a year—USD 99 billion from sexual exploitation”.

The majority of the victims of human trafficking are women and girls. According to the Counter-Trafficking Data Collaborative (CTDC), females make up for about 71 percent victims of human trafficking.  A lot of these women and girls are sold into forced prostitution. ILO estimated suggests, “Women represent 99 percent of the victims of forced labour in the commercial sex industry and 84 percent of forced marriages.”

The Rohingya have been vulnerable to human trafficking for years. Between 2012 and 2015, human trafficking trade involving the Rohingya is estimated to have generated between USD 50 and USD 100 million a year.

The result: trafficking of around 170,000 Rohingya from Bangladesh and Myanmar, and “‘murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation or forcible transfer, imprisonment, torture, and rape, as part of a widespread and systematic attack directed against Rohingya civilians from Myanmar and Bangladesh’ with knowledge of the widespread and systematic attack underway”, as revealed in a six-year investigation by Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (SUHAKAM) and Fortify Rights, a nongovernment rights body.

And the influx of new refugees has only made it easier for the notorious human traffickers to prey on the vulnerable people. Rampant poverty; insecurity; and lack of access to even the most basic of necessities, such as food, clothing, medicine; force the despairing people to accept whatever income-generation options that are presented to them by the traffickers.

Taking advantage of the desperation of these displaced people, the traffickers trick the more vulnerable ones into sex slavery, domestic servitude, and forced labour. And although men and young boys also fall victims to the lure of the traffickers, who give them false hopes of better lives abroad, it is the women and girls who are easier targets and the more lucrative ones.

Witness accounts, testimonials of the victims and various reports by the media and humanitarian agencies suggest that a lot of the Rohingya women have been pushed into forced prostitution and domestic slavery.

While talking to AFP, a Bangladeshi police official suggested that teenage girls, especially between 15 and 19 are at a higher risk of being sold into sex slavery. According to the US state department’s Trafficking in Persons Report 2019, Rohingya girls are transported to Dhaka, Kathmandu and Kolkata, among other destinations, where they are forced into prostitution. In the booming sex industry in Kolkata and Kathmandu, these girls become faceless sex slaves, with no prospect of ever reuniting with their families.

And some of the others become involved with the sex trade closer to home—in Chattogram, and even in the prostitution business in Kutupalong itself. According to a report by South China Morning Post, in Kutupalong the “sex industry is thriving”. “At least 500 Rohingya prostitutes live in Kutupalong,” the same report quoted a fixer as saying while elaborating the sex trade situation in the biggest Rohingya camp in Cox’s Bazar.

Most of these women and girls work in secrecy, making sure their families are unaware of their work. Fear of social stigma and retribution force these girls to endure sex slavery in silence—a fear fully taken advantage of by sex traffickers.

And prostitution by Rohingya women pose multidimensional problems for everyone involved. First of all, these women are being deprived of their dignity and pay. While the traffickers and sex traders take bigger cuts of the money earned through this trade, the women are given a paltry amount to live on.

Secondly, the women are being exposed to unsafe sex with the possibility of being infected with all kinds of STDs, including HIV. Especially because the customers are often not willing to use condoms. While talking to South China Morning Post, a Rohingya sex worker said, “I take birth control injections, but I worry about HIV every day”. Unfortunately, she has never been tested for STDs.

And not testing these girls pose a bigger and more serious threat for the customers: HIV. It is a known fact that a lot of the Rohingya women and girls have been subjected to gang rape and sexual violence by the Myanmar military. And given that Myanmar is one of the 35 countries making up for 90 percent of new HIV infections globally, as reported by UNAIDS, many of the rape victims might have been infected with the disease and other STDs during rape.

Unprotected sex exposes the customers to the sexually transmitted diseases that these women might be carrying. And spread of these diseases remains a potential threat for the region, and it is important to address this at the earliest.

Being sold into domestic slavery is another major problem faced by the Rohingya women and girls. Small girls especially are more vulnerable to this problem. Often traffickers approach desperate parents and offer to take their children to better households in the city—where life will be much easier and food more frequently available. In the hope of a brighter future, parents give away their children, who end up in domestic servitude—often exposed to battery and abuse at the hands of the employers.

Child marriage is another threat that these young Rohingya girls face. Often these girls are sent away with unreliable traffickers to distant lands—Malaysia, Indonesia, among other countries—to be married off to much-older Rohingya men who had fled to those countries earlier.

These Rohingya men are undocumented and are involved in low-paid jobs in factories and industries in those countries. And they cannot marry local women. Therefore, their only way of getting married and starting a family is by smuggling these young, vulnerable girls to those countries through traffickers.

These marriages are usually arranged over phone by the grooms’ relatives who live in the camps. In the face of sustained economic hardships, the parents often are left with no other option other than accepting these marriage proposals and allowing their daughters to embark upon desperate journeys across seas in rickety fishing boats, with no hope of ever reuniting again.

And the lucky girls, who manage to survive the hardships of the journey are exposed to all kinds of domestic abuse once married to these men. These girls live like prisoners, forced to do all kinds of household chores, and cannot even seek medical help when ill, because of their illegal residential status.

Fortify Rights have recorded cases of young girls who have been abused by their husbands in Malaysia. For these young girls, life ends even before they realise when it began.

And the growing problem of the trafficking of the Rohingya has been acknowledged by the host country. “We have alerted all the security agencies that trafficking events are taking place… We have tightened the border areas, security has been tightened on the sea and we have increased patrolling by the coast guard and the police and military are guarding and protecting this population from trafficking”, said Bangladesh’s Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner Mohammad Abul Kalam while discussing the problem.

And over the last few years the host country has indeed been able to rescue some of the victims of the human trafficking. But the problem is so complicated that it cannot simply be addressed by strengthening security measures.

In order to eliminate human trafficking, we need to address to root causes that make the Rohingya vulnerable to traffickers: economic hardships, lack of education, lack of livelihood generation opportunities, lack of access to the basic necessities.

The host country, along with the humanitarian agencies working with the Rohingya population, needs to take a more thorough and comprehensive approach covering all aspects of human trafficking in order to address and eliminate this problem. Till then, desperate people will keep falling for desperate measures in search of a better life.

Tasneem Tayeb works for The Daily Star. Her Twitter handle is: @TayebTasneem

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Saturday, December 7, 2019


By Dr. Habib Siddiqui

 I have repeatedly said that genocide never happens suddenly. It’s planned over a long period of time by perpetrators that require support top-down so that it becomes a national project to eliminate the targeted group. Such sinister initiative requires the support from evil intellectuals (the likes of Julius Streicher of the Nazi campaign in Germany) and financiers who must propagate with their intellects and finances to create enthusiasm within the larger executing community.

[Note: Interested folks may like to read some of my old articles on this subject like this one: Julius Streicher and his relevance in today’s Burma, published more than 12 years ago (see the link here]

As far as the Rohingya genocide is concerned, the role of Julius Streicher, the evil genius part, has long been performed by such guys like Aye Chan (who teaches in Japan), Aye Kyaw (who died few years ago; taught at New York University as a US naturalized citizen) and Khin Maung Saw – who lives in Germany. As to the financial side of the equation, there are plenty of little evil ones to big ones, mostly living outside Myanmar who contribute for their evil cause of elimination of the targeted group. Aye Ne Win, the grandson of General Ne Win (who ruled the Buddhist country almost unchallenged for nearly a quarter century), is widely known to be one of the key financiers of the Buddhist fascist group known as the Ma Ba Tha (led by terrorist monk Wirathu) that calls for the genocide of the Rohingya.

Recently, two of my human rights comrades (London-based) Maung Zarni and (Germany-based) Nay San Lwin were targeted by Aye Ne Win. In a video circulated on social media, Aye Ne Win, one of Myanmar’s most well-known entrepreneurs, urged Myanmar’s intelligence service to launch an Israel-style operation to abduct the two activists.

He can be seen as saying: “Concerning Maung Zarni and Nay San Lwin, it is high time for Myanmar military intelligence services to launch an Israeli-style kidnap operation that captured Eichmann in South America… These creatures should not dare to come to our country. They scream foul from abroad but they need to be tried here [in Myanmar].”

Dr. Zarni told Anadolu Agency: “We are taking this very seriously as it came from one of the richest and most racist men in Myanmar — Aye Ne Win.” (Ne Win has strong ties with the country’s government, military and intelligence services.) Zarni stated that they have been targeted because he was “the whistleblower of Rohingya genocide” and along with Lwin helped the UN Fact-Finding Mission on the Rohingya genocide. “The [Myanmar’] military-intelligence-run proxy news organizations have been running extremely vitriolic attacks on us – with our pictures as ‘enemies of the state’,” he underlined.

“We are taking these latest developments very seriously… Both of us are informing our respective government agencies, including local police,” Zarni added.

“The specific threats against Maung Zarni and Nay San Lwin are dangerous not just to the personal security of these men and their families,” Katherine Southwick, international legal expert and visiting scholar at George Mason University’s School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution, told Al Jazeera.

“These threats also create a climate of fear and intimidation against any individual or non-governmental group that might call for, support, or cooperate with justice efforts like the ICJ (International Court of Justice) case,” she added.

South-wick said attempts to intimidate the activists could undermine the search for “accountability and justice that is so clearly needed in Myanmar”.

Lwin and Zarni are expected to attend the upcoming ICJ hearing on Dec. 10-12, 2019 in The Hague.  The lawsuit was lodged by Gambia, a West African nation, after garnering support from the OIC.

It should be noted that nearly a million Rohingya refugees, mostly women and children, have fled Myanmar and crossed into Bangladesh after Myanmar forces launched a genocidal crackdown on the minority Muslim community in August 2017, pushing the number of world’s most persecuted people (i.e., the Rohingya) in Bangladesh to above 1.2 million.

Since Aug. 25, 2017, nearly 24,000 Rohingya Muslims have been killed by Myanmar’s state forces, according to a report by the Ontario International Development Agency (OIDA).

More than 34,000 Rohingya were also thrown into fires, while over 114,000 others were beaten, said the OIDA report, titled “Forced Migration of Rohingya: The Untold Experience.” Some 18,000 Rohingya women and girls were raped by Myanmar’s army and police and over 115,000 Rohingya homes were burned down and 113,000 others vandalized, it added.

Aye Ne Win’s fervent appeal to the intelligence unit of the murderous and rapist armed forces of Myanmar to muzzle the voices of those who are brave enough to point out its crimes of genocide against the most persecuted Rohingya is simply alarming. Because, it says loud and clear that the promoters and executers of the Rohingya genocidal program, let alone the on-going suffering and persecution of the surviving Rohingya, are not satisfied with the outcome of their ‘final solution’ to eliminate them entirely. Now they want to target the exiled human rights activists living outside the ‘den of Buddhist intolerance’, called Myanmar.

This threat to the lives of human rights activists must be taken very seriously by the international community, esp. the ICJ.

What is needed to bring to an end such genocidal crimes are, however, a simple and a prudent one: arrest such criminals who stoke genocidal violence, prosecute them and punish them for their evil roles that have resulted in the suffering of so many. And this task should be an easy one to apprehend evil geniuses like Aye Chan (author of the hate literature – ‘Influx Viruses: the illegal Muslims in Arakan” – depicting the Rohingyas as legitimate targets for elimination, and many other anti-Rohingya vitriolic propaganda) and Khin Maung Saw (and financiers like Aye Ne Win (UK educated), who mostly live outside Myanmar.

Yet, the international community and the hosting countries have repeatedly failed in such tasks letting these criminals to sow violence in their native lands while they live untouched and unscathed in places like Japan and Germany and elsewhere. Why this deafening silence, why this criminal inaction from the countries that are supposed to be role models for protecting human rights? I am simply dumbfounded!


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Genocide case against Myanmar to be heard at highest UN court

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02:10 PM, December 06, 2019 / LAST MODIFIED: 02:12 PM, December 06, 2019

Genocide case against Myanmar to be heard at highest UN court

Myanmar’s State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi talks to journalists during a press conference after she met with South Korean President Moon Jae-in at the Presidential Palace in Naypyitaw, Myanmar September 3, 2019. Photo: REUTERS/Thar Byaw.

Reuters, The Hague

Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi will head a team of lawyers to hearings at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague next week to defend the country against accusations of genocide against the Rohingya Muslims.


The ICJ, also called the World Court, is the highest United Nations legal body, established in 1945 to deal with disputes between states. It should not be confused with the treaty-based International Criminal Court, also in The Hague, which handles war crimes cases against individuals.

The ICJ’s 15-judge panel has historically dealt with border disputes. Increasingly it also hears cases brought by states accusing others of breaking obligations under UN treaties.

This case was brought against Myanmar by the tiny West African nation of Gambia, acting with the support of the 57-member Organisation for Islamic Cooperation (OIC), under the 1948 Genocide Convention. Both countries are signatories.

The convention obliges the 150 signatory countries not to commit genocide, but also to prevent and punish genocide. It defines genocide as “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group”.


The hearings at the ICJ from Dec.10-12 will not, at this stage, consider whether Myanmar is guilty of genocide. They will focus on a request for so-called provisional measures against Myanmar, a sort of preliminary injunction seeking to halt any ongoing abuse or violations. The measure is similar to a restraining order, but against a state rather than a person.

Judges at the ICJ often grant such measures, which generally consist of asking a state to refrain from any action that could aggravate the legal dispute.

ICJ cases typically take years to come to a conclusion, but a decision on provisional measures could be made within weeks. Its rulings are final and without appeal, but the court has no way of enforcing them. Still a ruling against Myanmar could hurt its international reputation and set legal precedent.


The court has handed down a final judgment in one other genocide case in the past, in which Bosnia accused neighbouring Serbia of masterminding genocide of Bosnian Muslims during the 1992-95 war.

In 2007, the ICJ ruled that genocide was committed in Bosnia during the 1995 massacre of some 8,000 Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica. However, the judges said there was not enough evidence that the Serbian government was directly involved in the slaughter. Nonetheless the court found Serbia guilty of violating the convention by failing to prevent genocide.

It is hard to compare the Bosnia-Serbia case to Myanmar because the former was bolstered by a string of judgments at the UN’s International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslav, which had already determined the Srebrenica massacre constituted genocide under international law.

Myanmar faces a series of legal contests globally accusing it of alleged atrocities against Rohingya Muslims during a military-led crackdown two years ago, but there are no legal precedents.

Related Topics : Myanmar, Rohingya Muslim crisis


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Justice, Argentina and ‘universal jurisdiction’

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Wednesday, December 04, 2019

Justice, Argentina and ‘universal jurisdiction’

President of the Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK, U Tun Khin (L), and Argentine human rights lawyer Mr Tomas Ojea Quintana (R) leave the Argentine federal court in Buenos Aires on November 13. (AFP)

 In the second of our two-part series on justice and accountability in Rakhine State, we examine the use of “universal jurisdiction” in Argentina and the problems with Myanmar’s own investigation into allegations of abuses. 


 THE WHEELS of justice are moving in regards to Rakhine State across a range of institutions and countries. In part one of this series we examined the roles of the International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar and Independent Investigative Mission for Myanmar, and recent developments in the International Criminal Court and International Court of Justice.

Myanmar has refused to recognise the ICC’s jurisdiction, but is taking a different approach to the ICJ. Since our article, State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has announced she will lead Myanmar’s delegation to respond to the allegations. As the country’s “agent”, she will represent Myanmar in all aspects before the ICJ. And yes, it seems she will speak in court: the agent has the same rights as a lawyer in a national court and normally opens the argument on behalf of their government.

The ICJ hearing will begin on December 10 with three days of oral arguments on The Gambia’s request for the court to announce “provisional measures” to stop Myanmar’s “genocidal acts” against the Rohingya who remain in northern Rakhine State. But there is movement in other parts of the world, too, as well as closer to home.

‘Universal jurisdiction’

How can a national court on the other side of the world consider a criminal complaint of genocide? The answer is universal jurisdiction – the principle that some crimes are so heinous and of such magnitude that they can be prosecuted regardless of where they occur.

Universal jurisdiction emerged in the 17th century in response to rampant piracy. It was used again after World War II to try war criminals, including at the Nuremberg Trials, and was developed further as a result of Israel’s prosecution in 1962 of Adolph Eichmann, a Nazi war criminal who had been hiding out in Argentina.

Since World War II the principle of universal jurisdiction has expanded significantly to cover acts such as terrorism and torture, and to reflect new international treaties such as the Genocide Convention.

Application of universal jurisdiction appears to be on an upswing, according to Swiss NGO Trial International. It has described 2017 and 2018 as a turning point because more states, particularly in Europe, are becoming serious about using universal jurisdiction to bring rights violators to justice.

While many states recognise some form of universal jurisdiction in their national laws, most only allow its application in fairly narrow circumstances – for example, if the ­accused is already in the state’s custody. Argentina is different; section 118 of its constitution allows the prosecution of crimes “committed outside the territory of the nation against public international law”. A more recent law clarifies that this includes crimes foreseen in the Rome Statute, including genocide and crimes against humanity, and gives Argentina’s federal courts jurisdiction.

Since 2009 many cases have been filed in Argentina under universal jurisdiction, the most prominent being for crimes allegedly committed in Spain during the Franco era.

And so, on November 13, the Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK filed a complaint in the federal court of the Argentine capital Buenos Aires calling for Myanmar’s military and civilian leaders – including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi – to be investigated and prosecuted for potential genocide and crimes against humanity.

Mr Tomás Ojea Quintana, an Argentine human rights lawyer who served as United Nations special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar from 2008 to 2014, is providing BROUK with legal representation, and brings significant credibility to the filing. The complaint also has the support of two leading Latin American human rights organisations, Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo and the Foundation for Peace and Justice.

Unlike Gambia’s application to the ICJ under the Genocide Convention, the complaint filed in Argentina focuses on individual rather than state responsibility. The ICC, too, is examining individual responsibility, but only in a limited context: because Myanmar is not a party to the Rome Statute, the alleged crimes must have taken place at least in part on the territory of Bangladesh, which joined the ICC in 2010.

In that sense, the three cases are complementary rather than overlapping. BROUK’s filing to the Federal Court in Argentina notes that until now “no national or international judicial jurisdiction exists for dealing with the case as regards the crimes committed in the territory of Myanmar”.

The complaint draws significantly on the work of the International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar and the recently established International Investigative Mechanism on Myanmar, not only in terms of establishing the evidentiary basis for the complaint but also in reassuring the court that geographical distance and judicial resources in Argentina would not be an obstacle to proceeding with an investigation. It requests that the court make contact with the IIMM to gain access to evidence collected by the IFFM.

However, the complaint differs from the IFFM on a significant point: the culpability of civilian authorities in alleged genocide and crimes against humanity. The IFFM noted that Aung San Suu Kyi had not used her position or moral authority to stop or condemn the military’s actions, and that civilian authorities had “spread hateful and false narratives” and blocked investigations into alleged abuses, among other things. But it concluded that it was not possible to reasonably affirm that Aung San Suu Kyi’s government knowingly contributed to the alleged crimes.

BROUK’s complaint describes this analysis as shallow and contradictory to other parts of the IFFM report, and argues that the military’s actions “could not have been deployed without the complementation, the coordination, the support or the acquiescence of the different civilian authorities”.

It also lists several civilians as potentially liable for genocide, including the monk U Wirathu and politician U Nay Myo Wai. It calls on the court to ensure the “perpetrators, co-perpetrators, participators and accessories be identified”, and the necessary steps be taken for them to give a statement, including through arresting or extraditing them as necessary.

As with the ICC, Myanmar has rejected the court’s jurisdiction and said it will not respond to the allegations.If the case in Argentina proceeds, it will of course mean more bad press for Myanmar. But there could be practical implications for the country, too; for example, the court could conceivably issue arrest warrants for military and civilian leaders, including Aung San Suu Kyi, potentially limiting their ability to travel abroad.

Burnt villages in Maungdaw Township, seen from a military helicopter providing a tour for British Foreign Secretary Mr Jeremy Hunt over northern Rakhine State on September 20, 2018. (AFP)

Myanmar’s ‘independent’ investigation

Amid recent developments in The Hague and Argentina, little has been said about Myanmar’s own efforts at accountability, the Independent Commission of Enquiry ( ICOE ). Established in June 2018, the commission is chaired by Ms Rosario Manalo from the Philippines and includes Mr Kenzo Oshima of Japan, former Constitutional Tribunal chair U Mya Thein and Dr Aung Tun Thet.

The ICOE is relevant to all three international cases. The ICC, for example, is considered a “court of last resort”, intervening only when a country is unable or unwilling to credibly investigate and prosecute itself. Similarly, turning to universal jurisdiction would be widely considered unnecessary if there was any prospect of Myanmar conducting its own credible investigation.

So, what’s the problem with the ICOE?

It’s hard to know where to start. First was the timing of its creation. The government announced it would form the commission in June 2018, more than nine months after the violence of the previous August and September. By the time its members were appointed on July 30, many destroyed Rohingya villages had already been bulldozed to make way for “model” villages and security installations.

Meanwhile, the government had already conducted one inquiry, after a first round of violence in October 2016, and said it found “no evidence of crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing”. The military, too, had cleared itself of any wrongdoing.

The creation of the ICOE seemed very much like a strategic move to undermine those arguing that only international bodies or ad hoc tribunals could deliver justice in relation to Rakhine.

Apparently confirming these fears, Manalo told journalists in August 2018 that there would be “no blaming of anybody, no finger pointing of anybody” – which seemed a strange statement for a body created “with a view to seeking accountability”.

Aung Tun Thet is also concurrently a member of the government’s Union Enterprise for Humanitarian Assistance, Resettlement and Development in Rakhine, and told journalists in March 2018, “There is no ethnic cleansing or genocide in our country.”

But it’s not just the public statements of its members that are an issue. The ICOE also has no legal means to ensure accountability of members of the military or police, who are instead tried in special courts under the control of the Tatmadaw. In March, the Tatmadaw formed an investigation court comprising high-level officers to “further scrutinize and approve the respective incidents”, following an earlier investigation in late 2017. A court martial of soldiers involved in a massacre of Rohingya in Gudarpyin reportedly got underway on November 26.

Still, had the ICOE been perceived as showing signs of progress towards genuine accountability – let alone justice – it would have served to dampen enthusiasm for recent moves in The Hague and Argentina.

Since its establishment, though, the commission has made only modest progress. According to its press statements, as of February it had made one visit to Rakhine, during which it collected 36 depositions, and it had received 43 submissions as a result of a public call. In a statement on November 26 it said it had interviewed about 1,500 witnesses from various communities in northern Rakhine State, but gave no further information about the format of these interviews.

In August, an advance team visited Cox’s Bazar to prepare for a planned visit of its Evidence Collection and Verification Team. The commission says it is waiting for permission from Bangladesh to send its team to Cox’s Bazar to collect depositions and evidence from witnesses. “This situation has given rise to serious concerns for ICOE considering that the conclusion of its work is fast approaching,” it said in a November 20 statement. Frontier  understands that the team will soon be given official approval to visit Cox’s Bazar and conduct interviews with and collect evidence from refugees.

The Tatmadaw and Myanmar Police Force have also provided it with documents. The commission said on November 26 that it had interviewed 20 police personnel who were present for the August 25, 2017, attacks, and was interviewing 29 military personnel assigned to northern Rakhine State between August 25 and September 5. It welcomed the Tatmadaw’s “positive cooperation” and expressed appreciation for support from the MPF and Ministry of Home Affairs.

The status of the commission’s interim report is also unclear. It was supposed to have been submitted to the President’s Office in March, but the commission said in May that it was still “in the process of being prepared for submission to the president”. The commission’s mandate has been extended to the end of the year, when it is supposed to submit its final report.

The commission could still surprise sceptics, but it seems unlikely. Even if it does visit Cox’s Bazar, the visit will likely be short and it’s doubtful that many Rohingya would feel safe making a deposition to a body that is perceived as being supportive of the Myanmar government.

It is in part because of the ICOE’s perceived lack of progress that international accountability efforts have started to move forward. If there was a “wait and see” period, it has long passed.

Tags: justice, Rakhine State, Rohingya, United Nations, International Criminal Court, International Court of Justic, Aung San Suu Kyi, genocide

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 Thomas Kean

Thomas Kean has been working in Myanmar as a journalist and editor since 2008. Before joining Frontier in May 2016, he edited the English edition of the Myanmar Times for six years.


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Myanmar’s legacy of rape as a terror tactic

   Home > Opinion > A Closer Look
December 04, 2019 / LAST MODIFIED: 01:06 AM, December 04, 2019

Myanmar’s legacy of rape as a terror tactic

       The Myanmar military has been using rape and sexual violence as a weapon of war to exterminate the             Rohingya community—or at least a part of it. PHOTO: THOMSON REUTERS FOUNDATION

Tasneem Tayeb

While it is a well-documented fact that more than 700,000 Rohingya had to flee Myanmar’s Rakhine state since the latest onslaught of violence unleashed on them by the Myanmar military and nearly 9,000 Rohingya had been killed in Rakhine between August 25 and September 24 in 2017—as recorded by Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)—the number of women and girls who have suffered sexual violence at the hands of the military (also known as the Tatmadaw) remains unclear.

Figures from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) suggest that after arriving in Bangladesh, around 13,500 Rohingya women sought medical assistance and support to address the sexual violence—including gang rapes—that they had to endure at the hands of the Tatmadaw. But the actual number of women and girls facing sexual violence is expected to be much higher, since shame and fear of social stigma deter a lot of women from acknowledging the sexual violence that they had been inflicted upon by the Myanmar military.

Between August 2017 and February 2018, MFS recorded 160 cases of pregnant rape victims. And there were hundreds and thousands of women who chose to deliver their baby in confinement to hide their pregnancy. Young, unmarried girls, who became victims of unwanted pregnancy due to rape, were especially encouraged by their families to give birth in seclusion so that their prospects of marriage would not be hampered. The result? Unwanted infants dumped in dustbins, left at the makeshift hospitals, given away to other families.

In worse cases, there have been botched abortions resulting in miscarriages and deaths of infants and mothers—mortality we do not even have a concrete count of. Given the narratives of the Rohingya women and girls, it would not be incorrect to say that the Tatmadaw have adopted rape and sexual violence as a weapon of terrorism. Women narrate tales of being gang-raped by dozens of soldiers in their green and red outfits, often multiple times.

According to the Middle East Institute and a story published by The Guardian, there have been instances where women had been “tied by their hair and hands to trees and gang raped, for no other reason than being Rohingya Muslims.”

Razia Sultana, a prominent lawyer and activist, in an interview with Time recalls how she met a 14-year-old girl who had been raped by more than 30 soldiers. “The army is cutting women’s breasts off, gouging out their eyes. This is not just rape. This is a weapon to punish the community,” Sultana further added.

And indeed, the rape of Rohingya women and girls by the Tatmadaw and the sheer brutality of these incidents suggest that the Myanmar military has been using rape and sexual violence as a weapon of war to exterminate the Rohingya community—or at least a part of it. By sexually violating young girls and women, the Tatmadaw is sending a strong message to the Rohingya community: that there is no place for them in the Rakhine State, and that staying back will be at the cost of their lives and the honour of their women, which to a conservative society like that of the Rohingya is the ultimate humiliation.

And these crimes leave us—the host country and the agencies that are trying to provide humanitarian support to the refugees—with many unanswered but critical questions: how many women living in the Rohingya camps have been infected with sexually transmitted diseases (STD), including HIV, as a result of the mass rape that they had to endure? How many need immediate medical support to battle these diseases? How many babies have been delivered in the camps—at the makeshift hospitals or in seclusion—with HIV? How many women know that they are carrying STDs? And how many others, including locals, are at the risk of getting infected by the disease (especially since we don’t know how many living in the Cox’s Bazar camps are carrying these diseases)?

MSF, the UN agencies and the Bangladesh government are working hard to screen, identify and provide medical care to these unfortunate women and children. According to official estimates, till March 2019, at least 319 Rohingya had been identified with HIV, along with many children. Of them, 19 have died.

And while it is reassuring to see the concerned agencies are working to provide medical support to the Rohingya who have been infected with STDs, it is important to note that a lot of the potential carriers of these diseases have not opened up due to fears of social stigma.

In the midst of all these, the Rohingya women and girls are being preyed upon by human traffickers and forced into sexual slavery, potentially increasing the risk of the spread of these diseases. And while it is easier for the men to open up about their problems and seek help, it is not so easy for the women and girls who live in fear of retribution.

But the Rohingya women and girls cannot be allowed to suffer in silence. The trafficking of vulnerable Rohingya women and girls should be stopped at all costs. The Bangladesh government and the humanitarian agencies should make sure that the women and girls who have been subjected to physical, psychological and emotional trauma and pain by the Tatmadaw are given necessary medical and emotional support.

With such a large population of the Rohingya—especially those infected with deadly diseases like HIV—crammed up in the makeshift camps in Cox’s Bazar in not very healthy conditions, the host country and humanitarian agencies must do their best to address their health issues on an urgent basis. The repercussions of the spread of these diseases are going to be devastating.

All the while, we need to provide psychological and emotional counselling to these women and girls. It will not be possible to erase the memories of horror that they had to endure, the mental and physical scars, but with proper support, they may be able to carry on with their lives. Human suffering has no nationality and knows no borders. It is important that we constantly remind ourselves of these self-evident facts.

Tasneem Tayeb works for The Daily Star. Her Twitter handle is: @TayebTasneem

Tags: Myanmar’s legacy of rape as a terror tactic, A Closer Look


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Can Suu Kyi stand up to the lawsuit avalanche?

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  Can Suu Kyi stand up to the lawsuit avalanche?

By Larry Jagan,                                                                                                                                       Bangkok Post > Published at 12:02 am December 2nd, 2019

                           Photo: AFP – What’s Myanmar’s government doing to end the Rohingya crisis?

International pressure to rehabilitate the Rohingya and reform Rakhine is unlikely to dissipate

Myanmar’s top leaders — both military and civilian — have been shell-shocked by the avalanche of international legal cases they are now facing. In the space of days, three cases have been lodged in separate courts, all intended to make the Myanmar government and the country’s military leaders accountable for the horrendous events that unfolded in strife-torn western Rakhine state during military operations over the last three years.

But the key case — at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) brought by Gambia on behalf of the 57-nation member Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) — has finally propelled the Myanmar government to take decisive action. The State Counsellor, Aung San Suu Kyi, announced late last week that she will lead the country’s defense team, supported by a panel of prominent international lawyers to contest the case submitted by Gambia.

“The Myanmar government is taking this case very seriously,” the minister for international cooperation and deputy foreign minister, Kyaw Tin told the Bangkok Post in the sidelines of a major economic conference in the capital Naypitaw on Friday. In fact, as Myanmar is a signatory to this convention — which the democratic government of U Nu’s signed in 1956 — it cannot ignore the process.

This move on the part of the government came as a complete surprise to most diplomats and international observers, as most had expected Suu Kyi and her government to ignore this move at the ICJ, much in the same way as they have ignored the plethora of UN reports alleging forced evictions, the razing of Muslim villagers’ homes, rape and summary executions. But mounting a vigorous defense at the court in the Hague will not be enough to win the case nor sway international public opinion, according to many diplomats and legal experts.

“The State Counsellor, as foreign minister, will defend Myanmar’s interests,” he said. “Myanmar is looking forward to appearing in the court and using the opportunity to fully explain the country’s position.”

The minister, Kyaw Tin, went on to say that it is crucial for the international community to understand that Myanmar was only defending itself against terrorist attacks. This was not a premeditated campaign to expel the Muslims from Rakhine. “It was a matter of self-defense,” he stressed.

The major exodus of refugees started in October 2016, after an unexpected attack by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (Arsa) on several border checkpoints left several security personnel dead. Some 70,000 Muslims fled across the border into Bangladesh in the wake of a draconian military “clean up”, in which thousands of houses were razed and civilian villagers forced to flee. In August 2017, another Arsa attack — which left a score of policemen and border guards dead — saw a similar pattern of military operations and even more refugees fleeing and accusing the military of intimidation, rape, and summary executions.

Successive UN reports accused the military of conducting a campaign of ethnic cleansing with genocidal intent. The Myanmar government and the military have persistently denied these accusations.

Earlier this month the ICJ accepted a case filed by Gambia — a largely Muslim country in West Africa and a member of the OIC — intended to bring the Myanmar government to book for the army’s atrocities against the Muslim population in Rakhine. It asks the ICJ to investigate whether Myanmar’s government has violated the Geneva Convention, which prohibits genocide. In particular, it charges that Myanmar is responsible for “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, [which] are genocidal in character because they are intended to destroy the Rohingya group in whole or in part”.

Gambia has also called for the court to impose precautionary measures to prevent further genocide. It requested that the ICJ issue an urgent temporary injunction ordering Myanmar to halt all actions that could aggravate or expand the existing situation. That could involve demands to stop further extrajudicial killings, rape, and levelling of the homes where the Rohingya once lived in Rakhine state.

“It is clear that Myanmar has no intention of ending these genocidal acts and continues to pursue the destruction of the group within its territory,” the lawsuit said. The government “is deliberately destroying evidence of its wrongdoings to cover up the crimes,” it added.

The first public hearing is set to open in the Hague on December 10, at which Suu Kyi will appear, leading a legal team under Attorney General Htun Htun Oo. Three international barristers are included as part of the panel. At the moment, the state counsellor’s office is working overtime to gather evidence, testimonies, and arguments to bring to the court, according to a government insider.

“This is the highest sanction the government can level against Myanmar, with both the civilian government and the army implicated,” a diplomat told the Bangkok Post, on condition of anonymity. As the case is likely to drag on for 10-15 years, it gives Myanmar time to get things right, they suggested. “They can soften the blow with mitigating circumstances, but they need to act now,” said a legal expert, who declined to be identified. “The government needs to tackle the root causes of the conflict in Rakhine, and initiate a number of administrative reforms.”

Pressure will mount on the army to straighten their act, and there is increasing pressure on the civilian authority to ensure the army acts professionally. In due course, the army will have to carry out internal reforms, giving a greater impetus to bring the military under direct civilian rule.

“Myanmar is in the dock, so it’s time to put ‘substance to the rhetoric’” said an Asian diplomat. “Start with giving unfettered access to Rakhine, especially for the UN and NGOs — both local and international.”

What is needed is an agreed, credible, consistent, and coordinated strategy to improve the situation on the ground. Creating conditions which are conducive for the refugees to return from Bangladesh in the future must also be prioritized.

While this is an essential starting point for any long-term development and reconciliation in Rakhine, some form of credible accountability and justice for the Rohingya’s suffering is also needed, whether through an international mechanism or a local process.

Larry Jagan is a specialist on Myanmar and a former BBC World Service News editor for the region. A version of this article was previously printed in the Bangkok Post. This is being reprinted under special arrangement.

 Tags: Myanmar, Rohingya, Aung San Suu Kyi, Genocide, International Court of Justice, Gambia 


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