Tag Archives: Rohingya

#RtoPWeekly: 25 – 29 September 2017

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 The ICRtoP and scores of NGOs around the world appeal for action in Burma

Since 25 August, over 400,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled Burma to escape violence described by the United Nations as “ethnic cleansing.” Finally, on 28 September, the UN Security Council (UNSC) met for a public briefing by the UN Secretary-General on the situation in Burma for the first time in over eight years.

Ahead of this UNSC meeting, the ICRtoP and 87 other organizations from all over the globe signed an appeal calling for the UN, UN Security Council, and UN General Assembly to take action.

The appeal states:

UN member states should act to pressure Myanmar to end crimes against humanity

We, a global coalition of 88 civil society organizations, urgently call upon UN member states to take immediate steps to address the human rights abuses and humanitarian catastrophe engulfing Myanmar’s ethnic Rohingya population. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein have described the Myanmar security forces’ ongoing campaign against the Rohingya in northern Rakhine State as ethnic cleansing. As more evidence emerges, it is clear that the atrocities committed by Myanmar state security forces amount to crimes against humanity. The United Nations and its member states need to take urgent action.

We urge UN delegations, especially those from the 114 countries committed to the Accountability, Coherence and Transparency (ACT) Code of Conduct, who made a pledge to support “timely and decisive action” to prevent or end the commission of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes, to immediately undertake efforts to adopt a resolution in the UN General Assembly addressing the situation, and call upon the UN Security Council to consider measures to be imposed on the Myanmar government.

A General Assembly resolution should demand an immediate end to the abuses, that humanitarian aid agencies have immediate and unhindered access to populations in need, and for the UN Fact-Finding Mission authorized by the Human Rights Council in Geneva to be allowed unfettered access into and within Myanmar to investigate alleged human rights abuses across the country. It should also demand that the Myanmar authorities commit to ensuring that all Rohingya and other refugees and displaced people are able to return to their places of origin safely, voluntarily, and with dignity, and to dismantling the institutional discrimination and segregation of Rohingya and other Muslims in Rakhine State that forms the backdrop to the current crisis. The resolution should also urge member states and the Security Council to explore possible avenues to bring perpetrators of crimes under international law to justice.

We also urge members of the Security Council to add to the pressure on Myanmar authorities by seriously considering options such as an arms embargo against the military and targeted financial sanctions against individuals responsible for crimes and serious abuses.

All concerned UN member states should also consider bilateral, multilateral, and regional actions they can take to place added pressure on the Myanmar government. In particular, we call on all states to immediately suspend military assistance and cooperation with Myanmar.

If governments, UN officials and diplomats simply hold meetings and make speeches as atrocities continue in Myanmar, they bear the risk of failing to use every diplomatic tool at their disposal to stop the ethnic cleansing campaign and further crimes against humanity. In the face of mass destruction, killings and hundreds of thousands displaced, inaction should not be an option.

For the full text of the appeal and a complete list of  the signatories, please click here.


Catch up on developments in…

Burma/Myanmar
Burundi
CAR
DRC
Iraq 
Kenya 
Nigeria
South Sudan 
Sudan
Syria
Venezuela
Yemen
Other 


Burma/Myanmar:

On 22 September, seven members of the UN Security Council asked Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to brief them on the situation in Burma. Those who initiated the request include the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Egypt, Sweden, Senegal, and Kazakhstan. The Security Council has met in private twice since conflict erupted in Burma on 25 August, and issued a statement last week condemning the violence. Members of the Security Council expressed interest in the passing of a resolution, but it is expected that in such an event, UNSC Permanent Members China and Russia would utilize their veto power.

In her speech to the UN General Assembly (UNGA) this week, Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina called upon the international community to create “safe zones” inside Burma where Rohingya migrants could return. ICRtoP member Human Rights Watch (HRW) urged that the proposal be reconsidered, and referenced the acts of violence in safe zones in former Bosnia-Herzegovina and Sri Lanka.

The Burmese government has reported that they have discovered three mass graves with the remains of at least 45 Hindus in the Rakhine state. Burmese officials accused, the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARCA) of being responsible for the murders. It is reported that Burmese forces recovered the remains of 20 women and eight boys, including six boys under the age of ten.  A third mass grave nearby contained the remains of 17 more Hindus, according to Burmese officials. Locals have reported that ARCA have abducted 100 Hindus, and killed all but eight women. ARCA also reportedly forced the women to convert to Islam.

On 25 September, HRW released a report accusing the Burmese security forces of atrocities, including rape, forced deportation, murder, and persecution against the Rohingya population in Burma. The alleged actions have resulted in countless deaths and mass displacement, according to HRW, and may amount to crimes against humanity. HRW has called for the “Security Council and concerned countries to impose target sanctions and an arms embargo on the Burmese military to stop further crimes.”

Doctors from the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and from Doctors Without Borders have reported that have treated scores of Rohingya women for complications associated with rape and sexual violence. Pramila Patten, UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence, expressed concern about the utilization of sexual violence against the Rohingya minority group. She reported that victims said sexual violence was being used as a “calculated tool of terror to force targeted populations to flee.” Almost all of the reports from migrants have claimed that sexual violence was perpetrated by individuals outfitted in Burmese military uniforms. The Burmese government dismissed the claims of sexual violence, and said that the reports were “militant propaganda.” UN investigators are set to examine the reports from migrant camps in Bangladesh.

According to HRW, the Burmese government has reportedly laid anti-personnel landmines on the border between Burma and Bangladesh, which are directly in the path of refugees fleeing violence in Rakhine State. HRW also urged the Burmese government to join the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty. Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina spoke about the utilization of landmines by the Burmese government in her speech to the UNGA on 21 September. “At least five people have been killed and 12 injured from landmine blasts,” reported Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB). Even though Burma is not a party to the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty, HRW noted that landmines are illegal because “they cannot discriminate between civilians and combatants.” Zaw Htay, spokesman for de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi, claimed that Rohingya militants, like the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARCA), might be responsible for the placement of landmines on the border, while Rakhine State Security and Border Affairs Minister Col. Phone Tint directly accused ARCA for the placement of landmines.

Bangladesh has announced plans to build refugee camps specifically for Muslim children who have fled the violence in Rakhine State without parents. The number of child refugees in the Burmese conflict is estimated to be at six thousand. The Bangladeshi government believes that the separation of children into two groups — one group under the age of seven and the other from eight to eighteen years of age — would limit the amount of children becoming involved in criminal activity and being harmed.


Burundi:

On 23 September, the Minister for External Relations and International Cooperation of Burundi stressed the importance of the principle of sovereignty and non-interference at the General Assembly. The Minister called “attention to certain States, who even in the 21st century, believe they have the right to interfere in the internal affairs of other States, especially developing countries,” while also criticizing the European sanctions that have been imposed on his country.

Burundi has accused the UN Independent Commission of Inquiry into Burundi (CoI) of having a hidden agenda and of showing “affection and sympathy for the insurgents by refusing to investigate the crimes that they committed,” rejecting the report that the commission presented on 19 September. The European Union (EU) has supported the referral of the case to the International Criminal Court (ICC) and has stated that the East African Community should have a role in mediation. The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), however, joined Burundi in calling the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) a politicized body.

The UNHRC was expected to back an EU resolution on 28 September to expand the mandate of the Commission of Inquiry, but a group of African countries had its own meeting a day before and unveiled a rival resolution that did not mention the renewal of the CoI. Diplomats from the EU, United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and other expressed their concern, and the EU representative said that Burundi attended meetings where the EU resolution was discussed but had never raised any concerns. Burundi’s sudden willingness to cooperate with the UN, when it had always rejected the organization’s efforts to do so, has been viewed with suspicion. John Fisher, Advocacy Director at Human Rights Watch, has asserted that Burundi’s sudden switch to cooperation is not credible in light of its permanent refusal to accept the CoI.


Central African Republic: 

President Touadera said in a recent speech to the UN Human Rights Council that peace in CAR will only be achieved by combating impunity and holding perpetrators of crimes accountable. He added that the crisis in the country has weakened the judiciary and consequently, “has paved the way for people to carry out their own justice.” Touadera remarked that there is no contradiction between peace and justice but, instead, they are complementary.
On 22 September, President Touadera stated to the UN General Assembly that his main commitment was to ensuring the success of peace efforts, but also acknowledged that neither the country nor the UN Peacekeeping Mission in CAR (MINUSCA) has had the capacity to do so. He has stated that he will also “seek greater dialogue with regional actors in hopes they would provide political support for the road map for peace and national reconciliation.”
On the same day, militants that experts believe to be part of the anti-Balaka militant group attacked a MINUSCA convoy, wounding one peacekeeper.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has warned that the situation in CAR has deteriorated since the beginning of September, especially in the western part of the country. In a report, the organization stated that armed groups have taken control of several areas, causing large numbers of displacement and attacking humanitarian workers. Najat Rochdi, the UN humanitarian coordinator in CAR, has announced that, to date, only 30 percent of the humanitarian funding needed in in CAR has been secured, and has called for the international community to provide assistance to the country’s population.

Cameroon has closed its border with CAR after the recent escalation of violence has resulted in kidnappings of Cameroon citizens by armed rebels. It is feared that food shortages will increase in CAR if the border remains closed as Cameroon supplies most food and consumer goods to the war-torn country.


Democratic Republic of the Congo:

President Kabila told the UN General Assembly on 22 September that holding elections in the country is presenting major security and logistic challenges, but that he is confronting them. Kabila has also defended the military campaign in the Kasai Region, but the UN has stated it “resulted in hundreds of extrajudicial killings”. The president also stated that the killings of two UN workers in the country will not go unpunished.

Zambia has received more than 6,000 refugees from the DRC in just one month, according to the country’s president. Spokesman Amos Chanda has warned that “the refugee situation could escalate and lead to a serious humanitarian crisis” and that around 500 people have entered the country in the last week. The presidents of Angola and South Africa have joined in saying that the situation is worrying and that an all-inclusive election is needed in the DRC to heal the tensions. The chief representative of the UNHCR in Zambia has said that “it is the government of the DRC that is said to be persecuting its own people by killing, maiming and torching houses, as well as committing rape and looting food stored in granaries”. The representative has warned that the armed forces are increasingly targeting civilian populations because they cannot differentiate between those that belong to the insurgency and those who do not.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has called on the DRC to release nine activists arrested in July when they were participating in reportedly “peaceful protests”. HRW has denounced that the nine are among hundreds of others that have been arrested since 2015 “as part of the Congolese government’s widespread crackdown on people who have opposed President Joseph Kabila’s effort to remain in power beyond his constitutionally mandated two-term limit”. HRW has claimed that the government of the DRC has targeted opposition members, including leaders, journalists, supporters or anyone with a possible link to the opposition.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has warned that 1 million people are “severely food insecure” and around 400,000 children are at risk of malnutrition in the Kasai region. Between the months of June and August, 6,800 people have fled the region and since the conflict began the nearly 630,000 people have been displaced. The organization has warned that there are “no formal camps or sites hosting the displaced people around Kananga” and only 37 percent of the funds needed for the region have been received.

Kate Gilmore, UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, has accused the government of the DRC of “turning a blind eye to systematic and gross violations of human rights committed by its security forces”. A recent report from the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) has also argued that the justice system in the country is not independent and “allows impunity to flourish”, which has led to further violence. In what has been a change of the official position of the government, the Minister of Human Rights Marie-Ange Mushobekwa has told the UNHRC that the DRC would “welcome investigations in the Kasai region by the international team of experts appointed by the Council”.


Iraq:

Late last week, the UN Security Council (UNSC) unanimously voted to establish a UN investigation team to support Iraq in securing evidence for acts committed by the Islamic State (ISIL), which “may amount to war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide”. The United Kingdom, who drafted the resolution, has also promised to contribute a significant amount of financial resources to support the initiative. US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley called this resolution a “landmark”. However, the resolution has nevertheless received criticism by Amnesty International for being “flawed” and for cultivating a “dangerous culture of impunity”’ at the UN. Since the resolution falls short of including any provisions of ensuring accountability for parties who are not ISIL, for instance Iraqi government forces and their allies, Amnesty has expressed fears that this will “send a dangerous message” to all other parties to the conflict, that would therefore presume impunity. In the meantime, Amnesty has documented a range of serious violations of international humanitarian law reportedly carried out by Iraqi and coalition forces in the country.

On Monday, Kurdish officials stated that 3.9 million Iraqi Kurds were registered to vote at the referendum on Kurdish independence in Northern Iraq, and early counting of 300,000 ballots showed 93 percent of votes were in favor of independence. However, the Iraqi Kurds face severe threats of isolation from both the government in Baghdad and their neighboring states, including Turkey, as a response to the referendum. Iran has called the referendum “illegal and illegitimate” and has, following orders from Iraq, closed off its border with the Turkish region. On Tuesday, it was reported that Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan expressed harsh comments towards the Iraqi Kurds, stating that they “would go hungry”, if he were to decide to impose sanctions on the flow of oil across the border, as well as warning that “all military and economic measures were on the table,” if the Kurds do not call off the referendum. However, this referendum remains extremely important to many Iraqi Kurds, and has been seen as an expression of long-standing grievances of the Kurdish population in Iraq towards the government.


Kenya:

Kenyan police have used tear gas to disperse protests that took place in front of the electoral commission this week. The protests included both ruling party supporters, who do not support a change in the electoral body, and opposition supporters, who demand the resignation and prosecution of officials from the electoral commission. The protests took place a month before elections are set to be held on 27 October 2017.

Around 270 suspects have been taken to court for hate speech in the wake of the elections. Irene Wanyoike, the Vice Chairperson of the National Cohesion and Integration Commission, has warned that “the rising cases of hate speech by senior politicians could sink the country into anarchy”. Most of the detained used social media platforms to spread hate speech, according to  Wanyoike.

Kenya’s opposition has quit talks on how a rerun of the presidential election will be managed. The ruling Jubilee Party proposed a law that includes “enabling commissioners to appoint a new chairman and reducing the number of people required to make a quorum”, which the opposition has claimed is an attempt to bring the country to a “single-party dictatorship”. The proposed law would also “stop the court from invalidating results if the electronic transmission again fails to work smoothly,” according to the opposition. The ruling party has faulted the Supreme Court for not explaining how the illegalities they cited interfered in the elections.


Nigeria:

The Presidential Panel of Investigation in Nigeria has reviewed alleged human rights abuses in Port Harcourt by the Nigerian military. The panel heard individual and group accounts over alleged human rights violations from the 25 – 28 September.

Nigeria is set to put 1,600 Boko Haram-affiliated suspects on trial. The trial is said to begin 9 October and the suspects will appear in front of four judges.

Human Rights Watch has reported that Cameroonian forces sent 100,000 Nigerian asylum-seekers back to northern Nigeria, which still has a strong Boko Haram presence. According to international law, this makes the Cameroonian government in violation of non-refoulement laws, or the prohibition of forcible return of refugees to areas of violence. After surveying 61 asylum seekers and refugees, Human Rights Watch also documented numerous reports of assault, violence, and harassment against Nigerians allegedly perpetrated by Cameroonian forces.


South Sudan:

Forces loyal to former First Vice-President Riek Machar have captured 14 government officials and have claimed that the officials pose a security threat and will therefore be treated as war criminals.

President Kiir has stated that dialogue is the best option to end the conflict in South Sudan and has vowed to end military confrontations between rebels and government forces. The statement comes weeks after the United States imposed sanctions on three of Kiir’s allies for their involvement in fueling corruption and war in the country. However, David Shearer, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for South Sudan, has warned that the “parties have shown little interest in engaging in serious negotiations on the way forward, despite the various initiatives aimed at finding a political solution to the conflict.” Shearer has urged international partners to support the peace process, noting that there are only a few months remaining of the transitional period as agreed in the peace deal. He also warned that the humanitarian situation has deteriorated, with civilians and aid convoys now also being targeted.


Sudan:

The Sudanese government has submitted a draft resolution to the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) with the United States on the human rights situation in Sudan. However, this draft was met with criticism from the European Union, who have claimed that the draft does not include enough efforts to improve human rights in the country.

ICRtoP member Human Rights Watch (HRW) has emphasized the importance of the UNHRC to strengthen scrutiny of the situation in Sudan. “The situation in Sudan continues to warrant a Council mandated Special Rapporteur under Item 4 to monitor and publicly report on violations of human rights and humanitarian law in all parts of the country,” accord to HRW. Requests have also reportedly been made to the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights to “urgently dispatch investigation teams, with expertise in sexual and gender-based violence, to investigate crimes under international law and serious violations and abuses of human rights in Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile”.


Syria:

In March this year, the anti-Islamic State (ISIL) coalition’s Combined Joint Task Forcelaunched two aerial attacks near Raqqa which killed at least 84 civilians, including 30 children, when allegedly targeting a civilian areas, such as a school, which housed displaced families at that time, as well as a marketplace and a bakery. In a report released on 25 September, Human Rights Watch (HRW) has questioned the coalition’s ability and will to abide by the international humanitarian law principles of precaution and proportionality in these attacks. The report has claimed that, while ISIL fighters were present at the given locations at the time, so too were dozens, or perhaps even hundreds, of civilians. The coalition has acknowledged that it attacked the school in Mansourah, but it claims that the location at the time was believed to be an ISIL headquarter with no civilians present. On this note, the HRW has also expressed deep concerns as to the coalition’s methods of ascertaining numbers of civilians in the vicinity of a given target area and the process for taking all feasible precautions when launching these attacks in March. If the coalition failed to do so, the HRW has stated that the coalition may have broken the principle of proportionality in these attacks.

Pro-government and Russian forces allegedly carried out five airstrikes throughout the past week in opposition-held Idlib in northern Syria. Civilian defense workers and other humanitarian aid workers have documented the destruction of six hospitals and five defense centers, and reported at least 150 civilians killed. Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) called the attacks “the most dramatic, sustained attacks on Syria’s health care system since the spring de-escalation agreement in Idlib went into effect.” The agreement to set up de-escalation zones was signed by Russia, Turkey and Iran in Astana in May this year, and, at the time was heavily criticized by the Syrian opposition for not securing safety. While the PHR called the strikes on civilian health facilities a direct strategy, the Russian defense ministry has denied directly attacking civilian facilities and stated it had attacked “hard-line Islamist militants”.


Venezuela:

The opposition has stated that it will not join the scheduled talks with Nicolás Maduro’s government, claiming that the “government has not made enough progress on issues such as human rights to warrant full bilateral talks”. Talks between the opposition and government were held in 2016 under the auspices of the Vatican, but ended because the opposition claimed that the government was using the talks as a delaying tactic.


Yemen:

The UN Human Rights Council (HRC) met this week in Geneva to yet again attempt to set up an independent inquiry for investigation of alleged abuses by all parties to the conflict in Yemen. Human Rights Watch (HRW) referred to this meeting as a “chance to change course” for the UNHRC. HRW has also emphasized the urgency of the matter, by taking note of the ever-increasing support for such an inquiry by Member States within and outside the UNHRC, including the Netherlands, Canada and Belgium. Further support has also come from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, more than a 100 international, regional, and Yemeni rights organizations, the former head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), and 14 major humanitarian organizations.

As such discussions began at the UNHRC, Saudi Arabia objected to the resolution on an independent inquiry into potential crimes in Yemen and reportedly also threatened other states, stating that the decision to send such an inquiry to Yemen could negatively affect diplomatic relations and trade. In lieu of the independent inquiry, Saudi Arabia and its allies instead proposed that the UN should send experts to assist the Yemeni human rights commission. The text proposed by Saudi-Arabia “offers more of the same” and cannot replace an international independent commission, according to HRW Advocacy Director John Fisher.


Other:

The Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Centre will be conducting a course on the Responsibility to Protect in Ghana from 13 – 24 November 2017. This course aims at training African policymakers, government officials, military, police and civil society personnel about RtoP and its implementation. The deadline for applications is 30 September. For more information on the course and how to apply, please click here.

 

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Myanmar’s Controversial Census, Discriminatory Laws Further Stoke Atrocity Fears

Myanmar’s Rohingya population currently faces a worrisome combination of grave human rights conditions and a dire humanitarian crisis. For decades, the Muslim minority have been marginalized under the military junta and remain so since the country began undertaking some democratic reforms beginning in 2011. However, since 2012 the situation has become markedly worse following the violence and forced displacement inflicted upon them by Buddhist mobs in Rakhine state. An ICRtoP post from August of last year provides an overview of the deadly violence, detailing government participation and the response of civil society organizations.

Myanmar UN

UN Special Adviser on Myanmar meets with Buddhists, and Muslim refugees in March 2013. AP Photo/Khin Maung Win.

Since last covering the crisis, the situation remains largely unimproved and indeed appears to be worsening. 140,000 Rohingya have been forced into cramped displacement camps, criticised by international aid groups for their languid conditions. Some observers have even evoked the imagery of a “concentration camp”  to describe them. Many more Rohingya have fled, embarking on perilous journeys to neighbouring Malaysia and Thailand where they are exposed to the dangers of trafficking and other abuses.

Violent attacks continue, as for instance in January of 2014, when 40 men, women and children were killed in northern Rakhine, and as recently as a week ago when Buddhists mobs looted and attacked Muslim shops and mosques in Mandalay, killing 2 and injuring many more. Compounding all of this is the government’s decision to order the suspension of Médecins Sans Frontières’ (MSF) operations in Rakhine State, cutting off a major source of humanitarian assistance and health care for displaced Rohingya. Other aid groups have since come under attack, further limiting assistance to populations in need.

Marginalization and persecution also continue, as Rohingya are denied the right to citizenship by the state. Restrictions on freedom of movement and policies for population control, including a two-child policy, also feature as official state decree. Such treatment is enforced by the state security forces and endorsed by the country’s majority Buddhist population, encouraged by extreme nationalist factions such as the 969 movementwho are convinced that Muslims threaten to overtake Buddhists as the dominant religious group.

 

Proposed Laws and the National Census Exacerbate Human Rights Concerns

The most recent Report of the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar continued to express deep concern for the situation of the Rohingya. Recent developments do little to assuage such concerns. First, the government recently sponsored a discriminatory bill advocated by the 969 movement through way of petition that received 2.5 million signatures, many of which are believed to have been obtained forcefully. The bill places restrictions on religious conversion and inter-faith marriage, both policies seen to be aimed at placating the anti-Muslim sentiments of the 969 movement by unlawfully preventing the further spread of Islam. In response, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Religious Freedom and Belief has called on the government to scrap the bill, claiming “State interferences into the right to change one’s religion or belief are per se illegitimate and incompatible with international human rights standards.”

Furthermore, the recent national census has now added to the potential discord, due to its controversial inclusion of data on religion, ethnicity and citizenship that groups such as International Crisis Group (ICG) warned would exacerbate inter-ethnic and inter-religious tensions.  A last minute government decision to remove “Rohingya” as an official ethnicity, instead allowing the option to identify as “Bengali,” was the result of such tensions. The decision was largely taken due to threats of violence and census boycotts by Rakhine state Buddhists and the 969 movement, who objected to the Rohingya’s inclusion. Bowing to this pressure and labelling Rohingya as Bengali has been a common method used to paint the group as illegal immigrants from neighbouring Bangladesh. Speaking to this, The Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect criticised the decision, stating that “Denying Rohingyas the ability to self-identify on the census…reinforces the dangerous perception that Rohingya are ethnic outsiders.”

 

Civil Society Warns of Myanmar’s “March to Genocide”

Many NGOs are raising alarm bells over the abuses being committed in Myanmar. For example, Bangkok-based ICRtoP member Alternative ASEAN Network on Burma (ALTSEAN-BURMA) has done valuable work documenting human rights abuses through publications such as their “monthly bulletin”. The bulletin for the month of June, 2014 warns that “In Arakan [Rakhine] State, regime security forces and extremist Buddhist Rakhine continued discriminatory policies and open attacks on Rohingya communities.” The bulletin lists a number of incidents involving unlawful arrests, looting, and physical violence committed against Rohingya and their property.

Meiktila Mosque

A woman and her child walk past a damaged mosque after clashes in Meiktila. AFP/BBC photo.

Fortify Rights’ February 2014 report examined leaked documents that confirm and detail state-supported policies of persecution, primarily targeting the Rohingya. Their findings led them to conclude that:

The government policies…systematically single-out Rohingya as a group on the basis of their ethnicity, religion, and at times gender, stripping them of a range of human rights, including the rights to non-discrimination, health, nationality, and freedom of movement. The degree of deprivation is so severe that it would qualify as “persecution” as a crime against humanity under international law

In March, 2014, ICRtoP member United to End Genocide also commissioned a report, ominously titled “Marching to Genocide in Burma” based on a recent fact-finding mission. After witnessing the suffering of the country’s Rohingya, they made the alarming claim that “Nowhere in the world are there more known precursors to genocide than in Burma today.

In yet another instance, Human Rights Watch reported in April of 2013 that “The Burmese government engaged in a campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya that continues today through the denial of aid and restrictions on movement.

 

The Responsibility to Protect in Myanmar

These findings make it clear that the government of Myanmar is failing its primary obligations to protect the Rohingya from a series of atrocity crimes. Sustained pressure and response from both national and international actors can convince the government to change course, end restrictive, discriminatory policies, and play a more active role in mitigating violence and hatred towards the Rohingya.

ICRtoP member U.S. Campaign for Burma has taken the initiative to encourage the U.S. government to use its rapprochement with Myanmar as an entry point to influence change. Such advocacy led the House of Representatives to pass House Resolution 418, urging the Burmese government to end the persecution of ethnic minority Rohingya Muslims.

Likewise, United to End Genocide has launched a public campaign aimed at the U.S. President and Congress. The campaign calls on the U.S. government to pressure the Myanmar government to rescind their expulsion of MSF, demand a credible and independent investigation into violence against the Muslim minority in lieu of the flawed Rakhine Inquiry Commission, and to update their sanctions list to include those responsible for the most recent violence. The campaign seems to have resonated in Congress, as the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee recently called for a range of punitive measures against the government of Myanmar that includes visa bans, an end to U.S.-Myanmar military cooperation, and potential economic sanctions.

Police officers guard a Muslim residential area in Mandalay

Police officers guarding a Muslim residential area in Mandalay. Soe Zeya Tun/Reuters.

The broader international community also has a key role to play. Given the potential for the census results to inflame further violence, ICG recommends that census donors accept responsibility for their lack of due diligence in ensuring a sound process, and encourage Myanmar’s government to reconsider the release of the results, given the sensitive political realities.  Refugees International has also recommended donors establish a “crisis cell” in cooperation with Myanmar’s Minister of Immigration and Population, Minister for the President’s Office, and the UN resident humanitarian coordinator to respond to any crisis associated with the census.

In addition, Fortify Rights has called on the international community to urge the government to abide by recommendations of the UN Rapporteur on Human Rights, abolish local orders that restrict the basic human rights of Rohingya, and communicate to all national, local and community authorities that these practices are not to be encouraged or enforced.

Importantly, they also recommend the provision of “financial, technical, and advocacy support” for local human rights defenders. This constituent could be crucial in changing the government’s current course, and indeed a growing swell of civil society resistance from prominent groups such as the 88 Generation Student Group is increasing domestic pressure to end abusive and discriminatory practices.

There is some indication that this pressure is working, as the government has introduced a pilot program for validation of citizenship that may offer Rohingya a path to naturalization. However, the viability of this program is in question after controversy over the census. It has also been noted that such support runs the risk of putting these groups in danger, as overt assistance may be seen as reinforcing the Buddhist narrative that their way of life is under threat from both Muslims and the international community. Therefore, donors should be calculated in their support programming.

 

Myanmar’s Democratic Transition: Entry Point for Assistance?

Given the democratic transition occurring in Myanmar, it is easy to focus on this good news story and forget about the conditions making life for the country’s Rohingya insufferable. However, just as the country’s political opening has created the space for extremist voices; it also provides opportunity to foster a true democratic culture. The international community’s reengagement can be used as an entry point to provide assistance under the second pillar of RtoP, thus providing incentives and capacity-building for the government of Myanmar to uphold its primary responsibility. Addressing the question of citizenship and abolishing all current and proposed government policies that limit basic human rights would be a positive first step.

For more information on the crisis in Myanmar and how the Responsibility to Protect applies, visit our crisis page and our ‘At a Glance’ feature.

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