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Archive for the ‘Wonder Land of Burma’ Category

UN investigator: Genocide still taking place in Myanmar

October 25, 2018

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Genocide is still taking place against Rohingya Muslims remaining in Myanmar and the government is increasingly demonstrating it has no interest in establishing a fully functioning democracy, U.N. investigators said Wednesday.

Marzuki Darusman, chair of the U.N. fact-finding mission on Myanmar, said thousands of Rohingya are still fleeing to Bangladesh, and the estimated 250,000 to 400,000 who have stayed following last year’s brutal military campaign in the Buddhist-majority country “continue to suffer the most severe” restrictions and repression.

“It is an ongoing genocide that is taking place at the moment,” he told a news conference Wednesday. Darusman said the requirements for genocide, except perhaps for killings, “continue to hold” for Rohingya still in Myanmar’s northern Rakhine state. These include causing serious bodily harm, inflicting conditions designed to destroy the Rohingya, and imposing measures to prevent births, he said.

Myanmar’s U.N. ambassador, Hau Do Suan, called the fact-finding mission “flawed, biased and politically motivated” and said the government “categorically rejects” its inference of “genocidal intent.” Yanghee Lee, the U.N. special investigator on human rights in Myanmar, said she and many others in the international community hoped the situation under Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi “would be vastly different from the past — but it is really not that much different from the past.”

Lee added later that she thinks Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate and former political prisoner who now leads Myanmar’s civilian government, “is in total denial” about accusations that the military in Buddhist-majority Myanmar raped, murdered and tortured Rohingya and burned their villages, sending over 700,000 fleeing to Bangladesh since August 2017.

“The government is increasingly demonstrating that it has no interest and capacity in establishing a fully functioning democracy where all its people equally enjoy all their rights and freedoms,” Lee said. “It is not upholding justice and rule of law” that Suu Kyi “repeatedly says is the standard to which all in Myanmar are held.”

If this were the case, she said, fair laws would be applied impartially to all people, impunity would not rein, “and the law would not be wielded as a weapon of oppression.” Suu Kyi’s government has rejected independent international investigations into the alleged abuses of Rohingya and has commissioned its own probe. The government has also rejected the report by the fact-finding mission, which said some top military leaders should be prosecuted for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide against the Rohingya.

“The Myanmar government’s hardened positions are by far the greatest obstacle,” Darusman told reporters. “Its continued denials, its attempts to shield itself under the cover of national sovereignty and its dismissal of 444 pages of details about the facts and circumstances of recent human rights violations that point to the most serious crimes under international law” strengthens the need for international action because “accountability cannot be expected from the national processes,” he said.

Darusman and Lee spoke ahead of a Security Council meeting that began with a vote on whether Darusman should be allowed to brief members. He was given a green light with the minimum nine “yes” votes from the U.S., Britain, France, Netherlands, Sweden, Ivory Coast, Kuwait, Peru and Poland. China, which is Myanmar’s neighbor and ally, Russia and Bolivia voted “no” and Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia and Kazakhstan abstained.

Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia accused supporters of the briefing of “torpedoing consensus” in the council and forcing council members “to engage in loud-speaker diplomacy.” He said the fact-finding mission didn’t go to Rakhine state, called its report “too biased,” and said the international community should help Myanmar and Bangladesh resolve the Rohingya refugee problem.

Chinese Ambassador Ma Zhaoxu later echoed Nebenzia, calling the report’s conclusions “lopsided” and “not credible” and saying the international community should work on returning the refugees. Lee stressed that their “repatriation is not possible now.”

“I will not encourage any repatriation,” the U.N. envoy said. “Conducive conditions means they should not go back to … the oppressive laws, the discrimination. The minimum they need is freedom of movement, access to basic health services.”

Lee said “there’s been a lot of progress in terms of economic development and infrastructure, but in the area of ‘democratic space’ and people’s right to claim back their land … there is no progress.”

“Right now, it’s like an apartheid situation where Rohingyas still living in Myanmar … have no freedom of movement,” Lee said. “The camps, the shelters, the model villages that are being built, it’s more of a cementing of total segregation or separation from the Rakhine ethnic community.”

At the council meeting, Darusman said the fact-finding mission concluded that last year’s events were “a human rights catastrophe that was foreseeable and planned,” and it conservatively estimates there were “10,000 Rohingya deaths.”

“Remaining Rohingya in Rakhine state are at grave risk,” he said, and returning Rohingya from Bangladesh would be “tantamount to condemning them to life as sub-humans and further mass killing.” Darusman said the Security Council should the situation in Myanmar to the International Criminal Court or another international tribunal and also impose an arms embargo on Myanmar, a ban on transactions with all military-related enterprises and sanctions against those alleged to be most responsible for atrocities against the Rohingya.

“There can be no ‘moving on’ from this crisis without addressing its root causes — all of which continue to exist today, primarily the presence of an unaccountable military that acts with complete impunity,” he said.

The Netherlands’ deputy U.N. ambassador, Lise Gregoire Van Haaren, said her government will push quickly for a Security Council resolution that would refer Myanmar to the ICC. But council action appeared highly unlikely because of its deep divisions and almost certain opposition from China and Russia, both veto-wielding council members.

“I’m very aware that there might be pushback, but having pushback is never a reason not to try,” Van Haaren said. “So we are going to have a really ambitious aim for the negotiations” on a possible resolution “and let’s see where we get.”

Myanmar’s Suan said the Independent Commission of Inquiry established by the government will investigate alleged human rights violations, and “we will never accept any calls for referral of Myanmar to the ICC.”

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India deports Rohingya Muslims to Myanmar

October 04, 2018

GAUHATI, India (AP) — India on Thursday deported its first group of Rohingya Muslims since the government last year ordered the expulsion of members of the Myanmar minority group and others who entered the country illegally.

The deportation was carried out after the Supreme Court rejected a last-minute plea by the seven men’s lawyer that they be allowed to remain in India because they feared reprisals in Myanmar. They were arrested in 2012 for entering India illegally and have been held in prison since then.

Indian authorities handed the seven over to Myanmar officials at a border crossing in Moreh in Manipur state, a police officer said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to reporters. Each carried a bag of belongings.

The Supreme Court said it would allow their deportation because Myanmar had accepted them as citizens. Government attorney Tushar Mehta told the judges that Myanmar had given the seven certificates of identity and 1-month visas to facilitate their deportation.

Most Rohingya Muslims in Buddhist-majority Myanmar are denied citizenship and face widespread discrimination. Defense attorney Prashant Bhushan said the government should treat them as refugees, not as illegal migrants, and send a representative of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees to talk to them so they would not be deported under duress.

About 700,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh since August 2017 to escape a brutal campaign of violence by Myanmar’s military. An estimated 40,000 other Rohingya have taken refuge in parts of India. Less than 15,000 are registered with the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.

Many have settled in areas of India with large Muslim populations, including the southern city of Hyderabad, the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, New Delhi, and the Himalayan region of Jammu-Kashmir. Some have taken refuge in northeast India bordering Bangladesh and Myanmar.

The Indian government says it has evidence there are extremists who pose a threat to the country’s security among the Rohingya. India is fighting insurgencies in northern Kashmir and in its northeastern states.

Experts air new concerns about UN response to Myanmar crisis

September 19, 2018

GENEVA (AP) — U.N.-backed investigators who examined a bloody crackdown by Myanmar security forces that caused hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims to flee to neighboring Bangladesh issued a searing critique Tuesday of the United Nations’ own response to the human rights crisis.

In a 432-page report, the members of a fact-finding mission on Myanmar fleshed out preliminary findings and recommendations released in a shorter version three weeks ago. “With a heavy heart and deep sadness, we have drawn conclusions, on the basis of the facts, that we never expected would be as grave as they are,” team chairman Marzuki Darusman said he presented the report to the U.N.-supported Human Rights Council.

“What we have found are not only the most serious human rights violations, but crimes of the highest order under international law,” he said. The team reiterated that some top Myanmar military leaders should be prosecuted for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide against the Rohingya during a deadly crackdown that erupted in August 2017 following militant attacks on security posts in Rakhine state.

In a rare rebuttal by Myanmar’s government, its new ambassador in Geneva lashed out at what he called a “one-sided” report. The team has said Myanmar’s government had not responded to its report or honored requests for access to violence-hit regions.

“The way the report portrays … the national races of Myanmar is misleading,” the ambassador, Kyaw Moe Tun, told the 47-member body. “It also undermines the government’s effort to bring peace, national reconciliation and development to the entire nation.”

“Regardless of the lack of balance, impartiality and fairness, the government of Myanmar takes the allegations of human rights violations seriously,” he said. “The government will not condone human rights violations.”

After Marzuki spoke of the rape of women and girls by military forces, the ambassador countered, “We share deep sympathy and concern for all displaced persons, especially women and girls.” The full report also provided new details about the investigators’ concerns about how the United Nations reacted during the spasm of violence. It noted that the “only statement” from the U.N. resident coordinator’s office “was to condemn the ARSA (militant group) attacks and losses suffered by the Myanmar security forces.”

The council created the fact-finding mission 18 months ago, after years of abuses against ethnic minorities in Myanmar, focusing on the time since 2011 when the country began opening up after decades of isolation under a long-ruling military junta.

Though the investigators looked at the treatment of minority groups across the Southeast Asian nation, their mandate came just six months before the crackdown against the Rohingya in Rakhine, injecting the mission with far greater importance to help detail those abuses, crimes and human rights violations.

The report provides details of violence in Kachin, Shan and Rakhine states, much of which has been documented and made public through collection of witness accounts, satellite imagery and other sources. It cited allegations of crimes by the military and other security forces including murder, torture, pillaging, execution without due process, rape, sexual slavery and hostage taking.

It said some acts by ethnic armed groups and the Rohingya militant organization ARSA could also constitute war crimes. Crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide can be considered by tribunals such as the International Criminal Court, but Myanmar is not a party to it. The country’s government has snubbed a ruling by the court’s judges that said the ICC has jurisdiction to investigate alleged crimes against the Rohingya. The court’s chief prosecutor said Tuesday she was opening a preliminary investigation into Myanmar’s expulsions of Rohingya.

The report’s critique of the United Nations focused not only on the world body’s response to the Rohingya crisis, but its efforts across the country. For example, the investigators noted that the U.N. had rolled out a “Human Rights Up Front Action Plan” in Myanmar in 2013, but said its “human rights driven” approach was “rarely, if ever, pursued.”

“Rather, it was largely ‘business as usual,’ with development goals and humanitarian access prioritized only,” the authors wrote. They cited allegations that some U.N. personnel who tried to pursue a human rights agenda “were ignored, criticized, sidelined or blocked in these efforts.”

They alluded to criticism from Fieldview Solutions, an outside group that works to advance human rights, in July that cited some in U.N. and humanitarian circles for not doing enough to expand their “political space” in Myanmar, adding, “The Myanmar government has learned that it can count on U.N. and humanitarian self-censorship.”

The U.N. experts said some U.N. entities and staffers showed “a lack of cooperation” with their work, and “appeared to view it as a threat, rather than a means to address the most deep rooted human rights challenges facing Myanmar.”

“This attitude and approach must change,” they added. The investigators did acknowledge that some people in the country had faced “intimidation and reprisals” for their “engagement” with the United Nations.

The team renewed its urgent call for “a comprehensive, independent inquiry into the United Nations’ involvement” in hopes of “establishing whether everything possible to prevent or mitigate the unfolding crises was done.” It also sought to draw lessons and — “as appropriate” — make recommendations on accountability.

The investigators bemoaned that “there has been no review of what happened, of where the approach taken had some positive effect and where it did not, and of how the U.N.’s approach could be improved in future crises.”

Kingsley Abbott, senior legal adviser at the International Commission of Jurists, said the U.N.’s failure to implement the Human Rights Up Front Action Plan in Myanmar requires a credible and transparent investigation.

“The situation has demonstrated yet again that the U.N. secretary-general and his staff in Myanmar must ensure that the entire U.N. system actually puts human rights up front in its day- to-day work in the country,” he added.

The team said a second fact-finding mission should be authorized to examine continued threats to human rights in Myanmar, and urged the creation of a separate team to collect evidence that could be used in possible future prosecutions.

Myanmar snubs Hague court’s intervention in Rohingya crisis

August 10, 2018

YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — Myanmar sharply rejected an attempt by the International Criminal Court to consider the country’s culpability for activities that caused 700,000 minority Rohingya Muslims to flee to Bangladesh for safety last year.

The office of the nation’s leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, said in a statement posted online Thursday that the court in the Netherlands has no jurisdiction over Myanmar because it is not a member state. It also offered procedural reasons for why it would not respond formally to the court’s request for its views on the exodus of the Rohingya, and said the question “is meritless and should be dismissed.” The ICC did not immediately respond to an Associated Press request for comment.

Critics including U.N. experts have accused Myanmar’s military of atrocities against the Rohingya amounting to ethnic cleaning, or even genocide. Suu Kyi’s government says it was carrying out justifiable counterinsurgency operations in response to attacks on security forces by Rohingya militants in August last year.

The army, according to documentary evidence and survivor and eyewitness accounts compiled by human rights organizations, beat and killed civilians, organized rapes and the burning of thousands of homes belonging to Rohingya in Myanmar’s western state of Rakhine.

The ICC had solicited Myanmar’s views in April, and later set a July 27 deadline for a response to the question of whether the court should have jurisdiction. Myanmar accused the court of violating international legal norms by seeking to assert jurisdiction over the issue despite Myanmar not being a party to the Rome Statute establishing the court.

“By allowing such a contrived procedure, the ICC may set a dangerous precedent whereby future populistic causes and complaints against non-State Parties to the Rome Statute may be litigated at the urging of biased stakeholders and non-governmental organizations and even then, selectively based on the political current of the times,” it said.

The statement also referred to several proceedings carried out by the court that it called irregular or not allowed under its own rules, including alleged “lack of fairness and transparency.” It also mentioned its agreements to have Rohingya repatriated from Bangladesh, though such action has yet to be implemented and the U.N. has criticized Myanmar for delays.

The Rohingya have long faced severe discrimination and were the target of violence in 2012 that killed hundreds and drove about 140,000 people — predominantly Rohingya — from their homes to camps for the internally displaced, where most remained until last year’s violence.

The government refuses to recognize the Rohingya as a legitimate native ethnic minority. Most Rohingya are denied citizenship and other rights.

Myanmar, UN sign pact on initial steps for Rohingya return

June 06, 2018

YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — Myanmar and U.N. agencies signed an agreement Wednesday that could eventually lead to the return of some of the 700,000 Rohingya Muslims who fled brutal persecution by the country’s security forces and are now crowded into makeshift camps in Bangladesh.

The memorandum of understanding promises to establish a “framework of cooperation” that aims to create conditions for “voluntary, safe, dignified and sustainable” repatriation of Rohingya refugees but does not address Myanmar’s denial of citizenship for the minority.

Myanmar’s government said it hoped the pact would hasten repatriation, but rights groups still doubt it will let many Rohingya return or can guarantee the safety of those who do. Myanmar’s statement didn’t mention Rohingya, reflecting the government and the Burmese majority’s insistence there is no such ethnic group in Myanmar. Instead it referred to them as “displaced persons.”

Myanmar’s security forces have been accused of rape, killing, torture and the burning of Rohingya homes in western Rakhine state, where most Rohingya lived. The U.N. and U.S. have described the army crackdown that began in August last year as “ethnic cleansing.”

Predominantly Buddhist Myanmar and Bangladesh agreed in November to begin repatriating Rohingya. But refugees feared their lives would be at risk in Myanmar without international monitoring while Myanmar insisted they have identity documents, which most Rohingya have been denied.

Knut Ostby, U.N. Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Myanmar, said the agreement is an important first step toward resolving the crisis. “There is a lot of work to be done. This task should not be underestimated,” Ostby said. “We are talking about approximately 700,000 people who don’t only have to return, but the conditions have to be right for them to return: the conditions both in terms of their identity in society, in terms of their safety and also in terms of services, livelihoods, a place to live, infrastructure.”

The U.N. has said the agreement provides for its refugee and development agencies to be given access to Rakhine state. It said that will allow the refugee agency to assess the situation and provide information to refugees about conditions in their areas of origin so that they can better decide whether they want to return.

The Myanmar government statement said assistance from the U.N. agencies would assist the work it has already started toward repatriation. It highlighted that it had cooperated with the U.N. a quarter century earlier in repatriating 230,000 “displaced persons” — Rohingya — who had fled violence in Rakhine to Bangladesh.

Rights groups remain pessimistic that the safe return of Rohingya refugees will ever be possible. They point to a lack of firm commitments from Myanmar and its decades of hostility toward a minority that was denied citizenship by a 1982 law that excluded them from a list of recognized ethnic groups in the majority Buddhist nation.

“How will the Burmese government guarantee these people will not face again persecution?” said Kyaw Win, executive director of Burma Human Rights Network. “It is very politically convenient for the Burmese government to sign this agreement, and also never commit.”

Some 125,000 of the Rohingya who remain in Myanmar are living in camps where their movement is restricted after being forced from their villages in 2012 by a wave of violence led by radical Buddhists and security forces.

“There’s still been no movement to ensure Rohingya have equal access to full citizenship,” said Matthew Smith, the head of advocacy group Fortify Rights. “Discourse around repatriation now unfortunately appears to be attempt by authorities to distract from mass atrocities and crimes taken place.”

2,000 Kachin trapped by Myanmar fighting lack food, medicine

April 19, 2018

BANGKOK (AP) — Community leaders from the Christian ethnic Kachin community have called for urgent medical attention for about 2,000 civilians, including pregnant women and the elderly, trapped in the jungle where they fled to escape clashes between the Myanmar’s army and the Kachin guerrillas in the country’s north.

The latest fighting in Kachin state’s Tanai region — an area known for amber and gold mining — began in early April with government shelling and airstrikes in response to threats by the rebel Kachin Independence Army to retake lost territory.

The Rev. Mung Dan, a Baptist community leader, said Wednesday the civilians trapped without medicine or sufficient food include five pregnant women, two women who just gave birth, 93 old people, and other villagers wounded by mortar shelling. They are “in dire need of medical treatment as well as rations,” he said by phone.

“Even today, it’s been raining the whole day in our region and these civilians do not have any shelter yet and they are suffering from sickness as well,” he added. A non-governmental organization based in Kachin state has sent an open letter to the Kachin State Minister on Wednesday, asking for the permission to rescue civilians but the permission has not been granted yet.

“We have been asking permission to rescue people who are trapped in the jungle and they are in a very critical condition,” said Awng Ja, a member of Kachin State Women Network, which helps displaced women. “But the state minister said only if the military granted us access, we can rescue these civilians.”

Rights and aids groups said the Myanmar government and the military have dramatically increased restrictions on humanitarian assistance to some 100,000 displaced people. The government has denied virtually denied all access for the United Nations and other international humanitarian groups.

Some civilian have already been killed by the government’s offensive, the Kachin say. “At least three civilians were killed by the army’s mortar shells and airstrikes in three different places since April 11,” said Naw Bu, the head of the information department of the Kachin Independence Organization, the political organization to which the Kachin Independence Army is affiliated.

The Kachin Independence Army, like other ethnic minority armed groups, has been fighting on and off for decades against the central government for greater autonomy. Combat between the Kachin rebels and the government military resumed in 2011, ending a 17-year ceasefire agreement. The clashes have left hundreds dead and more than 100,000 civilians displaced.

Myanmar’s military has long been accused of grave human rights violations against ethnic minority groups in different parts of the country. Most recently, it has been accused of abuses against the Muslim ethnic Rohingya minority in the western state of Rakhine that critics say amounts to “ethnic cleansing,” as violent counter-insurgency sweeps by the army helped drive about 700,000 Rohingya across the border to neighboring Bangladesh, where they stay in refugee camps.

Myanmar’s president grants amnesty to over 8,500 prisoners

April 17, 2018

YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — Myanmar President Win Myint has granted amnesty to more than 8,500 prisoners, reportedly including at least three dozen political prisoners. The amnesty, announced Tuesday, coincided with Myanmar’s traditional New Year. It was granted to 8,490 Myanmar citizens and 51 foreigners. A statement from presidential spokesman Zaw Thay said those released included the aged, people in ill health and drug offenders. None was individually named.

It also said 36 of those to be freed had been listed as political prisoners by the independent Assistance Association for Political Prisoners. The releases were to take place at prisons nationwide. Relatives and friends of those held waited Tuesday outside the gates at Insein Prison, in the northern outskirts of Yangon, where it was expected that more than 300 prisoners, including eight political detainees, would be released.

Although called an amnesty, the action appeared to actually be a mass pardon, meaning it would cover only prisoners who had already been convicted of crimes. Two Reuters reporters, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, facing a high-profile freedom of the press trial for possessing secret official documents would not be covered under the action.

One of the journalists’ lawyers, Khin Maung Zaw, said his understanding was that the president was only pardoning convicted criminals. “So, since the two reporters have not been sentenced for prison terms, we don’t know if they will be part of the release. If this was an amnesty, then it’s possible that they might be part of the list,” he told The Associated Press.

Bo Kyi, secretary of the Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, said the group was waiting to confirm the releases. “We don’t know exactly if all 36 political prisoners will be released or not, and that’s why the family members are waiting outside of the prison,” he said.

The group, which has extensive experience in monitoring the incarceration of political prisoners, says that 54 are currently serving prison terms after being convicted, 74 are in detention awaiting trial, and another 120 are awaiting trial but are not detained.

Win Myint became president last month, after his predecessor, Htin Kyaw, stepped down because of illness. The Facebook page of Deputy Information Minister Aung Hla Tun said the presidential action was taken “as a gesture of marking the Myanmar New Year and after taking into consideration the prevalence of peace of mind among the people, humanitarian concerns and friendly relations among nations.”

The release of political prisoners was a priority of Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party when it took over power from a pro-military government in March 2016. Suu Kyi is the country’s de facto leader, holding the specially created post of State Counsellor. Constitutional rules prohibit her from serving as president because her two children are British, as was her late husband.

When Suu Kyi’s government took power in 2016, it made it a priority to release political prisoners detained during military rule, freeing almost 200 within a month. However, critics of Suu Kyi’s government say it also has pursued politically motivated prosecutions, citing cases against land rights activists and journalists.

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