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Posts tagged ‘Injustice in Burma’

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.”

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.

EU prepares new Myanmar sanctions over Rohingya crackdown

February 26, 2018

BRUSSELS (AP) — European Union foreign ministers have tasked the EU’s top diplomat with drawing up a list of sanctions to slap on senior Myanmar military officers over rights abuses against the Rohingya minority.

The ministers on Monday also ordered EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini to propose ways to toughen an EU embargo blocking the provision of arms and equipment that could be used for internal repression.

They said the measures are needed “in light of the disproportionate use of force and widespread and systematic grave human rights violations committed by the military and security forces.” About 700,000 Rohingya have fled towns and villages in Myanmar’s northern Rakhine state since August to escape a military crackdown.

Negotiations for their return are underway but many fear their safety and well-being are not guaranteed.

Amnesty: Myanmar army killed at least hundreds of Rohingya

October 18, 2017

BANGKOK (AP) — Myanmar security forces killed hundreds of men, women and children during a systematic campaign to expel Rohingya Muslims, Amnesty International said in a new report Wednesday that calls for an arms embargo on the country and criminal prosecution of the perpetrators.

More than 580,000 refugees have arrived in Bangladesh since Aug. 25, when Myanmar security forces began a scorched-earth campaign against Rohingya villages. Myanmar’s government has said it was responding to attacks by Muslim insurgents, but the United Nations and others have said the response was disproportionate.

The continuing exodus of Rohingya Muslims has become a major humanitarian crisis and sparked international condemnation of Buddhist-majority Myanmar, which still denies atrocities are taking place. Based on interviews with more than 120 fleeing Rohingya, Amnesty International said at least hundreds of people were killed by security forces who surrounded villages, shot fleeing inhabitants and then set buildings alight, burning to death the elderly, sick and disabled who were unable to flee.

In some villages, women and girls were raped or subjected to other sexual violence, according to the report. The witnesses repeatedly described an insignia on their attackers’ uniforms that matched one worn by troops from Myanmar’s Western Command, Amnesty International said.

When shown various insignia used by Myanmar’s army, witnesses consistently picked out the Western Command patch, it said. The 33rd Light Infantry Division and border police, who wear a distinctive blue camouflage uniform, were also frequently involved in attacks on villages, along with Buddhist vigilante mobs, witnesses said.

Matthew Wells, an Amnesty crisis researcher who spent several weeks at the Bangladesh-Myanmar border, said the rights group plans to issue another report in the coming months examining individual criminal responsibility, including specific commanders and others that may be involved in abuses.

He said hundreds of Rohingya have been treated for gunshot wounds and doctors say that the injuries are consistent with people being shot from behind as they fled. There were credible indications that a total of several hundred people had been killed in just five villages that were the focus of Amnesty’s reporting. Wells said that given that dozens of villages across northern Rakhine State have been targeted in a similar fashion, the death toll could be much higher.

He said satellite imagery, corroborated by witness accounts, show that Rohingya homes and mosques have been burned entirely in villages, while non-Rohingya areas just one or two hundred yards (meters) away were untouched.

“It speaks to how organized, how seemingly well-planned this scorched-earth campaign has been by the Myanmar military and how determined the effort has been to drive the Rohingya population out of the country,” Wells said.

Among almost two dozen recommendations, the human rights group called for the U.N. Security Council to impose a comprehensive arms embargo on Myanmar and financial sanctions against senior officials responsible for violations that Amnesty says meet the criteria for crimes against humanity.

It said the council should explore options for bringing the perpetrators to justice under international law if Myanmar authorities do not act swiftly. “It is time for the international community to move beyond public outcry and take action to end the campaign of violence that has driven more than half the Rohingya population out of Myanmar,” Amnesty said.

Witnesses and a drone video shot Monday by the U.N. refugee agency show that Rohingya are continuing to flee persecution in Myanmar and crossing into Bangladesh. The video showed thousands upon thousands of Rohingya trudging along a narrow strip of land alongside what appears to a rain-swollen creek in the Palong Khali area in southern Bangladesh. The line of refugees stretches for a few kilometers (miles).

The new wave of refugees started crossing the border over the weekend, witnesses said. An Associated Press photographer saw thousands of newcomers near one border crossing Tuesday. Several said that they were stopped by Bangladeshi border guards and spent the night in muddy rice fields.

Nearly 60 percent of the refugees are children. The U.N. children’s agency, UNICEF, warned Tuesday that without immediate additional funding, it will not be able to continue providing life-saving aid and protection to Rohingya children. UNICEF said it has received just 7 percent of the $76 million it needs.

On Aug. 25, a Rohingya insurgent group known as the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army attacked at least 30 security posts on Aug. 25, causing dozens of casualties, according to Myanmar authorities. The brutal attacks against Rohingya that followed have been described by the U.N. as “textbook ethnic cleansing.”

Buddhist-majority Myanmar has denied citizenship for the Rohingya since 1982 and excludes them from the 135 ethnic groups officially recognized, which effectively renders them stateless. They have long faced discrimination and persecution with many Buddhists in Myanmar calling them “Bengalis” and saying they migrated illegally from Bangladesh, even though they have lived in the country for generations.

AP journalists Matthew Pennington and Dar Yasin in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh contributed to this report.

UN: Myanmar violence a deliberate strategy to expel Rohingya

October 12, 2017

GENEVA (AP) — A report by the U.N. human rights office says attacks against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar point to a strategy to instill “widespread fear and trauma” and prevent them from ever returning to their homes.

The report released Wednesday is based on 65 interviews conducted in mid-September with Rohingya, individually and in groups, as more the half a million people from the ethnic group fled into Bangladesh during a violent crackdown in Myanmar.

The attacks against Rohingya in Myanmar’s northern Rakhine state by security forces and Buddhist mobs were “coordinated and systematic,” with the intent of not only driving the population out of Myanmar but preventing them from returning, the report said.

Some of those interviewed said that before and during attacks, megaphones were used to announce: “You do not belong here — go to Bangladesh. If you do not leave, we will torch your houses and kill you.”

According to the U.N. researchers, measures against the minority group began almost a month before the Aug. 25 attacks on police posts by Muslim militants that served as a pretext for what Myanmar’s military called “clearance operations” in Rakhine.

“Information we have received indicates that days and up to a month before the 25th of August, that the Myanmar security forces imposed further restrictions on access to markets, medical clinics, schools and religious sites,” Karin Friedrich, who was part of the U.N. mission to Bangladesh, said at a news conference. “Rohingya men aged 15 to 40 were reportedly arrested by the Myanmar police” and detained without any charges, she said.

U.N. human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein said the Myanmar government’s denial of rights, including citizenship, to the Rohingya appeared to be part of “a cynical ploy to forcibly transfer large numbers of people without possibility of return.” He has also described the systematic attacks and widespread burning of villages as “textbook ethnic cleansing.”

The report said efforts were made to “effectively erase signs of memorable landmarks” in Rohingya areas to make the landscape unrecognizable. Myanmar’s Buddhist majority denies that Rohingya Muslims are a separate ethnic group and regards them as illegal immigrants.

Bangladesh offers land to shelter Rohingya fleeing Myanmar

September 11, 2017

COX’S BAZAR, Bangladesh (AP) — Bangladesh has agreed to free a plot of land for a new camp to shelter hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims who have fled recent violence in Myanmar, an official said Monday.

The new camp will help relieve some pressure on existing settlements in the Bangladeshi border district of Cox’s Bazar, where nearly 300,000 Rohingya have arrived since Aug. 25. “The two refugees camps we are in are beyond overcrowded,” said U.N. refugee agency spokeswoman Vivian Tan.

Other new arrivals were being sheltered in schools, or were huddling in makeshift settlements with no toilets along roadsides and in open fields. Basic resources were scarce, including food, clean water and medical aid.

Still, refugees were still arriving. An Associated Press reporter witnessed hundreds streaming into the border at Shah Puri Dwip on Monday. “Tomorrow we are expecting an airlift of relief supplies for 20,000 people,” Tan said.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina had offered 2 acres (.8 hectares) near the existing camp of Kutupalong “to build temporary shelters for the Rohingya newcomers,” according to a Facebook post Monday by Mohammed Shahriar Alam, a junior minister for foreign affairs.

He also said the government would begin registering the new arrivals on Monday. Hasina is scheduled to visit Rohingya refugees on Tuesday. Aid agencies have been overwhelmed by the influx of Rohingya, many of whom are arriving hungry and traumatized after walking days through jungles or packing into rickety wooden boats in search of safety on the Bangladeshi side of the border.

Many tell similar stories — of Myanmar soldiers firing indiscriminately on their villages, burning their homes and warning them to leave or to die. Some say they were attacked by Buddhist mobs. The government hospital in Cox’s Bazar has been overwhelmed by Rohingya patients, with 80 arriving in the last two weeks suffering gunshot wounds as well as bad infections. At least three have been wounded in land mine blasts, and dozens have drowned when boats capsized during sea crossings.

The violence and exodus began on Aug. 25 when Rohingya insurgents attacked Myanmar police and paramilitary posts in what they said was an effort to protect their ethnic minority from persecution by security forces in the majority Buddhist country.

In response, the military unleashed what it called “clearance operations” to root out the insurgents. Accounts from refugees show the Myanmar military is also targeting civilians with shootings and wholesale burning of Rohingya villages in an apparent attempt to purge Rakhine state of Muslims.

Bloody anti-Muslim rioting that erupted in 2012 in Rakhine state forced more than 100,000 Rohingya into displacement camps in Bangladesh, where many still live today. Rohingya have faced decades of discrimination and persecution in Myanmar and are denied citizenship despite centuries-olds roots in the Rakhine region. Myanmar denies Rohingya exist as an ethnic group and says those living in Rakhine are illegal migrants from Bangladesh

Alam reported from Dhaka, Bangladesh. AP writer Ashok Sharma in New Delhi contributed to this report.

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