|Kachin and Rohingya activists in diaspora launch an international opinion tribunal on Myanmar's atrocity crimes against their communities at home|
Kachin and Rohingya activists in diaspora launch an international opinion tribunal on Myanmar's atrocity crimes against their communities at home
Media Advisory, February 23, 2017
The Rome-based Permanent People’s Tribunal (PPT) will be holding the inaugural session of its first-ever Tribunal on Myanmar at Queen Mary University of London International State Crime Initiative on 6 and 7 March. (https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/permanent-peoples-tribunal-myanmar-state-crimes-against-rohingya-and-other-ethnic-minorities-tickets-31967250908)
The establishment of this people’s tribunal is in response to the requests made by Myanmar’s Rohingya and Kachin victims who have made credible allegations that their respective ethnic communities have suffered international crimes at the hands of Myanmar government troops, including crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide.
Subsequent tribunal hearings are envisaged in in USA and Malaysia before the jury reach the verdict later this year.
The PPT includes renowned genocide scholars such as Daniel Feierstein, past President of the International Association of Genocide Scholars, Dr Helen Jarvis, former Public Affairs Officer at the Khmer Rouge Tribunal, Dennis Halliday, former Assistant Secretary of the UN and winner of Gandhi International Peace Award (2003). The Tribunal is in the process of selecting members of the Panel of Jury from amongst a list of public figures whose nominations are based on their established personal integrity, professional competence and concerns for the victims.
Among the experts who will appear before the PPT will be Dr Mandy Sadan, Associate Dean of Research at School of African and Oriental Studies, University of London & author of Being & Becoming Kachin: Histories Beyond the State in the Borderworlds of Burma (Oxford University Press, 2013), Professor Penny Green of the International State Crime Initiative, and Azril Mohammad Amin of the Centre for Human Rights Research and Advocacy (Centhra), Malaysia.
“The gravity of Myanmar’s alleged mistreatment of these ethnic communities has been a concern for us at the PPT for a number of years. My colleagues and I are glad to be able to respond positively to the victims’ request for a credible moral tribunal on what appear to be international crimes being committed by the government of Myanmar,” said Dr Gianni Tognoni, Secretary General of Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal.
The People’s Tribunal has a long history as an effective means of transforming communities marred by state sponsored crimes. It has convened forty-three times to deliver judgements that have guided societies through such struggles as post-colonialism, globalization, war, and economic injustice. It is renowned for its rigorous selection criteria for its jury members.
Hkanhpa Sadan, the General Secretary of the Kachin National Organization (KNO), representing many in the Kachin diaspora, said, “Our Kachin people have been crying out for justice and accountability since Myanmar government unilaterally ended the 17-year ceasefire with the Kachin Independence Organization nearly 6 years ago. While talking up democratic transition in the media, Myanmar government has been bombing – even using fighter jets and gunship helicopters – our communities in Northern Myanmar, displacing thousands of our people, including women, elderly, children and infants from their own homes.” He pointed out that Myanmar is blocking humanitarian assistance and supplies to Kachin war refugees while refusing to permit the UN Special Rapporteur Professor Yanghee Lee access to the area last month to travel to the internally displaced people (IDP) camps where IDP thousands of families are freezing in make-shift camps in the high altitude mountainous, with little food or medical supplies.
Tun Khin, President of Burmese Rohingya Association UK, a participating organization, expresses his appreciation for the PPT staff for the tribunal. “We Rohingyas are grateful that this tribunal effort is materializing at this crucial juncture. Generations of us Rohingya have suffered what we experience as a genocide in our own ancestral lands.” He continues, “my grandfather was a proud Rohingya parliamentary secretary in democratic Burma in the 1950’s, and in 2017, my family and I are refugees in UK now. We are subject to Myanmar’s policy of extermination because of our religion and ethnicity.”
On the western frontier region of Rakhine, Myanmar troops have been accused of “very likely” committing crimes against humanity by the United Nations Human Rights Commissioner’s team. On 3 February the UN Office of High Commission for Human Rights (OHCHR) issued a 43-page report of interviews with 200+ persecution-fleeing Rohingya men and women in Bangladesh’s refugee camps, which detailed harrowing accounts of rape, gang-rape, wanton killings, arson, helicopter and rocket launcher attacks and other numerous forms of inhumane atrocities against unarmed, peaceful Rohingyas.
The UN report states,” “The testimonies gathered by the team – the killing of babies, toddlers, children, women and elderly; opening fire at people fleeing; burning of entire villages; massive detention; massive and systematic rape and sexual violence; deliberate destruction of food and sources of food – speak volumes of the apparent disregard by Tatmadaw and BGP officers that operate in the lockdown zone for international human rights law, in particular the total disdain for the right to life of Rohingyas.”
For decades, the Muslim Rohingya minority in Burma have suffered state crimes that many human rights investigators and scholars conclude amount to crimes against humanity and even a “slow genocide” as stated by Amartya Sen. They have been stripped of their citizenship and rendered stateless; prohibited from travelling even between villages; forbidden from obtaining education or gainful employment; forced into labour; physically brutalized including extrajudicial killings, rape,
and torture; driven from their burning homes and villages; and dehumanized because of their faith & skin colour.
In addition to Rohingya and Kachin organizations in diaspora, International State Crime Initiative at Queen Mary University of London, Burma Task Force USA, JUST and the Centre for Human Rights
Research and Advocacy (Centhra) from Malaysia, USA-based Genocide Watch, South Africa’s Protect the Rohingya and Burmese Muslim Association are supporting the tribunal. Cambodia Genocide survivor and genocide prevention campaigner Youk Chhang and Burmese genocide scholar Dr Maung Zarni are also among the tribunal’s individual supporters.
Within the United Nations, the Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, has reportedly said that she will be recommending a UN-mandated Commission of Inquiry on Rohingyas in her official Mission report to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, which she is scheduled to present on 13 March.
Myanmar’s hybrid government of Aung San Suu Kyi and the military has responded to these serious international crimes allegations first by dismissing them as “fake news” and later setting up its own “national investigation commission” headed by ex-general and Vice President Myint Swe. UN Special Adviser on Genocide Prevention Adama Dieng has officially dismissed Myanmar’s national commission as “not a credible option” while Ms Yanghee Lee said, “it doesn’t even have the methodology” to investigate the atrocity crimes. Dr Maung Zarni said “Myanmar’s own investigation would be like wolves figuring out who ate the chickens.”
There has been a concerted activist campaign worldwide for UN member states to adopt a resolution to establish a UN inquiry. UK government has come under strong criticism from human rights campaign groups for privileging its business interests in Burma while ignoring serious allegations of crimes against humanity committed by Myanmar Security troops which the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) says the British Armed Forces are training on human rights and accountability.
Dr Gianni Tognoni, Secretary General of Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal, Rome, Italy
Tun Khin, President, Burmese Rohingya Organization UK
Hkun Htoi Layang, Deputy Secretary, Kachin National Organization
|Rohingya refugee woman Noor Ayesha and her 5-year-old daughter at a Rohingya colony in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh.|
February 23, 2017
BANGKOK — Activists are urging Unilever, a major investor in Myanmar, to speak out against the country’s treatment of its Rohingya minority, which the U.N. has said may be called “crimes against humanity.”
More than 10,000 people have joined the Facebook group for the campaign, known by the #WeAreAllRohingyaNow, and hundreds have signed on. A letter sent this week to Unilever CEO Paul Polman asked the company to clarify its stance on the Rohingya.
|Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever, attends the Business And Climate summit, May 20, 2015, in Paris.|
“Silence in the face of genocide, whilst doing business, is simply not an option,” said Britain-based campaign organizer Jamila Hanan. “Multinational corporations must start to speak out. They must be obliged to use their power and influence to help bring about a more just society in the regions in which they operate.”
Unilever did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Rights groups accuse the Myanmar army of burning homes, mass killings and rape in their sweeping counterinsurgency campaign in Rakhine state, where most of the estimated 1 million Rohingya live.
The Muslim Rohingya have long faced systematic discrimination in Myanmar, a majority-Buddhist country. Most do not have citizenship and are considered illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, even when they’ve lived in Myanmar for generations. The #WeAreAllRohingyaNow group is seeking a restoration of citizenship rights denied to the Rohingya by a military government in 1982.
Hanan says the group chose to target Unilever because it has been responsive to activists in the past.
Advocate for social responsibility
Unilever, with some $55 billion in revenue last year, is one of the world’s largest consumer goods companies. Billions across the world buy Unilever-made Dove soap, Lipton tea, and Hellmann’s mayonnaise.
The company’s first factory in Myanmar opened in 2013. It now manufactures food and shampoo near Yangon.
Polman is a major advocate for corporate social responsibility and has won dozens of awards in eight years at Unilever’s helm. He recently signed an open letter to the U.N. citing concerns about Myanmar’s military offensives in Rakhine State, but not on behalf of Unilever, which has kept silent on the country’s politics.
|Boxes of humanitarian aid from Malaysia are unloaded in Sittwe, capital of western Myanmar's Rakhine state, Feb. 21, 2017. (Photo: RFA)|
February 23, 2017
Humanitarian aid sent by Malaysia for refugees in Myanmar’s beleaguered Rakhine state arrived in the state capital on Tuesday and will be distributed to both ethnic Rakhine people and Rohingya Muslims in three townships.
Malaysia has delivered hundreds of tons of food and other necessities, including rice, instant noodles, clothing, shoes, and hygiene kits, via the ship Nautical Aliya which arrived in Thilawa Port in Yangon region last week.
The items were loaded onto military ships that delivered them to Sittwe, capital of western Myanmar’s Rakhine state. From there they will be given to people in Sittwe as well as in Pauktaw and Myebon townships, Myanmar officials said.
The boat also offloaded food, medicine and other supplies at the port of Chittagong in neighboring Bangladesh for Rohingya refugees now living in camps scattered across Cox’s Bazar after they fled a violent crackdown in the northern part of Rakhine state.
Myanmar army soldiers and police locked down the area after a deadly attack on three border guard posts on Oct. 9, which authorities blamed on Rohingya militants.
The United Nations estimates that more than 1,000 people died and about 73,000 Rohingya fled to safety in Bangladesh during a security sweep of northern Rakhine. The U.N.’s human rights office has said that killings, arbitrary arrests, and rapes carried out by security forces in the region indicated “the very likely commission of crimes against humanity.”
The Myanmar government initially tried to block the ship from entering the country’s waters, saying that the Muslim organization behind the effort had not obtained official permission to land in Myanmar.
The government later declined Malaysia’s application to deliver aid to Sittwe and surrounding areas where many Rohingya have settled and instead issued clearance only for the port in Yangon.
The government also required that the supplies be delivered to both ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya living in the region.
Amnesty issues annual report
In a related development, London-based Amnesty International said in its latest annual report issued Wednesday that the state of human rights in Myanmar has seen no improvements despite a new civilian-led government coming to power at the end of March 2016.
The report noted that this is especially the case in Rakhine state where the situation of the stateless minority Rohingya group deteriorated significantly during the security operation after the border guard post attacks.
“The response collectively punished the entire Rohingya community in northern Rakhine state, and the conduct of the security forces may have amounted to crimes against humanity,” the report said.
“The government issued blanket denials that security forces had carried out human rights violations,” it said. “An investigation commission established by the government in December lacked credibility as it was headed by a former army general and its members included the chief of police.”
The government led by Nobel peace prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi has denied nearly all the abuse allegations.
A national-level commission investigating reports of abuse of the Rohingya detailed in the U.N.’s Feb. 3 report has said that its findings differ from those of the U.N., and that people interviewed could not corroborate accounts of violence.
Meanwhile, Myanmar’s security forces are probing the deaths of eight Rohingya in custody who were among the nearly 600 arrested during the crackdown, Agence France-Presse reported.
Buddhists call the Rohingya “Bengalis” because they consider them illegal migrants from neighboring Bangladesh. The Myanmar government has denied them citizenship, though many have lived in Myanmar for generations.
Tens of thousands of Myanmar’s 1.1 million Rohingya have lived in internally displaced persons camps since being displaced by communal violence with majority Buddhists in 2012. The Rohingya are denied basic rights, freedom of movement, and access to social services and education.
Bangladesh meanwhile has refused to grant the Rohingya who live there in camps refugee status because it considers them citizens of Myanmar.
Reported by Min Thein Aung for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.
By Nurul Islam Hasib
February 23, 2017
The Head of the Delegation of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Dhaka has said that they are against any forced movement of the people who have taken shelter in Cox’s Bazar fleeing persecution in Myanmar.
The government has recently announced its plan to relocate them to Thengar Char, an island in the Bay of Bengal, before repatriation.
“This is new information for us. The foreign ministry informed us during a briefing. For us, ICRC as a humanitarian organisation what is important is that the needs and the safety of the people are respected,” Ikhtiyar Aslanov told bdnews24.com.
“International norm is that any movement of the people should be voluntary,” he said adding “if you are forced to move, it creates tension, it creates anxiety among the populations because they don’t know where they are going.”
In an exclusive interview to bdnews24.com at his office, Aslanov said: “before any such plan, it is important to consider that how are the population affected going to perceive it.”
More than 400,000 Myanmar nationals, including the newly arrived 69,000, are living mainly in Cox’s Bazar in two registered camps and makeshift settlements after fleeing persecution and communal violence in the Rakhine State.
But, like Bangladesh and the Myanmar government, ICRC does not use the word Rohingya to continue their humanitarian activities smoothly. Instead, they call them Muslim communities of Rakhine.
|ICRC activities in Bangladesh in 2O16|
Foreign Minster AH Mahmood Ali recently briefing diplomats on the plan said such a huge population in Cox’s Bazaar district has created “formidable challenges” for the authorities to manage humanitarian assistances for them.
They also created, according to Ali, “some adverse effects on the overall socio-economic, political, demographic, environmental, and humanitarian and security situation in Cox’s Bazar and adjacent districts and also negatively affecting the eco-tourism prospects.”
Ali had also told diplomats that the government plans “to build necessary infrastructure including shelter, schools, hospitals or health centres, mosques, roads to make the place habitable” and that the relocation would take place “only after the development activities are completed”.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, during a recent meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, also called for support of the international community to help relocate them to the remote island until repatriation.
The ICRC Head of the Delegation said they were not questioning the concerns of the Bangladesh government.
“The question is rather how it’s going to be organised. How it is to be presented to them,” Aslanov, who was the deputy of the ICRC’s Syria mission before his Dhaka assignment, said.
“It’s not about infrastructure and services. How the community is going to be interacting with others. Now they are interacting with the Cox’s Bazaar local community.”
“Putting them completely separated from the mainland - how it’s going to affect their psychology. How will be their safety ensured? How the services will be delivered. Can they do something? What happens when cyclone strikes,” he raised all the questions.
He, however, said if ICRC has something to say on the relocation issue they will discuss that with the government bilaterally. “As a humanitarian issue, this is also part of our mandate”.
The world’s oldest humanitarian organisation, ICRC plays a crucial humanitarian role during Bangladesh war of independence in 1971.
After five years of operation since 1971 war of independence, ICRC winded its Dhaka office up in 1975 but re-established it in 2006 as it found it necessary mainly to train up Bangladesh peacekeepers who serve in UN missions.
Over the years, it has expanded its activities, and now it is focused on three directions – one of them is prevention work for which it works with the ministry of foreign affairs, home affairs and defence for promoting international humanitarian law.
The second part of its work is focused on protection under which it works closely with the prison authorities.
The third part is the humanitarian response under which it works at the Chittagong Hill Tracts to support livelihood projects for the poor. It provides grants and links them with the local authorities so that they can start work to earn a living.
They also work at Cox’s Bazar under the humanitarian response and support those Myanmar nationals who took shelter for decades.
Together with the Bangladesh Red Crescent Society, it has been working with healthcare project in Cox’s Bazar since 2O14.
But after the recent influx, they introduced mobile health clinic to reach health services to those Myanmar nationals.
“They are afraid to come to the hospital fearing to be caught there. So, we set up mobile clinics to reach services to them,” the head of the delegation said.
As a guardian of the Geneva Conventions, the ICRC works with authorities, armed forces, police, civil society and media to promote awareness of International Humanitarian Law, IHL, and humanitarian values, and their integration into domestic legislation, civil and military education and training.
The Head of the Delegation in Dhaka said they would have to be “neutral and impartial” to carry out their humanitarian activities.
“We can work in a complex situation. We have to understand the complicated things to maintain neutrality,” he said while explaining their activities.
“How to remain neutral, how to be impartial is the exactly part that comes strongly in our discussion, debates and internal analysis. It depends from station to station how it is accepted.”
“In general, the principle never changes. The principle of being neutral and impartial remains the same,” he said.
He said, “It is often difficult to accept neutrality when two parties fight – the emotion and feeling are that you are helping the other side”.
“But we try to make the decision-makers realise that the situation can be another way around. They can be on the other side,” he said, adding that for ICRC neutrality does not mean “passive role”.
“…in our work, it is far from passive. It’s quite active,” he said.
“Neutrality is something you have to work on it constantly. Neutrality is something we have to disseminate and explain particularly at the moment when the emotions, feelings and sometimes accusations are so high; it’s very difficult to cut through the obstacles to talking about neutrality”.
“It’s a tough job,” he said.
He said ICRC works in 100 countries that do not mean that all the countries have the crisis. Some have protracted crisis, some have an actual crisis, some have lived through the crisis and now time for reshaping.
“We continue promotion of international humanitarian law,” he said.
In Bangladesh, he said, since it is a “peaceful” country, their work is focused on promoting international humanitarian law.
The ICRC also supports the Centre for the Rehabilitation of the Paralysed, CRP, in Bangladesh. It also organised the first-ever international cricket tournament for the people with disabilities in 2015.
In May, this year, it will also hold a seminar with the prison authorities of 15 South-east Asian countries.
February 22, 2017
PETALING JAYA: A pilot programme to allow Rohingya refugees in Malaysia to work is a positive step taken by the Government with regards to human rights, says Amnesty International Malaysia.
Its executive director Shamini Darshni Kaliemuthu said about 300 Rohingya would be allowed to work legally in the country under the scheme.
"However, the Malaysian Government and authorities should take one step further to recognise refugees in the domestic legislation and policies, so that Rohingya refugees would be able to be accorded basic rights like the right to work and access to healthcare," she said when unveiling the Amnesty International Report 2016/17 on Wednesday morning.
Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi had said that the Government would provide training in semi-skilled areas for Rohingya who are United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) cardholders.
They could later apply for Temporary Employment Passes which will then enable them to obtain employment.
As of October last year, there were about 150,000 refugees and asylum-seekers registered with UNHCR in Malaysia.
More than 135,000 of them are from Myanmar, comprising 54,856 Rohingya, 41,420 Chins, 10,928 Myanmar Muslims, 5,221 Rakhines and Arakanese, and other ethnic groups.
Meanwhile, the Amnesty International Report listed the crackdown on freedom of expression and lack of police accountability among six major areas of concern in Malaysia.
Attacks against activists Fahmi Reza and Haris Ibrahim, travel ban on cartoonist Zunar, the 11-day solidarity confinement of Bersih 5.0 chairman Maria Chin Abdullah, and the death of N. Dharmendran in police custody were among the human rights cases highlighted.
Shamini also pointed out that Malaysia was among the 32 UN member states that have yet to ratify the UN Convention Against Torture.
The National Security Council Act, which came into effect in August, was a highly suppressive law that infringes on basic human rights, she added.
|Boys search for useful items among the ashes of burnt houses after fire destroyed shelters at a camp for internally displaced Rohingya Muslims in the western Rakhine State near Sittwe, Myanmar, May 3, 2016.|
By Maaz Hussain
February 22, 2017
Many Rohingya Muslims who fled alleged killings and other rights abuses during a Myanmar military crackdown in northern Rakhine state say they are not willing to return to their homes, despite last week's announcement that the military operation in the region has ended.
A statement from de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi's office last week said the situation in northern Rakhine had stabilized and the clearance operation by the military had been halted.
But many Rohingya say the situation in Myanmar, also known as Burma, continues to remain hostile for them.
|Myanmar State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi delivers a speech during Union Day celebrations in Panglong, Myanmar, Feb. 12, 2017. Suu Kyi has called on all armed ethnic groups to sign a nationwide cease-fire.|
“That military operation might have ended, but the oppression of the Rohingyas in Burma has not ended," said Dil Mohammad, a 30-year-old Rohingya refugee living in a shanty-colony in Cox’s Bazar district. "Rohingyas still cannot freely go for livelihood-related activities like fishing, farming and collecting firewood in Burma. If some Rohingyas are found in such work, they are being arrested by police.”
Mohammad says life continues to be full of hardships for Rohingyas in Myanmar.
“In such a situation I shall not return to Burma," he said. "I think as many as 96 or 97 percent of the new refugees in Bangladesh will not return to Burma.”
Mohammad isn't alone in his thinking. Most of the Rohingya who fled Myanmar during the recent military crackdown were so petrified by the killings and torture they witnessed that they are too scared to go back to their homes in Rakhine, according to Rohingya community leader Nurul Islam, the Britain-based chairman of the Arakan Rohingya National Organisation.
|Myanmar State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi delivers a speech during Union Day celebrations in Panglong, Myanmar, Feb. 12, 2017. Suu Kyi has called on all armed ethnic groups to sign a nationwide cease-fire.|
"Since violence subsided in Rakhine in the past weeks, some Rohingya from Bangladesh began returning to their homes," said Islam during a visit to Cox’s Bazar. "They are mostly those who had left part of their families in Rakhine while suddenly fleeing violence. They are going to Burma mostly to wind up their livelihood-related activities there and to bring the rest of their families back to Bangladesh."
Islam tells VOA that crackdowns against the Rohingya are ongoing "in many other ways."
"All Rohingya refugees are aware of the risks and hardships they will face in Burma," he said. "So Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh are largely not willing to return to Burma."
After nine policemen were killed in Rakhine on October 9 in an armed attack blamed on Rohingya insurgents, the Myanmar military launched a “clearance operation” in the area to ferret out the insurgents.
Soon after the operation started, Rohingya began fleeing the area, accusing soldiers, police and local Buddhist groups, who accompanied the forces during the raids, of abuses, including rapes, killings and arson.
|A Rohingya refugee girl wipes her eyes as she cries at Leda Unregistered Refugee Camp in Teknaf, Bangladesh, February 15, 2017.|
Community leaders estimate that up to 100,000 Rohingya have crossed into Bangladesh.
Earlier this month, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights said the action of the security forces in northern Rakhine were very likely “crimes against humanity.”
A week later, two senior U.N. officials working among the Rohingya refugees said more than 1,000 Rohingya may have been killed during the four-month security operation in northern Rakhine.
However, Myanmar presidential spokesman Zaw Htay said last week that less than 100 people had been killed during the operation. The Myanmar government has also consistently denied allegations of widespread abuses against the Rohingya people during the military operation.
|Yanghee Lee (C), the UN's Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, visits the Balu Khali Rohingya camp in Cox's Bazar, Feb. 21, 2017.|
A question of status
A controversial 1982 law renders members of the Rohingya community ineligible for citizenship.
The community was excluded from the 2014 census because the government refused to identify them as "Rohingya" and the Rohingya refused to be listed as "Bengalis."
In recent weeks, Myanmar authorities have resumed issuing National Verification Cards (NVCs) to Rohingya community members in Rakhine. Those who hold NVCs are identified as residents of Myanmar, but their citizenship status is under scrutiny.
Rohingya are being coerced by authorities to accept NVCs and those who refuse are arrested, according to Rakhine-based Rohingya rights activist Aung Aung.
"For a Rohingya holding an NVC, [that] virtually means he is not a citizen of Myanmar, but a declared Bengali immigrant," Aung said. "So, most Rohingyas are not willing to accept NVCs."
Aung says security forces are not allowing the Rohingyas to leave their villages if they cannot produce their NVCs.
"With this new restriction on movement, the Rohingyas are unable to perform many livelihood-related activities in Rakhine," Aung said, "which has brought new miseries to them."
Vice President Myint Swe
Chair of Myanmar Presidential Investigation Commission on Rakhine
Former Lt-General and former chief of
H.E. Kyaw Zwa Myint
The Embassy of Myanmar
19A Charles Street
London, W1J 5DZ
please, find attached the letter of invitation from the Permanent Peoples' Tribunal for the Opening Session on the accusation of state crimes committed against the Rohingyas, Kachins and other ethnic minorities in Myanmar, which will take place in London, on 6 and 7 March.
This letter is a formal invitation to be officially present in the hearings in the form you esteem most suitable to represent your interest and point of view.
We are ready to provide you with all the supplementary information you could need and request.
Looking forward to your answer, and, hopefully to receive a positive response to the request of having your presence.
Thank you for your attention.
PPT Secretary General
|Boys search for useful items among the ashes of burnt houses after fire destroyed shelters at a camp for internally displaced Rohingya Muslims in the western Rakhine State near Sittwe, Myanmar May 3, 2016. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun|
By Shwe Yee Saw Myint and Yimou Lee
February 21, 2017
YANGON -- Myanmar's army-controlled home ministry is investigating a cover-up by the country's border force of the deaths in custody of two Rohingya Muslims in troubled Rakhine State, according to a police report reviewed by Reuters and interviews with two senior security officials.
The internal document is the first official admission of serious wrongdoing by security forces in their crackdown against insurgents in northwestern Myanmar that has sent more than 70,000 people fleeing across the border to Bangladesh.
When contacted by Reuters, the Home Affairs Ministry denied an investigation was under way, but the commander of the Border Guard Police (BGP) in the area where the incident took place and a senior home ministry security official confirmed the authenticity of the document and said it was not the only such case that was being looked into.
The home ministry oversees the national police force, which includes the BGP. The ministry is headed by an army general.
Myanmar is under growing international pressure to take action against those who are alleged to have committed atrocities in Rakhine. The United Nations has documented mass killings and rapes it says may amount to crimes against humanity.
About 1.1 million Rohingya Muslims live in apartheid-like conditions in northwestern Myanmar, where they are denied citizenship. Many in Buddhist-majority Myanmar regard them as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.
The civilian government led by Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi has repeatedly denied almost all allegations against the country's still-powerful armed forces during what it has said was a lawful counterinsurgency campaign that began in October.
"NOT TELLING THE TRUTH"
The undated document reviewed by Reuters, titled "A cover-up of two deaths by Border Guard Police", was compiled by a BGP unit in northern Rakhine and focuses on two men who were arrested on Oct. 18 and questioned on suspicion of aiding insurgents.
The men died in custody, the document says, without specifying a cause of death. Instead of reporting the deaths, it says BGP officers in the village of Nga Khu Ya, in Maungdaw township, recorded that they had been transferred, with eight others, to another police detention center.
Thura San Lwin, BGP chief in Maungdaw township, near the border with Bangladesh, said the document outlining the findings of the investigation had been submitted to police headquarters in the capital, Naypyitaw.
"We are taking actions to punish those who lied in their reports. We won't forgive them. We are also taking actions to punish those who did not follow the rule of law," he said.
He said two other incidents of BGP officers on the ground "not telling the truth" in reports on the security crackdown were also being investigated by the home ministry.
He declined to provide further details about the nature of those other two incidents, or about the probe into the Nga Khu Ya case.
Contradicting the local commander, Home Ministry spokesman Police Colonel Myo Thu Soe denied that any BGP officers had lied to conceal the deaths of the two detainees. He said the pair, who were father and son, died from asthma on the way to a hospital on Oct. 18.
Presidential spokesman Zaw Htay said the government "has instructed the police to look into unreliable reports" during their operation in Rakhine. He declined to elaborate.
Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch's Asia division, said cover-ups of abuses by security forces were common in Myanmar.
"There are many other cases of abuse that still need to be exposed," he said, adding that abuses committed by the army were "serious and widespread, and probably dwarf what the BGP committed".
The army has been in direct control of northern Rakhine since early October and drove the sweeping operation there.
The military press bureau did not respond to several requests for comment.
Northwestern Myanmar has been cut off to aid workers and other independent observers since October.
The military campaign there began after nine BGP officers were killed in attacks on security posts near the Bangladesh border on Oct. 9. It has renewed international criticism that Myanmar leader Suu Kyi has done too little to help the Rohingya Muslim minority.
In a report published earlier this month based on accounts from Rohingyas who had escaped or been released, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights described "inhumane conditions and ill-treatment" including rape, torture and deprivation of food and water in various detention centers across northern Rakhine.
Myanmar's presidential office, military and police forces have each set up teams to investigate alleged crimes in Rakhine after Suu Kyi promised to probe UN allegations of atrocities.
That has set the scene for a behind-the-scenes tussle over who will be held accountable, according to the senior home ministry official and another source with close ties to senior figures in the military.
The person with close military ties said the army and police were "trying to blame each other" for alleged atrocities.
"The military did not expect such a strong response from the international community," said the source, who is familiar with the thinking of some top generals. "It is now under pressure to investigate."
(Reporting By Shwe Yee Saw Myint and Yimou Lee; Editing by Alex Richardson)
February 21, 2017
Foreign companies need to stop investing in Myanmar in order to stop the country's discrimination against its Muslim minority Rohingya, a prominent Myanmar activist said Tuesday.
"We cannot force Western governments to put sanctions on Myanmar but we can talk to businesses," blogger and co-founder of the #WeAreAllRohingya online movement Ro Nay San Lwin told dpa.
"We want multinationals with business interests in Myanmar to put pressure on the government."
Asked about the impact on Myanmar if multinational companies refrain from investing, Ro Nay San Lwin said: "I don't want to hurt my fellow Burmese. But the situation is forcing us to convince businesses to stop investing in Myanmar."
Ro Nay San Lwin said he recently sent Unilever CEO Paul Polman an open letter encouraging his company to re-evaluate its role in the country. In December, Polman had co-signed a letter of concern to the UN Security Council highlighting the plight of the Rohingya.
In that letter, Polman, together with a number of Nobel laureates, had compared the violence against the Muslim minority to Rwanda's 1994 genocide, as well as ethnic cleansing in Sudan's western Darfur region, Bosnia and Kosovo.
The letter also called for the Myanmar government to lift all restrictions on humanitarian aid to Rakhine state.
At least 70,000 Rohingya have left Myanmar over the last few months. They blame the Myanmar military of committing human rights abuses such as rape, arson and torture against them. The UN has suggested the abuses might amount to crimes against humanity.
The activists say they don't plan to attack companies if they fail to act.
|Yanghee Lee (left), the UN's Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, visits the Balu Khali Rohingya camp in Cox's Bazar on February 21, 2017|
February 21, 2017
UN human rights envoy Yanghee Lee was Tuesday visiting Rohingya refugee camps in southeastern Bangladesh, where thousands have taken shelter after fleeing a military crackdown in Myanmar.
Almost 73,000 Rohingya have arrived in Bangladesh since the military unleashed a four-month campaign of violence against the stateless Muslim minority that the United Nations says may amount to crimes against humanity.
The refugees, most of whom are now living in squalid camps in the Cox's Bazar district which borders Myanmar's Rakhine state, have brought harrowing accounts of systematic rape, killings and torture at the hands of the military.
Lee, the UN's Special Rapporteur on the issue, was in the coastal district on Tuesday after holding talks with government ministers in Dhaka about the crisis.
There was no immediate comment from the UN, but the Bangladesh foreign ministry said Dhaka had expressed concern over the presence of the Rohingya in the country.
"She (Lee) is now visiting the camps to talk to the refugees," Bangladesh foreign ministry spokeswoman Khaleda Begum told AFP.
Myanmar says its army has now halted its operations in Rakhine, which were aimed at finding militants who attacked police border posts.
By Halil Ibrahim Baser
February 20, 2017
IHH distributes food aid to 18,500 people displaced by violence in Rakhine state
ISTANBUL -- Turkey’s Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH) said Monday that it had delivered food to 18,500 displaced Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar this month.
The aid -- including rice, oil, beans, salt and spices -- was distributed in Sittwe and Buthidaung in Rakhine state.
Tens of thousands of Rohingya have fled their homes in Rakhine since October, when Myanmar's military launched a crackdown that has attracted severe international criticism of its brutality.
Around 100,000 people had been displaced due to oppression and the military violence, IHH Southeast Asia Desk's Mucahit Demir said in a statement. “Over 75,000 people had to settle in and around Kutupalong camp in Bangladesh’s Cox Bazar region, which is also known as the worst camp in the world.
“Nearly 30,000 people had to relocate within Rakhine due to oppression and villages being burnt down. Hundreds of thousands of our Rohingya brothers and sisters have become needy since then.
“As IHH, we care especially about the distribution of food and basic necessities that we initiate as emergency aid and plan to continue aid with support from donors,” Demir said.
Rohingya have fled Rakhine -- one of the poorest states in Myanmar -- in droves for decades, with a new wave of migrations occurring since mid-2012 after communal violence broke out between ethnic Buddhists and the Muslim minority -- described by the UN as one of the world's most persecuted groups.
Security forces have been accused of gang-rape, killings, beatings, disappearances and burning villages in the Maungdaw area of northern Rakhine since October.
By Adil Sakhawat
February 20, 2017
Mohammed Imran, the author of this letter to Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, is a credentialed former camp leader of Kutupalong Rohingya refugee camp in Ukhiya, Cox’s Bazar.
The letter is an appeal to the prime minister to reconsider a recent Bangladesh government decision to relocate Rohingya refugees from existing refugee camps to the Thengar Char area.
After failing to get the letter sent to the Bangladesh government via the camp in-charge, an employee of the government, he sent it to the Dhaka Tribune requesting that it be published.
Originally from Myanmar, where they are now denied citizenship, the Rohingya have been described by UN agencies as the most persecuted minority in the world.
We are printing the letter below:
Honorable Prime Minister,
SUBJECT: Government should reconsider the relocation of refugees to Thengar Char on the Island of Hatiya
We, the Myanmar refugees under Government’s protection, submit to you that the Government’s plan to move thousands of registered Rohingya refugees to the Island of Hatiya located in southern Bangladesh amounts to imprisonment in a flood-prone place of extreme isolation. Many of us have been living over two decades in refugee camps near the Myanmar border. We understand that the area where Rohingya refugees are confined is a major tourist attraction, which is the official reason the Government has given for wanting to shift them to this island – it feels it will enrich the environment for tourism in Cox’s Bazar.
In the two “official” camps in Cox’s Bazar, approximately 38,000 refugees live under the protection of the UNHCR, while over 3 lakhs more live in “unofficial” camps. This place where the Government plans to move the refugees is a known climate-impacted area. Many of the locals on the island have already been displaced due to flooding. This plan would only jeopardize the lives of thousands of refugees. In addition, several local organisations on this island have already expressed their concerns and protested against refugees being relocated there.
Knowing that moving refugees to Hatiya will put their lives in physical danger makes this plan unjust. No doubt the idea is to keep them from ever leaving the island, pending some sort of unlikely repatriation to Myanmar. And the island’s isolation from the mainland brings questions of access to power, healthcare, education, and a guarantee of adequate and timely delivery of necessary supplies. Would others (volunteers, etc.) be able to reach the island to provide assistance?
We, the affected refugees, ask that a durable and lasting solution be pursued without moving us from our present locations. If the Government has a sincere intention to improve the living standard of refugees as it states, it must know that we realise there is no guarantee of safety and protection if we are moved to Hatiya Island. It is important that they know that the world realises it as well.
We implore you to intervene on our behalf in this matter as we are very concerned about our safety and have no other recourse. We are at your mercy.
Rohingya refugee community in Kutupalong.
February 20, 2017
Bangladesh FM urges int’l community
Foreign Minister AH Mahmood Ali today urged the international community to take measures for addressing the root causes of Rohingya influx from Myanmar to Bangladesh.
He stressed on the peaceful resolution of the longstanding issue while meeting the United Nations special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar at state guesthouse Padma this afternoon.
The UN Special Rapporteur, Yanghee Lee, is currently in Bangladesh for a three-day mission to Cox’s Bazar. Lee will visit the various locations in Cox’s Bazar and interact with the newly arrived Myanmar population who fled the recent military atrocities in the Northern Rakhine State of Myanmar.
During the meeting, the foreign minister apprised the UN special rapporteur of the steps that the Government of Bangladesh had taken vis-à-vis Myanmar refugees and the undocumented Myanmar nationals who entered Bangladesh over the years from the Rakhine State, said a press release issued by the Foreign Ministry.
He informed her about the repatriation status of the refugees under an agreement negotiated by him in 1992 and informed that as many as 236,599 Rakhine Muslims had been repatriated under that agreement until it came to a halt in 2005.
Ali stressed that the constant presence of the huge number of Myanmar nationals in Cox’s Bazar district has created a number of adverse effects on the overall socio-economic, political, demographic, environmental, humanitarian and security situation of Cox’s Bazar and adjacent districts.
The foreign minister also informed the UN special rapporteur about the initiatives of the Government of Bangladesh to engage with Myanmar bilaterally through establishment of border liaison offices and introduction of dialogue on security cooperation.
The foreign minister highlighted the endeavours to foster regional connectivity involving Myanmar through BCIM and BIMSTEC and thus ensure sustainable development in the region.
The UN Special Rapporteur Yanghee Lee thanked the foreign minister for allowing her to undertake the visit in Bangladesh.
The foreign minister assured her of all sort of cooperation during her mission.
Following the visit, Yanghee Lee will issue an ‘end of mission statement’ and share her findings to the UN Human Rights Council which will be available online on March 13, 2017.
20th February 2017
The Rohingya Muslim minority in Myanmar have been subjected to gross human rights abuses that the United Nations say may constitute ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. A recent UN report detailing incidents of systematic gang-rapes by the Myanmar army, and the brutal killing of civilians, including women, children, and infants, has intensified international concern over the plight of the Rohingya, and has given a new sense of urgency to rights activists involved in the issue.
A new campaign called #WeAreAllRohingyaNow is adopting a unique approach to ending the persecution, by reaching out to major companies investing in Myanmar.
“We have lobbied governments and organisations to do what they can, but nothing so far has had any real affect; our governments are constrained by business interests,” says Jamila Hanan, who has been an activist involved in the Rohingya issue since 2012, and is spearheading the new campaign.“We believe the only real leverage we can have against the Myanmar military is through its business dealings, and this is the area that has so far been neglected by activists, so this is what we have decided to concentrate on now.”
The campaign’s first company of interest is Unilever, the world’s third largest consumer goods company and a major investor in Myanmar.
“We have been encouraged by the fact that Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever, did sign a letter of concern regarding the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya that was addressed to the UN Security Council, and so now we are encouraging Unilever to take a lead on this matter and we will be asking others to join them.”
Today, the campaign has published, and sent to Polman, an open letter asking the company to take a stand against what many call a genocide of the world’s most persecuted minority. Though the Myanmar government recently announced that military operations against the Rohingya have been suspended, Hanan says that the long-term ethnic cleansing plan remains in place.
Prominent figures from the Rohingya diaspora are lending their support to the campaign as well. Community representative, Ro Nay San Lwin, co-signed the open letter to Polman, and believes the private sector has an important role to play in addressing the issue. “Multinational corporations should not invest in a country where more than a million people have no human dignity, basic human rights and citizenship, unless they demand to change the policy of the Myanmar government,” Lwin says. “I believe that convincing corporations to stand up against the genocide would be more helpful than lobbying the western governments to impose sanctions again.”
Hundreds of people from all across the globe have registered to participate in the #WeAreAllRohingyaNow campaign, which organisers emphasise is not intended to antagonise companies, but rather to encourage them to expand their commitment to social responsibility, by taking steps to end the repression and atrocities in Myanmar. However, activists have stated that they are prepared to incorporate other pressure tactics if necessary, to convince investors that silence in the face of genocide is not a successful business strategy.
Says Hanan, “The public is increasingly angry and upset about the constant stream of horrific testimonies we are receiving from the Rohingya people. This has gone on far too long now, we must all take a stand to stop this. We hope this campaign will enable many people to get involved, to change their anger and despair into compassion and concern, and channel those sentiments into effective group action that will bring change.”
For more information, please contact:
Link to the open letter: http://allrohingyanow.org/act/unilever-myanmar-rohingya-genocide/
20th February, 2017
Your willingness to listen and share your thoughts with us means a lot, not just to me, but to hundreds of concerned activists involved in the #WeAreAllRohingyaNow campaign.
We would like to know if you have read the recent UN flash report regarding crimes committed by the Myanmar military against the Rohingya and what you thought about that?
We welcome Unilever’s commitment to social responsibility. As you said yourself, “Business can only flourish in societies in which human rights are respected, upheld and advanced.” What do you see as the ethical responsibility of a company doing business in a country where the authorities are accused of ethnic cleansing?
We understand that Unilever is planning to eventually make Myanmar central to all of its South Asia operations. Can you tell us about any investments, operations, or development projects Unilever currently has, or is planning to initiate, in Rakhine state?
Whilst we welcome the apparent suspension of clearance operations in Rakhine, we know that the ethnic cleansing project against the Rohingya has not yet ended. Rohingya reporters have already told us that the military have not left the area and reports that they have done so are not true. Avoiding mass killing is part of the military’s 11 point Rohingya Extermination Plan, to avoid attracting international attention. As long as the Rohingya are deprived of their citizenshipbirthright in Myanmar, we know from previous events, this project of ethnic cleansing will continue.
Aside from you personally signing the letter of concern addressed to the UN Security Council regarding ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity committed against the Rohingya, what, if anything, is Unilever doing to advance a positive outcome in this matter?
Finally, can you tell us how peace and stability in the state of Rakhine matters to Unilever?
Thank-you for giving this letter your consideration. We look forward to your response.
Ro Nay San Lwin
Rohingya Community Representative
Editor of RohingyaBlogger.com
By Shaikh Azizur Rahman
February 19, 2017
Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh: If you believe the Myanmar government, the military "clearance operation" in northern Rakhine state, which began after an attack on a police post in October, officially came to a halt on Thursday.
But for the region's Rohingya inhabitants, the reign of terror shows no signs of ending.
Following an international outcry over allegations of widespread human rights abuses by Myanmar security forces and Buddhist tribal groups in the state, the government allowed selected Myanmar journalists to visit the area in December.
As the journalists toured Rohingya villages, where killings, rapes and arson had been reported, most Rohingya avoided interaction with them.
However a few, including 25-year-old Rohingya woman Jamalida Begum, took courage and shared their experiences.
"I told them how other Rohingya women there and I had been brutally raped by the military," she told Fairfax Media.
Soon after the December visit, interviews with Begum and two other villagers - a man called Sona Mia and a woman called Noorjahan - were shown on Myanmar TV channels.
Sona Mia, a Rohingya from the village of Ngakura, was found murdered a day after he spoke to the journalists. For Begum, it was a clear message.
|Jamalida Begum makes her rape allegations to representatives of the Myanmar government's Rakhine State Investigation Commission on December 11, 2016. Photo: Myanmar State Counsellor Office|
"I got extremely scared at the news of the beheading of Sona Mia and immediately I decided to flee," she said.
Begum said that when she was speaking to the journalists, some soldiers took her picture, later returning to launch a house-to-house search for her in her hamlet of Pyoung Pyi in the Maungdaw area.
"I sneaked out of my village and spent several days in hiding in jungles and other places, before giving the border guards the slip and crossing over to Bangladesh" with her father and seven-year-old son.
At a refugee camp in Bangladesh, Begum and 31-year-old Noorjahan, who alleged on camera that five soldiers and Buddhist tribesmen had raped her, have become friends.
"The soldiers murdered my husband in November," Noorjahan told Fairfax Media. "Weeks after, they raped me before my daughter. My mental pain was unbearable. I wanted the world to know of it. So, I took the risk to tell everything about the torture to the journalists.
"Many women around us had been raped by the Burmese soldiers, police and Mog [a Buddhist tribe] men. But, most were afraid of retaliation from the government and so they did not come forward," she adds.
When the soldiers launched a search for her, hours after she spoke to the journalists, she slipped out of her village of Nirbil and hid in another, she said.
"After spending one week in hiding, one night I secretly took a boat, crossed the [Naf] river and reached Bangladesh, along with my six-year-old daughter," Noorjahan said.
|Noorjahan and her six-year-old daughter. Photo: Saiful Islam|
Soon after the TV interviews, the Myanmar government issued a statement saying that several neighbours of the two women had reported to the authorities that their rape allegations were "not true".
The government also said that since Begum and Noorjahan had fled their villages, it could not investigate the rape charges.
But Begum and Noorjahan say they are still being pursued.
In January, a Myanmar official accompanied by foreigners - by which the women mean people who were not Burmese or Bangladeshi - reached the Rohingya refugee camp in Cox's Bazar where Begum and Noorjahan have taken shelter.
Begum said she recognised this official, who had visited her village in December, when she said to him and other Myanmar officials how she had been raped by three soldiers in November.
"I was shocked to see that official at the refugee camp," she said. "[He] asked me why I had fled Burma. I replied that the security agencies were hounding me ... when he asked if I wanted to go back to [Myanmar], I replied in the negative," she told Fairfax Media.
"Are [Myanmar officials] still tracking Noorjahan and me for some reason?"
As Begum and Noorjahan did not enter Bangladesh legally, the UN refugee agency cannot support them and they are forced to live on handouts provided by local charities.
Accusations of Rohingya villagers being hounded after daring to speak out have surfaced elsewhere.
Kofi Annan - who heads a commission investigating the conflict in Rakhine - visited Rohingya villages in the first week of December. Soon after, Myanmar police launched a hunt for those Rohingya who told the former UN secretary-general about abuses committed by the security forces. Two people who spoke out were arrested.
Yanghee Lee, the UN's special rapporteur on Myanmar, visited northern Rakhine in January to investigate allegations of rights violations by security forces. Aung Aung, a Rakhine-based activist, said that military officials had threatened villagers with punishment if they sought to meet Ms Lee.
"It's clear that the military authority does not want Rohingyas to tell the outside world how they are being killed and tortured in Myanmar," Aung said.
Ms Lee will arrive in Bangladesh on Monday to resume her investigation. In Cox's Bazar, she is scheduled to meet scores of Rohingya rape survivors and others who have fled Myanmar in recent weeks.
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Myanmar – Rohingya and US Realpolitik
In this 9-minute radio interview with Malaysia's top Business FM station Dr Zarni dissects the state of Burma and Washington's real agenda in his native country.