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Rohingya Muslims stand to receive food being distributed near Balukhali refugee camp in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh (AAP)

By AFP & SBS Wires
September 21, 2017

French President Emmanuel Macron on Wednesday said attacks on Myanmar's Rohingya minority amounted to "genocide". 

France will work with other members of the UN Security Council for a condemnation of "this genocide which is unfolding, this ethnic cleansing", Macron said in an interview with the French TV channel TMC.

Macron's use of the word "genocide" marks his strongest verbal attack yet on the military drive against the Rohingya.

More than 420,000 members of the Muslim minority have fled Myanmar for the safety of neighbouring Bangladesh.

"We must condemn the ethnic purification which is under way and act," Macron said.

"Asking for the violence to end, asking for humanitarian access... progressively enables an escalation" under UN auspices, Macron said.

"When the UN issues a condemnation, there are consequences which can provide a framework for intervention under the UN," Macron said.

Rohingya, who are predominantly Muslim, are reviled by many in Buddhist-majority Myanmar.

The UN human rights chief has described the systematic attacks against the Rohingya minority by the security forces as a "textbook example of ethnic cleansing".

COXS BAZAR, BANGLADESH - SEPTEMBER 16: Rohingya refugees are seen in an informal refugee camp on September 16, 2017 in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh. Nearly 400,000 Rohingya refugees have fled into Bangladesh since late August during the outbreak of violence in the Rakhine state as recent satellite images released by Amnesty International provided evidence that security forces were trying to push the minority Muslim group out of the country. Myanmar's de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi cancelled her trip to the United Nations General Assembly in New York, which begins next week, while criticism on her handling of the Rohingya crisis grows and her government has been accused of ethnic cleansing. According to reports, the Rohingya crisis has left at least 1,000 people dead, including children and infants, with dozens of the Rohingya Muslims who drowned when their boat capsized while trying to escape on overloaded fishing boats ill-equipped for rough waters. (Photo by Allison Joyce/Getty Images)

September 21, 2017

WASHINGTON -- The US will provide a humanitarian aid package worth nearly $32 million to Rohingya who have fled violence in Myanmar's Rakhine State in recent weeks, the State Department announced Wednesday during the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

The funding "reflects the US commitment to help address the unprecedented magnitude of suffering and urgent humanitarian needs of the Rohingya people," said the State Department's Acting Assistant Secretary Simon Henshaw, noting that over 400,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled Myanmar, a majority Buddhist nation, for neighboring Bangladesh.

He added that the US hoped its contribution would encourage other countries to provide more funding as well.

The aid package comes a day after Secretary of State Rex Tillerson spoke with Aung San Suu Kyi, the de facto leader of Myanmar, also known as Burma, and "welcomed the Burmese government's commitment to end the violence in Rakhine State and to allow those displaced by the violence to return home," according to the State Department.

Tillerson "urged the Burmese government and military to facilitate humanitarian aid for displaced people in the affected areas, and to address deeply troubling allegations of human rights abuses and violations."

The State Department said the aid "will help provide emergency shelter, food security, nutritional assistance, health assistance, psychosocial support, water, sanitation and hygiene, livelihoods, social inclusion, non-food items, disaster and crisis risk reduction, restoring family links, and protection to over 400,000 displaced persons."

An average of 20,000 a day

Henshaw said Wednesday's announcement brought the total of US aid to Burmese refugees, including Rohingya, to nearly $95 million in fiscal year 2017.

Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya, many of them women and children, have fled to Bangladesh to escape violence since August 25, according to the United Nations -- an average of almost 20,000 a day. The refugees speak of indiscriminate clearance operations, huts set on fire and family members being taken away and never heard from again.

Speaking at the United Nations Security Council on Wednesday, Vice President Mike Pence called on the UN "to take strong and swift action to bring this crisis" of violence against the Rohingya people in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, to an end.

"The United States renews our call on Burma's security forces to end their violence immediately and support diplomatic efforts for a long-term solution," he said. "President Trump and I also call on this security council and the United Nations to take strong and swift action to bring this crisis to an end."

Pence also spoke about how the violence in Myanmar is a perfect example of the kind of problem the United Nations should help solve.

"Keeping the peace requires more than peacekeeping -- it requires action, reform and, lastly, it also requires a willingness to call out senseless attacks on innocent people around the world. At this very moment in Southeast Asia, we see heartbreak and assaults on human rights and innocent civilians that is ultimately endangering the sovereignty and security of the entire region," Pence said. 

To date, the international response has been inadequate, said Reza Afshar, policy director of Independent Diplomat, a non-profit group that offers diplomatic advice and is working with a Rohingya group. 

That's partly a function of the pace of the crisis, which has "moved incredibly quickly," Afshan said, but it's also a matter of political dynamics in the UN's Security Council, "where the assumption is that China isn't going to allow anything substantive in the Council" to punish Myanmar. Permanent members of the 15-member Council can veto a resolution. 

A well-articulated and carefully calibrated UN resolution on the Rohingya crisis would "get the government of Myanmar to sit up and take notice," Afshan said, adding that other countries had to "test China" by putting forward some language for a resolution. "That testing needs to happen, and happen soon," he said.

Call for economic sanctions

The Organization of Islamic Cooperation, the second largest inter-governmental group at the UN with 57 members, met Tuesday and called for UN member states to consider cutting or curbing economic ties with Myanmar or suspending preferential trade agreements with the country. 

OIC members urged the Security Council to act immediately and their leaders spoke out against Myanmar in their General Assembly address.

The Muslim community in the Rakhine region of Myanmar is being subjected to almost an ethnic cleansing, with provocative terrorist acts used as a pretext," Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan thundered. 

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi urged the UN to "promptly work towards a lasting solution that ends the plight of civilians and addresses the root causes of the crisis, which has become a threat to regional security and the stability of neighboring countries."

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres opened the 72nd General Assembly by calling on authorities in Myanmar to "end the military operations allow unhindered humanitarian access and recognize the right of refugees to return in safety and dignity."

Guterres recently suggested that the Rohingya are the victims of ethnic cleansing. "When one-third of the Rohingya population has got to flee the country, can you find a better word to describe it," Guterres said September 13. 

Pence, speaking at the UN, called out the Burmese military for the violence. 

"In recent weeks, the people of my country and the wider world have witnessed a great tragedy unfolding in Burma with the Rohingya people," he said. "Recently, Burmese security forces responded to militant attacks on government outposts with terrible savagery, burning villages, driving the Rohingya from their homes; the images of the violence and its victims have shocked the American people and decent people all over the world."

"And now we are witnessing a historic exodus, over 400,000 Rohingya, including tens of thousands of children, have now been forced to flee from Burma to Bangladesh," Pence added.

The announcement of a US aid package comes just one day after Myanmar's de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi finally broke her silence on the Rohingya refugee crisis in a speech that drew widespread criticism.

Suu Kyi did not denounce alleged atrocities against the Rohingya community and claimed the government needed more time to investigate the exodus from Myanmar of the minority Muslim group.

Much of the speech appeared intended to frame the crisis as a complex internal issue and contrasted the violence -- which she depicted as isolated -- with the government's ongoing development agenda, specifically its efforts to deliver "peace, stability, harmony and progress" to the nation as a whole.

Henshaw said that he wouldn't characterize her remarks, but added that, "we are urging the Burmese Government to control the violence in the area, to cease attacks against civilians, and to create safe conditions so that the Rohingya that have fled feel safe to return."

Not safe for return

The US welcomes Suu Kyi's announcement that the government would be "welcoming those who fled Rakhine state back to their homes," Henshaw said. "We encourage the government to act quickly on this commitment while ensuring the safety and wellbeing of returnees."

When asked about Suu Kyi's comment that returning refugees have nothing to fear, Henshaw said that conditions aren't yet right for the refugees to return.

The Rohingya are considered to be among the world's most persecuted people. The predominantly Buddhist Myanmar considers them Bangladeshi, but Bangladesh says they're Burmese.

The government of Myanmar has blamed terrorists for starting the recent violence that has killed more than 1,000 people, according to recent a recent estimate from Yanghee Lee, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights for Myanmar. 

Almost 40% of all Rohingya villages in Myanmar's Rakhine State are now empty, a government spokesperson confirmed earlier this week.

Rohingya Muslims stand in a queue to receive food being distributed near Kutupalong refugee camp in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2017. With Rohingya refugees still flooding across the border from Myanmar, those packed into camps and makeshift settlements in Bangladesh are desperate for scant basic resources and fights erupt over food and water. Bernat Armangue AP Photo

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September 21, 2017

DHAKA, BANGLADESH -- A truck filled with aid for Rohingya Muslim refugees in Bangladesh veered off a road and fell into a ditch Thursday morning, killing at least nine aid workers, hours after another aid shipment in the refugees' violence-wracked home state in Myanmar was attacked by a Buddhist mob.

Both shipments were from the International Committee of the Red Cross. Aid groups face different challenges on either side of the border: An influx of more than 420,000 refugees in less than a month in Bangladesh, and in Myanmar, government resistance and angry allegations from majority Buddhists that international organizations are favoring the long-persecuted Rohingya minority.

A Bangladeshi medical administrator, Aung Swi Prue, said six people died instantly in the truck crash near the border in southeastern Bandarban district. Three people died after reaching a hospital, and 10 others were injured and are receiving treatment.

ICRC spokeswoman Misada Saif said all of those killed were Bangladeshi workers hired to distribute food packages to 500 Rohingya families.

Saif said the truck belongs to the ICRC and Bangladesh Red Crescent Society and was operated by a supplier who has been working for the two agencies for last couple of weeks. She said agency officials are "very shocked and sad."

"Our thoughts are with the families of the dead. They were there to help the people who desperately need help," she said.

The Rohingya exodus began Aug. 25, after Rohingya insurgent attacks on police set off a military crackdown.

Hundreds of people have been killed and thousands of homes have been burned in what many Rohingya have described as a systematic effort by Myanmar's military to drive them out. The government has blamed the Rohingya, even saying they set fire to their own homes, but the U.N. and others accuse it of ethnic cleansing.

Most refugees have ended up in camps in the Bangladeshi district of Cox's Bazar, which already had hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees who had fled prior rounds of violence. Bandarban is a neighboring district where thousands of Rohingya also have fled.

The violence in Myanmar occurred just across the border in Rakhine state, where police said a Buddhist mob threw rocks and Molotov cocktails at officers Wednesday night as they tried to block Red Cross supplies from being loaded onto a boat. The vessel was headed to an area where hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims have chased from their homes. No injuries were reported and police detained eight of the attackers.

Dozens of people arrived at a jetty in the Rakhine state capital, Sittwe, as a boat was being loaded bottled water, blankets, mosquito nets, food and other supplies. As the crowd swelled to 300, they started throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails at the officers, who responded by firing into the air, said police officer Phyo Wai Kyaw.

The government of the predominantly Buddhist nation of 60 million said police and several monks showed up to try to defuse tensions. The shipment ultimately was loaded and sent to northern Rakhine state.

Though Myanmar's leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, told diplomats this week humanitarian assistance was being sent to those who remain in northern Rakhine, the government has blocked all U.N. assistance to the area, granting access to only the Red Cross.

Buddhists in Rakhine have accused international aid agencies of favoring Rohingya, a group who Myanmar and many of its people contend migrated illegally from Bangladesh.

"We are explaining to the community members who approached the boats about the activities of the Red Cross," said Maria Cecilia Goin, a communications officer at the ICRC in Yangon.

"It's important for them to understand that we are working in neutral and impartial way," she said, adding that the work is being done "with full transparency with the Myanmar authorities."

Suu Kyi's speech this week in Naypyitaw, the capital, defended her government's conduct in Rahkine state and avoided criticism of the military. The country's top general went a step further, traveling to northern Rakhine on Thursday to praise security forces for their "gallant" efforts to defend Myanmar.

At a meeting with military officials and their families in Buthiduang township, Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces Min Aung Hlaing said that more than a century ago when the area was a British colony, Rohingya — whom he referred to as "Bengalis" — were allowed to settle without restrictions.

"Later, the Bengali population exploded and the aliens tried to seize the land of local ethnics," Min Aung Hlaing said, according to his office's Facebook page. He described repeated army efforts since Myanmar independence in 1948 to "to crush the mujahedeen insurgents," including in 2012 and last fall.

"Race cannot be swallowed by the ground, but only by another race," he said. "All must be loyal to the state in serving their duties, so that such cases will never happen again."

Rohingya refugees react as aid is distributed in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, September 21, 2017. REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton

By Andrew R.C. Marshall
September 21, 2017

SITTWE, Myanmar -- Buddhist protesters in Myanmar threw petrol bombs to try to block an aid shipment to Muslims in Rakhine State, where the United Nations has accused the country’s military of ethnic cleansing 

The incident late on Wednesday, ended when police fired in the air to disperse the protesters, reflected rising communal animosity and came during an official visit by U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Patrick Murphy. 

Murphy said later, after talks with government leaders, that Washington was alarmed by reports of rights abuses and called on authorities to stop the violence, which raised concern about Myanmar’s transition from military rule to democracy. 

Myanmar’s army chief on Thursday called for internally displaced non-Muslims to go home. 

In a speech on his plans for Rakhine State while on his first visit there since strife erupted, he made no mention of the estimated 422,000 Rohingya Muslims who have crossed the border into Bangladesh. 

They have fled Myanmar to escape a sweeping counter-insurgency operation by his army in response to attacks by Rohingya insurgents on Aug. 25. 

Hundreds of protesters were involved in the attempt to stop Red Cross workers loading a boat with relief supplies bound for the north of Rakhine State, where the insurgent attacks last month triggered the military backlash. 

The boat being was loaded with aid at a dock in the state capital of Sittwe, a government information office said. 

“People thought the aid was only for the Bengalis,” the secretary of the state government, Tin Maung Swe, told Reuters, using a term that Rohingya find offensive. 

Protesters threw petrol bombs and about 200 police eventually dispersed them by shooting into the air, a witness and the government information office said.

September 21, 2017

Kuala Lumpur -- A woman from Laung Don village fled her house when Myanmar soldiers came into the village, leaving behind her sister who had just given birth and her newborn baby.

Later, upon her return to the village, she found their bodies, said Razia Sultana, a human rights activist and Chittagong-based lawyer who visited the Kutupalong Refugee Camp on December 21-24 last year and interviewed the woman along with 20 other female refugees.

The women told her that altogether 16 of their children had been killed, injured or declared missing.

Razia revealed the details in her evidence presentation on the second day of the Permanent Peoples' Tribunal held at the Law Faculty of Universiti Malaya today.

"Two of their babies were burned alive, one had his throat cut while another was thrown to the ground and is now brain damaged,” she added.

The women also reported seeing at least 70 women and girls being raped, taken away to be raped or were found after being raped.

"They told me that most rapes took place when the women were forcibly gathered outside their villages during security operations.

In Yae Khat Chaung Gwa Son village, groups of soldiers pulled young women away to be raped. Some were just 10 or 12 year olds,” she said.

In her presentation, she said the women could see the girls being raped by over 30 soldiers and men in civilian shorts.

"They were gang raped. Each girl was raped by five to six men in turn. They cut off their clothes and held a knife to their mouths so they would not shout," Razia said, recalling her interview.

The women were then forced to deny these violations by the Myanmar police and soldiers in front of the camera.

"They were rounded up in a field at a police station and guns were pointed at them. They were asked, “Who burned your houses? Was it RSO (Rohingya Solidarity Organisation)? Did RSO kill your parents and children?”

Afraid they would be shot if they said no, the women had to say it was the RSO who burned their homes and committed the killing,” she said.

According to Razia, in January, an interim report of the National Investigation Committee into the Maungdaw Attacks, led by the vice president and former army general, Myint Swe, found “insufficient evidence” of rape allegations.

"In February, the United Nations in its Special Rapporteur after a visit to the Bangladesh border found “allegation after allegation of horrific events” having taken place in the Rakhine state.

"However on March 10, the National League for Democracy-led government spokesperson in response said that the United Nations' claims of crimes against humanity in Rakhine are exaggerated,” she added.

In her presentation, Razia also called on the international community to use every means, including diplomatic and economic sanctions, to pressure the Myanmar government.

“We have to make sure to hold their security forces accountable for the recent atrocities in Maungdaw. We must also end the systematic persecution of the Rohingya,” she said.

The tribunal, taking place today until Friday, is held to hear crimes against humanity that were carried out by the government forces in Myanmar on the Rohingya and other minority ethnic groups.

The judges at the tribunal are Nursyahbani Katjasungkana, Shadi Sadr, Gill H. Boehringer, Daniel Feierstein, Helen Jarvis, Nello Rossi and Zulaiha Ismail.

The findings from the tribunal will be delivered to international bodies, especially the United Nations, for further action to be taken against Myanmar and with the aim of ending the violence at the same time.

More than 400,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled Myanmar. Photograph: Zuma Wire/Rex/Shutterstock

By Julia Carrie Wong in San Francisco, Michael Safi in Delhi and Shaikh Azizur Rahman in Calcutta
September 20, 2017

As hundreds of thousands flee a brutal campaign by the Myanmar military, the social media company labels an insurgent group a ‘dangerous organization’ 

Amid international accusations that Myanmar’s military is engaging in “ethnic cleansing” of the Rohingya Muslim minority, Facebook designated a Rohingya insurgent group a “dangerous organization” and ordered moderators to delete any content “by or praising” it.

The decision, which the company said was made after an internal assessment of the group, came shortly before activists began complaining that the company was censoring posts about the brutal military campaign against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar.

The Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (Arsa) was placed on Facebook’s “dangerous organization” list in recent weeks, a Facebook spokesperson confirmed. The company’s community standards ban posts by or in support of such organizations, which it defines as groups engaged in terrorism, organized violence or crime, mass murder, or organized hate.

Facebook refused to comment on whether any of the other groups involved in the conflict that has seen more than 400,000 Rohingya flee the country have been designated as dangerous, or had accounts or posts deleted.

Myanmar’s military, which the top United Nations human rights official has accused of engaging in a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing”, has a verified Facebook page with 2.6m followers. The government has numerous other official pages as well, and human rights observers have raised concerns that posts by Aung San Suu Kyi, the country’s de facto leader and a Nobel peace prize recipient, are stoking anti-Rohingya fervour.

Myanmar’s government declared Arsa a terrorist organization on 25 August, after the group coordinated attacks on police posts in the western state of Rakhine, killing 12 members of the security forces. Facebook said it did not make its decision at the request of the government, and that the decision was based solely on the group’s alleged violent activity, not its political aims. 

But the social media company’s decision was welcomed by Aung San Suu Kyi’s spokesman, Zaw Htay, who shared a message from Facebook regarding the designation on his own Facebook page on 26 August. Htay’s post urging his followers to report pro-Arsa content to Facebook was shared nearly 7,000 times. 

Arsa emerged last October and calls itself a freedom fighter organization on behalf of the approximately 1.1m Rohingya living in Rakhine. Rohingya Muslims are despised by Myanmar’s Buddhist majority and treated as stateless, undocumented immigrants by the government. They are widely described as the most persecuted people on earth.

Arsa claimed on Twitter that the attacks were a “legitimate step” to defend the rights of Rohingya against repression by the Myanmar military. But the attacks triggered “clearance operations” by the Burmese army that have resulted in a refugee crisis. The top UN human rights official denounced the military’s actions as “clearly disproportionate” to the Arsa attack. Rohingya arriving in Bangladeshi refugee camps have described a savage military campaignagainst Rohingya villages, with arson attacks, rapes, shootings, and landmines. 

Facebook’s acknowledgment that it banned Arsa comes amid criticism from Rohingya refugees, journalists, and observers that the company is censoring reports of human rights violations against the minority group. 

“I believe [Facebook] is trying to suppress freedom [of] expression and dissent by colluding with the genocidaires in Myanmar regime,” the activist and journalist Mohammad Anwar told the Guardian. Anwar, whose allegations of censorship were first reported by the Daily Beast, shared screenshots of numerous posts that had been removed by Facebook for violating community standards. Several of the posts comprised only text, he said, and described military operations against Rohingya villages in Rakhine. 

The Kuala Lumpur-based journalist, who works for the site, said that his reports come from a network of 45 correspondents and citizen journalists in Rakhine.

Facebook said some of Anwar’s posts had been deleted in error but that the mistakes were not the result of moderators confusing support for the Rohingya with support for Arsa. 

“In response to the situation in Myanmar, we are only removing graphic content when it is shared to celebrate the violence, versus raising awareness and condemning the action,” a Facebook spokeswoman, Ruchika Budhraja, said in a statement. “We are carefully reviewing content against our Community Standards and, when alerted to errors, quickly resolving them and working to prevent them from happening again.”

While Facebook has long banned certain content for containing graphic violence or nudity, the company amended its standards in October 2016 following an international outcry when it censored a well-known image of a naked child fleeing a napalm attack during the Vietnam war. Faced with intense criticism of its role as a censor, Facebook decided to allow graphic content that is “newsworthy, significant, or important to the public interest”.

But several Rohingya Facebook users complained to the Guardian that the censorship continued. 

Mohammed Rafique, a Rohingya activist based in Ireland, told the Guardian that he was temporarily banned from Facebook on 28 August for posting “photos and videos of torture and killings in the Rohingya villages” on his Facebook page. 

“Although I am still receiving new photos and videos of the ongoing anti-Rohingya violence, I am not posting them on my Facebook any more, fearing Facebook action like suspension of my account,” he said.

Jafar Arakane, a Rohingya refugee based in Saudi Arabia, runs Arakan Times, a Rohingya community YouTube channel with an associated Facebook page. Arakan is an alternative name for Rakhine.

“As soon as the violence broke out in Arakan last month, from day one, we began broadcasting our news on YouTube and remained active with posts on our channel’s Facebook page. We reported how the Rakhines youths actively supported the violence helping the military in arson and murder of the Rohingyas. Through our Facebook page we reached tens of thousands of our viewers,” Arakane said.

His Facebook page was suspended on 27 August, he said. 

Ko Ko Linn, a Rohingya community leader living in Bangladesh, said his work to inform the world about human rights abuses against the Rohingya had been “badly hampered” by Facebook suspending his account on 12 September. Linn, who heads the Bangladesh chapter of the London-based Arakan Rohingya National Organisation, said he had been posting “videos and photos which showed the brutal massacre of Rohingya civilians in Arakan”.

Phil Robertson, deputy director of Asia Division of Human Rights Watch, said the Rohingya were forced to get the word out about their cause on Facebook and Twitter because the few media outlets in Myanmar that exercise independence in reporting on the situation in Rakhine face threats of boycotts and retaliation.

Not many media outlets in the country, he said, were willing to take the risk of alienating their readers, advertisers, and in some cases, their staff, by calling out the Burmese government for the campaign of ethnic cleansing they are involved in. 

“Of course, the problem with social media is that their policing mechanisms can be used for harassment by those willing to mount a concerted campaign of filing complaints against specific Facebook pages or Twitter feeds,” Robertson added. “We’ve seen an explosion of Rakhine and Burman nationalists using Twitter, retweeting hateful messages and gory images, so it would not surprise me at all if some of those nationalists, using bot accounts and pages apparently set up en masse, are now going on the attack against Rohingya on Facebook.”

Mohammad Ponir Hossain/Reuters

RB News
September 21, 2017

Maungdaw -- Rumors among Rohingya people are ripe that clashes between the Burmese armed forces and the fighters from ARSA Resistance Group would break out in the heart of Maungdaw tonight (Sept 21) or at forthcoming nights.

The Burmese (Myanmar) government has rammed up numbers of troops in the downtown of Maungdaw and surrounding areas since yesterday evening triggering immense fears among the local Muslim Rohingyas.

Our sources have confirmed that the rumors stemmed from the government sources and have started spreading among the Rohingyas since 11:30pm (on Sept 20). The increase in numbers of the troops and the subsequent rumor-mongering are apparently intended to create panic among the remaining local Rohingyas and make them flee from the country.

The sources have further confirmed that the government is misusing some Hindus to make random calls to local Rohingya villagers to make the rumor go viral.

Since August 25, the Myanmar military have launched a scorched-earth operation against the entire Rohingya population under pretext of counter-insurgency operations carrying out mass-killings of over 3,500 Rohingya civilians; forcing nearly 500,000 Refugee exodus into Bangladesh; burning down over 200 Rohingya villages (i.e. 2/3 of Rohingya areas) in Maungdaw, Buthidaung and Rathedaung Townships.

The UN Secretary General, the UN Human Rights Commissioner, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have unanimously described the plight of Rohingya as 'a Textbook Case of Ethnic Cleansing.'

[Reported by RB Correspondent; Edited by M.S. Anwar]

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By Kate Cronin-Furman
Foreign Policy
September 20, 2017

We've never known more about oncoming atrocities, but are still mostly helpless to stop them.

A humanitarian crisis is unfolding on the border between Burma (also known as Myanmar) and Bangladesh. Over the last three weeks, nearly 400,000 Burmese Rohingya have fled the country, driven out by the devastating violence unleashed upon them by the military. Their stories are horrific: parents slaughtered in front of their children, systematic rape and sexual torture, wholesale destruction of villages. Aid and advocacy groups describe the rate of population displacement as unprecedented and the human misery among the refugees as unparalleled.

The violence is shocking, but at the same time it is entirely unsurprising. For the past three years, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Early Warning Project has identified Burma as one of the top three countries most at risk for a mass atrocity. Other researchers argued as early as 2015 that a genocidal campaign was already underway. With such clear indications that a crisis was coming, why did the world fail to protect the Rohingya?

The question is all the more puzzling because in 2005, the member states of the United Nations endorsed the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) framework, which obligates the international community to protect civilians from mass atrocities when their governments are “unwilling or unable” to keep them safe. R2P was borne out of collective guilt over the mass slaughter of civilians in Rwanda and Bosnia and promised a new era of “timely and decisive” atrocity response. In pursuit of this goal, early warning efforts to identify the precursors of mass atrocities became a focus for both international and state actors.

But if the Rohingya crisis has revealed anything, it’s that early warnings were never going to be enough to prevent mass atrocities.

As the death toll mounts, many observers are asking whether Burma is committing genocide. But the question hinges on intent, not scale. The mass slaughter of civilian members of a minority group by state forces is a crime against humanity. It may also be genocide if committed with the goal of destroying that group “in whole or in part.” And, practically speaking, the distinction doesn’t matter — neither for the Rohingya, who are being subjected to a brutal and systematic attack whatever the motive, nor for the international community, whose options and obligations in the face of mass atrocity do not depend on the name of the crime.

Called “the world’s most persecuted minority,” the Muslim Rohingya have suffered decades of discrimination and abuse at the hands of their Buddhist neighbors and the Burmese security forces. Although the Rohingya have lived in Burma’s western Rakhine state since the era of British colonial rule, Burma does not recognize their citizenship and insists that they are illegal migrants from Bangladesh. As a result of this deprivation of nationality, they have been systematically discriminated against and denied access to state services.

The Rohingya’s precarious legal status has made them particularly vulnerable to violence from other groups. In 2012, when ethnic riots erupted between Muslims and Buddhists in Rakhine state, 100,000 Rohingya fled their homes. Human rights groups documented the collusion of state forces in the violence, suggesting that the Rohingya’s subsequent forced relocationto squalid displacement camps and urban ghettos in the name of security was part of a deliberate plan to restrict their freedom of movement. In 2015, another alarm bell rang: The situation in the camps had become so dire that thousands of Rohingya boarded unsafe vessels on the Andaman Sea. An international crisis ensued when, in the face of the unprecedented numbers seeking asylum, Burma’s neighboring countries began turning back the boats.

When Rohingya insurgents attacked several border posts in October 2016, the government responded with unrestrained fury. Openly invoking the hate speech propagated by militant Buddhist monks, government officials have characterized the Rohingya as “dirty,” terrorists, and liars. By November 2016, human rights groups were warning that the military was systematically employing extrajudicial killings, torture, and sexual violence against the civilian population in the name of counterinsurgency. And in February 2017, a U.N. report concluded that the so-called “clearance operations” likely amounted to crimes against humanity. The violence, already severe, escalated sharply following the deaths of 12 security officers on Aug. 25. In response, the military launched an all-out attack on the Rohingya. Credible estimates suggest that over a third of the Rohingya population has fled. Thousands more attempt to cross the border into Bangladesh every day.

The plight of the Rohingya suggests that early warnings do little to prevent atrocities against vulnerable groups. The high risk of mass atrocities was clear from the escalating communitarian violence, the documented uptick in online hate speech beginning in 2012, and the tightening of official restrictions on the Rohingya’s movement and activities.

And the Rohingya are not the only post-R2P victims of long-telegraphed mass atrocities. In 2009, Sri Lanka slaughtered tens of thousands of Tamil civilians in the final phase of its war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. The bloodbath was neither sudden nor unpredictable. The security forces had committed systematic abuses throughout the conflict and had expelled aid workers and journalists from the field of combat in late 2008. More recently, South Sudan’s descent into violence and anarchy was preceded by the breakdown of a power-sharing agreement and rumors of ethnic militias forming. In both cases, the threat of atrocities was clear, yet the international community took no action to prevent them.

These examples underscore the fact that a lack of advance notice is not the critical obstacle to action on mass atrocities. It’s politics. Many powerful countries are reluctant to permit action that impinges on another state’s sovereignty, lest the precedent be used against them later. This is particularly true for countries (like China, India, and Russia) fighting insurgencies within their own territory. And for those who lack these disincentives, the costs of action may still present a barrier. International actors are aware that humanitarian interventions are rarely simple exercises and often presage long-term commitments. And in the aftermath of the Libyan intervention, where R2P was explicitly invoked, they are particularly wary of the potential for making a bad situation worse.

Early warning has not saved the Rohingya because it can’t offset the countervailing interests or cooperation challenges that make preventing or halting mass atrocities difficult. And unfortunately, these dynamics are particularly pronounced in the present crisis. The Burmese government, including its Nobel Peace laureate civilian leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, has made a concerted push to brand the Rohingya as Islamic militants. Tapping into international counter-terrorism narratives simultaneously bolsters the legitimacy of the military operation against the Rohingya and undermines their status as innocent civilian victims of state abuse.

Additionally, the international community is already struggling to respond to mass atrocities elsewhere, most prominently in Syria, but also in the often-overlooked wars in Yemen, the Central African Republic, and South Sudan. In tandem, these two factors mean that the Rohingya are in competition with other atrocity victims for attention and assistance — and the terrorism allegations, however far-fetched, may make them appear comparatively less deserving.

Finally, the fact that the attacks on the Rohingya are taking place against the backdrop of a singularly apathetic U.S. administration further reduces the likelihood of intervention on their behalf. Under President Trump, the U.S. has removed human rights conditions on arms sales, gutted the State Department’s human rights and democracy promotion mission, and threatened to withdraw from the U.N. Human Rights Council.

However vulnerable to charges of hypocrisy the United States has been in the past, its rhetorical commitment to human rights and willingness to exert pressure has provided a constraint on repressive states that seek the support of the West. But a world in which the United States openly ignores human rights constitutes a permissive environment for the commission of atrocities. Burma knows this, and it has seized the opportunity to finally rid itself of the Rohingya with little risk of interference.

Photo credit: Allison Joyce/Getty Images

By David Brunnstrom, Tommy Wilkes
September 20, 2017

UNITED NATIONS/COX‘S BAZAR, Bangladesh - U.S. President Donald Trump is urging the U.N. Security Council to take “strong and swift action” to bring Myanmar’s Rohingya crisis to an end, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence said on Wednesday, calling the violence there a threat to the region and beyond. 

Pence, speaking at a Security Council meeting on peacekeeping reform, accused the Myanmar military of responding to militant attacks on government outposts “with terrible savagery, burning villages, driving the Rohingya from their homes.” 

Pence repeated a U.S. call for the Myanmar military to end the violence immediately and support diplomatic efforts for a long-term solution. 

“President Trump and I also call on the Security Council of the United Nations to take strong and swift action to bring this crisis to an end and bring hope and help to the Rohingya people in their hour of need,” Pence said. 

His remarks were the strongest yet from the U.S. government in response to the violence in Myanmar’s western state of Rakhine that began last month and has forced 422,000 Rohingya Muslims into Bangladesh, fleeing a military offensive the United Nations has branded ethnic cleansing. 

Pence called the violence and the “historic exodus” of Rohingya, including tens of thousand of children, a “great tragedy.” 

The violence began on Aug. 25 when Rohingya insurgents attacked about 30 police posts and an army camp, killing about 12 people. 

Unless the violence was stopped, it would only become worse and “consume the region for generations to come and threaten the peace of us all,” the vice president said. 

“The images of the violence and its victims have shocked the American people and decent people all over the world,” he said. 

Pence said the United States welcomed comments by Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi in a national address that returning refugees have nothing to fear, but Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh said on Wednesday they took little hope from the 1991 Nobel peace laureate’s speech. 

“I have no hope to go back. My documents were stripped from my forefathers decades ago,” said Shafi Rahman, 45. He said he had arrived in Bangladesh two weeks ago after soldiers and civilian mobs burned his village.

Rights monitors and fleeing Rohingya say the army and Rakhine Buddhist vigilantes responded with violence and arson aimed at driving out the mostly stateless Muslim population, which the U.N. rights agency called “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.” 

Myanmar rejects the charge, saying its forces are tackling insurgents of the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army who it has accused of setting the fires and attacking civilians. 

Smoke could be seen rising from at least two places in Myanmar on Wednesday, a Reuters reporter in Bangladesh said. It was not known what was burning but rights groups say almost half of Rohingya villages in the region have been torched. 

In her Tuesday speech, Suu Kyi condemned abuses and said all violators would be punished, adding that she was committed to the restoration of peace and the rule of law. 

However, she did not address U.N. accusations of ethnic cleansing by the security forces, drawing a cool international response. 

On the return of refugees, she said Myanmar was ready to start a verification process under a 1993 arrangement with Bangladesh and “those who have been verified as refugees from this country will be accepted without any problem.”

U.S. President Donald Trump addresses the 72nd United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters in New York, U.S., September 19, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

But refugees in Bangladesh who were aware of her comments took no comfort from that, anticipating little change to policies that have denied their community recognition as a distinct ethnic group and citizenship. 

Most people in Buddhist-majority Myanmar see the Rohingya as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and refuse to even recognize the term Rohingya. 

“She didn’t mention Rohingya. Rohingya is our ethnicity,” said Nizam Uddin, 19, who arrived in Bangladesh in November, following violence the previous month triggered by insurgent attacks on police. 

”Most of our documents were burned by the military ... We don’t have proof of citizenship and how can we get it? 

“I have no hope.” 


Suu Kyi has for years been feted in the West as a champion of democracy during years of military rule and house arrest but she has faced growing criticism over the plight of the Rohingya. 

Western diplomats and aid officials had been hoping to see unequivocal condemnation of violence and hate speech in her address. 

In a telephone call with Suu Kyi, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson welcomed Myanmar’s commitment to allow the return of refugees, but urged it to facilitate aid to those affected by the violence and address “deeply troubling” rights abuse allegations, the State Department said. 

U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Patrick Murphy is in Myanmar and is due to meet government officials and representatives of different communities in Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine state. 

The United States said on Wednesday it would provide an additional $32 million in humanitarian assistance, bringing its total assistance in 2017 to $95 million. 

“We applaud the government of Bangladesh’s generosity in responding to this severe humanitarian crisis and appreciate their continued efforts to ensure assistance reaches people in need,” the U.S. State Department said in a statement.

Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said she talked to Trump on Monday about Rohingya Muslims flooding into her country, but expected no help from him as he has made clear how he feels about refugees. 

China, which has close economic and diplomatic ties with Myanmar and is a competitor to the United States for influence in the strategically important country, has called for understanding of the government’s efforts to protect stability. 

On Tuesday, Britain said it had suspended a military training program in Myanmar and French President Emmanuel Macron condemned “unacceptable ethnic cleaning” and said he would launch a U.N. Security Council initiative to ensure humanitarian access and an end to the violence. 

Suu Kyi rejected a suggestion she was soft on the military, telling Radio Free Asia her objective was national reconciliation. 

“We have never criticized the military itself, but only their actions. We may disagree on these types of actions,” she said. 

She cited her efforts to change a military-drafted constitution, which bars her from the presidency and gives the military responsibility over security and a veto over charter reform. 

Additona reporting by David Brunnstrom in NEW YORK, Wa Lone in SITTWE, Michelle Nichols at the UNITED NATIONS; Writing by Robert Birsel; Editing by Paul Tait, Bill Trott and Grant McCool

Rohingya Exodus