Latest Highlight

Swiss director Barbet Schroeder arrives for the screening of "The Venerable W." at the Cannes film festival on May 20, 2017 (AFP Photo/LOIC VENANCE)

By Fiachra GIBBONS
May 24, 2017

Cannes (France) -- Barbet Schroeder spent months with Ugandan dictator Idi Amin at the height of his power, when corpses would wash up every morning on the shores of Lake Victoria and Kampala was rife with rumours that he was eating his opponents.

But in his decades of documenting evil, the veteran Swiss filmmaker says he has never been as scared by anyone as he was by a Myanmar Buddhist monk named Wirathu.

"I am afraid to call him Wirathu because even his name scares me," the highly acclaimed director told AFP. "I just call him W."

"The Venerable W", his chilling portrait of the monk who has been accused of preaching hate and inciting attacks on Myanmar's Muslim Rohingya minority, has been hailed by critics at the Cannes film festival as a "stirring documentary about ethnic cleansing in action".

What dismays Schroeder is that Wirathu, whom Time magazine dubbed "The face of Buddhist terror" in a 2013 cover, is utterly unfazed by the chaos and suffering he has unleashed.

Buddhism is supposed to be the philosophy of peace, enlightenment and understanding, he thought.

It helped centre Schroeder's own life when he made a pilgrimage to India to follow on the path of the Buddha 50 years ago to "cure myself of my jealousy".

But the hate speech and fake news that Wirathu spreads from his Mandalay monastery, accusing Muslims -- barely four percent of the country's population -- of trying to outbreed the majority Burmese, made Schroeder's head spin.

- 'Devilishly clever' -

"He is much more intelligent and in control of himself that I thought, devilishly clever in fact," said Schroeder, who shot his film secretly in Myanmar until he attracted the attention of the secret police.

"It was like being faced by a good Jesuit or some very clever communist leader back in the day," he said.

Rather than "question him like a journalist", Schroeder just let the monk talk as he did with the other subjects of his "Trilogy of Evil", which began with "General Idi Amin Dada" in 1974 and includes his 2007 film "Terror's Advocate" about the French lawyer Jacques Verges, who defended Nazi war criminal Klaus Barbie and Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic.

"If you wait long enough, slowly the truth would come out," Schroeder said. "That is what I did with Idi Amin and Jacques Verges."

"When he lied I'd say, 'Tell me more, how interesting... So the Rohingya burn their own houses so they can get money from the United Nations...'"

"For me one of the most shocking moments is when he says they destroy their own houses, and then you see a crowd of maybe 3,000 people fleeing their burning homes. It's nightmarish."

In another telling scene Wirathu, leader of the Buddhist nationalist 969 movement, is shown watching Muslims being beaten to death in Meiktila near Mandalay in 2013, a month after he gave an anti-Muslim speech there.

- Hate speech 'escalating' -

Schroeder said the monk had returned "all peace and love" to the town to call for calm, "but he was at least indirectly responsible for what was happening."

"Wirathu said all this happened because a monk was killed by the Muslims. But I read the pamphlet that sparked the riots and it sounded very much like his speeches and that he could have written it."

This month, Wirathu -- who has been called the Buddhist Bin Laden -- stirred tension by touring Muslim areas in troubled Rakhine State despite Myanmar's top Buddhist body banning him from preaching in March.

Hundreds of Rohingya Muslims died in 2012 when sectarian violence ripped the state apart, and tens of thousands still languish in fetid displacement camps.

More than 70,000 have fled into neighbouring Bangladesh since October after the military launched a months-long crackdown that UN investigators say cost the lives of hundreds of the persecuted minority and may amount to crimes against humanity.

Last week a UN envoy criticised the government of Aung San Suu Kyi for not clamping down on "hate speech and incitement to discrimination" which she claimed "appear to be drastically escalating".

In the film Schroeder, 75, seems to trace Wirathu's Islamophobia to the rape and murder of a Buddhist woman by a Muslim in his hometown of Kyaukse.

But in person he is not so sure. "Another theory is that his mother left his father and married a Muslim, or because his monastery was burned when he was 14. But every time I checked I was never sure.

"Why was Hitler like he was? We will never know how this garbage collected in his mind."

A file picture showing Muslim people carrying relief supplies from United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) near the burnt down market in KyetYoePyin village, near Maungdaw town of Bangladesh-Myanmar border, Rakhine State, western Myanmar, Mar. 30, 2017. EPA/NYEIN CHAN NAING

May 24, 2017

Dhaka -- The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) on Tuesday decried lack of access to around 200,000 undocumented Rohingya Muslims in Bangladesh, including the nearly 74,000 recently-arrived members of the minority from neighboring Myanmar.

At a press conference in Dhaka, officials from the UN Refugee Agency rued that despite the heavy influx of refugees into Bangladesh following the Oct. 2016 attacks on the minority in Myanmar, Bangladeshi authorities have limited the agency's work to two camps that do not include these displaced members of the community.

UNHCR Representative in Bangladesh Shinji Kubo said they have not received official permission for access to Rohingyas outside the camps.

He added the UN agency's appeals to Bangladeshi authorities to secure access to undocumented Rohingyas outside the camps has fallen on deaf ears so far.

He said several tasks such as resource mobilization could not take place until they have formal permission to access the Rohingyas.

In a subsequent statement, the UNHCR stressed that presently, they can only help the 33,148 Rohingyas lodged in the camps in Cox Bazaar, bordering Myanmar.

This makes it very difficult for UNHCR to independently verify their situation and supply official information on them, said the statement, adding the agency continues to seek official access to effectively provide for their urgent humanitarian aid needs.

Dhaka estimates there are between 300,000 to 500,000 undocumented Rohingyas living in the country.
By Lindsay Murdoch
May 24, 2017

Bangkok: The United Nations children's agency UNICEF has revealed that as many as 150 children under five are dying each day in Myanmar, while 30 per cent suffer from moderate or severe malnutrition.

In a shock report the agency says war, poverty and under-development in remote parts of Myanmar are preventing children from reaping the benefits of reforms since the country began opening to the world in 2010 after half a century of military rule.

"For an estimated 2.2 million children the promise of peace remains unfulfilled, leaving their hopes for a better future blighted by poverty, lack of opportunity and the ever-present fear of violence," UNICEF says in the just-released report.

The agency says optimism following the signing of a national ceasefire by ethnic armies in 2015 and the election of Aung San Suu Kyi's government in 2016 have been tempered by slower-than-expected progress on economic reforms.

"Even more worrisome is the escalation of several key conflicts in the country's more remote border areas," it says.

The report points to opportunities to save children from conflict through a peace conference involving ethnic groups, scheduled for late May, and a burgeoning economy and improving infrastructure.

UNICEF praises Ms Suu Kyi's government for increased public funding for immunisation programs and education and a draft child law that indicates a stronger commitment to children's rights.

But it says "there is a risk that many children and their families are excluded. This is especially the case for poorer children living in remote areas or trapped in situations of tension and conflict."

Rai Seng, 13, works for 4000 kyat (US$3.3) per day building and repairing roads in Kachin State, Myanmar. Photo: UNICEF

The agency warns that Rohingya Muslim children in western Rakhine State require urgent assistance, including access to health and education services, and the lifting of religious and other restrictions.

A separate UN report in February accused Myanmar's security forces of mass murder, rapes and torture against Rohingya in what it said could amount to ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.

Aung Din, 12, displaced from Mung Ding Pa, collects water every morning for his household at the Phan Khar Kone camp in Bhamo city, Kachin State, Myanmar. Photo: UNICEF

UNICEF says while international focus has been on the treatment of Rohingya, less-reported conflicts in Kachin, Shan and Kayin states are driving families from their homes.

It says in Kachin State, near the border with China, an estimated 67,000 woman and children are living in 142 camps and sites as an ethnic conflict rages. "The situation for children in neighbouring Shan State is equally fragile," it adds.

Htoi Nu Mai, 9, fills up a water container outside her family's shelter at the Phan Khar Kone IDP camp in Bhamo city, Kachin State, Myanmar. Photo: UNICEF

The report calls for lifting restrictions on the delivery of humanitarian assistance and an end to the recruitment of children to work in the troubled remote regions.

The report reveals that half of Myanmar's children reach adulthood with an incomplete education and two out of three children with disabilities do not attend school.

Boys carry bamboo stalks at the Sin Tet Maw camp for internally displaced persons in Rakhine State, Myanmar. Photo: UNICEF

It says nine out of 14 states and regions are contaminated by mines and explosive remnants of war, with a new victim of landmines on average every three days. One out of three of those victims is a child.

Coinciding with the report's release, UNICEF Australia called on the Turnbull government to increase its humanitarian assistance to Myanmar and help settle asylum seeker and refugee children.

Myu Jat Aung, 8, and his family were displaced from Mung Ding Pa village when fighting erupted between the Kachin Independence Army. Photo: UNICEF

The government has pledged $66 million in aid for Myanmar in 2017-18.

People shout slogans as they rally in celebration of the nationalist monk group Ma Ba Tha in Mandalay, Sept. 21, 2015. (Photo: AFP)

By Wa Lone
May 23, 2017

YANGON -- Myanmar's top Buddhist authority banned a hardline monks' group on Tuesday, raising pressure on extremists after they barred a firebrand monk from public sermons and authorities arrested several Buddhist nationalists.

The radical group known by its Burmese initials Ma Ba Tha was declared illegal and "no person or organization" is allowed to use its name, according to a statement issued by the Sangha Maha Nayaka Committee, the country's highest Buddhist authority.

All signs with the group's name must be removed by July 15, the statement said, and anyone who does not comply with this ban will be charged under the law.

Tensions between majority Buddhists and Myanmar's Muslim minority have simmered in Myanmar since scores were killed and tens of thousands displaced in intercommunal clashes at the onset of the country's democratic transition in 2012 and 2013.

Mutual distrust has deepened since October, when attacks by Rohingya Muslim insurgents in northwestern Rakhine state provoked a massive military counter-offensive, causing around 75,000 Rohingya to flee across the border to Bangladesh.

Ma Ba Tha, or the Committee for the Protection of Nationality and Religion, had wielded significant political clout in recent years, successfully campaigning for the passing of laws seen by rights groups as discriminating against Muslims.

One of its leaders is Wirathu, a radical monk who once called himself "Myanmar's Bin Laden" and denounced the United Nations' human rights investigator Yanghee Lee as a "whore". He was recently barred from preaching.

Religious tensions in Myanmar have been high. Police last week arrested several hardliners following their clashes with Muslims in the country's largest city, Yangon.

Ma Ba Tha's chairman Tilawka Bhivamsa confirmed he had signed the statement but refused to comment further.

The group had planned a nationwide conference in Yangon this weekend, expecting about 10,000 monks to attend.

In the runup to the 2015 election that ushered in the government of Aung San Suu Kyi, Ma Ba Tha organized a massive rally attended by thousands in Yangon.

Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party did not field Muslim candidates in that election out of fear of coming under attack by radical Buddhists.

Tun Nyunt, a director at the Religious Affairs Ministry told Reuters the government received the statement and was distributing it to local chapters of the Sangha and regional officials from his ministry.

(Reporting by Wa Lone; Editing by Antoni Slodkowski and Tom Heneghan)

May 23, 2017

Myanmar's army on Tuesday rejected allegations of human rights abuses during its crackdown on Rohingya Muslim last year, made by the United Nations in a report on the offensive that forced some 75,000 Rohingya to flee to neighboring Bangladesh.

The crackdown, in response to attacks by Rohingya insurgents on border guard posts on Oct. 9, poses the biggest challenge yet to Myanmar's leader and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who took power more than a year ago.

Myanmar's security forces committed mass killings and gang rapes of Rohingya in a campaign that "very likely" amounted to crimes against humanity and possibly ethnic cleansing, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said in a report published in February.

"Out of 18 accusations included in OHCHR's report, 12 were found to be incorrect, with the remaining six found to be false and fabricated, based on lies and invented statements," the state-run Global New Light of Myanmar newspaper said in an article on Tuesday that summed up the internal military inquiry. 

It said military investigators, among others, interviewed nearly 3,000 villagers from 29 villages and "wrote down" testimony from 408 villagers, 184 military officers and troops.Three low-ranking soldiers were jailed for minor offences, such as stealing a motorbike or beating up villagers in one incident, it added.

Apart from the completed military inquiry, a national panel set up by Suu Kyi in December and chaired by vice president Myint Swe, a former head of military intelligence, is also looking into the allegations.

Besides the latter investigation, the ministry of home affairs, which is controlled by the army, is also carrying out an inquiry. Separately, the U.N. has ordered a fact-finding mission to examine allegations of human rights abuses.

(Reporting by Antoni Slodkowski; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

May 22, 2017

More than a dozen Nobel Laureates have written an open letter to the UN Security Council warning that Rohingya Muslims are victims of genocide. But one Nobel Laureate, an international human rights idol, refuses to be moved by the plight of these people, despite dire warnings of a tragedy “amounting to ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.” That Nobel Laureate, Aung San Suu Kyi, happens to be state counselor and de facto civilian leader of Myanmar (formerly Burma).

Suu Kyi will not even use the term Rohingya. Instead, she calls them either Muslims or Bengalis, thereby attempting to legitimize the false narrative that the Rohingya are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.

“Show me a country that does not have human rights issues,” Suu Kyi said at a press conference in October 2016, referring to reports of the miserable conditions under which Rohingya Muslims live.

This gives the impression that what the Rohingya face is some minor human rights issue that can be solved by the intervention of courts or government agencies, while what they facing is systematic persecution. The Rohingya, who form nearly two percent of Myanmar’s predominantly Buddhist population, are excluded from the official list of ethnic minorities and remain without citizenship and are denied freedom of movement, access to education, health care and the ownership of property. There are restrictions on their movement. Many of the more than one million Rohingya who were gradually denied citizenship and disenfranchised ahead of the 2015 election still do not have adequate identity papers.

On top of all this is the violence to which Rohingya Muslims are subjected from time to time. Violent campaigns in 1978 and in the early 1990s drove hundreds of thousands of people into Bangladesh. UN and human rights organizations have pointed out that such violence has all the hallmarks of Rwanda’s 1994 genocide, as well as of the ethnic cleansing in Sudan’s western Darfur region and in Bosnia and Kosovo.

The religious violence that in 2012 hit Rakhine state, where a majority of Rohingya Muslims lives, was particularly brutal. More than 120,000 people had to leave their homes. They are still languishing in grim displacement camps. They are not allowed to leave the squalid encampments, where they live in piecemeal shelters with little access to food, education and healthcare.

Things took a turn for the worse after a group of Rohingya militants attacked police outposts in the north of Rakhine state in October 2016. Militants killed nine people setting off a military crackdown.

Of course, the Myanmar government has denied allegations that its soldiers committed rape and arson, but Amnesty International says atrocities committed by troops could amount to crimes against humanity. It is as though the security forces in Myanmar are using the killings of nine border guards as an excuse for a brutal crackdown, according to John McKissick, an official of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. Meanwhile, some 70,000 Rohingyas have fled to makeshift camps. But this does not appear to be end of the story if you go by what officials in Myanmar say about the October attack. For example, a top leading official has compared the incident to Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on America. The Rohingya have already suffered enough. The last thing they wish is to be treated as an enemy in Myanmar’s version of the “war on terror”. We have seen how in the post-9/11 era, some states at odds with their Muslim minority populations are using or misusing the threat of terrorism to mask their own oppressive treatment of minority groups. Human rights groups should be particularly alert to this danger.

By Embun Majid
May 22, 2017

ALOR STAR: Some 300 Rohingya gathered at Kampung Kepala Bendang near here today to pay tribute to the discovery of several mass graves in Perlis, thought to contain bodies of fellow migrants.

The group, arriving from Penang, Sungai Petani and near here, held a special prayer for the victims whose graves were uncovered at 28 human trafficking camp sites near Wang Kelian in Perlis, located not far from the Malaysia-Thai border.

The second anniversary gathering was jointly organised by Malaysian Consultative Council of Islamic Organisations (Mapim) and Penang Stop Human Rights Campaign.

Recalling the ordeal at one of the camps, one of the survivors, Aman Ullaj, 19, said some of his friends were tortured while others left to die at the camps.

"I am still haunted by the memories. I remembered being moved from one camp to another and those who were too weak would be left behind to die." he said.

Mapim president Azmi Abdul Hamid urged the authorities to be more vigilant in dealing with human trafficking cases.

"This is just tip of the iceberg. We believe there are more cases such as this out there." he said.

Armed police in the Mingalar Taung Nyunt Muslim neighbourhood in Yangon after clashes between Muslim residents and nationalists. Photograph: Lynn Bo Bo/EPA

By Poppy McPherson
May 19, 2017

Myanmar must do more to prevent the drastic escalation of religious intolerance and violence following clashes between ultranationalist Buddhists and minority Muslims in Yangon, a senior United Nations envoy has said. 

Speaking to the Guardian, Yanghee Lee, the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, called on the year-old National League for Democracy government led by Aung San Suu Kyi to strengthen its efforts to curb hate speech and violence drummed up by nationalist groups.

“I have, in the past, raised concerns regarding incidents of hate speech, incitement to discrimination, hatred and violence, and of religious intolerance, and these appear to be drastically escalating,” she said.

“I believe that the spread of anti-Muslim sentiments and rhetoric is not receiving the serious attention that it requires, and is too often left unchecked by the authorities. This cannot be tolerated any longer. The government must step up to take more concerted efforts to tackle and address such incidents.”

Last week, a fight broke out in a Muslim neighbourhood of Yangon after dozens of nationalists raided the home of a family they believed was hiding Rohingya Muslims, members of a persecuted minority deemed by many to be illegal immigrants.

The violence, which left several injured, came two weeks after another radical group, involving some of the same people, forced the closure of two Islamic schools.

While the Myanmar authorities have arrested several Buddhists in connection with the recent violence, they bowed to nationalist pressure to shutter the Islamic schools.

Zaw Htay, a spokesperson for Aung San Suu Kyi, declined to take questions, saying he was in a meeting that would last all day.

In Yangon’s Mingalar Taung Nyunt township, the majority Muslim neighbourhood where last week’s violence took place, many residents are too frightened to talk. But inside her flat, 47-year-old Ma Win recalled how nationalists, accompanied by police, stormed in shortly before midnight last Tuesday and demanded to see identity documents proving the family was not Rohingya. They broke off the door handles.

Ma Win, who claims her Yangon home was raided by nationalists looking for Rohingya people. Photograph: Aung Naing Soe for the Guardian

“I have borne five children in Yangon,” said Ma Win, adding that she has lived in the city since she was a child. “So how dare they say that I am an illegal immigrant?”

She said the raid had followed a financial dispute with a member of a nationalist group. “We feel we are insecure here,” Ma Win said. “I do not dare go out alone now.”

Yangon, the former capital and current commercial capital, has been spared the worst of inter-religious clashes that have plagued Myanmar in recent years. Violence between Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims engulfed Rakhine state in 2012, leaving hundreds dead and thousands more displaced, and it has spread to other cities, including Meiktila in 2013. Several died in anti-Muslim riots in Mandalay a year later.

But until now Yangon, a city of more than 7 million people and home to a sizeable Muslim population, as well as Hindus, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists and a small Jewish community, has remained unscathed.

“This area belongs to members of every religion – Hindus and Buddhists … we are brothers and sisters living here,” said Soe Win, a Muslim community leader in Mingalar Taung Nyunt.

Melissa Crouch, an expert on Islam in Myanmar at the University of New South Wales, said an “intimidation campaign” was under way in Yangon. Nationalist protests have previously shut down religious events including birthday celebrations for the prophet Muhammad.

“To question the validity of a religious building’s permit, or to make accusations about hiding illegal immigrants is just another way to unsettle and disrupt the Muslim community in Yangon,” she said. “To challenge any sense of belonging they still have, [and] to threaten them with the brand of ‘outsiders’.”

Human rights groups suggest the deepening Rohingya crisis in Rakhine state is worsening attitudes towards the country’s broader Muslim community. 

Kyaw Win, the executive director of Burma Human Rights Network, said: “Because the narrative [about the Rohingya] includes so many harmful stereotypes about Muslims it affects the perception of Muslims as a whole.”

While Aung San Suu Kyi and her government have been widely criticised for failing to speak out on behalf of persecuted religious minorities, authorities this week arrested four people in connection with the violence and are searching for three others, including two monks.

“But the fact remains that the authorities are still capitulating to the demands of the ultranationalists,” said Richard Weir, Asia research fellow at Human Rights Watch.

Additional reporting by Aung Naing Soe

Arakan Rohingya National Organisation (ARNO)

Press release: 17 May 2017


On behalf of the Rohingya Muslim community, ARNO expresses shock, sorrow and condemns in the strongest possible terms the rape of at least 32 Rohingya women by the Myanmar military and Border Guard Police in Kyan Taung, Buthidaung Township, Rakhine/Arakan state. 

Once again we are forced to watch helplessly the gruesome acts of sexual violence perpetuated by the government forces against our women and girls, in the name of fighting terrorists. Our deepest sympathies are with these brave women, and their families, whose only crime is they were born a Muslim in this country.

The regime has made little secret of their intentions, as they announced the commencement of clearance operations in Kyan Taung with much fanfare on May 8 citing a dubious case that two Rohingyas were killed while making landmines. Since then, revenge for supposedly making landmines have translated into the rape of least 32 women and other forms of sexual violence against many more in Kyan Taung. 

In spite of the series of international condemnations, and the initiative taken by the United Nations Human Rights Council to probe killings and rapes of Rohingya in Northern Maungdaw, the security forces have indulged in what can only be described as a mass rape orgy in Kyan Taung. Furthermore, the military has flatly rejected the UN probe in Northern Maungdaw, with Senior General Min Aung Hlaing saying the ‘Tatmadaw spirit’ compelled them to prevent such an international investigation.

In light of such circumstances, we request the international community to come with more stringent measures to prevent the murder and rape of Rohingya women and children.

The use of rape as a weapon of war by the Myanmar armed forces is nothing new, it has been committed against many other ethnic communities to demoralise and dehumanise them before taking over their land. It is not the act of rogue soldiers, but a systematic policy adopted by top level commanders designed to break the fabric of society. It has been committed against the Kachins, Karens, the list goes on and on. But even by the standards of Tatmadaw terror, the brutality perpetuated against the Rohingyas has reached new heights. Responsible actors and genuine sympathisers from the international community must act now or give us realistic recommendations on how to strive against the genocide unfolding against our people. 

ARNO reaffirms as we did during the operations in northern Maungdaw, that acts of sexual violence against our mothers and sisters is one of the most horrendous kinds of oppression that government forces have meted out to us in the name of clearance operations. 

For more details, please contact: 

U.K. Ronnie: +44-7783118354
Japan: Zaw Min Htut +81-8030835327
Australia: Dr. Hla Myint +61-423381904
USA: Dr. Habib Ullah +1-4438158609
Canada: Nur Hasim +1 (519) 572-5359
Bangladesh: Ko Ko Linn: +880-1726068413

Bangladeshi and Rohingya migrants from Myanmar ride in a truck as they arrive at the naval base in Langkawi to be transferred to a mainland immigration centre. Photograph: Manan Vatsyayana/AFP/Getty Images

By Laignee Barron
May 18, 2017

United Nations confirms deaths of 24 people in detention centres since 2015, 22 of whom were Myanmar nationals, but toll could be much higher

At least two dozen refugees and asylum seekers have died in Malaysia immigration detention centres since 2015, the United Nations refugee agency has told the Guardian.

Living in fetid, overcrowded cells, inmates are so severely deprived of basic necessities such as food, water, and medical care that the Malaysian national human rights commission described conditions as “torture-like”.

Among a dozen recently-released refugees interviewed by the Guardian, everyone saw at least one inmate die, mostly of disease, but in some cases also due to physical abuse.

“They gave us only one small cup of water with our meals, otherwise we had to drink toilet water,” said Mouyura Begum, an 18-year-old Rohingya refugee detained for over a year at Belantik.

“Only when someone was about to die would the guards come. Otherwise, if we complained, or if we asked to go to the hospital, they beat us,” she said.

All but two of the 24 “people of concern” confirmed dead by the UN were Myanmar nationals. The toll, based on data provided by Malaysian authorities, may represent only a fraction of refugee fatalities in 17 immigration detention centres.

“UNHCR is informed of the death of a detained person of concern when we make a request pertaining to that person,” said Richard Towle, UNHCR’s country representative in Malaysia.

Former detained refugees said they spent months, even years, petitioning the guards to notify UNHCR of their whereabouts — the only way to get their refugee status verified and avoid deportation. The average lock up period is 16 months.

“These deaths are absolutely preventable,” said Amy Smith, executive director of Fortify Rights. “The fix is very easy — Malaysia just has to stop treating refugees like hardened criminals.” 

Malaysia’s home ministry this month revealed in parliament that 161 people died of “various diseases” in immigration detention between 2014-2016. It did not indicate how many of the dead were refugees but almost half were from Myanmar, the source of 90% of Malaysia’s refugee population.

“This is what is officially being disclosed, so we should take the numbers as the bare minimum,” said Andrew Khoo, co-chair of the Malaysian Bar Council’s Human Rights Committee.

Relatively affluent Malaysia has long served as a hub for some of the world’s most vulnerable people, including a large number of stateless Muslim Rohingya from Myanmar. As of the end of April, 150,662 refugees and asylum seekers were registered with UNHCR, while tens of thousands more were still unrecognised.

Malaysian law allows foreigners suspected of entering the country illegally to be detained for “such period as may be necessary”. Incarceration can extend upward of five years.

“There is a zeal to take undocumented people off the streets, but then there is a disconnect where there is not enough money or resources to put into the system to avoid torture-like conditions,” said Jerald Joseph, a commissioner at Malaysia’s national human rights commission, SUHAKAM.

It is not uncommon for detainees to be confined to cramped cells 24 hours a day for their entire stay. In close quarters, disease spreads rapidly.

As one of the only organisations permitted inside the facilities, SUHAKAM said scabies was the most commonly reported illness, while pneumonia, tuberculosis, and leptospirosis — a bacterial disease often spread by rat urine — had led to inmate deaths.

“We had to sleep on the floor with our knees to our chest.” said a 19-year-old Mon refugee from Myanmar who was released from Sungai Petani juvenile detention in April. He, like many refugees, spoken on the condition of anonymity as he feared retribution for speaking to the media.

Another refugee from Myanmar’s Kachin state who was held for eight months in Bukit Jalil said he saw a Sri Lankan inmate beaten to death. “But they told us he died because he was sick,” he said. As a cell leader, the man had to inform guards when someone died; seven during his detention, he said.

Because of the difficulty of verifying deaths in detention, SUHAKAM has requested autopsy reports for each of the 161 reported deaths.

The home ministry did not respond to request for comment but previously cited budgetary restraints as contributing to poor conditions.

By Kyaw Ye Lynn
May 18, 2017

After being smuggled from crackdown in Rakhine state, the men could face two years in prison for 'illegal intrusion'

YANGON, Myanmar -- Myanmar authorities have arrested 11 Rohingya Muslims who were smuggled from the troubled western Rakhine state to the country’s biggest city Yangon, an official said Thursday.

Win Naing, an officer at the Yangon Police Force, told Anadolu Agency that they were arrested by a police patrol at the Aung Mingalar Highway bus station in Yangon’s North Okalapa Township.

“These Bengalis are waiting for traffickers who will smuggle them first to the Myanmar-Thai border, then to Malaysia over land,” he said by phone on Thursday, referring to the stateless minority group with a term that suggests that they are interlopers from neighboring Bangladesh.

Tens of thousands of Rohingya -- described by the United Nations as among the most persecuted minority groups worldwide -- have fled their homes in Rakhine since October, when Myanmar's military launched a crackdown that has attracted severe international criticism of its brutality.

Security forces have been accused of gang-rape, killings, beatings, disappearances and burning villages in the Maungdaw area of northern Rakhine since October.

Win Naing added that the men were smuggled by traffickers who were ethnic Rakhines from the Rakhine state to Yangon over land, and that they are searching for the traffickers in cooperation with the Rakhine Police Force.

The 11 middle-age Rohingya men will be charged for “illegal intrusion” under the Residents of Burma Registration Act (1949) and Myanmar’s Penal Code, he said.

Last October, after being arrested in Yangon, 18 trafficked Rohingya men were sentenced to two years in prison on the same charges, while four underage Rohingya were ordered to spend two years at a training school for boys.

Rohingya have been fleeing Myanmar in droves since mid-2012 after communal violence broke out in Rakhine between ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya.

The violence left around 57 Muslims and 31 Buddhists dead, some 100,000 people displaced in camps, and more than 2,500 houses razed -- most of which belonged to Rohingya.

For years, members of the minority have been using Thailand as a transit point to enter Muslim Malaysia and beyond.

A law passed in Myanmar in 1982 denied Rohingya -- many of whom have lived in Myanmar for generations -- citizenship, making them stateless, removing their freedom of movement, access to education and services, and allowing for arbitrary confiscation of their property.​

Southeast Asia leaders pose for a group photo at the 30th ASEAN Summit in Manila.
Image Credit: ASEAN Secretariat

By Jera Lego
May 17, 2017

On April 26, leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) convened for the 30th ASEAN Summit, where they discussed “an integrated, peaceful, stable, and resilient ASEAN Community.” Only one day prior to this summit, Reuters released a report documenting military operations by the government of Myanmar that killed hundreds of Rohingya and caused some 75,000 of them to flee to Bangladesh in November 2016.

The Rohingya, now dubbed Myanmar’s perpetual other, have long been viewed by majority of Myanmarese society as “Bengali intruders” despite having lived in Rakhine state for centuries. They have been systematically and increasingly oppressed by the Burmese government through violent immigration crackdowns, citizenship laws, and census measures that effectively rendered them stateless and disenfranchised. Denial of basic rights, various human abuses, and growing communal violence, especially since 2012, have resulted in a continuous stream of Rohingyas fleeing to neighboring countries.

In 2015, their plight briefly drew the world’s attention when some 8,000 Bangladeshi and Rohingya migrants and refugees in overcrowded boats were left stranded at sea for several days until they were allowed to disembark. In February 2017, a report by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights described an “unprecedented level of violence” against the Rohingya, including “the killing of babies, toddlers, children, women, and [the] elderly; opening fire at people fleeing; burning of entire villages; massive detention; massive and systematic rape and sexual violence; [and] deliberate destruction of food and sources of food sources.” These horrors were perpetrated by “either Myanmar security forces or Rakhine villagers.” Shortly after the report was published, Pope Francis joined in condemning the abuses.

Despite mounting criticism, the Rohingya crisis didn’t make its way to the 30th ASEAN Summit’s official agenda. The 25-page Chairman’s Statement on the summit mentions four issues under the heading “Regional Issues and Developments,” namely the South China Sea, maritime security and cooperation, the Korean peninsula, and terrorism and extremism. The statement did welcome the entry into force of the ASEAN Convention Against Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children (ACTIP), acknowledge contributions to the Trust Fund to Support Emergency Humanitarian Relief Efforts in the Event of Irregular Movement of Persons in Southeast Asia, reaffirm “commitment to addressing the irregular movement of persons in the region,” reiterate the need to explore establishing a Task Force to respond to “crisis and emergency situations rising from irregular movement of persons in Southeast Asia,” and mention efforts to improve border management. The statement also “noted with satisfaction the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights’ progress on the promotion of human rights,” and reaffirmed the vision of a “people-oriented and people-centered ASEAN,” all without any mention of the abuses against the Rohingya.

The glaring omission is not surprising given that ASEAN countries continue to observe non-interference as a guiding principle in intra-ASEAN relations. There is evidence, however, that this is gradually changing. On December 4, 2016, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak led a rally protesting what he called Myanmar’s genocide of the Rohingya. In a meeting of ASEAN foreign ministers on December 19, 2016, Malaysian Foreign Minister Anifah Aman said that the situation of Rohingya Muslims was now “of a regional concern and should be resolved together.” More recently, on the sidelines of the recently concluded summit, Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo discussed the Rohingya crisis with Myanmar State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi. Jokowi was said to have told Suu Kyi that stability in Myanmar was important not only for the country but also the region. Regardless of Najib’s or other leaders’ motivations in voicing their criticism, these instances reveal that there is significant concern for the plight of the Rohingya, at least in Muslim-majority Malaysia and Indonesia.

It would be tempting for concerned countries like Malaysia and Indonesia not to push any harder, or for other ASEAN countries to look inward and focus on their respective economies and other domestic concerns. It is, after all, in the very nature of the refugee problem that politicians and government officials perceive little incentive in addressing the needs of refugees. Acknowledging their condition entails political risk, while allocating resources to assist them seems to pose no immediate benefit to politicians who are more concerned with their own constituencies. However, it is in the interest of every ASEAN country to pay attention to abuses against the Rohingya and the consequences.

Security Implications

Violence begets violence; situations of insecurity tend to breed other forms of insecurity. Longstanding oppression of the Rohingya has compelled tens of thousands of them take dangerous journeys in search of better lives. Such journeys, as in other parts of the world, both enable and are enabled by trafficking rings, often in collusion with corrupt officials, thus feeding into vicious cycles of crime, corruption, and exploitation spread across countries. Deepening violence against the Rohingya in recent years, however, appears to be causing even greater dangers. The International Crisis Group, in a December 2016 report, warns of a new Muslim insurgent group known as Harakah al-Yaqin (Faith Movement, HaY) seeking an end to persecution of the Rohingya and recognition of their rights as Myanmar citizens. HaY does not appear to have a transnational jihadist terrorist agenda but ICG warns that continued use of disproportionate force, particularly in the absence of efforts to build stronger, more positive relations with Muslim communities, could create conditions to further radicalize sections of the Rohingya population that transnational jihadists could exploit for their own agenda. Clearly, this poses serious security threats that merit a concerted effort by ASEAN governments in response.

Political Implications

Even if the situation doesn’t lead to the emergence of a radical jihadist group, any protracted conflict would seriously hamper the road to democratization in Myanmar. Myanmar’s military continues to operate independent of the governing party, has control of key ministries, and holds enough seats to block any constitutional amendment. Fighting with ethnic groups continues and repressive laws remain in place. Yet with Suu Kyi in government, Myanmar is closer to democratizing than it has been. Unresolved conflicts, not just in Rakhine but in other border states where ethnic groups continue to seek autonomy, appear to justify military solutions where broad-based, political solutions are needed. Without progress in terms of peace and security, the military junta’s hold on power will not weaken and democratization grows more distant.

Governance Implications

Apart from critiques coming from Malaysia and Indonesia, it seems that ASEAN as a regional grouping will be reactive rather than proactive concerning displacement and forced migration of the Rohingya. At best, the regional grouping acknowledges the need to explore establishing task forces to respond to similar crises. This betrays ad hoc and short-sighted thinking rather than long-term strategizing in responding to irregular movement of people. The fact is that there has not been a time in history when every nation and people group corresponded neatly within political borders. Unresolved historical issues, ongoing and future conflicts, the possibility of religious, social, and political persecution, as well as environmental factors, are only some of the reasons that would compel people to flee their habitual place of residence. It is therefore in every government’s interest to adopt and institutionalize comprehensive frameworks for managing the movement of people — whether arriving through commercial airlines or by boat, skilled or unskilled, forced or by choice, but especially when those people are in need of protection.

Economic Implications

Any security threat is of course a threat to peace and stability which could hinder trade and investments. But before such threats could even manifest, economic implications might already be felt. The Nikkei Asian Reviewreports that widespread condemnation of Myanmar’s military crackdown on Rohingya Muslims has raised concerns among some investors about sanctions that could hinder foreign investment.

It goes without saying that there are ethical and humanitarian reasons for addressing conflict in the Rakhine and the dire needs of oppressed Rohingya Muslims. These ethical considerations also pose questions on the kind of community ASEAN wants to be — whether it seeks to be a tolerant and inclusive one, or one that is complicit in excluding and oppressing minorities. In an increasingly conflicted world, it is easy to be indifferent to those concerns. But as Jokowi and Anifah have acknowledged, the Rohingya crisis is not just an internal problem for Myanmar, but one with immediate and long-term economic, political, and security implications for the rest of the region. These risks include, among others, the threat of growing Muslim insurgency, Myanmar reversing its path to democratization, and undermining the peace and stability prerequisite to growth and development in the region. Now more than ever, ASEAN must turn its attention to this long-standing crisis and work together towards a truly integrated, peaceful, stable, and people-centered ASEAN community.

Jera Lego wrote her dissertation on refugee politics in Southeast Asia and currently works for an international research institute.

May 17, 2017

She is celebrated worldwide for her years of suffering at the hands of despots. So why is Aung San Suu Kyi allowing a genocide now that she is in charge?

Burma’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi is a Nobel Peace Prize winner and a celebrated human rights icon, but she is also an apologist for genocide ethnic cleansing and mass rape of Rohingya Muslims.

Suu Kyi is the de facto head of government, in Myanmar, where members of the Rohingya Muslim minority in the northern Rakhine state have been shot, stabbed, starved, robbed, raped and driven from their homes in the hundreds of thousands.

Some 1 million of these people live in apartheid-like conditions where they are denied access to employment, education and health care. They are thus forced to leave their homes and move to neighboring countries just to survive.

Suu Kyi, however, has adopted a cowardly stance on the issue where she is not only remaining silent but also is complicit in the atrocities taking place. She has clearly chosen the side of Buddhist nationalism and crude Islamophobia.

She has also clearly proved she’s an islamophobe when in a 2013 interview with BBC’s Mishal Husain, Aung San Suu Kyi complained, “No one told me I was going to be interviewed by a Muslim.”

The Intercept has rightly described Suu Kyi in a piece that reads: “‘Saints should always be judged guilty,’ wrote George Orwell, in his famous 1949 essay on Mahatma Gandhi, ‘until they are proved innocent.’ There is no evidence of innocence when it comes to Aung San Suu Kyi and her treatment of the Rohingya — only complicity and collusion in unspeakable crimes. This supposed saint is now an open sinner. The former political prisoner and democracy activist has turned into a genocide-denying, rape-excusing, Muslim-bashing Buddhist nationalist. Forget the house arrest and the Nobel Prize. This is how history will remember The Lady of Myanmar.”

Rohingya refugee Mohammad Ayaz stands with his son Mohammad Osman, the two survivors of his family, at an unregistered refugee camp at Ukhiya in southern Cox's Bazar district on November 24, 2016. Dhaka has called on Myanmar to take "urgent measures" to protect its Rohingya minority after thousands crossed into Bangladesh in just a few days, some saying the military was burning villages and raping young girls (Photo: AFP)

May 17, 2017

About a million Rohingya Muslims live in apartheid-like conditions in squalid camps in northwestern Rakhine state, where they are denied citizenship and basic rights

Myanmar is under increased global pressure to solve the Rohingya crisis as next-door neighbour Bangladesh has taken a tough stance on the issue highlighting the plight of the persecuted minority community in various global forums.

“Bangladesh has provided data and information to various organisations and countries including the UN, the EU, Organisation of Islamic Co-operation and the US, and encouraged them to talk about it,” a Foreign Ministry official told the Bangla Tribune.

“We also highlighted the issue in various bilateral meetings,” the official said, seeking anonymity as he is not authorised to speak to the media.

Myanmar’s pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi faced a volley of questions about the initiatives she has taken to solve the problem during her recent Brussels visit. She also had to give explanations to foreign ministers of the ASEAN countries.

“Bangladesh has been trying to reach a peaceful solution to the problem since the 1980s but Myanmar was never cordial,” the senior Foreign Ministry official said. “This [reluctance] has forced us to take a tough stance. We are trying to highlight Myanmar’s real intentions.”

About a million Rohingya Muslims live in apartheid-like conditions in squalid camps in northwestern Rakhine state, where they are denied citizenship and basic rights. Many in the Buddhist-majority country regard them as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.

Hundreds of thousands of undocumented Rohingyas are believed to be living in Bangladesh, outside the two designated refugee camps. As many as 75,000 Rohingyas fled to Bangladesh to escape persecution in Myanmar after its military launched a crackdown in October last year.

Asked if Bangladesh’s current approach would help solve the problem, the Foreign Ministry official said it was not possible to reach a solution overnight.

According to the official, Myanmar’s economy will feel the brunt if the situation persists, as negative discussions on rights conditions would drive away businesses, who expressed interest to invest after sanctions on Myanmar were lifted.

Where Bangladesh stands

Myanmar did not respond to Bangladesh’s call for talks over the Rohingya issue after Naypyidaw started the crackdown.

Foreign Minister AH Mahmood Ali spoke with foreign diplomats about the issue, and later Dhaka welcomed a UN delegation to visit Cox’s Bazar Rohingya refugee camps.

In December, Bangladesh organised a global meeting on migration and used the platform to discuss the issue with several countries.

After this initiative, Myanmar agreed to sit for talks in January where Bangladesh conveyed a strong message to Naypyidaw’s special envoy to solve the issue, another Foreign Ministry official said.

“Dhaka later discussed the matter in details with Indonesia’s foreign minister, the three members of Kofi Annan-led international commission, the members of Myanmar government’s Rakhine Commission, UN’s special rapporteur Yanghee Lee, Chinese foreign ministry’s special envoy and the ambassadors of various countries to Bangladesh,” the official added.

Rohingya refugees from Myanmar and Bangladesh arrive at the Langkawi police station in Kedah, Malaysia. (Photo: AP/Hamzah Osman)

By Farik Zolkepli 
May 17, 2017

KUALA LUMPUR: The Immigration Department has launched an investigation into allegations that Rohingya detainees in its depots are badly treated and poorly fed.

A department spokesman said a contractor appointed by the Home Ministry is in charge of distributing food at immigration depots based on strict guidelines.

"Each detainee is given food and drinks four times a day.

"Detainees can also approach the officer on duty to ask for additional food and drink," the spokesman said in a statement Wednesday.

A thorough investigation is also being conducted on allegations that certain officers used force on the detainees.

"We will not hesitate to take action if the investigation shows that the officers involved are guilty," he said.

The spokesman added that the department would not brush aside allegations that there were a high number of deaths at the depots.

"As a preliminary measure, medical assistants at the depots will conduct health checks on detainees sent to the depots by Immigration or other departments.

"If any detainee has an ailment on arrival, we will send him to a clinic or nearby hospital for treatment.

"Most detainee deaths at depots are due to critical illnesses or infectious diseases suffered by them even before they were sent to the depots," he said.

A British newspaper, quoting the United Nations refugee agency, reported that at least two dozen refugees and asylum seekers have died in Malaysian immigration detention centres since 2015.

It reported that inmates were living in fetid, overcrowded cells and deprived of basic necessities such as food, water, and medical care, in conditions that the Malaysian Human Rights Commission (Suhakam) described as "torture-like".

The newspaper interviewed a dozen recently-released refugees, and each one claimed they saw at least one inmate die – most because of disease, but in some cases due to physical abuse.

Media Release from Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK

For Immediate Release 
Tuesday 16th May 2017

Burned, Stabbed and Shot – Physical Evidence of Atrocities Committed against the Rohingya

A new report, Burned, Stabbed and Shot – Physical Evidence of Atrocities Committed against the Rohingya, published today by Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK documents physical evidence of atrocities committed against the Rohingya by the Burmese Army. 

On October 9th 2016, the long saga of oppression endured by Myanmar’s Rohingya minority entered a new phase. For the first time in a generation, members of the group staged an armed attack, on this occasion against three Border Guard posts, killing nine.

The assault was answered with months of systematic and widespread violence perpetrated by Myanmar’s military. A "flash report" released by the UN’s Office for the High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR) on February 3 concluded that these operations likely involved crimes against humanity; the paper detailed acts of “devastating cruelty” including systematic rape, torture and killing.

The report contains further evidence advances the civilian population was targeted in an organised manner by state forces which systematically targeted civilians, including children, in a campaign of killing and cruelty.

What is new about the material contained in this report is that it documents, through photographs, testimony and forensic analysis, physical evidence of attacks against civilians. 

One case study is of a boy aged 8 who was burnt when soldiers set fire to his home after killing his father.

Another case study is of a 16 year old who was shot in the back whilst running away when the Burmese Army attacked his village. 

The report argues that the international community must not allow the obstruction of the Fact Finding Mission by the government of Burma to lead to further impunity for crimes being committed. If obstructed by the government, the Mission must collect evidence by other means, and this report demonstrates that it is possible to collect evidence in neighbouring countries.

The report contains detailed practical recommendations of steps the government of Burma should take to address the situation. 

“For the past 20 years the international community has failed to act when the government of Burma has ignored recommendations about the Rohingya in UN General Assembly Resolutions, UN Human Rights Council Resolutions, and by Special Rapporteurs ,” said Tun Khin, President of the Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK. “This must not be allowed to happen again after the Fact Finding Mission reports. This time we need action or we’ll keep seeing these kind of abuses over and over again.”

For more information please contact Tun Khin +44 7888714866

RB News
May 15, 2017

Buthidaung, Arakan – In the last week at least 32 Rohingya women and girls were raped by Myanmar military and Border Guard Police. This happened in Kyaung Taung village tract, northern side of Taung Bazar village in Buthidaung Township of Arakan State. 

On May 6th, 2017 a group consisting of 300 military and border guard police suddenly entered into Kyaung Taung village tract and besieged the village. Then they checked house by house. While doing so, men were detained and beaten. The women and girls were taken out of the houses and were forced to line up. Then, the soldiers and police molested them and robbed whatever they found on the women’s bodies such as gold and money. The troops also destroyed many cupboards and boxes inside the houses. They took away any gold and money, whatever valuables that they found. They destroyed food, household and kitchen wears, according to the villagers. 

Again on May 8th, 2017 a group of border guard police from Taung Bazar regional camp and Kyaung Taung village and another group of soldiers from Light Infantry Unit 552 and 232 collaborated together and entered into Middle hamlet and Sar Kine hamlet of Kyaung Taung village tract. 

Once the troops entered and as the villagers already experienced the attacks on May 6th, all men and two thirds of the women escaped from the village immediately. 

The troops robbed from every house and destroyed whatever they couldn't carry with them. According to the villagers, they raped many women and girls till May 11th, 2017, 

The villagers said border guard police officers Ko Ko Oo and Maung Maung Htay specifically, have raped many women and girls. 

According to the villagers, at least 32 women and girls were raped by soldiers and border guard police. Among them two women were gang raped. All of them reported about the sexual violence to the high ranking officers of the military and border guard police based nearby their village. 

They have said on May 9th, 7 women and girls from Middle hamlet, on May 10th, 16 women and girls from Sar Kine hamlet and on May 11th, 9 women and girls from Middle hamlet were raped. 

(Rohingya Blogger (RB) has received the name, age, father's name of the rape victims and some video testimonies of the women but we are not posting to protect the dignities of the rape victims.) 

Report contributed by MYARF.

Rohingya Exodus