In a muddy field in western Myanmar, hundreds of Chinese shipping containers fitted with single narrow windows stand in neat lines, empty of the refugees they were designed to host.
The gray boxes were sent by China two years ago as quick and cheap housing for some of the hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims who fled Myanmar for Bangladesh during a military-led crackdown in 2017 that the United Nations said was conducted with genocidal intent.
The empty containers, situated near the town of Maungdaw in Rakhine state, reflect months of failed efforts to entice the Rohingya to return to Myanmar despite a diplomatic drive by the country’s close ally and neighbor, China.
In a sharp departure from its official policy of non-interference in the affairs of other countries, China has positioned itself as the key mediator in resolving the protracted crisis. But like the Indonesian and United Nations envoys who previously attempted to mediate between the parties, China is finding the business of diplomacy tough going, with little signs that the crisis will soon be resolved.
The main sticking point is a disagreement over whether the refugees will be safe in Myanmar.
Myanmar says it has created safe conditions for the Rohingya’s return, but Bangladesh and the United Nations say that fighting in Rakhine and a lack of human rights guarantees make a return for the refugees dangerous. The Rohingya, meanwhile, say they will not go back without guarantees of rights they are currently denied, including citizenship and freedom of movement.
UN court’s decision on measures to prevent more harm against Myanmar’s Rohingya minority expected on Jan 23.
The International Court of Justice, the United Nations’ highest court, will issue a decision on a request for emergency measures in a genocide case against Myanmar on January 23, the Gambian Ministry of Justice said on Twitter on Monday.
The mainly Muslim West African country filed the suit in November, alleging Myanmar was committing “an ongoing genocide” against its minority Muslim Rohingya population.
The ICJ did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Gambia has accused Myanmar of violating the 1948 Genocide Convention in a military campaign that expelled more than 730,000 Rohingya from the country.
It asked the ICJ to order “provisional measures” to prevent more harm, a first step in a legal case that is expected to go on for years.
Myanmar’s leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, travelled to The Hague last month to defend her country against the charges.
She denied that genocide was taking place and said the court has no jurisdiction to hear the case.
Aung San Suu Kyi, once championed in the West for her decades-long fight for democracy for Myanmar, said Myanmar did investigate and prosecute soldiers and officers accused of crimes.
She said that under those circumstances, the court should not intervene.
The Gambia lodged its lawsuit after winning the support of the Organisation for Islamic Cooperation (OIC), which has 57 member states. Only a state can file a case against another state at the ICJ.
The Gambia yesterday said Aung San Suu Kyi’s “silence” over allegations of sexual violence and rape carried out against Rohingya people “says far more than” her words, a day after the Nobel peace laureate defended Myanmar against genocide charges at the UN’s top court.
Prof Philippe Sands QC told the court: “Not a word [has been said by Aung San Suu Kyi] about the women and girls of Myanmar who have been subjected to these awful serial violations. Madame Agent [her status in court], your silence says far more than your words.”
Myanmar has not disputed at the ICJ hearing reports that 392 villages were destroyed in military clearance operations, or commented on widespread allegations of organized sexual violence and rape, the court was also told.
Sands was speaking for the Gambia, which has brought the charge that Myanmar’s military carried out mass murder, rape, and destruction of Rohingya Muslim communities. Yesterday was the last day of the three-day hearing at the top UN court.
The African country alleges there have been “extrajudicial killings… sexual violence, burning of homes and destruction of livestock… calculated to bring about a destruction of the Rohingya group in whole or in part.”
“The word ‘rape’ did not once pass the lips of the agent,” added Sands, as Suu Kyi sat impassively in the courtroom, wearing traditional Burmese dress and flowers in her hair, reports The Guardian.
Later in her closing arguments at the hearing, she urged the UN judges to throw out the genocide case against Myanmar, warning it risked reigniting the crisis that forced nearly three-quarters of a million Rohingya Muslims from their homes.
Suu Kyi also cautioned that allowing The Gambia’s case against Myanmar to go ahead could “undermine reconciliation”, reports AFP.
The de facto civilian leader even showed pictures of a football match recently played in the area affected by the violence in 2017 as evidence that was peace was returning
During three days of hearings starting December 10, it will ask the 16-member panel of UN judges at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to impose “provisional measures” to protect the Rohingya before the case can be heard in full.
More than 730,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled Myanmar to neighboring Bangladesh since a 2017 military crackdown, which UN investigators found in August to have been carried out with “genocidal intent”. Myanmar vehemently denies allegations of genocide.
The office of Myanmar’s civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, has said she will lead her country’s defense personally. Myanmar’s legal team is expected to argue that genocide did not occur, that the top UN court lacks jurisdiction and that the case fails to meet a requirement that a dispute exists between Myanmar and Gambia.
Gambia’s request for a provisional injunction is the legal equivalent of seeking a restraining order against a country.
“If the court feels there is sufficient threat and it needs to step in, it can order Myanmar to cease and desist in terms of military operations and violence so that civilians are protected,” said Priya Pillai, an international lawyer with the Asia Justice Coalition, an NGO.
Rohingya Youth Call on the International Community to Act at Landmark Conference
Young Rohingya people and other ethnic minority activists have come together at a landmark conference to demand justice and an end to human rights violations in Myanmar, the Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK (BROUK) announced today.
The first ever International Rohingya Youth Conference was held between 29 November and 1 December at Queen Mary University in London, UK. More than 45 participants from 9 countries attended, representing not just Rohingya but also Karen, Kachin, Burman, Tibetan, and Uyghur groups.
“With the survival of the Rohingya people at stake, young people are more important than ever. They are our future leaders, who can provide ideas, energy and urgency to our cause. This week’s conference was a unique opportunity not just to listen to their voices, but also to foster solidarity with other minority groups living through oppression,” said Tun Khin, President of BROUK.
“Young people are united in their calls to end all abuses against Rohingya, and for those responsible to be brought to justice. It is time for the world to listen and take action.”
At the conference, whose theme was “Cultivating and Mobilizing a Rohingya Youth Movement”, Rohingya youth leaders from around the world to discuss a range of social and political issues that affect their communities. These include how to strengthen the movement’s capacity, how to support refugee and IDP communities, and how to build solidarity and create learning opportunities with other civil society allies.
“Rohingya are oppressed in Myanmar today, just as Kachin people are oppressed. We are the same victims. It is time for us to join forces in solidarity to get justice. This youth conference was extremely encouraging. it helped build bridges between communities united in their desire for a life in dignity and safety,” said Hkanhpa Sadan, Foreign Affairs Secretary of the Kachin National Organization.
“What Rohingya are facing today, Karen people have also faced more than 60 years. Massacres, rape, burning of villages, killing of children. When the government and military say the reports of human rights violations against the Rohingya are false, we remember they said the same thing about the same human rights violations against us. That is why we are standing in solidarity with our Rohingya brothers and sisters, and we hope our combined efforts will bring positive change for all our communities.” said Nant Bwa Bwa Phan Karen activist.
China is working through bilateral mechanisms, Secretary Momen said
Bangladesh has said it keeps exploring all possible avenues through bilateral and international mechanisms to send back Rohingyas safely to their place of origin in Rakhine State.
“We want to work in all areas with the same pace with an active trilateral effort with China and Myanmar in place,”
Masud Bin Momen secretary (Asia and Pacific) at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs briefed reporters at State guesthouse Meghna after the second Foreign Office Consultation (FOC) with the Philippines on Tuesday.
He said it will be a very difficult proposition if the Rohingya issue is left with the bilateral front only considering past experiences, reports UNB.
Secretary Momen said Bangladesh, China and Myanmar are moving ahead trilaterally as China is working as a sort of guarantor to send Rohingyas back through bilateral mechanisms.
Responding to a question, he said the issue of “accountability and justice” is a matter of high moral grounds as genocidal acts had taken place; and the international community has a responsibility to address the issue.
On November 14, pre-trial Chamber III of the International Criminal Court had authorized the Prosecutor to proceed with an investigation for the alleged crimes within the ICC’s jurisdiction committed against the Rohingya people from Myanmar.
ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said her investigation will seek to uncover the truth. “My office will now focus on ensuring the success of its independent and impartial investigation.”
Suu Kyi is among several top Myanmar officials named in a case filed in Argentina for crimes against Rohingya Muslims and it shows the Nobel Laureate, for the first time, has been legally targeted over the crisis.
On Nov. 11, the Gambia filed a lawsuit against Myanmar in the International Court of Justice for the southeast asian country’s atrocities against the Rohingya population.
Over the past years, hundreds of thousands of Rohingyas have fled to neighbouring Bangladesh for refuge, sparking one of the more dire refugee crises of the decade. They continue to remain in camps in Bangladesh, where they are vulnerable to human trafficking and other forms of violence.
Even though the crisis has been ongoing for decades, it’s a crucial time for the lawsuit to be filed, advocates say. And the Rohingya people’s continuing refusal to go back is only testament to the lack of security for them in Myanmar.
“No one has been held accountable,” Akila Radhakrishnan, President of Global Justice Center (GJC), told IPS. “It’s the same forces [that] remain in Rakhine state, they remain kind of [as a] part of the military with no punishment. There’s no feeling that there’s safety and security to go back to Myanmar.”
Radhakrishnan pointed out that even though the lawsuit may be “far away” from when the crisis began, the continued fear of Rohingyas to return to their home shows how deeply the crisis persists.
“I think there’s a recognition of the impossibility of the return of the Rohingya, a solution to the humanitarian crisis,” she said, adding that the lawsuit will push for the Myanmar government to take actions that focus on changing the laws and policies that enabled the genocide.
The lawsuit by the Gambia is supported in large part by the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, and is being led by Attorney General and Minister of Justice of the Gambia Abubacarr M Tambadou, who decided to pursue actions after a recent visit to Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh, a region where about 900,000 Rohingya refugees are living in camps in that the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has termed the world’s biggest refugee camp.
Bangladesh is blocking hundreds of thousands of Rohingya children from accessing meaningful education, Human Rights Watch said on Tuesday, urging authorities to lift restrictions on schooling in refugee camps.
In a report called ‘Are we not human?’, Human Rights Watch accused Bangladesh of violating the rights of 400,000 school age children who have fled Myanmar and are currently living in the Cox’s Bazaar refugee camps.
“Depriving an entire generation of children of education is in no one’s interest,” Bill Van Esveld, associate children’s rights director at Human Rights Watch told Reuters. “The international community needs to act and demand that Bangladesh and Myanmar change course.”
More than 730,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled Myanmar to neighboring Bangladesh since a 2017 crackdown by Myanmar’s military, which followed attacks by Rohingya insurgents.
The Human Rights Watch report said Bangladesh had banned Rohingya refugees from enrolling in schools outside the camps or taking national exams and also barred U.N. agencies and foreign aid groups from giving formal accredited education.
It accused Myanmar of not agreeing to recognize the use of its school curriculum in the camps.
Bangladesh’s Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commission Chief Mahbub Alam Talukder said it was untrue that children in the camps were not being educated and that there were 4,000 learning centers in the camps.
A Rohingya group has strongly rejected a joint statement by a coalition of rebels in Myanmar in which the persecuted Muslim community was described as “Bengali”.
Mohammed Ayyub Khan, president of the Rohingya Solidarity Organization (RSO), termed the joint statement as “baseless, falsification and misrepresentation of the word Rohingya”.
A coalition of rebel groups — the Ta’ang National Liberation Army, Arakan Army and Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army — said on Thursday they are ready to provide international courts with evidence of war crimes by the Myanmar military between 2009 and 2019 against ethnic people, including “Bengali Muslims”, referring to the Rohingya Muslim community in the western Rakhine state.
“But the irony is that the statement mentioned the word Bengali instead of Rohingya,” Khan said in a statement, adding that the statement “hurts the feelings of Rohingya in particular and Muslims in general”.
He urged the rebel groups — which have been fighting against the Myanmar army in Shan and Rakhine state — to “concentrate their energies in their struggle against the Burmese [Myanmar] army instead of the concocted campaign against Rohingya”.
“We are Rohingya Muslim, not Bengali Muslim,” Khan told Anadolu Agency.
Rohingya, an ethnic Muslim community in Rakhine state of Myanmar, has long been facing systematic persecution and genocide by the military, according to several UN reports.
Amnesty International said that more than 750,000 Rohingya refugees, mostly women, and children, have fled Myanmar and crossed into Bangladesh after Myanmar forces launched a crackdown on the minority Muslim community in August 2017, pushing the number of persecuted people in Bangladesh above 1.2 million.
Beijing will do whatever they can to help alleviate the situation and push forward early repatriation, the envoy said
Beijing is playing a role in finding a sustainable solution to the Rohingya crisis as China shares Bangladesh’s concerns regarding the issue, said Li Jiming, the Chinese Ambassador in Dhaka.
“China is trying to persuade Myanmar all the time that the eventual solution of the Rohingya issue will be beneficial to both the countries (Bangladesh and Myanmar), and I believe that the Rohingya issue will be settled in the end,” he said on Sunday.
The Chinese Ambassador was addressing a seminar, “Finding a way to Peaceful Repatriation of Rohingyas,” organized by English daily Bangladesh Post at the National Press Club in Dhaka, reports BSS.
China cares, China contributes, and China acts in resolving the crisis and with its traditional friendship with Bangladesh and Myanmar, Beijing will do whatever they can to help alleviate the situation and push forward early repatriation, the envoy said.
But he simultaneously added that despite its good relations with Myanmar, Beijing could not lecture “Myanmar what to do” since it is a sovereign country. That requires China to pursue the matter diplomatically following the principle of equality and mutual respect.
“Here I want to make it very clear that, Myanmar is a sovereign country as Bangladesh is. China has no right to lecture Myanmar what to do,” he said.
Jiming said: “It is a well-accepted idea in many countries that China has a huge influence over Myanmar as whatever we (China) say Myanmar will listen and do accordingly.”