Sitting on the floor of his makeshift school in the sprawling refugee camp of Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh, 11-year-old Omar spoke softly as he remembered his mother and father.
“My parents loved me so much. They looked after me very well,” he said.
He explained how his parents were murdered by the Myanmar army in August 2017. Three of his brothers and two of his sisters were also killed.
“When I wake up every morning I start crying. Then I wipe my tears away and I get ready to go to school,” he said.
Two years on, it is still hard to process the brutality of what happened to Omar and his fellow Rohingya who had been living in Myanmar – or Burma as it was previously known.
You would be forgiven for assuming such stories would have brought swift and decisive international action. They did not. Visible progress towards any kind of justice for the minority Muslim group has been painfully slow.
But now we’ve seen three legal developments – seemingly unrelated – which some legal experts are calling a big step forward, and which offer a degree of hope to Rohingya campaigners.
Why aren’t Myanmar’s generals already in court?
UN inspectors said in September 2018 that top officers in Myanmar’s army should stand trial accused of genocide for their brutal security crackdown in Rakhine state the previous year, which drove more than 700,000 Rohingya into Bangladesh.
The easiest way for this to happen would be for the UN Security Council to refer the case to the International Criminal Court (ICC) which prosecutes alleged war criminals.
Before becoming Myanmar’s leader, Aung San Suu Kyi spent 15 years under house arrest for defying the country’s feared generals. Now, the Nobel peace laureate faces an attempt to have her imprisoned for supporting them.
A lawsuit filed in Argentina on Wednesday alleges the former human rights icon contributed to a genocidal campaign against the Rohingya minority that included military-led mass killings in August 2017.
Among other things, she oversaw government policies “tending towards the annihilation of the Rohingya”, such as confining them to “ghettos” with severely limited access to healthcare and education, the lawsuit said.
“For the cycle of violence to end, it is crucial that all those responsible for the genocide – whether they wear a uniform or not – are brought to justice,” said Tun Khin, president of the London-based Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK (BROUK), which filed the case at a federal court in Buenos Aires.
Efforts at securing justice for the Rohingya have so far largely focussed on top generals who orchestrated the 2017 killings in coastal Rakhine state, including the military’s commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing.
Some, such as former Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd, have defended Aung San Suu Kyi by arguing she has little control over the military, which maintains ultimate power in Myanmar despite allowing a largely free-and-fair election in 2015.
But the criminal complaint against her said she used what power she did have to help, rather than hinder, efforts to destroy the Rohingya.
“The entire genocidal plan … could not have been deployed without the complementation, the coordination, the support or the acquiescence of the different civilian authorities,” the complaint said.
DHAKA: Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on Monday said the over 10 lakh Rohingyas who fled from Myanmar to her country in the wake of “persecution” are a “threat to the security” of the entire region as she urged the global community to resolve the issue.
According to the UN, as of May 24, 2018, more than 9,00,000 Rohingya Muslims fled Myanmar’s restive Rakhine State since 2017 after large-scale violence following a military crackdown. The exodus of refugees in large numbers has resulted in a major crisis in neighboring Bangladesh.
Addressing the three-day ‘Dhaka Global Dialogue-2019’ here, Hasina said, “In terms of regional security, I would like to say that more than 1.1 million Rohingya citizens of Myanmar fled to Bangladesh in the face of persecution and they are a threat to the security not only for Bangladesh but also for the region.”
“I urge the world community to take appropriate action realising the gravity of the threat. It will not be possible to ensure development and prosperity of any country without having peace and safety,” she was quoted as saying by the official Bangladesh Sangbad Sangstha (BSS) news agency.
The dialogue, which commenced on Monday, was jointly organised by the Bangladesh Institute of International and Strategic Studies (BIISS) and India-based independent think-tank Observer Research Foundation (ORF).
Over 150 delegates from over 50 countries are taking part in the dialogue to discuss, ideate and debate the most pressing global imperatives.
Bangladesh foreign minister AK Abdul Momen, ORF president Samir Saran and BIISS director general Major General AKM Abdur Rahman also spoke at the function.
Myanmar is to face accusations of genocide at the UN’s highest court over its treatment of Rohingya Muslims.
A 46-page application has been submitted to the international court of justice by the Gambia, alleging Myanmar has carried out mass murder, rape, and destruction of communities in Rakhine state.
If the ICJ takes up the case, it will be the first time the court in The Hague has investigated genocide claims on its own without relying on the findings of other tribunals, such as the international criminal tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, which is consulted for claims against Serbia and Croatia.
Under the rules of the ICJ, the application argues, member states can bring actions against other member states over disputes alleging breaches of international law – in this case the 1948 convention on the prevention and punishment of the crime of genocide.
The Gambia, a member of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, has taken the legal lead in drafting the claim against Myanmar. It is being supported by other Muslim states. An initial hearing is expected at the ICJ in December.
In the application, the vice-president of the Gambia, Isatou Touray, describes her state as “a small country with a big voice on matters of human rights on the continent and beyond”.
In October 2016, Myanmar’s military began what it described as “clearance operations” against the Rohingya, according to the submission. “The genocidal acts committed during these operations were intended to destroy the Rohingya as a group … by the use of mass murder, rape and other forms of sexual violence, as well as the systematic destruction by fire of their villages, often with inhabitants locked inside burning houses,” it says.
The head of the UN has called on Myanmar to take responsibility for hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslim refugees and work towards their safe return to the country from Bangladesh.
A wave of refugees began fleeing Myanmar in late August after its response to an attack by Rohingya militants on more than 20 police posts that the government said left 12 members of the security forces dead.
Amnesty International said security forces then went on to carry out a “targeted campaign of widespread and systematic murder, rape and burning”, which has been described by some as widespread ethnic cleansing.
More than 600,000 people fled the violence, bringing the total number of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh to around 900,000.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was speaking at a meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), and said Myanmar should deal with the root causes of why so many Rohingya people fled the country.
Mr Guterres said that he is “deeply concerned about the situation in Myanmar, including Rakhine [where the refugees have fled from] state, and the plight of the massive number of refugees still living increasingly in difficult conditions”.
He added: “It remains, of course, Myanmar’s responsibility to address the root causes and ensure a conducive environment for the safe, voluntary, dignified and sustainable repatriation of refugees to Rakhine state, in accordance with international norms and standards.”
With the influx of the Rohingya refugees two years ago after a military crackdown by the Myanmar army, WFP’s operations have drastically increased
The World Food Program (WFP) governing body, the executive board, has visited Bangladesh to see the agency’s humanitarian response for families living in the camps in Cox’s Bazar, and support to the host communities.
Led by the President of the Executive Board, Hisham Mohamed Badr of Egypt, the delegation comprised of representatives from Australia, Brazil, Germany, Indonesia, Poland, and Switzerland, read a press release.
“As members of the Executive Board of WFP, we were here to learn about how the WFP is carrying out its mandate in achieving Zero Hunger in one of the fastest growing economies in the world, and also providing lifesaving humanitarian assistance to nearly one million people in Cox’s Bazar,” explained Ambassador Badr.
“We were pleased to hear from both the Government of Bangladesh and United Nations partners of the exemplary cooperation with WFP on the ground,” he added.
With the influx of the Rohingya refugees two years ago after a military crackdown by the Myanmar army, WFP’s operations have drastically increased. Currently, the agency provides food assistance to 85% of the camp residents, through either in-kind food or an e-voucher scheme. With the latter, families receive monthly entitlements on a pre-paid assistance card and use them to buy a variety of foods at WFP-contracted outlets. E-vouchers greatly improve their access to a more diverse range of foods, while encouraging production of food locally and stimulating the local economy.
Rights groups and NGOs say male rape victims are too ashamed to talk about their ordeal and they have been largely overlooked.
Some Rohingya men and boys who escaped Myanmar’s military campaign two years ago have said they were sexually abused by security forces.
More than 700,000 Rohingya Muslim minority fled to Bangladesh in the wake of the brutal campaign led by Myanmar military in August 2017.
Since then many of them, who live in Kutupalong refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, have suffered in silence, unable to share their trauma, because of extreme shame and stigma.
“They took me into an open space in a valley nearby and beat me up badly. Then I was raped, just like they would rape a woman, they kept me there till 4 in the morning,” a 41-year-old Rohingya told Al Jazeera.
“The very thought of this brutal experience makes me go into severe depression, I feel so traumatised. I go through much mental anguish and pain most of the time. It’s unbearable,” he added.
Research by the US-based Women’s Refugee Commission in Myanmar also indicates, “there was systematic targeted premeditated sexual violence committed against men and boys, while they were in Myanmar.”
A 45-year-old man said he was sexually assaulted by Myanmar troops in 2006, since then he has also suffered from chronic depression.
This year’s monsoon season saw some of the heaviest rain and winds in two years. Gul Faraj and her family were left homeless when their shelter was destroyed in a fierce storm that blew in off the Bay of Bengal. The flimsy roof and walls were smashed, and the family was eventually forced to move in with neighbours.
Aid groups gave Gul tools and materials to fix her home, but with no carpentry skills – her shelter went unrepaired. “I’m a single widow and I don’t know anything about fixing or carpentry,” she explained from the Rohingya refugee camp, located just a mile from the Myanmar border.
Gul, 50, then learned from friends about IOM’s recently launched Feedback and Information Centre (FIC) at the camp’s Site Management office. So, she visited and told her story. Within six days, an IOM team arrived and carried out the necessary repairs.
Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees have sought shelter in the Cox’s Bazar’s camps since August 2017 and while conditions on the ground have gradually improved – many have struggled to communicate their needs to the humanitarian community. This has often led to a top-down approach to humanitarian work that has negatively affected service delivery and left beneficiaries under-represented.
A newly designed and upgraded Complaint, Feedback and Response Mechanism at IOM-managed camps is addressing this problem by organizing both individual and group feedback meetings and opening kiosks where residents can make their views known.
Cases are entered into a digital system and referred to the agency responsible for responding to a particular issue. The primary channels for receiving complaints and feedback are community meetings at the block and sub-block levels, and with door-to-door visits by IOM staff.
Beneficiaries receive a response regardless of the category and whether or not it can be resolved. If the complaint time is slow, beneficiaries are given a response that includes the reason for the wait. When the matter is resolved, IOM contacts the beneficiary. If it takes longer than eight days, IOM staff gets in touch with the respective agency to request follow-up.
Mohib Ullah does not come across as an international advocate, the face of a community at risk. The 44-year-old botanist is mild-mannered, giving off the air of a kindly schoolteacher. When he speaks to you, he gives you his undivided attention, smiling, his eyes gazing straight into yours.
Yet it was Ullah who helped document the genocide carried out by the Burmese army against his people, the Rohingya. It was Ullah who addressed the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva in March to ask for help. It was Ullah who stood in the Oval Office, asking Donald Trump how the administration planned to help his community.
And on the second anniversary of the genocide, it fell upon Ullah to tell his fellow Rohingya that they were fast running out of options. Standing on a stage wearing a blue-and-white striped shirt and a lungi, a type of sarong worn by men on the Indian subcontinent, he spoke into a microphone, telling the assembled spectators that they had two choices: to resign themselves to life here—by some measures the world’s densest refugee camp—and rely on global compassion that was eroding, or demand that their rights be upheld in Myanmar (by a government whose army has sought to slaughter them) and then return home.
These are now the only real possibilities on offer for the Rohingya, a community that is, by and large, on its own, with dwindling numbers of supporters on the international stage, and grandiose talk of worldwide relief and international law and justice accompanied by little to no action. Ullah knows it—help is not on the way. “In big meetings, no one speaks the reality,” he told me, referencing his visits to Washington, D.C., and Geneva. “Truth is, nobody is coming to help us.”
In the reams that have been written about the plight of the Rohingya, chronic and utter disenfranchisement is the most consistent thread. The origins of their bottom-tier status are colonial, but were codified in 1982 when the Burmese government passed a law that restricted their movement and access to education, and allowed for arbitrary confiscation of property. Wave after wave of extreme violence against them culminated in August 2017 with a crackdown that forcibly displaced nearly a million people. At least 9,000 members of their community died in just the first month of the onslaught, according to Médecins Sans Frontières, an NGO that has produced the most authoritative estimate of fatalities to date. The atrocities continue to this day, deepening the humanitarian catastrophe in the province of Rakhine. (Myanmar has repeatedly denied carrying out any ethnic cleansing or genocide.)
Bangladesh on Tuesday sent Myanmar a fresh list of some 50,000 Rohingya refugees currently taking shelter in the country’s Cox’s Bazar refugee camp.
With the new list, Dhaka has provided the names of some 105,000 Rohingya refugees to Myanmar over three phases, in order to expedite their repatriation process to Myanmar.
Bangladesh had earlier handed over a list of 55,000 Rohingya refugees to Myanmar for verification over two phases.
Bangladesh and Myanmar signed in August an agreement to facilitate the repatriation of Rohingya refugees over the next two years.
However, two planned repatriation arrangements came to halt after Rohingya refugees were unwilling to return to Myanmar, citing security issues in Rakhine State.
Rohingya people have been demanding proper security and citizenship before complying with the repatriation process.
According to Amnesty International, 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.
Since Aug. 25, 2017, nearly 24,000 Rohingya Muslims have been killed by Myanmar’s state forces, according to a report by the Ontario International Development Agency (OIDA).
More than 34,000 Rohingya were also thrown into fires, while over 114,000 others were beaten, said the OIDA report, titled “Forced Migration of Rohingya: The Untold Experience.”