Dozens of Rohingya Muslims, including two children, appeared in court in Myanmar, the latest group to face charges after attempting to flee conflict-torn Rakhine state throughout the week.
The group of about 20 were among 54 people from the Rohingya minority arrested on Wednesday on the outskirts of the commercial capital Yangon while trying to leave for Malaysia, according to judge Thida Aye.
“The immigration officer submitted the case because they found no identification cards from these people,” she said.
Some were barefoot, others clothed in colourful head-scarfs, as they were ushered into the small courtroom in Yangon. A small boy was naked from the waist down.
Defence lawyer Nay Myo Zar said they had fled Rakhine state, the western region where hundreds of thousands of Rohingya live in apartheid-like conditions and have come under increasing pressure as government troops battle ethnic rebels.
More than 730,000 Rohingya fled Myanmar to Bangladesh in 2017 to escape a military-led crackdown that U.N investigators have said was carried out with “genocidal intent” and included mass killings and rapes.
Myanmar says the army was fighting a legitimate counter-insurgency campaign against militants who attacked security posts.
Some 600,000 Rohingya remain in the country, confined to camps and villages where they are unable to travel freely or access healthcare and education. The vast majority lack citizenship.
The government says it is working on a national strategy to close camps and that Rohingya would not face movement restrictions if they accepted a so-called national verification card, which many reject, saying it labels them foreigners.
Rakhine state has for the past year been rocked by increasingly intense clashes between government troops and fighters from the Arakan Army, an insurgent group comprised of ethnic Rakhine, another mostly Buddhist minority.
Taslima was dreading the day. It was SweTinSit, an annual population census conducted by Myanmar government officials in northern Rakhine state. Military, police and customs officials would be sweeping through, collecting data on Rohingya families – monitoring the birth of children, photographing family members and listing their names. This was in 2016, when tensions in Rakhine were escalating.
For many Rohingya people, like Taslima and others in her village of Tula Toli, the SweTinSit (or “Map Record Check,” in Burmese) was a mandatory and intense audit, and always unpredictable. If one is absent during a SweTinSit, their relatives can be subject to extortion, imprisonment, arbitrary taxation, or worse. The year before, a relative of Taslima’s was raped by a military officer.
In the SweTinSit of 2016, Taslima’s brother-in-law had gone to work outside the village, to repay a debt. Fearing that he would be arrested for his brother’s absence, Taslima’s husband disappeared for the three days it took for the census to be completed in Tula Toli. Taslima paid a fine of 300,000 kyats (US $208) for her brother-in-law and a further fine of 200,000 kyats (US $138) for her husband.
Officers warned her that if her husband did not return while the census was still underway, there would be further consequences. In the early hours of the very next day, Taslima says that four men, including the village chairman Aung Ko Sein, entered her hut and raped her in front of her two young children.
Dozens of sprawling informal education centers across refugee camps in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar are providing a glimmer of hope for thousands of Rohingya refugee children who survived a massacre in their home country of Myanmar in 2017.
Across makeshift camps in the refugee city of Kutupalong, hundreds of informal learning centers have been set up by international agencies and Rohingya community leaders to give the refugee children access to education. The opportunity to learn and improve skills is something the youngsters were never offered back in Myanmar.
Sharmeen Noor, a mathematics teacher at Kutupalong Primary School, told VOA that their programs ensure the Rohingya children do not fall behind in their education despite the absence of formal schooling. The centers can also create a positive impact to help those traumatized by the Burmese army’s 2017 crackdown that forced nearly 700,000 ethnic Rohingya to flee from Rakhine state to Bangladesh.
“Those who have seen violence think about it all the time,” said Noor. “They pay very little attention in class. As teachers, we are working on this matter. We are trying our best to bring them into normal life. God willing we will do it.”
About 350 Rohingya children are currently enrolled at Kutupalong Primary School, which provides basic informal education from preprimary through fifth grade. The children are taught subjects such as general science, mathematical, English, Burmese, and Bengali.
Noor said many of their teaching activities focus on play-based learning to provide education and at the same time give the children a chance to forget the daily struggles they face in the overcrowded camps. Particular attention is given to children who are mentally challenged.
On 23 January, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) issued what amounted to a “cease and desist” order against Myanmar, ordering authorities there to end genocidal practices against the Rohingya. The ruling of the so-called “World Court” has brought hope that international justice will prevail after the horrors inflicted on women, men and children in Rakhine State by Myanmar’s security forces.
But while the court’s ruling was a landmark moment, there are still many lingering questions. What happens next? What effects will the ruling have on Myanmar’s domestic scene, where an election looms later this year? Will Myanmar comply with the order — and what happens if it does not?
The ICJ’s ruling meant that a global legal body for the first time officially recognized the real threat of abuse against the Rohingya, and ordered Myanmar to do what it can to protect them. The ICJ also called on Myanmar to prevent further breaches of the Genocide Convention, rein in abuses by its security forces and preserve evidence of past abuses.
It is important to note, however, that the ICJ’s provisional order is in no way a final ruling on whether genocide has taken place. Genocide is defined as “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group.” The convention against genocide imposes a duty on states that are signatories to “prevent and to punish” genocide, thus the ability of the Gambia to bring the case to the ICJ.
The legal threshold for proving “genocidal intent” is notoriously high and a final decision will likely take years to reach, even if atrocity crimes against the Rohingya are already well-documented. One of the ICJ’s 15 judges, Xue Hanqin from China, has already issued an opinion questioning whether genocide took place as well as the Gambia’s right to even bring the case before the ICJ, an indication that this will be a drawn-out process with no easy answers.
While the decision is an important symbolic victory for the Rohingya, it remains to be seen how much effect the provisional measures will have in practice. The court has little power to actually enforce the order by itself. Like most international justice efforts, the ICJ’s effectiveness largely depends on the goodwill of states.
Many people do not know what it is like to be a refugee at night. The international humanitarian organizations have to leave the refugee camp at night in Bangladesh. The nighttime in the camps is different than in Rakhine state. Rohingya refugees try to sleep but most can’t sleep for fear of the future and a longing for justice.
However, nighttime is still a social time for Rohingya people. We sit together, and many of us talk about the days that have passed – about our shared suffering from the Myanmar military and our hope for justice.
There are now more than a million Rohingya refugees in the camps in Bangladesh. At night, shops keep their doors open. Rohingya people come and gather around the solar light the shops use to get customers. The solar lights reflect beautifully off the betel-nut and sweet drinks being sold.
Refugees don’t watch clocks or see the time. The days turn into nights. My Rohingya people watch the sun turn into the moon to tell the time – day after day.
I am a Rohingya from Buthidaung Township, in Rakhine state, Myanmar. I fled with other Rohingya after waves of violence from the Myanmar military in August 2017 that killed many people. Since fleeing to the refugee camps I have been training myself in photography through watching YouTube videos on my phone. And through other famous accounts on Instagram and Facebook.
I started taking photos on my phone and later started using a real camera. Now in Bangladesh, we Rohingya have started to find some safety. We have become artists including poets, musicians, and photographers. I have become a photographer and I am using my skills to bring light to my people.
At least 15 people drowned, reports said. One official said the 50-person boat was carrying 130 away from refugee camps.
At least 15 Rohingya refugees, including four children, drowned when the overcrowded boat they were in capsized off the coast of Bangladesh on Tuesday, according to the Bangladesh Coast Guard.
A Bangladesh Coast Guard official, Hamidul Islam, told Reuters that the boat was filled with people trying to leave camps near Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, where hundreds of thousands of refugees have been living since a scorched-earth ethnic cleansing campaign by Myanmar’s military in 2017.
“It was inhumane,” he said. “The boat was carrying roughly 130 people, while it had a capacity of 50.”
Coast Guard officials said that at least 40 people were still listed as missing.
More than 730,000 Rohingya, a predominantly Muslim ethnic group, have fled Myanmar to Bangladesh since a campaign of killing, rape and arson began against them in 2017. Though both governments have promised the refugees would imminently return to Myanmar, the promise has not been kept.
Instead, the Rohingya live in miserable conditions near the Myanmar border at the world’s largest refugee camp. Human trafficking runs rampant, with women sold into sex slavery and men sent away for indentured servitude.
Seventy people rescued after overcrowded boat heading for Malaysia sank in Bay of Bengal, officials say.
At least 15 Rohingya refugees have died and dozens more are unaccounted for after their overcrowded wooden boat heading for Malaysia sank off the coast of southern Bangladesh, officials have said.
Some 130 people – mainly women and children – were packed on the fishing trawler that was trying to get across the Bay of Bengal to Malaysia, coastguard spokesman Hamidul Islam told the AFP news agency on Tuesday. Seventy people had so far been rescued.
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the UN refugee agency issued a joint statement saying they were ready to support the survivors of the boat.
“UNHCR and IOM are saddened by this tragic loss of life and, together with our other UN and NGO partners, are standing by to offer assistance to the [Bangladeshi] government in responding to the needs of the survivors, be it food, shelter, or medical aid.”
Many of the nearly one million Rohingya, who have taken shelter in overcrowded refugee camps in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar district, have tried to go to Malaysia by boat.
The boat, barely 13 metres (40 feet) long, was one of two vessels attempting the hazardous 2,000-kilometre (1,250-mile) journey before the monsoon season starts.
Four navy and coastguard boats were searching the seas near St Martin’s island, officials said.
“We have found one capsized boat. All of them were mainly from the refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar. We haven’t found any sign of the second boat yet. We will continue our operation,” Islam said.
Those on the boat were hoping to reach Malaysia and were being aided by traffickers, Noor Ahmed, the top elected official on the island, told The Associated Press news agency, quoting accounts by the survivors.
The initial ruling by the International Court of Justice on the case brought by Gambia against Myanmar over its treatment of Rohingya Muslims gives a first look at what the U.N. top legal body’s final judgment might look like.
Opinions are split on what the ruling and provisional demands by the court actually mean, and which side has the upper hand. The ICJ case will take years to unfold. Whatever the outcome of the trial, Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s de facto leader, looks set to emerge as the biggest winner.
Contrary to what many have asserted, the ICJ ruling, including the provisional measures, does not actually constitute a finding that Myanmar committed genocide. That judgment will not be made until the end of the case, after extensive collection and adjudication of evidence and arguments by the two sides
In its preliminary ruling on Jan. 23, the ICJ recognized the extreme vulnerability of the Rohingya in Myanmar and the irreparable harm they have suffered, and it orders Myanmar to take all measures within its power to prevent: a) killing members of the group; b) causing serious bod09ily or mental harm to the members of the group; c) deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; and d) imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group.
Among better-informed legal experts and analysts, the pursuit of a genocide verdict is perhaps the biggest weakness in Gambia’s case. To meet that standard, Gambia will have to prove that the Myanmar security forces acted with genocidal intent against the Rohingya. Precedent is not in Gambia’s favor. In the genocide case against Serbia in 2006, the ICJ did not find such intent and dismissed the genocide charge. Had Gambia adopted a more realistic strategy of focusing on war crimes, or even ethnic cleansing, it would probably have a better chance of winning.
The ICJ’s order that Myanmar does all it can to prevent genocide offers the Rohingya hope for the future.
On January 23, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague imposed emergency “provisional measures” on Myanmar regarding its actions against and treatment of the Rohingya minority – my people. To the average person, this may sound like incomprehensible legalese. But for many Rohingya, who had long been waiting for the international community to take meaningful action to end their suffering, this was some of the best news they had ever received.
With this decision, the United Nations’ “World Court” effectively instructed the government of Aung San Suu Kyi to respect the requirements of the 1948 genocide convention and bring an end to its military’s attacks on the Rohingya. This decision marked the first time that a credible international body said “enough” to the government that for so many decades has abused and oppressed us.
My people’s plight captured global headlines in August 2017, when the Tatmadaw (the Myanmar military) launched a vicious “clearance operation” in the Rakhine State, which was home to more than a million Rohingya. Over the course of a few weeks, soldiers rampaged through the region, killing thousands, committing mass rapes, burning villages to the ground, and driving more than 700,000 people to flee into neighboring Bangladesh.
As shocking as the violence was, it was only the tip of the iceberg. For decades, the Myanmar authorities have confined the Rohingya to a virtual open-air prison in the Rakhine state. It denied us citizenship since 1982, effectively rendering us stateless. Our freedom of movement even within Myanmar is extremely limited. We are expected to acquire official permission, and often pay bribes, to leave our home villages. Healthcare and education are off-limits to most Rohingya. This is all part of a deliberate effort by Myanmar not only to dehumanize us but also to make our lives so miserable that we have no option but to leave.
Two women, one pregnant, were killed and seven other people injured after Myanmar troops shelled a Rohingya village on Saturday, according to a lawmaker and a villager, two days after the U.N.’s highest court ordered the country to protect the minority.
Maung Kyaw Zan, a national member of parliament for Buthidaung township in northern Rakhine state, said shells fired from a nearby battalion hit Kin Taung village in the middle of the night. Government troops have been battling ethnic rebels in the state for more than a year.
“There was no fighting, they just shot artillery to a village without a battle,” he told Reuters by phone, adding it was the second time this year that civilians had been killed.
The military denied responsibility, blaming the rebels who they said attacked a bridge in the early hours of the morning.
More than 730,000 Rohingya Muslims were forced to flee northern Rakhine state in 2017 after a military crackdown that the U.N has said was executed with genocidal intent.
More recently, the region was plunged into further chaos by fresh fighting between the military and the Arakan Army, a rebel group that recruits from the mostly Buddhist majority in the state. That conflict has displaced tens of thousands and killed dozens.
Of the several hundred thousand Rohingya still in Rakhine, many are confined to apartheid-like conditions, unable to travel freely or access healthcare and education. They are caught in the middle of the fighting, and travel restrictions mean they are less able to flee than Buddhist neighbors.
In early January, four Rohingya children died in a blast the military and rebels blamed on each other.
Two military spokesmen did not answer phone calls from Reuters seeking comment on Saturday’s deaths. In a statement posted on the Russian social media network VK, the army confirmed the deaths but blamed the Arakan Army, saying its artillery had hit the village during clashes.