The team of professionals are formally known as the Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar, (IIMM) or Myanmar Mechanism, and was created in 2018 by the Human Rights Council.Working out of Geneva, there are experts in gender violence and crimes against children; analysts with experience in international justice; specialists in open source evidence; and investigators working with sophisticated information systems.
The Mechanism was established after an Independent International Fact-Finding Mission found “clear patterns” of violations by the military, known as the Tatmadaw, and insisted that the perpetrators of the “gross human rights violations”, including those against the Rohingya, must not go unpunished.
The IIMM is not a court, neither does it have the power to prosecute. The hope is that all the information that could otherwise be lost, is preserved, and then shared with national, regional or international courts.
In an extensive interview with UN News, the head of the Mechanism, Nicholas Koumjian, explains the importance of preserving this evidence before it is potentially lost.
“Crime scenes get disturbed, bodies decompose, wounds can heal, people’s memories can fade, witnesses with information can pass away”, he explains. “So it’s very important to collect the information while you can.”
The interview has been edited for clarity and length.
We started two years ago, in July of 2019, and we’ve been building up the Mechanism, acquiring all of the expertise that we believe would be necessary.
We have those with expertise in International Criminal law, in things like gender violence, investigation of crimes against children, investigation of sexual assaults, analysts with experience in very complex international cases.
We have those with experience in using open source evidence and very sophisticated and secure information systems, so that the information that we collect and preserve, is held confidentially and no one has access to it, and that also allows us to analyse the very vast quantities of data that we have collected.
Facebook was used to spread disinformation about the Rohingya, the Muslim ethnic minority in Myanmar, and in 2018 the company began to delete posts, accounts and other content it determined were part of a campaign to incite violence.
That deleted but stored data is at issue in a case in the United States over whether Facebook should release the information as part of a claim in international court.
Facebook this week objected to part of a U.S. magistrate judge’s order that could have an impact on how much data internet companies must turn over to investigators examining the role social media played in a variety of international incidents, from the 2017 Rohingya genocide in Myanmar to the 2021 Capitol riot in Washington.
The judge ruled last month that Facebook had to give information about these deleted accounts to Gambia, the West African nation, which is pursuing a case in the International Court of Justice against Myanmar, seeking to hold the Asian nation responsible for the crime of genocide against the Rohingya.
But in its filing Wednesday, Facebook said the judge’s order “creates grave human rights concerns of its own, leaving internet users’ private content unprotected and thereby susceptible to disclosure — at a provider’s whim — to private litigants, foreign governments, law enforcement, or anyone else.”
The company said it was not challenging the order when it comes to public information from the accounts, groups and pages it has preserved. It objects to providing “non-public information.” If the order is allowed to stand, it would “impair critical privacy and freedom of expression rights for internet users — not just Facebook users — worldwide, including Americans,” the company said.Facebook has argued that providing the deleted posts is in violation of U.S. privacy, citing the Stored Communications Act, the 35-year-old law that established privacy protections in electronic communication.
The recent signing of an MOU between the Bangladesh government and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), affirming the latter’s willingness to help in the ongoing relocation of Rohingyas to Bhashan Char, is welcome news—albeit a couple of years delayed.
For more than two years, the Bangladesh government, wisely, has been talking about relocating the Rohingyas—at least a segment of them—from the squalid, unhygienic, unsafe, and severely overpopulated camps located in Cox’s Bazar’s Teknaf and Kutupalong areas, to the much healthier and habitable island of Bhashan Char. The aim was to ensure a better quality of life for this group of people, who are victims of mass persecution and ethnic cleansing in their own homeland—Myanmar.
It took a while for the Bangladesh government to put the necessary infrastructure in place, which included constructing houses of better quality, putting healthcare facilities in place, ensuring their safety and security, possibilities for generating economic activities, and even education facilities. The process was meant to be temporary, while all efforts at ensuring the Rohingyas’ safe and dignified return to Myanmar would continue.In the last year or so, a few thousands of Rohingyas have already been relocated to Bhashan Char, with a larger number of them waiting to make the move. It is expected that over the next six months, a total of 100,000 Rohingyas would be relocated to Bhashan Char from the camps in Cox’s Bazar. The island can house up to a million people, with space to spare.By and large, the Rohingyas have been happy with the relocation. In fact, they welcomed it. The most graphic and enduring image of this was that of a young happy Rohingya man on board a Bangladeshi naval vessel, strumming on a guitar-like musical instrument while the boat sailed through the Bay of Bengal towards Bhashan Char.
The airport in Delhi is a few kilometers away from the millennium city of Gurgaon, and just 50 kilometers from the millennium city is the district of Nuh (Mewat). Despite its proximity to Delhi, the district has the dubious distinction of being the only backward district of Haryana; the callousness now extends to security matters. The district has been witnessing a continuous, rising influx of Rohingya immigrants in the last few years, yet the district administration, while being aware of this influx, is limited in its action and can do little to prevent it.
There is a perception about the district built by the administrators in Gurgaon—that it is a den of criminals. This baseless perception has done immense harm to the development, and even to the security, of the district. The national media also picks up selective stories about the district based on this perception.
The Nuh district is dominated by a backward population of Meos, a native tribe also referred as Khanzade, as they converted to Islam in the 17th century. The area is hardy, scarcity of water is endemic and overall development on all parameters is low. The demographic change being ushered in by the entry of Rohingyas will push the district towards an abyss. Whether this is happening because of the Tablighi Jamaat or is being facilitated by them is not known. The Tablighi Jamaat, which was founded in Nuh, has been expanding its presence globally and maybe facilitating the entry and settlement of the Rohingyas in the area.The congregation of the Rohingyas along with the Tablighi Jamaat followers does not augur well for the security of the NCR. The rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan looking for ideological continuance in the region will also find resonance with the Rohingyas. Their entry into the border areas with Bangladesh has already created a nuisance. Moreover, a base so near the NCR creates a security nightmare for the country.
COX’S BAZAR: Bangladesh police arrested at least 16 Rohingya refugees in a series of raids on camps in Dhaka after the murder of a top Rohingya community leader last week, officials said Sunday.
Rights advocate Mohib Ullah was gunned down ten days ago by unidentified assailants outside his office at Kutupalong, the world’s largest refugee settlement in Bangladesh’s southeast.
His family and fellow community leaders have blamed the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) — a militant outfit behind a series of attacks on Myanmar security posts — saying Mohib Ullah’s growing popularity had enraged the group. ARSA has denied any involvement in the murder.
The 48-year-old had become one the most respected moderate voices advocating for Rohingya refugees after nearly 800,000 people fled Myanmar for Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar district following military crackdowns on their villages in 2017.
“We have arrested 16 people in the past three days as part of a special drive we have launched after the murder of Mohib Ullah,” said Naimul Huq, the police official in charge of the raids.
But Huq added that those arrested were not “involved in the murder of Mohib Ullah” and ARSA does not operate in the camps.
The arrests signal a wider law enforcement crackdown on the camps, coming a week after five others were apprehended in connection with the murder and local media reported that one of the men had confessed.Rohingya community leaders and rights activists have repeatedly said members of the militant outfit are active in the refugee settlement and Mohib Ullah’s family had told AFP last week that they were afraid of leaving their homes.
“ARSA has created a reign of terror in the camps,” a senior leader of the slain leader’s rights group told AFP, asking to remain unnamed.“Since Mohib Ullah’s murder, I haven’t been able to go to my home. I’ve been hiding since the murder. ARSA members are following us and threatening us. I am helpless.”
State Minister for Disaster Management and Relief, Dr Md Enamur Rahman, today said that another 80,000 “forcibly displaced Myanmar nationals” will be relocated to Bhasan Char in next three months.
“With the help of some local and international NGOs, humanitarian assistance is being provided to their relocation to Bhasan Char,” he said.
The state minister was speaking at a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signing ceremony between the country’s disaster management and relief ministry and the UNHCR at the Secretariat as the chief guest.
The MoU was signed to establish a common protection and policy framework for humanitarian response to Rohingya in Bhasan Char, said an UNHCR press release.
The recent assassination of Mohib Ullah, chairman of the Arakan Rohingya Society for Peace and Human Rights, has increased apprehension within the Rohingya refugee camps where tension was already high. The Rohingya have been living in fear due to a combination of unrestrained crimes, rivalry between different groups operating in the camps as well as lax security. Mohib Ullah’s murder has only worsened the situation, with many refugees believing the state of security in camps has gone from bad to worse in recent times.According to a report published by this newspaper on Thursday, armed gangs belonging to the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) have created a deep sense of fear in the camps
The MoU is a further expression of the government and people of Bangladesh’s generosity and support toward the Rohingya population until they can return safely and sustainably to Myanmar, it added.
Enamur said that as per recommendations of the Technical and Protection Sub-Committee formed in 2018, the Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief constructed a total of 1,440 houses and 120 cyclone shelters in Bhasan Char for the accommodation of one lakh forcibly displaced Myanmar citizen under the Ashrayan-3 project.
From December 3, 2020 to April 4, 2021, some 18,846 “forcibly displaced Myanmar nationals” from 4,724 families were relocated to Bhasan Char, he added.
The recent assassination of Mohib Ullah, chairman of the Arakan Rohingya Society for Peace and Human Rights, has increased apprehension within the Rohingya refugee camps where tension was already high. The Rohingya have been living in fear due to a combination of unrestrained crimes, rivalry between different groups operating in the camps as well as lax security. Mohib Ullah’s murder has only worsened the situation, with many refugees believing the state of security in camps has gone from bad to worse in recent times.
According to a report published by this newspaper on Thursday, armed gangs belonging to the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) have created a deep sense of fear in the camps. Law enforcement agencies have alleged that at least 10 Rohingya groups are engaged in about 12 types of crimes, including killing, abduction, rape, drug trafficking and robbery.
Since August 2017—when the largest Rohingya influx in history took place amidst a deadly crackdown by Myanmar’s military—more than 226 Rohingya individuals have been reportedly killed, and some 1,298 cases have been filed against 2,850 individuals, mostly in connection with possession of drugs and firearms.Amidst such a situation, we believe that having three armed battalions of police maintain law and order in the refugee camps, sheltering over a million Rohingya people, is not nearly enough. The number of battalions has to be increased for the police there to be effective, and in the aftermath of the Mohib Ullah killing, the number one priority should be to dispel fears and rumours in the camps with effective communication and de-escalation strategies, including through increased surveillance and presence of law enforcement personnel.
It is also vital that the authorities engage with the Rohingya representatives and members of the international community. Through closer engagement and collaboration, they should try and calm the nerves of refugees and give them the assurance that security will be beefed up and that they should have nothing to fear.
The killing incident of Rohingya leader Mohib Ullah will not make any impact on repatriation of Rohingya people to their homeland Myanmar, said Foreign Secretary Masud Bin Momen.
“Five persons have been arrested over Mohib Ullah killing. The government is taking into account the incident with due importance,” he told journalists at the Cox’s Bazar airport after visiting the Kutupalong Rohingya camp at Ukhia in the district today.Momen said they have talked with the family of Mohib Ullah and the government is also giving importance to provide security to the family. Any kind of irregularity in the camp will not be spared, he said.The foreign secretary said different initiatives are underway for initiating the repatriation process while the United Nations also joined the process of shifting Rohingya people to Bhashan Char.
Some 19,000 of the Muslim refugees from Myanmar have already relocated from crowded camps on the mainland to Bhashan Char island, despite doubts raised by aid groups, officials said.
Bangladesh refugee commissioner Shah Rezwan Hayat said that tens of thousands more would go once the monsoon storms that batter the Bay of Bengal each year end in November.
“We are aiming to relocate some 81,000 (Rohingya) to Bhashan Char by the end of February to complete the 100,000 quota,” he said.
The government has spent about $350 million building shelters on the 53 square kilometre (20 square mile) island which was formed by tidal silt deposits about 20 years ago.
A four-member delegation of Foreign Ministry led by the foreign secretary visited Kutupalong Lambashia camp today. The delegation reached Cox’s Bazar on Friday on a two-day visit.
They talked with slain Mohib Ullah’s brother Habib Ullah. Besides, they also talked with other Rohingya people.
On September 29, Rohingya leader Mohib Ullah was shot dead by unidentified assailants at Ukhia Rohingya camp in the district.
A Rohingya day-laborer, who was in the room when gunmen killed prominent refugee community leader Muhib Ullah in southeastern Bangladesh, described in an interview with BenarNews how the intruders forced him and other eyewitnesses to the ground before they interrogated their target and shot him in cold blood.
Muhib Ullah, who was advocating for the repatriation of Rohingya refugees back to nearby Myanmar, was gunned down at close range after the intruders burst into his office at the Kutupalong camp in Cox’s Bazar on the night of Sept. 29.
The 40-year-old eyewitness demanded a “transparent investigation” and “justice” for the death of the community leader who chaired the Arakan Rohingya Society for Peace and Human Rights, a group advocating for the rights of Rohingya, and who was known on the international stage.
The witness said he entered Ullah’s office while Ullah was talking with about a dozen other men about surging commodity prices, issues related to health services, and other crises affecting the Rohingya refugee community.
“A few minutes later, seven to eight armed men wearing caps and masks entered the room and said, ‘nobody move, stay where you are.’ They pointed a gun at me and told me to lie down on the ground and not to look at them,” the eyewitness recalled.
BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service, has chosen not to reveal his identity for safety reasons.
“I heard them ask Muhib Ullah, ‘Why did you form groups in each block? Is it to send people to Myanmar?’”
The witness was referring to a seven-member team that the Rohingya leader had formed in the camps through the advocacy group he chaired, to motivate the refugees to support repatriation.
Almost immediately after the intruders asked the question, the witness said, “one of them fired three bullets at Muhib’s chest and Muhib fell to the ground.”
Whistleblower Frances Haugen’s testimony to US senators on Tuesday shone a light on violence and instability in Myanmar and Ethiopia in recent years and long-held concerns about links with activity on Facebook.
“What we saw in Myanmar and are now seeing in Ethiopia are only the opening chapters of a story so terrifying, no one wants to read the end of it,” Haugen said in her striking testimony. Haugen warned that Facebook was “literally fanning ethnic violence” in places such as Ethiopia because it was not policing its service adequately outside the US.
About half of Myanmar’s population of 53 million use Facebook, with many relying on the site as their primary source of news. In June this year, an investigation by the rights group Global Witness found that Facebook’s algorithm was promoting posts in breach of its own policies that incited violence against protesters marching against the coup launched by the military in February.
Researchers began by liking a Myanmar military fan page, which was not seen to be violating Facebook’s terms. They found that Facebook then suggested several pro-military pages that did contain abusive content.
“We didn’t have to look hard to find this content; FB’s algorithm led us to it,” said Rosie Sharpe, a digital researcher who worked on the report. “Of the first five pages they recommended, three of them contained content that broke FB’s rules by, for example, inciting or glorifying violence.”The link between social media posts and offline violence in Myanmar had already been widely documented. In 2018 a Guardian analysis revealed that hate speech exploded on Facebook at the start of the Rohingya crisis the year before, when attacks by armed groups and ordinary communities on people from the Muslim minority erupted.Thousands of posts by nationalist, anti-Rohingya supporters gained traction online, including posts which falsely claimed mosques were stockpiling weapons.