The United States should increase pressure on Myanmar to end persecution of ethnic minorities and restore the citizenship rights of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims driven from that country by government-sanctioned violence, said a Rohingya political activist visiting Washington last week.
Tun Khin, president of the London-based Myanmar Rohingya Association UK, lauded the U.S. government as “a champion for the refugees’ humanitarian aid”
]] and its sanctions against several Myanmar military leaders for alleged rights abuses. But he also encouraged Washington to back the tiny African country of Gambia in its genocide case against Myanmar in the International Court of Justice (ICJ).“
We need more powerful countries to join with Gambia to move forward this case,” Tun Khin said in an interview Thursday with VOA.
A day earlier, the South Asian island nation of Maldives announced it would join the Gambia in its ICJ case. The suit, filed at The Hague in November, accuses Myanmar of violating the 1948 Genocide Convention in its treatment of Rohingyas. Both Maldives and Gambia are predominantly Muslim; Myanmar has a Buddhist majority.
The Maldives’ case will be represented by human rights lawyer Amal Clooney. She previously had represented the Maldives’ former president, Mohamed Nasheed, getting a U.N. determination that he had been unfairly tried and imprisoned on politically motivated terrorism charges in 2015. The Maldivian Supreme Court suspended his 13-year jail sentence in 2018.
Clooney is married to Hollywood actor George Clooney. Her backing of the Rohingyas’ cause “is big,” Tun Khin said, noting her celebrity “will give more attention to the case.” That, he said, will benefit Rohingyas and “other minorities in Burma. We all want justice.”
THE HAGUE, Netherlands – Gambia filed a case Monday at the United Nations’ highest court accusing Myanmar of genocide in its campaign against its Rohingya Muslim minority and asking the International Court of Justice to urgently order measures “to stop Myanmar’s genocidal conduct immediately.”
Gambia filed the case on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.
Gambia’s justice minister and attorney general, Abubacarr Marie Tambadou, told The Associated Press he wanted to “send a clear message to Myanmar and to the rest of the international community that the world must not stand by and do nothing in the face of terrible atrocities that are occurring around us. It is a shame for our generation that we do nothing while genocide is unfolding right before our own eyes.”
Myanmar officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Myanmar’s military began a harsh counterinsurgency campaign against the Rohingya in August 2017 in response to an insurgent attack. More than 700,000 Rohingya fled to neighbouring Bangladesh to escape what has been called an ethnic cleansing campaign involving mass rapes, killings and the torching of homes.
The head of a U.N. fact-finding mission on Myanmar warned last month that “there is a serious risk of genocide recurring.”
The mission also said in its final report in September that Myanmar should be held responsible in international legal forums for alleged genocide against the Rohingya.
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.
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.)
In an interview with DW, Bangladesh’s Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen expressed disappointment over “inadequate” international pressure on Myanmar to take back the Rohingya refugees currently camped in Cox’s Bazar.
The Bangladeshi government wants the United Nations aid agencies to support its plan to relocate 100,000 refugees to a remote island in the Bay of Bengal.
Human rights organizations have expressed concerns over the plan as the island may not be suitable for the refugee settlement and is prone to cyclones.
In an exclusive interview with DW, Bangladeshi Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen said that the UN has failed to put enough pressure on Myanmar to take back the refugees. Momen also said that Dhaka wants UN agencies to accept the Rohingya island relocation plan or leave the South Asian country.
DW: Most Rohingya refugees do not want to return to Myanmar. Is that why you want to relocate them to the Bhasan Char island?
AK Abdul Momen: I think it is time to relocate them to Bhasan Char. But the island cannot accommodate all of them; we can send only 100,000 refugees there.
We didn’t want to repatriate them forcefully. We had hoped it would be done voluntarily.
The island offers economic activities to the refugees. But the aid agencies working in the Cox’s Bazar refugee camp don’t want to move to Bhasan Char. In Cox’s Bazar, they stay in five-star hotels, so they don’t want to go to another place.
We are also identifying international non-government organizations that are politicalizing the Rohingya issue.
Does that mean that you would relocate Rohingya refugees to Bhasan Char even if the UN agencies don’t support the plan?
Yes, possibly. We have seized many leaflets, CDs and videos that urge Rohingya not to go back to Myanmar if certain demands are not met. Myanmar authorities have agreed to one of these demands: provide safety, security and mobility to the Rohingya people. Demands such as granting citizenship to Rohingya, punishment for people involved in the Rohingya massacre, recognizing Rohingya as an ethnic group, and allowing them to return to their own homes have not been met.
In the middle of the night in a town in south-eastern Bangladesh, a Rohingya boy is found bound and blindfolded and dumped in the marketplace. He is pale and skinny, but he is alive. And nearly four months after he went missing, that is enough for his parents.
Two years ago, a wave of communal and state-sponsored violence was unleashed on the Rohingya people by Myanmarese vigilantes and security forces. Countless thousands of innocent men, women and children were butchered in the slaughter that followed — their only crime in that they are Muslims, unwelcome and shunned by Myanmar.
Much like the ancient Roman emperor Nero who played his lyre as Rome burnt, Aung San Suu Kyi raised not one finger, uttered not one word to stop the security forces of Myanmar across Rakhine state from engaging in what the United Nations would later describe as a textbook case of ethnic cleansing.
Two years on from those heinous events, where families were machine-gunned, mosques burnt, businesses and villages, homes and communities torched, where fleeing refugees had to cross freshly laid minefields or take to the stormy and treacherous waters of the Bay of Bengal, not one single Myanmar official or person has been held to account.
Make no mistake, the international community will continue to provide for the needs of the Rohingya. They can count on the continued generous support of the leadership and government of the UAE for humanitarian and relief aid, easing their enforced exodus.
And make no mistake either, the international community will take every measure within its orbit to ensure that those who fuelled the murderous hate against the Rohingya people will be brought to justice. Right now, the veneer of reform lamely proffered by Myanmar authorities serves only as a billboard for communal violence, ethnic cleansing and mass murder.
The leadership of Myanmar and its generals will eventually be held to account for their crimes against humanity, their ethnic cleansing, their attempted eradication of the Rohingya. There will be a day of reckoning and they will face justice, held to account for their deeds.
Bangladesh on Monday handed Myanmar a fresh list of 25,000 Rohingya for potential repatriation, after a high-level delegation from Naypyidaw visited Rohingya refugee camps and explained that full citizenship for the stateless minority was not an option.
Myint Thu, Myanmar’s permanent secretary for foreign affairs, led a 10-member team that met with Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar district during the weekend to discuss the prospect of their returning voluntarily across the border to Rakhine state.
The visit to Cox’s Bazar was the second interaction between Myanmar officials and refugees sheltering at camps in southeastern Bangladesh since more than 740,000 Rohingya Muslims crossed over after a brutal military crackdown in Rakhine in August 2017.
“Of course, according to the law, they may not be entitled to full-fledged citizenship, but they are entitled to apply for the naturalized citizenship,” Myint Thu told reporters on Sunday after a series of meetings with Rohingya leaders.
No assurances came out of the talks at the Kutupalong refugee camp, Rohingya leaders said.
Dil Mohammad, one of the Rohingya leaders who attended the meetings, expressed frustration afterward, indicating that the repatriation issue remained in limbo.
“The Myanmar delegation has presented before us the same old proposals,” Mohammad told BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service. “We reiterated that they must grant us citizenship, guarantee safety and allow us to return to our original homesteads. Only then we will return; otherwise not.”
In a welcome move, the U.S. Department of State issued sanction agains four Burmese military officials One of those sanctioned is Senior-General Min Aung Hlaing, the man directly responsible for atrocities committed against the Rohingya, a Muslim minority group in Burma.
While State’s action stopped short of financially sanctioning military officials, it subjects them to a travel ban and represents a positive step toward accountability.
In August 2017, the Burmese military carried out so-called “clearing operations” in Rakhine state, a western region of Burma populated primarily by Rohingya. These operations displaced more than 750,000 Rohingya who fled to Bangladesh.The U.S. Treasury and U.S. Department of State technically already possess the authority to target Burmese military officials under the JADE Act or Global Magnitsky authorities. They can place these individuals on the Specially Designated Nationals list, allowing their assets to be frozen and/or seized.
They have also lowered the wage rate of the local people, the Policy Research Institute (PRI) study revealed on Thursday.
“Though they are not supposed to be employed, but we saw them everywhere,” Dr MA Razzaque, research director of PRI, said while presenting the report at an event in the presence of Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen and UNDP country chief Sudipto Mukherjee.
PRI conducted study titled ‘The Rohingya refugee crisis and its impact on the host community’ with the support of UNDP.
Over 700,000 Rohingyas entered Bangladesh following August 2017 military crackdown in the Rakhine State that the UN termed “ethnic cleansing”.
The latest influx has taken the Rohingya population to more than 1.1 million in Bangladesh.
“With less than 0.31 percent of the earth’s population, Bangladesh hosts 4.7 percent of its total refugees,” Dr Razzaque said.
The study tried to understand poverty and vulnerability, environmental impacts, agricultural production, fishing and related activities, among others.
“They have created impacts on prices of essentials. Coarse rice was Tk 32 per kilogram before the influx. After the influx, it rose to Tk 38,” he said.
The rate of all wage labourers before the influx was Tk 417 per day n Teknaf which fell to Tk 357 – marking a 14.3 percent decline.