Monday, 22 June 2020

Hindi film on Rohingya genocide in the works

Source Cinemaexpress, 29 May

Director Haider Khan's debut feature focuses on the Rohingya refugee crisis. The upcoming film, titled Rohingya, tells the story of over 9,00,000 Rohingya refugees who fled violence and persecution in Myanmar and sought refuge in Bangladesh and other countries. The film is produced by Thunder Dragon Productions of Bhutan. It also highlights "the unsung Special Forces Indian paras, also known as the maroon berets of our nation."

Haider has previously directed promos for Salman Khan Films as well as several ad films and videos. The actor-turned-filmmaker is the son of an ex-Indian army paratrooper.

"This will be world cinema's first-feature film on the Rohingya genocide," Haider claimed. "The film is shot in complete natural light and we actually didn't have hair and makeup. I wanted to bring realism and the feel of the pain (experienced by) them."

The film was shot in Bhutan, North East India and Uttarakhand. The cast is led by Sangay Tsheltrim, a former royal guard of Bhutan who will also be seen in Salman Khan-starrer Radhe. He's joined by Tangia Zaman Methila, a supermodel from Bangladesh, who plays a Rohingya girl. Other cast members include Baharul Islam, Rajib Kalita, Anil Choudhary, Gautam Gossain and Kapil Gujar.

Yanghee Lee: Champion of justice for Rohingyas

Source TheDailyStar, 19 May

"We all knew that [Aung San Suu Kyi] was put on a pedestal or portrayed as the icon of democracy and human rights, but ever since [her party] has taken office [after the 2015 election] and ever since she took the office of the State Councillor, all of her actions and her words, statements point otherwise", noted Professor Yanghee Lee, in one of her last conversations with Al Jazeera as the Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights Situation in Burma. "Perhaps the world didn't really know who she was", she said.

UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar Yanghee Lee, pictured in Kuala Lumpur on 18 July, 2019. Photo: AFP

At a time when the world, including neighbouring Malaysia and Thailand, have shunned the Rohingya (acknowledged as the most persecuted minority in the world), at a time when the Burmese state audaciously tramples the whole corpus of international human rights instruments being aided and abetted by major powers; at a time when those who stand for reason, rule of law and justice feel betrayed by the high and mighty of the world, Yanghee Lee stood firm as a beacon of hope.

A developmental psychologist and professor with decades of involvement in the UN's rights bodies, Lee held the mandate of the Special Rapporteur from 2014 until end of April this year. Over the years, she made extensive visits to the region, including Burma. Her objective reporting on the human rights situation in Rakhine and the rest of Burma did not augur well and during their last one-to-one meeting, the de facto head of Burmese government Suu Kyi threatened visa denial if the UN Special Rapporteur kept pushing the "UN line". Lee refused to be cowed by the former human rights icon's interference and Suu Kyi delivered on her threat—she has been denied entry to the country since 2017. Lee viewed the Burmese decision "as a strong indication that there must be something terribly awful happening in Rakhine, as well as in the rest of the country". While holding office, she was one of the very few global public figures who unwaveringly championed the Rohingyas' quest for dignity, justice and protected return to their homeland.

Yanghee Lee's tenure came to be largely dominated by the Burmese state's attempt to complete the "unfinished business" of Rohingyas' physical and historical existence, the Burmese equivalent of the Final Solution, in the early fall of 2017. The genocidal terror that was unleashed resulted in the exodus of at least 750,000 people into neighbouring Bangladesh. It was presented as a clearance operation of "ARSA terrorists", a pretext enthusiastically accepted by Islamophobic western governments, world media and "security experts". Choosing to ignore the genocidal nature of these "security clearance operations", the emerging chorus of policy and media discourses faulted the Burmese military for "disproportionate and excessive use of force", despite Lee calling out the "the hallmarks of a genocide" by Burma. As a matter of fact, on August 10, 2017, at least two weeks prior to the alleged ARSA attack on Burmese police outposts, Lee warned of the buildup and ominous movement of security forces in northern Arakan and appealed for restraint and respecting human rights.

In her parting statement to the Human Rights Council, Lee noted, "(w)hen I took up my mandate in 2014, I had thought that by 2020 a rights-respecting democracy would have been firmly established in Myanmar… Rather than a nation that protects human rights, I observe rights violations that continue to routinely occur and a country that stands accused of the most serious crimes under international law."

Lee proposed ways to move towards an equal, tolerant and pluralistic society, including through victim-centered transitional justice mechanisms. Among other things, the UN expert underscored the need to bring the entire government and security forces under civilian control and initiate extensive legal reforms—including of the Constitution, land laws, the Citizenship Law and laws that violate fundamental rights such as freedom of expression, assembly and religion. "An end to impunity is the lynchpin for Myanmar to succeed in its transition to democracy. Perpetrators of human rights violations and international crimes must be held accountable," she argued.

Yanghee Lee was appalled at the world's reaction to the Rohingya plight—particularly that of the Security Council, which could not manage to agree on a single unified stance on an unfolding genocide in real time. She made her feelings loud and clear. Lee felt it was "shameful" that China and Russia, being UN security council members, have not taken any action against Burma. "China cannot be a global leader if it ignores such atrocities," she noted. The Special Rapporteur also said the US decision to impose sanctions against senior military leaders in Burma did not go "far enough" and recommended these be tougher and applied to more generals.

She was disappointed at the response of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to the developments in northern Arakan. The situation posed an increasing risk to the peace and security of countries of the region, she warned, urging them to prioritise human rights in its dealings with Burma. She expressed regret at the lack of response from the Government of India on her request to visit the country to meet refugees there. She reminded them that it is incumbent on member states to respect mandates established by the Human Rights Council and provide timely and reasonable answers to such requests.

The UN's role in addressing the Rohingya plight has been palpable. Lee personally appealed to Secretary General Antonio Guterres for an international investigation, to no avail. In October 2017, when The Guardian reported the scandalous news of Renata Lok-Dessalien, UN Resident Coordinator in Burma, compromising UN Human Rights Up Front policy by prioritising a cozy relationship with Burma's rulers, Guterres relented and commissioned former Guatemalan foreign minister Gert Rosenthal to do an internal assessment of the UN's performance in Burma. The Rosenthal Report condemned the organisation's "obviously dysfunctional performance" over the past decade and noted "the overall responsibility was of a collective nature; in other words it can truly be characterised as a systemic failure of the United Nations." Accordingly, no UN official was held accountable, and Lok-Dessallien was even rewarded with a larger portfolio when she was appointed head of the UN in India!   

Yanghee Lee was unequivocal in expressing her disappointment of the UN system in dealing with the Rohingya issue, particularly the UN's technical agencies in the New York headquarters and in Burma. She was brutally honest about how she felt about the Memorandum of Understanding that was signed by the Burmese government, UNHCR and UNDP in early June 2018 purportedly "to assist the process of repatriation from Bangladesh". The document was not made publicly available, nor was there any transparency about its terms. UN's failure to defend the self-identity of the Rohingya and their refugee status appalled her. "I am dismayed about the fact that the parties to the MoU, including the United Nations agencies involved in this process, have apparently failed to recognise Rohingya living in Bangladesh as refugees and as Rohingya".

The tendency of concerned states, including Burma and Bangladesh, to deny any role to Rohingya refugees was of grave concern for her. "Most frightful … is the fact that the Rohingya refugees have not been included in any of the discussions … around this MoU nor consulted in relation to the repatriation process as a whole", she noted, posing the uncomfortable but pointed question to the Council—"how can the process of repatriation be voluntary with the people who the process is for excluded from it? How can you be sure that any return is based on individual informed consent?"

Conveying the common view among Rohingya refugees to the Council, Lee said "it is futile to speak about their safe, voluntary, dignified and sustainable return unless the root causes of their exodus are properly addressed". She argued that to ensure such repatriation, the international community must ensure that Burma dismantles the system of discrimination against the Rohingya by law, policy and practices that continue to exist, and guarantee fundamental human rights to them, including by restoring their citizenship rights and property.

Helping lay the foundation for global justice for both Rohingyas and other victims within the UN's system of accountability has been the single most important contribution of Professor Lee to Burma's oppressed communities (not just the Rohingya), especially given that the country does not have national or domestic justice and accountability mechanisms that recognise and are capable of processing the gravest crimes in international law, such as crimes against humanity and genocide. Her persistent demand for an independent investigation into Burma's state crimes against the Rohingya led to setting up of the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar (FFMM) by the UN that was succeeded by the creation of the Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar (IIMM) by the Human Rights Council in September 2018. The IIMM became operational on August 30, 2019—it is mandated to collect evidence of the most serious international crimes and violations of international law and prepare files for criminal prosecution.

Despite widespread skepticism, it was the relentless effort of Lee that led to the huge success in setting up of an accountability mechanism. She even wrote the TOR of the personnel of IIMM and prepared its budget. All these were achieved with the meagre support of a desk officer and a research assistant. Acknowledging her significant role, Rohingya genocide scholar Maung Zarni succinctly noted "No Yanghee Lee, no Fact Finding Mission and The Gambia-vs-Myanmar case at the International Court of Justice". 

In our meeting during her last visit to Bangladesh, she underscored the need for sustained engagement of civil society against all odds. Brushing aside my shyness, I told her that we celebrate her good fight against a system that stands for the status quo and the powerful, and has repeatedly failed to deliver justice. I added, she was the role model for those who stand for justice for the wretched of the earth. Maintaining her graceful composure, she smiled. Gracias, Professor Yanghee Lee.


C R Abrar is an academic. He is the Coordinator of Refugee and Migratory Movements Research Unit.

Friday, 8 May 2020

Genocide Watch Launches Timestream on Rohingya Genocide

Source GenocideWatch, 8 May

Genocide Watch has published its first Timestream presentation, a new educational tool created by Ntrepid LLC.  Timestreams on other genocides will follow.

The Rohingya Timestream covers the history of the genocide and forced displacement of the Rohingya in Myanmar.  It explores key events leading up to the Gambia's case against Myanmar in the International Court of Justice.  View the Timestream presentation here .



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    Rights Groups Call Upon Malaysia To Rescue Boatpeople, End Pushbacks

    Source Rohingyavision, 17 April

    KUALA LUMPUR, 17 April 2020 — Several rights groups have called upon the government of Malaysia to end pushbacks of Rohingya boat people, deploy search and rescue missions for and ensure safe disembarkation of the boats, after Bangladesh rescued 400 Rohingya drifting at sea for nearly two months.

    Rights Groups Call Upon Malaysia To Rescue Boatpeople, End Pushbacks

    Belongings of Rohingya refugees lay on the shore as their carrier boat remains anchored nearby in Teknaf on 16 April 2020. - Thirty-two Rohingya died in a boat crammed with hundreds of "starving" men, women and children after 58 days in the Bay of Bengal after being denied entry by Malaysia and Thailand, officials said April 16. (Photo by Suzauddin RUBEL / AFP)

    Concerning gravely over reports that Malaysian maritime authorities pushed back Rohingya refugees arriving by boat, The Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network (APRRN) calls upon the governments of Malaysia and Thailand to Cease 'pushbacks', interception and other measures designed to obstruct access to territory; to deploy immediate lifesaving search and rescue missions and provide humanitarian assistance and medical treatment where required; and ensure safe and transparent process for asylum seekers and refugees within their territories and access to UNHCR.

    Bangkok-based Fortify Right also said, "The Government of Malaysia should urgently coordinate regional governments to deploy search and rescue missions for boats of Rohingya refugees adrift at sea and ensure their safe disembarkation, said Fortify Rights today."

    Bangladeshi Cost Guard on 16th April rescued 396 Rohingya boatpeople from a boat which had been adrift for over two months at sea as the attempts to land in Malaysia failed, while up to 60 others died during their way to and fro.

    The survivors are mostly women and children, had set sail in a fishing trawler from the camps in Cox's Bazar in Bangladesh in mid-February.

    Fortify Right said that Royal Malaysian Air Force and Royal Malaysian Navy located another boat of more than 200 Rohingya and forced it back to sea around 10:30 a.m. on 16th April citing statement of RMAF.

    On April 5, another boat landed in Langkawi with 202 Rohingya, comprising 152 men, 45 women, four boys and a girl, who were detained and taken to the Kedah and Perlis MMEA lock-up in Bukit Malut.

    Malaysia is home to nearly 100,000 Rohingya refugees who survived genocide in Myanmar.

    Friday, 3 April 2020

    Covid-19 And Rohingya Refugees – A Forgotten Issue

    Source Pakawaaz

    Written by: Journalist: Maung Maung Naing

    Rohingya refugees are inaccessible not only from internet & phone service but also from medical support during corona virus locked down in Bangladesh

    "As a Rohingya Sister with Australian Burmese background from Sydney, I am requesting all United Nation authorities, policymakers and Rohingya humanitarian activists that my Rohingya brothers and sisters are in desperate need of medical support, phone and internet access in refugee camps in cox bazaar." said Pan Sandar Myint

    "Rohingya refugees are in the greatest risk during locked down of covid-19 because they are not receiving updated information of covid-19 from internet, phone and medical support service due to the internet ban by the Bangladesh government."

    While people across the globe are staying at home comfortably by watching TV, using internet & getting easy access of medical support and latest information of covid-19, nearly one million Rohingya refugees are banned from internet and phone service to receive basic information about coronavirus. This lead them in prodigious risk to the virus because of not getting enough knowledge for precautions of the virus.

    My team and I have done online research with three Rohingya youths who have shared struggling stories of refugees in the cox bazaar camp.

    Abdul Rahim Phoenix Arizona, USA

    Abdul Rahim

    Yasor Arfat, cox bazaar, refugee camp of Bangladesh

    Yasor Arfat is currently living in Bangladesh Rohingya refugee camp (cox bazaar). According to him, all refugees are safe and healthy. No one has infected from covid-19 yet. But there is no network and no medial support such as masks, gloves and hand sanitisers. He has learnt that the best way to safeguard from the virus is washing hands regularly and avoiding crowded places. But it is impossible to avoid from crowded places because they all live together in tiny crowded shelters. These shelters are too close to each other (less than 3 inches).  They all share toilet and water well.

    Maung Maung Naing, Bangladesh

    Maung Maung Naing is currently residing in Bangladesh from Maungdaw, Buthithaung. He has lived in the camp and has faced inaccessible of internet. According to him, the Bangladesh government has banned the internet & phone service since 2019. It has restricted on aid groups by accusing on some NGOs of encouraging refugees to resist deportation.   The Bangladesh army has started building fences with watchtowers to prevent refugees from leaving the strictly controlled camp areas. He is very worried about hard medical support system in the camp during this sensitive severe situation of covid-19. For 1 million Rohingya refugees, the Bangladesh has provided a few medical facilities in which all refugees need to queue in serial number in a large crowd to get treatments without following 1.5 metre social distancing procedure of covid-19 precaution. These people have no right to work there and cannot afford to buy masks and gloves as well.

    Pan Sandar Myint, Ms World Australia National Finalist 2020

    Pan Sandar Myint

    "Coronavirus is risky like a time bomb to Rohingya refugees" Being an advocate of my Rohingya family, I am extremely worried for my Rohingya brothers and sisters residing in the Rohingya refugee camp (cox bazaar) that they will face severe fatal situation if the virus has reached there. They have no updated and enough medical supplies, equipment, and health practitioners like in Australia, USA, Canada & UK. I am really urged all United Nation authorities, policy makers and humanitarian activists to stop Bangladesh government from banning internet and phone service to Rohingya refugees by enhancing on aid groups more with full medical supplies, medical support and qualified health practitioners before the virus has reached to the camp.

    The folly of Aung San Suu Kyi’s ‘bad apple’ defence

    Source eastasiaforum, 26 Mar

    Author: Adam Simpson, University of South Australia

    Since the communal pogroms of 2012 razed the villages of Muslim Rohingya across Myanmar's Rakhine State, there have been debates about how to protect Rohingya populations through international legal mechanisms. The search for legal avenues gathered pace following insurgent attacks by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army in August 2017 that resulted in a disproportionate collective punishment response from the Myanmar military. This saw the slaughter of thousands of unarmed Rohingya and over 740,000 people fleeing to Bangladesh.

    Gambia's Justice Minister Abubacarr Tambadou talks to the media outside the International Court of Justice (ICJ), after the ruling in a case filed by Gambia against Myanmar alleging genocide against the minority Muslim Rohingya population, in The Hague, Netherlands 23 January, 2020 (Photo: Reuters/Plevier).

    The most promising avenue to date has been through the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague. On 11 November 2019, the Republic of The Gambia filed an ICJ application to start proceedings against Myanmar for violations of the Genocide Convention.

    Another international legal option is to prosecute the Commander-in-Chief of Myanmar's military Senior General Min Aung Hlaing and other military leaders at the International Criminal Court (ICC). But there are difficulties with this approach. Myanmar is not party to the Rome Statute, which created the court, and any attempt to force the ICC to take a case like this one through the UN Security Council would likely be vetoed by China and Russia.

    Since Bangladesh is party to the Statute, and the Rohingya crossed the Bangladesh border, the ICC ruled that it had jurisdiction over the case. In November 2019, the ICC approved a full investigation into allegations of 'systematic acts of violence', deportation as a crime against humanity and persecution on the grounds of ethnicity or religion against the Rohingya. By February 2020, investigators from the ICC Office of the Prosecutor visited Rohingya refugee camps to collect evidence for their case.

    As the ICC case gathered pace, the initial hearings of the ICJ case in The Hague in December 2019 provided more spectacular imagery for the world's media. With an eye firmly on the forthcoming November 2020 national elections, Nobel Peace Laureate and Myanmar's de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi personally travelled to the ICJ to defend the actions of the military and the Myanmar state against charges of genocide. There is little sympathy for the Rohingya in Myanmar. Ever since the 2012 pogroms, when the United Nations and aid agencies were seen as being overly sympathetic to Muslims and the Rohingya, there has been a nationalist antipathy to what is perceived as international meddling in Myanmar's domestic affairs. Aung San Suu Kyi's ICJ defence was interpreted as defending the nation and was supported by large rallies throughout the country.

    While giving evidence to the ICJ, Aung San Suu Kyi admitted that 'it cannot be ruled out that disproportionate force was used by members of the defence services in some cases, in disregard of international law'. She insisted that any breaches would be investigated internally. This 'bad apple in the military' defence was debunked by evidence that demonstrated the erasure of Rohingya communities was systematic.

    Internal judicial redress within Myanmar has been ineffectual. There have been several internal inquiries, all of which have cleared the military of any systematic crimes despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. The government-appointed Independent Commission of Enquiry (ICOE) did find that security forces and civilians committed war crimes and violated human rights in Rakhine State but held that these were rogue elements acting in isolation rather than reflections of a more systematic policy.

    In late January 2020, the Court declared that The Gambia had established prima facie a breach of the Genocide Convention. It issued several urgent measures to Myanmar to prevent further acts related to breaches of the Convention and the destruction of evidence. Myanmar is to provide regular reporting to the Court on measures undertaken. The Gambia has until 23 July 2020 to submit its full case and Myanmar has until 25 January 2021 to submit its response.

    The ICJ has no power to enforce its judgements and compel a state to take action. It relies on the UN Security Council to support its judgements. As key allies to Myanmar, China — with its veto power at the Security Council — along with Vietnam refused to agree to a statement compelling Myanmar to comply with the Court's instructions. Although the Court's decision was celebrated by Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh's camps, the limited powers of the ICJ mean that little may change on the ground.

    The Myanmar government, led by the National League for Democracy (NLD) and Aung San Suu Kyi, has no oversight over the military and Senior General Min Aung Hlaing. But Aung San Suu Kyi is the only person capable of communicating the suffering experienced by the Rohingya effectively. Her silence on the military's brutality and her attempts to exculpate it from wrongdoings is normalising what, under any reasonable assessment, constitutes ethnic cleansing, crimes against humanity and perhaps even genocide.

    Myanmar's politics is complex and fraught. After years of military rule, the path to democracy was never going to be smooth. But without the support of Aung San Suu Kyi, it is difficult to see justice for the Rohingya emerging anytime soon, with the potential of a coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak in the refugee camps increasing the urgency of action. The NLD government needs international support to transform the country economically and politically. The pursuit of justice and democratic development in Myanmar will also require deeper engagement by Western companies, governments and NGOs. Right now, this pursuit is being left to the vicissitudes of foreign investment and diplomacy with China.

    Foreign governments need to apply pressure on both the government and the military so that they adhere to international norms whenever they deal with Myanmar's ethnic communities, regardless of that community's perceived place and legitimacy in some mythical nationalist past.

    Adam Simpson is Senior Lecturer of International Studies in UniSA Justice & Society and Program Director, Master of Communication, in UniSA Creative, The University of South Australia.