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Tuesday, 22 September 2020

Myanmar: Leaked documents reveal global business ties to military crimes

Source AI, 10 Sept

An Amnesty International investigation has exposed how international businesses are linked to the financing of Myanmar's military, including many units directly responsible for crimes under international law and other human rights violations. Leaked official documents analyzed by Amnesty International reveal how Myanmar's military receives huge revenues from shares in Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited (MEHL), a secretive conglomerate whose activities include the mining, beer, tobacco, garment manufacturing and banking sectors. MEHL has partnerships with a range of local and foreign businesses including Japanese beer multinational Kirin and South Korean steel giant POSCO.

The perpetrators of some of the worst human rights violations in Myanmar's recent history are among those who benefit from MEHL's business activities 
Mark Dummett, Head of Business, Security and Human Rights

MEHL shareholder records show that military units, including combat divisions, own about one third of MEHL's shares. Records also detail links between MEHL and the Western Command, which oversees operations in Rakhine State, including atrocities committed against the Rohingya population and other ethnic minorities.  The report also provides information on the considerable annual dividend payments that shareholders have received since MEHL's establishment in 1990.

"These documents provide new evidence of how the Myanmar military benefits from MEHL's vast business empire and make clear that the military and MEHL are inextricably linked. This is not a case of MEHL unwittingly financing human rights violations – its entire board is composed of high-level military figures," said Mark Dummett, Head of Business, Security and Human Rights at Amnesty International.

"The perpetrators of some of the worst human rights violations in Myanmar's recent history are among those who benefit from MEHL's business activities – for example, military chief Min Aung Hlaing owned 5,000 shares in MEHL in 2011. In the face of this incontrovertible evidence, businesses who currently partner with MEHL must end these relationships responsibly."

Global business links

Amnesty International's research demonstrates that a direct link exists between MEHL's business partners and human rights violations. MEHL works in collaboration with these business partners in establishing joint ventures or profit-sharing agreements in Myanmar; when profits are derived from these operations, they are provided to MEHL as shareholder. MEHL then disburses dividends to its own shareholders.

Amnesty wrote to eight companies who operate jointly with MEHL in Myanmar. These are:

Ever Flow River Group Public Co., Ltd, (EFR), a Myanmar logistics company; Kanbawza Group (KBZ), a Myanmar conglomerate with jade and ruby mining operations; Kirin Holdings, a Japanese beverage company; INNO Group, a South Korean property developer; Pan-Pacific, a South Korean manufacturer and exporter of clothing; POSCO, a South Korean steelmaker; RMH Singapore, a Singaporean fund with a tobacco operation in Myanmar; and Wanbao Mining, a Chinese metal mining company.

In its reply, Pan-Pacific announced that it is terminating its business partnership with MEHL in the wake of Amnesty's findings and the publication of the UN Fact-Finding Mission report of 2019. KBZ and Kirin have stated they are reviewing their relationship with MEHL, while others did not provide such commitments or did not respond at all. Full copies of responses can be found in Annex I of the report.

These companies all partner with MEHL in operations inside Myanmar. However, a few have global reach. Kirin is one of the world's largest beer brewers, and its drinks, such as Kirin, San Miguel, Lion and Fat Tire are sold in bars and shops all over the world. POSCO, one of the world's largest steelmakers, produces a range of steel products for the automobile, construction, and shipbuilding industries.

Shedding light on a secretive relationship

MEHL was founded by Myanmar's military regime in 1990 and is still directed and owned by serving and retired personnel. This link clearly provides the military with substantial revenue on top of its official budget, but the exact nature of the relationship is shrouded in secrecy.

This is not a case of MEHL unwittingly financing human rights violations – its entire board is composed of high-level military figures 
Mark Dummett

Amnesty International has seen two documents which expose new details about how MEHL finances the military. The first is a filing which was lodged by MEHL with Myanmar's Directorate of Investment and Company Administration (DICA) in January 2020. It states that MEHL is owned by 381,636 individual shareholders, who are all serving or retired military personnel, and 1,803 "institutional" shareholders, consisting of "regional commands, divisions, battalions, troops, war veteran associations".

The second document is a copy of a confidential MEHL shareholder report from fiscal year 2010-11. As well as providing information on the identities of MEHL's shareholders, it documents the considerable annual dividend payments that shareholders received between 1990 and 2011.

The shareholder report was shared with Amnesty International by Justice for Myanmar, an activist group that campaigns for justice and accountability for the people of Myanmar. The contents of the report are being made public on the group's website[1], access to which was blocked in Myanmar on 1 September by the Ministry of Transport and Communications. According to a spokesman for the ministry, the website spreads "fake news". Justice For Myanmar has responded stating this is a bid to silence critical voices.

The total amount of dividend payments made in this 20-year period to all shareholders was more than 107 billion Myanmar kyat (107,869,519,830) – about 18 billion US dollars according to the official exchange rate. Of this amount, MEHL transferred 95 billion kyat – the equivalent of approximately 16 billion US dollars – to military units.

Both documents confirm that MEHL's shareholders include military units and high-ranking military officers directly implicated in crimes under international law and other serious human rights violations.

For example, the 2010-11 report lists as shareholders 95 separate military units that fall within the Western Command, the regional command covering and overseeing operations in Rakhine State. Together, they owned more than 4.3 million shares and received payments of more than 1.25 billion kyat (208 million USD) in 2010-11. The Western Command is also listed as an MEHL shareholder in the 2020 DICA document.

In providing this funding to military units, MEHL is boosting their resources and financing their operations which include crimes against humanity and war crimes. 
Yadanar Maung, Spokesperson of Justice For Myanmar.

The headquarters of battalions from the 33rd and 99th Light Infantry Divisions are also listed as shareholders. Amnesty International has documented these divisions' involvement in crimes against humanity against the Rohingya population, including massacres of women, men, and children, in Rakhine State, and war crimes in Kachin and northern Shan States.

The DICA report also names senior military commanders, including those who commanded troops involved in crimes under international law, as shareholders. Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, the Commander-in-Chief and head of the War Office, is listed as shareholder number 9252. In 2010-11 Min Aung Hlaing owned 5,000 shares and received a dividend payment of 1.5 million kyat (250,000 USD). The UN has called for Min Aung Hlaing, who oversaw the brutal campaign against the Rohingya in 2017, to be investigated and prosecuted for genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes.

"While outsiders can't know how these dividends are spent by military units, the size and regularity of these payments suggests that they cover operational costs," said Mark Dummett.

"In providing this funding to military units, MEHL is boosting their resources and financing their operations which include crimes against humanity and war crimes. Any company doing business with MEHL risks contributing to these violations and must take urgent steps to cut ties," added Yadanar Maung, Spokesperson of Justice For Myanmar.

MEHL's "patron group", which oversees the Board, includes the very officers responsible for crimes against humanity and other human rights violations, and therefore MEHL cannot be trusted to reform itself.  What is more, MEHL has shown no willingness to engage transparently with its business partners to demonstrate that it can reform its structure.

"MEHL's business partners have a responsibility to respect human rights and seek to prevent or mitigate adverse human rights impacts linked to their operations. Given MEHL's unwillingness to reform its structure, its business partners must assess their relationship to MEHL and responsibly disengage. This means taking into account credible assessments of potential adverse social, economic, and human rights impacts and taking steps to mitigate them when disengaging," said Mark Dummett.

Amnesty International is calling on the Myanmar government to intervene to break the link between the armed forces and the economy. Part of this must be a thorough reform of the ownership and management of MEHL. The government should also establish a fund, using MEHL's profits, to compensate the victims of human rights violations committed by military units that are financed by or are shareholders of MEHL.

[1]For users inside Myanmar, Justice For Myanmar has created a mirror site that can be accessed here: https://justiceformyanmar.github.io/justiceformyanmar.org/index.html

Rohingya refugees' lawyers lobby for International Criminal Court to sit in Asia

Source RNZ, 1 Sept

Two Australian lawyers acting on behalf of hundreds of Rohingya refugees are pushing to have the International Criminal Court (ICC) sit in Asia for the first time.

Rohingya people are seen at Jamtoli refugee camp at Ukhia in Cox's Bazar in Bangladesh on August 23, 2020.

Rohingya people at Jamtoli refugee camp at Ukhia in Cox's Bazar in Bangladesh. Photo: AFP / NurPhoto / Rehman Asad

The ICC is investigating allegations of genocide and crimes against humanity allegedly committed by Myanmar government and military officials in 2017.

Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya - a stateless, mostly Muslim minority group - fled to neighbouring Bangladesh during the unrest.

Myanmar's government, led by Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, has faced accusations of failing to stop a systematic campaign of violence by security forces to wipe out the Rohingya minority, which Myanmar denies.

Lawyers acting on behalf of Rohingya refugees have now lodged a pre-trial motion asking the court to investigate the possibility of holding a trial outside of Europe.

A landscape view in the Balukhali camp in Cox's Bazar Bangladesh on February 11, 2019. (Photo by Kazi Salahuddin Razu/NurPhoto)

The Balukhali camp in Cox's Bazar Bangladesh, hundreds of thousands of Rohingya have fled to neighbouring Bangladesh. Photo: AFP

What are they asking for?

Counsel at the ICC Kate Gibson is representing groups of Rohingya living in the Cox's Bazar refugee camp in Bangladesh.

Gibson said they were hoping the court would hold some or part of the hearings in Asia, possibly in Bangkok in Thailand, or even Bangladesh.

"We're just asking the court to be aware of this massive gap that is existing between the Rohingya population in the camp who are cut off in every sense that you could imagine from The Hague to be aware that they feel like this," she said.

"We think one of the most effective ways of doing that would be to look into whether the ICC can move its seat to somewhere closer to the victim communities."

What are the issues with the ICC's current location?

Postdoctoral research fellow at Sydney Law School Rosemary Grey said witnesses and victims faced a number of problems, including financial difficulty, lack of documentation and poor internet connections.

"If justice is going to be closer to them, the ICC is going to have to move to them, not them to the ICC," Dr Grey said.

Emma Palmer, a lecturer at Griffith University Law School in Brisbane, Australia, said The Hague's distance from victims had an effect on the way it ran its trials.

"[Prosecutors] need to rely much more on intermediaries, on civil society groups to help them in the actual jurisdiction that they're trying to investigate," Dr Palmer said.

What do claimants say?

Muhammed Nowkhim is one of the Rohingya refugees hoping to testify before the court.

He left his village - along with 20,000 other people - after he woke to the sound to gunfire and rockets in August 2017.

Nowkhim said his family members were shot at, and his home was burned to the ground during the violence.

"When they started blasting, one blast like a rocket, at that time our family is scared," he said. "Most of the people [in the village] were injured, some of the people were shot, some people were bleeding."

The 24-year-old said having the court sit in Asia, rather than The Hague, would be meaningful to other people who wanted to testify.

"If the court is set up in Asia then every victim who [suffered], they can openly say their opinion in front of the judges," Nowkhim said.

Gibson said there were logistical benefits to the move.

"The court will be closer to the evidence, the sites, the witnesses themselves, and you won't have to put this burden on the victim communities to travel to this foreign location," she said.

Is it likely?

"The International Criminal Court can theoretically hold proceedings anywhere," Dr Grey said.

While the ICC has never sat outside of its headquarters in The Hague since it began in 2002, Dr Grey said she thought the move was "realistic".

Victims in countries such as Kenya and the Democratic Republic of Congo have made similar requests in the past, but they had been rejected on security, financial and technical grounds.

"The ICC has to have its proceedings somewhere safe for the judges, for the lawyers, safe for the victims or witnesses," Dr Grey said.

"[But] there are plenty of locations in Asia that are quite stable.

"And it's not that it's a hugely unrealistic request because they are asking for just some of the proceedings to be closer to Asia."

What other courts could inform the ICC's move?

Legal experts pointed to the UN-backed Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia as a possible model.

The tribunal investigated war crimes committed by the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s, and was established in the capital Phnom Penh in 2006.

"The public gallery was full of Cambodian people, full of local people who have bused in from the provinces, people from Phnom Penh, people in school uniform or university students, local journalists," Dr Grey said.

"It was full of monks witnessing the proceedings, completely different environment than the International Criminal Court, where you very rarely see anyone from the affected country."

Dr Palmer said the ICC has had little engagement with South East Asia in the past.

"Even opening the discussion [of having the court in Asia] could be important if it opens some doors to the court to actually learn a bit more about the region," Dr Palmer said.

The ICC has been contacted for comment.

- ABC

Friday, 7 August 2020

OPINION - Time to add Myanmar’s most influential genocidal monk Sitagu to ICC List

Source AA, 5 Aug

Sitagu offered scriptural justifications for 'killing millions of non-Buddhists'


In November last year, the International Criminal Court (ICC) moved to begin the full investigation into Myanmar's violent international crimes and other events connected to the exodus of Rohingya from western Myanmar in decades.

In August 2017, Myanmar Tatmadaw, or the military, launched the "Security Clearance Operations," which resulted in the exodus of 750,000 Rohingya from across the borders into the adjacent Bangladesh city of Teknaf.

As the ICC proceeds with its full investigation, it needs to look into the instrumental role of Sitagu Sayadaw, Myanmar's most influential Saffron-robed hate preacher, in the genocidal and other crimes against predominantly Muslim Rohingya.

The ICC was set up in the Hague in 2002 to try individuals sufficiently linked to grave crimes under international law owing to their criminal responsibility, for instance, political and military leaders of the perpetrating state, militia heads and key civilians.

The proactive involvement of leading Buddhist monks and "race and faith" defense organizations is well-documented. And Sitagu has more than sufficient linkages with the Buddhist monk-led ethno-nationalist movement with its essential Islamophobia. The populist mobilization of public opinion against Rohingya victims is firmly anchored in Islamophobia although there are other driving factors behind the genocide.

For the last eight consecutive years since I first blew the genocide whistle on the systematic and phased destruction of Rohingya people by my country of birth and the state-backed sharp rise in Islamophobia, I found that the TIME magazine dubbed Wirathu "the Face of Buddhist Terror" on its cover, while Wirathu's patron, namely Sitagu abbot, has largely escaped international scrutiny.

It was Sitagu, who as the head of Myanmar's state-backed Buddhist Fascist group named Ma Ba Tha (Race and Buddhism Defense League), provided scriptural justifications for the military's genocidal killings of Rohingya and has helped cement Islamophobia into a national policy.

'One faith, one race'

On July 20, I did a Facebook Live in Burmese language, following Myanmar Martyrs' Day commemoration on July 19 during which the late Gen. Aung San, the father of current de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi who is widely considered the architect of Burma's independence from Britain, along with eight other colleagues and staff were assassinated during a colonial-era cabinet meeting in Rangoon.

I pointed out the perils of the public's continued embrace of "one faith, one race" exclusionary, majoritarian, and populist nationalism with Buddhism as the de facto state religion. In this connection, I singled out Sitagu as the most impactful Islamophobic demagogue: his YouTube-ed words of fear and loathing of Islam and Muslims in the Burmese language are extremely influential with both military and political decision-makers and the Buddhist lay public.

Alas, it has touched raw nerves.

The clip has since gone viral among the Burmese Facebook users, attracting 1.5 million views, provoking thousands of hate comments and death threats.

A popular Facebook platform, namely Akothi (We-know-everything), with nearly 2 million followers, further amplified my blistering words about the poisonous pseudo-Buddhist ethnonationalism of the majority public – with its own negative spin against my criticism directed at the Burmese genocidal leaders and preachers.

In the wildly spread clip, I singled out the two individuals who intentionally spread Fascist-like "pure" ethnonationalism, xenophobia and Islamophobia, namely the late dictator Gen. Ne Win and Sitagu.

Both men were responsible for the poisonous idea that originated in the inter-World War period in Germany that certain – usually nationally dominant – "races" are indigenous and hence "host" (blue-eyed, blond-haired Germans in Germany of the inter-world-war years, for instance) while others (such as German Jews) are "guests".

In 1919, a year after Germany lost the World War I, the exiled Kaiser Wilhem II, wrote to one of his former generals, "(the Germans) were (e)gged on and misled by the tribe of Juda whom they hated, who were guests among them! […] Let no Germans forget this nor rest until these parasites have been destroyed and exterminated from the German soil! This poisonous mushroom from the German oak-tree!"

The late Gen. Ne Win, who died under house arrest in December 2002, was the architect of the slow-burning genocide of Rohingya which began under the invented pretext of "illegal immigration of Muslims" from Bangladesh.

Nazi-esque policy discourse

Gen. Ne Win, as chairman of the ruling Burma Socialist Program Party government, decreed a new Citizenship Law in 1982 which was designed to exclude, disempower, and render stateless primarily over 1 million Rohingya Muslims on their own ancestral and historical western region of Myanmar. Ne Win introduced this Nazi-esque policy discourse "host-vs-guest" communities in the process of radically re-writing the originally inclusive Burmese Citizenship Law.

Ne Win is no more; he was put under house arrest by a new generation of generals in 2002 and he died the same year. But his guest-vs-host genocidal idea is kept alive and further popularized by Sitagu monk.

Unlike the younger charismatic monk Wirathu, Sitagu's genocidal role is little known outside a handful of international experts on Myanmar Buddhism.

In an article for Oxford Tea Circle, titled Challenging the Distortion of Influential Monks?, Matthew Walton, formerly Aung San Suu Kyi Senior Fellow on Burma Studies, said: "[Sitagu monk's] remarks [at the commando training school] had a chilling purpose: to provide a religious justification for the mass killing of non-Buddhists."

While the Oxford-based scholar who held the academic post that bears Myanmar Counsellor's name was sounding alarm bells in his writing about Sigtagu, Suu Kyi was conferring on the hate monk Agga Maha Pandita or Great Learned Sage.

Suu Kyi is not the only Myanmar leader who has patronized Sitagu.

Commander in-Chief Senior Gen. Min Aung, who declared the existence of Rohingya Muslims in western Myanmar region "an unfinished business" from the World War II era, is often seen to pay the monk visits.

In a video clip that was circulated by Sitagu's Burmese media network, Sitagu was telling the Senior General – sitting on his knee on the floor in a gesture of reverence to the monk – that "the world is fussing over this 'genocide thing' while only a handful – about 200 – Muslims were killed."


Offer to fight alongside armed forces

In the same conversation, the abbot sought to assuage the senior general's concerns about being hauled to the ICC. Specifically, Sitagu offered to help "mobilize hundreds of thousands of monks to fight alongside the Armed Forces" should any external actor chose to militarily intervene and snatch the senior general.

My decade-long research on Burmese Islamophobia and policies of genocide has coughed up Sitagu's instrumental role in promoting Islamophobia and poisoning the Burmese Buddhist mind with fear and loathing of Muslims.

This most revered monk has effectively incorporated the genocidal strain of Islamophobia in Myanmar nearly two decades before the 2017 wave of the state-directed and systematic destruction of a large segment of the Rohingya population, the wave that hit world news headlines.

In his audio-recorded address to the congregation of several hundred monks in the southernmost part of Mandalay, my city of birth, known as Pha Ya Gyi, the young Wirathu was heard telling his fellow Buddhist preachers that the Muslim take-over of Buddhist Burma was happening through marrying Buddhist women as a matter of demographic strategy.

Here, Wirathu pointed out that only Buddhist monks are capable of repelling such conspiratorial assault on the Buddhist society while the Burmese troops armed with guns looked on helplessly.

In this Islamophobic narrative, Muslim invasion in the bed rooms of Buddhist homes is the first step towards the Islamicization of Myanmar. Burmese Muslims make up only 5% of the total population in the country, where 90% of the public are Buddhists of different ethnicities.

His words roused the rage of hundreds of the monk audience as he disclosed the Mossad-like secret, monk-led campaign to "deprive all Muslims in the country of livelihood opportunities and eventually starve them to death, or simply trigger the forced Muslim exodus as a whole." Importantly, Wirathu publicly named the High Rev. Sitagu as the patron-monk of this emerging monks' nationwide network who viewed Muslims and Islam as the greatest threat to the majoritarian Buddhist society.

Today, Myanmar's civilian government has an active warrant to arrest the world (in)famous Reverend Wirathu for his public denunciation of its autocratic leader Aung San Suu Kyi, and has gone into hiding accordingly.

In sharp contrast, Sitagu continues to enjoy protection and extraordinary privileges including being flown around the country including the country's military frontline outposts on military helicopters with armed escorts. And more ominously, Sitagu remains extremely popular with the Burmese lay Buddhist public who falsely believes him to be a holy prophet, despite the latter's well-documented promotion of racism and hatred of the most toxic kind.


*The writer is a Burmese coordinator of the Free Rohingya Coalition, general secretary of Forces of Renewal Southeast Asia and a fellow of the Genocide Documentation Center in Cambodia.

**Opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Anadolu Agency

Myanmar’s Rohingya Genocide Identity, History and Hate Speech

Source Bloomsbury,

By: Ronan LeeMedia of Myanmar's Rohingya Genocide
Published:25-02-2021
Format:PDF eBook (Watermarked)
Edition:1st
Extent:256
ISBN:9780755602483
Imprint:I.B. Tauris
Illustrations:10 bw illus
RRP:£17.99
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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.