Wednesday 27 November 2019

Rohingya Repatriation: Stop your propaganda

Source thedailystar, 25 Nov

Dhaka asks Naypyidaw; urges conducive environment in Rakhine

A Rohingya refugee repairs the roof of his shelter at the Balukhali refugee camp in Cox's Bazar, Bang-ladesh, March 5, 2019. Reuters File Photo

Dhaka has asked Naypyidaw to stop concocting campaigns against Bangladesh and focus on creating an environment in Rakhine conducive to sustained repatriation and reintegration of the Rohingyas. 

Myanmar continues to spread fabricated information, misrepresented facts, and unsubstantiated claims to unjustifiably shift the onus of the Rohingya crisis on Bangladesh, said Bangladesh foreign ministry in a statement yesterday.

"This testifies to Myanmar's campaign to avoid its obligations to create conducive environment in Rakhine for the sustainable repatriation and reintegration of the Rohingyas," it said.

Some 750,000 Rohingyas fled a brutal military campaign in Myanmar's Rakhine State. Since then, two attempts of repatriation failed as Rohingyas in Cox's Bazar camps refused to return, saying that Myanmar has not ensured safety in Rakhine and there was no guarantee of citizenship. 

However, Myanmar always tried to pass the blame on Bangladesh, the ministry said.

On November 15, Myanmar's State Counsellor's Office spokesperson claimed that non-cooperation and non-respect of bilateral arrangements by Bangladesh was responsible for non-commencement of Rohingya repatriation.

Myanmar's claim of return of a handful of people, who are not verified, does not testify to any improvement of the ground reality in Rakhine, the ministry said.  

While Myanmar claims that the situation in Rakhine is conducive enough for repatriation, it must allow the international community, including UN officials, international media, and representatives of the prospective returnees, to visit the places of return to assess the ground reality and help the returnees make an informed choice.

Myanmar always alleges that the Rohingyas do not want to return due to intimidation and negative propaganda by ARSA elements and NGO staffers in the camps in Cox's Bazar. Such allegations are totally baseless and must have originated out of some ulterior motives, the ministry said.

There are no ARSA activities in the Rohingya camps, it said, adding, "Myanmar is carrying out such propaganda to avoid its responsibility and misguide the international community."

Myanmar has so far verified only 65 out of about 450 Hindus sheltered in Bangladesh. Before alleging that Bangladesh did not send Hindus back to Rakhine, Myanmar should have completed verification of past residency of all these people. 

"If Myanmar was really sincere about the repatriation, it must have by now arranged return of about 4,200 Rohingyas from the "no man's land" at Bangladesh-Myanmar border and resettled around 140,000 individuals from IDP [internally displaced person] camps in Rakhine to their respective places of origin," the ministry said.

It is an established fact that the Rohingya crisis resulted from systematic disenfranchisement and brutal persecution of this religious minority by the successive regimes in Myanmar, it said.  

"Continuation of the same by the present government is the sole reason for the gravity of the crisis," the statement added. 

"Bangladesh has no interest in delaying the repatriation. Sincerity of Bangladesh in facilitating earliest repatriation of Rohingyas as per bilateral instruments has been unquestionably established through its actions."

Myanmar must not expect Bangladesh to cooperate in repatriation in an uncertain environment in Rakhine, Dhaka said, adding that despite disappointing experiences in the past and greater challenges ahead, Bangladesh primarily relied on bilateral engagements with Myanmar and concluded two instruments on return.

As per the deals, Myanmar is under obligation to bring back normalcy in Rakhine and create an environment conducive to the repatriation and addressing the root causes of the Rohingya crisis. Moreover, Myanmar is entirely responsible for encouraging the Rohingyas in their voluntary return. 

"Unfortunately, Myanmar has utterly failed to demonstrate any political will to fulfil its obligations and is trying to shift the onus on Bangladesh," the statement said. 

If Myanmar is really sincere about ensuring justice and ending the culture of impunity, it should extend full cooperation for ongoing international accountability initiatives.

The Bangladesh government has consistently been pursuing the policy of good neighbourhood to resolve the protracted crisis through dialogues, the statement added.

Therefore, unjustifiable accusations by Myanmar, which is solely held responsible for the crisis, are totally unacceptable, it added.   

First step towards justice for the Rohingya

15 Nov, link here

0:27 / 4:26

First step towards justice for the Rohingya

Saturday 16 November 2019

Why Africa's smallest country is taking on the Rohingya genocide crisis

Source SBS, 13 Nov
The small African nation of the Gambia has filed a lawsuit at the International Court of Justice, formally accusing Myanmar of genocide against its Rohingya Muslims. Myanmar vehemently denies a genocide has taken place.  

It has been over two years since the 'clearance operations' of the Myanmar military forced hundreds of thousands of Rohingya from their homes across the border into neighbouring Bangladesh.

Human rights groups and the UN published myriad reports of mass rapes, killings, and torture on a terrifying scale. The consequential humanitarian crisis in Bangladesh remains a challenge for aid agencies, and survivors of the violence in Myanmar remain vulnerable to ongoing threats in the camps. The situation for the Rohingya still stuck in Myanmar is even worse.

But the international community failed to act on the genocidal acts perpetrated by the military. China and Russia have refused to allow the UN Security Council to hear a briefing on the situation in Myanmar, let alone refer the situation to the International Criminal Court where individual perpetrators could be charged with genocide.

China has longstanding geostrategic interests in Myanmar, including land access to the Bay of Bengal and the country's rich natural resources. Russia's interests are often in never letting the international community stand in the way of a state acting autonomously within its own borders.

In this Monday, Oct. 2, 2017, file photo, newly arrived Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar prepare to leave a transit shelter in Shahparirdwip, Bangladesh.
Newly arrived Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar prepare to leave a transit shelter in Shahparirdwip, Bangladesh, 2017.

Why Gambia?

Myanmar is not a member of the International Criminal Court, so without a referral from the Security Council the only charges that court can pursue relate to forced deportation of Rohingya to Bangladesh.

But before the International Criminal Court was even conceived, in the aftermath of the holocaust the international community agreed that genocide was a crime that was everyone's responsibility to prevent and punish.

It is this treaty, the Genocide Convention of 1948, that has allowed Africa's smallest continental country to take the government of Myanmar to the International Court of Justice for the genocide of the Rohingya.

The Gambia, a majority Muslim country, is bringing the case on behalf of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, but the campaign to bring the case has been led by their Minister for Justice, Abubacarr Tambadou who had previously worked on prosecutions for the Rwandan genocide.

When Vice-President Isatou Touray announced to the United Nations General Assembly they would be pursuing the case, she said The Gambia "is a small country with a big voice on matters of human rights on the continent and beyond" explaining that pursuing an ICJ case against the government of Myanmar would be a central pillar of this policy.

The Gambia is returning from a period of political turmoil. The new government has prioritised human rights policies domestically, across Africa and the world. Pursuing a case at the International Court of Justice is deeply connected to this priority and is an expression of good governance and support for international law.

Habiburahman fled Myanmar's Rakhine state in 2000, before coming to Australia by boat.
Habiburahman fled Myanmar's Rakhine state in 2000, before coming to Australia by boat.
SBS News

Upon hearing the news about the case, Refugee Council of Australia Ambassador and Rohingya refugee  Habiburahman (Habib)  said he was relieved.

"It is the first time member states of the United Nations are unitedly standing up against genocide of Rohingya ... I hope one day it will achieve justice for Rohingya people," he said.

There has been an advocacy effort for The Gambian case to be supported by non-Muslim countries as well. In particular, significant efforts were made to get the Canadian government to join the case. But no other country joined The Gambia as co-applicant.

Other countries can still join the case or provide formal interventions to the court, including to ensure the sexual and gender-based violence aspects of the genocide are suitably considered in the case.

What happens now?

A case before the International Court of Justice may take years to play out. But it can have some immediate benefits for Rohingya.

The Gambia has requested the court make provisional measures, which are orders of the court that are binding on the government of Myanmar, including the armed forces. The Gambia asked for such orders to be made to protect Rohingya from ongoing acts of genocide and prevent the destruction of evidence. The court can issue such orders in a matter of weeks.

Because the International Court of Justice is not a court that deals with individual accountability, but state responsibility, no one goes to jail at the end of a case.

What will it achieve?

The focus of this court is about settling a dispute between states about the implementation of a treaty. So, it doesn't have the same approach to victims as other courts. However, the court does have the capacity to award reparations.

The main benefit of such a case is that it recognises the collective harm, rather than just the individual harm of genocidal acts. Genocide is a crime intended to destroy an entire community. The entire Rohingya community has been affected, and a case before the International Court of Justice is the best way to account for that.

For Habib, this case gives some hope of a different future for Myanmar and the Rohingya.

"The military generals have never been prosecuted for their crimes, in the past or the present," he said.

"It is very important for the future that they are held accountable and they change their behaviour. This case will shape democracy and the rule of law in Myanmar."

Friday 8 November 2019

UN publishes database of companies profiting off human rights abuses – not on Israel, but Myanmar

Source Modoweiss, 7 Oct

In March 2016 the United Nations Human Rights Council mandated a database of companies profiting from Israel's settlements. Originally due in 2017, its publication remains in limbo as the release was delayed several times.  Conversely, a similar database on Myanmar was ordered in September 2018 and completed a year later. 

During the last session of the HRC in September the 110-page report "The economic interests of the Myanmar military" was released. It was researched and written by an independent international fact-finding mission to Myanmar. The document follows a September 2018 report on human rights violations and abuses by the Myanmar military, commissioned by the HRC in 2017. 

The new report lays bare the "business model" or economic infrastructure that enables the Myanmar military to commit human rights violations and abuses. It contains a practical 40-page database, listing all companies fostering direct and indirect business ties with the military. Companies involved in this model – mostly Asian, also European, some others – are named in full; their activities and ties to the military are described in detail. Incidentally, two Israeli firms are mentioned. 

[See page 70 and further. The international section starts on page 96. Two Israeli companies are mentioned on page 107 for deals in October 2016 and April 2017.] 

The thorough report shows what can be achieved in just one year. Even more important, no protests against it were heard.

Not discussed during the September session was the database of companies conducting business or profiting off of Israel's occupation of the Palestinian territory, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights. The HRC had tasked compilation of the database with the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). In January 2018 OHCHR announced it compiled a list of 206 companies, but its publication was stalled for "further research and consideration." OHCHR said at the time that it wanted to contact all of the companies before releasing their names.

Since then 22 months have passed. Pressed to explain yet another delay in March 2019, the High Commissioner, former Chilean president Michelle Bachelet, promised to transmit the database to the HRC in the coming months. In other words: in time for the HRC September session. Early September 103 organizations called for its publication, as others already did two years earlier. But Bachelet didn't deliver. 

Early October a coalition including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and Al-Haq published a joined statement on the unexplained delay, mentioning "consistent reports of political interference by some states," concluding that March 2020 is now the earliest moment for consideration by the HRC – four years after commissioning it. 

The delay is even more significant as the database builds on the conclusions of a fact-finding mission to investigate the implications of the Israeli settlements on the human rights of the Palestinian people. The mission found on February 7, 2013, that "business enterprises have, directly and indirectly, enabled, facilitated and profited from the construction and growth of the settlements." That's almost seven years ago. 

Moreover, neither Myanmar nor Israel are the only instances where the UN ordered one of its agencies to produce a catalog of companies profiting from violations of international law. 

This visual highlights the fact that in spite of Israel being one of the countries most regularly condemned by the UN Security Council for violations of international law, it has never faced formal sanctions. (Graph: Visualizing Palestine)

This visual highlights the fact that in spite of Israel being one of the countries most regularly condemned by the UN Security Council for violations of international law, it has never faced formal sanctions. (Graph: Visualizing Palestine)

In October 2002, a year before the end of the Second Congo War, the UN Security Council published a database of companies involved in "illegal exploitation of natural resources and other forms of wealth of the Democratic Republic of the Congo." The database contains 114 companies and 54 individuals and targeted not just the DRC, but also foreign powers holding territory inside the country during the hostilities. 

Returning to Israel, the delay of the database fits into wider practices, most prominently the unexplained delay of an official investigation into possible Israeli war crimes by the International Criminal Court, or the ICC. Next January will mark five years since a preliminary investigation began. It should have led to a conclusion a long time ago but is just dragging on without an end in sight. 

The stalling is similar to the ICC chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda's decision to not investigate alleged war crimes in 2010 when Israeli commandos boarded the Mavi Marmara, bound for Gaza, while still in international waters and killing ten passengers during the raid. An activist who was aboard the ship during that attack has accused Bensouda of succumbing to "intervention," "threats," and "pressure" from the U.S., Israel, and an American pro-Israel legal firm. 

Bensouda buried the case at the time but it is now being challenged in an appeal. The affair is the subject of a new book by Norman Finkelstein, titled "I Accuse!," which addresses Bensouda's dealings and the harm she inflicts on the credibility of the ICC.

In more recent years the UN-organization ESCWA was forced to withdraw its authoritative report on Israeli apartheid two days after publication – after accusing Israel of practicing "apartheid" in March 2017. The fact that even UN Secretary-General Guterres got involved in ditching the report – thereby harming a prominent member of his own UN-family and causing the resignation of expert UN-officials – hints at the amount of pressure that was applied on the UN. 

Against this background it's worth remembering the words of Haaretz journalist Barak Ravid, who wrote in September 2017, the U.S. had engaged in "massive pressure" to change the wording of the HRC's resolution calling for a database of companies profiting off of Israel's occupation. He noted there was "Even an attempt by the EU to reach a deal with the Palestinians to drop the clause from the resolution stipulating the blacklist's formulation, in return for the support of European nations for the rest of its articles."

Israel's staunchest defenders claim that Israel is being singled out – and that is correct. Israel and American officials often angrily point to the high number of Security Council-resolutions condemning its violations of international law – only Apartheid South-Africa scored higher –, but what really stands out is its ability to violate them all without ever being sanctioned. No other country enjoyed such indulgence. 

The net result is that Israel can behave as it pleases, shielded at the highest levels, for which the Palestinians pay the price. The institutions that are supposed to guard their rights and lives have become institutional in their oppression. 

With official channels blocked it's now up to the international community to demand justice for the Palestinians. And that's exactly what's happening. A grassroots coalition of some 60 organizations from 14 countries is planning a demonstration at the ICC-offices in The Hague on Friday, November 29 – the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People. The coalition wants Bensouda to act, holding Israel accountable for its crimes against the Palestinians without further delay. 

It's hard to think of a more symbolic place and date for a massive outcry demanding justice for Palestine. Organizations and citizens wishing to endorse or join the protest can do so by contacting the coalition (Franceother countries). 

Meet the Australian expats helping ex-Manus Island detainees get a fresh start in Canada

Source SBS
00:00 / 00:41

A group of Australian expats have helped form a network to give refugees previously detained on Manus Island and Nauru a fresh start in Canada under the country's unique private refugee sponsorship program.

Laura Beth Bugg doesn't live in Australia anymore, but the plight of refugees stuck in Australia's offshore processing system hasn't left her mind.

"My family is still in Australia. My friends are still in Australia. I'm Australian – and as an Australian, I feel responsible to do something about this," Ms Bugg told SBS News from Toronto.

Ms Bugg is part of the Canadian branch of Australian Diaspora Steps Up (Ads-Up Canada), a group of Australian expats and Canadian locals helping to resettle refugees from the Manus Island and Nauru detention centres in Canada.

Canada's unique private refugee sponsorship scheme has operated since the 1970s.

The scheme saw Amir Sahragard, a 27-year-old Iranian refugee, arrive in the country last week after almost seven years on Manus Island. 

Any five Canadian citizens or permanent residents can get together and decide whether they want to sponsor a refugee from overseas at a cost of around $18,000 Australian dollars.

Laura Beth Bugg (third from left) at Toronto Airport
Laura Beth Bugg (third from left) at Toronto Airport

"When I found out we could sponsor refugees from Manus to come to Canada, I said to my husband: 'we have to be part of this'," Ms Bugg said.

"These people are the most resilient unbelievable human beings. They're nurses, poets and lawyers - they have so much to give.

"It's such a waste of potential to leave them languishing there and not allow them to contribute to Canada."

Ms Bugg was born in the United States but became an Australian citizen after moving to Sydney with her Australian husband in 2006.

She was living in Sydney's inner-west when the Manus Island and Nauru detention centres were reopened in 2012 by Julia Gillard's Labor government.

Ms Bugg said she has a personal connection to the issue.

"My son and my husband would not be here if Australia had not welcomed my husband's grandparents in 1938 [when] they were fleeing the Holocaust," she said.

"They were given a visa to come to Australia. The rest of their family were not given visas to any countries and they perished in camps."

Aiding by crowdfunding campaigns, Ads-Up Canada has put in applications to sponsor 18 refugees currently under Australia's care in offshore detention.

Ms Bugg said fundraising efforts are currently underway for a refugee in Papua New Guinea and a family of four on Nauru.

Laura Beth Bugg (R) welcomes ex-Manus detainee Amir Sahragard at a Toronto airport
Laura Beth Bugg (R) welcomes ex-Manus detainee Amir Sahragard at a Toronto airport

'Uniquely positioned'

Sydney-born Juliet Donald is a clinical psychologist now living in Toronto.

She spent the first 30 years of her life in Australia, before moving overseas in 2010 to work for medical charity, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF).

She found Ads-Up Canada scrolling through a refugee advocacy group on social media and said she immediately wanted to help.

Sydney-born clinical psychologist Juliet Donald now lives in Toronto
Sydney-born clinical psychologist Juliet Donald now lives in Toronto

"As a psychologist, I'd read a lot about the mental health impact of prolonged and infinite detention - and once I found out that here Canada we had the capacity to offer people an opportunity to be safely resettled, I felt like it was an obvious choice to become involved," she said.

"I feel uniquely positioned, here in Canada, to be able to step up as an Australian, to do something very concrete to help these refugees."

Ms Donald said her experience with MSF provided extra incentive to get involved.

"I've worked in a number of countries where these refugees are fleeing from or have had to journey through - Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and Libya, to name a couple.

"When I read these people's stories, naturally, for me, there's an interest point because I've actually worked in those countries. I've spoken to people and heard their stories."

Ads-Up Canada is one of several community-based projects using Canada's private refugee sponsorship scheme.

The Canada Caring Society, based in Ottawa, hopes to settle up to 200 refugees from Nauru and Papua New Guinea.

A Syrian refugee also launched a program called Operation Not Forgotten earlier this year.

Ms Bugg said Canada's private refugee sponsorship scheme is, for some refugees, their "only way out of detention".

The federal government has not accepted New Zealand's offered to resettle 150 refugees under Australia's care, and it's estimated around 330 refugees are ineligible to be resettled under the swap deal with the United States.

"When I was living in Australia I didn't feel like there was a whole lot I could do, beyond protesting and writing letters," Ms Bugg said.

"But this is something tangible that we can do as Australians and Canadians together: Australians can hope us raise money, and then the Australians in Canada can help form these resettlement teams.

"Working together, we can actually help make a difference."