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Friday, 3 December 2021

Australia to face pressure to use new Magnitsky-style laws against Myanmar and Chinese officials

Source Theguardian, 2 Dec

MPs from across the political spectrum raise human rights in Xinjiang and Hong Kong crackdown as they sign off on powers

Australian foreign minister Marise Payne
Marise Payne says Magnitsky-style laws will allow Australia to take action against 'those responsible for egregious situations of international concern'. Photograph: Lukas Coch/AAP

The Morrison government will face pressure from MPs to ratchet up sanctions on the Myanmar junta and target Chinese authorities after parliament passed sweeping new powers on the final sitting day of the year.

Parliamentarians from across the political spectrum raised human rights violations in China's Xinjiang region and the crackdown on dissent in Hong Kong as they signed off on long-awaited laws that will widen the government's ability to impose international sanctions.

The move is in response to cross-party calls for Australia to join the US, Canada, the UK and the EU in introducing Magnitsky-style laws to target human rights abuses and serious corruption.

Foreign government officials could face sanctions for "gross human rights violations" and "egregious acts of international concern", including cyber-attacks, under the laws that passed the lower house on Thursday, a day after clearing the Senate.

Corrupt business people could also be banned from travelling to Australia and have their assets and bank accounts frozen.

The foreign minister, Marise Payne, said the laws would "ensure that we do not become an isolated, attractive safe haven for such people and entities, and their illegal gains".

Payne said Australia would be able to "take timely action, including with like-minded partners where it is in our national interest, to impose costs on, influence, and deter those responsible for egregious situations of international concern".

It is understood the Coalition government is likely to face internal pressure to deploy the new powers, including against Chinese government officials and Myanmar's junta.

Government insiders have previously raised the lack of such laws as one of the reasons Australia wasn't able to join with its allies to impose coordinated sanctions against Chinese officials over the mass detention and persecution of Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang.

In March Australia and New Zealand issued a statement welcoming sanctions announced by Canada, the EU, the UK and the US – while saying they shared "grave concerns" about Xinjiang.

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If Australia now followed suit, it would attract a furious response from the Chinese government, which has signalled it would respond in kind to any sanctions over what Beijing calls "fake" allegations.

In the lower house on Thursday, the Labor MP Tim Watts cited Beijing's crackdown on dissent in Hong Kong and "the reports of continuing mass detentions and other human rights violations against Ughyurs and other ethnic and religious minorities in Xinjiang and across China".

Watts, the shadow assistant minister for cybersecurity, said the new option of sanctioning individuals for malicious cyber-activity would help in "the fight against international cybercriminals who are menacing Australian businesses and our essential services, our critical infrastructure".

Labor's defence spokesperson, Brendan O'Connor, accused some leaders of manipulating the pandemic to further weaken human rights.

"As we speak today Chinese citizen journalist Zhang Zhan is on a hunger strike and at risk of dying without the urgent medical requirements that she needs," O'Connor told the House.

"Ms Zhang was sentenced to four years of prison in December last year for social media posts critical of the early Covid-19 outbreak in Wuhan."

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The Liberal senator James Paterson, who has been outspoken in criticising the Chinese Communist party, said Australia was "equipping ourselves with the tools we need to defend our democracy, our sovereignty and our freedom in a dangerous world".

"The parliament of Australia is sending a very strong message to those who would seek to bully and threaten us … We will stand up for ourselves, our interests and our values on the international stage, no matter what you throw at us."

The Labor senator Kimberley Kitching said harmonising sanctions laws were "a weapon for democratic pushback".

"A strong and clear message will be sent to lower-ranking officials and criminal thugs that their crimes, whether on behalf of or protected by their superiors, will not be immune from international consequences," Kitching said.

"This legislation says to them: 'Your stolen money is no good here. No matter how you steal from your people, there will be no shopping trips to Paris, no harbourfront mansions in Sydney, no skiing in Aspen and no nest egg in a western bank.'

"Like King Midas, they will have lots of gold but no way to enjoy it."

Last-minute amendments included changing the bill's name to reference the late corruption whistleblower Sergei Magnitsky.

In its first year in operation, the UK's global human rights sanction regime – on which Australia's legislation is modelled – imposed sanctions against 72 individuals and six entities.

Russia had the most designations, with 29, followed by Saudi Arabia (20), Belarus (eight), China (five), and Myanmar (four).

Twenty-five of Russia's designations arose from the maltreatment and death of Magnitsky. All of Saudi Arabia's sanctions were imposed over involvement in the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Elaine Pearson, the Australia director of Human Rights Watch, said Australia should seek to harmonise its sanctions with those of allies and "use these provisions without delay". The measures would "raise the cost of serious human rights violations".

"We want to see this new law applied in a consistent, principled way," Pearson told Guardian Australia.

"There are particular countries in our region that are egregious human rights abusers, and where sanctions would have an impact: look at Myanmar, at China, at Cambodia and the Philippines."

The EU, UK, US and Canada have imposed sanctions against key figures in Myanmar's coup this year, and senior military officers accused of genocide and crimes against humanity committed against minority Rohingya.

The coup leader, Min Aung Hlaing, has been sanctioned by all four, as have senior members of the Myanmar state administration council. Australia has not imposed any new sanctions on senior Myanmar military figures.

Rawan Arraf, the executive director of the Australian Centre for International Justice, said she welcomed the "long overdue" laws, while calling for the sanctions office to be given more resources.

"We are also hoping for better engagement with civil society organisations," Arraf said.

"Targeted sanctions should be a tool for protecting against the most serious violations of human rights wherever they occur in the world. We hope the Australian government will approach the use of this new sanctions power consistently, equally and free from double-standards."

Myanmar opposition raises $6.3 mln on launch of 'revolution' bonds

Source Reuters, 23 Nov, 

Anti-government protesters hold placards to show their support and welcome the new National Unity Government found by ousted NLD legislators and call to continue strike from traditional new year in Myanmar, in Yangon, Myanmar, April 17, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer/File Photo

Anti-government protesters hold placards to show their support and welcome the new National Unity Government found by ousted NLD legislators and call to continue strike from traditional new year in Myanmar, in Yangon, Myanmar, April 17, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer/File Photo


Nov 23 (Reuters) - A shadow government in Myanmar said it has raised $6.3 million on the opening day of its inaugural bonds sale, in its biggest move yet to generate funds for its "revolution" to topple the ruling military junta.

Myanmar has been in bloody turmoil since the military's Feb. 1 coup and movements that have sprang up to challenge the junta have been mainly supported by public donations.

The National Unity Government (NUG), an alliance of pro-democracy groups, ethnic minority armies and remnants of the ousted civilian government, said bonds went on sale on Monday to mainly Myanmar nationals overseas in denominations of $100, $500, $1,000 and $5,000, with two-year tenures.

Even though the bonds will generate no interest income for buyers, $3 million worth were sold in the first three hours, the NUG said, increasing to $6.3 million by the end of the day. Its overall target is $1 billion.

"From this, I witness the enthusiasm of people in the case of uprooting the fascist military," NUG spokesman, Dr. Sasa, said on Facebook.

The junta has outlawed the NUG and designated it a "terrorist" movement.

The NUG has not disclosed how the funds would be used.

A spokesperson for the junta did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Opposition groups have been trying to stifle the military's efforts to consolidate power by encouraging people not to pay taxes and to join protests, a civil disobedience campaign and boycotts of army-linked businesses and a national lottery.

Buyers of the bonds made payments via international transfers to an account in the Czech Republic, the NUG said.

A 27-year-old Myanmar citizen, who asked not to be named for security reasons, said she invested $500 in the bonds.

"We do not expect to get money back after two years. We are buying it because we want to contribute to the revolution," she said.

Thursday, 14 October 2021

Malaysia houses 200,000 Rohingya refugees, Saifuddin reveals

Source TheMalaysianreverse, 7 Oct

THE number of Rohingya refugees in Malaysia is currently around 200,000 — the highest in South-East Asia, Foreign Affairs Minister Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah said.

Saifuddin told the Dewan Rakyat yesterday that Malaysia, together with other countries need to continue working towards the cessation of Rohingyans or other citizens' expulsion from their respective countries.

"Malaysia is taking steps to continue highlighting the issue of Rohingya refugees regionally and globally," he said.

"At the Asean level for example, Malaysia constantly and loudly spoke out on the issue of Rohingya refugees. Malaysia also strongly supports Asean's efforts in facilitation on the repatriation of Rohingya refugees back to Myanmar."

Saifuddin further said Malaysia also sees that if accountability or accountability for this issue can be achieved through International Court of Justice and International Criminal Court, the Rohingya ethnic group is likely to get due protection while deportations as well as violations against them can be stopped.

"In the past, Malaysia had been the first country to facilitate constructive engagement even before Myanmar became a member of Asean," he said during a question-and-answer session.

He said this in response to Wong Chen (PKR-Subang) queries on whether Malaysia is willing to have a dialogue with the current Myanmar's unity government, without having to go through Asean as en bloc for the dialogue.

Malaysia is of the opinion that it would be difficult to invite the army chief currently in power in Naypyidaw to attend the Asean Summit on Oct 26 to 28.

Bernama reported that since the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi was overthrown by Myanmar's junta led by General Min Aung Hlaing on Feb 1, there had been internal unrest with nearly 1,000 civilians killed by security forces.

Asean has also appointed Brunei Foreign Minister II Erywan Mohd Yusof as special envoy to Myanmar but he has not been able to play his role because of the military government's refusal to cooperate.


Myanmar's genocide bleached as 'ethnic cleansing'

Source English, 29 Aug

The West's liberal democratic regimes - in this case the Anglo-American governments - manipulate the principles of human rights and international treaties such as the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide to suit their geopolitical and corporate interests

I was shocked and deeply repulsed beyond words to witness the apparent coordinated attempts by the administrations of Boris Johnson and Joe Biden at bleaching Myanmar's international legal crime of genocide on the very day Rohingya survivors around the world have come to recognise as Genocide Remembrance Day.

While the British Embassy @UK-in-Myanmar was busy tweeting "Today marks the 4th anniversary since the military's committed ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya," the US State Department issued a press statement, entitled "Marking the 4th Anniversary of Ethnic Cleansing in Rakhine State". The American version of spin begins with the opening sentence, "Four years ago, Burma's military launched a horrific ethnic cleansing against Rohingya in northern Rakhine State."

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In a different moral universe where rights activists such as myself and dozens of scholars and activists firmly anchor ourselves, human rights are lived principles. International crime codes like the Genocide Convention are lived law.

The West's liberal democratic regimes - in this case the Anglo-American governments - manipulate the principles of human rights and international treaties such as the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide to suit their geopolitical and corporate interests.

The Johnson and Biden regimes have added insult to the injury of several million Rohingya survivors

For the Americans, the Myanmar genocide is viewed through its paranoid prism that Beijing is dislodging the US as the global hegemon.

Post-Brexit Britain is chiefly concerned about maintaining its market access and shoring up corporate profits in emerging markets, however evil their business partners may be as evidenced in the Independent's headlines "European allies are alarmed by the UK's 'de facto recognition' of the Myanmar junta by sending a new British envoy" two days ago.

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But even my 30 years of international human rights activism did not prepare me for the level of moral depravity to which American and British policy-makers are prepared to sink. Washington and London in effect denied and dismissed the crime of genocide on the very day Rohingya have set aside each year to mourn their dead families and friends, and burning of their villages and destruction of their way of life. Blindly the two great powers throw humanitarian crumbs at the survivors who live in sub-human conditions in Bangladesh and Myanmar.

By misnaming Rohingya genocide as "ethnic cleansing," they employ the favourite euphemism for genocide invented by the Serbian genocidal leader Slobodan Milošević. The Johnson and Biden regimes have added insult to the injury of several million Rohingya survivors. The survivors are trapped in refugee and IDP camps and in diaspora dislocation. They drown when their boats are driven back out to sea by the navies of governments like Bangladesh, India, Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia.

UK and US leaders, both Democrats and Republicans, routinely use the morally loaded term "genocide," to score points against their enemies, such as China, Libya, or Syria. But Washington and London now seem to coordinate their Milosevicesque use of the term "ethnic cleansing," dismissing the Rohingya demand that they call a spade a spade, a genocide a genocide.

The Biden administration's refusal to officially recognize Myanmar's intentional physical destruction of Rohingyas as "genocide," as defined by the Genocide Convention, stands in sharp contrast with the overwhelming recognition and condemnation of Myanmar's crime of genocide by the US Congress.

US Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and Representative Gregory W Meeks (D-NY-5), the two leading lawmakers, who chair the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee respectively, have publicly pressed US President Joe Biden "to make a formal determination that these crimes (against Rohingya) constitute genocide." On the day of commemoration of the Rohingya genocide, Gregory Stanton, former State Department official and the world's foremost legal and anthropological scholar of genocide – trained at Yale Law and the University of Chicago – read his poem "What is justice?", at the Free Rohingya Coalition Genocide Memorial Event on 25 August. He asked pointedly, "What is justice for a lawyer who still won't call it genocide?"

In his forthcoming publication, entitled '"Ethnic Cleansing" is a Euphemism Used for Genocide Denial,' Stanton argues persuasively that "ethnic cleansing" is tantamount to genocide denial.

As used by Milošević, the press, the UN, and many governmental policy makers, the term "ethnic cleansing" is used to avoid using the word "genocide." "Ethnic cleansing" has become a euphemism used for genocide denial.

In Stanton's scathing words of indictment: "The UN, press, human rights groups, and many governments still call the Myanmar Army's aggression, genocidal massacres, and forced deportation against the Rohingya "ethnic cleansing." "Ethnic cleansing" is a term invented by Slobodan Milošević and Serbian propagandists as a euphemism for forced deportation and genocide.

"Ethnic cleansing" in common usage means forced deportation. But unlike the crime against humanity of deportation or forcible transfer of population, and the crime of genocide, it is not a term that appears in the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. It has no legal meaning in international law. There is no treaty outlawing it. No national legal codes prohibit "ethnic cleansing." No prosecutor can charge anyone for committing it. The term is a license for impunity.

As used by Milošević, the press, the UN, and many governmental policy makers, the term "ethnic cleansing" is used to avoid using the word "genocide." "Ethnic cleansing" has become a euphemism used for genocide denial. Because Article 1 of the Genocide Convention implies the obligation to act to prevent genocide, avoiding use of the term "genocide" has the same practical outcome as genocide denial. Users of the term "ethnic cleansing"—like genocide deniers—are freed from their duty to prevent or stop genocide."

At the same FRC Genocide Memorial Event, Dr Katherine Southwick, another Yale-trained American legal scholar who warned of genocide against the Rohingya as early as 2014, vented her frustration. Southwick said to the Facebook LIVE audience of 20,000+ viewers on Wednesday, "so with frustration with the international community's own lack of accountability, yet with hope and gratitude, the international community must do nothing less than acknowledge genocide and renew our solidarity and support for the Rohingya and equal rights for all in Myanmar."

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Taking a non-legal perspective, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, the leading scholar of post-colonial studies and University Professor in the Humanities at Columbia University in New York, was emphatic with her demand for legal acknowledgment of genocide – which Rohingya have long been subjected to – when she invoked "common sense".

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Suffering etched on the faces of little Rohingya children driven from their country. Picture taken at the Balukhali camp

The Indian scholar told the worldwide audience at the FRC Genocide Memorial Facebook LIVE yesterday thus: "I want to speak to my Rohingya brothers and sisters and talk to them about a possible future. It is the unacknowledged genocide that has made it impossible for me to do what I want to do today. I don't think our conscience needs to go to legal definitions to acknowledge that a Rohingya is killed simply because she is a Rohingya. By common sense, that is genocide. But we must have an international legal acknowledgment in order for the possibility of legal redress to begin."

Rohingya – and their international friends – worldwide mourned the mass-death and destruction of numerous victims raped, maimed, slaughtered, and genocidally murdered – and lamented the absence of any effective acts by the "abstract international community" – to borrow Spivak's coinage.

On the same day, General Sadat, a US-trained commander in the Afghan National Army, was writing in the New York Times, with justified anger towards the US government for having abandoned the Afghan people. (The Afghan Army Collapsed Against the Taliban. Here's Why. - The New York Times) General Sadat writes, "I am exhausted. I am frustrated. And I am angry. President Biden said last week that 'American troops cannot and should not be fighting in a war and dying in a war that Afghan forces are not willing to fight for themselves.' It's true that the Afghan Army lost its will to fight. But that's because of the growing sense of abandonment by our American partners and the disrespect and disloyalty reflected in Mr. Biden's tone and words over the past few months."

The betrayal and a palpable sense of abandonment that the wretched of the earth who struggle for their right to life and liberty have felt towards the liberal West in general and the US in particular, with US signature honey-tongued support for human rights and "the rule-based international order," is nothing new.

In the early years of the Cold War, after having made promises of solidarity which they never intended to keep, the US and western allies abandoned thousands of Hungarian rights activists in the wintery month of November 1956.

Almost 20 years ago, Matthew Daley, then serving as the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State in the Bureau of East Asian Affairs at the US State Department, met with me in his office in Washington, DC. Daley pointedly warned me against trusting and relying on the US government for the Burmese liberation struggle.

"My government's Burma policy is unconscionable. We made empty promises to the Hungarian democrats in 1956. Then when they were slaughtered (by the Soviets), we did nothing. So, you Burmese must find your own solutions."

The ugly truth is Western and Eastern birds of the same feather flock together in the UN Security Council, where they take turns denying their own war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocides, and where they flout international treaty obligations that conflict with their national interests
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But it's one thing for the US and its British poodle to abandon dissidents worldwide against corrupt and brutal regimes, be they Hungarians, South Vietnamese or, pro-human rights and anti-Taliban Afghan people. It is another moral low for British and American foreign ministries to coordinate their statements of genocidal denial as they did on the 4th anniversary of "ethnic cleansing" in Rakhine State.

Ten years ago, my research colleague and partner Natalie Brinham (writing under the pen name Alice Cowley), and I conducted a 3-year path-breaking study based on hundreds of interviews with Rohingya survivors in Malaysia, India, Bangladesh, Saudi Arabia and Myanmar. We reached the unequivocal conclusion that Myanmar has institutionalised the intentional physical destruction of its Rohingya minority. The genocidal process started with the destruction of their group identity and denial of their history in Burma centuries before Burma or Myanmar came into existence in 1948. We published our findings as a commissioned peer-reviewed article entitled "The Slow-Burning Genocide of Myanmar's Rohingya" in the Pacific Rim Law and Policy Journal of the University of Washington School of Law in the spring of 2014.

The Public International Law and Policy Group (PILPG) was the Washington law firm that the US State Department hired to conduct a forensic investigation of crimes against the Rohingya, using a representative sample of 1,000 Rohingya survivors in Bangladesh in 2017. When the State Department refused to use the term "genocide" in the official State Department report of the findings, PILPG went public with its genocide findings.

PILPG's Paul Williams told a press conference in Washington in 2018, "It is clear from our intense legal review that there is, in fact, a legal basis to conclude that the Rohingya were the victims of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide." But the Trump Administration decided to shelve its own commissioned report, when the findings did not suit the US government's agenda.

British politicians were no more receptive of facts and findings about the Myanmar genocide, according to Queen Mary University of London Professor Penny Green, whose International State Crime Initiative, documented the evidence of the genocide in 'Countdown to Annihilation: Genocide in Myanmar' (2015). She spoke on the FRC Genocide Memorial Event on Facebook LIVE this week.

It is no wonder that the Taliban, the Xis and the Putins of the world, and rogue regimes everywhere pay no attention to Anglo-American joint statements that bark about democracy, human rights, and the rule of law. Nor do these rogue regimes think twice before they commit mass atrocities.

The ugly truth is Western and Eastern birds of the same feather flock together in the UN Security Council, where they take turns denying their own war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocides, and where they flout international treaty obligations that conflict with their national interests.

Those in high offices who have been entrusted to ensure the peace, security and well-being of humanity have turned out to be the worst enemies of "We the People."

* Maung Zarni is a co-founder and Burmese coordinator of the Free Rohingya Coalition and an advisor to the Genocide Watch


Tuesday, 28 September 2021

U.S. court orders Facebook to release anti-Rohingya content records for genocide case

Source Reuters, 23 Sept

Sept 23 (Reuters) - A U.S. federal judge has ordered Facebook (FB.O) to release records of accounts connected to anti-Rohingya violence in Myanmar that the social media giant had shut down, rejecting its argument about protecting privacy as "rich with irony".

The judge in Washington, D.C, on Wednesday criticized Facebook for failing to hand over information to investigators seeking to prosecute the country for international crimes against the Muslim minority Rohingya, according to a copy of the ruling.

Facebook had refused to release the data, saying it would violate a U.S. law barring electronic communication services from disclosing users' communications.

But the judge said the posts, which were deleted, would not be covered under the law and not sharing the content would "compound the tragedy that has befallen the Rohingya".

"Facebook taking up the mantle of privacy rights is rich with irony. News sites have entire sections dedicated to Facebook's sordid history of privacy scandals," he wrote.

A spokesperson for Facebook said the company was reviewing the decision and that it had already made "voluntary, lawful disclosures" to another U.N. body, the Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar.

More than 730,000 Rohingya Muslims fled Myanmar's Rakhine state in August 2017 after a military crackdown that refugees said including mass killings and rape. Rights groups documented killings of civilians and burning of villages.

Myanmar authorities say they were battling an insurgency and deny carrying out systematic atrocities.

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A Facebook logo is displayed on a smartphone in this illustration taken January 6, 2020. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration

The crackdown by the army, during the rule of Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi's civilian government, did not generate much outcry in the Buddhist-majority nation, where the Rohingya are widely derided as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.

Gambia wants the data for a case against Myanmar it is pursuing at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in the Hague, accusing Myanmar of violating the 1948 U.N. Convention on Genocide.

In 2018, U.N. human rights investigators said Facebook had played a key role in spreading hate speech that fueled the violence.

Reuters investigation that year found more than 1,000 examples of hate speech on Facebook, including calling Rohingya and other Muslims dogs, maggots and rapists, suggesting they be fed to pigs, and urging they be shot or exterminated.

Facebook said at the time it had been "too slow to prevent misinformation and hate" in Myanmar.

In Wednesday's ruling, U.S. magistrate judge Zia M. Faruqui said Facebook had taken a first step by deleting "the content that fueled a genocide" but had "stumbled" by not sharing it.

"A surgeon that excises a tumor does not merely throw it in the trash. She seeks a pathology report to identify the disease," he said.

"Locking away the requested content would be throwing away the opportunity to understand how disinformation begat genocide of the Rohingya and would foreclose a reckoning at the ICJ."

Shannon Raj Singh, human rights counsel at Twitter (TWTR.N), called the decision "momentous" and "one of the foremost examples of the relevance of social media to modern atrocity prevention & response".

Reporting by Poppy Elena McPherson; Editing by Martin Petty