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Thursday, December 2, 2021

Rohingya, Justice, and Lessons from History

PV
December 2nd, 2021
Author: Progressive Voice

“The voluntary and dignified return of Rohingya will not be possible without addressing current human rights and humanitarian crisis stemming from the attempted coup by the Myanmar military. At the root of these crises is the military who continues to be able to enjoy blanket impunity.
 
                                       -“Wai Wai Nu, Women Peace Network
 

While the military junta continues its scorched earth offensives, particularly in Chin State, Sagaing Region, and Karenni State, a missed deadline to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) regarding steps that Myanmar has taken to prevent ongoing genocide against the Rohingya reminds the world that the military’s brutal violence we see today did not begin with its illegal coup attempt of the 1st of February. The ongoing persecution of the Rohingya, highlighted by civil society organizations, should have been a tipping point to catalyze a more effective, coordinated international response.

A report published by the Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK (BROUK) on 22 November, illustrates that after nearly two years since the ICJ ordered the State of Myanmar to take “provisional measures” to prevent further harm to the Rohingya, “genocidal acts continue to be perpetrated against the Rohingya to this day.” The case at the ICJ is for genocide and refers to the two waves of violence committed against the Rohingya in 2016 and 2017, which displaced nearly 890,000 people, who still live in refugee camps in Bangladesh. The UN-mandated Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar’s report that was released after careful investigation of these military operations found that the Myanmar military had committed crimes against humanity, including “murder; imprisonment; enforced disappearance; torture; rape, sexual slavery and other forms of sexual violence; persecution and enslavement” as well as “elements of the crimes against humanity of extermination and deportation.” Their conclusions that the violence could also constitute the crimes of genocide and their recommendation for senior generals to be investigated for such, partially catalyzed the case at the ICJ. The ICJ’s initial provisional orders included for Myanmar to report back to the court every six months. The latest reporting date was 23rd November.

Yet it is clear that the conditions for Rohingya have not changed. As BROUK’s report outlines, harassment, arbitrary arrest and torture of Rohingya men, restrictions on access to healthcare, blocking humanitarian aid, and arresting those who flee, thus, “match the risk factors for genocide, namely ‘patterns of discrimination against protected groups’ and ‘signs of an intent to destroy in whole or in part a protected group’.” Just this week, in one of the main Rohingya townships of Rakhine State, Buthidaung, the local authorities ordered that all travel within the township and to other townships must be pre-approved by local immigration, as well as the village administrator. The difficult, arbitrary and bureaucratic process to obtain a travel permission document that was already in place has now been made even harder. The result is that access to healthcare, education and livelihoods will only worsen in a situation of extreme precarity. On 29 November, the Myanmar navy seized a boat with 228 Rohingya onboard who were fleeing the country. Clearly the conditions are so bad that they would risk this often perilous and – as many previous tragic attempts to flee illustrate – fatal journey to escape their apartheid.

Another aspect outlined by BROUK’s report is the repeated denial of Rohingya identity, and labelling Rohingya as ‘Bengali’ which implies that they are illegal immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh. This tired trope, used to ‘other’ the Rohingya and deny their legitimate claims to their identity and homeland, has been used for decades, not just by the Myanmar military, but the NLD government, and misguided foreign academics that cannot escape a colonial mentality. One recent example of the use of the term ‘Bengali’ is by Yohei Sasakawa, Chairman of the Sasakawa Foundation and son of the notorious suspected Class A Japanese war criminal, Ryoichi Sasakawa, when donating to IDP camps in Rakhine State. The Sasakawa Foundation, set up by Ryoichi, has long-standing links to the Myanmar military, including between Yohei Sasakawa and former dictator Than Shwe.

Most of the Rohingya who have had to flee their homeland and are now living in underfunded and precarious refugee camps in Bangladesh. While this has put a huge strain on the Bangladeshi government, its plans to relocate many of them to a flood-prone, barely habitable island of Bashan Char is deeply worrying. Protests last year from Rohingya refugees about relocation to this island were met with beatings by Bangladeshi authorities. Since then, already 20,000 have been relocated there, but issues around consent, freedom of movement, and coercion into moving there, as documented by Human Rights Watch, means that the type of permissions they need in Rakhine State, to access healthcare or education, are being applied to Bhasan Char. This is a clear violation of the rights of people who have already had to endure the worst possible violence and living conditions. Already, hundreds have tried to escape and protests about the conditions occurred when officials from the UN refugee agency, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), visited in June 2021. Despite such visits, the UNHCR appears powerless to affect substantive change for the living conditions for these Rohingya refugees. Meanwhile, the latest resolution by the UN General Assembly (UNGA) stops short of addressing the violence that these Rohingya communities and many others from Myanmar continue to face. As Wai Wai Nu, of the Women Peace Network, commented in a statement by Myanmar civil society organizations about the inadequacy of the UNGA’s resolution, “The voluntary and dignified return of Rohingya will not be possible without addressing current human rights and humanitarian crisis stemming from the attempted coup by the Myanmar military. At the root of these crises is the military who continues to be able to enjoy blanket impunity.“

The atrocity crimes that the junta has committed against the people of Myanmar since the attempted coup of 1st of February is not an aberration. The people of Myanmar, especially ethnic minorities including the Rohingya, have experienced destruction and devastation for decades. The issues that Rohingya continue to face, including lack of freedom of movement, denial of identity, and their ongoing displacement, speaks to the unaddressed impunity that the military has enjoyed and that emboldens them to continue committing their scorched earth campaigns. A complete lack of an independent and impartial domestic judiciary means that the only way for justice and accountability to be pursued is through international mechanisms such as the ICJ, as well as the International Criminal Court. Therefore, the recent decision by the Federal Court of Argentina to open a case against the Myanmar military for the crime of genocide under the legal principle of Universal Jurisdiction is a positive and critical step. As was the National Unity Government’s announcement that it recognizes the Rohingya, will seek to repeal the 1982 Citizenship Law, and will “endeavour to seek justice and accountability for all crimes committed by the military against the Rohingya.” It has also lodged a declaration with the registrar of the International Criminal Court which should be accepted as the NUG is the legitimate government of Myanmar. Such steps are important for the Rohingya and all people of Myanmar. Until the Myanmar military is dismantled, with its top leaders found accountable by law, Myanmar will not be able to lay the foundations for the federal democracy the people are dying on the streets and in the villages for.

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[1] One year following the 1988 pro-democracy uprising, the former military junta changed the country’s name from Burma to Myanmar overnight. Progressive Voice uses the term ‘Myanmar’ in acknowledgement that most people of the country use this term. However, the deception of inclusiveness and the historical process of coercion by the former State Peace and Development Council military regime into usage of ‘Myanmar’ rather than ‘Burma’ without the consent of the people is recognized and not forgotten. Thus, under certain circumstances, ‘Burma’ is used.

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