Sunday, April 22, 2018

What Are We Doing About the Rohingya Crisis?

By Prof. Qanta Ahmed
Last week, the Pulitzer committee shone its spotlight on The Reuters photography staff for images of violence against the Rohingya as they fled Myanmar. Perhaps this will now ignite more vigorous response.
Perhaps the pleading in the past week by the Rohingya Muslim minority lawyer Razia Sultana for the United Nations Security Council to refer Myanmar to the International Criminal Court for “horrific crimes” against the Rohingya may finally spark some outrage.
Perhaps the refutation by both the U.N. and Bangladesh of Myanmar's claim of safely repatriating Rohingya refugees may arouse new awareness.
Perhaps the imprisonment for the past four months of Reuters journalists for reporting on the killings of Rohingya Muslim men can instigate action.
Perhaps the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s recent rescinding of its 2012 Elie Wiesel Award to Myanmar’s Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, once a human-rights hero in the West with few equals, for her failure to speak out against the ongoing Rohingya genocide may spur some wider response.
Or perhaps we will stay silent and unmoved by all of these recent reminders of the urgency to witness the inhumanity today being visited upon the Rohingya people. Perhaps we have learned nothing from history’s enduring lessons of violence connecting all peoples.

We may be doomed to forget these atrocities as well as those of the past. A recent study shows that 22 percent of American millennials surveyed had not heard of the Holocaust, and 66 percent could not identify what Auschwitz is.  
This legacy of Jewish memory-- long and filled with pain culminating in the worst genocide in history -- concerns Muslims today, as Muslims find themselves facing genocide in Myanmar.
Relief web, a leading humanitarian information resource began gathering testimony of Rohingya refugees between September and October of 2017. A total of 1,360 published testimonies from Rohingya people displaced in Cox Bazaar, Bangladesh confirm an almost universal experience (92 percent) of systemized state-sanctioned violence against them, augmented by civilian vigilante groups.
The stories are of a systemic campaign of sexual violence against women and girls and multiple reports of the murder of infants and children by burning or drowning, indicating an intent to eradicate future generations of the Rohingya.
The United Nations, concerned that genocide is underway, formally launched efforts to document Myanmar’s human rights violations in May of last  year.
The Rohingya people are long recognized to be among the most persecuted minorities in the world today. Under Myanmar’s Citizenship Law enacted in 1982, Rohingya people are denied all three tiers of citizenship because they are deemed “non-indigenous” and not of the 135 national races that Myanmar recognizes.
Naturalization, while technically available to them, is in effect inaccessible because they are required to prove ancestral heritage in the Rakhine state prior to 1948. That is simply unattainable for most Rohingya people.
Defining them therefore as illegal Bangladeshi immigrants, Myanmar by law renders these people, native born to Myanmar, as stateless. Even when they do have citizenship, they continue to be denied basic rights.
Following her investigative visit last summer to assess the situation in Bangladeshi refugee camps, U.N. Special Rapporteur Yanghee Lee announced the Rohingya people  had been subject to state-sanctioned arbitrary arrests, torture, murder of men, women, children and infants, sexual violence and rape, enforced property seizures, torching of  villages, enforced disappearances. forcible displacement and relocation and land grabbing. All of this is at the hands of the Myanmar security forces and authorities.
The U.N. also added that Myanmar’s decision to deny the U.N. all access to the country “can only be viewed as a strong indication that there must be something terribly awful happening in Rakhine, as well as in the rest of the country.”
Lee underlined that these treatments bear the “hallmarks of genocide,” and “amount to a crime against humanity.”
It is an unfathomable repeat of history.
Some in the Muslim world have taken leadership on this issue by providing shelter to over 1 million fleeing Rohingya people in Bangladesh as Indonesia attempts to raise international awareness.
For every Muslim around the world, bearing witness to their suffering is a matter not only of participating in lifesaving intervention, but also an opportunity to finally come to grips of their denial of the history of Jewish genocide during the Holocaust.
As inconceivable as it seems, millions of Muslims remain woefully ignorant of the Holocaust. A 2006 Pew study confirms anti-Jewish sentiment remains overwhelmingly centered in predominantly Muslim majority countries.
Holocaust denial has a marked presence in the Muslim majority world, where more than 51 percent of Muslims surveyed said they believe the scale of Jews murdered in the Holocaust is greatly exaggerated. In the Middle East North African region, this rises to 63 percent.
The persecution of Jews has filled collective memory over millennia. This is the same peril the Rohingya people are finding themselves in today and efforts to bear witness are finally underway.
More than seven decades after the end of the Holocaust, The University of Southern California Shoah Foundation’s Executive Director Stephen Smith recently traveled in a skeleton team to record and lend voice to Rohingya Muslim survivors of genocide.
In the 25 years since its inception, the Shoah Foundation’s Institute of Visual History has become the keeper of the world’s largest archive of audiovisual testimonies of 55,000 survivors and witnesses to genocide.
There is great power in bearing witness, which is why perpetrators, whether German Nazis or Myanmar authorities, seek to conceal their acts at all costs. Truth moves humanity and effects change. Bearing witness halts genocide. It is this power of witnessing that holds value for all Muslims, Jews and all peoples around the world.
Events without witnesses – as the Myanmar authorities wish the Rohingya persecution to be—are sinister in their evocation of the ultimate event without witness, the Holocaust. Central to the savagery of mankind’s worst genocide was contemporary humanity’s refusal to witness.
As history repeats, silence is not an acceptable response.
Dr. Qanta A. Ahmed is a British American Muslim physician, Member of The University of Southern California's Shoah Foundation’s Committee on Countering Contemporary Anti-Semitism Through Testimony, and Member of the Council on Foreign Relations. @MissDiagnosis

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Violence against Rohingya exposed in 'shocking photos'

In the torrential night-time rain, the sheets that covered them clung to the bodies.
“You couldn’t see how many were under the sheets, but what I could see was that most were children,” Sagolj said.
The photo he captured was one of a series awarded the Pulitzer Prize for feature photography on Monday, described by the judging committee as “shocking photographs that exposed the world to the violence Rohingya refugees faced in fleeing Myanmar.”
An exhausted Rohingya refugee woman touches the shore after crossing the Bangladesh-Myanmar border by boat through the Bay of Bengal, in Shah Porir Dwip, Bangladesh September 11, 2017. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui
The latest crackdown by authorities and Buddhist civilians against the Rohingya population in Myanmar’s Rakhine state created a mass exodus of over 600,000 Rohingya children, women and men who fled their homes at the end of 2017.
The refugees have reported killings, rape and arson on a large scale, and senior United Nations officials have described the violence against the Muslim Rohingya population as a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”
Myanmar has denied ethnic cleansing or systematic human rights abuses, saying it waged a legitimate counter-insurgency operation. The army has said its crackdown was provoked by the attacks of Rohingya militants on more than two dozen police posts and an army base last August.
Reuters has covered the plight of the Rohingya since 2012, but in 2017 it became clear that the scale of this exodus was far larger than previous migrations.
For the next several months, a team of photographers, including Sagolj, Cathal McNaughton, Danish Siddiqui, Soe Zeya Tun, Adnan Abidi, Mohammad Ponir Hossain, and Hannah McKay, working under the direction of Asia Pictures Editor Ahmad Masood, documented the journeys of refugees by sea on rickety fishing boats and over land through barbed wire and along other routes.
They also visited refugee camps to tell the stories of the new lives the Rohingya built and the scars they brought with them.
Smoke is seen on the Myanmar border as Rohingya refugees walk on the shore after crossing the Bangladesh-Myanmar border by boat through the Bay of Bengal.
Smoke is seen on the Myanmar border as Rohingya refugees walk on the shore after crossing the  Bangladesh-Myanmar border by boat through the Bay of Bengal. 11 Sep 2017. Shah Porir Dwip, Bangladesh. Reuters/Danish Siddiqui : Maungdaw, Myanmar. Reuters/Soe Zeya Tun :The remains of a burned Rohingya village is seen in this aerial photograph near Maungdaw, north of Rakhine State, Myanmar."I had the impression that these people want everybody to know what happens to them," Sagolj said. "They all really wanted their story to be told."Rohingya refugees cross the Naf River with an improvised raft to reach to Bangladesh in Teknaf.Rohingya refugees cross the Naf River with an improvised raft to reach to Bangladesh in Teknaf. 12 Nov 2017. Teknaf, Bangladesh. Reuters/Mohammad Ponir Hossain : 2 Nov 2017. Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh. Reuters/Hannah McKay :Rohingya refugees are reflected in rain water along an embankment next to paddy fields after fleeing from Myanmar into Palang Khali, near Cox's Bazar.A security officer attempts to control Rohingya refugees waiting to receive aid in Cox's Bazar.21 Sep 2017. Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh. Reuters/Cathal McNaughton: A security officer attempts to control Rohingya refugees waiting to receive aid in Cox's Bazar.24 Sep 2017. Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh. Reuters/Cathal McNaughton :Rohingya refugees scramble for aid at a camp in Cox's Bazar.Rohingya siblings fleeing violence hold one another as they cross the Naf River along the Bangladesh-Myanmar border in Palong Khali, near Cox’s Bazar.1 Nov 2017. Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh. Reuters/Adnan Abidi :Rohingya siblings fleeing violence hold one another as they cross the Naf River along the Bangladesh-Myanmar border in Palong Khali, near Cox ’s Bazar.An exhausted Rohingya refugee fleeing violence in Myanmar cries for help from others crossing into Palang Khali.2 Nov 2017. Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh. Reuters/Hannah McKay:An exhausted Rohingya refugee fleeing violence in Myanmar cries for help from others crossing into Palang Khali.

Rohingya refugee children fly improvised kites at the Kutupalong refugee camp near Cox's Bazar.10 Dec 2017. Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh. Reuters/Damir Sagolj :Rohingya refugee children fly improvised kites at the Kutupalong refugee camp near Cox's Bazar.Bodies of Rohingya refugees, who died when their boat capsized while fleeing Myanmar, are placed in a local madrasa in Shah Porir Dwip, Teknaf.9 Oct 2017. Shah Porir Dwip, Bangladesh. Reuters/Damir Sagolj : Bodies of Rohingya refugees, who died when their boat capsized while fleeing Myanmar, are placed in a local madrasa in Shah Porir Dwip, Teknaf.Rohingya refugees try to take shelter from torrential rain as they are held by the Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) after illegally crossing the border, in Teknaf.31 Aug 2017. Teknaf, Bangladesh. Reuters/Mohammad Ponir Hossain :Rohingya refugees try to take shelter from torrential rain as they are held by the Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) after illegally crossing the border, in Teknaf.
While the size of camps expanded, one thing that never changed was the stories the refugees brought with them.
“The same horror stories of killings and rape and massacres that we were hearing when the first refugees started crossing in August and September, the exact same – if not worse – stories were being told three months after that,” Sagolj said.
Even as the team captured images of the refugees at their most vulnerable – mourning mothers, scarred children, survivors of violent attacks – the journalists found that the refugees were surprisingly open. The photographers experienced almost no resistance from refugees as they photographed the refugees and asked about their experiences.
“I had the impression that these people want everybody to know what happens to them,” Sagolj said. “They all really wanted their story to be told.”
Reporting by Andrea Januta, Editing by Leela de Kretser and William Maclean.
To see all the pictures, click here.

Violence against Rohingya in Myanmar has become genocide according to report

The International State Crime Initiative (ISCI) at Queen Mary University of London reports that the Myanmar Rohingya are now suffering the final stages of genocide. ISCI warns that unless the international community takes urgent, meaningful action, the Myanmar Rohingya will be eliminated.​

Genocide Continues, is based on extensive interviews with survivors living in Bangladesh. It presents irrefutable evidence of the final stages of genocide; mass annihilation and symbolic enactment, both of which remove the victim group from the country’s collective history.
According to ISCI researchers, genocide is often characterised by violent harassment from security forces in times of crisis, including sporadic attacks against the stigmatised group. State propaganda is also used to stigmatise one group as ‘other’, desensitising the population at large so that they ignore, condone, and even participate in the genocide that is happening around them.

Violence has become genocide

Interviews with survivors confirm that the onslaught launched in August 2017 was not a response to alleged attacks by Rohingya militants, as the authorities claim, but was in fact the planned final act in a genocidal process that has been going on for decades.
The report also details the tools of genocide that are being used against the Rohingya, including mass rape and gendered violence, something which has been denied by Myanmar’s government.
Professor Penny Green from Queen Mary’s School of Law and Director of ISCI said: “The parallels between the situation in Myanmar and other genocides are stark. The treatment of the Rohingya is reminiscent of that of the Jews in Germany in the 1930s.
“They have been ghettoised, denied the right to a livelihood, rounded up and executed. Now the Myanmar state is obliterating all trace of Rohingya and simultaneously re-making society in northern Rakhine state, the final stage of genocide.”
ISCI calls for humanitarian response
As early as 2015 ISCI researchers warned that state-led policies towards the Rohingya were tantamount to genocidal persecution. Over one million Rohingya are now living in temporary camps in neighbouring Bangladesh, which is described as the world’s most densely populated settlement of refugees. Those who do escape face further risk to life as a result of the squalid conditions in camps.
The new ISCI report calls on the international community to ensure that the humanitarian response is adequately funded to cope with the crisis and that the repatriation of Rohingya to Myanmar is prevented until their safety, security and human rights are guaranteed.

The day they took our men

In February, a Reuters investigation revealed how Myanmar soldiers and Buddhist villagers had shot and hacked 10 Rohingya men to death. The families of the men made the painful choice to flee Myanmar without knowing their fate, crossing rivers and seas to reach safety in Bangladesh. There, in teeming refugee camps, they finally learned what happened on that rain-swept September day in their village of Inn Din.
The Reuters story and the photographs that accompanied it were the first confirmation for many of the families that their men were dead. Two photos show the men kneeling, one with their hands tied behind their backs, the other with their hands behind their necks. Another shows their bodies in a shallow grave.

On Tuesday, the Myanmar military said it had sentenced seven soldiers to long prison terms for their role in the Inn Din massacre. Two Reuters reporters who exposed the killings have been imprisoned in Yangon and face possible charges of violating the country’s Official Secrets Act.

Seven months after the murders, Reuters tracked down the victims’ families in different corners of the Bangladeshi camps to hear their stories of loss, love and survival. They agreed to gather for a picture.

Hover to see detail
Explore the journey the families took as they fled Inn Din and learn what has become of them. Their story is told in two chapters.

A haunting choice

Portraits of the families, and their stories

Escape from Myanmar

How they fled home and found refuge

A haunting choice

“If we stay here, they’ll kill us all.”

Hasina Khatun, 35
Wife of Dil Mohammed

“All the villages along the way were burning,” says Hasina Khatun of her five-day trek from Myanmar with her six children. “When we saw the fires, we started to run.”
Her husband, Dil Mohammed, was a fish merchant in Inn Din. Now in Balukhali camp, she fights back tears when recalling the “very difficult” decision to leave Myanmar without him.
At Na Khaung To, the Myanmar beach where Rohingya boarded boats for Bangladesh, she gave the boatman two earrings. It was enough to pay for her five younger children, said the boatman, but not for her oldest boy, Sultan Ahmed.
“Please! He is my everything,” she begged, and the boatman relented. 

Amina Khatun, 40
Wife of Abdul Majid

Amina Khatun remembers the last glance she exchanged with her husband, Abdul Majid, near Inn Din before the soldiers marched him away. “He looked very scared and tired,” she said. “I don’t know why he was chosen.”
She and their eight children joined the great Rohingya exodus to Bangladesh. “We didn’t know where to go. We just followed the others. I thought my husband would follow.”
His death was confirmed in gruesome fashion when relatives in Thaingkhali camp showed her a photo Reuters obtained of the grave he shared with nine other men. “I saw his throat had been cut,” she said. “There’s no way I can get justice or take revenge. It all depends on Allah.”

Shuna Khatu, 30
Wife of Habizu

When soldiers took Habizu away that afternoon, his wife Shuna Khatu waited near the beach with fading hopes. “At first, I thought he’d come,” she said. “Then it got dark and I knew he never would.” She had two children with Habizu and a third was on the way.
They fled north. They saw smoke rising from Rohingya villages and soldiers in the distance. After three days, she reached a Myanmar beach where thousands of Rohingya scrambled aboard boats for Bangladesh. Once, she said, some soldiers passed nearby and the giant crowd quivered with panic.
Shuna Khatu gave a boatman her earrings, necklace and some cash. He ferried her family to Bangladesh, where she gave birth to a son, Mohammed Sadek, who will never know his father.
 Love and Loss
" I believed he would come"

Abdu Shakur, 55
Father of Rashid Ahmed

Abdu Shakur argued with his wife about leaving their son Rashid Ahmed behind. She wanted to wait for the soldiers to release him. But Abdu Shakur insisted they bring their three younger children to safety in Bangladesh, and trust that Rashid would follow.

“I believed he would come,” he said.
Five days later, the family reached a beach where thousands of scared and hungry Rohingya waited for fishing boats bound for Bangladesh. Only then did Abdu Shakur grasp the enormity of the exodus. “It felt like everyone was leaving,” he said.
Five months later, in a refugee camp in Bangladesh, he learned that Rashid had been killed. “Praise be to Allah, my son has gone to heaven,” he said.
After the Massacre: Survivors of Myanmar killings tell their story

Nurjan, 40
Mother of Abulu

After her son Abulu was taken by the soldiers, Nurjan sought refuge in a nearby forest with other Rohingya residents of Inn Din. She wanted to return to the village to negotiate Abulu’s release, but the others said it was too dangerous and stopped her.
“I really wish I’d gone,” she said. “I don’t care if they’d killed me.” Abulu was hacked to death by Buddhist villagers, according to testimony gathered by Reuters and a photo of the grave showing his mutilated body.
But in Nurjan’s dreams, he is alive and unhurt. “I dreamed about him only a few nights ago,” she said, her eyes filling with tears. “He told me, ‘Mother, I’m fine. Don’t worry about me.’”

Nurjan, 45
Mother of Nur Mohammed

Nurjan tried not to panic when she watched the military lead away her son Nur Mohammed and the nine other Rohingya men. “The soldiers told us not to worry,” she said.
Nurjan waited and prayed for three nights in a nearby forest, where hundreds of other Rohingya were sheltering. But Nur Mohammed never reappeared.
By then, with their homes on fire and soldiers patrolling the area, most Rohingya were heading north to Bangladesh. Nurjan reluctantly followed. “I was in shock,” she said. “I didn’t want to leave my son but I had no choice. There was no way I could have stayed there.”
Nurjan told her story in a shack in Thaingkhali camp in Bangladesh. Then she collapsed with grief.

Picking up the pieces

“They ask me, ‘When will father come?’”
After the Massacre: Survivors of Myanmar killings tell their story

Marjan, 25
Wife of Abdul Malik

Marjan lives with her five children on a treeless ridge in Thaingkhali refugee camp. “Even after I got here, I always thought he would come,” she says of her husband, Abdul Malik, a religious teacher at Inn Din.
Malik was the first to be detained by soldiers at Inn Din in September. His twin girls - Muqarrama and Muqaddasa, aged 7 - saw their father beaten until he bled, said Marjan. Now, when they see Bangladeshi soldiers patrolling the camp, the twins run away in terror.
Marjan soothes her troubled children with all she has left: false hope. “They ask me, ’When will father come?’ I tell them, ‘Pray to Allah. Then he will come.’”

Rahama Khatun, 35
Wife of Shaker Ahmed

Rahama Khatun escaped Myanmar while seven months pregnant and pining for the husband she had left behind. Her first days in Bangladesh were equally grueling.
The family begged at the roadside, relying on food and clothes handed out by charitable Bangladeshis. Then they moved to Kutupalong camp which, along with neighboring Balukhali, makes up the world’s largest refugee settlement. There, on a mud-floored shack, Rahama gave birth to her ninth child.
The family survives on U.N. rations of rice and lentils. It’s a dreary diet, but Rahama has no cash to buy the fish that was so abundant in Inn Din. “If my husband was here, he could work and earn money for us,” she said.

Settara, 22
Wife of Shoket Ullah

“He was a good man,” said Settara of her slain husband, Shoket Ullah, who sold fish in Inn Din. “He never quarreled with anyone. He prayed five times a day. He worked hard.”
Settara now lives in Kutupalong camp with their 18-month-old daughter and longs for justice of the harshest kind. “The perpetrators should be killed like my husband was,” she said.
But justice feels like a luxury while Settara struggles to collect firewood and eke out her U.N. rations of rice, lentils and cooking oil. “It’s not enough,” she said. “But what choice do I have?”

Hasina Khatun, 25
Wife of Abul Hashim, Sister of Abulu

Hasina Khatun lost two loved ones at Inn Din: her husband, Abul Hashim, and her brother, Abulu. From her shack in Thaingkhali camp, she can’t imagine ever returning to Myanmar. “If I go back, what will I do? I have no husband, no brother. Who will look after us?”
Hasina was eight months pregnant when she fled Myanmar. “Please, Allah, let me give birth in Bangladesh,” she prayed as she struggled along muddy paths in heavy rain. Her prayer was answered: Her boy was born in Thaingkhali.
Hasina doesn’t believe Myanmar will ever be safe enough for Rohingya to return. “For a few days they’ll be good to us,” she said of the military and her former Rakhine neighbors. “Then they’ll start killing us again.”