Friday, October 20, 2017

Rohingya crisis: UNICEF issues 'Child Alert,' outlines urgent action to save lives

20 October 2017 – Issuing a dire warning on the desperate situation of Rohingya refugee children, who now number more than 320,000 in Bangladesh, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) has called for an end to the atrocities targeting civilians in Myanmar's Rakhine state, and immediate and unfettered access to all children affected by the violence there.
At present, UNICEF has no access to Rohingya children in northern Rakhine state, where horrific violence since late August has driven over half a million members of the minority Muslim community to seek refuge across the border in Bangladesh. “Many Rohingya refugee children in Bangladesh have witnessed atrocities in Myanmar no child should ever see, and all have suffered tremendous loss,” said UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake, releasing a new report Outcast and Desperate: Rohingya refugee children face a perilous future.“This crisis is stealing their childhoods. We must not let it steal their futures at the same time.” In the report, UNICEF has called for urgent action in four key areas:
  1. International support and funding for the Bangladesh Humanitarian Response Plan and humanitarian response plan for Myanmar;
  2. Protection of Rohingya children and families, and immediate unfettered humanitarian access to all children affected by the violence in Rakhine State;
  3. Support for the safe, voluntary and dignified return of Rohingya refugees to Myanmar; and
  4. A long-term solution to the crisis, including implementation of the recommendations of the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State.
The most pressing need for thousands of refugees and refugee children is food, safe water, sanitation and vaccinations. Psychosocial support, education and counselling is also urgently needed. Meanwhile, the influx of refugees continues unabated – between 1,200 and 1,800 children are arriving per day (about 60 per cent the total number) and thousands more are said to be on way.
To cope with the crisis, UN relief agencies are working at full tilt, but funding and resources are in short supply.
Ahead of an international pledging conference on 23 October in Geneva, UNICEF has urged donors to respond promptly to the requirements of the updated Bangladesh Humanitarian Response Plan released jointly by the UN and humanitarian agencies.
The Plan calls for $434 million, including some $76.1 million to address the immediate needs of newly-arrived Rohingya children, as well as those who arrived before the recent influx, and children from vulnerable host communities. The ministerial-level conference, organized by the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), International Organization for Migration (IOM) and Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and co-hosted by the European Union and Kuwait, will provide Governments an opportunity to show their solidarity and share the burden and responsibility.
More than 700,000 over-one-year-olds vaccinated in massive campaign
In the midst of a crisis which appears to overwhelm any response, UN agencies successfully concluded the first phase of a massive oral cholera vaccine (OCV) campaign, reaching over 700,000 children and people over the age of one with protection against the deadly diarrheal disease. “The coverage is commendable as the oral cholera vaccination campaign was planned and rolled out against very tight timelines,” said Dr. N. Paranietharan, the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) presence in Bangladesh. Among the 700,487 people inoculated since the campaign was launched on 10 October, 179,848 are children aged between one and five. “[The campaign] demonstrates the commitment of the Government of Bangladesh, partners on the ground, as well as partners such as GAVI (a public–private global health partnership) and the International Coordinating Group on vaccine provision, to help secure the health and wellbeing of these immensely vulnerable people,” added the WHO official. The second phase is scheduled for early November to give an additional OCV dose to children aged between one and five years, for added protection. The vaccination campaign supplements other preventive measures, such as increased access to safe water, adequate sanitation and good hygiene. To help improve hygiene, a bar of soap was also handed out to each individual administered the vaccine.

Sen. Young: More action needed to stop Rohingya ethnic cleansing

U.S. Senators Todd Young (R-Ind.) and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) drafted a bipartisan letter to U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley regarding the Burmese military's brutal campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya minority. The Burmese military's systematic campaign of arson, murder, and rape has forced more than 500,000 people to flee from Rakhine state into neighboring Bangladesh.
Ambassador Haley,
In light of the Burmese military's deplorable violence against the Rohingya Muslim minority, we write to reiterate our profound concern and to join you in calling for immediate action. Numerous witnesses report that the Burmese military is systematically burning villages and murdering and raping civilians. As a result, over the past month, more than 500,000 people have fled from Rakhine state into neighboring Bangladesh. We share your assessment that the Burmese government is conducting a "brutal, sustained campaign to cleanse the country of an ethnic minority."
We appreciate the work you've done to bring attention to this issue, including your strong statements in recent weeks condemning the violence and calling on "all members of the Security Council to support the Burmese government in ensuring the rights and dignity of all communities in Rakhine State and throughout Burma." Continued strong statements from the United States are crucial, as we continue to bring awareness and leadership to this critical issue.
We must now implement tangible actions against the Burmese government to end the violence, help the Burmese people, and make clear that there will be consequences for those who commit such atrocities against civilians.
More specifically, we join you in demanding that the Burmese government immediately end its ethnic cleansing campaign against the Rohingya; permit safe access to Burma for journalists, humanitarians, and United Nations fact-finding mission personnel; and work to address the root of this conflict by affirming support for the report of the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State led by former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan. We also ask that you call for the removal and prosecution of individuals responsible for these atrocities.
Assuming that the Burmese government will not take these steps without significant international pressure, we would like to work with you to suspend all international military weapons transfers to the Burmese military and to impose strong multilateral sanctions against specific senior Burmese military officials associated with the gross human rights abuses.
We also ask that you request the United Nations launch an investigation to document human rights abuses that will facilitate holding perpetrators in the Burmese government and its security forces accountable.
To accomplish these objectives, we encourage you and Secretary General Guterres to travel to Burma and Bangladesh to bring attention to this crisis. We also ask you to push for a strong United Nations Security Council resolution condemning the ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya.

To build on the Department of State's efforts thus far, including excellent work by our embassies in Bangladesh and Burma, we urge President Trump to use existing authorities to appoint a Special Representative and Policy Coordinator, with the rank of ambassador, to coordinate U.S. policy in an expeditious manner and to persuade the United Nations Security Council and individual countries to support these steps we have outlined. In order to avoid any further delays in responding to this urgent situation, the individual's portfolio and experience should enable the Special Representative to focus effectively on this issue and coordinate an interagency, multilateral, and cross-regional approach.
Thank you again for your strong statements on this issue. Consistent with the United Nations Charter, U.S. national security interests, and the universal humanitarian principles we support, we stand ready to work with you to implement your call to action. We appreciate your coordination with Congress and encourage you to keep Congress closely informed regarding United States and United Nations efforts as this situation develops.
Young is a U.S. Senator representing Indiana.

Trump Plans to Make It Easier to Kill Civilians with Drones

Trump Plans to Make It Easier to Kill Civilians with Drones. Sadly, We Can Thank Obama for That.

Barely a month after President Donald Trump announced plans to deepen and extend the now 16-year-old U.S. war in Afghanistan, reports surfaced of plans to expand another signature Obama-era policy: the drone war.
Specifically, The New York Times reported in late September that the administration is relaxing Obama-era restrictions on who can be targeted and removing a requirement that strikes receive high-level vetting before they’re carried out. According to the paper, the new rules would also “ease the way to expanding such gray-zone acts of sporadic warfare” into new countries, expanding the program’s already global footprint.
Across administrations, the use of drones has increased exponentially throughout the course of the war on terror. Even before the rule change, Micah Zenko of the Council on Foreign Relations estimated that the pace of drone strikes and special forces raids had increased from one every 5.4 days under President Obama to one every 1.25 days under President Trump.
In addition to increasing the pace of these operations, the Trump administration has also loosened guidelines designed to protect civilians in areas like Yemen and Somalia, and overseen a notable increase in civilian casualties in war zones like Iraq and Syria.
In this environment, rescinding the Obama administration’s already lax restrictions on drone attacks – coupled with Trump’s overt and express disregard for human rights and the rule of law – is clearly cause for concern. But that also shouldn’t be a pathway toward normalizing the Obama administration’s own use of drones.
Instead, we need to understand the excesses of the war on terror as a trajectory: The abuse of power under one administration leads to the abuse of power under another. Trump may be driving it more recklessly, but he’s still operating a machine the Obama administration built.
Licensed to Kill
The controversy over drones during the Obama administration reached an early flashpoint in 2011, when a drone pilot assassinated a US citizen in Yemen by the name of Anwar Al-Awlaki – followed, two weeks later, by the US killing of his 16-year-old son.
It was another two years before Obama’s Department of Justice released a white paper that detailed its legal argument sanctioning Al-Awlaki’s murder. As the ACLU’s Jameel Jaffer explained, the paper said the government would only target “imminent” threats, and only when “capture was infeasible.” But in practice, Jaffer noted, the administration used an extremely expansive definition of “imminent” that “deprives the word of its ordinary meaning.”
“Without saying so explicitly,” Jaffer worried, the government was effectively claiming “the authority to kill American terrorism suspects in secret,” virtually anywhere in the world.
That same year, responding to increasing criticism, Obama himself gave a speech attempting to clarify the boundaries of this particular tactic. “America’s actions are legal,” the president asserted of the drone war, which he claimed was being “waged proportionally, in last resort, and in self-defense.”
So it was perfectly legal, in the Obama administration’s view, to launch 10 times more strikes than the Bush administration, according to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, in a vast arc extending from Libya to the Philippines.
Meaningless Standards
But if the war on terror has taught us anything, it’s that legality is malleable – and never transparent. It’s taught us that accountability is impossible when the laws obscure the crime.
In his 2013 speech, for instance, Obama referenced a set of presidential policy guidelines on drone strikes. Yet these weren’t released until August 2016, more than three years after Obama’s attempt at “transparency.” Two of those guidelines stated that there must be “near certainty” that a lawful target is present before a strike is approved, as well as a “near certainty that noncombatants will not be injured or killed.”
Yet it was never clear what this meant. “The [United States] has never described what post-strike standards, protocols, and mechanisms exist to systematically verify compliance with this policy standard,” Amnesty International noted in a critical 2013 report.
Indeed, the Obama administration seemed to take an expansive view of who counts as a “lawful target.” It embraced a practice of launching “signature strikes” where the targets were unknown altogether to the people who approved them. Such targeting was based on behaviors deemed to be indicative of terrorist activity, though what exactly that means was never clear either.
In fact, the White House apparently didn’t designate many victims as “lawful targets” until after they’d been killed. “It in effect counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants,” the Times reported in 2012, “unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent.”
That’s why government estimates of civilian causalities have been routinely lower than counts by NGOs. For example, the US government estimated civilian deaths at between 64 and 116 in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and Libya combined between January 2009 and December 2015. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism’s estimate was substantially higher – between 380 and 801, using relatively conservative criteria.
Worse still, there’s been no accountability for the government officials responsible for civilian deaths. “[N]o such amends exist for civilians harmed by US drones in Pakistan,” the Center for Civilians in Conflict reported in 2012. And no one in Pakistan or Yemen had received “apologies, explanations or monetary payments as amends from the US government.”
In other words, not only was the White House’s commitment to avoiding civilian deaths a largely symbolic gesture, there was in fact no apparatus for justice at all. If legality is an assertion, and if breaches of the law have no consequences, what could ever make the drone war illegal?
Underlying Violence
These are a mere handful of the serious moral, ethical, and legal problems surrounding Obama’s use of drones. They point to inconsistencies, performative justice, and a wholesale lack of accountability – all of which characterized the modest restrictions Trump is now rolling back on the global killing program.
Across all administrations, the logic that maintains a seemingly insignificant line between legal and illegal tactics in the war on terror has a great deal to do with Islamophobia. The victims are all Muslims, or those racialized as Muslims, and are mostly out of sight and out of mind.
Most Americans don’t see the violence and can’t comprehend it – a fact that’s abetted not only the escalation of drone warfare, but also the endless wars in the greater Middle East and the erosion of civil liberties at home under the war on terror more generally. And it’s why Muslim victims have few prospects for accountability.
It is this system of oppression that ultimately underlies drone warfare, whether under Bush, Obama, or Trump. It’s what allows the violence to escalate each year as the war on terror continues – and October 7 marked the start of its 17th year.
Human rights safeguards are meant to be absolute, not relative. Obama’s Democratic Party affiliation doesn’t make his drone warfare program any less illegal than Trump’s brutish brand of Republican politics. It was Obama’s skirting of these standards, in fact, that enables Trump to be all the more brutal.
We must demand standards for the war on terror that are based on international human rights and humanitarian law. As Trump’s abuses become increasingly clear, let’s re-imagine what the protection and preservation of human rights looks like and work to ensure that it’s our standard regardless of who’s in power.
Maha Hilal, Ph.D., is the Michael Ratner Middle East fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, D.C.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Burma: New Satellite Images Confirm Mass Destruction

"The shocking images of destruction in Burma and burgeoning refugee camps in Bangladesh are two sides of the same coin of human misery being inflicted on the Rohingya." - Phil Robertson, Deputy Asia Director, HRW
“These latest satellite images show why over half a million Rohingya fled to Bangladesh in just four weeks,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director. “The Burmese military destroyed hundreds of Rohingya villages while committing killings, rapes, and other crimes against humanity that forced Rohingya to flee for their lives.”

A total of 866 villages in Maungdaw, Rathedaung, and Buthidaung townships in Rakhine State were monitored and analyzed by Human Rights Watch. The most damage occurred in Maungdaw Township, accounting for approximately 90 percent of the areas where destruction happened between August 25 and September 25. Approximately 62 percent of all villages in the township were either partially or completely destroyed, and southern areas of the township were particularly hard hit, with approximately 90 percent of the villages devastated. In many places, satellite imagery showed multiple areas on fire, burning simultaneously over wide areas for extended periods.
Human Rights Watch found that the damage patterns are consistent with fire. Comparing recent imagery with those taken prior to the date of the attacks, analysis showed that most of the damaged villages were 90 to 100 percent destroyed. Many villages which had both Rohingya and Rakhine residing in segregated communities, such as Inn Din and Ywet Hnyo Taung, suffered heavy arson damage from arson attacks, with known Rohingya areas burned to the ground while known Rakhine areas were left intact.

To read and see the images of mass destruction by Myanmar's savage military and Buddhist fascists, click here.

Cornel university to host Rohingya conferences

In recent months, roughly half the 1.1 million Rohingya Muslims living in Myanmar have fled their homes in response to what United Nations officials have labeled “ethnic cleansing.” Two upcoming events will attempt to shed light on the crisis.
The first is a lecture by Gayatri Spivak, Ph.D. ’67, University Professor and professor of English and comparative literature at Columbia University. Her talk, “The Rohingya Issue in a Global Context,” will take place Oct. 30 at 4:30 p.m. in Hollis E. Cornell Auditorium, Goldwin Smith Hall.
Spivak is a well-known literary and postcolonial theorist and feminist critic.
On Nov. 7, a roundtable called “The Roots of the Rohingya Crisis: The Eradication of a Myanmar Ethnic Group” will feature Michael W. Charney, Myanmar scholar and professor at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, along with Burmese filmmaker Eaint Thiri Thu and Cornell associate professor of anthropology Magnus Fiskesj√∂.
The roundtable will take place at 4:30 p.m. in Rhodes-Rawlings Auditorium, Klarman Hall.
The series is organized by the Collective of Concerned Students on Global Issues and supported by the Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies, the Southeast Asia Program, the South Asia Program, the Comparative Muslim Societies Program, and faculty whose work focuses on Myanmar.
The Rohingya are a largely Muslim minority group living in Rakhine state in western Myanmar, a country that is nearly 90 percent Buddhist. Denied citizenship by law, the Rohingya are often described as the most persecuted minority in the world.
On Aug. 23, Kofi Annan, former secretary-general of the United Nations, delivered recommendations to the president of Myanmar on how to improve conditions for all inhabitants of Rakhine state. Three weeks later, top U.N. officials declared that the Rohingya refugee crisis amounted to ethnic cleansing.
The exodus began after attacks on security personnel by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army in October 2016 led to security operations in northern parts of the state. Recent news reports, refugee accounts and satellite images point to brutal treatment of civilian Rohingya by the Myanmar military, including the burning of many villages.
Hastily built camps are unable to meet the needs of internally displaced people or those who have crossed into Bangladesh, India or Malaysia. The refugees suffer from lack of food, shelter and medicine. Bangladesh is now building a mega-camp for 800,000 people to house new refugees along with those who arrived during previous expulsions.
The mass displacement of Rohingya comes at a time of increasingly virulent Buddhist nationalism in South and Southeast Asia. It also occurs in a context of growing American, Chinese, Indian and Russian interests in Myanmar’s natural resources and strategic Indian Ocean ports.

Is War With Iran Now Inevitable?

by Patrick J. Buchanan


With his declaration Friday that the Iran nuclear deal is not in the national interest, President Donald Trump may have put us on the road to war with Iran.
Indeed, it is easier to see the collisions that are coming than to see how we get off this road before the shooting starts.
After "de-certifying" the nuclear agreement, signed by all five permanent members of the Security Council, Trump gave Congress 60 days to reimpose the sanctions that it lifted when Teheran signed.
If Congress does not reimpose those sanctions and kill the deal, Trump threatens to kill it himself.
Why? Did Iran violate the terms of the agreement? Almost no one argues that – not the UN nuclear inspectors, not our NATO allies, not even Trump’s national security team.
Iran shipped all its 20 percent enriched uranium out of the country, shut down most of its centrifuges, and allowed intrusive inspections of all nuclear facilities. Even before the deal, 17 U.S. intelligence agencies said they could find no evidence of an Iranian nuclear bomb program.
Indeed, if Iran wanted a bomb, Iran would have had a bomb.
She remains a non-nuclear-weapons state for a simple reason: Iran’s vital national interests dictate that she remain so.
As the largest Shiite nation with 80 million people, among the most advanced in the Mideast, Iran is predestined to become the preeminent power in the Persian Gulf. But on one condition: She avoid the great war with the United States that Saddam Hussein failed to avoid.
Iran shut down any bomb program it had because it does not want to share Iraq’s fate of being smashed and broken apart into Persians, Azeris, Arabs, Kurds and Baluch, as Iraq was broken apart by the Americans into Sunni, Shiite, Turkmen, Yazidis and Kurds.
Tehran does not want war with us. It is the War Party in Washington and its Middle East allies – Bibi Netanyahu and the Saudi royals – who hunger to have the United States come over and smash Iran.
Thus, the Congressional battle to kill, or not to kill, the Iran nuclear deal shapes up as decisive in the Trump presidency.
Yet, even earlier collisions with Iran may be at hand.
In Syria’s east, U.S.-backed and Kurd-led Syrian Democratic Forces are about to take Raqqa. But as we are annihilating ISIS in its capital, the Syrian army is driving to capture Deir Ezzor, capital of the province that sits astride the road from Baghdad to Damascus.
Its capture by Bashar Assad’s army would ensure that the road from Baghdad to Damascus to Hezbollah in Lebanon remains open.
If the U.S. intends to use the SDF to seize the border area, we could find ourselves in a battle with the Syrian army, Shiite militia, the Iranians, and perhaps even the Russians.
Are we up for that?
In Iraq, the national army is moving on oil-rich Kirkuk province and its capital city. The Kurds captured Kirkuk after the Iraqi army fled from the ISIS invasion. Why is a U.S.-trained Iraqi army moving against a U.S.-trained Kurdish army?
The Kurdistan Regional Government voted last month to secede. This raised alarms in Turkey and Iran, as well as Baghdad. An independent Kurdistan could serve as a magnet to Kurds in both those countries.
Baghdad’s army is moving on Kirkuk to prevent its amputation from Iraq in any civil war of secession by the Kurds.
Where does Iran stand in all of this?
In the war against ISIS, they were de facto allies. For ISIS, like al-Qaida, is Sunni and hates Shiites as much as it hates Christians. But if the U.S. intends to use the SDF to capture the Iraqi-Syrian border, Syria, Iran, Hezbollah and Russia could all be aligned against us.
Are we ready for such a clash?
We Americans are coming face to face with some new realities.
The people who are going to decide the future of the Middle East are the people who live there. And among these people, the future will be determined by those most willing to fight, bleed and die for years and in considerable numbers to realize that future.
We Americans, however, are not going to send another army to occupy another country, as we did Kuwait in 1991, Afghanistan in 2001, and Iraq in 2003.
Bashar Assad, his army and air force backed by Vladimir Putin’s air power, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps of Iran, and Hezbollah won the Syrian civil war because they were more willing to fight and die to win it. And, truth be told, all had far larger stakes there than did we.
We do not live there. Few Americans are aware of what is going on there. Even fewer care.
Our erstwhile allies in the Middle East naturally want us to fight their 21st-century wars, as the Brits got us to help fight their 20th-century wars.
But Donald Trump was not elected to do that. Or so at least some of us thought.

Burma: At least 288 Rohingya Muslim villages destroyed in just one month

At least 288 Rohingya villages in Burma’s Rakhine state have been partially or totally destroyed since violence in the area worsened at the end of August, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW).
Analysis of satellite images suggests tens of thousands of homes have been razed amid violent clashes that have been blamed mostly on the Burmese army.
Many of the buildings were destroyed after Burmese officials claimed they were no longer carrying out “clearance operations”, the charity said.
Images also suggested that villages belonging to the country’s Rohingya Muslims were destroyed while nearby areas occupied by non-Muslims were left largely untouched. In villages of mixed ethnicity, Rohingya homes were burned to the ground while others were left intact, it added.
Burmese officials have accused the Rohingya of setting fire to their own villages but international observers say there is overwhelming evidence that the atrocities were committed by the country’s military forces.
Burma’s leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, has claimed operations by security forces ended on 5 September but HRW said at least 66 villages have been destroyed since then. Ms Suu Kyi has faced widespread condemnation from the international community over her failure to speak out about violence against the Rohingya.
The latest round of violence erupted on 25 August, when Rohingya militants attacked more than 20 police outposts in Rakhine. The military response of Burmese state forces has forced almost 600,000 Rohingya to flee the country, mostly into neighbouring Bangladesh, and reportedly left thousands dead.
Phil Robertson, HRW’s deputy Asia director, said: “These latest satellite images show why over half a million Rohingya fled to Bangladesh in just four weeks.
“The Burmese military destroyed hundreds of Rohingya villages while committing killings, rapes, and other crimes against humanity that forced Rohingya to flee for their lives.
“The shocking images of destruction in Burma and burgeoning refugee camps in Bangladesh are two sides of the same coin of human misery being inflicted on the Rohingya. Concerned governments need to urgently press for an end to abuses against the Rohingya and ensure that humanitarian aid reaches everyone in need.”
According to HRW, the worst destruction was in Rakhine’s Maungdaw township, where most of the violence took place. There, around 62 per cent of all villages were either partially or totally destroyed in just one month between 25 August and 25 September – a figure that rises to 90 per cent in the southern part of the area.
In the majority of villages, between 90 and 100 per cent of buildings were destroyed.
HRW demanded the UN Security Council impose an arms embargo on Burma and implement individual sanctions on the military leaders that are believed to be responsible for the abuses.
It comes as the UN said up to 15,000 Rohingya refugees had entered Bangladesh via one border crossing point since Sunday – many of them having walked for a week to flee Rakhine after their homes were set on fire.
UN officials said thousands of refugees are living in rice fields near the border while they await permission to enter Bangladesh.