Friday, November 29, 2019

The Silence Is Deafening

The Organization for World Peace

The Silence Is Deafening

Earlier this month, British-Bangladeshi film-maker Leesa Gazi released her award winning documentary feature ‘Rising Silence’ to the British public. The documentary tracks the story of four sisters who were abducted during the 1971 war in which East Pakistan broke with West Pakistan to become Bangladesh. During the nine-month war of independence, according to the source, between 200,000 and 400,000 Bangladeshi women and girls were raped and tortured by the Pakistan Army and pro-Pakistan militias. Even in the hope that the figure is closer to 200,000, the 1971 war is proof that rape is used as an instrument of terror and is a crime against humanity.

After the war and the subsequent release of the women and girls, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, “the father of the Bengali nation,” awarded the women the title of “Birangona,” the brave or courageous heroines. While the title may appear to honour the women who suffered this abuse, the cruel reality is one of further ostracisation from their community and country. The title was an attempt by the new government to persuade families to accept the women back into the family unit. Bangladesh remains a conservative and patriarchal society, whereby the rape of a female family-member brings the family disgrace and shame. Uncovering the much forgotten and under-reported story of the Birangona women, film-maker Gazi has noted, “we could dismiss their accounts as isolated incidents of a forgotten war in a distant land, committed nearly 50 years ago.” However, as Gazi has astutely reminded her audience, “The problem is that the same pattern of sexual violence and rape in armed conflicts continues to be used today.” Children born from the rape of the Bangladeshi women and girls are now approaching their 50th birthday. This group of stigmatised women, and resulting children, have only been replaced with a new class, as a consequence of the mass rape of the Rohingya women.
For decades, the Myanmar Armed Forces, or more specifically the Tatmadaw, have used sexual violence as a weapon of war. Their targets have been the minority ethnic groups living in Myanmar, particularly the Rohingya Muslim women. A escalation in August 2017 resulted in more than 700,000 people leaving their homes to find refuge elsewhere. More traumatic, the systematic campaign of rape by the Tatmadaw has led Pramila Patten, a United Nations special representative on sexual violence in conflict, to deem it “a calculated tool of terror aimed at the extermination and removal of the Rohingya as a group.” One particular story recounted by New York Times reporter Jeffrey Gettleman was deeply horrifying. In the village of Tula Toli, in the Muslim Rakhine region, the soldiers clubbed a Rohingya woman named Rajuma in the face before tearing her screaming child from her arms and throwing him into a fire. “They threw my baby into a fire – they just flung him,” she said. Rajuma was then taken into a house and gang-raped. In a single day, she was raped and lost her son, her mother, her younger brother as well as her two younger sisters who were first raped before being shot.
Her story of rape, imprisonment and torture is not unique. These women are made to suffer two-fold: the humiliation and pain of being sexually assaulted is only followed by a lifetime of isolation and stigmatisation. In traditional Rohingya Muslim society, being raped leads to ignominy to the family. Like their Bangladeshi counterparts, many Rohingya women and girls fall pregnant. Gossip then ensues when the women and girls give birth to children with an unnaturally pale complexion. Yet, the women experience further trauma. It has been well-recorded that in the uncertain and stressful state of refugee life, domestic violence in camps is common. The Rohingya people are no exception.
It is not hard to see the parallels between the Bangladeshi and Rohingya women. Their story is unfortunately a shared experience. Women in armed conflicts are more than often the first to be affected and the last to be heard and listened to. As film-maker Gazi argues, if we ignore or dismiss sexual violence in armed conflicts, then it will never stop.

The Rohingya Genocide Reminds Us of the Holocaust


By Susan Lowenberg and Howard Unger
She was 16 years old and alone in a refugee camp in a foreign country when we met her. Sobbing, she told us how she hoped that her brother might be somewhere in this camp, “camp number 18.” She had heard that he might be alive — if so, he would be her only surviving family member. Or maybe he was in another of the many camps that have been established in Bangladesh for the Rohingya, a Burmese Muslim minority who fled genocide in Burma.
We saw displacement on an unimaginable scale. An estimated 800,000 Rohingya have endured harrowing conditions to reach a country that cannot indefinitely host this many people. A tipping point — for the Rohingya and Bangladesh — is coming. If their plight is unaddressed, it will have long-lasting consequences for the region and beyond — and for people like the girl we met. Yet the Rohingya cannot return home, at least not now, as doing so would be to face the risk of genocide yet again.
Although we visited the refugee camps as members of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s governing board, we primarily viewed this unforgettable experience through our own identities as the children of Holocaust survivors. It’s unlikely that young girl had ever heard of the Holocaust, and she almost certainly had never met the children of people who survived Nazi Germany’s genocide. The Holocaust happened in a different time, in a different place and to different people.
But the Rohingya can all too easily understand the sense of abandonment our parents felt. Our parents wouldn’t have needed to speak her language to instantly understand the fear, desperation and loneliness conveyed by her words. Few people spoke up for our families in the 1930s and ’40s. That’s why we went to Burma and Bangladesh today, and why we feel such a deep responsibility to tell the Rohingya’s stories. We hope to help move the international community to action and do for them what wasn’t done for our families.
The camps’ conditions are squalid, and physical depravations alone are more than enough for concern. But it is the potential long-term consequences of this human catastrophe that most concerned us.
The Rohingya have lived in Burma for generations, but for decades, the government has treated them as second-class citizens or denied they were citizens at all. Today, the Burmese government has shown it is unwilling to restore full citizenship to the Rohingya. They are required to live in segregated areas and denied access to education, health care and the basic protections of the state. Anti-Rohingya activity has waxed and waned, but the persecution began accelerating in intensity two years ago.
Burma is a predominantly Buddhist country. Like many Westerners, we perceived Buddhism’s adherents to be unwaveringly committed to nonviolence. Certainly many of them are. But the Holocaust teaches us that all humans are susceptible to hatred and persecution of “the other.” That is one of its timeless lessons.
We were shocked at the blatant official racism and nationalism that defines Burma’s government and especially its military. At least some Burmese government immigration offices post signs saying “Mother Earth will not swallow another race to extinction, but another race will.” The Rohingya cannot forever remain in Bangladesh. But how can they return home to such sentiments?
Stranded in one country and unwanted in their home country, they languish. Educational opportunities, including English language courses, are reasonably available to school-age children in the camps. But what good is an education if there’s no chance of using it to build a livelihood? Indeed, one of the remarkable aspects of life there is the absence of what makes life worth living: a future. Everywhere we saw people idling away the hours. A few small, odd jobs may arise to relieve some of the intense boredom, but there was nothing constructive for these people to do or strive toward.
The Rohingya refugees would like nothing more than to return to their homes and support themselves. But the reality is that absent a concerted international effort to resolve this crisis, the Rohingyas’ future is grim.
The tragedy of the Rohingya is different from the genocide of the Jews. What is not different is the danger of inaction and the responsibility to promote our common humanity, and for the victims, the sense of profound grief at the loss. As the children of Holocaust survivors, we will do what is in our power to ensure that their story does not end like those of our families.
Susan Lowenberg is from San Francisco; Howard Unger is from Chappaqua, New York. They both serve on the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s board. This op-ed was originally published on

Women Speak From Margins of Ayodhya Dispute

Not the loss of a mosque, but the disregard for Muslims causes anguish.

We, two Muslim women born and raised in Bombay, residents of Bhendi Bazaar, relived the pain and trauma of the 1992 riots on the day the Supreme Court ruled on the Ayodhya dispute. The judgment rekindled within us the memories of 6 December 1992, the day the Babri masjid was demolished, and what followed thereafter.
Etched in the landscape of our minds is the Bhendi Bazaar of the turbulent nineties that unfolded after the demolition. This area witnessed the worst police atrocities and the city’s most prolonged curfews. We did not just witness that theater of cruelty, but also got involved in rehabilitating members of the Muslim community who ended up in relief camps.
Cut to 2019 and we are witnesses again. Again we are seeing the Muslims rise to the occasion, striving to prove their loyalty to the country, offering proof of being good citizens. The manifestation of this desire of the Muslims is how they are working to maintain peace and acceptance of the Supreme Court’s verdict.
But we women, who are constantly battling to uphold constitutional rather than religious principles, we who have urged our communities to have faith in the Constitution of India and not Sharia law, are left wondering by this judgment. Having witnessed the bloodstained journey that has brought India from Jai Siya Ram to Jai Shri Ram, we are wondering where we stand today in our fight for constitutional values.
The demolition of Babri, the ensuing riots in Bombay city and the 13 bomb blasts marked a turning point in how we saw ourselves—as Indians, as Muslims, and most importantly, as women. We saw the façade of cosmopolitanism that elite Bombayites like to romanticise torn down. We saw the landscape of Mumbai change, as Muslims migrated from one part of the city to another en masse to gain a sense of security. Ghettoisation deepened and the two communities were further alienated from each other. Muslims lost lives and property, but most of all, their faith in the state has steadily
dissipated ever since.
It is against this background—beyond the “dispassionate prism of the law”—that the proposal from the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) to seek a review of the Ayodhya judgment needs to be understood. Irrespective of whether their petition is admitted or not, given that the AIMPLB is not a party in the Ayodhya case, one thing is clear: this matter is far from at rest.
When the court ruled in favour of building a temple at the site of the demolished masjid, everyone from Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the Home Minister Amit Shah to the Opposition parties and even the petitioners in the Ayodhya case said that a “peaceful” solution to an issue that had caused bitter strife between the Hindus and Muslims of India has been found. We were told that everyone must respect the ruling and move on.
Curiously, the BJP leaders did not want the same “respect” accorded to the Supreme Court’s Sabarimala ruling. In the Sabarimala case, the BJP has already rationalised the violence as a ‘matter of faith’. Of course, the judgment in the Ayodhya case is in their favour, and so its standards for evaluating the impact of both rulings does not appear to be the same.
Nevertheless, these exhortations for tranquility ignore the role that the Babri masjid’s demolition played in the Hindu-Muslim polarisation in the country. Along with that polarisation came the political ascendancy of the BJP. It is this journey—which began with BJP leader LK Advani’s infamous rath yatra in 1989—which has culminated in redefining the body politic of our nation in 2019. It took this long for muscular Hindutva to completely efface Sita, whose husband is the Hindu god Lord Rama, from the mental map of Hindu divinity. It took this long also to turn Lord Rama into the symbol of a Talibanised form of Hindutva. 
Yes, the violence that we saw in 1992-93 had incited shock, anger, fear and hurt. The same emotions are resurfacing now, but this time they are emerging in a time of “peace”. Over these three-odd decades, the very nature of communal violence changed. There were large-scale riots during the 1980s and 1990s, but now an all-pervasive atmosphere of fear engulfs Muslims, especially the most marginalised among them. This fear unfolds as violence in the name of beef on one day, or their refusal to chant ‘Jai Shri Ram’ the next day.
This is the background against which we are being told that the Supreme Court’s decision has brought to an end a bitter battle between two communities. In fact, the ruling has sent the message to minorities that they can never expect justice from a secular institution. Then what is the value of these pronouncements of peace and exhortations to “move on”? Only those making these claims can answer this question.
What would have been most just was rebuilding the mosque that was demolished. But it would be naïve for Muslims in present-day India to think that the mosque would be restored. The Allahabad High Court’s ruling to divide the land between the claimants had seemed like a compromise. Now, handing over the land where the mosque once stood to the perpetrators who broke it seems like a cruel joke.
True, the Supreme Court has acknowledged that the demolition of the mosque was illegal. This remark is somehow supposed to make the judgment “fair”. But what we see before our eyes is a party that had two seats in Parliament in the 1980s rise, with the temple agenda, to assume two thumping majorities in 2014 and 2019. Following the Bombay riots, the Shiv Sena came to power too, openly asserting its majoritarian ideology in Mumbai and alienating many who had built this city.
What we also see is that those charged with involvement in the bomb blasts of 1993 were given the most severe of punishments, even the death penalty. But those who brought down a historical monument in broad daylight have faced no consequences. On the contrary, they have now been rewarded. Mere suspicion is enough to get Muslim men imprisoned, for decades together, without evidence of their having committed any crime. But if the alleged perpetrators are Hindus then it seems that all the evidence in the world cannot implicate them.
As feminists, we find ourselves at an odd position. Our anguish is not at the loss of a place of religious worship, but at the sheer blatant disregard for any sense of justice towards the Muslims as a community. What we see is a show of majoritarian strength and the loss of dignity for ordinary Muslims. The game of religion is played by men, and women are made the pawns in it. Majoritarian politics has played on masculinities, painting the Muslim as the “foreigner”, the infiltrator, the ghuspetia, a collective against Shri Ram (and not Siya Ram).
Muslim women have to face the dual brunt of this Othering of their community. With issues such as instant triple talaq, the Hindu Right has co-opted the agenda of Muslim women’s groups and is going to great lengths to allegedly offer them protection. But, somehow, the same Right is not interested in
the lives of Muslims when they become victims of communal violence. Nor do they even attempt to contribute to their economic well-being by, say, implementing the recommendations of the Sachar Committee report.
Hence, the decision to file a review petition does not signal closure of the mandir-masjid debate. If anything, the issue seems to be alive and well. It will be used by bodies such as the AIMPLB to mire the Muslim community in fear and insecurity and it simultaneously portends huge political gains for the Hindu right. Mandir wahin banega (we will build the temple in Ayodhya) has been the BJP’s long-standing election agenda. It has followed through on its promise. Even as it fails at delivering on anything on its “development agenda”, this issue will remain a feather in its cap, firmly securing its position as the ruling party. 
The court has ordered the state to set up a trust and use public money to build a temple, but not a mosque. What does this bode for the future of secular India? Now that the BJP seems to have established itself as the savior of Hindus and Hinduism, what more can we expect in the coming years as women?
The authors are feminist activists with the Bebaak Collective.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

SHOWDOWN IN INTERNATIONAL COURT OF JUSTICE: Sovereignty versus human rights?

Now that the State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi has officially said that she will lead the legal team to confront the genocide accusation filed by Gambia, a small African nation speaking on behalf of the 57 Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), all domestic and international eyes are on International Court of Justice (ICJ) hearings which will take place from December 10 to 12.

As all know in 2017, an exodus of more than 700,000 Rohingya to Bangladesh occurred, due to the crackdown which the military or Tatmadaw depicted as “area clearance” arguing it was an undertaking  to get rid of Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) members, who attacked some 30 police outposts simultaneously in August 2017 with impoverished weapons using few guns, swords and spears, where 84 were killed including 13 security officials, according to government’s report.
The followup crackdown targeted not only the ARSA members but the whole Rohingya population in the north of Arakan State. And during the expulsion or fleeing of the Rohingya, grave gross human rights violations that could be construed as genocide took place in places like Inn Din and  Gu Dar Pyin, killing hundreds, which the government and Tatmadaw now acknowledged that have always been denied, according to Fortify Rights reiteration of the episodes and recently made statement. In addition, numerous burning of houses, gang rape and killing were documented by the UN bodies and international rights groups, which are now undeniable.
Although the state counselor has not yet officially given clarification on the government’s position to be presented at the ICJ, the ruling party National League for Democracy (NLD) made statement that the issue at hand is viewed from the perspective of sovereignty and nation-state point of view.
Very recently, Dr Myo Nyunt spokesperson of the NLD told the media that party leader and State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi would personally fly to The Hague and appear before the ICJ to clarify her earlier silence on northern Arakan conflict issue. He also accused, without naming, that it is a plot of rich countries together with international law experts to put Myanmar in a bad light.
Besides, trying to look at the culprit behind the scene, it is hoped that this will not become a tradition of interfering in the sovereignty of a state, said Dr Myo Nyunt.
“From the departed hundreds of thousands (some 700,000 Rohingya) only few have returned. Before the return of a few, there was not even one returning. I see this from such a multitude of people that left the country, the point that no one returned indicated these people are being controlled and made use until they reach their goal in propping up (their goal) with legal approach,” he said.
“This shows the insincerity. By trying to look at the culprit from behind the scene, I hope the interference of a country’s sovereignty easily will be rejected by people of the world,” he added.
“There is satellite photography, and there are many, many statements by officials and army personnel from Myanmar which altogether show that the intention of the state of Myanmar has been to destroy the Rohingya as a group in whole or in part,” he said.
“And we’re very confident that at the end of the day the evidence will be so compelling that the court will agree with The Gambia,” he said, according to the RFA.
Ultimately, the argument of whether the “Rohingya” ethnic identity should be recognized as  indigenous is an issue which stem from different interpretation of the recent history.
The powers that be is determined to erase the Rohingya ethnic identity tag as it was a recognized ethnic groups during the tenure of U Nu in the 1960s. The logic here is that if the ethnic identity is accepted all Rohingya will be recognized as an ethnic group and thus all will automatically become citizens, which goes contrary to the desire and notion of the government that all Rohingya are Bengali and illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, which formerly was known as East Pakistan.
In contrast, the Rohingya sees themselves of stemming from ancestors that have been the inhabitants who for hundreds of years have lived in the areas they are now residing.
Apart from that the 1982 citizenship law stipulates that to be indigenous, the ancestors have to be in Myanmar at least starting from 1823, the first Anglo-Burmese war, which is not easy to prove even for the bona fide other ethnic citizens living in the country today.
Thus, even this argument that Rohingya ethnic group doesn’t exist and is a newly constructed identity by the powers that be in Naypyitaw is based on sovereignty point of view, which is an illegal immigrant stigma pressed upon the people it called “Bengali” instead of “Rohingya”, which is desired by the ethnic group.
However, the immediate issue at hand is whether Myanmar is guilty of being a state-sponsored genocide. And in this respect, the state counselor legal team will have to convince the ICJ jury that it is otherwise.
In practical terms, it would mean that the state counselor will have to continue to toe the line that what the Tatmadaw has done is in line with protecting sovereignty and area clearance of cleansing the Rohingya are in order.
Of course, she could also plead guilty and accept the court guidance to do reform, especially on the human rights facet to be in line with universal human rights norms.
Given the overwhelming evidences it will definitely be an uphill battle to refute the allegations. But in the end, Myanmar either has to do the soul-searching why it has to be at the receiving end of the international ire and condemnation or stubbornly cling to its notion of trying to protect its sovereignty and has done nothing wrong to cause the exodus of the Rohingya.
If legal team chooses to do soul-searching, accepts repentance for neglecting state’s responsibility to hinder genocide and work with the international community to redress the harm inflicted upon Rohingya and other ethnic nationalities, the country will be able to get out of the mess it is presently in and able to end the civil war and ethnic strife. But if it chooses to cling to resolving the conflict from the point of only protecting sovereignty, closely linked to illegal immigrant labeling of the Rohingya or Bengali, the international condemnation will go on. And consequently, other international and trade relationships will also be severely affected.
Hopefully the state counselor-led legal team will make a profound choice in The Hague in December.

In sum, it could be taken that the ICJ lawsuit against Myanmar is largely seen by the NLD from sovereignty point of view and a sort of phobia that the Rohingya will ask for automatic citizenship rights, including the acceptance of being included into over a hundred recognized ethnic groups as indigenous or Taingyinthar in Burmese, and even territorial rights of their own in northern Arakan State. Then this would ultimately means infringing upon territorial integrity of Mynamar, so goes the argument.
On November 21,  Paul Reichler, an attorney at Foley Hoag LLC in Washington, who is assisting Gambia  with its lawsuit against Myanmar for state-sponsored genocide at the U.N.’s top court ICJ, told RFA’s Myanmar Service that there are plenty of evidences to win the process.
“There are many, many fact-finding reports by U.N. missions, by special rapporteurs, by human rights organizations,” Reichler said.

HRW: Bangladesh Turning Refugee Camps into Open-Air Prisons


Brad Adams

Asia Director
Bangladesh Army Chief Gen. Aziz Ahmed said this week that a plan to surround the Rohingya refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar with barbed wire fences and guard towers was “in full swing.” The plan is the latest in a series of policies effectively cutting off more than 900,000 Rohingya refugees from the outside world. The refugees have been living under an internet blackout for more than 75 days.

Bangladesh is struggling to manage the massive refugee influx and the challenges of handling grievances from the local community, yet there is no end in sight because Myanmar has refused to create conditions for the refugees’ safe and voluntary return. But fencing in refugees in what will essentially be open-air prisons and cutting off communication services are neither necessary nor proportional measures to maintain camp security and are contrary to international human rights law.

Humanitarian aid workers reported the internet shutdown has seriously hampered their ability to provide assistance, particularly in responding to emergencies. The fencing will place refugees at further risk should they urgently need to evacuate or obtain medical and other humanitarian services.

Refugees told Human Rights Watch the fencing will hinder their ability to contact relatives spread throughout the camps and brings back memories of restrictions on movement and the abuses they fled in Myanmar.

The internet shutdown has already hampered refugees’ efforts to communicate with relatives and friends still in Myanmar, which is critical for gaining reliable information about conditions in Rakhine State to determine whether it is safe to return home.

The Bangladesh government should immediately stop its plans to curtail refugees’ basic rights or risk squandering the international goodwill it earned when it opened its borders to a desperate people fleeing the Myanmar military’s brutal campaign of ethnic cleansing.