Saturday, October 19, 2019

India: Mob lynching and its defenders

Mob lynching and its defenders
Irfan Engineer
In his annual Dussehra address on 8th October 2019, Mohan Bhagwat, the chief of RSS – a Hindu supremacist organization – stated that lynching was a concept alien to India. He objected to using a foreign word “lynching” to “isolated incidents of social violence”. “Such things have never happened in our country... This is a word for events that have occurred in foreign countries.” (Banerjee, 2019). It is unfortunate that the Bhagwat problematizes the word “lynching” used to describe a phenomena or events that are most reprehensible and abominable. What deserves strongest condemnation is the incident of violence and the brutalities involved, which most agree, is inhuman.  Bhagwat condemns the violence (rather perfunctorily), however attempts to cover up the brutalities involved in the lynchings by problematizing the word. Bhagwat tries to pass such incidents as ordinary phenomenon of violence that occurs in everyday life which can be attributed as natural reaction to provocation. Bhagwat attributes the usage of the word “mob lynching” to a conspiracy to defame Hindus.
Most Indian language media do not use the word “lynching” to describe such incidents. Urdu media uses the word “bheed tashadud” (mob violence). Other Indian language media use translation of words ‘mob violence’ that captures the phenomenon of a mob beating up a few individuals. Does use of any word to describe the phenomena reduce the pain of the victims and their families? Bhagwat and in fact the organizations subscribing to Hindu supremacist political ideology which are commonly referred to as Sangh Parivar in Indian media, attempt to kill the sensibilities of Indian people in general and consumer of media towards suffering of victims by problematizing the word and passing the incidents as isolated, unconnected ordinary occurences in society although undesirable. Calling the incidents ‘undesirable’ are more for public consumption, political correctness and niceties in order to qualify as responsible mainstream organization. However, important Sangh Parivar leaders unapologetically justify and even encourage incidents of mob lynching. They are not even condemned by others from the Sangh Parivar. Jayant Sinha, Union minister in the BJP led Govt. on 7th July 2018 garlanded 8 persons convicted in the lynching case of Alimuddin Ansari in Ramgarh. Alimuddin Ansari was lynched to death by a mob of nearly 100 people on 29th June 2017. The message that lynch mobs get from garlanding of those convicted for the crime by the Union minister is that the Govt. was with them and supported their ‘heroic’ act. There are other leaders of the Sangh Parivar who have approved and encouraged such heinous act.
The BJP led Union Govt. was over enthusiastic and in terrible hurry to criminalise the practice of triple talaq or instantaneous divorce of Muslim women by their husbands and made several attempts to get the legislation passed in the Parliament merely on the ground that the Supreme Court had recommended it, even though number of such incidents of triple talaq were very few. The same enthusiasm is not seen in enacting a law against mob lynching even though the Supreme Court directed that such a legislation be passed (, 2019). The enactment of law criminalizing triple talaq in a hurry and denial of necessity of a law to deal with lynching – both are politically motivated even though the former was sought to be passed off as a legitimate response to the Supreme Court judgment.
What is lynching?
Let us try to understand why the incidents that are described as lynching by the English language media are different from ordinary violence leading physical injuries or even death of the hapless victims. We will primarily try to understand this through two fact finding missions of such incidents in Jharkhand in which this author was involved. The first incident happened on 10th April 2019 in Dumri Block of Gumla District in which Prakash Lakda was lynched to death and two others were injured. The fact finding mission was appointed by Centre for Study of Society and Secularism (CSSS) (CSSS Team, 2019). The second incident of mob lynching took place on 22nd September 2019 which again led to death of Clemitius Barla and injury to two others in Karra Block of Khunti Dist. This incident was investigated by SAFFORB-India of which CSSS is a constituent and this author was a member of the fact finding team. The report was published on 5th October 2019 and distributed to the media in Ranchi.
The lynch mob in both the cases accused their victims of slaughtering a cow and distributing its meat among the participants. In Gumla Dist. incident, the victims were skinning a dead ox and traditionally the caste Hindus hand over their dead animals to the Oraon adivasis for disposal. The Oraons extract skin and distribute the meat of dead cow and dispose off the carcass of the dead animal. Oraons eat meat of dead animal at risk of their health as they are poor. On the material day (10th April), a mob of 40-50 attacked those skinning dead ox and brutally beat them up for close to 4 hours till midnight when they called up police to take the injured away and charge them for illegally slaughtering a cow. The police responded by telling the members of the lynch mob to bring the three injured to the police station even though the hospital was on their way to police station. The lynchers obliged, organized a vehicle and dropped them on the premises of the police station where they continued to lynch them for some more time. Then the police took to lynching the injured and then carried two of the three injured to the hospital at 4.00 am in the morning. By then Prakash Lakda was dead. It is not mere co-incidence that the targets of lynching belonged to Christian community.
In Khunti Dist. the Christian adivasis belonging to Munda community were celebrating their festival Badpahari – an ancient adivasi festival – they were cleaning an ox on 22nd September near the river and doing dangri (distribution of meat of the cleaned animal). Badpahadi / dangri is a tradition practiced by all adivasis and despite of conversion to Christianity the traditions continued. At around 8.00 am, 15-20 people armed with sticks and other weapons from 3 to 4 villages 3 to 10 kms away from Suari village where the lynching took place, started attacking them. The attack could not have been but planned, if so many people from different far away villages assembled early in the morning travelling on foot as the river bed where the attack took place is un-motorable. Those who were cleaning the animal escaped while others who were in the neighbouring field were targeted. Clemitius Barla who died in the incident was handicapped and having his bath on the river was caught and severely beaten. So was Phagu Kachhap, a Hindu from a neighbouring village who was watering his field was wantonly caught by the mob. Kushal Horo’s testimony to the SAFFORB team is important. He said, “without asking anything, they straight away started beating us. We all ran away to save our lives.” Both the team concluded that the incident they were investigating appeared to be planned. The targets were carefully chosen – poor, Christians and adivasis making them triply vulnerable.
Victims of mob lynching
Christians, and that too poor adivasis are unable to fight, raise their voices in media before those who matter or come to their help. They are deserted not only by the media, institutions of the state and civil society, but also by the Church itself which is as scared of the political consequences and accused of conversions. Clemitius’ sister – Karuna Barla – who was eye witness to the lynching of Clemitius told us that after the incident, some unknown people visited them and told them not to file any case against those involved in the lynching. As the case would be time consuming, the result of the case would be uncertain and that it would cost a lot of money. The villagers got convinced on the last issue. They decided not to file any case as it would cost them a lot of money. They were so naive to believe the strangers and fear of financial cost involved deterred them from taking recourse to legal remedies. They did not know that they would not have to spend any money as the state would prosecute the accused on their behalf.
The triply vulnerable poor Christian adivasis are further victimized by the state by filing cases against them under the Jharkhand Bovine Animal (Prohibition of Slaughter) Act 2005. Instead of getting FIR registered against those lynching them, their instinct is to run away to protect themselves from being maliciously prosecuted on false accusation of slaughtering a cow. The FIR against the lynched victims is registered first before registering FIR against the members of lynch mobs. Tabrez Ansari and his friends were charged for theft in another instance of mob lynching in Jharkhand. Pehlu Khan and his son were charged under Section 5 of Rajasthan Bovine Animal (Prohibition of Slaughter and Regulation of Temporary Migration or Export) Act, 1995 in the case of mob lynching in Alwar in Rajasthan. In the Khunti Dist. case, the police had not charged the victims till the date of our visit. That seemed to be a rare exception. The police took the injured to the hospital immediately, though Clemitius died after his hospitalization.
The main reason why only Christian adivasis are planned targets of lynch mobs is to accomplish their objective of triggering off communally polarizing discourse – Christians slaughtering go mata. That is the plank for the Sangh Parivar to divide Christian and non-Christian adivasis and create its influence among the non-Christian adivasis. Communally polarising the adivasis blunts their ‘adivasi’ consciousness as having different way of life and weltanschauung and weakens their the struggle to protect their right to land, natural resources, forest produce – minor and major, against the mining mafia and against displacement in the name of development, in short, their right to jal, jungle and jameen. In Khunti Dist., the adivasis – Christians and non-Christians together waged a successful struggle against amendment of the Jharkhand and Chhota Nagpur Tenancy Acts which would have enabled the big corporations to acquire their land. Their traditional rights to jal jungle and jameen are statutorily protected under the PESA Act wherein gram sabhas are all powerful. The Pathalgarhi movement is to precisely defend these rights wherein the statutory provisions are carved on the stones in the villages. The Christian – non-Christian divide is blunting this adivasi consciousness. The BJP is known to be favouring big business more than any other political party in the country. The discourse of development favoured by the BJP is one which spurs urbanizing, construction of massive infrastructure of roads and flyovers for the urban rich and middleclass.
The lynch mobs and their objectives
The lynch mobs are drawn from the dominant caste Hindus of the region who use symbols like cow as a political tool to further their social hegemony and domination in the area, particularly the adivasis. In the case of lynch mob in Dumri Block in Gumla Dist. belonged to Sahu community. Sanjay Sahu, who was arrested for lynching Prakash Lakda to death and injuring two others has a criminal history sheeter accused previously for extortion and murder. Many Sahus had their brick kiln on adivasi owned land and using the soil of the land to bake bricks without paying a farthing to the adivasis. They wanted the adivasis to live in fear and never demand their land back. Sanjay Sahu was protecting his hegemony and those of his minions and community members and killing Prakash Lakda was neither his first murder nor would be the last murder. ‘Go raksha’ was a convenient cover to his social, economic and political interests rather than a religious conviction. Sanjay Sahu enjoyed the political protection of elected representatives and the elected representatives need Sanjay Sahu and his minions to push the voters to electoral booths. Sanjay Sahu’s political clout is evident from the fact that BJP MP – Sudharshan Bhagat’s victory procession ended in his village – Jairagi which makes no other sense as it is neither the border of the constituency nor has any other significance.
The accused in the Khunti Dist. incident were allegedly from Bajrang Dal and belonging to Rajput caste. They were from Poda, Jaltanda and Karra block head quarters. Their names are Parmanand Singh, Ravindra Kumar Singh, Bhubaneshwar Singh and Pushpa Raj. Our informer told us that there were other several incidents of mob lynching in the area. However, no one reported the incidents being from the marginalized community. When the victims did summon courage, the police scared them away. Since in this case the lynching resulted into death, it attracted media attention and therefore registration of the FIR. The group was working with impunity and creating their political clout and fear among the marginalized communities. In both the cases, one of the objectives of the mob was to establish their unquestioned social hegemony not only over the victim, but the entire community to which the victims belong.
Lynching and ordinary crimes
The difference in lynching and other crimes lies in the manner in which it is carried out and in the objective. Lynching is carried out openly, publicly, demonstrably and without any fear of law. Ordinary crimes are done with as much stealth as necessary to escape the law. Unlike terror attacks, caste violence and communal riots, wherein the targets are any and every member of a community, the lynch mobs target particular individuals accusing them of some wrong doing – whether or not the accusation is a fact. The mob may consist of scores of people, from the dominant section of the society enjoying the patronage of the state. The individuals targeted by the mob are under their complete control and can be made to do anything that the mob orders them to do – even eat shit or chant ‘jai Shri Ram’ or ‘Bharat mata ki jai’ or chant any invocation against the most sacred creed of the victim. The target of mob lynching is totally helpless. The members of a large mob encourage even the worst brutality. No brutality is brutal enough to be not practiced on the victim. This includes jumping on the body of the injured victim lying on the ground and unable to get up, beating for hours together with sticks and other weapons, burning, hacking with sharp instruments. The victim is conceived as worst than animal – a demon whose existence and his/her community’s existence is a threat to the entire society. The brutalities are committed to send a message to the entire community to which the victim belongs. Therefore videos of the brutality are made and uploaded on the social media to terrorise the entire community and gain sympathies of others for the, what one thinks, a ‘heroic’ act.
There is no remorse in the members of the community to which the lynch mob belongs. Lack of remorse surprises us. How can human beings be without any remorse for the brutal act on the victims? While the theatre of communal riots has been mostly in urban areas with some exceptions, mob lynching is communally polarizing in the rural areas as well. Mob lynching is encouraged by Sangh Parivar as a vehicle to take Hindu supremacist political ideology to the rural areas. Empathies of the Sangh Parivar for the lynch mobs is therefore understandable. The BJP and the Sangh Parivar are therefore against enacting any legislation to deter mob lynching.
By problematizing the word ‘lynching’ as foreign Bhagwat and others in the Sangh Parivar obliterate this distinction between ordinary social violence and the brutalities that entail mob lynching incident and indirectly acquiesce the incidents. Some even glorify. However, lynch mobs are not only digging the grave of humanity, they are also digging the grave of rule of law in India and Hinduism itself.

Irfan Engineer
Centre for Study of Society and Secularism

Friday, October 18, 2019

The Turkish Gambit

The only certainty in war is its intrinsic uncertainty, something Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan could soon chance upon. One only has to look back on America’s topsy-turvy fortunes in Iraq, Afghanistan and even Syria for confirmation.
The Turkish invasion of northeastern Syria has as its defined objective a buffer zone between the Kurds in Turkey and in Syria. Mr. Erdogan hopes, to populate it with some of the 3 million plus Syrian refugees in Turkey, many of these in limbo in border camps. The refugees are Arab; the Kurds are not.
Kurds speak a language different from Arabic but akin to Persian. After the First World War, when the victors parceled up the Arab areas of the Ottoman Empire, Syria came to be controlled by the French, Iraq by the British, and the Kurdish area was divided into parts in Turkey, Syria and Iraq, not forgetting the borderlands in Iran — a brutal division by a colonial scalpel severing communities, friends and families. About the latter, I have some experience, having lived through the bloody partition of India into two, and now three countries that cost a million lives.
How Mr. Erdogan will persuade the Arab Syrian refugees to live in an enclave, surrounded by hostile Kurds, some ethnically cleansed from the very same place, remains an open question. Will the Turkish army occupy this zone permanently? For, we can imagine what the Kurds will do if the Turkish forces leave.
There is another aspect of modern conflict that has made conquest no longer such a desirable proposition — the guerrilla fighter. Lightly armed and a master of asymmetric warfare, he destabilizes.
Modern weapons provide small bands of men the capacity and capability to down helicopters, cripple tanks, lay IEDs, place car bombs in cities and generally disrupt any orderly functioning of a state, tying down large forces at huge expense with little chance of long term stability. If the US has failed repeatedly in its efforts to bend countries to its
will, one has to wonder if Erdogan has thought this one through.
The Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982 is another case in point. Forever synonymous with the infamous butchery at Sabra and Shatila by the Phalange militia facilitated by Israeli forces, it is easy to forget a major and important Israeli goal: access to the waters of the Litani River which implied a zone of occupation for the area south of it up to the Israeli border.
Southern Lebanon is predominantly Shia and at the time of the Israeli invasion they were a placid group who were dominated by Christians and Sunni, even Palestinians ejected from Israel but now armed and finding refuge in Lebanon. It was when the Israelis looked like they were going to stay that the Shia awoke. It took a while but soon their guerrillas were harassing Israeli troops and drawing blood. The game was no longer worth the candle and Israel, licking its wounds, began to withdraw ending up eventually behind their own border.
A colossal footnote is the resurgent Shia confidence, the buildup into Hezbollah and new political power. The Hezbollah prepared well for another Israeli invasion to settle old scores and teach them a lesson. So they were ready, and shocked the Israelis in 2006. Now they are feared by Israeli troops.
To return to the present, it is not entirely clear as to what transpired in the telephone call between Erdogan and Trump. Various sources confirm Trump has bluffed Erdogan in the past. It is not unlikely then for Trump to have said this time, “We’re leaving. If you go in, you will have to police the area. Don’t ask us to help you.” Is that subject to misinterpretation? It certainly is a reminder of the inadvertent green light to Saddam Hussein for the invasion of Kuwait when Bush Senior was in office.
For the time being Erdogan is holding fast and Trump has signed an executive order imposing sanctions on Turkish officials and institutions. Three Turkish ministers and the Defense and Energy ministries are included. Trump has also demanded an immediate ceasefire. On the economic front, he has raised tariffs on steel back to 50 percent as it used to be before last May. Trade negotiations on a $100 billion trade deal with Turkey have also been halted forthwith. The order also includes the holding of property of those sanctioned, as well as barring entry to the U.S.
Meanwhile, the misery begins all over again as thousands flee the invasion area carrying what they can. Where are they headed? Anywhere where artillery shells do not rain down and the sound of airplanes does not mean bombs.
Such are the exigencies of war and often its surprising consequences.

Is Putin the New King of the Middle East?

"Russia Assumes Mantle of Supreme Power Broker in the Middle East," proclaimed Britain’s Telegraph. The article began:
"Russia’s status as the undisputed power-broker in the Middle East was cemented as Vladimir Putin continued a triumphant tour of capitals traditionally allied to the US."
"Donald Trump Has Handed Putin the Middle East on a Plate" was the title of a Telegraph column. "Putin Seizes on Trump’s Syria Retreat to Cement Middle East Role," said the Financial Times.
The U.S. press parroted the British: Putin is now the new master of the Mideast. And woe is us.
Before concluding that Trump’s pullout of the last 1,000 US troops in Syria is America’s Dunkirk, some reflection is needed.
Yes, Putin has played his hand skillfully. Diplomatically, as the Brits say, the Russian president is "punching above his weight."
He gets on with everyone. He is welcomed in Iran by the Ayatollah, meets regularly with Bibi Netanyahu, is a cherished ally of Syria’s Bashar Assad, and this week was being hosted by the King of Saudi Arabia and the royal rulers of the UAE. October 2019 has been a triumphal month.
Yet, consider what Putin has inherited and what his capabilities are for playing power broker of the Middle East.
He has a single naval base on the Med, Tartus, in Syria, which dates to the 1970s, and a new air base, Khmeimim, also in Syria.
The US has seven NATO allies on the Med – Spain, France, Italy, Croatia, Albania, Greece and Turkey, and two on the Black Sea, Romania and Bulgaria. We have US forces and bases in Afghanistan, Iraq, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman and Djibouti. Russia has no such panoply of bases in the Middle East or Persian Gulf.
We have the world’s largest economy. Russia’s economy is smaller than Italy’s, and not a tenth the size of ours.
And now that we are out of Syria’s civil war and the Kurds have cut their deal with Damascus, consider what we have just dumped into Vladimir Putin’s lap. He is now the man in the middle between Turkey and Syria.
He must bring together dictators who detest each other. There is first President Erdogan, who is demanding a 20-mile deep strip of Syrian borderland to keep the Syrian Kurds from uniting with the Turkish Kurds of the PKK. Erdogan wants the corridor to extend 280 miles, from Manbij, east of the Euphrates, all across Syria, to Iraq.
Then there is Bashar Assad, victorious in his horrific eight-year civil war, who is unlikely to cede 5,000 square miles of Syrian territory to a permanent occupation by Turkish troops.
Reconciling these seemingly irreconcilable Syrian and Turkish demands is now Putin’s problem. If he can work this out, he ought to get the Nobel Prize.
"Putin is the New King of Syria," ran the op-ed headline in Thursday’s Wall Street Journal.
The Syria of which Putin is now supposedly king contains Hezbollah, al-Qaida, ISIS, Iranians, Kurds, Turks on its northern border and Israelis on its Golan Heights. Five hundred thousand Syrians are dead from the civil war. Half the pre-war population has been uprooted, and millions are in exile in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Europe.
If Putin wants to be king of this, and it is OK with Assad, how does that imperil the United States of America, 6,000 miles away?
Wednesday, two-thirds of the House Republicans joined Nancy Pelosi’s Democrats to denounce Trump’s decision to pull US troops out of Syria and dissolve our alliance with the Kurds. And Republican rage over the sudden abandonment of the Kurds is understandable.
But how long does the GOP believe we should keep troops in Syria and control the northeastern quadrant of that country? If the Syrian army sought to push us out, under what authority would we wage war against a Syrian army inside Syria?
And if the Turks are determined to secure their border, should we wage war on that NATO ally to stop them? Would US planes fly out of Turkey’s Incirlik air base to attack Turkish soldiers fighting in Syria?
If Congress believes we have interests in Syria so vital we should be willing to go to war for them – against Syria, Turkey, Russia or Iran – why does Congress not declare those interests and authorize war to secure them?
Our foreign policy elites have used Trump’s decision to bash him and parade their Churchillian credentials. But those same elites appear to lack the confidence to rally the nation to vote for a war to defend what they contend are vital American interests and defining American values.
If Putin is king of Syria, it is because he was willing to pay the price in blood and treasure to keep his Russia’s toehold on the Med and save his ally Bashar Assad, who would have gone under without him.
Who dares wins. Now let’s see how Putin likes his prize.

UAE pumping millions into 'vast and influential' US lobbying campaign

The UAE is pumping millions of dollars into "vast and influential" lobbying efforts in the US, using a range of public relations companies to help shape foreign policy issues, a report by a Washington-based non-profit alleged this week.

The report published by the Center for International Policy (CIP) claims that 20 US companies were paid around $20 million to lobby politicians and other influential institutions on foreign policy issues.

"Though the Emirati's influence operation differs notably from the Saudi's in many ways, both rely heavily on their FARA registered lobbying and public relations firms to brandish their image in the US, and to keep their transgressions out of the public consciousness as much as possible," the report reads.
The report is part of CIP's Foreign Influence Transparency Initiative, which aims to elucidate the "half-billion-dollar foreign influence industry working to shape US foreign policy every single day".
The report added Emirati influence operation targeted legislators, non-profits, media outlets and think-tanks in an attempt to portray the UAE to the world in a positive light.
The report noted that the image of the UAE's key ally, Saudi Arabia, declined significantly after the murder of prominent journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

"Following Khashoggi's murder, several lobbying, public relations firms, and think tanks ended their relationship with the Saudis. Congress passed multiple resolutions to punish the Saudis", the report said.

"And, generally, the Saudis were seen as something of a pariah in DC. Yet, Saudi Arabia’s close ally, the United Arab Emirates, continues to be seen as a stalwart US ally by most in the nation’s capital."

Despite the attacks on human rights, "the UAE has a vast and immensely influential lobbying and public relations campaign in America, that has allowed the monarchy to exert considerable sway over U.S. policy while keeping the UAE’s indiscretions largely hidden", the report explained.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

I am Rohingya: A Genocide in Four Acts

I am Rohingya: A Genocide in Four Acts

Cinema 10 screens I Am Rohingya: A Genocide in Four Acts at 7:15p.m., on Monday October 21st in Roxy Theater in Potsdam
Directed by Yusuf Zine, this is the sixth film in the Fall 2019 Cinema 10 series.
I Am Rohingya: A Genocide in Four Acts follows a group of refugees in Canada who take to the stage to recreate their persecution by security forces and others in Myanmar. Without any prior acting experience, fourteen youths between the ages of 8 and 22 tell a story of violence, death, and countless human rights violations. Mixing in-depth interviews, rehearsal footage, and staged performances, I Am Rohingya is the harrowing tale of a people whose voices will not be silenced, providing "lessons in how profound trauma can be worked through and converted into art, applause, affirmation, acknowledgment" (Mike McCahill, The Guardian). Cinema 10 is honored to host director Yusuf Zine after the film for a Q&A
I Am Rohingya: A Genocide in Four Acts (2018, Canada, d. Yusuf Zine) is 84 minutes long and NR.
Follow Cinema 10 on Facebook at and on Twitter at @Cinema_10 for more updates.
General Admission: $5.50 for individual and $45 for season tickets Students and Senior Citizens: $4.50 for individual and $35 for season tickets
Cinema 10 is a non-profit, volunteer group which presents alternative film programming. We work to bring the best in American independent and foreign films to North Country audiences. Cinema 10 is made possible by the New York State Council on the Arts, with the support of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the New York State Legislature. For a complete season schedule and more information please visit

Myanmar’s Rohingya Face Diplomatic Obstacles

The Rohingya population of Myanmar became known, in some instances for the first time, to many in the United States after reports of human rights abuses and media coverage of state-sanctioned mass murder that has led to a refugee crisis.
Press attention flares on and off in its coverage of crowded refugee camps in places like Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, and the non-profit and government agencies that have set up aid initiatives there. In looking for solutions to this crisis beyond daily survival, the underlying decisions of regional and international governments need to be brought to light.
The United States has long held the reputation as a country where immigrants and refugees cross oceans seeking opportunity and freedom. With the realities of the current political climate, can the hundreds of thousands of displaced Rohingya be part of this national narrative? A problem that those seeking to immigrate immediately run into is the lack of legally recognized status.
One of the first policies by the Myanmar government to delegitimize the Rohingya and further propaganda that they are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh was to strip them of citizenship and identity cards.
One of the first policies by the Myanmar government to delegitimize the Rohingya and further propaganda that they are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh was to strip them of citizenship and identity cards.
“Bangladesh is not a signatory to the UN Refugee Convention, so the Rohingya are not officially listed as refugees. Without this legal status, the Rohingya in Bangladesh cannot be admitted to immigrate to third countries as refugees,” said Ali Riaz, a Pacific Council member and professor and expert of South Asian politics at Illinois State University, who last visited Cox’s Bazar in 2018.
The president of the Los Angeles Rohingya Association, Ko Ko Naing, said those who are fortunate enough to be admitted into the United States typically do so through UN sponsorship. He currently estimates the Rohingya population in California to be around 150. The number is different for a separate group known as Burmese Muslims who are from cities such as Yangon and are of Indian or other South Asian heritage.
"We don’t know if the U.S. government would call it a genocide."
Ali Riaz
Naing said the Burmese American Muslim Association has worked with his organization on human rights initiatives and educating the public on how genocide takes place. 
“Los Angeles and California are not prime locations to come to. The UN will usually bring Rohingya refugees to states like Texas, Wisconsin, and Oregon, where the living cost is cheaper and there are more labor jobs. Usually a nonprofit and the UN will help pay for a place for one year,” Naing said. He is frustrated by the current rollback by the Trump administration of refugees admitted to the United States from all parts of the world. 
Immigration is not the only method the United States could employ in helping the Rohingya people. Riaz explained that to his knowledge, the U.S. Department of State has created a list of Myanmar military personnel who have had sanctions imposed on them and are banned from traveling to the United States. He said in the past the State Department has repeatedly declared a willingness to cooperate with the international community to put pressure on Myanmar.
Initially in October 2017, there were conversations on whether the terms genocide, act of genocide, or ethnic cleansing should be applied. “In the last year I have not heard any conversations, so we don’t know if the U.S. government would call it a genocide,” Riaz said.
"What we are urging the UN and other powerful Western countries to do is create a safe-keeping zone so we can go back to our indigenous land with dignity, safety, and to get back our citizenship rights."
Ko Ko Naing
This is only a half measure taken to a certain extent without leadership and backing from the White House and a willingness to work with other governments. “The overarching policy of the Trump administration is to act alone, not working with allies. This unilateral approach has made it almost impossible to build a coalition to act on the Myanmar issue,” Riaz said. For example, the president and his cabinet cannot criticize NATO and then the send a representative to Brussels and expect cooperation to resolve the crisis in Myanmar. 
“All they are doing is writing reports they have to take action. Maybe the United States should ask for a peacekeeping force and a safe zone for repatriation. This repatriation cannot be the cat and mouse game of Myanmar taking people back and then torturing them or putting them into concentration camps,” Naing said.
He is referring to a possible solution on the table, the establishment of a “safe zone” by the UN and others for the Rohingya in their home state of Rakhine in western Myanmar.
While the world focuses its attention on the atrocities and discriminatory policies of Myanmar’s government, they are not alone in seeking control of the state of Rakhine. China and India are regional players in this high-stakes land grab.
“What we are urging the UN and other powerful Western countries to do is create a safe-keeping zone so we can go back to our indigenous land with dignity, safety, and to get back our citizenship rights. This is not a privilege; these are our rights,” Naing said. 
While the world focuses its attention on the atrocities and discriminatory policies of Myanmar’s government, they are not alone in seeking control of the state of Rakhine. China and India are regional players in this high-stakes land grab.
“China has been a friend to the Myanmar military for decades when they were ostracized by the international community. China could have used this leverage to intervene for the Rohingya, but instead they used that leverage to secure their investment in Rakhine,” Riaz said.
China is interested in two things in Rakhine. The first is building a port to unload oil from the Middle East and transport it via a pipeline through Myanmar. This would allow China to bypass Singapore in the Strait of Malacca and the contested South China Sea. The second is infrastructure and industry development, such as timber. India has made investments in that area as well and apart from a small number of trucks of aid to Bangladesh has refrained from taking action against Myanmar. Naing said the LA Rohingya Association has tried to tackle this problem.
In looking for solutions to this crisis beyond daily survival, the underlying decisions of regional and international governments need to be brought to light.
“We have sent letters to the Chinese government asking them to help stop this crisis, but they keep saying publicly they have a non-interference policy,” he said.
China’s claims of non-interference fall short when you examine the bilateral agreement between Myanmar and Bangladesh excluding international governments from repatriation talks. “This was proposed and advanced by China. Bangladesh thought that even given China’s interests in Myanmar and Southeast Asia they would be an honest broker, but they weren’t,” Riaz said. 
The regional countries Naing said are speaking up for the Rohingya and making a real effort are Malaysia and Indonesia. He said Turkey is another country that has been ”good to us” in terms of donations but has fallen short of a real solution. “[Turkey] says they can help us with charity. I say we don’t want charity and to be begging for the rest of our lives. We need a sustainable solution: our rights back.”
Jackson Stephens is a USC graduate student in the Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism.

Myanmar might finally be held accountable for genocide, but the court case must recognise sexual violence

Disclosure statement   Susan Hutchinson is the architect of the 'prosecute; don't perpetrate' campaign to end impunity for conflict related sexual violence. She is also a member of the Australian Civil Society Coalition for Women, Peace and Security. 


 Rohingyas refugees gather near the fence at the ‘no man’s land’ zone between the Bangladesh-Myanmar border. The Gambia has announced it’ll take a case against Myanmar to the ICJ. EPA/Nyein Chan Naing 

It has been more than two years since “clearance operations” by Myanmar’s security forces, the Tatmadaw, forced more than 700,000 Rohingya across the border to neighbouring Bangladesh.

During this time, the UN Security Council has remained silent on the plight of Rohingya, with China and Russia working to keep it off the council’s agenda.

But at the UN General Assembly last month, The Gambia announced it would take the Myanmar government to the International Court of Justice for the genocide of the Rohingya.
Vice-President Isatou Touray said The Gambia is:
a small country with a big voice on matters of human rights on the continent and beyond. […] The Gambia is ready to lead the concerted efforts for taking the Rohingya issue to the International Court of Justice on behalf of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation and we are calling on all stakeholders to support this process.
Myanmar might finally be held accountable, but defending the Rohingya from genocide shouldn’t just be left to the global Islamic community. They need to be joined by countries with an interest in reducing the sexual and gender based violence at the core of the Tatmadaw’s genocidal campaign.
Otherwise, these important issues may not be sufficiently included in the case due to regional religious politics.

Sexual and gender violence

Last year, a Human Rights Council Fact-Finding Mission report detailed serious breaches of international humanitarian and human rights law by members of the Tatmadaw, including killing, rape, torture, arson and forced displacement.
The report also detailed how the Myanmar government, as a whole, was responsible for perpetrating these crimes, and should be held to account.

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In an additional report released in August this year, the fact-finding mission found sexual and gender based violence was:
part of a deliberate, well-planned strategy to intimidate, terrorise and punish a civilian population.
The sheer volume of pregnant women in the refugee camps was one early indicator of the extent to which sexual violence was used against women and girls. But the mission also found it was used against men, boys and trans people. 
The sheer volume of pregnant women in the refugee camps was one early indicator of the extent to which sexual violence was used against women and girls. But the mission also found it was used against men, boys and trans people.
In their view, acts of sexual and gender based violence were committed as genocide.
In general, the UN Security Council has recognised the use of sexual violence as genocide, but they haven’t tied it to the crisis in Myanmar.
The council has passed nine resolutions on women, peace and security. Among other things, these resolutions call for the protection of women and girls, men and boys from conflict-related sexual violence, and urge countries to end to impunity for these crimes.
So, it is of the utmost importance that the sexual- and gender-based violence used in the genocide is accounted for in any International Court of Justice (ICJ) case.
How can the ICJ help?
The ICJ adjudicates between states, not individuals. Although individuals commit genocidal acts, under the Genocide Convention of 1948, states also have responsibility for preventing and punishing the crime of genocide.
Myanmar signed the UN’s Genocide Convention in 1957, which contains an article giving the ICJ jurisdiction if another state thinks they’ve breached their obligations.
This means once the case comes before the court, it can make rulings within a matter of days that would be binding on the government of Myanmar, the Security Council, or both. What’s more, it can begin almost immediately and can have immediate effect inside Myanmar.
This could make a big difference for Rohingya still inside Myanmar who are experiencing the ongoing genocide.
An ICJ case could also serve as a way to recognise and remedy the collective harm of the sexual- and gender-based violence, not just the harm experienced by individuals.
International efforts
The Gambia has called on other countries to join it in taking a case against Myanmar to the ICJ. Canadian civil society and parliamentarians have been working to convince their government to bring such a case for more than a year. Importantly, a case from Canada against Myanmar would include sexual- and gender-based violence.
And there are a range of reasons why Canada would step forward in support of The Gambia’s case. Taking such action would align with Canada’s foreign policy objectives, such as those on human rights and women, peace and security.
Canada is also campaigning for a seat on the UN Security Council, but they have stiff competition from Ireland and Norway.
Taking Myanmar to the ICJ would show Canada is a strong international actor, able to work for the good of global peace and security, navigating the full set of challenges posed by the permanent members of the Security Council.
But other countries can – and should – support The Gambia’s case and ensure the inclusion of sexual and gender-based violence in a range of ways.
ICJ cases are usually long and costly. Interested countries could offer financial assistance for The Gambia’s case. They can also join the case as co-applicants in support of The Gambia’s leadership.
Lastly, once the case is lodged, the court allows other countries to intervene. Countries unwilling to come forward as co-applicants could ensure gendered and sexual violence issues are included by making just such an intervention.
At the Security Council later this month, UN Member States will have the opportunity to participate in the annual open debate on women, peace and security.
By then, someone must surely be able to stand up and say:
we stand with The Gambia, we will take the government of Myanmar to the International Court of Justice, to hold them to account for the sexual and gender based violence they perpetrated as genocide against the Rohingya.