Thursday, May 31, 2018

Israeli minister threatens to destroy Gaza “once and for all”

To read the original piece by Ali Abunimah, click here.
As Israel bombed it dozens of times in the past day, a senior Israeli minister has incited the total destruction of Gaza.
On Tuesday, Israeli army radio tweeted the comments of energy minister Yuval Steinitz, who stated, “I do not rule out the possibility of conquering Gaza and destroying it once and for all.”
As Israeli journalist Asaf Ronel pointed out, Steinitz’s words as quoted by army radio are unambiguous in their reference to Gaza itself being destroyed:
On Tuesday, Steinitz made similar statements to the publication Ynet: “We may have no choice, we will have to strike in Gaza and conquer it, and put an end once and for all to this terrorist regime.”
In that interview, Steinitz appears to be referring to Hamas and Islamic Jihad, two political and military groups that carried out rocket and mortar strikes against Israel on Tuesday after months during which not a single such projectile was fired from Gaza.
But Steinitz’s reference to Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Ynet in no way mitigates the genocidal nature of his comments on army radio, since Israel does not distinguish between civilians in Gaza and combatant members of the organizations Israel deems “terrorist.”
Indeed Israel’s justification for the mass slaughter of unarmed civilians during Gaza’s Great March of Return protests is its claim that the rallies are organized by Hamas and thus anyone, even a child, is fair game for snipers.

Israel provokes escalation as Palestinians seek calm

Three Israeli soldiers were injured by shrapnel from mortar fire from Gaza on Tuesday, one moderately.
Ynet also reported that a resident of the Israeli town of Sderot “fell down and suffered contusions while running to a shelter, as three additional civilians suffered panic attacks.”
As the BBC acknowledged – buried near the end of a report – “The upsurge in violence came after Israeli tank fire killed four militants in Gaza in two separate incidents at the start of the week.”
In one of those incidents last Sunday, Israel killed three members of Islamic Jihad, after which the group vowed it would retaliate.
The Palestinian armed response to Israel’s attacks appears to have had the intended effect: it has induced Israel to agree to return to the ceasefire understandings reached after Israel’s 2014 invasion of Gaza.
According to Haaretz, Israel agreed to a Hamas proposal for a ceasefire conveyed via Egypt.
The Israeli military acknowledged on Wednesday that Hamas was now preventing any rocket fire from Gaza, and that several missiles fired overnight had been launched by “rebellious groups.”
Similarly, Islamic Jihad affirmed that its military action was limited and designed to send a message to Israel.
“We are not interested in escalation and are not going to war, but we want to respond to Israel’s attacks,” the group said. “Israel is violating the ceasefire reached after Operation Protective Edge. There should be a Palestinian response to the Israeli escalation that will demonstrate the strength of the resistance.”
Unsurprisingly, the EU and its member governments, which have failed to condemn Israel’s use of snipers to target civilians, were quick to denounce the limited Palestinian armed response to weeks of unchecked Israeli attacks that have killed more than 100 Palestinians and injured thousands more.
The condemnations made much of reports that a mortar shell had landed in the yard of an Israeli kindergarten when no children were present, causing light damage and no injuries.
But none mentioned how shrapnel from an Israeli missile hit a school in Gaza as students were sitting for their exams.

Warm European embrace

In contrast to Steinitz, some Israeli leaders, while still making violent threats against Gaza, are cautioning against overthrowing Hamas, which despite more than a decade of tight Israeli siege continues effectively to govern the interior of the Strip.
Pragmatic reservations by ministers aside, Steinitz’s genocidal language is remarkably common in Israel. Calls for exterminating Palestinians have not disqualified Israeli leaders from the warm embrace of the European Union.
Posting a call for the murder of Palestinian mothers who give birth to “little snakes” has not put a damper on EU cooperation with justice minister Ayelet Shaked:
Education minister Naftali Bennett boasts about killing Arabs, but is still seen as a worthy partner by EU officials:
Last week, the EU criticized Israel for police brutality against Palestinian citizens of Israel, and for its decision to expel Omar Shakir, the head of Human Rights Watch’s Jerusalem office.
But the pose of defending human rights did not last.
On Wednesday, a senior EU official arrived from Brussels for meetings to strengthen ties with Gilad Erdan, the strategic affairs minister behind Shakir’s expulsion.
Erdan is also police minister and has defended the officers who broke the leg of Jafar Farah, director of the human rights group Mossawa, when they attacked a peaceful demonstration by Palestinian citizens of Israel in Haifa.
And earlier this month, the EU embassy in Tel Aviv was effusive with gratitude that Steinitz had attended their Europe Day gala on behalf of the Israeli government.

One-Third of US Military Injuries in Iraq, Afghanistan Were Non-Combat

By Jason Ditz
The Journal of the American Medical Association has published a paper analyzing the causes of US non-combat injuries over the course of 12 years of conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan. They found accidents to be an enormous and consistent cause of casualties.
Over the 12 years, they found that roughly 33% of the 30,000 US soldiers wounded in the wars were actually wounded in accidents or other preventable non-combat injuries. 11.5% of all deaths were also non-combat.
This is an increase over past generations, with about 13% of Vietnam War hospitalizations being unrelated to combat, and 25% in Operation Desert Storm. In the current study, 21.3% of the wounded were from falls, and 18.8% from automobile accidents. 6.8% of the non-combat injured were injured while participating in sports.
Doctors said that the study should be a “wake up call,” as the three leading causes of injuries were all mostly preventable. Meanwhile, incidents you think would be more common, like unintentional gunshot wounds, were very low, despite the countries being awash in weapons.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Ishaan Tharoor: Italy’s thwarted populists may have their revenge on Italy

The leaders of Italy’s two main populist parties appeared to be throwing down a gauntlet at Europe last week, forming an anti-establishment government that they imagined would act on their staunchly anti-Brussels agenda.
But on Sunday, Italian President Sergio Mattarella picked that gauntlet up and delivered his own challenge.
Mattarella, who holds rarely used veto power over cabinet ministers, blocked the appointment of 81-year-old Paolo Savona as finance minister, citing Savona’s long-held opposition to the euro. Neither of the two parties forming Italy’s coalition government — the anti-establishment Five Star Movement and the ultranationalist League — had campaigned on exiting the single currency, and Mattarella suggested he was acting in the country’s interests by vetoing Savona.
“The adhesion to the euro is a choice of fundamental importance for the perspectives of our country and our youth,” he said. “If you want to talk about it, we need to do it openly and with a serious, in-depth analysis.”
But the populists offered no alternative replacement, and their would-be government has quickly collapsed. Giuseppe Conte, the inexperienced academic tapped to become prime minister, gave up his mandate on Sunday. Mattarella then asked Carlo Cottarelli, a former official at the International Monetary Fund, to lead a technocratic caretaker government while a new election is arranged.
That election, expected in the autumn or early next year, is shaping up to be a battle over Italy’s future in Europe. The populists immediately directed their ire at Mattarella and the European elites supposedly undermining Italy’s popular will.
Luigi Di Maio, leader of the Five Star Movement, the party that won the most votes in the March election, deemed the president’s actions “unacceptable” and called for his impeachment (a process that, like so much else in Italian politics, would be long and complicated).
“They’ve replaced a government with a majority with one that won’t obtain one,” Di Maio told supporters at a rally near Rome.
"The upcoming elections will not be political, but instead a real and true referendum ... between who wants Italy to be a free country and who wants it to be servile and enslaved,” said League leader Matteo Salvini on Monday, raging against the European establishment. “Today Italy is not free; it is occupied financially by Germans, French and eurocrats.”
The populists’ critics accused them of fiddling while Italy teeters toward a new economic crisis, the value of its bonds slumping over fears of what could come next.
“They were supposed to govern, but they’re fleeing their responsibility: either they aren’t capable, or they’re  afraid,” wrote former Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi in a Facebook post about the populists. “In recent weeks they’ve burnt billions of savings of the Italians, with scatterbrained statements on the euro, on our debt, on the future. And today, instead of jump-starting the government as they could easily have done, they attack the President of the Republic, calling for his impeachment.”
But the public mood is not on the side of Renzi and other centrists. Di Maio’s and Salvini’s electoral victories were a shock, but they were the product of widespread apathy and disaffection among Italian voters. Political paralysis and economic crises have led to a succession of technocratic governments running the country and kicking the can down the road.
Alberto Nardelli tweeted “35% of Italian voters think Mattarella was wrong and incorrect “24% say president was institutionally correct, but should have accepted the proposal given the situation “26% think decision was correct and right”
A poll on Monday found that a majority of Italians disagreed with Mattarella’s decision. It also found support surging for the League, a party that seeks mass deportations of undocumented immigrants, that seeks to deny immigrant children free access to kindergarten and that had pushed for Savona’s appointment to the cabinet.
Cottarelli, meanwhile, gives the populists the perfect foil, an embodiment of the elitist, anti-democratic, high-handed enemy they rail against. Yanis Varoufakis, a leftist Greek economist and former finance minister who had his own battles with Brussels, criticized Mattarella’s decision to thwart the populists on their selection of a finance minister - rather than Salvini’s explicit program to carry out mass deportations.
“Beyond his moral failure to oppose the League’s industrial-scale misanthropy, the president has made a major tactical blunder: he fell right into Salvini’s trap,” Varoufakis wrote in the Guardian. “The formation of another ‘technical’ government, under a former IMF apparatchik, is a fantastic gift to Salvini’s party.”
“Cottarelli isn’t just offensive to the League and Five Star on the grounds of economic policy — he also directly opposes the right of the people to determine their own future,” said Henry Newman of Open Europe. “Speaking after Brexit, Cottarelli called for European leaders to block further referendums within the EU.”
This is not a scenario unique to Italy. Frustration with the mandates of Brussels and the domineering role played by Germany abounds in many corners of Europe. There is little debate over the need for European reform, including finding ways to ease the burdens of public debt, the anvil hanging from Italy’s neck.
“Italy is only the clearest example of the catch-22 haunting most European democracies,” wrote Italian philosopher Lorenzo Marsili. “The EU needs profound, immediate reform. A reckless political establishment is intent on keeping everything as it is - come what may.”
But it’s unclear whether officials in Berlin or Brussels will want to give an inch to the populists clamoring for their downfall. “The whole German worry is about risk sharing and giving other countries guarantees and not being able to have any sort of rules-based mechanism working well,” said Daniela Schwarzer, the director of the German Council on Foreign Relations, to the Atlantic. “The arrival of a populist government in Italy - or the scenario now is uncertainty in Italy - basically feeds into the fear that Italy doesn’t play by the rules and that will make any move toward deeper integration more difficult.”
The mutual antipathy stokes populist rage. It now seems plausible that the League could siphon support further from both the center-right and even the Five Star Movement, emerging as the most influential player in Italian politics. The center-left, like its counterparts elsewhere in Europe, has turned into a political bystander, while the country may lurch toward the sort of illiberal nationalism seen further east.
As Marsili observed, “Italy may find itself much closer to Hungary than most Italians ever expected.”

No godfathers will be spared: PM Hasina of Bangladesh

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina yesterday said steps would be taken if any innocent became a victim of the ongoing anti-narcotics drive.
If anyone committed anything wrong during the drive, he would surely be tried, she said.
“Please show us at least one incident from what happened so far whether any innocent became a victim of it.”
Hasina was speaking at a press conference at the Gono Bhaban in the afternoon. The programme was organised to brief the media about her recent tour of West Bengal, reports UNB.
Mentioning that drug was like a disease in the society, she said more than 10,000 drug dealers and users were arrested in the drive, but no newspaper covered it properly.
While conducting the drive, the government did not consider whether a person was a “godfather” or a “don”, the PM said.
The government did not launch the operation all of a sudden, she said. “Intelligence agencies have collected information for a long time. They have worked on those involved in it...we have put them under surveillance.”
Hasina said the government would not spare anyone if found involved in drug dealing.
“I don't know what you are trying to indicate by saying the word 'godfather'. At least I can say when I deal with something, I deal it with an iron hand and everybody knows it well. No godfathers, whoever they may be, are being spared…. I don't look at one's relationship such as whose brother or uncle he is.”
The PM said the people were passing days in peace after the launch of the anti-drug drive. Elimination of drug from the society was the desire of the people, she added.
She, however, admitted that “some incidents” might have occurred during the drive.
About her India tour, Hasina said all the bilateral issues, including the Teesta (water sharing) agreement, were discussed during the visit.
She said she discussed strengthening cooperation and water sharing of common rivers with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at Shantiniketan.
The Rohingya issue also came up for discussion as India was extending all kinds of support to Bangladesh, including sending aid for the forcibly displaced Rohingyas, she added. “India has also assured us of keeping pressure on Myanmar over the Rohingya issue.”
Hasina went to West Bengal, India, on May 25 on a two-day official visit.
The PM said Bangladesh wanted no return from India and the neighbouring country would ever remember Bangladesh for return of peace to it.
“Bangladesh helped India get rid of daily bombings and shootouts. They have to remember that we have helped them bring peace back to the country.”
She said her government worked for the country's welfare and did not protect the interest of any particular person.
Asked about BNP's criticism that she went to India to ensure the Awami League's victory in the next parliamentary polls, the PM said, “I don't know whether India will bring me back to power or not.”
Hasina said BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia and former president Ziaur Rahman had also gone to India.
Reiterating her government's stance about the next national election, she said the polls would be conducted by the Election Commission as per the constitution. “What can we do if any particular party doesn't contest the election?”
About the reported joining of polls by cricketers Mashrafe Bin Mortaza and Shakib Al Hasan, the PM said this has been a practice around the world that celebrities contest elections and join politics. “There is nothing wrong in it.”
Giving party nominations to celebrities doesn't mean that it will deprive the grassroots leaders of a political party, she added.
According to a BSS report, the PM said questions were raised previously over an anti-terrorism drive by her government, but it was able to contain terrorism.
Terming addiction and trading of drug a menace to the society, she said some 10,000 drug peddlers, suppliers and druggies have been arrested since the launch of the anti-narcotics drive, but this was not highlighted in the media.
She questioned whether the society would be in a good condition if the anti-adulteration and the anti-narcotics operations were stopped.
Asked about the progress on the proposed Teesta water-sharing deal, Hasina requested all to have patience as the Indian government has assured Bangladesh of looking into the matter.
Hasina informed journalists that the issue was being discussed at the Joint Rivers Commission (JRC).
She questioned why the Teesta Barrage was built by a former Bangladesh government despite being situated downstream on the river.
The PM also questioned the necessity of building the barrage with a huge state fund as there was no water in the river during the dry season. “Why will you make a hue and cry for water from that river after building such a barrage?”
She revealed her plan to demolish all the box culverts in the capital; dredge the canals in Panthapath, Shantinagar, Begunbari and build roads over those if the Awami League assumed state power for another term.


A senior journalist requested the PM to go ahead with the process to win the Nobel Peace Prize. Hasina in response said she had no intention to do so as she was not financially capable of appointing lobbyists for winning the esteemed prize.
“Proposals in favour of me were sent there from various countries. The biggest prize for me is to ensure two square meals for my people so that they can live in peace.”
She said she would put the DLitt degree from Kazi Nazrul University in Asansol at the top among all the awards she received during her long political career.
The talent of National Poet Kazi Nazrul Islam was multifaceted, she said. “Nazrul has given us a vast reserve of literature and there is no comparison withs him.”
Hasina said as a citizen of Bangladesh she was overwhelmed at the establishment of Bangladesh Bhaban on the premises of Visva Bharati which was associated with the memories of Rabindranath Tagore

Lebanon is not Hezbollah, Gaza is not Hamas

Israeli public relations efforts to turn attention away from inconvenient realities and distract public opinion rest in large part on promoting simplified, dumbed-down messages.
Those are easily parroted by complicit media outlets, think-tanks, pundits,  and by some journalists who prefer the sensationalism of "Iranian mullahs", "Hezbollah plots" and "Hamas terrorists" to the more complicated dynamics of the region and individual countries. Of course, in some situations, this is a good way to avoid an uncomfortable discussion about apartheid and occupation for fear of being labelled anti-semitic.
One clear example of such dumbed-down messages is Israeli education minister Naftali Bennett's "Lebanon = Hezbollah" tweet after Lebanon's parliamentary elections on May 6. "Israel will not differentiate between the sovereign State of Lebanon and Hezbollah, and will view Lebanon as responsible for any action from within its territory", he said in the tweet.
It was Bennett again who in mid-May said that unarmed Palestinians protesting near the border fence in Gaza should be treated as "terrorists". By then, the government he is part of had framed the Palestinians' Great March of Return as a "Hamas ploy".
What Israel aims to achieve by promoting this type of rhetoric is to turn both Lebanon and Gaza into legitimate targets for its aggression in any conflict that might take place in the future.

Lebanon is not Hezbollah

For those familiar with Israeli policies in Lebanon and the history of the conflict, this is "nothing new under the sun". Israeli officials have made it a habit to regularly threaten the entire population of Lebanon (and not only Hezbollah) with destruction, annihilation and blowing it back to the Stone Ages.
This inflammatory language, in fact, describes war crimes, which Israel has repeatedly committed on Lebanese territory. In the 2006 war, the Israeli army killed 1,000 civilians, and the Israeli government tried to blame it solely on Hezbollah.
But as a Human Rights Watch report investigating war crimes committed during that conflict pointed out: "Responsibility for the high civilian death toll of the war in Lebanon lies squarely with Israeli policies and targeting decisions in the conduct of its military operations."
This year, it was not only Israel who chose to read the May 6 elections from the prism of "Lebanon = Hezbollah". International (and some Arab) media were quick to dub the electoral results an outright Hezbollah victory.
This prompted local media and analysts to respond by pointing out that "Hezbollah's electoral domination" is a myth and a reductionist, inaccurate way of understanding what happened on May 6. There are many levels when it comes to reading the results of the Lebanese elections, and framing them as a "Lebanon = Hezbollah" outcome does not capture the complexity of what is happening in Lebanon today.
This is absolutely not to say that Hezbollah is not a powerful political and military force in Lebanon, or that the party does not pose a very serious challenge and obstacle to the emergence of a strong state. Hezbollah's weapons also play a role in Lebanese politics, as we saw in the organisation's May 2008 armed takeover of Beirut and also in its decision to get involved in Syria, without consulting with the government or parliament.
Indeed, one has to be very naive to claim that Hezbollah is merely a resistance movement and that its arsenal has no bearing on internal affairs or elections (both parliamentary and presidential).
But claims that Lebanon is now "hostage" to Hezbollah (and Iran) are exaggerated. They are music to the ears of Israel which promotes this line to justify whatever war crimes its army will commit in any future conflict in the name of "self-defence" and "war on terrorism".

Gaza is not Hamas

Similarly, in Palestine, we have seen an attempt to paint the recent protests in Gaza as Hamas-led and inspired, despite the fact that the organisers come from multiple Palestinian political and civil society groups.
Israel resorts to the "Gaza = Hamas" equation to justify the killing of 114 unarmed protesters and the injuring of thousands who were simply marching for their right to return to their home and for an end to the occupation of Palestinian lands. 
This line was repeated immediately by some Western governments and media. The Washington Post, for example, published a disgraceful editorial claiming that the protests were Hamas' way of launching a war and "an attempt to breach the border fence, in the calculation that many would be killed". 
As in the case of Hezbollah, Hamas is not an innocent actor. It has been implicated in human rights violations in Gaza and breaches to international humanitarian law during armed conflicts. However, it takes a special kind of moral and intellectual bankruptcy to deny the facts on the ground - facts that are attested to by various United Nations and rights organisations.
Indeed, the dehumanisation of Palestinians has reached such an extent that even the human right to protest inhumane and unjust political and humanitarian conditions is denied them. As pro-Israeli commentator wrote, trying to justify the use of lethal force against protestors: all Israel wants from Gaza is "peace and quiet", but instead, its people decide to protest - as if, in 2018, protest is a crime punishable by death.

The 'post-truth' logic

When Vassily Nebenzia, Russia's permanent representative to the UN, described the humanitarian outcry over Eastern Ghouta last February as "mass psychosis", I wrote about his statement in a column for Al Jazeera, calling it an example of the "post-truth" logic.
Unsurprisingly, the White House's Deputy Spokesperson Raj Shah and the US Permanent Representative to the UN Nikki Haley fit in perfectly, along with their Israeli allies, within such "post-truth" reasoning.
In response to the Gaza massacre and the cold-blooded shooting of Palestinians by Israeli snipers, Shah called the protest an "unfortunate propaganda attempt", whereas Haley did not have the moral courage to face her Palestinian counterpart at the Security Council, and instead walked out of the meeting room.
Indeed, "post-truth" logic can't handle the truth. The reality of what happened in Gaza does not reflect the dumbed-down talking points we have been hearing from pro-Israeli pundits and officials on television and in the press.
The truth of the matter is that, as the UN Human Rights Commissioner put it,  "this was not 'a PR victory for Hamas'... it was a tragedy for thousands of families [and] the stark contrast in casualties on both sides is also suggestive of a wholly disproportionate response…"
Israel's occupation and apartheid regime must end in order to reach a just peace, both for the sake of Palestinians and Israelis. This is what the Gaza protests were essentially about.
And any attempt to frame them as a declaration of war, or simply as a "Hamas ploy" or a "PR victory", misses the point and is a transparent attempt to distort reality and maintain the status quo in favour of Israel.

Friends in Ethnic Cleansing: Myanmar and Israel Sign Education Deal to Rewrite History

Both countries signed a cooperation agreement to “mutually verify school textbooks, particularly concerning the passages referring to the history of the other state."

Controlling how history is taught also gives you control over how people think about their past and present, and the Israeli and Myanmar governments are well aware of that.

The governments of both governments signed an education cooperation agreement Monday allowing them to rewrite their own history in each other's textbooks, contributing to a more benevolent image of them and their responsibility in ethnic cleansing against the Palestinians by Israel and against the Rohingya muslims in Myanmar. 

According to the agreement, of which the Israeli newspaper Haaretz got a copy, the countries will “cooperate to develop programs for the teaching of the Holocaust and its lessons of the negative consequences of intolerance, racism, anti-Semitism and xenophobia as a part of the school curriculum in the Republic of the Union of Myanmar.”
“An education agreement with Myanmar. Cooperation continues with our friends all over the world.”

However, both countries fail to remember and acknowledge their own violent, intolerant, racist, and xenophobic acts against native populations in their countries or in territories they control.

The agreement will also promote academic cooperation, including conferences, training courses and even the development of Israeli and Jewish studies programs in Myanmar and Myanmar studies in Israel, including language programs.

The countries will be able to “mutually verify school textbooks, particularly concerning the passages referring to the history of the other state and, where needed, introduce corrections to these textbooks,” a move that will basically allow them to write their own nationalist narratives in each others' textbooks and ignore that fact that Israel and Myanmar have been respectively ethnic cleansing their territories from the Palestinian and Rohingya peoples.

A Rohingya refugee stands next to a pond in the early morning at the Balukhali refugee camp near Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh December 26, 2017. Photo | Reuters.

The Rohingya, a Muslim minority in the predominantly Buddhist Myanmar, have been victims of a systematic ethnic cleansing program by the government for years, but the process intensified in 2017 when the military carried out mass executions and rape, forcing about 700,000 of them to flee to Bangladesh and other neighboring countries.

The United Nations has said Myanmar's campaign against the Rohingya Muslim population “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”

"Of course Israel sees Myanmar as a friend. Both states share  the same exclusionist world view. Both states have engaged in mass state crime criminality against those they have defined as non-citizens. Both states operate systems of apartheid, structural discrimination and unfettered state brutality. It is entirely predictable that they now engage in a shared educational programme of state crime denial," Penny Green, professor of law and globalization at Queen Mary University of London, told Middle East Eye.

But cooperation between Israel and Myanmar is not only ideological. More than 100 tanks, as well as boats and light weapons have been sold to the Myanmar government by Israeli arms companies, according to investigations by several human rights groups, despite the United States and the European Union imposing an arms embargo against Myanmar.

One company, TAR Ideal Concepts, has also trained Myanmar special forces in northern Rakhine state, where much of the violence is taking place.

Israel has a long history of contributing to other countries' own ethnic cleansing.

In 1982, the General Efrain Rios Montt came to power after a military coup, becoming president of Guatemala between 1982 and 1983. During an interview with ABC News, Rios Montt said the coup had easily succeeded because many of this soldiers “were trained by Israelis.”

The Israeli military then helped Guatemalan regimes that carried out a genocide against the Mayan population. Between 1954 and 1996, the Guatemalan juntas killed more than 200,000 people, 83 percent of which were Indigenous Mayans. The period known as the “Mayan Genocide,” which lasted from 1981 to 1983, coincides with the peak of Israel-Guatemala military cooperation.

It comes as no surprise that many voices in Guatemalan politics, especially from the right-wing, deny there had been any ethnic cleansing in the country.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Myanmar military could be investigated over Rohingya abuses

By Alex Crawford, special correspondent

Lawyers for 400 Rohingya refugees are to urge the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate the Myanmar military.

The refugees are arguing that without getting justice for what has happened to them, the crimes will continue and spread to other ethnic groups.

Senior diplomats from the 15-member security council travelled to Bangladesh earlier this month to see first-hand the situation of the 700,000 Rohingya refugees who fled there from Myanmar military abuses.

Rohingya refugees carry a woman after crossing the Naf River as they flee violence in Myanmar to reach Bangladesh in Palongkhali near Ukhia on October 16, 2017. The UN has said that 537,000 Rohingya have arrived in Bangladesh over the last seven weeks. They are fleeing violence in Myanmar's Rakhine state, where the United Nations has accused troops of waging an ethnic cleansing campaign against them. / AFP PHOTO / MUNIR UZ ZAMAN (Photo credit should read MUNIR UZ ZAMAN/AFP/Getty Images)Image:700,000 Rohingya refugees have fled to Bangladesh

The UK ambassador Karen Pierce said all members considered the Rohingya issue to be "one of the most significant human rights cases we have ever faced in the last decade", adding that "something needs to be done".

Sky cameraman Martin Smith, producer Neville Lazarus and myself witnessed some of the widespread human rights violations when we managed to independently reach Myanmar's Rakhine State at the end of last year.

Rakhine State is where most of the abuses have taken place.

We found thousands of people trapped on a beach there and left to die - many were severely emaciated.

All told chilling tales of human rights abuses - of being beaten, of being raped, of being hounded out of their homes.Myanmar soldiers march in formation during a military parade in Naypyidaw on March 27, 2018 to mark the 73rd Armed Forces Day. / AFP PHOTO / Thet AUNG (Photo credit should read THET AUNG/AFP/Getty Images) Image:Roningya refugees say armed soldiers beat them and removed them from their homes

They told us they had been herded there - to a stretch of sand, with their way back into Myanmar blocked by armed soldiers and landmines buried just beyond the beach.

Our footage caused massive alarm in the United Nations and the EU, but despite our first-hand evidence and concerns raised by Human Rights Watch, independent monitors and several other media, the Myanmar authorities have consistently refused to admit wrongdoing.

Myanmar authorities have convicted soldiers in only one case - jailing seven soldiers for 10 years for their role in the massacre of 10 Rohingya in Inn Din village.

Two Reuters journalists who investigated the massacre are still being detained and now face up to 14 years in jail under the Myanmar Official Secrets Act.

In the sprawling camps in Bangladesh, which are now home to the hundreds of thousands of Rohingya who have fled Myanmar, there are claims of rape, beatings, torture and killings amongst the refugees - who blame the Myanmar military for the abuses.Detained Reuters journalist Kyaw Soe Oo (R) and Wa Lone (L) are transport in a police vehicle after a court hearing...Image:Detained Reuters journalists Wa Lone (L) and Kyaw Soe Oo (R)

Lawyers representing some of them are anxious those who perpetrated the crimes are held to account.

Human rights lawyer Wayne Jordash told Sky News: "Without accountability, without focus on bringing these perpetrators to book, then these types of crimes will continue and are continuing in Myanmar as we speak.

"I have little doubt that they continue because the Myanmar authorities understand that legal options are narrow and bad state actors will shield them from accountability."

But the lawyers intend to argue on Wednesday that the ICC should investigate and possibly prosecute authorities in Myanmar for the crime of forcibly deporting the Rohingya population to Bangladesh, using means of mass murder, sexual violence, and ethnic cleansing.

Watch : Starvation and death on the beaches of Myanmar - Sky News


Sky News' footage caused massive alarm in the United Nations and the EU

The ICC can't act unless a state is unwilling or unable to prosecute grave crimes against international law.

But Myanmar is neither a party to the ICC nor has it accepted the court's jurisdiction, so it's currently down to the UN Security Council to refer the situation to the court - an unlikely situation when Myanmar's allies, China and Russia, have already blocked such moves.

The argument is now being made that because the crimes of the Myanmar military cross the border into Bangladesh, a country that is a member of the Court, Myanmar can be held accountable.

The lawyers arguing the case describe it as "one person standing on one side of a border, and shooting a person across the border - in that case, a crime is committed in both countries".
PSHOT - Rohingya refugee cries as she walks after crossing the Naf river from Myanmar into Bangladesh in Whaikhyang on October 9, 2017. A top UN official said on October 7 Bangladesh's plan to build the world's biggest refugee camp for 800,000-plus Rohingya Muslims was dangerous because overcrowding could heighten the risks of deadly diseases spreading quickly. The arrival of more than half a million Rohingya refugees who have fled an army crackdown in Myanmar's troubled Rakhine state since AuguImage:Rakhine State is where most of the abuses have taken place

If this case is won, its impact will be far-reaching.

Syria is also not party to the ICC, but the seven-year conflict has created a refugee population of nearly 700,000 in Jordan, an ICC member state.

If the precedent is set that transnational crimes committed by a country can be tried in The Hague, the Assad regime and rebel groups may be held responsible for the atrocities of the Syrian civil war in years to come.

Mr Jordash said: "We are going to argue that the crimes of apartheid, the crime of genocide and the crime of persecution are continuing crimes being committed today and ongoing - and the chamber should accept that those crimes are being committed in Bangladesh by the authorities in Myanmar, and that it has jurisdiction to try those crimes."

'Deeply Disturbing' Conditions For Rohingya In Myanmar, And Those Yet To Return

Residents of Myanmar's Thet Kae Pyin internment camp for Rohingya wait as a U.S. government delegation visits the camp. Anthony Kuhn /NPR hide caption
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Anthony Kuhn /NPR
Residents of Myanmar's Thet Kae Pyin internment camp for Rohingya wait as a U.S. government delegation visits the camp.
Anthony Kuhn /NPR
The monsoon season is almost upon some of the world's largest refugee camps in Bangladesh. Heavy rains threaten to inundate and cause landslides on denuded hillsides in southeast Bangladesh's Cox's Bazar district, which the U.N. estimates is now home to more than 900,000 ethnic Rohingya refugees.
Many of them fled sectarian violence and military anti-insurgent operations — described by the U.S. and U.N. as ethnic cleansing — last year in western Myanmar's Rakhine State.
It is widely acknowledged as one of the world's worst humanitarian crises. And Myanmar holds the key to resolving it, humanitarian assistance groups and officials believe.
Myanmar's government says it is willing and ready to take the Rohingya back. But to many observers, conditions to make those returns "safe, voluntary and dignified," as aid workers advocate, appear to be a distant goal.
Even in Myanmar itself, thousands of Rohingya remain confined in internment camps. They are a stateless people. Myanmar considers them illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, but many of them have lived in Myanmar for generations.
Rohingya residents of Myanmar's Thet Kae Pyin internment camp gather outside a school where camp leaders meet with a visiting U.S. government delegation. Anthony Kuhn/NPR hide caption
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Rohingya residents of Myanmar's Thet Kae Pyin internment camp gather outside a school where camp leaders meet with a visiting U.S. government delegation.
Anthony Kuhn/NPR
"When we think about refugee returns anywhere in the world, a leading indicator is what's going on with the population that remains, and also the internally displaced," says Mark Storella, the deputy assistant secretary of state for population, refugees and migration. In most cases, he notes, refugees prefer to return to their original homes.
Storella was part of a delegation of U.S. officials that visited Myanmar and Bangladesh this month, in part to assess the feasibility of the Rohingya returning to Myanmar. The delegation was granted access to the northern part of Rakhine State, from which many of the Rohingya have fled, and where entire Rohingya villages were razed.
Myanmar authorities did not permit international journalists covering the delegation's trip, including from NPR, to accompany the delegation to the northern part of Rakhine state. But authorities allowed journalists to visit the Thet Kae Pyin internment camp for Rohingya outside Sittwe, the state capital.
Mark Green, the U.S. Agency for International Development administrator, speaks with reporters at the American Center in Yangon, Myanmar, earlier this month. "So much of what I've seen is, quite frankly, just deeply disturbing," he said after visiting an internment camp for Rohingya. Anthony Kuhn/NPR hide caption
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Mark Green, the U.S. Agency for International Development administrator, speaks with reporters at the American Center in Yangon, Myanmar, earlier this month. "So much of what I've seen is, quite frankly, just deeply disturbing," he said after visiting an internment camp for Rohingya.
Anthony Kuhn/NPR
The camp, home to some 6,000 Rohingya, is fenced in and patrolled by soldiers. Residents live in bamboo and plastic huts, some with metal roofs. The delegation, led by U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Mark Green, spoke with residents and camp leaders.
"So much of what I've seen is, quite frankly, just deeply disturbing," a visibly emotional Green told reporters. "Here, for example, we're looking at all those very young children running around and it suddenly dawned on me: They were all born here. This is the only reality that they know."
In the past couple of years, the U.S. has provided nearly $300 million in humanitarian assistance to people affected by conflict in Rakhine State and other parts of Myanmar.
"The most important thing that the government can do in the weeks and months ahead is to take concrete steps, to show its seriousness of purpose," said Green.
Experts say Myanmar's government has not yet done enough to prepare for the refugees' return. But the government points to several areas where it claims it is making progress on the Rohingya crisis. It has built some dwellings for Rohingya outside the internment camps, which are more permanent than those inside, most of which were designed to last a couple of years.
A rickshaw driver and passenger travel in Sittwe, the capital of Myanmar's Rakhine State. The conflict in the state is between two minority groups, the Buddhist Rakhine and the Muslim Rohingya. Both have faced different degrees of persecution during decades of military rule from 1962 to 2016. Anthony Kuhn/NPR hide caption
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Anthony Kuhn/NPR
A rickshaw driver and passenger travel in Sittwe, the capital of Myanmar's Rakhine State. The conflict in the state is between two minority groups, the Buddhist Rakhine and the Muslim Rohingya. Both have faced different degrees of persecution during decades of military rule from 1962 to 2016.
Anthony Kuhn/NPR
It claims to have housed dozens of Rohingya in transit camps, pending resettlement, after they returned voluntarily from Bangladesh. And it has issued "National Verification Cards" to some Rohingya, which it considers a path to citizenship.
But it is not clear where the Rohingya will go after the temporary homes and camps. There are fears among Rohingya, experts and aid groups that those shelters could become permanent.
Some observers, including Amnesty International, warn that the military is trying to grab land left by the refugees, making it impossible for them to return where they previously lived.
Many Rohingya worry that the National Verification ID cards will relegate them to second-class citizenship, arguing that such IDs are for foreigners entering Myanmar. They also say the cards are being issued to children of Rohingya with citizenship papers, thereby downgrading their families' status.
They also find it insulting that to get the cards, they must admit to being "Bengalis" — implying they are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.
A market on the Strand, a main thoroughfare in Sittwe. Anthony Kuhn /NPR hide caption
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A market on the Strand, a main thoroughfare in Sittwe.
Anthony Kuhn /NPR
Asked if basic services have improved after six years in the camp, since ethnic conflict broke out in 2012, former lawyer and camp leader Kyaw Hla Aung emphatically states: "No. Also, they decrease. From education, from health care, and [on] every side. And economically, there's no improvement."
Nor does he see any progress in Rohingya political or legal rights.
"I stand for parliament member in 1990 election," he explains. "Now we cannot vote. So where is law and order?"
A nominally civilian government stripped the Rohingya of voting rights before general elections in 2015.
Kyaw Hla Aung warns that a culture of dependency is evolving in the camps, as young Rohingya become accustomed to unemployment and getting their food from international donors.
Last year, an official commission headed by former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan recommended that Myanmar close the internment camps and give citizenship to all eligible Rohingya. But the repatriation of refugees from Bangladesh appears stalled, with both sides blaming each other for the delays.
"We've heard that [Myanmar authorities] support the Kofi Annan recommendations," says Green. "Implement them!"
The conflict in Rakhine State is only one of several in Myanmar, where ethnic insurgencies have simmered in its border regions since its independence from Great Britain in 1948.
Tun Aung Kyaw, the general secretary of Myanmar's Arakan National Party, represents the Rakhine minority. His party swept elections in Rakhine State in 2015. "The central government hasn't done anything for the people or the state's development," he tells NPR. Anthony Kuhn/NPR hide caption
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Tun Aung Kyaw, the general secretary of Myanmar's Arakan National Party, represents the Rakhine minority. His party swept elections in Rakhine State in 2015. "The central government hasn't done anything for the people or the state's development," he tells NPR.
Anthony Kuhn/NPR
The conflict in Rakhine State is between two minority groups, the Buddhist Rakhine and the Muslim Rohingya. Both groups suffered decades of discrimination and persecution under the former ruling military junta."
"No one can deny that Rakhine State is one of the poorest in the country," says Tun Aung Kyaw, general secretary of the Arakan National Party, which represents the Rakhine minority and swept general elections in the state in 2015. "But the central government hasn't done anything for the people or the state's development, using all the foreign investment in our resources."
Myanmar has made Rakhine State the southern terminus of a Chinese-invested oil and gas pipeline that traverses the country and delivers energy to southwest China.
Myanmar state counselor Aung San Suu Kyi awaits a delegation of U.S. officials at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Myanmar's capital, Naypitaw. Anthony Kuhn/NPR hide caption
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Myanmar state counselor Aung San Suu Kyi awaits a delegation of U.S. officials at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Myanmar's capital, Naypitaw.
Anthony Kuhn/NPR
Like Aung San Suu Kyi's party, the National League for Democracy, the ANP has called for a federal system, giving Myanmar's ethnic minorities on the country's fringes more control over their land and resources. But Tun Aung Kyaw laments that the two parties no longer communicate with each other.
"The NLD, with whom we worked together for democracy, has now rejected us," he says. "They have neither asked us for suggestions nor met with us. So for now, we're going it alone, without the NLD."
In January, the ANP's former leader Aye Maung was charged with high treason and jailed for his role in a protest marking the Burmese conquest of the independent kingdom of Rakhine in 1784, a date that Rakhine nationalists never forget.
Tun Aung Kyaw insists that Rohingya are illegal immigrants and refers to them as Bengalis. But he says they're human beings who deserve basic rights.
"If they're legally qualified, give them citizenship," he says. "Don't confine them to Rakhine State. Let them go freely, anywhere in Myanmar."
Visitors at a park known as the Viewpoint look out on the Bay of Bengal in Sittwe. Anthony Kuhn/NPR hide caption
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Visitors at a park known as the Viewpoint look out on the Bay of Bengal in Sittwe.
Anthony Kuhn/NPR
But if they don't qualify for citizenship, he adds, then they should be considered foreigners.
The Rakhine crisis seems to have turned Myanmar in on itself, making many in the country feel that foreigners are unfairly criticizing them. Myanmar's military has denied allegations that it committed atrocities against the Rohingya. The crisis threatens to slow Myanmar's economy by dampening the enthusiasm of foreign investors and tourists.
Green warns that the crisis also jeopardizes Myanmar's transition to democracy. He contrasts the current situation with that in 2015, when Nobel Peace laureate Suu Kyi's party swept to victory in the freest elections in half a century.
Green was an election observer, and he recalls watching as citizens celebrated in the streets of Yangon, Myanmar's largest city.
"They were expressing a wide-open enthusiasm for a bright future," he says. "And I think what we're all saying is, that future isn't bright unless this challenge is addressed."