2016 in RETROSPECT – A Year of TOO MANY Human Rights Abuses for Rohingya
By Haikal Mansor
Things that begin badly end worse!
PEOPLE WITHOUT IDs
Rohingya welcomed the Year 2016 as people without IDs. Former President Thein Sein ordered to repeal of temporary identity cards, also known as ‘White Cards’ in February 2015. The last pieces of document Rohingya came to possess after decades of systematic forceful documents seizures.
The revoke of the IDs completely stripped of Rohingya last right – Voting despite having participated in every election before and after Burma’s Independence.
NO PARLIAMENTARY REPRESENTATIVES
For the first time in Burmese history, no members of Rohingya or Muslim communities in general are allowed to represent in both parliaments as well as 14 State and Regional parliaments. U Shwe Maung, a sitting Rohingya members of parliament was barred running again in the November 2015 Election.
IDPs REMAIN IDPs
Nearly 140,000 Rohingya who were displaced from their homes during the genocidal campaign in 2012, continue to live in horror without basic human rights – freedom of movement, education, healthcare, religion, occupation and security.
NO HIGHER EDUCATION
Since 2012, Rohingya students are barred from pursuing university education within and outside Rakhine State, living with little hope for their future.
MORE DISCRIMINATORY LAWS
Four Race and Religion Laws (Monogamy Law, Religious Conversion Law, Interfaith Marriage Law and Population Control Law) brought by Ma Ba Tha, an extremist Buddhist group were signed into law by President Thein Sein on August 31, 2015. The laws are especially designed for Rohingya and religious minorities, still effective under Aung San Suu Kyi led NLD government. AUGUST 31, 2015
THIS IS A MILLION TOO MANY
Ms Yanghee Lee, Special Rapporteur to Burma highlighted the situations of human rights. “There are more than a million Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar deprived some of the most fundamental human rights. This is a million too many.” MARCH 14, 2016
AUNG SAN SUU KYI’S PROXY PRESIDENT
Aung San Suu Kyi handpicked her long-time confidant Htin Kyaw as Burma’s first civilian government in its 53 years of history. MARCH 15, 2016
NLD GOVERNMENT SWORN
President Htin Kyaw and his 18-member cabinet sworn in Naypyidaw. MARCH 30, 2016
President Htin Kyaw signed the bill to create State-Counsellor role for Aung Sans Suu Kyi. APRIL 6, 2016
AUNG SAN SUU KYI’S ISLAMOPHOBIC REMARK
Peter Popham revealed in his book “The Lady and The Generals – Aung San Suu Kyi and Burma’s Struggle for Freedom” that Aung San Suu Kyi has reportedly said off air in October 2013 interview with BBC Presenter Mishal Husain, “No one told me I was going to be interviewed by a Muslim” after the presenter pressed her on the plight of Rohingya.
BIGOT AS PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON AGAIN
In April 2016, Zaw Htay was reappointed as ‘the spokesperson’ and promoted to ‘Deputy Director-General’ under Aung San Suu Kyi government despite a strong advocate of Burma Military (Tatmadaw) and Thein Sein whom he also served as presidential spokesperson. Famous for his bigotry, inflammatory remarks and anti-Rohingya sentiments, he is one of main culprits who constantly stirs up fear, violence and hatred through his Facebook He spread false rumours of “terrorists coming from Bangladesh” and posted a photo of Ma Thida Htwe, an alleged rape victim which is still widely used to justify the genocidal acts and to continue mobilizing anti-Rohingya and anti-Muslim sentiments. APRIL, 2016
At least 21 Rohingya including women and children drown off the coast of Sittwe after being forced to use sea route to buy basic goods and medicine in an apartheid-style movement restriction Rakhine State. APRIL 20, 2016.
MA BA THA’S BARK ON ‘ROHINGYA’
Extremist monks and their supporters protested in front of the U.S. Embassy in Yangon on the use of ‘Rohingya’ by Ambassador Scot Mariel in his condolence statement on the Boat Tragedy. APRIL 28, 2016
AUNG SAN SUU KYI AND ‘ROHINGYA’ TERM
She told the United States, the European Union and the UN Special Rapporteur to refrain from using ‘Rohingya’ term instead recommended ‘Muslim Community in Rakhine State’ denying the right to self-identification. MAY 4, 2016
RAKHINE MONKS COUNTERACT
Thousands of Rakhine nationalists led by monks protested against the use of ‘Muslim Community in Rakhine State’ proposed by Aung San Suu Kyi’s government, instead asked to use ‘Bengali’. JULY 3, 2016
NLD’S ‘NATIONAL VERIFICATION CARDS’ SAGA
Aung San Suu Kyi government, border affairs minister, immigration minister and Police commissioner of Rakhine State persuaded Rohingya to accept and register for National Verification Cards which intended to remove ‘Rohingya’ from the official record completely. A saga she has failed terribly. JUNE 16, 2016
DALAI LAMA CHIDES AUNG SAN SUU KYI
The Dalai Lama urged Aung San Suu Kyi to take “moral” responsibility to solve the crisis of Rohingya. JUNE 3, 2016.
HEADCOUNT IN GHETTO
Rohingya in famous Aung Mingalar ghetto were forced to count after Rakhine extremists claimed that hundreds of Rohingya entered and lived illegally in the ghetto. The headcount found fewer than 4,000 compared to 4,500 from four years ago. MAY 16, 2016
The curfew placed after 2012 genocidal campaigns was extended from 12am to 4m until October 8, and prohibited congregation of more than 5 persons in public areas or mosque. The curfew is only applied to Rohingya community alone. AUGUST 8, 2016
KOFI ANNAN THE COMMISSIONER
Aung San Suu Kyi announced Kofi Annan as the head of 9-member (6 national experts) Advisory Commission on Rakhine State to “find lasting solution” without a member of Rohingya community in the commission, but included people who publicly engage in denials of Rohingya rights to self-identification and human rights abuses against Rohingya. AUGUST 23, 2016
ANP CALLED FOR ITS CANCELLATION
The Arakan National Party ANP called the government to cancel the commission for the inclusion of 3 international experts despite inclusion of Rakhine nationalist Saw Khin who condoned “to go and kill all of those Bengalis (Rohingya) people with our own hands! We’ve now got the advantage of gaining the support of all the national races all over Myanmar on the incidents that we’ve sacrificed so far”. AUGUST 28, 2016
ARMY GANG-RAPED ROHINGYA WOMAN
Raysuana, 25 was abandoned on road side near an army compound naked and unconscious, and died due to the restricted medical treatment imposed to Rohingya. No independent investigation was ever undertaken on the rape. AUGUST 18, 2016
EU PRAISED BURMA’S HUMAN RIGHTS PROGRESS
The European Union praised Burma’s Human Rights Progress and did not introduce a resolution at the United Nations condemning Burma’s records for the first time in 15 years. SEPTEMBER 23, 2016
The Obama administration lifted the remaining sanctions imposed in 1997 on Burma including military officials and cronies. Easing of the sanctions provides the military a blunder embrace to further commit human rights abuses. OCTOBER 7, 2016
Rakhine State’s Border Affairs Minister Colonel Htein Linn threatened to bulldoze 2,270 buildings including 9 mosques, 24 madrasas, 1,667 Rohingya houses, 445 shops and 125 other buildings in Maungdaw Township, and another 1,056 buildings – 3 mosques, 11 madrasas, 876 houses, 159 shops and 7 other building in Buthidaung Township, what the official termed ‘illegal buildings’. SEPTEMBER 21, 2016
THE CLEARANCE OPERATIONS
A little known ‘Harakah al-Yaqin’ attacked three police posts with swords & spears killing nine officials in Kyikanpyin, Kotankauk and Ngakhuya, northern Maungdaw and Rathedaung at 1:30 am, Sunday, October 9, 2016.
Blame quickly and collectively shifted to Rohingya Muslims for the attacks and announced “the State of Emergency” and extended Curfew further from 7pm to 6am and closed down of 402 schools in Maungdaw District (Maungdaw and Buthidaung)
1. Summary Killing – approx. 400
Myothugyi (Shidda Fara) and Kyauk Pyin Seik (Nari Bil) became the first two villages to witness extrajudicial killings. At least 13 Rohingya civilians (7 in Myothugyi including a 13-year old schoolboy) were killed on October 9. Nine more were killed along with a child and a woman in Nwa Yung Taung in the third day of ‘clearance operations’.
The killing become rampant with pouring of armed forces and ‘blanket denial’ of media. More mass graves are slowly being discovered in Kyauk Pyin Seik, Kyet Yoe Pyin (Kiari Farang), Nwar Yon Taung and many other places. The government official number of death is stuck at 86 like the number of 2012 genocidal campaign while “RAW DAILY LOG OF ROHINGYA REPORTS”’s record documented triple of the official number.
2. Arbitrary Arrest – at least 1,000
The mass arrest of Rohingya civilians is being reported widely since the start of clearance operations. The military put the number of arrest at 575. According to sources from the ground, at least a thousand including women and minors are held behind the cells subjected to torture, and a number of cases of death behind the bar also came to the broad-light.
A video leaked on December 31 shows the rounding up of Rohingya men and boys as young as twelve, in Kotantauk (aka Dounsay Fara), Rathedaung on November 5, 2016. It also clearly indicates beating, use of derogatory term ‘Kalar’ and threat to kill the men. The state media has published a number of reports where the arrestees were falsely levelled ‘terrorists’ or ‘suspected militants’, as a tool to acquire the growing anti-Rohingya public sentiment on the crackdown of Rohingya civilians.
3. Rape as Weapon – at least 250
“They are very dirty. They Rohingya women have very low standards of living and poor hygiene. They are not attractive so neither the local Buddhists men or soldiers are interested in them,” is the sexist and racist remark of Aung Win, a Rakhine MP from Myebon Constituency No. 1 and also Chairman of Rakhine Investigation Committee, on BBC, November 7.
The first rape case reportedly took place in Singiri village on October 12, since then the rape is ‘used as a weapon’ to dehumanize and demoralize Rohingya community. At least 250 is estimated, though it could be higher as majority of cases remain unreported due to the cultural and religious stigma. Many of the victims of rape ‘begged for contraception’ in video messages sent to outside Rakhine State as the region is in complete lockdown.
On October 28, Zaw Htay used Facebook to denounce Fiona MacGregor’s special investigative reporting on the alleged rape of dozens of Rohingya women by the Burmese armed forces in Maungdaw. Subsequently the pressure of Ministry of Information forced the Myanmar Times to sack Fiona from the job. Fiona later said, “It’s extremely concerning and unacceptable that representatives of the democratically elected government would use social media and bullying tactics to suppress stories about important issues like gender-based violence in conflict.”
4. Scorched-earth Technique
The technique is widely used by the Burmese army in the regions of ethnic minorities. It is not surprising to see the application of the technique, but the extensive destruction of Rohingya houses, properties, schools and religious structures coupled with looting of goods, gold and cash, and confiscations of documents, highlights the severity of the human rights violations.
Despite the eye-witnesses, the video recordings and the series of satellite imagery released by Human Rights Watch on 9, 14 and 22 October and 10, 17 and 18 November, the military deny burning down of approximately 3,500 (1,250 in HRW Reports) houses and instead blamed Rohingya ‘burning their own houses’ in order to ‘get new houses’ according to Commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing.
5. Mass Displacement – more than 50,000
It has been a long time coming. Maungdaw is one of the last two remaining towns (another being Buthidaung) with vast Rohingya majority, which affected very less in terms of mass displacement during the 2012 campaign. The towns have been under the radar of the military and the Rakhine extremists to depopulate Rohingya as highlighted in “1988 SPDC Rohingya Extermination Plan” and “2014 Rakhine Action Plan”.
Having displaced nearly 140,000 Rohingya in nine townships across Rakhine State, the new displacement more than 50,000 Rohingya from northern Maungdaw greatly pinpoints their motive being fulfilled in the context of clearance operation.
Several video footages show Rohingya women, children, elderly and men are living in paddy fields with little or no shelters in the harshest time of winter.
30 security posts in addition to the existing 96 posts, and 7 Buddhist resettlement villages (provided with arming and training of Buddhist villagers) in the region already work in progress accordingly to a Rakhine State minister.
Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) are “given strict orders to prevent any Rohingya entering Bangladesh”, though more 40,000 Rohingya managed to infiltrate into the Bangladesh side of 237-km long border while hundreds of small boats full of Rohingya are continuously pushed back into Naf River. Many of them stranded in the river rejected by guards on both sides of the border or perished in the water, as it occurred on December 5 when a boat carrying women and children capsized in the river killing 31 Rohingya. Zafar Alom, a Rohingya toddler from Yae Khat Chaung Gwa Son (Bor Gozi Bil) who was widely compared to Elan Kurdi the Syrian boy, for the similar tragedy – found dead ashore. It has been reported that at least 250 died in the border crossing while whereabouts of many push-back victims are yet to be known.
7. Refugees in Bangladesh
Rohingya who fled into Bangladesh face harsh restrictions as the government denies to recognize them as refugees and also places restrictions on local or international NGOs to humanitarian access. The majority of the newcomers take refuge in unregistered makeshift Kutupalong refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, with poor shelter, little food, clothes, water and medicine.
On December 19, Ukiya Forestry Department destroyed 120 temporary sheltered built by the new refugees forcing to sleep under open-sky without shelter. On the following day, Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi briefly met Rohingya refugees in Kutupalong Refugee camp.
The rape victims who fled also face lack of treatment, and reportedly asking to be killed due to the unbearable psychological and physical trauma sustained from the vicious rape crime. Tales of human rights abuses are rapidly coming out of the Rohingya refugees who witnessed the various forms of abuses under the hands of Burmese armed forces.
8. Denial of humanitarian access
The effect of restriction on humanitarian access in Maungdaw, Buthidaung and Rathedaung is greatly felt by approximately 150,000 Rohingya who depend on the international donors, now facing access denial nto the region since October 9.
On December 9, a delegation of UNHCR and WFP led by Rakhine State Chief Minister Nyi Pu visited Alay Than Kyaw, south Maungdaw instead of north to distribute ‘blanket, sleeping mats and mosquito nets’ for ‘a publicity stunt’ against mounting international pressure.
9. Commission of Inquiry
As an escape or cover-up plan, President Htin Kyaw formed a13-member commission of inquiry on December 1, chaired by Vice-President 1 U Myint Swe who as the Chief of Military Security Affairs oversaw the notorious border security force NaSaKa which had track-record of severe human rights abuses until it was defunct in July 2013 and renamed as the current Border Guard Police. Not a single member of Rohingya was included in the commission, while anti-Rohingya Burmese nationals are heavily featured.
On December 12, the commission made visit to Maungdaw where the military have pre-arranged Rohingya men and women to be interviewed, and a week later, the commission released a statement which said ‘there is no concrete evidence that points human rights abuses’ being committed by the armed forces.
The similar commissions of inquiry were formed following the massacre of 10 Muslim pilgrimages in Taungup, Rakhine State on June 3, 2012, the genocidal campaign unfolded on June 8, 2012 and the Duchira Dan Masscre took place on January 13, 2014, which all distorted facts, covered up the evidence and blamed the Rohingya victims.
10. Denials and ‘fabrications’
On December 1, Aung San Suu Kyi laughed out loud and openly agreed with the allegations as ‘fabrications’ and urged the Burmese public to disregard and counter these allegations. Her State-counsellor office accused me of ‘propagandist fighting Myanmar with malicious falsehood video footages” for translating and putting English subtitles on her Q&A video taken in Singapore.
Despite mounting evidence of crimes against humanity being committed against Rohingya, her office defended the military “regarding those incidents (rape, extrajudicial killing, destruction of Rohingya villages, etc.), after asking the Tatmadaw (Burma’s armed forces) and Border Guard Troops in those regions, it is known that the information is absolutely not true”, when herself once said in May 2011, that “rape is used in my country as a weapon against those who only want to live in peace, who only want to assert their basic human rights. Especially in the areas of ethnic nationalities, rape is rife. It is used as a weapon by armed forces to intimidate the ethnic nationalities and to divide our country.”
Malaysian Prime Minister
Najib Tun Razak told on December 14, “we want to tell Aung San Suu Kyi, enough is enough… The world cannot sit and watch genocide taking place”, causing anger in Naypyidaw which responded banning Burmese workers from going to Malaysia.
UN Human Rights Commissioner
Zeid bin Ra’ad Al-Hussain, condemned, “The repeated dismissal of the claims of serious human rights violations as fabrications, coupled with the failure to allow our independent monitors access to the worst affected areas in northern Rakhine, is highly insulting to the victims and an abdication of the Government’s obligations under international human rights law… If the authorities have nothing to hide, then why is there such reluctance to grant us access? Given the continued failure to grant us access, we can only fear the worst.” DECEMBER 16, 2016
UN Special Rapporteur on Burma
Ms. Yanghee Lee questioned, “The Government has mostly responded with a blanket denial. This begs the question as to whether relevant evidence is being preserved to enable perpetrators to be held to account for their wrongdoings. Pointing fingers without definitive answers should be avoided. However, it is crucial to recognize the issue at hand – as objectively as possible – and immediately embark on a transparent, non-partial, independent investigation.” “It is not acceptable that for six weeks there was a complete lockdown, with no access to the affected areas.” NOVEMBER 17, 2016
The parliament called, “End persecution of Rohingya in Myanmar. MEPs are extremely concerned about reports of violent clashes with the Rohingya people in the state of Rakhine in Myanmar and deplore the loss of life, livelihood and shelter, as well as the reported ‘disproportionate use of force’ by the Myanmar armed forces. They urge the military and security forces to put an immediate stop to the killing, harassment and rape of the Rohingya people and to stop burning down their homes.” DECEMBER 15, 2016
U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum Manager
Andrea Gittleman, Programme Manager for the Centre for Prevention of Genocide at U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum raised concerns, “Given the history and context and given reports [on the recent violence], we would be very concerned about the threat of genocide against the Rohingya.” DECEMBER 22, 2016
International State Crime Initiative
Penny Green, professor of Law at Queen Mary University of London and director of ISCI predicted, “We sounded the alarm in 2015 that what we saw amounted to the early stages of a genocidal process. Local sources now report a ramped up security and military presence, additional restrictions on freedom of movement, and a further limiting of access to food and healthcare.” OCTOBER 17, 2016
Rafendi Djamin, director of Southeast Asia and the Pacific, Amnesty International pointed, “The Myanmar military has targeted Rohingya civilians in a callous and systematic campaign of violence. Men, women, children, whole families and entire villages have been attacked and abused, as a form of collective punishment. The deplorable actions of the military could be part of a widespread and systematic attack on a civilian population and may amount to crimes against humanity. We are worried that the horrific tales of violations we have uncovered are just the tip of the iceberg. While the military is directly responsible for the violations, Aung San Suu Kyi has failed to live up to both her political and moral responsibility to try to stop and condemn what is unfolding in Rakhine state.” DECEMBER 19, 2016
Fortify Rights Group
Matthew Smith, Chief Executive pointed the finger, “The situation has taken a dramatic turn for the worse for the Rohingya in the north. We were talking with a group of people today, conducting interviews. In a group of 9 or 10, every single one had witnessed family members being killed, every single one coming from different villages. Seeing the same tactics employed in disparate locations indicates the systematic nature of what’s happening… Her true colours are being shown based on how she thinks of Rakhine State, and those colours are very concerning. She’s not only failing to prevent atrocities but she’s also denying atrocities are occurring.” DECEMBER 22, 2016
The Arakan Project
Chris Lewa, Consultant and Coordinator of the Arakan Project saw worst, “They’re starting to harass the community even more by trying to say, ‘You’re not a citizen, you can’t do this, you can’t do that — you need permission. So really, there is more oppression in the last few months under the NLD government than there was before.” OCTOBER 15, 2016
WORLD LEADERS WARNED AUNG SAN SUU KYI
A group of 13 Nobel Laureates and 10 world leaders wrote a letter to the United Nations Security Council expressing the disappointment on the failure of Aung San Suu Kyi’s handling of Rohingya situation and urged for ‘immediate action to avoid ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity’. DECEMBER 29, 2016
There is nothing to call Year 2016 a good year. It is a disaster when it comes to human rights. It is a collective failure of the world on protecting and standing for the rights, particularly Burma’s Nobel Peace Laureate. She has shamelessly betrayed the world including those who have worked tirelessly to release her from the house-arrests, now instead of standing for human rights, she is now siding the army which in first-hand house arrested her for 15 years, kept her family apart for almost the entire life, failed to assassinate her in 2003, nullified her 1990 election results and denied her to be president in 2016.
From the perspectives of current situation, the future looks grim for Rohingya as the clearance operations enter into another year, adding to the four decades of state-sponsored institutionalized human rights abuses.