Thursday 28 November 2019
Commenting on recent remarks by secretary of state Mike Pompeo, who announced that US president Donald Trump's administration does not view Israeli settlements in the West Bank as illegal, Mahathir described such position as ridiculous and a blatant disregard for international laws and UN resolutions.
"We are no longer safe. If a country wants to enter our country and build settlements, that is legal. We cannot do anything," he said in a statement released by his office on Tuesday.
The Malaysian premier also expressed fears that the timing of the Trump administration's announcement would further embolden the Israeli forces, who recently went on a vicious killing spree in Gaza.
"You announce that their illegal settlements are not illegal at a time when they are conducting these unjustified attacks on Gaza… Isn't it like encouraging them to continue to murder the children and civilians, and that they will not be punished?
"Instead, they will be rewarded with setting up settlements on the land of the people they had killed and murdered," the premier said.
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@Copyright The Palestinian Information Center
Sunday 17 November 2019
The International Criminal Court on Thursday approved a full investigation into Myanmar's alleged crimes against the Rohingya, as the southeast Asian nation faced mounting legal pressure worldwide over their fate.
Judges backed a prosecution request to probe allegations of crimes against humanity and persecution over Myanmar's 2017 bloody military crackdown against the minority Muslim group.
The ICC decision comes after a week in which former democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi was named in an Argentine lawsuit over crimes against the Rohingya, and Myanmar faced a separate genocide lawsuit at the UN's top court.
More than 740,000 Rohingya people were forced to flee over the border into sprawling camps in Bangladesh, in violence that United Nations investigators say amounts to genocide.
The Hague-based ICC, set up in 2002 to try the world's worst crimes, said it had "authorised the prosecutor to proceed with an investigation for the alleged crimes within the ICC's jurisdiction" relating to Myanmar.
These include allegations of "systematic acts of violence", deportation as a crime against humanity, and persecution on the grounds of ethnicity or religion against the Rohingya, it said.
Myanmar has long denied accusations it committed ethnic cleansing or genocide.
Myanmar is not signed up to the ICC but the court ruled last year that it has jurisdiction over crimes against the Rohingya minority because Bangladesh, where they are now refugees, is a member.
Chief ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda was allowed to open a preliminary investigation on Myanmar in September 2018, and formally applied to begin a full-scale formal probe in July this year.
Bensouda on Thursday welcomed the decision, calling it "a significant development, sending a positive signal to the victims of atrocity crimes in Myanmar and elsewhere."
"My investigation will seek to uncover the truth. My office will now focus on ensuring the success of its independent and impartial investigation," she said in a statement.
- International justice -
Sawangwongse Yawnghwe, artist and grandson of Myanmar's first president, Sao Shwe Thaike, has withdrawn his work from a European Union-funded exhibition in Yangon, opening next week, in protest at the EU's continued decision to rent its official ambassador's residence from the family of long-time Myanmar dictator General Ne Win.
The highly lucrative deal to rent the ambassador's residence, first reported by The Irrawaddy, reportedly required special approval from Brussels due to the vast sums involved, according to EU insiders. Ne Win's family has regularly received a tidy sum for renting out the residence since the first EU ambassador moved in shortly after the EU established a permanent diplomatic presence in Myanmar in 2012.
In a statement released this week, Sawangwongse explained his decision to pull his work, citing the dramatic events surrounding the arrest of his grandfather on the evening of Ne Win's 1962 coup and the EU's decision to subsidize Ne Win's family's opulent lifestyle.
On the eve of the 1962 coup, Ne Win dispatched troops to arrest Sao Shwe Thaike, who before becoming president had been the sawbwa, or hereditary ruler, of Yawngwe, now called Nyaung Shwe, in Shan State. The troops shot and killed his 16-year-old son Myee as well as a policeman patrolling the neighborhood on bicycle who was drawn by the commotion at the house. Sao Shwe Thaike was dragged away that night and died in detention some eight months after the arrest under circumstances which have never been fully explained.
After Sao Shwe Thaike's death, Sawangwongse's father Chao Tzang took to the hills alongside his mother the Mahadevi to launch an armed resistance movement, the Shan State Army (SSA). Sawangwongse was born in an SSA jungle camp before his family eventually relocated to Canada.
The statement from the artist also mentions that the EU allegedly rents office space from "a notorious crony company called Asia World, a business consortium built on drug money and plunder named in the recent United Nations Fact Finding Mission (FFM) report."
Reached for comment in Holland, where he now lives, Sawangwongse said that he's highly critical of several things the EU has done, including the decision to rent a luxurious home from Ne Win's family. "This property was obviously obtained through illicit means. It should be immediately seized from Ne Win's family and auctioned off, with the proceeds going to former political prisoners and Ne Win's other victims," he said.
In response to the artist's statement, EU Ambassador Kristian Schmidt expressed disappointment and said that the exhibition was part of the EU's policy in Myanmar to engage with the government on sensitive topics.
"The artist, by withdrawing from this exhibition, is really missing a great, great opportunity for engagement because this exhibition is an EU-funded exhibition that will point the finger at the need for justice," Schmidt told The Irrawaddy on Friday. "In many ways it's an example of the EU doing exactly what I understand the artist to be arguing for."
The ambassador also said that the EU will move the ambassador's delegation offices next year and avoid dealing with military-owned businesses.
"At the end of next year, our landlord will no longer be the current one. The issue is being addressed," said Schmidt. "The opportunities and choice to work with legitimate, working companies is growing and we will certainly do everything we can to stay clear of companies that are owned by the military."
Regarding his residence, Schmidt said, "I am proud that the EU residence is now a place where the EU hosts human rights and peace activists, journalists, artists and civil society."
Sawangwongse has also taken issue with what he says is the hypocrisy of EU policy in Myanmar.
"I know the EU does a garden party every year where they give out human rights awards on the grounds of the ambassador's residence. It's the epitome of hypocrisy: giving millions to Ne Win's family while at the same time claiming to help Burma's transition to a democracy. I'm disgusted and I know many people in Burma are as well."
"My family weren't the only victims of Ne Win's regime; the whole country was and it needs to be acknowledged that many of the issues we face now stem from Ne Win's brutal rule and massive incompetence," the artist said.
Sawangwongse's statement also calls out the EU's failure to push for justice in cases of documented allegations of war crimes in Shan, Kachin and Rakhine states.
"The EU has been proceeding with calls for accountability," Schmidt said in response. "We do not understand how he can say the EU has failed to take any action. It's blatantly not correct."
Sawangwongse says he hopes his stance inspires others in Myanmar civil society to skip the cocktail party with diplomats and take action. "Right now there are 44 Burmese fishermen who have been stranded for years on a remote island in Indonesia after escaping slavery on the high seas. My message is simple: put down the champagne glass, cancel your capacity building seminar at the rip off hotel and go rescue them."
Sawangwongse said he was also highly disturbed by the EU ambassador's decision to attend a celebration last month of the anniversary of the Union Enterprise for Humanitarian Relief and Development (UEHRD), a highly controversial government-backed entity set up to redevelop land in Rakhine State where razed Rohingya villages once stood. "What message does Kristian Schmidt send by going there to the UEHRD party? Did he not get the memo about the UN Fact-Finding Mission and its conclusions that cronies were putting money into the UEHRD? It's sickening. I'm sure Ne Win would approve," said Sawangwongse.
The ambassador insisted that he attended only in his official capacity, along with his colleagues, and had no active role.
"I have been very clear in my discussions with the government that the focus by the Union Enterprise strictly on rebuilding roads and resettlement centers, without focusing on accountability and rights of the Rohingya, in our view will not work," Schmidt told The Irrawaddy.
Correction Notice: The previous version of the story wrongly stated that the EU ambassador would be changing his residence next year. In fact, the EU will be moving its delegation offices next year, not the ambassador's residence.
Saturday 9 November 2019
In March 2016 the United Nations Human Rights Council mandated a database of companies profiting from Israel's settlements. Originally due in 2017, its publication remains in limbo as the release was delayed several times. Conversely, a similar database on Myanmar was ordered in September 2018 and completed a year later.
During the last session of the HRC in September the 110-page report "The economic interests of the Myanmar military" was released. It was researched and written by an independent international fact-finding mission to Myanmar. The document follows a September 2018 report on human rights violations and abuses by the Myanmar military, commissioned by the HRC in 2017.
The new report lays bare the "business model" or economic infrastructure that enables the Myanmar military to commit human rights violations and abuses. It contains a practical 40-page database, listing all companies fostering direct and indirect business ties with the military. Companies involved in this model – mostly Asian, also European, some others – are named in full; their activities and ties to the military are described in detail. Incidentally, two Israeli firms are mentioned.
The thorough report shows what can be achieved in just one year. Even more important, no protests against it were heard.
Not discussed during the September session was the database of companies conducting business or profiting off of Israel's occupation of the Palestinian territory, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights. The HRC had tasked compilation of the database with the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). In January 2018 OHCHR announced it compiled a list of 206 companies, but its publication was stalled for "further research and consideration." OHCHR said at the time that it wanted to contact all of the companies before releasing their names.
Since then 22 months have passed. Pressed to explain yet another delay in March 2019, the High Commissioner, former Chilean president Michelle Bachelet, promised to transmit the database to the HRC in the coming months. In other words: in time for the HRC September session. Early September 103 organizations called for its publication, as others already did two years earlier. But Bachelet didn't deliver.
Early October a coalition including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and Al-Haq published a joined statement on the unexplained delay, mentioning "consistent reports of political interference by some states," concluding that March 2020 is now the earliest moment for consideration by the HRC – four years after commissioning it.
The delay is even more significant as the database builds on the conclusions of a fact-finding mission to investigate the implications of the Israeli settlements on the human rights of the Palestinian people. The mission found on February 7, 2013, that "business enterprises have, directly and indirectly, enabled, facilitated and profited from the construction and growth of the settlements." That's almost seven years ago.
Moreover, neither Myanmar nor Israel are the only instances where the UN ordered one of its agencies to produce a catalog of companies profiting from violations of international law.
In October 2002, a year before the end of the Second Congo War, the UN Security Council published a database of companies involved in "illegal exploitation of natural resources and other forms of wealth of the Democratic Republic of the Congo." The database contains 114 companies and 54 individuals and targeted not just the DRC, but also foreign powers holding territory inside the country during the hostilities.
Returning to Israel, the delay of the database fits into wider practices, most prominently the unexplained delay of an official investigation into possible Israeli war crimes by the International Criminal Court, or the ICC. Next January will mark five years since a preliminary investigation began. It should have led to a conclusion a long time ago but is just dragging on without an end in sight.
The stalling is similar to the ICC chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda's decision to not investigate alleged war crimes in 2010 when Israeli commandos boarded the Mavi Marmara, bound for Gaza, while still in international waters and killing ten passengers during the raid. An activist who was aboard the ship during that attack has accused Bensouda of succumbing to "intervention," "threats," and "pressure" from the U.S., Israel, and an American pro-Israel legal firm.
Bensouda buried the case at the time but it is now being challenged in an appeal. The affair is the subject of a new book by Norman Finkelstein, titled "I Accuse!," which addresses Bensouda's dealings and the harm she inflicts on the credibility of the ICC.
In more recent years the UN-organization ESCWA was forced to withdraw its authoritative report on Israeli apartheid two days after publication – after accusing Israel of practicing "apartheid" in March 2017. The fact that even UN Secretary-General Guterres got involved in ditching the report – thereby harming a prominent member of his own UN-family and causing the resignation of expert UN-officials – hints at the amount of pressure that was applied on the UN.
Against this background it's worth remembering the words of Haaretz journalist Barak Ravid, who wrote in September 2017, the U.S. had engaged in "massive pressure" to change the wording of the HRC's resolution calling for a database of companies profiting off of Israel's occupation. He noted there was "Even an attempt by the EU to reach a deal with the Palestinians to drop the clause from the resolution stipulating the blacklist's formulation, in return for the support of European nations for the rest of its articles."
Israel's staunchest defenders claim that Israel is being singled out – and that is correct. Israel and American officials often angrily point to the high number of Security Council-resolutions condemning its violations of international law – only Apartheid South-Africa scored higher –, but what really stands out is its ability to violate them all without ever being sanctioned. No other country enjoyed such indulgence.
The net result is that Israel can behave as it pleases, shielded at the highest levels, for which the Palestinians pay the price. The institutions that are supposed to guard their rights and lives have become institutional in their oppression.
With official channels blocked it's now up to the international community to demand justice for the Palestinians. And that's exactly what's happening. A grassroots coalition of some 60 organizations from 14 countries is planning a demonstration at the ICC-offices in The Hague on Friday, November 29 – the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People. The coalition wants Bensouda to act, holding Israel accountable for its crimes against the Palestinians without further delay.
It's hard to think of a more symbolic place and date for a massive outcry demanding justice for Palestine. Organizations and citizens wishing to endorse or join the protest can do so by contacting the coalition (France, other countries).