Saturday 17 October 2020

Riyadh’s pressure on Dhaka unfair

Source TheDailyStar, 25 Sept

Analysts, activists say about insistence that 54,000 Rohingyas in KSA be issued Bangladeshi passports; Momen says no passport without proof

The Saudi Arabian pressure on Bangladesh to issue passports to 54,000 Rohingyas and bring back 462 others is unacceptable and unfair, analysts and Rohingya activists have said.

They said if the kingdom was really to send back the Rohingyas, they should mount pressure on Myanmar. They questioned as to why Bangladesh, which had taken in over a million Rohingyas, should take the 54,000 more.

The observation came after the foreign ministry revealed that Saudi Arabia has recently renewed its pressure on Dhaka over the Rohingya issue.

Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen said the Saudi authorities have declared that there were 54,000 Rohingyas, who had no passports, and that they do not allow stateless people in their country.

"They [Saudi Arabia] are not saying that they will send the 54,000 Rohingyas to Bangladesh, but they should be provided with Bangladeshi passports," Momen told reporters at the ministry yesterday.

He said Dhaka has informed Riyadh that Bangladesh could consider the Saudi request only if the Rohingyas had any prior passports or other documents.

Riyadh also asked Bangladesh to take back 462 Rohingyas, now in jail for various crimes.

"We said we can bring back those who have Bangladeshi passports," Momen said.

A foreign ministry official said Riyadh indicated that the labour market for the Bangladeshis in KSA may be affected if Dhaka did not respond the way Riyadh wanted.

There are over 2 million Bangladeshis in the kingdom.

Momen said in the 1970s and 80s, when the Rohingyas were persecuted in Myanmar, the then Saudi Badsha had welcomed and sheltered them. The Rohongyas now have children and grandchildren who speak Arabic and are used to Saudi culture. They don't speak Bangla and do not know Bangladesh.

Prof Imtiaz Ahmed of Dhaka University's international relations department said it was understood that the KSA economy was under pressure due to a decline in oil price and the war in Yemen. Bangladesh and Turkey have good relations too. Turkey-Saudi relations are not ideal at the moment.

"However, that should in no way be linked to the Rohingya issue," Prof Imtiaz told The Daily Star.

If Saudi Arabia really wants to send back the Rohingyas, it should pressure Myanmar because Myanmar at the ICJ did not say that they were Bangladeshi citizens but that Rohingyas were the Muslims of Arakan, he said.

Rohingyas are facing genocide and Saudi Arabia, as a leader of the Muslim Ummah, should stand beside them and help them have justice instead of doing injustice to them, he said.

"I also think that our mission in Saudi Arabia should create more awareness about the Rohingya genocide among the Saudi people and the government."

The International Criminal Court is investigating crimes against the Rohingyas and the International Court of Justice is holding a genocide trial against Myanmar.

Nay San Lwin, co-founder of Free Rohingya Coalition, an alliance of Rohingya worldwide, said as the genocide against Rohingya began in 1970s, thousands of Rohingyas fled the country. They had no choice but to hold the passports arranged by smugglers.

Saudi kings had sympathy for them and had given them residency permits. Most of them do not have a passport.

"They all belong to Myanmar. They are Myanmar citizens although Myanmar hasn't considered them as citizens. Pressuring Bangladesh to issue Bangladeshi passports is not right.

"The Saudi government must pressure the Myanmar embassy in Riyadh to issue them Myanmar passports instead of pressuring the Bangladesh government," he said.

"The genocide against the Rohingyas is ongoing and they cannot be sent back to Myanmar at this moment. They must not be sent back to Bangladesh as Bangladesh is not their country," Lwin said from Germany.

The Saudi government should mount pressure on Myanmar through all the 57 OIC members to issue passports to the Rohingyas, instead of threatening Bangladesh, he said.

Ending genocide should be the priority. All countries, including Saudi Arabia, should work hard to end the ongoing genocide against the Rohingyas, Lwin added.

"Once it ends, the Rohingya in exile will have a chance to go back to their homeland in Myanmar."

They should not be expelled from the country where they take refuge with a huge hope for survival, he said.

A Rohingya activist in Bangladesh said it was very disappointing that Saudi Arabia was showing inhumane attitude towards a small country like Bangladesh, which is sheltering about a million persecuted Rohingya, including some 750,000 who faced brutal military campaign in 2017.

As a leading and rich Muslim country, KSA should be more supportive to Bangladesh and work with other global powers to establish Rohingya rights, she said preferring anonymity.

"Saudi pressure on Bangladesh is illogical and unfair," she said.

Wednesday 23 September 2020

Myanmar: Leaked documents reveal global business ties to military crimes

Source AI, 10 Sept

An Amnesty International investigation has exposed how international businesses are linked to the financing of Myanmar's military, including many units directly responsible for crimes under international law and other human rights violations. Leaked official documents analyzed by Amnesty International reveal how Myanmar's military receives huge revenues from shares in Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited (MEHL), a secretive conglomerate whose activities include the mining, beer, tobacco, garment manufacturing and banking sectors. MEHL has partnerships with a range of local and foreign businesses including Japanese beer multinational Kirin and South Korean steel giant POSCO.

The perpetrators of some of the worst human rights violations in Myanmar's recent history are among those who benefit from MEHL's business activities 
Mark Dummett, Head of Business, Security and Human Rights

MEHL shareholder records show that military units, including combat divisions, own about one third of MEHL's shares. Records also detail links between MEHL and the Western Command, which oversees operations in Rakhine State, including atrocities committed against the Rohingya population and other ethnic minorities.  The report also provides information on the considerable annual dividend payments that shareholders have received since MEHL's establishment in 1990.

"These documents provide new evidence of how the Myanmar military benefits from MEHL's vast business empire and make clear that the military and MEHL are inextricably linked. This is not a case of MEHL unwittingly financing human rights violations – its entire board is composed of high-level military figures," said Mark Dummett, Head of Business, Security and Human Rights at Amnesty International.

"The perpetrators of some of the worst human rights violations in Myanmar's recent history are among those who benefit from MEHL's business activities – for example, military chief Min Aung Hlaing owned 5,000 shares in MEHL in 2011. In the face of this incontrovertible evidence, businesses who currently partner with MEHL must end these relationships responsibly."

Global business links

Amnesty International's research demonstrates that a direct link exists between MEHL's business partners and human rights violations. MEHL works in collaboration with these business partners in establishing joint ventures or profit-sharing agreements in Myanmar; when profits are derived from these operations, they are provided to MEHL as shareholder. MEHL then disburses dividends to its own shareholders.

Amnesty wrote to eight companies who operate jointly with MEHL in Myanmar. These are:

Ever Flow River Group Public Co., Ltd, (EFR), a Myanmar logistics company; Kanbawza Group (KBZ), a Myanmar conglomerate with jade and ruby mining operations; Kirin Holdings, a Japanese beverage company; INNO Group, a South Korean property developer; Pan-Pacific, a South Korean manufacturer and exporter of clothing; POSCO, a South Korean steelmaker; RMH Singapore, a Singaporean fund with a tobacco operation in Myanmar; and Wanbao Mining, a Chinese metal mining company.

In its reply, Pan-Pacific announced that it is terminating its business partnership with MEHL in the wake of Amnesty's findings and the publication of the UN Fact-Finding Mission report of 2019. KBZ and Kirin have stated they are reviewing their relationship with MEHL, while others did not provide such commitments or did not respond at all. Full copies of responses can be found in Annex I of the report.

These companies all partner with MEHL in operations inside Myanmar. However, a few have global reach. Kirin is one of the world's largest beer brewers, and its drinks, such as Kirin, San Miguel, Lion and Fat Tire are sold in bars and shops all over the world. POSCO, one of the world's largest steelmakers, produces a range of steel products for the automobile, construction, and shipbuilding industries.

Shedding light on a secretive relationship

MEHL was founded by Myanmar's military regime in 1990 and is still directed and owned by serving and retired personnel. This link clearly provides the military with substantial revenue on top of its official budget, but the exact nature of the relationship is shrouded in secrecy.

This is not a case of MEHL unwittingly financing human rights violations – its entire board is composed of high-level military figures 
Mark Dummett

Amnesty International has seen two documents which expose new details about how MEHL finances the military. The first is a filing which was lodged by MEHL with Myanmar's Directorate of Investment and Company Administration (DICA) in January 2020. It states that MEHL is owned by 381,636 individual shareholders, who are all serving or retired military personnel, and 1,803 "institutional" shareholders, consisting of "regional commands, divisions, battalions, troops, war veteran associations".

The second document is a copy of a confidential MEHL shareholder report from fiscal year 2010-11. As well as providing information on the identities of MEHL's shareholders, it documents the considerable annual dividend payments that shareholders received between 1990 and 2011.

The shareholder report was shared with Amnesty International by Justice for Myanmar, an activist group that campaigns for justice and accountability for the people of Myanmar. The contents of the report are being made public on the group's website[1], access to which was blocked in Myanmar on 1 September by the Ministry of Transport and Communications. According to a spokesman for the ministry, the website spreads "fake news". Justice For Myanmar has responded stating this is a bid to silence critical voices.

The total amount of dividend payments made in this 20-year period to all shareholders was more than 107 billion Myanmar kyat (107,869,519,830) – about 18 billion US dollars according to the official exchange rate. Of this amount, MEHL transferred 95 billion kyat – the equivalent of approximately 16 billion US dollars – to military units.

Both documents confirm that MEHL's shareholders include military units and high-ranking military officers directly implicated in crimes under international law and other serious human rights violations.

For example, the 2010-11 report lists as shareholders 95 separate military units that fall within the Western Command, the regional command covering and overseeing operations in Rakhine State. Together, they owned more than 4.3 million shares and received payments of more than 1.25 billion kyat (208 million USD) in 2010-11. The Western Command is also listed as an MEHL shareholder in the 2020 DICA document.

In providing this funding to military units, MEHL is boosting their resources and financing their operations which include crimes against humanity and war crimes. 
Yadanar Maung, Spokesperson of Justice For Myanmar.

The headquarters of battalions from the 33rd and 99th Light Infantry Divisions are also listed as shareholders. Amnesty International has documented these divisions' involvement in crimes against humanity against the Rohingya population, including massacres of women, men, and children, in Rakhine State, and war crimes in Kachin and northern Shan States.

The DICA report also names senior military commanders, including those who commanded troops involved in crimes under international law, as shareholders. Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, the Commander-in-Chief and head of the War Office, is listed as shareholder number 9252. In 2010-11 Min Aung Hlaing owned 5,000 shares and received a dividend payment of 1.5 million kyat (250,000 USD). The UN has called for Min Aung Hlaing, who oversaw the brutal campaign against the Rohingya in 2017, to be investigated and prosecuted for genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes.

"While outsiders can't know how these dividends are spent by military units, the size and regularity of these payments suggests that they cover operational costs," said Mark Dummett.

"In providing this funding to military units, MEHL is boosting their resources and financing their operations which include crimes against humanity and war crimes. Any company doing business with MEHL risks contributing to these violations and must take urgent steps to cut ties," added Yadanar Maung, Spokesperson of Justice For Myanmar.

MEHL's "patron group", which oversees the Board, includes the very officers responsible for crimes against humanity and other human rights violations, and therefore MEHL cannot be trusted to reform itself.  What is more, MEHL has shown no willingness to engage transparently with its business partners to demonstrate that it can reform its structure.

"MEHL's business partners have a responsibility to respect human rights and seek to prevent or mitigate adverse human rights impacts linked to their operations. Given MEHL's unwillingness to reform its structure, its business partners must assess their relationship to MEHL and responsibly disengage. This means taking into account credible assessments of potential adverse social, economic, and human rights impacts and taking steps to mitigate them when disengaging," said Mark Dummett.

Amnesty International is calling on the Myanmar government to intervene to break the link between the armed forces and the economy. Part of this must be a thorough reform of the ownership and management of MEHL. The government should also establish a fund, using MEHL's profits, to compensate the victims of human rights violations committed by military units that are financed by or are shareholders of MEHL.

[1]For users inside Myanmar, Justice For Myanmar has created a mirror site that can be accessed here:

Canada and Netherlands ask parties to the Genocide Convention to support The Gambia’s efforts to address Myanmar rights violations.

Rohingya refugees' lawyers lobby for International Criminal Court to sit in Asia

Source RNZ, 1 Sept

Two Australian lawyers acting on behalf of hundreds of Rohingya refugees are pushing to have the International Criminal Court (ICC) sit in Asia for the first time.

Rohingya people are seen at Jamtoli refugee camp at Ukhia in Cox's Bazar in Bangladesh on August 23, 2020.

Rohingya people at Jamtoli refugee camp at Ukhia in Cox's Bazar in Bangladesh. Photo: AFP / NurPhoto / Rehman Asad

The ICC is investigating allegations of genocide and crimes against humanity allegedly committed by Myanmar government and military officials in 2017.

Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya - a stateless, mostly Muslim minority group - fled to neighbouring Bangladesh during the unrest.

Myanmar's government, led by Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, has faced accusations of failing to stop a systematic campaign of violence by security forces to wipe out the Rohingya minority, which Myanmar denies.

Lawyers acting on behalf of Rohingya refugees have now lodged a pre-trial motion asking the court to investigate the possibility of holding a trial outside of Europe.

A landscape view in the Balukhali camp in Cox's Bazar Bangladesh on February 11, 2019. (Photo by Kazi Salahuddin Razu/NurPhoto)

The Balukhali camp in Cox's Bazar Bangladesh, hundreds of thousands of Rohingya have fled to neighbouring Bangladesh. Photo: AFP

What are they asking for?

Counsel at the ICC Kate Gibson is representing groups of Rohingya living in the Cox's Bazar refugee camp in Bangladesh.

Gibson said they were hoping the court would hold some or part of the hearings in Asia, possibly in Bangkok in Thailand, or even Bangladesh.

"We're just asking the court to be aware of this massive gap that is existing between the Rohingya population in the camp who are cut off in every sense that you could imagine from The Hague to be aware that they feel like this," she said.

"We think one of the most effective ways of doing that would be to look into whether the ICC can move its seat to somewhere closer to the victim communities."

What are the issues with the ICC's current location?

Postdoctoral research fellow at Sydney Law School Rosemary Grey said witnesses and victims faced a number of problems, including financial difficulty, lack of documentation and poor internet connections.

"If justice is going to be closer to them, the ICC is going to have to move to them, not them to the ICC," Dr Grey said.

Emma Palmer, a lecturer at Griffith University Law School in Brisbane, Australia, said The Hague's distance from victims had an effect on the way it ran its trials.

"[Prosecutors] need to rely much more on intermediaries, on civil society groups to help them in the actual jurisdiction that they're trying to investigate," Dr Palmer said.

What do claimants say?

Muhammed Nowkhim is one of the Rohingya refugees hoping to testify before the court.

He left his village - along with 20,000 other people - after he woke to the sound to gunfire and rockets in August 2017.

Nowkhim said his family members were shot at, and his home was burned to the ground during the violence.

"When they started blasting, one blast like a rocket, at that time our family is scared," he said. "Most of the people [in the village] were injured, some of the people were shot, some people were bleeding."

The 24-year-old said having the court sit in Asia, rather than The Hague, would be meaningful to other people who wanted to testify.

"If the court is set up in Asia then every victim who [suffered], they can openly say their opinion in front of the judges," Nowkhim said.

Gibson said there were logistical benefits to the move.

"The court will be closer to the evidence, the sites, the witnesses themselves, and you won't have to put this burden on the victim communities to travel to this foreign location," she said.

Is it likely?

"The International Criminal Court can theoretically hold proceedings anywhere," Dr Grey said.

While the ICC has never sat outside of its headquarters in The Hague since it began in 2002, Dr Grey said she thought the move was "realistic".

Victims in countries such as Kenya and the Democratic Republic of Congo have made similar requests in the past, but they had been rejected on security, financial and technical grounds.

"The ICC has to have its proceedings somewhere safe for the judges, for the lawyers, safe for the victims or witnesses," Dr Grey said.

"[But] there are plenty of locations in Asia that are quite stable.

"And it's not that it's a hugely unrealistic request because they are asking for just some of the proceedings to be closer to Asia."

What other courts could inform the ICC's move?

Legal experts pointed to the UN-backed Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia as a possible model.

The tribunal investigated war crimes committed by the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s, and was established in the capital Phnom Penh in 2006.

"The public gallery was full of Cambodian people, full of local people who have bused in from the provinces, people from Phnom Penh, people in school uniform or university students, local journalists," Dr Grey said.

"It was full of monks witnessing the proceedings, completely different environment than the International Criminal Court, where you very rarely see anyone from the affected country."

Dr Palmer said the ICC has had little engagement with South East Asia in the past.

"Even opening the discussion [of having the court in Asia] could be important if it opens some doors to the court to actually learn a bit more about the region," Dr Palmer said.

The ICC has been contacted for comment.


Sunday 23 August 2020

Myanmar bars major election monitoring group from observing polls

Source Reuters, 13 Aug

(Reuters) - A major election-monitoring group in Myanmar says it has been barred from observing polls set for November, raising questions about the credibility of a vote seen as a crucial test of democratic reforms in the country.

People's Alliance for Credible Elections (PACE), an independent group of election monitors in the country, said on Thursday the election commission had denied it accreditation on the basis that it had received foreign funding.

The chairman of the election commission did not answer Reuters' calls for comment, and a spokesman could not immediately be reached.

PACE said it had planned to deploy more than 2,900 observers to watch the voting.

Foreign observer missions, which have been permitted, are likely to be limited given travel restrictions and quarantine requirements during the coronavirus pandemic, the group said.

"Therefore, to safeguard the transparency and accountability of the electoral processes, domestic election observers' role is of crucial importance," PACE said in a statement.

Myanmar has only reported 361 cases of the virus but has banned international flights and imposes 21-day quarantines for visitors with special permission to enter.

The nation goes to the polls on Nov. 8 in what analysts see as a test of the transition away from direct military rule, but preparations have been complicated by the pandemic and escalating ethnic conflict.

Longtime opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party took power in 2016 after a landslide election win that ended half a century of army rule, although the military retains significant powers.

Richard Horsey, a Myanmar-based political analyst with the International Crisis Group, said PACE had significant experience of observing previous elections and was able to deploy large numbers of people.

"As Myanmar starts to consolidate a system of electoral democracy after so many decades of authoritarianism, observers play a key role in giving the elections credibility," he said.

"Firmly establishing that practice now can also serve Myanmar well in future years, when its electoral integrity might face difficult tests," he said.

Facebook rejects Gambian request to release Myanmar officials’ data for Rohingya genocide case

Source TheglobeAndmail, 6 Aug, 

Saturday 8 August 2020

OPINION - Time to add Myanmar’s most influential genocidal monk Sitagu to ICC List

Source AA, 5 Aug

Sitagu offered scriptural justifications for 'killing millions of non-Buddhists'

In November last year, the International Criminal Court (ICC) moved to begin the full investigation into Myanmar's violent international crimes and other events connected to the exodus of Rohingya from western Myanmar in decades.

In August 2017, Myanmar Tatmadaw, or the military, launched the "Security Clearance Operations," which resulted in the exodus of 750,000 Rohingya from across the borders into the adjacent Bangladesh city of Teknaf.

As the ICC proceeds with its full investigation, it needs to look into the instrumental role of Sitagu Sayadaw, Myanmar's most influential Saffron-robed hate preacher, in the genocidal and other crimes against predominantly Muslim Rohingya.

The ICC was set up in the Hague in 2002 to try individuals sufficiently linked to grave crimes under international law owing to their criminal responsibility, for instance, political and military leaders of the perpetrating state, militia heads and key civilians.

The proactive involvement of leading Buddhist monks and "race and faith" defense organizations is well-documented. And Sitagu has more than sufficient linkages with the Buddhist monk-led ethno-nationalist movement with its essential Islamophobia. The populist mobilization of public opinion against Rohingya victims is firmly anchored in Islamophobia although there are other driving factors behind the genocide.

For the last eight consecutive years since I first blew the genocide whistle on the systematic and phased destruction of Rohingya people by my country of birth and the state-backed sharp rise in Islamophobia, I found that the TIME magazine dubbed Wirathu "the Face of Buddhist Terror" on its cover, while Wirathu's patron, namely Sitagu abbot, has largely escaped international scrutiny.

It was Sitagu, who as the head of Myanmar's state-backed Buddhist Fascist group named Ma Ba Tha (Race and Buddhism Defense League), provided scriptural justifications for the military's genocidal killings of Rohingya and has helped cement Islamophobia into a national policy.

'One faith, one race'

On July 20, I did a Facebook Live in Burmese language, following Myanmar Martyrs' Day commemoration on July 19 during which the late Gen. Aung San, the father of current de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi who is widely considered the architect of Burma's independence from Britain, along with eight other colleagues and staff were assassinated during a colonial-era cabinet meeting in Rangoon.

I pointed out the perils of the public's continued embrace of "one faith, one race" exclusionary, majoritarian, and populist nationalism with Buddhism as the de facto state religion. In this connection, I singled out Sitagu as the most impactful Islamophobic demagogue: his YouTube-ed words of fear and loathing of Islam and Muslims in the Burmese language are extremely influential with both military and political decision-makers and the Buddhist lay public.

Alas, it has touched raw nerves.

The clip has since gone viral among the Burmese Facebook users, attracting 1.5 million views, provoking thousands of hate comments and death threats.

A popular Facebook platform, namely Akothi (We-know-everything), with nearly 2 million followers, further amplified my blistering words about the poisonous pseudo-Buddhist ethnonationalism of the majority public – with its own negative spin against my criticism directed at the Burmese genocidal leaders and preachers.

In the wildly spread clip, I singled out the two individuals who intentionally spread Fascist-like "pure" ethnonationalism, xenophobia and Islamophobia, namely the late dictator Gen. Ne Win and Sitagu.

Both men were responsible for the poisonous idea that originated in the inter-World War period in Germany that certain – usually nationally dominant – "races" are indigenous and hence "host" (blue-eyed, blond-haired Germans in Germany of the inter-world-war years, for instance) while others (such as German Jews) are "guests".

In 1919, a year after Germany lost the World War I, the exiled Kaiser Wilhem II, wrote to one of his former generals, "(the Germans) were (e)gged on and misled by the tribe of Juda whom they hated, who were guests among them! […] Let no Germans forget this nor rest until these parasites have been destroyed and exterminated from the German soil! This poisonous mushroom from the German oak-tree!"

The late Gen. Ne Win, who died under house arrest in December 2002, was the architect of the slow-burning genocide of Rohingya which began under the invented pretext of "illegal immigration of Muslims" from Bangladesh.

Nazi-esque policy discourse

Gen. Ne Win, as chairman of the ruling Burma Socialist Program Party government, decreed a new Citizenship Law in 1982 which was designed to exclude, disempower, and render stateless primarily over 1 million Rohingya Muslims on their own ancestral and historical western region of Myanmar. Ne Win introduced this Nazi-esque policy discourse "host-vs-guest" communities in the process of radically re-writing the originally inclusive Burmese Citizenship Law.

Ne Win is no more; he was put under house arrest by a new generation of generals in 2002 and he died the same year. But his guest-vs-host genocidal idea is kept alive and further popularized by Sitagu monk.

Unlike the younger charismatic monk Wirathu, Sitagu's genocidal role is little known outside a handful of international experts on Myanmar Buddhism.

In an article for Oxford Tea Circle, titled Challenging the Distortion of Influential Monks?, Matthew Walton, formerly Aung San Suu Kyi Senior Fellow on Burma Studies, said: "[Sitagu monk's] remarks [at the commando training school] had a chilling purpose: to provide a religious justification for the mass killing of non-Buddhists."

While the Oxford-based scholar who held the academic post that bears Myanmar Counsellor's name was sounding alarm bells in his writing about Sigtagu, Suu Kyi was conferring on the hate monk Agga Maha Pandita or Great Learned Sage.

Suu Kyi is not the only Myanmar leader who has patronized Sitagu.

Commander in-Chief Senior Gen. Min Aung, who declared the existence of Rohingya Muslims in western Myanmar region "an unfinished business" from the World War II era, is often seen to pay the monk visits.

In a video clip that was circulated by Sitagu's Burmese media network, Sitagu was telling the Senior General – sitting on his knee on the floor in a gesture of reverence to the monk – that "the world is fussing over this 'genocide thing' while only a handful – about 200 – Muslims were killed."

Offer to fight alongside armed forces

In the same conversation, the abbot sought to assuage the senior general's concerns about being hauled to the ICC. Specifically, Sitagu offered to help "mobilize hundreds of thousands of monks to fight alongside the Armed Forces" should any external actor chose to militarily intervene and snatch the senior general.

My decade-long research on Burmese Islamophobia and policies of genocide has coughed up Sitagu's instrumental role in promoting Islamophobia and poisoning the Burmese Buddhist mind with fear and loathing of Muslims.

This most revered monk has effectively incorporated the genocidal strain of Islamophobia in Myanmar nearly two decades before the 2017 wave of the state-directed and systematic destruction of a large segment of the Rohingya population, the wave that hit world news headlines.

In his audio-recorded address to the congregation of several hundred monks in the southernmost part of Mandalay, my city of birth, known as Pha Ya Gyi, the young Wirathu was heard telling his fellow Buddhist preachers that the Muslim take-over of Buddhist Burma was happening through marrying Buddhist women as a matter of demographic strategy.

Here, Wirathu pointed out that only Buddhist monks are capable of repelling such conspiratorial assault on the Buddhist society while the Burmese troops armed with guns looked on helplessly.

In this Islamophobic narrative, Muslim invasion in the bed rooms of Buddhist homes is the first step towards the Islamicization of Myanmar. Burmese Muslims make up only 5% of the total population in the country, where 90% of the public are Buddhists of different ethnicities.

His words roused the rage of hundreds of the monk audience as he disclosed the Mossad-like secret, monk-led campaign to "deprive all Muslims in the country of livelihood opportunities and eventually starve them to death, or simply trigger the forced Muslim exodus as a whole." Importantly, Wirathu publicly named the High Rev. Sitagu as the patron-monk of this emerging monks' nationwide network who viewed Muslims and Islam as the greatest threat to the majoritarian Buddhist society.

Today, Myanmar's civilian government has an active warrant to arrest the world (in)famous Reverend Wirathu for his public denunciation of its autocratic leader Aung San Suu Kyi, and has gone into hiding accordingly.

In sharp contrast, Sitagu continues to enjoy protection and extraordinary privileges including being flown around the country including the country's military frontline outposts on military helicopters with armed escorts. And more ominously, Sitagu remains extremely popular with the Burmese lay Buddhist public who falsely believes him to be a holy prophet, despite the latter's well-documented promotion of racism and hatred of the most toxic kind.

*The writer is a Burmese coordinator of the Free Rohingya Coalition, general secretary of Forces of Renewal Southeast Asia and a fellow of the Genocide Documentation Center in Cambodia.

**Opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Anadolu Agency

Implications of the Myanmar ICJ and ICC Cases for Non-Rohingya Minorities

Source Justsecurity,31 July

(Editors Note: This article is the fourth and final piece of a special Just Security forum on the ongoing Gambia v. Myanmar litigation at the International Court of Justice and ways forward.)

As my colleagues Param-Preet Singh and Nadira Kourt laid out in the first two pieces of this forum, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) case concerning Myanmar's genocide of the Rohingya presents opportunities for Myanmar to finally dismantle the root causes of its longstanding persecution of Rohingya people and the international community to live up to its promise of "Never Again." In this final forum article, I look at what all the recent international attention paid to Myanmar's treatment of the Rohingya means for other ethnic minorities that have suffered atrocities at the hands of Myanmar's military (the Tatmadaw).

In some ways, international attention on the experiences of other ethnic groups in Myanmar is currently at a zenith. The intensifying conflict between the Tatmadaw and the Arakan Army – an armed group seeking increased autonomy for the multi-ethnic peoples in Rakhine state (referred to by the Arakan Army as "Arakan" state) – and the recent announcement of new military clearance operations by the Tatmadaw in ethnic Rakhine regions, have brought condemnation from American, Australian, British, and Canadian embassies in Myanmar.

In other ways, however, the attention of the international community remains fixated on the Rohingya. This is particularly true when discussing accountability efforts. Despite the flurry of activity on Myanmar at the ICJ, the International Criminal Court (ICC), foreign domestic courts (for example, Argentinian courts) and United Nations bodies, attention on the atrocities committed against a wider array of Myanmar's ethnic minorities has been wanting.

Myanmar's Other Atrocity Victim Groups

Since Myanmar's independence, numerous ethnically-based armed conflicts in the country's border regions have continued for decades. In engaging in these conflicts, the Tatmadaw has repeatedly and intentionally targeted civilians of the same ethnic background as that associated with whatever armed groups they were fighting at the time. Over the past several years, ethnic Rakhine, Kachin, and Shan civilians, and others, have been subjected to widespread attacks, indiscriminate killings, destruction and looting of property, food supplies, critical services, and places of worship.

Of special note is the Tatmadaw's repeated commission of sexual and gender-based violence against ethnic minority populations. While the specific context of each armed group's conflict with the Tatmadaw is distinct, the Tatmadaw's use of rape as a weapon of war has remained a universal tactic. Ethnic women's organizations have found time and again that widespread sexual violence is part of a deliberate and systematic pattern of targeting women and girls in their communities. Indeed, the U.N. Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar (FFM), found that sexual and gender-based violence was a "hallmark of the Tatmadaw's operations against ethnic minorities in Kachin, Shan and Rakhine states" and that "[t]hese violations, for most part perpetrated against ethnic women and girls, were used with the intent to intimidate, terrorise and punish the civilian population and as a tactic of war." Even Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar's State Counselor and de facto leader, decried the targeting of ethnic minorities for sexual violence in 2011, stating that "[r]ape 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. It is used as a weapon by armed forces to intimidate the ethnic nationalities and to divide our country."

The Focus on Crimes Against the Rohingya

Despite clear findings of grave human rights violations by local civil society, international fact-finders, and the de facto head of government, avenues for, or even conversations about, accountability for crimes against non-Rohingya ethnic minorities are virtually non-existent.

This is partly due to jurisdictional limitations and choices inherent in the ongoing investigations and cases, especially those at the ICJ and ICC. For example, the ICJ case is focused narrowly on the Rohingya because the facts indicate the Tatmadaw acted with an intent to destroy only the Rohingya – an essential element of the crime of genocide. Thus, while brutal and constituting crimes against humanity, the Tatmadaw's atrocities against other ethnic groups do not fit the definition of genocide, and thus these victims cannot avail themselves of the ICJ's jurisdiction, which is tied specifically to the Genocide Convention in the ongoing Gambia v. Myanmar litigation.

Similarly, the ICC investigation is focusing on crimes against the Rohingya because of the narrow jurisdiction available to that court – the crimes must be linked to the "clearance operations" in Rakhine state beginning in 2016 and, crucially, must have at least one element occurring in Bangladesh (the nation the vast majority of Rohingya victims have fled to). This is because unlike Myanmar, Bangladesh is a party to the ICC's Rome Statute, which confers the court with territorial jurisdiction. A universal jurisdiction case brought in Argentina by Rohingya human rights activists likewise targets members of the Tatmadaw and Myanmar government with alleged crimes against the Rohingya specifically.

The one exception to this narrow focus on the Rohingya is the Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar (IIMM), created by the U.N. Human Rights Council. The IIMM's mandate empowers it to investigate the most serious international crimes occurring anywhere in Myanmar, and therefore against any ethnic group, since 2011. Yet, the IIMM's work has been overshadowed by the exclusive focus on the plight of the Rohingya at the ICJ, ICC, in Argentinian courts, and more generally in press coverage and U.N. statements.

The picture is not much different in international political spheres, where fear of alienating Myanmar, an emergent economic partner, has clipped the responses of countries and international organizations. Though to be fair, Australia, the EUU.K. and United States have all levied targeted sanctions against certain Tatmadaw officials for their roles in atrocities against Shan, Kachin, and ethnic Rakhine victims – along with Rohingya ones. Relevant U.N. General Assembly and Human Rights Council resolutions similarly name human rights violations against multiple of Myanmar's ethnic groups. At the same time however, the Security Council has failed to take action outside the Rohingya context, with the infamous "Rosenthal Report" describing a systemic failure at the U.N. in addressing all atrocities by the Tatmadaw. Meanwhile, key economic partners, such as Japan, have turned a blind eye to the gaping hole in accountability for crimes against Myanmar's ethnic minorities.

This is not to take away from the uniquely brutal character and scale of crimes committed against the Rohingya. As pointed out above, unlike other groups, the Rohingya were targeted for destruction by the Tatmadaw. This, coupled with the displacement of nearly 1,000,000 Rohingya, calls for an urgent and comprehensive response. However, it is also important to acknowledge that all atrocity crimes, whatever their specific character, continue to be integral aspects of the Tatmadaw's standard operating procedures in operations against ethnic minorities. Justice and accountability for such crimes is essential.

Indeed, human rights defenders from Myanmar's ethnic communities have shown broad support for international efforts aimed at justice for the Rohingya. KarenShanMon, and Kachin groups have all put out statements of solidarity, each highlighting that until the Tatmadaw is held accountable, atrocities against ethnic communities will continue. Collectively, the statements paint a broader, much more comprehensive picture of crimes in Myanmar, by detailing the decades-long patterns of similar abuses against ethnic minorities.

The patterned nature of these violations is what renders the various Rohingya cases potentially such potent aids in accountability efforts by other ethnic groups. The same military and government leaders that are responsible for the Rohingya genocide are implicated in the crimes against other ethnicities. The FFM found that "[t]he consistent tactical formula employed by the Tatmadaw exhibits a degree of coordination only possible when all troops are acting under the effective control of a single unified command." At the top of this chain of command are Myanmar's Commander-in-Chief, the Deputy Commander-in-Chief, and numerous other Lieutenant and Brigadier Generals.

Conclusion: Justice for All or Stability for None

The international community has the tools and knows what to do when centralized commands and high-level perpetrators commit mass atrocities. The Security Council should refer the situation to the ICC, as it did in Sudan and Libya, to widen the scope of the prosecutor's ongoing investigation to encompass crimes committed exclusively on the territory of Myanmar. Or, the Council could instead create an ad hoc tribunal, like it did following atrocities in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, and empower it to investigate and prosecute crimes occurring against all of Myanmar's ethnic minorities. A third-party state could also demand the extradition of alleged perpetrators, or a regional country could propose a special tribunal, both of which were steps that contributed to the trial and conviction of Chadian dictator Hissène Habré. In the very least, the international community should sever all military and economic relationships with the Tatmadaw's leaders.

Too often justice and accountability are seen as barriers to achieving stability in Myanmar. The Tatmadaw's pattern of human rights violations against ethnic communities are a grim reminder that the opposite is actually true – justice and accountability are necessary preconditions for a true democratic transition. Justice for all is the only path forward, and until it is achieved, the Tatmadaw will continue its decades-long practice of scapegoating and targeting all of Myanmar's ethnic minorities.

Image: Ethnic Chin people hold placards during a protest asking for an end to conflict in Chin state and Rakhin State in Yangon on July 13, 2019. Around 1,000 Chin people have been displaced as fighting continues between the Myanmar military and the Arakan Army (AA) in the area between Chin State and Rakhine State. (Photo credit should read SAI AUNG MAIN/AFP via Getty Images)