Open Letter to Secretary of State Blinken on the Public Health and Human Rights Crisis in Myanmar

To: Antony Blinken, Secretary of State

CC: Jake Sullivan, National Security Advisor; Linda Thomas-Greenfield, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations; Jeff Zients, White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator; Samantha Power, USAID Administrator Nominee

Secretary Blinken:

We write as concerned human rights organizations, humanitarian organizations, medical professional associations, labor organizations, and refugee rights organizations to urge you to take immediate additional actions to address the public health and human rights crisis in Myanmar.

It has now been two months since the Myanmar military executed a coup d’état to overthrow the country’s democratically elected government, prompting widespread peaceful protests demanding a return to democracy. The military’s security forces have responded with an increasingly brutal crackdown defined by some of the worst human rights violations imaginable: unlawful and arbitrary arrests and detentions, torture, and extrajudicial killings. This includes the bloodiest crackdown yet: more than 110 civilians reportedly killed in just a few days by security forces, among them children as young as five years old.

Myanmar’s health care workers, in particular, have been systematically targeted by the military for participating in the civil disobedience movement and providing care to injured protestors.Many health care workers have been forced into hiding, kidnapped in night raids, or detained arbitrarily pursuant to spurious charges.More than 100 medical students and health care workers have reportedly been arrested since the start of the coup.

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Myanmar’s Coup Is Devastating for Women

Excerpt of Foreign Policy op-ed by GJC President Akila Radhakrishnan and GJC Special Counsel Michelle Onello.

The Myanmar military’s forceful takeover of the civilian government on Feb. 1, and its deadly crackdown on peaceful protesters who have marched in the streets ever since, are a dangerous setback for democracy and the rule of law in the country. But they’re especially devastating for women.

The coup, which ousted State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, not only threatens to reverse the progress made over the past decade to ensure that women in Myanmar have more opportunities, power, and influence in society but also places an unaccountable military with a history of gender-based violence in control of every aspect of government. Beyond the direct threat this poses to women’s physical safety, this rule—if left unchecked—will reinvigorate Myanmar’s long history of patriarchal oppression.

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UN Security Council: Hold Myanmar Military Accountable for Violence Against Women

Hold Myanmar Military Accountable for Violence Against Women

Dear President and Members of the United Nations (UN) Security Council,

Marking the 65th session of the Commission on the Status of Women, we, Women’s Peace Network, and the undersigned organizations working for women’s rights and against gender-based violence, call upon the UN Security Council to hold the Myanmar military accountable for grievously violating the human rights of women. Since the military’s illegitimate seizure of power on February 1, the people of Myanmar have led nationwide mass movements to demand for the November 2020 election results to be respected, the 2008 Constitution to be abolished, a federal democratic union to be built with full equality and self-determination, and those arbitrarily detained and arrested to be released. Despite engaging in nonviolent civil disobedience, thousands of civilians, including women, have been brutally assailed by the regime’s tactics of violent assault, arbitrary detention, and extrajudicial killing. Given this military’s record of using sexual violence as a weapon of war, we fear that the country’s progress in enhancing the status of women is at risk now more than ever. We, members of the global women’s rights movement, now urgently join forces to amplify the people’s calls: the Myanmar military and security forces must be held to account for their brutality, and all impunity fueling their historical violation of women’s rights and international laws and norms must end.

Across Myanmar, the military continue to act in violation of the UN Charter and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. In over a month, the Myanmar military and security forces have indiscriminately fired live ammunition at peaceful protesters -- killing at least 20 women. Deploying armored vehicles along the country’s streets, male security forces have targeted women with batons and slingshots all while strategically wielding water cannons, tear gas, stun grenades, and rubber bullets against other peaceful protesters. Throughout states and regions, the regime’s arbitrary detention and arrests of civilians have continued to rise as allegations of sexual assault and abuse across prisons have spread rampantly. If the Security Council and the international community do not take concrete action, we are concerned that the Myanmar military and security forces will continue to commit mass atrocities and act in contravention of the UN Security Council Resolution 1325, Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women, and the Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials.

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Obligation to Act: International Action and the Fight Against the Coup in Myanmar

Description:

While the country is still reeling from the Burmese military's illegitimate coup on February 1, the international community have launched a slate of new sanctions against military leaders amid public condemnations of the Tatmadaw's use of deadly violence against peaceful protests. Multiple questions about Burma's future remain unanswered, however, particularly as they relate to international support for justice and accountability, ethnic peace and the creation of a true democratic federal union, and the Rohingya genocide crisis.

During this online event, international justice experts from around the world will speak alongside civil society leaders from Burma to share their perspectives on how international and grassroots mobilization around ongoing international justice processes and mechanisms can contribute to a united and multi-ethnic anti-coup movement that ends the Burmese military dictatorship and its violent reign of impunity.

Panelists include:

  • Akila Radhakrishnan (Moderator), President of the Global Justice Center.
  • Tun Khin (President of Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK)
  • M. Arsalan Suleman (Foley Hoag, legal counsel to The Gambia in its case against Myanmar at the International Court of Justice)
  • Naw May Oo (Activist and Advisor to the Karen National Union)
  • Thinzar Shunlei Yi (Activist, Action Committee for Democracy Development)
  • Tomas Quintana (Former UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights on Myanmar, lead counsel in the current Universal Jurisdiction case in Argentina)

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Myanmar's UN ambassador defies military to plead for immediate global action to overturn coup

Excerpt of CNN article that quotes GJC President Akila Radhakrishnan.

The world should applaud the bravery of Representative Kyaw Moe Tun for delivering such a powerful statement on behalf of the people of Myanmar, not the illegitimate military junta," Akila Radhakrishnan, president of the Global Justice Center, said in a statement Friday.

"The international community must reward such courage by taking up his call for immediate, decisive action to hold the military accountable."

Myanmar descended into unrest when the coup ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

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Myanmar Representative to UN Denounces Coup and Urges Security Council Action

NEW YORK — During a briefing before the United Nations General Assembly today, Myanmar’s representative to the United Nations, Kyaw Moe Tun, denounced the coup carried out by his country’s military. He also urged the UN Security Council and international community to use “any means necessary” to hold the military accountable.

Akila Radhakrishnan, president of the Global Justice Center, issued the following statement:

“The world should applaud the bravery of Representative Kyaw Moe Tun for delivering such a powerful statement on behalf of the people of Myanmar, not the illegitimate military junta. The international community must reward such courage by taking up his call for immediate, decisive action to hold the military accountable.

“The representative made his statement on behalf of the Committee Representing the Pyidaungsu Hluuttaw (CRPH), composed of duly elected members of parliament, not the illegal military regime. The international community should support the will of the people of Myanmar by recognizing the CRPH and refusing to legitimize, normalize, or cooperate with the military government.

“In defending his people and democracy on the world stage, the representative made it clear that the military poses an existential threat to the country and that the coup must fail. The path to a peaceful, democratic, and multi-ethnic Myanmar will require steps to financial isolation of the military and their access to arms, accountability for military crimes, and — perhaps most importantly — a new federal Constitution.

“The people of Myanmar have spoken at great risk to their personal safety and security. Now is the time for the international community to stand with them and take forceful, concerted action.”

What Myanmar's coup means for the future of Rohingya Muslims

Excerpt of The New Arab article that quotes GJC President Akila Radhakrishnan.

For now, UN-backed efforts to repatriate Rohingya refugees back to Myanmar have stalled, with rights groups forewarning an increased danger for them.

"A necessary condition for safe and voluntary return has been holding the military accountable," says Akila Radhakrishnan, president of international human rights organisation Global Justice Center.

"Senior General Min Aung Hlaing - one of the main architects of the genocide against the Rohingya - is now in power, so I think it's really hard to imagine how there can be any safe repatriation to Myanmar. A risk of atrocities is certainly heightened."

Radhakrishnan says the lack of accountability of the military throughout more than 50 years of rule is to blame for the fragility of the country's democracy.

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Myanmar coup: How will the military takeover affect Rohingya genocide trial?

Excerpt of The Independent article that quotes GJC Legal Director Grant Shubin.

While experts believe the coup d’état will have little effect on the outcome of the trial itself, it could significantly change how Myanmar responds to proceedings at the UN’s highest court, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in the Netherlands.

“From the court’s perspective, nothing changes,” Grant Shubin, legal director at the Global Justice Center, told The Independent. But he said the coup could change how the military government defends itself against the charge of genocide and affect how it is represented in The Hague.

Myanmar is accused of committing widespread and systematic atrocities against the Rohingya during a “clearance” campaign launched in August 2017, which thousands were killed and raped and more than 730,000 forced to flee to the world’s largest refugee camp across the border in Bangladesh.

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UN Human Rights Council Passes Resolution on Myanmar Coup

NEW YORK — The United Nations Human Rights Council today passed a resolution on human rights concerns in Myanmar following the military coup. The resolution followed an emergency session requested by the United Kingdom and the European Union.

The resolution, adopted by consensus, denounced the coup and the violations of civil and human rights that followed. It called on Myanmar’s military and security forces to refrain from violence and protect fundamental human rights. It also requested further UN monitoring of the situation and called for Myanmar’s cooperation.

Grant Shubin, legal director of the Global Justice Center, issued the following statement:

“The council took an important step today by passing a resolution against the coup and urging respect for democratic and human rights. The resolution rightly called on the Myanmar military to release those arbitrarily detained, including Aung San Suu Kyi. But, it failed to address the most necessary condition for change: accountability.

“Structural impunity for crimes committed by the military is what emboldened the military to stage a coup. The international community has continually failed to combat this impunity cemented by Myanmar’s pseudo-democratic constitution. The council could have taken the opportunity today to confront this failure by acknowledging that there is no sustainable path forward for Myanmar without accountability for those responsible for human rights violations.

“People across Myanmar are uniting more and more around the demand to bring the military under civilian control. They recognize that the military is the chief obstacle to democracy and human rights in the country. It’s time the international bodies like the UN Human Rights Council recognize this fact that the coup has made undeniable.”

International Law and the Plight of the Rohingyas: Insights from International Dispute Settlement

The situation of the Rohingya community in Myanmar and Bangladesh is under intense scrutiny by the international community. Currently, a case is pending before the International Court of Justice concerning Myanmar’s alleged responsibility for genocide, an investigation is on-going at the International Criminal Court and several fact-finding mechanisms are working on gathering evidence of the events. This panel will address whether and how international dispute settlement can assist in solving the numerous, complex issues raised by the events in Rakhine State (Myanmar).

Speakers:

  • Michael A. Becker, Adjunct Assistant Professor, Trinity College Dublin
  • Miriam Cohen, Professeure Adjointe, University of Montreal
  • Akila Radhakrishnan, President, Global Justice Centre
  • Yasmin Ullah, Human Rights Activist, Member of the Rohingya community

U.N. calls for democracy in Myanmar following military coup

Excerpt of UPI article that quotes GJC President Akila Radhakrishnan.

"This is not how the Security Council runs its day-to-day work, nor will it be conducive to the solidarity of and mutual trust between Security Council members," he said.

Akila Radhakrishnan, president of the Global Justice Center, said the Security Council statement provided "some relief" following the negotiations but that it will be meaningful if not "followed by formal action."

"It is crucial the council listens to communities most at risk in Myanmar, who have been clear from the beginning that targeted sanctions on the military and military-owned companies, an arms embargo and efforts to hold the military accountable are the concrete actions that international community must take to address this emergency," Radhakrishnan said in a statement on Thursday.

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Myanmar lodges objections in Rohingya genocide case

Excerpt of Al Jazeera article that quotes a GJC factsheet.

This week’s coup could bring further complications, with the military that orchestrated the crackdown once again in control and the country’s elected civilian leaders in detention.

“In principle the coup has no direct impact on the ICJ case,” international rights group Global Justice Center said in a statement. “For the ICJ’s own purposes, it is the state of Myanmar, however constructed, that is the subject of this case and changes in political leadership have no bearing. The coup does however, raise other questions, including whether a military-led government will continue to engage with and defend the case, as well as how the Court will view compliance with the provisional measures orders.”

In January last year, the court told Myanmar to take provisional measures to “protect against further, irreparable harm to the rights of the Rohingya group under the Genocide Convention” and ordered the country to report on the situation every six months.

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UN Security Council Finds Rare Unity in Criticizing Myanmar Coup

Excerpt of Bloomberg article that quotes GJC President Akila Radhakrishnan.

China’s diplomats sought to strike a balance by supporting the Security Council statement while issuing a separate statement noting that China is a “friendly neighbor” of Myanmar and highlighting that the council is calling for “dialogue and reconciliation in accordance with the will and interests of the people of Myanmar.”

“It is some relief for the people of Myanmar that the UN Security Council finally took action today by agreeing on a statement concerning the military coup,” Akila Radhakrishnan, president of the New York-based Global Justice Center, said in a statement. “But thanks to recent, historic levels of gridlock on the Council, the bar has been set far too low. If this statement is not followed by formal action, it is meaningless.”

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UN Security Council Issues Statement on Myanmar Coup

NEW YORK — The United Nations Security Council issued a press statement today in response to the military coup in Myanmar. The statement, drafted by current council president the United Kingdom, follows days of strained negotiations between council members.

Akila Radhakrishnan, president of the Global Justice Center, had the following reaction:

“It is some relief for the people of Myanmar that the UN Security Council finally took action today by agreeing on a statement concerning the military coup. But thanks to recent, historic levels of gridlock on the Council, the bar has been set far too low. If this statement is not followed by formal action, it is meaningless.

“As a start, holding an open meeting on the crisis would build trust in the Council’s commitment to meaningful action and to execute its mandate to maintain international peace and security. Yet it is crucial the Council listens to communities most at risk in Myanmar, who have been clear from the beginning that targeted sanctions on the military and military owned companies, an arms embargo, and efforts to hold the military accountable are the concrete actions the international community must take to address this emergency.

“The geopolitical reality between Council members is no doubt complicated. Yet it is certain that the Council’s continued failure to act will have dangerous ramifications for the people of Myanmar. Ethnic groups like the Rohingya, activists, and others who speak out against the military are at risk. The military must be shown that there are consequences for such brazen attacks on democracy. The Council is in a unique position to lead this charge for accountability and if it fails, the people of Myanmar are all the more likely to face another violent era of military dictatorship.”

UN Security Council fails to condemn Myanmar coup

Excerpt of Al Jazeera article that quotes GJC President Akila Radhakrishnan.

Human rights groups condemned the failure of the council to take swift action.

“No one should be surprised that the world’s body for maintaining international peace and security failed to issue a statement condemning a brazen military coup,” Akila Radhakrishnan, the president of the Global Justice Center said in a statement urging world leaders to take action including selected sanctions, arms embargoes and economic divestment to “disempower” the military.

“The time has passed for failed strategies promoting ‘stability’ and quiet diplomacy over accountability and justice,” she said. “The military has destabilized the country irreparably. It’s now on the international community to stem the tide of military violence and impunity before it’s too late.”

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What does Myanmar's military coup mean for the persecuted Rohingya?

Excerpt of ABC News Australia article that quotes GJC President Akila Radhakrishnan.

There are 135 ethnic groups in Myanmar, including the Rohingya, Karen, Rakhine, Shan and Chin peoples. Recent clashes in Karen state have led to 4,000 being displaced since December.

"It's quite likely that this will be utilised as a convenient excuse by the military to extend their state of emergency," Akila Radhakrishnan, president of the Global Justice Center, told the ABC.

"The military has only committed to ceasefires and peace when it is in their interests, and there is little to no trust between many of the ethnic armed groups and the military."

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Biden threatens sanctions after Myanmar military coup

Excerpt of Al Jazeera article that quotes GJC President Akila Radhakrishnan.

Human rights groups said the international community needed to recognise the shortcomings of their engagement during Myanmar’s democratic transition and take tougher steps to rein in the military.

“The Tatmadaw has exposed the vast vulnerabilities of Myanmar’s democratic institutions by staging this brazen coup,” Akila Radhakrishnan, the president of the Global Justice Center.

“Given the history of military rule, the risk of ensuing violence and atrocities is greater than any moment in recent memory. We can’t ignore the repeated failure of the international community to take concerted action to curb military power and hold it accountable for its constant human rights abuses, including its genocidal campaign against the Rohingya.”

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U.N. envoy urges Security Council to unite in support of Myanmar democracy

Excerpt of UPI article that quotes GJC President Akila Radhakrishnan.

Akila Radhakrishnan, president of the Global Justice Center, an international human rights law organization, chastized the council for failing to agree on a statement.

"The council's paralysis on Myanmar is unacceptable and must be dismantled," she said in an emailed statement, while calling on world leaders to take independent action.

"Targeted sanctions, arms embargoes and economic divestment are just some actions that must be considered" she said. "The time has passed for failed strategies promoting 'stability' and quiet diplomacy over accountability and justice."

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Military Stages Coup in Burma

NEW YORK — Myanmar’s military, the Tatmadaw, seized power today in Burma following days of threats. State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi was arrested along with many other political figures and government critics.

The Tatmadaw handed power over to Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, its Commander-in-Chief, and declared a state of emergency lasting one year. 

Akila Radhakrishnan, president of the Global Justice Center, issued the following statement:

“This is the moment democracy activists and ethnic minorities have feared since the 2008 military-drafted constitution was used as the basis for ‘transition’ and utterly failed to reign in military supremacy. The Tatmadaw has exposed the vast vulnerabilities of Burma's democratic institutions by staging this brazen coup. Given the history of military rule, the risk of ensuing violence and atrocities is greater than any moment in recent memory.

“We can’t ignore the repeated failure of the international community to take concerted action to curb military power and hold it accountable for its constant human rights abuses, including its genocidal campaign against the Rohingya. For years, world leaders praised a ‘democratic’ transition and constitution that gave the military the very power they used to stage today’s coup. Now, we’re seeing the consequences of an international order that blinds itself to reality in the interest of ‘progress’ and economic investment instead of protecting human rights.

“The military must be called upon to swiftly release all political detainees and respect the results of November’s election, but action cannot end there. Women’s rights and ethnic minority groups in Burma have long decried military impunity for international crimes such as sexual violence. They have repeatedly called for international action, including a referral to the International Criminal Court and targeted sanctions. It’s past time for the international community to embrace their demands and pursue a policy grounded in justice, accountability, and human rights for all.”

Burma's Ongoing Political Transition and Key Prospects for International Justice for the Rohingya.

Description:

On this online event, international justice experts from around the world will share an update of the ongoing international justice processes against Burma at the International Court of Justice, the International Criminal Court, and in Argentinian courts through a Universal Jurisdiction case, and give insight on how the international community could work to hold the newly elected Burmese government more accountable in uplifting the rights and security of Rohingya people during the country’s ongoing political transition.

Participants will include:

  • Akila Radhakrishnan (Moderator), President of the Global Justice Centre.
  • Tun Khin, President of Burmese Rohingya Organisation – UK (London, UK).
  • M. Arsalan Suleman, Foley Hoag, legal counsel to The Gambia in its case against Myanmar at the International Court of Justice.
  • Erin Rosenberg, Senior Advisor to The Ferencz International Justice Initia-tive, Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide, U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.
  • Tomas Quintana, Argentinian lawyer and lead counsel in the current Uni-versal Jurisdiction case brought in Argentina, UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in North Korea and former UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Myanmar.

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