Rohingya Crisis into Fourth Year: Challenges in Securing a Sustainable Solution

Remarks from GJC President Akila Radhakrishnan

Thank you for having me on such a distinguished panel of speakers and experts today, and I want to echo Simon’s thanks for the inclusion of civil society in this conversation. As Ambassador Rae mentioned,  I am Akila Radhakrishnan, the president of the Global Justice Center, an international human rights organization dedicated to advancing gender equality through the rule of law. And as an organization, we have been working on Myanmar since 2005, particularly justice and accountability for sexual violence against ethnic minorities. 

In reflecting on the topic for today’s panel, “Rohingya Crisis in the Fourth Year: Challenges to Securing a Sustainable Solution” - I am left with the sense that the questions we are asking ourselves four years on are almost identical to the questions we were asking ourselves 4 years ago, and frankly those for those of us who have long worked on Myanmar, much longer. 

As I prepared my remarks for today, I spoke to a wise colleague about this issue and he pointed me towards some statements that Government of Myanmar has made with respect to the Rohingya, including that “there was no discrimination based on religion,” that allegations of misconduct were “fabricated by some big countries and certain foreign news agencies”, that the “Rohingya do not exist in Myanmar either historically, politically or legally”, and that the Tatmadaw is a “methodically and systematically organized institution made up of highly trained and disciplined personnel”, and that the “grotesque allegations made against the Tatmadaw were totally false.”

While these statements sound like they could have been made by Myanmar yesterday, they are in fact statements made to the UN Special Rapporteur on Religious Intolerance in 1992. I use this to show how while the face of Myanmar’s government since then has changed, how little the Government's rhetoric or posture has changed not only in the four years since this “crisis” began, but rather in the decades of oppression of the Rohingya. And this should be a rallying cry to the international community that business as usual on Myanmar cannot continue. Myanmar should no longer be allowed to set the terms of the debate and the scope of action. 

And nowhere is this more stark than when it comes to the deeply rooted gender issues at the heart of the Rohingya genocide. SRSG Patten has powerfully laid out how crimes of sexual and gender-based violence against women and girls, including transwomen, as well as men and boys was systematically used by the Tatmadaw in their operations so I won’t repeat what she has said and instead pick up briefly on some key issues that are essential to delivering gender justice and changing the conversation on Myanmar.  

As a starting point, there can be no true justice for the genocide of the Rohingya if acts of sexual and gender-based violence are not at the center of all accountability proceedings at the international and domestic level. And here, countries like The Gambia, Bangladesh, Canada, and the Netherlands and institutions like the ICC, OHCHR and the IIMM need to be commended in their efforts to take bold steps to move the justice and accountability conversation forward. And in particular, I must say thank you to Canada and the Netherlands for their commitment to addressing crimes of SGBV in their intervention at the ICJ. But while international efforts move forward, it has been profoundly disturbing to see members of the international community continue to validate and legitimize deeply flawed domestic processes, in particular the International Commission of Enquiry. 

As an advocate for gender-justice, that fact the ICOE’s executive summary categorically dismissed evidence of rape and gang rape, despite extensive documentation of these crimes, should immediately disqualify this report.  If the ICOE is to be the evidentiary base for domestic accountability proceedings, where does this leave those who were subject to acts of sexual and gender-based violence? While there is little to no transparency around Myanmar’s court-martials, it can be assumed that none of the court-martials that have been announced on the basis of the ICOE report will include charges of sexual and gender-based violence, including those that were announced yesterday. And even outside of the cases it may underlie, just the matter of its dismissal and exclusion from the ICOE’s report is a step in the erasure of gendered experiences.  

The concerns are compounded with larger concerns over the ICOE, including their limited and flawed mandate, to questions about their independence, impartiality and methodology, and its findings. However, in looking for openings to address the seemingly intractable situation in Myanmar, most states have chosen an approach of selective acceptance and “constructive” engagement with regards to the ICOE, even as they have yet to see the full report. This is what operating on Myanmar’s terms looks like.

In fact, just last week, the joint statement released following yet another closed-door Security Council meeting on Myanmar called for the implementation of the recommendations of the ICOE. It is not possible to divorce the recommendations of a report from the analysis and narrative that underlies it, and the continued legitimization of this report, signal the international community’s comfort with the erasure of gendered experiences in pursuit of “solutions.” Rhetoric decrying sexual and gender-based violence is not enough, the international community must ensure that all of its actions on Myanmar are undertaken with a gender perspective. 

Second,  while justice is an important part of the larger accountability picture, it cannot be the sole focus. Rather, accountability needs to be holistic and survivor-centered and should seek to address and transform the root causes of violence--including patriarchal structures and misogyny--both in Myanmar and in the Rohingya community itself. Therefore, punitive measures against individuals cannot alone address it; to comprehensively address SGBV takes much more: reparations and redress, including guarantees of non-repetition, and access to comprehensive medical and psychosocial care for survivors, including essential sexual and reproductive health services such as safe abortion.

And as accountability proceedings are underway, it is crucial that the Rohingya themselves, including Rohingya women and girls, are able to determine their own priorities for justice and restitution. To borrow a phrase from American reproductive justice activists, “nothing about us without us.” And on this, while I deeply appreciate being included in this conversation, I note with disappointment that the direct voice of Rohingya women is not represented today. Rohingya women and girls must be the architects, not objects, of their future. 

Thank you so much for the ability to participate. 

Canada, Netherlands join Gambia's genocide case against Myanmar

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

The New York-based Global Justice Center welcomed the move by Canada and the Netherlands, calling it "nothing short of historic".

Akila Radhakrishnan, the group's president, said: "Just as important as their intention to intervene is their promise to focus on gendered crimes of genocide like sexual and gender-based violence, which was central to the atrocities against the Rohingya."

She added: "Too often, gendered experiences do not translate to justice and accountability efforts and leave the primary targets of those crimes - women and girls - behind. This is an important step forward to address that gap and Canada and the Netherlands should be applauded for this move."

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Statement in Solidarity and Support of the Rohingya Community: The Need for Justice and Accountability

Originally posted at Asia Justice Coalition

Three years after the Myanmar military launched its campaign involving acts amounting to crimes against humanity and acts the UN's Fact-Finding Mission determined may amount to genocide against its Rohingya Muslim citizens, the Asia Justice Coalition today joins the Rohingya community in remembering and honouring their victims and survivors. Over a million Rohingya remain refugees, most of them in Bangladesh, but also scattered in other countries including Malaysia, India, Thailand, Indonesia and in Europe. Some 126,000 individuals have also been internally displaced and are living in dire conditions.

We reflect on the need for justice for the Rohingya, including through investigations and prosecutions of those individually responsible for crimes under international law committed against the Rohingya, and to uphold their right to safe, dignified and voluntary return. We recognize the global efforts undertaken so far, and encourage further action to ensure ensure truth, justice, and reparations for the Rohingya.

The Risk of Mass Atrocities During a Pandemic

Description:
The COVID-19 pandemic poses a great threat to populations already at risk of genocide and crimes against humanity at the hands of their governments. The pandemic may be weaponized by authoritarian states as an opportunity to commit mass atrocities while attention is elsewhere or to deny certain populations their right to health.

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) will host a conversation on the prevention of mass atrocities during the pandemic, to coincide with the August 25 anniversary of attacks by Myanmar security forces on Rohingya Muslim residents in northern Rakhine state, driving hundreds of thousands to live as refugees in neighboring Bangladesh.

Speakers: 
Yee Htun, JD is a lecturer on law and clinical instructor at the International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School. She fled Myanmar in 1988.

Akila Radhakrishnan, JD is president of the Global Justice Center, which works to define, establish, and protect human rights and gender equity by enforcing international laws.

Lawrence Woocher, MA is research director at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Simon-Skjodt Center and a lecturer at the Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University. He formerly served as senior atrocity prevention fellow with the United States Agency for International Development.

Atlas Webinar Series: Existing Legal Limits to Security Council Veto Power in the Face of Atrocity Crimes

Description:
A conversation with Jennifer Trahan, Clinical Professor at NYU Center for Global Affairs, Moderated by Akila Radhakrishnan, President of the Global Justice Center.

Trahan's book demonstrates how vetoes and veto threats have blocked the Security Council from pursuing measures that could have prevented or alleviated atrocity crimes (genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes) in places such as Myanmar, Darfur, Syria, and elsewhere and explores how the legality of this practice could be challenged

Justice for the Rohingya: The Role of Canada

Speakers:
Honourable Marilou McPhedran, Independent Senator, Parliament of Canada
Her Excellency Jacqueline O’Neill, Ambassador for Women, Peace, and Security, Canada
Honourable Bob Rae, Special Envoy on Humanitarian and Refugee Issues, appointed by the Prime Minister of Canada
Prof. Payam Akhavan, Member of the Permanent Court of Arbitration, The Hague; Faculty of Law, McGill University; Counsel for The Gambia at the ICJ in the case of The Gambia v. Myanmar
Prof. Yanghee Lee, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar (May 2014 to 30 April 2020)
Prof. Susan Breau, Dean, Faculty of Law, University of Victoria, Canada
Prof. Christine Chinkin, Emerita Professor of International Law, London School of Economics, UK
Prof. Victor V. Ramraj, Faculty of Law and Director, Centre for Asia Pacific Initiatives, University of Victoria, Canada
Prof. John Packer, Associate Professor of Law, Director of the Human Rights Research and Education Centre (HRREC) & Neuberger-Jesin Professor of International Conflict Resolution, University of Ottawa, Canada
Ms. Razia Sultana, Chairperson, Rohingya Women’s Welfare Society, Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh
Ms. Wai Wai Nu, Rohingya/Burmese founder, Women’s Peace Network, Yangon, Myanmar
Ms. Akila Radhakrishnan, President, Global Justice Center, New York, USA
Ms. Mavic Cabrera Balleza, Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Global Network of Women Peacebuilders, New York, USA

Myanmar made “no progress” in resolving plight of Rakhine Muslims, Yanghee Lee says

Excerpt of article from Myanmar Times that mentions GJC.

Former special UN Rapporteur Yanghee Lee said Myanmar did not make any progress in improving the plight of the northern Rakhine Muslims.

“Sadly, no progress at all,” she said on May 22 in a webinar organised by the Global Justice Center, ahead of the May 23 deadline for Myanmar to submit a report on the International Court of Justice (ICJ) about measures that were taken to stop alleged genocide of northern Rakhine Muslims.

Lee only concluded her mandate as the Special Rapporteur two weeks ago. 

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Myanmar to Report to World Court on Compliance with Order to Prevent Genocide

NEW YORK — Myanmar will submit its first report to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on its compliance with an order to prevent and not commit genocide against the Rohingya this Saturday. The reporting obligations are one of the “provisional measures” issued by the ICJ in January.

Myanmar is required to report to the ICJ on “all measures taken to give effect” to the Order, including to prevent genocidal acts, ensure its military and police forces do not commit genocidal acts, and preserve all potential evidence of genocidal acts. The first report must be submitted by May 23, 2020, four months after the provisional measures order, while subsequent reports will be due every six months. The ICJ does not require the report be made public.

“The reporting requirement was a critical component of the ICJ’s historic order to protect the Rohingya from genocide. Having specifically recognized that the Rohingya remain extremely vulnerable, the periodic reports will allow the Court to monitor Myanmar’s actions related to the Rohingya in real time as the case proceeds,” said Akila Radhakrishnan, president of the Global Justice Center. “Unfortunately, the response since then from Myanmar’s government has been deeply flawed at worst, and superficial at best.”

On April 8, Myanmar issued “presidential directives” to all government officials, requesting they ensure acts prohibited by Article II of the Genocide Convention are not committed — and that evidence of those acts are not destroyed. A later directive asked officials to denounce and prevent hate speech. The directives — which represent the only substantive response from Myanmar since the January ICJ order — include no clear guidelines for implementation and monitoring, and do not touch on the key issues of structural discrimination that need to be addressed in order to meaningfully give effect to the order. Deeper analysis of Myanmar’s actions since the ICJ order can be found in our Q&A.

“Myanmar’s Generals ordered the atrocities, bulldozed and buried evidence of their crimes, and are the reason why Aung San Suu Kyi’s name will now forever be associated with genocide and injustice,” said Dr. Simon Adams, Executive Director of the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect. “Until Myanmar’s discriminatory laws are abolished and the perpetrators of the genocide are held accountable, the threat of further atrocities remains.”

The ICJ provisional measures: Is Myanmar protecting the Rohingya from genocide?

Description:
On 23 January 2020, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) issued provisional measures ordering Myanmar to take certain actions to protect the Rohingya from genocide and preserve evidence of genocidal acts. Recognizing the extraordinary urgency and importance of the measures ordered, the ICJ asked Myanmar to submit a report on its compliance with the order on 23 May and then every 6 months thereafter until the case is decided. While Myanmar has taken some steps since the ICJ’s January order, none touch on the long-standing structural discrimination against the Rohingya or provide a basis for safe, voluntary and dignified repatriation. Even against a backdrop of escalating conflict in Rakhine State and a global pandemic, there is much more Myanmar could do to protect the Rohingya. With Myanmar’s first report to the court due on 23 May, this Webinar will analyze the current situation in the country and explore concrete ways the authorities could effectively comply with the ICJ’s order.

Moderators:
Akila Radhakrishnan, President, Global Justice Center

Speakers: 
Yanghee Lee,
former UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar
Laetitia Van Den Assum,Independent diplomatic expert, former member of the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State chaired by Kofi Annan, and former ambassador of The Netherlands to the United Kingdom, Mexico, Kenya, Somalia, South Africa, and Southeast Asia
Wai Wai Nu,Founder and Director, Women’s Peace Network

Justice for genocide: Yazidis hopeful as Islamic State trial opens in Germany

Excerpt of Al-Monitor articles that quotes GJC President Akila Radhakrishnan.

“Genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes fall under this bucket [of universal jurisdiction],” explained Akila Radhakrishnan, president of the New York-based Global Justice Center.

“It’s a recognition that when these serious international crimes happen, they are a concern not just for the country where they occurred, but they are a concern to everybody.”

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First Yazidi Genocide Trial Commences in Germany

Excerpt of Just Security articles that features GJC President Akila Radhakrishnan.

As outlined by Sareta Ashraph and Akila Radhakrishnan, sexual violence forms an integral part of how genocide has been committed towards Yazidi women and girls. Yet sexual slavery is often mischaracterized as a recent or modern form of slavery, as highlighted by Patricia Viseur Sellers and Jocelyn Getgen Kestenbaum in their discussion of the Habré trial. Consequently, it is vital in this context to understand the gendered dimensions of slavery and the slave trade, which include the relation of both types of criminal conduct to sexual violence.

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Bangladesh: End Internet Blackout to Protect Public Health of Rohingya Refugees and Host Communities

(BANGKOK, April 2, 2020)—The Government of Bangladesh should immediately take all necessary steps to protect Rohingya refugees and nearby host communities in Cox’s Bazar District from COVID-19 infection, said Fortify Rights and 49 human rights organizations in an open letter today. The authorities should immediately lift all restrictions that prevent Rohingya refugees from freely accessing mobile communications and the internet and also halt the construction of fencing aimed to confine Rohingya refugees in camps.

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Joint letter re: restrictions on communication, fencing and COVID-19 in Cox's Bazar District Rohingya refugee camps

Dear Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina,

As authorities around the world struggle to cope with the spread of COVID-19, it is crucial that States act to protect the most vulnerable, including refugee populations.

We, the 50 undersigned organizations, have welcomed the Bangladesh government’s efforts to host the Rohingya refugees who were forced to flee atrocities perpetrated by the Myanmar Army. We also commend the Bangladesh Government for working closely with the humanitarian community on COVID-19 preparedness and response in Cox’s Bazar District, including efforts to establish isolation and treatment facilities.

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UN Special Rapporteur on Myanmar Releases Final Report

NEW YORK – Yanghee Lee, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, released an advance version of her final report today. Lee was appointed by the UN Human Rights Council in 2014.

Grant Shubin, legal director of the Global Justice Center, had the following response:

“Special Rapporteur Lee has been a stalwart advocate for human rights and justice in Myanmar throughout her entire tenure. As expected, her final report conveys the gravity of the situation in Myanmar as well as the urgency of domestic and international action.”

“Backed up by years of investigation and documentation, Lee’s report recognizes that international action, whether at the International Criminal Court or the International Court of Justice, is critical to reversing the scourge of genocide and other grave crimes in the country. We hope the international community heeds her words. They’re more important now than ever.”

Letter to UN Security Council members regarding Myanmar’s Independent Commission of Enquiry and the Provisional Measures ordered by the International Court of Justice

Your Excellency,

We are writing to you in light of the recently published summary of the final report of Myanmar’s Independent Commission of Enquiry (ICOE), which was issued the same week that the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ordered Myanmar to take immediate action to prevent genocide against the country’s persecuted Rohingya minority. In particular, we would like to raise grave concerns regarding the ICOE’s: (1) independence and impartiality; (2) methodology; and (3) flaws in narrative and findings.

The ICOE’s independence and impartiality have been seriously undermined by its reliance on the Office of the President of Myanmar for financial and technical support, as well as by the composition of the Commission itself, which includes at least one official directly implicated in the bulldozing of Rohingya villages damaged during the 2017 crisis in Rakhine State. The executive summary of the ICOE’s report also provides no information as to what sources and materials were relied upon beyond individual interviews, nor how the ICOE corroborated and verified this information, making it impossible to assess the quality of their methodology. Crucially, the ICOE did not interview a single Rohingya refugee in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, regarding the circumstances that resulted in over 700,000 people fleeing the country. Finally, there are serious flaws and misrepresentations in the ICOE’s narrative of the crisis in Rakhine State, including disturbing inaccuracies and omissions in relation to mass rape and widespread sexual violence directed at Rohingya women and girls during the military’s so-called “clearance operations.”

Download the Full Letter 

Behind Myanmar’s Military Alibi: A Path for Compliance with the ICJ’s Order to Protect Rohingya

Excerpt of Just Security op-ed by GJC's Akila Radhakrishnan and Grant Shubin.

In the wake of the ruling from the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ordering Myanmar to prevent genocide against the Rohingya going forward, the initial excitement was tempered by pragmatics—how this important court order can be enforced so that it actually protects the 600,000 Rohingya who remain in Rakhine State.

To be sure, there is no confusion that these measures are binding—as the court noted, they create international legal obligations that require Myanmar’s compliance. But how can the international community guarantee that Myanmar actually does anything? And does Myanmar’s civilian government have the capacity to do what is needed?

The answers to these questions are mixed, generally relying on exertion of geopolitical pressure, including through the United Nations Security Council, to which the order has been transmitted. As a general rule and absent a concrete enforcement mechanism, ICJ orders have a reliable compliance rate. However, looking at the Myanmar case in context, and in particular the measures requiring prevention of the commission of genocide by Myanmar’s military, compliance will require a serious and concerted effort by both the international community and the civilian government.

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Myanmar’s Commission Report Delivers Genocide Denial Playbook

Excerpt of Just Security article that features GJC President Akila Radhakrishnan.

As Akila Radhakrishnan of the Global Justice Center put it, the ICoE summary is a “masterclass in how to erase the gendered experiences of conflict and genocide.” While the FFM had described “rape and other forms of sexual violence [as] one of the hallmarks of Tatmadaw (Myanmar military) operations,” the ICoE concluded:

“There were no credible statements on allegations of gang rape committed by Myanmar’s security forces. Although some interviewees mentioned rape cases, these were all secondhand information heard from someone else.”

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U.N. Court’s Order on Rohingya Is Cheered, but Will Myanmar Comply?

Excerpt of New York Times article that features GJC President Akila Radhakrishnan.

“The court confirmed that no matter where genocide occurs, it’s a matter for the entire international community, and that a state does not have to be connected or affected by the genocide in order for them to take action to prevent, end and punish it,” said Akila Radhakrishnan, president of the New York-based Global Justice Center.

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Myanmar ordered to prevent genocide against Rohingya by top UN court

Excerpt of CNN article that features GJC President Akila Radhakrishnan.

Akila Radhakrishnan, President of the Global Justice Center, said the ruling was a legal statement and a powerful recognition of what the Rohingya went through.

"It's like a surface affirmation from the court, that kind of the basics of the case have been met," she said. "There's power in acknowledgment, there's power in another country standing up for your rights, taking someone to court, putting a lot behind exposing in a very serious manner what happened. I think that that can't be lost in this."

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