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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Canada and the Netherlands to Intervene in Myanmar Genocide Case at World Court

NEW YORK — The governments of Canada and the Netherlands today announced their intention to intervene in the genocide case against Myanmar at the International Court of Justice.

In a joint statement, the foreign ministries of both governments said the move furthers their solemn pledge to prevent genocide and hold those responsible to account. They also made clear their intention to “pay special attention to crimes related to sexual and gender-based violence, including rape.”

Akila Radhakrishnan, President of the Global Justice Center, had the following response:

“Today’s announcement from Canada and the Netherlands is nothing short of historic. The Gambia took the brave and necessary step to file the case late last year, but the cause of the Rohingya must be a cause of the whole world. Canada and the Netherlands took a major step today towards fulfilling their legal and moral duty to act against genocide.

“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. 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.”

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. 

Read the article

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

(Updated) Q&A: The Gambia v. Myanmar – Rohingya Genocide at The International Court of Justice

On 11 November 2019, the Republic of The Gambia filed suit against the Republic of the Union of Myanmar in the International Court of Justice (“ICJ”) for violating the Genocide Convention. Two months later at the request of The Gambia, the ICJ ordered the government of Myanmar to take certain actions to protect the Rohingya via “provisional measures” while the case proceeds. This historic lawsuit brings a critical focus to Myanmar’s responsibility as a state for the Rohingya genocide.

The Gambia’s case focuses on the actions of Myanmar’s security forces, starting in October 2016 and then again in August 2017, where they engaged in so-called “clearance operations” against the Rohingya, a distinct Muslim ethnic minority, in Rakhine State. The operations, in particular those that started in August 2017, were characterized by brutal violence and serious human rights violations on a mass scale. Survivors report indiscriminate killings, rape and sexual violence, arbitrary detention, torture, beatings, and forced displacement. As a result, an estimated 745,000 people – mostly ethnic Rohingya – were forced to flee to Bangladesh. The “clearance operations” followed decades of institutionalized discrimination and systematic persecution of the Rohingya, including the passage of laws that stripped the Rohingya of their citizenship and restricted their religious freedoms, as well as reproductive and marital rights.

According to the UN Human Rights Council-mandated Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar (“FFM”), the treatment of the Rohingya population during the “clearance operations” amounts to genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes, the commission of which evoke specific obligations and responsibility under international law. In its final report, published in September 2019, the FFM concluded that “the State of Myanmar breached its obligation not to commit genocide” and found that Myanmar “continues to harbor genocidal intent” towards the Rohingya, emphasizing the need for accountability.

This fact sheet answers fundamental questions about the ongoing ICJ case, Myanmar’s responsibility for genocide, and its impact on the Rohingya population. (Answers to questions about the early stages of the lawsuit are here.)

 
   

Download Fact Sheet 

 

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.

Read the Op-Ed

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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International Court of Justice orders Myanmar to prevent genocide against the Rohingya

Excerpt of Washington Post article that features GJC President Akila Radhakrishnan.

Experts in international justice said the court’s ruling that Gambia did indeed have a case against Myanmar set a strong precedent. The decision at the United Nations’ highest court also acknowledged that Rohingya Muslims constitute a vulnerable group that is in need of protection, they said.

“There was a level of complicity that existed around the Rohingya,” said Akila Radhakrishnan, the president of the New York-based Global Justice Center. “The ruling not only sends a signal to Myanmar that its flimsy excuses won’t be accepted, but also sends a signal to the rest of the international community that there are still some serious risks to the Rohingya that must be acted on.”

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Burma urged to take measures to prevent genocide against the Rohingya

Excerpt of Le Monde article that features GJC Deputy Legal Director Grant Shubin.

The decision must now be transmitted to the United Nations Security Council. Grant Shubin, deputy legal director of the Global Justice Center, said: "It is not certain that the Council will take action, particularly because of opposition from China," Burma's ally, "but such a decision constitutes a warning for Burma that the international community is watching.”

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International Court of Justice orders Myanmar to prevent Rohingya genocide

Excerpt of ABC Australia article that features GJC President Akila Radhakrishnan.

The full report is not public, but the Global Justice Centre cast doubt on the commission's independence and said it couldn't provide real accountability.

"All signs point to what human rights experts and Rohingya themselves already know, which is that the government has no intention of bringing perpetrators of mass rape and other genocidal crimes to justice," Akila Radhakrishnan, president of the Global Justice Centre, said.

"This Commission is just yet another domestic attempt to deflect responsibility and whitewash the situation of the Rohingya."

She pointed out that the report "also seemingly fails, like the Government of Myanmar, to use the term 'Rohingya', which continues to deny the identity of the group".

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World Court Orders Interim Protection for Myanmar’s Rohingya

Excerpt of Bloomberg article that features GJC Deputy Legal Director Grant Shubin.

Failure to comply may affect Myanmar’s international standing or prompt reactions in bilateral or multilateral forums, Grant Shubin, deputy legal director of the New York-based Global Justice Center said in an email. ”While there are still several stages of the case that must happen before the court finally decides if Myanmar violated the Genocide Convention, the broader international community should do everything in their power to ensure Myanmar complies with an order,” Shubin added.

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World Court Orders Myanmar to Take Immediate Action to Prevent Genocide

THE HAGUE — The International Court of Justice today ordered Myanmar to take immediate action to prevent genocide.

The “provisional measures” require Myanmar to prevent genocidal acts, ensure military and police forces do not commit genocidal acts, preserve all evidence of genocidal acts, and report on compliance with these provisional measures. The measures are also automatically sent to the UN Security Council.

“Today’s order is a massive step towards justice for the Rohingya that underlines the importance of the global rule of law,” said Akila Radhakrishnan, president of the Global Justice Center. “Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya are still under the threat of genocide. Over a million languish in refugee camps far from home. These measures recognize the tremendous urgency of the situation for survivors of sexual violence and other genocidal crimes. It’s now time for the international community, including the Security Council, to act to ensure compliance.”

In its request for provisional measures, The Gambia cited the findings of the United Nations Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar, which reported in September that the Rohingya remaining inside Myanmar “live under the threat of genocide.” Countries on the UN Security Council are obligated to prevent and punish the crime of genocide under the Genocide Convention.

“This is the first step on a path to justice for the Rohingya. I hope that all members of the UN Security Council will uphold their moral and political obligation to ensure that the provisional measures ordered by the Court are fully implemented,” said Dr. Simon Adams, Executive Director of the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect. “Those responsible for genocide are still in power in Myanmar. Justice has been delayed but can no longer be denied.”

World Court to Rule on Emergency Measures in Rohingya Genocide Case

Excerpt of Reuters article that features GJC President Akila Radhakrishnan.

Although the Myanmar case in The Hague is only at an early stage, human rights lawyer Akila Radhakrishnan said it has already had an impact.

"Since the case was filed we've seen the government take some action to ensure accountability, like issuing a court martial. Now the military justice system is deeply flawed but its something that wasn't there before," she said.

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The Rohingya genocide: A crisis we’ve stopped talking about

Excerpt of The New Daily article that features a GJC tweet.

The Nobel peace prize Laureate, once heralded as a human rights champion, also said the government was working to boost “social cohesion” between the Rohingya people and the rest of the country.

“Mr President, how can there be an ongoing genocide or genocidal intent when these concrete steps are being taken in Rakhine?” she said.

Human rights groups have refuted Ms Suu Kyi’s version of events.

The Global Justice Centre slammed her picture of an internal military conflict with “no genocidal intent” against the Rohingya as “completely false”.

Read the Article

ICJ Provisional Measures Hearings: Rohingya Right of Reply

December 11 2019 1:15pm CET

The Global Justice Center co-hosted a side event where representatives of the Rohingya community discussed two days of oral arguments at the International Court of Justice in the genocide case against Myanmar.

Speakers included:

  • Razia Sultana, Founder, Rohingya Women Welfare Society
  • Yasmin Ullah, Research Coordinator, Free Rohingya Coalition
  • Tun Khin, President, Burmese Rohingya Organization UK
  • Myra Dahgaypaw, Policy Advocate, US Campaign for Burma
  • Wai Wai Nu, Founder, Women's Peace Network

 

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