Events

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. 

Tags: Genocide, Burma, ICJ