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United States to Designate Crimes Against Rohingya as Genocide

NEW YORK — Reports surfaced today that the United States will formally determine that atrocities committed against the Rohingya minority by Myanmar’s military in northern Rakhine State amount to genocide and crimes against humanity. The Biden administration will officially announce the designation tomorrow.

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

“This is a welcome, yet long overdue step from the Biden administration. Recognizing the crimes against Rohingya for what they are — a genocide — is necessary if the world hopes to marshal a swift and appropriate response. So it’s absolutely crucial that this designation is followed by a renewed campaign of action from the United States to hold the military accountable. The same military who committed genocide against the Rohingya are those who are illegally in power as a result of a military coup — the cycle of impunity must be broken.

“Powerful measures the US could take include pushing the UN Security Council to refer the crisis to the International Criminal Court, taking the lead in demanding a global arms embargo, and securing humanitarian access to vulnerable populations in the country.

“Any such renewed effort from the US should also explicitly recognize the gendered nature of this genocide. The military’s systemic use of sexual and other gendered violence is critical to understanding both the Rohingya genocide and its ongoing post-coup crimes.”

WHO issues new guidelines on abortion to help countries deliver lifesaving care

The World Health Organization (WHO) is releasing new guidelines on abortion care today, in a bid to protect the health of women and girls and help prevent over 25 million unsafe abortions that currently occur each year.

“Being able to obtain safe abortion is a crucial part of health care,” said Craig Lissner, acting Director for Sexual and Reproductive Health and Research at WHO. “Nearly every death and injury that results from unsafe abortion is entirely preventable. That’s why we recommend women and girls can access abortion and family planning services when they need them.”

Based on the latest scientific evidence, these consolidated guidelines bring together over 50 recommendations spanning clinical practice, health service delivery, and legal and policy interventions to support quality abortion care.

New recommendations to improve access to high quality, person-centred services

When abortion is carried out using a method recommended by WHO, appropriate to the duration of the pregnancy and assisted by someone with the necessary information or skills, it is a simple and extremely safe procedure.

Tragically, however, only around half of all abortions take place under such conditions, with unsafe abortions causing around 39 000 deaths every year and resulting in millions more women hospitalized with complications. Most of these deaths are concentrated in lower-income countries – with over 60% in Africa and 30% in Asia – and among those living in the most vulnerable situations. 

The guideline includes recommendations on many simple primary care level interventions that improve the quality of abortion care provided to women and girls. These include task sharing by a wider range of health workers; ensuring access to medical abortion pills, which mean more women can obtain safe abortion services, and making sure that accurate information on care is available to all those who need it. 

For the first time, the guidelines also include recommendations for use where appropriate of telemedicine, which helped support access to abortion and family planning services during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Removing unnecessary policy barriers facilitates safe abortion access

Alongside the clinical and service delivery recommendations, the guidelines recommend removing medically unnecessary policy barriers to safe abortion, such as criminalization, mandatory waiting times, the requirement that approval must be given by other people (e.g., partners or family members) or institutions, and limits on when during pregnancy an abortion can take place. Such barriers can lead to critical delays in accessing treatment and put women and girls at greater risk of unsafe abortion, stigmatization, and health complications, while increasing disruptions to education and their ability to work.

While most countries permit abortion under specified circumstances, about 20 countries provide no legal grounds for abortion. More than 3 in 4 countries have legal penalties for abortion, which can include lengthy prison sentences or heavy fines for people having or assisting with the procedure. 

“It’s vital that an abortion is safe in medical terms,” said Dr Bela Ganatra, Head of WHO’s Prevention of Unsafe Abortion Unit. “But that’s not enough on its own. As with any other health services, abortion care needs to respect the decisions and needs of women and girls, ensuring that they are treated with dignity and without stigma or judgement. No one should be exposed to abuse or harms like being reported to the police or put in jail because they have sought or provided abortion care." 

Evidence shows that restricting access to abortions does not reduce the number of abortions that take place. In fact, restrictions are more likely to drive women and girls towards unsafe procedures. In countries where abortion is most restricted, only 1 in 4 abortions are safe, compared to nearly 9 in 10 in countries where the procedure is broadly legal. 

“The evidence is clear – if you want to prevent unintended pregnancies and unsafe abortions, you need to provide women and girls with a comprehensive package of sexuality education, accurate family planning information and services, and access to quality abortion care,” Dr Ganatra added.

Following the launch of the guidelines, WHO will support interested countries to implement these new guidelines and strengthen national policies and programmes related to contraception, family planning and abortion services, helping them provide the highest standard of care for women and girls.

Q&A: Rohingya Genocide Case Steps Toward Justice

International Court of Justice (ICJ) hearings beginning February 21, 2022 underline the critical importance of bringing justice for the Myanmar military’s abuses against ethnic Rohingya, Human Rights Watch and the Global Justice Center said today. The groups released a question-and-answer document outlining recent developments in the case, including the impact of the February 1, 2021 military coup in Myanmar, on the ICJ proceedings.

The hearings at the court from February 21 to 28 are for the case brought by Gambia against Myanmar alleging that the military’s atrocities in Rakhine State against Rohingya Muslims violate the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (Genocide Convention).

“The International Court of Justice hearings are the next step in the landmark case to break the cycle of violence and impunity in Myanmar,” said Nushin Sarkarati, associate international justice director at Human Rights Watch. “The case could build a pathway to justice, not only for the Rohingya, but for everyone in the country.”

In November 2019, Gambia filed a case before the ICJ alleging that Myanmar’s atrocities against the Rohingya in Rakhine State violate various provisions of the Genocide Convention. The case before the ICJ is not a criminal case against individual alleged perpetrators, but a legal determination of state responsibility for genocide.

The ICJ held hearings in December 2019, on Gambia’s request, for provisional measures to protect the Rohingya remaining in Myanmar from genocide, which the court unanimously adopted in January 2020. The new hearings will cover Myanmar’s preliminary objections to the case, which challenge the court’s jurisdiction and Gambia’s legal standing to file the case.

The court’s provisional measures require Myanmar to prevent all genocidal acts against the Rohingya, to ensure that security forces do not commit acts of genocide, and to take steps to preserve evidence related to the case. Myanmar is legally bound to comply with this order. However, Human Rights Watch and others have documented ongoing grave abuses against the 600,000 Rohingya remaining in Myanmar, contravening the provisional measures ordered by the court.

Since the February 2021 coup, junta security forces have carried out mass killings, torture, sexual violence, arbitrary arrests, and other abuses that Human Rights Watch believes amount to crimes against humanity. Security forces have killed over 1,500 people since the coup, including at least 100 children, and arbitrarily detained over 11,000 activists, politicians, journalists, and others. Rohingya have also faced even greater movement restrictions and harsher punishments for attempting to leave Rakhine State, which amount to the crimes against humanity of persecution, apartheid, and severe deprivation of liberty.

In 2019, Myanmar’s government appointed State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi to lead its delegation to the ICJ. During the 2021 coup, the military arrested Aung San Suu Kyi and a junta-controlled court sentenced her to six years in prison. She still faces over 150 years in prison combined on various additional fabricated charges. On June 24, 2021, the junta announced that it appointed a panel of eight senior junta officials to represent Myanmar’s delegation before the court.

During the February hearings, representatives of Myanmar and Gambia will present arguments as to whether the ICJ has jurisdiction to examine the genocide claims against Myanmar. The hearings will take place in a hybrid format, including both in-person and virtual participants. Live streaming of the hearings will be available in English and French on the court’s website and on UN Web TV.

While the ICJ case focuses exclusively on alleged crimes against the Rohingya, the military has committed brutal abuses across Myanmar. In the wake of the coup, ethnic groups have sought greater solidarity in the pursuit of justice, as the military’s atrocities against the Rohingya have been echoed in attacks on civilians around the country. The ICJ case could set the stage to scrutinize the Myanmar military’s longstanding international crimes more widely, Human Rights Watch and the Global Justice Center said.

“As the Myanmar military continues to commit atrocities against anti-coup protesters and ethnic minorities, it should be put on notice there will be consequences for these actions – past, present, and future,” said Akila Radhakrishnan, president of the Global Justice Center. “The ICJ’s proceedings are laying the groundwork for accountability in Myanmar – not only for the Rohingya, but for all others who have suffered at the hands of the military.”

For a question-and-answer document on recent developments on Gambia’s Case Against Myanmar at the International Court of Justice, please visit: https://www.hrw.org/news/2022/02/14/developments-gambias-case-against-myanmar-international-court-justice

For more Human Rights Watch reporting on international justice, please visit:
https://www.hrw.org/topic/international-justice    
 
For more Human Rights Watch reporting on Myanmar, please visit:
https://www.hrw.org/asia/myanmar-burma  

For more on the Global Justice Center’s work on Myanmar, please visit:
https://globaljusticecenter.net/our-work/demanding-justice-for-sexual-and-gender-based-violence/mass-atrocity-crimes

New Hearings Announced in Genocide Case Against Myanmar at World Court

NEW YORK — Reports surfaced today that the International Court of Justice will hold hearings on February 21 in The Gambia’s case against Myanmar for the 2017 genocide of the Rohingya. The hearings — the first since last year’s military coup — will consider Myanmar’s “preliminary objections” to the case.

Preliminary objections are typically filed to raise procedural issues before the court considers the merits of the case. Objections filed by Myanmar likely include challenges to The Gambia’s standing to file the case and to the existence of a dispute with The Gambia. More information on preliminary objections and the military coup’s effect on the case can be found here.

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

“It is important that a critical vehicle to secure accountability for the Rohingya genocide is moving forward, especially after the perpeptrators of this grave crime took power in a coup. The present crisis in Myanmar was born of impunity and it will take accountability at this court and elsewhere to move Myanmar back on the path to democracy.

“Myanmar’s preliminary objections are little more than delay tactics. In its hearings and order on provisional measures, the court already considered and rejected many of these arguments. The fact is Myanmar violated the Genocide Convention and Myanmar will do everything it can to avoid facing justice. And with the news that the military junta will defend in this case, the perpetrators of the Rohingya genocide will now be the one’s physically present in court to answer for their atrocities.

“The military has not only yet to be held accountable for its grievous crimes, but illegally seized power over their country. In its repression of the pro-democracy movement, the military is continuing the human rights abuses that a generation of impunity has afforded. It’s past time for these atrocities to be met with consequences and this case is a vital tool to secure such justice.”

Civil society welcomes the UN General Assembly’s decision to reject the Myanmar military junta, urges the UN to cease all forms of cooperation that lend them legitimacy

Today, the UN General Assembly adopted the recommendations made by the Credentials Committee of the UN to defer the decision on who will represent Myanmar at the UN. The decision constitutes a clear rejection of the illegal Myanmar military junta’s application for credentials to the UN, leaving U Kyaw Moe Tun, the current Permanent Representative of Myanmar, to continue to represent the country at the world body.

The recommendation for deferral by the Credentials Committee comprised of nine UN Member States including the United States, China and Russia, is a huge blow to the murderous junta that have killed at least 1,303 people since the coup, including around 100 children, and arbitrarily arrested 10,681 people.  

Khin Ohmar, founder and Chairperson of Progressive Voice: “We welcome this decision by the UN General Assembly to reject the terrorist military junta and call on all UN agencies, funds and programs to cease all forms of cooperation that lend the junta any legitimacy. UN agencies must end its complicity in emboldening the junta by inviting them to meetings, conferences and other platforms that offers them the opportunity to create a façade of legitimacy.

International bodies, including the Human Rights Council, the International Labour Organization and the World Health Organization, must now accept nominations made by U Kyaw Moe Tun and recognize the authority of Myanmar’s Permanent Representative to the UN.”

Charles Santiago, chair of ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR), and a Malaysian Member of Parliament: “The UN General Assembly’s decision sends a strong message to ASEAN and other regional and international institutions that the junta must not be recognized as the legitimate representatives of Myanmar. Any engagement by ASEAN or any of its members with the military junta undermines its credibility and is an affront to the courageous and continuing calls made by the people of Myanmar to reject the junta.

As we saw in a graphic video shared on social media over the weekend of the military deliberately running down peaceful demonstrators, despite the risks, the Myanmar people are literally putting their lives on the line every day to reject the junta, and calling for their voices to be heard.”

Grant Shubin, Legal Director of Global Justice Center: “Today’s result is a vote of confidence for the rule of law in Myanmar—but much more remains to be done. The junta has committed crimes against humanity with its widespread and systematic attacks on the people of Myanmar. In addition to denying the junta the legitimacy it craves, the international community must also take positive steps to end the Tatmadaw’s impunity and ensure justice and accountability for Myanmar.”

On 10 September, 358 Myanmar and international civil society organizations called on the UN Member States to ensure that the current Permanent Representative of Myanmar to the UN, Ambassador U Kyaw Moe Tun, retains his position as Myanmar’s representative to the UN. See the open letter to members of the UN General Assembly here: https://progressivevoicemyanmar.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/UNGA_Credentials_FINAL_ENG.pdf