With Poor Human Rights Record, Repatriation Not Possible

Repatriation photo

Rohingya after they fled Myanmar in 2017 arrive at Shahparir Dip in Teknaf, Bangladesh. Credit: IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage

UNITED NATIONS – Policies that allow for impunity, genocide, and apartheid are “intolerable” and make repatriation of Rohingya refugees impossible, say United Nations investigators.

While presenting an annual report to the member states at the U.N., Special Rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar Yanghee Lee expressed disappointment in Myanmar’s government under State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, stating her hope that it “would be vastly different from the past, but it really is not that much different.”

“The government is increasingly demonstrating that it has no interest and capacity to establish a fully functioning democracy for all its people,” Lee said during a press conference. She also added that the Nobel peace prize laureate is in “total denial” about the mistreatment and violence against the Rohingya which forced over 700,000 to flee across the border to Bangladesh, and questioned her staunch support for the rule of law.

“If the rule of law were upheld, all the people in Myanmar, regardless of their position, would be answerable to fair laws that are impartially applied, impunity would not reign, and the law would not be wielded as a weapon of oppression,” Lee said.

The Chair of the U.N. fact-finding mission on Myanmar Marzuki Darusman, who also presented a report to the U.N., echoed similar sentiments, noting that the government’s “hardened positions are by far the greatest obstacle.”

“Accountability concerns not only the past but it also concerns the future and Myanmar is destined to repeat the cycles of violence unless there is an end to impunity,” he said. One of conditions that contributed to the atrocities committed since violence erupted in August 2017 is the shrinking of democratic space, they noted.

While the arrests of Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo gripped international headlines, the government has been increasingly cracking down on free speech and human rights defenders in the country.

Most recently, three journalists from Eleven Media—Nayi Min, Kyaw Zaw Linn, and Phyo Wai Win—were detained and are being investigated for online defamation. If charged and convicted, the journalists face up to two years in prison.

Lee and Darusman also expressed concern over the apartheid-like conditions in Myanmar that persist today including restrictions on movement and access to services such as healthcare and education.

While the government is building new infrastructure for both Rohingya still inside the country and those who fled, Lee noted they are usually segregated from Buddhist communities. If a policy of separation rather than integration continues, atrocities will be committed yet again. “It is an ongoing genocide,” Darusman said.

In the fact-finding mission report which looked into the past year’s events, investigators found that four out of five conditions for genocide were met: killing members of the group, causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group, deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part, and imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group.

Of those, three conditions can still be seen in the country. For instance, in 2015, Myanmar’s government imposed “birth spacing” restrictions on women, requiring a 36-month interval between children with forced use of contraception in the interim.

The Population Control Healthcare Bill was introduced in response to a 2013 government report that saw “the rapid population growth of the Bengalis [Rohingya] as an extremely serious threat.” Prior to this, the government enacted a two-child limit on the Muslim community in Rakhine. And it is because of these conditions that Rohingya refugees cannot go back.

“Repatriation is not possible now. Unless the situation in Myanmar is conducive, I will not encourage any repatriation. They should not go back to the existing laws, policies, and practices,” Lee said.

She urged for the civilian government to adopt laws that protect and advance human rights for all, and for Suu Kyi to use “all her moral and political power” to act.

“Myanmar now stands at a crossroads—they can respond as a responsible member of the United Nations and take up the call for accountability or they can be on the same self-self-destructive road,” Darusman said.

Of the actions that can be taken towards the path to accountability is the pardoning of human rights defenders and journalists who have been arbitrarily detained in order to restore democratic space.

Myanmar should also allow for unhindered access for humanitarian actors and U.N. investigators, Lee added.

“I think we are at a point where Myanmar and the international community both are at a juncture where the right choice to make will determine the future of not only Myanmar but peace and security in the region and the world,” she said.





Greenwich: Religion and science come together to tackle climate change

Greenwich photo


By: Ellen Teague

Representatives of various faiths working on environmental issues in and around Kent joined a dialogue with engineers and scientists on Saturday to examine ‘Environment, Climate Change and Sustainability’.
The Chatham Campus of Greenwich University hosted the unique one-day conference on 13 October, organised by Medway Inter Faith Action, in partnership with the Institute of Mechanical Engineers and the University of Greenwich.
The conference explored the relationship between ethical and spiritual principals and the practical actions of individuals and communities facing global environmental change. It was fascinating to hear opening prayers from different faiths that could have been from any one of them.

Representing a Jewish perspective was Dr David Herling, a Senior Lecturer at London University and a noted figure in the world of arboriculture. He reflected that “Judaism is obsessed by trees” and pointed out the frequent mention of trees in the Bible, such as the Tree of Life in Genesis and the Cedars of Lebanon. He talked about small locally-based projects to plant trees, improve soil, and try out drought-resistant crops. Dr Nigel Jollands represented the Baha’i perspective, and he works on Energy Efficiency and Climate Change at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. He felt climate change is symptomatic of spiritual problems, such as defining prosperity purely in terms of material wealth, and tolerating extremes of poverty and wealth in our society. He felt his faith called him towards seeing the interconnectedness of elements of creation and humility towards nature. He questioned the notion of “green growth” where “you can have your cake and eat it” saying the consumption of physical resources, particularly those creating greenhouse gases, must be reduced.

This was echoed in the Christian perspective, offered by Ellen Teague of the Columban JPIC team. In her talk she highlighted the call in the 2015 Laudato Si’ Encyclical of Pope Francis “to hear the cry of the Earth and the cry of the poor” and to work towards “ecological conversion”. She showed photos of the huge faith lobby and petition at the Paris Climate talks which contributed towards an agreement on limiting greenhouse gas emissions. Examples of live simply parishes, Justice and Peace education work, Pax Christi peace gardens in schools and the ‘Global Healing’ initiative of the bishops of England and Wales were highlighted.

An Islamic perspective was offered by Dr Muzammal Hussain, who has an MA in Environment, Development & Policy. In his talk ‘Healing the Earth’ he underlined the interconnection of creation issues and justice for the marginalised. It is poor communities who are suffering the worst impacts of climate change. He called for a shift away from seeing money as wealth and instead seeing our real wealth as being the gift of the natural world. Islam promotes “awe and wonder” in humanity’s relationship with the environment and emphasises the importance of community in its broadest sense.

The views of the engineers were remarkably similar to faith speakers. Roger Middleton of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers Energy, Environment and Sustainability group said, “as an engineer I can’t hold out any hope of the technical solution to the climate change problem”. He lamented that human society is not seriously preparing for the worst impacts of climate change even though scientists have warned about them for at least two decades. Dr AK Rahman, an aerospace engineer and a Muslim, described the environmental crisis as “the canary in the mineshaft of modern society” and suggested that there “must be a philosophical basis of engagement”.
In his view environmental ethics aims to define the best moral behaviour for humans to live without destroying their environment. The term “environmental ethics” is used in the Royal Charter of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers. Since the world’s major faiths comprise 85% of the global population, they can have a major impact on respect for nature, assigning a status to animals and challenging selfish anthropocentrism. Self denial – such as fasting – and the notion of sacrifice were raised by him as areas pertinent to an adequate climate change response.

The chairman of Medway Interfaith Action, Faran Forghani, underlined at the end the importance of dialogue and cooperation between different faiths and disciplines in order to tackle the climate crisis. Kent Area of Southwark Archdiocese for Justice and Peace is an active member. It was clear that simpler lifestyles and consumer action need to be complimented by fundamental work tackling the structural causes of climate instability. It was suggested that systemic change will involve holding governments to account for action in line with the Paris Agreement, and also challenging the destructive activities of large corporations, particularly oil companies, for their greenhouse gas pollution. Advocacy and protest will form a component of tackling climate change.