Bangladesh and Burma agreed Jan. 16 to complete the return of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees within two years. According to a statement by the Bangladesh Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the repatriation will be completed within two years from commencement. Under the agreement, Bangladesh will establish five camps. They will then move the Rohingya from these camps to two reception centers established on Burma's side of the border. Burma will then shelter the Rohingya in temporary accommodations while rebuilding houses for them. Humanitarian organizations are warning that this time frame is insufficient to guarantee a safe and voluntary return. A representative of the UN Refugee Agency said the Rohingya should voluntarily return only when they feel that it is safe to do so. (Jurist)
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein raised the possibility that Burma's de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi could face international genocide charges over the military campaign targeting the country's Rohingya Muslim people. "For obvious reasons, if you're planning to commit genocide you don't commit it to paper and you don't provide instructions," he told BBC News Dec. 18. "The thresholds for proof are high. But it wouldn't surprise me in the future if a court were to make such a finding on the basis of what we see." He emphasized that he spoke to her by telephone after his office published a report in February documenting atrocities committed during an escalation of violence that began in October 2016. "I appealed to her to bring these military operations to an end. I appealed to her emotional standing... to do whatever she could to bring this to a close, and to my great regret it did not seem to happen."
Satellite data released by Human Rights Watch shows widespread fires burning in at least 10 areas of Burma's Rakhine state, following a new military offensive targeting the country's Rohingya people. Burmese authorities say some 100 have been killed since Aug. 25, when supposed militants of the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) launched pre-dawn raids on police outposts. The army has responded with a massive operation to encircle the Rohingya rebels and block their escape into Bangladesh. But troops are accused of putting whole villages to the torch and carrying out extrajudicial killings. More than 8,700 Rohingya have fled into Bangladesh since since the offensive was launched, but at least 4,000 more are stranded in the no man's land between the two countries near Taung Bro village. Temporary shelters now fill a narrow strip between the Naf River and Burma's border fence.
The Rohingya Muslim people of Burma are facing what some have called genocide in their homeland, long denied citizenship rights and now under attack by both the official security forces and Buddhist-chauvinist militias, who have carried out massacres and burned down their villages. Some 500,000 Rohingya have fled across the border to Bangladesh—where they are not being welcomed. Already confined to squalid refugee camps near the Burmese border, they now face forcible relocation to an uninhabited offshore island. Shunted from one region to another, they are targeted by the predictable propaganda—Burmese authorities have stigmatized them as Muslim terrorists, and now Bangladesh authorities increasingly stigmatize them as drug-traffickers.
Burma's de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi has rejected a decision by the UN Human Rights Council to investigate allegations of crimes by security forces against the country's minority Rohingya Muslims. The UN body agreed in March to dispatch a fact-finding mission to Burma over claims of systematic murder, rape and torture in Rakhine state. "We do not agree with it," Suu Kyi told a press conference during a visit to Brussels May 2. "We have disassociated ourselves from the resolution because we do not think that the resolution is in keeping with what is actually happening on the ground." (The Telegraph, May 3; NYT, March 24)
Seven of Burma's hold-out ethnic rebel armies formed a new committee this week to prepare collective talks with the government in anticipation of the next round of peace negotiations. Participating groups in what is now being called the "Northern Alliance" were the Kachin Independence Organization/Kachin Independence Army (KIO/KIA), Arakan Army (AA), Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), Ta'ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), Shan State Progress Party/Shan State Army (SSPP/SSA), National Democratic Alliance Army-Eastern Shan State (NDAA-ESS), and the United Wa State Army (UWSA). The meeting was held in Pangkham, administrative capital of the UWSA-controlled territory. After eight other northern ethnic armies have signed peace deals in recent years, these groups remain officialy at war with the Tatmadaw, the government's armed forces.
Our last annotated assessment of Barack Obama's moves in dismantling, continuing and escalating (he has done all three) the oppressive apparatus of the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT) must inevitably be viewed in light of the current countdown to the death of democracy and the imminent despotism of Donald Trump. The fact that the transition is happening at all is a final contradiction of Obama's legacy. He is fully cooperating in it, even as his own intelligence agencies document how the election was tainted. Following official findings that Russia meddled in the elections, the White House has slapped new sanctions on Russia—deporting 35 Russian officials suspected of being intelligence operatives and shutting down two Russian facilities in New York and Maryland, both suspected of being used for intelligence-related purposes. The latest bizarre revelation—that Russian intelligence can blackmail Trump with information about his "perverted sexual acts" involving prostitutes at a Moscow hotel—broke just hours before Obama delivered his Farewell Address in Chicago. The speech was surreally optimistic in light of the actual situation in the country, and contained only a few veiled swipes at Trump. The best of them was this: "If every economic issue is framed as a struggle between a hardworking white middle class and undeserving minorities, then workers of all shades will be left fighting for scraps while the wealthy withdraw further into their private enclaves."
According to official John McKissick at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees on Nov. 24, members of the Rohingya community have been subjected to numerous atrocities by troops in Burma, including execution, rape, starvation and forced displacement. McKissick said the widespread violence is part of an ongoing effort by the Burmese government to "ethnically cleanse" the Muslim minority group from the country. Speaking to the BBC from the UNHCR headquarters in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, McKissick said the latest increase in violence against the Rohingya is in response to the murder of nine border guards in Burma on Oct. 9, which some Burmese politicians have blamed on a Rohingya militant group.