The Unitarian Universalist Service Committee advances human rights through grassroots collaborations.
Seeking Justice for the Rohingya
February 8, 2022
UUSC is working collaboratively with its partner, Victim Advocates International (VAI), to hold Facebook accountable for its role in the genocide of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya in Burma (Myanmar).
In the years leading up to 2017, Facebook’s lax content moderation standards in Burma allowed hundreds of hateful and violent posts attacking Rohingya Muslims to be shared across the platform. This hate speech was not only shared on the platform, but Facebook’s algorithms boosted these posts on feeds across the nation. By 2017, Burma’s Facebook network was saturated with hate-filled posts dehumanizing the Rohingya people. That year, the military began a violent campaign against the Rohingya, one that would force 750,000 Rohingya people to flee into neighboring countries.
Now, hundreds of thousands of Rohingya people are living in diaspora and are in need of justice. In 2020, a group of Rohingya youth living in the refugee camps in Bangladesh asked Facebook to fund educational programs to help youth learn and prepare themselves for adulthood. Thousands of youth are languishing in the camps and are not being prepared for adulthood and careers while they live in fear and uncertainty. The request was for $1.5 million, which is much less than 1% of Facebooks revenues. Still, Facebook declined and since 2020 the youth have been asking Facebook to meet with them and discuss opportunities for educational programming in the camps.
In December, under the guidance of VAI, several youth lodged a complaint with the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in Ireland. This organization is responsible for establishing international business standards and mediating global business conflicts. The OECD is charged with ensuring that corporations around the world respect human rights in their business practices.
Facebook’s activities in Myanmar violated the OECD guidelines in multiple ways:
- Facebook deliberately set out to increase their platform’s use in Myanmar at the same time they were hosting targeted advertisements from the genocidal Burmese military. They also hosted accounts of military officials, who used the platform to promote disinformation and hate speech against the Rohingya, and Facebook’s algorithm amplified this content to a wider audience.
- At the time of these events, Facebook did not have a human rights policy, and it failed to enforce its own limited content moderation standards. While the company has recently adopted a human rights policy, it provides no mechanism for compensating victims of the company’s past actions.
The youth are making simple requests of Facebook:
- Reparations: Facebook should divert a portion of its profits earned in Myanmar in the months and years leading up to the genocide and provide remediation to the Rohingya in the form of educational facilities or other facilities suitable to ameliorate their living conditions within the camps.
- Responsibility: Facebook should conduct due-diligence around the adverse human rights impacts of the data-mining and algorithmic aspects of its business model as a whole and publicly take responsibility for how its business model facilitated the Rohingya genocide in Burma and make a commitment to radical change.
- Remediation: Facebook should amend its human rights policy and the mandate of its Oversight Board to explicitly include remediation beyond content removal (such as rehabilitation or financial compensation) where it contributes to human rights violations.
- Representation: Facebook should create a community advisory board with representatives from the Rohingya and other populations that face oppression around the world, to be consulted over the development of a new human rights policy.
In the coming months, UUSC and VAI will work together to ensure that the stories of these youth are shared and that Facebook is held accountable for its complicity in the genocide.
Would you like to have an impact?
Tell U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken that he should no longer hesitate to make a genocide determination in Burma. A Rohingya genocide determination would underscore the United State’ commitment to accountability and create the precedent for recognizing abuses against other ethnic and religious minorities as well.