Crimes Against Humanity Escalate in Burma

[March 9, 2017: This post was updated to reflect accurate numbers of people killed, from 86 to 1,000].

Rohingya Muslims, an ethnic and religious minority population in Burma (Myanmar), are one of the most persecuted groups in the world and are currently facing extreme violence at the hands of the Burmese military.

In northern Rakhine State, on October 9, 2016, militants attacked three police outposts, armed with mostly sticks and knives, killing nine police. This triggered retaliatory attacks by the Burmese military that have included killing of civilians, including children and babies, mass rape, and a scorched-earth practice that has destroyed over 1,400 homes, mosques, and other Rohingya-owned structures. The military has claimed that this is simply a “clearance operation” against terrorists, but it has indiscriminately and disproportionately harmed large numbers of civilians. The horror is compounded by the fact that the military has barred journalists and independent human rights monitors from the area and have restricted humanitarian aid – including food and healthcare – to people living in the IDP camps.

Map of Burma (Myanmar), Rakhine State highlighted in red.Rohingya activists and the international community have argued that these most recent atrocities are part of a long-standing campaign against the Rohingya that has been called “crimes against humanity,” “ethnic cleansing,” and even “genocide.” Indeed, the International State Crime Initiative has documented the process of genocide unfolding in Rakhine State.

Since October, attacks have included state-sanctioned violence such as:

There are also reports of security forces restricting humanitarian aid, including from the World Food Program, from Rohingya IDP camps where there are no other sources of food. An estimated 3,000 children in these areas already suffer from severe acute malnutrition and will likely die without this support.

In light of this violence, 66,000 people have fled across the border to Bangladesh, where they continue to face inhumane treatment. There have been reports of refugees shot, beaten, and robbed while trying to cross the border. Those who make it often find themselves in the cramped makeshift homes of earlier refugees or struggle to survive on the roads and in the woods with no shelter.

UUSC is working directly with our grassroots partners on the ground in Burma, as well as Rohingya leaders and other allied groups who are documenting the atrocities, calling for an independent investigation into the human rights abuses and providing food and aid to those in desperate need. In early February, UUSC staff joined a broad coalition of human rights organizations in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia to discuss a joint international strategy to respond to the situation. We are now jointly calling for the U.N. Human Rights Council to pass a resolution to mandate a Commission of Inquiry comprising international experts to examine all human rights violations, establish facts, and assess alleged crimes under international law in Rakhine State against Rohingya Muslims and other Muslims as well as Rakhine Buddhists.

Rights Reading

Our weekly roundup of what we’re reading: a few select articles from the front lines of human rights that we don’t want you to miss. This week’s articles include disturbing news from Burma, holiday celebrations from families in detention, and the dismantling of a problematic registry program. Next week, we’ll be taking a break from Rights Reading for the holidays.

At immigration detention center, every child has same Christmas wish: freedom, Ed Pilkington, The Guardian, December 21, 2016

“I knew I couldn’t trust my own government in Honduras, that they wouldn’t protect us. But we came here to the United States of America thinking that this was the home of human rights, that we would find protection here. I never dreamed we would be treated this way.”

Christmas drawings from children held in detention at Berks County Detention Center.

Nearly 20 children will be spending their second Christmas in a row locked up in the Berks County Detention Center, near Berks, Penn. These children, ages two to nine-years-old, were asked what they wanted for Christmas. The wish lists had typical requests that kids would want: toys, dolls, electronics, and other gadgets; but there was one item on the list that every child wanted: to be out of detention. Whether it was to spend time with a loved one outside of detention, to be out of the Berks center, or just freedom, these children expressed the desire to be released from behind bars.

The mothers and children have fled from the Northern Triangle, a region in Central America that is considered to be the most dangerous of the world. These families have come to the United States fleeing gang violence and death threats that have become rampant in this region only to be detained for an indefinite amount of time. Immigrant groups and other advocacy groups, including UUSC, argue that there is no reason why these families should not be released, and in fact, studies have shown the psychological and emotional damage that prolonged detention has on children. These advocate groups and families are even more anxious now with the new administration threatening to deport them immediately.

For more information on the impact detention is having on families, read UUSC’s report, “No Safe Haven Here, a mental health assessment of women and children held in U.S. immigration detention.

Aldea, one of our advocacy partners, has put together an amazing Berks advent calendar, where you can take action and support these children at Berks. Help spread the word and bring hope to these families.

Obama to Dismantle Visitor Registry Before Trump Can Revive It, The New York Times, J. David Goodman and Ron Nixon, December 22, 2016

“We refuse to build a database of people based on their constitutionally protected religious beliefs.”

We’re excited to share an update and victory to one of our previous Rights Reading articles, about the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (Nseers), a visa-tracking program that would essentially be used to register Arabs and Muslims. UUSC, along with 200 other organizations, signed a letter to President Obama asking him to abolish this program. We’re happy to report that the Obama administration has officially dismantled this program in preparation for the incoming administration, which has suggested a revival of this program or something similar to it.

Not only is Nseers controversial, the Department of Homeland Security also found it to be “redundant, inefficient, with no added security”. In addition, there were no terrorism convictions as a result of Nseers.

This announcement follows news of a powerful pledge from hundreds of technology companies, including Facebook and Google, declaring “they stood in solidarity with Muslim Americans and immigrants and would not use their skills for the ‘new administration’s proposed data-collection policies.” We encourage you to read the full statement.

Militants in Myanmar Spur Army Reprisals, Refugee Flight, Syed Zain Al-Mahmood, Wall Street Journal, December 23, 2016

“Despite living in Rakhine state for generations, Rohingya Muslims are seen by many in the country not as fellow citizens but as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.”

Rohingya refugee breaks down during protest.

United Nations officials are claiming that a genocide is unfolding in Rakhine State in western Burma against the ethnic Rohingya Muslim minority. Radical, nationalist monks and their political allies in government have convinced millions that Muslims in general, and the Rohingya in particular, are a threat to their religion, their families, and their nation. Concentration-like camps have been built and entire villages are under attack. Recent satellite imagery shows that at least three have been burnt to the ground.

Tens of thousands of Rohingya are risking their lives to get out of the country as fast as possible. UUSC is working directly with our partners on the ground in Burma, as well Rohingya leaders and other allied groups who are fighting to document the truth and get food and aid to those in desperate need.