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OpEdNews Op Eds    H4'ed 5/8/18

Plight of the Rohingya: Ethnic Cleansing, Mass Rape and Monsoons on the Way

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DB: If that doesn't sound like ethnic cleansing and the beginning of a genocide, I don't know what does.

Miu: These posts show intent and knowledge, which becomes extremely important for the issue of accountability. Facebook has been used as a weapon in this conflict, to promote hate but also to deny accountability. Yanghee Lee said this March at the Human Rights Council that "Facebook has turned into a beast."

DB: Has Facebook been sympathetic?

Miu: Mark Zuckerberg has stated that what happened in Myanmar was a terrible tragedy and that Facebook needed to do more. A spokesperson has said that they are looking into the situation and that they promise to take down hate speech within 24 hours of posting and that they are developing a counter-speech campaign. But all of this is reactionary and it is not happening fast enough.

Unfortunately, we are not seeing major change. One form of change we are seeing is that these online companies are starting to realize that they do need to take down some content. But they are doing it in a way that is not helpful to human rights workers, who are trying to gather this content as evidence. Recently we have been seeing a lot of the footage of violence is being taken down by Facebook and YouTube. We need an inclusive conversation between human rights advocates and the tech companies to insure that useful information is stored while that which is harmful is taken down.

DB: Jeanne, if the policy continues, where are we headed?

JH: This is a dilemma facing the international community, from the United Nations to all the major NGOs who are providing the emergency humanitarian assistance to the displaced population in Bangladesh.

The Bengalese government cannot indefinitely host this number of people. It is already an impoverished nation with its own internal security issues brought about by a rise in Islamic fundamentalism. Sooner or later, some of this resentment will be turned on the refugees. We have seen indications of that already.

The question is where and when the Rohingya can go to a place of safe return with dignity. The offers by the Myanmar government to repatriate them and the agreement that they made with the Bangladeshi government to do so are hollow unless the root causes of the incredible oppression that the Rohingya have lived under for decades are addressed.

First and foremost is citizenship. Without citizenship so many things are inaccessible to you, from healthcare to education. But in the case of Rohingya, it involves restriction of movement. If you want to visit someone in a neighboring village, you have to get a letter of permission. If you need medical care outside of your village, you need a letter of permission. If you want to get married, you have to apply for permission. To repair your house or your mosque you need permission. All Rohingyas have been shut out of universities since the violence broke out in 2012.

Unless there is a comprehensive effort on the part of the Burmese government, working in partnership with agencies who have the knowledge and expertise to create an atmosphere where there is access to justice and equitable right to live on that land, then any terms of repatriation are premature at this stage.

The humanitarian crisis now is especially grave because of the monsoon season. The monsoon season in Bangladesh is very fierce. This camp is built on a kind of sandy silt. There is no protection against the winds and the rains. There are fears of mudslides, involving a high level of disease risk. So it is a race against the clock, even in the short term. In the longer term, unless there is a human rights prism through which the situation can be seen, any sustainable solution is really premature to consider.

I wanted to add to what Miu was saying in terms of expressing to people the atmosphere inside Burma now, not just among the refugees in Bangladesh. Many human rights advocates in Burma who have dared to speak up on behalf of the Rohingya have themselves now been targeted by Facebook. People believe that members of the military are posing as civilians in fake profiles to carry out this vitriolic attack against any journalist or activist talking about the crisis in Rakhine state.

Two Reuters journalists, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, investigated one of the many massacres that took place during the military operations last year. They have been languishing in jail for five months, held without bail for allegedly divulging state secrets. A few of the officers at that massacre have been sentenced to 10 years, whereas the two Reuters journalists who were reporting the massacre are facing 14 years!

Under Aung San Suu Kyi's government, the number of cases of journalists being harassed, intimidated, threatened, arrested or jailed under the telecommunications act has actually been higher than it was during the military regime. Another incredible colleague, Esther Htusan, the first ever Burmese journalist to win the Pulitzer Prize, had to flee the country for her life because they were threatening not only her but her family on Facebook. They actually said to people, if you see her in public, attack her or bring her to a police station. She was working for Associated Press. This is the kind of pressure the Burmese press have been put under for even reporting on the issue of the Rohingya. Facebook assists with this.

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Dennis J Bernstein is the host and executive producer of Flashpoints, a daily news magazine broadcast on Pacifica Radio. He is an award-winning investigative reporter, essayist and poet. His articles and essays have appeared in The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Nation, and (more...)

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