Rohingya Muslims Face Further Government Oppression

Rohingya Muslims Face Further Government Oppression

By Alok Bhatt
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

COX’S BAZAAR, Bangladesh – Enduring a 30-year history of persecution in their native land, members of the Rohingya Muslim minority continue trying to elude human rights abuses under the Burmese junta.  The Rohingyas, who generally reside in the state of Myanmar, have been able to cross into neighboring nations such as Bangladesh and Thailand to escape impunity.  However, the recent construction of a razor-wire fence along the Bangladesh-Myanmar border, across which many Rohingyas traverse in search of freedom from subjugation, further undercuts the Muslim minority groups’ reach for liberation.

The razor-wire barrier effectively eliminates one of the Rohingya peoples’ only routes to less hostile territory.  Though the Bangladesh government neither recognizes nor welcomes the Rohingyas, hundreds of thousands of them reside in makeshift camps in Bangladesh.  Although the U.N. attempted a repatriation into Myanmar for the Rohingyas in 2005, government threats of higher oppression of the minority Muslim group ended the initiative.

By keeping the Rohingyas within Myanmar borders, the government may continue to exploit and abuse them.  The Burmese government persistently denies Rohingya Muslims any form of national citizenship and continues to force the minority group into labor.  The Myanmar government also has a history of executing military operations against civilian Rohingyas.  In 1978, an army operation called “Nagamine” targeted Rohingya civilians living illegally in Myanmar and entailed the destruction of schools, mosques, and other structures.    

Considering the disposition of the ruling powers of Myanmar, Rohingya refugees in Thailand and Bangladesh cannot return to their homes.  Effectively disallowed from re-entering Myanmar borders, the Rohingyas must live under derisory, unsanitary conditions of refugee camps with a scarcity of food and clothing.

Bangladeshi authorities have also taken measures to prohibit more Rohingyas from entering the country.  Border patrol used to arrest and imprison Rohingya peoples attempting to cross into Bangladesh illegally.  However, given the significant number of refugees attempting to cross, Bangladeshi jails quickly became filled with Rohingya escapees looking for solace in Bangladesh.   Operations recently began to send new Rohingya refugees back to Burmese land.

Bangladeshi officials released statements saying that the Rohingya minority places a social and economic burden upon Bangladesh.  Although relief funds from Germany and numerous human rights organizations help maintain the refugee camps, the Bangladeshi government refuses to allow the Rohingyas to indefinitely remain within the nation’s borders.

Without a home to find peace, it seems the plight of the Rohingyas will continue to plague the group until the international community devises an effective means to secure the minority groups’ rights.   


For more information, please see:

Al-Jazeera – Rohingya suffer in Bangladesh camps – 28 October 2009

Burma Library – Bangladesh-Myanmar Relations and the Stateless Rohingyas – June 2001

Mizzima – Germany donates $430,000 for Rohingya relief in Bangladesh – 17 October 2009

ReliefWeb – Bangladesh expels Rohingyas – 16 October 2009

Saudi King Pardons Journalist

By Ahmad Shihadah

Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia – King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia has issued a pardon for Saudi journalist Rossana al-Yami. Al- Yami was sentenced to 60 lashes and a two-year travel ban for her involvement in a television show in which a Saudi man detailed his sexual exploits. Al-Yami told the Reuters news agency, “the king has vindicated me. I am satisfied with the king’s order and I accept the decisions of the sovereign.”

The man at the center of the case, Mazen Abdul Jawad, is also seeking a pardon from the King. On the episode in question, Abdul Jawad bragged about his sexual exploits.  As a result, he was sentenced to five years in prison and 1,000 lashes. Abdul Jawad’s attorney Suleiman al-Jumeii maintains his client was duped by Lebanese Broadcast Company, which ran the episode, and was unaware in many instances that he was being recorded. Further, he urged the information minister to intercede with the King to include all those involved in the case under the same ministry committee. This was done in the hopes his client could be pardoned as well.[VAC1] Al-Jumeii issued a statement saying, “justice should not be divided as long as it is one case.”

According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), King Abdullah’s decision sent an important message to the country’s courts regarding punishment of freedom expression. However, HRW still calls for real reforms in the legal system that will address the repeated attacks on the media by Saudi courts.

For more information please see:

Al-Jazeera – Saudi King Spares Journalist lashes – 27 October 2009

CNN – Royal Pardon for Saudi Journalist Sentenced to Lashes – 27 October 2009

Human Rights Watch – Saudi Arabia: King Overturns 60-Lashes Verdict Against Journalist – 27 October 2009

Colombia’s Security Policy Compromises Human Rights

By Sovereign Hager

Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

BOGOTA,Colombia-Colombia’s National Planning Council blames the government’s “Democratic Security” policy and fight against drugs for the systematic increase in human rights violations. The National Planning Council is a constitutionally mandated body tasked with formulating, monitoring, and evaluating government policy.

President of the council, Adolfo Atehortua, called Colombia’s anti-drug policy a failure. He pointed out that drug production has not decreased and spraying to kill illicit crops has increased poverty in rural areas. “The general and indiscriminate aerial spraying of crops damages farmers who have no other options, the helpless producers . . . but does not eliminate the persistency of the drug plantations,” Atehortua said.

Atehortua further stressed that Colombia has become a consumer of drugs in addition to its exporting role. He recommended that soft drugs be legalized as part of an international campaign. Atehortua argued that legalizing the production of soft drugs, such as marijuana, would provide an opportunity for many farmers to “come out of hiding to develop real centers of agricultural production.”

Atehortua denounced the government’s security policy and the collaboration with the U.S. State Department.  The main point of criticism was the large number of “false positive cases”, where members of the armed forces have executed civilians and then presented them as guerrillas killed in combat in order to boost success figures. These acts have been denounced by the United Nations.

Atehortua called the “humanitarian crisis” the “dark side” of the Democratic Security Policy. Colombia is slated to sign a controversial security pact with the United States to enhance its war on “narcoterrorism” this week.

For more information, please see:

Colombia Reports-Council:Government Security Policy Caused Increase in Human Rights Violations-27 October 2009

El Pais-Colombia Avanza en Seguridad, pero no en derechos humanos-27 October 2009

El Espectador-Consejo Nacional de Planeación insiste en legalización de la droga-27 October 2009

Khmer Rouge Trial Ends, Sentencing for the Deaths of 12,000 Awaits

By M.E. Dodge
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

PHNOM PEHN, Cambodia — The Khmer Rouge prison boss, Kaing Guek Eav, more commonly known as Duch, admitted personal responsibility for the torture and murder of more than 12,000 people. He shocked the war crimes court by asking to be acquitted and released.

Duch Khmer Rouge prison boss, known as Duch, stands beside a security guard during the closing arguments of his trial. Curtesy of The Guardian,

Duch is one of five aging senior cadres facing trial in the deaths of at least 1.7 million Cambodians who were murdered or died of starvation or overwork. From 1975 to 1979, before being removed after an invasion by the Vietnamese, the ultra-Maoist Khmer Rouge regime sought to create an agrarian utopia by abolishing religion, money and schools and forcing most of the population onto collective farms.

Duch’s nine-month trial concluded with Duch asking the judges to consider his co-operation with the court, and proceeded to ask that the 10 years he had already served in jail be used as his sentence, and set him free. In the last statement of his concluding remarks, he said: “I would ask the chamber to release me, thank you very much.”

The statement reportedly came only two days after he told the court he was ultimately accountable for the deaths that occurred while he headed the Khmer Rouge’s Tuol Sleng prison in Phnom Penh. Duch had admitted, “I am solely and individually responsible for the loss of at least 12,380 lives.” Duch was claimed to be responsible for the thousands of deaths, most of whom were tortured detainees at the notorious S-21 prison, where Duch was commander, before inflicting death in the nearby “killing fields.”

Officials involved in the proceeding seem skeptical. Prosecutor, William Smith, said outside of the court, that he was surprised by Duch’s last-minute change of heart. Smith stated, “The fact that he entered a request for an acquittal reinforces in our mind that his remorse is limited.” The prosecution has asked for 40 year’s jail for Duch, 67.

The judges are expected to deliver a ruling in March of next year. The maximum penalty they can impose is life imprisonment.

For more information, please see:

Sydney Morning Herald – Killing fields accused may not live to face court – November 27, 2009

The Times Online – Please release me begs Khmer Rouge torturer-in-chief – November 27, 2009

The Guardian –Cambodia torturer Duch – killer of 12,380 – asks court to set him free – November 27, 2009

CNN – Closing arguments end in Khmer Rouge trial – November 27, 2009

IDP Bill Will Fill Void in Humanitarian Law, But Implementation May Be the Real Issue

By Jared Kleinman
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

KAMPALA, Uganda—17 African countries have adopted and signed the first ever convention on the protection and assistance of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) during the AU Special Summit on Refugees, Returnees and IDP’s in Africa that concluded over the weekend in Kampala, Uganda. The African Union Convention was signed by five AU Heads of State, five Vice Presidents and Prime Ministers as well as by Foreign Affairs Ministers and other Heads of Delegations who attended the historic event.

The African Union Convention for the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons in Africa is a comprehensive document that will, if ratified, fill a void in international humanitarian law, say experts. Whereas the rights of people who flee across national boundaries are protected under the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and a similar instrument introduced 18 years later by the Organization of African Unity (now the African Union), there has been no international legislation catering specifically for people displaced within their own country (IDPs).

IDPs vastly outnumber refugees in Africa. In just 10 of the 18 countries in east and central Africa, there are more than 10 million IDPs, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), with Sudan (four million), the Democratic Republic of Congo (2.12 million) and Somalia (1.55 million) heading the list.

This latest instrument, also known as the Kampala Convention because it was signed in the Ugandan capital, “obliges governments to recognize that IDPs have specific vulnerabilities and must be supported”, said Walter Kaelin, Representative of the UN Secretary-General on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons. “It covers all causes of displacement, is forceful in terms of responsibility and goes beyond addressing the roles of states to those of others like the AU and non-state actors.” “I truly welcome the adoption of the African Union Convention of the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons in Africa”, said Kaelin. “This is tremendous achievement and a beacon of hope for the over 12 million people in Africa displaced by conflict and the many more who are internally displaced by natural disasters or other causes.”

“The crucial challenge now is the same one facing international humanitarian law in general – ensuring that once the convention is signed and ratified by as many states as possible, it is actually implemented and respected,” ICRC president Jakob Kellenberger said. “States must now take concrete steps to implement the convention into their own national legislation and regulation systems, and develop plans of action to address issues of displacement.

“There is some question regarding the extent to which non-state actors and armed groups called upon by the convention to protect IDPs can be bound by its provisions. Nevertheless, the convention, which has benefited from the input of international experts, is considered to be generally consistent with international standards such as the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement.”

AU officials in Kampala were cautiously upbeat, urging member states to remain engaged. “It is the responsibility of member states that the convention becomes a binding instrument,” Jean Ping, AU Commission President, said. “At this point, it is an achievement, but not an end in itself.”
“It is one thing to have a good convention and another to implement it,” Dismas Nkunda of the New York-based International Refugee Rights Initiative told IRIN.

In 2007, the AU adopted the African Charter on democracy, elections and governance, but it has so far been ratified by only two member states. Until African countries learn to respect the law, participants said, the continent would “remain at rock bottom” in its attempts to address the problems of the displaced.

For more information, please see:

All Africa – IDP Convention Fills a Void in Humanitarian Law – 27 October 2009

The New Times – AU Commits to Protect IDPs – 27 October 2009

United Nations Human Rights Council – AU Convention on Internally Displaced: “A beacon of hope for 12 million Africans,” say UN Representative – 26 October 2009

The East African – Hometruths for EA Summit on IDPs, Refugees – 26 October 2009