Five Mass Graves Found in Rakhine

By: Brian Kim
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

NAYPYIDAW, Myanmar – According to a recent report by the Associated Press (AP) news agency, many Rohingya villagers have been massacred and buried in five mass graves. AP reported that around 400 Rohingya villagers were murdered by members of Myanmar’s military.

New mass graves were found in Myanmar according to AP. Photo Courtesy of Manish Swarup.

The survivors of the massacre told the Associated Press that the killing took place on August 27. The attack happened in the village of Gu Dar Pyin. According to Noor Kadir, a survivor of the massacre, he found six of his friends buried in two separate mass graves. Kadir stated that he was only able to identify his friend by the color of his friend’s shorts.

The attack began around noon when 200 soldiers attacked the village. Based on a video that was obtained after the fact, it showed the soldiers using acid to remove traces of evidence. The survivors told the Associated Press that the Burmese military tried to cover up evidence of murder.

Previously, Myanmar had admitted responsibility for one mass grave site in the village of Inn Din. However, the government is denying the massacre that allegedly occurred in Gu Dar Pyin.

Since the attack, Myanmar has denied access to Gu Dar Pyin. Due to this reason, it is difficult to get the accurate number of deaths. However, based on the satellite images gathered from DigitalGlobe, the village is reported to be wiped out.

Myanmar is denying AP’s investigation. The government in a statement reported that 17 government officials investigated the matter in Gu Dar Pyin. When they spoke with the community leaders, they informed the agencies that “no such things happened.”

Since the conflict began, around 680,000 Rohingya minority have fled Myanmar and relocated to Bangladesh.

For more information, please see:

Al Jazeera – Evidence of Rohingya mass graves uncovered in Myanmar – 1 February, 2018

The Guardian – Myanmar: UN and US deeply troubled over new report of five mass graves – 1 February, 2018

ABC News – Myanmar government denies AP report of Rohingya mass graves – 2 February, 2018

Reuters – Myanmar denies report of new mass graves in Rakhine – 2 February, 2018

Myanmar and Bangladesh Agree to Repatriation Timeline

By: Katherine Hewitt
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

NAYPYIDAW, Myanmar – With more than 740,000 Rohingya Muslims having fled from Myanmar to Bangladesh since October 2016, Bangladesh has been overwhelmed with refugees. An initial agreement between the two countries was signed in November of 2017, though an official implementation timeline was only recently established.

Image of Rohingya Refugee Camp. Photo Courtesy of Roger Arnold.

The agreement lays out that Myanmar will take 1500 Rohingya refugees back each week, with 300 per day and with all returning within two years. This begins on 23 January 2018.  However at this rate it will take closer to 10 years to repatriate all 740,000 refugees.   Bangladesh sees the goal of 300 persons each day as a starting point and hopes that the numbers will increase as time goes on. Bangladesh strives to send families back together as well as orphans and “children born out of unwarranted incidence.” This deal is only applicable to those who fled between the October 2016 violence and the latest round in 2017.

In preparation Myanmar plans to build two transport camps. One can accommodate up to 30,000 people.   Bangladesh will build 5.

As a result of the violence, 350 Rohingya villages burned down.   While Myanmar rebuilds, little attention is given to the Rakhine state. Myanmar’s foreign secretary U Myint Thu stated that there are plans to build new villages for the Rohingya. The plan is that “the returnees will build their homes by themselves.” It is a cash-for-work program in which the Myanmar government “will give them both money and jobs.”

The repatriation act is not without its critics. Little has been done to rectify the repression of Rohingya in Myanmar, and human rights activists are concerned that there can be no safe returns if grievances aren’t addressed. For a community leader in a Rohingya Refugee camp, the “first priority is, they have to grant us citizenship as Rohingya. Secondly, they have to give back our lands. Thirdly, our security must be ensured internationally. Otherwise, this is not good for us.” Restrictions on Rohingya movement have not been waived either.

The UN High Commission for Refugees encourages refugees to only return if they feel safe. The statement from the U.S. reads that the timeline was of less importance compared to the safety of the people. While the reparation is voluntary, most refugees say they will only return if their safety is assured, their homes rebuilt, and their land returned to them.

For more information, please see:

The BBC – Rohingya crisis: Bangladesh and Myanmar agree repatriation timeframe – 16 January 2018

Reuters – Bangladesh agrees with Myanmar to complete Rohingya return in two years – 16 January 2018

The Washington Post – Bangladesh, Myanmar aim to finish Rohingya return in 2 years – 16 January 2018

Secretary Tillerson calls Rohingya Crisis ‘Ethnic Cleansing’

By: Brian Kim
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia 

NAYPYIDAW, Myanmar – The Trump administration on November 22 announced that Myanmar’s Rohingya minority crisis constituted “ethnic cleansing.” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson visited Myanmar last week and stated that he witnessed “horrendous atrocities” by the military. He went to say that “after careful and thorough analysis of the facts, it is clear that the situation in northern Rakhine State constitutes ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya.” Although Secretary Tillerson did not call for an international investigation, he asked for a “credible, independent investigation.”

More than 600,000 Rohingya have fled Myanmar since late August. Photo courtesy of Adam Dean.

This announcement allows for long-anticipated sanctions against Myanmar and further pressures its civilian leader, Aung San Suu Kyi. The United States government is planning to issue “targeted sanctions,” but is ruling out additional sanctions against Myanmar’s government as it goes through a delicate transition to democracy.

The legislation in Congress requires the United States to eliminate all ties to the Myanmar’s military. Numerous lawmakers on capitol hill commended Secretary Tillerson’s announcement. In addition, the announcement was also praised at the United Nations.

Although the situation is not completely under her authority, Aung San Suu Kyi is facing harsh criticism over its response to the Rohingya crisis.

Since the crisis began, over 600,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled Rakhine state to Bangladesh. According to the United States delegation to Myanmar and Bangladesh, there were numerous reports of rape and murder of family members of the Rohingya Muslims. Furthermore, many news sources have heard of massacres, killings, and rape.

The announcement from the United States government comes shortly before the Pope’s arrival to Bangladesh and Myanmar. Pope Francis is scheduled to arrive in Myanmar on November 26th and visit with General Min Aung Hlaing, Myanmar’s military chief, and Aung San Suu Kyi.

For more information, please see:

BBC – Rohingya crisis: US calls Myanmar action ‘ethnic cleansing’ – 22 November, 2017

NYT – Myanmar’s Crackdown on Rohingya Is Ethnic Cleansing, Tillerson Says – 22 November, 2017

Reuters – U.S. calls Myanmar moves against Rohingya ‘ethnic cleansing’ – 22 November, 2017

40 Million People Affected by Historic Flood in South Asia

By: Brian Kim
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia 
NEW DELHI, India – Since August, millions of people in South Asia have been impacted by the region’s worst flood in 40 years. It is reported that around 40 million people are affected by the massive flood.
The flood leaves over 1,000 deaths in South Asia. Photo courtesy of BBC.

Over 1,400 have died so far and tens of thousands are living in tents all across the region. Bihar and Uttar Pradesh states in India, the Terai region in Nepal, and Kurigram and Chimari districts in Bangladesh have been hit the worst.

In Bangladesh alone, over 8 million people are affected. It also reported that over 13,000 people are currently suffering from diarrhea and respiratory infections after the flood. According to the Secretary General of the Bangladesh Red Crescent Society, diarrhea, malaria and dengue are on the rise in some parts of the country.

In Nepal, around 1.7 million people are affected with 26,844 cases of illness around the country. Although no epidemic has been reported, many health officials are taking extreme caution and monitoring the situation closely.

With the danger of mosquito and waterborne diseases, the risks are said to be greater for children and women. In India, around 17 million children were in need of humanitarian assistance.

Because the floods were so extreme, many families have been struggling to find proper burial grounds due to the lack of dry land.

Recently, the Scottish government donated from the government’s Humanitarian Emergency Fund. The money is to provide any immediate and life saving aid in the region.

Reuters – Thousands hit by malaria, dengue as South Asia’s worst floods in a decade recede – 6 September, 2017

ABC – South Asia floods: Estimated 40 million across India, Bangladesh, Nepal affected – 8 September, 2017

BBC – South Asia floods: Scottish government donates £300,000 from emergency fund – 9 September, 2017

Bangladesh Law Allows Underage Marriage Under “Special Circumstances”

By: Nicole Hoerold
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

DHAKA, Bangladesh – A Bangladesh law now allows girls under the age of 18 to be married off by their parents under special circumstances. Such circumstances are left undefined by the law, allowing parents to petition for a court order simply if an underage marriage is deemed in the child’s “best interests”. There is no minimum age for when such circumstances should apply and no definition for the “best interest” requirement. The minimum age to wed in Bangladesh is 18 for women and 21 for men.

A social worker provides counseling to a young girl in Ashkarpur, Bangladesh in 2013. Photo courtesy of: UNICEF.

Human rights activists are concerned that this law could legitimize rape and sexual misuse by allowing children to marry their abusers. The Bangladeshi government defended the new legislation, condemning rape and encouraging people to trust the integrity of the legal system to discern legitimate special circumstances.

Still, Bangladesh has the highest rate of child marriage in Asia, with 52 percent of girls marrying before they turn 18 years of age and 18 percent of girls marrying under the age of 15. Child advocates warn that this law could threaten girls’ safety and urge the government to train Bangladeshi judges and social workers to screen for cases of sexual violence and ensure that girls are not victim of rape.

For more information, please see:

Human Rights Watch – Bangladesh: Legalizing Child Marriage Threatens Girls’ Safety – 2 March, 2017

CNN – Human rights groups condemn new Bangladesh child marriage law – 3 March, 2017

Reuters – Bangladesh law allowing child brides may legitimize rape – 1 March, 2017

The Hindu – New child marriage law sparks uproar – 4 March, 2017

Dozens Dead After Attacks in Rakhine State in Myanmar

by Zachary Lucas
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

NAYPYIDAW, Myanmar — At least 24 people were killed in last Monday following an attack by unknown assailants on police outposts near the Burmese-Bangladeshi border. Burmese officials claimed the attacks were by an Islamist group in Rohingya region.

Burmese Border Patrol Guard in Rakhine State (Photo Courtesy of Telegraph)
Burmese Border Patrol Guard in Rakhine State (Photo Courtesy of Telegraph)

Three police outposts were attacked by unknown assailants near the border in Rakhine State. Myanmar’s police chief, Major General Zaw Win, said that nine police officers were killed in the attacks. Along with the police officers, at least eight militants were also killed. Police officials said the militants were able to take 62 weapons and more than 10,000 rounds of ammunition. General Zaw Win said the attackers used “used swords, spears and homemade weapons.”

Counter-operations began after the attacks in a township next to the border in Rakhine State called Maungdaw. Joint army and police forces killed seven villagers of the Rohingya Muslim minority. A local man, U Zaw Oo, witnessed the event and said that around six in the morning government forces came and gunned down seven men. U Zaw Oo also stated that the town is very quiet following the event at the local Muslim population is terrified of the security forces. Another Rohingya Muslim in the area stated that the people that were shot were fleeing.

Since these events, violence has been increasing in Rakhine State. On October 15, a man was shot while collecting bamboo near Myo Village. His brother stated that he was a teacher in Maungdaw. On the same day, military officials reported that three police officers were attacked by knife-wielding assailants. The police shot and killed the assailants.

The United Nations special adviser to Burma, Vijay Nambiar, urged both troops and residents to have restraint. He called on civilians to “not be provoked into any kind of response by targeting other communities or religious groups.”  A senior researcher at Human Rights Watch also stated, “The search for perpetrators cannot descend into abuses of a local population already suffering under sharp restrictions on freedom of movement, work and access to services.”

The Rohingya Muslim minority in the area have been denied citizenship in Myanmar and are, thus, stateless people. Buddhists nationalists in the country deem the Rohingya to be illegal immigrants in the state. In 2012, sectarian violence in Rakhine led to the death of more than 100 people and moving 10,000 people into displacement camps.

For more information, please see:

Daily Star — Myanmar blames Islamist group for attacks in Rohingya Muslim region — 15 October 2016

Myanmar Times — Death toll rises, more arrests made in troubled northern Rakhine State — 17 October 2016

New York Times — Dozens Believed Killed as Violence Erupts in Myanmar — 10 October 2016

Telegraph — Many dead as hundreds of men wielding pistols and swords assail troops in Burma’s restive Rakhine — 12 October 2016

 

Bangladesh Executes Financial Backer of Islamist Party for War Crimes

by Zachary Lucas
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

DHAKA, Bangladesh — Mir Quasem Ali, a former media tycoon, was executed after being convicted of war crimes during the Bangladesh’s war for independence in 1971. Ali was a financier to the largest Islamist Party in the country, the Jamaat-e-Islami party.

Mir Quasem Ali was Tried and Convicted of War Crimes in 2014 (Photo Courtesy of BBC)

Ali was formally arrested in 2012 and charged in mid 2013. The charges involved murder and torture, including the abduction and murder of a young man in a torture chamber. Throughout the trial Ali proclaimed his innocence and stated that the charges were unjustifiable. Ali was found guilty on 8 charges, two of which carried the death sentence, in 2014 before the International Crimes Tribunal that was set up to try war criminals from the 1971 conflict.

A five-member appellate court upheld the decision of the trial court and the sentences. The Supreme Court rejected a final appeal earlier in the week. Ali did not seek presidential pardon which requires an admission of guilt. Ali was hanged at 10:30 PM on Saturday. His body was driven from the prison in an ambulance early Sunday morning to his home village in Manikganj for burial. Family members had requested his body be buried in Dhaka but government officials refused.

Following the execution, a security operation was staged to prevent violence. Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan said that security operations were underway to keep the peace including deployment of paramilitary border guards and more police in Dhaka. The opposition party proclaimed the trial to be “political vengeance” and stated they would stage protests on Monday.

Both the Jamaat-e-Islami party and human rights experts around the world have questions the integrity of the International Crimes Tribunal set up shortly after the current Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina, came to power. Ali, who was the former head of the Diganta Media Corporation, is the latest in members of the opposition party to be executed at the tribunal. Since 2010, six opposition leaders have been executed, five of whom were from the Jamaat-e-Islami party. As a total, 24 people have been sentence to death at the tribunal.

The war in 1971 began when self-determination groups in East Pakistan revolted against Pakistani leadership which led to armed conflict. The war became a hot spot during the Cold War as the United States, former Soviet Union, and People’s Republic of China were involved in the conflict. The end of the conflict led to Bangladesh gaining independence from Pakistan.

Prime Minister Hasina says the conflict left 3 million dead and over 400,000 women were raped. Pakistani forces and Jamaat-e-Islami supported militias were accused of systematic executions and rape during the war. Pro-Pakistani militias were accused of setting up detention centers were liberation supporters were tortured, including one at Chittagong, that Ali was accused of running.

For more information, please see:

BBC — Bangladesh hangs Islamist Mir Quasem Ali for 1971 war crimes — 4 September 2016

The Daily Star –Review binned, death stays for Quasem — 30 August 2016

The Hindu —  Bangladesh executes Jamaat leader Mir Quasem Ali — 4 September 2016

Time — Bangladesh Court Upholds Death Sentence of Islamist Leader Convicted of War Crimes — 30 August 2016

Yahoo — Bangladesh executes 5th Islamist party leader for 1971 war — 3 September 2016