Asia in Review Archive (2018)


Date of AiR edition

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4 December 2018

Myanmar: Jailed Reuters’ journalists win Foreign Press Association Media Award

(cc) Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, in prison since nearly a year, jointly received one the of the most prestigious awards in journalism, the Foreign Press Association Media Award, for their investigation on ten Rohingyas in Western Rakhine State that led to their arrest in December 2017. This is the seventh prize they have been awarded this year after the PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write award, the Osborn Elliot Prize, a One World Media Award, the James Foley Medill Medal for Courage in Journalism, the Don Bolles Medal from IRE, and the Aubuchon Press Freedom Award from the National Press Club. [Reuters]

27 November 2018

Myanmar: Fourth Union Peace Conference to be held in December or early 2019

(cc) The spokesman for the office of the President announced another Union Peace Conference, also known as 21st Century Panglong Conference, next month or in early 2019. According to the peace process’ framework, such talks between the government, the Tatmadaw and the 10 Ethnic Armed Organisations (EAO) that have signed the Nationwide Ceasefire agreement are to be held every six months. The last Peace conference was held in July this year, more than a year after the second one held in May 2017. The recent suspension of participation to the process by the Karen National Union (KNU) and Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS), two of the largest signatories EAOs raises the question of the possibility to organise the 4th Union Peace Conference before the end of the year. [The Myanmar Times]

27 November 2018

Myanmar: High Court allows Reuters’ journalists appeal

(cc) On Tuesday, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo’s lawyer announced that the High Court allowed their appeal, filed at the beginning of this month. The two Reuters’ journalists were sentenced to seven years imprisonment in September for breaking the Official Secret Act. Arrested in December 2017, the reporters were investigating into the killing of 10 Rohingya Muslim men and boys by security forces and local Buddhists in Rakhine state. The appeal cited evidence of a police set-up and lack of proof of a crime. Their conviction in September provoked indignation from Human Rights organisations and the international community while Myanmar’s de facto leader maintains that their case has nothing to do with freedom of expression. [Reuters]

20 November 2018

Repatriation of Rohingya halted as none agreed to return to Myanmar

(cc) In late October, officials from Bangladesh and Myanmar agreed to start the repatriation of Rohingya under the bilateral agreement both countries signed in November 2017. While Myanmar was supposed to receive at the Nga Khu Ya reception center 150 refugees each day starting on November 15, none of the families on the list of 2,251 people to be repatriated agreed to go back as they feared persecution and to be placed in detention camps.

On Thursday, around 1000 Rohingya refugees protested against the repatriation process demanding the recognition of their identity and to be granted Myanmar citizenship. Myanmar does not recognize Rohingya as being a native ethnic group entitled to full citizenship and labels them as “Bengali” to suggest they belong in Bangladesh despite them being present on the Union’s territory for several generations. [HRW] [Reuters] [Reuters 2]

At the 33rd ASEAN Summit, Myanmar State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi faced numerous criticisms regarding the persecution of the Rohingya minority. As an example, Mahathir Mohamad, Malaysia’s Prime Minister accused her of “trying to defend the indefensible”. US Vice-President Mike Pence raised the issue by stating that “the violence and persecution by the military and vigilantes […] is without excuse”. He then said that the arrest and conviction of two Reuters Journalists, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, was “deeply troubling”. [The Irrawaddy] [The Myanmar Times] [The Washington Post]

13 November 2018

Myanmar Now: Skeletons covered in skin’: inside Myanmar’s labour camps 

(cc) Myanmar Now released the results of their investigation revealing the horrors that took place within the various labour camps across the country from those who helped to oversee them. The article “‘Skeletons covered in skin’: inside Myanmar’s labour camps” published on November 8, based on interviews with current and former prison officers, senior prison department officials, ex-inmates and village elders, outlines evidence of torture and other forms of inhuman treatments as well as forced labour and slavery. It reports mass death of prisoners during the pre-reform era due to inhuman conditions such as the use of men as cattle and high level of starvation. It also brings to light that, despite increase funding for prison and a sharp fall of death rates, “men are still forced to work as slaves, often in shackles, and face constant beatings unless they can pay bribes” in the 48 labour camps still existing in Myanmar. [Myanmar Now]

Not solely the reported conditions in labour camps contravene with the most basics obligations under international law but it is not the first time since the transition to a quasi-civilian government that the continuous inhuman conditions in labour camps are reported and push for reforms ignored. Indeed, in 2014, Thein Sein’s government rejected a Parliamentary request to close labour camps [Bangkok Post] and the publication in 2016 of  a first Special Report on the abuses by Myanmar Now was not followed by effective reform [Myanmar Times]. More recently, in June 2018, the Prison Department announced it had no plan to close a women labour camp in Mon State despite a recommendation from the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission to do so. The situation in labour camps in an open secret but the government continues to deny any violation of domestic and international law by maintaining that the camps are needed.  [The Myanmar Times 2]

13 November 2018

Yangon Government drops lawsuit against Eleven Myanmar Journalists:

(cc) The Yangon regional government dropped the incitement suit it had filled against three Eleven Myanmar journalists despite not having received the apology it wanted. This follows President U Win Myint’s order last month to drop the lawsuit and to follow the Media Law under which complaints against media have to first tried to be resolved with the Myanmar Press Council before reaching the Court. The three journalists arrested on October 10 were sued under Article 505 (b) of the Penal Code and then released on bail on October 25.  [The Irrawaddy]

6 November 2018

Myanmar by-elections: small victory for the NLD shows decline in support in Ethnic areas

(cc) On November 3, voters were called to cast their ballot in 13 constituencies. While the ruling Party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), was expecting a large victory it only won 7 of the contested seats. While this election in itself does not have important consequences regarding the balance of power, it represents a “test” for the 2020 general elections and the currently ruling NLD led by Aung San Suu Kyi.

The results show the decline in the support for the NLD, who hold eleven of the 13 seats prior to the elections, especially in ethnic areas, as the NLD spokesman Myo Nyunt stated “We lost five out of six seats in ethnic areas. Ethnic people are not satisfied with our performance on the peace process”. The Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDP), main opposition party created in 2010 with the support of the Military Junta, won three seats previously held by the NLD, the Sagaing’s Tamu and Yangon’s Seikkan regional parliament seats as well as the Upper House seat in Myitkyina in Kachin State. The official figures regarding voters’ turnout have yet to be released by the Union Election Commission, but provisional figures estimate around 30-40% turnout in eight constituencies and over 50% in the only five remaining constituencies. [Reuters] [The Myanmar Times] [The Irrawaddy]

6 November 2018

Myanmar Peace process

(cc) During the second Secretariat meeting of all levels of the Joint Monitoring Committee in Yangon, the signatory groups of the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) sought the participation of non-signatory ethnic armed groups to the peace process. [The Myanmar Times 1]

This followed the meeting in Kunming, China, on October 31st, between the government’s peace commission and the Northern Alliance regrouping three Ethnic Armed Organisations (EAO’s), the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army, and the Arakan Army. Here, an agreement was reached to reduce clashes, and according to the TNLA “Agreements were reached on participation in the peace process, and the details will be released this week. The main thing is for non-NCA signatories to join the peace process and to find a practical solution to the fighting. Another meeting will be held in early December,”.  [The Myanmar Times 2]

While peace talks outside the formal Union Peace conferences seem to be held more and more regularly, the different parties keep standing their ground, resulting in a stalemate in the negotiations. The ruling NLD plans to conclude the peace process by 2020, date of the next general election, but the slow progression in the talks and the resurgence of conflicts in several ethnic areas render that deadline difficult to meet. The last Union Peace Conference (UPC), also known as 21st Century Panglong Conference, was held in July this year had ambivalent results. The next one is expected to take place in December.

6 November 2018

Repatriation of Rohingya to begin in November

(cc) After a two days meeting between Bangladesh and Myanmar officials in Dhaka that started on Monday October 29, Myanmar’s deputy permanent secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced that the repatriation of Rohingya will start on November 15. The first batch will include 2260 of the 4000 refugees verified as Myanmar citizens. The refugees will be first received at Nga Khu Ya reception center before being transferred to Hla Phoe Khaung transit camp for temporary resettlement. [Myanmar Times]

In August last year, over 700,000 Rohingya fled to Bangladesh after a brutal crackdown by the Tatmadaw against the Muslim minority ethnic group in Northern Rakhine State. In late August this year, a report of the UN independent Fact-Finding mission qualified the attacks against the minority as being committed with “genocidal intent”.

In November 2017, Bangladesh and Myanmar signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for the safe, voluntary and dignified repatriation refugees from Northern Rakhine. While Myanmar officials maintain that they were ready since January, the UNHCR warned that the conditions in Rakhine State are “not yet conducive for returns”. [Reuters]

The international NGO Human Rights Watch has called for the immediate suspension of the proposed repatriation noting that “The repatriation plan was developed without consultation and consent from Rohingya refugees, in contravention of international standards”.  [HRW] A week earlier, during his briefing to the Security Council, the chairperson of the UN fact-finding mission stated that “remaining Rohingya in Rakhine State are at grave risk and conditions are not in place for a safe, dignified and sustainable return of the Rohingya in Bangladesh. Returning them in this context is tantamount to condemning them to life as sub-humans and further mass killing.” [OHCHR]

Bangladesh’s Foreign Minister, Md Shahidul Haque, in response to these concerns stated that “it’s not Bangladesh’s decision. It’s not Myanmar’s decision and it’s not UNHCR’s decision. The return is a decision that must be taken by Rohingyas”. [Bdnews24]

30 October 2018

Myanmar: Eleven Media Group journalists freed on bail

(cc) Last week, a Yangon Court allowed the three journalists from Eleven Media Group to post bail of 1 million Kyat each. They were arrested earlier in October for having published an allegedly false story on the business activities of the Yangon government. The Myanmar Press Council asked for the withdrawal of the case and the Myanmar government called on the regional government to use the Media Act, rather than the Penal Code, to take action which would open a mediation process by the Council and would allow for a court trial only if the mediation fails. [The Myanmar Times]

30 October 2018

Landmines explosions in Myanmar’s Shan State

(cc) In the last past three months at least nine civilians have been injured by landmines in northern Shan State. Since 2011, the conflict between the Tatmadaw and Ethnic Armed Organisations, such as the Kachin Independence Army and the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), has resurged provoking displacement and injuries of civilians. According to a Lawmaker from the Ta’ang National Party, the recent landmines incidents did not take place in conflict zones but on public roads.

On October 26, the TNLA issued a statement accusing the Tatmadaw to willingly target local people and asking ethnic Ta’ang  to be careful while traveling.

In Myanmar, from January to May, a total of 127 landmines exploded, killing 23 people and injuring 136, including 49 explosions in Shan States. [The Irrawaddy] [The Myanmar Times]

30 October 2018

China Myanmar railway project

(jk) A China-Myanmar high-speed railway project that was stopped by the Thein Sein government is back on track under the National League for Democracy-led government. The memorandum of understanding for the project was signed in 2011, but the scheme was halted three years later.

The project aims to connect Muse in Myanmar’s north-east that borders Yunnan province in southwest China with central Mandalay. It is the biggest land route for trade between the two nations. Based on the agreement last week, a feasibility study will be carried out within two years to assess the environment and social impact of the proposed rail line. The route could become vital in the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor but also face difficulties as it is running through Shan state, a hotspot for violence and unrest. [SCMP]

30 October 2018

China-Bangladesh cooperation agreements

(ls) Bangladesh and China have signed three cooperation documents after a home-minister level meeting between, as the two countries seek to establish close cooperation and share intelligence on issues like terrorism, transnational crimes and cybercrimes. Bangladesh-China bilateral relations have been elevated to “Strategic Partnership of Cooperation” which maintains a new momentum of cooperation between the armed forces of the two nations, the Chinese delegation said. Moreover, the Rohingya repatriation issue was discussed at the meeting, and the two sides laid emphasis on quick repatriation of the Myanmar nationals from Bangladesh. [Daily Star]

30 October 2018

Australia’s sanctions against Myanmar’s top five military officers

(cc) Similarly to the European Union and the United States earlier this year, Australia imposed travel and financial sanctions on five senior military officers. However, as in the case of the United States in August, Min Aung Hlaing, Myanmar Commander in Chief, is not under any sanctions despite reports by the Independent Fact-Finding mission on Myanmar qualifying the Tatmadaw’s actions against Rohingya in northern Rakhine States as genocidal. [Reuters]

23 October 2018

Workers in strike attacked outside a garment factory in Yangon

(cc) About 300 workers of Fu Yuen Garment Co Ltd, a garment factory which has produced clothes for German supermarket chains and British fashion brands, have been striking for 56 days now. They demand better pay and the reinstatement of 30 labour leaders sacked earlier this year. Around 30 men wielding metal rods attacked a group of workers in strike outside the Chinese-owned factory, injuring dozens of protesters. [The Myanmar Times] [Reuters]

23 October 2018

UN Security Council: Nine members request brief from UN Fact-finding mission in Myanmar

(cc) Nine members of the United Nations Security Council requested a meeting to be held this month to be briefed by the UN independent fact-finding mission on Myanmar. In a report published in August, the fact-finding mission qualified the atrocities committed by the Tatmadaw (Myanmar’s military) against the Rohingya Muslim minority as being conducted with “genocidal intend”. While any resolution of the Security Council is likely to be blocked by China and Russia, the approval of the agenda requires a minimum of nine members and vetoes do not apply. Thus, the chair of the fact-finding commission is likely to be heard by the security council this month. [Al Jazeera]

Meanwhile, the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General (SESG), Christine Schraner Burgener, concluded her third visit to Myanmar on October 20. During her ten-days visit she held meetings with State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, other government and military leaders, ethnic armed organizations, local and religious leaders, NGOs, UN agencies and the diplomatic community. Despite acknowledging the Government’s effort to start informal negotiations with the Ethnic Armed Organisations (EAOs) to overcome the deadlocks in the peace process, the Special Envoy expressed concerns regarding the resurgence of armed conflict in the North of Myanmar. [The Myanmar Times] [The Irrawaddy] [UN]

16 October 2018

Another three journalists jailed in Myanmar

(cc) Last week, police arrested three journalists from Eleven Media Groups. They were charged under Section 505(b) of the Penal Code in relation to a story concerning the controversial business ventures of Yangon Region Chief Minister. Myanmar is ranked 137th out of 180 countries in the 2018 World Press Freedom Index published by Reporter Without Border in April. In early September, two Reuters journalists were sentenced to seven years imprisonment. On October 11, the Myanmar Press Council issued a statement denouncing the charges against the three eleven Myanmar’s journalists. [Frontier Myanmar] [Eleven Myanmar]

16 October 2018

Myanmar: Opening of Peace Summit between armed ethnic groups, government and Tatmadaw

(cc) On the third anniversary of the signing of the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA), government officials, military leaders and the 10 armed ethnic groups that have signed the NCA have started a five days meeting aiming at overcoming the deadlocks in the on-going peace process. The State counsellor called for open minds in the negotiations and emphasized that cooperation between the parties is necessary so that no one would even think about secession. [The Myanmar Times]

16 October 2018

Myanmar Nationalist Monk Condemns Foreign Intervention, Says He Will ‘Take Up Arms’

(cc) On Sunday, a nationalist monk organized a pro-military demonstration in Yangon to protest against the international pressure for accountability of the Tatmadaw regarding their actions against Rohingya in Rakhine State. Approximately 1000 people marched through downtown Yangon before a public talk during which nationalist Buddhist monk U Wirathu made a speech. He argued that his opposition to international pressure was to protect Myanmar’s sovereignty and stated, “If there is an ICC charge (against the military leadership) or (decision for) R2P (responsibility to protect), that is the day I will pick up a gun,”. In 2013, he was described in a cover of the Time magazine as being “The face of Buddhism Terror”.  [The Irrawaddy]

9 October 2018

Supreme Court of India refuses to stop deportation of 7 Rohingya Muslims to Myanmar

(am) The Supreme Court of India has declined to obstruct in the Central Government’s decision to deport seven Rohingya refugees to Myanmar. A petition was filed looking for restraint on Centre’s directive for deporting the refugees over their illegitimate stay. Over 14,000 Rohingyas are listed with the UN refugee agency while 40,000 are expected to be living in India. [ANI 1]

Meanwhile, Rohingya refugees residing in Indian camps have uttered their anxiety over being deported to Myanmar, saying they will not rehabilitate until “peace is re-established in their homeland”. “We did not leave our country out of greed, no one really wants to leave their own nation,” they added. [ANI 2]

9 October 2018

UN Refugee agency raises concern regarding repatriation of Rohingya

(cc) Following a ruling of its Supreme Court refusing to stop their deportation, India expelled seven Rohingya to Myanmar. In a statement on Friday the UNHCR spokesman, Andrej Mahecic, raised concern regarding their safety and security, stating that the seven men were not granted access to legal access and that the “current conditions in Myanmar’s Rakhine State are not conducive for safe dignified and sustainable return of stateless Rohingya refugees”. [UNHCR] [Reuters]

9 October 2018

Japan: Countering Chinese influence in Southeast Asia

(dql/ls) Reflecting Japan’s efforts to expand its economic foothold in the Mekong region to counter China’s growing influence, Japan at the 10th Mekong-Japan Summit in Tokyo together with the Mekong countries Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam and Japan vowed in a joint statement to promote development programs and further improve “connectivity” and “quality infrastructure” projects in the region while also confirming the importance of maintaining the rules-based order and freedom of navigation in the South China Sea. [Japan Times 1]

In a related development, Prime Ministers Shinzo Abe and Prayuth Chan-ocha ahead of the Mekong-Japan summit affirmed both countries’ cooperation in promoting free trade, with the latter voicing Thailand’s readiness to participate in the 11-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership. [Japan Times 2]

Meanwhile, Japanese troops participated in joint exercises in the Philippines with US and Filipino troops. The exercise, code-named Kamandag (Venom), marked the first time Japanese armoured military vehicles were used on foreign soil since the country adopted a pacifist constitution after its 1945 defeat. A US Marine communications officer said, “it has nothing to do with a foreign nation or any sort of foreign army. This is exclusively counterterrorism within the Philippines.” [South China Morning Post]

9 October 2018

Bangladesh’s national Human Rights Commission organises Roundtable on Rohingya Crisis

(cc) On Thursday last week, analysts and former diplomats met in Dhaka at a roundtable hosted by the National Human Rights Commission to discuss “durable solutions of Rohingyas Crisis”. The speakers urged the government of Bangladesh and the international community to resolve the Rohingya crisis, either bilaterally or multilaterally.  The participants expressed concerns regarding Bangladesh’s relationship with the two regional powers China and India. China refuses the internationalization and maintains that the issue is “in essence an issue between Myanmar and Bangladesh”.  According to a retired Brigadier and now researcher of National security and Defense, Sakhawat Hossain, “None of us know how the crisis will be solved. Myanmar is not going to resolve it unless it’s forced; they are not going to listen”. He insisted that China has more weight on this issue than India and added that “We must convince China, but to convince China is a very difficult task as it has invested more money for a deep sea port in Myanmar”. Azizul Hoque, a former envoy to China called on Bangladesh to support the International Criminal Court to prosecute Myanmar’s military officials.

[Dhaka Tribune] [Irrawaddy]

9 October 2018

Mahatir: Malaysia does not support Suu Kyi anymore

(ls) Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said that his country will no longer lend its support to Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi over her handling of the Rohingya crisis. “She did not want to say anything against the action taken by the (Myanmar) military against the Rohingya. So, we made (it) quite clear that we don’t really support her any more,” he said on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in New York. There have been calls to revoke the Nobel Peace Prize awarded to her in 1991, while Canada has stripped Suu Kyi of her honorary citizenship. [Straits Times]

2 October 2018

UN Human Rights Council to set up an independent body concerning Human rights violations in Myanmar

(cc) On September 27, the United Nations Human Rights Council adopted a new resolution on the situation of Human rights of Rohingya Muslims and other minorities in Myanmar. The resolution creates an independent mechanism tasked “to collect, consolidate, preserve and analyze evidence of the most serious international crimes and violations of international law committed in Myanmar since 2011”, in order to facilitate future criminal proceedings. This resolution is the product of a joint initiative of the European Union and of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. Out of the 47 members of the Council, 35 voted in favour and only three countries, China, Burundi and Philippines, opposed to it, the seven others abstained.  This international body is similar to the International Impartial and Independent Mechanism set up by the General Assembly in 2016 for Syria with the difference that the mechanism for Myanmar will be financed through the United Nations, as opposed to states’ voluntary contributions. The Resolution is following a report by the UN Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar released in August which found evidence of war crimes, crimes against humanity and “genocidal intent” from the Tatmadaw and recommended that the General Assembly should create such international body. The mandate of that fact-finding mission has also been extended by one year. Myanmar government continues to reject the report’s findings which it considers “unverified accusations”. [New York Times] [Reuters]

While the resolution has been welcomed by major international non-governmental organization such a Human Rights Watch and received wide international support [Human Rights Watch], China maintains that this issue should not be “internationalized” and that “the Rakhine state issue is in essence an issue between Myanmar and Bangladesh”. [Reuters] Amnesty International’s crisis director has described the resolution of “serious and constructive approach to pave the way for justice”. [Amnesty International]

2 October 2018

Trump administration urged to call Myanmar Military campaign against Rohingya Genocide

(cc) A Few days after the release of a report by the State Department accusing Myanmar Military of “well-planned and coordinate” atrocities against the Rohingya minority, the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee pressed Trump’s administration to call the crackdown a genocide. The State Department report did not use the term “genocide” or “crime against humanity” while a UN report last month explicitly accused the Tatmadaw of acting with “genocidal intent”. Calls for a stronger punitive response have been made by numbers US Congress members from both Democrats and Republican parties. [Reuters]

25 September 2018

Myanmar: Calls for changing the Constitution

(jm) At the occasion of the anniversary of the 2007 saffron revolution and in addition to calls for ending the clashes with ethnic groups, monks in Myanmar called for making greater efforts to ensure the security and improve the lives of Myanmar people. A community of monks urged the authorities to replace the 2008 Constitution, saying that the military-drafted Constitution was responsible for the ills afflicting society. [Myanmar Times 1]

Speaking at the parliament the next day, a minister of the State Counselor’s office, also stressed for changing the Constitution, claiming the need to establish a democratic federal union. [Myanmar Times 2]

The British Foreign Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, who was visiting Myanmar last week, also blamed the Constitution, saying that it puts Aung San Suu Kyi into a difficult position because “the militaries are not accountable to her and are able to act with impunity”. Nonetheless, he claimed that if Myanmar is not able to give justice to the persecuted minority, the international community will “use all the tools at [its] disposal to make sure there is justice”, because “the world is watching” and will not rest until something is done. [The Telegraph]

25 September 2018

Myanmar: International Criminal Court to open a preliminary examination over alleged Muslim deportations

(jm) Following the 3-judge panel’s ruling stating that the International Criminal Court (ICC) had the jurisdiction to prosecute Myanmar citizens over Muslim deportations in Bangladesh despite Myanmar not being party to the Rome Statute, the ICC prosecutor announced last week that the court has opened a preliminary examination. This process is not a proper investigation but aims to examine the information available in order to define if there is a reasonable basis to proceed with an investigation. The prosecutor’s office said that it will work on the charges cited by the 3-judge panel’s ruling but also on other elements of Article 7 of the Rome Statute. [Myanmar Times]

18 September 2018

Asian countries on UN’s shameful list over attacks on human rights activists

(am) A number of Asian countries found themselves on the UN’s list of 38 “shameful” countries displaying an “alarming” level of harsh reprisals and intimidation against those who cooperate with the UN on human rights issues. [Reuters]Pointed out are also practices of selective application of laws and new legislation that restrict or obstruct organisations from cooperating with the UN, including by limiting their funding capacity, especially from foreign donors.

Among the Asian countries listed with new cases are China, India, the Maldives, Myanmar, the Philippines and Thailand. Other countries listed are Colombia, Hungary, Israel, Morocco, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Turkmenistan, and Venezuela. [Times of India]

18 September 2018

Myanmar: UN agencies get green light to start work in Northern Rakhine

(jm) The Myanmar government has given permission to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) to send staff to Maungdaw town in northern Rakhine State to conduct assessments of people’s needs there. The UN agencies will be allowed to asses 23 villages and 3 other village tracts that have been chosen by the Burmese authorities. A reporting officer of the UNHCR said that it was the first step in implementing the Memorandum of Understanding signed by Myanmar and the UN agencies in June. Nonetheless, no starting date for the repatriation of the refugees has been given. [Myanmar Times 1]

Speaking about the Rohingya crisis at the World Economic Forum on ASEAN in Hanoi last week, State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi admitted that “with hindsight the situation could have been handled better”. [Myanmar Times 2]

18 September 2018

World Economic Forum on ASEAN in Hanoi

(ls) Last week, the World Economic Forum on ASEAN took place in Hanoi. Education, technology, and soft skills, related to the so-called Fourth Industrial Revolution, took center stage among the topics discussed. However, looking beyond ASEAN, fears of a trade war between the United States and China were voiced as they could sow distrust and damage progress being made to combat poverty. [The Straits Times 1] [The Straits Times 2]

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen took the opportunity to defend his country against the international condemnation of recent general elections, which were seen by many as a farce after the main opposition party was dissolved. He also came to the rescue of Myanmar against accusations that its military engaged in genocide against the country’s Rohingya minority, saying “the countries that do not know our countries, please leave us to solve our problems for ourselves.” Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi herself said that the government accepts “100 percent of accountability” for the conflict in Rakhine state. [Reuters] [Devex]

11 September 2018

ICC says it has jurisdiction over alleged crimes against Rohingya

(jm) The International Criminal Court (ICC) may have jurisdiction over crimes against humanity allegedly committed against members of the Rohingya people despite the fact that Myanmar is not a State member to the Rome Statute and that China opposes a UN Security Council’s decision. The Court stated that “an element of this crime – the crossing of a border – took place on the territory of a State party (Bangladesh).” The scope of this ruling covers only acts of deportation, but judges said that it should be extended to other crimes such as persecution or inhuman acts that are crimes against humanity. [Reuters 1] [The Guardian]

Myanmar officials said that they were “under no obligation” to respect the ICC’s ruling because it is “the result of faulty procedure and of dubious legal merit”. They added that the allegations were based on “narratives of harrowing personal tragedies” that “have nothing to do with the legal arguments in question”. [Al Jazeera]

Bangladesh asked once again the international community, including specifically the Islamic Development Bank, to increase the pressure on Myanmar to ensure the repatriation of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya. [Reuters 2]

11 September 2018

Myanmar government meets with Northern Alliance groups for the first time

(jm) The Myanmar government’s Union Peace Commission met for the first time with representatives of the Northern Alliance armed ethnic groups. The alliance is composed of groups that are not part of the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) and are still leading an insurgency against the Burmese government. [Myanmar Times 1] Meanwhile, in Kayin State, on the Thai border, clashes occurred last week between the Tatmadaw (army) and the Karen National Union (KNU), forcing over 1,000 persons to flee. [Myanmar Times 2]

11 September 2018

Reactions over the jailing of two Reuters journalists in Myanmar

(jm) After the verdict in Myanmar sentencing to jail two journalists that were reporting about a Rohingya massacre, a wave of protests has arisen. Small demonstrations were held all around the country, but also in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. The newspaper 7 Daily published a black front page while the Myanmar Times reacted with a cartoon showing a knife spearing a newspaper with the words “who’s next?”. [The Guardian 1]

Other newspapers in the world also condemned this decision such as Al Jazeera [Al Jazeera], The Irish Times [The Irish Times] or The Guardian [The Guardian 2], along with the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers and the World Editors Forum held on September 3 [The Straits Times]. The Court in Yangon received also criticisms from international organizations like the United Nations and the European Union and from governments’ officials from the United Kingdom [The Hindu], United States [National Public Radio] and France [France Diplomatie]. Aung San Suu Kyi, the de facto leader of Myanmar, remained silent [BBC]

4 September 2018

Myanmar court jails two Reuters journalists who reported on genocidal acts for 7 years

(jm) In a landmark case, the Yangon northern district court found two Reuters journalists guilty of breaching a law on state secrets and jailed both of them for seven years. Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo reported on a massacre of Rohingyas. They were caught with confidential documents. International observers called to free the two journalists. On Saturday, a march of more than 100 journalists and activists took place in Yangon. The two journalists can appeal the case. [Channel News Asia]

As reported in last week’s AiR, a U.N. Fact Finding Mission on Myanmar demanded criminal charges in an international court against Myanmar’s army commander and other top generals for charges of genocide.

4 September 2018

The situation of Myanmar’s Kachin minority and the role of China

(jm) The non-governmental organization Fortify Rights has accused China not only of helping but also of pushing the Myanmar government to bar humanitarian assistance from entering into Kachin State. Moreover, the NGO criticized that Chinese authorities were harassing groups that were helping displaced communities. According to some estimates, there are more than 100,000 refugees exploited in China, including women and girls used for human trafficking. The NGO called the United Nations Security Council to take measures to refer Myanmar to the International Criminal Court for these crimes, in addition to the charges related to the massacres of Rohingya. [Time]

28 August 2018

One year after crackdown on Rohingya, international community demands criminal prosecution

(jm) One year after the violent displacement of Rohingya by Myanmar security forces, labeled as a “textbook example of genocide” by United Nations officials, a U.N. Fact Finding Mission on Myanmar demanded criminal charges in an international court against Myanmar’s army commander and other top generals. The panel, led by Marzuki Darusman, a former Indonesian attorney general, is to present its report to the Human Rights Council in Geneva next month. [New York Times 1] Meanwhile, new footage captured by Rohingya people in the aftermath of the genocidal acts emerged and constitutes further evidence of the events. [New York Times 2]

Despite a Memorandum of Understanding between Myanmar and Bangladesh signed in November 2017, the repatriation of Rohingya has still not started. Rather, since the beginning of the year, 13,000 more refugees arrived in Bangladesh. [Reuters 1] With 700,000 refugees living in Bangladesh and between 530,000 and 600,000 homeless Rohingyas still living in Rakhine State, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) sees the risk that a full generation of Rohingya can be lost because of the inadequate living condition. [Reuters 2]

Several areas in Myanmar (including in Rakhine State) can be visited only with an authorization. Requests by U.N. agencies to grant them a full access to Rakhine in order to observe the situation were rejected by Burmese authorities. [Reuters 3] Meanwhile, 132 deputies from five Southeast Asian parliaments demanded Myanmar to be investigated by the International Criminal Court in a joint statement. [The Guardian]

Meanwhile, the Bangladeshi government considers a new method to implement an investigation mechanism for Myanmar. Taking the example of Syria where the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution establishing the international, impartial and independent mechanism (IIIM), Bangladesh envisions a similar strategy for the case of Myanmar. Such mechanism is meant to assist in the investigation and prosecution of persons responsible for the most serious crimes under international law by collecting evidence, without the involvement of a court or a prosecutor. [BdNews24]

28 August 2018

Aung San Suu Kyi calls for constitutional amendment in Myanmar

(jm) Myanmar’s State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi called for an amendment of the country’s military-drafted constitution. She said that the country’s democratic transition cannot be completed until the Constitution is amended, referring to the provisions that ensure the Tatmadaw (military) at least 25% of the seats in parliament and give them the power to block any constitutional changes. She said that “we will bring about these changes through negotiation”. [Myanmar Times]

21 August 2018

Myanmar: Sanctions against Myanmar military; Facebook reacts to criticism

(jm) After the European Union and Canada, the USA has imposed sanctions on the Myanmar military for “ethnic cleansing, massacres, sexual assault, extrajudicial killings and other serious human rights abuses” committed against Rohingya people. The sanctions target four individual persons and two military units. [New York Times]

Meanwhile, Facebook acknowledged the problem of regular hate speeche and fake news against the Muslim community and explained the company’s failure to intervene by the lack of Burmese speaking staff. The social media network said that 60 Burmese speakers have been hired since June. [Reuters 1]. Researchers and human rights activists have been warning Facebook for years about how its platform was being used to spread hatred against the Rohingya and other Muslims in Myanmar. [Reuters 2]

The Thai-led Rakhine advisory panel submitted to State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi its final report consisting of 12 points implement the recommendations of the Kofi Annan-led commission on northern Rakhine. The two most important recommendations are concerning the establishment of an independent inquiry commission on accusations of human rights abuses made by the Tatmadaw in northern Rakhine and the need of fair investigations on this issue. The government reiterated that it is not willing to be subjected to international pressure. [Myanmar Times]

21 August 2018

Myanmar: Villagers flee skirmishes between armed ethnic groups

(jm) Nearly 1,700 people fled their homes because of a five-hour fight in Shan state. The Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS) that signed the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) fights against the Northern Alliance’s Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) and Shan State Progress Party (SSPP), two Northern Alliance armed groups that are not part to the NCA. The Tatmadaw, the Northern Alliance groups and RCSS all claim that the area of Namtu is under their control. [Myanmar Times]

14 August 2018

Myanmar rejects ICC request for jurisdiction

(jm) The International Criminal Court (ICC) is trying to initiate investigations on alleged Human Rights abuses in Rakhine State in Myanmar. Since the country isn’t a member of the Rome Statute and a decision from the United Nation Security Council would likely be blocked by a Chinese veto, the ICC asked the Burmese government to grant the jurisdiction over suspected deportations of Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar to Bangladesh. Myanmar officials declined the request. The office of the State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi said that such request was “an indirect attempt to acquire jurisdiction over Myanmar”. [Reuters]

14 August 2018

Twitter fighting back against fake accounts in Southeast Asia

(jk) Twitter has announced it had taken steps to delete fake accounts in the region. Fake accounts, or “bots”, have increasingly come under closer scrutiny for how they are perceived to influence politics in the region after elections in Cambodia and Malaysia, but also in Myanmar where bots would send out anti-Rohingya and pro-military messages.  They also target particular hashtags and flood these with politically biased messages in an attempt to influence the narrative. Twitter suspended roughly 6,000 fake or automated accounts in Cambodia, but it remains very doubtful whether this will really solve the problem of sophisticated dis-information or influence campaigns. [Nikkei Asian Review]

Another very serious case, as previously reported in these pages, is how rumours or allegations can spread via WhatsApp in particular [see AiR India] and cause immediate lynch mobs to go after alleged perpetrators.

7 August 2018

Myanmar: 275 political prisoners in Myanmar, group says

(jm) According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, an independent non-profit organization of former Myanmar political prisoners, there are currently 275 people imprisoned for their political activities in the country. 36 political prisoners were released in April under the President’s amnesty. It seems that most of the prisoners were arrested on suspicion of violating the Unlawful Association Act. The group urged the government to revise the law in order to protect citizens’ rights, so peace and reconciliation can be reached. It also threatened the government that it will submit a report to the Human Right Commission if it receives news of torture of political prisoners, claiming that the “use of tortures to get information from detainees is still common in detention centers and prisons.” [Myanmar Times]

7 August 2018

Myanmar: UN council to commemorate Myanmar crackdown on Rohingya

(jm) The British Ambassador to the United Nations (UN) announced that the UN Security Council (UNSC) is planning to commemorate the one-year anniversary of Myanmar’s violent crackdown that led about 700,000 Rohingya Muslims to flee to Bangladesh on August 28. The meeting will aim to push Myanmar to grant “unconditional access” to the UN refugee and development agencies in order to establish “a credible plan to get the refugees back home in safety, dignity and security.”

UN human rights chief, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, has called for the issue to be referred to the International Criminal Court, however, the referral would have to be made by the UNSC, in which China holds veto-power and is likely to use it on this issue. [The Herald Whig]

7 August 2018

Belt and Woes Myanmar Edition: Chinese backed port project under scrutiny

(jk) The perception of the Chinese Belt and Road project is slowly changing, even in the countries most depended on Chinese money. The much discussed Hambantota Port in Sri Lanka, which was given to the Chinese on an extensive lease after the country was unable to honour their loan repayment commitments to the People’s Republic. Far from being the only example, Hambantota port has made the rounds as a negative example of what the Chinese infrastructure investments can lead to if not dealt with carefully. Chinese investment often comes in the form of concessional loans from Chinese policy banks. Nonetheless, concessionality varies and it is financing that needs to be paid back, with interest. And to the lenders it matters little whether the project delivers domestic economic benefits or not. This can be in contrast to development aid from other countries or organisations, which often comes in the form of grants. It is also different to private investments, which are usually based on sound and extensive economic calculations. Investments are vetted and, in most cases, they will happen only if there is strong reason to believe there will be return on the investment. But in particular port projects, for example in Malaysian under the previous government, have created some suspicion around the fact that the current Malaysian ports are already working below capacity, so suspicion as to Chinese (or Malaysian) motives is valid.

China has thus far invested in over 40 ports ranging from Africa, Europe, to the Indian-Ocean and to Southeast Asia and beyond [GB Times].

Myanmar, which up until this point had been an unlikely candidate to reconsider Chinese investment has done exactly that. A key port for the Chinese infrastructure project on the western tip of Myanmar’s conflict-torn Rakhine state is now under massive scrutiny for its development plans. The initial $7.3bn price tag on the Kyaukpyu deep-water port, was too much for the Myanmar government to accept, especially after witnessing what happened in Sri Lanka. The aim is to scale down the port project significantly to around $1bn, an amount the country is more likely to be able to repay [The Guardian]. The port is strategically important as it would help China to re-route energy imports that way and alleviate its “Malacca-dilemma”, referring to the chocking point of the Malacca strait through which most of Chinese energy imports flow.

31 July 2018

Myanmar appoints a panel to probe Rohingya abuses

(jm/ls) Myanmar has established a commission of inquiry to probe allegations of human rights abuses in conflict-torn Rakhine state. The four-person commission will be comprised of two local and two international members. This commission is supposed to investigate on the alleged human rights abuses made by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army that were revealed by a report from Amnesty International. Myanmar has always denied allegations of ethnic cleansing against Rohingya and has tried to blame them as terrorists. [Reuters]

The United Nations Security Council last week urged Myanmar to step up efforts for Rohingya refugees to return to the country safely and voluntarily. The UN envoy for Myanmar said the government was favourable toward a return to Rakhine for the hundreds of thousands of Rohingyas who fled the area, but also noted that tensions remain between Muslim Rohingyas and the Buddhist majority. [Mizzima]

24 July 2018

Myanmar: Third round of the Panglong Peace Conference

(jm) After six days, the parties to the Panglong Peace Conference agreed on a 14 principles agreement. At this meeting, armed ethnic groups that did not sign the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) were invited to attend. [Xinhua]

During the conference which was supposed to be a symbol of peace, the Tatmadaw (military) and Karen National Union (which is a signatory of the NCA) clashed twice in Kayin State. One military soldier was reported dead [Myanmar Times].

24 July 2018

Myanmar: Citing lack of progress, secretary to Myanmar’s Rohingya panel quits

(jm) The Thai secretary to an international panel set up by Myanmar to advise on the Rohingya crisis has quit his post. He said that the international panel was unable to do anything concrete, particularly because it had been barred from accepting international funding or setting up a permanent offices and was told to conduct meetings online. He added that: “The danger now is that it’s going to divert attention from the issues, give a false impression that things are being done.” This is the second member of this panel to walk out after the veteran U.S. politician Bill Richardson in January. [Reuters]

17 July 2018

Myanmar: First United Nations office opens in Nay Pyi Taw

(jm) For the first time, the United Nations opened an office in Nay Pyi Taw, the capital of Myanmar. Though the office will mostly work on the implementation of an MoU signed by Myanmar and the UN Development Program and UN High Commissioner for Refugees regarding voluntary repatriation, it has a wider task. A UN assistant secretary general said that “This UN office symbolizes the UN’s effort to coordinate and do its utmost to support the government and people of Myanmar and live up to the values enshrined in the UN charter”. [Myanmar Times]

17 July 2018

Myanmar: Panglong conference opens as leaders call for peace process to move forward

(jm) After being postponed five times due to disputes between the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) signatories, the third round of the Panglong conference finally began. It is expected to take up only those topics that could easily be agreed by the negotiators, while avoiding points of contention, mostly on questions of federalism. The conference that is supposed to be held twice a year is part of the peacebuilding process in Myanmar that aims to end conflicts between the army and the ethnic armed organizations that last since the country’s independence in 1948. 37 points were signed at the last round of the conference. The ruling party wishes to amend the constitution but most of the amendments still need the consent of the military, which occupies 25 percent of seats in the legislature. [Myanmar Times]

10 July 2018

Myanmar: Reuters journalists charged with violation of secrets act

(jk) A judge ruled on Monday that the two Reuters journalists who went through several months of hearings to determine if there was enough evidence to support the charges will now go to trial over the violation of the official secrets act during their report on the Rohingya refugee crisis. The charges against the reporters carry a punishment of up to 14 years in prison. [The Washington Post]

10 July 2018

Myanmar: Officials claim repatriation is under way

(jm) The vice chair of the Union Enterprise for Humanitarian Assistance, Resettlement and Development in Rakhine (UEHRD) said that the process of repatriation of Rohingyas has started under the agreements signed with Bangladesh and UN agencies.

Conversely, no starting date for the repatriation was given because some final discussions are still needed according to the UEHRD. Moreover, Bangladesh provided a list of 8 000 refugee’s names, but Myanmar said that some people on the list did not have complete records and could not be verified as residents of northern Rakhine. [Myanmar Times]

3 July 2018

Myanmar: Amnesty accuses, EU and Canada sanction Myanmar generals over Rohingya

(jm) A new report released by Amnesty International says that top Myanmar military officials should be tried for crimes against humanity for a systematic attack on Rohingya Muslims. In addition to allegations of rape and torture, Amnesty also declared that the offensive was prepared by the military before the attacks despite the Tatmadaw has always that the crackdown was in response to an insurgency. The NGO urged the International Criminal Court to try 13 military leaders which seems unlikely since Myanmar is not a member to the Rome Statute and the United Nations Security Council would face the opposition of Russia and China before bringing the case to the Court. [BBC News]

The European Union imposed sanctions on seven senior military officials from Myanmar accused of having played a role in the Rohingya crisis. This marks a shift in European diplomacy that had suspended its sanctions on Myanmar in 2012 in support to the country’s democratic transition. Canada sanctioned the same 7 militaries. [Reuters 1]

Meanwhile, a copy of a secret Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed between the United Nations and Myanmar about the Rohingya crisis recently leaked. One provision in it says that “returnees will enjoy the same freedom of movement as all other Myanmar nationals in Rakhine State, in conformity with existing laws and regulations.” This was criticized by rights groups as it means that the MoU neither provides freedom of movement for Rohingya in the whole country, but only in the Rakhine State, nor offers any path to full citizenship. [Reuters 2]

3 July 2018

Laos, Myanmar downgraded in U.S. human trafficking ranking

(ls) The U.S. State Department downgraded Myanmar and Laos to Tier 3, its lowest ranking, in an annual report on human trafficking released today, citing the countries’ failure to make significant efforts to combat the trade. With regard to Myanmar, the report referred to the displacement of Rohingya and other ethnic minority groups, forced recruitment of child soldiers and reports that government officials were complicit in both sex and labor trafficking. [Radio Free Asia]

Efforts by Lao authorities generally failed to raise the country above their previous year’s ranking. Laos remains a source, destination, and transit country for women, children, and men “subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor,” the reports says. A large number of victims, particularly women and girls, are exploited in Thailand’s commercial sex industry while Lao men and boys are forced to work in Thai fishing fleets or on construction sites. [Asia Times]

26 June 2018

Myanmar: The Tatmadaw’s fear of Federalism

(jm) After many delays, the parties to the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) finally agreed to organize a third session of the 21st Century Panglong Union Peace Conference. They also agreed that discussions of the key federal principles of autonomy and non-secession will not be on the agenda. [The Irrawady]

Especially, the armed ethnic groups request the right to draft their own constitutions in order to define specific governance systems of the sub-state entities, and often to codify citizens’ rights within their territories. But the Tatmadaw fears that it would open the possibility for some states to secede which has always been strongly rejected. “Although the states are given full self-determination, it is only internal without separating from the Union”, said the director of Joint Monitoring Committee for Ceasefire at the second session of the 21st Century Panglong Conference. The armed ethnic groups presented twelve principles to the government as a “constitution standard”, and constitutions would have to be written within this framework. Despite this guarantee, the Tatmadaw are reluctant move ahead and will not discuss questions of federalism [Myanmar Times].

26 June 2018

Myanmar moves against term “Rohingya”  

(jm) The Ministry of Information in Myanmar has told Radio Free Asia and the BBC they will no longer be allowed to air their content on the state’s MRTV channel, if they keep using the term “Rohingya”. Both organizations then quit their partnerships in Myanmar as they refuse to censor their programs. They will still be available to Burmese people by shortwave, social media and websites [The Washington Post].

10 June 2018

Myanmar: UN sign pact on initial steps for Rohingya return

(jm) The cooperation between Myanmar and UN agencies passed a symbolic milestone with the signature of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) about the Rohingya crisis. The agreement should lead to the establishment of a “framework of cooperation” for creating conditions for “voluntary, safe, dignified and sustainable” repatriation of refugees.

Nonetheless, some Rights groups are reluctant to see that as a real progress. Partly it is because the MoU doesn’t address Myanmar’s denial of citizenship for the Rohingyas. Their legal recognition as an ethnic group has been denied by a law in 1982 which prevents them from having the country’s citizenship. Human Rights defenders don’t see how this agreement can guarantee a safe repatriation of the refugees and even less because Myanmar’s government already cooperated with UN agencies a quarter century earlier in repatriating 230,000 Rohingyas who fled to Bangladesh, with the result that we know today. [ABC News]

10 June 2018

Myanmar reviews $9bn China-backed port project on cost concerns

(jm) Myanmar’s concerns about the project of a Chinese backed port in Rakhine State grew up recently. This construction, which is part of the Belt and Road Initiative, is supposed to cost $9 billion but the Burmese government, fearing to default on its debt, is now negotiating with China to reduce the price. Lawmakers and government are afraid that the port could come under Chinese control if Myanmar fails to service its debt as it happened to Sri Lanka with the Hambantota’s port. An economist estimated that the amount of debt Myanmar would need to take on for this project would be around $2 billion, which means 3% of the country’s GDP. [Financial Times]

10 June 2018

Myanmar: Government accused of double-speak on political talks ban

 (jm) Angriness has risen up after the Ministry of Education released two statements about speeches in universities. The first one directly banned talks on political issues and required details to be submitted in advance for the organization of seminars or talk shows, including their titles, concept notes, names and biographies of all panelists, a list of participants, the place and date. The second one withdrew the interdiction of political matters but kept the prerequisite of the details submission and added that the topic must not differ from the one that was forecasted. Student unions, teacher associations and the public are urging the government to withdraw this statement. [Myanmar Times]

10 June 2018

Myanmar: Ethnic National Ceasefire Agreement signatories to meet for planning Union Peace Conference

(jm) The ethnic NCA signatories are scheduled join a meeting to discuss in Chiang Mai (Thailand) about the holding of the Union Peace Conference which has constantly been delayed these last months. The main disagreement remains the question of a unitary or federal State, but the Chief of the insurgent PaO National Liberation Organization which administers the Pa-O Self-Administered Zone consisting of the three townships Hopong, Hsi Hseng, and Pinlaung townships in southern Shan State assured that federal principles are only about delegating power and not about granting a right to secede. [Eleven Myanmar]

10 June 2018

Myanmar: Government launches talks to close all IDP camps

 (jm) Discussions were launched for establishing a strategic program to close Internal Displaced Person’s (IDP) camps in Kachin, Shan, Kayin and Rakhine states. The government still makes a difference between refugees in Kachin and Shan states who are victims of the fights between Tatmadaw and armed ethnic groups and those in Rakhine state who fled because of inter-communal violence. According to an official, there are more than 140 IDP camps holding 160,000 people in these four states. [Myanmar Times]

3 June 2018

Rohingya case before the ICC?

(jk) After the leading United Nations human rights official called for allegations of atrocities committed against the Muslim Rohingya minority in Myanmar to be referred to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for prosecution earlier in May, human rights lawyers representing 400 Rohingya have called upon the ICC in The Hague to open a criminal investigation into the continuing atrocities, including genocide, against the Rohingyas.[The Daily Star]

The UN Security Council has not yet referred Myanmar’s situation to the ICC due to internal opposition to doing so. Myanmar’s government has furthermore refused to allow access to a UN Fact-Finding Mission and barred the UN-appointed human rights expert on Myanmar from entering the country after she publicly reported on military abuses.

3 June 2018

Myanmar tightening control over university students

(am) Student organizations in Myanmar have objected to new restrictions by higher education officials on public speaking on campuses as the latest government assault on freedom of assembly and speech.

The order issued by Myanmar’s Department of Higher Education said students must get permission from rectors to hold events and must provide the titles of talks, the names and biographies of speakers, and the number of invitees and expected attendees. [Radio Free Asia]

27 May 2018

Myanmar: Chinese special envoy meets with ethnic groups over violent clashes at the border

(jm) Since an attack led by the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) occurred last week at the China-Myanmar border, pushing several civilians to flee out of Myanmar, China seems to have taken a more active role.

After meeting an umbrella organization bringing together several ethnic groups, asking them not to arm themselves, and calling the Northern Alliance armed ethnic groups (which include the TNLA) to participate in the next session of the 21st Century Panglong Conference, China’s special envoy on Asian Affairs met State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and a senior Tatmadaw chief on Tuesday. The talks mostly addressed the peace-process in Myanmar and the relations between the state and the ethnic groups. [Myanmar Times 1] [Myanmar Times 2]

The third round of the 21st Century Panglong Conference that was supposed to be held by the end of month will be delayed. The event is scheduled twice a year, but the last round took place one year ago. [Eleven Myanmar]

27 May 2018

Myanmar / Bangladesh: Repatriation struggles

(jm) Bangladesh´s Health Minister, attending the Commonwealth health ministers’ meeting, reportedly asked colleagues to put pressure on Myanmar to start repatriation of Rohingya refugees. [BD News 24]

At the same day, Myanmar requested neighbor Bangladesh to quickly start the repatriation process as possible, even if only regarding a moderate group of altogether only 2223 persons. [Myanmar Times]

27 May 2018

India’s new stance on Rohingyas as a new regional diplomacy effort

(ot) India’s External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj called for a “safe, secure, sustainable” return of the Rohingya refugees during her visit to Myanmar and reiterated India’s readiness to help Myanmar. Regarding India´s relations with Bangladesh, the new commitment is seen by some observers as a possible shift not only in India’s ties with Dhaka but also concerning its reclamation of a more assertive regional role.

In any case, the Rohingya crisis turns out to be a continuous test of India’s neighborhood diplomacy. Since the crisis emerged in August 2017, India has remained comparatively silent, focusing quite rigidly on the securitization of its own borders to repel the influx of potentially radicalized Muslim fighters. Especially for Bangladesh, despite India’s provision of some humanitarian assistance, India could have contributed more and more positively to the crisis. For India, both Bangladesh and Myanmar are critical for the peace and stability of India’s own conflict-ridden northeast. [The Diplomat]

27 May 2018

Thailand/Myanmar agree to boost anti-drug efforts

(am) Thailand and Myanmar have agreed on increased border cooperation to crackdown on the narcotics trade. Deputy Prime Minister and Justice Minister ACM Prajin Jantong, along with the Thai delegation, met with Myanmar’s Union Minister for Home Affairs Lt Gen Kyaw Swe where he confirmed the Thai government’s readiness to support joint efforts in all respects, which includes dedicating the necessary fund and human resources to Myanmar’s anti-drug effort. Following discussions, Thailand accepted Myanmar’s offer to boost cooperation on all security agendas other than narcotics. Both countries also agreed to hold regular ministerial meetings as well as a meeting on chemical products control between Thailand, Myanmar, Laos, and China. [National News Bureau of Thailand]

27 May 2018

Myanmar: New evidence reveals massacre by Rohingya armed group

(ls) An investigation conducted by Amnesty International has revealed that Rohingya militants belonging to the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) massacred 99 Hindu villagers during last year’s uprising in Myanmar’s Rakhine state. The killings took place on August 25, 2017, the report said, the same day that the Rohingya insurgents staged coordinated deadly raids on police posts that tipped the state into crisis. The report sheds light on the complex ethnic rivalries in Rakhine. [Amnesty International] Back in 2017, Myanmar’s military responded to the insurgent raids with harsh reprisals that forced some 700,000 Rohingya Muslims out of the mainly Buddhist country.

20 May 2018

Myanmar/India: India ramps up Myanmar ties to gain foothold in ASEAN

(jm) India’s External Affairs Minister met officials from Myanmar in a two day visit last week. Several projects of cooperation between the two countries were discussed and among them, the Indian representatives expressed his wish to accelerate the construction of the India-Myanmar-Thailand highway. According to the new “Act East” Indian policy, that replaces the former “Look East” policy, it seems that the country wants to get a foothold in ASEAN and compete with China by moving closer to Myanmar. [Myanmar Times]

20 May 2018

China-Myanmar: Ethnic conflicts on Myanmar side of the border condemned by China

(ls/jm) China condemned fighting on its border between Myanmar forces and ethnic rebels that has left 19 dead, mostly civilians, in some of the worst violence to rattle the restive frontier in recent years. The Chinese embassy in Yangon urged “relevant parties” to reach an immediate ceasefire. The violence “made people from the Myanmar side flee across the Chinese border, and stray bullets have entered into Chinese territory”, the statement added. However, observers believe Beijing has influence on some rebels near its border and is an important player in a difficult peace process steered by Myanmar’s civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi. [Agence France-Presse]

The attack led by the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) against a casino run by militiamen and a Myanmar army post, resulted in 19 people killed, including 15 civilians. A Myanmar government spokesman assured that Myanmar military are hunting down the insurgents. [Reuters]

20 May 2018

Bangladesh: US provides $44m additional humanitarian assistance for the Rohingya

(jm) While visiting the Rohingya refugees’ camp in Cox’s Bazar, USAID announced that the United States will provide, through USAID, $44 million in humanitarian assistance, firstly to support the Bangladesh’s efforts in this crisis, but also for other people affected by violence and conflict in Myanmar. This help may be used for providing food, medical care, shelters, and other primordial needs. [Dhaka Tribune]

20 May 2018

Myanmar: KNU and Tatmadaw making efforts to end clashes

(jm) The Karen National Union (KNU) and the Myanmar Military (Tatmadaw) have expressed their wish to stop the conflict between the Tatmadaw and the KNU’s armed branch, the Karen National Liberation Army. Nonetheless, there is still a crucial point over which the KNU does not want to concede before opening discussions with the Tatmadaw. It requests the army to stop reinforcing its troops and constructing military infrastructure in the state’s capital, which, according to the KNU, is breaching the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement. [Myanmar Times 1]

Tatmadaw declared that it has temporarily suspended the road construction in Hpapun township in Kayin State which was one of the most important demands from the KNU. It remains to be seen whether this decision will bring the KNU to participate at the third round of the 21st Century Panglong Conference at the end of May. [Myanmar Times 2]

13 May 2018

Myanmar: Pilot project for legal aid system

(jm) A new legal aid system is about to be created in Myanmar. Currently, the only help provided concerns free-of-charge lawyers to clients that have to face the capital punishment. But the Union Legal Aid Board (ULAB) is thinking about an effective legal aid system that could enable everyone to go to court, taking into consideration the meanings and the needs. After a workshop on this subject founded by the European Union and the British Embassy on 3rd May, the ULAB will start a study around the country to determine the characteristics of the system, according to the specificities of the regions, the states and the types of cases. [Myanmar Times]

13 May 2018

Myanmar: 93 Karen refugees head home from Thailand

(jm) While the government of Myanmar is already trying to solve displaced persons issues in Kachin and Rakhine States, 93 refugees from the Karen State, who live in Thailand, have gone home on Monday, 7th of May. The number of refugees in Thailand from Myanmar is expected around 100 000. Most of them fled the conflict between Myanmar’s army and the Karen guerillas that started at the beginning of the 1980’s. Though a peace agreement has been reached since, this peace stays precarious due to occasional skirmishes that have been reported in recent months. [Reuters]

13 May 2018

Myanmar: UN Security Council demands investigations and access for aid agencies

(ls/jm) Following its field visit last week, the United Nations Security Council urged Myanmar’s government on Wednesday to carry out transparent investigations into accusations of violence against mainly Rohingya Muslims in the country’s Rakhine state and to allow immediate aid access to the region. The SC urged Myanmar to conclude an agreement “in the coming days” with the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR and U.N. Development Programme on aid access in Rakhine and help with repatriating refugees from Bangladesh. [Reuters 1]

While preparing the statement of the United Nations Security Council’s delegation following their visit in Bangladesh and Myanmar, the Chinese representative initially contested some parts of the British drafts concerning suspicions of sexual violence and abuse, violence against children and the need for credible and transparent investigations. Instead, China wished to welcome “the efforts taken by the government of Myanmar to improve the situation in Rakhine” State. [Reuters 2]

In a parallel development, Islamic foreign ministers of the 53-member Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) launched a campaign to mobilize international support for action against Myanmar over the Rohingya refugee crisis. OIC secretary general Yousef bin Ahmed Al-Othaimeen said a new committee would “mobilize and coordinate international political support for accountability for human rights violations against the Rohingya community.” [The Straits Times]

6 May 2018

Myanmar: Security and human rights situation in Kachin State deteriorating

(jm) On Monday, over 5,000 people were in the streets of Myitkyina (Kachin State), protesting against the situation of civilians due to the conflict between Tatmadaw and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) that lasts for 7 years. Since the beginning of the conflict, more than 100,000 civilians had to leave their house and live now in refugee camps. 2,000 persons are trapped in the jungle. The group of demonstrators was composed of Kachin youths, leaders from social and religious organizations, ethnic residents and some refugees from camps near the city. [Myanmar Times 1]

U.N. Special Rapporteur on the situation of Human Rights in Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, alerted on the increase of killings, injuries and displacements of innocent civilians in Kachin State and also pointed out that a food convoy organized by the Myanmar Red Cross was prevented from entering in a village which left 100 civilians out of adequate access to food or medical supplies. [UN News]

The President’s Office spokesperson, U Zaw Htay assured that the government has rescued 200 persons that were trapped in the fight between the KIA and the Tatmadaw but he also affirmed that during this operation they saw people with weapon in the middle of civilians. He reminded that the humanitarian assistance should be on the benefit of civilians and not for the KIA members. [Myanmar Times 2]

6 May 2018

Myanmar: Aung San Suu Kyi promises investigations to UN Security Council

(ls/jm) Myanmar’s government leader Aung San Suu Kyi met with United Nations Security Council envoys on Monday over the fate of nearly 700,000 mainly Rohingya Muslims who fled to Bangladesh, pledging to investigate any credible accusations of abuse. Suu Kyi’s office also said in a statement after the meeting that cooperation was needed from Bangladesh on the repatriation of refugees. [Reuters] During the trip to Myanmar, UN delegates met also the head of the army, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, who denied his forces had committed rape and other sexual abuses during a crackdown which he ordered. “The Tatmadaw [army] is always disciplined … and takes action against anyone who breaks the law,” he told the delegates. [South China Morning Post] Meanwhile, in a surprising ruling in favor of two jailed Reuters reporters, the judge in the case announced Wednesday that he would accept evidence from a police captain who testified that an officer was ordered to entrap one of the journalists. The police captain has been sentenced in secret to a year in prison for an unspecified violation of the police disciplinary code. Prosecutors had urged the judge to declare him a hostile witness. In rejecting their motion, the judge said he found the captain credible. [The New York Times] At the time of their arrest, the two Reuters reporters were investigating the extrajudicial killing of 10 Rohingya men in the village of Inn Din in the north of Rakhine state.

6 May 2018

Bangladesh: Pres. Trump assures to keep pressuring for Rohingya repatriation

(jm) In a letter given by the U.S. ambassador to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, the President of the United States recognized the Bengladeshi government’s efforts in the Rohingyas crisis and affirmed that his country will keep pressure on Myanmar in order to enable the return of the refugees. USAID President, Mark Green, and the CEO of the Carter Center will visit Bangladesh soon. The ambassador also congratulated the Prime Minister for the women development and empowerment in Bangladesh. [The Daily Star 1]

This support from the U.S.A. comes few days after Sheikh Hasina declared that her government is expecting China, Russia, India and Japan to play an important role into the Rohingya crisis. [The Daily Star 2]

6 May 2018

Myanmar/Bangladesh: UNSC Delegation visit

(jm) A delegation of the United Nation Security Council visited several parts of Bangladesh and Myanmar related to the Rohingya crisis.

A central issue is the lacking part of the overall budget of 951 million of U.S. dollars needed to execute a plan to repatriate the refugees. With the monsoon season, the situation of the Rohingya already worsened.

On occasion of press conference with the representatives of the UNSC and discussions on the role of Myanmar, the representatives of China and Russia were skeptical about the possibility to support a binding UNSC resolution for the time being. [What’s in Blue]

29 April 2018

ASEAN Summit: South China Sea issue on the schedule – Rohingya issue most likely not

(ls) Southeast Asian leaders will focus on trade wars and security tensions in the disputed South China Sea at the 32nd ASEAN summit in Singapore this weekend. ASEAN hopes that a code of conduct it is currently negotiating with China will ease the dispute in the South China Sea. Critics have said the code, which is expected to be non-binding, would only be an incremental step since it would not force China to back-track on its moves. Referring to the Rohingya crisis, Singapore Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said before the summit, “the political responsibility and accountability have to be with the Myanmar government. They have to find a political solution.” [Reuters]

However, ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights have urged Southeast Asia’s leaders in an open letter to address pressing human rights issues when they meet. They asked ASEAN not to overlook human rights concerns, even as the regional grouping focuses on tackling regional security challenges and promoting economic integration. [The Straits Times]

Myanmar’s unofficial leader Aung San Suu Kyi will not attend the summit. This is the first time for her to skip a summit since her party came to power in 2016. A government spokesman did not explain why Suu Kyi, who has dual roles of state counsellor and foreign minister, will miss the summit and whether it might be due to criticism of her and the government’s handling of the Rohingya refugee crisis. [South China Morning Post]

Ahead of the summit, The Diplomat has received draft copies of two important policy documents that are set to be released at the conclusion of the summit: the ASEAN Leaders’ Vision for A Resilient and Innovative ASEAN and the Zero Draft of the Chairman’s Statement of 32nd ASEAN Summit. Carl Thayer provides a summary of the two papers. [The Diplomat]

29 April 2018

Security Council visits Bangladesh and Myanmar; EU extends arms embargo on Myanmar

(ls) The United Nations Security Council will have a firsthand look at the situation of 700,000 Rohingya Muslims who fled a military crackdown in Myanmar and the several hundred thousand who remain in the country’s northern Rakhine State. The U.N. ambassadors have scheduled an inspection of Cox’s Bazaar in southern Bangladesh, where the Rohingya who fled are now living in camps. They also will visit the Bangladesh capital, Dacca, and Myanmar’s capital, Naypyitaw, for talks with government officials before traveling to Rakhine on Tuesday. [The Washington Post]

Meanwhile, the European Union has extended for one year its embargo on arms and equipment against the Myanmar military amid concerns these weapons could be used as tools for ‘internal repression’. The prohibition also covers the export of dual-use goods for use by the military and border guard police and that of equipment for monitoring communications. [Myanmar Times]

22 April 2018

Facebook in SEA

(jk) News on Facebook this past week have much focused on its CEO’s testimony before the US congress. A lot is happening in Southeast Asia as well:

Authorities in Indonesia recently threatened to ban Facebook unless the company gets a handle on privacy and fake news. The government may be worried about fake accusations about President Joko Widodo’s alleged communist sympathies or collusion with China ahead of next year’s elections [Bloomberg]. Much like Zuckerberg in the US Congress, Facebook employees in Indonesia had to face tough questions from lawmakers [The Straits Times 1].

In the Philippines, where Facebook has appointed two online news platforms (Rappler, which continues to operate pending an appeal over its shutdown, and VERA Files) for a joint project to monitor and stop the spreading of fake news, its choice has been criticized by the government, alleging the selected news organisations are biased against President Duterte [The Straits Times 2]. The government also said it is investigating the social media firm over reports information from more than a million users in the Philippines was breached by British data firm Cambridge Analytica [Voice of America].

In Cambodia, Facebook is in the middle of a lawsuit (filed in California in February) by former leader of the now-dissolved opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), Sam Rainsy alleging that Prime Minister Hun Sen has used the social network to deceive Cambodia’s electorate as part of a broader campaign to destroy the political opposition and free media [Reuters].

Moreover, in Myanmar, Facebook was accused of facilitating the incitement of hatred and spreading hate speech during the genocide. A recent UN Fact-Finding Mission concluded that social media has played a “determining role” in the crisis [TechCrunch].

22 April 2018

Bangladesh/Myanmar: Repatriation of Rohingya paralyzed

(ls) The Bangladeshi government and the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) disputed Myanmar’s claim it had repatriated five members of a Rohingya family, saying neither the government of Bangladesh nor the aid agency had any involvement in any such repatriation. Myanmar and Bangladesh agreed in January to complete a voluntary repatriation of the refugees in two years. [Reuters]

22 April 2018

Myanmar: Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement in crisis

(jk) In Myanmar, where recent focus has been mostly on the Rohingya refugee crisis, conflict and ethnic tensions are ubiquitous. The central government and many armed ethnic opposition groups are once again getting ever-closer to an eruption of violence. In a precarious situation, with many groups fighting for federal autonomy, a major achievement has been the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) of 2015. The NCA, however rests on very shaky grounds, writes Anthony Davis [linkedIn].

15 April 2018

Myanmar military: Blacklisted by UN over sexual violence against Rohingya

(hg) For the first time, Myanmar’s armed forces are put on a UN blacklist of government and rebel groups “credibly suspected” of carrying out rapes and other acts of sexual violence in conflict.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres’ report to the Security Council refers documentation proving that many of the almost 700,000 Rohingya Muslims who fled from Myanmar “bear the physical and psychological scars of brutal sexual assault” allegedly perpetrated by the Myanmar Armed Forces, known as the Tatmadaw, “at times acting in concert with local militias, in the course of military ‘clearance’ operations in October 2016 and August 2017”.

The report, which will be a focus of a UN Security Council meeting on preventing sexual violence in conflict scheduled for Monday, puts 51 government, rebel and extremist groups on the list.

They include 17 from Congo including the armed forces and national police, seven from Syria including the armed forces and intelligence services, six each from Central African Republic and South Sudan, five from Mali, four from Somalia, three from Sudan, one each from Iraq and Myanmar, and Boko Haram which operates in several countries.

In an awful calculation, sexual violence continues to serve as a “push factor” for forced displacements, often impacting on generations as a result of trauma, stigma, poverty, health damages and unwanted pregnancy leaving entire populations “collectively traumatised”.

The report said children born of this violence have been labelled “bad blood” or “children of the enemy” warning that this vulnerability “may leave them susceptible to recruitment, radicalisation and trafficking”.

Guterres said many women, including Rohingya refugees, are reluctant to return to locations they fled where alleged perpetrators remain in control.  concluding: “[M]ost incidents of mass rape continue to be met with mass impunity”.  [South China Morning Post]

15 April 2018

Myanmar: Reuters reporters who documented a massacre of Rohingya Muslims continue to be jailed

(hg) Two Reuters reporters who documented a massacre of Rohingya Muslims being accused to have violated the Official Secrets Act remain in detention.

In a case that has provoked international condemnation, the two were arrested in December while investigating the September 2017 murder of 10 Rohingya civilians. The reporters obtained photos of the 10 victims kneeling before their execution with their hands tied behind their backs and also found the mass grave. The judge’s decision on the detention of the Reuters reporters came barely 12 hours after the military announced that four army officers and three soldiers had been sentenced to 10 years at hard labor for their roles in the massacre. By contrast, the – Myanmar Reuters journalist face up to 14 years in prison under the colonial-era secrets act.  [The New York Times]

Sadly, in many countries security officials responsible for murder in course of operations would not even sentenced at all.

8 April 2018

“Fake news” vs. freedom of expression and free elections in Southeast Asia

(ls/thn) As expected, Malaysia’s parliament has approved the law prohibiting fake news. As AiR reported last week, it is the first measure of its kind in the world and would allow for up to six years in prison for publishing or circulating misleading information – this means „any news, information, data and reports which are wholly or partly false, whether in the form of features, visuals or audio recordings or in any other form of capable suggesting words or ideas.“ This also concerns fake news generated outside the country, as long as Malaysia or Malaysians are affected. [New York Times 1]

“This law is not intended to restrict freedom of speech but to restrict the dissemination of fake news,” said de facto law minister Azalina Othman Said. Human Rights Watch Asia Director Brad Adams said that “the Malaysian government has no monopoly on the truth, but it is attempting to be the arbiter of what can and can’t be said and written.” [Straits Times 1]

In an intriguing piece, Alwyn Lau examines the new fake news legislation from a Zizekian perspective, holding that the fight against fake news may prove fatal to reality itself as the social world cannot survive without its fictions. Against the background of the fact that most observers suspect that the primary motif behind the law to be the suppression of news critical of the ruling regime, he writes that, ironically, in order to protect its own lies, the government employs a law about ensuring only the truth is disseminated. [New Mandala]

Certainly, the Malaysian law needs to be seen in a wider Asian context. Reuters has compiled a factbox about actions by Asian governments to crack down on fake news. [Reuters]

The Indonesian Communications Minister threatened to shut down Facebook and other social media platforms if there is any evidence that the personal data of citizens is being harvested or if the platforms fail to crack down on “fake news” during upcoming elections. [Straits Times 2]

In Myanmar, civil society groups on Thursday criticized Facebook’s chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, arguing that he mischaracterized his company’s effectiveness at detecting and quashing messages encouraging violence in the country. Facebook has become a major channel for the spread of hate speech and propaganda in Myanmar that has encouraged and obfuscated ethnic cleansing of the country’s Muslim Rohingya, according to human rights groups. [New York Times 2]

Moreover, the parent company of Cambridge Analytica allegedly helped put the Philippines’ president Rodrigo Duterte into office, according to media reports and information pulled from the firm’s website. The company said on their website that in the run up to the 2016 election its client, Duterte, was perceived as kind and honourable, but that the firm rebranded him as a strong, no-nonsense man of action to win. [South China Morning Post]

8 April 2018

Rohingya crisis: UN Security Council to visit Myanmar – Duterte speaks of “genocide”

(ls) Myanmar has agreed to a visit by the UN Security Council after months of resistance. Peruvian Ambassador Gustavo Meza-Cuadra, who holds the council’s rotating presidency, said details of the itinerary had yet to be finalized, including whether the government would allow the council to visit Rakhine state. [The Straits Times 1]

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said on Thursday that “genocide” was taking place in Myanmar and he was willing to accept Rohingya Muslim refugees fleeing from it, though Europe should help too. So far, other ASEAN countries have refrained from referring to the incidents in Rakhine as genocide, following ASEAN’s policy of non-interference with internal affairs. [The Straits Times 2]

1 April 2018

Myanmar: Amal Clooney to represent Reuters reporters held in custody

(ls) Human rights lawyer Amal Clooney has joined the legal team representing two Reuters reporters jailed in Myanmar, who are accused of possessing secret government papers. A court in Yangon still has to decide whether Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, who had been working on a Reuters investigation into the killing of ten Rohingya Muslim men in western Myanmar’s Rakhine state during an army crackdown, will be charged under the Officials Secrets Act. “The outcome of this case will tell us a lot about Myanmar’s commitment to the rule of law and freedom of speech,” said Clooney. [Reuters]




1 April 2018

Myanmar’s new president U Win Myint

(ls) U Win Myint, a longtime loyalist to Myanmar’s civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi and, until last week, speaker of Parliament’s lower house, will be Myanmar’s new president. He succeeds U Htin Kyaw, 71, who resigned last week after two years on the job. U Win Myint was chosen on Wednesday to assume the largely ceremonial role in which he is expected to be the official conduit for Suu Kyi’s authority. [The New York Times]

In a portrait on Frontier Myanmar, Win Myint is described as a decisive leader. Like many members of the opposition movement during the years of military rule, Win Myint has been jailed several times. Since having assumed political offices, he has spoken in defence of farmers rights and called for the assets of government officials to be publicly revealed. According to Frontier Myanmar, his accession to the presidency has largely been met with a positive response inside the country. [Frontier Myanmar]

1 April 2018

Myanmar/Bangladesh drug trafficking

(hg) Bangladesh security forces have seized nearly nine million methamphetamine pills (yaba) in less than three months as a massive influx of Rohingya refugees brings increased smuggling from Myanmar. The pills have become an easy source of income also for some Rohingya who act as ‘yaba’ carriers, handing over the pills to dealers on the Bangladesh side of the border who then take them to the country’s main cities. The pills are produced in bathroom-sized labs on the Myanmar side of the border, according to a Bangladeshi counter-narcotic official. [Frontier Myanmar]

25 March 2018

Myanmar: President and Aung San Suu Kyi confidante resigns

(jk) Myanmar’s first president since the 1960s to have no connections to the military and a close friend and political ally of ASSK has stepped down amid health concerns and an upcoming period of health treatments and surgeries. [Frontier Myanmar]

The timing of the resignation is difficult due to the widely condemned and continuing Rohingya crisis the government is facing. The President, who according to the constitution, holds executive authority, needs to be willing to follow ASSK’s lead for her to be in the de-facto leadership position she is in. This was provided with her longtime friend and ally in the position but is more uncertain now. [The Guardian]

For now, the presidency will be held by the military-nominated vice-president Myint Swe. He is an ex-military officer who oversaw the brutal crackdown of the Saffron revolution in 2007. Parliament is expected to vote in a new President this week. It is possible that a different President will take back some authority from ASSK, which would presumably please critics who have pointed out that despite her being formally banned from leading the country, has centralized way too much power in her own hands within her party.

25 March 2018

Myanmar: New breeding ground for Terrorist Networks?

(jk) The ongoing and relentless persecution of the Rohingya could prove fertile ground for terrorist networks recruiting members in Southeast Asia. A number of terror organisations, e.g. the Islamic State and Al Qaeda, have already claimed to avenge the atrocities committed against Muslims in Myanmar [RSIS]. While the Rohingya themselves, by and large, have not yet radicalised despite the continuous onslaught on the minority, it is crucial to monitor the situation and resolve the crisis also to prevent radicalisation [Konrad-Adenauer Stiftung].

18 March 2018

Myanmar/international community: UN adviser on genocide on international failure to protect Rohingya from atrocities in Myanmar

(hg) According to the responsible UN Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide and on the Responsibility to Protect, Adama Dieng, the international community, including the UN, has failed to protect the Rohingyas in Myanmar´s Rakhine state where they faced atrocities amounting to international crimes. “Despite the numerous warnings I have made of the risk of atrocity crimes, the international community has buried its head in the sand. This has cost the Rohingya population of Myanmar their lives, their dignity and their homes,” he said. “We all have failed. This is a collective failure.” Continuing: “Let us be clear: international crimes were committed in Myanmar. Rohingya Muslims have been killed, tortured, burnt alive and humiliated, solely because of who they are,” and: “All the information I have received indicates that the intent of the perpetrators was to cleanse northern Rakhine state of their existence, possibly even to destroy the Rohingya as such, which, if proven, would constitute the crime of genocide.”

According to the Framework of Analysis for Atrocity Crimes prepared by UN in 2014, the term “atrocity crimes” Dieng used to assess the situation refers to three legally-defined international crimes: genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. The UN Secretary-General’s Special Advisers on the Prevention of Genocide and on the Responsibility to Protect have a complementary mandate to work together to advance national and international efforts to protect populations from these crimes and their incitement. Dieng said the UN might collect evidence of genocide through a judicial investigation now: “The judicial commission can make a legal determination and say what happened is genocide in Rakhine” urging the international community, in particular the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), to consider different “accountability options”. Given that Myanmar is no party to the Rome Statute, the ICC Treaty, he also reiterated that Sudan and Libya had also not been state parties to the convention whereas the international crimes committed in these countries were referred to the ICC by the UN Security Council. [The Daily Star]

18 March 2018

Myanmar: UN demand investigation of crimes committed against Rohingya 

(ls) The UN special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, speaking to the Human Rights Council (HRC) on Monday, said that repressive practices of previous military governments were returning as the norm in Myanmar. Yee called for the creation of an independent investigative body to “investigate, document, collect, consolidate, map, and analyse evidence of human rights violations and abuses”. Three experts of the UN fact-finding mission on Myanmar, who also addressed the HRC about their ongoing investigation, said that the evidence they had collected “points at human rights violations of the most serious kind, in all likelihood amounting to crimes under international law”. [The Guardian]

The Myanmar government rejected the allegations. At the same time, repatriations of Rohingya, agreed upon by the governments of Bangladesh and Myanmar are proceeding very slowly. About 8,000 of the hundreds of thousands of Rohingya now crowded into the Bangladesh camps have said they are willing to be repatriated, according to a list drawn up by the Bangladeshi authorities. However, only 374 applicants have been verified and approved by the Myanmar government so far. [The New York Times]

18 March 2018

Bangladesh: The hopeless Rohingya refugee situation

(hg) A report on an example for the daily crime and violence in form of gang fights in Bangladesh´s Rohingya refugee camps can be found at Mizzima. It highlights once more the worsening situation of depravation, despair and misuse of and among the almost 1 million interned in these camps. [Mizzima 1]

Meanwhile, despite some more positive government responses in Dhaka [Mizzima 2] Bangladesh finance minister has accused Myanmar of obstructing efforts to repatriate roughly 750,000 Rohingya refugees to their country of origin despite the repatriation deal signed between Myanmar and Bangladesh in November last year. He accused Myanmar to refuse to take back greater numbers of refugees, who on the other side would refuse to return as long as a would have to fear for their lives, adding “[t]hey (Myanmar) are absolute evil”. [Mizzima 2] [Mizzima 3]

The head of an UN fact-finding mission denied visas by Myanmar and a special envoy on human rights in Myanmar who has been blocked from visiting the country, both spoke in Geneva on Monday with Yanghee Lee, the envoy, saying the atrocities in Myanmar would “bear the hallmarks of genocide”. [The Daily Star 1]

Especially some thousands Rohingya refugees living in a no man’s land between the borders who were among the first to flee Myanmar in the wake of a military crackdown on the Muslim minority August last year refused to return to Myanmar without guarantees of citizenship and security. [Mizzima 4]

In fact, Myanmar has indeed only verified 374 Rohingya Muslim refugees for possible repatriation from Bangladesh out of a first list with 8,032 refugees provided by the Bangladesh government as the first batch to repatriate. The Myanmar authorities refused others, because some documents did not include fingerprints and individual photographs and were therefore “not in line with our agreement” as a Burmese police Brigadier-General commented, adding that Myanmar had found three “terrorists” among the people Bangladesh was proposing for repatriation. [The Daily Star 1]

According to an UN Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide and on the Responsibility to Protect the majority of the Rohingyas wants to return to Myanmar, but only when they are able to do so in safety, dignity and with access to the basic rights including citizenship. “So far, the Myanmar authorities have shown no genuine efforts to allow this. In fact, refugees continue to cross the border.” [The Daily Star 2]

Given the situation as it looks, UN agencies and Bangladesh government have assessed the need for $950 million fund to run relief operations in Rohingya camps for another 10 months with the monsoon soon arriving putting nearly 100,000 refugees at risk of floods and landslide.

The Rohingya camps are concentrated in southern part of the country that records the highest rainfall usually beginning in April and fall heaviest in July, causing the need to relocate those living in high-risk areas to safer zones. [Arab News]

18 March 2018

Bangladesh asks Myanmar to immediately pull back troops from border

(hg) Dhaka has requested Myanmar to immediately pull back its security forces and heavy weapons from the border near to a camp in no-man´s land, housing thousands of Rohingya refugees summoning Myanmar’s envoy to conveyed its “concerns” over the “military build-up” and possibly ensuing escalating tensions on the border. [Mizzima]

11 March 2018

The genocide the US didn’t see coming

(jk) This article provides a very well-written and detailed look into the Obama years, when it looked like the strategy to engage Myanmar and lift sanctions would result in a liberalisation of their political system and the materialisation of the ideals Aung San Suu Kyi once stood for.  The author asks whether todays catastrophic situation with regards to the Rohingya could have been avoided. [Politico]

11 March 2018

Tougher Public Assembly Law in Myanmar likely

(jk) Demonstrations erupted in Yangon on Monday against the government to amend the public assembly law. The law was introduced in 2010 and very much welcomed then, for it provided freedom of expression and demonstration liberties previously unknown. The current NLD government proposed last month to add to amend the law so that anyone who instigates, tempts or persuades others intentionally to join a demonstration that disrupts security, rule of law, tranquillity and public morale by providing money or material support will face a maximum of three years’ imprisonment if found guilty [ABC News]. On Wednesday this week, the Upper House has approved of the bill which will likely become law [Myanmar Time]. The amendments would also require any protest organizers to provide details of the budget and source of their funds for a demonstration. Nearly 200 civil society groups have signed a petition against the plans and a growing number of observers lament that they see a reverse of the liberalisation trend under the NLD since 2010.

4 March 2018

Myanmar’s assembly law to be tightened

(ls) In Myanmar, state media published details of a proposed amendment drafted by the parliamentary Bill Committee that would change key sections of the Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Law, tightening freedom of assembly. The draft adds clauses that would allow local police to stop a protest if it is deemed to conflict with laws on “national security, rule of law, public order, or public morals”, while also criminalizing financial support for such protest. Another proposed clause says that protest organizers must provide the authorities with “an estimated budget and source of funds”. Finally, a 15-day deadline for the authorities to bring any criminal charges against protest participants would be removed. The development needs to be seen against the background of student protests against the government in recent weeks across the country. [Frontier Myanmar]

4 March 2018

Myanmar/Bangladesh: Burmese troops amassing at the border

(ls) Myanmar’s army amassed about 200 soldiers and weaponry near the border to Bangladesh, meters away from a makeshift Rohingya settlement. The government of Bangladesh requested the withdrawal of the troops, saying that the movement so close to the border violated international norms. Thousands of Rohingya Muslims have set up a camp on the land between the two countries. While it is still technically Burmese territory, it is beyond the border fence and is dubbed “no man’s land.” [Asian Correspondent]

According to the newspaper The Irrawaddy’s calculations which are based on government and NGOs’ statistics, at least 90 percent of the Rohingya population of conflict-torn northern Rakhine State has fled to neighboring Bangladesh in the wake of the government’s “clearance” operations following Muslim militant attacks last year. The report also describes the destruction of villages and mosques with detailed numbers. [The Irrawaddy]

25 February 2018

Myanmar: Business and human rights in conflict in Dawei

(ls) Civil society organizations have demanded the authorities in Myanmar to reconsider the plans to revive the controversial Dawei Special Economic Zone (SEZ). They argued that a site-wide environment impact assessment must be carried out. The SEZ has been accused of grave human rights violations including forced evictions, a lack of transparency and environmental disruption as the land lease contract for its initial phase is expected to be signed before April. Experts say that the project has already destroyed farmlands, polluted rivers and is threatening the lands and livelihoods of communities. [Myanmar Times]

25 February 2018

Myanmar: Updates on the Rohingya crisis, ethnic tensions and the war on drugs

(ls) The Myanmar government announced that it needs about two weeks to verify the first list of more than 8,000 Rohingya refugees sent by the Bangladeshi government, said the minister of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement, U Win Myat Aye, on Wednesday. Last November, Myanmar and Bangladesh signed a memorandum of understanding to repatriate Rohingya starting in January, but the process has been delayed. [Myanmar Times] Overall, about 650,000 Rohingya fled Myanmar in face of violent persecutions that the U.N. described as a “textbook example of genocide”.

In an interesting piece in the New Mandala, two authors question the often-made claim that there is a wide-scale radicalization going on within the Rohingya community. Mohd Nawab bin Mohd Osman and Aida Arosoaie conducted interviews with Rohingya refugees in Malaysia which indicated, rather, that Rohingya in Malaysia and Bangladesh disapprove of the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army’s (ARSA) violent approach to the crisis. The authors say that the larger concern among Rohingya appears to be the political fragmentation in their community and the lack of effective leadership. [New Mandala]

Meanwhile, a bomb exploded at a bank in northern Myanmar on Wednesday, killing at least two people and wounding 22 others. The explosion occurred in the city of Lashio, in northern Shan State, which has been torn apart by ethnic strife and battles to control smuggling networks. Such violence occasionally strikes Myanmar’s frontier region, where armed groups from a patchwork of ethnic minorities, including the Kachin, the Shan, the Ta’ang and the Wa, have battled the Myanmar military for decades. [The New York Times]

In still another development, Myanmar, which remains one of the world’s largest drug-producing countries, on Tuesday launched the new National Drug Control Policy after years of deliberations. In The Diplomat, Prashanth Parameswaran argues that, though the document does signal a shift to a more comprehensive approach to addressing a chronic problem, the true test will how that approach is implemented in the coming years. [The Diplomat]

25 February 2018

Myanmar: Nationalist media voices on the rise

(ls) In an extensive background piece, John Reed describes the current media situation in Myanmar as a time when many of the democratic forces that successfully challenged military rule in Myanmar are closing ranks around a nationalist and apologist script that increasingly puts them at odds with the Western world. He argues that a uniquely unsettling moment in the country’s history is currently playing out in the press and social media, where new internet freedoms have enabled both incisive journalism and the spread of hate speech and false reports. Against the background that some journalists have been arrested or received death threats while others are preparing to leave, Reed examines how Myanmar’s determination to tell its own story on its own terms is becoming more and more visible. [Financial Times]

18 February 2018

Myanmar: Boris Johnson skeptical of Suu Kyi’s handling of the Rohingya crisis

(ls) U.K. foreign minister Boris Johnson met with Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi in Naypyidaw and pressed her for an independent investigation into violence in Rakhine where atrocities against Muslim Rohingya have resulted in a mass exodus to Bangladesh. The meeting followed Johnson’s visit to a refugee camp in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar district, where nearly 700,000 Rohingya have sought refuge. [The Straits Times]

After the meeting, Johnson said he doubted whether Suu Kyi “understands the full horror” of the Rohingya refugee crisis. “I don’t think she’s been up in a helicopter to see what we have seen,” Johnson said, also urging that United Nations agencies should be allowed to assist in managing an orderly return of Rohingya back to Myanmar. [BBC News]

Meanwhile, Reuters has published an investigation into the massacre of ten Rohingya men by Myanmar soldiers and villagers, saying that this work led the Myanmar authorities to arrest two of its reporters who now face charges under the country’s Official Secrets Act. At least two of the Rohingya villagers were hacked to death by Buddhist villagers, and the rest were shot by Myanmar troops, Reuters reported. [Reuters]

11 February 2018

Cobra Gold 2018: Will Myanmar attend as Rohingya mass graves are being found?

(ls) Members of the U.S. Congress are demanding Myanmar’s exclusion from the Cobra Gold military exercises next week, amidst pressure for more American sanctions in response to atrocities against Rohingya Muslims. Cobra Gold is America’s largest, annual multi-nation drills in the Asia-Pacific. The Trump administration has already imposed sanctions on the chief of Myanmar’s western military command and says it’s considering blacklisting others. It maintains restrictions on visas and assistance to Myanmar’s military. [Bangkok Post] Meanwhile, evidence of a number of previously unreported mass graves around Rakhine state has been emerging, the area where most Rohingya resided before the current wave of persecution began. The U.N. special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Burma as well as humanitarian nongovernmental organizations have been barred from the territory. [The Washington Post]

4 February 2018

For Myanmar’s army, ethnic bloodletting is key to power and riches

(ls) Richard Paddock for the New York Times describes how constant fighting with ethnic minorities is a necessary element for Myanmar’s military to maintain its economic and political power. Paddock traces back how the Tatmadaw has displaced millions of people while taking billions of dollars in profit from jade mines, teak forests and other natural resources. He argues that its strategy has been to fight ethnic rebels to a standstill, manage the conflicts through cease-fires and enrich its officers. [The New York Times]

26 January 2018

Myanmar: Rohingya not returning yet; soldiers sentenced for killings

(ls) The return of Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh to Myanmar, which was negotiated between the two coun-tries, is being delayed. However, the reasons of the delay remain unspecified. UN Secretary General António Guter-res last week expressed concern that its refugee agency (UNHCR) was not directly involved in the repatriation agreement. He also demanded that the return should be voluntary, be conducted in safety and dignity, and that people should be allowed to come back to their places of origin. [Asian Correspondent]

Meanwhile, former New Mexico (U.S.) Governor Bill Richardson has resigned from an international advisory panel on the Rohingya refugee crisis, calling it a “whitewash and a cheerleading operation” for Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi. [The Washington Post]

In a separate development, a Myanmar military tribunal has sentenced six soldiers to ten years in prison for killing three civilians in the war-torn state of Kachin, which is home to an ethnic rebel army that has been fighting Myan-mar’s military for years. More than 100,000 people in the state have fled the fighting. Rights groups said the prosecu-tion of the six soldiers was rare and could indicate a step toward ending military impunity in Myanmar. [The New York Times]

12 January 2018

Myanmar: Constitutional reform?

Myanmar’s civilian president called in his Independence Day speech for reform of the military-drafted constitution. “We all need to work collectively for creating a suitable constitution,” President Htin Kyaw, a close ally of Aung San Suu Kyi, said in his speech, however not elaborating on what he meant by suitable. The 2008 constitution reserves for the military one quarter of the seats in parliament and several major cabinet posts, giving it an effective veto over constitutional change and control of security affairs. Moreover, it bars Suu Kyi from becoming president [Reuters].

12 January 2018

Myanmar: ARSA attacks, reporters face jail, as Rohingya crisis drags ons

(ls) The Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), a resistance group in Myanmar, claimed responsibility for an ambush of government forces in Rakhine State that left three people wounded. ARSA is a small, underequipped group that has struggled to mount significant military operations. However, small operations by the group against security forces in August last year prompted brutal retaliation from government forces, which in turn led to the mass exodus of Rohingya from Rakhine [The New York Times].

The ARSA dismisses any links to Islamist militant groups and says it is fighting to end the oppression of the Rohingya people. A Myanmar government spokesman said the insurgents were trying to delay the repatriation of refugees from Bangladesh under a plan the two governments have been working on. Details of the repatriation plan have yet to be finalized and many questions remain, not only about security but also about the terms refugees will return un-der, and whether they will be able to go back to their homes or be resettled in camps [South China Morning Post].

The north of Rakhine state is largely off-limits to reporters. On Wednesday, Myanmar prosecutors sought charges against two Reuters reporters under the Official Secrets Act. The Ministry of Information has said they “illegally ac-quired information with the intention to share it with foreign media”. Government officials from some of the world’s major nations as well as top United Nations officials have called for the release of the reporters [The Straits Times].

12 January 2018

Myanmar-North Korea relations: Cooling off, but still warm

Adam McDonald gives on overview of the Myanmar-North Korea relations. He submits that, while the close relations of the early 2000s may be over, the Myanmar military (the Tatmadaw) is believed to still uphold good contacts with its North Korean counterparts, particularly regarding military training and equipment. This continued contacts could be problematic for Aung San Suu Kyi’s government, which strives for acceptance on the global stage [East Asia Forum].

5 January 2018

Myanmar: Rough justice for the poor – legal facilitation for the businesses

Myanmar’s legal system is increasingly two-faced. On the hand, Sara Perria for the Financial Times reports that, despite Myanmar’s democratic transition, the local-level civil service remains under the grip of the General Administration Department, a military-dominated institution that forms part of the interior ministry and has a countrywide presence, while the judiciary lacks independence from military or political control. As a consequence, access to justice, especially for poor people, is often an illusion. “People don’t go to court even when they need to, because they don’t trust it.” [Financial Times]

On the other hand, businessmen and economists have been eagerly awaiting a piece of legislation that could have a transformative effect on the Myanmar economy. The Myanmar Companies Law aims to transform the Myanmar economy in order to attract more foreign investment in domestic businesses. It adopts international best practices on the company formation, business registration processes and corporate governance and will enter into force on August 1, 2018 [Mizzima].