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Myanmar reckoning

International | Aung San Suu Kyi in court over Rohingya persecution
by Onize Ohikere
Posted 12/17/19, 06:18 pm

Pro-Myanmar protesters gathered outside the International Court of Justice in The Hague last week as their country’s leader faced charges of genocide. Many carried placards that read, “We stand with you,” but a smaller group of counterprotesters stood outside the court shouting, “Aung San Suu Kyi, shame on you!”

Back in 1991, Suu Kyi received the Nobel Peace Prize after spending 15 years under house arrest for opposing the military junta in the country also known as Burma. Humanitarians around the world admired her for continuing to oppose Myanmar’s military dictatorship in the face of imprisonment and an assassination attempt. But today, as Myanmar’s leader, she faces international criticism for her silence on the military’s 2017 crackdown on the Rohingya Muslims, a stateless minority group. Suu Kyi attended three days of hearings at The Hague over allegations that the crackdown constituted genocide.

The court has yet to issue its decision, but Suu Kyi’s testimony angered many who suffered during the conflict. A group of fellow Nobel Peace Prize laureates, many of whom pushed for her release from prison, released a joint statement Wednesday expressing disappointment in her support of Myanmar’s military crackdown.

Suu Kyi described the violence as an internal armed conflict and said the military was only responding to a “rebellion.” She admitted the military might have used disproportionate force in some instances but denied it amounted to genocide.

About 1.1 million Rohingya Muslims have faced repeated persecution in Myanmar, while the country refused to grant them citizenship. In August 2017, Myanmar’s security forces launched clearance operations against the Rohingya after militants from the ethnic minority targeted security posts in Rakhine state. The military killed more than 6,000 people, while more than 700,000 Rohingya fled to neighboring Bangladesh. Human rights groups accused the military of rape, murder, and burning entire villages.

Gambia, a small West African nation, brought the accusations against Myanmar to the UN court with backing from the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. Gambian Attorney General and Justice Minister Abubacarr Marie Tambadou warned in his opening statement that a genocide is unfolding in the country. “It does not suddenly spring up or appear overnight out of the blue,” he said. “It is preceded by a history of suspicion, mistrust, and hateful propaganda that dehumanizes the other and then crystallizes into a frenzy of mass violence.” Gambia accused the Myanmar military of violating the 1978 Genocide Convention and called for “protective measures” to help prevent further killings in the country.

Inside the court, several persecuted Rohingya sat in silence. Yousuf Ali, who fled his home in Nayain Chaung with his six children, arrived at the court with personal documents and photographs documenting the crackdown. “There should be equal rights for all the groups in the country,” he told The Guardian. “It was very difficult to remain silent in court.”

On Dec. 10—Human Rights Day—the U.S. Treasury Department sanctioned Myanmar’s military commander, Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, along with three other senior commanders deployed in Rakhine.

Suu Kyi said Gambia’s allegations presented “an incomplete and misleading factual picture of the situation in Rakhine state in Myanmar.” She argued that the government has already tried several soldiers for violent behavior. But in May 2018, authorities released seven soldiers who were sentenced to 10 years for killings in a Rakhine village less than a year into their sentence.

Back home, Suu Kyi’s decision to go to The Hague to represent the country drew praise from locals. Ahead of her departure, thousands of supporters rallied in the capital of Naypyidaw, and senior officials held a prayer ceremony for her at the Anglican Holy Trinity Cathedral in the former capital of Yangon. Several counterdemonstrations took place in Myanmar and Bangladesh.

The judges said they would deliver their decision soon, but Suu Kyi’s testimony left many Rohingya hoping for justice. “A thief never admits he is a thief, but justice can be delivered through evidence,” said Mohammed Mohibullah, Rohingya leader and chairman of the Arakan Rohingya Society for Peace and Human Rights. “The world has obtained evidence from us.”

Facebook/Free Ramy Kamel Facebook/Free Ramy Kamel Ramy Kamel

Coptic activist imprisoned

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom and several Christian groups called on Egyptian authorities last week to release Coptic activist Ramy Kamel.

On Nov. 23, days before Kamel planned to participate in a United Nations forum on minority issues, Cairo police raided his home and arrested him, Christian Solidarity Worldwide reported. Police also confiscated his computer, phone, and books.

Authorities charged him with joining and financing the Muslim Brotherhood terrorist organization even though he is a Coptic Christian, according to the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS). Two weeks earlier, the Egyptian National Security Agency tortured Kamel during an unofficial investigation intended to stop him from speaking out on social media about Coptic persecution, CIHRS noted.

Kamel documented discriminatory laws, religiously motivated violence, forced displacement, and more. Authorities sentenced another Coptic activist previously arrested on similar terrorism charges to five years’ imprisonment. —Julia A Seymour

Facebook/Natan Sharansky Facebook/Natan Sharansky Natan Sharansky (left) with Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu

Israel awards Genesis Prize

Natan Sharansky, a former Soviet dissident and political figure, will receive Israel’s Genesis Prize next year for his “lifelong struggle for human rights.”

Sharansky’s activism began in the 1970s. He was one of the founding members of the Helsinki Group, which monitored rights abuses by the Soviets. After authorities detained him in 1977 on fabricated charges of spying for the United States, he spent nine years in prison, most of it in solitary confinement. In 1986, Moscow released him in a prisoner swap, and Sharansky moved to Israel.

There, he served almost a decade as a lawmaker and Cabinet minister.

“Today, when anti-Semitism is on the rise both from the political left and from the right, the unity of the Jewish people and our connection to Israel is very important,” Sharansky said. He will receive the award, which recognizes service to the Jewish community or Israel, in June. —O.O.

Associated Press/Photo by Serahphina Aupong/UN in Papua New Guinea Associated Press/Photo by Serahphina Aupong/UN in Papua New Guinea Members of the Bougainville Women’s Federation celebrate the independence referendum on Wednesday in the town of Buka.

Newest nation in the works?

Residents of the region of Bougainville broke into song and dance last week after a vote for independence from Papua New Guinea received massive support.

Nearly 98 percent voted in favor of separation, while the other 2 percent voted to remain but with greater autonomy. Bougainville is a collection of islands about 400 miles from the coast and is home to about 300,000 people.

The vote was part of a 2001 agreement that ended a decadelong separatist civil war in 1998. About 20,000 people—10 percent of the total population—died in the unrest.

While the government of Papua New Guinea acknowledged the vote, it remains nonbinding. The government has the final say on whether to accept the result and grant the region independence. —O.O.

Protests continue in Algeria

Tens of thousands of demonstrators turned out on the streets of Algiers, Algeria, last week after former Prime Minister Abdelmadjid Tebboune won the presidential election.

Protesters waved flags and chanted, “The vote was rigged.” Tebboune won 58 percent of the vote, with only about 40 percent of registered voters participating.

His opponents accuse him of being a military loyalist and part of the same establishment they are trying to overthrow. Protests started in February after President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who held the seat for two decades, announced he wanted to run for a fifth term. The movement grew into discontent with the old establishment as the protesters called for new leadership. —O.O.

Onize Ohikere

Onize is a reporter for WORLD Digital based in Abuja, Nigeria.

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  • OldMike
    Posted: Wed, 12/18/2019 03:21 pm

    So much upset and turmoil in so many different corners of the planet. 

    You've heard how animals grow tense and nervous right before an earthquake? Maybe humans also have some inner sense of some huge impending shaking and destruction on earth. 

    His return can’t be far off