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Explained: India, China, and Myanmar poll

Aung San Suu Kyi casts her vote in advance on October 29 in Naypitaw. (AP)

Myanmar votes on Sunday, five years after Aung San Suu Kyi’s landslide win. Against the backdrop of a pandemic, Rohingya crisis, and military assertion, a look at what’s at stake for Suu Kyi and her country

Myanmar will vote on November 8 in an election that is being seen as test of Aung San Suu Kyi’s leadership of the country over the last five years. In the last elections in 2015, the Suu Kyi-led National League for Democracy won a landslide victory.

The elections are for the upper and lower houses of the national Parliament, the House of Nationalities and the House of Representatives respectively, as well as to the assemblies of Myanmar’s seven states and seven regions — a total of 1,171 seats. The President is elected by the bicameral national Parliament. Chief Ministers of the states and regions are appointed by the President.

The elections will be held against the backdrop of the Covid-19 pandemic, the continuing Rohingya crisis, a nationalist Buddhist resurgence, and an assertion by a military that runs the country along with the elected civilian government in a hybrid system.

Rohingya and the vote

As many as 7 to 8 lakh Rohingya fled to Bangladesh when the Army began a crackdown on an alleged terrorist group in 2017 in Rakhine province, home to this Muslim minority group. The Army action was backed by Suu Kyi and her government. The refugees now live in what has described as the “world’s largest refugee camp” at Cox’s Bazar. Bangladesh wants Myanmar to take them back, but Myanmar, which holds that Rohingya are not “indigenous” and calls them Bengali (the word Rohingya is not officially recognised), is unwilling to do so.

In past elections, Rohingya have voted. This time, they will be almost entirely excluded from the election. Many Rohingya candidates were rejected during the filing of nominations. Last month, the Myanmar Election Commission said that for security reasons, elections would not be held in many areas of Rakhine. This means even the 600,000 Rohingya who remain in Myanmar will not be able to vote. Nor will the anti-Suu Kyi Rakhine Buddhists, who allege that political motives are behind the cancellation of the election.

Supporters wearing shirts with logos of Myanmar Leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) cheer from a trishaw as they take part in the final day of campaigning for the Nov. 8 elections Friday, Nov. 6, 2020, in Data township, Yangon. (AP Photo/Thein Zaw)

NLD, Army, Buddhist assertion

This is Myanmar’s third election under the 2008 military-drafted Constitution, part of its “road map to democracy”. The NLD had boycotted the first election in 2010, when Suu Kyi was still under house arrest. The junta put up proxy candidates through the Union Solidarity and Development Party and won most of the seats. Following Suu Kyi’s release after the election, the junta, under international pressure, eased restrictions on political and civil society activity and permitted independent media. Over the next five years, investments poured in. NLD’s participation in the 2012 by-elections gave legitimacy to the junta’s reforms. The first credible elections in 2015 were swept by Suu Kyi, then a worldwide icon of democracy.

This time, the NLD carries the burden of incumbency. Suu Kyi had come in with the promise to complete the transition to democracy by reforming the Constitution rammed in by the junta, with near-irreversible write-ins cementing the Army’s role in governing the country — the military gets 25% representation in both Houses of Parliament, and in all the state/regional assemblies, through nomination; the USDP continues to act as a military proxy; the military, known as the Tatmadaw, retains portfolios such as Defence and Internal Security; and it can declare an emergency at any time and take over the running of the country.

There was tension in the civilian-military balance earlier this week after the Commander-in-chief of the Army, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, expressed dissatisfaction with the way the Election Commission was conducting the polls, and in an interview to a local media outlet, left open-ended the question of whether the Army would accept the election results. A government spokesman said the comments violated the Constitution.

Suu Kyi’s party made efforts to push back the military through 2019 but these were stonewalled by the military representatives in Parliament. She is herself a victim of the Constitution – by virtue of having married a foreign national, she is barred from becoming President. She is now known as the State Counsellor, but is accepted by her party as a higher authority than the President. Alongside, her attempts at a peace agreement with over a score armed ethnic groups ranged against the state, have yielded no outcome yet. The last meeting of the Union Peace Conference — 21st Century Panglong (a reference to the Panglong agreement of 1947) — was held in August. The NLD believes a federal arrangement will remain elusive as long as the Army is powerful.

Supporters of military backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) march with pedal trishaws during an election campaign for the upcoming Nov. 8 general election, Thursday, Nov. 5, 2020, in Yangon, Myanmar. (AP Photo/Thein Zaw)

But Suu Kyi has not pushed the military as her Pakistani counterparts have done in the past. She once described generals in the Tatmadaw as “quite sweet”, and defended the Army in person last year at the International Court of Justice at The Hague against allegations of rape, arson and mass killing in Rakhine.

A resurgent Buddhist nationalism, both inspired by and inspiring similar sentiments in Sri Lanka, has also been apparent over the last five years. On November 2, a firebrand monk known for communal and racist speeches surrendered to the police who were seeking to arrest him for over a year for statements he made asking the military to overthrow Suu Kyi’s government, and called her objectionable names. In 2015, he had asked people to vote for the military-backed USDP against Suu Kyi.

Yet Suu Kyi remains as popular as she was five years ago and is expected to lead her party to victory again. Her defiance of international censure over the Rohingya exodus, and the calls to take back her Nobel Peace Prize, seem to have only bolstered her status as a national icon among the majority Buddhist Bamar.

Where India meets China

It has also pushed Suu Kyi into the waiting arms of China, which has been involved in a slew of infrastructure projects in Myanmar, and has wooed her and the NLD since 2015, separately from its continuing tight relations with the military.

Beijing laid out the red carpet for Suu Kyi when she visited in 2016. In January 2020, President Xi Jinping was a high value guest at Naypidaw, with Myanmar Air Force fighter jets escorting Xi’s plane as it landed in the capital.

In an op-ed in Myanmar’s state-run newspaper, Xi wrote that China would support Myanmar in “safeguarding its legitimate rights and interests and national dignity”. Much like how it was Sri Lanka’s only ally during the country’s post-war dog days, China is now Myanmar’s main ally in a world whose ardour for Suu Kyi has long cooled.

During the visit, no new infrasructure projects were signed but the two sides reaffirmed support for speeding up the “China-Myanmar Economic Corridor”, which includes a high-speed railway between industrial zones within the country with connections to the Chinese border, and an ambitious $1.3-billion deep-sea port at Kyaukphyu in central Rakhine, which will provide Beijing a gateway to the Indian Ocean, as part of its Belt and Road Initiative.

Any push against China in Myanmar now comes from the restive regions where the big infra projects threaten to displace people, as in 2011 in Kachin, where a year after Suu Kyi’s release, protests forced the cancellation of a Chinese 6,000 MW Myistone hydel dam.

“After the election, the trajectory of China-Myanmar relations will not change much no matter what the election result is. China will always be a trusted partner of Myanmar and is set to play a constructive role in Myanmar’s development and peace process,” a columnist wrote in Global Times, a Chinese state-run media outlet.

New Delhi has kept cordial relations with both Suu Kyi and the Myanmar Army. While Buddhism provides a cultural bond, and the Modi government has made common cause with the Myanmar government on the Rohingya issue, India does not have the deep pockets for Chinese-style infrastructure projects. India is working on two key infrastructure projects in Myanmar —a trilateral highway between India-Myanmar and Thailand, and the Kaladan Multi Modal Transit project that aims to connect mainland India to the landlocked Northeastern states through Myanmar. A port at Sittwe and an inland waterway are part of this project.

Credit: indianexpress.com

India to handover Kilo class attack submarine to Myanmar

Move in line with vision that aspires to guarantee security for all maritime partners, says MEA

India will hand over INS Sindhuvir, a Kilo class submarine to the Myanmar Navy, the Ministry of External Affairs announced on Thursday. Addressing the weekly press interaction, official spokesperson of MEA Anurag Srivastava said this will be the first submarine of the Southeast Asian country and the move is in line with the overall Indian vision that aspires to guarantee security for all maritime partners.

“In this context, India will be delivering a Kilo class submarine INS Sindhuvir to the Myanmar Navy. We understand that this will be the first submarine of the Myanmar Navy. This is in accordance with our vision of SAGAR — Security and Growth for All in the Region, and also in line with our commitment to build capacities and self-reliance in all our neighbouring countries,” said Mr. Srivastava to a question.

The announcement came days after Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla and Chief of the Army Staff General Manoj Mukund Naravane visited Myanmar and held talks with State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and Commander in Chief of Defence Services Senior General Min Aung Hlaing. The submarine, purchased from the Soviet Union in the 1980s, has undergone modernisation at the Hindustan Shipyard Limited (HSL) in Vizag.

It belongs to a class of diesel-electric attack submarines built by the Soviet Union during the Cold War years.

The submarine will be the first in a fleet that Myanmar wishes to build and is likely to be used initially for training and orientation purposes for its Navy personnel. Last year, India supplied Myanmar ‘Shyena’ advanced light torpedoes as part of a defence deal. The October 4-5 visit of Mr. Shringla and General Naravane was also noteworthy as Myanmar and Bangladesh have recently engaged in a war of words over heightened military tension near the border at Chittagong regarding the Rohingya issue.

India’s military outreach to Myanmar is important as it comes in the backdrop of the ongoing military tension along the Line of Actual Control in Eastern Ladakh between India and China, a leading industrial and business partner of the Southeast Asian state.

Credit: www.thehindu.com

‘Shocking’ killing of children allegedly used as human shields

A settlement in Rakhine province, northern Myanmar. (file photo)

UN agencies in Myanmar have expressed ‘sadness’ and ‘shock’ over the killing of two boys, allegedly used as human shields by security forces in the country’s northern Rakhine province, earlier this month

The two boys were killed in a crossfire between Myanmar’s military, known as the Tatmadaw, and the separatist Arakan Army. The incident occurred on 5 October in Buthidaung township – a hotspot for army abuses against children for non-combat purposes, since mid-2019, the UN agencies said in a statement, on Wednesday.  

The children were part of a group of around 15 local farmers, all of whom were allegedly forced to walk in front of a Tatmadaw unit to ensure the path towards a military camp was clear of landmines, and to protect the soldiers from potential enemy fire. 

On the way, fighting broke out between the Tatmadaw and the Arakan Army, after which the two boys were found dead with gunshot wounds. 

‘Hold killers accountable’ 

The incident occurred within the 12 months of the delisting of the Tatmadaw for underage recruitment in the UN Secretary-General’s Annual Report on Children and Armed Conflict (CAAC) of 2020, agencies noted. 

In the statement, the UN agencies – co-chairs of the UN Country Taskforce on Monitoring and Reporting on Grave Violations against Children in Myanmar (CTFMR) – called for a “full, transparent, and expedited investigation of the incident” and for anyone responsible for the use and for the killing of the children to be held accountable. 

“This egregious incident serves as a stark reminder that children are put at risk of being killed or injured whenever they are associated with armed forces and groups in any capacity or function, regardless of the duration of their association,” the agencies said. 

‘Alarming’ increase in violations

The UN agencies also voiced “deep alarm” over an alarming increase of reports of killings and injuries of children in Myanmar. 

More than 100 children were killed or maimed in conflict during the first three months of 2020, amounting to more than half of the total number in 2019, and significantly surpassing the total number of child casualties in 2018. 

“As Myanmar tackles the resurgence of COVID-19, we urge all parties to the conflict to intensify efforts to ensure children are protected from all grave violations, to ensure access to humanitarian assistance and services, and to exercise maximum restraint in the use of force where civilians are present,” they urged. 

‘Grave Violations’  

Adopted unanimously by the Security Council, resolution 1612 on children and armed conflict mandates the United Nations to establish UN-led taskforces in countries where there is verified evidence that grave violations against children are being committed by parties to a conflict, either by armed forces and/or by armed groups.  

Through a monitoring and reporting mechanism, the taskforce documents, verifies and reports to the Security Council on the six grave violations: killing or maiming; recruitment and use in armed forces and armed groups; attacks against schools or hospitals; rape or other grave sexual violence; abduction; and denial of humanitarian access. 

In Myanmar the the taskforce was established in 2007 and is co-chaired by the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator and the UNICEF Representative to the country. 

Credit: news.un.org

WHO Admires India’s Support To Myanmar In Fight Against COVID-19

COVID-19: WHO representative in Myanmar has admired India for its assistance to Myanmar

Nay Pyi Taw: 

Amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the World Health Organisation representative in Myanmar has admired India for its assistance to Myanmar in the fight against the pandemic.

Dr Stephen Paul Jost, while speaking to Ravindera Jain, an Indian journalist based in Yangon, shared his perspective over the current coronavirus situation and vaccine possibility to break the chain of the virus.

Jost praised India for its contribution to Myanmar with the donation of Remdesivir, an antiviral medicine. He said, “India has been supporting Myanmar. There have been 3000 vials of antiviral drugs made available. It’s called Remdesivir, through a recent visit by the Foreign Secretary of India, and this is also much appreciated and also other supports that are there.”

He added, “As have other countries, Singapore for instance, through the Foreign Minister has recently made available 25,000 PCR-based test kits and one million masks and two hundred thousand bottles of sanitizers. As have other countries that have contributed, the United Nations family has also contributed a great deal and WHO within but there are many other agencies also UNICEF, WFP, UNOX, UNHCR and many have been helping.”

Delivering his viewpoint over the pandemic, Jost said, “Social measures that have been adopted by the National Health Authorities and by the Central Committee led by state counsellor. This leadership aspect, the political leadership, the partnership, the preventive measures, and people’s participation, those four have been critically important in overcoming this pandemic, and that will remain true for the saviour future.”

WHO Admires India's Support To Myanmar In Fight Against COVID-19

COVID-19: WHO representative in Myanmar has admired India for its assistance to Myanmar1Nay Pyi Taw: 

Amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the World Health Organisation representative in Myanmar has admired India for its assistance to Myanmar in the fight against the pandemic.

Dr Stephen Paul Jost, while speaking to Ravindera Jain, an Indian journalist based in Yangon, shared his perspective over the current coronavirus situation and vaccine possibility to break the chain of the virus.

Jost praised India for its contribution to Myanmar with the donation of Remdesivir, an antiviral medicine. He said, “India has been supporting Myanmar. There have been 3000 vials of antiviral drugs made available. It’s called Remdesivir, through a recent visit by the Foreign Secretary of India, and this is also much appreciated and also other supports that are there.”

He added, “As have other countries, Singapore for instance, through the Foreign Minister has recently made available 25,000 PCR-based test kits and one million masks and two hundred thousand bottles of sanitizers. As have other countries that have contributed, the United Nations family has also contributed a great deal and WHO within but there are many other agencies also UNICEF, WFP, UNOX, UNHCR and many have been helping.”

Delivering his viewpoint over the pandemic, Jost said, “Social measures that have been adopted by the National Health Authorities and by the Central Committee led by state counsellor. This leadership aspect, the political leadership, the partnership, the preventive measures, and people’s participation, those four have been critically important in overcoming this pandemic, and that will remain true for the saviour future.”

Myanmar is one of India’s strategic neighbors and shared a 1,640 km-long border with a number of northeastern states including Nagaland and Manipur.

Credit: www.ndtv.com

Myanmar: Villages burned, civilians injured and killed as Rakhine State conflict escalates

  • Civilians, including children, killed or injured
  • Remote sensing analysis confirms ethnic Rakhine villages ablaze on 3 September

Amnesty International has gathered new evidence of indiscriminate attacks on civilians in Rakhine State, amid serious escalations in the ongoing armed conflict between the Myanmar military and the Arakan Army (AA). 

This evidence is based on firsthand testimony, photographs and video obtained from inside Rakhine State, and analysis of satellite imagery as well as media reports and civil society sources. Witnesses’ names have been changed. 

“There are no signs of the conflict between the Arakan Army and the Myanmar military abating – and civilians continue to bear the brunt,” said Ming Yu Hah, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for Campaigns. 

“The Myanmar military’s utter disregard for civilian suffering grows more shocking and brazen by the day. The UN Security Council must urgently refer the situation in Myanmar to the International Criminal Court.” 

Amnesty International is also concerned at recent reports of an increased presence of Myanmar military troops along the Myanmar-Bangladesh border. Images of antipersonnel landmines recently found in a civilian area were analysed by Amnesty’s weapons expert and identified as the MM2 type landmine often used by the Myanmar military. This device is larger than most anti-personnel landmines, and typically inflicts severe damage. 
 
Both the Arakan Army and Myanmar military use antipersonnel devices, and as such definitively establishing provenance is not always possible. Current restrictions on access preclude on-the-ground documentation efforts by Amnesty International. 
 
Several incidents involving civilians injured or killed by landmines have been credibly reported in Rakhine and Chin States in recent months by local civil society and media outlets. 
 
One of the most recent instances was on September 18, when a 44-year-old Chin woman stood on a landmine while collecting bamboo shoots near the Myanmar military’s Light Infantry Battalion 289 base in Paletwa. She died of her injuries a short time after. 

Amnesty International also notes with alarm recent local media reports of the Myanmar military using Rohingya children for forced portering in Buthidaung Township, in an area where clashes with the Arakan Army are ongoing. 

‘I didn’t think it could be our village’  

On the morning of 8 September 2020, Maung Soe* was at work near his village of Nyaung Kan in Myebon Township when he heard heavy weaponry, which he describes as sounding like thunder. 

“I didn’t think it could be our village. I thought it was somewhere else. I tried to call my wife and she wasn’t answering. I heard it two times — jain, jain — within one minute. 

“I went to the village and I heard some people got injured. When I got home, my wife and my daughter were laid down on the floor. [My wife] was not saying anything. I tried to check my [seven-year-old] daughter and she was still alive. I picked up my daughter and tried to get out. 

“I didn’t see [any soldiers]. The weapon came from very far. And when I tried to run by hugging my daughter’s body, there was more shooting. I tried to lay over my daughter’s body, near the stream. Within two minutes, my daughter passed away. 

“Even after my daughter passed away, I could still hear the weapons coming… I had to run away, leaving my daughter’s body. I came back later when they stopped shooting.”  

Maung Soe says there were no Arakan Army fighters in Nyaung Kan. Villagers believe the heavy weaponry was fired from a Myanmar military base near the border with Ann Township. 

The shelling at Nyaung Kan village in Myebon Township claimed the lives of five people, including Maung Soe’s wife and daughter. All were from the Rakhine ethnic group, and two were seven-year-old children. Ten others were wounded in the attack. 

By one local civil society group’s estimate, the number of civilians killed in this conflict since December 2018 in Rakhine and Chin States stands at 289, with 641 injured. 
 
The true figure cannot be independently verified, as a mobile internet shutdown and broader government crackdowns on media reporting have impeded documentation efforts in conflict-affected areas. However, in July 2020, Amnesty International was able to document indiscriminate airstrikes and shelling by the Myanmar military, killing or injuring civilians, including children. 

On 14 September, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet told the Human Rights Council that in some recent cases in Rakhine State, civilians “appear to have been targeted or attacked indiscriminately, which may constitute further war crimes or even crimes against humanity.” 

Maung Soe is now displaced, and says he wants to see the Myanmar military withdraw from Rakhine State to prevent further harm: “As I suffer, and as I have lost my family, I don’t want any other Rakhine people to have a similar experience in the future.” 

  
‘One from the road and one from the mountain’: Burned village attacked from two directions 

Remote sensing analysis and new witness testimony gathered by Amnesty International suggest that Myanmar soldiers burned a village in central Rakhine State’s Kyauktaw Township in early September. 

Over 120 structures in Taung Pauk and Hpa Yar Paung appear burned in Planet imagery from 10 September 2020. Fires were remotely detected in the villages with satellite sensors on 3 September 2020.

One witness, villager U Kyaw Tin*, who lives in the area, told Amnesty International that he was walking with his cow when the Myanmar military launched an assault on Hpa Yar Paung began on 3 September.  
 
“[They] started shooting, they entered the village. I didn’t know exactly where the shooting came from … We were trying to run to the other side. We didn’t really see what exactly was going on, because we all were running.” 

He said that it appeared the village was closed in on by the Myanmar military from two directions: “Two [sets of] troops, one from each side – one from the road and one from the mountain. There was also shooting from [a remote location], but there was also something from the roadside, coming in by car.” 

A spokesperson for the Myanmar military, Major General Zaw Min Tun, told journalists a police vehicle was attacked by the Arakan Army with a remotely detonated improvised explosive device (IED) near the village. 

According to information supplied to Amnesty International, the Myanmar military were seen arresting two Rakhine men from the village that evening. Their bodies were reportedly found near the river with gunshot wounds the next morning. 

Their bodies have since been transported by the military for postmortem in Kyauktaw. The Myanmar military told the media “two enemy bodies and a gun” were seized from the site.  

“[The Myanmar military] started the arson attack around 9pm,” U Kyaw Tin told Amnesty International. “After they finished the arson attack they went to another site near the hill and they started to also attack there.” 

Satellite image analysis conducted by Amnesty International has found that over 120 structures in the ethnic Rakhine-populated villages of Taung Pauk and Hpa Yar Paung villages in Kyauktaw Township appeared burned to the ground, in imagery captured on 10 September 2020. 

Amnesty International also examined satellite sensor data from 3 September which showed thermal anomalies. Additionally, Amnesty International analysed a video of the charred village of Hpar Yar Paung, recorded on 4 September from a passing vehicle, which revealed a ground-level snapshot of the extensive destruction. All three information sources appear consistent with reports of the blaze on the night of 3 September 2020. 

U Kyaw Tin said around 80 houses were completely destroyed, and over 90 damaged. Hpar Yar Paung’s 500 residents are now displaced inside Kyauktaw Township, dependent on aid from Rakhine civil society groups in Kyauktaw town. 

New figures from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) indicate that 89,564 people were displaced to 180 sites in Rakhine State between January 2019 and 7 September 2020. 

These figures are based on numbers provided by the Rakhine State government and UNOCHA’s humanitarian partners. Local civil society groups indicate the true displacement figure is likely higher, as villagers have fled to areas now only nominally under government control. 
 
This adds to the existing mass displacement crisis in Rakhine, where over 130,000 Rohingya have been interned in camps since 2012. 
 

‘We didn’t know anything’: Internet shutdown amid the pandemic 

The mobile internet shutdown that had been in place across parts of Rakhine State and neighboring Chin State for the last year was partially lifted in August; however, the authorities have throttled network speeds to 2G in some of the areas most affected by armed conflict. 

The Myanmar government had stated the mobile internet blackout was necessary to prevent “incitement” and remote detonations of anti-personnel explosive devices by the Arakan Army.

However, the blackout has impeded the delivery of critical humanitarian aid and access to crucial information about the conflict and the COVID-19 pandemic, with the virus increasingly spreading across Myanmar since mid-August, including and particularly in Rakhine State. 

In Maung Soe’s case, the lack of connectivity meant his village has been kept in the dark about the scale and location of fighting. 

“We don’t have any connection and we don’t know anything about what’s going on, about the conflict and the attacks in other places,” said Maung Soe. 

In addition to the internet blackout, humanitarian access remains severely curtailed by government edict across much of Rakhine State and a township in Chin State.  

Healthcare access in Rakhine State remains abysmal, and particularly so for the Rohingya population, who have long been subject to severe movement restrictions and, often, extortion by police and military. 
 
The Myanmar government should ensure full, unfettered access to humanitarian actors and allow all people in the state to access healthcare. 

Amnesty International is concerned that the sweeping powers granted under COVID-19 orders are ripe for abuse – particularly in conflict-affected areas. 
 

Impunity and secrecy mar military sexual violence scandal 

On 11 September 2020, the Myanmar military admitted that three of its soldiers had raped an ethnic Rakhine woman during operations in Rathedaung Township on 30 June despite their outright denials when the allegations were first raised in July. 

Last week, in a statement on the incident, the military publicly named the survivor but not the perpetrators. 

“Even when the Myanmar military are compelled to admit wrongdoing, their handling of this appalling sexual violence case shows a complete neglect for accountability,” said Ming Yu Hah. 

“These shocking events speak volumes about the Tatmadaw, and how deep the assumption of impunity runs within its ranks.” 

“The international community must raise the alarm about the situation in Rakhine State now, or face questions later about why they failed to act – again.” 

Credit: www.amnesty.org

Canada, Netherlands join Gambia’s genocide case against Myanmar

The two nations will pay special attention to prosecuting gender-based violence against Rohingya, including rape.

More than 730,000 Rohingya fled Myanmar and crossed into Bangladesh after a brutal military crackdown in 2017 [File: Mohammad Ponir Hossain/ Reuters]

Canada and the Netherlands will formally join The Gambia’s legal bid to hold Myanmar accountable over allegations of genocide against its mostly-Muslim Rohingya minority in a move described by observers as historic.

In a joint statement on Wednesday, Canadian Foreign Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne and his Dutch counterpart Stef Blok said the two nations were intervening in the case before the International Court of Justice in order “to prevent the crime of genocide and hold those responsible to account”.

Calling the lawsuit “of concern to all of humanity,” Champagne and Blok said Canada and the Netherlands would “assist with the complex legal issues that are expected to arise and will pay special attention to crimes related to sexual and gender-based violence, including rape”.

More than 730,000 Rohingya fled their homes in Myanmar’s Rakhine state in August 2017, crossing the border into neighbouring Bangladesh where they now live in crowded refugee camps after the military launched a brutal crackdown in the western state.

Myanmar says the military action was a response to attacks by Rohingya armed groups in Rakhine. United Nations investigators concluded that the campaign had been executed with “genocidal intent”.

Champagne and Blok said in filing the case at the UN court, The Gambia “took a laudable step towards ending impunity for those committing atrocities in Myanmar”.

‘Historic’

The New York-based Global Center for Justice welcomed the move by Canada and the Netherlands, calling it “nothing short of historic”.

Akila Radhakrishnan, the group’s president, said: “Just as important as their intention to intervene is their promise to focus on gendered crimes of genocide like sexual and gender-based violence, which was central to the atrocities against the Rohingya.”

She added: “Too often, gendered experiences do not translate to justice and accountability efforts and leave the primary targets of those crimes – women and girls – behind. This is an important step forward to address that gap and Canada and the Netherlands should be applauded for this move.”

Rohingya groups also welcomed the move, and urged others to follow their lead.

“Slowly, but surely, the net is closing in on Myanmar’s leaders – they will not get away with this genocide,” Tun Khin, president of the Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK said in a statement, describing Canada and the Netherlands as being on the right side of history.

“It is imperative that other states, including the United Kingdom, now stand on the right of justice for the Rohingya and other ethnic and religious minorities in Myanmar,” the statement added. “Justice is a core demand of all Rohingya people and particularly important for those inside the camps of Cox’s Bazar who have been forced to flee their homeland and live as refugees in a foreign state.” 

Myanmar’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi attended the initial hearings at The Hague in December last year, calling on the 17-judge panel to dismiss the case. Rejecting the genocide claims, she warned the UN judges that allowing The Gambia’s case to go ahead risked reigniting the crisis and could “undermine reconciliation”.

The panel in January ordered Myanmar to take emergency measures to protect its Rohingya population, pending the fuller case.

Myanmar will now have to regularly report on its efforts to protect Rohingya from acts of genocide every six months until a final ruling is made, a process that could take years.

Although ICJ rulings are final and binding, countries have occasionally flouted them, and the court has no formal mechanism to enforce its decisions.

Credit: www.aljazeera.com

Revise Election Broadcast Rules

Overly Broad Restrictions Undermine Fairness

Members of the Union Election Commission wear face masks during a press conference, announcing that general elections in Myanmar will proceed as planned in November despite coronavirus concerns, in Naypyitaw, Myanmar, June 4, 2020. © 2020 AP Photo/Aung Shine Oo

(Bangkok) – The Myanmar Union Election Commission should amend rules governing political parties’ access to state-owned radio and television stations to ensure that all parties can present their positions without undue interference, Human Rights Watch said today.

On July 23, 2020, the Union Election Commission announced that political parties would be permitted to deliver electoral speeches and explain party policies on state-owned television and radio stations during the two-month period leading up to the national election scheduled for November 8. However, all political broadcasts must be pre-approved by the election commission under overly broad and vague restrictions on what political parties can say, in violation of international standards for protection of freedom of speech.

“The UEC’s regulations hamstring the political opposition by effectively prohibiting any criticism of the government, existing laws, and the military,” said Linda Lakhdhir, Asia legal adviser at Human Rights Watch. “Doing so strikes at the heart of political speech and campaigning, and seriously undermines the fairness of the electoral process.”

Under international standards, a transparent and independent body, separate from the election commission, should be established to regulate broadcasting content during elections. Campaign messages for broadcast should not be subject to prior approval and there should not be undue limitation on topics allowed to be covered in the campaign.

Under the rules announced by the UEC, a political party must apply to the election commission for permission to present a campaign broadcast and submit a script for the proposed broadcast for review. The UEC can either permit the broadcast or require revisions to ensure that the script does not violate vague and broadly worded restrictions on content.

The rules prohibit any content that “can disturb the security, rule of law and the peace and stability of the county,” or “disrespects” the existing laws of the country, or “defames” or “tarnishes the image” of the country, or defames the Tatmadaw, or can “harm dignity and morality.” The rules also prohibit any content that could “incite” members of the civil service “not to perform their duty or to oppose the government.”

The cumulative effect of the restrictions clearly violates international human rights law by precluding almost all criticism of the government, the Tatmadaw, or current abusive laws, Human Rights Watch said. Voters have a right to receive and obtain information that will enable them to decide how to exercise their vote. It is critical for all parties to have fair access to state-owned broadcast media in Myanmar, so they can present their programs to the voters.

While the decision to allocate time to opposition political parties is a positive step, any limits on the right to disseminate electoral statements should conform to international standards, including that public figures should be required to tolerate a higher degree of criticism and scrutiny than ordinary citizens. Limits on voters’ access to information can have a chilling effect on debate around issues of public importance during campaigns and elections, Human Rights Watch said.

Using Myanmar’s numerous defamation laws, the government and military have treated almost any criticism of their record as defamatory. For example, three Kachin human rights defenders were sentenced to six months in prison in December 2018, for “defaming” the military during protests in Myitkyina calling for the rescue of civilians trapped by renewed fighting in Kachin State.

Section 66(d) of the Telecommunications Law, which covers defamation online, has been repeatedly used to prosecute those who criticize the government or the military. The military charged the Burmese language editor of The Irrawaddy,Ye Ni, with defamation under that law in April 2019 for reporting about military attacks in the town of Mrauk-U in Rakhine state, though the charges were later dropped. The restriction on content that “defames” the country or the Tatmadaw thus places severe restrictions on what political parties can say about the current National League for Democracy-led government or the military.

The restriction on content that could cause members of the civil service “not to perform their duties” is also problematic given the history of similar restrictions in Myanmar. Penal code article 505(a), barring speech that may cause members of the military to “disregard or fail” in their duties, has been repeatedly used against critics of the military.

On August 29, 2019, a court sentenced the prominent filmmaker, Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi, to one year in prison with hard labor under that provision for criticizing the military on Facebook. Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi suffers from liver cancer and was visibly unwell during his trial.

The military also used the law against members of the Peacock Generation, a traditional theater group, for a satirical performance deemed critical of the military. A court sentenced five members of the troupe to a year in prison for violating section 505(a) in October 2019. A different court imposed an additional one-year sentence under the same law in November 2019, and three members of the troupe face charges of defaming the military under section 66(d) for streaming the performance online.

The prohibition on content that “disrespects” existing laws could be used to prohibit political parties from criticizing abusive laws and discussing their plans to change those laws, Human Rights Watch said. The prohibition on content that can “tarnish the image of the country” could be applied to prohibit almost any criticism of the government or the military, including commentary on military abuses in Rakhine, Shan, and Kachin states.

Each of these restrictions violates international standards on freedom of speech, Human Rights Watch said. They also undermine the fairness of the electoral process by preventing opposition parties from presenting their policies in full where those policies involve criticism of the government, the military, or the country’s many abusive laws.

“The Union Election Commission should revise the broadcast rules to ensure that voters are able to hear opposition parties on state-owned media speaking freely about their policies and platforms,” Lakhdhir said. “Robust political debate lies at the heart of the electoral process, and Myanmar voters are entitled to hear all political views, including those critical of the government in power and its policies.”

Credit: www.hrw.org

Understanding ‘PaukPhaw’:Can Myanmar Resist China’s Debt Trap

Understanding ‘PaukPhaw’:Can Myanmar Resist China’s Debt Trap

On 17 January 2020, President Xi Jinping visited Myanmar. The visit led to 33 bilateral agreements being signed to unleash the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP’s) soft power which is not in the best interests of Myanmar. Nonetheless, in an attempt to question CCP’s role in aiding crimes against humanity, Commander-in-Chief of Myanmar Armed Forces, Senior General Min AungHlaing (MAH) probed Party President Xi on the role of CCP in assisting the large number Ethnic Armed Organisations (EAOs) operating in Myanmar.

In November 2019, the Tatmadaw (official name of Armed Forces of Myanmar) seized a large cache of weapons which included a Chinese made FN-6 from the Ta’ang National Liberation Army. The Tatmadaw has also been increasingly frustrated with the availability of Chinese made weapons with the Arakan Army (which has been declared as a terrorist organisation by the Government of Myanmar). This was also voiced by MAH during his recent visit to Russia where he stated that terrorist organisations active in Myanmar are backed by ‘strong forces’; albeit the CCP. This indicates that top Tatmadaw military brass has blamed CCP’s attempts to take advantage of the fragile internal situation and undermine the sovereignty of Myanmar.

Notwithstanding bilateral setbacks in 1967 and 1973, China-Myanmar relations (termed as “PaukPhaw‘ or fraternal) have been on the upswing since 1988.  After the infamous ‘8888’pro-democracy uprisings, Myanmar was relegated to being a pariah by the West, and the CCP had swiftly moved in to fill the void. Over the years, as the West shunned Myanmar, the CCP became Myanmar’s key political, military, economic and diplomatic partner and began exerting disproportionate pressure and influence on Myanmar.

Today, China is important to Myanmar for several reasons. Economically, China is Myanmar’s largest trading partner and largest source of FDI. Diplomatically, the CCP uses its UNSC veto as a shield for Myanmar. Politically, the CCP has not only engaged extensively with both the ruling NLD party and the Tatmadaw but has also exercised its influence on EAOs in negotiating the peace process. In effect, the CCP with its “double game” continues to exploit Myanmar’s resources by accentuating its vulnerabilities.

The original cost of developing KyaukPhyu SEZ (which is a part of China-Myanmar Economic Corridor or CMEC) was $ 7.2 Billion. This cost was slashed to $ 1.3 billion by Myanmar over concerns of excessive debt. Whilst the environmental/ social impact assessment for the project is yet to begin, concerns have already erupted in the local populace. Though these concerns may seem premature, given Myanmar’s previous experience with other Chinese projects such as the LetpadaungCopper Mine (where Chinese operators blatantly resorted to land grabbing/ unauthorised evictions) and Myitsone Dam project (where construction had to be stopped in September 2011 due to environmental issues), these concerns are increasingly influencing Myanmar’s decision making. Today Mayanmar’s leadership is worried about the tell-tale signs of the “Dragon’s trap“.

Another shocking fact of CMEC is that it passes through the most troubled areas in Myanmar where EAOs have waged armed conflict for decades against Myanmar’s government. The KyaukPhyu SEZ (Rakhine state) is where the Arakan Army is active and the other end of CMEC is in the Northern Shan State where armed conflict has been raging. It is unclear how such large financial investments in these sensitive areas would assist in ending the armed conflicts. The converse is more likely to be the state. The CCP is infamous for closed-door negotiations and would resort to illegally paying the EAOs to progress the CMEC. Such payments will further empower the EAOs, and in turn, strangulate Myanmar’s peace process.

More recently, the Government of Myanmar has ordered a probe into the contentious Chinese development of ShweKokko in Karen State by illegal land confiscation/ construction, and the influx of CCP’s money for illicit activities. Be it the CMEC, Letpadaung Mine, Myitsone or Shwe Koko; in fact in all Chinese aided projects, total disregard of rules and insensitivity to local sentiments is a measure of the coercive approach of the CCP in exploiting Myanmar.

Anti-CCP sentiment in Myanmar is not only fuelled by large state-run projects such as CMEC but also smaller projects such as private infrastructure development, small-scale mining operations and agriculture – plantations, where exploitation of local population is rampant. Allured by cheap labour, land, lack of transparency and ineffective labour laws, CCP-backed Chinese private companies are investing heavily in plantations bearing cash crops in Myanmar. These plantations are often unregulated and the investors take the assistance of EAOs, thereby exploiting the locals and natural resources of Myanmar for CCP.

The emergence of COVID-19, limited transparency in CCP’s economic dealings and lack of concern for national sentiments, coupled with exploitation of natural resources have resulted in deep distrust and anxiety among the people of Myanmar against the Chinese. The hardened Western stance and increasing investment by CCP, push Myanmar further into the Chinese orbit, eventually paving the way to being shackled by the tentacles of the Dragon’s debt trap and becoming a client state.

By: Ravi Shankar
Credit: bharatshakti.in

India-Myanmar Border on High Alert After Ambush by Separatist Rebels

The ambush came amid a reshuffling of the Naga separatist movement in Myanmar.

Credit: Photo by special arrangement

Indian security forces have been put on high alert along the country’s border with Myanmar following another ambush by separatist rebels that killed three personnel of a paramilitary outfit.

An official said that “vulnerable spots” along the border in India’s Northeast have been identified and “area domination exercises” launched to prevent further attacks by the rebel groups.

In Nagaland’s Mon and Tuensang, which had been a hotbed of militancy for the past several decades, additional deployment of troops have been observed by residents in the district headquarters.

On July 29, a joint squad of three Myanmar-based separatist groups from India’s Northeast ambushed a patrolling party of Assam Rifles on the border at Sajik Tampak in Manipur’s Chandel district. A press release issued by these outfits claimed that four personnel were killed in the attack as part of the campaign against India’s “colonization” of western Southeast Asia.

Chandel has been one of the most vulnerable zones along the 1,643 kilometer long India-Myanmar border. In 2015, as many as 18 soldiers of the Indian army were killed in an ambush carried out jointly by the separatist outfits.

Across Chandel in Myanmar are at least two big camps belonging to the People’s Liberation Army (Manipur) and United National Liberation Front, which serve as a launching pad for the attacks against the Indian security forces. Both the outfits hail from Manipur’s Imphal Valley and have close ties with other separatist groups in the region.

The release mentions the involvement of a new outfit, the Manipur Naga People’s Front (MPNF), in the recent attack, fueling speculation among the Indian security agencies about new linkages that might have emerged among the groups and whether it was linked to the division in the Naga separatist movement in Myanmar.

The ambush on July 29 was preceded by two developments in Myanmar’s Naga inhabited region which is contiguous to India’s Northeast. The Khaplang faction of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN-K) suffered its second split in less than two years when a faction led by Niki Sumi expelled chairman Yung Aung.ADVERTISEMENT

A release cited Aung’s decision to change the official seal and his attempts to “clandestinely” establish ties with the Isak-Muivah faction of NSCN (NSCN-IM), which operates out of India’s Northeast, as the reasons for his expulsion from the outfit.

Predictably, Aung reacted by expelling Sumi and two senior functionaries from the organization on charges of convening “illegal meetings,” misappropriation of funds, encouraging “divisive policies,” and failing to report in the council headquarters after being summoned.

The entire outcome of these developments may be too early to gauge but the split will certainly weaken the separatist movement in Myanmar’s Naga inhabited zone. The unity that former chairman S. S. Khaplang had assiduously maintained could be difficult to sustain given the myriad tribes in the region. While Aung is a Pangmi Naga, Niki Sumi hails from the Sumi tribe in Nagaland and he has the support of some senior leaders from the Konyak Naga region in Myanmar.

Adding to the complexities were reports last month that the Tatmadaw, Myanmar’s military, has deployed additional columns of the army in the remote hilly regions of Sagaing Division along the border with India. There was speculation that another offensive would be launched against the NSCN(K)’s stronghold to flush out rebels belonging to United Liberation Front of Asom (Independent) from Assam in northeast India.

All the camps of the separatist outfits from India’s Northeast were dismantled in a raid last year at Taga. Several functionaries from many groups were jailed and later handed over to India. However, no operations were launched this time around and the army reportedly returned to its barracks after a couple of weeks.

An Indian government official explained that the additional deployment was triggered following Tatmadaw’s receipt of reports that a large group of the NSCN(IM) would shift base to certain locations in Myanmar’s Sagaing Division. Earlier, there had been a spate of reports in the media claiming that the NSCN(IM) had already transferred a large chunk of its weapons and cadres to camps in Myanmar from its camps in India’s Northeast.

NSCN(IM) has been engaged in a peace process with the Indian government since 1997 with the objective to reach a negotiated settlement. A “Framework Agreement” clinched in 2015 between the two sides raised the hope of an agreement, but the process has been stuck over the demands of a separate flag and constitution by the Naga group, which is unacceptable to the government.

In the last couple of months, government troops have also launched a crackdown against the outfit resulting in some encounters as well. The NSCN(IM) has accused the government of putting the peace peace in “cold storage” and it has blamed the interlocutor and Nagaland governor R. N. Ravi for the delay.

By: Rajeev Bhattacharyya
Credit: thediplomat.com

America has to defend Myanmar from “malignant influences”: US Ambassadorial nominee

US new Ambassadorial nominee to Myanmar Thomas Laszlo Vajda told the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, US engagement with Myanmar is “essential” in order to advance the Southeast Asian country’s reforms and help defend the country against “malign influences”.

NEW DELHI: US new Ambassadorial nominee to Myanmar Thomas Laszlo Vajda has emphasised that one of his goals as envoy would be “to advance US interests and values” in the Southeast Asian country and help defend the country against “malign influences” in a veiled reference to China.

He told the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, US engagement with Myanmar is “essential” in order to advance the Southeast Asian country’s reforms and help defend the country against “malign influences”.

The hearing took place after US President Donald Trump’s nomination of Vajda as the US envoy to Myanmar in May.

“It is also critical that we support Burma’s efforts to resist malign foreign influences and challenges to its sovereignty,” he said at the hearing.

“To support Burma in this regard, the United States will need to continue helping government officials, economic reformers and civil society actors who are pushing back on unfair investment practices and deals that provide little benefit to local communities,” he added.

Though the nominee didn’t name the “malign influences” mentioned in his testimony, his reference to “unfair investment practices and deals that provide little benefit to local communities” was obvious as being to China.

An op-ed penned last month by the chargé d’affaires at the US Embassy in Yangon, George Sibley, alleged that China’s actions are part of a larger plan to undermine the sovereignty of its neighbors, including Myanmar.

In response, the Chinese Embassy accused Sibley of “outrageously smearing China” and attempting to sow discord between it and Myanmar, damaging the countries’ relations and bilateral cooperation. It said the article not only reflects the “sour grapes” mindset of the US toward China-Myanmar relations, but also a global effort by the US to shift attention away from its domestic problems and seek selfish political gain.

Credit: economictimes.indiatimes.com