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The bodies of two children, a two-year old boy and a newborn girl, were dug up Sept. 16 from under the rubble left in the wake of the Saudi-led coalition’s air strikes in a civilian neighborhood in Saada province.  The children were from an internally displaced family who had recently relocated to Saada’s Marran district after their previous home was destroyed in the same way.  Two children lost, two homes destroyed.  The bombs that pulverized the town, as well as the fuel that filled the jet tanks, were likely provided by the United States. 

The U.S. must disentangle itself from this conflict before it becomes even more complicit in the potential war crimes piling up in Yemen.  America must instead pivot, uphold its values, and encourage its Persian Gulf allies to stop their attacks on civilians as a means of squeezing their Iran-backed enemies.   

Since 2015, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have been peppering Yemen, the Middle East’s most impoverished nation, with air raids in attempt to reinstate the internationally recognized government of President Abu-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, which was toppled by Iran-backed Houthi Shiite rebels in late 2014.  These air raids have increasingly and disproportionately killed civilians, many of them children, and toppled infrastructure.  Weddings, hospitals, funerals, water and electricity plants, food mills, and even a school bus have all been eviscerated, killing thousands. 

The U.S. has been supplying in-air fueling, targeting assistance, and various munitions to the Saudi-led coalition since the beginning of the civil war.  Although President Barack Obama suspended U.S. assistance once it became clear that coalition forces may be violating humanitarian law through their seemingly indiscriminant attacks on noncombatants, once the Trump administration came into power, then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson quickly reinstated this extensive support.

The coalition is shockingly striking far more non-military targets than military ones.  In August alone, according to the Yemen Data Project, an organization that has been monitoring aerial bombardments since the beginning of the war, the number of air raids targeting non-military sites (39%) were more than double that of military (18%) targeting.  The number of air raids on civilian vehicles and buses has risen every year since the coalition bombing campaign began in 2015. 

Along with Saada province, a region straddling the Saudi border that has been ravaged by violence since the start of the conflict, the western port city of Hodeidah has once again become the epicenter of horrific fighting in recent weeks.  Heavy fighting has been raging around Hodeidah as the Saudi-led coalition has once again set its sights on retaking the city from the rebel Houthis who have controlled it since October 2014. 

The latest chapter of the coalition’s offensive, called Operation Golden Victory, began earlier this month following failed peace talks in Geneva.  The U.N. special envoy for Yemen, Martin Griffiths, arranged for talks to resume in Geneva on Sept 6.  While a delegation of the recognized government of Yemen arrived, allegedly ready to negotiate, the Houthis never showed, accusing the UN of failing to guarantee their safe return to Sanaa, Yemin’s rebel-held capital.  The next day, the Saudi-UAE alliance renewed their offensive to retake Hodeidah, which they had failed to recapture from the rebels in June. 

The weekend of Sept. 7 marked one of the deadliest in Yemen’s war so far, with more than 84 conflict-related fatalities reported within Hodeidah health facilities alone, according to Safer Yemen, an organization providing analysis and security services in Yemen.  Hodeidah, Yemen’s main port city, is a critical gateway for supplying the rebels and for transporting humanitarian aid to the desperate civilian population.  The port is one of the most critical pieces of civilian infrastructure in Yemen.  More than 3 million people live in Hodeidah governorate, with more than 600,000 living in Hodeidah city proper.  In a country almost completely reliant on imported food stocks, medicine, and fuel, up to 80% of these necessities have historically reached the rest of the country through the port of Hodeidah.   

It continues to be the most suitable port of entry for humanitarian and commercial goods.  Any disruption or threat to the safety of the port and the shipments could strangle the Yemeni economy and impact access to food for more than 20 million people.  Experts are particularly concerned about the milling facilities in the Hodeidah Port complex, which are extremely vulnerable to attack, and house enough to feed 3.5 million Yemeni people.  In this war on civilians, nothing seems to be out of bounds. 

The UN has warned of “incalculable human cost” in Hodeidah, as coalition forces backed by the US press from several sides towards the strategic port city, including heavy ground clashes and sustained aerial bombardments.  The humanitarian situation could reach perverse and abominable proportions. 

According to Lise Grande, the top U.N. humanitarian official in Yemen, as the crisis continues to deteriorate dramatically, “families are absolutely terrified by the bombardment, shelling and airstrikes.  People are struggling to survive.” 

The country’s three-year civil war has embroiled millions in what has become the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.  According to the U.N., some 22 million people, comprising 75% of Yemen’s population, need humanitarian assistance, with 8.4 million on the brink of starvation.  In addition to the thousands of deaths caused by air strikes, thousands have died of preventable diseases.  And, of course, children bear the brunt of the devastation.  Yemen has the largest number of children in need of humanitarian aid globally.  More than 11 million children, comprising 80% of the nation’s children, desperately need humanitarian assistance.  They must endure the daily scourge of food shortages, diseases, displacement, and acute lack of access to basic social services, most notably education, according to UNICEF. 

Without a safe place learn and continue their childhoods in the midst of this intractable war, they risk conscription by armed groups and government forces, indoctrination by extremist groups, and early and forced marriage.  The future generation of Yemen is being buried by this war, much like the innocent civilians trapped under the rubble, much like the water networks, schools, medical facilities, food mills, and school busses being indiscriminately—or perhaps even purposefully—obliterated by the coalition bombs. 

In Hodeidah, there are dramatic shortages of food and medicine; rebels patrol the streets around the clock; and most shops and restaurants have closed.  The coalition’s planes have bombed a radio station, taxi stand, houses, farms, a flour mill and a soft drink factory—all civilian buildings—across Hodeidah governorate over the last 2 weeks alone.  The constant sound of machine-gun firing, mortar shelling, and airstrikes in the outskirts of the city reverberates through the air.  “There is a great sense of panic and fear among people,” said Mazen Mjammal, 21.  55,000 people have been displaced from across the governorate, leaving more than half a million at heightened risk of hunger and exposure to diseases, including cholera.

As government forces, led by Saudi Arabia and UAE, move into Hodeidah, the heart of Yemen, they are targeting the arteries that branch out to the rest of the country, transporting food and supplies necessary for the population’s survival.  For example, the coalition seems to have seized a key southern road to Hodeidah in order to weaken the rebels’ supply lines, and waged attacks to control Kilu 16, a junction that links the port city to Sanna, the nation’s capital. 

Hodeidah has become a trophy for both sides, its citizens pawns in the twisted game the government and Saudi-led coalition have been playing for far too long. 

In response to the ramped-up offensive on Hodeidah, Senior Houthi official Dhaifallah Alshami said, “The coalition wants to take over the city and use that as a playing card to apply economic pressure on the Yemeni people and make them starve and therefore give in to the coalition.  However, this will never happen.  The will of the Yemeni people cannot be broken.”

Col. Adnan Almateri, a senior commander of government forces, commenting on the future of peace negotiations, said, “There will be no dialogue with the enemy or stopping before liberating the country from them.  They do not seek peace and are nothing but a destruction tool.  The coming days will carry more and more surprises and, with God’s will, we will defeat this criminal gang.”

So, which side is telling the truth?  Which side truly reflects the needs of the people—the insurgency claiming their allegiance or the government calling for their liberation?  The only thing that is clear about this conflict is that both sides are using Yemen’s citizens in their war games, claiming ownership of them and essentially bleeding them dry.

Yemen has long been on the international community’s radar, dubbing it the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.  On Aug. 28, the U.N.-mandated Group of Independent Eminent Experts on Yemen reported that grave human rights violations have been perpetrated by all parties to the conflict, possibly amounting to war crimes.  It also found that the Saudis, Emiratis, and their Yemeni government allies were responsible for “most direct civilian casualties,” accusing them of targeting residential areas, markets, funerals, weddings, detention facilities, civilian boats, and even medical facilities.    

This report, combined with the terrifying scope of recent attacks, particularly the death of 40 children after the coalition’s bombing of a school bus on Aug 9, renewed global outrage.  Just weeks after this categorically illegal and irreprehensible attack on innocent children, Saudi-led airstrikes killed at least 22 children and 4 women as they were fleeing the offensive in Hodeidah.   

So, what has been America’s response to these atrocities?  One would think the Trump administration would cut ties with coalition forces immediately in order to preserve America’s reputation as a global leader on upholding human rights and humanitarian law.  But that was very far from the case.  Despite the concerted efforts of impassioned members of Congress trying to make the administration see the light, the US has not only continued its support of its Persian Gulf allies, but gone so far as to justify it.

Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Todd Young (R-IN) spearheaded congressional efforts to rein in US involvement in the Yemen crisis.  They authored a defense policy bill that required Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to certify that Saudi Arabia and the UAE are taking steps to prevent civilian deaths.  The Defense bill actually linked continued US support to the actions of the coalition’s leaders, providing a real mechanism for changing how what has become war on the civilian population is waged. 

Despite significant pressure from both sides of the aisle to acknowledge that war crimes are being perpetrated by our friends in Yemen, Pompeo baulked at the opportunity to give an honest assessment of the harm civilians are suffering and the role the U.S. plays in facilitating such abuses.  On Sept 11, in a certification required by the above-mentioned Defense bill, Pompeo told Congress that Saudi Arabia and UAE are taking “demonstrable actions” to minimize civilian casualties.  This certification means that the U.S. will continue to provide mid-air refueling for the coalition’s war planes, sell them advanced weaponry, and supply them with intelligence and targeting assistance. 

The U.S. is the world’s largest weapons dealer, with Saudi Arabia as its biggest customer, having purchased more than $100 billion in armaments since 2010.  As American-made missiles bury children in rubble, defense contractors like Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and Raytheon line their shareholders’ pockets.  Case in point: on the same day that Secretary Pompeo said the Saudi coalition complied with Congress’ Yemen conditions, coalition planes blew up a taxi stand full of civilians in the Kelo 16 area of Hodeidah.

The certification sent a shockwave through Congress, prompting some officials to call out the Trump administration in a very real way.  Rep. Ro Khanna (E-Calif.) said the administration’s policy of having the Saudis serve as a buffer to Iran eclipsed all other considerations of US participation in the war.  Sen. Shaheen said, “We need to hold our allies to a higher standard and unfortunately, this certification fails in that regard….It is evident that the administration is deliberately sidestepping congressional oversight.”  Others were truly incensed.  Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn), said in a statement, “How can the Trump administration deny what everyone can see with our own two eyes?  These certifications are a farce, and we should all be ashamed that our government is turning a blind eye to likely war crimes.”    

Earlier this year, the Senate attempted to intervene to stop US in-air refueling of Saudi jets and other logistical, intelligence, and targeting support.  The bipartisan measure, S.J. Res. 54, introduced by Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Mike Lee (R-UT), and Chris Murphy (D-CT), aimed to stop America’s support for the bloodshed.  But the resolution failed on a procedural vote, 55 to 44, allowing for the coalition’s brutal air campaign to continue unbridled.  The House, too, tried its hand at stopping America’s role in facilitating the atrocities, with a companion bill championed by Rep. Ro Khanna of California (CA-17).  That, too, languished, despite inspiring 53 cosponsors.  However, Rep. Khanna did manage to get H. Res. 599 passed, which at least admitted that: “the United States has participated in intelligence cooperation since 2015”; “it has provided midair refueling services to Saudi-led Arab Coalition warplanes conducting aerial bombings in Yemen against the Houthi-Saleh alliance;” and, that Congress had not “authorized the use of military force against parties participating in the Yemeni civil war.”  The House’s approval of these facts made these critical facts part of the record, which at least represented some movement in the right direction.  But, the fight is not over.  Several peace and human rights-minded House members, led by ranking House Armed Services Committee Ranking Member Adam Smith (WA-09), Ro Khanna (CA-17), Mark Pocan (WI-02), Jim McGovern (MA-02), Jan Schakowsky (IL-09) and others, will soon try again to withdraw U.S. Armed Forces from unconstitutional hostilities alongside our Saudi allies in Yemen.

Jewish World Watch (JWW) calls on our supporters to contact their House members and demand they support this pragmatic effort to cease US participation in these atrocities.  Without America’s continued and sustaining assistance, the Saudi-led coalition’s capabilities would be dramatically impacted, and they would likely feel pressured to more seriously negotiate with the Houthi-backed government.  Regardless of the geostrategic politics underlying this conflict, the embattled people of Yemen — and, especially its children — need for this torment to end.

While this promising resolution is in the works, JWW will update you on any and all developments with respect to America’s participation in this war and any promising advocacy measures, which we can push forward with your support.  Even though legislation is still under development, please reach out to your Congressional representatives and ask them to take a stand against the US’s complicity in these heinous attacks on civilians, which could ultimately make our country culpable for aiding and abetting mass atrocities in violation of international law.  Help JWW to ring the alarm and make things happen!  The stronger our united voice is, the more we can do!  The time to act is NOW.  The longer we wait, the greater risk that the crucial civilian infrastructure in Hodeidah will be destroyed, sending ripple effects throughout a country already decimated by war.  Thank you for supporting our advocacy work and refusing to stand idly by as children are bombed in their homes … on field trips … at weddings … and even while trying to escape the constant barrage raining down from above.      

The post Yemen on the brink: The U.S. must stop facilitating potential war crimes appeared first on Jewish World Watch.

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The holiday of Yom Kippur offers a time for reflection, a time to see ourselves as inextricable from a larger community, sharing responsibility not only for our own lives, but also those of others.

I think of the concept of shared responsibility often in our work at Jewish World Watch — not in the promises we make to a deity on high, but rather as the foundation for our response to people who cry out for help, usually people who believe they will never be heard.

In your hearts and in your deeds, the community of Jewish World Watch proves daily that you feel responsible to offer solace and aid to the survivors of genocide and mass atrocities living in refugee camps a world away from our comfortable lives in the United States — people who could never imagine the violence committed against them might feel to us as if it were to our own extended family. Jewish World Watch was founded 14 years ago on the mandate to do what we can to help rebuild those lives, to support resilience among people who have been persecuted simply for being born who they are.

Together we stand up for the Rohingya of Myanmar, nearly a million of whom fled genocide over just the past year and now find themselves facing monsoons in makeshift refugee camps in impoverished Bangladesh. We offer sustenance to the Darfuris of Sudan, who have survived for 14 years in camps in Chad, unable to return home and without enough food to amply feed their families. We give lifesaving support to the people of South Sudan who’ve fled ethnic warfare and are camped in settlements in Uganda, and to the Syrian doctors who in the midst of civil war we are providing essential medical supplies to help them care for the wounded and ill. We also continue to offer essential rehabilitative aid to survivors of sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and to young boys there who were once child soldiers and now want only to get an education and reintegrate into their communities.

We can say, “We are here for you” in concert with all of you, because you have been so generous in your support of Jewish World Watch. You are at the heart of our advocacy and education programs and you have funded our many amazing projects that offer hope to survivors. You show up, you give and your generosity tells the world’s most vulnerable people today, and every day, that we will do what we can to make a difference.

Today, as we approach Yom Kippur, the Holy Jewish Day of Atonement, I send my profound gratitude to all of you for sustaining Jewish World Watch, this amazing organization, in so many ways.

Thank you for your many gifts, and thank you for being a part of a community that reaches around the world.

May the coming year be a sweet one, and for those who are observing the holiday, may your fast be easy and meaningful.

Susan Freudenheim
Jewish World Watch Executive Director

The post The value of your gift: A Yom Kippur message from our Executive Director appeared first on Jewish World Watch.

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Aug. 25 marks the one-year anniversary of the start of the Myanmar (also known as Burma) military’s “clearance operations” against the Rohingya population in Rakhine State.  While many experts, international organizations operating on the ground, and states have categorized the atrocities that followed as genocide, others have been hesitant to use the term, including the United States.  In fact, a recent article in Politico citing internal State Department documents disclosed that the Trump Administration was still hesitating to qualify the atrocities and concomitant mass exodus of over 700,000 Rohingya to neighboring Bangladesh as genocide, probably because of the type of response such a designation of a crime would demand.  Following is an analysis of why Jewish World Watch (JWW) believes the Myanmar military has likely committed genocide against the Rohingya Muslim minority group. 

The following is a legal analysis of the crime of genocide under international law.

Ultimately, JWW aims to engage our constituents and congressional representatives to apply pressure on Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the State Department to acknowledge the genocide and accept the stronger call to action this categorization triggers, including sanctions targeting the highest echelons of the military’s power structure.  JWW also calls upon the UN Security Council to refer the Rohingya crisis to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for investigation.  

The gross violations perpetrated against the Rohingya are widely known, to the point of having received significant coverage in myriad mainstream media, from National Public Radio to Rolling Stone magazine.  Beginning in August of last year, the Myanmar security forces committed widespread and systematic attacks against the Rohingya, among them unlawful killing of civilians, including of infants; torture; sexual violence; arson attacks and destruction of more than 350 villages.  During the first month of operations alone, an estimated 6,700 Rohingya, including at least 730 children, were murdered.  Between August and December, more than 720,000 ethnic Rohingya civilians were forced to flee to neighboring Bangladesh.

The crime of genocide is codified in international law in the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide, adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1948, and is universally binding on all states as well as non-state actors.  What distinguishes genocide from other mass atrocity crimes is the requisite intent: the “intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group.”  Intent is the hardest element of the crime to prove, although it doesn’t have to be proven directly from statements or orders; it can be inferred from a systematic pattern of coordinated acts. 

Genocidal acts need not result in death of members of a group.  When committed as part of a policy to destroy a group’s existence, the following acts become genocidal:

  • killing members of the group, including direct killings and actions causing death
  • causing serious bodily or mental harm, including inflicting trauma on group members through widespread torture, rape, sexual violence, forced or coerced drug use, and mutilation
  • deliberately inflicting conditions of life calculated to destroy a group, including the deliberate deprivation of resources needed for the group’s physical survival (i.e., clean water, food, clothing, shelter, and medical services). Deprivation of the means to sustain life can be imposed through confiscation of harvests, blockade of foodstuffs, detention in camps, and forcible relocation
  • Prevention of births, including involuntary sterilization, forced abortion, prohibition of marriage, and long-term separation of men and women intended to prevent procreation.
  • Forcible transfer of children

It has been well-documented by media, experts, and international organizations like the UN that the atrocities perpetrated against the Rohingya fall within some, if not all of the above categories.  The outstanding question is whether there was a clear objective of annihilation underlying these egregious acts.

The crucial ingredient for actions to meet the high threshold of genocide—rather than other violations of international law, like crimes against humanity or war crimes—is the intent to eradicate members of a group because they are members of said group.  Since overt expressions of a desire to exterminate all or part of the Rohingya population have not been discovered yet, certain types of evidence, when viewed in the aggregate, can help to establish genocidal intent.  Evidence of premeditation and planning; large-scale public propaganda campaigns; cover-ups and destruction of evidence; and denial all serve as indicators that something beyond run-of-the-mill killing, burning, and expelling is going on.

Rohingya refugees who have crossed the border to Bangladesh. Photo by UNICEF/Brown

In a landmark report, Fortify Rights—a Bangkok-based legal and advocacy organization with unmatched expertise in Myanmar issues—found that in the weeks and months before hundreds of thousands of Rohingya fled Myanmar to Bangladesh, authorities had made “extensive and systematic preparations” for attacks on the Muslim minority.

Planning is a clear indication of intent, especially when the crimes at issue are so systematic, varied, coordinated, and brutal.  “Genocide doesn’t happen spontaneously,” noted Matthew Smith, CEO of Fortify Rights.  It requires planning and the planting of seeds of hate.  The report implicated 22 Myanmar army and police officials in the chain of command. 

Myanmar army officials and even the country’s elected civilian leader, Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, say that Myanmar’s brutal campaign of rape, extrajudicial killing, and forced displacement was a counter-insurgency response to an attack by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) on security forces on Aug. 25, 2017.  Fortify Rights found this narrative to be untrue.  Evidence suggests that since ARSA’s first attack on the Myanmar military, security forces have been lying in wait for another attack so that they could unleash full-blown violence and expulsion that would be apocalyptic for the Rohingya minority.

Systematic preparations detailed in the report include: the collection of sharp or blunt objects from Rohingya civilians so as to ensure they were unarmed and unable to defend themselves during the crackdown; spreading anti-Rohingya propaganda; training and arming local non-Rohingya communities; tearing down fencing and other structures around Rohingya homes; deliberately depriving Rohingya of food and crucial life-saving aid to weaken them prior to attack; and deploying unnecessarily high numbers of state security forces to northern Rakhine state.

A long history of deep discrimination of the Rohingya as well as widespread hatred towards the minority group by a large swath of the Myanmar population speak to a long-percolating intent to destroy.  Atrocities committed against the Rohingya are the culmination of decades of institutionalized discrimination of this distinct Muslim ethnic population comprised of over 1 million people.  This includes: denial of citizenship as a result of discriminatory laws; involuntary ghettoization and confinement to displacement camps; and severe restrictions on their freedom of movement, marriage and reproductive rights as well as access to employment and education.

The history of the Rohingya as a distinct ethnic group stretches back for generations.  They speak a Bengali dialect and tend to look distinct from most of Myanmar’s other ethnic groups.  Although many Rohingya were considered citizens when Myanmar became independent in 1948, after its junta in 1962, the military began stripping them of their rights.  Most Rohingya became legally stateless after a restrictive citizenship law was introduced in 1982.  Even the name Rohingya has been taken from them; the Myanmar government refers to them as Bengalis, or much, much worse.

Framed as dangerous interlopers and terrorists from neighboring Bangladesh, their very identity has been denied by the Buddhist majority, including civilian leader Ang San Suu Kyi.  “There is no such thing as Rohingya,” U Kyaw San Hla, an officer in Rakhine’s state security ministry was quoted in the New York Times.  “It is fake news.”  The Myanmar military has been slowly erasing the Rohingya for quite some time, fanning the flames of hate and dehumanization through multiple channels to engage the majority of Myanmar citizens in their mission.  Now government officials, opposition politicians, religious leaders and even local human-rights activists are unified under the same narrative that the Rohingya must be gotten rid of, whether expelled or eradicated, because they are not citizens of Myanmar and do not belong.  Buddhist Monks, considered moral authorities in a pious land, have been at the forefront of campaigns to strip the Rohingya of their humanity, often referring to them as “snakes,” “pigs,” and “worse than dogs.”

The vitriolic hate speech of Myanmar’s citizens, religious leaders, and officials unleashed on Facebook speaks of clear genocidal intent.  For years leading up to last year’s attacks, the military used media to amplify Rohingya otherness, to dehumanize them and fan the flames of hatred so as to get the majority of the population on board with what was to come.  Although widespread access in Myanmar to cellphones only started a few years ago, already about 90 percent of the population has phones, and, for many people, Facebook is their only source of news, the only site they use on the internet.  Reuters found more than 1,000 examples of posts, comments, and pornographic images attacking the Rohingya on Myanmar Facebook.   

Some examples reported by Reuters are especially shocking:  “We must fight them the way Hitler did the Jews, damn kalars!” Kalar is a derogatory word for Muslim.  Another post showed a news article from an army-controlled publication, which said, “These non-human kalar dogs, the Bengalis, are killing and destroying our land, our water, and our ethnic people….We need to destroy their race.”  In reference to a picture of a boatload of Rohingya refugees, another user said, “pour fuel and set fire so that they can meet Allah faster.”  “The poisonous posts call the Rohingya or other Muslims dogs, maggots and rapists, suggest they be fed to pigs, and urge they be shot or exterminated,” said Reuters.  If this is what the average person in Myanmar believed leading up to last year’s atrocities, so naturally and deeply that they felt comfortable posting for all to see, it’s not hard to imagine what the architects of the genocide had in mind.       

It wasn’t the brutal acts that followed these preparations as much as the aftermath that helps to establish genocidal intent.  The military and security forces vehemently denied any wrongdoing, tried to wipe out any evidence of the Rohingya’s presence in Myanmar, and attempted to destroy all evidence.  In a report released in October 2017, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said that Myanmar’s security forces had worked to “effectively erase all signs of memorable landmarks in the geography of the Rohingya landscape and memory in such a way that a return to their lands would yield nothing but a desolate and unrecognizable terrain.” 

The crackdown in Rakhine also targeted “teachers, the cultural and religious leadership, and other people of influence in the Rohingya community in an effort to diminish Rohingya history, culture and knowledge.”  It seems that the military just wanted to wipe it all away.  Security forces burned and bulldozed the villages to leave no trace; they buried the dead in mass graves; they put the area on lockdown, prohibiting any aid groups, human rights organizations, fact-finding missions or journalists from entering.  According to accounts by Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, security forces “came to the slaughter armed not only with rifles, knives, rocket launchers and grenades, but also with shovels to dig pits and acid to burn away faces and hands so that the bodies could not be identified.”  Villagers said that two days before the onslaught, they saw soldiers buying vats of acid in a nearby village. 

Rohingya refugees are resorting to increasingly desperate measures such as makeshift rafts to cross the Naf River to Bangladesh. Photo by Andrew McConnell/UNHCR

After the genocidal acts came the blanket denials: “There’s no case of military killing Muslim civilians,” said Dr. Win Myat Aye, the country’s social welfare minister and the governing National League for Democracy party’s point person on Rakhine.  “Muslim people killed their own Muslim people.”  Of course, these denials cannot be taken seriously in the face of overwhelming evidence of planned and systematic efforts to annihilate the Rohingya and remove them from their lands.  But the act of denial itself, by both the military and civilian government, especially when it places blame on the victims, is a telltale indicator of genocidal intent.

When the actions before, during, and after the crackdown are brought together to create a clear pattern and plan, one could certainly make the case that the requisite intent to destroy runs through all of it.  Jewish World Watch believes that the Rohingya crisis is most likely genocide, and we are advocating for a response proportionate to such a crime.    

These atrocities cannot be overlooked or minimized.  Despite extensive reporting on the plight of the Rohingya, who continue to suffer terribly in the overcrowded, decrepit camps of Cox’s Bazar, international institutions and governments haven’t done enough to stop the military from targeting other minority groups in Myanmar, with impunity.  Most recently, it has turned its campaign of violence against the Christian minority of Kachin State. 

The world cannot stand idly by and watch another genocide unfold.  Jewish World Watch has been working through our partners on the ground in Bangladesh to build resilient structures and to help provide much-needed medical aid to the refugees who fled their home for an overcrowded refugee camp that is now subject to furious monsoons.  No matter how much we and other like-minded organizations do for the survivors of this genocide, they will continue to be at risk, and abused unless the international community stands up on their behalf and targets the architects of these heinous crimes.

The United States recently issued sanctions against 4 members of the Myanmar military.  While this is a positive first step, we must do more.  First and foremost, the sanctions should be broader, reaching the highest in the chain of command, including Commander-in-Chief General Min Aung Hlaing.  The U.S. should also suspend all cooperation with Myanmar’s armed forces and scrupulously review any trade and development programs in Rakhine State to ensure that they do not reinforce discriminatory structures.  The State Department should also acknowledge this for what it is, a likely genocide.  While the blockade against non-governmental organizations, reporters, and experts has made a definitive finding of genocide more complicated than it would be in an open state, satellite footage, testimonials of survivors, and, of course, posts on social media undeniably point to something beyond crimes against humanity or ethnic cleansing.

To ensure that the culture of impunity the Myanmar military has enjoyed for far too long is stopped, once and for all, Jewish World Watch also asks the UN Security Council to refer the Rohingya crisis to the International Criminal Court for investigation and possible prosecution as well as to impose sanctions on the military regime. 

Together, we will continue monitoring the developments, pushing for an appropriate response by the United States, and fighting on behalf of those who cannot fight for themselves … until they finally can.

The post Why the Rohingya crisis is a genocide appeared first on Jewish World Watch.

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Our small, extraordinarily efficient partners bringing hospital supplies into Syria are likely your best option for getting aid directly where you want it to go – to the doctors inside Idlib, and the people whose lives they are saving.

We say this in the wake of an article published yesterday by IRIN, a respected news publication, detailing a USAID investigation of a corruption ring that sought to line its pockets with Syrian aid money.  Several individuals, including a former logistics officer with the Irish charity GOAL and the former Turkish country director of the International Rescue Committee, were given 5- or 10-year debarments from doing business with the U.S. government.  Though not criminal convictions, debarments for fraud must be substantiated by a preponderance of the evidence. 

Since March 2015, the USAID Office of the Inspector general (OIG) has been investigating “bid rigging, collusion, bribery, and kickbacks” in cross-border humanitarian aid supplied from Turkey to Syria.  A significant portion of the approximately $500 million in international aid annually going to opposition-controlled areas comes through Turkey.  Even a Save the Children staff member was found to have engaged in bid rigging and collusion as part of a concerted effort to manipulate the procurement process.

The International Rescue Committee and Save the Children are respected, eminent aid organizations, perceived widely as experts in needs assessment and delivery of humanitarian and development aid.  They operate myriad programs ranging from the provision of medical services to the building of schools.  Obviously, these organizations should not be judged on the basis of one staff member’s poor judgment.  Save the Children spent $577,000 for auditors to conduct an internal investigation into the matter and quickly beefed up its systems and controls in response to the findings. 

However, this disturbing news concerning fraud and corruption in aid procurement and delivery does suggest that sometimes going with a smaller organization with strong oversight and a transparent process is the better choice for donors who want to make sure their contributions actually reach the target beneficiaries and have a real impact. 

Jewish World Watch’s projects offer precisely this type of security.  Because our partners are relatively small and lean and are thoroughly vetted by experienced staff, constant contact and on-the-ground interactions, we know where your money is going and can hold the aid recipients accountable.  Even more important, we select many of our grantee partners precisely because they offer innovative ways of targeting problems related to mass atrocities in ways that larger organizations can’t. 

The remarkable organization we partner with to procure and ship hospital supplies inside Syria has been using its connections with Syrian doctors and their logistical expertise to deliver containers full of life-saving medical supplies directly to hospitals and doctors in opposition-controlled areas in Syria.  Our partners constantly monitor the situation on the ground and email with their physician partners to understand what civilians need most, and strategize on how to deliver aid in the most timely and effective way possible.  In a conflict region where aid is not only vulnerable to corruption but also has been used as a weapon of war by the Assad regime, our aid remains  insulated from the type of fraud and corruption described above. 

Jewish World Watch allows you to support innovative resources to fight conflicts, with oversight, and accountability. We cannot do this without you!

Please donate today to support our efforts to get hospital supplies directly to Syrian doctors saving lives and other projects.

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Our projects represent interventions aimed at preventing genocide and mass atrocities through a three-pronged approach: 1) supporting peacebuilding and educational efforts in vulnerable areas before atrocities unfold; 2) facilitating the delivery of vital, cutting-edge humanitarian aid to affected populations during ongoing conflict situations where larger organizations have difficulty operating; and 3) promoting education, attitudinal change, and sustainable livelihood development as a means of engendering stability in post conflict societies so as to protect them from future violence.

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Myanmar, also known as Burma, continues to make international headlines … and not in a good way.  Almost daily, there are developments that confirm the country’s utter disregard for human rights and humanitarian law.  Despite consistent outrage from global media, scholars, leading organizations, and protesters, the United States has offered little in response.  So far, America has levied sanctions against four mid-level military officials and two infantry divisions.  Those at the top of the chain of command — the true masterminds of the genocide — continue unscathed. 

August 25 marked the one-year anniversary of the Myanmar military’s crackdown against the Rohingya Muslim minority in Rakhine state.  Many Rohingya men, women, and children were brutally murdered, and more than 700,000 fled to neighboring Bangladesh, where they still remain today in sprawling, squalid camps [during a horrific monsoon season, on top of everything else.]  Protestors assembled worldwide to voice their calls for action, including in Hollywood, where Jewish World Watch joined with the Rohingya American Muslim Association in impassioned cries of solidarity.  On the eve of this painful anniversary, JWW’s Director of Advocacy and Grantmaking took the step too many governments and organizations have not been willing to take, declaring JWW’s official position that the methodical, premeditated actions of the Myanmar military and security forces constitute genocide. You can read the analysis here.

Two days later, on Aug. 27, the United Nations Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar released a report based upon a year of investigations and interviews with survivors.  The report affirmed JWW’s analysis: the UN experts found that Myanmar’s army commander, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, and other top generals should face trial for “genocide.” Like the JWW analysis, the panel saw evidence of genocidal intent in the Myanmar military’s operation against the Rohingya, citing the pervasive rhetoric of hate directed at the Rohingya by civilians and military commanders, as well as “the level of organization indicating a plan for destruction; and the extreme scale and brutality of the violence.”

Aerial view of a burned Rohingya village in Rakhine state, Myanmar in Sept. 2017

Aug. 27 was also supposed to be the day that Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo faced sentencing before a court in Myanmar on fabricated charges of violating the colonial-era Official Secrets Act for “possessing important and secret government documents” related to Rakhine state.  Interestingly, the sentence did not come down that day.  Sentencing was suspended until Sept. 3, apparently because Judge Ye Lwin had fallen ill.  Human rights advocates worldwide hoped this was a stalling tactic by Myanmar’s military and that they would eventually release the journalists as a sign of good faith — a willingness to cooperate a little and uphold at least one fundamental right: freedom of the press. 

But, alas, that did not happen.  The Reuters journalists were sentenced to 7 years in prison for simply doing their jobs.  They were arrested on Dec. 12, 2017 while investigating the killing of 10 Rohingya Muslim men and boys in a village in western Rakhine state.  Moments before their arrest, in a restaurant in Yangon, they met with two police officers who planted documents on them.  One police witness even testified that the restaurant meeting was a set-up to entrap the journalists to block or punish them for their reporting of the mass killing.  This was a landmark case seen as a test of progress towards democracy.  Unfortunately, Myanmar failed. 

Now jailed Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo

The sentence sparked international condemnation and calls for the journalists’ immediate release. One prominent voice on the issue was longtime JWW supporter and UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression David Kaye

Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), Chairman of the Committee on Foreign Affairs and co-sponsor of the Burma Act of 2018, also spoke out following the decision.

“This unjust verdict reaffirms that the Burmese government is complicit in the military’s atrocities … The U.S. should respond with more sanctions and a formal determination of genocide. We must act before it is too late,” said Rep. Royce.

Two weeks ago, JWW staff met with Rep. Royce’s staff in his Brea office to update the Congressman on the situation in Myanmar, asked that he acknowledge the atrocities against the Rohingya as genocide, urged him to push for stronger sanctions and demand the release of the journalists. 

So, if Myanmar wouldn’t bend under the seriousness of the UN’s genocide determination by exonerating the journalists, what was the reaction to the “G” word?  Did civilian leader and Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi finally voice her disapproval of the military’s actions or express her sorrow over the gross violations suffered by the Rohingya?  Not quite.

The UN report was largely ignored by the local news media and Internet users in Myanmar.  Instead of expressing outrage over the military’s genocidal acts, the primarily Buddhist civilian population of Myanmar exploded over Facebook’s move to bar 20 individuals and organizations linked to the military from its network for committing or enabling “serious human rights abuses in the country.”  This move “catalyzed a frenzied, vociferous response in Myanmar, where the social media platform is so popular that it is synonymous with the internet,” said the New York Times. The platform’s users in Myanmar hotly debated whether they should migrate to another platform to punish Facebook for denigrating their military and spiritual leaders.

Both the JWW analysis and the UN mission’s report highlighted Facebook’s role in turning the majority of the country’s population against the Rohingya and fomenting violence.  The platform’s current efforts to curb vitriolic hate speech posted by the military, government officials, Buddhist leaders, and citizens came far too late.  The damage has been done.  And, despite the world’s placing commander in chief Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing in a class of infamy alongside war criminals like Hitler and Milosevic, Myanmar’s majority remains both stalwart in its support of its leaders and in denial of what really happened in Rakhine state. 

Another incident on Aug. 30 highlighted the type of propaganda Myanmar military leaders resort to in order to maintain support.  In a book aimed at illustrating the army’s account of last year’s events in the western state of Rakhine, the military used pictures that were, in fact, archive photos of different conflicts, Reuters reported.

Myanmar’s military produced fake photos as part of a continued effort to deny Rohingya genocide

Myanmar has long claimed that the Rohingya are not an ethnic group of Myanmar, but Bengali illegal immigrants that have stolen the country’s land and resources.  So, it’s telling that the military publication faded out a photo depicting the migration of Rwandan Hutu refugees in 1996 following the genocide in Rwanda, and captioned it “Bengalis intruded into the country after the British Colonialism occupied the lower part of Myanmar.”  Not only is this factually inaccurate, but the use of a photo of African migrants encapsulates Myanmar’s efforts to emphasize the otherness of the Rohingya, in both appearance and religion.  The only accurate element of the photo is that genocide occurred in both lands.

Despite the local solidarity, it may not matter what officials or civilians of Myanmar think. Last week, the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) Pre-Trial Chamber 1 ruled that the Court may exercise jurisdiction over the alleged mass deportation, (or forcible transfer) of the Rohingya people from Myanmar to Bangladesh.

Why?  Because Bangladesh is a signatory of the Rome Statue establishing the ICC, even if Myanmar is not.  Since an element of the alleged deportation took place in Bangladesh, the Court can prosecute Myanmar officials for their crimes.  Notably, in a move few experts had foreseen, the Chamber found the Court’s jurisdiction extends to any other crimes set out in article 5 of the Rome Statute[1], such as the crimes against humanity of persecution and potentially genocide — even though they did not take place in Bangladesh.  The decision opens the door for chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda to gather enough evidence in a preliminary investigation to convince the Court to greenlight a full-blown probe into Myanmar’s actions.

Unsurprisingly, Myanmar rejected the Court’s unprecedented ruling.  In a stinging response, the government said the decision was “of dubious legal merit” and that Myanmar was “under no obligation” to respect its determination. 

So where do we go from here?  Despite the veritable witches’ brew of egregious acts by Mynamar’s civilian and military officials alike, the Trump Administration has remained relatively quiet on the subject.  Though officials like Rep. Royce, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and United States Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley have raised their voices, the Trump Administration as a whole has not.

Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley

Despite messages from the U.N. and ICC that there is something wrong going on here, the U.S. has not instated harsher sanctions; it has not brought the issue before the Security Council; it has not called this what it is — a genocide.

The U.S. must immediately and significantly increase its food and medical aid to Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh.  It should also put forward a UN Security Council Resolution with targeted sanctions against everyone named in the U.N. fact-finding mission, including asset and visa freezes, plus banking and business bans on activities with military-controlled Myanmar banks and companies.  It should also join the U.N. General Assembly in declaring the crisis a genocide.  Even though the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) of the ICC can initiate an investigation proprio motu (“on one’s own initiative” in Latin) now that the Court has found a jurisdictional basis, the U.S. must show its support for the ICC process and push for cooperation with the OTP. 

All of this MUST HAPPEN NOW!  The longer we wait, the higher the likelihood that these types of atrocities will recur, both in Myanmar and throughout the world.  Already, the Myanmar military has started to discriminate against and persecute religious and ethnic minorities in its other provinces, like Kachin and Shan.

And, it’s not just Myanmar we should worry about.  Other governments attacking ethnic minorities will perceive inaction as a sign that they are free to continue perpetrating their crimes, with impunity.  Both India and China are actively suppressing large Muslim minority populations, stripping them of their rights.  China has sent more than 3 million Uyghur Muslims to concentration camps, while India has showed signs of following Myanmar’s model of robbing 4 million Muslims in Assam of citizenship.

Inaction now will create greater problems in the future. 

The U.S. must step up to the plate, acknowledge the Rohingya crisis as genocide, and take a leadership role in ensuring that the abuses stop and those responsible are held to account.

The Burma Act was introduced to the House of Representatives by Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY) earlier this year and currently has 80 co-sponsors. We ask that you urge your representatives to support the bill at this crucial time.

Support The Burma Act

[1] Article 5 states the following crimes are within the jurisdiction of the Court: genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and aggression.

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INDIA

Assam register: Four million risk losing India citizenship

BBC News / July 30

The National Register of Citizens (NRC) is a list of people who can prove they came to the state by 24 March 1971, a day before neighbouring Bangladesh declared independence.

India says the process is needed to identify illegal Bangladeshi migrants.

ROHINGYA

Rohingya Muslims who remain in Myanmar struggle to survive

The Wall Street Journal / Aug. 8

Most of Abdul Solay’s family joined last year’s vast exodus of Rohingya from Myanmar, as government troops torched homes and opened fire on villages in a spasm of ethnically motivated violence. Mr. Solay decided to stay behind — and now he is struggling to survive.

Myanmar official line: Rohingya are returning. But cracks in that story abound.

The New York Times / Aug. 2

We waded through floodwaters, past soldiers hefting rifles, and climbed into a prefabricated hut.

Inside, a row of men sat huddled against the wall as armed police and immigration officers stood over them. They were, we had been given the impression, among the 700,000 Rohingya Muslims who had fled northern Rakhine State in Myanmar for Bangladesh last year in an exodus that the United States and other countries condemned as ethnic cleansing.

SYRIA

Armed groups recruiting children in camps

Human Rights Watch / Aug. 3

The People’s Protection Units (YPG), the largest member of the Syrian Democratic Forces military alliance in northeast Syria, has been recruiting children, including girls, and using some in hostilities despite pledges to stop the practice, Human Rights Watch said today.

DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO

Congo’s Kabila will not stand for election in December

Reuters / Aug. 8

Congo’s President Joseph Kabila will not stand in the election scheduled for December, a spokesman said, finally agreeing to obey a two-term limit but picking a hard-core loyalist under European Union sanctions to stand instead.

UGANDA

The details of life in a refugee camp

BBC News / Aug. 6

Since civil war broke out in South Sudan, in 2013, more than a million South Sudanese refugees have crossed the border into neighbouring Uganda.

Tommy Trenchard’s pictures focus on commonplace objects and details to convey day-to-day life in several refugee camps near the border.

CAMEROON

Cameroon’s anglophone war, part 1: A rifle as the only way out

IRIN / Aug. 6

Before the army destroyed his village and killed his three brothers, Abang was a farmer and an electrician. Today, he’s one of hundreds of anglophone men fighting with hunting rifles and magical amulets against the US- and French-trained Cameroonian army in an attempt to win independence for a new country they call Ambazonia.

UNITED STATES

How transitional justice can help the U.S. defeat terrorism

Just Security / Aug. 6

It may seem odd that the National Security Strategy discusses accountability for mass atrocities on the same page as defeating transnational terror. What could justice have to do with fighting terrorists? More than you might think.

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Jewish World Watch received upsetting news last week that Noura Hussein is in trouble once again.  Her execution is not off the table, after all. 

Noura, a 19-year old Sudanese girl, was sentenced to death in May for fatally stabbing her 35-year old husband, Abdel Rahman Mohamed Hammad, in self-defense.  She had been forced to marry him at the age of 15, and when she refused to consummate the marriage, he violently raped her while three of his male family members held her down.  The case shined a spotlight on the extreme gender-inequality in Sudan’s legal system, where the legal marrying age is 10, and forced marriage and marital rape are both legal.   

JWW and our many constituents joined in the international outcry to save Noura’s life, setting the internet both inside and outside Sudan ablaze with demands for clemency. As a result, a Sudanese appeals court quashed the death sentence verdict, instead reducing Noura’s crime to manslaughter and giving her a five-year prison sentence, along with a fine for 337,500 Sudanese SDG (just under $19,000). 

Jewish World Watch was instrumental in helping to save Noura from execution, utilizing diplomatic channels in partnership with strong advocacy from Congresswoman Karen Bass.  When the sentence was changed, we celebrated this small but powerful victory for women’s rights and the prevention of gender-based violence — a major weapon of war in all of the genocide and mass atrocity situations we monitor. 

In recent weeks, Noura began to study law while serving her time at Omdurman Prison for women.  She even received a scholarship to attend the Open University of Sudan upon her release.  Other prisoners rallied around her, and efforts to change Sudan’s discriminatory laws seemed to be underway.

However, much animus continued to surround the case.  Noura’s family was forced to flee Khartoum for fear of reprisals.  Her defense team, led by Adil Mohamed Al-Iman, faced silencing and repeated threats.  Hammad’s family rejected the fine ordered by the appeals court and threatened publicly to kill a member of her family to avenge their son if the court maintains its refusal to hang Noura.  “Hussein was only a woman who had killed a man and women were not equal to men,” Hammad’s father told the daily al-Tayyar newspaper, when expressing that even her death would not be enough to balance the scales.

And, most alarmingly, The Guardian newspaper is reporting that the state prosecutor of Sudan is asking the constitutional court to overturn the latest ruling and to reinstate the death penalty. 

Jewish World Watch cannot allow this regression to bear fruit.  We reassert our calls to the Sudanese authorities to ensure that the rule of law is observed. 

We ask you, our supporters, to send letters of concern to your representatives to bring Noura’s situation to their attention and urge them to push for her release.

I want to help Noura Hussein

According to Noura’s lawyer, it is unclear when a decision on this latest appeal will be made.  We must remain vigilant, continue to apply pressure and ring the alarm on institutionalized gender inequality — for Noura and for all women in conflict settings around the world. 

Noura’s case presents an opportunity to change the types of laws that breed violence against women.

The post Troublesome developments in the case of Noura Hussein appeared first on Jewish World Watch.

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It’s been an important few days for the Rohingya Muslim minority of Myanmar’s Rakhine state.

Aug. 25 marked the first anniversary of the Myanmar military’s crackdown on the Rohingya — the killing of thousands, destruction of villages, mass rapes of women and children, and the exodus of nearly 700,000 Rohingya into neighboring Bangladesh.  Rallies world-wide marked the date on Saturday, and in Los Angeles, JWW staff and supporters attended a march organized by Burmese American Muslims Associate to demonstrate solidarity with the Rohingya cause.

The persistent rallying cry at these events was: A genocide of the Rohingya is occurring in Myanmar (formerly Burma), and the United Nations and the rest of the world needs to name the violence a genocide so more can be done to stop it.  A genocide is defined as an intentional action to destroy an entire group of people, usually defined by their ethnicity, nationality, race or religion. Genocide requires a proactive and significant response, not just on political grounds, but also out of moral obligation.  

Last Friday, as the one-year anniversary approached, Jewish World Watch Director of Advocacy and Programming Ann Strimov Durbin published an editorial blog post calling upon the world to name the violence against the Rohingya a genocide. You can read the article here.

Now, this morning the United Nations Fact Finding Mission on Myanmar released a report based upon a year of investigations and interviews with survivors.  The UN experts found that Myanmar’s army commander, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing,  and other top generals should face trial for “genocide.” Like the JWW article, the panel saw evidence of genocidal intent in the Myanmar’s operation against the Rohingya, citing the pervasive rhetoric of hate directed at the Rohingya by civilians and military commanders alike, as well as “the level of organization indicating a plan for destruction; and the extreme scale and brutality of the violence.”

Senior Myanmar General Min Aung Hlaing

This naming is a huge victory for the Rohingya and for the many human rights and humanitarian organizations that have been working on their behalf over past year, and in some cases longer.  With the UN’s impramateur, more and more countries and organizations will be willing to categorize the atrocities suffered by the Rohingya people for what they really are: genocide.  And, hopefully, they will take the steps for criminal charges, trials, convictions, as well as sanctions against those responsible for such heinous crimes.

The report also highlighted others in Myanmar as complicit in the atrocities, namely Myanmar civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi and Facebook.  As the JWW analysis did, the UN report said Aug San Suu Kyi not only has denied that the military was responsible for such grave crimes, but she “contributed to the commission of atrocity crimes” by failing to use her position to stop them.  Moreover, she and other civilian leaders failed to curb virulent hate speech posted on Facebook, which contributed to turning the majority of the country’s population against the Rohingya and fomenting violence. Despite an expose published by Reuters that highlighted Facebook’s failure to address the vitriol on its Myanmar site, Facebook failed to do enough to stop the animosity from spreading.

Now that the UN officially has called the Rohingya victims of genocide, United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo must do the same.  Any day now, the State Department will issue its own findings on the plight of the Rohingya. We ask you to please continue to let Pompeo know that the United States must step up, call this crisis what it truly is, and act accordingly.  America cannot shun its responsibilities to help the Rohingya by refusing to acknowledge the true level of atrocities they have endured. We cannot stand idly by!

We all must also contact our Senators to resuscitate the Burma Human Rights and Freedom Act, S. 2060, which has already passed in the House of Representatives with bipartisan support.  How better to honor the late Senator John McCain, who died on Saturday, than by pressuring Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell to move forward with a vote on this horrific situation.

Support The Burma Act

We should also let UN Ambassador Nikki Haley know that the UN Security Council must either refer Myanmar to the International Criminal Court, or set up an international tribunal like those that investigated genocide and atrocities in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia.

Contact UN Ambassador Nikki Haley now

We hope that you will look to JWW as your guide for cutting-edge analysis on genocide and mass atrocities around the world.  We remain more committed than ever to being at the forefront of genocide studies, looking for indicators, analyzing situations, and making sure people take notice and don’t stand idly by.

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Aug. 25 marks the one-year anniversary of the start of the Myanmar (also known as Burma) military’s “clearance operations” against the Rohingya population in Rakhine State.  While many experts, international organizations operating on the ground, and states have categorized the atrocities that followed as genocide, others have been hesitant to use the term, including the United States.  In fact, a recent article in Politico citing internal State Department documents disclosed that the Trump Administration was still hesitating to qualify the atrocities and concomitant mass exodus of over 700,000 Rohingya to neighboring Bangladesh as genocide, probably because of the type of response such a designation of a crime would demand.  Following is an analysis of why Jewish World Watch (JWW) believes the Myanmar military has likely committed genocide against the Rohingya Muslim minority group. 

This is Part 1 of a two-part analysis.  Part 1 is a legal analysis of the crime of genocide under international law.  Part 2 will analyze the crisis through the matrix of the 10 phases of genocide developed by Genocide Watch founder Dr. Gregory Stanton. 

Ultimately, JWW aims to engage our constituents and congressional representatives to apply pressure on Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the State Department to acknowledge the genocide and accept the stronger call to action this categorization triggers, including sanctions targeting the highest echelons of the military’s power structure.  JWW also calls upon the UN Security Council to refer the Rohingya crisis to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for investigation.  

The gross violations perpetrated against the Rohingya are widely known, to the point of having received significant coverage in myriad mainstream media, from National Public Radio to Rolling Stone magazine.  Beginning in August of last year, the Myanmar security forces committed widespread and systematic attacks against the Rohingya, among them unlawful killing of civilians, including of infants; torture; sexual violence; arson attacks and destruction of more than 350 villages.  During the first month of operations alone, an estimated 6,700 Rohingya, including at least 730 children, were murdered.  Between August and December, more than 720,000 ethnic Rohingya civilians were forced to flee to neighboring Bangladesh.

The crime of genocide is codified in international law in the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide, adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1948, and is universally binding on all states as well as non-state actors.  What distinguishes genocide from other mass atrocity crimes is the requisite intent: the “intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group.”  Intent is the hardest element of the crime to prove, although it doesn’t have to be proven directly from statements or orders; it can be inferred from a systematic pattern of coordinated acts. 

Genocidal acts need not result in death of members of a group.  When committed as part of a policy to destroy a group’s existence, the following acts become genocidal:

  • killing members of the group, including direct killings and actions causing death
  • causing serious bodily or mental harm, including inflicting trauma on group members through widespread torture, rape, sexual violence, forced or coerced drug use, and mutilation
  • deliberately inflicting conditions of life calculated to destroy a group, including the deliberate deprivation of resources needed for the group’s physical survival (i.e., clean water, food, clothing, shelter, and medical services). Deprivation of the means to sustain life can be imposed through confiscation of harvests, blockade of foodstuffs, detention in camps, and forcible relocation
  • Prevention of births, including involuntary sterilization, forced abortion, prohibition of marriage, and long-term separation of men and women intended to prevent procreation.
  • Forcible transfer of children

It has been well-documented by media, experts, and international organizations like the UN that the atrocities perpetrated against the Rohingya fall within some, if not all of the above categories.  The outstanding question is whether there was a clear objective of annihilation underlying these egregious acts.

The crucial ingredient for actions to meet the high threshold of genocide—rather than other violations of international law, like crimes against humanity or war crimes—is the intent to eradicate members of a group because they are members of said group.  Since overt expressions of a desire to exterminate all or part of the Rohingya population have not been discovered yet, certain types of evidence, when viewed in the aggregate, can help to establish genocidal intent.  Evidence of premeditation and planning; large-scale public propaganda campaigns; cover-ups and destruction of evidence; and denial all serve as indicators that something beyond run-of-the-mill killing, burning, and expelling is going on.

Rohingya refugees who have crossed the border to Bangladesh. Photo by UNICEF/Brown

In a landmark report, Fortify Rights—a Bangkok-based legal and advocacy organization with unmatched expertise in Myanmar issues—found that in the weeks and months before hundreds of thousands of Rohingya fled Myanmar to Bangladesh, authorities had made “extensive and systematic preparations” for attacks on the Muslim minority.

Planning is a clear indication of intent, especially when the crimes at issue are so systematic, varied, coordinated, and brutal.  “Genocide doesn’t happen spontaneously,” noted Matthew Smith, CEO of Fortify Rights.  It requires planning and the planting of seeds of hate.  The report implicated 22 Myanmar army and police officials in the chain of command. 

Myanmar army officials and even the country’s elected civilian leader, Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, say that Myanmar’s brutal campaign of rape, extrajudicial killing, and forced displacement was a counter-insurgency response to an attack by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) on security forces on Aug. 25, 2017.  Fortify Rights found this narrative to be untrue.  Evidence suggests that since ARSA’s first attack on the Myanmar military, security forces have been lying in wait for another attack so that they could unleash full-blown violence and expulsion that would be apocalyptic for the Rohingya minority.

Systematic preparations detailed in the report include: the collection of sharp or blunt objects from Rohingya civilians so as to ensure they were unarmed and unable to defend themselves during the crackdown; spreading anti-Rohingya propaganda; training and arming local non-Rohingya communities; tearing down fencing and other structures around Rohingya homes; deliberately depriving Rohingya of food and crucial life-saving aid to weaken them prior to attack; and deploying unnecessarily high numbers of state security forces to northern Rakhine state.

A long history of deep discrimination of the Rohingya as well as widespread hatred towards the minority group by a large swath of the Myanmar population speak to a long-percolating intent to destroy.  Atrocities committed against the Rohingya are the culmination of decades of institutionalized discrimination of this distinct Muslim ethnic population comprised of over 1 million people.  This includes: denial of citizenship as a result of discriminatory laws; involuntary ghettoization and confinement to displacement camps; and severe restrictions on their freedom of movement, marriage and reproductive rights as well as access to employment and education.

The history of the Rohingya as a distinct ethnic group stretches back for generations.  They speak a Bengali dialect and tend to look distinct from most of Myanmar’s other ethnic groups.  Although many Rohingya were considered citizens when Myanmar became independent in 1948, after its junta in 1962, the military began stripping them of their rights.  Most Rohingya became legally stateless after a restrictive citizenship law was introduced in 1982.  Even the name Rohingya has been taken from them; the Myanmar government refers to them as Bengalis, or much, much worse.

Framed as dangerous interlopers and terrorists from neighboring Bangladesh, their very identity has been denied by the Buddhist majority, including civilian leader Ang San Suu Kyi.  “There is no such thing as Rohingya,” U Kyaw San Hla, an officer in Rakhine’s state security ministry was quoted in the New York Times.  “It is fake news.”  The Myanmar military has been slowly erasing the Rohingya for quite some time, fanning the flames of hate and dehumanization through multiple channels to engage the majority of Myanmar citizens in their mission.  Now government officials, opposition politicians, religious leaders and even local human-rights activists are unified under the same narrative that the Rohingya must be gotten rid of, whether expelled or eradicated, because they are not citizens of Myanmar and do not belong.  Buddhist Monks, considered moral authorities in a pious land, have been at the forefront of campaigns to strip the Rohingya of their humanity, often referring to them as “snakes,” “pigs,” and “worse than dogs.”

The vitriolic hate speech of Myanmar’s citizens, religious leaders, and officials unleashed on Facebook speaks of clear genocidal intent.  For years leading up to last year’s attacks, the military used media to amplify Rohingya otherness, to dehumanize them and fan the flames of hatred so as to get the majority of the population on board with what was to come.  Although widespread access in Myanmar to cellphones only started a few years ago, already about 90 percent of the population has phones, and, for many people, Facebook is their only source of news, the only site they use on the internet.  Reuters found more than 1,000 examples of posts, comments, and pornographic images attacking the Rohingya on Myanmar Facebook.   

Some examples reported by Reuters are especially shocking:  “We must fight them the way Hitler did the Jews, damn kalars!” Kalar is a derogatory word for Muslim.  Another post showed a news article from an army-controlled publication, which said, “These non-human kalar dogs, the Bengalis, are killing and destroying our land, our water, and our ethnic people….We need to destroy their race.”  In reference to a picture of a boatload of Rohingya refugees, another user said, “pour fuel and set fire so that they can meet Allah faster.”  “The poisonous posts call the Rohingya or other Muslims dogs, maggots and rapists, suggest they be fed to pigs, and urge they be shot or exterminated,” said Reuters.  If this is what the average person in Myanmar believed leading up to last year’s atrocities, so naturally and deeply that they felt comfortable posting for all to see, it’s not hard to imagine what the architects of the genocide had in mind.       

It wasn’t the brutal acts that followed these preparations as much as the aftermath that helps to establish genocidal intent.  The military and security forces vehemently denied any wrongdoing, tried to wipe out any evidence of the Rohingya’s presence in Myanmar, and attempted to destroy all evidence.  In a report released in October 2017, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said that Myanmar’s security forces had worked to “effectively erase all signs of memorable landmarks in the geography of the Rohingya landscape and memory in such a way that a return to their lands would yield nothing but a desolate and unrecognizable terrain.” 

The crackdown in Rakhine also targeted “teachers, the cultural and religious leadership, and other people of influence in the Rohingya community in an effort to diminish Rohingya history, culture and knowledge.”  It seems that the military just wanted to wipe it all away.  Security forces burned and bulldozed the villages to leave no trace; they buried the dead in mass graves; they put the area on lockdown, prohibiting any aid groups, human rights organizations, fact-finding missions or journalists from entering.  According to accounts by Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, security forces “came to the slaughter armed not only with rifles, knives, rocket launchers and grenades, but also with shovels to dig pits and acid to burn away faces and hands so that the bodies could not be identified.”  Villagers said that two days before the onslaught, they saw soldiers buying vats of acid in a nearby village. 

Rohingya refugees are resorting to increasingly desperate measures such as makeshift rafts to cross the Naf River to Bangladesh. Photo by Andrew McConnell/UNHCR

After the genocidal acts came the blanket denials: “There’s no case of military killing Muslim civilians,” said Dr. Win Myat Aye, the country’s social welfare minister and the governing National League for Democracy party’s point person on Rakhine.  “Muslim people killed their own Muslim people.”  Of course, these denials cannot be taken seriously in the face of overwhelming evidence of planned and systematic efforts to annihilate the Rohingya and remove them from their lands.  But the act of denial itself, by both the military and civilian government, especially when it places blame on the victims, is a telltale indicator of genocidal intent.

When the actions before, during, and after the crackdown are brought together to create a clear pattern and plan, one could certainly make the case that the requisite intent to destroy runs through all of it.  Jewish World Watch believes that the Rohingya crisis is most likely genocide, and we are advocating for a response proportionate to such a crime.    

These atrocities cannot be overlooked or minimized.  Despite extensive reporting on the plight of the Rohingya, who continue to suffer terribly in the overcrowded, decrepit camps of Cox’s Bazar, international institutions and governments haven’t done enough to stop the military from targeting other minority groups in Myanmar, with impunity.  Most recently, it has turned its campaign of violence against the Christian minority of Kachin State. 

The world cannot stand idly by and watch another genocide unfold.  Jewish World Watch has been working through our partners on the ground in Bangladesh to build resilient structures and to help provide much-needed medical aid to the refugees who fled their home for an overcrowded refugee camp that is now subject to furious monsoons.  No matter how much we and other like-minded organizations do for the survivors of this genocide, they will continue to be at risk, and abused unless the international community stands up on their behalf and targets the architects of these heinous crimes.

The United States recently issued sanctions against 4 members of the Myanmar military.  While this is a positive first step, we must do more.  First and foremost, the sanctions should be broader, reaching the highest in the chain of command, including Commander-in-Chief General Min Aung Hlaing.  The U.S. should also suspend all cooperation with Myanmar’s armed forces and scrupulously review any trade and development programs in Rakhine State to ensure that they do not reinforce discriminatory structures.  The State Department should also acknowledge this for what it is, a likely genocide.  While the blockade against non-governmental organizations, reporters, and experts has made a definitive finding of genocide more complicated than it would be in an open state, satellite footage, testimonials of survivors, and, of course, posts on social media undeniably point to something beyond crimes against humanity or ethnic cleansing.

To ensure that the culture of impunity the Myanmar military has enjoyed for far too long is stopped, once and for all, Jewish World Watch also asks the UN Security Council to refer the Rohingya crisis to the International Criminal Court for investigation and possible prosecution as well as to impose sanctions on the military regime. 

Together, we will continue monitoring the developments, pushing for an appropriate response by the United States, and fighting on behalf of those who cannot fight for themselves … until they finally can.

The post Why the Rohingya crisis is likely genocide appeared first on Jewish World Watch.

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This weekend marks the one-year anniversary of Rohingya expulsion from Burma (Myanmar). Jewish World Watch (JWW) has been working hard to bring attention to this ongoing tragedy and is supporting humanitarian aid projects in the Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh.

Our friends in the Burmese American Muslims Association have organized a rally in Los Angeles on Saturday, Aug. 25 from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. near Hollywood and Highland in an effort to stop the genocide in Burma and show support for the Rohingya people.

While the event occurs on Shabbat, we at JWW want you to know about it, and feel that anyone who would like to attend the event should feel welcome.

The Rohingya community in Los Angeles has participated in JWW’s Walk to End Genocide and other JWW rallies to support the Rohingya.

When: Saturday, Aug. 25, 2018

Where: In front of the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood — 6801 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90028

To RSVP, click here.

The post Rohingya Genocide Remembrance Day Rally on Aug. 25 appeared first on Jewish World Watch.

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