Sanctions on Myanmar the only leverage world has left

Sanctions on Myanmar the only leverage world has left

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Aung San Suu Kyi attends a hearing in a case filed by Gambia against Myanmar alleging genocide against the minority Muslim Rohingya population, at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague. (Reuters)

Myanmar’s Independent Commission of Enquiry (ICOE) into the Rohingya crisis finalized its report on Monday, just prior to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) reaching its preliminary conclusions in the case brought against Myanmar on the matter by the Gambia. 

The full ICOE report has not been made public; only the executive summary has been published and is widely seen as a whitewash — as was to be expected. The commission had been formed by the federal government of Myanmar in 2018 specifically to respondto “false allegations made by the UN agencies and other international communities,” according to a spokesperson for the Office of the President of Myanmar, who went on to insistthat “there will be no blaming of anybody, no finger-pointing of anybody… saying you’re accountable.” 

What has been published seems to reinforce the genocidal stance of the federal government of Myanmar by, for example, using the same language to describe the victims of the genocide as “Bengalis” and thus to deny and erase their identity as a group indigenous to Rakhine state, in the west of the country. From that, it seems very likely indeed that the report will not be “blaming anybody,” except perhaps the victims. 

So what purpose could such a report even serve? Of course, the intended audience for all this is not the international community. The UN and the international observers concerned with the Rohingya genocide would have always demanded access to the actual evidence on the ground, and would have looked to draw their own conclusions on what happened — as indeed the ICJ, which on Thursday ordered Myanmar to take emergency measures to prevent genocidal violence against the Rohingya, is doing.

Rather, the audience for the report will be domestic. This is a transparent maneuver by the government to take charge of the news cycle in Myanmar for the next period, to help it construct the argument that there is some kind of international conspiracy to paint the country in an unfavorable light. The government’s “independent” report shows that bad things have happened to the “Bengalis” but there was no genocide; and should the ICJ ultimately find there was a systematic effort to destroy the Rohingya community in Myanmar and erase their identity, that can only show that the ICJ and whoever else is “biased” against Myanmar, for whatever conspiratorial reasons you prefer. 

What no one should expect is that Myanmar can be shamed into acknowledging its crimes by the ICJ ruling or by any other form of censure from the international community. As if to emphasize the point, reports are now coming out of Myanmar that the government severed the little aid going to the devastated Rohingya areas in Rakhine state as recently as last week. 

No one should expect the government to be shamed into acknowledging its crimes by the ICJ ruling.

Dr. Azeem Ibrahim

Moreover, as China continues to build one of its key Belt and Road Initiative routes through Myanmar — indeed through Rakhine state, linking to the western port of Sittwe — the government can expect to be shielded from official UN censure in the Security Council, where Beijing will wield its veto to defend its protectorate. 

As much as Western leaders are loathe to, and as much as the US under the current administration is unlikely to take a stand to defend a minority Muslim population in an area where there could be business to be done, it seems increasingly likely that the only leverage members of the international community who maintain an interest in international order and human rights law will have is to revert to harsh sanctions against Myanmar. We hoped this would never again need to be the case, as Myanmar started its apparent transition toward democracy in 2008, but we have run out of options. And, as the ICJ declared there was prima facie evidence of breaches of the 1948 Genocide Convention, we have also run out of excuses. 

  • Dr. Azeem Ibrahim is a Director at the Center for Global Policy and author of “The Rohingyas: Inside Myanmar’s Genocide” (Hurst, 2017). Twitter: @AzeemIbrahim​
Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News' point-of-view

Amnesty International welcomes ICJ ruling on Myanmar and Rohingya treatment

Kyaw Tint Swe (L), Union Minister of Myanmar, attends the ruling of the International Court of Justice in The Hague, on January 23, 2020 in the lawsuit filed by The Gambia against Myanmar in which Myanmar is accused of genocide against Rohingya Muslims. (AFP)
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Updated 24 January 2020

Amnesty International welcomes ICJ ruling on Myanmar and Rohingya treatment

  • Court’s decision shows world will ‘not tolerate atrocities’ against Rohingya: Amnesty
  • In November, Gambia filed a case at the ICJ, accusing Myanmar of genocide

LONDON: A ruling by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) forcing Myanmar to take “provisional measures” to prevent genocidal acts against the Rohingya community “sends a message” to the country’s leadership, according to Amnesty International.

Nicholas Bequelin, the group’s regional director, said in a report published on Thursday that the ICJ decision shows that the world “would not tolerate atrocities” or “blindly accept Myanmar’s empty rhetoric on the reality in Rakhine State today.”

He added: “An estimated 600,000 Rohingya who remain there are routinely and systematically denied their most basic rights. They face a real risk of further atrocities. Myanmar must comply with the ICJ’s ruling and take immediate action to cease ongoing violations against the community and to prevent the destruction of evidence.”

In November, Gambia filed a case at the ICJ, accusing Myanmar of breaching its obligations under the 1948 Genocide Convention.

The complaint included the request for the court to order “provisional measures” to prevent acts that “may amount to or contribute to the crime of genocide.”

Bequelin said: “The decision comes just days after Myanmar published a summary report of the findings of the government-established ‘Independent Commission of Enquiry’. The Commission was neither independent nor impartial and cannot be considered a credible effort to investigate these crimes against the Rohingya.”

He added: “Meanwhile, there have been no efforts to investigate the serious and wide-ranging violations against other ethnic minorities or elsewhere in the country.”

Amnesty International urged the UN to take action and refer the situation in Myanmar to the International Criminal Court.

But Dr. Azeem Ibrahim, director at the Center for Global Policy, told Arab News that officials in Myanmar are “unlikely” to take any notice of the ICJ ruling, and will “take the usual position” of not recognizing the court’s legitimacy.

However, Ibrahim said Myanmar’s State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi “miscalculated” by attending The Hague, thus legitimizing the court.

Her decision to base her entire argument against the accusations on there being no genocide, but admitting that war crimes had been committed, had “backfired,” he added.


This section contains relevant reference points, placed in (Opinion field)

“Officials in Myanmar will be hoping that China will now protect them at the UN Security Council and buy them more time,” Ibrahim said.

“The only other option would be if the (UN) secretary-general intervenes,” he added while saying there had been little desire on Guterres’ part to do so.

In an Arab News column on Jan. 24, Ibrahim wrote that sanctions remain the West’s last form of leverage in forcing Myanmar to stop its actions against the Rohingya.

But he told Arab News on Friday that the EU is unlikely to impose sanctions because so far, it has been “unable to speak with a unified voice” on the issue.

Death toll rises to 32 in religious violence in India’s capital

Updated 27 February 2020

Death toll rises to 32 in religious violence in India’s capital

  • Uneasy calm prevailing in northeast Delhi
  • Modi government blames opposition for violence

NEW DELHI: At least 32 people have been killed in the deadliest violence to engulf India’s capital New Delhi for decades as a heavy deployment of security forces brought an uneasy calm on Thursday, a police official said.
The violence began over a disputed new citizenship law on Monday but led to clashes between Muslims and Hindus in which hundreds were injured. Many suffered gunshot wounds, while arson, looting and stone-throwing has also taken place.
“The death count is now at 32,” Delhi police spokesman Anil Mittal said, adding the “entire area is peaceful now.”
At the heart of the unrest is a citizenship law which makes it easier for non-Muslims from some neighboring Muslim-dominated countries to gain Indian citizenship.
UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said the new law adopted last December is of “great concern” and she was worried by reports of police inaction in the face of assaults against Muslims by other groups.
“I appeal to all political leaders to prevent violence,” Bachelet said in a speech to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.
Critics say the law is biased against Muslims and undermines India’s secular constitution.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party has denied having any prejudice against India’s 180 million Muslims, saying that law is required to help persecuted minorities.
New Delhi has been the epicenter for protests against the new law, with students and large sections of the Muslim community leading the protests.
As the wounded were brought to hospitals on Thursday, the focus shifted on the overnight transfer of Justice S. Muralidhar, a Delhi High Court judge who was hearing a petition into the riots and had criticized government and police inaction on Wednesday.
Law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said the transfer was routine and had been recommended by the Supreme Court collegium earlier this month.
Opposition Congress party leader Manish Tiwari said every lawyer and judge in India should strongly protest what he called a crude attempt to intimidate the judiciary.
Information and Broadcasting Minister Prakash Javadekar said inflammatory speeches at the protests over the new citizenship law in the last few months and the tacit support of some opposition leaders was behind the violence.
“The investigation is on,” he said.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who romped to re-election last May, also withdrew Jammu and Kashmir’s autonomy in August with the objective of tightening New Delhi’s grip on the restive region, which is also claimed by full by Pakistan.
For months the government imposed severe restrictions in Kashmir including cutting telephone and Internet lines, while keeping hundreds of people, including mainstream political leaders, in custody for fear that they could whip up mass protests. Some restrictions have since been eased.
Bachelet said the Indian government continued to impose excessive restrictions on the use of social media in the region, even though some political leaders have been released, and ordinary life may be returning to normal in some respects.