US for voluntary return of Rohingyas

US for voluntary return of Rohingyas

UNB, Dhaka
The United States has laid emphasis on voluntary return of Rohingyas as Myanmar and Bangladesh have agreed to begin repatriation of Rohingya refugees in mid-November.
“We continue to call for accountability for those that were responsible, and we
would look closely at any plans to ensure that it is in fact voluntary,” Robert Palladino, Deputy Spokesperson at US Department told reporters at a press briefing in Washington, DC.
He said it is important to them that their efforts remain focused on steps that would improve the situation for the Rohingya refugees and to hold accountable all those responsible for this.
“And our goal here is to ease human suffering and to address the root causes of conflict, violence, and abuse,” the official said on Thursday.
A total of 2,260 Rohingyas of 485 families will be repatriated in the first phase as Bangladesh and Myanmar agreed to begin their repatriation in mid-November, said a senior official here.
Permanent Secretary of Myanmar’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs Myint Thu, however, said that they have verified about 5,000 Rohingyas.
The joint working group members from both sides, including Foreign Secretary M Shahidul Haque, visited Rohingya camps on Wednesday and talked to Rohingya representatives.
Rohingyas, however, said they will not go back to their place of origin in Rakhine if their basic rights, including citizenship and housing facilities, are not provided.
On Tuesday, Bangladesh and Myanmar agreed to begin the repatriation of the first batch of Rohingyas by mid-November.
The third foreign secretary-level JWG meeting, held at State guesthouse Meghna in the city, was co-chaired by Permanent Secretary Myint Thu of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Myanmar and his Bangladesh counterpart Senior Secretary M ShahidulHaque of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
After the third foreign secretary-level JWG meeting held at State guesthouse Meghna in the capital, Myanmar Permanent Secretary Myint Thu said they had a very friendly and candid meeting and came up with the “very concrete results” on the commencement of the repatriation.
“We’ve shown our political will, flexibility, and accommodation in order to commence the repatriation at the earliest possible dates,” he said.
The Myanmar official claimed they have streamlined lots of local directives to promote awareness on repatriation among the returnees.
“We’re also promoting public policy which includes police personnel together with the local communities to maintain and promote law and order,” he said adding that they are also promoting awareness on the fundamental principles so that people can get access to justice system if they encounter any issue.
Bangladesh and Myanmar formed the Joint Working Group (JWG) on December 2017 to start the repatriation of Rohingya refugees by January 23, 2018.
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Burma Not Safe for Returning Rohingyas, Warns USCIRF

Burma Not Safe for Returning Rohingyas, Warns USCIRF

October 31, 2018

Burma Not Safe for Returning Rohingyas, Warns USCIRF

WASHINGTON, DC — Responding to the recent announcement by the governments of Burma and Bangladesh that repatriation efforts for Rohingya Muslim refugees will begin next month, U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRFVice Chair Kristina Arriaga, who visited Burma last year, cited evidence of continued atrocities committed by the Buddhist-majority Burma as one of several reasons the announcement is premature. An estimated 921,000 Rohingya refugees currently reside in overcrowded camps in Bangladesh, many of whom fled brutal violence in Burma at the hands of Burma’s military and other nonstate actors.
“Not only have Rohingya Muslims received no assurance of their physical safety when they return to Burma,” said Arriaga, “but there have been no guarantees of protection for their properties, livelihoods or basic human rights, including religious freedom.  While we support continued negotiations between the two countries, there is still much to be done before it is safe for these refugees to return to their homeland in a manner that is both dignified and voluntary.”
USCIRF has called on the State Department to redesignate Burma as a “country of particular concern” and to continue to impose targeted sanctions, such as visa bans and asset freezes, on specific abusers in the Burmese military and among nonstate actors.
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A Genocide Incited on Facebook, With Posts From Myanmar’s Military

NAYPYIDAW, Myanmar — They posed as fans of pop stars and national heroes as they flooded Facebook with their hatred. One said Islam was a global threat to Buddhism. Another shared a false story about the rape of a Buddhist woman by a Muslim man.

The Facebook posts were not from everyday internet users. Instead, they were from Myanmar military personnel who turned the social network into a tool for ethnic cleansing, according to former military officials, researchers and civilian officials in the country.

Members of the Myanmar military were the prime operatives behind a systematic campaign on Facebook that stretched back half a decade and that targeted the country’s mostly Muslim Rohingya minority group, the people said. The military exploited Facebook’s wide reach in Myanmar, where it is so broadly used that many of the country’s 18 million internet users confuse the Silicon Valley social media platform with the internet. Human rights groups blame the anti-Rohingya propaganda for inciting murdersrapes and the largest forced human migration in recent history.

While Facebook took down the official accounts of senior Myanmar military leaders in August, the breadth and details of the propaganda campaign — which was hidden behind fake names and sham accounts — went undetected. The campaign, described by five people who asked for anonymity because they feared for their safety, included hundreds of military personnel who created troll accounts and news and celebrity pages on Facebook and then flooded them with incendiary comments and posts timed for peak viewership.

Working in shifts out of bases clustered in foothills near the capital, Naypyidaw, officers were also tasked with collecting intelligence on popular accounts and criticizing posts unfavorable to the military, the people said. So secretive were the operations that all but top leaders had to check their phones at the door.

Facebook confirmed many of the details about the shadowy, military-driven campaign. The company’s head of cybersecurity policy, Nathaniel Gleicher, said it had found “clear and deliberate attempts to covertly spread propaganda that were directly linked to the Myanmar military.”

On Monday, after questions from The New York Times, it said it had taken down a series of accounts that supposedly were focused on entertainment but were instead tied to the military. Those accounts had 1.3 million followers.

“We discovered that these seemingly independent entertainment, beauty and informational pages were linked to the Myanmar military,” the company said in its announcement.

The previously unreported actions by Myanmar’s military on Facebook are among the first examples of an authoritarian government’s using the social network against its own people. It is another facet of the disruptive disinformation campaigns that are unfolding on the site. In the past, state-backed Russians and Iranians spread divisive and inflammatory messages through Facebook to people in other countries. In the United States, some domestic groups have now adopted similar tactics ahead of the midterm elections.

“The military has gotten a lot of benefit from Facebook,” said Thet Swe Win, founder of Synergy, a group that focuses on fostering social harmony in Myanmar. “I wouldn’t say Facebook is directly involved in the ethnic cleansing, but there is a responsibility they had to take proper actions to avoid becoming an instigator of genocide.”

In August, after months of reports about anti-Rohingya propaganda on Facebook, the company acknowledged that it had been too slow to act in Myanmar. By then, more than 700,000 Rohingya had fled the country in a year, in what United Nations officials called “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.” The company has said it is bolstering its efforts to stop such abuses.

“We have taken significant steps to remove this abuse and make it harder on Facebook,” Mr. Gleicher said. “Investigations into this type of activity are ongoing.”

The information committee of Myanmar’s military did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

The Myanmar military’s Facebook operation began several years ago, said the people familiar with how it worked. The military threw major resources at the task, the people said, with as many as 700 people on it.

They began by setting up what appeared to be news pages and pages on Facebook that were devoted to Burmese pop stars, models and other celebrities, like a beauty queen with a penchant for parroting military propaganda. They then tended the pages to attract large numbers of followers, said the people. They took over one Facebook page devoted to a military sniper, Ohn Maung, who had won national acclaim after being wounded in battle. They also ran a popular blog, called Opposite Eyes, that had no outward ties to the military, the people said.

Those then became distribution channels for lurid photos, false news and inflammatory posts, often aimed at Myanmar’s Muslims, the people said. Troll accounts run by the military helped spread the content, shout down critics and fuel arguments between commenters to rile people up. Often, they posted sham photos of corpses that they said were evidence of Rohingya-perpetrated massacres, said one of the people.

Digital fingerprints showed that one major source of the Facebook content came from areas outside Naypyidaw, where the military keeps compounds, some of the people said.

Some military personnel on the effort suffered from low morale, said two of the people, in part because of the need to spread unfounded rumors about people like Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel laureate and Myanmar’s de facto civilian leader, to hurt their credibility. One hoax used a real photo of Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi in a wheelchair and paired it with false suggestions that she had gone to South Korea for Botox injections, the people said.

The Facebook page of the sniper, Mr. Ohn Maung, offers one example of the military’s tactics. It gained a large following because of his descriptions of the day-to-day life of a soldier. The account was ultimately taken over by a military team to pump out propaganda, such as posts portraying Rohingya as terrorists, said two of the people.

One of the most dangerous campaigns came in 2017, when the military’s intelligence arm spread rumors on Facebook to both Muslim and Buddhist groups that an attack from the other side was imminent, said two people. Making use of the anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001, it spread warnings on Facebook Messenger via widely followed accounts masquerading as news sites and celebrity fan pages that “jihad attacks” would be carried out. To Muslim groups it spread a separate message that nationalist Buddhist monks were organizing anti-Muslim protests.

A settlement for Rohingya arrivals in Thang Khali, Bangladesh. More than 700,000 Rohingya have fled Myanmar in what United Nations officials have called “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”CreditAdam Dean for The New York Times

he purpose of the campaign, which set the country on edge, was to generate widespread feelings of vulnerability and fear that could be salved only by the military’s protection, said researchers who followed the tactics.

Facebook said it had found evidence that the messages were being intentionally spread by inauthentic accounts and took some down at the time. It did not investigate any link to the military at that point.

The military tapped its rich history of psychological warfare that it developed during the decades when Myanmar was controlled by a military junta, which gave up power in 2011. The goal then was to discredit radio broadcasts from the BBC and Voice of America. One veteran of that era said classes on advanced psychological warfare from 15 years ago taught a golden rule for false news: If one quarter of the content is true, that helps make the rest of it believable.

Some military personnel picked up techniques from Russia. Three people familiar with the situation said some officers had studied psychological warfare, hacking and other computer skills in Russia. Some would give lectures to pass along the information when they returned, one person said.

The Myanmar military’s links to Russia go back decades, but around 2000, it began sending large groups of officers to the country to study, said researchers. Soldiers stationed in Russia for training opened blogs and got into arguments with Burmese political exiles in places like Singapore.

The campaign in Myanmar looked similar to online influence campaigns from Russia, said Myat Thu, a researcher who studies false news and propaganda on Facebook. One technique involved fake accounts with few followers spewing venomous comments beneath posts and sharing misinformation posted by more popular accounts to help them spread rapidly.

Human rights groups focused on the Facebook page called Opposite Eyes, which began as a blog about a decade ago and then leapt to the social network. By then, the military was behind it, said two people. The blog provided a mix of military news, like hype about the purchase of new Russian fighter jets, and posts attacking ethnic minority groups like the Rohingya.

At times, according to Moe Htet Nay, an activist who kept tabs on it, the ties of the Opposite Eyes Facebook page to the military spilled into the open. Once, it wrote about a military victory in Myanmar’s Kachin State before the news became public. Below the post, a senior officer wrote that the information was not public and should be taken down. It was.

“It was very systematic,” said Mr. Moe Htet Nay, adding that other Facebook accounts reposted everything that the blog wrote, spreading its message further. Although Facebook has taken the page down, the hashtag #Oppositeyes still brings up anti-Rohingya posts.

Today, both Facebook and Myanmar’s civilian leaders said they were keenly aware of the power of the platform.

“Facebook in Myanmar? I don’t like it,” said Oo Hla Saw, a legislator. “It’s been dangerous and harmful for our democratic transition.”

Follow Paul Mozur on Twitter: @paulmozur.
Wai Moe contributed reporting from Yangon, Myanmar.

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Suu Kyi does not remember why she criticized the military a month ago

Source: NHK

State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi told a reporter in Tokyo on Saturday that she does not know why she said last month that the military response to Rohingya insurgents in Rakhine State “could’ve been handled better”.
The Myanmar military’s campaign of rape, murder, and arson, which displaced more than 700,000 Rohingya from the country starting on Aug. 25, 2017, have been described by UN investigators as genocidal.
Suu Kyi was asked on stage at the World Economic Forum on Sept. 12 to evaluate the military’s actions. She said: “There are of course ways in which, with hindsight, the situation could’ve been handled better.”
But when asked last weekend to elaborate on that remark during an interviewwith Japanese broadcaster NHK, she said: “Actually, I’m a bit surprised by this quote, because I do not know to what it is referring. I didn’t at any time see that the situation could not have been, could have been handled better, and I don’t quite understand the reference.”
During the same interview, the state counsellor also claimed that Myanmar “a lot of press freedom” and offered as evidence the widespread use of social media in Myanmar. “They express themselves very freely and very widely on everything from the government to what’s happening next door to them in their street,” she said.
Three days later, three journalists from Eleven Media were arrested for publishing an article in which lawmakers accuse Yangon Region chief minister Phyo Min Thein of violating government finance rules. They have been charged under Section 505(b) of the penal code, which outlaws the publication of information that could cause “fear or alarm to the public or to any section of the public whereby any person may be induced to commit an offense against the State or against the public tranquility” and face up to two years in prison.

Bangladesh describes Rohingya genocide

UNITED NATIONS — Bangladeshi President Sheikh Hasina on Thursday accused Myanmar of failing to honor a verbal commitment to take back Rohingya Muslims who have fled a crackdown she described as tantamount to genocide.
Hasina’s remarks at the annual gathering of world leaders at the United Nations came as the U.N. Human Rights Council agreed to set up a team to collect evidence of alleged crimes that one day could be used to prosecute suspected perpetrators.
U.N.-backed investigators have already said the reported atrocities could amount to genocide and other war crimes. Myanmar, which barred the investigators from the country, has rejected that reporting as “replete with unverified information.”
“We are appalled by what we have seen in U.N. reports about atrocities against the Rohingya who have now taken shelter in Bangladesh, which are tantamount to genocide and crimes against humanity,” Hasina told the General Assembly.
She appealed for more international support for the 1.1 million Rohingya refugees now sheltering in Bangladesh, and urged an “early, peaceful solution” to the crisis. Most have arrived since August 2017 when attacks by Rohingya militants on Myanmar security forces triggered a massive retaliation that prompted a massive cross-border exodus of civilians.
“Despite their verbal commitment to take back the Rohingya, in reality the Myanmar authorities are yet to accept them back,” Hasina said.
International pressure is mounting on Myanmar, which is to address the General Assembly on Friday. The Organization of Islamic Cooperation on Thursday hosted a ministerial-level meeting on the sidelines of the assembly to address the plight of the Rohingya, following another hosted by Britain earlier in the week. Both were conducted behind closed doors.
Also, a U.S. government investigation released Monday concluded that the Myanmar military had targeted Rohingya civilians indiscriminately and often with “extreme brutality” in a coordinated campaign to drive the minority Muslims out of the country.
The report provided statistical analysis. It said most of those interviewed had witnessed a killing, and half had witnessed sexual violence, and the military was identified as the perpetrator in 84 percent of the killings or injuries they witnessed.
Human rights groups criticized the Trump administration for not describing the crackdown as “genocide.” The U.S. has characterized the gross abuses as “ethnic cleansing,” which is not a criminal definition.
Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan told reporters Thursday that the investigation, based on interviews with more than 1,000 Rohingya refugees, was intended as a forensic description and not to make legal judgments.
But he added that the U.S. is working toward accountability for those responsible, and on “characterizing it as a crime against humanity or a genocide.”

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Exclusive: EU considers trade sanctions on Myanmar over Rohingya crisis

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Union is considering trade sanctions on Myanmar over the Rohingya crisis, potentially stripping the country of tariff-free access to the world’s largest trading bloc, three EU officials said.
The sanctions, under discussion at the European Commission, would include Myanmar’s lucrative textile industry and potentially put at risk thousands of jobs there but would not come into effect immediately, giving the EU leverage to stop what the West says is ethnic cleansing of Muslim Rohingya.
Even by triggering a six-month review process on whether to impose trade sanctions, which could be reversed if Myanmar met humanitarian and democratic targets, the bloc would mark a significant shift in policy.
The impetus for the move was a U.N. report in August, which accused Myanmar’s military of carrying out killings of Rohingya with “genocidal intent”. That, and the rare U.S. step of putting sanctions on two entire military units, have put an onus on the European Union to act, officials said.
“We are concerned about the impact on the population from our potential measures, but we cannot ignore a U.N. report describing the military campaign as genocide,” said one EU official of the debate within the European Commission, the EU executive responsible for the bloc’s trade policy.
Until now, the EU has imposed travel bans and asset freezes on several members of the Myanmar military, but has shied away from slapping sanctions on Myanmar’s commander-in-chief, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, who the United Nations said should be prosecuted along with five others for genocide and crimes against humanity.
Myanmar has rejected the U.N. findings as “one-sided”. It says military action which followed militant attacks on security forces in August last year was a legitimate counterinsurgency operation.
Myanmar government spokesman Zaw Htay did not answer telephone calls seeking comment on the possible EU move on Wednesday. He said last month he would no longer speak to the media over the phone, only at a biweekly conference.
EU officials believe the formal threat of losing tariff-free access would quickly hit foreign investment in the apparel industry, where European manufacturers take advantage of relatively low labor costs in Myanmar.

“Removing this duty-free access is a measure of last resort, but we must act if other measures are not delivering,” said one EU official involved in the discussions.
“In light of the deteriorating situation on the ground, the Commission is currently assessing possible ways of escalating its political and economic response,” a Commission source said.
European firms sourcing apparel from Myanmar include retailers Adidas, C&A, H&M, Inditex, Next and Primark.
Rights groups say the targeted EU sanctions so far have not forced the military or civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi to protect civilians, resettle refugees or stop attacks on press freedoms that have included the imprisonment of two Reuters reporters for breaching a law on state secrets.
The European Parliament last month called for the Commission to review Myanmar’s trade preferences.
Within the Commission there are differences, with the EU Trade Chief Cecilia Malmstrom leaning toward starting the process of imposing trade sanctions while the EU’s top diplomat Federica Mogherini is more cautious because of EU policy to avoid economic sanctions that can hurt ordinary citizens, the officials said.
Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has yet to take a position, they said. A Commission spokesman declined to comment.
Myanmar’s exports to the European Union were worth 1.56 billion euros ($1.81 billion) in 2017, nearly 10 times their value in 2012, after which the bloc gave Myanmar “Everything But Arms” trade status.
That status means it can sell any goods tariff-free to the bloc, except weapons. The EU is Myanmar’s sixth-largest trading partner and an important source of foreign direct investment.
Myanmar’s clothing industry is its top export earner after oil and gas, generating more than $2 billion in exports and 450,000 jobs last year, according to industry association MGMA.
Trade sanctions would end an economic opening granted to support Myanmar’s transition to democracy after Suu Kyi emerged from 15 years of house arrest under military rule and led her party to take both the parliament and the presidency.
One more limited option for the EU could be to exempt textiles, an official said, but given the size of the sector, that would significantly reduce the impact of EU sanctions. Clothing and footwear are worth more than three-quarters of Myanmar’s exports to the bloc.
Both the United States and the European Union want to spur economic development to underpin democracy and diminish China’s influence. Crushing the economy with trade sanctions could allow China to dominate Myanmar, officials said.
Washington imposed sanctions on four military and police commanders and two army units in August. New sanctions are under consideration for half a dozen other individuals and at least two military-run businesses, U.S. officials have said.
A U.S. State Department report released last week accused Myanmar’s military of waging a “well-planned and coordinated” campaign of mass killings, gang rapes and other atrocities against the Rohingya, but stopped short of calling it genocide or crimes against humanity.
Senior State Department officials told Reuters, however, that those findings could be used to justify further targeted U.S. sanctions or other punitive measures.
There appears to be little U.S. appetite, though, for re-imposing broad economic sanctions lifted by former President Barack Obama as the country shifted from decades of direct military rule toward a democratic transition.
Some European companies have already cut business with Myanmar, with Cartier stopping purchasing gemstones from the country on Dec. 8, 2017, citing abuses against the Rohingyas.

(Additional reporting by Alastair Macdonald, Gabriela Baczynska in Brussels and Antoni Slodkowski in Yangon and Matt Spetalnick in Washington; Editing by Giles Elgood)

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