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Free Rohingya Coalition - Genocide and Justice: a worldwide Rohingya genocide commemoration

On the third anniversary of the Myanmar armys' genocide that killed over ten thousand Rohingya and drove over 800,000 Rohingya over the border into Bangladesh, fifty anti-genocide activists, scholars, musicians, poets, artists and world leaders commemorated the 2017 genocide and forced displacement.

Below are the texts of Dr. Stanton's speech for Genocide Watch and the speeches of Natalie Brinham, Doreen Chen, and Nay San Lwin of the Free Rohingya Coalition.  Other speeches may be accessed at the website of the Free Rohingya Coalition

The entire commemoration may be viewed here:

Genocide and Justice

 by Prof. Gregory Stanton

Rohingya Genocide Commemoration

August 25, 2020

Genocide is the intentional destruction in whole or in part of a national, ethnic, racial or religious group. Myanmar committed genocide by intentionally destroying a substantial part of the Rohingya ethnic and religious group.  The Myanmar Army murdered over ten thousand Rohingya people, destroyed hundreds of Rohingya villages, and raped thousands of Rohingya women.  It deliberately created conditions of life intended to destroy the Rohingya group – so that 800,000 Rohingya refugees fled to Bangladesh.

Genocide is a process, not a single event. Myanmar’s genocide against the Rohingya began years before 2017. Rohingya were stripped of citizenship in 1982.  They endured genocidal massacres in 2012 and 2016.  Genocide Watch declared a Genocide Emergency in 2012.

The U.N., the U.S., the U.K., the New York Times, Human Rights Watch, and Amnesty International refused to call the crime genocide.  They said the intent to destroy the Rohingya wasn’t proven.  That is also Myanmar’s defense in the case Gambia brought against Myanmar at the International Court of Justice.  Aung San Suu Kyi said the intent was “counterinsurgency” and “ethnic cleansing.” “Ethnic cleansing” isn’t even a crime under any international treaty.  It means “forced displacement,” a crime against humanity.

In its erroneous judgments in the Bosnia v Serbia and Croatia v Serbia cases, the International Court of Justice held that if destruction of part of a group is not the only intent – if “ethnic cleansing” is also an intent – then the crime cannot be genocide.  Genocide must be the “only intent.”  But the Genocide Convention doesn’t say that.  It is a false concept of intent introduced by William Schabas, Antonio Cassese, Joan Donaghue and other misleading “legal scholars.”  It treats the intent to commit genocide as mutually exclusive from the intent to forcibly displace a people.  In fact, both crimes often go together.

Because the International Court of Justice often follows its own precedents, even though it is not required to do so, the case Gambia brought against Myanmar in the ICJ may fail.  The ICJ could find that destruction of the Rohingya was not the “only intent” of the Myanmar government.  The ICJ must find a way to distinguish around its erroneous interpretations of the Genocide Convention in the Bosnia and Croatia cases.

The International Criminal Court has no jurisdiction over the genocide Myanmar committed on its territory because Myanmar is not a state-party to the Rome Statute of the ICC.

Countries that have universal jurisdiction for crimes of genocide and crimes against humanity could arrest and try the perpetrators of the Rohingya genocide if they come to their countries.  That includes most of Western Europe, the U.S., Australia, Argentina, and Senegal.

But even if the ICJ decides that Myanmar has committed genocide, it will not solve the problems of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, Malaysia, and other countries.

The rich nations of the world, who stood by and did nothing while Myanmar committed genocide, must generously contribute the money necessary to support Rohingya refugees. Marc Zuckerberg and Facebook should give billions, for publishing incitements to genocide against the Rohingya.

Bangladesh, Malaysia, Indonesia, the U.S., U.K., France, Germany, Australia, Japan, and other nations, the U.N. Human Rights Council, and the U.N. General Assembly must demand that Myanmar resettle its Rohingya people as full citizens of Myanmar, with effective U.N. and ASEAN protection.

Rohingya Genocide Day Solidarity

By Natalie Brinham

August 25, 2020

There is a very grave importance to a day of remembrance, when those who lost their lives remain uncounted. When their deaths remain unrecorded. When their lives remain unacknowledged by the state that annihilated them.  August 25th is a day to ensure that those uncounted and unnamed people are not erased from our collective consciousness. It is a day to reflect on the capacity of one group of human beings to inflict unimaginable brutality and cruelty on another. A day to make sure memories are not erased when the fickle media cycles move on.

But It is also a day to honour the survivors. 

“I am not defined by my scars, but by my incredible ability to heal”

These are the words of the of the British Ethiopian poet Lemn Sissay, who had his identity stolen from him by the British State.

Three years have passed since a wave of genocidal violence was unleashed on the Rohingya people in their homelands in Rakhine State.  The collective wounds and trauma suffered by Rohingya can never be fully healed.  But if anything in these past three years, the Rohingya have become defined not by their victimhood, but by their incredible ability to survive, to revive and to rejuvenate as a people. Despite Myanmar’s attempts to destroy them, astoundingly, Rohingyas have strengthened their identity.  They have strengthened their voices, and in the midst of all their pain celebrated their unique language, their cultural heritage and practices, their music, their poetry, their crafts.

There is a lot of talk of how victims of genocide and the stateless are dehumanised, pushed into spaces of bare humanity. How they become disenfranchised, voiceless, cast outside the reach of law and politics, made sub-human. But Rohingya are the living proof that these processes can and are resisted.  Over the past three years, Rohingya have demanded to be heard in the international corridors of power. And they have been. They have not only spoken by invitation on other people’s platforms.  They have built their own platforms from nothing. They have not only spoken the words that are deemed acceptable by powerful people in international spaces. They have spoken in their own voices – no matter how inconvenient, no matter how uncomfortable.

As outsiders, as academics, as NGO workers - actively listening to those voices - is an act of solidarity. When we chose our language, we should choose the language of solidarity because we are more than researchers or staff members – we are also human beings with emotion and compassion. Standing with Rohingya in solidarity means:

  • We do not ask them to use words that fit our NGOs donor objectives, or our legal analysis. We listen carefully to inconvenient voices and act on them.

  • We do not just use the term “ethnic cleansing”, we use genocide.

  • We do not speak of conflict resolution; we speak of protection.

  • We do not speak of repatriation without first speaking of justice and restitution.

  • We do not call Rohingya stateless, without first calling them Arakanese.

  • We do not talk of long-term residency; we talk of homelands.

  • We do not speak of pathways to citizenship; we talk of citizenship restoration.

  • We do not talk of democratic elections, without first speaking of the excluded and disenfranchised.

  • We do not give or take money and resources, without first questioning whether it legitimises or supports criminals and the state entities they have built around them.

  • We do not act out of convenience; we act out of conviction.

  • We listen, we speak and we act because we hold the unimaginable suffering and strength of Rohingyas in our hearts.

The Rohingya genocide did not begin on August 25th 2017. It did not begin weeks, months are even years before. It began decades ago.

We watched the slow burning genocide unfold. Instead of acting in solidarity, academics, NGO staff, UN and government officials acted out of expediency, pragmatic diplomacy, fundability and so-called objectivity. Even the battle to call genocide Genocide and Rohingya Rohingya has been a long struggle.

The time is now to honour the survivors with our solidarity. 

Doreen Chen

Free Rohingya Coalition

August 25, 2020

Today marks three years since your people experienced a modern genocide that drove out nearly a million of you Rohingya from your homeland. 

I have no doubt that many of you are disappointed that as of today, accountability and justice has yet to be achieved for your suffering. 

To you, the bloodshed probably feels like only yesterday.  And yet you may fear that the lack of concrete justice so far — and your increased isolation with the coronavirus pandemic — means that the international community has forgotten about you.

Now we at the Free Rohingya Coalition can’t speak for the official institutions working on Rohingya accountability.  But we have not forgotten about you or the genocide, and we are doing all we can to make sure that those institutions don’t either.

And for what it’s worth, I do believe that accountability is coming.  It gives me hope that three independent institutions are right now examining your experience from three perspectives:

  • You have the UN mechanism which is focused on understanding what happened and building up evidence in that regard. 

  • There is the International Court of Justice, which is assessing how much Myanmar, as a nation, can be held accountable for the violence. 

  • And then there is the International Criminal Court, which is looking into the individual accountability of those it considers most responsible.

But I have to caution you that the road to justice is a long one.  It takes a long time to process evidence and put it through all the hoops necessary to establish accountability legally, while following all the proper processes.  This is true even in your everyday case, so you can imagine how much it amplifies when we are talking about the experiences of literally millions of people.

Now I don’t say that to depress you but to help you set some realistic expectations of what justice may look like and when you may see it.  One of the quotes that I live by was made famous by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. And it is that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice” in the end.

At the same time, that doesn’t mean that we should all relax because the march towards justice is inevitable.  No, in this sense, one of the other quotes I live by is something that Bobby Kennedy said when reflecting on South Africa’s apartheid regime, and it is this:

“Each time a person stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, they send forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”

At the Free Rohingya Coalition, we believe that justice must not only be for but by Rohingya — that each one of you can be the most important agent for change for the lives of your people. 

So my call to action is for you to think about what the ripple of hope is that you can send out to sweep down those walls of oppression and resistance.  What can you do to spark change?

This is of course completely up to you.  But here are three things I have seen that have been effective over the years:

  1. Memorialise the experience of your people.  Remember it, record it, and share it, because eventually — a long way down that road towards justice — the narrative of accountability will be woven together from the strands of your individual stories.  And future leaders among you can only build a better society for you by understanding your shared history.

  2. Stay vigilant, and build up your capacity to monitor and document any future atrocities against you.  Because unfortunately, history shows us that genocide and crimes against humanity can be continuing or recurring crimes, so the best way to obtain accountability for them if they do occur is to have concrete evidence of what’s happened.

  3. Participate more actively in accountability, and amplify diverse voices from within your people to reflect the diversity of your experiences.  Assert yourselves and insert yourselves.  After all, if the accountability is all about you, it should include you.

If we can support you in the road ahead, please reach out; we are here for you.  In any event, we offer you our ongoing solidarity and we hold space for you in our hearts and minds. 

Nay San Lwin

Free Rohingya Coalition

August 25, 2020

Firstly, I want to thank all the speakers and performers for your time today.  As a Rohingya, it has been special hearing from you and listening to your solidarity. 

I want to also thank our audience for being with us today – the day we commemorate Rohingya Genocide day. 

Three years ago, beginning 25 August, over 725,000 Rohingya fled to Bangladesh from Myanmar in the space of a few weeks. The world saw in tragic detail what the Burmese government have been trying to do since the 1970s. The world also saw the complicity and collusion of Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD. 

Today,  I have a particular fear. A particular worry. Every August 25  marks more suffering for Rohingya in the camps of Bangladesh, for Rohingya in the IDP camps of Myanmar and Rohingya in the open-air prison villages of Myanmar. We are deprived of every kind of right and every kind of opportunity. 

Earlier you heard from Shafika. She has spent almost three decades of her life as a refugee. There are others who have known no other life. In the camps we are thought of as engaging in criminality and denied all refugee rights.  And even though repatriation is talked about frequently, there is absolutely nothing on offer from Myanmar which assures us of a safe and sustainable return and the restoration of our rights. Even less likely is the possibility of a return to our original lands which have been bulldozed and taken over. 

Meanwhile in Rakhine state, despite the orders of the International Court of Justice, the Tatmadaw continues it horrific attacks against Arakanese people of all backgrounds.  The world sits back and watches but does very little.  Very serious human rights violations also continue in Kachin and Shan states. 

All of this means that you have a special responsibility on your shoulders. As people of conscience, as humanitarians, you must not let this awful situation continue year after year. As a famous scientist once said: 

“The world will not be destroyed by those who do evil, but by those who watch them without doing anything.”

The international community must work to end the culture of impunity of the Myanmar government and military. They are getting away with war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. They are getting away with murder and you must ensure accountability. 

I appeal to you to stand with us. Not just on commemoration days like this but on a programmatic basis so that Rohingya efforts succeed at every level in the international fora, in the camps, and in Arakan itself. 

Finally I want to say something to my Rohingya brothers and sisters. Despite everything, you have been strong and you have kept going. You are not victims. You are survivors. And, god willing, we shall create a better future.

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