January 27th was International Holocaust Day where we remember the terrible events of the Second World War. That war and the appalling treatment of gypsies, gay people and Jews by the Nazi regime, led to the creation of the crime of genocide to recognise the intention to get rid of an entire race of people. People said ‘never again’ and shortly after the war the UN Declaration of Human Rights was declared as a common standard on how states should behave towards their citizens.
Regrettably, it has not seen an end to massacres and genocide. Since the war, we have seen massacres in Cambodia, Darfur, Rwanda, Bosnia and Uganda. The total annihilated in these and other similar events exceeds the death toll in WWII.
In our last post we reported on a talk given at Southampton University on the latest example of genocide currently taking place in Burma/Myanmar. The UN Human rights Chef describes this as a ‘textbook example of ethnic cleansing’ which has been taking place since 1978. It is ethnic in origin. He draws a parallel between the events in Burma and those in Nazi occupied Europe in the ’30s and ’40s. An Amnesty article on the situation there can be found here.
The latest post by Rights Info discusses these issues and goes into a lot more detail. The Holocaust is remembered and we are, rightly, reminded of it on 27th. There is however a sense in which we have become used to these events and our powerlessness to prevent them. We do not have specific memorial days for the more recent genocides although these are included in the Holocaust memorial.
In a recent debate in the House of Commons, Mark Field a Foreign and Colonial Office Minister said:
[…] In my role as FCO Minister for Asia, I remain persistent in our lobbying the Government of Burma to allow the Rohingya back to their homeland with sufficient guarantees on security and, importantly, on citizenship that they will be able to rebuild their lives. As I have said before, that can begin only when conditions allow for a safe, voluntary and dignified return. My hon. Friend the Member for St Albans [Anne Main] spoke passionately about the importance of Rohingya representation in that process. If the returns are to be genuinely voluntary, there must a consultative process to establish the refugees’ intentions and concerns. 24 January 2018
At the event in Southampton, in answer to a question, one of the problems the Rohingya have is a lack of representation. This is partly because they do not have a leader able to speak for them which in turn is because of the lack of spoken English.
We must not forget the genocides which are taking place now when we remember the events of 80 or so years ago. Although the Holocaust was an historical event, genocide is still being practised today.
Genocide in Burma was the title of a fascinating lecture by Prof. Penny Green of Queen Mary University, London given in Southampton University organised by our Amnesty colleagues in that city. We tend to think that genocide is something that doesn’t happen today yet instances of it occur in places as diverse as the Balkans and Rwanda. It is in fact quite a recent crime and was identified as such during the Second World War by Raphael Lemkin who coined the word itself. While a lot of attention is rightly paid to the Holocaust – the genocidal act that prompted the identification – modern examples seem to get overlooked.
Prof Penny started her talk by tracing the history of the genocide in Burma. It concerns the Rohingya people who live in the north-west of the country. The first the west became aware of it was went a boat full of refugees were found floating in the Andaman Sea in 2015. This prompted some international protests at the time. Subsequently, there has been considerable research by Penny and her team and a large number of interviews were conducted, a total of 176 in all, to try to find out what has been happening. There is no doubt from all the evidence and testimonies that we are in the final stages of a genocidal act in Burma. Further details can be found on the Burma Campaign Website.
Following Lemkin’s work in getting genocide recognised as a crime, others have added further details. One such is the Argentinian Daniel Feierestein and another is Claudia Card. All in their various ways are keen to stress that genocide is not a single act but involves a series of stages. Nor does it have to involve just death but is about the destruction of social relationships and the denial of identity. It also involves a series of stages. That is, it is not a single event but a process.
The systematic, planned and targeted weakening of the Rohingya through mass violence and other measures, as well as the regime’s successive implementation of discriminatory and persecutory policies against them, amounts to a process of genocide. This process emerged in the 1970s, and has accelerated during Myanmar’s faltering transition to democracy Countdown to Annihilation (link below)
The stages of genocide
The substance of Prof. Penny’s talk was working through the six stages of genocide as they applied to the Rohingya.
Stage 1: This involves stigmatisation and dehumanisation. In Burma this involved refusing to give birth certificates to the new-born. The Rohingya were not included in the census. Civil rights were removed and movement restrictions applied. The use of language is important and the people were described as ‘Kalar’ which is equivalent in its derogatory meaning to ‘nigger’.
The role of Buddhist monks was also important and shocking. We tend to have a view of Buddhists as a pious and peaceful and we conjure up pictures of men praying in saffron robes. By contrast, Ashin Wirathu is a racist monk who has a fine line in anti-Muslim hatred. He and other racist monks play an important role in the demonization of the Rohingya. One particular campaign – labelled the 969 Movement – was designed to crush all Muslim businesses. Its origins are not altogether clear but it is based on the notion that Muslims are ‘breeding’ faster than native Burmese and so there is a risk of them overrunning the country. The campaigns bear some similarity to the Nazis she said.
Stage 2: This stage involves harassment. This really got underway in 2012 when there were 200 murders and 38 mosques were destroyed. An important part of the story is that in some cases the police are present when murders take place but they do nothing and there are no investigations. Reports of violence are censored and the UN rapporteur was attacked. Nazi memorabilia is present and many are sent to concentration camps.
Stage 3: It is now important to isolate and segregate the Rohingya and this comprises the third stage. Food aid is denied and the people live in squalid conditions. Hunger is prevalent.
Stage 4: Systematic weakening.A series of actions are involved here: no food aid; medical help is denied; freedom of movement is denied; there is no education and no access to livelihoods. MSF were expelled for reporting on the situation. Other charities such as Oxfam are attacked and this creates a problem for them. If they speak out and report on the brutality, they are banned from the country, if they stay silent they can continue to help. They become ‘inadvertently complicit’ she said.
Stage 5: This is annihilation and seriously got underway in 2016/17 when 354 villages were destroyed. Thousands are killed and 800,000 are forced to flee. It was at this stage that the world began to notice and we saw some news footage of burning villages and distressing scenes of fleeing Rohingya. There was mass rape by uniformed Myanmar men. The result is nearly one million Rohingya – almost the entire population – are now living in Bangladesh.
Current issue of Without Borders, the house magazine of Médecins Sans Frontières, leads on the Rohingya crisis and has a description of a camp in Bangladesh:
Some patients are literally struck dumb by the horror of what they have witnessed or what has been done to them. What really sticks in my mind are the drawing the children do in the clinic’s mental health unit. Helicopters firing on people, homes on fire, people being killed.
What these children must have witnessed is horrendous. One young boy has deformed feet. He couldn’t run away from the soldiers because of this. He told me a soldier shot him in the foot. Why would anyone do such a thing?
People’s living conditions are unbelievably squalid. Filthy streams, polluted by human waste, are crossed by rickety bamboo bridges. […] when it rains it becomes a quagmire. Dr Ian Cross working with MSF
This brings us to the final stage of the genocidal process:
Stage 6: This is termed ‘symbolic enactment’ which is where we are now with Burma. This final stage involves the total destruction of buildings and the eradication of the Rohingya from history. The state discourse is one of denial: it didn’t happen; the victims were responsible i.e. they set fire to their own villages, or that it was a matter of self-defence. Any other account is a conspiracy by international human rights groups. It cannot be long before they will be claiming it is ‘fake news’.
A fuller account of what is happening in Burma and the treatment of the Rohingya can be found in penny Green’s report Countdown to Annihilation (pdf).
Aung San Suu Kyi
There can be few in world who have fallen from grace so far as Aung San Suu Kyi. She received a Nobel prize for her heroic resistance to the military and endured many years of house arrest. Yet now she stands passively by while genocide is committed in her country. She declines to engage in discussions about the topic. It seems the very stubbornness which stood her in good stead all those years is now preventing her seeing or accepting the horror which is going on in the Rakhine.
This was a fascinating talk made particularly interesting because it was anchored both in evidence and photographs from the areas affected but also because it emphasised that genocide is a process not just an event. If there is a tiny crumb of comfort from the events described it is that if the process is interdicted at an early enough stage then it can be prevented. Waiting until it reaches the end stage is too late. Not only has enormous suffering been endured by the victims of the oppression, but attitudes have become hardened and state actions have become institutionalised.
Courtlye Musick are presenting a concert of vocal and instrumental music from Tudor and Elizabethan times performed in costume on Saturday 10 March at 7:30 at Christ church, Waterloo Rd, Freemantle SO15 3BT. Tickets are £8 at the door and the concert is in aid of Amnesty International
The minutes of the group meeting in January 2108 are attached thanks to group member Lesley for preparing them. We are pleased to see a further increase in the numbers following the Website – the biggest monthly rise ever. New members are always welcome and our next meeting is on February 8th in Victoria Road but always check beforehand in case there is a change in venue.
Many human rights organisations worried by the Brexit* Bill’s threat to human rights
Amnesty, Human Rights Watch and Liberty are among those who are expressing concerns that the EU (Withdrawal) bill will weaken our human rights protections because it seeks to remove the Charter of Fundamental Rights from our law. The Charter is important because it protects fundamental issues important to us such as dignity, data, worker’s rights, children and more. By excluding this, our rights will be weakened. In their annual report, Human Rights Watch say:
More than six months after the government formally triggered the start of Brexit, significant concerns remained about the status of rights and protection for all UK residents derived from EU law after the UK leaves the EU. A draft law to move EU law into domestic law after Brexit raised serious concerns about granting broad powers to the executive to amend laws undermining rights without parliamentary scrutiny, and excluding rights currently protected under the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights (HRW, 2018)
While the Bill claims to be copying and pasting EU derived law into domestic law, it leaves one, crucial element behind on the cutting room floor – the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. The Charter plays an important role in our domestic rights protection architecture. Unlike the European Convention on Human Rights (which has nothing to do with the EU), the Charter only applies when EU law is in issue – like questions about data retention, or pension rights – but it provides stronger protection than the ECHR in those areas (judges can use it to ‘strike down’ primary legislation, like they did when the Brexit Minister David Davis MP used it himself in a privacy case recently!) It is a clear statement of fundamental rights which we all enjoy. If this is simply a cut and paste job as the government says, then why is the only thing they are leaving behind our rights protection?
The current government has had a long and at times tortuous relationship with human rights. It is surprising to compare a Conservative government after the war, led by Winston Churchill, who was instrumental in pushing for improved rights and which led to the current architecture of law on the subject, with the current government who wants to abolish the Human Rights Act and remove the Charter as well.
The reasons are complex and sometimes hard to fathom. It is connected in part with a dislike of all things European. Europe is the cause of so many of our problems it is claimed and once Brexit is accomplished, we shall be free. According to Mrs. May, it prevents us deporting dangerous criminals which it doesn’t. We are unable to deport some people because of various treaties which prevent us sending people to a country where they are likely to be tortured. It overrides parliament they claim and so we need to do this to regain our sovereignty. It does not. But the myths, endlessly repeated by politicians and some parts of the media are widely believed.
We should be extremely concerned. The bill also contains what are known as ‘Henry VIII powers’ which enable ministers to by-pass parliament. Without the Charter in place, which underpins human rights law, the government risks getting clogged up in a series of legal cases. Fundamental protections can easily be removed almost on a whim.
* Amnesty has no position on Brexit itself
If you live in the Salisbury area and want to become involved in human rights activities, you would be most welcome. Keep and eye on this site or on Facebook or Twitter – salisburyai – and come along to an event and make yourself known. Or contact us via Facebook. It is free to join the local group.
Attached is the death penalty report for the mid December – January period prepared by group member Lesley. Some good news especially in Texas – a state with a high use of this punishment – but elsewhere in the world, a depressing number of countries in the list.
Title of a display of photos in the Methodist Church, Salisbury
This is a moving display of photos in the Salisbury Methodist Church taken by Bedouin women in the ‘unrecognized villages’ of the Negev-Naqab region of Israel which lies to the east of Gaza. The project documents the brutal way the villagers are treated by the Israeli authorities. Their villages are demolished and crops destroyed to make way for new settlements and they suffer discrimination and police brutality.
The tactics are familiar and included cutting water supplies sometimes for days at a time. They are denied basic services such as paved roads, electricity and medical help.
There is now a Change.org petition highly critical of the government and the lack of any response from the Home office minister Caroline Nokes, The comments are worth reading and mostly supportive of his case.
Latest news is the Reza is due to be deported at any moment.
Further developments with Reza Maghsoudi
Readers may recall an earlier post about a refugee from Afghanistan who has been living in this country for some years and Salisbury for 2, who went to Melksham police station for a routine appointment, whereupon he was arrested and sent to a Detention Centre prior to a planned deportation. Reza Maghsoudi gained some local publicity and there was a follow-up item on BBC Wiltshire last month.
In today’s Salisbury Journal (4 January 2018), the Salisbury MP Mr Glen, in his View from the Commons piece, devotes some space to Reza’s case:
I was in my office at 9am on January 2nd to plan my latest intervention on behalf of Reza Maghsoudi, the young Afghan national who is facing deportation. His many allies in Salisbury have been fighting compassionately and tirelessly to help him regularize his immigration status so that he can continue with his life he has built here – the dear friends he has made and the skills he has learned.
A decision is due and I have been keen to once again to ensure that the case in on the personal radar of the minister so that the significant new evidence that has come to light in recent week can be taken into account.
This is of course encouraging and we hope that the combination of publicity and political pressure bear fruit.
Why are we here?
But why do we have a situation like this in the first place? Why do we have a series of policies whereby someone like Reza is held in a detention centre and is under constant threat of deportation? The answer of course is because for some years now the government has pursued aggressive policies in an attempt to reduce immigration. These have included:
plans to reduce immigration to the ‘tens of thousands’
tightening of work visa eligibility
greater scrutiny of students concerning their eligibility to stay and study
reducing benefits to the lowest level in Europe
provision of sub-standard housing and is what the home affairs sub-committee described as ‘disgraceful’.
introducing bureaucratic delays which regularly force people into destitution according to the Refugee Council.
The benefit reductions came about because it was claimed by David Cameron, when he was the prime minister, that our benefits were a ‘magic pull’ to people wishing to come here. There was no evidence for this. This led to cuts trumpeted to save £500m. These attitudes have been stirred up by some of the media who have great influence on government policy. One media commentator called refugees ‘cockroaches’ in the Daily Mail for example. Despite research evidence to show that immigrants are of net benefit to the UK economy, politicians and some media editors constantly refer to them as a ‘problem’ and a drain on the economy. They are seen as another form of scrounger. People seeking asylum – like Reza – have been conflated with immigration as a deliberate policy (Migration Policy).
So Reza is a small part of a concerted programme of demonizing immigrants and asylum seekers by legal restrictions, benefit reductions and detaining them in detention centres. It is interesting to contrast the plans being prepared by Mr Glen in the Salisbury Journal piece with a rather different speech he made in the House Of Commons:
One aspect of that reform, referred to in the Queen’s Speech, is access to benefits for immigrants. It is right that the Government are considering limiting access to housing benefit and health care for people who have not earned the right to it. It is not enough to keep ignoring that uncomfortable truth because we are frightened of being too right wing, too nasty or too unpleasant. The routine experience of people up and down this country is that on the front line, at the point of delivery and at the point of receiving public services, they are too often displaced by people who, apparently, should not have the right to access those services. I am pleased that the Government will address that in legislation. (Source: Theyworkforyou.com, May 2013 Queen’s Speech debate (our highlight)
Mr Reza’s case is not about benefits but it is about the attitudes of a government who have adopted an aggressive approach based upon misinformation and media attacks. We wish Reza every success.