U.N. welcomes Reuters journalists’ release, but warns on situation of freedom of expression
Marje Pelayo • May 7, 2019 • 1247
The release of the two Reuters journalists jailed in Myanmar after they were convicted of breaking the Official Secrets Act is “good news” but the situation of freedom of expression in the country is still dire, U.N. warns on Tuesday (May 7).
“In our report that we put out in September last year we had put forth a lot of very constructive recommendations to the government of Myanmar to improve the state of freedom of expression in the country. No positive progress has been observed in relation to the recommendations that we had made to them.” Said United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) Spokeswomen Ravina Shamdasani.
Wa Lone, 33, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 29 walked free from prison on Tuesday (May 7) after more than 500 days behind bars.
They had been convicted in September and sentenced to seven years in jail in a case that raised questions about Myanmar’s progress towards democracy and sparked an outcry from diplomats and human rights advocates.
They were released under a presidential amnesty for 6,520 prisoners when President Win Myint pardoned thousands of other prisoners in mass amnesties since last month.
Before their arrest in December 2017, they had been working on an investigation into the killing of 10 Rohingya Muslim men and boys by security forces and Buddhist civilians in western Myanmar’s Rakhine State during an army crackdown that began in August 2017.
The report that the two men authored, featuring testimonies from perpetrators, witnesses, and families of the victims, was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for international reporting in May. (REUTERS)
Nobel prize winner and the de facto leader of Myanmar Aung San Suu Kyi on Wednesday defended her country’s military over genocide allegations against the minority Rohingya in the International Court of Justice.
The Gambia, a West African state, filed a case against Myanmar at the ICJ in The Hague accusing the country of violating the 1948 Genocide Convention, which was ratified by the Southeast Asian country in 1956.
“The Gambia has placed an incomplete and misleading picture of the factual situation in Rakhine state,” Suu Kyi said.
The Nobel prize winner added that the situation in the state of Rakhine was “complex” and she acknowledged the “suffering” of the Rohingya minority, over 740,000 of whom have fled to neighboring Bangladesh.
The mass exodus of the Rohingya, a mostly Muslim minority that has lived in Rakhine state for centuries, was the result of a military crackdown that took place in August 2017.
Many Rohingya, who are effectively stateless having long been denied citizenship by Burmese authorities, now live in overcrowded refugee camps on the Bangladesh border.
But Suu Kyi defined the circumstances in the region as an “internal conflict” saying that clashes in the state of Rakhine, in the west of the country, were a result of a response of Myanmar’s military to the armed attacks by local rebel groups.
She added that several police stations and thousands of agents had been targeted by the armed rebels.
Suu Kyi defended the clearance operations led by the military as a justifiable response to acts of “terrorism”.
The Myanmar leader added that if the military were guilty of an attempt of genocide they should be put on military trial as stipulated by the Myanmar Constitution.
“Can there be genocidal intent on the part of the state that actively investigates, prosecutes and punishes soldiers and officers, who are accused of wrongdoing? Although the focus here is on members of the military, I can assure you that appropriate action will be taken on civilian offenders, in line with due process,” Suu Kyi added.
In the first phase of the trial, the ICJ must decide if it would impose provisional measures on Myanmar to ensure that no genocide convention violation occurs.
The court will then send its ruling to the United Nations Security Council. China and Russia have used their veto powers in the Security Council to defend Myanmar in the past.
Several generals of the Myanmar military are facing charges of crimes against humanity in the International Criminal Court, also in the Hague, and a case in Argentina under the principle of universal jurisdiction. EFE-EPA dmu-cm/ch/ks
Yangon, Myanmar – Myanmar’s de facto leader will head a delegation to The Hague to defend her country against allegations of genocide before the International Court of Justice.
Aung San Suu Kyi — state counselor, foreign minister and once-winner of the Nobel Peace Prize — will lead a team to “defend the national interest of Myanmar at the ICJ,” her office said in a statement late Wednesday night.
The move comes after the Gambia on Nov. 11 filed an application to the top United Nations court alleging Myanmar had carried out mass murder, rape and destruction of communities in Rakhine state, including against the Muslim Rohingya minority.
The ICJ has set dates for Dec 10-12 for public hearings with oral observations from both the Gambia and Myanmar over the three days.
More than 730,000 Rohingya have fled the country to Bangladesh since August 2016 in the wake of a military crackdown in response to an alleged attack by an insurgent Rohingya group against police and border posts.
Doctors Without Borders estimates that at least 6,700 Rohingya, including 730 children under five years of age, died as a result of violence unleashed by soldiers.
In its application, the Gambia said the “genocidal acts committed during these (clearance) operations were intended to destroy the Rohingya as a group … by the use of mass murder, rape and other forms of sexual violence, as well as the systematic destruction by fire of their villages, often with inhabitants locked inside burning houses.”
The Gambian delegation also asked the court to impose a series of provisional measures on Myanmar to prevent “extrajudicial killings or physical abuse; rape or other forms of sexual violence; burning of homes or villages; destruction of lands and livestock, deprivation of food and other necessities of life, or any other deliberate infliction of conditions of life calculated to bring about the physical destruction of the Rohingya group.”
Another of the provisional measures requested is that Myanmar “does not destroy or make the evidence related to these events inaccessible” or “destroy or render inaccessible any evidence related to the events described in the Application, including without limitation by destroying or rendering inaccessible the remains of any member of the Rohingya group who is a victim of alleged genocidal acts, or altering the physical locations where such acts are alleged to have occurred.”
The ICJ indicated that the December hearings will be dedicated to the submission of these provisional measures.
This is the second court in The Hague considering opening legal cases against Myanmar. On Nov. 14, International Criminal Court judges authorized an investigation into alleged crimes against humanity in Myanmar.
“The Chamber accepted that there exists a reasonable basis to believe widespread and/or systematic acts of violence may have been committed that could qualify as the crimes against humanity of deportation across the Myanmar-Bangladesh border and persecution on grounds of ethnicity and/or religion against the Rohingya population,” the court announced.
Myanmar does not recognize the Rohingya as citizens and for decades has subjected them to widespread discrimination, including restrictions on freedom of movement. EFE-EPA
Insurgents in Myanmar killed at least 15 people on Thursday (August 15) and partially destroyed a bridge along a major highway in attacks marking a major escalation in a decades-old ethnic conflict in the country’s northern region.
Video obtained by Reuters shows dead bodies lying on the road in Naung Cho township as soldiers tend to them, as well as debris across a bridge on the road to Lashio, the largest town in Shan state on the Myanmar-China trade route.
The Northern Alliance – a collection of armed groups in the region – claimed responsibility for the attacks, which also hit the Defence Services Technological Academy, an elite military college in Shan state.
The attacks were in response to recent army action in ethnic areas, said a spokesman for the Ta’ang National Liberation Army.
A months-long ceasefire agreement that ended in June was recently extended until August 31. (REUTERS)
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