Ius Gentium

University of Baltimore School of Law's Center for International and Comparative Law Fellows discuss international and comparative legal issues


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They Who Shall Not Be Named: The Unspoken Situation in Myanmar (Part Deux)

Kia Roberts-Warren

Last semester, I discussed the dire situation of the Rohingya in Myanmar. It seemed like Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi was working to bring a peaceful solution with the Rohingya. The situation seemed hopeful. Yet, here we are once again discussing this situation.

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“Things Have to Get Worse Before They can Get Better?”

On October 9, 2016, the situation escalated, resulting in death. The Harakah Al-Yaqin launched three predawn attacks on three police border posts.[1] One of the posts was the security headquarters; the assault involved several hundred assailants and included planting improvised explosive devices and setting an ambush on the approach road, delaying the arrival of army reinforcements, while the attackers looted the armory.[2] On November 12, 2016, in another encounter, a senior army officer was killed.[3]

The Tatmadew, the Myanmar military, retaliated with a counterinsurgency operation. This operation was disproportionate and failed to distinguish between civilians and combatants.[4] This resulted in about 1,500 buildings being torched in the township of Maungdew, an estimated 65,000 people have fled to Bangladesh as a result.[5] Documentation shows extrajudicial killings, rapes, arbitrary arrests, and beatings by the government security forces.[6] The Tatmadew have also almost entirely sealed off the northern area of Arakan in the Rakhine State.[7] The government has banned the Rohingya from using their boats to fish in order to “prevent insurgents from leaving or entering the country by sea,” leading to many risking their lives on makeshift rafts in order to get food for their families.[8]

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These human rights violations by the Tatmadew have not been handled well by the government. The government has admitted that people have been found dead and that those arrested were suspected members of Harakah Al-Yaqin and their supporters.[9] However, the government’s rebuttal to the human rights abuses have been undesirable. The country’s Attorney General’s office have posted “Fake Rape” on its website to discredit reports that the Tatmadew officers have committed rape.[10] Furthermore, the government has denied accredited journalists and human rights investigators access to verify the abuse.[11] The government formed a special investigative committee led by former General Myint Swe (now Vice President of Myanmar) to look into the October violence. Unsurprisingly, the committee quickly dismissed any and all claims of misbehavior by security forces.[12]

However, a few weeks ago the advisory committee created by Aung San Suu Kyi and headed by Kofi Annan met with Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya residents from two villages.[13] The Secretary of Kaman National Development Party, Tin Hlaing Win, met with the advisory committee to tell the committee about the Rohingyas losing their rights over the last four years and their wish to return home.[14] The committee told Win that that would submit their demands to the government with their recommendations.[15]

  Over forty Myanmar-based civil society groups issued a statement asking for an independent investigation by the international community to into the human rights abuses by the Tatmadew.[16] Specifically, these groups requests that an investigation  “fully assess the totality of the situation in Rakhine state and provide clear recommendations for the current government to effectively address and prevent further problems in the Rakhine state.”[17] This statement came a day before foreign ministers of the Organization for Islamic Cooperation, an intergovernmental body of 57 member nations, met in Malaysia to discuss the plight of the Rohingya in Rakhine state.[18]

“The Other Side of the Coin: Harakah Al-Yaqin”

Although many Rohingya are peaceful, the October attack was launched by a group of Rohingya that the International Crisis Group has labeled the group as a Muslim insurgency. The group Harakah Al-Yaqin (the Faith Movement) was established after the 2012 riots between Muslims and Buddhists and is currently a group of twenty Rohingya who have experience in modern guerilla warfare and are leading operations in Northern Arakan.[19] A committee of Rohingya emigres based in Mecca oversees Harakah Al-Yaqin.[20] The Harakah Al-Yaqin have obtained fatwas from senior clerics in Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, and Pakistan to enhance its religious legitimacy, backing its cause under Islamic law.[21] The group has spent the last two years training hundreds of local recruits in guerilla warfare and explosives.[22] There are some indications of training and solidarity links with international jihadist organizations, but it is important to distinguish the aims and actions of the Harakah Al-Yaqin – to secure the rights of the Rohingya in Myanmar using insurgency tactics against security forces.[23]

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“Momma is Stepping in”

  As a result of the escalating violence and the actions of the Myanmar government, the United Nations human rights envoy to Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, went on her biannual 12-day visit in January.[24] Lee had discussed with Aung San Suu Kyi the security situation in the northern Rahkine State, the reports of the abuses by the security forces, and the increasing need for humanitarian assistance for people displaced by fighting between the government army and ethnic guerilla groups in war-torn Shan and Kachin states.[25]

Lee also met with Vice President Myint Swe, chairman of the special investigation committee, to question the investigation methods of the committee.[26] This was due to the interim report issued on January 3 that the rape allegations resulted insufficient evidence to take legal action and the accusations of torture, arson, and illegal arrests were still being investigated.[27] Moreover, Lee did not allow the authorities to join her when she visited villages in Maungdaw township to talk to residents.[28] She also met with Rohingya Muslims in adjacent Buthidaung township and visited the local prison there.[29] Yet, reports indicate she was denied access to certain areas.

Lee is to submit a report to the U.N. Human Rights Commission in March.[30]

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“Where Do We Go From Here?”

The situation in Myanmar has left the international community thinking “what now?” Until Yanghee Lee releases her report in March, the advisory committee will continue talks with Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingyas in the Rakhine State. The committee will hopefully foster negotiations between the government and the Rohingya to help them attain such basic rights as citizenship, the right to life, access to government resources, among other rights. Meanwhile, the Rohingya continue to wait and suffer.

Unfortunately, the most complicated part of this situation is the intervention of Islamic countries, which only adds to the tension. These countries do not involve the government of Myanmar government in these conferences. Moreover, neither the UN nor the Myanmar government is addressing such involvement. Yet, the primacy of territorial sovereignty makes interference by other States into Myanmar a precarious situation.

Kia Roberts-Warren is a 3L at UB Law. She is concentrating in international law. Kia graduated from Temple University receiving a BA in East Asian Studies during that time she spent a semester in Tokyo, Japan. Kia has an interest in international trade and human rights. She is also interested in fashion law and art law in the international context. Last year, she held the position of Career Development Director of the International Law Society and participated in the 2016 Philip C. Jessup Moot Court Competition. She recently attended UB’s Aberdeen Summer Abroad Program. 

[1] http://time.com/4601203/burma-myanmar-muslim-insurgency-rohingya/

[2] Id.

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/16/opinion/the-rohingya-the-ladys-problem-from-hell.html?_r=0

[6] Id.

[7] Id.

[8] http://www.businessmirror.com.ph/banned-boats-myanmar-rohingya-fish-rafts-junk/

[9] https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/16/opinion/the-rohingya-the-ladys-problem-from-hell.html?_r=0

[10] Id.

[11] Id.

[12] Id.

[13] http://www.rfa.org/english/news/myanmar/un-rights-envoy-meets-with-aung-san-suu-kyi-to-discuss-volatile-rakhine-state-01182017160404.html

[14] Id.

[15] Id.

[16] Id.

[17] Id.

[18] Id.

[19] http://time.com/4601203/burma-myanmar-muslim-insurgency-rohingya/

[20] Id.

[21] Id.

[22] Id.

[23] Id.

[24] http://www.rfa.org/english/news/myanmar/un-rights-envoy-meets-with-aung-san-suu-kyi-to-discuss-volatile-rakhine-state-01182017160404.html

[25] Id.

[26] Id.

[27] Id.

[28] Id.

[29] Id.

[30] Id.

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Nowhere to Call Home: The sad state of the Island of Hispaniola

Carolyn Mills

Many know it as a beautiful vacation paradise, the Dominican Republic wrought with its lush greenery and beaches, perfect beach getaways and Groupon vacation packages. This summer a disturbing, and not very publicized trend, was happening—the Dominican Republic deported nearly 130,000 Haitians (with whom it shares the island). Why? The answer may alarm you.

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What’s happening?

Since May 2015, nearly 106,000 Haitians were deported or left the Dominican Republic. [1] In 2013, a Dominican court ruling said that, anyone born in the Dominican Republic to “parents without legal residency would no longer be considered Dominican.” [2] As a result of this ruling, nearly 250,000 people became stateless. Those affected were offered a one year, temporary residency card even though they had been born and spent their entire lives in the Dominican Republic. [3] Unfortunately, many of those stripped of their Dominican citizenship are not citizens of Haiti either. [4]

After the court ruling, the legislature made a lackluster effort to ameliorate the devastation caused by enacting Law 169-14. The law placed the burden on the victims, demanding they provide record of their birth in the Dominican Republic.  [5] This, seemingly, good faith measure to assist those disenfranchised Dominicans is hardly altruistic, as many Haitians were denied the ability to register the births of their children simply because they were of Haitian descent. [6] When the registration deadline expired under Law 169-14, many were forced flee to Haiti, or were rounded up by police and forcibly deported. [7] These laws closely mirror that of The Nuremburg Laws of 1935, which essentially stripped the Jews living in Germany of their German citizenship.   It is alarming that a court decision in 2013 can be so reminiscent of such days.  If left unchecked, it’s unimaginable what the ramifications could be. 

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Further, the court ruling is a direct violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 15 states, “Everyone has the right to a nationality, and no one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality.” [8]  Additionally, the United Nations in 1954 Convention Relating to the Statelessness of Persons and defined statelessness and established a minimum number of rights for these individuals including: education, employment and housing—all of which have been deprived from those of Haitian descent who are being forced to leave their homes and communities. In 1961, the Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness went on stress the importance of states establishing measures in which to avoid stateless persons; establishing the right to nationality.

Origins

Called the Dominican Republic’s “most serious human rights problem,” [9] discrimination against Haitians and those of Haitian descent finds its roots in history.[10] The two nations maintained a close relationship, with many Haitians supporting the growing Dominican economy by providing labor for sugar plantations, and development of infrastructure. There was a history of disdain for Haitians in the Dominican and in 1937 it came to an ugly head when, the government conducted a mass genocide of nearly 30,000 Haitian immigrants and their Dominican children, known as the Parsley Massacre. [11]  The massacre was spearheaded by former dictator Rafael Trujillo who was a staunch xenophobe. During the massacre, military officials were instructed to ‘test’ those suspected of being Haitian by holding up a sprig of parsley and asking them what it was. If the person did not roll the ‘r’ in the word, (“perejil”) they were killed.

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This ethnic cleansing, while no longer of genocidal proportions, has become a form of institutionalized racism.  The sad part is, there has been little to no oversight. With a country as poor as Haiti, there is little that can be done to remedy the damage that has been caused. Most recently the Dominican Foreign minister stressed importance, “for each state to exercise its sovereign right to determine whose admitted to its territory…” [12] reinforcing their stance on this issue.

What needs to be done?

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The Inter-American Court of Human Rights has decried the Dominican’s practice.[13] The Dominican Republic has also faced pressure from the United States Department of State and such prominent NGOs as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. Amnesty has characterized the mass deportations as, “catastrophic” as there is no real capacity for Haiti to provide protection to the vulnerable masses. [14] This harm, left without remedy, will allow impunity for government leaders and leave a generation in limbo. One route for displaced Haitians to take is to launch a complaint with the Human Rights Council, an organ of the United Nations. This organ comprised on 47 member states is responsible for the strengthening, promotion and protection of human rights and allows for individual complaints. [15] Additionally, both the UN High Commission for Human Rights and the UN High Commission for Refugees have been vocal about the Dominican court ruling, but with little effect. [16] Without the intervention of the international community, there may be no foreseeable solution to the centuries of strife between the two nations.

Carolyn Mills is a 3L at the University of Baltimore School of Law. Carolyn is a graduate of Bowie State University with a degree in Political Science. Carolyn was previously  2L representative for the International Law Society. She is currently the President of the Immigration Law Society. Her interests and focus areas are on Central America and West Africa. Last semester, Carolyn was a law clerk for the Department of Homeland Security’s Human Rights Law Section.This past summer she studied abroad in Ghana at the Ghana Institute of Management and Public Affairs (GIMPA) in conjunction with Fordham’s Law School. Additionally Carolyn is a Rule 19 Student Attorney for the Immigrant Rights Clinic. Her interest in international law is international human rights law and its application abroad.  

[1] http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/world/rest-of-world/130000-Haitians-face-deportation-from-Dominican-Republic/articleshow/52844684.cms

[2] Id.

[3] Id.

[4] http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/35519-the-dominican-republic-is-deporting-its-haitian-residents

[5] Id.

[6] Id.

[7] http://pulitzercenter.org/reporting/deported-their-own-country

[8] http://www.un.org/en/universal-declaration-human-rights/index.html

[9] http://www.state.gov/j/drl/rls/hrrpt/humanrightsreport/index.htm#wrapper

[10] http://pulitzercenter.org/reporting/deported-their-own-country

[11] Id.

[12] http://www.dominicantoday.com/dr/local/2016/9/20/60646/Dominican-Republic-stresses-its-right-on-immigration

[13] http://www.statelessness.eu/blog/inter-american-court-condemns-unprecedented-situation-statelessness-dominican-republic

[14] https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2016/06/haiti-dominican-republic-reckless-deportations-leaving-thousands-in-limbo/

[15] http://www.ohchr.org /EN/HRBodies/HRC/Pages/AboutCouncil.aspx http://www.democracynow.org/2015/6/17/the_dominican_republics_ethnic_purging_edwidge

[16] http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=49285#.V-64FogrLcs; http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=51198#.V-61aYgrLcs; http://www.unhcr.org/558417759.html