Events

Rohingya Crisis into Fourth Year: Challenges in Securing a Sustainable Solution

Remarks from GJC President Akila Radhakrishnan

Thank you for having me on such a distinguished panel of speakers and experts today, and I want to echo Simon’s thanks for the inclusion of civil society in this conversation. As Ambassador Rae mentioned,  I am Akila Radhakrishnan, the president of the Global Justice Center, an international human rights organization dedicated to advancing gender equality through the rule of law. And as an organization, we have been working on Myanmar since 2005, particularly justice and accountability for sexual violence against ethnic minorities. 

In reflecting on the topic for today’s panel, “Rohingya Crisis in the Fourth Year: Challenges to Securing a Sustainable Solution” - I am left with the sense that the questions we are asking ourselves four years on are almost identical to the questions we were asking ourselves 4 years ago, and frankly those for those of us who have long worked on Myanmar, much longer. 

As I prepared my remarks for today, I spoke to a wise colleague about this issue and he pointed me towards some statements that Government of Myanmar has made with respect to the Rohingya, including that “there was no discrimination based on religion,” that allegations of misconduct were “fabricated by some big countries and certain foreign news agencies”, that the “Rohingya do not exist in Myanmar either historically, politically or legally”, and that the Tatmadaw is a “methodically and systematically organized institution made up of highly trained and disciplined personnel”, and that the “grotesque allegations made against the Tatmadaw were totally false.”

While these statements sound like they could have been made by Myanmar yesterday, they are in fact statements made to the UN Special Rapporteur on Religious Intolerance in 1992. I use this to show how while the face of Myanmar’s government since then has changed, how little the Government's rhetoric or posture has changed not only in the four years since this “crisis” began, but rather in the decades of oppression of the Rohingya. And this should be a rallying cry to the international community that business as usual on Myanmar cannot continue. Myanmar should no longer be allowed to set the terms of the debate and the scope of action. 

And nowhere is this more stark than when it comes to the deeply rooted gender issues at the heart of the Rohingya genocide. SRSG Patten has powerfully laid out how crimes of sexual and gender-based violence against women and girls, including transwomen, as well as men and boys was systematically used by the Tatmadaw in their operations so I won’t repeat what she has said and instead pick up briefly on some key issues that are essential to delivering gender justice and changing the conversation on Myanmar.  

As a starting point, there can be no true justice for the genocide of the Rohingya if acts of sexual and gender-based violence are not at the center of all accountability proceedings at the international and domestic level. And here, countries like The Gambia, Bangladesh, Canada, and the Netherlands and institutions like the ICC, OHCHR and the IIMM need to be commended in their efforts to take bold steps to move the justice and accountability conversation forward. And in particular, I must say thank you to Canada and the Netherlands for their commitment to addressing crimes of SGBV in their intervention at the ICJ. But while international efforts move forward, it has been profoundly disturbing to see members of the international community continue to validate and legitimize deeply flawed domestic processes, in particular the International Commission of Enquiry. 

As an advocate for gender-justice, that fact the ICOE’s executive summary categorically dismissed evidence of rape and gang rape, despite extensive documentation of these crimes, should immediately disqualify this report.  If the ICOE is to be the evidentiary base for domestic accountability proceedings, where does this leave those who were subject to acts of sexual and gender-based violence? While there is little to no transparency around Myanmar’s court-martials, it can be assumed that none of the court-martials that have been announced on the basis of the ICOE report will include charges of sexual and gender-based violence, including those that were announced yesterday. And even outside of the cases it may underlie, just the matter of its dismissal and exclusion from the ICOE’s report is a step in the erasure of gendered experiences.  

The concerns are compounded with larger concerns over the ICOE, including their limited and flawed mandate, to questions about their independence, impartiality and methodology, and its findings. However, in looking for openings to address the seemingly intractable situation in Myanmar, most states have chosen an approach of selective acceptance and “constructive” engagement with regards to the ICOE, even as they have yet to see the full report. This is what operating on Myanmar’s terms looks like.

In fact, just last week, the joint statement released following yet another closed-door Security Council meeting on Myanmar called for the implementation of the recommendations of the ICOE. It is not possible to divorce the recommendations of a report from the analysis and narrative that underlies it, and the continued legitimization of this report, signal the international community’s comfort with the erasure of gendered experiences in pursuit of “solutions.” Rhetoric decrying sexual and gender-based violence is not enough, the international community must ensure that all of its actions on Myanmar are undertaken with a gender perspective. 

Second,  while justice is an important part of the larger accountability picture, it cannot be the sole focus. Rather, accountability needs to be holistic and survivor-centered and should seek to address and transform the root causes of violence--including patriarchal structures and misogyny--both in Myanmar and in the Rohingya community itself. Therefore, punitive measures against individuals cannot alone address it; to comprehensively address SGBV takes much more: reparations and redress, including guarantees of non-repetition, and access to comprehensive medical and psychosocial care for survivors, including essential sexual and reproductive health services such as safe abortion.

And as accountability proceedings are underway, it is crucial that the Rohingya themselves, including Rohingya women and girls, are able to determine their own priorities for justice and restitution. To borrow a phrase from American reproductive justice activists, “nothing about us without us.” And on this, while I deeply appreciate being included in this conversation, I note with disappointment that the direct voice of Rohingya women is not represented today. Rohingya women and girls must be the architects, not objects, of their future. 

Thank you so much for the ability to participate. 

The Risk of Mass Atrocities During a Pandemic

Description:
The COVID-19 pandemic poses a great threat to populations already at risk of genocide and crimes against humanity at the hands of their governments. The pandemic may be weaponized by authoritarian states as an opportunity to commit mass atrocities while attention is elsewhere or to deny certain populations their right to health.

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) will host a conversation on the prevention of mass atrocities during the pandemic, to coincide with the August 25 anniversary of attacks by Myanmar security forces on Rohingya Muslim residents in northern Rakhine state, driving hundreds of thousands to live as refugees in neighboring Bangladesh.

Speakers: 
Yee Htun, JD is a lecturer on law and clinical instructor at the International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School. She fled Myanmar in 1988.

Akila Radhakrishnan, JD is president of the Global Justice Center, which works to define, establish, and protect human rights and gender equity by enforcing international laws.

Lawrence Woocher, MA is research director at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Simon-Skjodt Center and a lecturer at the Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University. He formerly served as senior atrocity prevention fellow with the United States Agency for International Development.

The ICJ provisional measures: Is Myanmar protecting the Rohingya from genocide?

Description:
On 23 January 2020, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) issued provisional measures ordering Myanmar to take certain actions to protect the Rohingya from genocide and preserve evidence of genocidal acts. Recognizing the extraordinary urgency and importance of the measures ordered, the ICJ asked Myanmar to submit a report on its compliance with the order on 23 May and then every 6 months thereafter until the case is decided. While Myanmar has taken some steps since the ICJ’s January order, none touch on the long-standing structural discrimination against the Rohingya or provide a basis for safe, voluntary and dignified repatriation. Even against a backdrop of escalating conflict in Rakhine State and a global pandemic, there is much more Myanmar could do to protect the Rohingya. With Myanmar’s first report to the court due on 23 May, this Webinar will analyze the current situation in the country and explore concrete ways the authorities could effectively comply with the ICJ’s order.

Moderators:
Akila Radhakrishnan, President, Global Justice Center

Speakers: 
Yanghee Lee,
former UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar
Laetitia Van Den Assum, Independent diplomatic expert, former member of the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State chaired by Kofi Annan, and former ambassador of The Netherlands to the United Kingdom, Mexico, Kenya, Somalia, South Africa, and Southeast Asia
Wai Wai Nu, Founder and Director, Women’s Peace Network

International Law Conference on the Status of Women

GJC President Akila Radhakrishnan spoke at this event hosted by the New York City Bar Association.

Description:
This exciting Conference will coincide with the 64th session of the Commission on the Status of Women at the United Nations in New York City and the 25th Anniversary of the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing where First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton historically proclaimed, “Women’s Rights are Human Rights.”  Speakers, panelists and moderators at the Conference will address various topics, including: the status of women and the role of lawyers and the law in improving the status of women; United Nation’s initiatives to improve the status of women; global human rights concerns and abuses specifically impacting women; innovative approaches to improving the lives of women through the rule of law and government policy; elevating women lawyers and fostering diversity within the legal profession; and the role of legal societies, professional organizations and international NGOs in aiding women. 

A Pro Bono Engagement Forum and Reception will kick off the Conference to allow attendees to connect with one another about potential opportunities to offer legal services on a pro bono basis to NGOs focused on serving women.

Moderators:
Robyn Griffin, Managing Director, The Huntington National Bank
Lauren McMillen Ormsbee, Partner, BLB&G

Welcoming Remarks:
Roger Juan Maldonado, 
President, New York City Bar Association 

Speakers: 
Fiona Bassett,
 Board Member, The Hopeland Charity Foundation
Julie E. Fink, Kaplan Hecker & Fink LLP
Francoise Girard, President, International Women’s Health Coalition 
Barbara Hart, President and CEO, Lowey Dannenberg, P.C.
Stephanie Johanssen, Senior Advocacy Officer and UN Representative, Women's Refugee Commission
Laila Khoudeida, Co-Founder and Director of Women’s Affairs for YAZDA
Charlotte Laurent-Ottomane, Executive Director, Thirty Percent Coalition
Dr. Faith Mwangi-Powell, CEO, Girls Not Brides
Consolee Nishimwe, Author, Tested to the Limited, Educational and Motivational Speaker
Pramila Patten, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, United Nations  
Akila Radhakrishnan, President, Global Justice Center 
Jessica Reijnders, Executive Director, Free A Girl USA 

Jacob Blaustein Institute Panel on UN Secretary-General Prevention Agenda

GJC President Akila Radhakrishnan spoke at this event hosted by the  Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights .

Panelists:
Mr. Volker Türk, Assistant Secretary-General for Strategic Coordination 
Mr. Ben Majekodunmi, Chief of Equality, Development and Rights Section, OHCHR
Ms. Akila Radhakrishnan, President, Global Justice Center

Opening remarks by Ms. Danica Damplo, Universal Rights Group NYC