On Tuesday, Senator Patrick Leahy confronted Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg with examples of hate speech posts inciting violence against the Rohingya in Burma.
While Mark Zuckerberg has pledged to improve Facebook’s response to hate speech posts, civil society organizations in Burma have told him, in a letter shared with the New York Times, that these improvements are “nowhere near enough” to prevent “real harm.”
Hate speech on Facebook by ultranationalist groups has fueled the Burmese army’s march towards genocide of the Rohingya. Alan Davis, an analyst from the Institute for War and Peace Reporting who led a two-year study of hate speech in Burma (Myanmar), told The Guardian (UK) that, in the months before the Burmese army’s offensive against the Rohingya in August 2017, he noticed posts on Facebook becoming “more organised and odious, and more militarised”
According to the Guardian, his research team encountered fabricated stories stating that “mosques in Yangon are stockpiling weapons in an attempt to blow up various Buddhist pagodas and Shwedagon pagoda”, the most sacred Buddhist site in Yangon in a smear campaign against Muslims. These pages also featured posts calling Rohingya the derogatory term “kalars” and “Bengali terrorists”.
In a recent report on the Rohingya crisis, Marzuki Darusman, head of the United Nations Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar, said Facebook “substantively contributed to the level of acrimony and dissension and conflict” in Burma.
“Hate speech is certainly of course a part of that,” Darusman said. “As far as the Myanmar situation is concerned, social media is Facebook, and Facebook is social media.”
Let us join the civil society organizations in Burma – including Phandeeyar, the Myanmar ICT for Development Organization, and the Center for Social Integrity – in pushing Facebook to demonstrate that it is taking effective and transparent action to shut down hate speech said Simon Billenness, Executive Director of The Action Network.
Thet Swe Win, a Buddhist civil rights activist, is one of the few liberal voices in the country willing to speak out about the Rohingya, yet he feels he must be guarded with his words. At a recent human rights conference he avoided confronting the issue directly because of the hostility.
“This Rohingya case, it divided the people. I have seen many of the human rights defenders supporting the killing of the Rohingya people. They wrote it on Facebook: ‘They should not be here, they’re intruders, they’re terrorists, kill them all.’ It makes me not speak out as much as I want to those people,” he said.
A letter was signed by the general public demanding that Facebook must stop ultranationalist groups in Burma from spreading anti-Muslim and anti-Rohingya hate speech on its platform.
This hate speech has fueled the Burmese army’s march towards genocide of the Rohingya. And what Facebook will do to ensure that it never lets its platform to be used again for campaigns of hate speech.
Alan Davis, an analyst from the Institute for War and Peace Reporting who led a two-year study of hate speech in Burma (Myanmar), told The Guardian (UK) that, in the months before the Burmese army’s offensive against the Rohingya in August 2017, he noticed posts on Facebook becoming “more organised and odious, and more militarised” According to the Guardian, his research team encountered fabricated stories stating that “mosques in Yangon are stockpiling weapons in an attempt to blow up various Buddhist pagodas and Shwedagon pagoda”, the most sacred Buddhist site in Yangon in a smear campaign against Muslim Rohingya.
If Facebook does indeed take this seriously, tell us what Facebook will do to ensure that it never lets its platform to be used again for campaigns of hate speech, the letter included. Rohingya people are being widely abused and exploited. They are one of the most persecuted minorities in the world.
Prime minister’s special envoy to Myanmar, Bob Rae, released a report Tuesday urging Canada to “signal a willingness” to welcome Rohingya refugees and implement sanctions against those responsible for the ongoing humanitarian crisis in the southeast Asian country.
The federal government says it is studying Rae’s findings and intends to do more in the “coming days and weeks” Rae’s 17 recommendations include Canada increasing its funding, and consider playing a prominent role in initiating an investigation into potential war crimes, but stops short of wading into whether or not Canada should revoke Myanmar civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s honorary Canadian citizenship.
“I’m calling the situation as I see it,” Rae said, speaking to reporters in Ottawa about his new report. “It’s a very, very troubling tragic situation. It’s going to require a change of heart inside Myanmar to really make repatriation possible. It’s going to require a willingness to accept international presence, assistance… That’s going to take a lot of effort to make that happen. The situations in the camps are terrible.”
Responding to the report, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, and Minister of International Development and La Francophonie Marie-Claude Bibeau issued a statement saying they welcome Rae’s work, and that it “reaffirms” the urgency of the crisis. The ministers said they will soon be outlining further measures the federal government will take.
“We can and must do more,” the ministers said. “That is why we will continue to engage at home and abroad over the coming days and weeks to register our deep concern about the crisis and to seek a path forward with the international community.”
Since August 2017, roughly 700,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled Myanmar’s Buddhist-majority Rakhine state for refugee camps in neighbouring Bangladesh amid widespread violence that the United Nations has labelled “textbook ethnic cleansing.”
In October 2017, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau named Rae, a former Toronto MP and Ontario premier, as Canada’s special envoy to Myanmar to investigate the Rohingya’s plight.
Although initially barred from entering Rakhine state — the epicentre of the Rohingya humanitarian crisis — Rae travelled to the region in February where he was able “to see the extent of the destruction of the Rohingya villages.” He also visited refugee camps in Bangladesh. “Words cannot convey the extent of the humanitarian crisis people currently face in Bangladesh and Myanmar,” Rae wrote in Tuesday’s report.
“In addition to accounts of shooting and military violence, I also heard directly from women of sexual violence and abuse at the hands of the Myanmar military and of the death of children and the elderly on the way to the camps,” Rae told reporters he briefed members of Cabinet and Trudeau on his findings last week.
The Prime Minister welcomes the final report. “Today, I welcome the final report from the Special Envoy to Myanmar, Bob Rae. I appreciate Mr. Rae’s thorough work as Special Envoy and thank him for his invaluable insights, his professionalism, and his thoughtful recommendations,” Prime Minister said. “Canada is determined to help respond to this crisis. In the coming weeks, we will assess the recommendations in this report and outline further measures we intend to take.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau welcomes the final report from the Special Envoy to Myanmar, the Honourable Bob Rae: https://t.co/v3N4xwhbXs
In his list of recommendations, Rae states that “Canada should signal a willingness to welcome refugees from the Rohingya community in both Bangladesh and Myanmar, and should encourage a discussion among like-minded countries to do the same.” Such resettlements, the report adds, should not be seen as a solution to the ongoing refugee crisis, nor should they diminish the Myanmar government’s duties to take responsibility for the violent exodus and aid hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees in returning home.
Although Myanmar’s government has publicly expressed a willingness to resettle those who have fled the country, years of systematic violence at the hands of Myanmar’s security forces and Buddhist mobs means that such plans have been met with widespread scepticism by Rohingya refugees. Moreover, many Rohingya villages, Rae notes, have likely already been razed.
The report recommends that Canada and its allies implement “targeted economic sanctions” against individuals, organizations and companies that have broken international humanitarian laws “or other laws related to conflict, including breaches of the Rome Statute and the UN Convention on Genocide.”
“Canada should be actively working with like-minded countries to identify the individuals or parties that should be subject to such sanctions,” the report adds. “Canada should also continue its arms embargo and should seek a wider ban on the shipment of arms to Myanmar.”
Canada’s Myanmar arms embargo were first implemented in 2007. Speaking on CTV Power Play Tuesday evening, Rae also argued against broader economic sanctions. “Big-time economic sanctions only hurt the most vulnerable,” he said. “And … if you don’t have China, India, Thailand, neighbouring countries onside, you got nothing.”
Crimes against humanity
According to the report, there are “strong signals that crimes against humanity were committed in the forcible and violent displacement of more than 671,000 Rohingya from Rakhine State in Myanmar.” The alleged perpetrators, Rae’s report adds, include Myanmar’s military.
“Those who are responsible for breaches of international law, including crimes against humanity, should be brought to justice,” the report states. “This applies to all those involved, including state actors and non-state actors, armies, and individuals.” Evidence must be collected, Rae adds, though difficulties in prosecuting such crimes exist insofar as Myanmar is not a signatory to the treaty that established the International Criminal Court.
“But steps should be taken to encourage the International Criminal Court to consider an investigation on the issue of forcible deportation,” Rae writes. “The Government of Canada should be actively involved in funding these efforts and in continuing to apply targeted sanctions against those where credible evidence supports such measures.”
Rae recommends that Canada “take a leadership role in responding to the current crisis by stepping up humanitarian and development efforts in Bangladesh and Myanmar.” In addition to humanitarian assistance and supporting infrastructure development, education should also be a priority, Rae states. In the report, he estimates the annual cost of such a commitment to be $150 million for the next four years.
“A good chunk of it is going to go to the camp in Bangladesh,” Rae added while speaking on Power Play. Some of it, he said, should also help “people living in Myanmar in very tough and precarious situations.” “And some of it goes to us because we need to up our game in terms of our diplomatic representation,” he added. “I recommend that we should get a defence attaché there in Yangon able to engage with the government on the military side because it’s a two-headed government and right now we’re dealing only with the civilian side.”
To date, Canada has already earmarked more than $45 million in humanitarian aid to the troubled region. The need for humanitarian assistance is particularly urgent now, Rae’s report notes, as those who reside in Bangladesh’s sprawling and crowded refugee camps, are “at risk of death or serious illness as a result of flooding, landslides, and water-borne diseases expected to be brought by the upcoming monsoon season” that begins in May.
In his report, Rae states that Ottawa’s response to the crisis in Myanmar and Bangladesh should be considered a “litmus test” for Canada’s foreign policy. He also suggests that the crisis is discussed during the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in London in April as well as during the 2018 G7 summit that Canada will be hosting in May.
“Canada should urge like-minded countries to establish an International Working Group to ensure that, to the extent possible, policies, programs, and persuasion are exercised in a coordinated fashion,” he says in the report. “If we do things together, we can have more impact than if we do them alone,” Rae added on Power Play.
Rae said that Canada can lead by example — and that could start by earmarking more money for the Rohingya crisis. “That way you can go to… all the European countries, and go back to Indonesia, you can go to the wealthy Gulf States, who frankly haven’t done a lot in terms of money, and say, ‘This is what we’re doing and this is how we think you can help,’” he said.
Aung San Suu Kyi and Myanmar’s military
Rae notes that Myanmar’s civilian leader, honorary Canadian citizen and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, wields no control over the country’s vast military, which only recently loosened its hold on Myanmar after nearly 50 years of dictatorship. Myanmar’s military has often been cited as a main aggressor in the Rohingya humanitarian crisis.
“(Former UN Secretary-Genera) Kofi Annan referred to there being ‘two governments’ in Myanmar—one military; one civilian,” Rae writes. “Canada needs to continue to engage with the Government of Myanmar, in both its civilian and military wings, and continue to do so in a way that expresses candidly its views about what has happened, and is still happening, and to insist that all activities of the Government of Myanmar, including military activities, must be carried out in conformity with international law.”
Speaking on Power Play, Rae declined to weigh in on the contentious issue of Aung San Suu Kyi’s honorary Canadian citizenship, nor would he opine on whether or not the country’s civilian leader shares responsibility for the humanitarian crisis. “Until you have the evidence, you really don’t want to go around making political statements saying, ‘Well, we think she’s responsible,’ because we actually don’t have the evidence for that yet,” he said.