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Rohingya in Bangladesh welcome US calling repression genocide | Rohingya News

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Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh have welcomed an announcement by the United States that it considers the violent repression of their largely Muslim ethnic group in Myanmar a genocide.

As news of the announcement by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spread across the sprawling camps in Cox’s Bazar district that are now home to about a million Rohingya, many residents expressed their enthusiasm.

“We are very happy about the declaration of the genocide — many many thanks,” said 60-year-old Sala Uddin, who lives at Kutupalong camp.

“It has been 60 years starting from 1962 that the Myanmar government has been torturing us and many other communities including Rohingya,” he said. “I think a path to take action by the international community against Myanmar has opened up because of the declaration.”

The United States made the determination on Monday to call the repression a genocide based on confirmed accounts of mass atrocities on civilians by Myanmar’s military in a widespread and systematic campaign against the Rohingya, Blinken said in a speech at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Antony Blinken tours the "Burma's Path To Genocide"
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken tours the ‘Burma’s Path To Genocide’ exhibit at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Washington, DC [Kevin Lamarque/AP]

Myanmar’s military government, which has already been sued in the International Court of Justice on genocide charges, said it categorically rejected the US declaration.

Imtiaz Ahmed, director of the Centre for Genocide Studies at the University of Dhaka, said the declaration was “a positive step”, but it would be important to see what actions and “concrete steps” follow.

“Just by saying that genocide has been committed in Myanmar against the Rohingya is not good enough. I think we need to see what would follow from that statement,” Ahmed said.

He said it was too early to say how the new development would ensure the recognition of the Rohingya refugees, who have long been denied citizenship in Myanmar, and the fundamental questions remained on how and when they would go back to Myanmar.

He also said that going for harsh economic sanctions by the US against Myanmar could be the next outcome. He said it was also equally important to see whether the US would take interest in supporting the International Court of Justice in The Hague where Myanmar is facing a trial put forward by the African nation of The Gambia.

Myanmar’s government is already under multiple layers of US sanctions since a military coup ousted the democratically elected government in February 2021. Thousands of civilians throughout the country have been killed and imprisoned as part of the ongoing repression of anyone opposed to the ruling military government.

Currently, Bangladesh is hosting more than one million Rohingya refugees. More than 700,000 Rohingya have fled from Buddhist-majority Myanmar to refugee camps in Bangladesh since August 2017, when the military launched a crackdown against the mostly Muslim minority.

Rohingya refugees walk at the Kutupalong Rohingya camp
Rohingya refugees walk at the Kutupalong camp in Cox’s Bazar district, Bangladesh [Shafiqur Rahman/AP]

Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has repeatedly said their repatriation to Myanmar is the solution to the crisis but the government would not force them to leave Bangladesh.

In its first official reaction following the US action, the foreign ministry of Myanmar’s military government firmly rejected the accusations. The statement issued on Tuesday evening charged that Blinken’s declaration was politically motivated and amounted to interference in Myanmar’s internal affairs.

However, a statement from Myanmar’s main opposition group, the National Unity Government, which considers itself to be the country’s legitimate administrative body, said it welcomed the US declaration.

The group was established by lawmakers who were not allowed to take their seats when the army seized power from the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi.

“The NUG acknowledges that discriminatory practices and rhetoric against the Rohingya also laid the ground for these atrocities,” said a statement issued in the name of the group’s acting president, Duwa Lashi La.

“The impunity enjoyed by the military’s leadership has since enabled their direction of countrywide crimes at the helm of an illegal military junta.”

“Justice and accountability must follow this determination,” it said.

Human Rights Watch on Tuesday also welcomed the US declaration.

“It was a long time coming and it should have happened before, but we are very happy that it has in fact occurred,” the organisation’s Deputy Asia Director Phil Robertson said.

Robertson said he believed the US announcement would generate greater support for legal moves against Myanmar at the ICJ: “It is a call for action now.”



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How much do Australian voters care about climate change? | TV Shows

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On Thursday, May 19 at 19:30GMT:
More than 17.2 million Australians are set to vote during this week’s elections – and for the first time, climate change could shape the outcome in a major way.

Massive deadly bushfires in 2019 and destructive flooding in 2021 have changed many Australians’ outlook on climate action. Polls show an increasing number of citizens believe that global warming “is a serious and pressing problem” and that “we should begin taking steps now, even if this involves significant costs.”

Despite this growing support for stronger climate policy, neither major party has pledged ambitious reform. Both Liberal Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and opposition leader Anthony Albanese support a net zero carbons emissions policy by 2050, which analysts say isn’t bold enough. And though 29 percent of Australians cite climate change as their most important issue, most candidates are not talking about it, for fear of alienating voters in coal mining towns.

That’s one big reason why so-called “teal independent” candidates are gaining traction around the nation. This group of nearly two dozen, mostly female candidates are running on an anti-corruption, pro-climate action platform. Political experts say that if a major party fails to secure a majority in Parliament, these independents could tip the balance of power after negotiating more climate-friendly policy outcomes.

Other issues at stake in this year’s elections include the soaring cost of living, government corruption and tackling gender and racial inequality.

In this episode of The Stream, we’ll talk about the major issues sending Australians to the polls, and what it could mean for the country’s climate policy. Join the conversation.

On this episode of The Stream, we speak with:
Kishor Napier-Raman, @kishor_nr
Federal Politics Reporter, Crikey

Intifar Chowdhury, @intifar2210
Associate Lecturer & Youth Researcher, Australia National University (ANU)

Kate Crowley, @Kate__Crowley
Associate Professor, University of Tasmania





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Sri Lankans honour Tamil victims of civil war after 13 years | Tamils News

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Sri Lankan protesters have lit flames and offered prayers remembering thousands – including ethnic Tamil civilians – killed in the final stages of the country’s decades-long civil war.

It was the first-ever event in the island nation where mostly majority ethnic Sinhalese openly memorialised the minority group.

Protesters gathered outside the president’s office in the main city of Colombo on Wednesday, floated flowers in the nearby sea and prayed for all those who died in the 26-year civil war, including Tamil civilians, Tamil rebels and government soldiers.

The head of the separatist Tamil Tiger movement, Velupillai Prabhakaran, was shot dead by security forces on May 18, 2009, bringing a formal end to the bloody ethnic war.

‘Highly welcome’

“This is highly symbolic and very important for Tamils,” said legislator Dharmalingam Sithadthan, a parliamentarian from the northern Tamil heartland of Jaffna.

“In previous years, there were private memorials held in secret, but this public event is highly welcome.”

A Christian nun sings hymns as activists observe a minute silence in remembrance of victims of Sri Lanka's civil war.
A Christian nun sings hymns as activists observe a minute silence in remembrance of victims of Sri Lanka’s civil war at the ongoing anti-government protest site in Colombo [Eranga Jayawardena/AP]

Clergy from Buddhist, Hindu and Christian communities offered prayers in Colombo and lit a clay lamp for those who perished in the civil war.

“I am a Sinhalese by birth. Today we held a memorial for all those who were killed 13 years ago, Sinhala, Muslim, Hindu and everybody as a result of state terrorism and terrorism by non-state groups,” said Sumeera Gunasekara, a social media activist who participated in the event.

“There are still those who are grieving because of these events and as a Sinhalese I have a right to share in their grief, because I believe in the religion of humanity more than any other.”

Actress Kaushalya Fernando said she came to remember the victims of a war created and mishandled by politicians.

“The significance of this place is that we are not here as different ethnic groups but as Sri Lankans.”

The protesters also shared rice porridge, the only food the people could have in the final stages of the fighting because of the heavy blockade of supplies.

The country’s main Tamil party, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), said the commemoration showed the majority Sinhalese were willing to support reconciliation after decades of ethnic war.

“This gives us a lot of hope and I hope that Tamil people will also reciprocate,” said TNA spokesman M A Sumanthiran.

“There may be pitfalls along the way, but this is a very good start.”

Human rights activists observe a minute of silence in remembrance of victims of Sri Lanka's civil war.
Human rights activists observe a minute of silence in remembrance of victims of Sri Lanka’s civil war at the ongoing anti-government protest site in Colombo [Eranga Jayawardena/AP]

The civil war killed 100,000 people, according to the United Nations estimates. The actual number is believed to be much higher. A report from a UN panel of experts said at least 40,000 Tamil civilians were killed in the final months of the fighting alone.

Since Sri Lankan troops defeated the Tamil Tiger rebels in 2009, Sri Lankan authorities had widely prohibited Tamils from publicly remembering their family members and have denied allegations that Tamil civilians were killed.

Human rights groups have since accused the country’s military of killing civilians towards the end of the war, in which the rebels fought for a separate state for the Tamil minority.

Sinhalese, mostly Buddhist, make up nearly 75 percent of Sri Lanka’s 22 million people. Tamils, mostly Hindu, represent 15 percent of the population.

UK Tamils seek justice at London vigil

Tamils who resettled in the United Kingdom after fleeing the Sri Lankan civil war also held a vigil in London on Wednesday, with some likening the island nation’s current economic crisis to the conditions they faced during the decades-long conflict.

The gathering of Tamils seeking justice for those from their community who were killed in the South Asian country during the war, coincided with Sri Lanka’s worst economic crisis since its independence in 1948 that has forced out its prime minister.

Sri Lanka vigil in London, UK
People attend a demonstration to remember those who died in the Sri Lankan civil war on the 13th anniversary of its end, in London, UK, May 18, 2022  [REUTERS/Muvija M]

“The current crisis in Colombo reminds me of our struggles during the war. Shortage of fuel, food, medicine – the Tamil-dominated parts of Sri Lanka faced the same issues then as what the entire nation is facing today,” said Thanikai, 42, who came to the UK eight years ago.

“We need justice for all the people who were killed.”

The UN has accused both sides of war crimes and has been given a mandate to collect evidence. The UN has also warned the failure of Sri Lanka to address past violations has significantly heightened the risk of human rights violations being repeated.

“My parents and friends are still in Sri Lanka but I have been too scared to go back,” said Elilarasi Manoharan, who attended the peaceful demonstration in London’s Trafalgar Square to mark the 13th anniversary of the end of the war.

“But now with the economic crisis and the changes we are seeing, maybe if the Sri Lankan system changes it will open up doors for us to be able to visit our loved ones.”

Sri Lankans have been protesting for more than a month, demanding the resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and holding him responsible for the country’s worst economic crisis in recent memory.

Gotabaya Rajapaksa played a key role as a top defence strategist to his brother, former Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, who is credited with leading a military campaign to defeat the rebels.

The two leaders were hailed as heroes by the Sinhalese but allegations of mishandling the economy and corruption have led to their fall from grace.

Mahinda Rajapaksa resigned as prime minister last week amid violent protests, and Gotabaya Rajapaksa has been staying in his fortified residence for more than a month. He has been forced to take a backseat, having appointed a new prime minister to handle the economy.

Sri Lanka, near bankruptcy, has suspended up to $7bn of foreign loan payments due to be repaid this year because of a foreign currency crisis. The country must repay $25bn as foreign debt by 2026 out of a total of $51bn.

It has led to limited imports with no petrol in filling stations. Other fuel, cooking gas, medicine and foods are in short supply, forcing people to stay in long lines to buy the limited stocks.



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‘Shattering the palace’: Young women take up Thailand reform call | Protests News

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Bangkok, Thailand – Tawan Tuatulanon glanced out of her vehicle’s rear window and noticed that state security forces were following dangerously close. She began recording a Facebook live video on her phone as she and her fellow monarchy reform activists discussed how they might evade the threat.

“The police are following us again,” 20-year-old Tawan told her live audience on Facebook last month. “This is not okay,” she murmured as the vehicle raced down a highway in the capital Bangkok.

Minutes earlier, the team of activists had been involved in a small scuffle at a protest where demonstrators were openly criticising the royal family near a royal motorcade. Three underage demonstrators were arrested, including a 13-year-old. During the attempted arrest, Tawan was hit in the eye by police and bruised her wrist and arm as she tried to protect the protesting children.

Already accustomed to the almost constant surveillance from intelligence officers, plainclothes police were now in pursuit of her team. The group pulled off the expressway and drove into a residential area. They then decided to get out of their vehicle and confront the apparent undercover officers.

“Why are you following us? Why don’t you come out and talk to us face to face?” Tawan barked at the police who hid inside their large black truck, and as a crowd of onlookers gathered. Eventually, the officers left.

Days after the incident on April 19, Tawan was arrested for allegedly violating her bail conditions in an ongoing royal defamation case related to a public poll she organised in February that questioned the Thai monarchy. Criticising the king, or ‘lese-majeste‘, is an offence punishable with up to 15 years in prison. Royal defamation under the Thai criminal code is referred to as Section 112, or as the public calls it simply “112.”

Changing tactics

Tawan is part of the underground anti-monarchy group, Thaluwang, a name that translates to ‘Shattering the Palace’.

It is made up mostly of young people in their 20s, using performance art, provocative stunts and other unusual tactics to question the king’s immense hold on power, actions that were taboo until only a couple of years ago.

A portrait of Maynu with pink hair and wearing a black face mask
Maynu wanted to be a game developer but joined  Thaluwang because she thinks Thailand needs to be reformed to give young people the opportunities they crave [Maynu via Facebook]

Also in the group is 18-year-old Supitcha ‘Maynu’ Chailom.

Maynu caught the country’s attention when she was photographed raising the three-finger salute in front of hundreds of university students in a symbol of defiance taken from the Hunger Games movie that has since come to define opposition to authoritarian regimes across Southeast Asia.

Now one of the prominent faces of a movement that wants to modernise the country, it was the group’s focus on intersectionality and gender equality that initially appealed to her.

“Thaluwang also supports gender equality and women’s rights, so this is one reason why I became involved in the organisation,” Maynu told Al Jazeera. Before joining the anti-government movement, Maynu had dreams of becoming a video game developer and designer. But now she says there are more important things to do.

“This country lacks space for young people’s dreams, games are still demonised in the press and blamed for many issues without looking at how parents raise their children and how this country does not support young people,” Maynu said. “So all of this combined has contributed to where we are now, and a few problematic institutions are still holding back Thailand, and they are powerful and scary to confront.”

Thaluwang has moved away from mass protests and speeches delivered to large crowds, instead adopting tactics that legal experts say are difficult to define as illegal. The approach is intended to make activists less vulnerable to legal harassment, but the crackdown has continued.

“We have observed that Thai authorities have increased undue restrictions on the right to protest,” Emerlynne Gil, Amnesty International’s deputy regional director, told Al Jazeera. “During the last few months, authorities have charged, detained and imprisoned activists, including children, denying them their right to bail or imposing harsh bail restrictions on them. Activists have reported surveillance and harassment.”

Faced with a lese-majeste charge – the latest in a long line of monarchy reform activists who have come under legal pressure – Tawan told Al Jazeera that she is not afraid.

“Especially regarding 112, my case really highlights how problematic the law is in Thailand,” she said. “Many people see us as young people who are just expressing our opinions. So I don’t see how doing this by definition is an insult to the monarchy. And if it is, then this will make people understand that this law needs to be abolished even more.”

Thaluwang runs a questionnaire on the street in Bangkok, asking passers-by to show their opinion
Thaluwang has turned away from traditional street protests to try other ways of getting its message across [Ginger Cat/Al Jazeera]

Colonel Kissana Phathanacharoen, deputy police spokesperson, told Al Jazeera that authorities are merely upholding the law.

“We were carrying out arrest warrants as they were wanted for violating serious laws,” said Kissana, referring to the arrest of Thaluwang activists in late April.

“We respect their rights as stated by the constitution. We are committed to protecting the people and believe in human rights. But if you violate the law, we have no choice but to enforce the law by our legal means.”

Years of resistance

For the past two years, protesters have been calling for former coup leader and now Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha to step down, and for new elections to be held. But it is their calls for royal reform that have sent shockwaves through the country.

Calling for public scrutiny of the Thai king broke longstanding taboos surrounding the monarchy in 2020, and mass protests sparked heated public debate over the role of the royal palace in the country’s politics.

King Maha Vajiralongkorn, who took the throne in 2016, is often criticised for his lavish lifestyle with estimates of his wealth starting at about $30bn. But critics say he is also bringing back absolute monarchy and controls the country’s military-backed leaders, a system that a new generation of Thais argues must be reformed for the nation to move forward.

For years, researchers have documented intimidation and surveillance of government critics at home, in the workplace and on university campuses.

But even with the democracy movement’s main leaders arrested, rights groups say the authorities have carried out surveillance, legal harassment and arrests of critics at an unprecedented level.

In interviews with more than 12 Thai activists over the past six months, Al Jazeera has documented allegations of surveillance and harassment, with some even speaking of physical torture or assault for demonstrating.

“Apart from using legal means to harass activists, the state authorities also harass citizens who simply post their opinions on Facebook,” said Wannaphat Jenroumjit, a lawyer for Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) who works directly on ‘112’ cases in relation to activists calling for royal reform.

“They [the police] do so by following them or approaching them directly, or intimidating their family, or neighbours, telling them they are on the police watch list. But this sows suspicion among the community against them.”

Tawan, in a black t-short with red print gives the three-fingered Hunger Games salute which has become a symbol of resistance in Asia
Tawan makes the three-fingered Hunger Games salute, which has become a symbol of resistance among pro-democracy groups from Myanmar to Hong Kong [Ginger Cat/Al Jazeera]

Tawan and Maynu both say they have experienced intimidation.

Maynu has been followed by security forces and was verbally abused when she spent a day in detention.

Tawan says she has been pursued by police on numerous occasions. On one occasion, she told Al Jazeera, 10 officers entered her home and tried to convince her parents to force her to stop. Another day, two men on motorcycles almost ran her off the road, she claimed.

‘Costs for society’

According to THLR, at least 1,787 people have been prosecuted for participating in the Thai protests from 2020 to 2022. The group has documented at least 173 cases where people were charged with royal defamation over the same period.

Pikhaneth Prawang, another lawyer for TLHR, warns the approach could have broader implications for the country.

“Since the resumption of the use of ‘112’ at the end of 2020, the number of cases rose sharply,” Pikhaneth said.

“We’re seeing it used not only to target leaders, but now we’re seeing common people targeted as well. We are worried about how far this could go. Such a campaign could lead to high costs for society.”

Such costs could include a system where public trust is undermined, particularly in the judicial system. A continued erosion of trust could,  Pikhaneth fears, “lead to chaos in the future.”

Days after speaking to Al Jazeera in April, multiple Thaluwang activists were arrested.

Maynu has been released on bail, but Tawan is still in detention and on hunger strike.

Over the last two weeks, three other women who represent Thaluwang have also been detained without bail, including a 17-year-old girl. In response, dozens of protesters demonstrated in front of the United States embassy on May 11, handing in a petition calling on the US to urge Thailand to release political prisoners and stop the use of 112.

Before she was arrested, Tawan told Al Jazeera that despite the pressure, she would not be deterred.

“We have been followed by police and it makes us feel unsafe,” Tawan said. “But with Section 112, I’m still not afraid. If anything, it makes me feel that I need to fight even more, and I’ve mentally prepared myself to soon be in jail. So you could definitely say that I am a very different Tawan than I was before.”



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