The Irrawaddy

Banned UN Envoy, Rohingya Activists to Join Conference on ‘Myanmar Genocide’

Rohingya refugees stand in a queue to collect aid supplies in Kutupalong refugee camp in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, Jan. 21. / REUTERS

YANGON — The UN’s special envoy on human rights in Myanmar will deliver a keynote address at an international conference in Berlin on Monday to push European leaders to do more for the beleaguered Rohingya.

According to a description of the event by its organizers, “The Berlin Conference on Myanmar Genocide aims to inform German civil society and European public about the ongoing genocide of Rohingya people in Myanmar.

“It is hoped that the conference will help influence public opinion, which in turn will demand the EU leaders take their shared political and human responsibility in order to make the call ‘never again!’ a reality.”

The conference will be joined by international scholars, human rights activists and Rohingya lobbyists based outside of Myanmar.

Yanghee Lee, the UN’s human rights  envoy to Myanmar, was barred from returning to the country in December after the civilian government and the military accused her of biased reporting on the crisis in Rakhine State in favor of the Rohingya.

The special rapporteur’s mandate requires two visits to Myanmar a year in order to report to the UN Human Rights Council and General Assembly. Since taking up the post in June 2014, Ms. Lee has visited Myanmar six times.

She recently told the UK’s Channel 4 News that there were grounds for bringing Myanmar’s de facto leader, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, before an international tribunal for failing to intervene in the “clearance operation” the military launched in Rakhine following militant attacks on several police posts and an army base on Aug. 25 that killed 11 security personnel. The military crackdown that followed the attacks has driven some 690,000 Muslim Rohingya to seek refuge in neighboring Bangladesh amid reports of arson, murder and rape targeting their communities.

Others joining the Berlin conference for discussions on a multicultural society and ending genocide in Myanmar will include Harn Yawnghwe, executive director of the Brussels-based Euro-Burma Office, and Maung Zarni, a Buddhist Rohingya lobbyist.

Harn Yawnghwe is the son of Myanmar’s first president, Sao Shwe Thaike. His organization provides funding to ethnic and civil society organizations in Myanmar.

He attracted criticism from within Myanmar last year for suggesting that the government hold talks with the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, which organized the August attacks.. He was also attacked for being a Rohingya lobbyist based on pictures of him with other Rohingya and members of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation at a meeting on the Rohingya crisis in Saudi Arabia.

In an interview with The Irrawaddy last year, Harn Yawnghwe said that meeting was in 2010 and that it was meant to persuade the Rohingya to eschew terrorism and seek a political solution to their problems.

The conference will also be joined by other Rohingya activists including Ro Nay San Lwin, editor of Rohingya Blogger, Ro Hla Kyaw, of the European Rohingya Council in The Netherlands, and Ro Tun Khin, president of the Burmese Rohingya Organization UK.

Separately, more than 100 UK parliamentarians have called on their government to declare that Myanmar’s military should be referred to the International Criminal Court for its “security operations” in Rakhine, which the UN’s human rights office has described as ethnic cleansing and possibly genocide.

They wrote to UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson on Wednesday seeking measures in line with their call, according to Bangladeshi media reports.

“It’s time for the British government to unequivocally state that the situation in Myanmar should be referred to the International Criminal Court,” they said.