Who are the Rohingya?
The Rohingya are one of many ethnic minorities in Myanmar. Rohingya Muslims represent the largest percentage of Muslims in Myanmar, with the majority living in Rakhine state. They have their own language, culture, and history. Rohingya are believed to be descendants of labourers from Bangladesh and India, who migrated to the area when Myanmar was administered as a province of India- internal movement at the time. However, following independence from the British Crown, the Myanmar government viewed this migration as illegal. This was the beginning of the wedge that would come to divide the Rohingya Muslims from the predominantly Buddhist Myanmar state.
What is the Crisis?
In 2016, the persecution of Rohingya escalated. Myanmar Armed Forces, as well as the state police, started a major crackdown on Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine State, in the northwestern region of Myanmar. The United Nations, The International Criminal Court, and Human Rights groups have accused the Myanmar armed forces of ethnic cleansing and genocide in the region. Myanmar’s military and government have vehemently denied genocide. They claim that the Rohingya, whom they regularly refer to as “illegal Bengali immigrants,” instigated the violence by attacking security forces and then burning their villages to the ground. The government, as led by Aung San Suu Kyi, has stated that the actions of the armed forces were an appropriate response to “terrorists.”
Following the release of a report into the atrocities in Rakhine state- including forced displacement of more than 700,000 Rohingya; mass rape; infanticides; arbitrary detention; murder- the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights called the case a:
“ textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”
Further, the Independent Fact-finding Mission on Myanmar called for senior army officials to be investigated and prosecuted on charges of genocide. The investigation named six suspects, including Commander in Chief, Min Aung Hlaing. They concluded:
“The gross human rights violations committed . . . are shocking for their horrifying nature and ubiquity” and “undoubtedly amount to the gravest crimes under international law.”
UN investigators were denied access to Myanmar by the government but managed to interview about 875 witnesses who had fled to nearby Bangladesh.
What is being done ?
The UN mission called for Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, to be investigated by the international criminal court (ICC). However, the country is not a signatory of the Rome Statute and therefore does not come under the jurisdiction of the court. ICC prosecutors are, therefore, deliberating whether they can investigate the violence in Rakhine. The UN report has also criticised Suu Kyi’s passive role since the crisis began and also calls for the imposition of an arms embargo.
What has the international community done ?
The UN Security Council has appealed to Myanmar to stop the violence but no sanctions have been imposed. The US has urged Myanmar’s troops to respect the rule of law and stop the violence. China has asked the international community to support the efforts of the government of Myanmar in handling the crisis. The UK has pledged £59m in aid to support the refugees and has also suspended training courses for the Myanmar army.
Image courtesy of Roger Arnold at UNHCR
Every Month, STAND brings you a quick fire Q&A from people who work in NGOs, with government or in community projects. This month we speak to Peter Schouten, who has been Spokesman for War Child since September 2014. Based in the Netherlands, War Child helps children affected by war in 14 countries all around the world.
Can you tell us a bit about what you do?
I’m the spokesman for War Child Holland, which means being accountable for all media and press relations. I do this through managing spokespersons, initiating and coordinating press conferences, press releases, briefings, trips and media events. Our objective is to position War Child as the expert when it comes to children affected by conflict, being able to influence key stakeholders and contribute to our mission: ‘No child should be part of war. Ever.’
What do you love most about your job?
Since I’m a real news addict I really love to work with and for media and to be up to date 24/7. It’s never a dull moment. I like the diversity in my daily work. It’s not only working from behind your desk but also travelling to the 14 countries in which War Child is active. During such field trips I bring journalists with me in order to show them how, why and what we do to help children affected by war.
What do you dislike most?
A thing that I can’t get used to is the stories I hear from the children who I visit in our program countries. It’s sometimes really heartbreaking to hear their experiences. At the same time it gives me that new energy boost to let their voices be heard in the (inter)national media in order to help them and their peers.
How did you get into this area?
I graduated in both International Relations and Journalism. After working for 5 years at the Dutch Prime Minister’s Office in The Hague I decided to join War Child in 2014. I came across the organisation in Uganda and I was really impressed by how my colleagues were dealing with the war children. From that moment on I started following War Child and once the function of spokesman became vacant, I applied immediately.
What advice would you give to students who want to work in this area?
If you would like to be a spokesman it might help you to have some experiences as a journalist as well. In that case you know best of both worlds which enables you to do your work as a spokesman better.
War Child helps children affected by war. It offers them a combination of psychosocial support, protection and education. War Child was founded in 1995 and is an internationally acknowledged expert on children affected by armed conflict. Last year approx. 300,000 children participated in its programmes.
For more information see warchild.org.
Twitter: @schoutenpeter / @warchildholland
Photo courtesy of Peter Schouten / War Child.
In 1959, the Dublin Islamic Society was founded. It was Ireland’s first Islamic community, growing from students who had come to study and work here. Today, Islam is the third largest religion in Ireland and Islamic Cultural Centre of Ireland is one of the biggest community centres for Irish Muslims.
STAND spoke to Noman Nasir, a member of Islamic Culture Centre to understand what it means to be an Irish Muslim.
When and why did he come to Ireland?
Born in Pakistan, Nasir came to Ireland in 2012, to study. “I came to Ireland to pursue my career, I started working and soon settled. This journey wasn’t difficult for me. My relatives live in Cork [and] we meet occasionally. Through them I got to know about Islamic communities in Ireland”.
What is the purpose of Islam Culture Centre?
The Centre offers Irish Muslims a place to connect with others of the same faith. For instance, it held a celebration for Bakrid, also called Eid-Al-Adha. “For people who are unable to visit their country and meet their families, the community centre gives them an opportunity to associate and enjoy the celebration” Nasir explains. The community centre has multiple departments and welfare programs, which help to organise events, workshops, exhibitions, fairs and conferences. The centre has various facilities such as a library and a translation service. It also assists in wedding and funeral services.
How important is Islamic Culture Centre of Ireland (ICCI)?
The Islamic Culture Centre of Ireland promotes and encourages the identity of Muslim’s, both Irish and Non-Irish. Nasir says, “The major purpose of these communities is to introduce positive Islamic values into Irish society for understanding, among individuals and organisations”.
How has ICCI helped Irish and Non-Irish Muslims?
“Islamic communities not only help people with facilities but they also help them follow up with the religious practices and prayers. With many other facilities the community gives equal importance in spreading the positive message of Islam”, stated Nasir. ICCI along with other Islamic community centres focuses on educational development of people. There are schools in most community centres which provide Qur’anic education. “You can not only learn the teachings mentioned in Islam but can also study Arabic” he mentioned.
Above photo: the Islamic Cultural Centre of Ireland, based in Clonskeagh. Courtesy of ICCI.
As of June 2018, there are 9,874 people homeless in Ireland, according to Focus Ireland. Of the 30 families who were referred to Garda Stations in April when no emergency accommodation could be found, nine were Romanian, three from outside the EU and a further eight were members of the travelling community. But yet the homelessness crisis within these communities is vastly under reported and the government have been accused of distorting their figures.
While they generally enter homelessness for the same reasons as Irish people, non- nationals often do not have the same familial or social supports so find themselves entering homelessness at an earlier point, when they have no one else to turn to for help.
Asylum seekers leaving direct provision often become homeless as they struggle to find accommodation they can afford. While they are assisted with finding accommodation as they leave direct provision, it does not account for extra family members. This regularly leads to evictions due to overcrowding, as family members emigrate to join them.
The Travelling Community
Travellers are disproportionately affected by homelessness in comparison to any other group in society. The lack of adequate social housing provided for the travelling community mixed with widespread discrimination has led to many living in unofficial sites with no running water or electricity. This has a negative impact on the health and wellbeing of travellers, a group that already has a suicide rate 6 times higher than the national average.
The end of Homelessness?
Unfortunately there seems to be no end in sight. Organisations such as the Mendicity Institute run programmes in several different languages to help non-nationals find employment and integrate into society and Pavee Point works to end the stigma attached to the travelling community. However, with no significant commitment to more social housing, the homeless crisis looks set to continue.
‘1,300 years ago Islam gave women their rights!’ Every time the issue of women’s rights is brought up in the Middle East, this phrase usually appears. This is important because history forms a big part of gender debates going on there now. So did Islam bring a revolution in women’s rights? Or was it horribly oppressive as others claim?
The answer seems complex.
It was certainly better than its contemporaries in medieval continental Europe. Women scholars like Fatima al-Fihri helped start the world’s oldest continually operating university in Quaraouiyine in Morocco in 859 CE. Aisha bint Abu Bakr, wife of the Prophet Muhammad, transmitted many Hadith, while others openly participated in battle. But was this new? Previously, Roman republican law and contemporary Irish Brehon law granted most of the same rights to property and divorce as Muslim women had.
Issues like FGM, slavery, and punishing women in relationships with men outside the community do find limited justification in interpretations of Islamic scripture and history, not unlike Christian tradition, and still have substantial support from some modern Fiqh (Islamic law) scholars.
So what use is this to gender debates now? Even if things were better historically, that is no excuse for present failings. Most Islamic legal texts were written decades after the Prophet’s death, and are only a medieval interpretation of Islam, not something set in stone. It can be reinterpreted as human’s self-knowledge improves. The educated, inquiring, driven Muslim youth have every prospect of doing just that.
Author, Ronan Stewart, is a participant in this year’s Ideas Collective. Ronan’s project aims to challenge myths and stereotypes about Islam that drive conflict through an online magazine and workshop series. He hopes to work with other organisations to combat these myths in a balanced and informed way.
Through the Ideas Collective, we support people who want to take action on the issues they care about. By doing this, we offer a creative and collaborative space, with like-minded people to harness the potential power of your idea! Find out more about the Ideas Collective here.
Photo by Mohamed Nohassi on Unsplash
This month, Costa Rica lifted a ban from the constitution, legalising same-sex marriage. The country now joins 26 other countries around the world where same-sex marriage is legal.
Although some in government did not support legalising equal marriage, the Supreme Court ruled that the ban was to be lifted within eighteen months of the Court decision. If it is not done before the set timeline, then it will automatically be lifted from the constitution.
In a country where religion holds a strong influence with a Roman Catholic majority, many attribute the progressive ruling to newly elected President Carlos Alvarado. Elected in April of this year, one of his main campaign promises was to fight for LGBTI+ rights and advocate for marriage equality.
Photo by Laoise McGrath