Blog: Myanmar

January 4, 2019

How Facebook is Reconfiguring Freedom of Speech in Situations of Mass Atrocity: Lessons from Myanmar and the Philippines

Posted by Jenny Domino LLM'18

Jenny Domino is a Satter Human Rights Fellow (funded through the Human Rights Program) working with ARTICLE 19 to counter hate speech. In an article for OpinioJuris, she argues that Facebook’s secrecy around its community standards and its intermediary status as a hosting “platform” detract from international law’s ability to hold the corporation accountable for its role encouraging harmful rhetoric that fuels mass atrocity. Find the full text of the article below and at OpinioJuris.org. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and not the views of ARTICLE 19.

Facebook has been described as a service to democracy. This perception arguably peaked during the Arab Spring uprisings, touted as Facebook’s crowning glory in its mission to connect people. The past two years have effectively undermined that rhetoric, as serious lapses in the Cambridge Analytica scandal and the Russian hacking in the 2016 US Presidential election have shown.

In Southeast Asia, we don’t need to look far to see how Facebook has been used to oppress. The OHCHR Fact-Finding Mission in Myanmar recently concluded that Facebook was instrumental in the dissemination of hate speech against the Rohingya. In the Philippines, disinformation on Facebook has enabled the triumph and reign of Duterte, whose war on drugs has reportedly claimed thousands of civilian lives. Notably, both situations are under preliminary examination at the International Criminal Court. If Facebook has failed in a mature democracy such as the United States, it has all the more failed in struggling democracies. Rather than bringing the world closer, Facebook has facilitated the spread of divisive rhetoric even within borders.

Selective transparency

This year, Facebook finally published its Community Standards in an effort to be more transparent. It has also started to publish a report of their Community Standards enforcement. These were announced during the first Asia-Pacific Facebook Community Standards Forum held last month in Singapore, which I attended.

Conspicuously, relevant information on how these rules operate remain shrouded in secrecy. We have the applicable rules and the results of their implementation, but we are left in the dark as to what happens in between. Facebook did disclose the type of people they hire as content moderators (ranging from counter-terrorism experts to previous law enforcers), or the fact that they use human labor and algorithms to review content, but when pressed about the details on the process, they invoke their content reviewers’ safety in refusing to disclose any information on this aspect.

This seems odd. If Facebook has chosen to disclose the type of people they are hiring, why can’t they disclose their procedure on content moderation, which is arguably less likely to reveal the identity of their content reviewers and thus expose them to physical risk?

This is crucial in monitoring Facebook’s efforts to improve its operations in situations of mass atrocity. Information on procedure would help civil society monitor social media companies’ timely detection and moderation of hate speech posted on their platform, which could prevent further escalation of violence or abuse towards a victim group. This, in turn, could strengthen the normative force of the Genocide Convention’s preventive provisions, including the crime of direct and public incitement to commit genocide.

Information on procedure can also shed light on how a certain situation will be prioritized over others. During the forum, Facebook admitted that the company prioritizes certain content over others, but there is no information on how these priorities are decided. The situation in Myanmar is unique in that the UN itself made a finding on Facebook’s enabling role; what metric does Facebook plan to use moving forward? This will be crucial in the work of the ICC, whose recent statementson potential situation countries include references to incitement to violence, where the battle is increasingly being fought on Facebook.

The kind and depth of information that Facebook chooses to disclose regarding its Community Standards reflect the ease with which corporations can evade accountability through the use of the “platform” nomenclature. Tarleton Gillespie has written about how intermediaries manipulate the ambivalent, multi-layered meanings of the term “platform” to serve different constituencies – ordinary citizens, businesses, policymakers, and so forth. Though platforms seem to only “facilitate” expression, there is nothing neutral about the curating, filtering, and “orchestrating” of posted content that they take on. As mediators of content, platforms also crucially mediate relations among users, between users and the public, between users and sellers, and even between users and governments.

Facebook’s earlier reference to itself as a neutral platform could explain its previous indifference to the impact of its operations in Southeast Asia, but it also continues to frame corporate policy on public engagement. Because the term “platform” does not carry with it a clear, corresponding set of obligations for accountability on Community Standards enforcement, Facebook can conveniently choose what to disclose depending on what their interests dictate at a given point in time – whether improving public image, expanding operations, or fulfilling the demands of the UN.

This is worrying. While our demand for transparency from our public officers is guaranteed by law, our expectation from Facebook is not. We can only know what Facebook lets us know despite the impact of their Community Standards enforcement to situations of mass atrocity. Continue Reading…

Share By Email

loading
Close

September 7, 2018

TODAY: Facebook Live Q&A on Myanmar with Professor Tyler Giannini, Lecturer Yee Htun, and Paras Shah, JD’19


Drop by our Facebook today at 2:30 pm EDT for a Facebook Live Q&A with HRP and IHRC Co-Director and Clinical Professor of Law Tyler Giannini and Lecturer on Law and Clinical Instructor Yee Htun. Clinical student Paras Shah, JD’19, will interview Giannini and Htun on the recent international conversation around Myanmar, focusing on the International Criminal Court ruling yesterday on its jurisdiction over the Rohingya deportations from Myanmar to Bangladesh.

You can find more details on yesterday’s announcement here, and view the full text of the ICC ruling here and here.

Learn more about the Clinic’s previous work on Myanmar here.

POSTED IN

Share By Email

loading
Close

November 13, 2017

Today, Nov. 13: Screening of “Sittwe” Documentary about Conflict-Affected Teens in Myanmar’s Rakhine State


Monday, November 13, 2017

“Sittwe”

A documentary screening

12:00- 1:00 p.m.
WCC 1023

Please join us for a screening of Sittwe, a short documentary film about two teenagers separated by conflict and segregation in Myanmar’s Rakhine state. Produced as a tool to facilitate discussions about peace building in Myanmar, the film was due to premiere in Yangon at the Human Rights, Human Dignity Film Festival but was banned by the government. It later premiered at the Freedom Film Festival in Malaysia, where it was awarded the Best Southeast Asia Short Documentary. Following the screening, there will be a Q & A with producer Myo Win, an imam and leader in the interfaith peace movement in Myanmar.

POSTED IN

Share By Email

loading
Close

September 26, 2017

Facebook Live Conversation: On the Rohingya Crisis and its Long-Term Implications for Myanmar


Yesterday the International Human Rights Clinic livestreamed on Facebook a conversation about the Rohingya crisis and its long-term implications for Myanmar. It was the first in a series of conversations we plan to livestream on critical topics in the world of human rights.

From left: Tarek Zeidan, Yee Htun and Tyler Giannini.

Tarek Zeidan, HKS ’18, moderated the discussion between Yee Htun, clinical instructor and former director of the Myanmar Program for Justice Trust, and Tyler Giannini, the Clinic’s co-director and co-founder of EarthRights International, who lived and worked on the Thai-Burmese border for a decade. You can watch the conversation on our FB page.

Share By Email

loading
Close

April 9, 2017

Monday, April 10: One year in: Examining Myanmar’s democratic transition


Myanmar_Poster FinalMonday, April 10, 2017


“One year in: Examining Myanmar’s democratic transition”


A talk by Matthew Bugher, JD ’09


12:00- 1:00 p.m.
WCC 4059


Please join us for a talk by Matthew Bugher, an HLS alumnus with experience investigating international crimes in Myanmar. He will discuss his work promoting accountability for human rights abuses, and reflect on the possible establishment of an international commission of inquiry for decades of violations in Myanmar.

This talk is part of a two-part series that looks at change in Myanmar since the election of Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy, and the progress underway to protect human rights, achieve peace, and address the legacy of abuses and conflict in Myanmar dating back to the 1950s.

POSTED IN

Share By Email

loading
Close

April 6, 2017

WEBINAR: Human rights and Myanmar’s transition from military rule

Several weeks ago, Tyler Giannini, Co-Director of the International Human Rights Clinic, and Yee Htun, Clinical Advocacy Fellow, presented a webinar for Harvard Law School alumni on human rights and Myanmar’s transition from military rule. The talk was so popular, the school asked if it could feature it as part of its bicentennial celebration.

Great work, Tyler and Yee.

 

POSTED IN

Share By Email

loading
Close

March 30, 2017

Op-Ed: UN investigation can help Myanmar down the path of democracy


This opinion piece by Clinical Advocacy Fellow Yee Htun and Tyler Giannini, co-director of the International Human Rights Clinic, appeared in The Irrawaddy on March 29, 2017


UN Investigation Can Help Myanmar Down the Path of Democracy



At first glance, the UN Human Rights Council resolution passed on Myanmar looks like a rebuke of Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD) government. The resolution calls for an international investigation into “alleged recent human rights violations by the military and security forces,” singling out Rakhine State in particular for scrutiny.

Given her muted public response to the violence, her government’s denials, and the lack of any serious domestic investigation to date, it would be easy to lay a lot of the blame at Aung San Suu Kyi’s door. But the real story remains in plain sight: there are roadblocks that prevent her and the civilian government from investigating and controlling the abuses of security forces. These roadblocks are rooted in the country’s Constitution, adopted by the military in 2008, and until they are removed, domestic and international maneuvering will be necessary to pressure the military to change its violent ways.

This is not the first time that we have seen Myanmar’s Constitution fail its citizens. Despite her party winning the first open elections in a generation, Aung San Suu Kyi herself was denied the presidency under the Constitution. She and her party had to resort to creating a new position – State Counselor – that has made her the de facto leader of the government. It was a creative, and necessary, move to bring a just outcome to the election.

Similarly, the international investigation is a necessary move, given that Myanmar is missing the basic checks that a functioning democracy requires. Since October, the security forces have allegedly killed as many as 1,000 people and forced an estimated 77,000 Rohingya Muslims to flee their homes in northern Rakhine State to Bangladesh. These security forces are legally and factually controlled by the military. Continue Reading…

POSTED IN

Share By Email

loading
Close

March 17, 2017

Monday, March 20: A year in: Examining Myanmar’s democratic transition


Myanmar_finalMarch 20, 2017

A Year In: Examining Myanmar’s Democratic Transition 

A talk by May Sabe Phyu,
Kachin leader and winner of “International Woman of Courage” award

12:00- 1:00 p.m.
WCC 4059
Harvard Law School

Lunch will be provided



Please join us for a talk by May Sabe Phyu, a Kachin leader and a winner of the State Department’s “International Woman of Courage” award. She will discuss efforts to prevent violence against women; the ongoing armed conflicts in Kachin and Shan States; and how peace activists are attempting to address entrenched militarization in the country.

This is the first talk in a two-part lunch series that looks at changes in Myanmar since Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy took power in the wake of the first free and open election in a generation. The series will examine the progress underway to protect human rights, achieve peace, and address the legacy of abuses and conflict in Myanmar dating back to the 1950s.

For the second talk, on April 10, Matthew Bugher, an HLS alumnus with investigative experience into international crimes in Myanmar, will discuss accountability efforts in the country, including a major investigation into war crimes and crimes against humanity.

 

POSTED IN

Share By Email

loading
Close

February 28, 2017

Tomorrow, March 1: “Shifting Grounds in International Human Rights”


Shifting GroundsMarch 1, 2017

“Shifting Grounds in International Human Rights”

12:00- 1:00 p.m.
WCC 3016

Please join the Human Rights Program for a panel discussion on how the international human rights landscape has changed since President Trump took office. HRP’s resident scholars and advocates will examine the question: what impact is the change of administration having on the work of international human rights scholars, lawyers, and activists working internationally? Panelists will address a range of topics, including women’s rights, LGBTQI rights, and the rights of religious minorities, and examine these issues in contexts where human rights are already under threat, such as Myanmar and the Middle East.

October 20, 2016

Alleged abuses against civilians in non-ceasefire areas may constitute violations of Myanmar’s Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement


PRESS RELEASE

Alleged abuses against civilians in non-ceasefire areas may constitute violations of Myanmar’s Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement

Legal analysis shows ceasefire’s civilian protection commitments extend nationwide

 

(Cambridge, MA, October 20, 2016)–  Reported abuses of civilians in non-ceasefire areas by the Myanmar military and other signatories to the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) would, if verified, constitute violations of key civilian protection provisions established by the agreement, said Harvard Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic (the Clinic) in a legal memorandum released today. The military and other signatories should act immediately to address such reports, including by engaging with the mechanisms and processes established by the NCA and investigating alleged abuses.

The Clinic’s memorandum comes on the heels of the one-year anniversary of the signing of the NCA by the government and eight ethnic armed organizations (EAOs). While the agreement failed to include many of the EAOs that participated in the ceasefire talks, it was still heralded as a significant step in the country’s peace process. Over the past year, however, armed conflict has intensified in Shan State, Kachin State, and elsewhere, with reports of widespread abuse of civilians by the Myanmar military in particular.

“Ongoing abuses in conflict zones cast doubt on the military’s commitment to the NCA and undermine the trust between Myanmar’s government and ethnic nationality populations,” said Tyler Giannini, Co-Director of the Clinic. “Myanmar military officers can’t hide behind the fact the NCA was signed with only some ethnic armed organizations to abuse civilians in non-ceasefire areas.” Continue Reading…