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May 11, 2020
(May 11, 2020) — The International Human Rights Clinic and 83 partner organizations sent an open letter to Prime Minister Tan Sri Dato’ Haji Muhyiddin bin Haji Mohd. Yassin today, urging the Malaysian government to take action regarding threats of violence and ‘hate speech’ directed at ethnic Rohingya refugees and asylum seekers in Malaysia.
As the letter states,
“Starting in the third week of April 2020, hateful messages targeting the Rohingya community in Malaysia have proliferated on social media platforms. Many posts included discriminatory and dehumanizing language and images as well as calls for Rohingya in Malaysia to be forcibly returned to Myanmar. Numerous online petitions calling for the expulsion of Rohingya were launched on Change.org and other platforms. Some petitions garnered thousands of signatures. Online users threatened prominent Rohingya activists, as well as their supporters, with physical attacks, murder and sexual violence.”
The letter calls on the Malaysian government to take steps to condemn the online hate speech, in order to “ensure that incendiary rhetoric does not trigger discriminatory acts or physical attacks.”
In a recent interview on Harvard Law Today, Yee Htun, Clinical Instructor and Lecturer on Law in the Clinic, noted the long history of hate speech against the Rohingya and contextualized recent events:
“Social media has played a large role […] and ultra-nationalist groups have strategically used it to portray the Rohingya as terrorists, illegal migrants, and opportunistic interlopers who are going to be a resource drain and engulf the country. Our clinic will be releasing a report soon on hate speech in Myanmar, [detailing] its drivers, main narratives, and its impact on religious and ethnic minorities and human rights defenders. In a way, our findings fit in with larger global populist movements. Whether we’re talking about in the U.S. or Hungary, this kind of “othering” rhetoric is frequently used to justify security measures and restrict immigration. And the pandemic offers a potential carte blanche excuse to exclude and infringe people’s human rights. Now, border countries that could have provided asylum are saying they need to safeguard their own countries from infection.”
May 6, 2020
Posted by Dana Walters
Yee Htun speaks about respecting refugee rights in the midst of a global pandemic
Across southeast Asia, hundreds of thousands of persecuted ethnic minorities in poverty face a new threat: the COVID-19 pandemic. The Rohingya people have faced decades of systematic discrimination, statelessness and targeted violence. Since August 2017, more than 745,000 ethnic Rohingya have escaped oppression and violence in Myanmar and live in refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. In November 2019, a case was filed against Myanmar before the International Court of Justice alleging that the crimes committed against the Rohingya, a Muslim minority group, violate the Genocide Convention.
Harvard Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic was one of 50 organizations to send a joint letter to the Prime Minister of Bangladesh urging the government to uphold refugee rights as the world faces and fights the novel coronavirus. Still, ongoing violence in Myanmar means individuals continue to flee, this time facing border restrictions and lockdowns. Most recently, boats of escaping Rohingya were turned away at Malaysia’s border, a move that sparked condemnation from human rights groups.
The Human Rights Program recently spoke with Yee Htun, clinical instructor and lecturer on law in the International Human Rights Clinic, to learn more about how Myanmar and those who have fled the state are confronting this crisis. Htun was born in Myanmar and fled the country after the pro-democratic uprising in 1988.Continue Reading…
April 2, 2020
April 2, 2020 — The International Human Rights Clinic joined human rights organizations around the world today in urging Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to prioritize the safety and well-being of the Rohingya refugee population during the COVID-19 pandemic. The area of Cox’s Bazar District houses a significant population of refugees from Myanmar, more than 850,000 individuals who have fled persecution in their home country due to ethnic discrimination and violence. Today, human rights organizations ask the Bangladesh government to lift restrictions on Internet connectivity and halt construction of barbed wire fences, in order to better ensure that the refugee community and aid workers can respond safely in a crisis that would ultimately have devastating effects in the area. The letter specifically asks Bangladesh to “uphold the rights of Rohingya refugees to health, freedom of expression and access to information, and freedom of movement.” Read the full letter to the Prime Minister as a PDF linked here and copied below.
March 2, 2020
On February 25, 2020, the Human Rights Program (HRP) at Harvard Law School hosted an expert panel to discuss the International Court of Justice (ICJ) case on genocide in Myanmar. In November 2019, The Gambia filed a case with the ICJ alleging that Myanmar military had violated the Genocide Convention for failing to prevent and protect the Rohingya from genocide. In January of this year, the ICJ granted provisional measures in the case against Myanmar.
To discuss the case, HRP gathered three experts: Philippe Sands QC, the Samuel LL.M. ’55 S.J.D. ’59 and Judith Pisar Visiting Professor of Law at Harvard Law School for the Spring 2020 term; M. Arsalan Suleman ’07, counsel in Foley Hoag’s International Litigation and Arbitration Practice; and Yee Htun, lecturer on law and clinical instructor in the International Human Rights Clinic.
The panel was moderated by HRP’s co-director and clinical professor Tyler Giannini. Sands and Suleman are part of the legal team representing The Gambia in the ICJ case; Htun has years of experience working on gender justice and law reform in Myanmar.
Suleman opened the discussion outlining the origins of case, including the critical role that the Minister of Justice of The Gambia played in initiating the application to the ICJ. Sands discussed the current status of the case as well as the implications of the ICJ’s ruling on provisional measures, commenting for example about the importance of the unanimous ruling and placing the case in the historical context of international jurisprudence. Htun provided insights about the reaction – both positive and negative – within communities from Myanmar. She discussed how the case has been of great importance to the Rohingya community as well as other ethnic nationalities in the country. Htun also highlighted how the ICJ case has brought unprecedented attention to the military in Myanmar.
Watch the full discussion below:
The event was co-sponsored by the Program on Law and Society in the Muslim World, the Harvard Human Rights Journal, the Armed Conflict and Civilian Protection Initiative, the Program on International Law and Armed Conflict, HLS Advocates for Human Rights, the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at HKS, and the Asia Center at Harvard University.
To learn more about the significance of this case, read Yee Htun’s piece, “International Court of Justice Orders Myanmar to Prevent Further Acts of Genocide” on the HRP blog.
January 23, 2020
Posted by Yee Htun
Today is a momentous day for many of us who have longed for justice in Myanmar. The International Court of Justice (“ICJ”) unanimously imposed provisional measures on Myanmar asking that it take “all measures within its power to prevent further acts of genocide against the Rohingya and preserve all evidence related to the allegations” of genocide.
The Gambia first brought the ICJ case against Myanmar in November 2019. They are seeking to prove that Myanmar is carrying out an ongoing genocide against the Rohingya. Both states addressed the ICJ in early December with regards to the provisional measures. As a result of today’s order, Myanmar is obligated to submit a report to the Court on all measures it has taken within four months and thereafter every six months, until a final decision on the case is rendered by the Court.
For the Myanmar military, which has operated for decades with impunity while persecuting ethnic and religious minorities, this degree of scrutiny is a first. Even though the road ahead for both this ICJ case and the International Criminal Court (“ICC”) case around deportation will be a long journey, today’s decision offers a glimmer of hope for the Rohingya.
I, along with three students in the International Human Rights Clinic—Disha Chaudhari LLM ‘20, Lucy Chen JD ’21, and Emily Ray JD ‘21 —spent this Winter Term in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, working alongside our Rohingya refugee partners. We conducted a series of workshops with women survivors, youth leaders, and activists in the camps, addressing the issues of international accountability, women’s rights, and best practices to ensure voluntary, safe, and dignified repatriation. In almost every meeting, we were asked repeatedly about the possibility of securing provisional measures. Our team always said that we should hope for the best, but not give up should the Court fail to grant the requested provisional measures.
These resilient women and men were on my mind as I waited for the ICJ’s decision this morning. For them, and countless other ethnic communities in Myanmar who have long languished under Myanmar military’s campaigns, today’s order is historic.
Read ICJ’s full order on their website.
Yee Htun is a Lecturer on Law and Clinical Instructor in the International Human Rights Clinic. She is a Burmese Canadian lawyer who has been working on human rights issues in Myanmar for over 20 years.
December 16, 2019
Kang spent summer 2019 at the International Rescue Committee
Summer fellowships for human rights internships are a central part of the Harvard Law School human rights experience. They provide rich professional, personal, and intellectual opportunities. During the summer of 2019, HRP funded five HLS students to intern abroad at nongovernmental organizations for up to eight weeks. At the conclusion of their internships, students returned to HRP with a deeper appreciation for the type of field work required of human rights practitioners. Over the course of the next few months while our summer fellowship application is open, we’ll be excerpting portions from their fellowship reports to provide a brief glimpse into the kinds of experiences open to human rights students at Harvard Law.
Ji Yoon Kang JD’20 worked at the Thai-Myanmar border for 12 weeks this summer in the Legal Assistance Center at the Mae Sot office. Interning for the International Rescue Committee (IRC), Kang wanted to work for an organization that provides direct legal services to vulnerable populations. In the process, he hoped to understand how access to justice and rule of law fit into the overall humanitarian response plan in protracted emergencies.
The border, right now, is just such an emergency. The IRC estimates that there are 114,000 displaced peoples living in Thailand from Myanmar after decades of violence, ethnic tensions, and political and economic upheaval.
At the IRC, Kang worked directly with refugees, in many cases conducting educational workshops in the camp and in the surrounding communities. In a non-exhaustive list of the tasks Kang took on last summer, he designed and led a training on durable solutions for camp-based assistants (refugees who volunteer in their community); designed a community consultation workshop to develop community protection strategies; monitored the camps’ alternative dispute resolution proceedings; designed “know your rights” trainings; among many other projects.
Kang describes his experiences with candor in his final report:Continue Reading…
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.
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…
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.
Learn more about the Clinic’s previous work on Myanmar here.
November 13, 2017
Today, Nov. 13: Screening of “Sittwe” Documentary about Conflict-Affected Teens in Myanmar’s Rakhine State
Monday, November 13, 2017
A documentary screening
12:00- 1:00 p.m.
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.
September 26, 2017
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.
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.
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