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June 11, 2021

Beyond the Coup in Myanmar: The Views of Rohingya Refugees in Bangladesh

Posted by Jessica Olney and Shabbir Ahmad

Editor’s Note: This article is part of a Just Security series on the Feb. 1, 2021 coup in Myanmar. The series brings together expert local and international voices on the coup and its broader context. The series is a collaboration between Just Security and the International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School. This article was first posted to Just Security on June 10, 2021).

This installment reflects conversations with Rohingya residents of refugee camps in Bangladesh about the coup in Myanmar. Camp residents’ views were collected by Shabbir Ahmad and other members of a team of Rohingya researchers during a recent community feedback collection project. The opinions expressed here are the views of the authors and camp residents, not those of any institution with which the authors are affiliated.


The Rohingya community of Myanmar has been isolated and persecuted for decades, leading to waves of mass displacement, isolation, and resistance. The situation of the Rohingya deteriorated further into crisis after the National League for Democracy (NLD) took power in 2015, starting with a 2016 crackdown and culminating in the massive 2017 violence that displaced over 700,000 people.

Refugees in Bangladesh believe the situation could worsen even further under the current junta, creating new risks for the Rohingya who remain in Myanmar and indefinitely delaying any prospect of a safe repatriation for those displaced. According to one camp resident: “The democratic government didn’t do well for us Rohingya. However, the current conditions will be even worse for us, and maybe for everyone in Myanmar.” According to another, “We Rohingya people don’t expect anything positive to come from the military coup. We know very well that the Myanmar Army is merciless and doesn’t feel afraid of committing injustice.” The greatest fear for many camp residents is that repatriation at a large scale will be impossible as long as Myanmar remains under the control of the Myanmar military, the Tatmadaw. In recent comments, junta leader Min Aung Hlaing affirmed these concerns, reiterating once again that the Tatmadaw does not recognize the identity of the Rohingya people or their right to return home. As long as the junta remains in place, there is little possibility of forging solutions to the outstanding political, legal, and justice questions surrounding the Rohingya crisis.

But there is another dimension of the coup in which an unanticipated, positive change has emerged: There has been a wave of social and political reconciliation between Rohingya and other Myanmar people. Though the situation remains formidable both for Rohingya in Myanmar and for those who seek to return from Bangladesh, certain social and political fault lines that have been present throughout Myanmar’s recent history seem to be shifting.

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May 17, 2021

Beyond the Coup in Myanmar: The ASEAN Way Must Change

Posted by Vanessa Chong and Tanyalak Thongyoojaroen

(Editor’s Note: This article is part of a Just Security series on the Feb. 1, 2021 coup in Myanmar. The series brings together expert local and international voices on the coup and its broader context. The series is a collaboration between Just Security and the International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School. This article was first published to Just Security on May 14, 2021). 

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has long failed to meet its aspirations of supporting the rule of law and human rights, instead emphasizing to a fault the principle of non-interference in the “internal affairs” of its members – even when these internal affairs entail mass atrocity crimes. Most recently, this ambivalence has manifested in a lack of concrete actions in response to the coup in Myanmar. This ineffectual reaction underscores what has long been clear: ASEAN must change its approach to the “internal affairs” of its members and recognize that regional stability depends on respect for democracy, human rights, and rule of law within each member.

ASEAN’s Response to the Myanmar Coup

When the Myanmar military attempted to seize all levers of power on Feb. 1 and detained State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, President Win Myint, and scores of others, the Deputy Prime Minister of Thailand, Prawit Wongsuwan, promptly dismissed news of the coup d’état. “It’s their internal affair,” he said. At the height of the junta’s attack on unarmed civilians, on March 27, three members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) – Thailand, Viet Nam, and Laos – sent representatives to a military parade in Naypyidaw, the capital of Myanmar, hosted by coup-leader Min Aung Hlaing. On the same day, strong evidence indicates that Min Aung Hlaing’s forces killed more than 100 women, men, and children in a matter of hours.

When ASEAN foreign ministers met in an “informal” meeting on March 2, the first involving the bloc since the power grab, the ministers failed to muster a collective condemnation of the coup, let alone address the systematic killings underway. On April 24, ASEAN held a special summit on Myanmar, inviting Min Aung Hlaing but not representatives of the elected civilian government he overthrew. Without input from such elected officials, the ASEAN leaders reaffirmed the bloc’s commitments “to the purposes and principles enshrined in the ASEAN Charter, including adherence to the rule of law, good governance, the principles of democracy and constitutional government, respect for fundamental freedoms, and the promotion and protection of human rights.” As he stepped out of the meeting, Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin celebrated the outcomes of the convening by hastily declaring “We have succeeded.” As the leaders met that day and spoke of rule of law, at least 3 people were killed in Myanmar.

The April 24 meeting resulted in ASEAN’s “Five Points of Consensus,” an agreement on five issues to facilitate a peaceful solution for Myanmar’s current crisis. However, there are clear warning signs that the group will fall short of its commitments. ASEAN not only failed again to condemn the coup or call on Min Aung Hlaing to immediately return power to the elected government, it failed to specifically condemn past attacks on civilians and once again evaded holding Min Aung Hlaing accountable for these attacks.

These clumsy, callous approaches are nothing new. They are sadly consistent with traditions of “the ASEAN way”  – a euphemism for a style of regional cooperation that puts national sovereignty first  and that emphasizes “non-interference” in the “internal affairs” of other states. But to ensure continued stability in the region, it is clear the old ASEAN way must change.

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January 29, 2021

Lockdown and Shutdown: New White Paper Exposes the Impacts of Recent Recent Network Disruptions in Myanmar and Bangladesh

A group of Rohingya refugees stand in a circle, some with mouths agape as they crowd around a photo watching something.
Rohingya refugees watching the reporting on the International Court of
Justice genocide case. Photo by Khin Maung (Kutupalong Camp)


The Cyberlaw Clinic and the International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School were proud to co-author a new white paper, Lockdown and Shutdown: Exposing the Impacts of Recent Network Disruptions in Myanmar and Bangladesh, in collaboration with Athan, the Kintha Peace and Development Initiative, and Rohingya Youth Association. The report exposes the impacts of internet shutdowns in Myanmar and Bangladesh, highlighting the voices of ethnic minority internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Myanmar and Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, who describe the shutdowns’ impacts in their own words. The co-authors joined to present a webinar to launch the report on January 19, 2021, which you can watch below or on the HRP YouTube channel.

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July 6, 2020

Amicus brief challenges public health asylum limits


Gerald L. Neuman, Co-Director of the Human Rights Program, joined immigration and refugee scholars during June in an amicus brief challenging the Trump Administration’s restriction of asylum procedures during the COVID-19 crisis. The brief supports plaintiffs’ emergency motion for a temporary restraining order to halt the removal of a child fleeing targeted violence in his home country of Honduras.

The Trump administration’s order relies on a broad interpretation of the Public Health Service Act, which allows the CDC to limit the “introduction” of individuals and goods to the U.S. In reality, the CDC order is a thinly-veiled attempt to further curb immigration, only applying to noncitizens (including unaccompanied children) who arrive at the southern and northern borders without documentation. Health experts have decried the order, citing the numerous exemptions as demonstrating that its purpose is to target a disfavored category rather than to protect public health.

“The administration is abusing the CDC to create a shadow deportation system that circumvents all legal limitations on deportation,” said Neuman.

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May 24, 2020

At Harvard, Niku Jafarnia J.D. / M.P.P. ’20 found a wealth of ways to advocate for refugees

Posted by Dana Walters

Niku Jafarnia sits on the steps of HLS
Credit: Kathleen Dooher

“I have always felt very strongly that I need to work against inequality and the forces that make it possible,” says Niku Jafarnia J.D./M.P.P. ’20. For her, draconian and difficult immigration systems that favor certain populations are key sources of the disparities she hopes to eliminate.

When President Donald Trump instituted the first of many travel bans that targeted Muslim-majority countries in 2017, Jafarnia was a first-year law student and she was furious. She had not yet entered the legal clinics that would become like a home to her at Harvard Law School. Still, she emailed Sabrineh Ardalan ’02 and Phil Torrey of the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic, asking how she could fight back.

“Had I not been in law school when this happened, I would have felt at a loss with what to do,” she says.

At the airport, she stood with Ardalan and Torrey holding a sign offering legal assistance and translation services in Persian. No one took her up on the offer, but the moment stands out to her from the last four years of graduate school. From the energetic and welcoming response of HLS’s clinical faculty to finding a way to act, she had found a community and a path towards countering what she sees as oppression.

Jafarnia believes that she has been lucky. A constellation of factors, such as being born in the U.S., has provided her with a great amount of opportunity, she said. She is constantly tuned in to how she can use her privilege to dismantle the inequitable structures that cause harm to others. When her parents emigrated from Iran in 1977 to pursue graduate education, they did not necessarily expect to stay, she said, but the combination of the Iranian Revolution and the Iran-Iraq War kept them in the U.S. Throughout law school, she has focused on issues related to migration, driven by a deep connection to people whose stories feel so familiar.

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February 27, 2019

HRP Winter Term Fellow Niku Jafarnia JD/MPP’20 Reflects on Independent Clinical on OCP Blog


In Germany, Jafarnia met Isabel Schayani (left), a former Harvard John F. Kennedy Memorial Fellow who started a program within WDR (a German public-broadcasting news station) that provides refugees with critical programming and information about their legal rights in Farsi and Arabic.

A joint degree candidate at Harvard Law School and Harvard Kennedy School of Government, Niku Jafarnia JD/MPP’20 spent Winter Term 2019 in Germany conducting research on refugee rights as a Human Rights Program Winter Fellow. Having worked in the refugee legal advocacy space for years, Jafarnia wished to address the “lack of initiatives that include and train members of the refugee community to work as legal advocates for themselves.”

She spent multiple semesters in the International Human Rights Clinic and the Immigration and Refugee Clinic, in addition to interning at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Turkey in Summer 2017 as a Human Rights Program Summer Fellow, but in the last year, Jafarnia has been “explor[ing] the viability of an organization that would allow refugees to play a greater role in legal processes relevant to the refugee community.”

In a recent post for the OCP blog, she expands on what she found while examining comparative refugee programs:

“During my research, I was particularly struck by the divergences between the German and U.S. asylum and refugee systems. Though the German system has significant room for improvement—particularly as their efforts to deport and exclude refugees have increased—there was a certain humanity that I recognized in the system of services and in the government-provided provisions, educational opportunities, and shelters provided to refugees. This image presented a stark contrast with the U.S.’s increasingly militarized southern border and systematic imprisonment of migrants. Hopefully, countries will look to Germany’s inclusionary policies as an example, rather than replicating the U.S.’s administration’s efforts to demonize and dehumanize those who have come to the U.S. seeking refuge.”

Read more about Jafarnia’s experiences on the OCP blog.

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November 9, 2016

Joint report on Syrian refugees and documentation of legal status, identity, and family relationships in Jordan

Posted by Anna Crowe, Clinical Instructor

Anna Crowe, at right, presenting at the report launch in Jordan.
Anna Crowe, at right, presenting at the report launch in Jordan.

Today in Amman, Jordan, the International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School and the Norwegian Refugee Council Jordan launched Securing Status: Syrian refugees and the documentation of legal status, identity, and family relationships in Jordan, a 45-page report that details the challenges Syrian refugees living outside refugee camps encounter obtaining official documents from the Government of Jordan that allow them to access services, such as healthcare, as well as humanitarian assistance.

Nearly 80 per cent of the 655,000 Syrian refugees registered with United Nations’ refugee agency in Jordan live outside refugee camps, in Jordanian cities, towns, and rural areas. The report outlines official processes for refugees to obtain documentation, the challenges refugees encounter, and the consequences faced by those who lack documentation.

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November 5, 2015

Syrian Refugees and the Documentation of Births, Marriages and Deaths in Jordan


Yesterday, Anna Crowe, clinical advocacy fellow, and Danae Paterson, JD ’16, took part in a roundtable discussion in Amman, Jordan, on civil documentation – in this context, birth, marriage, and death registration – for Syrian refugees in Jordan.

A recent International Human Rights Clinic report, “Registering Rights,” examines the processes, challenges, and significance of civil documentation for Syrian refugees living outside camps in Jordan. Civil documentation plays a crucial role in securing legal identity within a society, helping to prevent statelessness, and protecting a range of human rights.

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October 27, 2015

TONIGHT: “Refugees and Crisis in Europe and the Americas”


October 27, 2015


“Refugees and Crisis in Europe and the Americas”


5:30- 7:00 p.m.
Milstein East A

As refugee flows out of the Middle East, Africa and Central America grab our attention, this panel explores the legal and normative frameworks that apply to refugees and their reception, and the inadequate government responses to the current crises. Panelists: Prof. Deborah Anker, Clinical Professor of Law and Director of the Harvard Law School Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program; Prof. Dr. Iris Goldner Lang, Fulbright Scholar and Visiting Professor at Harvard Law School; Prof. Gerald Neuman, the J. Sinclair Armstrong Professor of International, Foreign, and Comparative Law Co-Director, Human Rights Program at Harvard Law School.

Sponsored by the Human Rights Program and the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic

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June 27, 2012

Human Rights and Climate Change: An Opinion Piece

Posted by Cara Solomon

At the request of the Yale Journal of International Law, Bonnie Docherty and Tyler Giannini wrote an opinion piece, “Human Rights and Climate Change Adaptation at the International Level”, which appeared yesterday as part of an online symposium. It responded to the new article “Avoiding Apartheid: Climate Change Adaptation and Human Rights Law,” written by Margaux Weiss (HLS ’08 and HRP graduate) and David Weiss. Here is an excerpt of Bonnie and Tyler’s piece:

“The issue of climate change refugees provides an excellent case study of how a human rights framework could work at the international level. Experts predict that climate change will lead to the migration of tens, and maybe hundreds, of millions of people, many of whom will cross national borders. [Hall and Weiss] note that recognition of climate change refugees is an example of “how human rights could begin to play a concrete role in climate negotiations,” but they do not explore the topic in depth. In “Confronting a Rising Tide: A Proposal for a Convention on Climate Change Refugees,” we lay out the components and negotiation process for a proposed instrument on climate change refugees. We also note that an integrated approach that blends efforts to mitigate and adapt is needed. The proposal draws on human rights for essential protections, assignment of state responsibility, and procedural elements.”

Bonnie and Tyler published “Confronting a Rising Tide” in the Harvard Environmental Law Review in 2009. They have both regularly supervised clinical projects on the intersection of human rights and the environment and co-teach a seminar on the topic.

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