Inter Press ServiceGender Violence – Inter Press Service http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Sat, 20 Jan 2018 12:48:50 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8.5 Chance for Kenya to Make Amends for Post-Election Sexual Violencehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/chance-kenya-make-amends-post-election-sexual-violence/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=chance-kenya-make-amends-post-election-sexual-violence http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/chance-kenya-make-amends-post-election-sexual-violence/#respond Wed, 17 Jan 2018 10:24:16 +0000 AgnesOdhiambo http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153889 Agnes Odhiambo is a senior women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch, based in Nairobi.

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Chance for Kenya to Make Amends for Post-Election Sexual Violence - Frida Njeri (not her real name), 27, was raped by a man she said wore “combat trousers” in the presence of her 12-year-old son. Like many women Human Rights Watch interviewed, she did not report the sexual assault to the police because she did not know the attackers and feared retaliation. Credit: Bonnie Katei for Human Rights Watch

Frida Njeri (not her real name), 27, was raped by a man she said wore “combat trousers” in the presence of her 12-year-old son. Like many women Human Rights Watch interviewed, she did not report the sexual assault to the police because she did not know the attackers and feared retaliation. Credit: Bonnie Katei for Human Rights Watch

By Agnes Odhiambo
NAIROBI, Jan 17 2018 (IPS)

I had already heard many disturbing stories of violence by the time I interviewed Mercy Maina, whose name I have changed to protect her privacy.  Even so, what Mercy told me was truly disturbing. She said she was raped during the post-election violence in August alongside her sister by two men wearing uniforms and helmets, and carrying guns and walkie-talkies.

But, Mercy told me, this was not the first time she had been a victim of post-election sexual violence. She was also raped by two police officers during the 2007-2008 post-election violence, that time with a friend who later committed suicide. Mercy became pregnant from that rape and has a 9-year-old daughter. She said she still suffers from stomach ulcers as a result of the stress of that rape.

Mercy is one of 71 women, girls, and men I interviewed about rape and other sexual violence during Kenya’s 2017 elections. They described brutal cases of vaginal and anal rape, gang rapes involving two or more attackers, mass rape of a group of women, attempted rape, rape with an object, putting dirt into a woman’s private parts, unwanted sexual touching, forced nudity, and beatings on genitals.

Some women were raped in the presence of family members, including children. In at least one case, a girl died after being raped. Most of the attackers, survivors and witnesses told me, were policemen or men in uniform, many of whom  carried guns, batons, teargas canisters, and whips, or wore helmets and other anti-riot gear, and by militia groups.

 

Chance for Kenya to Make Amends for Post-Election Sexual Violence

Credit: Bonnie Katei for Human Rights Watch

 

Many said they experienced profound mental trauma and anguish, they felt hopeless, fearful and anxious, had nightmares about the assault, or suicidal thoughts. Mercy, like many survivors, did not get immediate or comprehensive post-rape medical care or any mental health services. She and her sister didn’t go to a medical facility until two weeks after the rapes because they were afraid to go out in case their attackers came back and because they did not want to tell health workers what had happened. “You cannot trust people,” she told me.

Mercy never reported the sexual assault to the authorities. The reason she gave me captures the lack of trust in the police expressed by many survivors: “I did not go to the police because even in 2007 we were abused by the police and we were told by police you cannot report the government to the government.”

Some of the women we interviewed did try to report sexual violence, but the police sometimes sent them away without taking statements, ridiculed or verbally abused them, or failed to follow up on complaints. Such unprofessional police response also undermines survivors’ ability to seek help from health facilities, and weakens justice efforts.

Some of the women we interviewed did try to report sexual violence, but the police sometimes sent them away without taking statements, ridiculed or verbally abused them, or failed to follow up on complaints. Such unprofessional police response also undermines survivors’ ability to seek help from health facilities, and weakens justice efforts.

Members of the Kenyan police and security forces have a long history of committing abuses, including sexual violence, during election periods, but the authorities have largely ignored election-related sexual crimes and the victims’ suffering. Thousands of women and girls are estimated to have been raped during the 2007-2008 political violence, including by state security agents.

Based on our extensive research, the authorities rarely  provided any medical treatment or post-rape counselling, or offered victims any financial support. Almost a decade later, very few cases have been properly investigated or attackers held accountable.

The Kenyan government continues to underestimate and has even denied the abuses committed during the 2017 elections. In December, President Uhuru Kenyatta congratulated the police, for “being professional” and “firm” during the election period, a move that shocked many Kenyans and was quickly criticized by civil society groups and others.

The Kenyan government and other state authorities have an obligation to protect women and girls, men and boys against sexual violence, to punish offenders, and provide reparations to victims. All sexual assault victims should get timely, quality, and confidential post-rape treatment, including psychosocial, or mental health, care for themselves and their families, and communities need to know where victims can get post-rape care, including free treatment.

It is critical for the government to also ensure that credible criminal investigations are conducted into all allegations of election-related sexual violence. It should consider establishing an independent judicial commission of inquiry to examine any unlawful activities of the police, including allegations of sexual violence, with a view to ending impunity and ensuring accountability.

The Inspector General of Police has committed to put in place a taskforce to investigate the involvement of its officers or other men in uniform in sexual violence during the 2017 elections period. If the  task force is to be successful, it will need clear terms of reference and bring together officials from relevant government bodies, health care providers, representatives of women’s and children’s groups and other civil society organizations and experts working on sexual violence.

It should set clear goals of the investigations, ways of reaching out to all victims, effective measures to secure accountability for these crimes, and mechanisms for the protection, treatment, and care of victims.

Sexual violence survivors should not be left suffering and ashamed. It is the Kenyan authorities who should be ashamed at failing to meet their needs or to prosecute their attackers.

 

 

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Fate of the Rohingyas – Part Twohttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/fate-rohingyas-part-two/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=fate-rohingyas-part-two http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/fate-rohingyas-part-two/#respond Tue, 16 Jan 2018 00:01:45 +0000 Naimul Haq http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153883 With discussions underway between Bangladesh and Myanmar about the repatriation of more than a half a million Rohingya refugees, many critical questions remain, including how many people would be allowed back, who would monitor their safety, and whether the refugees even want to return to violence-scorched Rakhine state. A Joint Working Group (JWG) consisting of […]

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Rohingya refugees carry blankets at a camp in Bangladesh. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

Rohingya refugees carry blankets at a camp in Bangladesh. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

By Naimul Haq
DHAKA, Bangladesh, Jan 16 2018 (IPS)

With discussions underway between Bangladesh and Myanmar about the repatriation of more than a half a million Rohingya refugees, many critical questions remain, including how many people would be allowed back, who would monitor their safety, and whether the refugees even want to return to violence-scorched Rakhine state.

A Joint Working Group (JWG) consisting of government representatives from Myanmar and Bangladesh was formed on Dec. 19 and tasked with developing a specific instrument on the physical arrangement for the repatriation of returnees."Three elements of safety – physical, legal and material – must be met to ensure that return is voluntary and sustainable." --Caroline Gluck of UNHCR

A high-ranking Bangladeshi foreign ministry official who requested anonymity told IPS, “The Myanmar government has been repeatedly requested to allow access to press and international organisations so they can see the situation on the ground. Unless the world is convinced on the security issues, how can we expect that the traumatized people would volunteer to settle back in their homes where they suffered being beaten, tortured and shot at?”

He says, “The crimes committed by the Myanmar regime are unpardonable and they continue to be disrespectful to the global community demanding access for investigation of alleged genocide by the regime and the dominant Buddhist community.

“The parties who signed the deal need to consider meaningful and effective and peaceful refugee protection. In Myanmar, as a result of widespread human rights abuses, hundreds of thousands of people have fled the country and are living as refugees in camps or settlements also in Thailand and India. The same approach of reconciliation and effective intervention by the international community must be in place.”

A human right activist pointed out that the very people who are to return to Myanmar have no say in the agreement. Their voices are not reflected in the agreement which does not clearly outline how and when would the Rohingyas return home.

Asked about the future of the Rohingyas, Fiona Macgregor, International Organisation for Migration (IOM) spokesperson in Cox’s Bazar, told IPS, “Formal talks on repatriation have been held bilaterally between the governments of Bangladesh and Myanmar and IOM has not been involved in these.”

“According to IOM principles it is crucial that any such return must be voluntary, safe, sustainable and dignified. At present Rohingya people are still arriving from Myanmar every day who are in desperate need of humanitarian assistance. IOM continues to focus efforts on supporting the needs of these new arrivals, as well as those who have arrived since August 25, those who were living here prior to August and the local host community in Cox’s Bazar.”

Recently, top brass in the Myanmar regime said that it was “impossible to accept the number of persons proposed by Bangladesh” for return to Myanmar.

The deal outlines that Myanmar identify the refugees as “displaced residents.” Repatriation will require Myanmar-issued proof of residency, and Myanmar can refuse to repatriate anyone. Those who return would be settled in temporary locations and their movements will be restricted. In addition, only Rohingyas who fled to Bangladesh after October 2016 will be repatriated.

According to official sources, a meeting of the Joint Working Group supervising the repatriation will be held on January 15 in Myanmar’s capital to determine the field arrangement and logistics for repatriation with a fixed date to start repatriation.

As of January 7, a total of 655,500 Rohingya refugees had arrived in Cox’s Bazar after a spurt of violence against the minority Muslim Rohingya people beginning in August 2016, which left thousands dead, missing and wounded.

Caroline Gluck, Senior Public Information Officer at UNHCR Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, told IPS that the agency is currently appealing for 83.7 million dollars until the end of February 2018 to fund humanitarian operations.

In March, the UN and its partners will launch a Joint Response Plan, setting out funding needs to assist Rohingya refugees and host communities for the 10-month period to the end of the year.

Regarding the repatriation process, Gluck said, “Many refugees who fled to Bangladesh have suffered severe violence and trauma. Some have lost their loved ones and their homes have been destroyed. Any decision to return to Myanmar must be based on an informed and voluntary choice. Three elements of safety – physical, legal and material – must be met to ensure that return is voluntary and sustainable.

“While UNHCR was not party to the bilateral arrangement between Myanmar and Bangladesh, we are ready to engage with the Joint Working Group and play a constructive role in implementing the modalities of the arrangement in line with international standards.”

She added that UNHCR is ready to provide technical support to both governments, including registering the refugees in Bangladesh and to help determine the voluntary nature of their decision to return.

“As the UN Secretary-General has noted, restoring peace and stability, ensuring full humanitarian access and addressing the root causes of displacement are important pre-conditions to ensuring that returns are aligned with international standards.

“Equally important is the need to ensure that the refugees receive accurate information on the situation in areas of potential return, to achieve progress on documentation, and to ensure freedom of movement. It is critical that the returns are not rushed or premature, without the informed consent of refugees or the basic elements of lasting solutions in place.”

Gluck noted that while the numbers of refugees have significantly decreased, their needs remain urgent – for food, water, shelter and health care, as well as protection services and psychosocial help.

“The areas where the refugees are staying are extremely densely populated.  There is the risk of infectious disease outbreaks and fire hazards,” she said. “And, with the rainy season and monsoon rains approaching, we are very concerned at how this population, living in precarious circumstances, will be affected. UNHCR it working with partners to prepare for and minimize these risks.”

She said UNHCR has already provided upgraded shelter kits for 30,000 families; and will expand distributions for around 50,000 more this year. The kits include bamboo pieces and plastic tarpaulin, which will allow families to build stronger sturdier, waterproof shelters, better able to withstand heavy rains and winds.

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Pardon of Former Peruvian President Fujimori Deals Blow to Fight Against Gender Violencehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/pardon-former-peruvian-president-fujimori-deals-blow-fight-gender-violence/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pardon-former-peruvian-president-fujimori-deals-blow-fight-gender-violence http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/pardon-former-peruvian-president-fujimori-deals-blow-fight-gender-violence/#respond Mon, 15 Jan 2018 19:15:25 +0000 Mariela Jara http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153871 The political crisis triggered in Peru by the presidential pardon of former president Alberto Fujimori granted on Christmas Eve casts a shadow of doubt over what actions will be taken to curb violence against women in this country, where 116 femicides were registered in 2017, and which ranks eighth with respect to gender-related murders in […]

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Peru ended 2017 with 116 victims of femicide and 223 women who survived this gender-based crime. Credit: Courtesy of Julia Vicuña

Peru ended 2017 with 116 victims of femicide and 223 women who survived this gender-based crime. Credit: Courtesy of Julia Vicuña

By Mariela Jara
LIMA, Jan 15 2018 (IPS)

The political crisis triggered in Peru by the presidential pardon of former president Alberto Fujimori granted on Christmas Eve casts a shadow of doubt over what actions will be taken to curb violence against women in this country, where 116 femicides were registered in 2017, and which ranks eighth with respect to gender-related murders in Latin America and the Caribbean.

“The pardon devalues the actions that the government may undertake to achieve a life without violence, because it has released one of the worst violators of the human rights of women,” said Liz Meléndez, director of the non-governmental Flora Tristán Women’s Centre.

Meléndez pointed out that in the 1990s, Fujimori was responsible for a public policy that forcibly sterilised more than 200,000 Andean indigenous peasant women, a crime for which he will not be investigated or penalised since he was granted a presidential pardon.

“This impunity is outrageous,” she said, since due to problems of access to justice, poverty and discrimination, it was only possible to put together a file of 2,074 cases.

The distrust towards the government’s actions was accentuated by the official designation of 2018 as the year of Dialogue and Reconciliation, a phrase coined by current President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski to justify the pardon granted to the ex-convict, sentenced for corruption and human rights violations.

It rankled even more given that Decade of Equal Opportunities for Women and Men is beginning.

“The declaration of the Decade warns us that the gender focus will continue to be undermined, as happened throughout 2017, by the pressure of conservative groups, whose representatives are likely to be part of the next new cabinet; and we are worried that there may be setbacks in the fight against violence against women, despite the advances in legislation and regulations,” said Meléndez.

Peru is in fact, according to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and UN Women, one of the countries in the region with laws, plans and public policies against gender violence, specific legislation against femicide (gender-related murders), and new laws such as the elimination of prison benefits for those sentenced for rape, passed in 2017.

However, crime rates remain high.

Conference given by women’s collectives in Peru on Nov. 25, 2017 in the Flora Tristán Centre to announce the march for the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. The centre’s director Liz Meléndez is holding the microphone. Credit: Mariela Jara / IPS

Conference given by women’s collectives in Peru on Nov. 25, 2017 in the Flora Tristán Centre to announce the march for the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. The centre’s director Liz Meléndez is holding the microphone. Credit: Mariela Jara / IPS

According to statistics from the Ministry of Women and Vulnerable Populations (MIMP), between 2009 and 2017, there were 2,275 cases of gender-based violence: 991 femicides and 1,275 attempts. In this country there is an average of 10 murders of women for gender reasons per month.

The MIMP reported that last year ended with 116 victims of femicide and 223 women survivors of this kind of crime. The majority of cases, 79 percent, occurred in urban areas.

In almost 80 percent of the cases, the aggressors were men with an intimate relationship with the victims, 90.4 percent of whom were adult women.

This places Peru in eighth place in terms of femicide in the region, according to the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), and in fourth place compared to the countries in the Southern Cone of South America.

In Peru, seven out of 10 women suffer physical, psychological or sexual abuse on a routine basis by their partners, according to the Demographic and Family Health Survey (ENDES 2016), despite the current legal and regulatory framework.

Precisely to call attention to the need to act more effectively in the face of this scourge, the Ombudsman’s Office, an autonomous government body, carried out a campaign in November and December to declare 2018 as the “Year of equality and non-violence against women.”

The proposal received broad support, the commissioner at the Office of the Deputy Ombudsman for Women’s Rights of that public body, Patricia Sarmiento, had told IPS before the government declared the Decade of Equal Opportunities for Women and Men.

Commissioner at the Office of the Deputy Ombudsman for Women’s Rights of the Peruvian Ombudsman's Office, Patricia Sarmiento. Credit: Mariela Jara / IPS

Commissioner at the Office of the Deputy Ombudsman for Women’s Rights of the Peruvian Ombudsman’s Office, Patricia Sarmiento. Credit: Mariela Jara / IPS

Sarmiento said her institution has contributed to preventing, punishing and eradicating violence against women and other members of the family carried out in the public or private sphere, under Law 30,364.

She was referring to the training of judges and police to eradicate the mistaken belief that they can apply a reconciliation mechanism in cases of violence against women committed by an intimate partner. “That is unacceptable,” she said.

“Unfortunately, this idea reaches the victims, so some believe that when they are insulted or pushed it is not an act of violence and can be subject to reconciliation, and that is what leads us to continue perpetuating this situation in the country,” Sarmiento added.

Another recommendation is to grant a budget allocation to the police for it to provide adequate protection measures for the victims. “The institution lacks sufficient logistics, staff and equipment, such as for example a georeferenced map to monitor the cases,” she said.

A 2015 report by the ombudsman’s office, based on the analysis of court records of cases of gender-based violence, reveals that in 30 percent of femicides, the victims had brought complaints against their aggressors for domestic violence.

“One of the cases was of a woman who had filed complaints four times and did not receive protection. That cannot keep happening,” said Sarmiento.

In February 2017, a similar case occurred in the central highlands region of Ayacucho, where lawyer Evelyn Corahua was murdered after reporting an attempted femicide, and requested protection measures.

“A sufficient budget is needed for proper enforcement of the law and for the implementation of policies to eradicate gender violence. Otherwise the law will only be dead letter,” Sarmiento warned.

Civil society organisations such as the Flora Tristán Centre are worried about the degree of political will that the new cabinet, named after Fujimori was granted his pardon, will have.

Melendez, the director of the organisation, said that in the face of the cruelty shown in cases of gender violence in 2017, the main challenge for this year must be to strengthen prevention.

“That would entail ensuring comprehensive sex education with a gender focus in the classroom, something that unfortunately with this government remains in question,” she said. “It is clear that the current crisis will impact the management of public policies and will affect the fight against violence against women.”

This view is shared by human rights activists and feminists through the social networks, as is the case of lawyer Patricia Carrillo, who participated in the marches against Fujimori’s pardon and in those promoted by women’s organisations for the right to live without violence. “They want to silence us but they will not succeed,” Carrillo said, in dialogue with IPS.

“Declaring the decade in this way, without taking into consideration what was proposed by the ombudsman’s office, undermines our demand for equality and non-discrimination based on gender,” she lamented. “We do not want equal opportunities in the same conditions of oppression as men, our space of struggle will continue on the streets,” she said.

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Thousands Still Dying at Sea En Route to Europehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/thousands-still-dying-sea-en-route-europe/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=thousands-still-dying-sea-en-route-europe http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/thousands-still-dying-sea-en-route-europe/#respond Mon, 15 Jan 2018 07:39:23 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153861 Amid concerns that 160 people may have drowned while attempting to cross the Mediterranean this week alone, the UN refugee agency have urged countries to offer more resettlement places. Though the influx of refugees and migrants has slowed, many are still embarking on dangerous journeys to Europe. “[We] have been advocating for a comprehensive approach […]

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Somali refugees on the Tunisian desert. Credit: IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 15 2018 (IPS)

Amid concerns that 160 people may have drowned while attempting to cross the Mediterranean this week alone, the UN refugee agency have urged countries to offer more resettlement places.

Though the influx of refugees and migrants has slowed, many are still embarking on dangerous journeys to Europe.

“[We] have been advocating for a comprehensive approach to address movements of migrants and refugees who embark on perilous journeys across the Sahara Desert and the Mediterranean,” said spokesperson for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) William Spindler.

On Monday, the Italian coastguard picked up 60 survivors and recovered eight corpses. Up to 50, including 15 women and 6 children, are feared to have drowned.

Most recently on Wednesday, an inflatable boat carrying 100 refugees sank off the coast of Libya. Libya is among the major countries of departure for refugees.

Approximately 227,000 refugees are estimated to be in need of resettlement in 15 priority countries of asylum and transit along the Central Mediterranean route.

Despite appealing for just 40,000 resettlement places last year, UNHCR has thus far received 13,000 offers of resettlement places.

“Most of these are part of regular established global resettlement programmes and only a few represent additional places,” Spindler said.

After stories of migrants being sold at an auction and being held in horrific conditions in detention centers were revealed, both UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) have helped evacuate hundreds of vulnerable refugees from Libya to Niger.

However, the European Union has continued its policy of assisting the Libyan Coast Guard to intercept and return migrants in the Mediterranean.

“The suffering of migrants detained in Libya is an outrage to the conscience of humanity…what was an already dire situation has now turned catastrophic,” said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, adding that the EU’s policy is “inhuman.”

“We cannot be a silent witness to modern day slavery, rape and other sexual violence, and unlawful killings in the name of managing migration and preventing desperate and traumatized people from reaching Europe’s shores,” he continued, calling for the decriminalization of irregular migration in order to help protect migrants’ human rights.

Human rights officials have also criticized the EU-Turkey deal which returns migrants who have entered the Greek islands to Turkey. Many have found that asylum seekers are also not safe in Turkey as the country does not grant asylum or refugee status to non-Europeans.

UNHCR called for efforts to strengthen protection capacity and livelihood support in countries of first asylum, provide more regular and safe ways for refugees to find safety through resettlement or family reunification, and address the root causes of refugee displacement.

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Fate of the Rohingyas – Part Onehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/fate-rohingyas-part-one/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=fate-rohingyas-part-one http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/fate-rohingyas-part-one/#respond Sun, 14 Jan 2018 12:11:41 +0000 Naimul Haq http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153857 The repatriation of Rohingya refugees driven from their villages through violence and terror appears uncertain, with critics saying the agreement legalising the process of their return is both controversial and impractical. Shireen Huq, a leading women’s rights activist and founder of Naripokkho, one of the oldest women’s rights organisations here, told IPS, “In my view […]

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Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh wait in limbo. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh wait in limbo. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

By Naimul Haq
DHAKA, Bangladesh, Jan 14 2018 (IPS)

The repatriation of Rohingya refugees driven from their villages through violence and terror appears uncertain, with critics saying the agreement legalising the process of their return is both controversial and impractical.

Shireen Huq, a leading women’s rights activist and founder of Naripokkho, one of the oldest women’s rights organisations here, told IPS, “In my view Bangladesh should not have rushed into the bilateral ‘arrangement’ and especially without the involvement of the United Nations or consulting the refugees themselves."It is the same old story. They would move from a camp in Bangladesh to a camp in Myanmar." --Shireen Huq

“Bangladesh should have engaged in a diplomatic tsunami to gain the support of its neighbours and in particular to win the support of China and Russia. The international community has to step up its pressure on Myanmar to stop the killings, the persecution and the discrimination.”

The uncertainty deepened with Myanmar regime still refusing to recognize the refugees as their citizens, throwing the possibility of any peaceful return into doubt.

UNHCR estimates there have been 655,000 new arrivals in Bangladesh since Aug. 25, 2017, bringing the total number of refugees to 954,500.

Bangladesh and Myanmar signed a memorandum of understanding on Nov. 23, 2017 on the repatriation of Rohingya people who fled their ancestral home in Rakhine state in the wake of military assaults on their villages.

But Huq notes that a similar 1993 bilateral agreement to repatriate Rohingya refugees who had fled to Bangladesh was not very successful as the voluntary repatriation was opposed by the majority of the refugees.

She describes Bangladesh government’s generosity and the subsequent responsibilities as a ‘job well done’ but she fell short of praising the deal, saying, “This is going to be a repeat of the 1993 agreement where involving only bilateral efforts clearly showed that it does not work.”

“They [Rohingyas] are going to be here for a long time,” Huq predicted. “If we understand correctly, the Rohingyas will not be allowed to return to their previous abode, their own villages, but moved to new settlements. In that case, it is the same old story. They would move from a camp in Bangladesh to a camp in Myanmar. It will be another humanitarian disaster.”

She continued, “If this arrangement is implemented as it is, it will be like another ‘push back’ of the refugees by Bangladesh, unless the international community oversees the repatriation and can guarantee their safe and peaceful settlement and rehabilitation.”

While the deal has been welcomed by the international community, including the US, the European Union and the United Nations, others urged the government to involve a third party to ensure a sustainable solution to the crisis.

They say that Bangladesh has little experience in managing an international repatriation process and unless it fulfills the international repatriation and rehabilitation principles, the agreed terms may not be strong enough to create a lasting solution.

Muhammad Zamir, a veteran diplomat, told IPS that the world should not leave Bangladesh to shoulder the complex problem alone.

“It is unfair to burden Bangladesh with such a huge task that requires multiple factors to be considered before initiating the process of repatriation. The foremost issue is ensuring security or protection of the refuges once they return.”

Zamir, who just returned from a visit to the Rohingya camps in Cox’s Bazar, says, “The situation in the camps is already a humanitarian disaster and it is getting worse by the day. These people [Rohingya] are already traumatized and confused. They have suffered enough with the ordeals they have gone through. There is no guarantee that with the nightmares still fresh in their minds they would want to return so early unless there are strong and serious efforts to guarantee their protection in the long run.”

A Joint Working Group (JWG) consisting of government representatives from Myanmar and Bangladesh was formed on Dec. 19 and tasked with developing a specific instrument on the physical arrangement for the repatriation of returnees. The first meeting of the JWG is due to take place on Jan. 15, 2018.

Former army general M Sakhawat Husain, a noted columnist and national security and political analyst, told IPS, “The Rohyngas’ legitimate and minimum demand to be recognised as citizens of their native land is completely ignored in the agreement. In the face of continuous persecution still going on, as widely reported, how can voluntary repatriation take place?”

“The most damaging clause seems to be agreeing on the terms of Myanmar that is scrutiny of papers or authenticity of their being residence of Rakhaine,” he added.

“Most of these people fled under sub-humane and grotesque torture. It would be difficult for Bangladesh to send them back voluntarily. The report suggests that unless a guarantee of security and minimum demand of citizenship not given these people may not go back.”

Former ambassador Muhammad Shafiullah said, “It is quite uncertain to execute such a huge repatriation process without involving the UN system although Myanmar has outright rejected involving the UN. In such a situation how can we expect a smooth repatriation process?”

Shafiullah expressed deep concern about the inadequate financial support for humanitarian aid to the Rohingya camps.

“The UN system so far could garner funds for six month. Another pledging meeting is expected before the fund is exhausted. Bangladesh cannot support such an overwhelming burden alone for a long time. Precisely for this reason Bangladesh signed the agreement for repatriation although the terms were not favorable to her.”

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Women Displaced by Brutal Violence in the DR Congo Tell Their Harrowing Storieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/women-displaced-brutal-violence-dr-congo-tell-harrowing-stories/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=women-displaced-brutal-violence-dr-congo-tell-harrowing-stories http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/women-displaced-brutal-violence-dr-congo-tell-harrowing-stories/#respond Thu, 11 Jan 2018 18:42:17 +0000 Helen Vesperini http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153833 Five Women, Five Stories

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By Helen Vesperini
Jan 11 2018 (IOM)

Women have borne and continue to bear a disproportionate amount of the suffering caused by two decades of conflict in North Kivu in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

Women, separated from their husbands by the conflict, end up being the sole breadwinners for their families, while also carrying out other necessary tasks, such as, fetching water and firewood, preparing food and raising children.

Many militia fighters prefer soft civilian targets to other armed men. In order to reach safety, women are forced to cover long distances on foot-many whilst pregnant or nursing a baby.

Women and girls are far more likely to suffer sexual violence although there are also cases of male victims. Sexual violence in the region often takes extreme forms and frequently damages both the reproductive organs and the excretory system, leading to urinary and/or faecal incontinence. It is often perpetrated by armed men and many rapes involve numerous assailants with the victims sometimes dying from their injuries. Since some rapist believe that raping an old woman absorbs her wisdom or that the man who rapes a baby purifies himself or rids himself of disease,the victims can range in age from a few months to 80 years old.

In the DRC, if a man knows his wife or partner has been raped he will normally reject her. Her own family will often also reject her. This means that even when treatment is available many rape victims hesitate to access it for fear of becoming social outcasts.

Here are the stories of five women displaced by a flare up of fighting between Mai-Mai Mazembe and Nyatura, rival militias from two different ethnic groups.

*Names have been changed to protect identity

Catherine*

“It was in April. Four of them showed up at the house — men I had never seen before, armed with machetes. It was when I was pregnant,” she recounted in a whisper.

“Two of them raped me in front of my children. But they didn’t touch the children. My husband wasn’t around. I don’t know what has become of him,” she went on, huddled under a blue cotton shawl.

“I was able to deliver a healthy baby,” Catherine added. In a region where rapes often involve penetration with a fire arm or a sharpened stick, giving rise to serious health problems and seriously endangering any pregnancy already underway, Catherine realizes she was lucky.

“After that we ran away – me and my two children and my neighbour and her six children. We walked for three days before reaching the main road and there we were lucky – there was a UN force convoy going by and they brought us all here. I was wandering the streets as I didn’t know where to go with the children when this lady said we could stay with her. She’s been very good to us,” she continued, her sunken cheeks drenched in sweat. She has been confined to bed for a month with malaria and has lost about half her body weight, lacking the money to go and get treatment.

“If I find my husband I won’t tell him about the rape and the children are too small to tell him.”

Mariya*

“I’m 14… They found me in tears and half naked and they carried me here.”

Mariya, a 14-year-old orphan, recounted how she was in the fields with a neighbour and another girl of her own age, when she was attacked.

“When we saw them coming we started to run. The other two managed to get away but I tripped and they caught me.”

“There were three of them and two raped me,” she recounted in a matter-of-fact tone.

“Then four men came past and they found me on the ground half naked and crying,” and they carried me here.” She said that she had received appropriate medical care on her arrival. To her frustration though, she has not been able to go back to school as she does not have the few dollars that that would cost.

She feels an overwhelming sense of relief that only two other women and a doctor know that she was raped.

She insists that her rapists were just common criminals rather than members of an armed group but in the region distinguishing between the two can be difficult.

Léonie Shukuru

“I have only the clothes you see me wearing.”

Léonie Shukuru, a 30-year-old mother of five, like many Congolese women, can neither read nor write. “I can count though,” she said, before breaking into laughter as the only thing she has to count are the small green bananas she is skilfully peeling and throwing into the family’s only cooking pot. She quit school in the third year of primary so one of her little brothers could continue his studies.

The family’s banana-leaf hut in the camp in Rukoro has two narrow beds made of branches and twigs. She sleeps on one with her two youngest children, little Divine and Alice, the baby at her breast. The other bed is shared by her other daughter Myriam and Myriam’s two brothers Amos and Caleb, who have gone out in search of firewood. She had to get rid of the leaves the children used as bedding as they were infested with insects that bit the children. When it rains none of them get any sleep as water trickles into the hut through the walls and the roof.

The family has no soap and only the clothes they are wearing. “My only clothes are the ones you see on me,” she confided. When I have to wash them, I have nothing to cover myself with so I wait for it to get dark and then I wash them here inside the hut.”

She dreads getting her period because since she no longer has any cloth to cut up to serve as a re-usable sanitary pad, the blood trickles down her legs.

Her children are playful and smiling but their bellies are swollen. She says this is because the family’s only food are the small green bananas known locally as “deprets”. Normally reserved for making banana beer,this variety of banana is harmful when consumed as food. Boiled in water with a pinch of salt they have little taste but the overwhelming advantage of costing virtually nothing.

Shukuru and her children fled their home in Mutanda in Bwito sector in 2016 after what she describes as a sudden deterioration in the security situation amid a climate or threats directed at and abuses against people from her ethnic group.

“People started saying: ‘There goes a Hutu. What a stink,’” she recalled, insisting that the different communities had been cohabiting peacefully for years.

“One Sunday they distributed pamphlets saying that Hutu were no longer welcome in the region. I thought it was a joke but the next day they came to burn our huts down. We ran away, but when we stopped to look back we saw that our hut was among the ones going up in flames. Nine people were killed that day, among them my uncle’s wife. The Red Cross came to collect the bodies and bury them. We fled, carrying nothing,” she explained.

She has had no news of her husband, Elie, since the family’s flight.

Nsimire Riziki

“My husband was abducted. We have not heard from him since.”

Nsimire Riziki

Twice the mother of twins, Nsimire Riziki now has nine children and, since her husband’s abduction has found herself alone with the mat the spontaneous displacement camp in Kiwanja Parish. Her husband, who, like her, originally comes from South Kivu, was abducted in Kishishe in 2016.

Nsimire describes the family’s living conditions as “very tough”, but makes the best of it. Her hut is so small that the four oldest children sleep outside and she squashes up with the little ones. Visitors inside the hut have to crouch on the stones that make up the hearth.

A green woolly hat hides her unkempt hair. She and her two oldest children – twins of 15 – regularly get work as day labourers in the fields at Kiseguro, a day’s walk away. If all three work a seven-hour shift that starts early in the morning they can earn a total of two dollars a day and are given rations of beans. The younger children, too small to get paid for working in the fields, collect firewood that they sell in town.

Wimana Nyirarwimo

“My husband and my son had their throats cut. As for me, they tied me up and said they’d be back later to slit my throat.”

Wimana Nyirarwimo, her eyes all reddened and covered in dust from her three-day trek, staggered into the camp in Kiwanja, followed by two small children and her teenage daughter, who was clutching the family’s only possession – an empty jerry can.

Four days earlier she had found her husband and her eldest son in the fields with their throats cut.

“They had gone out in search of food. When I saw they hadn’t come back I went out to look for them,” she explained, apparently still in a state of shock. “I found them with their throats cut near to our field. I’d been gathering taros but when I saw them I dropped all the taros. I was standing looking at the bodies when the killers came back.

They tied me up and they said: ‘You stay there. We’ll be back to slit your throat later’.

There was a woman hiding not far from there who saw what happened and the woman had a knife. When the men went away she cut me free. I took the kids and at four in the morning we made a run for it.”

All of the women interviewed had been producing enough food to feed their families and make ends meet before they were displaced by the conflict. Deprived of their land, the vast majority of them are forced to find casual labour on someone else’s land. Their vulnerability is in many cases compounded by having lost – through death or temporary separation – the other adult in the household.

All of the mothers voiced the concern that their children were going hungry and would get sick.

“I already left the hospital once without paying. If one of my kids gets sick again now, all I’ll be able to do is sit here and watch them die,” said Léonie Shukuru.

IOM, the UN Migration Agency, launched an appeal for funding to support its humanitarian work in the DRC throughout 2018. You can find out more here.

A displaced woman sits with her children

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Why the #MeToo Movement Disrupts the Creeping Commodification of Feminismhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/creeping-commodification-feminism/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=creeping-commodification-feminism http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/creeping-commodification-feminism/#comments Mon, 08 Jan 2018 16:43:12 +0000 Rangita de Silva de Alwis http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153782 Rangita de Silva de Alwis is Associate Dean of International Affairs, University of Pennsylvania Law School & Advisor, UN SDG Fund

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Rangita de Silva de Alwis is Associate Dean of International Affairs, University of Pennsylvania Law School & Advisor, UN SDG Fund

By Rangita de Silva de Alwis
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 8 2018 (IPS)

As the 62nd Session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) at the United Nations in New York draws near, women from every corner of the world will convene to deliberate on the theme of CSW 2018: Challenges and Opportunities in achieving gender equality and the empowerment of rural women and girls. This year, the theme of empowerment has added significance. The #MeToo movement has shocked our collective conscience and made it impossible to ignore that empowerment goes far beyond economic agency.

Rangita de Silva de Alwis

Women’s economic empowerment has enormous consequence. Research from McKinsey & Company shows that gender equality adds U.S. $12 trillion to the global economy, yet women are conspicuously absent from board rooms and in some communities, school rooms. The evidence is now clear, when women are absent from the market place, the market suffers.

Although the cost analysis is important, the #MeToo movement has helped unmask the way in which sometimes women’s economic participation pays lip service to women’s power, while serving those in power. Feminism’s urgent charge is not to commodify women through glossy stories and data, but to pierce those veils to identify the underlying power structures and structural barriers that prevent women’s access to and retention in the market.

Feminism’s latest incarnation, “economic feminism,” poses a complicated challenge to the pursuit of gender equality around the world. By providing legal economic rights to women empowerment is thus framed as voluntary, and structural barriers are normalized.

Herein the champions of economic feminism proudly parade entrepreneurial women as proof of gender equality, a byproduct of a transformation in a society that sees value in women. In this cultural shift, if a woman is not in the marketplace, it is because she has made a choice not to work – and not because of debilitating structural inequalities.

However, this thinking masks patriarchy’s power over women. Economic feminism, in its unquestioned authority, can pose a threat to women’s advancement around the world. The importance attached to economic instrumentalist arguments for women’s rights can hide unexamined challenges.

Without a doubt, the plethora of recent research confirming gender equality significantly boosts economic growth from the International Finance Corporation (IFC), as well as the aforementioned McKinsey study, is to be celebrated for giving a tangible economic reason for countries to improve the status of women.

Unfortunately, this message has been warped by some economies, and economic policies such as Abenomics in Japan supplant important social change policies on sexual abuse and hold back feminism’s goal of full realization of gender equality under law. The reality is that women continue to face inequality that goes beyond just economic opportunity.

Several countries, notably Japan, have put forward “win-win” economic policies, but they ignore controversial and difficult social policies such as violence against women. This approach is similar to the nations that peddled the “Asian Values” theory in the 1990s. The better approach is to reveal the interconnectedness of women’s economic participation with equal protection of laws.

For example, in many corners of the world, from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, women have unequal access to property and land. Globally, women’s unequal access to citizenship, residency, inheritance, and decision-making in public and private often subordinate women’s economic participation.

Gender equality in all laws, most importantly family laws, have a profound impact on shaping and advancing women’s economic participation. In many countries, laws that regulate women in their families require women to get permission from their husbands to travel and disallow married mothers to confer citizenship on their children. Several nations have legislation that do not recognize women as heads of household and control their free movement.

Further, laws around the world permit underage and forced marriage for girls. Every two seconds, a girl is forced into marriage. Women married as children will reach one billion by 2030, according to UNICEF.

Martha Minow, the former Dean of Harvard Law School, has argued that the rules of family law construct not only roles and duties of men and women, but can shape rules about employment and commerce, and perhaps the governance of the state.

And not to be forgotten is that violence is one of the most insidious barriers to women’s economic empowerment. Where a woman suffers sexual and other forms of abuse, her capacity to work and function are severely impaired – Fortune estimates that it costs the US $500 billion, but the human cost cannot be computed.

Fortune argues that when talking about equality, the focus should include violence, or more specifically, violence against women. And according to McKinsey, violence is one of the biggest factors holding American women and all other women back.

Feminism’s and the #MeToo movements’ power lies in its potential to disrupt seemingly immutable gender norms. The international women’s rights community, as it convenes in New York in March, should not be swayed by the promise of economic opportunity alone, it must continue to press on issues of violence, sexual abuse and discrimination that disallow women from participating in economic activity, and inhibit women’s full empowerment.

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Marooned in Bangladesh, Rohingya Face Uncertain Futurehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/marooned-bangladesh-rohingya-face-uncertain-future/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=marooned-bangladesh-rohingya-face-uncertain-future http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/marooned-bangladesh-rohingya-face-uncertain-future/#respond Wed, 03 Jan 2018 23:30:48 +0000 Sohara Mehroze http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153729 In this special series of reports, IPS journalists travel to the border region between Bangladesh and Myanmar to speak with Rohingya refugees, humanitarian workers and officials about the still-unfolding human rights and health crises facing this long-marginalized and persecuted community.

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Perpetrators of Crimes against Humanity Must be Brought to Justicehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/perpetrators-crimes-humanity-must-brought-justice/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=perpetrators-crimes-humanity-must-brought-justice http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/perpetrators-crimes-humanity-must-brought-justice/#respond Wed, 20 Dec 2017 11:46:11 +0000 Geneva Centre http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153631 On the occasion of the 2017 International Day of Human Solidarity observed on 20 December, the Chairman of the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue Dr. Hanif Hassan Ali Al Qassim calls for peace for and human solidarity with, the Rohingya minority in Myanmar. The Chair of the Geneva Centre emphasized that […]

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By Geneva Centre
GENEVA, Dec 20 2017 (IPS)

On the occasion of the 2017 International Day of Human Solidarity observed on 20 December, the Chairman of the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue Dr. Hanif Hassan Ali Al Qassim calls for peace for and human solidarity with, the Rohingya minority in Myanmar.

The Chair of the Geneva Centre emphasized that the forcible expulsion of more than 600,000 Rohingya from Myanmar to neighbouring Bangladesh has aggravated the dire human rights and humanitarian situation of the Rohingya.

He remarked inter alia that international decision-makers, members States of the United Nations and NGOs have a “moral responsibility to stand in solidarity with the Rohingya minority in Myanmar and other persecuted people worldwide.”

In this regard, Dr. Al Qassim stated that “the Geneva Centre took the initiative on 11 and 12 October 2017 to call upon the members of the Human Rights Council of the United Nations to hold a special session in solidarity with the Rohingya people and to address the situation in Myanmar.

Our call for peace, solidarity and justice in Myanmar was heard; on 5 December 2017 a special session was convened at the United Nations Office in Geneva to identify a common platform to end the atrocities committed on the Rohingya people guided by the principles of justice and human solidarity. It is only through joint action and human solidarity that world society can respond with a unified voice to address the plight of the Rohingya people in Rakhine State and in Bangladesh,” stated Dr. Al Qassim.

Although the holding of the special session on the human rights situation of Rohingya Muslim population and other minorities in the Rakhine Sate of Myanmar reached its objective, the world society must keep its gear high in calling for peace and social justice. Dr. Al Qassim added:

Our efforts to address the situation in Myanmar will be in vain if the international community limits its action to include the adoption of resolutions and declarations in support of the Rohingya people.

Endemic poverty, violence and stark inequalities remain high in Rakhine State. Once the Rohingya refugees start to return to their home societies as envisaged in the ‘Arrangement on Return of Displaced Persons from Rakhine State’ signed on 23 November between Bangladesh and Myanmar which presupposes that it will become safe for them to do so, the main task will lie in rebuilding a safe, stable and inclusive society for all.

The Rohingya people and other minorities in Rakhine State must be allowed to enjoy full and unconditional legal protection and fundamental freedoms. I appeal to the government of Myanmar to review and revoke the 1982 Citizenship law that degrades the status of the Rohingya people and other minorities to second-class citizens. All citizens of Myanmar are entitled to enjoy equal and inclusive citizenship rights,” stated Dr. Al Qassim.

In conclusion, he added that perpetrators of crimes against humanity must be brought to justice. Strengthening accountability and transitional justice in post-conflict Myanmar are imperative to end impunity and bring peace and stability to the region.

Myanmar must take its future into its own hands and address all human rights concerns deriving from the current situation in Rakhine State. Decision-makers in Myanmar must remain committed to developing a peaceful and inclusive society in which the Rohingya people and other minorities are considered as integral components of the society of Myanmar and the international community must continue to assist victims to ensure their livelihoods and Bangladesh to enable it to be in a position to provide them with decent shelter,” concluded Dr. Al Qassim.

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SLIDESHOW: Tales of the 21st Century – Rohingyas Without a Statehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/153539/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=153539 http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/153539/#comments Thu, 14 Dec 2017 17:42:36 +0000 IPS World Desk http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153539 IPS journalists have been reporting from the camp areas within Bangladesh. They have met and spoken to many Rohingya families and learned first-hand what happened to them - the women, children and men - and what their hopes are for the future. Our journalists captured images from far and wide that reflect the agony and fears of the Rohingya who are living in dismal conditions.

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A partial top view of Balukhali and Kutupalong camps in Cox's Bazar in Bangladesh. Credit: Farid Ahmed/IPS

A partial top view of Balukhali and Kutupalong camps in Cox's Bazar in Bangladesh. Credit: Farid Ahmed/IPS

By IPS World Desk
COX'S BAZAR, Bangladesh, Dec 14 2017 (IPS)

The world has witnessed innumerable images of the long walk to ‘freedom’ of Rohingya women, children and men. Some trudged for endless hours and days, many carrying elderly parents and babies in baskets, with the women suffering the unimaginable trauma having been victims of rape, torture and harassment.

Some of them took boats and drowned, others floated their children in oil drums, not knowing how to swim. They fled their burning homes in Myanmar’s western state of Rakhine, crossing over to Bangladesh, stateless, homeless and hopeless.

These images, which spoke a thousand words, shocked the world. The United Nations described the tragedy as a textbook example of ethnic cleansing. Over 600,000 Rohingya are now in living in camps Bangladesh, cared for by local and international NGOs, United Nations organizations such as IOM and government entities.

What lies at the root of this humanitarian crisis? Why have so many people been forced to flee their homeland? The exodus began in August after Myanmar’s security forces responded to Rohingya militant activities with brutality.

The Rohingya tragedy has been unfolding for decades, going back to 1948, when Myanmar gained independence. As the Rohingya felt insecure and feared genocide, amid growing international concern, former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan was appointed by the Myanmar government led by Aung San Suu Kyi to find ways to heal simmering divisions between the Rohingya and Buddhists.

In its final report, the commission urged Myanmar to lift restrictions on movement and to provide citizenship rights for the Rohingya in order to avoid fuelling ‘extremism’ in Rakhine state.

So, what must be done? While there are no simple solutions, Myanmar and Bangladesh have signed a deal for the possible repatriation of Rohingya Muslims. The question now is can they safely return to their lands and homes – many of which were burned to the ground – and live as free people with the same rights accorded to Myanmar’s Buddhist majority?

 

A partial top view of Balukhali and Kutupalong camps in Cox's Bazar in Bangladesh. Credit: Farid Ahmed/IPS

A partial top view of Balukhali and Kutupalong camps in Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh. Credit: Farid Ahmed/IPS

 

A group of Rohingya children emerge from a nearby religious school in Kutupalong camp. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

A group of Rohingya children emerge from a nearby religious school in Kutupalong camp. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

 

Rohingya women at Kutupalong camp. There are now over a million refugees in Bangladesh. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

Rohingya women at Kutupalong camp. There are now over a million refugees in Bangladesh. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

 

A Rohingya woman at Kutupalong camp in Bangladesh. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

A Rohingya woman at Kutupalong camp in Bangladesh. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

 

A Rohingya woman and child at Kutupalong camp, about 35 km from Cox's Bazar in Bangladesh. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

A Rohingya woman and child at Kutupalong camp, about 35 km from Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

 

A dysfunctional tubewell in Kutupalong refugee camp in Bangladesh. Credit: Sohara Mehroze Shachi/IPS

A dysfunctional tubewell in Kutupalong refugee camp in Bangladesh. Credit: Sohara Mehroze Shachi/IPS

 

Rohingya women line up for aid. Credit: Sohara Mehroze Shachi/IPS

Rohingya women line up for aid. Credit: Sohara Mehroze Shachi/IPS

 

Rohingya women line up for food rations at Leda camp in Cox's Bazar. Credit: Farid Ahmed/IPS

Rohingya women line up for food rations at Leda camp in Cox’s Bazar. Credit: Farid Ahmed/IPS

 

 

Cotton used for menstruation dried on roofs of shacks in Kutupalong Camp. Credit: Umer AIman Khan/IPS

Cotton used for menstruation dried on roofs of shacks in Kutupalong Camp. Credit: Umer AIman Khan/IPS

 

Rohingya women of Balukhali camp embarking on the trek to the toilets. Credit: Umer Aiman Khan/IPS

Rohingya women of Balukhali camp embarking on the trek to the toilets. Credit: Umer Aiman Khan/IPS

 

 

Girls taking religious education lessons at a Madrasah in the camps. Credit: Kamrul Hasan/IPS

Girls taking religious education lessons at a Madrasah in the camps. Credit: Kamrul Hasan/IPS

 

Newborn children in the Rohingya refugee camps. Credit: Umer Aiman Khan/IPS

Newborn children in the Rohingya refugee camps. Credit: Umer Aiman Khan/IPS

 

A Rohingya woman and her child at a refugee camp in Bangladesh. Credit: Kamrul Hasan/IPS

A Rohingya woman and her child at a refugee camp in Bangladesh. Credit: Kamrul Hasan/IPS

 

Two Rohingya children carries firewood crossing Tamru canal that has divided Bangladesh and Myanmar along Bangladesh's Naikhong chhari border in Bandarban district. Several thousand Rohingya people are still staying i no man's land along Naikhongchhari border. Credit: Farid Ahmed/IPS

Two Rohingya children carry firewood crossing Tamru canal that has divided Bangladesh and Myanmar along Bangladesh’s Naikhong chhari border in Bandarban district. Several thousand Rohingya people are still staying i no man’s land along Naikhongchhari border.
Credit: Farid Ahmed/IPS

 

A Rohingya boy shows his Myanmar currency at Shahparir Dwip in Cox's Bazar. Credit: Farid Ahmed / IPS

A Rohingya boy shows his Myanmar currency at Shahparir Dwip in Cox’s Bazar. Credit: Farid Ahmed / IPS

 

Rubina (extreme left) along with her friend at the Islamic School at Kutupalong camp, home to Rohingya refugees from Myanmar. Credit: Farid Ahmed/IPS

Rubina (far left) along with her friend at the Islamic School at Kutupalong camp, home to Rohingya refugees from Myanmar. Credit: Farid Ahmed/IPS

 

A Rohingya couple, Mohammad Faisal and his wife Hajera, pose for a photo with their child at their camp at Teknaf Nature's Park, Bangladesh. Credit: Farid Ahmed/IPS

A Rohingya couple, Mohammad Faisal and his wife Hajera, pose for a photo with their child at their camp at Teknaf Nature’s Park, Bangladesh. Credit: Farid Ahmed/IPS

 

The series of reports from the border areas of Myanmar and Bangladesh is supported by UNESCO’s International Programme for the Development of Communication (IPDC)

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Rohingya Refugees Endure Lingering Traumahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/rohingya-refugees-endure-lingering-trauma/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=rohingya-refugees-endure-lingering-trauma http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/rohingya-refugees-endure-lingering-trauma/#comments Thu, 14 Dec 2017 14:24:19 +0000 Farid Ahmed http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153560 In this special series of reports, IPS journalists travel to the border region between Bangladesh and Myanmar to speak with Rohingya refugees, humanitarian workers and officials about the still-unfolding human rights and health crises facing this long-marginalized and persecuted community.

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Rubina (extreme left) along with her friend at the Islamic School at Kutupalong camp, home to Rohingya refugees from Myanmar. Credit: Farid Ahmed/IPS

Rubina (far left) along with her friend at the Islamic School at Kutupalong camp, home to Rohingya refugees from Myanmar. Credit: Farid Ahmed/IPS

By Farid Ahmed
COX'S BAZAR, Bangladesh, Dec 14 2017 (IPS)

Twelve-year-old Rubina still struggles with the horrors she witnessed in her homeland in Myanmar before fleeing to neighbouring Bangladesh three months ago.

Despite reaching the relative safety of a refugee camp at Kutupalong in Bangladesh’s southeast town of Cox’s Bazar – now home to nearly a million ethnic Rohingya people, mostly women and children, who fled military persecution in Myanmar – Rubina suffers from post-traumatic stress caused by the harrowing experiences back in her country.

Conservative estimates by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) state at least 6,700 of Rohingya deaths have been caused by violence, including at least 730 children under the age of five
“Barely a night passes without nightmares,” she told IPS at an Islamic school in the camp where she comes every day to learn the Quran.

“I’m fine as long as I’m with my friends, but sometimes I feel alone even amidst a crowd… I can’t forget anything that I have seen.”

Rubina was orphaned in the latest spate of violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine state. She fled to Bangladesh along with her grandparents and three siblings after her parents were hacked to death by local Buddhist people in the presence of the army.

Rubina is among thousands of others who endured similar ordeals.

Different NGOs and aid groups are now working in more than a dozen camps stretching from Teknaf to Ukhia in Cox’s Bazar. A 45-kilometre drive reveals settlement after settlement, with thousands of bamboo and tarpaulin shanties lining both sides of the hilly road.

Nur Mohammad, 12, witnessed soldiers killing his father. “My father, a fisherman, tried to escape by running away, but the military chased him and shot him to death,” said Mohammad, who was staying at his maternal grandparents’ house in Shahporir Dwip. Mohammad’s father was a Myanmar national and his mother was Bangladeshi.

“As soldiers chased my father, my mother and I ran for cover through a jungle… we ran and walked for several days until we reached Bangladesh,” he said. “Sometimes I wake up at night and I feel like soldiers are knocking on the door… In that moment, I forget I’m in Bangladesh.”

Twelve-year-old Rohingya boy Nur Mohammad holds up Myanmar currency in Shah Porir Dwip. Credit: Farid Ahmed/IPS

Twelve-year-old Rohingya boy Nur Mohammad holds up Myanmar currency in Shah Porir Dwip. Credit: Farid Ahmed/IPS

The latest figures by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) indicate that 647,000 Rohingyas have arrived in Bangladesh since the latest spate of violence in Rakhine that began in August. The Bangladesh government estimated 300,000 to 400,000 Rohingyas were already here before the current influx.

A Rohingya community leader, Dil Mohammad, now lives in a camp in the no-man’s-land between Bangladesh and Myanmar at Tambru of Naikhongchhari in Bangladesh’s Bandarban district. He told IPS that women and children were the worst victims of violence.

Dil Mohammad, who has a degree in psychology from Yangon University (1994), worries about the future of those children, and especially young women, who will carry emotional scars from their experiences.

Though the Myanmar military denies it, many rights groups and UN officials have confirmed deliberate and planned atrocities, including murders, gang rapes and arsons against the Rohingyas.

“In most cases, children saw the brutality and the wrath of military against the Rohingyas, but many women were also showing the signs of brutality as they were raped and abused by the military and others,” said a Rohingya man, Mohammad Faisal, at a settlement at Teknaf Nature Park and Wildlife Sanctuary.

Faisal’s teenage wife Hajera, who was expecting her second baby, said they were lucky to have escaped with other family members, and everybody was safe and alive.

“I saw a soldier killing a baby – just throwing it onto the ground. I can’t forget the scene. I have a one-year-old baby girl,” Hajera said. “It could be my daughter… I tried to erase it from my mind, but I can’t. When I close my eyes I see the military man killing the baby and hear the baby crying.”

In most cases, women were unable to share their experiences with others, she said. “They can’t tell people how they have been abused, so they will bear their trauma [in silence],” Hajera said.

A Rohingya couple, Mohammad Faisal and his wife Hajera, pose for a photo with their child at their camp at Teknaf Nature's Park, Bangladesh. Credit: Farid Ahmed/IPS

A Rohingya couple, Mohammad Faisal and his wife Hajera, pose for a photo with their child at their camp at Teknaf Nature’s Park, Bangladesh. Credit: Farid Ahmed/IPS

An aid worker at a centre of Save the Children, who asked not to be named, told IPS about the children she worked with. “They come here and spend the whole day making new friends and playing with them, but they need time to recover fully,” she said.

Professor Tasmeem Siddiqui of Dhaka University, the founder and chair of Refugee and Migratory Movements Research Unit in Dhaka, said, “Those who are coordinating there must build up leadership from the community, especially women’s leadership.”

“Trauma management is a big challenge after any genocide. People can’t easily forget what they have seen. It should be handled very carefully with the people who have expertise in those fields,” she told IPS, adding, “I don’t think there is a very systematic co-ordination among the groups working in the Rohingya settlements.”

As women and children were the primary victims, women and children from their community should be engaged, along with the experts, so that the victims can speak up without inhibition, she said.

For women, trauma and sexual assaults are not the only issues to be addressed. In this vast stretch of unprotected settlements, they face other risks, from hygiene, and sanitation to trafficking.

Rohingya people interviewed for this story didn’t fear the type of attacks they faced in Myanmar, but said there were still opportunists who would try to exploit the helplessness of the Rohingya women and children who were struggling to survive.

“Besides systematic aid work by groups with expertise, community participation is essential for the protection of women and children,” Professor Siddiqui stressed.

Bangladesh and Myanmar recently signed a deal regarding repatriation of Rohingya. Many see the step as a ray of hope, but others who have suffered from decades of poverty, underdevelopment and sectarian violence at home were more cynical.

Even 10-year-old Mohammad Arafat expressed doubts. “They killed my father in front of me. My mother and I escaped,” he said. “If we go back there, they will kill us.”

The series of reports from the border areas of Myanmar and Bangladesh is supported by UNESCO’s International Programme for the Development of Communication (IPDC)

 

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A Responsibility to Prevent Genocidehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/responsibility-prevent-genocide/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=responsibility-prevent-genocide http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/responsibility-prevent-genocide/#respond Tue, 12 Dec 2017 07:43:12 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153474 Almost 70 years since the Genocide Convention was adopted, the international community still faces a continued and growing risk of genocide. On the International Day of Commemoration and Dignity of the Victims of the Crime of Genocide, the UN launched an appeal for member states to ratify the 1948 convention by the end of 2018. […]

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Thousands of new Rohingya refugee arrivals cross the border near Anzuman Para village, Palong Khali, Bangladesh. Credit: UNHCR/Roger Arnold

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Dec 12 2017 (IPS)

Almost 70 years since the Genocide Convention was adopted, the international community still faces a continued and growing risk of genocide.

On the International Day of Commemoration and Dignity of the Victims of the Crime of Genocide, the UN launched an appeal for member states to ratify the 1948 convention by the end of 2018.

“Genocide does not happen by accident; it is deliberate, with warning signs and precursors,” said Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

“Often it is the culmination of years of exclusion, denial of human rights and other wrongs. Since genocide can take place in times of war and in times of peace, we must be ever-vigilant,” he continued.

The Secretary-General’s Special Advisor on the Prevention of Genocide Adama Dieng echoed similar sentiments, stating: “It is our inaction, our ineffectiveness in addressing the warning signs, that allows it to become a reality. A reality where people are dehumanized and persecuted for who they are, or who they represent. A reality of great suffering, cruelty, and of inhumane acts that have at the basis unacceptable motivations.”

The Convention defines genocide as “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial, or religious group.” This includes not only killing members of the group, but also causing serious bodily or mental harm and imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group.

Despite the comprehensive definition of genocide in the Convention, genocide has recurred multiple times, Guterres said.

“We are still reacting rather than preventing, and acting only when it is often too late. We must do more to respond early and keep violence from escalating,” he said.

One such case may be Myanmar.

After a year of investigation, the organization Fortify Rights and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum said that there is “mounting” evidence that points to a genocide against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar with Burmese Army soldiers, police, and civilians as the major perpetrators.

“The Rohingya have suffered attacks and systematic violations for decades, and the international community must not fail them now when their very existence in Myanmar is threatened,” said Cameron Hudson from the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

“Without urgent action, there’s a high risk of more mass atrocities,” he continued.

More than half of Myanmar’s one million Rohingya have fled the country since violence reignited in August.

“They tried to kill us all,” 25-year-old Mohammed Rafiq from Maungdaw Township told researchers when recalling how soldiers gathered villagers and opened fire on them on 30 August. It has been the largest and fastest flow of destitute people across a border since the 1994 Rwandan Genocide, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said.

“There was nothing left. People were shot in the chest, stomach, legs, face, head, everywhere.”

Eyewitness testimony revealed that Rohingya civilians were burned alive, women and girls raped, and men and boys arrested en masse.

“These crimes thrive on impunity and inaction…condemnations aren’t enough,” said Chief Executive Officer of Fortify Rights Matthew Smith.

On the other side of the border, refugees find themselves living in overcrowded camps with limited access to food, water, and shelter. They are in need of treatment for not only their physical injuries, but also the mental and emotional scars from their traumatic experiences.

IOM spoke to some of the survivor who made the treacherous journey by boat to Bangladesh including 8-year-old Arafat. His entire family including his parents, two brothers, and a sister drowned when the fishing boat carrying them capsized in stormy weather.

“Where will I go now,” he cried, transfixed with shock.

The government’s strict restrictions on Rohingya’s daily lives also point to signs of genocide.

In 2013, authorities placed a two-child limit on Rohingya couples in two predominantly Muslim townships in Rakhine State.

Others have come forward to claim that the crisis in Myanmar may constitute genocide such as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein and the British parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee.

“Considering Rohingyas’ self-identify as a distinct ethnic group with their own language and culture – and [that they] are also deemed by the perpetrators themselves as belonging to a different ethnic, national, racial or religious group – given all of this, can anyone rule out that elements of genocide may be present?” al-Hussein asked.

Though the UN Human Rights Council recently condemned the systematic and gross violations of human rights in Myanmar, the Security Council has failed to act on the crisis.

As the UN appeals for the remaining 45 member states to ratify the Genocide Convention, what about nations like Myanmar who are already party to the document?

The Convention requires all states to take action to prevent and punish genocide. Not only Myanmar, but the entire international community has failed to protect Rohingya civilians from mass atrocities.

“The world has reacted with horror to the images of their flight, and the stories of murder, rape and arson brought from their still smoldering villages in North Rakhine State. But this horror will have to be matched by action on the part of the international community, if we are to avert a humanitarian disaster on both sides of the border,” said IOM’s Director-General William Lacy Swing.

Perhaps the international community may need to consider additional mechanisms to address and prevent genocide, making sure ‘never again’ really means never again.

To date, a total of 149 member states have ratified the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide.

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Pakistan Gets Its First One-Stop Shop for Women Fighting Violencehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/pakistan-gets-first-one-stop-shop-women-fighting-violence/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pakistan-gets-first-one-stop-shop-women-fighting-violence http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/pakistan-gets-first-one-stop-shop-women-fighting-violence/#respond Sun, 10 Dec 2017 14:48:58 +0000 Zofeen Ebrahim http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153431 Sliced noses, broken ribs, fractured fingers, slashed arms, bruised and bloodied faces with teeth missing and eyes swollen… Sana Jawed, 30, has been witnessing these brutalities for over a decade. “You can never get over the physical and psychological mutilation that scores of women go through every day in our society,” says Jawed, who is […]

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Station House Officer Nazima Mushtaq speaking to a survivor at the VAWC. Photo courtesy of VAWC

By Zofeen Ebrahim
KARACHI, Dec 10 2017 (IPS)

Sliced noses, broken ribs, fractured fingers, slashed arms, bruised and bloodied faces with teeth missing and eyes swollen… Sana Jawed, 30, has been witnessing these brutalities for over a decade.

“You can never get over the physical and psychological mutilation that scores of women go through every day in our society,” says Jawed, who is currently managing the new state-of-the-art all-women Violence Against Women Centre (VAWC) in Multan, in Southern Punjab. Before this she was working in the Punjab government’s social welfare department and managing shelters for women across the province."We provide a fully functional police station, medical facility, forensic lab and legal aid as well as post trauma rehabilitation, all under one roof." --Sana Jawed

A 2011 Thomson Reuters Foundation expert poll found Pakistan to be among the three most dangerous countries for women, where they faced a barrage of violence from rape to murders in the name of honour. The other two were Afghanistan and Democratic Republic of Congo. On the gender equality index of the Global Gender Gap, Pakistan scored dismally, coming second lowest (143 out of 144). On a more recent Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security‘s Women, Peace, and Security Index, Pakistan was ranked 4th among the worst countries for women to live in.

The VAWC has been set up in an agricultural belt which is particularly dangerous for the Pakistani woman, who are treated worse than cattle. It is the same region infamous for the Mukhtaran Mai gang rape case that shook the world and where after nine years of relentless pursuit for justice by Mai, five of the six accused were acquitted.

“In some villages, until just a few years ago, women were not allowed to wear any footwear. That meant they wouldn’t be able to walk with ease  around the village. If that happened, it would mean they would become more confident and not remain mere doormats. They would eventually find a tongue…and men certainly didn’t want that happening,” said Jawed.

Women, she said, are used as bargaining chips to settle family feuds, living in constant fear of being forced to marry, wedded in exchange, or punished for having spurned a marriage proposal. Even when married, she may find no peace or respect in her husband’s home where she may be punished at the slightest of provocation.

“Women have come to us with severe burns on their face, with scalding tea thrown at them,” said Jawed.

But all this is about to change and men will have to mend their brutal ways or face serious repercussions.

In what can only be termed as groundbreaking, the Punjab government has come up with a law to protect women. But unlike laws that have come with great fanfare and been forgotten just as quickly, this one comes complete with a mechanism for strict adherence to implementation.

The Punjab Protection of Women Against Violence Act (VAWA) passed in 2016 covers sexual, domestic, physical, economic, cyber, or psychological abuse.

To breathe life into the act, the Punjab government has set up what it calls a “one-stop shop” VAWC in Multan.

It began functioning in March this year with the aim of providing legal, medical and psychological counselling to survivors.

Salman Sufi with the fashion designer Diane Van Furstenberg. Photo courtesy of Vital Voices

“It was a conscious decision to open the first centre in Multan because women are the most vulnerable and meted with the most violent attacks there,” said Salman Sufi, the director general of the Punjab Chief Minister’s think-tank, the Strategic Reform Unit who drafted the law and who conceived of this centre.

“In the first six months since we opened the centre, we received over 1,000 cases from Multan district alone,” said Sufi. The number of violence-related cases is far more. Overall, in Punjab, according to data gathered by the Aurat Foundation, in 2017, of the 5,979 reported cases of violence, 178 were of women killed in the name of honour, 1,086 were raped/gang-raped and 1,626 were kidnapped.

“Even these over 1,000 cases are the tip of the iceberg,” said Sufi who was recently honoured with the Voices of Solidarity Award 2017 by Vital Voices Global Partnership, an organisation under the chairmanship of Hillary Clinton, in his pursuit to end VAW.

By March 2018, three more centres will start operating in other big cities of Punjab including Lahore, Faisalabad and Rawalpindi. “The idea is to eventually have one centre in each of the province’s 36 districts,” said Sufi.

Jawed explained that the VAWC aims to eliminate the lengthy process of registering a complaint about violence. “We provide a fully functional police station, medical facility, forensic lab and legal aid as well as post trauma rehabilitation, all under one roof.” In addition, there is a toll-free 24-hour help line where women can register any complaint of violence immediately.

“This is excellent and this will encourage more women to come and record their complaints,” said Sheraz Ahmed, programme officer at War Against Rape, a Karachi-based non-governmental organisation. Currently, the method in which sexual violence cases are handled in Pakistan at police stations and government health facilities is highly problematic, he said.

“This centre is ideal so that they do not need to go running from one place to another to get assistance, treatment, investigation and shelter,” said Maliha Zia, associate director at Legal Aid Society, adding: “If effectively run, it would cause a lesser degree of humiliation to the survivors.”

For the past ten years, WAR has noticed a discrepancy in the data it gathers from Karachi’s three public sector hospitals, which oscillates between 340 to 380 cases per year, and the complaints registered at the city’s police stations that come to not more than 110 in a given year. “That is because the woman or her family retracts either due to family pressure or the trauma that they have to go through before the case reaches the court,” he said.

“From the time a survivor enters the police station where she’s eyed and questioned by not less than four to five police officers and asked to repeat her story that many times, to the time she goes through medical investigation, valuable evidence is lost,” explained Ahmed. He said for a city of over 20 million, Karachi has only two female medico-legal officers (MLOs) and if the woman comes to the hospital after their duty hours, the delay may cause loss of solid evidence. The same sorry situation, he said, was found all over Pakistan, which has 14 female MLOs and the same misogynistic mindset at police stations.

Back in 2016, when the law for the protection of women was presented to the parliament, it was met with much ire from the  religio-political parties as well as members of the legal fraternity who termed it “un-Islamic”. Many found it an affront to a male ego in this patriarchal country and insisted it would lead to breaking up families.

“We addressed each and everyone’s concerns but not a single clause was amended to appease anyone,” said Sufi, who found the furor caused by the law “exciting” and pointed to the fact that they were doing “something radical”.

The law seems to have everything covered — a monetary order ensures a woman’s earnings are safe and another order sees to it that the woman is not kicked out of the home by her husband or the family.

And yet, despite there being a series of “good legislations” that have been promulgated in recent past, Zohra Yusuf, a council member of the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, says violence against women continues because of “weak enforcement” of those laws.

But more than laws that provide “potential tools for survivors”, Zia said until attitudes and bias inherent not only in society, but also within our institutions, change, VAW will continue. “There is social impunity and lack of recognition of many practices as VAW.”

To which Yusuf added: “Coupled with that is the misogyny that the administration and justice systems suffers from.”

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“Banging on the Door” – Women Fight for a Voice and Space in Civil Societyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/banging-door-women-fight-voice-space-civil-society/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=banging-door-women-fight-voice-space-civil-society http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/banging-door-women-fight-voice-space-civil-society/#respond Sat, 09 Dec 2017 14:51:46 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153427 The space for civil society organizations is shrinking around the world, with particular impacts on women activists and human rights defenders who face additional barriers due to their gender or sexual orientation. Civil society organizations (CSOs) and activists from around the world convened in Fiji over the last week to tackle some of the world’s […]

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Women activists demanding a fair share of power. Credit: Mercedes Sayagues/IPS

Women activists demanding a fair share of power. Credit: Mercedes Sayagues/IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Dec 9 2017 (IPS)

The space for civil society organizations is shrinking around the world, with particular impacts on women activists and human rights defenders who face additional barriers due to their gender or sexual orientation.

Civil society organizations (CSOs) and activists from around the world convened in Fiji over the last week to tackle some of the world’s most pressing challenges.Two years before she was murdered, indigenous and environmental rights activist Berta Caceres said that it was her gender as much as her work that threatened her life.

Participants attended workshops and donned shirts saying “activism is the rent I pay for living on this planet” and “we will never give up on our beautiful planet.”

Among the challenges discussed is the rise in populism which has lead to restrictions in rights to expression and public assembly and thus actions taken by CSOs.

According to civil society alliance CIVICUS, only 2 of every 100 people live in a country with decent protections for civil society.

From Venezuela to Russia, state actors have put significant pressure on CSOs, preventing them from accessing foreign funding and registrations due to their role in defending human rights.

“When there is little or no support from government, the activist is in danger of discrimination and abuse by police and other authorities,” Pacific Women Advisory Board member Savina Nongebatu told IPS.

Human rights defenders (HRDs) have been increasingly subject to intimidation, harassment, and are at times killed for the work they do around the world.

Last year was the deadliest year ever recorded for HRDs with almost 300 killed across 25 countries, 49 percent of whom were defending land, indigenous, and environmental rights.

In addition to threats they face for their work, women human rights defenders (WHRDs) are frequently targeted because of their gender or sexual orientation, experiencing attacks that are traditionally perpetrated against women including rape, defamation campaigns, and acid attacks.

In August 2016, Turkish activist Hande Kader was brutally raped and murdered for her outspoken work in lesbian, bisexual, gay, and transgender (LBGT) rights.

Human rights later Bertha de Leon was subject to a sexualized smear campaign as photos circulated suggesting she had a sexual relationship with a judge who ruled favorably in a case in which she was involved in El Salvador.

Indian tribal rights activist Soni Sori who has been an outspoken critic of police violence towards her community was attacked with a chemical substance in February 2016.

Two years before she was murdered, indigenous and environmental rights activist Berta Caceres said that it was her gender as much as her work that threatened her life.

“We are women who are reclaiming our right to the sovereignty of our bodies and thoughts and political beliefs, to our cultural and spiritual rights—of course the aggression is much greater,” she said.

Analysts have found that the trend of closing civic space and restrictons to civil society often go hand in hand with the intensification of a fundamentalist discouse on national identity and traditional patricarchal values.

Such threats and actions work to silence WHRDs, limiting their resources and capacity to do work in already restricted civic spaces.

“When we have defenders with limited resources and capacity, the possibility of not being heard or consulted is high,” Nongebatu said.

“The ability to work and build partnerships rests squarely on the few women activists who may have learnt to work smarter from lessons learnt in their journey,” she added.

Such threats and restrictions do not stay isolated within borders, but are often brought over to international fora like the UN.

During International Civil Society Week (ICSW) in Fiji, former Prime Minister of New Zealand and former UN Development Programme Administrator Helen Clark noted UN’s continuous struggle to include civil society voices, reminding participants that the UN Charter begins with the words “We the peoples.”

“It doesn’t say we the countries or we the member states,” she said, adding that barriers to civil society participation often comes from member states.

“Not all member states like civil society very much…you just have to keep banging on the door and force it to respond,” Clark said.

LGBT rights have been particularly long contested at the UN. In 2016, Russia with the 57-member Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) banned 11 LGBT organizations from attending a UN High-Level meeting on Ending AIDS.

And it was only recently that women were formally recognized for their role in climate action during the UN Climate Change Conference in Germany, kickstarting a process to integrate gender equality and human rights into climate action.

Nongebatu also told IPS of the “North and South divide” where larger civil society organizations take up more resources and space and urged for them to ensure that all women who work in human rights are consulted.

She also called on the UN to be inclusive of those in the Pacific Islands who often are unable to make the long journey to New York.

Despite the numerous challenges, Nongebatu remained motivated and asked women activists to stay determined.

“Intersection of all issues is inevitable!…The work we do is never done! Don’t give up! We need to keep fighting!”


This article is part of a series about the activists and communities of the Pacific and small island states who are responding to the effects of climate change. Leaders from climate and social justice movements from around the world met in Suva, Fiji from 4-8 December for International Civil Society Week.

 

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Rohingya Refugees: The Woes of Women (Part Two)http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/rohingya-refugees-woes-women-part-two/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=rohingya-refugees-woes-women-part-two http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/rohingya-refugees-woes-women-part-two/#respond Fri, 08 Dec 2017 13:00:43 +0000 Sohara Mehroze Shachi http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153404 In this special series of reports, IPS journalists travel to the border region between Bangladesh and Myanmar to speak with Rohingya refugees, humanitarian workers and officials about the still-unfolding human rights and health crises facing this long-marginalized and persecuted community.

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A Rohingya woman and her child at a refugee camp in Bangladesh. Credit: Kamrul Hasan/IPS

A Rohingya woman and her child at a refugee camp in Bangladesh. Credit: Kamrul Hasan/IPS

By Sohara Mehroze Shachi
COX'S BAZAR, Bangladesh, Dec 8 2017 (IPS)

Under pouring rain, hundreds of young and expectant mothers stand in line. With her bare feet and the bottom of her dress covered in mud, Rashida is one of them, clutching her emaciated infant. She lost her husband on the treacherous trek from Myanmar to Bangladesh, and with nowhere to go and her resources exhausted, rain-drenched and standing in this long, muddy line for food and medicine for her child is her only hope.

Rohingya women line up for aid. Credit: Sohara Mehroze Shachi/IPS

Rohingya women line up for aid. Credit: Sohara Mehroze Shachi/IPS

Following the recent brutal campaign unleashed against the Rohingyas by the Myanmar military, over half a million refugees came to Bangladesh since August 2017, and more are arriving every day. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) estimates that there are nearly 150,000 newly arrived women of reproductive age (15-49 years), and according to the Inter Sector Coordination Group’s September 2017 Situation Report on the crisis, there are over 50,000 pregnant and breastfeeding mothers among the new arrivals in Bangladesh who require targeted food and medical assistance.

“We collaborate with some groups and help refugees living in the camp areas where there is a shortage of medical supplies,” said Andrew Day, who has been advocating for refugees for the past two years in Bangladesh. “They don’t have the means to see a doctor.”

While small scale interventions are being taken by development organizations to supplement hospitals, such the placement of 35 midwives trained by UNFPA in two camps, hospitals are underfunded, overcrowded and struggling to provide care to the burgeoning pregnant refugee population and thousands of newborns.

Newborn children in the Rohingya refugee camps. Credit: Umer Aiman Khan/IPS

Newborn children in the Rohingya refugee camps. Credit: Umer Aiman Khan/IPS

Early marriage and high birth rates are prevalent among the Rohingya community. According to a flash report on mixed movements in South Asia by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), a majority of the refugees were married young (at 16 or 17) and gave birth at an average age of 18.

In a Rapid Gender Analysis assessment conducted by Care in Balukhali Makeshift Camp at Cox’s Bazar, it was found that many female respondents between the ages of 13 and 20 years had children and others are currently pregnant.
The assessment uncovered that knowledge and practice of birth control was nonexistent or very limited among the Rohingya refugees, and religious sentiment was a strong factor contributing to the emphasis placed on pregnancy and the aversion to contraceptives.

“It (pregnancy) is God’s wish” said Jainul whose wife was expecting their sixth child. “God will help me feed the children,” he added. His wife echoed this belief.

According to locals, many Bangladeshis are donating money to the refugee camps as they believe helping fellow Muslims will earn them God’s blessings, and the resources are being used to set up Madrasahs – religious education schools. The imams of these madrasahs advise against contraception, so while the government and relief agencies such as the International Organization for Migration (IOM) are trying to provide birth control options and information on family planning, Rohingya women refuse to comply.

Girls taking religious education lessons at a Madrasah in the camps. Credit: Kamrul Hasan/IPS

Girls taking religious education lessons at a Madrasah in the camps. Credit: Kamrul Hasan/IPS

Dr. Lailufar Yasmin, a lecturer in International Relations at the University of Dhaka, who is conducting research in the refugee camps, said at first when she went into the camps, she saw a lot of elderly and middle-aged females, but there were very few young women.

“But when I asked them about their age, I found out they were in their twenties,” she said. Repeated childbirth coupled with the trauma they experienced in Myanmar had taken such a toll on them that they all looked decades older than their true age, she explained.

“Many Rohingyas married their daughters off very young so that the military won’t come and rape them because their bodies become less attractive after childbirth,” she said.

“It is a community decision, not the girl’s decision, but the girls have internalized it that they need to have a lot of children because they need to save their race which is being persecuted,” Dr. Yasmin explained, adding that this philosophy contributed to the Rohingyas having very large families.

With thousands of Rohingya children soon to be born in Bangladesh, the need for ramped up medical care is acute. However, an IRC/RI assessment in October 2017 found that nearly 50 percent of all pregnant women have not received medical care and 41 percent of families with pregnant women do not know where to go for medical care for pregnant women. The report concludes, “These results point to a need for health messaging and services, as well as antenatal care and emergency obstetric care across the makeshift settlements.”

The series of reports from the border areas of Myanmar and Bangladesh is supported by UNESCO’s International Programme for the Development of Communication (IPDC)

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Rohingya Refugees: The Woes of Women – Part Onehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/rohingya-refugees-woes-women-part-one/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=rohingya-refugees-woes-women-part-one http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/rohingya-refugees-woes-women-part-one/#respond Thu, 07 Dec 2017 13:58:48 +0000 Sohara Mehroze Shachi http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153380 In this special series of reports, IPS journalists travel to the border region between Bangladesh and Myanmar to speak with Rohingya refugees, humanitarian workers and officials about the still-unfolding human rights and health crises facing this long-marginalized and persecuted community.

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Rohingya women of Balukhali camp embarking on the trek to the toilets. Credit: Umer Aiman Khan/IPS

Rohingya women of Balukhali camp embarking on the trek to the toilets. Credit: Umer Aiman Khan/IPS

By Sohara Mehroze Shachi
COX'S BAZAR, Bangladesh, Dec 7 2017 (IPS)

Afia* lines up her bucket every morning in the refugee camp for water delivery from humanitarian relief workers. On one particularly sweltering day, she kept four water pitchers in a row with gaps between them, hoping to insert another empty container in the space when the water arrived.

When another refugee saw this, she kicked away Afia’s pitchers, and a raging quarrel broke out. That night, the woman’s local boyfriend attacked Afia in her house, kicking her in the belly and hitting her mercilessly with a chair. Afia kept mum about the incident as her assailant threatened to kidnap and rape her in the jungle if she sought arbitration.

Afia is not one of the half a million Rohingyas who came into Bangladesh since this August from Myanmar. She is one of the thousands who have been living in the camps for years, and the water crisis has been exacerbated by the latest influx of refugees.

In the camps, men usually collect relief and water, with women going only when there are no males available. Since her husband left for Malaysia three years ago in search of work, she has not received any news from him and lives on her own in the camp, where scarcity of water is a heated issue and results in frequent altercations between the resident refugees.

While tubewells exist in the camps, many of them are dysfunctional as they are either too shallow and can no longer pump water, or have broken handles so no one can use them.

A dysfunctional tubewell in Kutupalong refugee camp in Bangladesh. Credit: Sohara Mehroze Shachi/IPS

A dysfunctional tubewell in Kutupalong refugee camp in Bangladesh. Credit: Sohara Mehroze Shachi/IPS

Toilets

Women’s tribulations in the refugee camps do not end with water. Access to toilets is also a major problem. And the speed and scale of the recent influx – 624,000 arrivals since August and counting – have put basic services that were available in the camps prior to the influx are under severe strain. Spontaneous settlements have also sprung up to accommodate the new arrivals and these lack many basic amenities.

“There are no separate latrines for the women; the ones that exist do not have any lighting, are not close to their shelters and there’s absolutely no privacy,” said Shouvik Das, External Relations Officer of The UN Refugee Agency UNHCR in Bangladesh. “When we go to distribute food, sometimes the female refugees don’t want to take it because they then will need to go to the toilets and they dread that,” he added.

While many foreign and local NGOs and relief workers had set up tube wells and latrines for the refugees living in the camps, a safe distance was often not maintained between the latrines and the tubewells.

“Recently, the World Health Organization (WHO) found that over 60 per cent of water sources tested in the settlements were contaminated with E.coli. Much of the contamination is a result of shallow wells located less than 30 feet away from latrines,” said Olivia Headon, Information Officer for Emergencies with the International Organization for Migration (IOM), which is providing vital WASH services to both the Rohingya and the communities hosting them.

“While IOM supports private WASH and sanitation areas to provide privacy and safety to women in the Bangladeshi community, similar areas are under development in the Rohingya settlements but are hindered by the lack of space,” she explained.

Cotton used for menstruation dried on roofs of shacks in Kutupalong Camp. Credit: Umer AIman Khan/IPS

Cotton used for menstruation dried on roofs of shacks in Kutupalong Camp. Credit: Umer AIman Khan/IPS

Risks of disease outbreak

Labeled as the world’s most persecuted minority by the UN, the Rohingya lacked access to many basic rights in Myanmar, including healthcare. A large number of the new surge of refugees had been suffering from various diseases before their arrival, including Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C and Polio, and are now staying in cramped camps.

Their squalid living conditions, combined with scarcity of safe water and sanitation facilities, have triggered fears among health experts of disease outbreaks. And women, with their limited mobility and resources, are particularly at risk.

“Women will have to bear a disproportionate risk of the public health burden, and will be at the receiving end of all the negative environmental fallouts,” says Sudipto Mukerjee, Country Director of United Nations Development Program, Bangladesh.

The female refugees suffer the worst during their menstrual cycles, with most of them reusing unsanitary rags or cotton for months. This is not only increasing their risks of infection and skin diseases, but also affecting their mobility. As a recently published report by the UN Refugee Agency UNHCR reads, “Women and girls are limiting their movement because of not only the fear of being harassed, kidnapped or trafficked but also because of their lack of appropriate clothing and sanitary napkins.”

However, while development organizations have been supplying sanitary products to the refugee women, many of them do not know how to use them because they have never had access to them.

“Some of them put the sanitary pads as masks on their faces because they simply didn’t know what to do with them,” said Dr. Lailufar Yasmin, Professor of Gender Studies at BRAC University who has been working with the refugees in the camps.

“If the people who you are working with do not know what to do with the help you are providing, it will not be effective,” she added, “You will only be wasting money.”

*Names have been changed to protect the refugees’ identities.

The series of reports from the border areas of Myanmar and Bangladesh is supported by UNESCO’s International Programme for the Development of Communication (IPDC)

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Rohingya Exodus Is a “Major Global Humanitarian Emergency”http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/rohingya-exodus-major-global-humanitarian-emergency/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=rohingya-exodus-major-global-humanitarian-emergency http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/rohingya-exodus-major-global-humanitarian-emergency/#comments Tue, 05 Dec 2017 23:33:33 +0000 Naimul Haq http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153339 IPS Correspondent Naimul Haq interviews WILLIAM LACY SWING, Director General of the International Organization for Migration (IOM)

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IOM Director General William Lacy Swing (right) visits Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh. Photo courtesy of IOM

IOM Director General William Lacy Swing (right) visits Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh. Photo courtesy of IOM

By Naimul Haq
DHAKA, Bangladesh, Dec 5 2017 (IPS)

In less than four months, over 600,000 Rohingya refugees have fled brutal persecution in Myanmar to seek safety across the border in Bangladesh. They are now crowded into camps across a stretch of 30 kms in Cox’s Bazar, a southeastern coastal region of the small South Asian nation.

The UN migration agency, International Organisation for Migration (IOM), has appealed to the international community for urgent funds. Over 344 million dollars was pledged recently at an international meeting to ramp up the delivery of critical humanitarian assistance. IOM stressed that the international community must work together to help to bring about a political resolution to the Rohingya crisis.We all need to work to create the conditions that will allow the refugees to eventually return voluntarily to Myanmar in safety and dignity.

IOM, at the request of the government of Bangladesh, has been leading the Inter Sector Coordination Group (ISCG), which is coordinating the humanitarian response to the influx of Rohingya refugees.

This appeal outlines IOM’s funding requirement from September 2017 to February 2018 as a part of the wider UN Humanitarian Response Plan.

William Lacy Swing, IOM’s Director General, told IPS Correspondent Naimul Haq that any durable solution must be a political one agreed between Bangladesh and Myanmar and supported by the international community.

Swing said that all stakeholders need to work to create the conditions that will allow the Rohingya refugees to eventually return voluntarily to Myanmar in safety and dignity.

He praised the Bangladesh government’s mobilization of its own resources, as well as the local community’s support to help the refugees. Swing went on a four-day visit in mid- October to several camps in Cox’s Bazar.

Following are the excerpts from the interview.

Q. During your visit to various camps, you witnessed the horror, heard the victims and saw the difficult situation prevailing in the camps. How do you compare the Rohingya exodus with the recent similar refugee crisis like in Syria?

A. The Rohingya refugee crisis, although much smaller than the exodus of five million people from Syria since 2011, is equally severe in many ways. It has unfolded at extraordinary speed with over 600,000 people arriving in a single, relatively small district – Cox’s Bazar – since August 25th. By contrast the Syrian civil war has resulted in Syria’s neighbors, notably Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, and Iraq, all hosting large numbers of Syrian refugees. But the speed, scale and complexity of what is now happening in Cox’s Bazar has created a major global humanitarian emergency. The needs on the ground for shelter, food, clean water, sanitation and healthcare are enormous. When this happened, none of us – neither humanitarian agencies nor the government of Bangladesh – were fully prepared to cope with an influx of this magnitude in such a short space of time.

Q. In a joint statement about relief for the Rohingyas, you said, “Much more is urgently needed. The efforts must be scaled up and expanded to receive and protect refugees and ensure they are provided with basic shelter and acceptable living conditions. They [Rohingyas] are fully dependent on humanitarian assistance for food, water, health and other essential needs. Basic services are under severe strain. In some sites, there is no access to potable water and sanitation facilities, raising health risks for both the refugees and the communities hosting them.” How do you plan to expand the distribution and what is the estimated cost of the additional relief?

A. IOM has been providing assistance to Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar, in partnership with the government, UN agencies, international and local NGOs, since September 2013. Now more international and local agencies are coming in to work with us in a well-coordinated effort to help an estimated 1.2 million people – including nearly 900,000 refugees and 300,000 people living in host communities already living since 1992.

But there are still gaps in the response and more resources are needed to ensure adequate, lifesaving assistance for everyone who needs it. Even now, three months after the start of the crisis, hundreds more people are still coming across the border from Myanmar every day. The Joint Response Plan, launched by the UN and partners in September, appealed for USD 434 million to support 1.2 million people through February 2018. Only USD 149.1 million has been received so far, of which IOM has received USD 52 million.

Q. The need [relief] assessment is taking place almost on a daily basis as the influx continues with more Rohingyas arriving in the camps for safety. It appears that the refugees would need to stay in Bangladesh for quite a while before a diplomatic solution is reached for their safe return. Having said this, a sustainable approach is needed on the ground. How do you or the international community, including the UN, plan to pursue both the governments [Bangladesh & Myanmar] to come to terms and find a peaceful return and settlement?

A. Any durable solution must be a political one agreed between Bangladesh and Myanmar and supported by the international community. We all need to work to create the conditions that will allow the refugees to eventually return voluntarily to Myanmar in safety and dignity. The agreement on return signed by the two countries last week is an important first step. But this is going to take time. As the UN Secretary-General has highlighted, UN agencies need to first resume their humanitarian work in Rakhine State, to promote reconciliation between the communities, and to help the government of Myanmar to implement the recommendations of the Rakhine Advisory Commission – the agreed roadmap to peaceful co-existence.

Q. During your visit you met with the Prime Minister of Bangladesh Sheikh Hasina who was quoted as saying, “They [Rohingya] have to go back to their homeland, create international pressure on Myanmar so that they take steps to bring their citizens back.” We just had the UN General Assembly expressing concern for the Rohingya refugees while many heads of government have already sent messages to Myanmar to take back their citizens. The Bangladesh PM and the world leaders are expressing concerns in the same tone. What could be the role of IOM in finding a lasting solution and how?

A. The Prime Minister is correct in saying that there has to be a political solution supported by the international community. Much of this solution lies with Myanmar. IOM, as the UN Migration Agency, is a humanitarian agency and as such does not have the political weight of the UN Secretary General or the UN Security Council. But we can support the Secretary-General in advocating for dialogue between the parties in the hope that it will eventually allow the Rohingya to leave the terrible conditions in which they are living in Cox’s Bazar and return home safely to resume their lives.

Q. Do you have plans to visit Myanmar and meet the leaders there? If yes, what are you hoping to discuss and also see on the ground in Rakhine state where the Rohingyas are coming from?

A. I have no plans to visit Myanmar this year, but I look forward to returning next year to reaffirm IOM’s commitment to promoting peace and stability in Rakhine State, and, of course, to review the many other excellent projects that we implement in the rest of the country.

Q. A Critical Pledging Conference was held in Geneva on October 23, 2017 organized by OCHA, IOM and UNHCR and co-hosted by the European Union and Kuwait. Apart from pledges for international funds, what was the main message at the conference to the Rohingya crisis?

A. The conference was organized to provide governments from around the world an opportunity to show their solidarity and share the financial burden and responsibility for the Rohingya refugees. Over USD 344 million was pledged to urgently ramp up the delivery of critical humanitarian assistance. But countries represented at the conference also stressed that the international community must work together to help to bring about a political resolution of the Rohingya issue.

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Rohingya Refugees Face Fresh Ordeal in Crowded Campshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/rohingya-refugees-face-fresh-ordeal-crowded-camps/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=rohingya-refugees-face-fresh-ordeal-crowded-camps http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/rohingya-refugees-face-fresh-ordeal-crowded-camps/#respond Tue, 05 Dec 2017 12:09:45 +0000 Naimul Haq http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153322 In this special series of reports, IPS journalists travel to the border region between Bangladesh and Myanmar to speak with Rohingya refugees, humanitarian workers and officials about the still-unfolding human rights and health crises facing this long-marginalized and persecuted community.

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A group of Rohingya children emerge from a nearby religious school in Kutupalong camp. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

A group of Rohingya children emerge from a nearby religious school in Kutupalong camp. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

By Naimul Haq
COX'S BAZAR, Bangladesh, Dec 5 2017 (IPS)

Mariam Akhtar, 23, is desperately searching for her young daughter two weeks after arriving from Myanmar in Cox’s Bazar, a southeastern coastal district in Bangladesh.

Already traumatized by the extreme violence she and her family suffered in Buthidaung district in Myanmar, Mariam now faces fresh agony."There are agents looking for opportunities around the clock to lure and smuggle out the children." --Sarwar Chowdhury, Ukhia upazila chairman

“With God’s blessings I was able to reach this camp in Kutupalong alive. But where is my safety here when I have a child lost?” asks the mother of three small children.

Faria Islam Jeba*, a mother of four, also expressed fears when this correspondent approached a group of women in Kutupalong camp. It is the biggest of more than 30 refugee camps scattered across a 35 km stretch of land between Teknaf and Ukhia, two of the small towns in southern Cox’s Bazar where Rohingya refugees are still pouring in every day by the thousands from neighbouring Myanmar.

Jeba experienced rapes and beatings in Myanmar. She says her brothers were shot by Burmese security forces. But Bangladesh isn’t the safe haven she’d hoped for.

“I feel so scared, especially at night when it is dark all around. The hilly terrain and the meandering, muddy roads here make it hard to keep watch on my children when they go out.”

Mariam and Jeba are among many young single mothers who say they lost children inside the camps. The disappearances have been documented by the government and the aid agencies working in the crowded camps.

Over 1,000 children, mostly young girls under aged less than 18 years, have gone missing since the influx of refugees reached its height in late August. Many are believed to have been smuggled out to other parts of the country by human traffickers. Others might have been taken abroad.

Ali Hossain, Cox’s Bazar district commissioner who is supervising all activities in the camps under his command, told IPS, “In last three months we have punished 550 such alleged criminals who were caught red-handed while attempting to traffic children from the camps.”

“It is difficult policing [criminal activity] considering the sheer vastness of the camps. Many of the traffickers enter the camps in the guise of volunteer relief workers [and] they get easy access this way.”

To prevent fake relief workers from getting in, the administration recently introduced registration of all humanitarian organizations.

Still, the unaccompanied Rohingya children badly require protection in an organized manner. Only a fraction of the estimated 500,000 children attend religious schools (madrasas) instead of formal schools. Most are very vulnerable to trafficking as they have no guardians.

“What they [children] need is a ‘safe’ shelter, not just a physical bamboo shed shelter to live in. There are agents looking for opportunities around the clock to lure and smuggle out the children. So, basically they need caretakers and a mechanism to monitor their presence,” said Sarwar Chowdhury, Ukhia upazila chairman.

A Rohingya woman at Kutupalong camp in Bangladesh. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

A Rohingya woman at Kutupalong camp in Bangladesh. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

Rohingya refugees are very poor and have had no formal education. “I don’t know who to talk to about the pain in my abdomen,” says a woman named Rina in a soft, broken voice. She came from a village in Buthidaung.

The most common problems women cited were lack of security, privacy and leadership for the refugees. The overwhelming majority are women who have no organized voice in the camps.

Nilima Begum from Maundaw district in Myanmar says, “While in Myanmar we never had any healthcare. We don’t even know what is a hospital or school, as we were highly restricted from moving around even within our own community.”

Amran Mahzan, Executive Director of MERCY Malaysia, an international aid agency working in the camps since a long time, told IPS, “The most common complaint we get from the traumatized women is malnourishment, followed by pregnancy-related complications.”

“The number of pregnant women is very high, and they have poor knowledge of nutrition or pre or post-natal care. Our doctors are continuously providing advice to women on maternity care and safe delivery, but with language and cultural differences being barriers, the level is compliance remains to be seen.”

There are 18,000 pregnant women waiting to deliver and thousands more who may not yet have been identified and registered for healthcare.

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) is now at the forefront of addressing some of the challenges of emergency reproductive healthcare.

Dr Sathyanarayanan Doraiswamy, Chief of Health at UNFPA, Bangladesh, told IPS, “Our priority response has been to offer access to emergency obstetric and newborn care services, clinical response services for survivors of sexual violence, provide a basic package of prevention for HIV and sexually transmitted infections, safe blood transfusion and practice of universal precautions in health facilities.”

Megan Denise Smith, gender-based violence (GBV) Operations Officer for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Cox’s Bazar, told IPS, “Community outreach teams share essential information with women and girls regarding available services, whether this be medical, psychosocial or recreational activities to facilitate empowerment.”

She adds, “Mapping out specific areas where women and adolescent girls feel unsafe in talking to them directly will allow the community to then target these areas more effectively and establish a protective presence to prevent further risks.”

Mahmuda, Mental Health Programme Associate of United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) told IPS, “The biggest challenge in dealing with the women is the need for stress management which I think should be the priority. It is now a question of survival and psycho-social counseling already given to over 3000 women in the past three months shows the positive impact.”

Mahmuda, a psychiatrist leading a small team in Kutupalong camp, says, “The women are emotionally numb. Atrocities for Rohingy refugees are nothing new, even the recent ones. They have been exposed to such violence for years and so they continue to suffer from such psychological distress.”

The camps are gradually setting up Child-Safe Spaces for children to play and learn, as well as dedicated services for women. Privacy is an issue in the cramped and overcrowded camps.

Separate examining rooms and private consultation spaces where women can relate their health problems to doctors are also in place, though more are needed.

Dignity and safety are key as many of the women are pregnant as a result of rape and cannot speak up for fear of being stigmatized by others. Many international agencies working in the camps are considering recruiting more female health care professionals.

The challenge is colossal, with over million refugees from Myanmar’s Rakhine State, dubbed the ‘fastest growing humanitarian refugee crisis in the world’.

So far, only 34 percent of the 434 million dollars pledged has been disbursed. One in four children is malnourished, and vaccination against communicable diseases and safe water are urgently needed.

*Names have been changed to protect the victims’ identities.

The series of reports from the border areas of Myanmar and Bangladesh are supported by UNESCO’s International Programme for the Development of Communication (IPDC)

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New Safety Handbook by IAWRThttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/new-safety-handbook-iawrt/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=new-safety-handbook-iawrt http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/new-safety-handbook-iawrt/#respond Mon, 04 Dec 2017 18:39:24 +0000 Ronalyn Olea and Bibiana Piene http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153309 Female, journalist and caught in a crossfire?

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Female, journalist and caught in a crossfire?

By Ronalyn V. Olea and Bibiana Piene
OSLO, Dec 4 2017 (IPS)

Hopefully female journalists have read it by now “What if…? Safety Handbook for Women Journalists”. The handbook, written by renowned safety trainer Abeer Saady, an Egyptian, and published by The International Association for Women in Radio and Televison (IAWRT), provides hands on tips on what to do when caught in a crossfire , when stopped at checkpoints, arrested during coverage, or kidnapped and held hostage.

Abeer Saady, and Nonee Walsh

Security and safety for journalists, especially females, is often not taught in schools and rarely discussed in newsrooms. Still, a global survey of security risks for women journalists revealed that the majority preferred not to report on gender-based violence for fear of harassment, losing their job or being stigmatized.

More male journalists are killed every year than women, but female journalists are increasingly entering the field of high risk journalism and covering conflicts. In the Philippines twelve women journalists were killed in the line of duty since the restoration of democratic institutions in 1986, four them in the Ampatuan massacre in 2009. None of the perpetrators were brought to justice.

The handbook compiles experiences, not only Saady’s as a journalist with 27 years of experience, but also of other women journalists who have faced different and difficult situations.

Saady underscores the importance of physical, psychosocial and digital safety and security, and points out risk assessment, profile management, situational and digital awareness and a safety plan as crucial tools.

Many of the tips shared in the handbook are practical enough for any journalist or newsroom to follow.

Psychosocial security is something that’s not always attended to. What to do if you as a journalist lose sleep after covering war or violence? The handbook also suggests ways of dealing with trauma.

The handbook provides tips in dealing with online harassment, such as naming and shaming the online harasser and moderating the comments section as well aspreventing people from remaining anonymous, among others.

A Norwegian journalist, interviewed in the book, became a victim of online harassment. She believes that a better solution would be to develop what she calls harassment competence, such as distinguishing between ‘the angry’, ‘the crazy’, and ‘the dangerous’ bullies.

– The ‘angry’ are people you can respond to, and perhaps even make them understand that you’re a person who might get hurt by their utterances. Harassment coming from ‘the crazy’ and ‘the dangerous’ had better be ignored…since a reply often makes the bullying even worse, she says.

In social media women journalists should take precaution in protecting their digital safety and security. Social media accounts and emails can be hacked. The handbook lists tips on how to carry out a digital clean up.

The handbook has a separate section on ethical safety decisions. The main point is to do no harm.

Another section is devoted to legal safety. Knowing one’s rights as a journalist and the libel and other media laws in one’s country is helpful.

The handbook, which can be downloaded from the IAWRT’s website, is a must-read for every female journalist. The aim is to help creating an environment where women journalists can perform their job without fear or danger.

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Shattered Future: Sexual Violence and Child Exploitation in the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congohttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/11/shattered-future-sexual-violence-child-exploitation-eastern-democratic-republic-congo/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=shattered-future-sexual-violence-child-exploitation-eastern-democratic-republic-congo http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/11/shattered-future-sexual-violence-child-exploitation-eastern-democratic-republic-congo/#respond Thu, 30 Nov 2017 20:10:30 +0000 International Organization for Migration http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153269 I rent a tent for five dollars a week, and pay 30 as a monthly fee to access an artisanal mining camp of more than 900 miners. To get there takes a two-hour climb from the nearest trading centre. I sleep with about six male workers, each of whom pays about three dollars per session. […]

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IOM and the Panzi Foundation in the South Kivu are supporting victims of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) survivors and exploited children. Credit: UN Migration Agency (IOM)

By International Organization for Migration
Democratic Republic of the Congo, Nov 30 2017 (IOM)

I rent a tent for five dollars a week, and pay 30 as a monthly fee to access an artisanal mining camp of more than 900 miners. To get there takes a two-hour climb from the nearest trading centre. I sleep with about six male workers, each of whom pays about three dollars per session. Sometimes a miner pays for an entire overnight session for five dollars. I have four children that I left with my mother in the provincial capital, which is about three hours’ drive from this site. Every month I spend three weeks on top of this hill providing sex services within the camp, then for a week I go check on the children and bring money for their upkeep…

This testimony of a sexually-abused woman represents the plight of many young girls that are sexually violated in thousands of artisanal mining zones in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

Despite the international, regional and national due diligence guidelines and mechanisms such as the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chains of Minerals from Conflict-Affected and High-Risk areas; the Regional Certification Mechanism (RCM) of the Great Lakes Region, sexual violence, labour exploitation and abuse against women and children continue to occur at an alarming rate in and around artisanal mining sites in the country.

A recent assessment by the Panzi Hospital in South Kivu, in collaboration with IOM, the UN Migration Agency, revealed escalating human rights violations and abuse against women and children who suffer in silence for fear of social apprehensions, reprisals, stigmatization and social exclusion. The study also highlights the concerning situation particularly of sexual violence against young women and girls leading to unwanted pregnancies and early parenthood.

Because of recurring conflict in the Eastern DRC, associated with deep-seated gender discrimination, harmful cultural practices and the low social status of women and children contribute to high rates of gender-based violence. Labour exploitation and abuse against women and children continue occurring at alarming rates particularly around remote mining sites where laws and rules are often disrespected, and poor work and social conditions prevail.

Despite national and international efforts to improve the justice system and build up the capacity of security forces, impunity remains the norm and justice the exception.

To address these human right violations of women and children in the mining areas and empower them to participate in social and economic systems without stigma and discrimination, IOM and the Panzi Foundation in the South Kivu are collaborating to find external support that will help the two organizations provide a holistic set of essential services targeting female sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) survivors and exploited children.

This could be done through provision of medical care, psychosocial support, economic reintegration, vocational and literacy training, legal support, and strengthening of civilian and police and judicial systems for prevention and case referral system. Community awareness activities and information campaigns will use various communication approaches to promote rights and equity of women and children.

In a recent speech at a global meeting on natural resources, governance and human rights held in Dakar, Senegal, Dr. Denis Mukwege, the Medical Director of the Panzi Hospital and Foundation stated: “We can no longer continue to repair the consequences of violence without talking about its root causes.”

This story was shared by IOM DRC team.

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