Ongoing Rohingya repatriation efforts are doomed to failure

Earlier this month, Bangladesh and Myanmar attempted to repatriate thousands of Rohingya refugees currently residing in Bangladesh as part of a deal they had signed last November, but were eventually forced to postpone their plans amid intense international pressure.

More than 720,000 Rohingya fled Myanmar as result of a brutal military crackdown in August last year, taking shelter in crowded camps in Bangladesh and bringing with them harrowing tales of rape, murder and arson. Earlier this year, the United Nations’ Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar classified the atrocities perpetrated by the country’s military as “genocide”. In its 440-page report on the crackdown, the mission revealed that the military has killed more than 10,000 people in a matter of months and used brutal methods like rape, sexual slavery, arson and abductions to force the Rohingya to leave the country.

Marzuki Darusman, chair of the UN fact-finding mission, also said the estimated 250,000 to 400,000 Rohingya who remained in the Buddhist-majority country following last year’s crackdown “continue to suffer the most severe” restrictions and repression. “It is an ongoing genocide that is taking place,” he said.

Myanmar, on the other hand, rejected the UN report, claiming the investigation was “flawed, biased and politically motivated”. Myanmar authorities consistently deny any atrocity ever against Myanmar’s Rohingya population, saying the country’s security forces only attack “armed rebels”.


Rohingya repatriation: why the rush?

Charmain Mohamed
by Charmain Mohamed

In light of all this, the rushed attempt to send the Rohingya refugees back to their home state caused concern in the international community and led many to question the reasons behind the eagerness of Bangladesh and Myanmar to swiftly start the repatriation process.

Perhaps Bangladesh wants to unload the burden of the refugees as soon as possible and Myanmar wants to partially repair its image in the international arena by showing some willingness to welcome back the Rohingya. While all this is understandable, there were major flaws in the process that led to the failed repatriation attempt.

First of all, the refugees themselves were absent from the bilateral negotiations on repatriation between the two neighbouring states – nobody asked them what they wanted to do.

“We want to return to Burma [Myanmar] as it is our motherland, we were born and brought up there,” said Abdul Jalil, a newly arrived Rohingya refugee I interviewed in September in the Balukhali camp in Bangladesh.

“But we experienced nothing but atrocities there since August last year – Burma turned into a ‘death hole’ for us,” he added. “Now you tell me, would you be willing to fall into a death hole?”

Other Rohingya men and women I interviewed there told me more or less the same thing: That they want to go back to their homeland, but only if Myanmar gives them legal recognition and their safety is guaranteed by an international body such as the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Nevertheless, even in the unlikely scenario that Myanmar agrees to meet these conditions, the safe repatriation of the Rohingya refugees may not be possible. The ethnic Burmese majority in Myanmar is highly sceptical of Muslims in general and the Rohingya minority in particular, and the events of the past year only accentuated these feelings.

Kyaw Soe Moe, the administrator of the Inn Din village in Myanmar’s Rakhine state – where most atrocities took place – told Britain’s Guardian newspaper in October that he does not believe “the Muslims will come back”. “No one wants the terrorists to come back,” he added.

WATCH: Thousands of Rohingya refugees protest repatriation plan (2:29)

Given that the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh do not want to return to “a death hole” and many in Myanmar are reluctant to welcome back “terrorists”, it is possible to say, at least for now, any repatriation attempt is doomed to fail.

Myanmar is not mentally, politically, or logistically ready for the Rohingya refugees’ return and those in Bangladesh are not ready to go back to their “homeland” due to a persistent sense of insecurity.

Predictably, Bangladesh, an already overpopulated country whose infrastructure reached a breaking point following the arrival of the last batch of Rohingya refugees, is eager to start the repatriation process.

However, as was demonstrated by the failed attempt earlier this month, repatriation cannot take place without the agreement of the Myanmar authorities, the Burmese majority, the international community and, most importantly, the Rohingya refugees themselves. For now, none of the concerned parties – other than Bangladesh – genuinely believes the right conditions for the return of the Rohingya refugees are there.

Myanmar is not willing to bring the Rohingya refugees back. It is only appearing to be going along with Bangladeshi attempts to arrange their return to ease international pressure. The fact that the Rohingya villages in Rakhine are being prepared to be re-populated by “Rakhine, Chin, Bamar, and Hindu people from other parts of the country” clearly shows that Myanmar authorities have no real intention to welcome Rohingya back.

The international community is also not supporting the idea of repatriation at this time as NGOs active in the region and the UN agree that a rushed action would put the Rohingya at further risk. As Myanmar authorities are still refusing to give citizenship rights to the Rohingya, it is clear to many that what is waiting for them on the other side of the border is nothing more than the same apartheid conditions and threats that they faced prior to their escape.

Therefore, we need to ask ourselves: Who would benefit from rushed repatriation efforts other than the Myanmar authorities? Who would get an opportunity to pretend they are doing something to end the crisis? Can any repatriation deal convince the Rohingya that they will be safe in Myanmar, that they will have a dignified and productive life not clouded by fear?

Everyone who has been following the devastating ordeal of the Rohingya refugees undoubtedly wants the crisis to be resolved as soon as possible. However, rushed and forced repatriation is not the sustainable solution everyone is looking for.

Repatriation would only be acceptable if it takes place within the framework of reciprocal understanding, mutual trust and multilateral consensus between Bangladesh, Myanmar, international actors and the Rohingya. It would only succeed if it ensures the legal recognition, safety and dignity of the Rohingya population.

For now, such a repatriation deal does not appear to be within reach. We can talk repatriation if and when the Myanmar authorities take the necessary steps to convince the Rohingya people that they can be truly safe at home. Until then, the concerned parties should focus on easing the suffering of the Rohingya refugees and the burden on the Bangladeshi state.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.

Does repatriation of Rohingya breach international law?


Does repatriation of Rohingya breach international law?


GM to slash jobs and close eight plants

General Motors (GM) plans to halt production at five factories in North America and cut more than 14,000 jobs.

The US carmaker has also announced it will close three plants outside North America by the end of 2019.

The moves follow rising costs and slower car sales and come as the firm focuses on its line-up of trucks, electric and self-driving vehicles.

The company said the plan would help it save about $6bn (£4.7bn).

The cutbacks include a 15% reduction in the number of its salaried employees, including 25% fewer executives.

The five plants in North America alone employ about 7,000 people currently, including more than 6,000 shift workers.

“The actions we are taking today continue our transformation to be highly agile, resilient and profitable, while giving us the flexibility to invest in the future,” said GM chair and chief executive Mary Barra.

“We recognise the need to stay in front of changing market conditions and customer preferences to position our company for long-term success.”

Why is the company doing this?

26/11/2018 AFP/Getty ImagesImage copyrightAFP/GETTY
Image captionUS buyers have turned away from smaller cars in favour of SUVs and trucks

The production cuts come as buyers in North America have turned away from smaller cars to bigger vehicles such as SUVs and trucks, which now make up nearly 70% of total US car purchases.


Ms Barra said GM wants to invest in electric and autonomous vehicles, which are expected to drive future industry growth.

She is also responding to rising costs – including from new tariffs on materials such as steel – while preparing the firm for the next downturn, after US car sales peaked in 2016.

What are the details?

GM said it is cutting production of the Buick LaCross, Chevrolet Impala and Cadillac CT6 and XTS – all sedans – as well as the Chevrolet Volt and older versions of the Silverado and Sierra.

The closures in North America include an assembly plant in Oshawa, Canada; facilities in Detroit and Warren in Michigan; a plant in Warren, Ohio and a site near Baltimore in Maryland.

It is also closing a factory in South Korea, as announced in February, as well as two other international facilities that were not specified.

Labour union members block gate 1 of the General Motors Oshawa plant in Oshawa, Ontario, on November 26, 2018. -Image copyrightAFP/GETTY
Image captionLabour leaders in the US and Canada said they would fight the cuts

General Motors currently employs about 54,000 salaried workers in North America – which means the cuts are likely to affect more than 8,000 salaried staff, in addition to more than 6,000 shift workers at the plants.

The firm had signalled some of its plans previously, offering voluntary buyouts to up to 18,000 workers in October.

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Analysis by Michelle Fleury

GM boss Marry Barra said the firm was embarking on the cuts to “keep ahead of changing market conditions”.

Some of those changing conditions have little to do with the White House.

But others do.

Take the tariffs on steel – a key component in the production of cars. They have pushed up GM’s costs by an estimated $1bn.

Then there are shifting trade agreements and the president’s proposal to raise tariffs on imported cars.

New tax cuts passed last year were designed to encourage companies like GM to invest at home, but today’s announcement signals the lower tax rates are not enough to offset rising expenses.

So while investors may cheer today’s moves as a boost to GM’s bottom line, they’re a blow to President Trump and his many boasts about bringing car industry jobs back.

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What is the response?

On Monday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he called Ms Barra to express his “deep disappointment” in the closure of the Canadian GM plant, which has been in the province of Ontario for a century.

In the US, Senator Sherrod Brown, a Democrat who represents Ohio, called the decision “corporate greed at its worst”.

Labour unions in the US and Canada also said they would press the company to allocate more work to the factories, instead of closing them.

“To be clear, [we do] not accept the closure of the plant as a foregone conclusion,” labour leaders at the Oshawa factory in Canada wrote to their members.

“Remember, our plant has been in this situation before with no product on the horizon and we were able to successfully campaign for continued operations.”

In the US, Terry Dittes, vice president of the UAW, said GM had made a “callous decision” that put “profits before the working families of this country”.


Source : BBC

There is still hope for Cambodia’s democracy

It is now just over a year since I was thrown into exile at the stroke of a pen.

On 16 November 2017, the Cambodian Supreme Court disbanded my party – the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), the country’s only viable opposition force – and stripped me and 54 fellow MPs of our seats. The court, like virtually all of Cambodia’s judiciary, is deeply politicised and, for all intents and purposes, does the bidding of the government.

A few weeks before the ruling, CNRP President Kem Sokha was detained on ludicrous “treason” charges and was languishing in solitary confinement. The writing was on the wall – I realised I was likely the next target. By the end of October, I had fled my beloved Cambodia and I have not been able to return since.

The court’s ruling was part of a wider effort by Prime Minister Hun Sen and his ruling Cambodia People’s Party (CPP) to ensure victory in the sham general election held on July 29 this year. The CPP used the year before the vote to launch an unprecedented crackdown on dissent, jailing human rights activists, silencing what little remained of independent media, and locking up or exiling almost all leading opposition figures.

Unsurprisingly, the CPP eventually won all 125 National Assembly seats in the vote, having run essentially unopposed. International actors – including the European Union, the United States and the United Nations – dismissed the election as a sham and refused to send observers. Undeterred, Hun Sen gave a victory speech on polling day where he – without a hint of irony – thanked his supporters for “choosing the path of democracy”.


Is democracy dead in Cambodia?

For decades, Hun Sen has been a master manipulator of international opinion. He has ruled Cambodia in a quasi-authoritarian fashion, bending the rules of democracy just enough to maintain deniability. But the recent crackdown and outright banning of the opposition are unprecedented.

As a decades-long supporter of the struggle for democracy and rights, I see this as the most serious crisis we have faced so far. Cambodia’s descent into one-party rule means that what little checks and balances there were on Hun Sen are now gone. It also has dangerous implications for Southeast Asia as a whole, where authoritarianism is on the rise and rulers often copy each other’s worst practices.

I and my colleagues have spent the past year travelling the globe, trying to raise awareness of the situation in Cambodia and drumming up international support for a return to democracy.

CPP officials, meanwhile, have since the vote engaged in a desperate bid to shore up the party’s tarnished reputation. They have travelled the world trying to present themselves as a legitimate government – thankfully, no one is buying the ruse.

On October 5, just days before Hun Sen was due to visit Brussels for an annual EU-Asia summit, the EU announced it was withdrawing the so-called “Everything But Arms” trading preference from Cambodia, citing “grave violations” of human rights. This is a highly unusual move by the EU, and in the past has been reserved for conflict-torn countries like Sri Lanka and Myanmar. In response, the Cambodian government called the EU’s announcement an “extreme injustice”.

WATCH: Cambodian opposition leader under house arrest after jailing (1:40)

At home, Hun Sen has – in a blatant public relations move – moved Kem Sokha into house arrest and released a handful of political prisoners and activists since the election. Most have been let off with sinister warnings not to criticise authorities again.

These are piecemeal concessions and fundamental change is needed. The repressive laws used against dissidents are still on the legal books, and the CPP still rules the country with an iron fist.

But all is not lost. Cambodia has a young and growing population that has no memory of the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime: Two-thirds of Cambodians today are under 30 years of age. It is this generation that is hungry for the fundamental freedoms Hun Sen’s government is intent on dismantling. The CPP’s authoritarian rule will struggle to meet their demands in the long run.

Despite Hun Sen’s bluster and growing closeness to China, the CPP’s moves since the election also highlight how the regime is still courting international opinion. Now is the time for Cambodia’s international allies to use this leverage. EU countries, the US, Japan and others need to pressure the CPP to change course immediately, before it’s too late. The only way to restore our democracy is to reinstate the CNRP MPs who lost their seats, free Kem Sokha from detention and hold new elections that are genuinely free and fair.

During my year in exile, I have met Cambodian diaspora groups from Australia to Europe and South Korea – and many, many places in between. They all want the same thing – a democratic country where human rights are respected and where people are free to choose their future for themselves. This will not be possible as long as Hun Sen and the CPP remain in power.


source : Aljazeera

‘Indiana Jones of art’ finds stolen Cyprus mosaic

The man nicknamed “the Indiana Jones of the art world” has done it again – this time tracking down a precious sixth-Century mosaic stolen from Cyprus.

Finding the 1,600-year-old piece in a flat in Monaco had felt very special, Dutchman Arthur Brand said.

He handed the work over to the Cypriot embassy in The Hague on Friday.

Mr Brand has achieved fame recovering stolen artwork since 2015 when he found Hitler’s Horses – two Nazi statues that stood outside Hitler’s office.

Where was the Cypriot mosaic?

The Byzantine depiction of Saint Mark was stolen in the 1970s from Panayia Kanakaria church, about 105km (65 miles) north-east of the Cypriot capital, Nicosia.

Mr Brand spent nearly two years chasing the work across Europe, finally tracking it down in the possession of a British family.

They had “bought the mosaic in good faith more than four decades ago”, the investigator told AFP news agency.

“They were horrified when they found out that it was in fact a priceless art treasure, looted from the Kanakaria church after the Turkish invasion,” Mr Brand said.

“It was one of the greatest moments of my life,” the investigator said.

The newest instalment of the Indiana Jones franchise, which stars Harrison Ford in the title role, is scheduled for release in 2020.

Recovering stolen masterpieces

The 2002 Van Gogh museum raid was one of a series of thefts that shocked the art world.

The Edward Munch masterpieces ' The Scream' and 'Madonna' are shown to the press, 26 September 2006 in Oslo,Image copyrightAFP
Image captionMunch’s 1893 work The Scream was found two years after it was torn from a museum wall in Oslo in 2004

In 2004, two Edvard Munch masterpieces, The Scream and Madonna, were seized by armed men who raided the Munch museum in Oslo. Several men were jailed and the paintings later recovered after painstaking detective work in 2006.

Another version of The Scream was stolen from the National Art Museum in Oslo in 1994 and that too was later recovered in a sting operation by UK detectives.

In 2012, seven artworks were stolen from Rotterdam’s Kunsthal museum, including paintings by Picasso, Monet and Matisse. Two thieves were later jailed, telling a Bucharest court that security at the museum had been lax. Some of the paintings were destroyed in an oven.

Earlier this year, four paintings out of a haul of 24 stolen from a Dutch gallery in 2005 were recovered in Ukraine


Source : BBC

15 martyrs since the beginning of the entry into the easing escalation agreement.

The “Documentation Office” in the Syrian Press Center since the beginning of the entry into force of the agreement to ease escalation after midnight last Friday within the areas covered by the agreement, “15” martyrs of civilians documented by name, by the bombing of the regime forces, Where the civilian martyrs were classified as follows:

– 3 children.
– 2 women.
– 1 Media.
– 9 ordinary civilians.

* – The distribution of martyrs “civilians” by governorates as follows:
– 5 martyrs in the province of Homs.
– 3 martyrs in the province of Daraa.
– 3 martyrs in the province of Damascus and its countryside.
– 3 martyrs in the province of Hama.
– 1 martyr in the province of Idlib.
* As for the millitary, the number of “44” people died during the resistance of attempts to advance the regime forces to the areas covered by the agreement to ease the escalation, distributed as follows:
– 32 people while the regime forces stopped advancing towards the northern areas of Hama.
– 8 people while the regime forces stopped advancing towards several areas in the eastern suburbs of Damascus and Qaboun.
– 4 persons while the regime forces stopped advancing towards the opposition control areas in Deraa governorate.
Syrian Press Center
Documentation Office

Documenting of 122 women martyrs during the month of April in Syria out of 1068 martyrs

A recent report by the Syrian Press Center revealed a new toll for the civilian victims of the civil war since the beginning of the events in 2011. The number of martyrs reached 1,068 civilians, including children and women.

The report pointed that 122 women were died during this period, all died in the areas of control of the rebels. Idleb governorate is first province according to the number of martyrs among the rest of the regions throughout the country, amounting to 25%.

_61 martyrs of women by regime warplanes
_31 martyrs of women by Russian warplanes
_17 martyrs of women by coalition aircrafts
_11 martyrs of women by ISIS fighters
_A martyred woman by Kurdish forces
_A martyred woman because of lack of food
Raising the number of women who died from the beginning of the events in Syria in March 2011 to March 2017 to 23502 women, according to reports of human rights organizations ,including the Syrian Human Rights Network, during which the martyrdom of 1235 women during the second half of last year in all Syrian provinces By various parties, notably the regime and its Russian ally, according to the Syrian press center.
Syrian Press Center