combating statelessness for Rohingya refugees
The Muslim Rohingya minority found in Myanmar have been systematically stripped of citizenship in bureaucratic ways, which has led to combating statelessness for Rohingya refugees.

In 1982, the ruling military junta put in place discriminatory citizenship laws in Myanmar. The law favors the country’s “national races” and excludes the Muslim Rohingya and several other ethnic minorities, automatically granting full citizenship to these “national races.” The national races include groups that were present in Myanmar before the British conquest in 1824.

Removing Rohingya Rights

Throughout past years in Myanmar, each form of ID was declared invalid and then taken from the Rohingya, replaced with a card that indicated fewer rights. The “white cards,” created in 1982, were temporary documents that left the Rohingya in legal limbo.

Currently, the authorities urge the Rohingya to apply for a “national verification card.” The new identification card is highly criticized because of the multistep citizenship process associated with the cards. Many Rohingya, in addition, don’t feel confident that they would have “full” citizenship or basic rights with the new cards.

Nurul Hoque and his family are Rohingya refugees that are fearful of these new cards. He holds on to his grandfather’s old and frail identity card from Myanmar from before the implementation of the discriminatory citizenship laws. This old document is a reminder of a life that he and his family had left behind in Myanmar.

Nick Cheesman, a political scientist at Australian International University, describes to DW that the deprivation of citizenship among Rohingya was not a result of the 1982 law but more an inaccurate implementation of the law.

United Nations High Commissioner of Refugees and Combating Statelessness

In combating statelessness for Rohingya refugees, the United Nations High Commissioner of Refugees (UNHCR) has declared a worldwide effort to end statelessness by 2024. Around 10 million people in the world are denied citizenship, which causes many obstacles in obtaining basic rights.

To overcome statelessness, the UNHCR works with many other organizations to assemble and endorse more compelling solutions. It collaborates with other international organizations, nongovernmental organizations, civil society groups, national human rights institutions and academic and legal associations. The United Nations General Assembly granted, through a series of resolutions in 1995, the UNHCR the formal approval to combat statelessness through identification, prevention, reduction and protection of stateless individuals.

The UNHCR believes that citizenship, or some structure of documented status within a state, is required for basic rights to be achieved. This statelessness determination status, though, is to give individuals an interim way to attain basic rights. The final goal is to end statelessness altogether.

United States Assistance to Myanmar

The United States humanitarian policy in Myanmar has been guided by the importance of protection of basic rights for refugees and asylum seekers. On September 20, 2017, the State Department allocated $28 million in humanitarian aid for displaced people in Bangladesh.

The overall objective for United States policy in Myanmar is to establish a democratically elected civilian government that recognizes human rights and civil liberties of all Myanmar citizens and residents, revealing another effort in combating statelessness for Rohingya refugees.

– Andrea Quade

Photo: Flickr

Saint HelenaSaint Helena is a small tropical island in the southern Atlantic Ocean and remains one of the few countries that is part of the British Overseas Territories. Saint Helena has been a part of the British territories for many years, far from the mainland in its remote locale. Though the island is isolated, there is a question as to the current issue of human rights in Saint Helena. Recently, Saint Helena has been under scrutiny for possible child abuse on its shores.

In 2014, the Daily Mail published a series of three articles about the “culture of sexual abuse of children” in Saint Helena. Needless to say, these articles shocked the public. The articles detailed the brutality of the abuses. More importantly, the articles suggested that authorities needed to review the policing occurring on the island.

The articles criticized the authorities in great detail, particularly the Foreign Commonwealth Office, the local Government of Saint Helena and the Department for International Development. Other coincidental occurrences suggest that there is child abuse ongoing on the island as well, creating a grave concern for human rights in Saint Helena.

Claire Gannon and Martin Warsama are social workers from Britain who worked with Saint Helena residents. Gannon and Warsama reported the occurrence of rampant child abuse; later, both alleged they were threatened and forced to leave the island in retaliation for reporting such abuse.

After denying these accusations of abuse to the U.N., the Foreign Commonwealth Office (FCO) of Britain drafted a report in which it noted that child abuse was indeed a plague on the island. The report alleged that police officers assaulted a four-year old girl and mutilated a two-year old toddler. The FCO apologized for its “erroneous” original report. Gannon and Warsama were furious. In return, the social workers sued the FCO and the United Kingdom Department for International Development.

The FCO was faced with public outcry. As a result, it commissioned a report by a children’s charity, the Lucy Faithfull Foundation. The Foundation kept its report confidential. However, the contents were leaked to a website the social workers had created to help drum up support for their lawsuit. The report noted that there was a culture on the island of abusing teenage girls through “violent and brutal attacks.”

The two different reports generated by the FCO indicate that there is, at a minimum, some ongoing child abuse in a social pattern on the island. One of the reasons such abuse could potentially be taking place is because of the small population: there are just over 4,000 permanent residents of the island. It is well-established that abusers often become close to their victims.

The government of Saint Helena has been taking an active legislative and political interest in the welfare of children as a whole. Beginning in 2010, the Welfare of Children Regulations has been shaping the Safeguarding Children’s and Young People’s Board. To avoid undue political influence as much as possible, the Board is chaired independently, though it does report to the Governor of Saint Helena. Other members of the Board include those who work with children regularly: representatives from the different sectors of health, social services, education and nongovernmental organizations.

The Board is a sincere effort from the government to protect children’s interests; it meets every six weeks and when there is an urgent matter. The Board also strives to harmonize different elements of the government, so that various agencies can work for the betterment of children’s interests.

Saint Helena is a closed-off island. Besides being well-known for being Napoleon’s home during his last years, the island is generally not in the news. Still, different stories detailing possible child abuse yield concerns about the status of human rights in Saint Helena. The government’s efforts to restore these rights serve as an encouraging step forward in the fight to end child abuse.

Smriti Krishnan

Photo: Flickr

The North Korean refugee situation is not one to be taken lightly. While the American media predominantly focuses on the recent refugee crises in Syria and other Middle Eastern countries, the totalitarian regime of North Korea impedes on the human rights of North Korean refugees everyday and such injustices cannot be ignored.

10 Facts about North Korean Refugees

  1. The people who live in North Korea are governed by Kim Jong-un under a completely totalitarian regime. Totalitarianism as a form of government theoretically prohibits individual freedom and expression; all aspects of an individual’s life are subject to the government’s authority. As such, media access and information about life outside of North Korea is extremely restricted.
  2. Most North Korean refugees defect to either China or South Korea. Refugees must usually travel through China to reach South Korea, as the border between North and South Korea is extremely regulated.
  3. South Korea’s media usually does not publicize individual defections, but large groups of North Koreans who defect all at once, such as the group of thirteen restaurant workers who left North Korea in April 2016, are more likely to be reported.
  4. The government of South Korea offers citizenship to all North Korean refugees who legitimately try to claim refugee status. The people seeking refuge are extensively interviewed to filter out any North Korean spies. As of May 2016, around 29,000 North Korean refugees live in South Korea.
  5. South Korea also offers reorientation classes for refugees from NK. These courses teach refugees basic life and job skills that don’t apply in North Korea, such as how to withdraw money from an ATM or shop in a Western-style supermarket.
  6. If any refugees from NK manage to escape to China, most face the fear of Chinese government discovery and the forcible repatriating that follows. Despite a signatory on the United Nations convention on refugees stating that China is not obligated to repatriate people seeking refuge, China still cooperates with the North Korean government and will even pay Chinese citizens to turn in undocumented refugees.
  7. Once they arrive back in North Korea, the refugees generally face torture, harsh physical labor and internment in political prisoner camps. It is therefore important to make sure people who want to leave North Korea can leave without fear of repatriation and punishment for leaving their country of birth.
  8. Organizations like Liberty for North Korea use donations to provide rescue and rehabilitation for North Korean refugees without any direct cost to the refugees themselves. It costs about $3,000 to fully rehabilitate one refugee. So far they have rehabilitated 505 refugees.
  9. As of May 2016, over 200,000 North Korean refugees live secretly in China. Most of them live in fear of repatriation and simply want to move on to South Korea or another country that will offer legal protection to refugees. However, tightly restricted travel between China and other countries’ borders often prevents such an opportunity.
  10. Many refugees from NK suffer from a host of mental health problems, including but not limited to depression and PTSD, even after they leave North Korea.

The cooperation of the Chinese with North Korea’s government makes the Chinese government complicit in the refugee injustices. North Korean refugees need help, and they’re looking to the rest of the world for aid.

Bayley McComb

Photo: Liberty in North Korea

It is early September and Guillermo Arevalo Pedroza is taking his wife and two young girls on a picnic on the south side of the Rio Grande. A couple of shots fired later and Arevalo is dying in the arms of his 9-year-old daughter. These are the types of atrocities that are occurring with dismaying frequency at the hands of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

Juan Pablo Perez Santillan, Carlos Lamadrid, and Sergio Adrian Hernandez Guereca are some of the names of those who have lost their lives in similar incidents.

Questions continue to arise regarding the integrity of the CBP, especially in lieu of the recent shooting of 41-year-old Mexican native, Jesus Flores-Cruz.

The incident occurred on Tuesday, February 18th in Mission, Texas, when two agents on foot suspected multiple people of attempting to cross the border illegally from Mexico. One agent, whose identity remains undisclosed, fired two shots after being attacked by several rocks, killing Flores-Cruz. There were no witnesses.

In a statement following the incident, the Border Patrol claimed that the agent feared for his life at the time of the attack. Spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney’s office in San Diego, Kelly Thornton, said that prosecutors decided against charging the agent with a crime.

Amongst the responses to the shooting are many who are concerned about the continuing pattern of human rights abuses committed by the Border Patrol under their use-of-force policy.

Both the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), as well as the Southern Border Communities Coalition (SBCC), expressed their indignation following the event. In a statement on behalf of the SBCC, director Christian Ramirez said that the incident “is yet another reminder that the Border Patrol operates with impunity and on the fringes of the Constitution and international law.”

Although bold, this statement holds weight given the number of people killed with lethal force by the CBP. Since 2010, 21 Mexican citizens have been killed, and not one agent involved in the deaths has been prosecuted for their use of lethal force.

This continuing use of lethal weapons raises questions about the agency’s lack of both accountability and oversight. For example, agents are not required to carry non-lethal repellents, such as ‘pepper ball’ guns, which shoot pellets of pepper spray at long-range distances. However, those agents who have made use of such devices have been successful at repelling rock attacks such as that which occurred in the case of Flores-Cruz. 160 separate incidents have been resolved by using these non-lethal devices.

Given that this is the case, it is highly alarming that the CBP rejected a recommendation that they prohibit agents from using lethal weapons against rock throwers and assailants in vehicles.

So, what can be done?

Twenty members of Congress have recently asked to meet with ranking members of the CBP to discuss their growing concern. In addition, the Police Executive Research Forum an independent police review agency, has issued a report with recommendations for the CBP. Among the recommendations are ways for agents to de-escalate tense encounters by taking cover, moving out of range, and/or using non-lethal weapons.

Customs and Border Protection boasts of being the largest law enforcement agency in the United States, which carries with it the responsibility of being accountable to the American public. If attacks continue, it could have serious implications for the CBP’s credibility and integrity.

– Mollie O’Brien

Sources: Southern Borders Communities Coalition, Latin Times, Daily News, ACLU
Photo: Deviant Art