Wednesday, 1 August 2018

Egypt - Five Years of Oppression and Persecution

Egypt: Five Years of Oppression and Persecution

Dr. Mozammel Haque

Seven years after the Egyptian Revolution the country is going through one of the worst human rights crisis in its history. President Sisi government has consistently since the inception of power used torture, arbitrary detention and enforcement as tools of repression. The government has also targeted thousands of activists, detained journalists, prosecuted human rights lawyers and defenders. All of these is indicative of the loss of the vary values that underpin the independent revolution seven years ago, Robert Andrews, Researcher at the Arab Organisation for Human Rights, said in his introduction in a meetin held recently in London.

Arab Organisation for Human Rights organised a meeting entitled Egypt: Five Years of Oppression and Persecution was held at Friends House, London, on Thursday, 12 July 2018.  Among the speakers were Dr. Suha Al-Sheikh, Human Rights Activists, Dr. Melek Saral, Marie Curie Research Fellow at the SOAS School of Law, Katherine O’Byrne a good practitioner specialising in international law human rights public law and jurisdiction and Hannah Philipp. Hannah Phillips is working at the Arab Organisation for Human Rights as Researcher. This meeting was called up to draw attention and awareness to challenges to the country and so open debate how to remedy the challenges.

Dr. Suha Ali Sheikh
Dr. Suha Ali Sheikh is a human rights activist and a member of the Egyptian Revolutionary Council. Dr Suha said, “Since Sisi seized power in a military coup on July 3, 2013, Egypt has been transformed from a stagnant middle-of-the-road autocracy into one of the most repressive states on earth. Needless to say, the street protests and youth activism that filled Tahrir Square during the 2011 uprisings are long gone. Tens of thousands of political opponents, dissidents and labour organizers are incarcerated en masse in an archipelago of prisons, army barracks, and black sites.”

Dr. Suha also mentioned, “Every year hundreds of Egyptians are simply disappeared by the security services — many of them to be extra-judicially executed. Egypt is one of the worst jailers of journalists in the world, censorship is at its highest level and there is barely any political opposition left.”

Egyptian courts are now passing more death sentences than those recorded in some other countries. Dr. Suha mentioned, “In 2014, more than 1000 individuals were sentenced to death in one case. In March 2017, the public prosecutor sought the death penalty for 739 people, including the Egyptian photographer Shawkan, in a single case, relating to the violent dispersal of the rabaa Square in August 2013. The final judgment of the case is still awaited.”

Dr. Suha also mentioned, “Activists and human rights defenders who draw attention to any of this become a target for the State. Egyptian rights activists say they are facing the worst assault in their history. They are personally surveilled, intimidated, imprisoned, and attacked at every opportunity.” She also gave a list which demonstrated how the activists and human rights defenders were detained, imprisoned and targeted. She also mentioned Mohamed Sadeq, a HR lawyer, was detained and forcibly disappeared for 90 days and is still in prison. She also mentioned another human rights activist Dr. Ahmed Abdul Sattar Amasha.

Dr. Suha mentioned, “Egypt’s main agency for the treatment of torture victims, the Nadeem Center for Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence and Torture established as far back as 1993, was shut down by the police in February 2017.  Nadeem’s work was considered a threat by the state partly because the records the Center kept make clear the level of torture and abuse being meted by the state against its citizens and also highlight numerous cases killed in confrontations with the security services that have been in fact reported missing weeks or even months beforehand. Aida Seif Aldawla and other founders have been banned from travel.”

“In addition, Judicial authorities issued travel bans to at least 15 rights activists in connection with investigations related to what is known as “Case Number 173,” which targets civil society organisations on charges related to securing unauthorised funding from abroad. This 2011 NGO trial, or Case 173 was reopened in March 2016. Despite the Cassation Court’s decision for a retrial on April 5th this year, the travel bans and asset freezes remain in place,” Dr Suha mentioned.
Dr. Suha also said, “IN reality, the Sisi regime doesn’t make it easy for its international allies; bankrolling and propping up a government that has already killed more people than Pinochet ever did, and that storms the Journalists Syndicate on World Press Freedom Day, inevitably draws questions.”  

“Activists within Western societies may ensure that human rights get mentioned during foreign policy discussions,” she said.

Dr. Suha also pointed out, “It is true that criticism of the regime has become slightly more vocal as of late. For example, The European Union (EU) on May 30th) expressed concern about recent arrests of political and rights activists in Egypt and called it a worrying development," but the effect of these comments is limited by Western governments’ strategic support for the regime and its interests in counter-terrorism, investment, and migration.”
Dr. Suha said from this platform, “We call on the International community to raise its voice against the HR violations in Egypt. We believe that Western acquiescence appears to have emboldened the Egyptian government in its campaign to silence dissent and crush independent civil society in the harshest possible form”

“The Egyptian authorities must put an end to the attacks on journalists, human rights associations and other critics and stop all repressive measures on freedom of expression. We also demand a moratorium on the death sentences and the opening up of Egyptian prisons to inspection from international organisations such as the Red Cross,”she demanded.

Dr. Suha also called upon the “European Parliament Human rights subcommittee to visit Egypt in order to ensure that Egypt is committed to the implementation of their human rights commitments. This visit was welcomed by Ali Abdel Al, the head of Egypt current Parliament in June 2018 on his last visit Brussels.”

Dr. Melek Saral
Dr. Melek Saral, Marie Curie Research Fellow at the SOAS School of Law, gave a presentation on the human rights situation in Egypt after the July 2013 military Coup in Egypt. Dr. Melek said, “The mass demonstrations that began on 25 January 2011 raised hopes for a democratic transition and for the improvement of human rights situation in Egypt. However Egypt’s’ two-year attempt to a transition has been stopped after the July 2013 military coup. Since the removal of Egypt’s first democratically elected president, severe human rights violations including arbitrary detention, extra judiciary killings, enforced disappearances and torture have become daily news in Egypt as the reports from international organisations such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International state.”

Dr. Melek also mentioned, “We can speak from institutionalised human rights violations in Egypt, as these violations are embedded in the procedures, policies and objectives of the Sisi’s military rule. Sisi’s government is facilitating unprecedented human rights violations to create a state of fear and to ensure complete control over the Egyptians.  Several laws which have been issued by decree since the military ouster of President Morsi, such as Protest Law issued on November 24, 2013, the Military Courts Law issued on October 27, 2014 and Counterterrorism Law issued on August 15, 2015 have led to gross human rights violations in the country. There is no judicial redress, no accountability grounded in an independent judiciary and country’s’ independent media and civil society are silenced by the military government.”

“Thus, Egyptians have no mechanisms to bring an end to human rights violations and protect themselves from these violations. Perpetrators of these widespread, pervasive and consistent human rights violations enjoy impunity, as judicial redress is not possible. More worryingly institutions which should have provide protection for Egyptian citizens against human rights violations are facilitating severe human rights violations in Egypt. UN Report of the Committee against Torture 2017 concludes that torture is a systematic practice in Egypt and states “Torture is perpetrated by police officers, military officers, National Security officers and prison guards. However, prosecutors, judges and prison officials also facilitate torture by failing to curb practices of torture, arbitrary detention and ill-treatment or to act on complaints,” she mentioned.

Dr. Melek called upon the international community to put pressure on Sisi’s military government. She said, “International community should put pressure on Sisi military government to bring an end to the widespread, pervasive and consistent human rights violations in Egypt. However, as the Human Rights Watch Country Reports 2018 points out “Egypt’s international allies continue to support Egypt’s government and rarely offer public criticism.”

Hannah Phillips Researcher
Hannah Phillips who is working at the Arab Organisation for Human rights as a researcher briefly gave an overall view of what happened in the last five years and present a discourse on the Sisi’s usual torture, repression and human rights violations. She presents some of the statistics from the last five years increase of violence and repression which constitute vast human rights abuses. She said, “As we know back in January 2011 actually through the April 6 movement and others demonstrating for democracy and again state violence mobilised hundreds and thousands of civilians in demonstration across Cairo and other places. The country put down President Mubarak for the hopes that were raised by Revolution slowly dissolved into chaos and actually aspirations were extinguished within a couple of years. With Sisi, the then Defence Minister and Commander-in-Chief of Armed Forces then seized power in July 2013 and began harsh crackdown on those started the revolution as well as those who sought any reform get from power.”

“Sisi’s crackdown had unfolded one of the most expulsive overhaul of the legal system in the legal history. After declaring state of emergency in 2013 he issued a series of Presidential degrees granting him unprecedented power to silence his critics; forged counter terrorism laws has expanded the definition of terrorism,” she said.

Hannah Phillips said, “Since Sisi came into power, the Egyptian regime has shut down more than 20 media outlets, satellite channels and newspapers in order to completely eliminate freedom of opinion and expression. Furthermore many journalists, left and rights, have been prohibited from writing and publishing their works, articles. Ten journalists have been killed and more than 200 journalist remained arrested and many remained detained. Therefore, since the revolution freedom of speech have been severely restricted.”

Hannah Phillips also mentioned, “In five years since Sisi came to power, over 3000 Egyptians have been killed and more than 2000 have been detained in peaceful demonstrations and all those 3000 or more deaths many of those have been killed at the hands of the security forces during peaceful gatherings. Meanwhile, 700 of them have been marginalised in detention centres and many have been killed as a result of torture by security forces as well as medical negligence in detention facilities and also as a result of overcrowding and poor conditions.”

Speaking about the situation in Sinai peninsula in the same period under review, she said, “In five years, we have seen 10,000 people have been arrested and according to the military operation in Sinai during the period of monitoring the number of civilian deaths amounts to over 4000 including 3000 people who, army said, were killed as a result of security clashes and the rest were killed randomly without any investigation being opened into any of these cases. There has also been vast destruction of civilian properties during this clashes with the security forces that have left to the forced displacement of many civilians. These are vast numbers which clearly demonstrate the lack of freedom to protest and constitute mass human rights abuses under international law of human rights and criminal process.” 

Tuesday, 3 April 2018

Palestinian-Israeli Conflict: Undecided Story

Palestinian Ambassador Afif at OXCIS
Palestinian-Israeli Conflict: Undecided Story

Dr. Mozammel Haque

American President Donald Trump announced in December 2017 he was recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and ordering the US embassy transfer, reversing decades of U.S. and international policy and enraging the Arab world and many allies. Since that announcement, there were protests all over the world as well as protests and demonstration by the Palestinians. Here in the United Kingdom, besides the meetings and seminars, there were two main meetings in the month of February: one in the British Parliament and another in the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies, University of Oxford, Oxford.

A debate on Palestinian Children and the Israeli Military Detention took place in the British Parliament under Graham Stringer, M.P. in the chair on 7th of February 2018. This debate was moved by Sarah Champion, Labour Member of the British Parliament from Rotherham and the House has considered military detention of Palestinian children by Israeli Authorities.

Another lecture on Palestine/Israel: History is Undecided was held by the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies (OXCIS), University of Oxford, on 15 February 2018 at the Centre’s Jerusalem Room. The lecture was delivered by Palestinian diplomat Afif Safieh, the former Ambassador of Palestine in London, UK and Washington, DC, USA. He was most recently the Palestinian Ambassador to the Russian Federation.

Palestine/Israel: History is Undecided at OXCIS
This is the second time Palestinian Ambassador was invited to give a lecture on Palestinian-Israeli Relationships to this prestigious centre of the Oxford University. Ambassador gave a detailed account of the Palestinian-Israeli Relations for the last 70 years.

History is cemetery of oppressed people
Ambassador Afif said that history is a cemetery of oppressed people. He said, “I never belonged to the optimistic school of thought that believe in predetermination and that the oppressed inevitably will become victorious. I believe Alas that history is a cemetery for oppressed people who remain oppressed until they vanished to the historical oppression. And I believe that as far as we are concerned, we, the Palestinians, today the more political challenge and dilemma in the Middle East we either have one people too many Palestinians, we the Palestinians or we have this state which we seek. The international community answered has been repeatedly by the UN for the last fifty years that there is a state missing that needs to be created. But unfortunately Alas history is undecided. And I appeal to you collectively and individually to help history make the right choice.”

Historical denials
Ambassador Afif mentioned about historical denials. He said, “I believe that denials, the historical denials, are abominable; holocaust denials, of course, and I want to draw your attention to Palestinians who have been subjected to three successive denials. First came the denial of our mere physical existence; or remember the slogan Palestine is a land with no people over it and our mere physical existence; and the second denial was the denial of the history of our rights and the third denial was the acknowledgement of the historical wrong or the harm the injustice that was inflicted. How often we, the Palestinians, listened that we should be grateful that Zionism came to Palestine. How often our suffering has been penalised tribalised and many have told us thus compared to the other sufferings yours is benign and trifle. And how often we had to hear about the trees that were planted, the forests that were planted without anybody feeling the need to explain how the uprooting of the human being is justified by the planting of a tree; that the uprooting of an entire people justified by the planting of the forest.”

Nakba or ethnic cleansing of 1948
Ambassador Afif said he never believes in the hierarchy of sufferings or no way of measuring pain or quantify the sufferings. He mentioned, “If I were a Jew or a gipsy Nazi barbarity holocaust would be the most horrible event in the history of mankind. If I were Native Americans, it would be the arrival of the early European settlers resulted in the almost total extermination. Had I been a black African it would be slavery in the nineteenth century or apartheid in the last century and if I have to be a Palestinian and I happen to be a Palestinian it would be the Nakba, the ethnic cleansing of 1948, which resulted in the dispossession and dispersion and oppression of an entire people.”

“History is undecided and we need to help history make the right choice. It is interesting that in the Israeli Palestinian relationship the oppressor hates the victim much more than the victim hates the oppressor. And it is interesting to note that the oppressed have moved faster beyond mutual negation than the mutual recognition and I believe neither Palestinians have throughout our years of political itinerary have moved beyond asking for absolute justice and we are only asking for possible justice. We have been what I have called unreasonably reasonable; and I believe that we have offered those who chose to be our enemies several proposals that up to now have been rejected,” former Palestinian ambassador mentioned.  

Several proposals rejected
Ambassador Afif mentioned of the several proposals offered by the Palestinians. He said, “The first proposal emanated in the  late 60s and I grew up politically with that proposal which was for the future we aspire for unitary, democratic state that would be bi-cultural pluri-ethnical multi-confessional democratic world where Jews, Christians, Muslims and others will have equal rights and equal obligations. This is the idea; this is the principle with which I personally grew up with.”

“We might have been na├»ve but that idea inspired an entire generation of Palestinian people, Palestinian leaders and we knew that to achieve this we needed two things to happen; we needed either a decisive military victory, or we needed to convert, persuade and seduce a majority of the Jewish community establishment when there was never a decisive military victory. At best October war 1973 can be described as a military with and then I am speaking of the late 60’s early 70’s,” said Palestinian ambassador.

Turning point – October 1973
Ambassador Afif said, “I think the October 1973 for me has been a turning point and demarcation line in the regional history and in the political strategic thinking of that region. It’s then the Arabs including us, the Palestinians, we became aware that there is no military solution to that conflict and that there would be no military victory and that the Americans will never allow Israel to be defeated. Those of us who were young people or old enough remember how in 1973 the Americans organised air bridge of planes carrying tanks and tins landing in the Sinai and immediately getting engaged in the battle. So we understood that there is no military solution to the conflict. And that we should stick in a diplomatic avenue towards conflict resolution and from then onwards gradually we, the Palestinians started adopting resolutions about the idea of a Palestinian state alongside Israel the two state solutions along the 1967 boundaries.”

Peace Process for Two state solutions
along the 1967 boundaries.
Then the former Palestinian ambassador gave the details of the peace process which started after the Iraq war 1991. He mentioned, “As you know the peace process that is so much spoken about started after the Iraq war 1991 with a conference convened in Madrid in the presence of Bush father and I think Mikhail Gorbachev in his last months and continued the discussion in Washington where it stagnated the talks. Parallel to that there was back channel of Oslo and I have joked often with my Norwegian friends by telling them if the Oslo back-channelled has not yet put Palestine fully on the map it has put Norway on the map.”

“that peace process of Madrid started in 1991 the Oslo back-channelled was in 1993; the ideas that inspired both exercises were that the peace we are all looking for would be based on land in exchange for peace and I personally believe that roads of the being was quite that it will end up after a transitional period of five years with a Palestinian state being created in four years and recognised. And today more than twenty five years after and I always say the way it was handled and choreographed we ended having endurable process instead of lasting permanent peace,” lamented Ambassador Afif.

In this connection, former Palestinian ambassador mentioned the role of French President De Gaulle. He said, “De Gaulle after 1967 had a press conference where he announced concerning the Middle East Crisis that he appealed and court for what he called then meaning the coordination of major four powers – popular china was not yet in the Security Council and then all observers used to consider the Americans and the British as closer to the Israeli position and France and the Soviet Union as closer to the Arabs. And the way the whole thought of this idea was: those four major powers would meet besides on the contents and the contours of the peace desirable as possible and sent an unequivocal messages to the local belligerent actors of what the international community expect from them.”

He said, “Unfortunately the idea was never ready off the ground. I think at best the permanent representative in New York met a couple of times and spent for the simple reason then in 1967 the American administration was not unhappy with the Israeli military victory compensated  the humiliation of Vietnam. The British was unenthusiastic simply because the idea was French to begin with and since then the ladies and gentleman we had a durable process instead of lasting permanent peace.”

25 years of theoretical peace making
Coming back to the present day situation, Ambassador Afif said, “Today how can one describe my friends the situation after 25 years of theoretical peace making. The first point is (i) that for us, Palestinians, the Nakba, the catastrophe is not a frozen moment that has happened sometimes in 1948. Alas and unfortunately, it is still an on-going process until today. (ii) The 25 years of theoretical peace making did not result really in Israeli withdrawals; it resulted in the expansion of occupation through the elastic growth of the settlements. (iii) The constant policy of the Israeli successive governments, left, right or centre is how to acquire as much of Palestinian geography as much as possible, with as little as Palestinian demography as possible.”

“(iv) Today, years after the launch of the Arab Peace Initiative one should admit and say that if we have a diplomatic impulse it’s not because of Arabs rejection of the Israeli existence; it’s because of the Israeli rejection of Arabs acceptance; because of the territorial prerequisite which is withdrawal. (v) All throughout those years, we the Palestinians, we the Arabs had always hoped that America, the U.S.A. would be more even-handed than it has proven to be and we have all waited for the Eisenhower moment; for us who are young enough or old enough having glimpse or read about Eisenhower in 1956 after what we consider to be the tripartite aggression against Egypt and the Israeli occupation of Sinai. During the American Presidential elections year Eisenhower with one phone call to Ben Gorian had the Israeli immediately withdraw back to the international frontiers and by the way Netanyahu, Sharon compared to Ben Gorian looks like a lamb. He was a roaring lion of Israeli on the phone call from Eisenhower,” mentioned Ambassador Afif.

“We the Arabs have been waiting for an Eisenhower moment where the American administration bearing in minds their interest and their responsibility and the international law they would make that phone call and tell the Israeli withdrawals. Alas, that never occurred; there we have stuck? Stuck among other things; because we have a Trump administration who is no more respecting American foreign policy and the principles that have made; the American foreign policy he made his decision concerning Jerusalem recognising as the capital of Israeli and announcing very soon the transfer of the embassy. And tell you frankly; we the Palestinians are no more ready to go into a peace process where the Americans are the solo actor theoretically mediating between the belligerent actors. I personally believe that years ago we should have become aware that the formula adopted in Madrid and then in Oslo was not very relevant except the peace process. Why?” he enquired.

Ambassador Afif continued, “I remember after 1993 I said to them; I am still saying about the year 90s that the Israeli wants a diplomatic outcome for that peace process that would reflect the instinctive American alignment of the Israeli preference and the outcome that reflect the decline of Russia; the abdication of Europe and the impotence of the Arab world and what they thought would be Palestinian resignation. And our answer was always say to the Israelis that we had many interlock with the Israelis; don’t confuse Palestinian’s realism with resignation.”

Speaking about Intifadas, Ambassador Afif mentioned, “I believe you will remember that we had several intifadas with modest means and the Palestinians are realistic; but not resigned to the fate that was allocated. I spoke of abdication of Europe; often European Union interlockers taking the model of Norway how the Oslo process put Norway on the map. I used to tell them up to now you have been relegated to the role of players and usually aspire to be players because of the proximity, because of your intimate knowledge of the region, because of your colonial past etc. etc. Today we are stagnated. I would not conceive from you that we would like to see a different framework; that saffrony peace process.”

Referring to the Quartet and peace process so far, Ambassador Afif said, “The Quartet which was created in 2002 and we have welcomed the birth of Quartet and that you know that Quartet was made by the USA, EU, Russia and the UN to represent everybody else.  The Quartet has proven to be a one-tenth of operation; everybody else abrogated on their possible potential role and I believe President Mahmoud Abbas in a few days would be at the Security Council addressing the international community and I believe he would be asking that the future endeavours should be saffroned by the Security Council and the five permanent members and to be don’t have any objections or vetoes to add other members but the five permanent members of the Security Council who should decide and one does not need to be genius to contours the contents of the desirable possible peace all the practitioners of the diplomacy today know what they are. Will the Americans stop that veto exercise? Yes they intend to; and will Netanyahu pressure the Trump administration to sabotage that endeavour? I think he will.”

No acceptable solution in the pipeline
Ambassador Afif believes that we, the Palestinians should give priority to our own political system in order. He said, “We have suffered divisions; we have suffered geographic political nature of West Bank. I don’t think there is an acceptable solution in the pipeline; we have to grow accustomed for a sort of protracted period of no solution and how to preserve our society. We have a high level of unemployment in the West Bank 25%; in Gaza over 50%; not healthy sign at all. I personally believe priority should be given to our domestic challenges. I believe we should try to internationalise the quest for diplomatic solution and no more accept the solo performance of the American administration.”

“I personally believe that we should re-visit and re-think our strategy. There is an idea that has surfaced a Palestinian Palestinian circle recently; that I would like to address with the utmost respect that I believe the incivility debating issues and the future and the fate of the Palestinian people is a very serious matter and I believe we have suffered too many divisions to add to the wounds that have been inflicted and the issues I would like to address the issue: one state or two state and Ladies and Gentleman, I would try to do it as respectfully as possible, even though I belong to one camp of that argument,” argued ambassador Afif.

Palestinian ambassador said, “As I told you I grew up politically with one state solution. For me 1973 October war, the Ramadan war was the demarcation line. And increasingly we grew attached and committed to the two state solutions. As I told you we saw the advent of one state solution either as a result of the military victory or as a result of the successful efforts of the persuasion of the Jewish community in Palestine. I personally believe that today’s speaking of the one state solution is not new strategic thing; it is a repeated old dishes; and I believe today after we have seen many months of ethnic states implode and explode in the Balkans and elsewhere; where we have seen Israeli Palestinians too hatred between the communities full scale of oppression and the occupation increase instead of decrease as was unexpectedly in the peace process.”

One state solution is an optical illusion
Ambassador Afif believes today it is an optical illusion to speak of one state solution for a variety of reasons. He mentioned the reasons as follows: “Number one, I personally believe that not more than one percent of Israeli society believes in it. Number two, I personally believe that that approach over-emphasizes the quantitative dimension saying that in the year 2020 the Palestinians would be the obvious demographic majority in the country means absolute attributed nothing for me; because I remember still that apartheid functioned for over 50 years even though the blacks of South Africa 25 millions and the whites are three to five millions it continued for 50 years. So overemphasizing the quantitative dimension.”

Ambassador Afif mentioned, “Besides the fact he mentioned also about the 70 years of dispossession, dispersion and oppression. He said, “Today I believe throughout the 70 years of dispossession, dispersion and oppression the gaps between the two societies have increased tremendously instead of being reduced and the one state solution, if it were possible, I told you I believe it is an optical illusion. You told me the perpetuation of the domination of one community by the other and I personally believe it creates several problems like we have an international consensus about the illegality of the settlements being built on our land. When we speak of the one state solution are we accepting that settlements would be stay on? So I do not believe that. One state solution is a realistic target.”

American-Israeli Relationships
Speaking about the American-Israeli Relationships, Ambassador Afif mentioned there are two schools of thought. He explained, “There are those who believe in Israeli America and those who believe in American Israeli. Let me explain. There are those who believe that its patron the superpower that dictates its regional clients what should be its regional policy; and then there is other school of thought they believe that no, it’s the regional client that makes the superpower the protector adopt its regional fresh strategy and integrate its into its global approach. I will not conceive to this idea.”

“I belonged to the second school of thought. I believe in that particular case it’s the tail that waves the dogs and not the dogs that bite the tail and the prove of how the pro-Israeli lobby has manipulated the foreign policy machinery in Washington is now very well known and that is now Harvard academic and the Quartet wrote a book about the lobby.  I share totally and during my three-year term of duty in Washington, I had one message that I kept repeating to a varieties of established prestigious agencies - world councils and others - where I used to say we lived; it was in 2005 and 2008;  we lived in a uni-polar mono-polar world and in a uni-polar and mono-polar world non-alignment should be the foreign policy option,” Afif said.

America is in a uni-polar mono-polar world
Ambassador Afif said I used to say America is a fascinating society; it’s a world dominia; every continent culture religion represented within their ranks. America today is in a uni-polar mono-polar world; even though today; I speak of 2005 and 2008; it was obviously uni-polar mono-polar world. Today we are in another transitional period where the international system has a variety of complex features of a uni-polar system bi-polar system and multi-polar system at the same time. So it is difficult to describe even. When America is in the uni-polar world and being a country of a nation of nations where every society, culture and civilization aligning itself with one belligerent party in a regional conflict; not only it is antagonising and offending and alienating all the other players in the regional conflict but it also antagonising its domestic component of its own society; of its own national fabric.”

“And as you can expect it was not easy until today to be a Palestinian American, or an Arab-American or a Muslim American and there are 8/9 million of those in America who feel that their country of adoption is totally unsympathetic and insensitive to the ordeals of their country of origin. By the way, it fails on the receptive ears of American foreign policy should be even-handed and not aligned,” Palestinian ambassador mentioned.

Obama year was a major disappointment for us
Ambassador Afif who was in Washington during the presidential elections year of Obama recollected his experience: He said, “I liked Obama a lot. On the lecturing circle, I was constantly asked: ‘what do you think of the candidate Obama?’ My usual answer was to say as a foreign diplomat I am expected to exercise some self defence and strength. But my wife usually happened to be in the room; my wife believes that Obama is a pre awakening American idealism and there is a big reason for that and Obama is a wonderful candidate to reconcile America with itself; and America with the world. But the Obama year was a major disappointment for us, as a Palestinian, even though he tried. Tried by the beginning of raising; first of all; he tried by doing with his speeches in Istanbul and Cairo which promised to ushering a new chapter in American Arab relations, in American Muslim relations. Welcome that.”

Arab country was the first to recognise
American Independence
Ambassador Afif also mentioned, “I always in America used to say to my friends never forget that it was an Arab country that is the first country to recognise the American independence. It was Morocco and Arab country that was the first to recognise American independence and by the way; you might be surprised, Britishers that when in 1917 we understood that we wont be getting the independence we were promised; many Palestinians who had preferred American Mandate rather than British Mandate simply because Woodrow Wilson was then preparing himself for the website conference speaking of fourteen points – fourteen of them being self determination. And if some of us remember the American sent the Congressional presidential blessings; Congressional fact-finding committee into Palestinian; calls the Kings Crane Commission; which came back to Washington to say that the Balfour Declaration cannot be implemented unless there is a massive use of force. This indeed American and the American asked that fact-finding mission was failed in its depiction of the reality.”

Sunday, 11 February 2018

Debate on Rohingya Refugee at the British Parliament

Debate on Rohingya Refugee
in the British Parliament

Dr. Mozammel Haque

Last month in January 2018 there were some important debate, discussions and events on Rohingya in London, the first one was a discussion at the internationally well-known Think-Tank The Chatham House, London, on Rohingya Crisis: Past Present and Future, held on 23 January 2018. The second one was Labour parliamentarian briefing on Rohingya Refugees held at Palace of Westminster, Houses of Parliament on 29 January, 2018 and the third was a debate on Refugees and Human Rights moved by Opposition Labour Party MP Emily Thornberry (Islington South and Finsbury) (Lab)  in the House of Commons on 24 January, 2018.

Debate on Refugees and Human
Rights: Some Excerpts
Emily Thornberry (Islington South and Finsbury) (Lab)
This motion on Refugees and Human Rights was moved by Labour MP Emily Thornberry for Islington South and Finsbury on 24 January 2018. She spoke about the terrible impacts of crisis and conflict in Myanmar. Many Members of the House participated in this debate and expressed their viewpoints on this topic. Many others who have spoken in the debate are united in desiring an end to the death, suffering and sexual violence, and end to the lost generation of refugees unable to leave the camps. 

In the debate following important issues were discussed, such as horrors and hardships that the Rohingya have faced; dangers of the proposed repatriation of Rohingya; 1982 Citizenship Act of Myanmar – the Fundamental problem; ethnic cleansing and textbook crimes of rape and crimes against humanity; Rohingya crisis be raised in the UN Security Council; imposition of sanctions on Myanmar and Rohingya voice must be heard in the debate and at the negotiating table.

Horrors and Hardships
that Rohingya have faced
Speaking about the horrors and hardships that the Rohingya have faced, Emily Thornberry, MP, said: “No one present needs any reminding of the horrors and hardship that the Rohingya have faced ever since the attacks in August. No one needs any telling of the desperate humanitarian situation in the camps on the Bangladesh border. No one needs any warning of the dangers of the proposed repatriation of the Rohingya. What we need to know is what action our Government are actually taking—not just to alleviate the situation, but to resolve it.”

Speaking about Repatriation, she mentioned: “We know that Myanmar simply will not act without external pressure—not on consent for repatriation, and not on the guarantees the Rohingya need regarding their future security, citizenship and economic viability. Will the Minister, finally, use our role as the UN penholder on this issue to submit a Security Council resolution to ensure legally binding guarantees on and international monitoring of all these issues? Until we get those guarantees, will he urge India and Japan to withdraw their offer to fund the planned repatriation?​”

Emily Thornberry MP also said, “As we work for the future protection of the Rohingya, we cannot forget those who have already suffered and died, so let me ask the Minister this as well: is it still the case that only two of the Government’s 70 experts on international sexual violence have so far been deployed in the region, despite the vast scale of crimes that have occurred? Will he make it clear that Myanmar must allow the UN special rapporteur on human rights to carry out her investigation unobstructed, or Myanmar risks once more being a pariah state and being pushed out into the cold?”

Long history of oppression,
Sufferings and persecution
Conservative MP Mrs. Anne Main (St. Albans) as chair of the All-Party Group on Bangladesh observed on the experience of those fleeing persecution in Burma and living in Cox’s Bazaar. Mrs. Anne Main Conservative Member for St. Albans said, “I think the House needs a little history lesson. The first major push against the Rohingya was in 1978. Then the Burma Citizenship Act of 1982 left them out of the list of 135 ethnic minority communities, thus denying them their state—so this has been going on for a very long time. In 1992, their political party was also outlawed. I understand that by that point 47 individuals—four of them women—from the Rohingya community had served as MPs in the Burmese Parliament.”

She also mentioned, “This process has, then, been going on for an extremely long time. Those of us who have visited the sites and camps—right hon. and hon. Members from both sides of the House—have seen the atrocious conditions these people are being forced to live in. We would all accept that a basic human right is the freedom to worship as we see fit. The one thing that joins the Rohingya in solidarity with their brothers and sisters in Bangladesh is their religion. Unfortunately—it is a sad story to tell—the Buddhist community is complicit in and accepting of the driving out of the Muslim population that are the Rohingya.”

Minister for the Middle East, Alistair Burt, mentioned about the sufferings. He said that the International Development Secretary travelled to Cox’s Bazaar. He mentioned, “There she met a young mother—one of more than 650,000 Rohingya refugees who have arrived in Bangladesh since August. Her name is Yasmin. Yasmin had fled Burma with her new-born baby, after her village was burned down and her brother murdered. On their journey, she and her baby were thrown over the side of a smuggler’s boat so that her son’s crying did not alert the Burmese soldiers. They arrived in a giant, crowded camp only for her son to contract cholera. Yasmin is just one of the 65 million people around the world—the right hon. Lady mentioned them—who have been forcibly displaced.”

Anna McMorrin said, “The Bangladesh Welfare Association Cardiff and friends of the Rohingya in Wales are in Cox’s Bazaar refugee camps, unloading trucks full of food parcels, blankets, baby food and medicines. They have encountered devastating scenes of hardship and heartbreak and have heard first-hand accounts that no one should experience: people losing loved ones, suffering violence and experiencing squalor, overcrowding and deprivation. Some 48,000 babies are due to be born in the refugee camps this year. Does the Minister agree.”

Ethnic cleansing
Conservative MP Michelle Donelan for Chipperham said, “Today, I will concentrate on the situation that has been endured for five harrowing months by the Rohingya people in Burma.

She mentioned, “I can only begin to imagine what life is like for those who have been forced to flee their home with nothing and for those who have been left behind to continue living out the nightmare in Burma. Ten thousand people have been confirmed dead, but the actual figure could be immeasurably higher. Some 830,000 refugees are estimated to have crossed over to Bangladesh, which is 11 times the number of people in my constituency. Those refugees must be allowed to return to Burma, but only when it is safe, which is far from the current situation.”

Talking about the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar, Minister Alistair Burt said, “We remain deeply concerned by the Rohingya crisis, where people are still crossing the border every day with stories of unimaginable trauma. This is a major humanitarian crisis created by Burma’s military. There has been ethnic cleansing and those responsible must be held accountable.

Labour MP for Tooting, Rosena Allin-Khan, said, “Forcibly repatriating the Rohingya to Myanmar would be tantamount to sending them back to their deaths. Who will ensure their protection—the very military who killed their babies, tortured their menfolk, and who have systematically raped the women? The military who forced parents to make the decision whether to go and rescue their children from burning fires or—the ones who are still alive—to run and flee? We cannot once again turn a blind eye to human suffering—to people living in an apartheid state where citizenship is unattainable and where religious persecution has long been the status quo.”

“The challenge to the international community and to us is clear: how do we create the conditions, not just for the Rohingya, but for all stateless and persecuted minorities, to rebuild their homes without fear of persecution? This country’s response to that challenge goes to the essence of who we are as a people. I believe—I know—that British people are kind, courageous, brave and compassionate. Our Government should be acting to live up to that idea of the very best of Britain, but too often they have failed in the courage of their political convictions. Too often they have turned a blind eye,” she mentioned.

Labour MP Rosena Allin-Khan said, “Creating the conditions for refugees to return to their homes will have been achieved only once the fear they have in their hearts has gone. We can really lead the way through fierce, active diplomacy, and our Government must use all their leverage to bring about peaceful resolutions.”

“I hope that hon. Members across the House will join me in calling on the Government to take a much more active role in bringing the international community together, to provide those across the world fleeing war, facing danger and suffering in squalid camps not fit for the inhabitation of insects with the dignity and humanity they deserve,” she emphasized.

The proposed repatriation scheme has now been suspended, as announced on Monday. Conservative MP Mrs. Anne Main welcomed the suspension of the proposed repatriation scheme. She said, “I am pleased that repatriation is no longer being considered, because the memorandum of understanding did not mention the word “Rohingya”.”

Labour MP for St. Helen South and Whiston, Ms Marie Rimmer, said, “The Rohingya face forced repatriation and a return to state-sponsored violence in Myanmar. Thank goodness that a pause has been put on that—for now.”

No Quick Return
Speaking about the agreement between the Government of Bangladesh and Burma on repatriation, Minister for Middle East Alistair Burt said, “The honest truth is that people are having to recognise that we are talking about a long-term, protracted refugee stay in Bangladesh. There is no quick return. We cannot ask people to return to a situation after they were expelled with maximum force, violence and horror. Although the agreement between the Governments of Myanmar and Bangladesh to return people over a two-year period is a welcome sign of intent, it cannot possibly have any serious basis unless we know that people are going to be safe. People cannot be returned on any other basis. The honest truth is that we have to be prepared for this to take time. We are pushing not only for the work that we do in Cox’s Bazaar itself, but for a role for the international community in monitoring any return, with the UNHCR taking the lead.​”

Importance of Rohingya voice
being heard at the debate
Conservative MP Mrs. Anne Main said, “How can there be no voice for the Rohingya at the negotiating table? It is totally unacceptable that the oppressors, who are land-mining the border and driving people out with machine guns, and who have denied these people their rights since 1982, should be divvying up the role of the Rohingya and their future. It is no surprise that there have been marches and resistance on the camps to any talk of repatriation. How can anyone accept being asked to go back to a country where their existence has been denied since 1982? That needs to be dealt with as much as anything.”

Mrs. Anne Main pleaded that somehow the Rohingya be given a voice. She said, “I understand that Ata Ullah is not an acceptable voice, as he is leading a resistance group, but there must be someone who can speak up for the Rohingya.” “We must keep driving forward to find someone who will sit at the table and say what the Rohingya want to happen, otherwise the rioting and unrest in the camps will continue. The worst thing we can do is insist that people go back to a country where they are denied even their existence.”

International Development Committee Report
Stephen Twigg (Liverpool West Derby) (Labour Co-op) mentioned about the Report. He said, As the International Development Committee report, which we published last week, pointed out, the Rohingya crisis has tested these commitments to destruction. I echo what others have said today about the Rohingya crisis. One lesson we must surely learn, which is relevant to the excellent motion before us, is that prevention is always best. As the hon. Lady reminded us, this did not come from nowhere: we have known for years about the threat to the Rohingya people. In recent years, there have been early warnings from Human Rights Watch and the Holocaust museum in Washington. I also echo what others have said about repatriation. It cannot be on the agenda in the foreseeable future, and I hope that the Minister will reaffirm that in his closing remarks.”

Concluding Remarks
The Minister for Asia and Pacific said, “Throughout, we have heard moving testimony about the situation facing many hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees fleeing violence in Burma in recent months. Since 28 December, the UK’s pledge of some £59 million has helped to fund an emergency medical team of 40 doctors, nurses and midwives, paramedics and fire-fighters, who have been deployed to the frontline of the refugee camps in Cox’s Bazaar in Bangladesh, to help to combat the diphtheria outbreak.

“In my role as FCO Minister for Asia, I remain persistent in our lobbying the Government of Burma to allow the Rohingya back to their homeland with sufficient guarantees on security and, importantly, on citizenship that they will be able to rebuild their lives. As I have said before, that can begin only when conditions allow for a safe, voluntary and dignified return,” the Minister for Asia said.

Referring to the question of return raised by Members for Tooting (Dr Allin-Khan) and for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg), Minister for Asia said, “If the returns are to be genuinely voluntary, there must a consultative process to establish the refugees’ intentions and concerns. We are encouraging the UNHCR to develop a more systematic process for consultation with refugees, and we will call on Governments to incorporate the refugees’ views in repatriation processes as they develop. I assure the House that I am also working within the international community to develop a coherent strategy that will begin to hold to account those who have committed what independent observers regard as crimes against humanity.”

Labour Party Briefing on Rohingya
In the UK Parliament
Then on Monday, 29th of January, 2018, Labour Parliamentarians invited press at the Palace of Westminster, Houses of Parliament to brief the position of Labour party and parliamentarians on the Rohingya situations both in Cox’s Bazaar Bangladesh and in Rakhine state Myanmar. They said: “We would like to invite you to come and hear about our work and what we want the British Government to do to resolve this crisis.”

The Labour Parliamentarians who were present and talked about the situations and their works were: Helen Goodman MP, Shadow FCO Minister with responsibility for East Asia and Myanmar, who has been leading for Her Majesty’s Opposition on debates in Parliament.  Stephen Twigg MP, Labour Chair of the International Development Committee, which published a fantastic report last week that highlights the Government’s slow response and   Rushanara Ali MP, who has been championing the Rohingya’s cause in Parliament and who sent a letter, signed by over 150 MPs, to the Foreign Secretary in September calling for government action.

Helen Goodman MP
The first speaker was Helen Goodman who gave a brief activity which the Labour Parliamentarians are doing. She mentioned: “Ever since the Rohingya people started to cross the border in August and the first urgent question was raised by Yasmin Qureishi on the 5th of September 2017 and then Rushanara Ali coordinated a letter which 150 Members of Parliament signed to the Foreign Secretary and then she initiated backbench business community to debate which is a debate in the main chamber on the 17th of October 2017. Some Labour MPs went to Cox’s Bazaar and one of those was Dr. Roberta Blackman-Woods, Labour MP and she initiated another debate at Westminster Hall on 28th of November 2017 and then as well as raising at Foreign Office questions Emily Thornberry spoke in the opposition debate last Wednesday, the 24th of January 2018. So you can see all the time we have been pushing pushing and pushing to get the government to be more energetic in their policy.”

Summary of briefings
During the parliamentary briefing, Labour parliamentarians touched on the issues of return to Rakhine state, repatriation of Rohingyas, oppression, appalling evidence of crimes of rape and sexual violence.

Parliamentarian Stephen Twigg mentioned about the All Party Parliamentary Select Committee Report into the International Development into Bangladesh and Burma of which he was the chairman and the report was published two weeks ago. He also mentioned we made it very clear that the conditions are not in place for any repatriation. He also said any return should certainly be voluntary. He emphasized Rohingya voice should be heard. Stephen MP mentioned the oppression of the Rohingya goes back decades. There is a big failure of policy. He also mentioned about the appalling evidence of crimes of rape and sexual violence against women and children.

Parliamentarian Helen Goodman mentioned about the debate in the main chambers by Emily Thornberry on 24 January 2018. She described the points Labour Party agreed with the government and the points on which Labour party wants strong response. Speaking about the five point plan about which the Labour is in agreement is: an end to violence; guarantee humanitarian aid access; and any return must be safe, voluntary and dignified; implement the recommendations of the Kofi Annan Commission and have access for the UN Human Rights Commission for Fact-finding mission.

As regards the points of difference, Goodman MP mentioned, the first point of difference is protecting the reputation of Aung San Suu Kyi for which Rohingya has to pay the price which is not acceptable. The second point of difference relates to terrible gender-based violence. The third point of difference is on repatriation. No repatriation without the involvement of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. Fourth point of difference is on sanctions. Fifth point of difference is: “we think the government which is penholder in the UN should take the initiative on this.”

Parliamentarian Rushanara mentioned about her visit and the conditions of refugees. She said, ‘absolutely horrified, essentially like prison camps; apartheid.’ She also mentioned about the response of the international community: “the international community was very slow to catch off at what’s been happening in spite of the warnings.”

Labour MPs Press release 5.02.18
 On 5th of February 2018, Labour parliamentarians issued a press release under the following caption:

Labour MPs calls for further action to be taken to help Rohingya Muslims

The press release runs as follows: 
“Labour affirms Government action in providing £59m, commends the aid money sent and the Government’s 5 Point Plan. But they said “you must will the means as well as the ends”. The Government’s initial response was slow, they have 71 experts in helping people who’ve suffered sexual violence but have only sent 2. They have taken no action to ensure that the UN monitors any repatriation of the Rohingya back to Myanmar which must not be undertaken without this. The government must also re-impose sanctions on the military. 

The Labour MPs stated that they will continue to use all available fora to press the government on all these issues. 

The press release also mentioned the actions to be taken in the future, in pressing the UK Government to do more to alleviate the suffering of the Rohingya. Besides others, The MPs listed a number of ways Labour have pressed the Government on doing more for the Rohingya so far and added:

“The 5 points are: the cessation of violence by the Burmese security forces; humanitarian access to be guaranteed in Burma; any returns of refugees to be in a voluntary, safe and dignified manner; full implementation of the Kofi Annan Advisory Commission’s recommendations; and, above all, full access for, and cooperation with, the UN Human Rights Council’s Fact-Finding Mission.”