Independent probe on Myanmar massacre urged

Ten Rohingya Muslim men with their hands bound kneel as members of the Myanmar security forces stand guard in Inn Din village in this Sept. 2, 2017 file photo. (Reuters)
Updated 10 February 2018
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Independent probe on Myanmar massacre urged

LONDON: A Reuters investigation into the killing of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar prompted a demand from Washington for a credible probe into the bloodshed there and calls for the release of two journalists who were arrested while working on the report.
The special report, published overnight, lays out events leading up to the killing of 10 Rohingya men from Inn Din village in Rakhine state who were buried in a mass grave after being hacked to death or shot by Buddhist neighbors and soldiers.
“As with other, previous reports of mass graves, this report highlights the ongoing and urgent need for Burmese authorities to cooperate with an independent, credible investigation into allegations of atrocities in northern Rakhine,” US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said.
“Such an investigation would help provide a more comprehensive picture of what happened, clarify the identities of the victims, identify those responsible for human rights abuses and violations, and advance efforts for justice and accountability,” she said.
The UN on Friday described the details of the Reuters report as “alarming” and said that it showed the need for a “full and thorough investigation” into the violence in Rakhine state.
The Myanmar mission to the UN was not immediately available for comment.
The Reuters report drew on interviews with Buddhists who confessed to torching Rohingya homes, burying bodies and killing Muslims in what they said was a frenzy of violence triggered when Rohingya insurgents attacked security posts last August.
The account marked the first time soldiers and paramilitary police have been implicated by testimony from security personnel in arson and killings in the north of Rakhine state that the United Nations has said may amount to genocide.
In the story, Myanmar said its “clearance operation” is a legitimate response to attacks by insurgents.
Asked about the evidence Reuters had uncovered about the massacre, Myanmar government spokesman Zaw Htay said on Thursday, before publication of the report: “We are not denying the allegations about violations of human rights. And we are not giving blanket denials.”
If there was “strong and reliable primary evidence” of abuses, the government would investigate, he said.
There was no comment from the government following the publication of the report.
Nearly 690,000 Rohingya have fled their villages and crossed the border of western Myanmar into Bangladesh since August.
British Labour Party lawmaker Rosena Allin-Khan told BBC’s Newsnight that the Reuters report was consistent with accounts she had heard while working as a doctor at Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh last year.
“We’ve been bystanders to a genocide,” she said. “This evidence marks a turning point because, for the first time since this all started to unfold in August, we have heard from the perpetrators themselves.”
She said that, as well as an international probe, there needed to be a referral to the International Criminal Court.
Human Rights Watch said Myanmar’s military leaders should be held accountable in an international court for alleged crimes against the Rohingya population.
“As more evidence comes out about the pre-planning and intent of the Myanmar armed forces to wipe out Rohingya villages and their inhabitants, the international community ... needs to focus on how to hold the country’s military leaders accountable,” said HRW’s deputy Asia director Phil Robertson.
Campaign group Fortify Rights also called for an independent investigation.
“The international community needs to stop stalling and do what’s necessary to hold accountable those who are responsible before evidence is tainted or lost, memories fade, and more people suffer,” said the group’s chief executive Matthew Smith.
UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, David Kaye, said in a tweet: “During the reporting of this article, two Reuters journalists were arrested by Myanmar police. They remain held & must absolutely be released.”
Yanghee Lee, the UN human rights investigator for Myanmar who has been barred from visiting the Rohingya areas, echoed that call and added in a tweet: “Independent & credible investigation needed to get to the bottom of the Inn Din massacre.”


Dems seek info on Virginia facility after abuse claims

Six Latino teens had made sworn statements detailing severe abuse they said they endured between 2015 and 2018. (AP)
Updated 23 June 2018
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Dems seek info on Virginia facility after abuse claims

  • The senators asked whether regulators had received any past complaints involving the facility located near Staunton, Virginia
  • On average, 92 immigrant children each year cycle through Shenandoah, most of them from Mexico and Central America

WASHINGTON: Virginia’s two Democratic senators asked the Trump administration Friday for answers about operations at a juvenile detention facility in the state where immigrant children said they were bound, beaten and isolated in solitary confinement.
Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine sent to the head of the US Office of Refugee Resettlement questions about the Shenandoah Valley Juvenile Center. The Associated Press reported Thursday that six Latino teens had made sworn statements detailing severe abuse they said they endured between 2015 and 2018, under both the Obama and Trump administrations. In court filings, lawyers for the detention facility have denied all allegations of physical abuse.
The senators asked whether regulators had received any past complaints involving the facility located near Staunton, Virginia. The Democrats also want to know whether there is a system in place to discipline staff members who abuse children in federal custody.
Officials at the Department of Health and Human Services, which includes the Refugee Resettlement office, have refused to discuss when they first learned of the abuse allegations at the Shenandoah center and whether any action has been taken to determine the veracity of those claims.
“HHS takes seriously the responsibly of ensuring the care of unaccompanied minors by our grantees,” said Ryan Murphy, a spokesman for the agency, referring to facilities that receive federal money to house immigrant children.
The White House did not respond to a request for comment.
Hours after AP’s initial reporting Thursday, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, also a Democrat, directed the state’s secretary of public safety and homeland security and the Department of Juvenile Justice to report back to him “to ensure the safety of every child being held there.”
The Shenandoah lockup is one of only three juvenile detention facilities in the United States with federal contracts to provide “secure placement” for immigrant children who had problems at less-restrictive housing.
The center was built by a coalition of seven nearby towns and counties to lock up local kids charged with serious crimes. Since 2007, about half the 58 beds are occupied by male and female immigrants between the ages of 12 and 17 facing deportation proceedings or awaiting rulings on asylum claims. It received $4.2 million in federal funds last year to house the immigrant children.
On average, 92 immigrant children each year cycle through Shenandoah, most of them from Mexico and Central America. Though incarcerated in a facility similar to a prison, the children detained on administrative immigration charges have not yet been convicted of any crime.
As part of a federal class-action lawsuit, young immigrants held at the Shenandoah facility said in sworn statements said they were beaten while handcuffed and locked up for long periods in solitary confinement, left nude and shivering in concrete cells. Children as young as 14 also said the guards there stripped them of their clothes and strapped them to chairs with bags placed over their heads.