Dhaka backs ICC call for Rohingya inquiry

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Ten Rohingya Muslim men with their hands bound kneel as members of the Myanmar security forces stand guard in Inn Din village September 2, 2017. (REUTERS)
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This combination of file photos created on November 14, 2019, shows Myanmar State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi (L) attending the 35th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit in Bangkok on November 4, 2019 and Myanmar military chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing attending the 71th anniversary of Martyrs' Day in Yangon on July 19, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 17 November 2019

Dhaka backs ICC call for Rohingya inquiry

  • Full-scale investigation will exert ‘real pressure’ on Myanmar over repatriation, experts say

DHAKA: Bangladeshi experts on Saturday welcomed the International Criminal Court’s decision to launch a full-scale investigation into Myanmar’s alleged mass persecution of the Rohingya.
Following a request from the ICC’s chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, earlier this year, the court on Thursday approved an inquiry into alleged atrocities carried out by Myanmar since 2016, which the UN has previously referred to as a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”
Delwar Hossain, director general of the East Asia wing of Bangladesh’s Foreign Ministry, said the case was “very sensitive”
for Bangladesh.
“We consider the matter like the other international community. Here the ICC will conduct its investigation independently and we will not intervene or hamper their investigation process,” Hossain told Arab News.
“Earlier, too, when the ICC team visited Bangladesh to hear the plight of the Rohingya, they moved freely wherever they wanted. We have just facilitated their movements,” he added.
Prof. Akmol Hossain of Dhaka University said that as a signatory of the Rome statute, Bangladesh must comply with ICC rules and regulations, adding that, in principle, the court’s latest move is a “victory”
for Bangladesh.
“The ICC will investigate the mass persecution against Rohingyas on its own. Gambia has filed the case from international responsibility. Now it is primarily established that injustices were made to the Rohingya in Myanmar,” Hossain said.
“When the full-scale investigation against Myanmar begins, it will create a lot pressure on the country. Bangladesh needs to continue its diplomatic efforts among the international community to build more pressure on Myanmar which may create some opportunities for a sustainable Rohingya repatriation,” he added.
Former Ambassador Rashed Ahmed Chowdhury said the ICC’s decision was “a most welcoming development.”
Myanmar will never accept the Rohingya if the issue remains unresolved, he said.
“This is the real pressure on Myanmar and it will bring some solutions,” Chowdhury said.
“Now international law will take its own course to investigate the genocide. It is difficult to foresee what will happen, but it is a major
development.”
Bangladesh is currently hosting almost 1.2 million Rohingya at the squalid refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar, which is considered the world’s largest refugee settlement.
Since August 2017, more than 750,000 Rohingya fled to neighboring Bangladesh to escape persecution in their homeland.
The UN has said that attacks on the Rohingya had a “genocidal intent.”


Thai rice farmers shun ‘big agribusiness’ and fight climate change

Updated 12 December 2019

Thai rice farmers shun ‘big agribusiness’ and fight climate change

  • Traditional Thai rice farmers earn around 3,000 baht a month ($100)
  • Rice is a staple in the diet of around three billion people globally

MAE RIM, Thailand: Battling drought, debt and ailments blamed on pesticides, rice farmers in northern Thailand have turned to eco-friendly growing methods despite powerful agribusiness interests in a country that is one of the top exporters of the grain in the world.

Walking through a sea of green waist-high stalks, farmer Sunnan Somjak said his fields were “exhausted” by chemicals, his family regularly felt ill, and his profits were too low to make ends meet.

But that changed when he joined a pilot agricultural project for the SRI method, which aims to boost yields while shunning pesticides and using less water.

“Chemicals can destroy everything,” the 58-year-old said, adding that the harvest in his village in Chiang Mai province has jumped 40 percent since employing the new method.

There have been health benefits too. “It’s definitely better, we don’t get sick any more,” he added.

SRI was invented in the 1980s in Madagascar by a French Jesuit priest, and the technique has spread globally.

It works by planting crops wider apart — thus drawing in more nutrients and light — and limiting the amount of water that gets into fields, which helps micro-organisms flourish to act as natural fertilizers.

In a plus for debt-laden farmers, it also uses fewer seeds, and they are encouraged to use plants and ginger roots that naturally deter insects rather than chemical alternatives — meaning fewer expenses.

Traditional Thai rice farmers earn around 3,000 baht a month ($100) but Sunnan was able to increase his income by 20 percent after adopting the SRI method.
“I’ve finally got rid of my debts,” he told AFP.

Rice is a staple in the diet of around three billion people globally. But agricultural workers are locked in a vicious cycle: beset by drought and floods brought on by climate change, the farmers contribute to the disruption as their fields release methane and nitrous oxide, two greenhouse gases.

With SRI, paddy fields are not permanently flooded, which reduces methane emissions by 60 percent, according to Tristan Lecomte, founder of Pur Projet, a French company supporting the technique.

The project also helped Sunnan plant trees around his crops to reinforce the water table.

According to Lecomte, rice yields can jump from 20 percent to more than 100 compared to the traditional method.

Southeast Asia, where agriculture supports millions, is slowly embracing SRI.

The US-based Cornell University created a center specializing in the technique in 2010 and more than two million farmers in the region — especially from Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos — have been trained.

In Bac Giang province in northern Vietnam, net profits for farmers were as much as 226 percent higher after adopting the SRI method than when using traditional ones, according to Abha Mishra, who led a large project on behalf of the Asian Institute of Technology.

The Philippines, which grows rice but is also one of the world’s leading importers, is also interested in this method and the Ministry of Agriculture has started training farmers.

The method is also used in parts of India, China, and Africa. But, while there is support from NGOs, as well as some scientists and authorities, it still has a long way to go before widespread adoption.

It faces resistance domestically from agribusiness as there is no new hybrid seed or fertilizer to sell.

Industry lobbies are very active in Southeast Asia, particularly in Thailand, one of the largest users of pesticides in the world.

And they recently won a big battle over chemical use in agriculture.

Thai authorities, who had committed to ban controversial glyphosate, backtracked at the end of November, deciding that “limited” use would eventually be allowed.

The use of two other herbicides has also been extended. Lecomte says the other challenge potentially impacting the rate of adoption is the SRI method is quite complex to learn and it is labor intensive.

“You have to plant one by one and closely control the amount water,” he explained, adding that the extra manual effort required means some farmers don’t want to try the method, and others give up early on.

Sunnan admits that his workload is heavier but the financial and health benefits make it worth it in the end. He added: “It is safe for our body, and the environment.”