Posts Tagged ‘Myanmar’

World must increase pressure on Myanmar to do right by the Rohingya

April 22, 2018

The Hindu (India)

The scale of the humanitarian crisis faced by Rohingya refugees was highlighted this month when Myanmar claimed it had repatriated a family of five. About 700,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh from their homes in Myanmar’s Rakhine province since August 2017. Late last year, the two countries had struck an agreement for their return. Bangladesh, however, rejected the claim about the repatriation of the five family members, saying they had not travelled into its territory, so their so-called return did not qualify as repatriation. In fact, in London this week, Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina repeated statements by her officials on the repatriation claim, and asked the international community to put more pressure on Myanmar to “take back their own people and ensure their security”.

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Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina

Facing persecution at home in Myanmar, Rohingya have for years been fleeing in the most hazardous of ways, and the UN reckons there were already 200,000 refugees in Bangladesh before the mass flight began in August, with most refugees now concentrated in Cox’s Bazar. Bangladesh has been at the forefront of seeing to the needs of the refugees, and trying to get Myanmar to create the conditions for their eventual safe return to their homes. Aid workers are working to strengthen their shelters and move the more vulnerable to safer ground before the monsoon rain comes.

The world needs to do a lot more — especially India, as a neighbour that has an estimated 40,000 Rohingya refugees living precariously on its territory, and as a regional power that is failing this time round to keep up its legacy of providing succour to those fleeing persecution. At the heart of the human rights problem that confronts the world is that no one is confident that conditions obtain in Myanmar to receive the refugees. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees said last week that “conditions in Myanmar are not yet conducive for the voluntary, safe, dignified and sustainable return of refugees”.

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Rohingya refugees. File photo

It clarified that there needs to be more than physical infrastructure and logistical arrangements for their journey back. It is crucial that there be movement on Rohingya’s legal status and citizenship in Myanmar and their identification with Rakhine. Myanmar refuses to recognise the Rohingya, who are mostly Muslim, as a separate ethnic group and denies them citizenship. It just gives them the option of self-identifying themselves as Bengali, which has its own implications for their rights as inhabitants of the country. Officials do not even use the word Rohingya. It has been rightly termed a case of ethnic cleansing. Pressure on Myanmar, which won plaudits for its recent democratic transition, to recognise the rights of a people who trace their ancestry in Rakhine for generations has so far yielded nothing. As Ms. Hasina suggested this week, it should be reason for the global community to double the pressure.



What the US-China Struggle for Regional Dominance Means for Southeast Asia

April 18, 2018

This week China will undertake live-fire exercises in the Taiwan Straits.  This provocative action comes on the heels of simultaneous major U.S. and Chinese naval exercises in the South China Sea.  While the situation is not as dire as it may seem, competition between the United States and China for dominance in the region is indeed intensifying.  Faced with this burgeoning soft and thinly veiled hard power struggle for their political hearts and minds, Southeast Asian countries are doing what they can and must to maintain their relative independence and security in this roiling political cauldron. Indeed, neither China nor the United States should be under any illusions that any particular Southeast Asian country is supporting them in general or in a particular policy or action because it believes in their vision of the ideal world order.

Some are so far skillfully negotiating this political tight rope and benefiting from both sides’ largesse in the process.  Indeed, most Southeast Asian countries are not blatantly choosing sides but are instead demonstrating that the matter of political choice between the two is not “either-or”  but a continuum. According to Max Fisher and Audrey Carlsen, writing in the New York Times, there are three groups at various stages in this ever evolving continuum — “counteracting” China, “shifting toward” China, and “playing both sides”.

Let’s look at some individual countries’ situations and current positions regarding this U.S.-China struggle.

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Singapore does seem more ideologically aligned with the United States and even provides temporary basing for U.S. Navy warships and aircraft collecting intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance regarding China. But Singapore also seems to be hedging if not waffling. Perhaps Singapore’s current role as both ASEAN interlocutor with China and ASEAN chair has resulted in it taking a more neutral position between the two. For example, Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong seemed cool when asked recently about the U.S. proposed Quad — a potential security arrangement between Australia, India, Japan, and the United States — saying, “We do not want to end up with rival blocs forming.”U.S. “strategic partner” Singapore and U.S. ally the Philippines are thought by some (though not the NYT feature) to be in the U.S. camp of “counteracting” China. But this is misleading.

The Philippines is an example of a country clearly “playing both sides” — and so far successfully so. Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte’s abrupt pivot from staunch U.S. military ally to a more independent and neutral stance between the United States and China has startled those analysts and policy makers that assumed Manila was firmly in the U.S. camp. So far the Philippines has benefited from its better relationship with China while maintaining its military relationship — if a less robust one — with the United States.

Other Southeast Asian state — like Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and perhaps nominal U.S. ally Thailand — appear to be moving toward China, preferring China’s economic incentives over the benefits of U.S. military “protection.”

Brunei may also be shifting its position. Although a claimant to part of the disputed area of the South China Sea, it has been relatively silent regarding both the disputes and the U.S.-China struggle for influence.  Brunei and China apparently have overlapping claims in the South China Sea and Brunei may be using its claim as leverage to keep badly needed Chinese investment flowing. But this is a two-way street. Beijing may try to use its economic ties with Brunei to help prevent a consensus within ASEAN regarding decisions or statements on the South China Sea.

Indonesia has sharp differences with China regarding the area of the South China Sea north and east of the Indonesia-owned Natuna Islands, where their claims may overlap. The Trump administration is trying to take advantage of this to reinvigorate U.S.-Indonesia military relations. But nonaligned Indonesia and the United States have very different world perspectives. They differ sharply regarding U.S. policies and actions in the Middle East — especially the recent move of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem. While the United States sees ASEAN as a useful bulwark against China, Indonesia’s current interest in leading ASEAN and in regionalism itself seem to have faded in favor of domestic concerns. Foremost among these are development projects in which China’s investment and aid can be critical.  Plus, U.S.-Indonesian military ties have a troubled past. In the late 1990s they were suspended due to alleged human rights abuses by the Indonesian military. More important, many Indonesians in high places remain suspicious of U.S. motives and worried about the potential regional destabilizing effect of the US-China competition.  Indonesia’s Defense Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu has suggested that “if regional countries can manage the South China Sea on their own, there is no need to involve others.”

Vietnam also has sharp differences with China regarding the South China Sea. Vietnam has a policy of “diversification and multilateralization “of relations with the major powers, and the United States has tried to take advantage of this as well as Vietnam’s concerns with China. But Vietnam is steadfastly nonaligned. Indeed, its long-standing policy is the “three nos” – no participation in military alliances, no foreign military bases on Vietnamese territory, and no reliance on one country to fight against another. Meanwhile it continues to have strong economic relations with China and seems to have reached an unsteady modus vivendi with China regarding the South China Sea disputes. While Vietnam’s position may seem to be anti-China, pro-U.S. , this should not be taken for granted.

One thing is fairly certain — China –U.S. balancing will become increasingly important and difficult for Southeast Asian countries. It will also undermine ASEAN unity and weaken its “centrality” and influence in security matters in the region — both collectively and for its individual members. ASEAN’s divisions on South China Sea issues currently advantage China.

This unfolding political drama could well turn out very badly for Southeast Asian nations that are unable or unwilling to successfully hedge and waffle. Indeed, there is a yawning chasm filled with adverse implications beneath this political tight rope if a country should lose its balance and fall to one side or the other. But for clever, self-confident, and bold leaders, this dilemma presents an opportunity that could prove a boon to those skillful enough to safely navigate these treacherous political waters.

Mark J. Valencia is Adjunct Senior Scholar at the National Institute for South China Sea Studies in Haikou, China

Flawed return deal offers no way back for Rohingya refugees — “As long as there is a Myanmar, the Rohingya will never be free”

April 17, 2018


© AFP / by Sam JAHAN and Aidan JONES with Shafiqul ALAM in Dhaka | In November Myanmar agreed to take back around 750,000 Rohingya from Bangladesh — which hosts around one million of the Muslim minority driven out by waves of state violence stretching back to 1978

KUTUPALONG (BANGLADESH) (AFP) – Bungling, distortion and diplomatic doublespeak have hollowed out the deal to repatriate Rohingya from Bangladesh to Myanmar, with refugees refusing to return to a homeland that remains perilously insecure.”We will have to stay here for a long period, maybe generations,” Ali, a Rohingya refugee and father-of-six, told AFP from the Kutupalong mega-camp on Bangladesh’s side of the border.

In November Myanmar agreed to take back around 750,000 Rohingya from Bangladesh — which hosts around one million of the Muslim minority driven out by waves of state violence stretching back to 1978.

Yet so far, Myanmar has signed off just 675 names from a Bangladeshi list of 8,000 refugees, citing discrepancies in the verification forms proving their residency in Rakhine state.

Months have elapsed, but no one has crossed back under the deal.

A family of five was “repatriated” over the weekend from a wedge of no-man’s land between the neighbours.

Their return was swiftly pilloried as a PR stunt by rights groups and labelled “not meaningful” by Bangladesh’s home minister.

“Whatever we say, they (Myanmar) agree,” Asaduzzaman Khan told AFP. “But they have not been able to create grounds for trust that they will take back these people.”

Myanmar does not want its Rohingya, denying them citizenship and classifying the minority as “Bengalis” who have seeped over the border illegally.

It forced around 750,000 out in two major army operations in October 2016 and August 2017.

The UN describes the August crackdown, ostensibly a kickback against Rohingya militant attacks, as “ethnic cleansing”.

Under pressure, Myanmar agreed to take back those who can prove prior residence.

Bangladesh wants swift, large-scale returns to ease pressure on the teeming camps in its Cox’s Bazar district — and salve domestic disquiet that one of Asia’s poorest countries is saddled with a huge refugee crisis.

Yet the refugees listed by Dhaka do not even know they have been volunteered to return to a country where they allege widespread atrocities.

“We did not try to ascertain approval from them,” a senior Bangladesh official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

Dhaka has also muddied its side of the bargain.

Under the repatriation agreement, the head of each Rohingya family must list the address of his or her father, mother and spouse in Myanmar.

But those details were inexplicably omitted from the forms submitted to Myanmar, the official told AFP.

With no new names planned for scrutiny, the process is at a standstill.

– Reluctant hosts –

For the Rohingya, return is the ultimate aim but only on condition of guaranteed safety and — crucially — citizenship, a red line to Myanmar authorities who stripped them of that status in 1982.

With the monsoon looming they are bedding in for the long haul.

The makeshift Kutupalong mega-camp is taking on permanent features as hulking drainage pipes are dug into hillsides and bamboo shacks are upgraded with concrete.

But Bangladesh does not publicly air long-term settlement in its camps as an option.

Dhaka has drawn an outcry by threatening to move up to 100,000 people to a flood-prone island in the Bay of Bengal.

It says its biometric register of a million refugees should clear the way for large-scale returns, if the urgency is matched by the other side.

But Myanmar’s sincerity is in shreds.

On a first visit to the camps last week, a Myanmar official implored Rohingya to return to a “changed” country, where destroyed villages are being rebuilt and work awaits.

“Please come back first… and taste it. Then, if you all feel satisfied, more can return,” Social Welfare Minister Win Myat Aye told Rohingya leaders.

But with villages razed, choking controls on movement in place and communal hatred still sharp, the UN says conditions inside Rakhine “are not conducive” for repatriation.

Refugees are also well versed in the machinations of Myanmar’s bureaucracy, after generations trapped on a carousel of forced exile and short-lived return.

“We won’t go back without citizenship and security… there’s no point, they will force us out again,” said Mohammad Sadek, 24, a resident of Kutupalong.

Over decades Myanmar’s army has rehashed history, rubbing out the Rohingya’s legal status and spewing Islamaphobic rhetoric across the overwhelmingly Buddhist country.

The identity card offered to returning Rohingya calls them “Bengalis” — in effect making holders complicit in renouncing their own ancestral claims in Rakhine.

Myanmar will likely allow “a token number” to return, says Francis Wade author of “Myanmar’s Enemy Within”.

But “the vast majority of Rohingya in the camps will likely live out their days there… as will their children”.

– ‘Camps here, camps there’ –

In the impasse, Myanmar’s army has been busy.

Bulldozers have levelled the remains of hundreds of Rohingya villages, while transit centres and “temporary” camps for returnees have sprung up.

The army has added new bases while Rakhine Buddhists are being lured to the far north to rebalance the state’s demography.

Independent access to Rakhine remains impossible.

Somewhere between 400,000-500,000 Rohingya are left in Myanmar. Of those, around a quarter languish in IDP camps from previous rounds of violence.

“We won’t go back to live in camps there,” said Rohingya refugee Mohammad Ihaya, 23. “It’s better to be in camps here.”

by Sam JAHAN and Aidan JONES with Shafiqul ALAM in Dhaka

Zuckerberg barely talked about Facebook’s biggest global problem — In Vietnam, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Kenya, Cambodia, the Philippines and elsewhere; Facebooks data can be used to kill the opposition

April 13, 2018

By Adam Taylor

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg cut an awkward figure this week as he appeared at much-anticipated congressional hearings, looking visibly uncomfortable in a navy suit rather than his normal hoodie. His demeanor earned plenty of laughs on social media, but the real attention was focused on two things: the data firm Cambridge Analytica and alleged Russian trolls.

According to a transcript of Zuckerberg’s appearance before the Senate’s Commerce and Judiciary committees, Russia was mentioned 38 times and Cambridge Analytica 72 times on Tuesday. The next day, as the House Energy and Commerce Committee took its turn, Russia was mentioned 34 times, Cambridge Analytica 50 times.

But Facebook’s most vexing global problem is the misuse and abuse of the site in countries outside North America or Western Europe. Facebook is not just a privacy issue in these countries — in some cases, lives are literally on the line. Those problems, however, went almost unmentioned on Capitol Hill.

Think about it this way: Many Americans believe it took only 90 bored social media consultants in St. Petersburg to help sway voters toward Donald Trump in the 2016 election. Now imagine what could happen if something similar happened in one of the many countries where Facebook is synonymous with the Internet itself.

Two more activists jailed in Vietnam amid widening dissent crackdown

Activist Nguyen Van Tuc, center, stands trial in Thai Binh, Vietnam, Tuesday, April 10, 2018. When Vietnam takes a “blogger” to court, the “evidence” almost always comes from Facebook. Zuckerberg knows this…

Vietnam activist sentenced to 13 years on subversion charges

In such countries, people and groups — even the state itself — can have an interest in spreading misinformation to inflame domestic tensions. And because many are smaller, poorer countries, they are almost insignificant to Facebook’s business model and receive scant attention from its Menlo Park, Calif., headquarters.

There are plenty of real-world examples already. The obvious one is Burma, a Southeast Asian nation of just under 53 million people and a gross domestic product per capita just one-fiftieth of America’s. Burma emerged in 2011 from decades of military dictatorship, but it has been racked by ethnic tensions ever since. In 2017, a violent military crackdown caused more than 600,000 mostly Muslim members of the Rohingya minority group to flee to Bangladesh, leaving an unknown number of people dead.

zeynep tufekci


Btw this is my @Wired article about the 14-year apology tour that Sen. Thune just referenced. My key point is that all this isn’t about Zuckerberg personally; these downsides are intrinsic to the business model. 

zeynep tufekci


This one gets me the maddest. Facebook had no excuse being so negligent about Myanmar. Here’s me tweeting about it IN 2013. PEOPLE HAVE BEGGED FACEBOOK FOR YEARS TO BE PRO-ACTIVE IN BURMA/MYANMAR. Now he’s hiring “dozens”. This is a historic wrong. 😡🤬🤬 

Civil-society and human rights organizations say that Facebook inadvertently played a key role in spreading hate speech, which fueled tensions between the Rohingya and Burma’s Buddhist majority. Those groups shared a presentation with key senators this week, aiming to show how Facebook was slow to deal with hate speech and misinformation on its platform even after repeated attempts to flag the dangerous content.

Zuckerberg did not mention Burma in his prepared remarks this week, but he was was asked about it. On Tuesday, Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (Vt.), the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, highlighted a recent comment by U.N. investigators that Facebook played a role “in inciting possible genocide” and asked why the company took so long to remove death threats toward one Muslim journalist there.

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) also invoked the plight of the Rohingya in another question on Tuesday. The following day, there was only one passing mention of Burma.

Zuckerberg’s responses to questions about Burma suggested that he had sincere concerns about Facebook’s role in the country. “What’s happening in Myanmar is a terrible tragedy, and we need to do more,” Zuckerberg admitted to Leahy, using another name for Burma. But, as the Daily Beast’s Andrew Kirell noted, there was more discussion of pro-Trump YouTube stars Diamond and Silk than there was of a potential genocide half the world away.

Meanwhile, other countries facing similar Facebook problems weren’t mentioned at all. On Monday, a number of activists and independent media professionals in Vietnam had released their own open letter to Zuckerberg, complaining about account suspensions in the country. “Without a nuanced approach, Facebook risks enabling and being complicit in government censorship,” the Vietnamese groups said.

In some ways, the problems with Facebook highlighted in Vietnam and Burma may seem distinct — one is about content being taken down too easily, and the other is about content staying up too long. But at the core of the problem is the same criticism: Facebook doesn’t pay attention to smaller countries.

In Sri Lanka, alleged inaction by Facebook in the face of the spread of anti-Muslim hate speech even led the government to temporarily block the website in March. “[Facebook] would go three or four months before making a response,” Harin Fernando, Sri Lanka’s minister of telecommunications and digital infrastructure, told BuzzFeed News. “We were upset. In this incident, we had no alternative — we had to stop Facebook.”

BuzzFeed News


Government officials say it was the highest-level delegation from Facebook that had ever visited on official business. During Facebook’s visit, the government unblocked social media.

BuzzFeed News


Ethnic tensions in Sri Lanka predate the social network.

But we spoke to Muslims who say once Facebook became overwhelmingly popular in the country, particularly with the younger generation, they saw anti-Muslim stories being amplified in a way they hadn’t been before.

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Such drastic measures are clearly not ideal — indeed, they raise their own questions about censorship and free speech. But Facebook’s inability to stop real-world problems, either because of language barriers or a lack of knowledge about local contexts, is a common criticism around the world.

To his credit, Zuckerberg acknowledged the need to hire more people with local language skills and work with civic organizations to identify potential problems quickly. “The definition of hate speech or things that can be racially coded to incite violence are very language-specific, and we can’t do that with just English speakers for people around the world,” he said this week.

The Facebook CEO even seemed to suggest on Wednesday that his company was working on being able to take down hate speech like that identified in Burma within 24 hours — a passing comment that many organizations noted with hope.

But the big question is how to do that on Facebook’s gargantuan scale. The company has about 25,000 employees but an estimated 2 billion or more daily users. Facebook may need to hire thousands more people to truly deal with global issues. Small wonder that Zuckerberg emphasized the role artificial intelligence could play in helping solve these problems in five or 10 years’ time.

While many will want Facebook to work faster than that, such proposals are probably welcome news for many Facebook users and advocacy groups. But for corrupt governments and other groups who worked with them — including consulting groups such as Cambridge Analytica — it could mean their ability to spread hate and division will no longer be a feature of Facebook, but a bug.


  (Includes links to our Facebook archive)

Despite UN warnings, Myanmar vows early Rohingya return

April 13, 2018


© AFP | An injured Rohingya woman arrives to attend a meeting with Myanmar Social Welfare Minister Win Myat Aye during his visit to the Kutupalong refugee camp in Bangladesh
DHAKA (BANGLADESH) (AFP) – Rohingya refugees will be allowed to return to Myanmar “as soon as possible”, a minister said, despite a stillborn repatriation process and UN warnings that the safety of returnees could not be guaranteed.

Win Myat Aye, Myanmar’s social welfare minister, made the comments in Dhaka late Thursday after visiting one of the Bangladesh camps struggling to provide for some of the one million Rohingya Muslims to have fled the country.

“We can overcome many difficulties we are facing,” he told reporters after a meeting with Bangladeshi officials. “I am very sure we can start repatriation process as soon as possible.”

Myanmar has repeatedly said it is ready for repatriation, but no date has been given for the return, and scepticism is rife in Bangladesh and elsewhere that a stalled refugee return plan will ever be implemented.

Bangladesh and Myanmar agreed in November to repatriate three-quarters of a million Rohingya by the end of the year but the deal has been delayed indefinitely, with each side blaming the other for a lack of preparation.

Win Myat Aye had met with Rohingya leaders at the giant Kutupalong camp near Cox’s Bazar, where a group of refugees tried to stage a protest during his visit.

Wednesday was the first time a Myanmar cabinet member has visited the overcrowded camps since a military crackdown that began last August in response to a spate of insurgent attacks, forcing some 700,000 of the Muslim minority to flee across the border.

They joined around 300,000 refugees already living there after previous bouts of violence.

Myanmar has so far approved fewer than 600 names from a list of more than 8,000 refugees provided by Bangladesh.

Last month a top Bangladesh cabinet minister, A.M.A Muhith, said it was unlikely the refugees would ever return, accusing Myanmar of deliberately obstructing the process.

UN agencies have warned that any repatriation deal could place returning Rohingya in further danger and that conditions on the ground are not conducive for a voluntary, safe and dignified return.

Ursula Mueller, assistant secretary general for the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, visited northern Rakhine this month and said Myanmar still needs to address “critical issues of freedom of movement, social cohesion, livelihoods, and access to services”.

Bangladesh foreign minister A.H. Mahmood Ali, who led repatriation talks for his country, told reporters Thursday that the two sides were committed to implementing the refugee deal.

Many refugees say they fear a repeat of the persecution that forced them off their lands if they go back under the repatriation deal, and of being placed in temporary transit camps for an unknown period of time as they await new housing.

Two more activists jailed in Vietnam amid widening dissent crackdown — Vietnamese wonder if Facebook is helping the government to harass, detain, prosecute and imprison

April 12, 2018


HANOI (Reuters) – Courts in Vietnam handed prison sentences to two activists on Thursday, as the communist-ruled government widens its crackdown on dissent.

A court in Nghe An province sentenced 32-year-old Nguyen Viet Dung to seven years in prison for posting “anti-state propaganda” on his Facebook account, police said after a trial that lasted a few hours.

Despite sweeping economic and social reforms in Vietnam, the ruling Communist Party retains tight media censorship and does not tolerate criticism. It has been stepping up sentencing and arrests of activists and handing them longer jail terms.

Two more activists jailed in Vietnam amid widening dissent crackdown

Activist Nguyen Van Tuc, center, stands trial in Thai Binh, Vietnam, Tuesday, April 10, 2018. Nguyen Van Tuc is accused of the same charges as Nguyen Viet Dung (The Duyen/ Vietnam News Agency via AP)

Dung was charged with posting information on his Facebook account last year that distorted the policies of the party and the state and defamed state leaders, the police said, citing the indictment.

Dung, who was jailed for a year in 2015 for causing public disorder, will also face five years of house arrest after serving his latest prison term, police said.

“These trumped up charges, used to attack peaceful activists like Nguyen Viet Dung and many other dissidents before him, show just how easy it is for the government to harass, detain, prosecute and imprison any person,” said Phil Robertson, Deputy Asia Director at New York-based Human Rights Watch.


He said Vietnam should heed calls from the United Nations and foreign diplomats demanding the immediate and unconditional release of Dung.

Separately, a court in the nearby province of Ha Tinh on Thursday jailed Tran Thi Xuan for nine years after she was convicted of “attempting to overthrow the people’s administration”, police in the province said.

Police said Xuan was a member of a group called the Brotherhood for Democracy, whose other members were jailed at other trials this month.

Lawyers for Dung and Xuan could not be reached for comment on Thursday.


Their trials followed heavy sentences for at least seven other activists convicted of attempting to overthrow the people’s administration.

This month, a Hanoi court sentenced human rights lawyer and activist Nguyen Van Dai to 15 years in prison on the grounds that he “aimed at overthrowing the people’s administration”.

Five other activists affiliated with Brotherhood Democracy were jailed for seven to 12 years.

On Tuesday, a court in the northern province of Thai Binh handed a 13-year prison sentence to another activist, Nguyen Van Tuc, accused of the same charges.

Vietnamese human rights activists and independent media groups wrote this week to Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook Inc’s chief executive, questioning whether the social media platform was helping suppress dissent in Vietnam.

The letter, released on Tuesday by U.S.-based human rights group Viet Tan and signed by nearly 50 other groups, said Facebook’s system of automatically pulling content if enough people complained could “silence human rights activists and citizen journalists in Vietnam”.

Facebook said its community standard in Vietnam was in line with that elsewhere.

“There are also times when we may have to remove or restrict access to content because it violates a law in a particular country, even though it doesn’t violate our community standards,” a Facebook spokeswoman said in a statement.

Reporting by Hanoi Newsroom; Editing by Darren Schuettler

Facebook’s Zuckerberg vows to work harder to block hate speech in Myanmar

April 11, 2018


WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg said on Tuesday his company would step up efforts to block hate messages in Myanmar as he faced questioning by the U.S. Congress about electoral interference and hate speech on the platform.

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Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies before a joint Senate Judiciary and Commerce Committees hearing regarding the company’s use and protection of user data, on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., April 10, 2018. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein

Facebook has been accused by human rights advocates of not doing enough to weed out hate messages on its social-media network in Myanmar, where it is a dominant communications system.

“What’s happening in Myanmar is a terrible tragedy, and we need to do more,” Zuckerberg said during a 5-hour joint hearing of the Senate Commerce Committee and Senate Judiciary Committee.

More than 650,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled Myanmar’s Rakhine state into Bangladesh since insurgent attacks sparked a security crackdown last August.

United Nations officials investigating a possible genocide in Myanmar said last month that Facebook had been a source of anti-Rohingya propaganda.

Marzuki Darusman, chairman of the U.N. Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar, said in March that social media had played a “determining role” in Myanmar.

“It has … substantively contributed to the level of acrimony and dissension and conflict … within the public. Hate speech is certainly of course a part of that. As far as the Myanmar situation is concerned, social media is Facebook, and Facebook is social media,” he said.

Zuckerberg said Facebook was hiring dozens more Burmese-language speakers to remove threatening content.

“It’s hard to do it without people who speak the local language, and we need to ramp up our effort there dramatically,” he said, adding that Facebook was also asking civil society groups to help it identify figures who should be banned from the network.

He said a Facebook team would also make undisclosed product changes in Myanmar and other countries where ethnic violence was a problem.

Reporting by Andy Sullivan Edited by Damon Darlin

Vanuatu denies Chinese approach to establish military presence

April 10, 2018


SYDNEY (Reuters) – Vanuatu’s Foreign Minister Ralph Regenvanu on Tuesday denied a media report that China wanted to establish a permanent military presence on the Pacific island nation, easing fears of several regional countries concerned about Beijing’s rising assertiveness.

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Australia’s Fairfax Media, citing unnamed sources, earlier on Tuesday reported that preliminary discussions to locate a full military base on Vanuatu had been held.

The prospect of a Chinese military outpost so close to Australia has been discussed at the highest levels in Canberra and Washington, Fairfax said.

Regenvanu, however, rejected the report.

“No one in the Vanuatu Government has ever talked about a Chinese military base in Vanuatu of any sort,” Regenvanu told the Australian Broadcasting Corp.

“We are a non-aligned country. We are not interested in militarization, we are just not interested in any sort of military base in our country.”

Fairfax reported that Chinese naval ships would dock to be serviced, refueled and restocked at a Vanuatu port, with the agreement eventually leading to a full military base.

“We would view with great concern the establishment of any foreign military bases in those Pacific island countries and neighbors of ours,” Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull told reporters in Brisbane.

Vanuatu, around 2,000 km (1,200 miles) east of northern Australia, was home to a key U.S. Navy base during World War Two that helped beat back the Japanese army as it advanced through the Pacific toward Australia.

Any future naval or air base in Vanuatu would “give China a foothold for operations to coerce Australia, outflank the U.S. and its base on U.S. territory at Guam, and collect intelligence in a regional security crisis,” Rory Medcalf, head of the National Security College at the Australian National University, said in a report for the Lowy Institute think tank in Sydney.

China opened its first overseas military base in August 2017 in Djibouti on the Horn of Africa. Beijing describes it as a logistics facility.

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Djibouti’s position on the northwestern edge of the Indian Ocean has fueled worry in India that it would become another of China’s “string of pearls” military alliances and assets ringing India, including Bangladesh, Myanmar and Sri Lanka.

China has also become increasingly active in the South Pacific, undertaking several infrastructure projects and providing aid and financing to small, developing island nations in the region.

That has stoked fears that Australia’s long-time influence in the region is being eroded.

Australia’s Foreign Minister Julie Bishop had earlier acknowledged heightened Chinese interest in the Pacific.

“It is a fact that China is engaging in infrastructure investment activities around the world,” Bishop told Australian Broadcasting Corporation radio.

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China has seven military bases near te Philippines

“I remain confident that Australia is Vanuatu’s strategic partner of choice,” she said.

China has also faced criticisms over its activities in the disputed South China Sea, where it has been building artificial islands on reefs, some with ports and airstrips.

Reporting by Colin Packham. Editing by Lincoln Feast.


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China says it has sovereignty over all the South China Sea north of its “nine dash line.” On July 12, 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration  in The Hague said this claim by China was not valid. But China and the Philippine government then chose to ignore international law.

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China has militarized the South China Sea — even though they have no legal claim. This is Mischief Reef, now an extensive Chinese military base — one of seven Chinese military bases near the Philippines

Conditions in Myanmar ‘not conducive’ to Rohingya return: UN

April 8, 2018


© OCHA/AFP | The UN’s Ursula Mueller (R) says conditions in Rakhine are not conducive to the return of Rohingya who fled to Bangladesh
YANGON (AFP) – Conditions in Myanmar’s crisis-hit northern Rakhine state are “not conducive” to bringing back Rohingya from Bangladesh, the UN told AFP, in remarks that jar with the country’s insistence that it is ready for returnees.Some 700,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled over the border since August to escape a bloody military crackdown that has left a trail of torched villages in its wake as refugees allege murder and rape by Myanmar’s armed forces.

The army denies the allegations and casts its campaign as a legitimate response to Rohingya militant attacks on August 25 that killed about a dozen border guard police.

Myanmar and Bangladesh signed a repatriation deal in November but not one refugee has returned.

“Right now, the conditions are not conducive to a voluntary, dignified and sustainable return,” said Ursula Mueller, assistant secretary general for the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

Speaking to AFP at the end of a six-day trip to the country during which she visited northern Rakhine, Mueller said Myanmar needs to address “critical issues of freedom of movement, social cohesion, livelihoods, and access to services”.

For years members of the stateless Muslim minority have been deemed immigrants from Bangladesh, forced to live under apartheid-like conditions with severe restrictions on their movement and limited options for education and healthcare.

Myanmar has repeatedly said it has completed the groundwork to accept back Rohingya refugees.

“We are ready. The buildings are ready. The hospital and clinics are ready,” Aung Tun Thet, chief coordinator of a government-backed organisation working on resettlement in Rakhine, told state media this week.

“We have done what we can. If they don’t feel safe then there isn’t anything we can do.”

During her trip, Mueller also spoke to Rohingya Muslims who have been confined in “deplorable” camps and settlements within Rakhine since a previous wave of inter-communal violence six years ago.

“We cannot, and must not, forget the plight of over 400,000 Muslim people still living in Rakhine state who continue to face a life of hardship and marginalisation due to movement restrictions,” she said.

Facebook’s Business Model is Incompatible With Basic Human Rights — “May be one of the most powerful radicalising instruments of the 21st century”

April 5, 2018

Facebook has had a bad few weeks. The social media giant had to apologise for failing to protect the personal data of millions of users from being accessed by data mining company Cambridge Analytica. Outrage is brewing over its admission to spying on people via their Android phones. Its stock price plummeted, while millions deleted their accounts in disgust.

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Facebook has also faced scrutiny over its failure to prevent the spread of “fake news” on its platforms, including via an apparent orchestrated Russian propaganda effort to influence the 2016 US presidential election.

Facebook’s actions – or inactions – facilitated breaches of privacy and human rights associated with democratic governance. But it might be that its business model – and those of its social media peers generally – is simply incompatible with human rights.

The good

In some ways, social media has been a boon for human rights – most obviously for freedom of speech.

Previously, the so-called ‘marketplace of ideas’ was technically available to all (in “free” countries), but was in reality dominated by the elites. While all could equally exercise the right to free speech, we lacked equal voice. Gatekeepers, especially in the form of the mainstream media, largely controlled the conversation.

But today, anybody with internet access can broadcast information and opinions to the whole world. While not all will be listened to, social media is expanding the boundaries of what is said and received in public. The marketplace of ideas must effectively be bigger and broader, and more diverse.

Social media enhances the effectiveness of non-mainstream political movements, public assemblies and demonstrations, especially in countries that exercise tight controls over civil and political rights, or have very poor news sources.

Social media played a major role in co-ordinating the massive protests that brought down dictatorships in Tunisia and Egypt, as well as large revolts in Spain, Greece, Israel, South Korea, and the Occupy movement. More recently, it has facilitated the rapid growth of the #MeToo and #neveragain movements, among others.

The bad and the ugly

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But the social media “free speech” machines can create human rights difficulties. Those newly empowered voices are not necessarily desirable voices.

The UN recently found that Facebook had been a major platform for spreading hatred against the Rohingya in Myanmar  which in turn led to ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.

Video sharing site YouTube seems to automatically guide viewers to the fringiest versions of what they might be searching for. A search on vegetarianism might lead to veganism; jogging to ultra-marathons; Donald Trump’s popularity to white supremacist rants; and Hillary Clinton to 9/11 trutherism.

YouTube, via its algorithm’s natural and probably unintended impacts, “may be one of the most powerful radicalising instruments of the 21st century”, with all the attendant human rights abuses that might follow.

The business model and human rights

Human rights abuses might be embedded in the business model that has evolved for social media companies in their second decade.

Essentially, those models are based on the collection and use for marketing purposes of their users’ data. And the data they have is extraordinary in its profiling capacities, and in the consequent unprecedented knowledge base and potential power it grants to these private actors.

Indirect political influence is commonly exercised, even in the most credible democracies, by private bodies such as major corporations. This power can be partially constrained by “anti-trust laws” that promote competition and prevent undue market dominance.

Anti-trust measures could, for example, be used to hive off Instagram from Facebook, or YouTube from Google. But these companies’ power essentially arises from the sheer number of their users: in late 2017, Facebook was reported as having more than 2.2 billion active users. Anti-trust measures do not seek to cap the number of a company’s customers, as opposed to its acquisitions.

Power through knowledge

In 2010, Facebook conducted an experiment by randomly deploying a non-partisan “I voted” button into 61 million feeds during the US mid-term elections. That simple action led to 340,000 more votes, or about 0.14% of the US voting population. This number can swing an election. A bigger sample would lead to even more votes.

So Facebook knows how to deploy the button to sway an election, which would clearly be lamentable. However, the mere possession of that knowledge makes Facebook a political player. It now knows that button’s the political impact, the types of people it is likely to motivate, and the party that’s favoured by its deployment and non-deployment, and at what times of day.

It might seem inherently incompatible with democracy for that knowledge to be vested in a private body. Yet the retention of such data is the essence of Facebook’s ability to make money and run a viable business.


A study has shown that a computer knows more about a person’s personality than their friends or flatmates from an analysis of 70 “likes”, and more than their family from 150 likes. From 300 likes it can outperform one’s spouse.

This enables the micro-targeting of people for marketing messages – whether those messages market a product, a political party or a cause. This is Facebook’s product, from which it generates billions of dollars. It enables extremely effective advertising and the manipulation of its users. This is so even without Cambridge Analytica’s underhanded methods.

Advertising is manipulative: that is its point. Yet it is a long bow to label all advertising as a breach of human rights.

Advertising is available to all with the means to pay. Social media micro-targeting has become another battleground where money is used to attract customers and, in the political arena, influence and mobilise voters.

While the influence of money in politics is pervasive – and probably inherently undemocratic – it seems unlikely that spending money to deploy social media to boost an electoral message is any more a breach of human rights than other overt political uses of money.

Yet the extraordinary scale and precision of its manipulative reach might justify differential treatment of social media compared to other advertising, as its manipulative political effects arguably undermine democratic choices.

As with mass data collection, perhaps it may eventually be concluded that that reach is simply incompatible with democratic and human rights.

‘Fake news’

Finally, there is the issue of the spread of misinformation.

While paid advertising may not breach human rights, “fake news” distorts and poisons democratic debate. It is one thing for millions of voters to be influenced by precisely targeted social media messages, but another for maliciously false messages to influence and manipulate millions – whether paid for or not.

In a Declaration on Fake News several UN and regional human rights experts said fake news interfered with the right to know and receive information – part of the general right to freedom of expression.

Its mass dissemination may also distort rights to participate in public affairs. Russia and Cambridge Analytica (assuming allegations in both cases to be true) have demonstrated how social media can be “weaponised” in unanticipated ways.

Yet it is difficult to know how social media companies should deal with fake news. The suppression of fake news is the suppression of speech – a human right in itself.

The preferred solution outlined in the Declaration on Fake News is to develop technology and digital literacy to enable readers to more easily identify fake news. The human rights community seems to be trusting that the proliferation of fake news in the marketplace of ideas can be corrected with better ideas rather than censorship.

However, one cannot be complacent in assuming that “better speech” triumphs over fake news. A recent study concluded fake news on social media:

… diffused significantly farther, faster, deeper, and more broadly than the truth in all categories of information.

Also, internet “bots” apparently spread true and false news at the same rate, which indicates that:

… false news spreads more than the truth because humans, not robots, are more likely to spread it.

The depressing truth may be that human nature is attracted to fake stories over the more mundane true ones, often because they satisfy predetermined biases, prejudices and desires. And social media now facilitates their wildfire spread to an unprecedented degree.

Perhaps social media’s purpose – the posting and sharing of speech – cannot help but generate a distorted and tainted marketplace of fake ideas that undermine political debate and choices, and perhaps human rights.

What next?

It is premature to assert the very collection of massive amounts of data is irreconcilable with the right to privacy (and even rights relating to democratic governance).

Similarly, it is premature to decide that micro-targeting manipulates the political sphere beyond the bounds of democratic human rights.

Finally, it may be that better speech and corrective technology will help to undo fake news’ negative impacts: it is premature to assume that such solutions won’t work.

However, by the time such conclusions may be reached, it may be too late to do much about it. It may be an example where government regulation and international human rights law – and even business acumen and expertise – lags too far behind technological developments to appreciate their human rights dangers.

At the very least, we must now seriously question the business models that have emerged from the dominant social media platforms. Maybe the internet should be rewired from the grass roots rather than be led by digital oligarchs’ business needs.

Sarah Joseph, Director, Castan Centre for Human Rights Law, Monash University 

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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