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UN expert for ensuring safety of online activists calling for Rohingya justice

  • Published at 11:09 pm December 10th, 2019
Rohingya Children
Photo: Syed Zakir Hossain/Dhaka Tribune

Threats to online campaigners start following announcements of international proceedings against Myanmar at ICJ and ICC, says Yanghee Lee

United Nations special rapporteur on Myanmar Yanghee Lee has condemned online threats against activists campaigning for justice and accountability for the crimes against Rohingya.

He also urged the Myanmar government and social media firms to do more to protect campaigners.

The threats follow announcements of international legal proceedings over the atrocities committed against the Rohingya by the Myanmar military and other security forces in 2016 and 2017, and their ongoing persecution, said a news release forwarded by the office of the UN High Commissioner For Human Rights in Geneva on Tuesday.

File Photo: Rohingya men and women migrating to different camps in Cox Bazar | Mahmud Hossain Opu/Dhaka Tribune

“The online threats, including those targeting prominent activists Dr Maung Zarni and Nay Say Lwin of the Free Rohingya Coalition are deeply concerning,” Lee said.

“I call on each and every organ of the Myanmar state to ensure that absolutely no reprisals are taken against any group or individual that is advocating for justice and accountability in Myanmar,” she said.

Last month, The Gambia filed an historic application against Myanmar at the International Court of Justice under the Genocide Convention, while the International Criminal Court authorized an investigation into crimes against humanity that are alleged across the Myanmar-Bangladesh border, and criminal complaints of genocide and crimes against humanity have been filed in Argentina under the principle of universal jurisdiction.

“Following the announcement of these important developments, I have noted the spread of increasingly hostile online rhetoric propagating a false and divisive narrative of being either ‘with us’ or ‘against us’,” said Lee.

“Abusive speech continues to be circulated on social media targeting Myanmar’s ethnic minorities, including the Rohingya, as well as human rights defenders, women and others,” she said.

“These messages are intended to spread hatred and fear and, as we know, can have disastrous real-world consequences,” she added.

Noting the role that social media had played in stoking the violence of 2016 and 2017, the UN expert called on the government to take urgent and comprehensive action to combat incitement to violence, discrimination and hatred and to actively promote a culture of tolerance and moderation.

“The Myanmar government should ensure that everyone doing so is safe from intimidation, violence and reprisals,” she said.

Lee urged social media companies to step up their efforts to meet their responsibility to respect human rights, including by ensuring they were not providing platforms for hate and incitement to violence.

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