United Nations

Report on Myanmar Released After a UN Fact Finding Mission

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One year ago today, the marginalized and essentially stateless Rohingya people in Myanmar (denied full citizenship but also denied the right the leave the country legally), were subject to a brutal campaign unleashed by Myanmar’s Buddhist-majority state security forces.


In response to alleged attacks by Rohingya militants against government forces, security members and allied civilian mobs launched an all-out attack on defenseless Rohingya villagers, cutting off their efforts to escape to safety on foot and firing on them from helicopters and from the ground. The unofficial death toll quickly climbed into the hundreds, taking several decades of brutal and systematic oppression to the next murderous level. By mid-August of 2017, over 76,000 people had attempted a dangerous escape across the border to Bangladesh, through rain swollen areas that left more bodies washed up on riverbanks.

Many of those who eventually reached refugee camps described villages surrounded and families shot systematically and stabbed to death, including children.

A year later, six generals have been named as priority subjects for investigation and prosecution by a United Nations Fact Finding Mission on Myanmar. In a newly released report describing the campaign and its atrocities, their actions have been called “undoubtedly…the gravest crimes under international law.” Here’s the report.

The government of Myanmar has rejected the allegations, claiming that the attacks were warranted. But the three-member panel responsible for the report has attached the most serious allegation, genocide, to the list of charges against the military leaders. The panel finds enough evidence to support accusations of genocidal intent, and members have cited an organized plan for destruction and evidence of an extreme scale of brutality and violence. The panel cites over 10,000 deaths, harrowing witness accounts and over 700,000 refugees by the end of the 2017 actions in Rakhine.

Despite Myanmar’s refusal to allow access or cooperate with the investigation, the report contains hundreds of pages of witness accounts, interviews, satellite data and other information that will be submitted to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva next month.

The United Nations human rights chief, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, has previously condemned the army’s actions, but this newly released report will likely increase pressure for immediate international action. After reviewing the report, the UN Security Council may refer Myanmar to the International Criminal Court or set up an international tribunal. The Council may also impose an arms embargo on Myanmar and penalize those most responsible with travel bans or asset freezes.  

But the path toward justice, if one exists, will not be clear. Since Myanmar’s civilian authorities have proven unable and unwilling to investigate or deliver justice on their own, any form of accountability will need to come from the international community. And since international criminal law is a nascent entity at this point, the outcome of any form of condemnation remains uncertain.

A year after the fact, the generals responsible for high crimes and human rights violations and the civilian authorities who enabled them remain both unpunished and unrepentant. Read more here and please join us as we follow the developments surrounding the newly released report.

Human Rights and Dangerous Rhetoric

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Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, the current UN high commissioner for human rights, will step down later this month, citing a waning commitment among UN member nations to fight back against human rights abuses. In particular, Zeid has cited several problems he sees with the current US administration: rhetoric that vilifies minorities, and incitement of hostility against the press.

According to the departing commissioner, the worst events of the 20th century were those that tend to occur “when language is used in a way that focuses on groups… who have traditionally suffered a great deal from bigotry and prejudice and chauvinism”. Citing several concerns, including both the actions of the US and the aftermath of mass killings in Syria and Yemen-- which the UN proved unwilling or unable to halt-- the commissioner argues that human rights have become a reduced priority for the UN. These issues now account for less than 3% of overall spending.

Zeid was actually recently blocked from addressing the UN Security Council regarding human rights abuses in Syria, after being unable to secure the nine votes needed to move forward with the session.  “It tells me more about the weakening influence of the western powers that they could not secure nine votes for a briefing,” he said.

If the UN—and the human rights council—show a reduced interest in protecting human rights during times of heightened threat, then Zeid asks, why do they exist? His question represents a cause for serious concern, especially during an age in which a once-respected pillar of the west has now altered course and appears to be espousing authoritarian rhetoric. Please read more here, and join us as we witness this prominent departure and its implications. 

The UN Breastfeeding Resolution, Ecuador, and a Negative Pattern

The current US administration has shown a consistent tendency to defer to the interests of private industry over those of human health and well-being, often despite overwhelming scientific consensus. In a similar disturbing pattern, the administration has shown an active disregard for multilateral organizations, treaties, and trade agreements.  Earlier this summer, both of these tendencies converged during a UN world health meeting in which a resolution was set to be introduced, one designed to offer global encouragement for the breastfeeding of infants and newborns.

The resolution contained separate elements targeting the promotion of breastfeeding as the healthiest option for new parents, and a call to end the “promotion of inappropriate” food choices for babies and young children.

Though the resolution ultimately passed (with changes to the wording of the second section at the insistence of the US delegation), the entire resolution appeared to be in jeopardy for several days, due to the US administration’s interest in placating the $70 billion infant formula industry. And on the path to the final passage, the US delegation engaged in a series of troubling tactics. These efforts were ultimately unsuccessful, but they raised alarm among all delegations and gained the brief attention of US and world media outlets.

We believe the attention paid to this series of events to be insufficient, and far more notable than their fleeting media spotlight might suggest. We live in an age of constant distractions and a news cycle that churns at unprecedented speed, but this issue—and the behavior of the administration regarding the resolution—seemed unusual, even by current standards. Read more about the breastfeeding resolution here, here, and here.

In summary, to try to prevent the passage of the resolution, the US threatened to cut its contributions to the World Health Organization (the US contributes almost 15% of the agency's budget). More egregious, the US threatened to place trade sanctions on Ecuador, a small country that relies heavily on US military aid, if the resolution were to succeed. The US insisted on the removal of language calling on governments to “protect, promote, and support breastfeeding.”  

While the US leveled threats against Ecuador, it did not direct the same threats toward Russia. Russia ultimately stepped up to back and help pass the resolution, with success.

The United States also tried and failed to thwart a W.H.O. effort aimed at helping poor countries obtain access to lifesaving medicines. In support of the pharmaceutical industry, The US has resisted modified patent laws that might make drugs more available in the developing world, but health advocates say this opposition has increased with the current administration.

We like to draw a moment of additional attention to the kinds of events that are too quickly swept off the stage, and this falls into that category. Follow us to learn more.


A Historic UN Agreement on Global Migration

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Last week, UN member states finalized the text of an agreement that has been in development for more than a year. Called “The Global Compact for Safe, Orderly, and Regular Migration”, the agreement recognizes that transborder migration is an international phenomenon which can be successfully managed through international cooperation. The agreement also recognizes the right of every individual to safety, dignity and protection in the inevitable and global transition of people across national borders.

The compact respects the sovereignty of individual states and imposes no legally binding dictates that govern when and how migration will occur. It also does not aim to encourage or discourage migration in general. But it does provide a management resource, or guide, that can help states proactively prepare for immigration and emigration events.

This comprehensive framework directly addresses some of the thorniest issues that migration presents, for example, how to balance state sovereignty and human rights, how to determine the effect of mobility on economic development, and how to determine what constitutes voluntary movement.

The agreement will ideally diffuse the most dangerous, exploitative, and chaotic aspects of transborder migration and support elements of safety, social cohesion, and economic progress.

This document also represents the power of multilateral approaches to international problems, a timely message in an age of increasing human transition.

Speaking on the subject of migration, Special Representative for International Migration Louise Arbour stated, “Its chaotic, dangerous exploitative aspects cannot be allowed to become a new normal.”

Please feel free to read the text of the agreement here! And enjoy some promising news in an uncertain global migration landscape.


The United Nations and Water Management

As the planet warms, scientific communities and governments around the world are working to identify and stay ahead of the major areas of concern that will result from this change first, second, and third.

For example, here at Just Atonement, we recognize that what begins as a global temperature increase will eventually result in shifting patterns of human movement and migration; as sea levels rise and natural resources expire in some areas and open up in others, human beings will move across the planet from one place to another in large numbers. These population shifts will lead to cultural collisions and mergers that may be impossible to accurately predict, but it’s our obligation to anticipate this upheaval all the same and make an effort to identify what these seismic shifts will require of us as a civilization.

Another widely-recognized—but still unpredictable—global flashpoint relates to water and water resource management. While much attention has been devoted to the issue of rising sea levels and flooding, massive droughts are an equally imminent aspect of rising temperatures and shifting ecosystems. India (home to about 1.3 billion people, or about one fifth of the global population) is now experiencing what the government identifies as the worst water crisis in its history. Read more here.


So our question for the moment is: How does the United Nations address issues related to water distribution? Water is essential to human life, and access to drinkable clean water is a fundamental human right, one that is often controlled and disrupted by policy, politics and class divisions around the world.

The United Nations has no single specific entity dedicated exclusively to water issues. Because water concerns run through almost every one of the organization’s major efforts to sustain peace and to protect human rights and the global rule of law, water and sanitation programs are distributed among about 30 programs under the UN’s aegis, and their shared efforts are coordinated by a group called UN Water and its partners, who work to facilitate communication between these diverse entities.

UN Water: 1.) monitors and reports on the water-related actions of these 30 groups 2.) provides data that informs policy decisions, and 3.) inspires action.

The members and partners of UN Water support each connected entity in combined efforts to build sustainability agendas, create disaster risk reduction frameworks, secure financing for development, and anticipate climate change.

To learn more about UN Water’s goals and accomplishments since the 1970’s, please check out their homepage here: http://www.unwater.org/about-unwater/

And for a simple breakdown of each of the key dimensions of global water and sanitation issues, please click here. http://www.unwater.org/water-facts/