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Myanmar military put on UN blacklist for rape, sexual violence

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United Nations:A new UN report puts Myanmar’s armed forces on a UN blacklist of government and rebel groups “credibly suspected” of carrying out rapes and other acts of sexual violence in conflict for the first time.

An advance copy of Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ report to the Security Council, obtained Friday by The Associated Press, says international medical staff and others in Bangladesh have documented that many of the almost 700,000 Rohingya Muslims who fled from Myanmar “bear the physical and psychological scars of brutal sexual assault.”

The UN chief said the assaults were allegedly perpetrated by the Myanmar Armed Forces, known as the Tatmadaw, “at times acting in concert with local militias, in the course of military ‘clearance’ operations in October 2016 and August 2017.”

 

“The widespread threat and use of sexual violence was integral to this strategy, serving to humiliate, terrorise and collectively punish the Rohingya community, as a calculated tool to force them to flee their homelands and prevent their return,” Guterres said.

Buddhist-majority Myanmar doesn’t recognise the Rohingya as an ethnic group, insisting they are Bengali migrants from Bangladesh living illegally in the country. It has denied them citizenship, leaving them stateless.

The recent spasm of violence began when Rohingya insurgents launched a series of attacks last Aug. 25 on about 30 security outposts and other targets. Myanmar security forces then began a scorched-earth campaign against Rohingya villages that the UN and human rights groups have called a campaign of ethnic cleansing.

“Violence was visited upon women, including pregnant women, who are seen as custodians and propagators of ethnic identity, as well as on young children, who represent the future of the group,” Guterres said. “This can be linked to an inflammatory narrative alleging that high fertility rates among the Rohingya represent an existential threat to the majority population.”

The report, which will be a focus of a UN Security Council meeting Monday on preventing sexual violence in conflict, puts 51 government, rebel and extremist groups on the list.

They include 17 from Congo including the armed forces and national police, seven from Syria including the armed forces and intelligence services, six each from Central African Republic and South Sudan, five from Mali, four from Somalia, three from Sudan, one each from Iraq and Myanmar, and Boko Haram which operates in several countries.

“As a general trend,” Guterres said, “the rise or resurgence of conflict and violent extremism, with its ensuing proliferation of arms, mass displacement, and collapsed rule of law, triggers patterns of sexual violence.”

This was evident in many places in 2017 as insecurity spread to new regions in Central African Republic, violence surged in eastern and central Congo, conflict engulfed South Sudan, violence wracked Syria and Yemen, and “‘ethnic cleansing’ in the guise of clearance operations unfolded in Northern Rakhine State, Myanmar,” he said.

Guterres said most victims are “politically and economically marginalised women and girls” concentrated in remote, rural areas with the least access to services that can help them, and in refugee camps and areas for the displaced.

The year 2017 “also saw sexual violence continue to be employed as a tactic of war, terrorism, torture and repression,” he said, citing conflicts in CAR, Congo, Iraq, Mali, Myanmar, Nigeria, Somalia and South Sudan as examples of “this alarming trend.”

Guterres said sexual violence continues to serve as a “push factor” for forced displacement in places such as Colombia, Iraq, the Horn of Africa and Syria. And he said it remained “a heightened risk in transit, refugee and displacement settings.”

The secretary-general said the effects of sexual violence can impact generations as a result of trauma, stigma, poverty, poor health and unwanted pregnancy.

In South Sudan, for instance, Guterres said sexual violence is so prevalent that a Commission of Inquiry described women and girls as “collectively traumatised.” He said children born of this violence have been labelled “bad blood” or “children of the enemy” and warned that this vulnerability “may leave them susceptible to recruitment, radicalisation and trafficking.”

Guterres said many women, including Rohingya refugees, are reluctant to return to locations they fled where forces including alleged perpetrators remain in control.

“Colombia is the only country in which children conceived through wartime rape are legally recognised as victims, though it has been difficult for them to access redress without being stigmatised,” he said.

The secretary-general lamented that “most incidents of mass rape continue to be met with mass impunity.”

For example, Guterres said, not a single member of the Islamic State extremist group or Boko Haram “has been prosecuted for sexual violence offences to date.”


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Pakistan rules out India’s role in Afghan peace process

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Islamabad: Pakistan has ruled out any role for India in the Afghan peace process, the media reported on Friday.

“India has no role in Afghanistan,” Foreign Office spokesman Mohammad Faisal said at the weekly media briefing on Thursday while responding to a query about Islamabad’s position on New Delhi’s part in the reconciliation process.

Faisal acknowledged that Pakistan has a difficult relationship with India, saying that despite Pakistan’s efforts for normalisation, no concrete progress could be achieved in ties with India, Dawn news reported.

 

“You all know that India is not willing to engage with Pakistan,” he reminded.

Faisal’s remarks were in sharp contrast to what Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi had told the National Assembly last month.

“Since India is present in Afghanistan, its cooperation in this regard (facilitating a negotiated settlement of the Afghan conflict) will also be required,” he had told legislators.

Meanwhile, US President Donald Trump’s Special Envoy on Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad arrived in Pakistan on Thursday to discuss with the senior civil and military leadership the latest efforts to bring peace to the war-torn country.

Khalilzad, who met Taliban representatives last month in Abu Dhabi, is leading an inter-agency delegation to India, China, Afghanistan and Pakistan from January 8-21 to “facilitate a negotiated settlement to the conflict in Afghanistan”.

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US, India in talks over strategic missile defence cooperation: Pentagon

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Washington: The Trump administration has discussed a potential missile defence cooperation with India as part of its effort to deepen the bilateral strategic partnership, the Pentagon has said, asserting that New Delhi is a “key element” in America’s Indo-Pacific strategy.

The Pentagon’s announcement in the 81-page ”Missile Defence Review” report released by President Donald Trump gains significance in view of India placing a USD 5 billion order to purchase S-400 air defence system from Russia, for which the US had publicly expressed its displeasure.

Noting that the threats posed by offensive missile capabilities are no longer limited to a few regions around the world, the Pentagon in its report said there were now a number of countries in South Asia that are developing an advanced and diverse range of ballistic and cruise missile capabilities.

 

“Within this context, the United States has discussed potential missile defence cooperation with India. This is a natural outgrowth of India’s status as a Major Defence Partner and key element of our Indo-Pacific Strategy,” said the Pentagon report on Thursday.

The report, which identifies missile development projects by Russia and China as major threats to the US, did not give any further details about its potential missile defence cooperation with India.

The US has shown reluctance to offer its missile defence system to India.

Given the tough neighbourhood that India is in, New Delhi several years ago had approached US and expressed its desire to acquire a missile defence system from it, particularly the Terminal High Altitude Area Defence system popular as THAAD.

The previous Obama administration was not very forthcoming in sharing its advance missile defence system with India, following which New Delhi went ahead to procure it from Russia.

As part of its Indo-Pacific strategy, the Trump administration now seems to be more than inclined to let India procure its missile defence system with talks between the two countries having already started.

“We will deepen our strategic partnership with India and support its leadership role in Indian Ocean security and throughout the broader region,” said the 2017 National Security Strategy of the US, which has been mentioned in the Pentagon report.

The Missile Defence Review report said that the cornerstone of US’ security and diplomacy in the Indo-Pacific region is its strong bilateral alliances with Japan, South Korea and Australia, and emerging security relationships with others such as India.

Japan and South Korea are working with the US to build missile defence systems that are increasingly interoperable with American defences and increasingly capable against regional offensive missile threats and coercion.

This cooperation includes bilateral missile defence training exercises with the US.

Australia participates in a trilateral discussion on missile defence with the US and Japan. The US and Australia meet annually to discuss bilateral missile defence cooperation. New areas of focus include joint examination of the challenges posed by advanced missile threats, it said.

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400 migrants detained after crossing under fence into US

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Washington: Nearly 400 migrants burrowed under a fence on the US-Mexico border earlier this week and crossed into the US, informed sources told CNN. US Border Patrol officers stationed in Yuma, Arizona, took about 375 migrants into custody after they had made it into the US, the officials said on Thursday, calling it an unusually large apprehension.

It was not immediately clear if the migrants voluntarily surrendered to Border Patrol officials or if they were caught after attempting to evade authorities. The “vast majority” of the group were family members arriving from Guatemala, said National Border Patrol Council President Brandon Judd.

“It`s the largest I`ve ever heard of,” said Judd when asked if this was a significant number for a single group. There are often groups of 20 to 30 people, sometimes as large as 100, apprehended in the Yuma area, according to a Customs and Border Protection official.

 

The incident comes as President Donald Trump continues to demand funding for new barrier construction on the US-Mexico border as the government shutdown entered its 27th day , saying there was a “crisis” at the border that can only be solved with the construction of new border walls or fencing.

In November, a group of around 80 migrants from Guatemala — primarily families — were apprehended by Border Patrol after climbing over the legacy landing mat border wall east of the San Luis Port of Entry.

Hours later, another group of around 80 people entered the US by digging a shallow hole underneath the same portion of the wall, according to CBP. There has been a recent spike in total Border Patrol apprehensions in Yuma, up from 2,117 in fiscal year 2017 to 26,244 last year.

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