Archive for Asia and the Pacific

Human Rights in China: Mass Internment of Uyghurs & Other Muslim Populations

The Human Rights Institute at Columbia Law School invited Uyghur scholars to explore current practices of the Chinese government in the mass internment of Uyghur and other Muslim populations in Xinjiang, and address what human rights advocates and the broader public can do to end these systemic human rights violations.

Left to Right: Jessica Batke, Zubayra Shamseden, Tahir Imin

Since 2017, official reports have indicated that at least one million Uyghur and other ethnic minorities have been held in Chinese “political re-education camps” without due process rights or trial. With growing pressure from the international community to address China’s “re-education camps” in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (Xinjiang), Columbia Law School’s Human Rights Institute welcomed an esteemed panel of Uyghur intellectuals and academics to discuss this pressing human rights issue.

Vincent Wong, a Masters of Law Human Rights Fellow at Columbia Law School and event organizer, began the presentation with a precautionary statement to the audience. “I just want to recognize that there are a lot of people in this room who have their relatives, friends, loved ones, currently detained, disappeared and whom they can no longer get in touch with,” he said.

Before the panelists began, Wong highlighted three themes that were fundamental to the discussion: history, evidence, and solidarity. He stated that “the history of Uyghur-China relations has been marked with patterns of conflict, dispossession, discrimination, resistance and crackdown. And these patterns would not be unfamiliar to the experiences of other Indigenous populations throughout modern history.”

Moderator Jessica Batke, Senior Editor at China File, welcomed Darren Byler, Lecturer at the University of Washington, Zubayra Shamseden, a Fellow at the Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP), and Tahir Imin, Founder of Uigher Times, to speak on their personal experiences as well as recent research and findings.

Darren Byler – Turkic Muslims and the Chinese Security Industrial Complex

In May 2014, China declared the “People’s War on Terror,” targeting Uyghurs, who are native to the land where the war is being fought, by calling them “terrorists” or “extremists.” That year, China began using cameras, check points, prisons, internment camps and forced labour factories, and “political re-education camps” to control the Uyghur population.

Specifically, the Chinese government has used a confluence of three main actors: state security, higher education, research institutions and private industries to heighten security among the Uyghur population. Byler called China’s terror capitalism the new “security industrial complex,” which has risen in response to the Uyghur piety.

In April 2018, Byler travelled to Xinjiang, where he witnessed the “security industrial complex” in action. As just one example, Byler witnessed “convenience police stations” that acted as “rapid response” stations that employed several police officers to surveil people who were walking down the street, while also conducting spot checks on “random” passerbyers. In Turpan, there were also face scanning machines that were specifically for the Uyghur population and ethnic minorities.

In relation to these biased security practices, quantitative data analysis and collection was also employed. According to Byler, police officers would go to every Uyghur home to access people using a “10 category assessment” to racially profile Uyghurs and assess their “level of danger.”

According to a victim, “Uyghurs are alive, but our entire lives are spent behind walls. It is like we are ghosts living in another world.”

Concluding his presentation, Byler argued that the Uyghur perspective is built on a process of total unfreedom, threatening Uyghurs’ basic essence to life – including faith, language, culture, and even cuisine. With the continuing mass internment and racial discrimination against Uyghurs, there are broader implications that call into question the idea of self determination. “This is something we all of us should be worried about – because if [the Chinese government] is able to do this, they will be able to do this elsewhere. This is not going to stay [in Xinjiang.]”

Zubayra Shamseden – The Targeting of Uyghur Intellectuals and the Long-Term Impact of Uyghur Scholarship and Artistic Work

Alongside Byler’s presentation, Shamseden began her presentation by translating a line from an essay by detained Uyghur linguist and scholar Abduweli Ayup: “As long as we are Uyghur, we are one unit. Our duty now is to be the prosecutor of the Chinese government.” Shamseden stated that while Ayup was a man who focused his research on Uyghur language and education, he had to be his own “metaphorical” attorney because there was no one else to speak for him or the hundreds of other silenced and imprisoned scholars in the Uyghur homeland.

In 2018, the UHRP’s report indicated that at least 338 intellectuals were imprisoned, forcibly disappeared and sent to “political re-education camps” as a part of an intensified assault and extermination of Uyghur culture. Since then, at least 5 deaths in custody have been confirmed, but the true number of intellectuals who have died in the camp or died upon immediate release is unknown.

Shamseden noted that the so-called ‘re-education camps’ by the Chinese government are in fact extrajudicial prisons and according to eyewitnesses, the intention of this type of detention is not only physical death, but also the assimilation through mental and physical reengineering of the Uyghur identity. “The sad thing is that [most] of these detained Uyghur intellectuals could have helped the Chinese government create the stability it so desired,” she said.

Throughout her presentation, she mentioned Ilham Tohti, a Uyghur economist who was sentenced to life in prison for separatism, Salih Hajim, a Uyghur religious scholar who died in custody, Sanubar Tursan, a Uyghur musician who was forcibly disappeared, and other intellectuals and scholars who have been detained, disappeared or put into China’s “re-education camps.”

“If the conditions in the region are not addressed by the international community, China will spread its brutality beyond its borders,” she said.

Tahir Imin Uighurian – “Terrorist” Babies in Isolated Orphanages

Before beginning his presentation, Imin stated that “I am not speaking as an academic. I am speaking as an ordinary member of the Uyghur community as a father, as a son, as a brother, as a friend.” Focusing on another victim group in the Uyghur mass-internment, as reported by reliable media outlets and UHRP, up to 800,000 Uyghur children were left behind, and sent to state run orphanages, once their parents were forcibly disappeared, detained or imprisoned.

According to Imin, “these babies are being considered by the [Chinese government] as terrorists and are being educated to be a ‘normal, lawful, nice citizen.’” These Uyghur children are being educated to get rid of their “radical, terrorist ideologies.” They cannot see their parents, speak Uyghur or implement a Uyghur Islamic diet – and because of this, suicide, depression, and fear are common.

Since 2017, Imin has been a target by the Chinese government due to his activism for Uyghur culture and scholarship. Because of his activism, he has lost all contact with his wife and daughter. “[My daughter] was my whole life. I never spend a day without thinking of her… But since then, I haven’t heard anything from them. I tried to call, no one has answered by call.” Her last words to him were “Father, don’t call us again. Police are the best people. Chinese police are good people – nice people. But you are not. You are a bad person.”

“I am talking about this painfully heartbreaking issue by myself. I don’t want to talk about my daughter with other people. This is not a joke, this is not a game. Everytime I try to say something, I lose everything in my heart,” he said.

What You Can Do

The speakers mentioned that there are several ways to bring awareness to the human rights violations occurring in Xinjiang. Call your senators and representatives to support the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act of 2019, share the Uyghur Human Rights Project’s short briefings and reports on the mass internment and assimilation of the Uyghurs and sign the Statement by Concerned Scholars on China’s Mass Detention of Turkic Minorities.

In order to prevent the continuous assimilation and mass internment of Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities, Shamseden stated that “a fight from the intellectual community, especially the academic sectors are crucial.”

To learn more, check out the UHRP.


By a RightsViews Staff Writer

Vigilante Hate Crimes in India

The following is a guest-written opinion piece by Rahul Saraswat and Akshansh Sharma, students at the Gujarat National Law University in India.


Approximately 88 people have been killed in India since 2015 and hundreds have been seriously injured by groups of people who call themselves cow vigilantes. Cows are considered sacred in Hinduism and the cow vigilantes justify violence against Muslims and ethnic minorities in the name of protecting cows. The violence they are using  is called “lynching.”

The Dyer Anti-Lynching Bill was drafted by Leonidas C. Dyer in response to the practice of lynching in America. It defines lynching as a “‘mob or riotous assemblage composed of three or more [people] acting in concert for the purpose of depriving any person of his life without the authority of law as a punishment for or to prevent the commission of some actual or supposed public offense.”  IndiaSpend, a data-based news organization, reports that “Muslims were the target of 52% of violence centered on bovine issues over nearly eight years (2010 to 2017) and comprised 84% of 25 Indians killed in 60 incidents.”

India is a democratic and secular country and its citizens have certain fundamental rights that the State is bound to protect and insure. The State’s fundamental duty is to maintain the rule of law and provide equal protection of the law so that every citizen can practice their right to dignity. However, the continued practice of these violent lynchings demonstrates a failure on the part of the State to fulfill its duties to protect citizens.

India has both signed and ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Articles 6(1) and 9(1) of International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights are also reflected in Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. The Constitution states that “no one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his life and personal liberty and these rights shall be protected by law.” When a vigilante group attacks a group of people on the pretext of moral policing, it is a clear violation of their right to life and personal liberty. Although there are laws in India that could prosecute those guilty of lynching, they are often not implemented mainly because of lack of political will, effective policing and fair investigations.

Because of the absence of separate anti-lynching legislation that could forbid the practice of lynching, in 2016 social activists filed a Writ Petition before the Honorable Supreme Court of India seeking relief against mob violence relating to cow vigilantism. The petition asked the state to take measures against these acts. However, since then there have been several more reported cases of lynchings. In response, the apex court declared the act of lynching against India’s Constitutional mandates and defined lynching as a barbaric, inhumane and an uncivilized act. The court stated that lynching is a threat to the democracy and secularity of India. The apex court framed preventive and remedial guidelines and has ensured that every state implement the guidelines.

Thanks to this ruling, Manipur became the first state in India to pass full-fledged legislation to protect citizens against mob lynching. If a similar law to the one in Manipur could be replicated by various state governments across India, then we could witness a substantial drop in cow vigilante hate crimes. Some communities continue to be directly targeted for persecution and violence by vigilante groups. If new prohibitive and protective legislation can be passed that follow Manipur’s model, reducing these hate crimes will be possible.

Manufacturing Citizenship : The Ongoing Movement Against Citizenship Amendment Bill in Northeast India

The following is an opinion piece authored by ISHR visiting scholar and activist, Binalakshmi Nepram.


“When you single out any particular group of people for secondary citizenship status, that’s a violation of basic human rights” ~ Jimmy Carter, Former US President & Nobel Peace Laureate

History show us that in the 1500s, an estimated 10 million plus Indigenous people lived on land now known as the United States of America (US). In 1830, the US passed the Federal Indian Removal Act, which forced thousands of Indigenous people out of their homelands. For hundreds of years, conflicts with colonizers, introduction of diseases, atrocities and discriminatory policies devastated the Indigenous People of North America. It is estimated that over 9 million Indigenous People died during this time. In the present day, many Indigenous Peoples in the US now live in areas designated as “Reservations.”

The story of what happened to Indigenous People in the US is the story which many Indigenous People living in what is currently known as “Northeast Region of India” are now facing–a fear of becoming outsiders on their own land.

Protesters against the Citizenship Amendment Bill

Recently, the Indigenous areas of the Northeast Region of India were rocked by a series of protests over the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill that was tabled in the Indian Parliament on January 8, 2019 by the BJP Government of India. The region with the highest concentration of protests against the bill is inhabited by 272 Indigenous communities speaking over 400 languages. It is also home to one of Asia’s longest running armed conflicts. 

On top of seven decades of violence, the Indigenous peoples of Northeast Region of India are wary of the newly minted Citizenship Amendment Bill as the Bill sets to amend the Indian Citizenship Act of 1955 to make it illegal for Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christian migrants from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan eligible for Indian citizenship. The Bill also reduces the 11 year requirement of citizenship to 6 years. Sources say that 2 million people (20 lakhs), mostly belonging to the Hindu religion from three countries could potentially be granted Indian citizenship as a result of this. 

At around the same time, another initiative has been taking place in Assam, Northeast India called the “National Register of Citizens” (NRC). The NRC is a list of  all Indian citizens of Assam. A Supreme Court order in 2013 began its process of implementation. Under this initiative, around 4 million people (40 lakhs) in the state were found to be stateless and without a nation due to lack of proper documentation that could prove their citizenship. Most of them were of Muslim faith.

Due to the above factors, there is fear that the Indigenous People of Northeast India who are living in Assam may suffer as a result of the huge influx of migrants. The partition of Bengal in 1947 changed the demography of Tripura. In two decades, the Indigenous People of Tripura were reduced to a minority. The percentage of Indigenous Peoples in Tripura declined from 64% in 1874 to 28% in 1981. Migrants, constituting 70% of the population now decide politics, rather than Indigenous Peoples who have become minorities. Indigenous Peoples who have begun protesting have been met with violence. Recently, Tripura state police forces belonging to the dominant population shot at unarmed Indigenous students protesting the Citizenship Amendment Bill.

A group of women protesters in Northeast India

A closer study of the histories of the world show that what is currently being attempted in India with Citizenship Amendment Bill has also been done in other parts of the world. Take the case of “Project IC,” which is the name used to describe the allegation of systematic granting of citizenship to immigrants in the state Sabah, Malaysia. Sabah was a multiracial state with no clear majority race. Some claim the government’s aim with this “Project” was to alter the demographic pattern of Sabah to make it favorable to the ruling government and certain political parties by changing the electoral voting patterns. 

The project reportedly began around the 1990s. Some years later, the population of the Kadazan-Dusun Peoples was reduced to 17% while non-citizens rose to 25%.  It was reported that Harris Salleh, a political leader, admitted to planning to change the demography of Sabah in favor of a specific religious community. During the Royal Commission of Inquiry on Illegal Immigrants in Sabah in 2013, Harris Salleh justified his actions by stating that the granting of citizenship to refugees was done per the Federal Constitution. He further stated that Malaysia’s first prime minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman had announced in the 1970s that certain refugees belonging to a certain “religious” group could stay in Malaysia.  

There are many parallels between the Northeast Indian introduction of the Citizenship Amendment Bill and others  that have been introduced historically around the globe, such as the United States Indian Removal Act of 1830 “Project IC” in Malaysia and the population engineering that happened in Tripura. 

 The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples states that States must obtain the pre, prior, and informed consent of Indigenous Peoples before making any political changes that will affect them. The Citizenship Amendment Bill would affect the cultural and linguistic existence of the Indigenous peoples of the region. However, although 90% of the current population of Northeast India is Indigenous, India has yet to sign the Declaration to demonstrate their commitment to protect the Northeast Peoples. India also has not signed the 1951 UN Refugee Convention, which is a binding international agreement enforceable by states and the International community. 

It is likely that the Citizenship Amendment bill would create politically motivated divisions between the communities, regions, and ethnic groups of India, rather than focus on listening to the many concerns and voices of the people residing in the territory.

The people of the Northeast Region are diverse. They speak multiple languages, have multiple histories, struggles and religions. The concerned peoples of the Northeast Region continue to protest the Bill with the hopes that the Indian Government will recognize the serious issues it raises. 


By Binalakshmi Nepram

Binalakshmi (Bina) Nepram is an internationally renowned award winning scholar and activist who was a Visiting Scholar at Columbia University’s Institute for Study of Human Rights 2017-2018. Nepram is the founder of Manipur Women Gun Survivor Network and Northeast India Women Initiative for Peace and currently convener of The Global Alliance on Indigenous Peoples, Gender Justice and Peace. She was recently awarded 2018 Anna Politskovaya Award along with Nobel Laureate from Belarus, Svetlana Alexievich 

Understanding Gender, Migration, and Transnational Advocacy: A Talk with Chaumtoli Huq

What is the connection between gender and migration? Between the garment industries in Bangladesh and the United States? And what advocacy strategies can we learn from these connections? These were some of the questions addressed by Chaumtoli Huq on Monday, November 5 in her talk on “Gender and Migration: The Front Lines of Gender Justice,” facilitated by Professor Katherine Franke of the Law School and the Center for Gender and Sexuality Law at Columbia. This discussion was part of a series of talks in Professor Franke’s Law class “Gender Justice” this semester.

Chaumtoli Huq is an Associate Professor of Law at the CUNY Law School and the founder of non-profit organization Law at the Margins. Huq is a self-proclaimed “social justice lawyer,” interested in working not only top-down from elite institutions and courts to gain victories for clients and communities, but more importantly in working in and through the communities, she assists, taking the lead from those who would be most impacted by a decision. Much of her work focuses on South Asia (especially Bangladesh) and the United States, including how the two countries are intrinsically connected.

Beginning her talk on gender and migration, Huq stressed the need for a non-linear view of migration. Typically, she said, we think of migration as the movement of a person from one state to another, but we fail to recognize the other versions and nuances important to the concept of migration such as urban/rural, seasonal, within and across communities. If we only think of migration linearly, she stated, we miss the informal networks in which migration occurs, and importantly we don’t see the role that the state plays as a conduit for capitalism. Describing her work as s transnational, Huq writes: “We have to look past the local and the global and the here and the there. We have to look at the lives of the people we are looking at.”  Huq, adds, however, that we must also see the ways in which migration and immigration themselves are gendered.

Huq demonstrated these connections by discussing the development of the garment industry in 2000 that happened almost simultaneously in Bangladesh and in the United States. In Bangladesh, said Huq, 80% of the workforce in the garment industry is women. When the industry began, she said, there was a belief that the only way to compete in the global market was through cheap labor—synonymous, she said, with gendered labor. Women were actively recruited into the garment industry, demonstrating the role of the state and economy in structuring a gendered workforce “outwards and into the garment industry.” Huq explained that approximately $25 Billion is riding on the gendered labor in the garment industry…and that the goal is to double this, primarily by extracting cheap labor from a predominantly female workforce. In Bangladesh, says Huq, to enter the industrial workforce, women have also been removed from rural areas to urban (internal migration); another $14 Million revenue comes from migrant domestic workers.

At the same time these changes in gendered labor were occurring in Bangladesh in the 2000s, NYC was developing an equally large garment industry. Changes in immigration policies at the time produced an incentive for many Bangladeshi low wage workers to immigrate to the United States and enter into low wage jobs. Transnational migration evolved into internal migration in the States, as well. Huq pointed out that there are several thriving Bangladeshi communities in Buffalo (where construction jobs were available), the Hudson Valley (cheap factory labor), and Detroit which all originated from workers moving from NYC outwards.

What these patterns show, said Huq, is that economic pushes and pulls are important to understand in order to see immigration’s gendered consequences. Domestic work was and still is immensely popular among migrants from South Asia. But it is also historically low paid, low benefit, gendered labor. Following 9/11 and the US War on Terror, Muslim women faced new challenges. Often, she said, women were left behind while Muslim men tended to be deported, forcing them into a position of needing to enter the workforce for the first time. Many women entered domestic low wage jobs in the informal economy.

Huq currently works with many Bangladeshi and South Asian women who are part of this economy towards developing empowering female movements, including unions, sewing co-ops, and other labor organizing in the Bangladeshi NYC diaspora. One organization she worked with, Andolan, has helped advocate for rights for migrant and domestic women workers. Importantly, Huq stressed that these movements can draw from the interconnectedness of migration and gender. “If they are interconnected processes,” she said, “then it really doesn’t matter whether you’re here or there; your advocacy can take place where you’re at.” Further, there are multiple points in which our advocacy and activism can focus on communities we are trying to serve.

This is also what Huq does in her organization, Law at the Margins, which is an online law and social media advocacy group focused on exploring narratives of social justice in blogs, webinars, and online content. Writers from impacted communities share their perspectives, creating a valuable hub for content for social change activists to access. This perspective of focusing on the voices of the impacted helps to align Huq’s law practice with her values. When asked about how she reconciles the fact that often lawyering is elites speaking to elites for elite victories in court, Huq responded that she prioritizes  working with community-based organizations. “My job is to not have a job,” she replied. “Strong people don’t need leaders…it’s important to be guided by folks.” Top-down lawyering can be valuable, of course, but it has to be working in tandem with community-based groups, she explained

Many  of Huq’s suggestions for advocacy involve asking questions such as what voices are here? And who needs to be in the room? As she points out in relation to advocacy for Bangladeshi garment workers, “I’m not a garment worker.” This is why our activism has to be local.

Huq closed her talk by proclaiming that transnational advocacy also means avoiding US-centricity, listening more to those affected, keeping away from neocolonial relationships, and changing the way we arrive at our policies. The garment industry is only one way in which gender and migration are connected, as with our advocacy. A quote that Huq shared in her presentation by South Asian Activist Kazi Fouzia aptly demonstrates this: “We always remember that we are part of a global chain. If we do not support one another, we will not be able to bring about social change.”


By Rowena Kosher

New Zealand’s Push for Sustainable Development

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s Push for Sustainable Development

The International Conference on Sustainable Development provided a forum for academia, government, civil society, UN agencies and the private sector to come together to share discussion on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This year, from September 26 to 28 2018, the Conference took place on multiple campuses around the world, making it a truly global event.

On the second day of the 6th annual International Conference on Sustainable Development, Columbia University had the privilege of hearing Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern of New Zealand speak on the SDGs.

Professor Jeffrey Sachs, the Director of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network, introduced Prime Minister Ardern to roaring applause in Alfred Lerner Hall.

To begin her speech, Ardern discussed injustice and the impact of politics around the world. Ardern says, “if there is one thing we hate, it is injustice. We try to do it right by one another. Perhaps it comes from being a thousand miles from anywhere, isolated and completely reliant on one another… but we are acutely aware of the impact we have on the world and the rest of the world has on us.” As a politician, Ardern says that “politics has an increasing duty, but values do not. Values have always been my starting point. I signed up for a political party when I was 17 years old, not because I was looking for a career, but perhaps, naively, I wanted to change the world.”

As one of the youngest world leaders, Ardern’s strive towards social justice, environmentalism and prosperity is unique. Although New Zealand is redefining success related to the sustainability, Ardern agrees that “SDGs haven’t been treated as a given. Even New Zealand has a long way to go.” Nevertheless, she points out New Zealand is establishing new measures of national achievement that goes beyond growth. “We have, for instance, created a tool called the “living standards framework” that puts the notions of sustainable, intergenerational wellbeing in the seat of different decision-making processes we have,” Ardern said. “Our statistics department, at the moment, is working on an ambitious project called “social indicators within New Zealand” that will help create a set of indicators across dimensions that include current picture models of New Zealand: economic, cultural, social and environmental. This will ultimately help us monitor our delivery of the SDGs.”

Ending her speech on a high note, Ardern ties sustainable development, social justice and politics, saying that “as politicians, we all have choices in how we respond. We can work hard, or we can build a response, our choice in New Zealand is action.”

After Ardern’s inspirational speech, Sachs led a 15-minute question panel related to New Zealand’s difficult agricultural emissions, climate change, migration, the US-China trade war, development aid, the happiness index and youth.

Difficult Agricultural Emissions

Nearly half of New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions comes from agriculture. Entering the first question, Sach asks Ardern about New Zealand’s solution for agricultural emissions. “It is difficult for us on the agricultural side. Our emissions profile is forty eight percent agricultural emissions. That makes us really unique – but one of the points that I am trying to make is that we’ve been doing research with the Global Research Alliance to do what we can to try and literally alter the way we farm to reduce our emissions profile, ” Ardern says, “we all have to address this challenge because it comes at a risk to our food insecurity as well.”

Climate Change

Next, Sachs begins the climate change discussion with Australia’s struggle with fossil fuel emissions. He then asks what advice New Zealand has for Australia. Confidently, Ardern says that “we can all agree about the problem that [climate change] presents, but there are huge interests in maintaining the status quo – that are hard to shift. We recently announced that we will not be issuing offshore oil and gas exploration permits in New Zealand. Those are tough calls, those are industries and jobs. We have a duty of care to those people who have relied on those industries and jobs. So, I understand what Australia is confronting and what others are confronting, but we have a duty as well.”

Identity Politics and Migration

Moving on, Sachs discusses identity politics and migration in New Zealand. In a 2013 consensus, there were approximately 600,000 Indigenous people identifying as Māori in New Zealand, making up roughly fifteen percent of the national population. Sach asks if Ardern could reflect on New Zealand’s special learning about [Indigenous culture]. “Indigenous New Zealand – that relationship dictates that way we look as a government and it is incredibly important to us and it makes us relatively unique… But, I also wanted to discuss the issues of migration. I spoke briefly about the issues of globalization… what I see around the world is a growing sense of insecurity. Whether its financial insecurity, it seems that you are not guaranteed a roof over your head, a stable job or a stable income,” Ardern says, “as progressives, we need to respond to that. And the way progressives respond is we need to be inclusive and we need to offer decent wages and conditions. This needs to apply to issues of migration… The reforms we go through is very much focused on fixing [this]….”

US – China Trade War

On foreign policy, Sachs says that “maybe the biggest divide, politically, is the US trade war on China what should be done about this?” Ardern says that “we should stick to rules, and regardless to whose engaged, rely on predictability, order and rules… we need to recognize our responsibility we have to each other, not just to our people, but to each other as well. Trade wars benefit no one, and they particularly punish our smaller nations with a distinct lack of power. … We base our power on the size of our economies and the size of population and it is really a rejection of multilateralism and I push back on that…”

Lack of Development Aid

According to the World’s Happiness Report, New Zealand ranks #8 in the world. Sachs stated that “New Zealand is on course to achieving all 17 SDGs, which is extremely exciting and one of the happiest places in the world.” However, after much applause, Sachs wanted to critic New Zealand on their lack of development aid, indicating that it was “quite low… something like .2 of one percent.” According to the SDGs, the target for New Zealand’s development aid is 0.7. To counter, Ardern says “in our last budget, we recognized that we had to boost our aid and we need to do our best – so we increased our aid by 700 million dollars…”

From 2015 – 2018, New Zealand’s aid budget is said to include $1B in the Pacific, $600M in economic development and $200M in ASEAN. In addition, issues such as environment, climate change, gender equality, women’s empowerment and human rights issues will be addressed in the aid provided. According to New Zealand’s aid program, “this will help deliver sustainable, inclusive outcomes.”

To Young Women Around the World

Lastly, at 38, Ardern is New Zealand’s youngest ever woman leader. Evidently, she poses as an inspiration and role model to youth around the world. When speaking to, specifically, young women around the world, Ardern says “I do think that globally, we need to make politics a more attractive place to be – we need to make it a more attractive choice. But beyond that, I have noticed, that at least in my country, when I talk to young women about their aspirations, even at a young age, I see that they are opting out. I often make the assumption that it comes down to confidence. I make that assumption because I was exactly the same… There is a tendency for young women to say that you don’t have everything that it takes – to have a tiny little seed of doubt… Yes, we have a huge amount of work to do – we need to make our workplace more flexible, [create] greater options and opportunities to address our conscience minds. Yes, we must do all of that, but we also have to boost our women’s confidence and support them into those roles too – and help them overcome those tiny seeds of doubt because if we don’t, we will be more the poorer.”

The International Conference on Sustainable Development has intersected the SDGs with issues related to migration, human rights, foreign policy and environmentalism. Prime Minister Ardern and New Zealand’s effort to meet the SDGs is a breath of fresh air, challenging the political atmosphere in the U.S. today.

For information on the International Conference on Sustainable Development, check out ICSD’s website.


By Juana Lee

Columbia Students Stand in Solidarity with Jailed Reuters Journalists

By Ashley E. Chappo, editor of RightsViews and a graduate of Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs and Columbia Journalism School

Walk into Pulitzer Hall lobby at Columbia Journalism School today, and you might notice the students dressed in all black, holding signs that read “#FreeWaLoneKyawSoeOo” and “Journalism is not a crime.”

It’s a moment of advocacy and solidarity on Columbia’s Morningside campus on behalf of Reuters journalists Wa Lone, 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, who were sentenced to seven years in prison on September 3, 2018 by a Myanmar judge after being found guilty of violating a decades-old law on state secrets. The Burmese nationals had been investigating military crackdowns and human rights violations in Rakhine state, including the massacre of 10 Rohingya men in Rakhine’s Inn Dinn village on September 2, 2017.

Columbia Journalism students dressed in all black and held signs that read “#FreeWaLoneKyawSoeOo” and “Journalism is not a crime” on behalf of their imprisoned colleagues in Myanmar. // Thor Neureiter

The advocacy effort at the journalism school in New York City was organized mainly by students in professor Ann Cooper’s reporting class. Beginning at 11 a.m. in Pulitzer Hall, the students dressed in black and held up signs, many handwritten in black ink on dry erase boards, with messages of support for the Burmese journalists. The students were inspired by the earlier protest efforts led by the Protection Committee for Myanmar Journalists who began wearing black T-shirts to “signify the dark age of media freedom” and advocate for the release of their colleagues, according to Reuters. The entire journalism school was asked to participate in person or across social media, and students from other professional schools at Columbia were also invited.

The September ruling by the Myanmar judge to jail the journalists for seven years has been widely condemned by world leaders, press freedom organizations, and human rights advocates as an attack on press freedom and human rights, which threatens journalists and human beings everywhere. Following the arrests, the United Nations called for the immediate release of the jailed journalists. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said the court’s recent ruling is a “travesty of justice” and “shocking,” adding that the journalist’s information on the violence in Rakhine state against Rohingya Muslims is “of public interest.”

While advocacy efforts such as the one at Columbia may seem merely symbolic, they hold special significance for the jailed journalists and reporters around the world who face similar risks.

“From my eight years as executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists, I know how much it means for journalists and their families to hear messages of support, to know that they are not forgotten,” professor Cooper told RightsViews. “Journalists in many countries work in very challenging press freedom conditions. It’s important for us, no matter where we live and work, to defend the rights of all journalists to report the news independently, without fear of threats or violence.”

A poster for the advocacy efforts at Columbia Journalism School on September 14, 2018. The organizers urged other students and faculty from across Columbia to dress in black and stand in solidarity with the imprisoned Burmese journalists. // Melody Jiang

The Burmese reporters were first detained on December 12, 2017 outside of Yangon. Reuters published the journalists’ special report on the killings of the Rohingya under the title “Massacre in Myanmar” on February 8, 2018 while they awaited trial behind bars. The report notes “the Reuters investigation of the Inn Din massacre was what prompted Myanmar police authorities to arrest two of the news agency’s reporters.”

Efforts to support Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo while in detention began last year at Columbia when journalism students collected books to send to the reporters in prison following a specific request for books by Wa Lone.

“I think we all hoped that would help them pass some weeks or months until they were freed, because the court case against them was so ridiculous. But now they face seven years in prison. So our new students this fall have organized an effort to tell them, once again, you are not forgotten,” Cooper said.

Around seventeen of Cooper’s current reporting students from the Class of 2019 took the lead in organizing the day of advocacy on behalf of Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo.

“Journalism students, especially those interested in doing international reporting, should be aware that if these types of press restrictions and anti-press actions are not confronted, it will make it harder for them to do their jobs in the future,” said Haleluya Hadero, a student in Cooper’s reporting class this fall, to RightsViews. “As it is commonly said at the J-School, journalism is a public service, and we all need to work hard to protect the integrity and freedom of the press around the world.”

The action at Columbia University follows at the heels of a particularly troubling response from Myanmar’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi on the court ruling. Speaking on Thursday at the World Economic Forum in Hanoi, Vietnam, she denied claims that the court’s decision violates freedom of expression and said that the journalists are free to appeal the decision

“They were not jailed because they were journalists,” she said. “The sentence has been passed on them because the court has decided that they have broken the Official Secrets Act.”

Students gathered on the steps in front of Columbia Journalism School during a day of advocacy on behalf of the jailed Reuters journalists. // Thor Neureiter

This statement from the once-esteemed Nobel Peace Prize winner has been decried as “shameful” by Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch’s Phil Robertson wrote in The Globe and Mail, “Rarely does an event more clearly embody a country’s human-rights decline than the Myanmar court’s sentencing of two Reuters journalists.”

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley expressed her own disproval with Myanmar’s leader on Twitter, tweeting, “First in denial about the abuse the Burmese military place on the Rohingya, now justifying the imprisonment of the two Reuters reporters who reported on the ethnic cleansing. Unbelievable.”

The seven-year prison sentence serves as a reminder of the challenges and limitations journalists face in doing their jobs and defending human rights. These realities are particularly pertinent for students of Columbia Journalism School, many of whom dream of future careers in international and conflict reporting.

And now, more than ever, the stakes are especially high. The Committee to Protect Journalists reports that for the second year in a row the number of journalists imprisoned for their work has reached a historical high. The advocacy efforts on campus help the students to recognize the importance of the lessons they learn in the classroom on keeping themselves and their sources safe in difficult environments.

“It’s my goal to make sure that all of our students leave journalism school with a healthy appreciation of the risks faced by so many reporters around the world— and with the skills and knowledge to assess and deal with those risks,” Cooper said. The recent case of the Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo hits particularly close to home for some of Cooper’s students. One who graduated this past May worked with Wa Lone at a newspaper in Myanmar, and another had met Wa Lone’s brother while reporting from the country.

“It is important for us— as Americans or even non-citizens living in the United States, and especially as journalists— to advocate for our own who are imprisoned for simply doing their jobs,” Haleluya said. “Journalism is a service not only to the public, but also to our colleagues, wherever they might be.”


Ashley E. Chappo is a recent graduate of Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs, where she studied human rights and international conflict resolution, and Columbia Journalism School, where she studied multimedia and investigative reporting. You can follow her on Twitter @AshleyChappo. She is editor of RightsViews. 

Children Languishing Behind Bars: A Grim Reality of Indian Prisons

By Vasudev Singh and Karan Trehan, students of law in India at RML National Law University and NALSAR University of Law, respectively. 

recent revelation by the Government of India concerns the condition of children residing in prisons with their mothers and raises an important question regarding the basic human rights guaranteed to these children. As of 2015, Indian prisons accommodate some 419,623 prisoners (including pre-trial detainees/remand prisoners). Out of them, 4.3 percent— or around 18,000— are women. Women who face trial or who are found guilty of a crime are allowed to keep their children with them during their time in jail. Approximately 1,866 children lived in prison with their mothers at the end of 2015, according to prison statistics. 

According to the Indian constitution, the state governments are assigned to the administration and management of prisons. This means that the state governments can make prison laws according to their own discretion and requirements. However, these state powers remain subject to other centrally-enacted laws such as the Prisons Act, 1894. As a result, there exists a difference in the laws regarding the management of prisons and welfare of the prison population.

To date, the law dealing with the protection of children lodged in prisons with their mothers has not been uniformly codified under any act or statute in India and varies among different states. The Supreme Court of India, in the case of R.D Upadhyay v. State of A.P, AIR 2006 SC 1946, framed several guidelines for the protection and development of these children. The guidelines were framed around key areas requiring urgent intervention such as food, medical facilities, accommodation, age of residence, education and recreation facilities. Pursuant to these guidelines, different states amended their jail manuals and included provisions concerning the welfare of children and mothers in prisons. 

However, various reports have pointed toward the abysmal state of affairs in which these children have been forced to live in Indian prisons. The non-uniform and poor implementation of existing rules and guidelines has further aggravated the condition.

Approximately 1,866 children lived in prison with their mothers at the end of 2015. // Feminisminindia.com

The age up to which children are allowed to stay with their mothers in prisons varies among the states, for example. In states such as Delhi and Assam, the children are allowed to stay with their mothers until they are 6 years old. Whereas, in Bihar, they are allowed to stay only up to 2 years.

The diet, medical and educational facilities provided to children in various states also starkly varies. In many states, children below 5 years old are provided with the same food as other inmates. Furthermore, due to the lack of adequate infrastructure and funding, special medical facilities are not available in every state to look after the children. Reports have found that only the prisons in metropolitan cities such as Delhi, Chandigarh, and Mumbai have medical facilities equipped to cater to the needs of children. In other states, children are sent to nearby centers for education purposes due to the lack of a facility of formal schooling. Moreover, there are no special provisions for food, medical, educational and recreational facilities for women prisoners with children.

These non-uniform laws have left behind major inequality. Several instances of gross human rights violations have also been reported where children have been lodged alongside criminals. Thus, some children are currently living in a state of extreme neglect. Also, due to the absence of any enforcement or grievance mechanism to keep check on the implementation of rules and guidelines, the promise of ensuring a healthy upbringing for children behind bars gets defeated. Thus, the guidelines passed by the Supreme Court and the existing provisions in different states have failed to fulfill their intended purpose, rendering them futile.

Analyzing the laws of various countries, it is clear amended policy should address several important concerns. The first and foremost policy implementation should be the development of infrastructure and facilities, including a necessary increase in funding to prisons across the country. Modernization of the prisons would ensure that children have better living conditions and can lead a more dignified life. In addition, children should be allowed to remain with their mothers until they reach age of 6 years old, with the “best interest” of the child of the utmost importance. Cases involving issues of domestic violence should be taken into consideration, for example.

Special provisions for dietary, educational, medical and recreational facilities should also be made available for children and their mothers in all prisons. These proposed provisions will augment the mental as well as physical growth of children at such a tender age. Maintenance of separate prisons solely for the mothers and their children should be considered by the government. In such prisons, there would be a better atmosphere for parenting, providing more harmonious living conditions for the children and protecting them from violence which could result from living with the general prison population. Regular inspection of prisons should also be carried out. An ombudsman should be appointed for redressal of grievances and an authority should be created to ensure the enforcement of guidelines.

State governments should further endeavor to include the above-mentioned recommendations in jail manuals to better ensure equal treatment of children residing in prisons across the country. 

Article 21 of the Indian constitution guarantees the right to live with human dignity to every person. The Directive Principles enshrined within the Constitution also provide that suitable opportunities be given to children to ensure a healthy manner of development. Furthermore, India has ratified various international conventions, such as the UNCRC, which further obliges the Indian government to work toward the development of conditions beneficial to the well-being of the children. Therefore, the government should recognize the need of the hour and make necessary amendments to policy so as to meet its international as well as constitutional obligations.


Vasudev Singh is a student at RML National Law University, Lucknow. His research interests include health rights, environmental rights and prisoner rights.

Karan Trehan is a student at NALSAR University of Law, Hyderabad. His research interests include children rights, refugee rights and education rights.

Ensuring Healthcare in India by Going Beyond Politics

By Ananye Krishna, a student at Nalsar University of Law, Hyderabad, India

The government of India launched the Ayushman Bharat – National Health Protection Mission in late March 2018 to provide health coverage of Rs. 5 Lakh (or approximately $7,335) per year for all Indian families. This was a much needed reform measure in the Indian healthcare system, but the question remains whether the government made required infrastructural changes in order to ensure the full benefits that would allow the Indian people to access their fundamental human rights to healthcare.

The poor state of healthcare in India was illustrated last year when more than 60 children died in a government hospital because of inadequate infrastructure. This was not an isolated incident. There have been cases of fires breaking out in hospitals and of surgeries being conducted en masse under extremely poor conditions. Such incidents demonstrate that the right to health as guaranteed by the Indian constitution is being violated through lack of adequate reform. Reports suggest that the government made its March decision in haste considering that primary health centers (state-owned rural healthcare facilities) across the country, specifically in North India, are in a deplorable state, rendering the reform inadequate.   

From above, it is clear that the current state of the healthcare system will make it difficult for the people to benefit from the government’s reforms. Some activists have also suggested that this policy might be a political ruse prior to the 2019 Lok Sabha elections in order to ensure the victory of the ruling BJP (Bhartiya Janta Party) government. These half-hearted measures are not acceptable; democracy should not only be about winning elections and political patronage. It should be about the welfare of the people. A popularly elected government has a duty to ensure that the constitutionally guaranteed right to healthcare is not violated.

An initiative in a rural health center in India. // Trinity Care Foundation // Flickr

Furthermore, with India a party to International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), it becomes the duty of the government to protect the right to health of its people and provide them with the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health as provided under Article 12 of the ICESCR.  Also, considering that India is a party to the World Health Organization constitution, it is important that the state follows the standards set by the international organization. When WHO states that maximum available resources must be put to use to ensure the right to health, these same standards should be upheld by the Indian government. Thus, it is important that the government focus its attention on the infrastructural and professional development of primary health care centers in India to protect the basic human rights of its people. These reforms are currently absent from the government’s plan to address the poor state of healthcare.

If proper infrastructural development is undertaken, it is possible that doctors wary of working in rural areas and in poorly equipped institutions could be attracted to work in these healthcare centers, for example. The current policy of making it mandatory for doctors to engage in rural service does not work toward any effective benefit because the deplorable state of government hospitals forces most of the people to turn toward private hospitals despite exorbitant rates at these facilities. Thus, the government continues to deny people their right to healthcare and forces them to bear an unnecessary financial burden when their financial state may already be poor. If any mandatory action has to be taken, then that action should be aimed at ensuring that no hospital, clinic or other healthcare institution overcharges it patients.

As mentioned previously, the current policy of the government is to prescribe mandatory rural service for doctors. This policy has been challenged by doctors who naturally find this to be an unnecessary restraint on their professional life. No other profession is subject to similar restraints. This policy even seems constitutionally unsound as it appears to violate Article 19(1)(g) of the Indian constitution, which states the people have the freedom to practice their profession as they wish. It is important for the government to understand that excessive regulation will lead to resentment among the people, harshly impacting the functioning of the whole democracy.

If the government truly seeks improvement in the health of its people and protection of their fundamental human rights to healthcare, then it will have to remove excessive regulations and engage in proper infrastructural development. When properly equipped healthcare institutions are built, doctors are more likely to be attracted to these institutions. To incentivize doctors, policy should consider more adequate compensation, on par with what the doctor would have potentially earned otherwise. Furthermore, if doctors have to serve in remote areas, the government should ensure that they have the necessary amenities to function at their full potential.

Under the current healthcare system in India, the pent up resentment and poor infrastructure negatively impact overall efficiency. Reform, if properly undertaken, can provide a strong base for building the Indian healthcare system and ensuring the rights of both the people and the doctors.


Ananye Krishna is a Year IV student at Nalsar University of Law, Hyderabad, India.

Death Penalty for Child Rapists in India: Populist, Hasty, Counterproductive

by Shardool Kulkarni, a law student at the University of Mumbai

This January, an eight-year-old girl hailing from a minority shepherding family in India was abducted, gang raped and brutally murdered in the Kathua region of Jammu and Kashmir. In the subsequent months, the incident generated polarized reactions in India and around the world, with public outcry juxtaposed against the response from individuals in authority and alleged politicization of rape owing to the victim’s minority status. The ensuing public discourse has placed the ruling dispensation headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi under intense scrutiny, particularly in relation to the government’s stance and policies regarding child rape.

In April 2018, the Criminal Law Amendment Ordinance, 2018 was promulgated. The said ordinance brought in several changes to the existing legal framework pertaining to child rape in India, the most significant being the imposition of the death penalty as punishment for rape of a girl below the age of twelve years. The move, while hailed by some as an example of the government’s toughened stance on child sexual abuse, was criticized by academics, judges, NGOs and legal practitioners as being likely to worsen the plight of victims of child sexual abuse.

Disincentivising Reporting

The Kathua rape case involved the victim being abducted, drugged, gang-raped and brutally murdered by eight persons, including four policemen. However, it is pertinent to note that this is not the norm when it comes to instances of child sexual abuse: according to the National Crime Records Bureau of India, 95.5 percent of rapes are committed by persons known to the victim. The perpetrator of abuse is not the figurative shadowy stranger who strikes fear into the minds of the public, but rather the more closely known devils such as parents, older siblings, teachers, neighbors, or family friends. Victims of rape aged below twelve years are also unlikely to report a crime unless an older family member does so on their behalf. The likelihood of this happening is already low and could be diminished further if the consequence of reporting is the death penalty. As such, the amendment is likely to push the already underreported crime of child sexual abuse deeper into the chasm of unspoken, unacknowledged secrets of Indian society.

A Death Sentence for Victims?

The ordinance seemingly also ignores the possibility that making the act of raping a girl below twelve years punishable by death, a punishment usually reserved for murders, could encourage perpetrators to kill their young victims. Rape is an exceedingly difficult crime to prosecute if the only witness in most cases, the victim, is dead. While it may seem counterintuitive that a rapist would murder his or her victim and increase his or her chances of being sentenced to death, the heightened risk of being caught if the victim survives and thereby receiving the death penalty anyway could, in the opinion of some, prompt more rapists to kill their victims.

Indian students protest against rape in India in 2015. Sexual assault of women has been an ongoing issue in India. // Sajjad Hussain // AFP Photo

Following the enactment of the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013, the term “rape” has been accorded a wider connotation, including not only the traditional notion of penetrative sex but also other forced sexual acts such as fellatio. Thus, “rape,” as defined by the Indian Penal Code, is unrelated to the risk of death and need not necessarily be an act that may result in the death of the child owing to the sheer physical violence accompanied by it. Placing the punishment for raping a child on the same pedestal as the punishment for murdering a child might simply incentivize more abusers to ensure that their victim does not live to tell the tale.

Gender Bias: An Evidence of Populism and Apathy

Most media outlets in India carried news of the government’s decision on child rape. Interestingly, the ordinance only makes the rape of girls below the age of twelve years punishable by death, casting a blind eye toward male victims who constitute 52.94 percent of the victims of child sexual abuse in India. This sidelining of male victims points to a knee-jerk response to momentary outrage, a clear manifestation of the skewed discourse surrounding sexual violence that too often turns a blind eye to male victims. 

Subsequent to the promulgation of the ordinance, the Central Government announced its intention to amend the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO) in order to make the changes brought in by the ordinance apply to male victims as well. While the move is a welcome one, it further highlights the fact that the policy in question was a hasty move.

Death Penalty: An Ineffective Deterrent

In its 262nd report, the Law Commission of India concluded that there was no evidence to suggest that the deterrent effect of the death penalty was any better than that of life imprisonment. In the United States of America, for example, states that did not impose capital punishment for homicide were found to have lower homicide rates than states that did impose capital punishment. As such, the presumption that the death penalty acts as an effective deterrent is fundamentally flawed.

Moreover, presuming that death penalty does indeed deter child sexual abuse, the deterrent effect is watered down significantly in India by poor case disposal and conviction rates. In its 2016 report titled “Crime in India,” the National Crime Records Bureau revealed that the conviction rate under the POCSO Act is an abysmal 28.9 percent. To make matters worse, pendency in cases of child rape was 89.6 percent. Moreover, there are no witness protection programs in place, and no probe has been made into the functioning of Child Welfare Committees set up by the government. Imposing stringent punishments becomes meaningless if the law remains a mere dead letter.

Several persons in authority responsible for the ruling dispensation, including two ministers in the State of Jammu and Kashmir, protested against the arrest of the accused in the horrific Kathua rape case. The apathy of the police authorities, the statements made by persons in power and the communal color that the entire incident acquired created a strong public sentiment against the ruling party on the issue of child rape. In this light, the Criminal Law (Amendment) Ordinance, 2018 can only be regarded as a hasty and populist move to placate the outraged public without addressing, and moreover possibly aggravating, the plight of the innocent victims of these horrific human rights violations.


Shardool Kulkarni is in his penultimate year as a law student of the five-year law course at the University of Mumbai. He holds the distinction of being the youngest Indian to have deposed before a parliamentary committee in Indian legislative history. In the past, he has worked as a law trainee under Justice F. M. I. Kalifulla, Judge, Supreme Court of India, and as an Attaché to the Office of the Speaker, Lok Sabha, Parliament of India.

What does the Rohingya crisis mean for Myanmar’s Nobel Laureate?

By Olivia Heffernan, a master’s candidate at Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs 

On November 14, the Weatherhead East Asian Institute at Columbia University hosted a lecture titledUnderstanding the Rohingya Crisis.” Panelists addressed the historical roots of ongoing violent conflict in Myanmar, including the “othering” of the minority Rohingya Muslims and escalating fear of Islam, as well as the responsibility of the international community to respond to the country’s human rights crisis. The lack of response raises questions about the international community’s commitment to protecting peace and precipitates another interesting discussion: What does an ethnic cleansing overseen by a Nobel Peace Prize winner mean for the credibility of the award itself?

Aung San Suu Kyi accepts her Nobel Peace Prize in 1991. // Flickr

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s de facto leader and first state counselor, was conferred the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 for her admirable fight for democracy in Myanmar during 15 years under house arrest as a political prisoner. However, actions speak louder than words. Aung San Suu Kyi’s complicity to the killings and expulsions of Rohingya Muslims raises questions about her promise to ensure peace and democracy in Myanmar.

Panelists of the event provided context for the current crisis and cited startling statistics of pervasive and systematic violence against the Rohingya, violence that constitutes ethnic cleansing by U.N. standardsHuman Rights Watch reports that military repression has resulted in the deaths of thousands of Rohingya Muslims, forcing at least 600,000 people to flee their homes since 2016. The U.N. continues to deliberate on whether the killings constitute a genocide. Furthermore, panelist Mayesha Alam mentioned that no state besides Indonesia criticized the government of Myanmar for its inhumane treatment of the Rohingya during the recent ASEAN summit. The lack of international response delegitimizes international covenants such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and principles such as the Responsibility to Protect.

In an open letter to Aung San Suu Kyi, fellow Nobel Peace Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu wrote, “My dear sister: if the political price of your ascension to the highest office in Myanmar is your silence, the price is surely too steep.” Malala Yousafzai, another Nobel Peace Laureate, also expressed her disappointment in a statement on Twitter: “Over the last several years, I have repeatedly condemned this tragic and shameful treatment. I am still waiting for my fellow Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi to do the same. The world is waiting and the Rohingya Muslims are waiting.” Similarly, Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch and long time supporter of Aung San Suu Kyi, has said, “Now that she’s in power, she symbolizes cowardly complicity in the deadly tyranny being visited on the Rohingya.”

Fellow Nobel Peace Prize laureates like Malala Yousafzai have been critical of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s lack of response on the Rohingya crisis // Flickr

In her first public address since the violent military crackdown on the Rakhine state, Aung San Suu Kyi’s statements contradicted her actions. She displaced blame and denied culpability, claiming that the Myanmar government “condemns all human rights violations and unlawful violence.” She also made false claims, assuring the audience that Rohingya Muslims did not face discrimination and had equal access to healthcare and education— a blatant lie according to international human rights advocates. Perhaps more concerning, in the same speech, Aung San Suu Kyi announced that despite widespread condemnation, she does not fear international scrutiny.

Despite ubiquitous disappointment in Aung San Suu Kyi’s leadership and calls for the revocation of her award, former Nobel Prize committee member Gunnar Stalsett defended the committee’s choice: “The principle we follow in the decision is not a declaration of a saint…when the decision has been made and the award has been given, that ends the responsibility of the committee.”

However, Stalsett’s above statement is dangerous— it insinuates that the Nobel Peace Prize committee has no interest in the actions of their awardees post-conferment. Not condemning Aung San Suu Kyi for her direct contradiction of the award’s values discredits the legitimacy of the prize. Recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize should be held to higher standards and accountable for their actions. At the least, they should face repercussions for committing injustices. While a Nobel Peace Prize has never been revoked, in this case, rescinding the award appears to be one of the more obvious and symbolic means of sending an important message to Aung San Suu Kyi: reputation and power do not acquit anyone of wrongdoing in the face of human rights violations.

Olivia Heffernan is a student at Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs concentrating in social and urban policy and specializing in journalism. She is president of the Criminal Justice Reform Working Group (CJR) and has previously worked for human rights-related nonprofits. Olivia is originally from Washington, D.C., but she has spent multiple years living abroad.