Category Archives: refugees
Who gets to be ‘Myanmar’ at the ICJ?
The Myanmar military will appear at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague on 21 February 2022. I argue that their main interest does not lie in defending the country against genocide allegations. Read the full post at Allegra Lab.
In the case of The Gambia vs Myanmar currently pending at the International Court of Justice (ICJ), Myanmar has been accused of having violated the UN Genocide Convention of 1948 by committing serious crimes against the Rohingya, a predominantly Muslim ethnic group. In 2017, 800.000 Rohingya fled Myanmar to neighbouring Bangladesh in an effort to escape the military’s atrocities.
The army’s attempted military coup of February 202
The case did not proceed after the Myanmar military attempted a coup on 1 February 2021. That night, Aung San Suu Kyi and President Win Myint were arrested and have since been accused of corruption, violations of the telecoms law, a state secrets act as well as covid-19 regulations. They are currently facing several years of imprisonment. The generals declared the November 2020 parliamentary elections as fraudulent and put a state of emergency in place. Senior General Min Aung Hlaing is now heading the country. But not only the State Counsellor and the President, but the entire population of Myanmar has been held hostage: since February 2021, over 1.500 people have been murdered, thousands have been arrested and 450.000 people have become internally displaced, adding to the already high numbers of IDPs.
The National Unity Government
Members of the parliament elected in November 2020 formed the National Unity Government (NUG) while in hiding, now operating from undisclosed locations. They have established working relations with many states and international organizations, including the UN, where Ambassador U Kyaw Moe Tun supports the NUG and has been able to continue representing his country even though the military fired and charged him with high treason. While the military regime has received backing from China and Russia, most other countries have cut diplomatic and also economic ties with Myanmar under the current leadership. The question of who is representing Myanmar in the international community is a contested one which needs to be kept in mind when the case in The Hague continues on 21 February 2022.
Trying to benefit from a genocide accusation
Historically, the army has shown no interest in complying with international legal norms. The “rule of law”-paradigm has been a particular red rag for the Generals. Still, the Myanmar military will likely send delegates to attend the upcoming proceedings in The Hague. At the same time, the National Unity Government (NUG) has declared that United Nations Ambassador U Kyaw Moe Tun is the only person authorised to represent the country in The Hague.
However, for the generals, defending the country against the genocide accusation is largely a means to an end: they will use this opportunity to conduct themselves as the legitimate representatives of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar on a global stage. One should not fall for this trick, or not again: Already in April 2021 the military managed the feat that a general participated in an online-event of the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND), thereby bypassing the UN Secretary General’s own advice not to cooperate with the junta.
The ICJ is one of the principal legal organs for investigating violations of the 1948 UN Genocide Convention, to which Myanmar is a signatory. To invite the junta to represent the country means to offer them the chance to use the court as a platform for strategic litigation where no longer the crime, but the performance of legitimacy will be key: When the ICJ reopens the case against Myanmar, the Rohingya genocide is not a primary concern of the generals. Rather, it is to be ‘Myanmar’. The ICJ has a historical opportunity to avoid such an ethical, political and legal failure.
Read the full post at Allegra Lab.
Myanmar 10 Monate nach dem Putsch und die Situation der Rohingya – für ARD alpha
Mit Tilman Seiler habe ich mich nun schon zum zweiten Mal über die Widerstandsbewegung in Myanmar unterhalten, die sich nach dem Militärputsch vom 1. Februar 2021 im ganzen Land gebildet hat. Er fragte, wie erfolgreich diese sei, wie fest im Sattel die “Putschregierung” sitzen würde und auch, was von der Ankündigung des Militärs zu halten sei, es werde Neuwahlen geben nachdem Min Aung Hlaing die im November 2020 stattgefundenen Parlamentswahlen für ungültig erklärt hatte. Meine Prognosen sind realistisch, also recht düster.
Ein zweites Thema betraf die Situation der Rohingya im weltgrößten Flüchtlingscamp in Bangladesh. Hier wollte Herr Seiler wissen, wie die Regierung des angrenzenden Nachbarstaats mit den Geflüchteten umgehen würde und auch, was die internationale Weltgemeinschaft tun könne, um die mittlerweile 1,5 Millionen Rohingya zu unterstützen. Ich berichtete von den laufenden Plänen Bangladeshs, circa 100.000 Rohingya auf die eine vorgelagerte künstliche Insel in der Bengalischen See zu verlagern und sagte auch, dass dies im großen Fall gegen den Willen der Menschen dort geschehe.
Darüber hinaus erinnerte ich daran, dass vor allem im Fall staatenloser Geflüchteter wir “bei uns vor der Haustür” mit der Unterstützung beginnen können, nämlich indem man das eigene Asylsystem reformiert, welches bei Staatenlosen in den meisten Fällen immer noch unzureichend greift: Menschen, die keine offiziellen Dokumente zu ihrer Identifikation vorweisen können, haben es hier besonders schwer.
Das zehnminütige Gespräch ist in der ARD alpha-Mediathek zu finden.
Interview with Al Jazeera on statelessness, human rights, Myanmar, Kyrgyzstan
”Why are human rights defenders being targeted?” asked Al Jazeera Rajat Khosala from Amnesty International, a specialist for advocacy and policy, Tobi Cadman an International Human Rights Lawyer and myself. Al Jazeera’s “Inside Story” draws a bleak picture of the human rights situation worldwide with repression in authoritarian states increasing. Human rights defenders are particularly being targeted. I reported about the current situation of human rights activism in Kyrgyzstan and Myanmar where we have just witnessed a military coup. I also spoke about the situation of the 10-15 million de-facto stateless people worldwide who cannot even claim human rights as they lack a nationality.
I explained the difference between de jure and de facto statelessness and emphasized that the roles of the state system and that of the United Nations need to be rethought when it comes to statelessness in particular and how we can all ensure the adherence to human rights in general. We also touched upon the importance of staying connected digitally as activism is increasingly being carried out online.
Harmony Ideology at The Hague. New Blog Post for Public Anthropologist
Together with Felix Girke, I have just published another op-ed piece on the genocide case currently pending at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague. There, The Republic of The Gambia has filed a case against Myanmar, accusing the country’s army of having committed genocide of Muslim Rohingya. We have published on this issue also at OpenDemocracy, focusing on the figure of Aung San Suu Kyi herself, who has decided to act as the “Agent” of a high-profile team of lawyers. While her status as an ‘icon of democracy’ is unbroken within the country, especially in Western countries, commentators are grappeling with what they perceive to be a sudden and unexpected shift in her personality since she became “state counsellor”. However, as I have argued in 2017 already, this is in line with how she has always been doing politics.
In our blog post for Public Anthropologist, we take a look at Aung San Suu Kyi’s speech at the ICJ on December 11 2019. We argue that she employs “harmony ideology,” a concept coined by the legal anthropologist Laura Nader in the 1990s, based on her work among the Talean Zapotec in southern Mexico in the 1960s. Later, Nader applied her new terminology to so-called alternative dispute resolution (ADR)-cases in the United States of America.
“Harmony ideology”, so Nader, needs to be understood as a counterhegemonic force with which her Zapotec villagers tried to keep the Mexican state at bay. By pretending that they are a harmonious people and capable of dealing with their disputes internally, they tried to fend off any outside interference. In ADR-cases, Nader showed how “harmony ideology” was used to “outsource” dispute cases that judges thought to be too irrelevant for to be decided in state courts. In the case of Myanmar at the ICJ, however, Felix Girke and I argue that
Aung San Suu Kyi acted as if her country were a southern Mexican village, needing protection from illegitimate legal governance that interfered with its internal affairs, while at the same time embodying the very state apparatus that is now internationally accused of having committed genocide against its own population.
While the Talean Zapotec might have had effective measures for local dispute resolution and good reasons to keep the state courts at bay, the atrocities committed against the Rohingya and the poor record of Myanmar to police itself suggest that Suu Kyi’s harmony ideology at the ICJ is sorely misplaced, we argue. Read the full post over at Public Anthropologist.
Thematic Thread for Allegra Lab on Statelessness, Displacement and Disappearance
For Allegra Lab, I curated a thematic thread on the topic of Statelessness, Displacement and Disappearance. Together with Catherine Allerton, Alice Wilson and Siri Lamoureaux we explore these categories in a total of four blog posts with a focus on who can claim justice on whose behalf and in regard to the various ways in which uncertainty and accountability are being processed.
This thematic thread evolved out of a workshop on Claiming justice after conflict. The stateless, the displaced and the disappeared at the margins of the state, co-organized by Yazid Ben-Hounet (Paris) and myself. The presenters consisted of anthropologists and sociologists and convened for a full day on March 15, 2019, at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales (EHESS) in Paris.
In my introduction to this week-long thematic thread, I show in what ways statelessness, displacement and disappearance have become familiar and inescapable features of contemporary politics worldwide. The question of who can claim justice on whose behalf is first of all a question of representation, but also touches on scale, resources and access.
In the first post, Catherine Allerton engages with statelessness and the problem of the invisibility of migrant children and their families in Sabah, Malaysia. Their stories are about vulnerability as much as they are about resilience. Employing the concept of “documentary pragmatism,” Allerton explains that for her interlocutors, the goal is “being safe” rather than being documented.
In my own post I explore the relation between accountability and statelessness. First, by investigating the case of expert activists in Europe who have declared a fight against statelessness by trying to hold nation states accountable. Second, I look at asylum cases in the UK where stateless individuals have to give accounts of themselves. I argue that while expert activists demand accountability from nation states, it is nation states who demand accountability from stateless people.
If people cannot make claims vis-à-vis the state at all, we pondered the question of what they might be doing instead. One option that Alice Wilson explores in her post is a shift in the very discussions people are having about disappearance: in her case in the context of Oman’s southern Dhufar region. She argues that the possibilities for claims-making, and its potential success, vary within different political environments.
Finally, Siri Lamoureaux explores in her post on displaced Nuba women in Sudan women’s options such as public shaming and the accusation of perpetrators by the so-called “Nubian Queens.” In light of the recent events her post bears particular urgency. Drawing on long-term fieldwork, she then asks “Where are the Nuba queens”, namely those women who “due to (pre/post)colonial histories of divide and rule, and unequal centre-periphery socioeconomic relations, have never donned a white towb?” that has become so emblamatic of the ongoing protests. “Without denying the sacrifice and suffering of elite women in the protests, displaced women have suffered immeasurably from the Sudanese government’s policies”, she argues.
You can find all posts of this thematic thread here.
Paris 2019. Lectures, Conference, Keynote
Conférences de Judith Beyer (University of Konstanz), Professeure invitée de l’EHESS, Chaire sécable de l’Institut d’études de l’Islam et des sociétés du monde musulman
1. The force of custom. Law and the ordering of everyday life in Kyrgyzstan
In this talk, I offer a unique critique of the concept of ‘postsocialism’, a new take on the concept of legal pluralism, and a plea to bring ethnomethodological approaches into correspondence with ethnographic data. Drawing on a decade of anthropological fieldwork and engagement with Central Asia, I will focus on describing how my informants in rural Kyrgyzstan order their everyday lives and rationalize their recent history by invoking the force of custom (Kyrgyz: ‘salt’).
Although ‘salt’ is often blamed for bringing about more disorder and hardship than order and harmony, as I will exemplify with the example of mortuary rituals, it allows my informants to disavow responsibility for their actions by pushing a model of ‘how things get done here’ to the front. Invoking ‘salt’ enables actors even as they claim to be constrained by it, it opens up possibilities to conceptualize, classify, and contextualize large- and mid-scale developments in an intimate idiom. It also is a way to communicate to others that one is an expert in and of one’s own culture. An ethnomethodological perspective, as I pursue it, challenges a conception of social order as hidden within the visible actions and behaviours of members of society. Rather, it examines how members produce and sustain the observable orderliness of their own actions.
- Le 12 mars 2019 de 16h à 18h – Université Paris-Nanterre, Département d’anthropologie, salle E105, 200, avenue de la République, 92001 Nanterre
2. The arrival of the Indian Other. On classifying minorities in Burma
Migrants from India have arrived in Burma from pre-colonial times onwards up until the Second World War. They crossed the Bay of Bengal out of personal economic endeavours, but having been categorized collectively by the British colonial state already before they embarked on the steamships to Rangoon, their collective identities travelled with them. Next to looking for work, other migrants relocated there to make use of parcels of land that were given to them as a reward for their services in the colonial apparatus or in the Indian army; yet others took up positions in the higher echelons of the administration in Burma. These people entered a Buddhist polity that had been shaped by centuries of hierarchical modes of royal governance – one which included Muslims and other ethno-religious minorities. This talk traces the different types of classifications and reclassifications that were projected onto and subsequently appropriated by ‘Indian migrants’ in order to shed light on the current situation of ethno-religious minorities in contemporary Myanmar, particularly in the city of Yangon.
Dans le cadre du Séminaire “Dialogues entre recherches classiques et actuelles sur l’Asie du Sud-Est“
- Le 14 mars 2019 de 10h à 12h – EHESS, SR 737, 54, boulevard Raspail, 75006 Paris
3. Accountability and justice in asylum claims. Debating the issue of Rohingya statelessness in British courts.
Accountability is a reflexive technique by means of which actors realize and lay claim to their actions. In order to be recognizable, accountability “depends on the mastery of ethno-methods” (Giddens 1979: 57; 83). If, as Garfinkel put it, “[a]ny setting organizes its activities to make its properties as an organized environment of practical activities detectable, countable, recordable, repeatable, tell-a-story-aboutable, analysable – in short, accountable” (1967, 33; italics in original), then so-called ‘screening interviews’ in asylum cases of stateless Rohingya are a challenge to this principle as they are defined by non-knowledge about the other. When UK border agents and Rohingya meet, their ‘membership’, which forms the basis of all co-production of action (and knowledge) in ethnomethodology, needs to be established ad hoc in the interview situation. What we can learn from those ‘first contact’ encounters and the subsequent travelling of a Rohingya asylum seeker’s file through the court system, is, I argue, how accountability is constantly being produced through interaction and how, as an important by-product of this production process, not only a ‘case’ is decided, but also the validity of the state’s own account is rendered plausible.
Dans le cadre de la conférence co-organisée par Yazid Ben Hounet et Judith Beyer “Claiming Justice after Conflict: The Stateless, the Displaced and the Disappeared at the Margins of the State”
- Le 15 mars 2019 de 10h15 à 11h15 – FMSH, Salle A3-50, 54 Bd Raspail 75006 Paris
4. On little and grand narratives in Central Asia
In this keynote speech, I engage with the conference topic of “challenging” and even “disturbing” “Grand Narratives” through an investigation of the tradition of orality and the usage of oral history in Central Asia. These are two interlinked endeavours, as oral tradition has been investigated “as history” (Vansina) and oral history understood as “the voice from the past” (Thompson). Anthropologists (of Central Asia) investigate tradition as “a site of necessary engagement that aggregates people, … informs policy, public debates, law, and representation, and is – despite its often enough strategic inception – affectively powerful” (Beyer and Finke forth. in Central Asian Survey). Examples from Central Asia show how “oral tradition”, especially when mediated by state and media apparatus, can take on “grand narrative” qualities. Moreover, in contrast to how oral history has been treated in the past, namely as history “from below”, of “the everyday” and by “the little guys” (Graeber), thus as “little narrative”, as I will call it, it is worth exploring in what ways this method of ethnographic and historical inquiry has the capacity to yield “grand” results.
Dans le cadre de la Conférence “CASIO 2.0 : Disturbing Grand Narratives” organisée par l’EHESS et ZMO (Berlin).
- Le 28 mars 2019 de 10h à 12h – PSL, Salle du Conseil, 60, Rue Mazarine, 75006 Paris.
Saints in politics. On imaginaries of power, gender and the dilemma of Aung San Suu Kyi
This week I published a post in openDemocracy on Myanmar and its “State Counsellor” Aung San Suu Kyi that focuses not on the horrific situation we are currently observing from the safety of our screens, but on our own expectations and imaginaries that we have regarding leader-figures in general and female politicians in particular:
“In the case of Myanmar, we are in danger of reducing a complicated reality to an imaginary that we try to bring into being through sheer desire. We attribute the qualities required to make change possible to a person who is then expected to be both saintly and powerful. That person is thus saddled with the impossible task of doing what is morally just, while at the same time acting strategically in order to maintain the power required for any sort of political action.”
In the article I further list three reasons why Aung San Suu Kyi’s saintly status has become a burden to her and argue that when we are demanding Aung San Suu Kyi to both embody the state and continue to ‘do the right thing’ we delude ourselves by projecting qualities onto politicians who have no intention of embodying them.
Read the full article here.
The thought crept into my mind today and refused to let go of my brain. It said “What if we have no f*ing clue?” Going to bed with images of crying fathers holding their children – ‘Are they dead? Oh thank God, only sleeping!’ – , waking up with stories of rotten bodies, locked into a van used for transporting poultry. Heaps of rotten meat. This is not happening in Syria. This is Syria happening in Europe. Those who survived are here. But what if the war that was carried out on their backs will follow them? Did it ever occur to you that Europe is not facing a “refugee crisis” but is already part and parcel of several wars that have forced hundreds of thousands of human beings – like you, like me – to leave everything behind to save bare life? Their crisis is our crisis, but we don’t pay the price yet that they have already paid. But we might, if we don’t act.
I feel I am responsible at least in part for their desperation. Because as a German citizen I have voted for a certain party, have legitimized a certain type of government, because my taxes are used in ways I cannot control any more. Because I live in an area of Germany, which is profiting from the military industry that is located all around me; that exports weapons, drones and military equipment to I don’t know where. The thing is, there are people who do know, who are responsible, who profit, who might even believe that this is needed for ‘security’, ‘stability’ or – probably the most honest reason – because a lot of German citizens earn their money with these kinds of endeavours.
This morning at a local farmer’s market in my small picturesque town in Germany an elderly woman approached the mostly well-off clientele with a request to donate whatever they could afford for “refugees from Syria.” She offered small bouquets of rosemary in return which she had collected from her garden, I overheard. I felt anger. In fact, I became so angry, I had to turn away. What made me angry was not her compassion and her initiative of wanting to “do something.” Where would we be without people like her? Or so many others in Greece, Italy, Jordan, Serbia – all devoting their lives to ease the suffering of thousands. My current anger is directed towards the nebulous “system”, towards “those in power” whom I consider responsible … but how do you hold “them” accountable? There is no way to trace the origin of a ‘crisis’, which has reached the scale of what we are witnessing right now, everyday. How can you prevent our grandchildren from accusing us that ‘they knew, but they did not do anything’ – Germany has been there before. So what to do? Donate money, children’s clothes and food products? Check. Write letters to politicians? Check. Be thankful for every calm and sunny summer day and hug your own child a little longer? Check. But still. The thought won’t go away: We have no f*ing clue how to make this stop.
Looking outside my window, I see a large spider spinning its web, waiting patiently for prey. I still want to believe we are not trapped. We are the net.
Update on September 3, 2015:
In the last days I have began to communicate with a couple of people who do amazing work in different parts of Greece and Germany right now. All work privately and have financed their support for refugees through crowdfunding. Please consider helping them, and donate whatever you can .
1. Help for refugees in Molyvos (you can also contact molyvosrefugees[at]gmail.com)
5. Jillian York (she collects money and transfers it to Budapest so that technical supplies such as cell phone chargers can be bought for refugees currently stuck at the train station; also: check her own page for another list)
6. Eric and Philippa Kempson (they have set up amazon wishlists with important food products, medical supplies, clothes,…)