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Curb Racism And Semitic Intolerance In The U.S: UN Human Rights Expert

She also urged governments to work with the private sector — specifically technology companies — to fight such prejudices in the digital space.

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Pittsburgh, Hate, shooting
Monks pay their respects at a makeshift memorial outside the Tree of Life synagogue following Saturday's shooting at the synagogue in Pittsburgh, Penn. VOA
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Following the shooting deaths of 11 worshippers at a synagogue in the eastern United States, a U.N. human rights expert urged governments on Monday to do more to curb racist and anti-Semitic intolerance, especially online.

“That event should be a catalyst for urgent action against hate crimes, but also a reminder to fight harder against the current climate of intolerance that has made racist, xenophobic and anti-Semitic attitudes and beliefs more acceptable,” U.N. Special Rapporteur Tendayi Achiume said of Saturday’s attack on a synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Achiume, whose mandate is the elimination of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, noted in her annual report that “Jews remain especially vulnerable to anti-Semitic attacks online.”

racist
A mother and her child arrive to place flowers at a spontaneous memorial of flowers and sidewalk writing a block from the Tree of Life Synagogue. VOA

She said that Nazi and neo-Nazi groups exploit the internet to spread and incite hate because it is “largely unregulated, decentralized, cheap” and anonymous.

Achiume, a law professor at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) School of Law, said neo-Nazi groups are increasingly relying on the internet and social media platforms to recruit new members.

Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are among their favorites.

Tree of Life Synagogue, racist
A person pauses in front of Stars of David with the names of those killed in a deadly shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue, in Pittsburgh. VOA

On Facebook, for example, hate groups connect with sympathetic supporters and use the platform to recruit new members, organize events and raise money for their activities. YouTube, which has over 1.5 billion viewers each month, is another critical communications tool for propaganda videos and even neo-Nazi music videos. On Twitter, according to one 2012 study cited in the special rapporteur’s report, the presence of white nationalist movements on that platform has increased by more than 600 percent.

The special rapporteur noted that while digital technology has become an integral and positive part of most people’s lives, “these developments have also aided the spread of hateful movements.”

She said in the past year, platforms including Facebook, Twitter and YouTube have banned individual users who have contributed to hate movements or threatened violence, but ensuring the removal of racist content online remains difficult.

The Tree of Life Synagogue, racist
One man pays his respect in front of a Star of David memorial for one of the 11 victims killed in the Oct. 27, 2018, synagogue shooting. VOA

Some hate groups try to get around raising red flags by using racially coded messaging, which makes it harder for social media platforms to recognize their hate speech and shut down their presence.

Achiume cited as an example the use of a cartoon character “Pepe the Frog,” which was appropriated by members of neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups and was widely displayed during a white supremacist rally in the southern U.S. city of Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017.

Also Read: U.N. Reports Global Cocaine, Opium Production At Heights

 

The special rapporteur welcomed actions in several states to counter intolerance online, but cautioned it must not be used as a pretext for censorship and other abuses. She also urged governments to work with the private sector — specifically technology companies — to fight such prejudices in the digital space. (VOA)

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Rohingyas Repatriation to Myanmar Scrapped by Bangladesh

Negotiations for repatriation have been in the works for months.

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Rohingya, myanmar
An elderly Rohingya refugee holds a placard during a protest against the repatriation process at Unchiprang refugee camp near Cox's Bazar, in Bangladesh.VOA

Bangladesh’s plans to begin repatriating Rohingya Muslims to Myanmar Thursday were scrapped because officials were unable to find anyone who wanted to return to the country that has been accused of driving out hundreds of thousands in a campaign of ethnic cleansing.

The refugees “are not willing to go back now,” Refugee Commissioner Abul Kalam told The Associated Press. He said officials “can’t force them to go” but will continue to try to “motivate them so it happens.”

Some people on the government’s repatriation list disappeared into the sprawling refugee camps to avoid being sent home, while others joined a large demonstration against the plan.

Rohingya, myanmar
Workers build a Rohingya repatriation center in Gunndum near Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. VOA

UN urged a halt to repatriation

More than 700,000 Rohingya Muslims fled to Bangladesh from western Myanmar’s Rakhine state since August 2017 to escape killings and destruction of their villages by the military and Buddhist vigilantes that have drawn widespread condemnation of Myanmar.

The United Nations, whose human rights officials had urged Bangladesh to halt the repatriation process even as its refugee agency workers helped to facilitate it, welcomed Thursday’s development.

Firas Al-Khateeb, a spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees in Cox’s Bazar, said it was unclear when the process might begin again.

“We want their repatriation, but it has to be voluntary, safe and smooth,” he said.

Bangladesh officials declined to say whether another attempt at repatriation would be made Friday.

Bangladesh Foreign Minister A.H. Mahmood Ali told reporters in Dhaka late Thursday that “there is no question of forcible repatriation. We gave them shelter, so why should we send them back forcibly?”

Rohingya, myanmar
Rohingya refugee children shout slogans during a protest against the repatriation process at Unchiprang refugee camp near Cox’s Bazar, in Bangladesh. VOA

Pleading with Rohingya

At the Unchiprang refugee camp, a Bangladeshi refugee official implored the Rohingya on Thursday to return to their country over a loudspeaker.

“We have arranged everything for you, we have six buses here, we have trucks, we have food. We want to offer everything to you. If you agree to go, we’ll take you to the border, to the transit camp,” he said.

“We won’t go!” hundreds of voices, including children’s, chanted in reply.

Some refugees on the repatriation lists, which authorities say were drawn up with assistance from the UNHCR, said they don’t want to go back.

‘I don’t want to go back’

At the Jamtoli refugee camp, one of the sprawling refugee settlements near the city of Cox’s Bazar, 25-year-old Setara said she and her two children, age 4 and 7, were on a repatriation list, but her parents were not. She said she had never asked to return to Myanmar, and that she had sent her children to a school run by aid workers Thursday morning as usual.

“They killed my husband; now I live here with my parents,” said Setara, who only gave one name. “I don’t want to go back.”

She said that other refugees on the repatriation list had fled to other camps, hoping to disappear amid the crowded lanes of refugees, aid workers and Bangladeshi soldiers, which on Thursday were bustling with commerce and other activity.

Rohingya, Myanmar
Rohingya refugees shout slogans during a protest against the repatriation process at Unchiprang refugee camp near Cox’s Bazar, in Bangladesh. VOA

Plan to return 150 a day

Bangladesh had planned to send an initial group of 2,251 back from mid-November at a rate of 150 per day.

Myanmar officials, speaking late Thursday in the capital, Naypyitaw, said they were ready to receive the refugees. Despite those assurances, human rights activists said conditions were not yet safe for the Rohingya to go back.

The exodus began after Myanmar security forces launched a brutal crackdown following attacks by an insurgent group on guard posts. The scale, organization and ferocity of the crackdown led the U.N. and several governments to accuse Myanmar of ethnic cleansing and genocide.

Most people in Buddhist-majority Myanmar do not accept that the Rohingya Muslims are a native ethnic group, viewing them as “Bengalis” who entered illegally from Bangladesh, even though generations of Rohingya have lived in Myanmar. Nearly all have been denied citizenship since 1982, as well as access to education and hospitals.

Rohingya, Myanmar
Rohingya refugees cross floodwaters at Thangkhali refugee camp in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar district. VOA

Refugee camps bleak

The refugees survived the ransacking of villages, rapes and killings in Myanmar, but for many, life in Bangladesh’s squalid refugee camps has been bleak.

The refugees who’ve arrived in the last year joined a wave of 250,000 Rohingya Muslims who escaped forced labor, religious persecution and violent attacks from Buddhist mobs in Myanmar during the early 1990s.

Access to education and employment has been far from assured.

Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who hopes to retain power in December elections, has repeatedly complained that hosting more than a million Rohingya is taxing local resources.

Negotiations for repatriation have been in the works for months, but plans last January to begin sending refugees back were called off amid concerns among aid workers and Rohingya that their return would be met with violence.

Foreign leaders, including U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, criticized Myanmar’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi this week on the sidelines of a summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Singapore for her handling of the Rohingya crisis.

Also Read: Rohingya Muslims Remain Fearful Due To Forceful Repatriation

But on Thursday, Pence said that U.S. officials were “encouraged to hear that” the repatriation process would begin.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his country would continue working with international partners including the U.N. “to ensure that the Rohingya themselves are part of any decisions on their future.” (VOA)