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Diary of a not-so-baby BarriSTAR

An alternative perspective

The Silent Rohingya Genocide

I didn’t know who the Rohingya people were before I started working with international human rights organisation Restless Beings in 2010.

A stateless persecuted minority in Myanmar (Burma) who despite being able to trace their ancestry in Myanmar through generations as natives, are deemed as “illegal Bengali immigrants.”

Although many Rohingya refugees have fled to neighbouring Bangladesh, there is an increasing “push back” policy including forcible returns and detention.

Despite being referred to as one of the most oppressed minorities in the world, the Rohingya plight has been widely underreported which perhaps explains why so many people still do not know who the Rohingya are.

In recent years, there has been some media coverage of particular ‘crack downs’ or ‘flare ups’ – as is happening at present.

However, it would be wrong to think that the persecution of the Rohingya  is a new issue. This has been going on for decades.

The international community is silent on the Rohingya. It is not ‘fashionable’ enough and clearly serves nobody’s political agenda.

The silence of Aung San Sui Kyi, so called nobel prize winner, and ‘human rights’ icon, is particularly damming.

Some of the horrifying atrocities that are currently being reported include:

  • Mass rape- women and girls
  • Indiscriminate shooting
  • Killing- adults and children
  • Torture
  • Kidnap
  • Burning down of villages

The Rohingya Muslim minority are being ethnically cleansed. 

It is the word that people are afraid to use. Genocide.

When looking at the ‘8 stages of genocide’ in the context of the Rohingya – the parallels are stark.

Classification. Symbolisation. Dehumanisation. Organisation. Polarisation. Preparation. Extermination. Denial.

In the face of such impotence from international players, it is us who must speak out.

What can we do?

  1. Educate yourself. Who are the Rohingya? What is happening?
  2. Share knowledge. Speak to people. Utilise social media. Fill the gap from mainstream media outlets.
  3. Lobby. Write to your MP.
  4. Engage with organisations working on this issue for example Restless Beings who have a three pronged ‘Rohingya Rights’ campaign: a petition, collecting donations and a protest in London on 2nd December 2016 from the FCO, marching to the Burmese embassy.
  5. Find events in your area such as ‘Silence Over the Rohingya Genocide’ at the London Muslim Centre on 30th November 2016.
  6. Better still, arrange an event/meeting yourself. Organise with other people in the community, pool resources, skills and ideas about what can be done.
  7. Don’t be silent. Don’t allow it to be legitimised through silence.

*Images from All Jazeera, East London Mosque & Restless Beings respectively.

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Top tips & benefits for students interested in Pro Bono 

With National Pro Bono Week 2016 having just come to an end, I found myself reminiscing back to university student days and particularly pro bono fun! I thought I would collate some thoughts that may be useful for current students looking to pursue careers in law. I hope it helps!
  1. Do pro bono! Make sure you sign up to get involved with pro bono projects during your time at university. University Law Societies always have great things on offer like mooting, careers events etc. But if you are serious about a career in law, experience in Pro Bono work is a must. Pro Bono is an incredible way to develop a number of skills not to mention it is one of the very few ways you can gain a real insight into life as a lawyer.
  2. Do not treat pro bono as just a CV enhancer or tick box exercise. For any pro bono experience to be truly meaningful and beneficial, you have to commit to it.
  3. Don’t spread yourself too thin! It is likely that all of the pro bono opportunities being offered look great. But don’t just put your name down for everything. Be realistic. Where do your strengths and interests lie? Where can you make the most impact? Where can you develop the most skills? There’s no point doing five projects poorly when you can do one or two extremely well.
  4. Keep a record of all the projects you get involved with and the type of work that you do during your university career. It is useful to reflect on your work and often you might have a similar case/issue that comes up, that you have dealt with before and you can refer back.
  5. Share any exciting work or projects you’re involved with. The pro bono community is relatively small and with the wonders of social media it’s easy to keep up to date with what other people or student groups are up to. It’s a brilliant way of sharing ideas, learning from each other and building a pro bono community.
  6. Be prepared to talk about pro bono work in interviews! Pro Bono can really strengthen your CV and applications for jobs. But unless you can really explain how it has helped you enhance your skill set and explain how it relates to any particular job – it’s pointless. Again, if it’s just a CV enhancer-interviewers will see through you!
  7. Planning to go into the city lawyer life? Even if you are sold by the city lawyer lifestyle that a corporate career provides, pro bono work is still important. Most city firms have huge pro bono departments so you can still offer your services whilst making your big bucks.
  8. Planning to go into legal aid work/public law/the non shiny corporate world? Good for you! You more than anyone will see every single day the importance of pro bono work and how you will be making an impact on people’s lives for the better. It isn’t all doom and gloom and although has it’s challenges, can be extremely rewarding.
  9. Always remember the importance of pro bono. Ask yourselves why is pro bono work important? Being a lawyer is often perceived as a glamorous career- especially if you watch Suits (!) But always remember it’s a noble profession that essentially comes down to achieving justice. As lawyers, we have a responsibility to try and ensure that justice remains accessible to all. Especially in these increasingly difficult times.
  10. Continue pro bono after graduation! Don’t make the mistake of thinking that once you’ve got your degree, finished law school and got a job offer, pro bono is no longer important. It should remain a part of your journey and indeed be a big part in shaping your identity as a lawyer – one that cares.

Some great organisations in my experience to connect with for pro bono/volunteering opportunities:

Bit about Me 

I am a junior barrister specialising in criminal defence with a background in human rights and international law. I graduated from the University of Warwick in 2010. I found my love for social justice work through pro bono at Warwick. 

I was Pro Bono Officer in my final year and introduced a number of new projects to the Warwick Pro Bono portfolio. For the first time, in 2010 Warwick Pro Bono was recognised in a number of national awards including the LawWorks Attorney General Student Awards 2010 and we won the BPBU law school challenge. 

I also set up YOU*th Inspire as a student and continue to direct the project. We are always looking for new volunteers and organisations to collaborate with. We are currently making plans for 2017- please get in touch!

Follow us on: @youthinspire 

FB: YOU*th Inspire 

Zi

Nearly two months in NYC at the brilliant Center for Constitutional Rights on a Pegasus Scholarship from the UK. I have been keeping a work diary and a record of personal reflections, but today I felt inspired to start writing again.

We had a lunch seminar with the fantastically inspiring Fayrouz Sharqawi from Grassroots Jerusalem a brilliant Palestinian organisation based in Jerusalem.

She discussed the challenges faced every day by Palestinians in occupied Jerusalem. Simply to do basic things. To have a house; to have a house that may or may not be demolished at some point; to have a job; to be able to travel to your job; to have a school to go to; to be able to go to university without being tear gassed; to have free access to your own farmland- the list is endless.

She talked about Israel’s ‘centre of life’ policy, a tool deliberately designed to forcefully displace Palestinians. Residents have to prove their ‘centre of life’ is in Jerusalem. So when the authorities come knocking on your door, without notice after midnight and you’re not there, you risk losing your home.

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The example Fayrouz gave was, if you studied medicine for instance at Al Quds university, your degree isn’t recognised by the relevant authorities to practice in Jerusalem, so you have to travel outside of Jerusalem for work. This takes hours because of the separation wall and checkpoints, forcing you to rent somewhere nearer to work.

Voila, you’re stripped of residency in Jerusalem because it is no longer your ‘centre of life.’

Another example of Israel’s displacement policy is demonstrated by the fact that only 11% of the land is for Palestinian recreational construction, despite them constituting approximately 40% of the population. In recent years, 94% of applications for building permits made by Palestinians were rejected, forcing them to build homes ‘illegally’ rendering them liable for demolition.

Land confiscations, house demolitions and the consequences of the separation wall, deemed illegal in international law, are just a few of the tools that are being used to change the geographic and demographic nature of Jerusalem. Ultimately, this is part of a systematic policy designed to appropriate Palestinian land and isolate Jerusalem from the West Bank with the goal of establishing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

Despite the ongoing occupation and persistent violation of human rights, Palestinians continue to resist through their existence. Grassroots Jerusalem founded in 2011, is a hub committed to Palestinian led struggle and liberation. With 80 community organisation partners, they act as a hub for Palestinians to build networks, organise, mobilise, and ultimately to unify in their resistance to the occupation.

When asked about partnering with Israeli organisations, Fayrouz’s response could not have been more poignant. Grassroots Jerusalem do not engage in ‘normalisation’ (that is to say normalisation of the status quo) and therefore do not work with Israeli organisations. She stated that real life power relations and politics are replicated within Israeli and Palestinian partnerships in doing this kind of work. Who truly ends up making the decisions in such ‘partnerships?’

Her response reminded me of some of the issues explored in Malcom X’s autobiography by Alex Haley that I am currently reading. Particularly, the notion of ‘separation’ as opposed to both ‘segregation’ and ‘integration.’ It is interesting to consider the methods through which oppressed people perceive they can achieve their freedom. A choice only they can legitimately make.

She emphasized that Palestinians need to empower themselves. Freedom cannot be found through the oppressor.

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In her view, Israelis sympathetic with the Palestinian plight need to address the deep rooted issues in their own society first i.e. challenging the views Israeli youths have about Palestinians. It is not for them to ‘save’ Palestinians.

In the same vein, Grassroots Jerusalem is committed to and are working towards a self-sustainable funding model which would mean they would not be reliant on international donor funding. She explains such funding comes with a number of restrictive conditions and unsurprisingly- a political agenda.   As if to say “here is a million Euros for your cause, but you need to work for your liberation in ways we dictate.”

Fayrouz spoke with passion and fire. For me, she embodied the same Palestinian spirit I was blessed to find in refugee camps in Lebanon, in Jerusalem and the West Bank; highly principled, resilient and fierce.

There are a number of ways to support Grassroots Jerusalem. They offer political tours, sell a political tourist guide of Jerusalem, have a volunteer programme and much more.

When she was asked how people like us can help, she said the two key things are solidarity and tangible support. Not forgetting BDS.

Get involved. Renew your commitment to a free Palestine.

Donald Dump. That is all. #Hanksy #NYC #Manhattan #Election2016 (at New York, New York)

SYRIA

Rafeef Ziadah. As powerful and moving as ever in NYC.
#FreePalestine “Allow me to speak my Arab tongue

before they occupy my language as well.

Allow me to speak my mother tongue

before they colonise her memory as well.

I am an Arab woman of color.

and we come in all shades of anger.

All my grandfather ever wanted to do

was wake up at dawn and watch my grandmather kneel and pray

in a village hidden between Jaffa and Haifa

my mother was born under an olive tree

on a soil they say is no longer mine

but I will cross their barriers, their check points

their damn apartheid walls and return to my homeland.” (at Nuyorican Poets Cafe)

The phenomenal #Adele at #MadisonSquareGarden #NYC An immense talent and a privilege to see perform. ❤ (at The Garden)

NYC Chelsea bomb & rationalising fear

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel any fear after the Chelsea bomb(s) and subsequent unravelling of events over the weekend. Waking up to a tonne of messages from family and friends in the UK, telling me about the Chelsea bomb and asking if I was safe. I was like, what Chelsea bomb? Only before I had fallen asleep on Saturday was I googling places to eat in Chelsea market and nearby because I had booked a play in the area. I still went to the play on Sunday. There was heavy police presence, roads closed and lots of journalists. This morning I wake up to news of a wanted suspect and a bag of undetonated devices in New Jersey.

It’s so easy to see why people in the West live in fear- and understandably so. When I say people, yes I mean Muslims too. It’s also so easy to see how the fear in the hearts and minds of people is fuelled and manipulated by media/prejudice and then transformed into an irrational hatred.

I will never understand the targeting of innocent people.

Terrorists who target civilians.

People who target and subsequently blame other people just because they belong to a particular faith.

In rationalising any fear I feel, my mind is overwhelmed thinking about those who must live in fear every minute of every single day of their existence. I’m still on a subway, going to grab my morning coffee and then going to work. For some there is no subway, there is no work, there is no life but there is only fear. Fear of death? Maybe, given their circumstances they don’t fear death, they welcome it.

That is the state of affairs we should all be mourning.

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