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Diary of a not-so-baby BarriSTAR

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It’s Only a Genocide when we say: The Rohingya

The Rohingya struggle is one of the starkest embodiments of the failure of international systems and international law. There are a number of legal and normative frameworks that ought to apply to the Rohingya plight, including international human rights law, international criminal law, international refugee law and the responsibility to protect. Yet there is no relief, no remedy and no effective recourse.

The phrase “never again” is often espoused on genocide commemoration days when we talk about preventing mass atrocities. But, in so many cases such as Myanmar, Palestine, Syria and Yemen “over and over again” is more accurate. Language, labels, and legal definitions are selective because they reflect oppressive relationships of power that enable human rights violations to begin with. Too often, oppressed people have to wait for their suffering to reach an arbitrary threshold imposed by those complicit in their oppression. Consequently, their struggle is appropriated and their suffering is colonized, just like their existence. Just like their place in history—a history that is simultaneously being erased and rewritten.

To navigate within an unjust system, we must first recognize that the political system and the law will never be enough. We must raise our consciousness on an individual level and in community with one another. We must identify shared struggles when we try and support groups in elevating their voices. When we talk about Palestine, we must talk about the Rohingya. When we talk about Standing Rock, we must talk about the Rohingya. When we speak for Syria we must speak for the Rohingya, whose decades long struggle has so often been silenced. We must not be selective in our outrage or condemnation.

We must universally stand with all oppressed people, if we are truly committed to every individual’s right to live in their full humanity, in dignity and with freedom.

An extract from my blog for the Centre for Constitutional Rights. 

Sanctuary in Death

Today feels different.

As I walked to the subway to get to work, the sun was shining. What a beautiful day.

I wonder if the sun is shining in Aleppo.

Despite the corpses littering the streets.

I thought about how many absolute truths we share as humans.

The sky.

The air we breathe.

The blood we bleed.

Yet, how our humanity is qualified. Contingent. Conditional.

On,

Geography.

Colour.

Politics.

Ethnicity.

Faith.

Power.

 

Scrolling through social media feeds.

Aleppo has fallen.  Civilians shot dead. Children burnt alive. Scores of men disappeared. The rebels are baddies too. MPs are holding an ’emergency’ debate. The UN says atrocities are being committed.

“A Meltdown in Humanity”

Nothing in actual fact is particularly different today. Innocent people die every single day at the hands of oppressors in this increasingly dark world.

But today feels different.

I hate the international community, governments, the UN every day.

But today feels different.

I feel anger, sadness and helplessness every day.

But today feels different.

Today the tears fall.

Today, I struggle to find hope.

 

“Families in Aleppo are asking religious scholars if it’s permissible to kill their daughters before they are captured and raped.”

 

What must one have endured, what must one fear when killing your own child is the better option?

My heart doesn’t just break for Syria. My sadness today isn’t just for Aleppo.

It is for an existence where the only sanctuary for some is in death.

I know for some, they choose not to read what is going on, because it is too sad. Because we feel helpless.

But we must

Read.

Watch.

Feel.

Over and over.

It is the least we could do.

 

I want my sadness to consume me. 

 

The only glimmer of light I have felt today came from what I paste below.

Even if you categorise yourself as an unbeliever, it is at times like this that a belief in eternal divine justice can provide even you, some hope- because what else is there?

 

Prophet Muhammad (saw) said:

“When the believer is about to depart from this world and go forward into the Next World, angels with faces as bright as the sun descend from the heavens and sit around him in throngs stretching as far as the eye can see. Then the Angel of Death comes and sits at his head and says, ‘Good soul, come out to forgiveness and pleasure from Allah!’ Then his soul emerges like a drop of water flows from a water-skin and the angel takes hold of it.

“When he has grasped it, the other angels do not leave it in his hand even for the twinkling of an eye. They take it and place it in a perfumed shroud and a fragrance issues from it like the sweetest scent of musk found on the face on the earth.”

“Then they bear it upwards and whenever they take it past a company of angels, they ask, ‘Who is this good soul?’ and the angels with the soul reply, “So-and-so the son of so-and-so,” using the best names by which people used to call him in this world. They bring him to the lowest heaven and ask for the gate to be opened for him. It is opened for him and angels who are near Allah from each of the heavens accompany him to the subsequent heaven until he reaches to the heaven where Allah the Great is. Allah, the Mighty and Majestic, says, ‘Register the book of My slave in ‘Illiyun and take him back to earth. I created them from it and I return them to it and I will bring them forth from it again.’”

*Image via Alaa Basatneh

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.

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.

unnamed

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.

“Silenced Voices: Stories from Srebrenica & Sarajevo” is a an event which has been organised by a group of delegates who travelled to Bosnia & Herzegovina in November through the charity ‘Remembering Srebrenica.’

The group took part in the flagship ‘Lessons from Srebrenica’ programme and hope to share their experiences and insight. The aim is that we can reflect on the past, and learn lessons from history to tackle ongoing challenges in the world today.

5th March, at BPP law school, Holborn

Programme

2-4pm
Exhibition | Film screenings | Presentations | Networking

4-6pm

Stories from survivors from the Bosnian conflict | Human rights theatre from Ice & Fire | Film screening of ‘Silenced Voices’ |
Music | Performance poetry

Please join us for as much or as little of the programme. This promises to be a fantastic event!

Further details and tickets:

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/silenced-voices-stories-from-srebrenica-sarajevo-tickets-21239358493

https://www.facebook.com/events/1718013811779046/
#Bosnia #BiH #Srebrenica #Sarajevo #London #HumanRights #InternationalJustice #Genocide #RememberSrebrenica Photo credit: Eleanor Zafra Weber-Ballard

Calais: crisis of of our times?

There are many ‘Jungles’ and there will be many more, where the protection of fundamental rights is somehow suspended within a vacuum. These states of exception must not be legitimised through acquiescence. The role of the law ought not be suppressed in times of crises, but must emerge as a weapon for the weak and an instrument for good. Our role as lawyers must be to facilitate this. 

“You ain’t no Muslim Bruv”

Powerful representation of the frustrated, angry Muslim response to acts of terror being carried out in the name of Islam. A response I can fully identify with when such acts are committed.

But the tragic act of violence that happened in Leytonstone isn’t one of them.

When a Muslim man commits an act of violence shouting “this is for Syria,” it is considered a ‘terrorist’ incident. When a white man commits an act of violence shouting “white power,” it is considered a racially aggravated incident.

Why the differentiation? Because he is Muslim? Because of what he said? Or both?

Surely by this logic, any person who is Muslim, commits a crime and makes some reference to something political is a terrorist.

The question is, why do we need responses like “You ain’t no Muslim Bruv”? It represents a perpetual obligation that Muslims feel to justify their faith and distance themselves from such acts. But why should we need to do that?

The language of terrorism and specifically ‘Islamic fundamentalism/jihad/extremism’ whatever you want to call it, is chucked around so freely that it has become embedded in the mainstream narrative of what people understand of Muslims.

That narrative is not ok. And must be challenged and dismantled.

“You ain’t no Muslim Bruv” represents the pent up frustration of having to defend one’s faith from attack. It does so powerfully and ironically – eloquently.

But we shouldn’t need it. And the fact that we do, the fact that it is trending, the fact that the PM has hijacked the phrase – is a problem. Reclaim our defiance. Reclaim our faith.

Hundreds of stabbings in London, day in day out. But our ‘free press’ likes to be selective in what is reported and how it is reported. All designed to serve the narrative.

A man, with mental health difficulties, who committed a crime. Sounds like many of my clients that I represent on a daily basis.

Not a terrorist.

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