In 2017, Facebook’s platforms were weaponized by civilians and military operations in Burma (Myanmar) to create and disseminate thousands of posts and images that dehumanized, degraded, and encouraged violence against the nations’ Rohingya Muslim population. As a result of this social media activity and rampant acts of violence and oppression exercised by the Myanmar government, more than 750,000 Rohingya Muslims were forcibly displaced into Bangladesh by August 2017.
The Rohingya have been the victims of a systematic campaign of violence by the Myanmar military. Entire communities have been destroyed and displaced because of the violence and thousands of Rohingya people are living in diaspora, disconnected from families and friends and robbed of their basic human rights. Facebook’s lack of competent content moderation on its platform helped stoke hostility against the Rohingya and directly contributed to narratives justifying their oppression.
Immediately after Facebook appointed a Director of Human Rights, Miranda Sissons, she took a five-day trip to Myanmar, but at no point did she visit northern Rakhine state or Cox’s Bazar to meet the people affected by the violence and hate speech.
In June 2020, a group of Rohingya youth approached Facebook with a modest request: divest a portion of its 2017 profits—certainly those made in Myanmar—and provide remediation for the Rohingya in the form of education activities and facilities in Cox’s Bazar, a region in Bangladesh that is home to an estimated 1.2 million Rohingya living in diaspora. The Rohingya approached Facebook after the firm publicly committed to addressing the mistakes it had made when its platform was used to stoke extreme acts of racial violence in Myanmar.
The request asked for $1 million (USD) to help build education programs for Rohingya children and young adults. This conversation resulted in months of back and forth between victim groups in Cox’s Bazar refugee camps and the social media giant. Facebook ultimately rejected the proposal of the Rohingya to provide them with education facilities—a request which the groups spent months formulating. Despite several attempts to engage Facebook on this matter, the company refuses to fund the education project or again meet with leaders of the Rohingya community in Cox’s Bazar. Click here for more background information.
On December 9, a number of Rohingya groups in Cox’s Bazar filed a complaint against Facebook before Ireland’s Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). This international body is charged with ensuring that corporations around the world respect human rights in their business practices. If the complaint is successful, the OECD will recommend mediation. Click here to watch a video of the press conference.
Rohingya youth and young adults are living in Cox’s Bazar refugee camps without a proper education, without a proper life. There are half a million Rohingya youth and young adults who do not have any access to formal education.
They have the talent but many of them are sitting idly, doing menial work. The desperate situation in the camp puts young people—particularly young women—at a high risk of being trafficked. There is a great risk of an entire generation of young people sinking into ignorance.
Some NGOs and Rohingya community-based groups have projects in place to support the Rohingya youth living in the camps. In 2018, some Rohingya youth came forward to establish schools inside shanties in the refugee camps with Myanmar books and education materials. These schools need financial support and certification to run effectively. Technical education classes in the camps can support adolescents and youths in becoming skilled and employable; currently, there is no capacity to start technical education classes in the schools.
Education is important for everyone. Rohingya children are consistently denied this right. The loss of access to education for a generation of Rohingya youth will only hurt their futures. What will become of children and youth denied an education?
Click here to read the full complaint.
The complaint makes four allegations. Facebook:
(I) breached the OECD human rights guidelines through its acts and omissions and contributed to the human rights violations suffered by the Rohingya;
(II) failed to conduct adequate due diligence for its business operations in Myanmar;
(III) did not have a policy commitment in 2017 to respect internationally recognized human rights, and has since issued one that is inadequate; and
(IV) failed to provide a remedy despite contributing to the human rights violations.
Rohingya youth are asking that Facebook: