Rohingya Youth Want Remediation

What Happened

Muhammed Nowkim
Arakan Rohingya Society for Peace and Human Rights (ARSPH)

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.

Earned Media

  • December 9: Real Facebook Oversight Board; Facebook Must Answer to Rohingya Youth, for Human Rights Abuses; OECD Complaint Urgent, Brave, and Groundbreaking: “Facebook Knew”
  • December 9: RTE News; Rohingya refugees seek Facebook action over hate speech
  • December 9: Politico; Speaking of Facebook

What Rohingya Youth Need

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?

The Complaint

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.

The Requests

Rohingya youth are asking that Facebook: 

  • Reparations–Divert a small portion of its profits to supporting Rohingya refugees
  • Responsibility–Adjust its business model through the lens of equity, human rights, and compassion
  • Remediation–Commit to not only provide financial reparations, but engage in culture change to better identify and dismantle human rights violations on the platform 
  • Representation–Rely on the wisdom and solutions of those facing oppression to inform Facebook’s best practices; representatives from any community facing oppression should populate any advisory board

Timeline of Events

  • June 29, 2020: Rohingya youth send a letter to Facebook’s Human Rights Director Miranda Sissons; the youth made modest requests for support in the camps
  • August 20, 2020: Rohingya youth attend meeting with Miranda Sissons and make explicit requests for funding for educational activities in Cox’s Bazar refugee camps 
  • November 20, 2020: Rohingya youth send a second letter to Miranda Sissons requesting Facebook establish education programs in Cox’s Bazar refugee camps
  • February 10, 2021: Facebook Human Rights Director Miranda Sissons sends Rohingya youth a letter rejecting Rohingya youth’s requests citing that Facebook does not engage in “philanthropic activities”
  • December 9, 2021: Rohingya youth officially file a complaint against Facebook; click here to read the press statement