A group of Rohingya refugees stand in a circle, some with mouths agape as they crowd around a photo watching something.
Rohingya refugees watching the reporting on the International Court of
Justice genocide case. Photo by Khin Maung (Kutupalong Camp)

The Cyberlaw Clinic and the International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School were proud to co-author a new white paper, Lockdown and Shutdown: Exposing the Impacts of Recent Network Disruptions in Myanmar and Bangladesh, in collaboration with Athan, the Kintha Peace and Development Initiative, and Rohingya Youth Association. The report exposes the impacts of internet shutdowns in Myanmar and Bangladesh, highlighting the voices of ethnic minority internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Myanmar and Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, who describe the shutdowns’ impacts in their own words. The co-authors joined to present a webinar to launch the report on January 19, 2021, which you can watch below or on the HRP YouTube channel.

The white paper provides an overview of the human rights situation for these populations in Myanmar and Bangladesh and the causes of the internet shutdowns in both countries. The report illustrates that, by impeding the rights of IDPs and refugees, violations of digital rights are violations of human rights. At the heart of Lockdown and Shutdown are sixteen semi-structured qualitative interviews, conducted with Rakhine, Rohingya, Chin IDPs in conflict-affected areas in Myanmar, and Rohingya refugees residing in Bangladesh, which give a voice to those who have been deprived of one, as well as reveal the devastating impacts of the internet shutdowns in the two countries.

The report also demonstrates that there are commonalities in the impacts of the shutdowns in Myanmar and Bangladesh, specifically in the areas of public health information around COVID-19, education, and access to reliable news in misinformation-rich environments, as well as differences in areas like work, access to healthcare, and physical security and offers key recommendations to the governments of Myanmar and Bangladesh. 

Local partner organizations, Athan, Kintha, and RYA, conducted and coordinated the interviews, while the Cyberlaw Clinic’s Assistant Director, Jessica Fjeld, and Yee Htun, a Clinical Instructor and Lecturer on Law (currently on leave) at the International Human Rights Clinic, took the lead on drafting the report. The report’s title is taken from a poem by Syedul Mostafa, a Rohingya refugee in Bangladesh and one of our interviewees. The HLS clinics wish to thank students Sondra Anton, Rachel Jang, and Priyanka Krishnamurthy for their help in researching and citing the paper and colleagues Matthew Bugher and Afsaneh Rigot of Article 19 for reviewing it prior to publication.

This post also appear on the Cyberlaw Clinic blog.