Pictures inviting us to see, reflect and act

Tuesday, September 30th, 2014
A visitor looking at photos of Greg Constantine at Jogja Gallery

A visitor looking at photos of Greg Constantine at Jogja Gallery

“The situation of the Rohingya people raises questions of the state, humanity and democracy. Greg Constantine’s pictures and approach conveys a deep message to humanity. The photographic work of Greg Constantine is an opportunity for the Indonesian people to understand the problems of injustice in Indonesia through the issue of injustice in the world, experienced by Rohingya people” said Alissa Wahid, when opening the photo exhibition ‘Exiled to Nowhere: Burma’s Rohingya’ in Jogja Gallery on Saturday afternoon, 23 August 2014.

The seven day exhibition aimed to highlight the plight of Rohingya people not only via photographs but in various discussions, activities and seminars organized in collaboration with the Faculty of Law and Center for Human Rights Studies, Islamic University of Indonesia, Faculty of Law, University of Atma Jaya Yogyakarta, ASEAN Studies Center at University Gadjah Mada, and the Center for Religious and Cross-Cultural Studies, Graduate School of University Gadjah Mada. Discussions were also held through a live broadcast on Radio Republic Indonesia and Radio Sonora Yogyakarta. More technical talks including about the role of photography were held at Jogja Gallery in cooperation with Yogyakarta Morning Class.

“Photography and Exhibitions just create an opportunity to discuss the Rohingya issue in more detail and the wider context as it raises concerns about human rights, identity, international law and refuge. If this exhibition can bring some change to the situation for the Rohingya, then this would be a remarkable thing. Incidents of human rights violations occur everywhere so a photography exhibition can be one way to raise awareness about a very alarming situation. At the end, this exhibition is not about photography but about engagement,”said Greg Constantine.

Life as stateless people is experienced by the Rohingya who are not recognized as nationals by any State or Government in this world. The denial of identity cards, passports, birth certificates leads consequently to the loss of their fundamental rights. There are approximately one million Rohingyas do not have citizenship and experiencing the worst living conditions in the world. The situation of the Rohingya represents humanitarian issues around the world, namely discrimination and human rights violations of states against its own citizens.

In Myanmar, the Rohingya people are not recognized as citizens and are facing many restrictions by the government, which leads to difficulties and vulnerabilities. The experience of extortion when trying to obtain the permission to marry, threats of punishment and imprisonment, deprivation of land and property, loss of jobs and livelihoods, forced labor, persecution and harassment are only some of the reasons forcing them to flee to neighboring countries, including Indonesia. They continue to face harassment, violence, lack of rights, protection and support wherever they go, facing rejection as no country would accept them as citizens.

In 2014, the number of Rohingyas in Indonesia reached 863 people with the status of refugees and 76 people with the status of asylum seekers. They have no legal status, children born here do still not receive birth certificates. Being not allowed to work to support themselves and their families no long-term solution for them is in sight, be it in the form of integration into the society of Indonesia or resettlement to a third country. Hundreds of them were detained in immigration detention centres, including women and children. Their condition remains critical.

“Having ratified the Refugee Convention or not, each country, including Indonesia, has an obligation to protect Refugees. This is a standard principle in international law and humanitarian standards. The Indonesian government is also obliged to respect the principle of non-refoulement, prohibiting the return of refugees to the country of origin where their life is at risk” said Gregory Sri Nurhartanto, dean of the Faculty of Law, University of Atma Jaya Yogyakarta.

The situation of statelessness and consequent human rights violations requires the attention of the international community. What is needed are legal mechanisms to help people without citizenship.

“Stateless communities are ignored in a world that celebrates humanity nowadays. Urge ASEAN to create policies for their protection,” wrote one visitor to the photo exhibition in the visitor book, collecting impressions and messages.

In the ASEAN context, Dr. Sefriani, S.H., M.Hum.,  lecturer at the Faculty of Law at University Islam Indonesia proposes two paths to be taken to improve the situation of Rohingya people: ‘The ASEAN Way’ which is flexible and constructive or through ‘The mechanism of the Responsibility to Protect’. Through the ASEAN Way, ASEAN countries can undertake humanitarian diplomacy towards Myanmar’s government and encourage them to amend their discriminatory Citizenship Act and raise it as a humanitarian issue. Through the mechanism of the ‘Responsibility to Protect’ another country may intervene for reasons of humanitarian protection, when a state is not willing to protect people within its territory and violates humanitarian principles.

For Indonesian people, to be seriously engaged in addressing the situation of statelessness is urgent and important. Indonesia needs to seek legal, social, economic, cultural and humanitarian solutions in order to assist stateless persons residing in its territory. ***

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