The National Today

Rohingya deaths at least 16 times government's official toll, MSF reports

A deeper dive into the day's most notable stories with The National's Jonathon Gatehouse.

A deeper dive into the day's most notable stories

Rohingya refugee Kulsuma Begum, pictured here in a Bangladesh camp in late October, said her daughter is missing, and her husband and son-in-law were killed by the military in Myanmar. (Reuters)

Welcome to The National Today, which takes a closer look at what's happening around some of the day's most notable stories. Sign up here under "Subscribe to The National's newsletter," and it will be delivered directly to your inbox Monday to Friday.

Myanmar's deadly toll

What has been happening to the Rohingya people in Myanmar's Rakhine State has been called a genocide. But until today, no one had tried to put a credible number on those killed in the attacks.

The campaign of arsons, shootings, rapes and beatings by the Burmese military and affiliated militias that began in late August has caused more than 640,000 people to flee across the border to Bangladesh.

Rohingya refugee Momtaz Begum says soldiers came to her village and beat her, then locked her inside her house and set the roof on fire. She suffered burns, and escaped to find her three sons dead and her daughter beaten and bleeding. (Jorge Silva/Reuters)
A report released by the aid group Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) — based on six surveys taken in refugee camps in November — estimates that 6,700 people died violently, most of them shot, in the first month of the crisis alone.

Of those, the group calculates, 730 of the dead were children under the age of five.

And their estimates, they say, are "most conservative."

"The numbers of deaths are likely to be an underestimation, as we have not surveyed all refugee settlements in Bangladesh and because the surveys don't account for the families who never made it out of Myanmar," says MSF medical director Dr. Sidney Wong. "We heard reports of entire families who perished after they were locked inside their homes while they were set alight."

The official death toll from the "clearance operations," which began after an insurgent attack on a police post, is around 400, per Myanmar's government.

A deal was struck between the Bangladesh and Myanmar governments in late November to allow the repatriation of refugees, but it is still unclear how many will be allowed to return and when.

Meanwhile, conditions in the overcrowded camps continue to deteriorate.

Rohingya refugees fill their containers with water at the Onchiprang refugee camp in Bangladesh on Wednesday. (Alkis Konstantinidis/Reuters)
This week, the United Nations embarked on an emergency vaccination campaign after more than 400 refugees contracted Diphtheria, a potentially fatal respiratory illness.

And authorities in Myanmar have arrested two Reuters journalists for allegedly possessing "important secret papers" about what has been happening in Rakhine. The two men went to a dinner meeting with police in Rangoon and never returned.

"We are outraged by this blatant attack on press freedom. We call for authorities to release them immediately," Reuters' editor-in-chief Stephen J. Adler said in a statement yesterday.

The journalists, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, are facing charges that could land them up to 14 years in a Burmese jail.

Reuters journalists Wa Lone, left, and Kyaw Soe Oo in their Yangon office on Monday. (Antoni Slodkowski/Reuters)

#MeToo's global moment

India's Bollywood film industry — the world's largest — has been put on notice about sexual harassment.

Maneka Gandhi, India's minister of women and child welfare, is ordering studios and production companies to comply with the country's Sexual Harassment at Workplace Act, which requires employers to set up committees to handle complaints and educate women about their rights.

In recent weeks, several prominent Bollywood actresses, like Swara Bhaskar, have been speaking out about a climate of sexual intimidation and creepiness on Mumbai's backlots.

Indian Bollywood actress Swara Bhaskar. (Sujit Jaiswal/AFP/Getty Images)
Similar taleshave been emerging from the entertainment industries in the U.K., Sweden and France, where the hashtag #BalanceTonPorc (Out Your Pig) has taken off.

Down Under, it's the Australian Football League that is under fire, with a third, high-ranking league official losing his job after reports of harassment and bad behaviour.

Allegations of inappropriate behaviour against powerful men have also reached Parliament Hill, where Claude-Éric Gangé, the deputy director of operations in Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's office, is now under investigation and has been placed on leave.

The epicentre of the scandal, however, remains the United States, where another Washington politician, Blake Farenthold, a Republican Representative for Texas resigned today.

India’s Women and Child Welfare minister Maneka Gandhi is cracking down on film studios over sexual harassment complaints. (Adnan Abidi/Reuters)
And a Kentucky state lawmaker who was accused of sexual assault has died in an apparent suicide.

PBS hostTavis Smiley, Hip hop guru Russell Simmons and former NFL stars Marshall Faulk and Donovan McNabb are among the other men who are facing allegations this week.

The effect of the #MeToo movement is undeniably global. And now it has even reached make-believe worlds.

A Chinese tech firm announced today that it will delete a "virtual girlfriend" from one of its video games over complaints about sexism.

Drug drones

Drones are increasingly being used to smuggle contraband into prisons. (Bruce Reeve/CBC)
Members of a British gang that used drones to fly drugs and other contraband into jails on at least 49 occasions over the past two years are now facing their own prison terms.

Yesterday, a court in Birmingham sentenced eight people to terms ranging from four months to seven years for their parts in the scheme that breached the walls of correctional facilities all over the U.K.

The ringleader, Craig Hickinbottom, was already incarcerated, ordering and organizing the deliveries from inside his cell.

The contraband was attached to the unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) with fishing line and hooks, and then piloted close enough to windows that inmates could simply reach out and grab their stash. As illustrated in this surveillance video obtained by the BBC.

Drones are becoming a big problem for prisons all over the world.

Relatively cheap, widely available and easy to master, they offer sky-to-cell deliveries. And there's little risk, as they can be operated from several kilometres away.

This past summer, the Ottawa Sun obtained government documents that detailed 41 drone incidents at federal jails all across Canada between July 2013 and the end of 2016. And no-one is certain of how often the mini-helicopters are flying over the fences at provincial institutions.

Some wardens have been looking at countermeasures. Nova Scotia's newest jail near Truro considered flying its own drone patrols around the perimeter — opening up the possibility of mini Top Gun dogfights.

There are high tech, anti-UAV solutions on the market, including specialized guns, signal jammers and death-ray lasers.

A drone intercepted at a prison by the Oklahoma Department of Corrections was carrying two hacksaw blades, a cellphone plus earpiece and extra battery, two packs of cigarettes, cigars, super glue, 5.3-ounces of marijuana, and two small bags of methamphetamine and heroin. (Oklahoma Department of Corrections/Reuters)
But the prison guard union in Quebec, where authorities have seized drones carrying drugs, cellphones, SIM cards and tobacco, suggests a simpler solution —  like nets or grills over open yards and other potential landing spots.

The authorities had better hurry. A market forecast released last year predicts there will be 1.4 million commercial drones in the skies over North America — many making legal deliveries — by 2025.

And accounting firm PwC says the flying robots will soon be "an indispensible business tool," valuing the global market for the technology at $127 billion US.

Quote of the moment

"Do you want such [people] to destabilize the situation in this country ... for us to have attempts at coup d'etats? We've been through all that before."

- Vladimir Putin, responding to a question about anti-corruption crusader Alexei Navalny, one of his opponents in the upcoming presidential election. The Russian leader also touched on U.S. "spymania" and scoffed at Olympic doping claims in his year-end meeting with the press.

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during his annual end-of-year news conference in Moscow on Thursday. (Sergei Karpukhin/Reuters)

What The National is reading

  • Rwanda accuses France of complicity in 1994 genocide. (NY Times)
  • Man charged in bat attack on immigrant family is lawyer, great-grandson of a Toronto mayor. (CBC)
  • India 'happiness' minister sought for murder. (BBC)
  • Al-Shabba claims suicide bombing that killed 18 Somali police. (CBC)
  • British MP calls on government to reclaim 42,000 bottles of 'looted' wine from EU. (Daily Mail)
  • Five years after Sandy Hook, a mother describes what it's like to lose a child to gun violence. (Vice)

Today in history

Dec. 14, 1978: Wayne Gretzky is youngest player on the Edmonton Oilers team.

"The Kid" rocks the Jofa and chews gum throughout this boardside interview.

Wayne Gretzky is nicknamed "the kid." 1:43

About the Author

Jonathon Gatehouse

Jonathon Gatehouse

Has covered news and politics at home and abroad, reporting from dozens of countries. He has also written extensively about sports, including seven Olympic Games and a best-selling book on the business of pro-hockey.