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Palestinian Economy Struggling During Ramadan; Human Rights Watch: Bangladesh Expels Rohingya Students. Aired 12-1a ET

Aired May 24, 2019 - 00:00   ET


[00:00:00] ANNA COREN, CNN ANCHOR: The self titled extremely stable genius calls his political rival crazy as insults fly between President Trump and U.S. House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi. More indictments, the U.S. files new charges against WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, accusing him of illegally obtaining classified information and putting lives at risk. Plus an historic first as Taiwan celebrates Asia's first same sex marriage.

Well hello, and welcome to our viewers joining us all around the world, I'm Anna Coren in Hong Kong, this is CNN Newsroom. The feud between Donald Trump and House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi has kicked into high gear, with the U.S. President unleashing a series of schoolyard style insults that were startling, even by his standards. Well, Mr. Trump welcomed a group of farmers to White House to announce another $16 billion in aid to offset the disastrous impact of this trade war with China, but when the questions from reporters started, so did the name calling. CNN's Jim Acosta reports.


JIM ACOSTA, CNN ANCHOR: So today I'm narrating barbs (ph) with his chief Democratic nemesis; President Trump took a swipe at House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, saying she can't comprehend the U.S. trade deal with Mexico and Canada now pending before Congress.

DONALD TRUMP, US PRESIDENT: You know she's a mess, look, let's face it, she doesn't understand it.

ACOSTA: The President then got even more personal, re- litigating his confrontation one day earlier with Pelosi and Senate minority leader, Chuck Schumer, complete with schoolyard nicknames.

TRUMP: As extremely calm, I was probably even more so in that room, so I walked into the Cabinet room, you had the group, Crying Chuck, Crazy Nancy -- I tell you what, I've been watching her and I had -- I have been watching her for a long period of time, she's not the same person, she's lost it.

ACOSTA: The verbal tussling comes one day after the President lashed out in the Rose Garden, a performance Democrats derided as another Trump temper tantrum.

TRUMP: I don't do cover ups.

ACOSTA: Pelosi appears to have gotten under Mr. Trumps skin, referring to the two I's: impeachment --

NANCY PELOSI, US HOUSE SPEAKER: There's no question, the White House is just crying out for impeachment.

ACOSTA: - And intervention. A new Pelosi trigger word.

PELOSI: I pray for the President of the United States. I wish that his family, or his administration, or his staff would have an intervention for the good of country.

ACOSTA: The President turned to his own aids to back him up. One after one, top officials we're called on by the President to reassure the public Mr. Trump was calm in his meeting with Democrats.


UNKNOWN: Kellyanne's right, you were very calm.

SARAH SANDERS, US PRESS SECRETARY: Very calm and straightforward, and clear.

TRUMP: I'm an extremely stable genius.

ACOSTA: The President said he's not goading Pelosi into impeaching him.

TRUMP: I don't think anybody wants to be impeached.

ACOSTA: White House is accusing Democrats of being more interested in investigation than legislation.

SANDERS: I think it's a complete lie that Democrats in Congress think they can do two things at once, so far we haven't seen them do anything. Nancy Pelosi has had the majority in the House for months and has yet to accomplish a single thing, they haven't gotten -- they literally haven't gotten anything done since she's taken over.


ACOSTA: But that's not true, the House has so far passed dozens of bills, including legislation aimed at gun control and climate change. And just today lawmakers announced a multi-billion dollar disaster relief package that should make its way through both the House and the Senate and be signed by Mr. Trump in the coming days. As for the President's fight with Nancy Pelosi, the House Speaker responded with a tweet saying "when the extremely stable genius starts acting more Presidential, I'll be happy to work with him on infrastructure, trade, and other issues." Jim Acosta, CNN, the White House.

COREN: Well, joining us now is CNN Political Commentator, and Senior Columnist at the Daily Beast, Matt Lewis. Matt, great to have you with us. As you heard from all those insults, the House Speaker has clearly rattled the President. What is it about Nancy Pelosi that's really upsetting him?

MATT LEWIS, POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, CNN: Well, I think one of the things is frankly just that she is a worthy adversary. Donald Trump is amazingly good at rolling over people and really dominating them, and Nancy Pelosi is tough and competent and she's a very worthy opponent of Donald Trump, but I think that is why this has escalated. Usually he beats people and they stop fighting, and she fights back and this thing keeps going. She's calling him names, too. And -- but she's, you know, punching backing just as hard as he does.

COREN: Yes, well she responded to Trumps rant by tweeting when the extremely stable genius -- which of course is what he referred to himself as -- starts acting more Presidential, I'll be happy to work with him on infrastructure, trade, and other issues.


COREN: I mean, her language and her tone when you hear her speak about him, it's extremely measured. She doesn't get in the muck with Trump.

LEWIS: Yes, I think she's found a way to walk the line. I mean, she is -- to use like twitter parlance, trolling him a little bit by the quote un quote stable genius. So, it's not that she's being above the fray and civil and trying to basically do what other people, maybe like Jeb Bush tried to do earlier on, which was just be classy and not fight with him, but by the same token she does -- you're right, she does it in a measured way.

She does it in a -- I don't know, is it -- the hard part is right, either you get in the mud with him and then you get muddy too, or you stay above the fray and he destroys you, and I think she's really walking that line of dignified fighting and it's really hard to walk that line and she's very good at it.

COREN: Matt, how would you describe the relationship between Pelosi and Trump over the duration of his presidency, because at times the President has shown her respect.

LEWIS: Yes, no I think there's a grudging admiration there. I think that game recognizes game, and I think Donald Trump has recognized that Nancy Pelosi is a serious professional and has admired her ability to -- for one thing, keep the Democratic caucus in line, it's very difficult to do as speaker of the House. You no longer have all the sticks and carrots that you once had.

She's been able to do it, I think Trump, up until now has kind of had a grudging admiration, but now she -- the two have finally -- you know come to a point where one of them will have to prevail and I think that Trump is really ratcheting it up right now. This is the first time where I think he's viewed her as his primary adversary, up until now she's been one of a few people, Hilary Clinton obviously was his big target, now I guess it's Nancy Pelosi.

COREN: After the President called himself a extremely stable genius, he then called on his staff to defend his mood, his demeanor, and sanity in that meeting that he stormed out of -- from with Democrats. What did you make of those theatrics? LEWIS: Well, look, I mean on one hand, a lot of those staff members

have been more than willing to go out on the record and be basically mouthpieces for Donald Trump and his administration, so on one hand I don't feel that sorry for them, but I have to say, it's a really tough thing for a boss to do, to put you on the spot. For a boss to call up subordinates publicly and ask them to kind of vouch for him -- and there's no way that they're allowed to be honest, and so basically you're forcing somebody, maybe, to lie for you. I think it was very inappropriate, and it's not exactly the model of leadership that I would think a President would want to exhibit.

COREN: It's slightly embarrassing and somewhat reminiscent of North Korea. As we've been discussing this week, Nancy Pelosi is resisting a calling for an impeachment inquiry and that seems quite deliberate, she is playing the long game, turfing Trump out of office in 2020 and winning a Democratic majority in both chambers of Congress, do you think this is the right strategy to resist those calls for impeachment.

LEWIS: Well, look, I think it's very debatable, Nancy Pelosi believes that Donald Trump is trying to goad the Democrats into impeaching him. That Trump wants to be impeached, and look, I think you could make a good argument that if Democrats want to get rid of Trump, the best thing they could do is focus on beating him in 2020, there's going to be an election, rather than trying to go through this impeachment thing.

On the other hand, I think there are plenty of liberal Democrats who say look this isn't about just winning elections, it's also about the rule of law and it's about principal, and we need to impeach him. Pelosi can come back and say, well great, you can impeach him in the House, he's still -- your still not going to get rid of him -- it's not going to convict him. So this is really a huge, huge argument in the Democratic party and the irony is that Republicans are -- with the exception of Justin Amash, the one Republican Congressman, Republicans are basically united in defending Trump against impeachment, while Democrats are actually fighting each other over whether or not to impeach, that's an interesting dynamic to watch.

COREN: Matt, I got to say, I felt for those farmers standing awkwardly in the background as the President went on his Nancy Pelosi rant, these obviously are the people suffering as a result of Trumps trade war with China, but he's delivered this $16 billion aid package to them, which he says the Chinese will pay for, is this like Mexico paying for the wall?


LEWIS: It really is in the sense that it's either not going to happen or if it does happen it's like a bank shot, it would happen over the course of years, very indirectly. But, it's certainly not -- not as clear as Donald Trump wants to make it out to be, it's -- this is like -- I don't know what to call it, like a Rube Goldberg type scheme where like we take on China, China -- you know -- you know gets in a war with us, a trade war with us, retaliates, then we have to pay farmers to keep them from being hurt -- if a Democrat did this, if a liberal Democrat did this, we would call it -- I would probably call it socialism, and yet Donald Trump is doing it and conservative Republicans are cheering him on.

But I do think the big issue that a lot of Republicans see is it's actually not about economics, it's not about trade, it's not about free markets, they're viewing this as China is now our big geo- political foe, but Trump isn't really saying that, he should probably be out there talking about that more.

COREN: Matt Lewis, great to have you with us, thank you for you analysis.

LEWIS: Thank you.

COREN: Well, President Trump had plenty to say on a range of topics at the White House Thursday, including new U.S. restrictions on the Chinese cell phone giant, Huawei.


TRUMP: It's possible that Huawei, even, would be included in some kind of a trade deal, if we made a deal I could imagine Huawei being possibly included in some form of, or some part of trade deal.

COREN: While other administration officials have insisted the company is a national security risk, not a bargaining chip. Mr. Trump has ordered U.S. companies to stop using Huawei equipment. President Trump also responded to questions about possibly sending more troops to the Middle East to deter what his administration has called increased threats from Iran.

TRUMP: Well, I would if need them, I don't think we're going to need them, I really don't, but I have a meeting on it in about an hour, I would certainly send troops if we need them. Iran has been a very dangerous player, very bad player, they're a nation of terror and we won't put up with it.

COREN: While acting U.S. Defense Secretary, Patrick Shanahan confirmed discussions are happening at the Pentagon for a possible troop build up, but he denied reports that the U.S. has a specific number in mind. And President Trump admits he explored legal options to prevent the release of John Walker Lindh, who came to be known as the American Taliban.

TRUMP: What bothers me more than anything else is that here is a man who has not given up his proclamation of terror and we have to let him out. Am I happy about it? Not even a little bit. The lawyers have gone through it with a fine tooth comb, if there was a way to break that; I would've broken in two seconds

COREN: Lindh was released from prison on Thursday after serving 17 years of a 20 year sentence. He was apparently freed early because of good behavior. Lindh was charged for fighting for the Taliban in Afghanistan after the 911 attacks. Assessments from 2017 indicate he still maintains his extremist views.


A new indictment of WikiLeaks founder, Julia Assange, has raised major questions about press freedom in the United States. The U.S. has charged Assange with 17 counts under the Espionage Act, accusing him of disclosing secret government information. Well prosecutors say the safety of confidential sources was placed in jeopardy. But supporters argue that charges are an attack on journalism. CNN's Laura Jarrett has more.


LAURA JARRETT, JOURNALIST, CNN: We had seen a single charge of computer intrusion late last month, but now 17 new charges, much more significant, and really -- really a big deal here for First Amendment advocates, and a concern here because he's being charged unlawfully obtaining, soliciting, encouraging that former intelligence analyst, Chelsea Manning, with obtaining just a bevy of national defense materials and he's being charged with publishing those materials.

And so the Jusitce Department asked today, well what's the difference between Julian Assange and journalists like you and I? And they said, let's be clear, Julian Assange is no journalist. Another justice official said he's not being charged simply because he's a publish -- a publisher, and what they're pointing to is not only the fact that Assange allegedly helped Manning crack into Department of Defense password, but also the fact that he published confidential human sources, the names of human sources which put them in danger and he knew that publishing would put them in danger. He solicited those materials on WikiLeaks, that's what they're pointing too, which makes this case different.


COREN: Laura Jarrett reporting there. Well, WikiLeaks did respond to the indictment


COREN: The group tweeted "this is madness, it is the end of national security journalism and the first amendment." On day two of European Parliament elections kick off soon, voters in the Netherlands and the U.K. cast their ballots Thursday, in the coming hours, polls are to open in Ireland and the Czech Republic.

Over four days, 28 countries are electing 751 parliament members that will shape the European unions focus for the next five years. In the U.K., Prime Minister Theresa May is barely holding on, a fourth vote on her unpopular Brexit deal -- bill I should say was delayed as calls for her resignation grow louder. And in the coming hours, she is to have an important meeting about her future. CNN's Nina dos Santos has the latest.


NINA DOS SANTOS, EDITOR, CNN: Just days after unveiling a new version of her unpopular withdrawal agreement bill, Theresa May, the British Prime Minister once more had to go back to the drawing board and that means that MP's (ph) are not, it seems, going to be voting for a fourth time on her Brexit plan on June 3rd as planned. Well, one of the reasons why there's so much confusion is also the fact that her own leader of the House of Commons, Andrea Leadsom, a prominent Brexiteer voice within the cabinet decided to resign, saying she couldn't put forward a new version of the bill that she so fundamentally disagreed with. And that, of course is thrown into jeopardy once more, Theresa May's own position as Prime Minister and her popularity within the conservative party.

She's set to meet with the chairman of the influential committee of back benches who has sway over whether or not she could be the Prime Minister. In series (ph) she's already faced a vote of no confidence from that committee over the last 12 months and according to party rules, she should in theory, be safe at least until December. But, as we've seen so often through the course of this three year battle for the British government to deliver Brexit, nothing it seems, is sure. Nina dos Santos, CNN London.


COREN: India's epic national election has delivered a resounding victory for Prime Minister Narendra Modi, approximately 600 million votes were cast over the past 6 weeks. The finally tally has still not been announced, but it now appears Mr. Modi's party -- the BJP, has surpassed the 272 seats needed for a majority in Parliment. When it's all over, the BJP might even claim 300 seats or more. A clear sign, most Indian voters want Mr. Modi as their Prime Minister for the next five years. Well CNN's Same Kiley joins us live from New Delhi. Sam, obviously a stunning victory for Modi and the BJP party, but why did the masses endorse him a second time when he really failed to live up to the hype and promises during his first term?


SAM KILEY, CORRESPONDENT, CNN: Well they (ph) largely, Anna, because he was able to reconfigure his whole persona when it came to projecting himself on the Indian population the beginning of this year as you say, his support then was starting to dwindle, it wasn't crashing but it was dwindling because India was suffering a considerable amount (ph) of economic hardship and his promises made in 2014 to correct that we're not being fulfilled but then Pakistan inspired terrorist group, according to the Indians, struck in February killing 40 Indians and that meant that Modi took the opportunity to strike back inside Pakistani territory and then portray himself thereafter as the Chowkidar, the Watchman of Indian national interests on the much broader scale, that's the first element, the second element is that he's run a completely unashamed Hindu nationalist campaign, so much so that it is celebrations of his victory, he effectively boasted about how the BJP, his party had completely wiped out any semblance really of secularism. This is what he said during the celebrations last night.


NARENDRA MODI: You have seen it from 2014 to 2019, the people who used to talk about secularism have now gone quiet. In this election not one political party has been able to deceive the people of India by avoiding (ph) the level of secularism.


KILEY: Now if that is the future of India, then a lot of Hindu liberals and of course people not from the Hindu majority such as the Muslim population, 200 million people, 15 percent of the country are going to be very worried by headlines like this, Modi tsunami blows away opposition. Now that is the truth of the matter, he's -- the (ph) sectors get 303 seats just for the BJP, more than 350 for his electoral allies, putting him in a completely unassailable position


KILEY: At the helm of India's policy and politics for the next five years. Whether he uses that to further a populist agenda or whether he uses that to further a populist agenda or whether he dials down on the nationalism now that he feels politically secure remains to be seen, but many of his critics are not holding their breath, Anna.


COREN: Sam Kiley, we certainly appreciate the update, thank you. Well Taiwan is setting a precedent for the rest of Asia by legalizing and now performing same sex marriage, but amid the celebrations they're getting push back from conservative groups. That's next. Plus gay rights activist in Kenya are hoping that the counties high court will overturn a ban on same sex relationships, that decision just hours away, more on that ahead.


COREN: Disgraced movie mogul Harvey Weinstein has reached a financial settlement to resolve civil litigations stemming from his alleged sexual abuse. A source tells CNN the proposed deal give $30 million dollars to alleged victims, creditors, and former Weinstein company employees. $14 million is for legal fees. A judge still has to approve it. But dozens of women have come forward accusing Weinstein of sexual assault dating back decades. The criminal case against Weinstein is scheduled to begin this September.

Well, let's say historic day in Taiwan because same sex couples there can now get married. This is one of the first gay couples in all of Asia to be legally wed. Taiwan's ground breaking marriage equality bill is now in effect a week after it was passed. Activist hope it will spark change across the whole continent, even as some counties are rolling back LGBT rights. Well, Matt Rivers is in Taipei and Matt, obviously a momentous day, you have spoken to some of those married couples, what have they told you.

MATT RIVERS, CORRESPONDENT, CNN: Well, they're thrilled, and for some of them this was a day, Anna, that they were not expecting, it was right though these doors behind me up on the second floor where we saw some of the very first couples in all of Asia as you mentioned, the very first same sex couples get married. It was around 8:30 this morning when that office opened up and there was roughly three dozen or so couples that all filed in and went through the normal routine that people all across the world do, they come to a government office, they go upstairs, they sign their names, and they're legally married.


RIVERS: But this was a historic moment for Taiwan. Go back two years, that's when the constitutional court here in Taiwan first said in a ruling that Taiwan's existing marriage laws, which at the time had defined marriage between one man and one woman, well the court said that was unconstitutional and so they told the legislature here they needed to amend and enact new laws within two years.

Well it was last week that the legislature finally amended and enacted a new law that said that gay marriage is -- or same sex marriage is now legal in Taiwan, despite the fact, Anna, that there was a referendum last November that showed that a vast majority of people here in Taiwan were not in favor of same sex marriage but still that didn't stop the courts, the lawmakers had to do what the courts said and that's brought us to today.

COREN: Yes, let's talk a bit more about that, because while there is obviously this desperate hope that other countries in Asia will jump on board, this hasn't been an easy journey in Taiwan. And those conservative groups, those conservative Christians that you've spoken to -- spoken about, they have vowed to continue fighting and eventually roll back gay marriage.

RIVERS: That's exactly right, and it's going to be difficult for them to do that, but we spoke to one activist yesterday here in Taipei and we're going to putting -- put some of his sound on later on today on some of our coverage, but what he's saying is that he's starting a political party, he announced that this morning, who's main platform is to roll back this law that was passed, basically saying that Taiwan's legislature is not listening to the voice of the people who made their voice clearly known in the referendum last November.

That's the argument they have, now whether they can reverse a constitutional court decision by just merely electing more legislators, that remains to be seen, but according to the people that we've spoken here -- to activists who are in favor of same sex marriage, they're saying we're not letting that deter us and hopefully in the meantime they can convince more and more people on this island to come around to their point of view, which they say love -- love is love, and that they deserve marriage equality the same way straight couples do.

COREN: Love is love. True words. Matt Rivers, great to see you, many thanks. In the coming hours, Kenya's high court is deciding it's own landmark case on same sex relationships, it could decimalize those relationships. Well, since the British colonial era -- gay sex and, by extension gay relationships, have been considered a felony, punishable with 14 years prison time. The court was due to make a ruling in February but said they needed more time.

The judges are expected to announce their decision on Friday. If the ban is overturned, it will be a major step for East Africa where homosexuality is largely illegal. Still ahead on CNN news room, Rohingya children in Bangladesh are being denied an education. We'll tell you what's behind the government's decision to expel refugee students.


COREN: Welcome back. I'm Anna Coren, live from Hong Kong. Let's update you on our top stories at this hour.

[00:30:39] Donald Trump is stepping up his attacks on U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, calling her crazy and a mess. On Thursday Pelosi said the White House is crying out for impeachment. She urged Mr. Trump's family and staff to stage an intervention for the good of the country.

The U.S. has charged Julian Assange with 17 counts under the Espionage Act. Prosecutors say the WikiLeaks founder disclosed secret government information and jeopardized the safety of confidential sources. But press freedom advocates argue the charges are an attack on journalism.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has won a second five-year term in India's huge national elections. About 600 million voters cast ballots in what was largely considered a referendum on Mr. Modi's leadership. Mr. Modi's party might claim 300 seats or more when the final tally is announced.

Well, Palestinian politicians and businessmen have voiced concern about a U.S. plan for an international workshop to focus on investment in their economy. The proposal comes as the economy there is struggling, but as CNN's Hadas Gold reports, people in the West Bank are still not sold on the idea.


HADAS GOLD, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's a busy time for many observant Muslims, with Ramadan well under way and the celebratory Eid festival quickly approaching.

But in Bethlehem in the West Bank, it's a difficult story.

(on camera): Typically, during Ramadan, this market would be bustling, full of people doing shopping for gifts and food, but compared to previous years, this market is half empty.

(voice-over): The main reason, three months ago Israel began withholding about $11 million a month from the tax revenues it collects on behalf of the Palestinians. The same amount the Palestinian Authority hands out to the families of people captured or killed carrying out attacks on Israelis.

The Palestinian Authority then cut its employees' salaries in half after deciding it wouldn't accept any of the tax funds transferred from Israel, reckoned to be about $190 million a month, according to Reuters. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): We are not getting full

salaries. What we get is already spent by the beginning of Ramadan. We are waiting for the next salary now. Life is getting more expensive, and money is decreasing every month. There is no balance in life.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): I've been working over 40 years. In previous years, the economic situation was better, but for more than three months now, people are not getting their full salaries, In addition to the siege that Israel is imposing on us. All together it Affects us.

GOLD: But despite the economic hardships, few people here want to participate in the first part of the Trump administration's Mideast peace plan: an economic workshop next month in Bahrain.

Palestinian political and business leaders say they won't attend a conference about investing in the community without the political conversation over things like boarders, refugees and the status of Jerusalem. The Palestinian Authority hasn't had official relations with the United States since President Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel's capital in 2017.

IBRAHIM BAHRAM, CHAIRMAN, SAFAD ENGINEERING & ELECTRONICS: They say that it's an economic one, and it's going to help the Palestinian economy. But unfortunately, it's not true. It's a pure political conference. It's related to the Palestinian cause, and they're trying to bypass our -- our main issues.

GOLD: Sliman Mukarker produces performance for restaurants where people break the fast. But this year he says, because of the economic situation, the restaurants are empty. And he's already had four last- minute cancellations. Still, Sliman agrees with those refusing to attend the economic workshop.

SLIMAN MUKARKER, PRODUCTION MANAGER: I think Trump should get about us it's not his business to interfere with the Palestinian issue. We can decide what we want as Palestinians.

GOLD: In addition to the cut in salaries, Sliman said Palestinians were saving their money, wary of what will happen politically after Ramadan ends.

MUKARKER: Me, as a youth, I'm really disappointed. I feel that this is a lot of pressure on everyone. So for the near and for the far future, I hope that we can really live as we deserve.

GOLD: A muted Ramadan for Palestinians, who seem unconvinced that the peace and prosperity being touted by the United States are really on offer at all.

Hadas Gold, CNN, Bethlehem.


COREN: The world's tallest mountain claimed the lives of two climbers on Wednesday just after they had summited the notoriously dangerous peak.

[00:35:07] Mount Everest has been so packed with climbers taking advantage of the good weather it's causing a mountaineering frenzy. Even unbelievable traffic jams like this.

The climber who took this photo estimated 320 people were on the mountain.

A 55-year-old Indian woman had just celebrated her successful climb, but her son says she died after getting stuck in the crowds on the way down. A 54-year-old American also died after suffering apparent oxygen deprivation.

Much more news after this break. You are watching CNN.


COREN: Welcome back. Let's turn our attention to Bangladesh, where a new report says children are being denied education.

Well, according to Human Rights Watch, Bangladesh officials have ordered secondary schools to dismiss Rohingya students that are not citizens. The children are among thousands of Rohingya refugees living in camps in southeast Bangladesh, but some were born in the country after their parents fled Myanmar in the 1990s.

Well, Matthew Smith is the co-founder and CEO of Fortified Rights. He previously worked with Human Rights Watch and joins us now from Yangon.

Matthew, thank you for joining us. You must be appalled to learn of these draconian, inhumane orders from the government.

MATTHEW SMITH, CO-FOUNDER/CEO, FORTIFIED RIGHTS: Indeed. Education is absolutely crucial for all communities, but particularly for the Rohingya right now, having been displaced because of these genocidal attacks in Myanmar. And so, you know, our concern, which the Rohingya people share, is what will happen to this population of children that are being denied access to education.

COREN: I mean, these are children living in the refugee camps in Cox's Bazar being denied an education. Why punish them this way? They live in these squalid camps. You know, school is obviously their only respite, and it also provides this valuable opportunity to break the cycle of poverty. Why is the government doing this?

SMITH: Well, you know, the government of Bangladesh, for many, many years, has made life unnecessarily difficult for the population.

Of course, any government that agrees to host more than a million refugees deserves to be applauded for that, and we certainly applaud Bangladesh. But there are things that the government can and should do to protect the rights of the Rohingya.

And the government right now is trying to send a message that the Rohingya are not here to stay. They're trying to send a message to other Rohingya who might consider fleeing for their lives from Myanmar to Bangladesh, but it's the wrong message. And I think the government needs to get on a path that will more concretely respect the rights of refugees. Including refugee children who are interested in contributing to their society, Bangladesh and wherever they may be.

COREN: But surely, education is a basic human right, obviously. Your organization is speaking out about this, Human Rights Watch. But what about the international community? Do they care?

SMITH: We've been pushing for more international action for several years. And there have, of course, been obstacles. The U.N. Security Council has failed to act for the Rohingya population. The closest they came to action was sending a delegation to reserve the situation.

And so there are a lot of really big questions for, you know, what happens next for the Rohingya population. They're continuing to face human rights violations in Myanmar, and now they're facing human rights violations in Bangladesh. So there does need to be some concerted international action. Bilateral action is welcome. You know, governments that are interacting with the government of Bangladesh, that's important. But certainly at the U.N. General Assembly and still at the Security Council, there needs to be some action on this issue.

COHEN: Yes, I mean, obviously, these people are resisting returning to Myanmar, which, as we know, is what the Bangladeshi government wants them to do. But what is waiting for them back in Myanmar?

SMITH: Right now, there's a brutal conflict taking place in Rakhine state. Complicating the fact is -- or complicating the situation is the fact that the Myanmar army is now engaged in armed conflict with the Arakan army, which is a predominantly ethnic Arab Mazar (ph), Arab Rakhine organization.

And so conditions of human rights violations prevail in Myanmar. Rohingya are still denied freedom of movement. They're denied access to medical facilities.

We just documented over the last several days how the Myanmar army injured and killed civilians, Rohingya civilians, and then subsequently denied them access to humanitarian -- or to hospitals and medical support. They're not able to leave the areas where they're under attack.

So these types of violations are continuing. And the Rohingya, there's really no hope right now for the Rohingya to return safety to Myanmar. And that does put pressure on Bangladesh to do the right thing in Bangladesh.

COREN: We understand from Human Rights Watch that intelligence officials told the leaders of these secondary schools that having Rohingya students was, quote, "not safe for the country, not safe for our people." I mean, we're talking about children.

SMITH: Exactly. And you know, what's not safe is to deny an entire population of children access to education. There are various forces at play in the Myanmar, in the refugee camps. And there are Rohingya who feel as though they have no other option but to fight against the Myanmar army. They feel as though the international community has abandoned them. They feel now, presumably, that the government of Bangladesh is abandoning them.

So, you know, particularly young boys are, you know, potentially going to fall into that. But on top of that, this then puts young girls at risk of early marriage. It increases the risks of human trafficking tremendously, denying a population of children access to education.

So if Bangladesh is concerned about security, the best thing they could do is to provide access to education for refugee children.

COREN: It is absolutely deplorable, and the international community must do more. Matthew Smith, we thank you for your work. We thank you for joining CNN NEWSROOM.

SMITH: Thank you so much.

COREN: That is it for CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Anna Coren. Thanks so much for your company. Stay tuned now for WORLD SPORT. You are watching CNN.


[00:45:32] (WORLD SPORT)