Guarantying human rights increases security. This simple equation between human rights and security is not understood by the states in most cases. As a result, sometimes they violate human rights of their own citizens and refugees on the grounds of national security, as currently is being done by Myanmar. For security reasons, Myanmar is now busy doing ethnic cleansing by killing the innocent Rohingya people. Although initially Bangladesh tried to resist the Rohingya refugee flow, finally the country is not getting its hands dirty by closing its border to resist the influx of them fleeing the persecution in Myanmar's Rakhine state. If it did so, the country would actually violate the international principle which prohibits refoulement or forcible return of refugees in any manner whatsoever to countries or territories where their lives would be at risk. The principle of non-refoulement is part of the customary international laws and therefore it is binding on all countries, whether or not they have signed the 1951 Refugee Convention and/or its 1967 Protocol. However, what the international community needs to understand here is that until or unless the human rights of the Rohingya people get promoted to a satisfactory level, the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) and SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) regions can actually not be secured.
Against this critical backdrop, Bangladesh's proposal to Myanmar for joint military operation against the so-called militants in Myanmar may develop the security situation in both countries in the most serious way by further violating the human rights of the common Rohingya population, as if the worst comes to the worst. It is to be noted that Bangladesh has made this diplomatic response in the context of Myanmar's terming its own insurgents "Bengali terrorists". Therefore by giving such a proposal, although from the diplomatic point of view Bangladesh has made its position clear that the country never supports insurgency in Myanmar. Professor Ali Riaz has mentioned this diplomatic response as "worrisome." But it is not only worrisome but also melancholic, because it is opposed to the historically defined response to such a type of crisis. For an example, Begum Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain, the pioneer feminist writer and activist of undivided Bengal has advised a solution to a similar crisis in her Sultana's Dream, one of her short stories which was written more than a hundred years ago. In the story, Rokeya has explained why human rights issues get priority over security issues and how refugees are better protected in a country which is led by women politicians. Rokeya has also given the idea of the principle of non-refoulement in the story almost half-a-century before the birth of the International Refugee Law.
In the given context, it is worth mentioning briefly a part of the story where we see a group of displaced people came from a neighbouring country fleeing persecution and sought asylum in Ladyland. Then the government of the Ladyland not only gave them the full refugee status but also engaged in a war with the government of the neighbouring country in order to protect the human rights of the refugees. Thus the story points out that security concerns should be compromised for protecting human rights. In fact, the story shows that by doing so, the government of the Ladyland rather saved its own national security. Given that the story was written in 1903 by a Bengali woman, when it was not easy to guess a similar crisis as we are observing now and proposing a clear-cut solution and hoping that the proposed solution can best be realised in a state led by women politicians. However, it may be difficult for the present women leadership of Bangladesh to fully materialise Rokeya's wishes in the concurrent geo-political situation of the world.
In response to the recent Rohingya crisis, Brigadier General Shahidul Anam Khan (Retd.) has urged Bangladesh to be an active neighbour. He commented, 'Bangladesh cannot remain an impassive neighbour because it has been directly affected by the developments in the state of Rakhine.' Nonetheless, the recent response of Bangladesh for a joint military action in Rakhine State does not resemble an active action but a suicidal action, because in the long run it may destroy Bangladesh's own security. Therefore, Bangladesh should handle the issue both diplomatically and militarily through the UN peacekeeping mission. Without further delay, Bangladesh should propose the UN to deploy a peacekeeping mission in Myanmar where Bangladesh can take the lead as the country is doing in other parts of the world. Now Bangladesh's foreign policy should attach much importance to the issue of regional security and its link with the human rights of Rohingya people. It must engage India, China, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and other international allies in ensuring the human rights of the Rohingya people. Civil society organisations (CSOs) of these countries should chalk out programmes to sensitise the CSOs in Myanmar so that they strive to ensure the human rights of the Rohingya people in Myanmar and create a conducive environment in Rakhine state for voluntary repatriation of the Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh. That will ensure peace and security in the ASEAN and SAARC regions.
The writer is the coordinator of Bangladesh Civil Society Coordination Committee on Migration, Development and Human Rights.
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