Resolving Rohingya crisis: Mounting pressure on Myanmar

Muhammad Zamir | Published: September 02, 2018 20:42:00 | Updated: September 05, 2018 21:35:57

Marzuki Oarusman, center, chairperson of the Independent International Fact-finding Mission on Myanmar, sits next to Christopher Sidoti, left, member of the Independent International Fact-finding Mission on Myanmar, and Radhika Coomaraswamy, right, member of the Independent International Fact-finding Mission on Myanmar, as they inform the media on the publication of a final written report on Myanmar, during a press conference, at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland on August 27, 2018.             Photo: AP  

A tortoise probably moves faster than the speed with which Myanmar is handling the question of resolving the Rohingya issue with Bangladesh. What is absent is Myanmar's political will and Suu Kyi's refusal to recognise atrocities. This was evident from her recent lecture in Singapore.

Consequently, unnecessary nuances and arguments are being created to delay the process of repatriation of the unfortunate Rohingya Muslims to their homes in the Rakhine State of Myanmar. They were forcibly displaced and driven out of their country through arson, rape and murder a year ago..

A report published on August 15 by the Ontario International Development Agency from Canada has highlighted some gruesome facts about what happened to the Rohingya Muslims in the Rakhine State from around July, 2017 and largely contributed to their massive exodus to Bangladesh. A consortium of researchers and organisations from Australia, Bangladesh, Canada, Norway and the Philippines conducted the study titled Forced Migration of Rohingya: The Untold Experience.

The report has revealed that over 24,000 Rohingyas were murdered and nearly 18,000 Rohingya women and girls were raped during Myanmar's crackdown in the Rakhine State since August last year. The report also mentions that 41,192 Rohingyas suffered bullet wounds, 34,436 were thrown into fire and 114,872 were badly beaten up by the Myanmar armed forces and law enforcement authorities. The research findings also included the fact that the estimated number of houses burned were 115,026 and that 113,282 houses were vandalised.

In the meantime, in a joint statement issued on  August 24, 132 sitting MPs from Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Timor Leste, including 22 members of the ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR), have called on members of the UN Security Council to refer the situation in Myanmar to the International Criminal Court (ICC).

REPORT OF UN FACT-FINDING MISSION: An Independent Fact-finding Mission of the United Nations also revealed in its report made public on August 27 from Geneva that Myanmar's military committed atrocities against Rohingyas with 'genocidal intent'. In this context they have explained that genocide occurs when a person commits a prohibited act with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial, or religious group. They have pointed out that the Rohingyas as a group fall under this definition.

The report states that the  treatment of the Rohingyas by the Myanmar security forces included conduct which amounts to four of the five defined prohibited acts -- killing, causing serious bodily or mental harm, inflicting conditions of life calculated to bring about the physical destruction of the group in whole or in part, and imposing measures intending to prevent births.

The Mission assessed its body of information in the light of the jurisprudence of international tribunals regarding the reasonable inference of "genocidal intent".

In this regard, the Mission has noted that the Tatmadaw (Myanmar Army) Commander-in-Chief's statement reveals that the "clearance operations" were not a response to a concrete threat from ARSA, but to the "unfinished job" of "solving the long-standing Bengali problem". The Mission concluded that there is sufficient information to warrant the investigation and prosecution of senior officials in the Tatmadaw chain of command, so that a competent court can determine their liability for genocide in relation to the situation in Rakhine State. Also, on the basis of information gathered, the Mission finds that crimes against humanity have been committed in Kachin, Rakhine and Shan States, principally by the Tatmadaw.

As expected, Myanmar has completely disagreed with the findings of this report.

The helpless million plus Rohingya illegal migrants are being looked after by the Bangladesh authorities, consistent with its belief in the observance of human rights and promoting human welfare without any form of discrimination. Bangladesh's efforts in this regard are being facilitated and assisted by other stakeholders from the international community, including agencies from the United Nations, various international financial institutions and representatives from international civil society. They have voluntarily got involved within this complex paradigm.

BILATERAL NEGOTIATIONS: Bangladesh, since the last quarter of 2017, has taken on the difficult task of trying to resolve this unfortunate situation through bilateral discussions with Myanmar. Official representatives from that country have visited Bangladesh and held discussions with representatives from Bangladesh Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Home Affairs. There has also been return visits by Bangladesh officials to Myanmar to work out an acceptable compromise with regard to the early repatriation of these unfortunate Rohingyas to Myanmar.

There has been a lot of discussion but nothing has yet been agreed to finally by Myanmar. Discussion about the repatriation process started in November last year and it was mentioned at that time that repatriation would start from January 23, 2018. Bangladesh immediately responded to this dynamics by forwarding to Myanmar a list of over 8,000 Rohingyas who wanted to go back to Myanmar. It was also indicated by these persons that they wanted to go back to their residences and not to fenced-in camps being built by the Myanmar authorities. They pointed out that they wanted freedom of movement.

Unfortunately, the process never really took off despite calls from 57 countries belonging to the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC), the Member countries of the European Union (EU), including Britain, and several other countries from the Commonwealth like Canada and Australia.

The latest effort within this process was undertaken in the second week of August, 2018 through the visit to Myanmar by the Bangladesh Foreign Minister Mahmood Ali. The delegation was taken to villages around Maungdaw Township where Myanmar is supposed to be making preparations to rehabilitate these refugees once they return to Myanmar. Apparently, according to Myanmar authorities, 42 sites have so far been identified for resettlement of the displaced Rohingyas. It was however clear to the Bangladesh delegation that the preparation that had been undertaken was totally insignificant.

Bangladesh at this time also requested Myanmar to take steps to address the unwillingness of prospective returnees to accept the National Verification Card (NVC) and if possible to send teams to the camps in the Cox's Bazar to explain the advantages of holding NVC in connection with the expected repatriation. Myanmar agreed to do so. Difficulty has however emerged with Myanmar requesting Dhaka not to use the term 'Forcibly Displaced Myanmar Nationals' on the registration cards being issued by Bangladesh to the Rohingyas. Myanmar instead asked Bangladesh to use the term "Displaced persons from the Rakhine State". Dhaka, after due consideration, quite correctly, disagreed to accede to this proposal.

UN BRIEFING: The United Nations arranged an "open briefing session" on the situation in Myanmar on August 28, 2018. UN officials mentioned the efforts that are being undertaken and the difficulties that the UN is facing in the meaningful implementation of the memorandum of understanding (MoU) concluded by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) with the government of Myanmar. Within this matrix, the UNHCR has also drawn attention of Member States needing to address the funding gap for the Joint Response Plan associated with the Rohingya Humanitarian Crisis.  The UN Secretary General's Special Envoy Ambassador Christine Schraner Burgener will apparently remain engaged in furthering this process.

The United Nations General Assembly will start their 73rd session in New York from the third week of September. The General Assembly is likely to discuss the Rohingya issue in the Third Committee and subsequently, like in 2017, adopt a Resolution in December, 2018 towards the conclusion of the Session. It is expected that this Resolution will reflect the evolving developments and the growing challenges that have been faced since the Resolution on the Rohingya situation was adopted in December, 2017.

IMPOSITION OF SANCTIONS: The US has imposed sanctions on four Myanmar military and police commanders and two army units, accusing them of ethnic cleansing and widespread abuse of human rights with regard to Rohingya Muslims in the Rakhine State. The measures call for freeze of any US assets the individuals hold, a prohibition on Americans doing business with them and also bans on their travel to the United States. It is a welcome step, but obviously, not enough.

The United States and other countries are aware of what has happened in Myanmar and also how they are deliberately wasting time with regard to initiating the repatriation process. What is required now is a wider and deeper efforts pertaining to imposition of sanctions on all financial transactions with Myanmar. This might then create the necessary political will on the part of the Myanmar authorities to adopt a more constructive approach with regard to resolution of this crisis.

The world also needs to respond more quickly, now that former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has passed away. His departure from the scene is likely to diminish the moral pressure created by his Report and its recommendations on the Rohingyas. This is important because most of the Rohingyas now in Bangladesh want to return to their homes in Myanmar as soon as possible. They have however insisted that Myanmar citizenship be granted to them. This is apparently required so that they can move about freely on their return and also avail of educational facilities and healthcare for their family members. They also want that perpetrators of crimes against them need to be prosecuted and punished according to law.

The densely populated south-eastern region of Bangladesh is facing a severe crisis due to the presence of so many Rohingyas. It is affecting the level of patience and breeding anger among the local Bangladeshi population due to both social and economic reasons. All friends of Bangladesh need to understand that a speedy resolution of this catastrophe is required to avert instability and possible communal violence.

Muhammad Zamir, a former Ambassador, is an analyst specialised in foreign affairs, right to information and good governance.



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