The Financial Express

Will Myanmar take back Rohingyas?

Will Myanmar take back Rohingyas?

Myanmar's upcoming general election scheduled for November 2020 does not hold much hope for the displaced Rohingya people now sheltered in Cox's Bazar camps in Bangladesh. Neither will have it any appeal to about half a million Rohingyas still in Myanmar living in ghettos and in arrangements that look like 'concentration camps' meant for the internally displaced Persons (IDPs).

But the picture was different before 2015's election. Being deprived of their citizenship, their basic human rights and occasionally subjected to barbaric persecution campaigns carried out by Tatmadaw (Myanmar's military) and the Buddhist mobs of North-western Rakhine as its accomplice, they (Rohingyas) kept their fingers crossed that with the return of democracy and with the 'democracy icon' in charge perhaps, their luck may see a change.  They hoped that the leader who was fighting for the people's democratic rights in the face of all odds for so long would not after all disappoint them. 

But no, Suu Kyi's victory did not promise any change in their lot. Under pressure from the international community that considered her to be a champion of democracy and human rights, in August 2016, she announced the formation of the Advisory Commission on the Rakhine State , or in short, the Annan Commission, under the leadership of Kofi Annan, the former UN secretary-general.

But despite non-cooperation, rather hostility, from the majority Buddhist population, the Commission, however, came up with its report embodying some recommendations to improve situation for both the Rohingyas and the Buddhists of the Rakhine State. But as soon as the Annan Commission Report came to light, Myanmar military descended on the Rohingya people with its blueprint for annihilation. Suu Kyi did nothing to stop the military from their evil design.

In fact, the Rohingyas were never in her thoughts. Not unlike Tatmadaw, she did not have any empathy for them.

The rest of the world knows how during history's one of the most savage genocidal campaigns on August 25 of 2017 and the days that followed, Tatmadaw massacred an unknown number of defenceless  Rohingya people, burnt down 400 villages, gangraped women, bayoneted children and threw them into blazing fire. The world media have been awash with reports and pictures of the horror, satellite pictures showing billowing smokes from the burning villages.

But Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar's State Councillor and minister for foreign affairs appears to have been unaware of what happened in Western Rakhine. So, without a qualm, she could tell the world  in a nationwide address that Tatmadaw was dealing with 'Muslim terrorism' by Rohingya  militants and even criticised journalists about their concern over the Rohingya people who fled to Bangladesh to save their lives from  the Myanmar military's genocidal campaign.

Even when she recently appeared before the International Court of Justice, she shamelessly defended Myanmar military's genocidal campaign against the Rohingya people saying it was an 'internal conflict'. She sounded as if the unarmed, helpless Rohingya men, women and children were 'in conflict' with the Myanmar army! What a role reversal. The former widely considered 'democracy icon' and daughter of the martyred founding Father of modern Myanmar, has become an unabashed apologist of the perpetrators of the crimes against humanity committed in recent history by the Myanmar army! What can the world at large or the Rohingya people in particular further expect from her?

And as such, the November 2020's election, or how Suu Kyi is going to fare in it, may not generate much interest in the Western media or among the governments whose darling she once was. 

Whatever is the result, there is little chance of any breakthrough so far as the future of the Rohingyas is concerned.

In the latest  development on Monday in which  Bangladesh's foreign minister had a meeting with his Chinese and Myanmar counterparts on the  side-lines of the UN General Assembly in New York, a 'tripartite joint working mechanism' was learnt to have been created to what it said, 'evaluate situation on the ground for Rohingya  repatriation.

Myanmar's diplomat is reported to have said on that occasion that his government had taken all necessary steps to take back their nationals. It is too good to hear. If Myanmar really considers Rohingyas its nationals then that is itself a great piece of news! But did Myanmar's minister really mean what he said? Some activities of the Myanmar army near Bangladesh border or reports from various Western sources tell quite a different story.

China, as a neighbour of both Bangladesh and Myanmar, does obviously have a stake in seeing that the Rohingya problem, which has the potential to destabilise the entire South Asian and Southeast Asian region, is resolved. And China itself has a huge economic and strategic interest in both the countries. So, we would like to earnestly believe that this China-brokered move may finally bring some positive results.

But what would remain a big question is the Myanmar authorities' real intent behind their apparent desire to take back the Rohingyas.

The question arises because just five months back in May (on May 16, to be specific), satellite images of some 200 burning buildings in the village Let Kai of Mrauk-U township in the Rakhine State give rise to fresh concerns. Being a conflict zone in Myanmar, human rights groups, especially, Human Rights Watch was for conducting an investigation to find out those behind that arson attack. Myanmar army's sudden build-up near our border two weeks back without informing Bangladesh is yet another provocative action from that side prejudicing the smooth progress of any talks or moves to settle the Rohingya issue.

We believe the 'tripartite mechanism', as it happened before, will not again be used to kill time and pull the wool over the international community's eyes.

Before the Rohingya people, the Bangladesh government or the international community can take into consideration any move from the Myanmar authorities towards settling the Rohingya issue seriously, they (Myanmar authorities) would be required to take some trust-building steps. In fact, even at the moment the Myanmar military's activities in the Rakhine State have reasons to strike terror among the Rohingyas or create doubts among the members of the international community including Bangladesh about the seriousness of their promise of taking back the Rohingyas.

Are there any actions visible from the Myanmar's side so far that may testify to their goodwill in this regard?

Will they return Rohingyas their basic human rights, their citizenship? Where will the Rohingyas settle after they are taken back?

A credible answer to these questions would be necessary before starting any meaningful dialogue or repatriation process.


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