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Commonwealth closes ranks on Rohingya issue

  • Published at 12:39 pm November 6th, 2017
  • Last updated at 04:57 pm November 6th, 2017
Commonwealth closes ranks on Rohingya issue
Member states of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA) have expressed solidarity with Bangladesh in resolving the ongoing Rohingya crisis and proposed to adopt a resolution in this regard at its general assembly. Lawmakers of 17 countries – including Australia, Canada, Malaysia, Pakistan Uganda and Malta – favoured the idea of adopting the resolution to help the Rohingya refugees during a briefing by Bangladesh Foreign Minister AH Mahmood Ali in Bangabandhu International Conference Centre in Agargaon, Dhaka on Sunday. The parliamentarians, who are in Bangladesh to attend the 63rd Commonwealth Parliamentary Conference (CPC), also extended full support to Bangladesh and praised the country's approach to the crisis – opening the border with Myanmar to the Rohingya people fleeing military atrocities, providing shelter and food, and putting effort into gathering global support for one of the most persecuted minority communities in the world. Earlier on Sunday, inaugurating the CPC at the South Plaza of Jatiya Sangsad (Bangladesh Parliament), Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina urged leaders of the Commonwealth countries to take the Rohingya issue with utmost importance and put pressure on Myanmar to cease the persecution of the Rohingya people and start their repatriation as soon as possible. She said the inhumane persecution meted out to the Rohingyas in their homeland, the Rakhine state in Myanmar, had created instability in the region and beyond. As of October 31, 2017, over 607,000 Rohingyas have crossed over to Bangladesh seeking refuge since late August, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM). Addressing the briefing, Foreign Minister Mahmood Ali said Bangladesh was currently facing a colossal challenge due to the unprecedented influx of Rohingya people from Myanmar. Bangladesh has offered them refuge on humanitarian grounds, but humanitarian responses to this crisis can only help the displaced Rohingya so much, he added. “Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has already said the root of this problem lies in Myanmar and it has to be solved in Myanmar. Bangladesh wants a sustainable solution to this issue and safe return of all the forcibly displaced Rohingyas in Bangladesh to their home in Myanmar,” he further said. “This problem needs an immediate and durable solution. Myanmar needs to resolve the root causes by restoring the citizenship of the Rohingyas,” he added.

'It is a genocide'

Getting a vivid account of the Rohingya crisis on the Bangladesh end from the foreign minister, the visiting parliamentarians termed the atrocities committed by the Myanmar security forces in Rakhine “genocide” and agreed to adopt a resolution at the CPA General Assembly. George Foulkes, member of the UK House of Lords – the upper house of the UK Parliament – said what was happening in Rakhine could not be tolerated. “It would be intolerable, it would be impossible, if we left Bangladesh without passing a resolution on the issue on Tuesday,” he said. “The whole UK delegation asks the conference to visit Cox’s Bazar to experience the exact situation of the displaced Rohingyas.” His proposal was welcomed by parliamentarians from Malaysia, Cameroon and several other countries. Pakistan lawmaker Nafisa Shah said both the houses of Pakistan Parliament – the Senate and the National Assembly – had passed resolutions showing extreme concern on the Rohingya crisis. “We empathise with Bangladesh in this difficult hour. We also completely stand with Bangladesh’s position that it is the government of Myanmar which has to take back the Rohingyas, give them citizenship and place them on equal status with other citizens,” she said. Welsh lawmaker Mohammad Asghar called on the delegates to reach a consensus to condemn the Myanmar government for the crisis. Margaret Quirk, member of the Western Australian Legislative Assembly, enquired about the position of India and China on the Rohingya crisis. In reply, Foreign Minister Mahmood Ali said the Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, during a recent visit to Bangladesh, had assured of India's support to Bangladesh on this issue. China, on the other hand, are more reserved in its stance, he added. “Their language is different. But they have also generally agreed to the idea [of helping the Rohingya] at the UN Security Council,” Mahmood said, adding that China had also sent aid for the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh. Canadian parliamentarian Salma Ataullahjan said: “We had an emergency debate in Canada and we decided to call it genocide as it is. Bangladesh has one million refugees, which is why Canada has committed $25 million as a step to help and work with the Bangladesh government. “Canada is very much a humanitarian country. If they [the Rohingyas] have refugee designation, perhaps we can be a part of the solution,” she added.

Proposal for resolution

Malta House of Representatives Speaker Angelo Farruga first placed the proposal to adopt a resolution on the Rohingya issue. The visiting parliamentarians agreed that Myanmar was responsible for the ongoing Rohingya crisis – the fastest growing refugee crisis in the world, according to the United Nations – and so the country would have to sort out ways to resolve it. CPA Chairperson and Bangladesh Parliament Speaker Dr Shirin Sharmin Chaudhury said the matter of adopting a resolution would be discussed by the Executive Committee of CPA ahead of the CPA General Assembly. Bangladesh also urged the Commonwealth parliamentarians to adopt resolutions in their own parliaments against the persecution of the Rohingya people by Myanmar and to pressurize the country to take back its displaced citizens from Bangladesh. Later at a press briefing, speaking on behalf of the CPC Media Management Committee, Kazi Nabil Ahmed, Bangladesh lawmaker from Jessore 3 constituency, said Bangladesh had already submitted a resolution before the Social, Humanitarian & Cultural Issues Committee (Third Committee) of the United Nations. “We have requested the CPA delegates to convince their countries to co-sponsor the resolution. Probably, there will be a voting on the resolution on the 14th of this month,” he told reporters. He further said the government would arrange visits to the Rohingya camps for the visiting parliamentarians should they want to.

PM asks to prioritise Rohingya crisis

Earlier on Sunday, speaking at the inaugural ceremony of the CPC, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina addressed several global issues, but she asked delegates to place the utmost importance on the ongoing Rohingya crisis. Also the vice-patron of the CPA, Hasina said the inhumane persecution of the Rohingya people should be focused on in parliamentary sessions. She also highlighted her government's motto of maintaining friendship with everyone and enmity with no one. On the issue of militancy, she said: “Militancy is not a problem of just one country, it is a global threat. Only a few days back, eight lives were claimed on a New York road. We have to be united to rid the world of this menace.” On climate change, the prime minister said that Bangladesh has experienced heavy rainfall and recurring flooding that washed away villages and croplands. “We expect immediate implementation of the promises made at different times to offset the adverse impacts of climate change,” she added. Messages issued by Queen Elizabeth II, the patron of the CPA, and Patricia Scotland, secretary general of the Commonwealth Secretariat, were read out at the ceremony as well. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said: “We parliamentarians, being the people's representatives, have the first and foremost obligations to preserve and maintain the faith of the people in democracy and parliamentary institutions.”