What’s stopping the Rohingya from being repatriated?
No scope has yet emerged in the repatriation of the hundreds upon thousands of Rohingya who took shelter on humanitarian grounds in Bangladesh following the crackdown by the Myanmar military junta in August 2017.
Being of Indo-Aryan ethnicity, the Rohingya in Myamar’s Arakan, now known as Rakhine state, have called the place home for centuries. A United Nations fact-finding mission, upon the recommendation of the United Nations Human Rights Council, concluded in its report that the Myanmar military intended to perpetuate genocide on the ethnic Rohingya Muslims when they drove hundreds of thousands of them from the country in 2017.
Initially, members of the fact-finding mission were denied access by the Myanmar government but the report was eventually submitted in September 2018 to the United Nations Human Rights Council.
The 162-page report filed by advocacy group Fortify Rights in July 2018 identified as many as 22 military and police officers who were directly responsible for the systemic genocide campaign. The report also recommended the United Nations Security Council refer the Rohingya crisis to the International Criminal Court.
Neither a referral to the International Criminal Court nor any formation of a tribunal by the United Nations Security Council -- as it did during the massacre in Bosnia-Herzegovina by the Yugoslavia government -- have taken place in the last two years following the exact point when the last wave of Rohingya exodus was triggered.
On the other hand, a bilateral instrument was signed by the governments of Bangladesh and Myanmar on November 22, 2018 on the basis of Myanmar State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi’s suggestion that any agreements should be based on the 1993 agreement which did not address the citizenship status of the refugees but merely accepted them back on the basis of residency.
Apart from this, Bangladesh has failed to involve the United Nations High Commission for Refugees in the bilateral agreement, despite the fact that the UNHCR is the de facto organization to refer to on issues of refugees.
What’s worth noting here is how Bangladesh did not insist that the Rohingya are citizens of Myanmar, a provision that was incorporated in bilateral agreement of 1980. President of Burma General Ne Win denied their citizenship by introducing the citizenship law in 1982 after their repatriation from Bangladesh.
Bangladeshi diplomats soon went into a frenzy but, as of now, have failed to pursue China, India, and Russia to help in their efforts to have the Rohingya refugees be repatriated as citizens of Myanmar -- that is apart from fruitless attempts at forming tribunals by the United Nations Security Council to try the perpetrators of Myanmar’s military Junta and police.
No punitive actions have been taken against the perpetrators of the genocide squarely as a result of the objection of China. Both China and Russia -- who hold the power to veto motions in the UNSC -- blocked the statement of the United Nations Security Council against Myanmar in March 2018.
No resolution by United Nations Security Council have went against the Myanmar government.
However, the UNSC succeeded in listening to a report by the chairman of the independent international fact-finding mission on Myanmar despite the objection of China and Russia. The fact-finding mission found evidence of war crimes and crimes against humanity and asked the UNSC to refer to the case to the ICC or create an international criminal tribunal to prosecute those responsible for the ethnic cleansing that was being carried out in Rakhine state.
By now, many dignitaries from around the world, including the first lady of Turkey Emine Erdogan, accompanied by Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, and Queen Rania of Jordan have visited refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar. This culminated in August 25 being Christened as “Rohingya Genocide Day.”
The presence of the sizeable population of the Rohingya in Bangladesh has been causing immense economic strain on the country, as well as an ecological crisis. Diplomacy by Bangladesh, as of yet, has not achieve the desired results of having the Rohingya refugees be repatriated back to their homeland in Rakhine state. To say nothing of the Myanmar government ensuring their basic rights upon their eventual return.
But, is the Rohingya returning to their homeland really as eventual as the diplomats and suits make it out to be? Only time will tell.
Mohammad Amjad Hossain writes from Virginia and is a retired diplomat and former President of Toastmaster International Club of America.