Dissatisfaction over Myanmar’s management of the Rohingya crisis has boiled over into an argument between Aung San Suu Kyi and her once friend, now critic, Bill Richardson. The former US ambassador to the UN resigned from an advisory panel set up by the American government after accusing members of trying to “whitewash” the crisis.
In his resignation letter, he called out members for being a “cheerleading squad” to the government. His criticisms raise additional worries about a treaty to repatriate nearly 700,000 Rohingya refugees stuck in Bangladesh.
Such state of affairs should be a wake-up call to the diplomatic community and the UN representatives in Myanmar who have also been cheerleading for Aung Sung Suu Kyi, claiming that any criticism of her will ultimately play to the benefit of the military.
It’s quite evident that this is a military that is not afraid of anyone, it’s not expecting to be held accountable and Suu Kyi has essentially become a necessary element in their cover-up plans.
But I don’t think Bill Richardson’s criticism will be enough to turn the tables in any meaningful way. Frankly, Suu Kyi is now looking to the other members of the commission to support her and to sort of push aside any criticism from Richardson and his coterie. She is hoping that these people will be willing to go along with her version of reality.
The really sad part of this is that the chair of the commission, from Thailand, doesn’t seem to be exercising the kind of leadership we saw from Kofi Annan. The new chair is clearly in a different league and it appears that he is prepared to go along with the versions of events that Suu kyi and the military have been presenting to them.
Making fundamental changes on the ground
There needs to be a mechanism by which the safety and security of the Rohingya refugees can be guaranteed once they might return to Myanmar.
To that end, we must ask: Are there any indications that the basic conditions in Myanmar that made the Rohingya so vulnerable to decades of persecution and violence, in the first place, have changed at all?
The situation in Northern Rakhine state -- or even the situation throughout all of Rakhine state, to be frank -- still involves systematic human rights violations against the Rohingya population as well as other Muslim populations in the area. There are severe restrictions on freedom of movement, and even restrictions on repairing one’s home and other such routine activities.
So, until that fundamental architecture of abuse is changed, repatriation, really, makes very little sense, and, frankly, quite dangerous even, despite Myanmar’s continuous efforts in trying to communicate to the international community that they are indeed seeking solutions and trying to do the right thing.
A good place to start
Rights groups have been, for a while now, calling on the UN Security Council to refer Myanmar to the International Criminal court in The Hague.
But, Myanmar is not a signatory to the Rome treaty. So, even if the UN Security Council were to refer Myanmar to the ICC, would that make any difference?
Because the referral from the UN Security Council is the only way one can get a non-ratifying state like Myanmar to the ICC. International rights groups have to demand that there be international criminal justice in this case because it is quite clear that both the Myanmar military and the civilian government are more inclined towards covering things up than to prosecute individuals who are responsible for these atrocities.
However, the security council shouldn’t stop there. International rights groups also have to call for a global embargo on arms to the Myanmar military and targeted sanctions to be placed on specific individuals who are determined to have played an instrumental role in the atrocities being committed against the Rohingya.
The EU needs to take these claims into cognizance. The United States should do more as well, and other countries should join the movement and take the Myanmar government and their military to task by identifying and targeting the individuals most culpable for these crimes.
Md Sharif Hasan is a commentator on international politics and is currently working as a field researcher on behalf of Centre for Genocide Studies (CGS), University of Dhaka.