• Tuesday, Nov 20, 2018
  • Last Update : 08:19 pm

At a critical point

  • Published at 06:10 pm September 8th, 2018
Rohingya
They want to be recognized as citizens MAHMUD HOSSAIN OPU

Friends of Bangladesh need to work towards a speedy resolution to this catastrophe 

The absence of political will on the part of Myanmar and Suu Kyi’s refusal to recognize reality is delaying the Rohingya repatriation process. 

This was evident from her recent lecture in Singapore. A tortoise probably moves faster than the speed with which Myanmar is handling the question of resolving the Rohingya issue with Bangladesh. Unnecessary nuances and arguments are impeding the process of repatriation. 

Forcibly displaced and driven out of their country through arson, rape, and murder a year ago, these illegal migrants continue to suffer in camps, cradling painful reminders of the horror they fled in Myanmar.

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

This effort has revealed that over 24,000 Rohingya were murdered and nearly 18,000 Rohingya women and girls were raped during Myanmar’s crackdown in 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 vandalized. The report has also revealed that most of the Rohingyas now in Bangladesh wanted 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 educational facilities and health care for their family members. They also want perpetrators of crimes against them to be prosecuted and punished. 

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. 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 this would start from January 23,. 

Bangladesh immediately responded to this dynamic 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. 

The latest effort within this process was undertaken in the second week of August this year through the visit to Myanmar by the Bangladesh Foreign Minister Mahmood Ali. He and other senior officials from different Ministries in Bangladesh were taken to villages around Maungdaw township where Myanmar is supposed to be making preparations to rehabilitate these refugees once they return to Myanmar.

It was however clear to the Bangladesh delegation that the preparation that had been undertaken was not only totally insignificant, but also that there had been little tangible progress.

Bangladesh at this time requested Myanmar to take steps to address unwillingness of prospective returnees to accept the National Verification Card (NVC). Myanmar is supposed to have agreed to send teams to the camps in the Cox’s Bazar to explain the advantages of holding NVC and to disseminate information on various steps taken by Myanmar in connection with the expected repatriation.

However, difficulty emerged subsequently with Myanmar requesting Dhaka not to use the term “Forcibly Displaced Myanmar Nationals” on the registration cards being issued by Bangladesh to Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar. Instead, they asked Bangladesh to use the term “Displaced persons from the Rakhine State.” Dhaka, after due consideration, quite correctly, disagreed to accede to this proposal.

The United Nations Security Council, on 28 August, 2018 arranged an “open briefing session” on the situation in Myanmar. UN officials attempted to point out the efforts that are being undertaken and the difficulties that the UN is facing in the meaningful implementation of the MOU concluded by UNDP and the 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 remain engaged in furthering this process.

As expected 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 towards the conclusion of the session. 

The Human Rights Council is also likely to consider adopting a Resolution on the human rights situation in Myanmar during its next session. The fact-finding mission established by HRC is also expected to submit a report which should help chart out further action on the question of accountability for the atrocious crimes committed against the Rohingyas. 

It is true that the US has imposed sanctions on four Myanmar military and police commanders and two army units, but what is required now is a wider and deeper effort pertaining to imposition of sanctions on all financial transactions with Myanmar.

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.

All friends of Bangladesh need to understand that a speedy resolution of this catastrophe is required to avert instability and possible communal violence.

China also needs to remember that if the One Belt One Road connectivity effort is to succeed, the Rohingya crisis has to be resolved -- sooner the better. Otherwise, it is bound to affect peace and constructive engagement in the region.

Muhammad Zamir, a former ambassador, is an analyst specialized in foreign affairs, right to information, and good governance. He can be reached at [email protected]