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What the Maldives can do for the Rohingya

  • Published at 05:40 pm September 13th, 2018
The Maldives
The Maldives stands to gain an unprecedented public profile BIGSTOCK

Can the small Muslim nation refer Myanmar to the International Criminal Court? 

The governments of Muslim countries around the world have made political hay with the Rohingya genocide in Myanmar. Condemnations against the humanitarian crisis and calls for Muslim solidarity have been a common talking point for political leaders who have been increasingly instrumentalizing Islam as a way to bolster their domestic approval ratings.

And in a rare show of unity, these governments have even managed to come together to issue very strong common statements through the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) on the crisis.

What we have not seen much of, however, is meaningful action beyond the feverish speeches. None of the members of the OIC have imposed any sanction or taken any other significant diplomatic action against Myanmar. Except one: The Maldives, who have officially cut ties with Myanmar.

With the recent statement by the International Criminal Court, that they have jurisdiction over the Rohingya crisis even though Myanmar is not a signatory to the Rome Statute which instituted the court because of the manner in which the crisis spilled over into Bangladesh, the next step is for one of the signatory states to refer Myanmar to the court.

The best country to do this is, once again, the Maldives. It is not the only country to have shown any real commitment to the cause of the Rohingya, but it is also the country which can do the most good if it assumes a position of leadership on this issue.

The Maldives have no political, economic, or strategic interest in posturing on this issue. And they do not risk aggravating the crisis if they were to refer the issue to the ICC, which might be the case if Bangladesh were to take such a step.

Untarnished actor

The Maldives is a small nation, reasonably far away to not be directly affected by the consequences of the crisis, and with no questionable economic ties with either Myanmar or with any strategic enemy or rival to Myanmar.

The Maldives is an untarnished actor who cannot be accused of acting out of any motivation except humanitarian concern.

The country has not yet signalled that it is preparing to take such a step. But given their proven concern for the fate of the Rohingya people, this would be a logical step for them to take.

They are in no position to offer the Rohingya much in the way of humanitarian aid, and given their own territorial woes they are one of the worst-placed countries in the world to be able to offer them refuge.

But what they can do is to seize the initiative in the world’s humanitarian bodies and drive the effort to bring the perpetrators of the Rohingya genocide to justice -- one of the necessary steps towards normalizing the situation.

This would give the country an unprecedented public profile, and given their limited experience in assuming such a position of leadership on the international stage, it is understandable if they were to approach this issue with some degree of trepidation.

But in this, they should be aware that they can lean on the international humanitarian network of UN agencies, NGOs, and individual advocates who have been helping Bangladesh cope with the influx of refugees, and who have been providing whatever assistance they could to those fleeing Myanmar.

There is already in place a great infrastructure of humanitarian concern, and many of those involved in the efforts to help the Rohingya through this crisis do have the legal expertise and international experience to support the Maldives through the process of referring Myanmar to the ICC.

We call on the Maldives, just as we would call on anyone else willing to listen, to help us bring the perpetrators of the Rohingya genocide to justice, and we pledge our support to them in this pursuit.

Azeem Ibrahim is Senior Fellow at the Centre for Global Policy and Adj Research Professor at the Strategic Studies Institute, US Army War College. He tweets @AzeemIbrahim. This article previously appeared on Al Arabiya News.