With our handling of the Rohingya crisis, Bangladesh now has the attention of the world
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, during her stay in New York, not only actively participated in several UNGA activities associated with the 73rd UNGA session, but also drew particular attention of the world on the need to resolve the on-going crisis that has been created through Bangladesh having to host more than a million Rohingya refugees from Myanmar.
She has underlined once again the need for their safe, sustainable, and dignified return in a peaceful manner and also focused on a constructive engagement with regard to illegal migration. In addition, as expected, she stressed on the need for women empowerment to reduce poverty and on the significance of overcoming climate change challenges.
She also informed other countries about the great advances made by Bangladesh in the field of digitalization. In this context, she urged all members to work actively, and if possible, together, in protecting cyber space for the benefit of institutions and people using that sphere.
As expected, the Rohingya issue drew the attention of all the delegations present. This was partially generated through UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’s active interest with regard to this subject, and also his call in August for Myanmar to be held accountable for “one of the world’s worst humanitarian and human rights crises” following the publication of a UN fact-finding report issued after investigation into atrocities committed against the Rohingyas.
The report recommended that the country’s military leadership be prosecuted for genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes committed in the Rakhine state that led to around 700,000 Rohingyas being forced to flee their homes.
Such an assertion also led US Permanent Representative to the UN Nikki Haley to call for strong and immediate action against the Myanmar leadership. Canadian law-makers on September 20, meeting in their House of Commons, have also declared that the fact finding report has led them to consider that genocide has been carried out against the Rohingya Muslims. They subsequently also withdrew the honorary Canadian citizenship that had been bestowed on Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi.
World leaders meeting at the General Assembly in the first few days of this session of the UNGA have sent strong messages and urged that measures need to be undertaken to pave the way for justice for the Rohingya and other ethnic minorities under attack in northern Myanmar.
Sherine Tadros, head of the UN Office for Amnesty International, reiterated this in clear terms. In this context, it was also stressed that “states must see through Myanmar’s repeated lies and deception, and establish an independent mechanism to gather and preserve evidence of crimes under international law before it is too late.” It may be added here that the International Criminal Court has already said that it has jurisdiction to bring an indictment against military leaders, but the Myanmar government has denied this and has rejected all claims of atrocities.
PM Hasina in this context also addressed a meeting titled “High-level Event on the Global Compact on Refugees: A Model for Greater Solidarity and Cooperation” on September 24 at the UN headquarters in New York, and touched on several important aspects.
She pointed out that the forced movement of over 1.1 million traumatized Rohingyas induced her and the government of Bangladesh to “open our border and provide shelter to the forcibly displaced Rohingyas. By doing so, we’ve not only saved lives, but also stabilized the entire region by containing the crisis within our border.”
She added that “pending their return, we are trying to address their basic needs.”
It was also noted that Bangladesh, which is struggling with the vast number of refugees, will be hoping that this UNGA session will persuade member states and other agencies to generate the necessary donation of $950 million to help UN agencies to meet the diverse requirements related to the looking after of the Rohingya refugees.
This has regrettably remained severely underfunded, with only about 33% funding secured. One needs to note here that humanitarian and development support of the international community for the Rohingyas and other affected communities must be predictable, and in the spirit of international responsibility sharing.
The PM also placed her three-point recommendation on the Rohingya issue. Firstly, “Myanmar must abolish discriminatory laws, policies, and practices against the Rohingyas, and address the root causes of their forced displacement in a genuine and timely manner.”
Secondly, Myanmar “must create a friendly and positive environment by building trust and guaranteeing protection, rights, and pathway to citizenship for all Rohingyas, and if needed, create a safe zone inside Myanmar to protect all civilians.”
Thirdly, “the people concerned in Myanmar must be held accountable and exposed to justice to prevent atrocity crimes against Rohingyas in light of the fact-finding mission of the UN Human Rights Council recommendations.”
This was also reflected during her statement delivered at the UN General Assembly and her meetings on the sidelines with important international political figures from the US, UK, Canada, and the European Union.
In a separate comment in an interview, Sheikh Hasina, while thanking the international community for their active interest on this issue also urged them to take all possible steps to apply concerted pressure on Myanmar to fulfill their obligations in repatriating their citizens, because the patience of Bangladesh was wearing out. The Chinese Permanent Representative Wu Haitao, however, urged that a softer approach be taken in resolving the problem based on “constructive assistance.”
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, in recognition of her exemplary role and leadership in the handling of the Rohingya issue, was awarded two international awards during her visit to New York -- one from the Inter Press Service News Agency, and the other from the non-profit Global Hope Coalition. This was a great honour for Bangladesh.
Another significant on-going issue also drew the attention of Bangladesh. That was Palestine, and the future of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which has been thrown into doubt after the US announced in August that it would withdraw from funding this important agency, which provides support for five million Palestinian refugees and their family members.
This has led to the operation of many schools, hospitals, and other facilities being jeopardized. The PM in her deliberations has reiterated Bangladesh’s firm commitment and support towards the resolving of emerging and evolving problems with regard to Palestine.
This positive approach was greatly appreciated by the members of the OIC.
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]