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'There has been genocide in almost every sense of the word'

  • Published at 11:06 pm January 22nd, 2020
Prof John Packer-genocide
Prof John Packer Mahmud Hossain Opu/Dhaka Tribune

Dhaka Tribune's Rifat Munim speaks with Prof John Packer, human rights expert and Director of the Human Rights Research and Education Centre at the University of Ottawa

What is your take on the Myanmar government-appointed “Independent Commission” report that denied its army’s role in genocide in Rakhine? Is there any doubt that the army actions rise to the level of genocide?

All the legitimate and reasonable sources of information have established beyond doubt that terrible things did happen and are still happening. And when you analyse this in light of the Genocide Convention, which is an instrument of international relations and law, to which 152 states are parties, and to which Myanmar is a party for 65 years, you discover that Myanmar has violated almost every single provision. So, yes there has been genocide in almost every sense of the word.

What do you think the Bangladesh government and the international community should do to address the situation, in terms of initiating a repatriation process for the Rohingya?

Bangladesh is hosting the biggest bulk of the Rohingya refugees, 1.3 million. There is no doubt that it has endured tremendous costs for this humanitarian assistance and hospitality. 

First and foremost, we all need to realise that this is not a natural disaster. The Myanmar government has created this condition. The only solution is that all these people should go home and they can do so only in conditions of safety, security, and a sustainable future. 

There has been a modest effort led by China to mediate the relationship between Myanmar and Bangladesh. But it was essentially a tri-lateral relationship and very small in terms of its dimension and conception. 

I think Bangladesh should realize that starting from 1978, the 2017 Rohingya influx was the fifth and the biggest so far, and with every influx it is actually getting worse. So the idea that Bangladesh can resolve this crisis purely bilaterally is fiction. 

It is, by its character, an international and sub-regional question; it requires a determined and concerted diplomacy that would pursue the vision of sustainable peace and development. 

Bangladesh is not only in a key position in that regard, right now it is in a position of advantage because it is morally, legally, economically, socially, and politically a victim state. 

I think Bangladesh as a government and also as a people should be more confident and more assertive. I think it has all the reasons to be pro-active, assertive, and confident. Such an attitude of confidence should be leading and driving the diplomacy.

The ICJ verdict on Gambia’s case against Myanmar will be delivered on Thursday. Will this help in resolving the crisis?

I think it is extremely important. Just consider the reaction of Myanmar to the near-filing of an application by a small country in West Africa, which is a party to the Genocide Convention and not even a victim state like Bangladesh, Malaysia, India, or Saudi Arabia. 

The reason behind Myanmar’s reaction is that the consequences and implications of this case are substantial. The decision that will be taken on Thursday is only in regard to an initial request by Gambia for provisional measures, and this is just the beginning step of a case. 

My speculation is: The Court will issue some order but it will be sufficiently modest yet strong. Then it will go to the Security Council and it will be very interesting to observe what happens at the Security Council. 

And that’s where Bangladesh, through diplomacy, should play a more pro-active role. So far, I believe, Bangladesh is just watching. 

When the Court takes some decision and sends it to the Security Council, I’d expect the Bangladesh authorities are going to do more than watch, and that is part of the diplomacy. I have confidence in Bangladeshi diplomacy.

Bangladesh should also try to engage other countries and international actors in this process. At the moment Gambia is the lone country that’s actually acted.

If Bangladesh had filed a case with the ICC against Myanmar, would the impact have been greater?

There is no doubt and this is something I have been advocating. More governments should join the action that Gambia has begun or file separate cases. 

Ideally it would be good if the original case had been filed by a number of states. But even if the case is filed or joined by just one of the countries that has actually suffered injuries, it will be very powerful and make a bigger impact. 

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