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Myanmar has to solve its Rohingya crisis: Watkins

August 19, 2015

Bangladesh would be free from the refugee problem if its neighbour Myanmar addresses the Rohingya crisis at home, the United Nations thinks.

Appreciating the role of Bangladesh in helping the refugees, the UN resident coordinator in Dhaka Robert D Watkins said on Tuesday the Bangladeshis “can't stop them from coming because the actual problem lies in Myanmar.”

“Right now they (Rohingyas) are very much discriminated, persecuted... Refugee problem can stop when the problem in Myanmar stops,” he noted, maintaining that the UN has to work with Myanmar authorities to initiate a domestic process to solve the problem. 

The top UN official, who is also the UNDP’s resident representative in Bangladesh, made the observations during an exchange of views with senior journalists of Bengali daily Prothom Alo at its office on Tuesday. Prothom Alo editor Matiur Rahman moderated the discussion.
Robert Watkins assumed his Bangladesh assignment earlier this year after serving in countries such as Afghanistan, Lebanon, Georgia and Djibouti.

Asked how Bangladesh could solve the Rohingya issue, he said Bangladesh is at the receiving end of the crisis. “I don't think the solution is in the hands of Bangladesh... (Rather) the solution is in Myanmar,” he added.

Dwelling on the state of implementation of the Chittagong Hill Tracts peace treaty signed 19 years ago, the UN resident coordinator observed that the accord has not been fully implemented.

He pointed out that the hill region is one of the most impoverished parts of the country. He mentioned that the UNDP is expanding development activities there.

On a debate on whether to call the hill people “indigenous” or “tribal”, he said he consulted the legal affairs section of the International Labour Organisation in this regard. “In fact, they told me that there is no difference in meaning legally,” he pointed out. “What’s in name? Whatever you call them the rights of the people are the same.”

When asked about the latest development on the UN secretary-general’s initiative to defuse the country’s political crisis, the UN official said he closely followed the events in Bangladesh and he played his mediation role earlier this year.

“He reached out to all the political parties and actors of the country to see what extent the UN could help to mediate to end violence,” he said.

He said the UN had hoped that the city corporation elections in Dhaka and Chittagong would be a breakthrough because the BNP seemed to come back to the political process again and the UN chief encouraged the party to participate in the elections.

He regretted that the BNP withdrew from the ballot on the election day. “They now have pretty much disappeared from the political scene... rethinking, re-strategising as they said,” he said. “That has brought back 'de facto end' of his (the UN chief’s) involvement.”

Watkins insisted that there has to be certain desires on the part of both the parties to come to a discussion again, so by the time the next election comes there would be some agreement on rules to ensure the best possible kind of elections.

The UNDP official added that the UN secretary general is yet to “see a signal from the government that they would wish him to take on a more active role to play.”

He also underlined the need for improving governance for the sake of development and further progress that need to be made by Bangladesh in line with the UN-set sustainable development goals (SDGs) for 15-year period till 2030 following the millennium development goals (MDGs). The SDGs would be endorsed in the UN General Assembly in New York next month.

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