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Rohingya refugees stand in an alley of Kutupalong refugee camp in Ukhia on September 28, 2017. Photo: AFP

By Tun Khin
June 7, 2018

Bangladesh's ICC cooperation is crucial for Rohingya justice

Since August last year, the world has witnessed how hundreds of thousands of desperate Rohingyas have fled across the border into Bangladesh, bringing with them tales of unimaginable horror. Many of these refugees are my friends and relatives. For the first time, the world has woken up to what we Rohingya have lived with for decades—Myanmar's systematic and genocidal attempts to wipe us out as a people. Now we need the help of the world, and Bangladesh, to obtain justice.

Last week, Myanmar announced it was establishing an “independent commission of inquiry” to “investigate the violation of human rights and related issues following the terrorist attacks” in Rakhine State in 2017. The fact that Myanmar did not even mention its own military's abuses speaks volumes of how credible this investigation will be. Over the past years, I have seen Myanmar establish a multitude of similar commissions, always at politically opportune times. In the end, they accomplish very little—they buy Myanmar a modicum of time and international goodwill, but they lead to no genuine accountability or to improvements for the lives of Rohingya people.

It is abundantly clear that Myanmar is both unwilling and incapable of investigating itself. Senior leaders have taken turns to deny the well-documented atrocities carried out by security forces against the Rohingya people. The military has little incentive to punish itself for its own crimes. State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, the de facto political leader, has dismissed reports of human rights violations and questioned why people have been fleeing in the first place.

There is no question that the international community must play a role in providing justice, and the International Criminal Court (ICC) is increasingly looking like the only real hope. Although Myanmar is not a signatory to the Rome Statute of the ICC, that does not mean that all avenues are closed—far from it.

In April this year, ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda asked the court to rule on whether the ICC “can exercise jurisdiction over the alleged deportation of the Rohingya people from Myanmar to Bangladesh,” which is under the jurisdiction of the Court. A ruling affirming such jurisdiction could pave the way for the ICC to investigate Myanmar for the crime against humanity of deportation. Bangladesh, which has already done so much in welcoming refugees, can play a crucial role in making this a reality.

On June 20, a panel of judges will hold a closed-door hearing on the question. The ICC has asked Bangladesh for its opinion on whether it can exercise jurisdiction over the deportation of Rohingyas from Myanmar to Bangladesh. So far, Dhaka has yet to respond, although the deadline of June 11 is fast approaching.

We are grateful for the generosity of Bangladesh since the crisis erupted. Dhaka has essentially kept its borders open and hosted hundreds of thousands of people in what has already become one of the world's largest refugee camps. When I visited Cox's Bazar, I was touched not only by the welcome from officials but also from ordinary people. At the height of the crisis, local Bangladeshis were lining up along the border to offer food to fleeing refugees and spent their own meagre resources on constructing shelters.

But an influx of people of this scale is a strain on any country's resources. The situation is not sustainable, and the only solution to the root cause of the crisis lies on the other side of the Naf river in Myanmar.

It is important to remember that this crisis has not happened in a vacuum but is just the latest chapter in a long cycle of abuse. In the late 1970s and early 1990s, similar violent campaigns by Myanmar security forces pushed hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees to flee into Bangladesh. Each time, Bangladesh struck a deal with Myanmar for the return of refugees, only for renewed violence to force another exodus of people. Each time, it has been Bangladesh that has been forced to deal with a humanitarian crisis that is not of its own making.

My parents were forced to temporarily flee into Bangladesh after Myanmar's first major anti-Rohingya operation (“Operation Nagamin” or “Operation Dragon King”) in 1978. I myself witnessed similar violence in 1991 shortly before I fled Rakhine State. How many more times will history have to repeat itself before something changes? Unless those responsible for atrocities—regardless of their rank or position—are held to account, Myanmar's authorities will feel they can commit similar abuses in the future without consequence.

An ICC investigation into mass deportation would be limited and not cover other crimes against humanity, including murder, rape, torture, persecution or genocide. But in the shorter term, it would be an essential start. Most importantly, it would send a powerful message to Myanmar's authorities that they are not above the law, and that the world is willing to back up condemnation with genuine action. Separately, we will continue lobbying members of the UN Security Council to refer the situation in Myanmar to the ICC, which would pave the way for a broader mandate.

The current lack of accountability is not just affecting the Rohingya, but also people in other ethnic areas where security forces and armed groups commit war crimes with impunity. In Kachin State, for example, violence has again flared between the military and insurgents, driving thousands from their homes.

By responding in the affirmative to the ICC, Bangladesh could play a major role in making such accountability a reality. I urge Dhaka to do what it can to support the ICC and the Rohingya people—not just for us, but for the fight for justice everywhere.

Tun Khin is president of the Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK and a member of the Free Rohingya Coalition.

Rohingya refugees line up to receive blankets outside Kutupalong refugee settlement near Cox's Bazar, November 24, 2017. PHOTO: SUSANA VERA/REUTERS

By C R Abrar
May 9, 2018

THIS week has experienced a flurry of diplomatic activities centring the Rohingya issue. Principal among those was what has been dubbed a “historic and highly unusual” visit of an important delegation of the UN Security Council (UNSC) to Bangladesh and Burma. Quite understandably, the visit drew attention of various quarters—states, international agencies, refugee and rights organisations, and most importantly, the hapless Rohingyas who have been “living in mud and shacks, with no hope and no future, no nation and no identity, no past and no future.”

During its visit, the delegation should have experienced two contrasting scenarios. On the one hand, in Kutupalong refugee camp and in the no-man's land, they heard heart-wrenching testimonies of scores of survivors of the ongoing genocide—horrifying tales of mass murder, rape, torture, tossing of children in raging fire, torching of homes and hearths and systematic expulsion of an ethnic community whose identity and claims to citizenship have been meticulously dismantled over the last four decades by a state that has little regard for human rights, which the world body so fervently champions (at least in theory). The delegation also heard how a resource-poor and one of the most densely populated countries of the world, has lived up to its commitment to uphold the UN Charter and the lofty principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in sheltering more than a million of refugees in distress. While UN diplomats heap massive praise on Bangladesh for its generosity and compassion, the organisation has so far failed to do the heavy-lifting in mobilising resources and garnering political will in addressing the root cause of Burma's genocide.

On the other hand, the delegation met representatives of a regime that not only perpetrated perhaps the most gruesome crime against humanity this century has ever witnessed, in fulfilling its long-term genocidal agenda to free Arakan of ethnic Rohingyas, but also blatantly flouted the UN Charter and UDHR, and since the outbreak of current crisis in August 2017, repeatedly hoodwinked the security council that called for bringing an end to the current humanitarian crisis.

By now the authorities in Naypyidaw have established themselves as masters of the art of deception. Time and again they have promised the UNSC that effective action would be taken to create an enabling environment for the return of Rohingyas who are languishing in refugee settlements in Bangladesh. The delegation does not need reminding that till date not a single case of repatriation has taken place, save the staged repatriation of five Rohingya individuals out of a million who have been deported.

Befitting the adage “giving the devil its due”, the astute policy planners of Burma have been immensely successful in manipulating the UNSC. As early as September 2017, Burma informed the UNSC that it was prepared to start the repatriation at any time. The country's National Security Advisor U Thaung Tun assured the UNSC that repatriation would take place by using the framework worked out jointly by Bangladesh and Burma in 1992. However, despite such a pledge, seven months have passed with no sign of repatriation. Under the memorandum of understanding with Bangladesh, Burma promised to stem the flow of refugees. In less than two weeks after signing the document, more than 100,000 Rohingyas crossed the border into Bangladesh. Anticipating the security council's displeasure over its inaction, Naypyidaw was smart enough to cook up yet another scheme—the Union Enterprise Mechanism, with the purported aim to extend humanitarian assistance and resettlement of repatriated Rohingyas. The UNSC fell into the trap and in a presidential statement it “welcomed” the signing of the memorandum with Bangladesh and the formation of the Union Enterprise Mechanism.

Despite its explicit commitment to UNSC to cooperate with Bangladesh in expediting the repatriation process, in contrast to 1992 accord, Burma further tightened the eligibility criteria for the Rohingyas' return and the verification process, thwarting any substantive effort for repatriation. In essence, it rebuffed the calls made by the UNSC in its two meetings held in September and November 2017.

The Burmese swindlers made best use of November 23 agreement with Bangladesh to stave off UNSC criticism for not progressing with repatriation. In a December UNSC meeting, Burma's envoy to UN informed the council that repatriation would begin within the next two months. While the gullible world body appeared to have fallen for the hoax, true to its colour, a week before the commencement of repatriation (on 22 January), Burma demanded family-wise list of Rohingyas—a demand that Bangladesh subsequently complied with.

Even though the Burmese threw in a spanner in the latest effort of repatriation, its minister for international cooperation, Kyaw Tin, claimed that his country was ready to welcome refugees and held Bangladesh responsible for the delay. One hopes while assessing the sequence of stalled repatriation, eminent members of the UNSC delegation would bear in mind the subterfuges that the Burmese resorted to in undermining the repatriation effort.

In their meeting with the UNSC delegation, Rohingya refugees handed over a 13-point demand which they had earlier passed on to the visiting Burmese minister for social welfare. Included in the list were demands for restoration of their citizenship rights, bringing the perpetrators of heinous crimes to justice, ensuring international presence in Arakan, return of ancestral land confiscated by the authorities, payment of compensation for losses, presence of international media and human rights groups in Arakan, release of all political prisoners and closure of internally displaced camps. In other words, the refugee community demanded ensuring “protected return to protected homeland”—a plan that was floated in the February 2018 Rohingya conference in Berlin that has gained near unanimous acceptance of the global Rohingya community.

While briefing the press in Bangladesh, a member of the UNSC delegation noted “We don't have any magic solution in the Security Council”. May he be reminded that maintaining “world peace and security” forms the core function of the security council and the council is duty bound to deliver on both counts? All states that are members of the council are meant to act on what is good for international community and not be guided by their own selfish political, strategic and economic interests. Any departure from this would tantamount to violation of the UN Charter. Rohingyas do not want UNSC delegation to whisk around a magic wand in its search for solution. They want the UNSC to adhere to the UN Charter, in word and spirit, to ensure their protected return to protected homeland and bring the perpetrators to justice.

The influential UK permanent representative Karen Pierce observed “…it is not the Security Council's fault that there is a crisis.” Well, not quite so. For decades, the Burmese state has pursued a policy of annihilation of ethnic Rohingya considered as “the most persecuted minority in the world” by the United Nations. As the community was gradually stripped of their citizenship and other associated rights, being subjected to methodical discrimination and unleashing of spikes of violence periodically triggering massive refugee flows, the international community opted to look the other way. Rohingyas were also considered a dispensable lot as western countries raced to exploit the resources and engage in trade with the genocidal regime under the rubric of supporting democratic transition. Every veto wielder in the security council is guilty of complicity in the four decade long slow genocide. The difference in complicity among them is in degree and not in kind.

This charade is exposed when UK representative in the delegation Pierce told BBC in Burma on May 1 that there is no difference between Burma's domestic investigation and international investigation as long as Aung San Suu Kyi accepts and launches the investigation with the help of the security council. What could be crueller for the victims of genocide than the security council openly lending its collective assistance to the genocidal government to conduct such investigation into its own crimes?

Over the last four decades, the UN has failed to stop genocide and other atrocious crimes that led to death and displacement of millions (Rwanda, Bosnia, Sudan and now Burma). The onus lies on the permanent members of the security council to make the institution functional and relevant. The Rohingya case provides an opportunity for the UN's redemption. Ensuring protected return to protected homeland and bringing the perpetrators to justice is the first step in that direction.

While members of the UNSC delegation return to New York and deliberate on their whirlwind mission, one hopes they bear in mind that for the first time in the history of the august body that is tasked to maintain global peace and security, they had the rare opportunity of visiting the sites where genocide was perpetrated by a murderous regime.

C R Abrar teaches international relations at the University of Dhaka.

Evidence of official acknowledgement of Rohingyas being settled in Mayu district in northern Arakan as late as 1964. COURTESY: AUTHOR

By CR Abrar
April 10, 2018

Only durable solution to Burma's Rohingya Genocide

Last week, Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina expressed her dismay at the stalemate on the repatriation of the Rohingyas. “We've been making various efforts… but there has been virtually no progress,” she said. A day earlier, her foreign affairs adviser, Gowher Rizvi, called for re-imposition of sanctions against Burma. “Without pressure, nothing will happen. Myanmar won't be secure for the Rohingyas. If Myanmar is not secure, Rohingyas will not go back,” the adviser noted. Underscoring the severity of the situation, Rizvi went on to state, “If Myanmar can get away [with that], there will be no security of minorities anywhere in the world. So, we really need to wake up,” he said, calling for “extraordinary international support” for the Rohingyas.

So far Burma has cleared some 600 cases for repatriation in response to Bangladesh's supplied list of 8,030 names. The former accused the latter of not adhering to the terms of the agreement in preparing the list. Dhaka rejected the allegation. It feels betrayed by Naypyidaw's machinations to stall the much-desired repatriation. Included in those are: coming up with new demands and inordinate delay in verification.

The repatriation and the physical arrangement deals, signed on November 23, 2017 and January 16, 2018 respectively, set the January 23 deadline for the repatriation of 670,000 Rohingyas who sought shelter in this country, fleeing atrocities of a monumental scale in the Arakan state. In order to placate its eastern neighbour, Bangladesh refrained from including in the list more than 200,000 Rohingyas who came before August 25, 2017.

The Burmese attitude and handling of the repatriation process raise the question if Naypyidaw was ever sincere in taking back the Rohingyas. At a time when repatriation deals were being negotiated, instead of creating an enabling condition, the security forces in Burma continued their operations in the northern Arakan, killing people, torching houses and forcing the survivors to seek asylum in Bangladesh until a few weeks ago. As a matter of strategy and to erase the evidence of genocide, Naypyidaw is bulldozing the charred dwellings and other structures of Rohingya villages and vegetation. It is also setting up security installations and facilitating transmigration of Rakhine Buddhists in the Rohingya land. Press reports inform that members of the Rakhine community of Bangladesh are also being encouraged by the Burmese authorities to settle in the Rohingya land—in all likelihood, with the purported aim to malign Bangladesh that Buddhists are not safe in this land.

The so-called “temporary shelters” in a closed zone with high-perimeter, barbed wire fences and watch towers clearly indicate the interned conditions in which the repatriated Rohingyas would be in for uncertain periods, before (if ever) they are settled in their own homes. The above conditions, coupled with the failure to acknowledge the wanton atrocities committed and prosecute the perpetrators, the bizarre laying of blame on the Rohingyas for torching their own homes, and the outright refusal to consider restoration of citizenship and other associated rights, have led discerning observers to conclude that a “safe, dignified and sustainable repatriation of Rohingyas” is no longer a valid option. It also needs to be borne in mind that since August 25, 2017, despite calls for independent international enquiry into the violence, thus far Burma has remained resolute in not granting full access to areas of concern to the UN Fact Finding Mission, the Special Rapporteur on human rights in Burma, and also the office of High Commissioner for Human Rights, impeding the process of establishing truth and accountability. Such conditions led the International Commission of Jurists to conclude that “The current situation in Rakhine State is incongruous to voluntary returns of the Rohingya refugees.”

Of the three “durable solutions” recognised in conventional refugee discourse, if “voluntary repatriation” is ruled out, then “third-country resettlement” and “local integration” remain the other options. Are those options feasible in the Rohingya refugee context?

Very recently, the special envoy of the Canadian prime minister recommended that Canada should welcome refugees from the Rohingya community. Days ago, the Filipino president also expressed a similar interest. There is no reason to believe if at all these countries and others will end up taking Rohingyas; the number in all likelihood would be paltry compared to the existing refugee caseload. In that context, such declarations should be essentially viewed as well-meaning expressions of solidarity with the Rohingyas. With the United States, the largest refugee receiving country, in retreat from its decades-long policy of admitting refugees and with the increase in sway of right-wing political forces in Europe and Australia, the future of a third-country resettlement appears to be bleak.

Against the current anti-refugee, anti-migrant and xenophobic context, particularly in the global north, Bangladesh has set a unique example by admitting and providing shelter to the hapless victims of genocide. It has done so despite being a resource-poor and densely populated country. Bangladesh government has categorically stated that local integration of Rohingyas is not an option, a view largely shared by its populace. Such a policy, if ever considered, will likely be politically charged and will, in all likelihood, work against the national consensus that exists in favour of the Rohingyas now. There is also the important moral and strategic question: by exploring solutions other than voluntary return, would not the international community be complicit in fulfilling the long-term Burmese agenda of depopulating Arakan of the Rohingyas?

Thus, if safe, dignified and voluntary repatriation is not in the offing, if third-country resettlement is a non-starter, and if local integration is not a practical proposition, what fate should lie for the Rohingyas? Surely, Bangladesh does not have the capacity to take care of more than a million people for an uncertain period. At this time of global uncertainty, there is always the likelihood of the outbreak of new humanitarian crises and hence no guarantee that the international community will continue to support maintaining the Rohingya refugees for perpetuity. All these lead us to think of a creative and practical durable solution to address the issue. The Protected Return to Protected Homeland (PR2PH) plan, presented at the Berlin Myanmar Genocide Conference in February this year by the members of global Rohingya community and their supporters, is an important contribution in that conversation.

The core of PR2PH plan is the declaration of northern Arakan as the Rohingya Homeland, the ancestral home of the Rohingya, protected by international forces and ensuring the return of 1 million Rohingyas from Bangladesh and other members of Rohingya diaspora who fled what Amartya Sen and Desmond Tutu had termed as “slow burning genocide” to Arakan permanently, or on a temporary basis, to rebuild their homeland through self-rule. It will also entail setting up a demilitarised zone south of Maungdaw ensuring that no Tatmadaw forces are present in the region. Such an arrangement will address the Rohingya's existential need for an internationally protected homeland in northern Arakan within the Union of Burma.

While facilitating their return, Bangladesh and the international community must acknowledge the reality that this is not a typical case of repatriation and thus a matter of agreeing on modalities and setting up of logistics for facilitating the return of refugees to their country of origin, where the situation that led to their flight has registered an improvement. On the contrary, this is a case where the genocidal regime is still in control of the state and has remained resolutely committed in its intent to exterminate the population. Hence, the emphasis is on the concept, Protected Return.

The idea of re-establishing Rohingya homeland, though conceived by the Rohingya leaders, was neatly articulated by Irwin Cotler, a Canadian constitutional lawyer, war crimes justice and legal counsel of Nelson Mandela and Andrei Sakharov, at the Berlin conference. There is little scope to dismiss the Homeland plan as impractical and unfeasible. As has been noted by Rohingya specialist Maung Zarni, the idea of “a home for Rohingya is rooted in the Burmese official documents including Encyclopaedia which defined officially Northern Arakan State (of Mayu Frontier area) as Rohingya homeland (1964) and Myanmar Ministry of Defence's highest leadership spelled this out in July 1961 during the Mujahideen's surrender.” Zarni provides documentary evidence to back his statement and argues that as part of a surrender deal, the military leadership in Rangoon gave in to the Mujahideen's demand to keep Mayu district out of Akyab (Sittwe) based Rakhine control. This suited the military's own agenda of keeping Rakhine nationalists in check. The first founding chief administrator of this homeland for Rohingyas was the then young Lt-Colonel Tin Oo, now 95-year-old Vice Chair of the ruling National League for Democracy, the oldest colleague of Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi. The unwillingness of the Burmese state to provide protection to the Rohingya has necessitated the need for international protection of the designated homeland that very much existed four decades ago.

No doubt the Burmese leadership will oppose the PR2PH plan. Time has long past for the international community to go beyond appeasing the murderous regime and robustly implement the homeland plan for the Rohingyas. This is perhaps the only feasible and legitimate durable solution to save them from the predatory genocidal Burmese politico-military establishment and to avert undesirable consequences that this protracted refugee situation may create not only for Bangladesh, but also for the region as a whole, with wider consequences for the global community.

CR Abrar teaches international relations at the University of Dhaka.

By Maung Zarni
April 9, 2018

Only 2 generations ago the Rohingya people of Northern Arakan or Rakhine State of Myanmar had a homeland.

The homeland of Rohingya people was officially referred to as the Mayu Frontier region, and was a separate administrative district made up of the two predominantly Rohingya, but not segregated towns of Maung Daw and Buthidaung, and parts of Rathaey Daung. Owing to the specific request of the Rohingya community leaders and parliamentary representatives, who were worried about being placed under the regional control of Akyab or Sittwe-based Rakhine nationalists, who clamoured for an autonomous statehood for Rakhine, the Burmese Ministry of Defence in Rangoon established Mayu District in the late 1950’s as a distinct administrative region, and placed it under the Ministry’s Border Affairs Division. The first founding chief administrator of this homeland for Rohingyas is the then young Lt-Colonel Tin Oo, now 95-years-old Vice Chair of the ruling National League for Democracy.

Because of the two ongoing separatist movements – Rakhine Buddhists’ independence struggle and Rohingyas’ Mujahedeen movements –the new Rohingya district was not fully operational under Tin Oo’s military command until 1961.

By virtue of his deputy-commandership of the All Rakhine Command (now Western Command), my own relative, Zeya Kyaw Htin Major Ant Kywe, was deputy administrator of Mayu District in 1961 while the Commander Lt-Colonel Ye Gaung, who later became Ne Win’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, was Mayu Region’s Chief Administrator.

Even in the formative years of General Ne Win’s coup government that went by the name of the Revolutionary Council, the military government kept intact the official recognition of Mayu District as Rohingya’s ancestral and contemporaneous homeland. The official Myanmar Encyclopedia Volume 9 (1964) left nothing equivocal about this recognition: “the Mayu District is home to the Rohingya people, who make up 70% to 75% of the district’s population. Largely adherents of Islam, Rohingyas are native people of this region. Majority of them are farmers, labourers and fishermen.”

Today, the large swath of their homeland – stretching 100 Km – has become a UNESCO-worthy World Heritage site of mass killings where 318 villages had been burned systematically by Myanmar Tatmadaw and auxiliary troops which subsequently bulldozed both charred village remains and unknown number of mass graves.

Since the 1990’s when the United Nations first set up the UN Special Rapporteur to monitor and investigate pervasive human rights abuses in Burma, including those to which Rohingya population in Northern Rakhine have been subjected to successive Myanmar or Burmese governments, both military and civilian, have categorically denied the existence of Rohingya people as an ethnic community of the country, let alone acknowledge truthfully that Rohingyas were accorded a specific region of their own.

In fact, ex-General Tin Oo, the elderly Vice Chair of the ruling NLD and the oldest colleague of Myanmar State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi knew these facts – about the state’s official embrace of Rohingyas as an ethnic people of the Union of Burma and the Ministry of Defence’s patronage in the establishment of Mayu Frontier Region for the Rohingya community. After the two bouts of organized violence took place in Rakhine state involving both Rohingya Muslims and Rakhine Buddhists, Tin Oo was heard on the Burmese language service of the Radio Free Asia denying that Rohingyas were a distinct ethnic people, in spite of his own intimate knowledge of the fact to the contrary.

The Burmese public, known for their pervasive anti-Muslim and anti-Indian subcontinent racism, is of course to believe one of their iconic anti-military veterans when Tin Oo repeated the Burmese military’s institutionalized stance: the country has no ethnic group named Rohingya, and those who identify as such are unwanted “Bengali” migrants which the neighbouring Bangladesh tacitly encouraged to illegally migrate into the sparsely populated Rakhine or Arakan through the 170-miles-longtah porous land and river boundaries.

When Aung San Suu Kyi infamously asked the US Ambassador Scott Marciel (UN officials and international diplomats) not to use the name “Rohingya” because in her misguided view calling Rohingya by their own group name was going to further inflame the Burmese nationalist passion against the group she was in fact driving the last nail into the coffin of Rohingya identity and presence as an ethnic community living in their own ancestral land of Mayu Frontier region.

In 3 consecutive years since the mass violence flared up against Rohingyas in Rakhine state, I had attempted to provide a select network of Burmese opinion makers – including nationally acclaimed writers, journalists, artists, as well as a few dozen spiritual leaders drawn from Buddhist clergy, Christian churches, Hindu and Muslim communities – with Burmese language official documentation which expose the intense and intentional denial of Rohingya identity, presence and history and, conversely, support solidly the claims of Rohingyas’ claim of Northern Arakan as their ancestral homeland and their pre-British presence on it.

The power of 40-years of sustained propaganda by the military is such that the otherwise intelligent and compassionate Burmese remain unpersuaded by the facts about Rohingya people: my non-Rohingya Burmese friends stare at the official encyclopedia, official transcripts by Prime Minister U Nu, high ranking military officials including the Deputy Commander in Chief of the Burmese armed forces, as well as a wide array of documentation as if the old official facts were lies and the new official lies were facts.

Alas, truths are fragile and lies die hard, in a deeply racist mental culture such as today’s Myanmar.

Tragically, Myanmar’s rejection of Rohingya people is complete and total: all key pillars of the State and society – namely the powerful Armed Forces, the Sangha or Buddhist Order, the political class led by Ms Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy – have stated their counter-factual view that Rohingyas do not exist, never existed and will never exist as who they say they are as an ethnic group. Worse still, the country’s Christian and other ethnic non-Burmese who also suffer from decades of military oppression and cultural subjugation at the hands of the dominant Bama majority have expressed no empathy or solidarity when it comes to Rohingya’s plight.

In light of this society-wide rejection of Rohingya people a mere bilateral repatriation scheme has proven to be absolutely no panacea: in fact, repatriation has become a vicious cycle for Rohingyas and Bangladesh. Such well-worn repatriation mantra expressed as “voluntary, safe and dignified” return will simply not do.

The only viable way for the Rohingyas to regain normalcy of life and have a chance to rebuild their communal life is more proactive and aggressive intervention by the external state and non-state actors.

Specifically, Rohingyas need to be provided with their own homeland under international protection. The talk of the restoration of homeland to this world’s largest population with no piece of earth they can call home, belong to or settle down must not be misconstrued as another attempt at ‘ethnic separatism’ as the Burmese military and the public have done, in reaction to the call made by the Berlin Conference on Myanmar Genocide. How the protected homeland will work, and which forces will provide the protection, who will administer the protected homeland are questions that can be pursued once the idea is accepted among key state and non-state actors with express concerns about the plight of 1 million Rohingyas which Myanmar has “dumped” on the sovereign territory of the Bangladeshi neighbour.

As a matter of fact, in her address to the UN General Assembly last fall Prime Minister Sheik Hasina of Bangladesh officially proposed the creation of a ‘safe zone’ in N. Arakan state where Rohingyas have been expelled. Hasina’s proposal needs to be looked afresh again with urgency and seriousness, with the view towards forging an international alliance of friends that can in turn firmly push for restoring Rohingyas their rightful homeland where they can belong, and where they can rebuild their communities, under international protection.

Over the last 40 years, there have so far been 3 such agreements since the perpetrating state of then Burma launched the very first centrally organized wave of violent mass expulsion of Rohingyas in February 1978. None had worked. There are absolutely no indications that the current bilateral agreement ceremoniously signed in the Burmese capital Nay Pyi Daw on 23 November will be any different.

By all means maintain the current talks of economic sanctions, as well as international justice and accountability regarding Myanmar perpetrators including Suu Kyi and her military partners in power. But what Rohingyas need and want more than anything is a homeland where they can live in peace and rebuild their scorch-earthed communities under international protection. The solution to Myanmar genocide will not come from the perpetrators.

It is high time that Bangladesh lead a serious international effort to help actualize the protected return of Rohingyas to their protected homeland in their ancestral place of Northern Arakan or Rakhine. Such an effort needs to be given a serious grassroots and state-level backing worldwide. For Rohingyas deserve and need a piece of earth which they can call home, just like every human community that walks this planet.

A Buddhist humanist from Burma, Maung Zarni is a member of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace Development Environment, former Visiting Lecturer with Harvard Medical School, specializing in racism and violence in Burma and Sri Lanka, and Non-resident Scholar in Genocide Studies with Documentation Center – Cambodia. His analyses have appeared in leading newspapers including the New York Times, The Guardian and the Times. Among his academic publications on Rohingya genocide are The Slow-Burning Genocide of Myanmar’s Rohingyas (Pacific Rim Law and Policy Journal), An Evolution of Rohingya Persecution in Myanmar: From Strategic Embrace to Genocide, (Middle East Institute, American University), and Myanmar’s State-directed Persecution of Rohingyas and Other Muslims (Brown World Affairs Journal, forthcoming). He holds a PhD (U Wisconsin at Madison) and a MA (U California), and has held various teaching, research and visiting fellowships at the universities in Asia, Europe and USA including Oxford, LSE, UCL Institute of Education) , National-Louis, Malaya, and Brunei. He is the recipient of the “Cultivation of Harmony” award from the Parliament of the World’s Religions (2015).

By Gerald Caplan
March 24, 2018

“All over the world there were people like me sitting in offices, day after day after day, who did not fully appreciate the depth and the speed with which you were being engulfed by this unimaginable terror.”

Thus president Bill Clinton apologized to the people of Rwanda when Air Force One briefly landed at Kigali airport four years after the genocide there ended. Par for American presidents, the statement was not remotely true. Mr. Clinton had known exactly what was happening and chose not to intervene despite the appalling scale of the slaughter of Rwanda’s Tutsis by Hutu extremists. 

But many in the Western world were indeed ignorant about the situation, which is one of the explanations later adduced for the failure of the “international community” to intervene and stop the slaughter. Most Western newspapers and TV networks either didn’t know or didn’t care about a tiny nation in Central Africa called Rwanda. For many, their negligible interest in Africa was appeased by the first free election in South Africa, which happened to take place in the same month, April, 1994, that the genocide began. 

With sparse or no direct information from the media, many Western politicians understood little of the events engulfing Rwanda, and had little incentive to provide the reinforcements urged so passionately by Roméo Dallaire, the head of the puny UN military mission to Rwanda. The world stood by, hands in pocket, and passively watched.

If ignorance was the excuse, anti-genocide activists vowed that never again would such a calamity go unnoticed by the powers that be. The first test case − the “next Rwanda” − came soon enough, as the government of Sudan unleashed mass death against the Darfuri people in the west of the country in 2003. The New York Times’ Nicholas Kristof wrote column after outraged column on his first-hand observations in Darfur. Movie stars investigated and spoke out. A worldwide grassroots campaign materialized. Thousands of Canadians added their voices.

This effort was successful, at least formally. U.S. President George W. Bush and his Secretary of State, Colin Powell, both agreed that a genocide was being organized against the people of Darfur. But somehow, that did not impact American policy. Despite the provisions of the 1948 UN Convention Against Genocide, neither the U.S. nor any other government took direct action against the government of Sudan. While attacks against the Darfuri continue to this day, and action groups persist in publicizing them, many activists were shattered to find that knowledge of the crime didn’t at all translate into action against the crime. 

None of this, of course, prevented politicians around the world from continuing self-importantly to swear “Never Again” on their watch. 

Now here we go again. 

It is not possible that any government anywhere remains unaware of the attacks being levelled by the government of Myanmar against the country’s own Rohingya people. It is not possible that any of these governments are oblivious to the evidence that has led many prominent and responsible observers to describe these attacks as having a genocidal purpose. The indomitable Mr. Kristof is back telling Times readers “I Saw a Genocide in Slow Motion.”

Millions around the world seem to care about the fate of the Rohingya, none of them with any power to intervene. The UN’s human rights chief, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, reports that Myanmar’s military have committed “acts of genocide” against the Rohingya people. Yet the UN Security Council is paralyzed, this time by China, just as it was paralyzed by Clinton’s America over Rwanda. 

Thoughtful but deeply frustrated observers like Mr. Kristof and Tony Burman, the excellent Canadian foreign-affairs columnist, are pressing hard for some kind of intervention – ANY kind, almost. Mr. Burman wants Canada to get involved, and we can surely be certain that when Bob Rae – a wise and sensible man — soon hands in his report as the federal government’s special envoy for the crisis, he too will call on Canada to take action of some kind.

People look back now and try to recollect where they were during the Rwandan genocide and why they didn’t speak out while it mattered. In a few short years, they’ll be asking themselves the same thing about Myanmar. But this time, ignorance will be no excuse. We know exactly what is happening, and who is making it happen. That’s no longer the issue. The only questions are: What will we and our government do about it this time? Has Never Again actually become Again and Again?

Gerald Caplan is an Africa scholar and former New Democratic Party national director

Rohingya refugees are seen at Thaingkhali makeshift refugee camp in Cox's Bazar, September 14, 2017. Photo: Reuters/Danish Siddiqui

By CR Abrar
March 11, 2018

As hopes for an early, voluntary, safe and dignified repatriation of the Rohingya refugees to a protected homeland in Arakan fade, as Myanmar authorities persist in a “systematic,” lower-intensity persecution and violence in northern Arakan, and as new batches of expelled Rohingyas continue to cross the border into Bangladesh, the demand for bringing the perpetrators of the heinous crime to justice, including State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and her military cohorts, gains traction.

On Friday, Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein, the United Nations human rights chief, called for allegations of atrocities committed against the Rohingyas to be referred to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for prosecution. Earlier, he informed the Human Rights Council that he strongly suspected that “acts of genocide” might have taken place against Rohingyas in Rakhine since August last year. He construed reports of bulldozing of alleged mass graves as a “deliberate attempt by the authorities to destroy evidence of potential international crimes, including possible crimes against humanity.” The rights chief urged UN General Assembly to establish a new independent mechanism to expedite criminal proceedings in courts against those responsible.

Earlier, Prof Yanghee Lee, the UN's human rights envoy to Myanmar, expressed the view that there were grounds for bringing the country's de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, before an international tribunal for failing to intervene in the “clearance operation” the military had launched in Arakan following alleged militant attacks on several police posts and army base on August 25.

In another move, three female Nobel peace laureates urged Bangladesh, the UN and other state parties to refer Myanmar military and other perpetrators to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for the “genocide” against the Rohingyas. “Alternatively, the ICC prosecutor should open an independent investigation into the crimes against humanity and genocide perpetrated in Rakhine state,” they observed, after visiting Rohingya refugee sites in Bangladesh. One of the three laureates and an eminent legal expert, Shirin Ebadi, stated that as Myanmar was not a state party to the Rome Statute, the UN Security Council can recognise Myanmar's crimes against humanity and then refer that to the ICC. “We want this case to be discussed at the UN Security Council and there is sufficient evidence for this to take place,” she asserted.

Denouncing the Myanmar army's “bald-faced lie” against the “mountains of evidence,” Phil Robertson of the Human Rights Watch noted that “they've been covering up their human rights atrocities for decades.” Referring to absurd claims of the Myanmar military leadership, Robertson observed, “Statements like these indicate why the international community must prioritise hauling Senior General Min Aung Hlaing and other Burmese military commanders up in the international criminal court to stand trial for the crimes against humanity they've ordered or committed.”

Addressing the Berlin conference on Myanmar Genocide on February 27, 2018, Ambassador David Scheffer, who played a critical role in establishing the ICC, reminded the audience that “the age of impunity is over.” He stated that one cannot commit crimes on people and assume that he could get away doing so with impunity, as one could twenty-five years ago. When a state thrusts a million people on a neighbouring state, the argument of non-interference in domestic affairs becomes irrelevant. Such a context demands international actions, and judicial option remains one among those.

Scheffer argues that ideally justice for Rohingya against Myanmar military and political leadership needs to be pursued in the national court as jurisdiction resides there. That option is improbable in the short term, though under a changed political dispensation in Myanmar, perhaps in 15-20 years' time, it could be a likely scenario. After weighing in several options including those of the International Court of Justice, universal jurisdiction of other national courts, and hybrid war crimes tribunals such as those set up in Cambodia, Sierra Leone, East Timor and Kosovo, Schaffer informs that a referral under the Rome Statute is perhaps the best option. If such a reference is made, then the ICC will enjoy the full jurisdiction.

Invoking the Rome Statute by the Security Council to bring perpetrators of the Myanmar genocide to justice may not be an easy task. Thus far, states such as China and Russia remain committed to the wrong doer. The challenge remains two-fold. On the one hand, engage in diplomatic efforts to make those countries abstain from voting when such a resolution is passed. On the other hand, exert moral pressure by building international public opinion against the Myanmar genocide demanding accountability of the perpetrators and shaming their supporters by putting them on record.

It is true that Myanmar, the site of crimes, is not a state party to the Rome Statute, and the perpetrators, the country's civil and military leadership, are not nationals of a state party. But that does not absolve them from facing justice. This is because, as Scheffer persuasively argues, “the crime scene does not stop at the border; it very purposively and intentionally flows over into Bangladesh in a massive way.” In their act of “ethnic cleansing,” the Myanmar leadership removed Rohingya population from one part of their territory. Its intent was not to move them to another part, but to banish them to Bangladesh. Thus, its intent, purpose and strategy were very clear. It made Bangladesh experience the impact of commission of all sorts of crimes of mass murder, gang rape, rampant torture, and destruction of livelihoods, dwellings, villages and townships. Thus, as an affected party, Bangladesh can self-refer to the ICC. The question is whether Bangladesh has the political will.

Any other state party can refer as well. The state concerned does not have to be an affected party. The other recourse lies with the ICC prosecutor. Her office can also make the argument of the crime scene and move the ICC.

So far, states appear unwilling to move in that direction. This necessitates a concerted engagement of the global civil society with the issue as it engaged to end the American occupation of Vietnam or in dismantling the apartheid regime in South Africa. Thus, building international solidarity through mobilising various quarters including poets, artists and singers is crucial in moulding international public opinion. Care must be taken so that such a campaign remains victim-driven. The Rohingya voices remain absolutely crucial. Appropriate training in documentation must be imparted so that along with capturing the survivors' testimonies, evidence on how the command structures operated is collected.

Those engaged in the campaign must have the unflinching faith that “the bubble of security and impunity is now getting tighter and tighter, and therefore, demanding justice; documenting cases certainly are not exercises in futility.”

At a time when the world community celebrates the 70th anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the framing of the Genocide Convention, the Rohingyas' call for justice go unheeded. The international community must ensure that they are delivered on that account.

CR Abrar teaches international relations at the University of Dhaka. He acknowledges the rich contributions of the panelists at the Conference on Myanmar Genocide held at the Holocaust Museum, Berlin on February 27, 2018.

A refugee girl sings a song for Swiss Federal President Alain Berset at the Kutupalong Rohingya refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, on Tuesday. (Peter Klaunzer/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock)

By Azeem Ibrahim
February 7, 2018

The international community and the politics of the word “genocide” have a long and complex history. In the wake of the Holocaust, the prevention of mass atrocities was one of the founding aims of the United Nations. Yet ever since the U.N.’s establishment, and the enshrinement into international law of the duty of the international community to intervene in cases of mass slaughter, individual member nations and the U.N. assembly as a whole have systematically resisted characterizing humanitarian crises as “genocides” in order to avoid their moral and legal duty to intervene. In other words, we take the concept of genocide extremely seriously. But we tend to take a more “nuanced” approach when genocides are actually happening in the world.

Even so, French President Emmanuel Macron has now spoken of the Rohingya crisis in Burma – where, since August, two-thirds of the minority population have been pushed out of the country in a sustained campaign by the country’s military — as “genocide.” U.N. humanitarian officials describe the situation as bearing “the hallmarks of genocide.”

Meanwhile, Yanghee Lee, the U.N. special envoy on human rights in Burma, has held back from making the categorical declaration of genocide “until a credible international tribunal or court had weighed the evidence,” presumably for the usual political reasons. But given the mounting evidence, it is becoming increasingly difficult to characterize what is happening with euphemisms or legally watered-down terms such as “ethnic cleansing.”

As if the obvious fact of large-scale displacement were not enough, evidence is now emerging of a number of previously unreported mass graves around Rakhine state, the area where most Rohingya resided before the current wave of persecution began.

The details are telling. According to Associated Press reports, the bodies were deliberately and systematically disfigured to make them unrecognizable. For the attackers, massacring their enemies does not seem to have been enough; they also appear to have been intent on destroying the identity and memory of those they killed.

Needless to say, no one in the Burmese state apparatus has heard anything about mass graves. But just to be sure that no evil shall be seen or heard, the U.N. special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Burma has been barred from the country — like just about every humanitarian nongovernmental organization involved with the Rohingya, Médecins Sans Frontières being only the most notorious example.

Diplomatic “politeness” aside, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that Burma has reverted to its previous status as a rogue state. It pursues a systematic policy of genocide within its borders and completely stonewalls any attempt, however feeble, by the international community to establish the facts of the situation and impose some degree of accountability.

That Burma would choose to pursue such a course of action is not completely surprising. But it is deeply disappointing after the hard work the country has put into re-engaging with the international community in the past 10 years. Since 2008, the former military junta has been working to implement a putative transition to democracy, which culminated with the election of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi as leader of the civilian government. Many Western observers, myself included, had hoped that this could lead to an improvement in the humanitarian record of the country.

Yet despite the so-called transition to democracy, the old military leadership retains an extraordinary amount of power and influence in the country, including complete autonomy over matters of security, defense and foreign relations. What is more, much of the Burmese Buddhist population, including the leadership of the civilian government, has absorbed the decades of dehumanizing anti-Rohingya propaganda perpetrated by previous military regimes, and the current “crackdown” does in fact have wide popular support. Most of the country is rallying around the assault on the Rohingya.

Nevertheless, the fact that democracy and genocide can go hand in hand is not even the most fundamental and disturbing aspect of this crisis. Rather more frightening is the impotence of the United Nations, the hollowness of international humanitarian law and the moral vacuity of the international community in the age of President Trump. Everyone at the United Nations and in capitals around the world knows that what is going on in Rakhine state is genocide and will one day be defined as such legally. But it is equally certain that the world’s political leaders will contrive to postpone assigning that status until the complete removal of the Rohingya from Burma is a fait accompli. At most, in a decade’s time, some lower-ranking military officials might get carted off to the Hague and scapegoated for the crimes of an entire society. And with that, we will also have washed our hands of our complicity in yet another genocide.

This tragic episode paints a bleak picture of the years ahead of us. Human rights are a keystone of global stability and security. The world’s leaders undermine them at their own peril — and, unfortunately, at our peril, as well. But in an age of collapsing American global power under a callous and unenlightened presidential administration, realpolitik is the name of the game. The West sees nothing to be gained by standing up for the basic human rights of a Muslim population in a faraway country, and no other global power cares. But the precedent this sets for the authoritarian regimes of the world is as dangerous as it is clear. We will be reaping the consequences of our inaction for decades to come.

Azeem Ibrahim is a senior fellow at the Center for Global Policy in Washington and the author of “The Rohingyas: Inside Myanmar’s Genocide.”


By D. Parvaz
February 1, 2018

Why is the international community still struggling to put a name to what's happening in Myanmar?

The Associated Press on Thursday published an exclusive report that adds to a catalog of horrors in Myanmar. The news agency confirmed the presence of at least five previously unreported mass graves filled with the bodies of Rohingya villagers. This counters the Myanmar government’s line that it is only fighting Rohingya insurgents and that such massacres are not taking place.

Yanghee Lee, the U.N.’s special envoy on Myanmar, responded to the report that the months-long military operation against the Rohingya has “the hallmarks” of a genocide” — but wouldn’t say it outright.

The Rohingya are a Muslim minority in Buddhist-majority Myanmar, where they don’t have citizenship rights and have been subject to multiple rounds of crackdowns for decades. The most recent crackdown, started in August after insurgents launched deadly attacks on police posts, has been by far the most brutal. Thus far, it has led to:
Bangladesh and Myanmar have signed a deal to repatriate Rohingya refugees who fled the conflict, but neither government has offered details on how the Rohingya will be sent back home safely when their villages have been burned down and even at the best of times, they were living under apartheid conditions in Myanmar.

The United Nations and the United States got around to calling the operation “ethnic cleansing” in the fall, but have thus far avoided saying it rises to the level of all-out genocide. Genocide is defined as acts “committed with the intent to destroy, in whole, or part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group” and is a crime under international law. Ethnic cleansing is the “rendering an area ethnically homogeneous by using force or intimidation to remove persons of given groups from the area.” It is not in violation of any specific international law.

In December, Zeid Ra‘ad al-Hussein, the U.N.’s human rights chief, asked: “Can anyone — can anyone — rule out that elements of genocide may be present?”

Zeid will not be seeking another term in the position, citing “the current geopolitical context, might involve bending a knee in supplication; muting a statement of advocacy; lessening the independence and integrity of my voice.” Veteran diplomat Bill Richardson, a member of the advisory group on the Rohingya crisis, also announced his resignation from his position earlier this month saying that the board’s mission was tantamount to “whitewash” and said Myanmar’s leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, lacked “moral leadership.”

“It’s disappointing that this has been called the most egregious example of persecution, ethnic cleansing, even of genocide in the world today, and yet, there does not seem to be much attention being given to it,” said Robert Marro, director outreach in Washington for the Burma Task Force.

“Even people like Bill Richardson resigning from the commission and criticizing Suu Kyi is not making headline news,” he told ThinkProgress, adding the fact that so little attention is being paid in general to the situation is “very disappointing,” especially given that the crisis is ongoing.

“We’ve been saying more months and months that are all of the signs are indicative of some kind of genocide going on.” Marro said that all of the group’s field research indicates that the number of those killed is “substantially greater” than official estimates. He added that he’s not surprised that these graves were discovered and is certain others will be found.

Still, the U.N. — and the international community writ large — is trying to read the tea leaves laid out by mass graves before trying to figure out if Maynmar is carrying out a genocide. Lee told reporters that she is unable to make any definitive statement about genocide until, according to the AP, a “credible international tribunal or court” makes that determination, but, she added, the U.N. is “seeing signs and is building up to that.” 

Rohingya refugees in Balukhali camp on January 14, 2018, in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh. (Photo: Allison Joyce/Getty Images)

By Jeff Crisp
January 17, 2018

As Rohingya refugees poured out of Myanmar into Bangladesh last fall, the two countries were already negotiating mass returns. This wouldn’t be the first premature repatriation of Rohingya, but today it reflects a trend of unsafe returns, says refugee expert Jeff Crisp.

ONE OF THE most striking characteristics of the Rohingya exodus from Myanmar to Bangladesh has been the speed with which the two states have started to discuss and plan for the refugees’ repatriation.

On August 25, 2017, an attack by militants claiming to represent Myanmar’s stateless Muslim minority prompted a violent response by the country’s security forces. Within just two months, over 600,000 Rohingya refugees fled to Bangladesh.

Even as refugees continued to flee – at least 50,000 more by the end of 2017 and smaller numbers in January 2018 – Bangladesh and Myanmar started negotiations in early October and reached a bilateral agreement by mid-November to begin repatriation within two months.

Many aid agencies and human rights organizations expressed serious reservations about the premature nature of this accord. But other members of the international community were warming to the idea that the speedy return of the Rohingya would avert a very large, long-term refugee situation in Bangladesh that would be extremely expensive to maintain and which would have a destabilizing impact on the region.

On November 24, 2017, for example, E.U. foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini issued a highly optimistic statement on the Rohingya following a visit to both countries, saying, “We expect their return to happen fast and in safe conditions.”

Myanmar and Bangladesh continue to express confidence that the repatriation process is on track to begin January 22. Yet Rohingya refugees are extremely reluctant to return to a country where they have been subjected to terrible violence and where they would continue to be deprived of citizenship, rights and economic opportunities. Some have said they would rather die in Bangladesh than return to Myanmar.

Almost no details have been released about the way in which Bangladesh and Myanmar would organize and finance the return and reintegration of such a massive refugee population. And the U.N.’s refugee and migration agencies have both been at pains to point out that they have had no involvement in the planning process.

While these considerations seem likely to delay the implementation of the repatriation process and limit the number of refugees that it involves, there is no room for complacency.

First, large numbers of Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh before, most notably in 1978 and 1991. And on both occasions, they were forced to return to Myanmar on the basis of bilateral agreements signed between the two countries, with the refugees being expelled from Bangladesh by means of intimidation, physical violence, the use of military force, the withdrawal of food aid and other forms of assistance.

Shamefully, the U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR) was both complicit in and publicly silent about these events. That disregard for the rights and dignity of the Rohingya was encapsulated by a telling comment made by one of the organization’s senior officials at a meeting I attended in 1992. “These are primitive people,” they remarked. “At the end of the day they will go where they are told to go.”

It is now incumbent on UNHCR to ensure that there is no repetition of these earlier scenarios, insisting that any repatriation that takes place in the future does so in a way that is both voluntary and safe, as stipulated in the organization’s own guidelines on refugee returns. That will require UNHCRto take a robust stand in its dealings with Bangladesh, Myanmar, the E.U.and other donors, all of whom are likely to have other priorities.

A second cause for concern is that the premature repatriation of the Rohingya refugees is by no means an isolated example.

Recently, Somali refugees in Kenya have been encouraged, cajoled and induced to repatriate by threats of camp closure, reduced assistance levels and increased indebtedness. Large numbers of Afghan refugees have been repatriating from Pakistan as a result of harassment and intimidation, despite the deteriorating security situation and diminishing opportunities in Afghanistan.

In Cameroon, the military has used strong-arm tactics to expel thousands of refugees who have fled from extremist violence in Nigeria. And in Lebanon, the government and other local actors have been exerting growing pressure on refugees to return to Syria, a country where armed conflict and human rights abuses continue unabated.

As demonstrated by the earlier experience of the Rohingya, the principle of voluntary and safe repatriation has never been universally respected, and it would be misleading to suggest these developments are entirely new. Even so, the scale and frequency of involuntary refugee returns in recent years suggest that a fundamental norm of refugee protection is now being challenged as never before.

Can this trend be halted? The omens are not good. The world’s most prosperous states appear to have concluded that the best way to deal with asylum seekers arriving at their borders is to send them back to where they came from: countries such as Turkey, Libya and Afghanistan in the case of the E.U.; Central America with respect to the U.S.; Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Vietnam for Australia. Developing countries with much weaker economies and far larger refugee populations have taken full note of these developments and are understandably asking why they should not follow the same example.

Further cause for concern can be found in the negotiation of the 2018 Global Compact on Refugees. On one hand, the 2016 New York Declaration on Refugees and Migrants that established the Global Compact process, asserts that the international community “will actively promote durable solutions” for refugees, “with a focus on sustainable and timely return in safety and dignity.” On the other hand, it asserts that refugee repatriation “should not necessarily be conditioned on the accomplishment of political solutions in the country of origin.”

This statement paves the way for the return of refugees to a country such as Myanmar, where the anticipated democratic transition has failed. Without solutions that include the recognition of Rohingya citizenship and human rights, we are likely to see history repeating itself yet again in the future.

This cannot be a long-term solution MAHMUD HOSSAIN OPU

By Tahsin Noor Salim
January 15, 2018

How can they go back under these conditions?

In order to carry out the repatriation process for the Rohingya, Bangladesh and Myanmar mutually consented to an arrangement on November 23 last year.

The features of the agreement originate from a repatriation bargain made between Myanmar and Bangladesh in 1992. As per the 1992 agreement, Myanmar would only allow those who would be able to submit identity documents.

According to Nay San Lwin, a Rohingya activist, the identity documents of the Rohingya were seized before August 25 or destroyed when their houses were burned.

The question, then, invariably becomes: How can anyone expect those who have had their homes and belongings get razed by fires, who have had their own children be ripped away from their arms and thrown into the same fires, to carry their identification papers with them when they fled from such nightmares?

Some of the other contentious terms of the agreement include:

• Repatriation requiring Myanmar-issued proof of residency

• The Myanmar government’s right to refuse repatriation to individuals

• The repatriated being settled in temporary locations with severely restricted movement

According to Professor CR Abrar, an expert on matters of migration, such a deal will not yield any fruitful result. He also expressed that, “chances are very slim that our expectations on repatriation and rehabilitation of the Rohingya will come true, but we would be enlightened if it turns into reality.”

Similarly, Jim Della-Giacoma holds the view that the agreement is more of a diplomatic ploy and not a serious step in resolving the crisis.

What I believe is also missing in the agreement are the voices and demands of the Rohingya themselves. At an international conference held at Dhaka University on November 29, it was highlighted that the Rohingya currently housed in Kutupalong camp in Cox’s Bazar, had expressed that they had four clear demands:

• The UN army should be deployed for the security of the Rohingyas once they are repatriated

• The perpetrators should be prosecuted and brought before international justice

• The Rohingya should be compensated for their property and other losses

• The Rohingya should be given citizenship and that the Kofi Anan proposal should be implemented

Bangladesh, a relatively poor country with inadequate cultivable land and resources and a population of about 170 million, cannot be responsible to bring a solution to the crisis by itself

It seems unlikely that Myanmar would agree to the proposition for the UN army to be deployed to ensure that the Rohingya are safe. Although Bangladesh wants the involvement of UNHCR, Myanmar is reluctant. It seems that Myanmar is disinclined even about minimal supervision by the international community.

In the memorandum, it mentions that Myanmar has the final say in any dispute. Unfortunately, to the utmost inconvenience of the Rohingya, the ball remains in Myanmar’s court.

Given the uncertain state of affairs, how can the Rohingya wish to be repatriated?

There is no specific time-frame as to how long they will have to remain under such conditions. With such a clause, how can we expect that the Rohingya will be given their due rights as citizens?

Although the Rohingya who have safely crossed the shores are provided essential protection and assistance in Bangladesh, this is not a long-term solution.

What still remains in the grey area is the future of the Rohingya and their children — their ability to secure a source of revenue, access to the justice system and basic rights as citizens.

Bangladesh, a relatively poor country with inadequate cultivable land and resources and a population of about 170 million, cannot be responsible to bring a solution to the crisis by itself.

What we need now is for more affluent countries to shoulder some of that responsibility, and a more pro-active approach from the international community and neutral organisations such as the UN.

To that end, Bangladesh needs more foreign investment as well. The international community can help our nation build up a stronger economy through investing in it. In the long run, it will eventually heighten trade opportunities and generate employment opportunities for the Bangladeshi citizens and the Rohingya as well.

The Rohingya could also be given vocational training to make them occupationally mobile.

With the repatriation process under the aforesaid agreement appearing bleak with looming uncertainties, Bangladesh receiving a helping hand from some of the more well-off nations can only make life that much easier for the Rohingya currently in our shores.

Tahsin Noor Salim is a Researcher at Bangladesh Institute of Legal and International Affairs (BILIA).

Rohingya Exodus