An opportunity to brief important friends

AKM Moinuddin
Thursday, November 16th, 2017

State Minister for Foreign Affairs Md. Shahriar Alam speaking on Bangladesh’s position regarding Rohingya issue at a roundtable discussion in the city. (PID)


FMs of China, Japan, Germany, Sweden to visit Rohingyas before heading towards Myanmar


There is no denying that the people of Bangladesh and the government have not only opened their border, they have opened their homes and hearts for the Rohingyas, the most persecuted people on the earth. When we talk to Rohingyas who arrived here recently, they say they feel as if they are in their own homes. This, indeed, speaks more about the warm welcome they have received.


There is a long and complex history behind this crisis. But the international message is very clear that there must be a mechanism in place to ensure voluntarily, safe, dignified and sustainable repatriation and full implementation of the Kofi Annan Commission report.


This week is extremely important for Bangladesh as the Foreign Ministers of China, Japan, Germany and Sweden are coming to Bangladesh, likely on November 18-19. They will go to Cox’s Bazar to see the Rohingya situations on the ground and have better understanding. Federica Mogherini, high representative of the European Union for foreign affairs and security policy/vice-president of the European Commission, will arrive in the capital on November 19 to join other dignitaries from across the world.

Bangladesh will avail of the opportunity to brief China and other countries about the issue.


Foreign Minister AH Mahmood Ali is willing to stay back in Myanmar’s capital Nay Pyi Taw on November 22-23 following the ASEM Foreign Ministers’ meeting for negotiation and finalisation of a bilateral ‘arrangement’ on repatriation of the Rohingyas who crossed into Bangladesh amid persecution in their homeland.


He cannot visit Nay Pyi Taw on November 16-17 as desired by Myanmar ahead of the ASEM Foreign Ministers’ meeting scheduled for November 20-21.


We understand the foreign ministers who are coming want to get a better understanding about the current Rohingya situation through discussions with Bangladesh top officials ahead of the ASEM foreign ministers’ meeting where Rohingya issue will dominate.


Earlier, the European Union said they intend to seize the opportunity at the ASEM meeting to engage, in the margins thereof, in a constructive dialogue with the Myanmar government and will also continue to liaise with all Asian partners on the current issues.


The EU also encouraged its partners in Asean and the region to engage in this process.


An ASEM Senior Officials’ Meeting (ASEM SOM) in preparation for the 13th ASEM Foreign Ministers’ Meeting (ASEM FMM13) will be held on November 17-19 in Nay Pyi Taw, Myanmar. Myanmar is the host of ASEM FMM13 on November 20-21.


The Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) is an intergovernmental forum for dialogue and cooperation which fosters political dialogue, reinforces economic cooperation, and promotes collaboration in other areas of mutual interest.


Crisis not to prolong, though tough


There will be a solution to the Rohingya crisis through concerted diplomatic efforts though it does not look an easy job, said State Minister for Foreign Affairs M Shahriar Alam. “We don’t think this problem will be resolved easily. At the same time, we don’t think that this problem will prolong.”


He said the government is pushing for sending Rohingyas back to their homeland safely and with dignity. “They’ll surely take back their [Myanmar] nationals. We keep telling them and we’ll convey our message to Myanmar in a stronger way.”


Bangladesh has been able to engage the international community fully. Citing recent reaction came from the Myanmar side after Security Council Presidential Statement on Myanmar, the State Minister said it means their efforts are yielding results and the reaction came as they are getting hurt.


Brushing aside the confusion over India’s support, the State Minister said he does not believe that the Indian External Affairs Minister makes statement only to make Bangladesh happy.


Regarding China’s position, he said all (countries) do not necessarily speak for Bangladesh the way Bangladesh speaks as these countries also have bilateral relations with Myanmar. Shahriar also explained why Bangladesh is not giving refugee status to Rohingya people. “We aren’t considering giving them the refugee status.”


Sexual violence


United Nations Special Representative of the Secretary General on Sexual Violence in Conflict Pramila Patten has said they consistently heard about sexual violence from Rohingya survivors, including gang rape of women by multiple soldiers.


“One survivor described being held in captivity by the Myanmar Armed Forces for 45 days when she was raped repeatedly,” Patten said while wrapping up her weeklong Bangladesh visit on November 12.


She said others still bore visible scars, bruises and bite marks attesting to their ordeal. “Any actor who commits and commands or condones sexual violence against civilians must be held to account,” she added.


The UN envoy visited Bangladesh to better understand the patterns and trends of the sexual violence related to the conflict in Myanmar. She visited several field locations, including the Bangladesh-Myanmar border itself.


The special envoy also said Bangladesh’s efforts and humanity will be remembered in history and her office stands ready to amplify the voices of the survivors and to bridge them to the international community in order to keep a spotlight on this crisis.


“This includes keeping the spotlight of international scrutiny on the perpetrators. I want the survivors to know that they are not alone; I also want to ensure that the government of Bangladesh will not be alone in coming to their aid.”


She said they observed a pattern of widespread atrocities, including sexual violence against Rohingya women and girls who have been systematically targeted on account of their ethnicity and religion.


“A clear picture is emerging from the alleged perpetrators of these atrocities and their modus operandi. Sexual violence is being commanded, orchestrated and perpetrated by the Armed Forces of Myanmar.”


Other actors involved include the Myanmar Border Guard Police and militias composed of Rakhine Buddhists and other ethnic groups.


She also mentioned about other forms of sexual violence like forced public nudity and humiliation, and sexual slavery in military captivity.


“Several sources informed us that some women and girls have been literally raped to death,” said the UN envoy.


She said some of the Rohingyas expressed their willingness to return home, provided they would be granted citizenship and equal status while others said they have nothing left to return to but ashes.


“The wounds are extremely raw. Women and girls dissolved into tears when recounting the extreme brutalities they both endured and witnessed,” said the UN envoy.


Patten said one woman shared three concrete recommendations that made a deep impression on her.

“We want peace, we want a leader who can take responsibility of our community and we want a safe place where we can share our stories with our sisters,” Patten quoted the Rohingya woman as saying.


She said all the women she spoke with wanted to see the perpetrators punished. “They all — without exception — demanded justice. And yet, not a single soldier or commander has been called to account for these atrocities.”


Appreciating the role of the government, Patten said Bangladesh not only opened borders for Rohingyas but also opened their homes and hearts.


Upon her return to New York, the UN envoy will brief the UN Secretary General on the situation she observed on the ground.

Her office will compile the annual report of the Secretary General on conflict-related sexual violence to be presented to the Security Council next March which includes a dedicated section on Myanmar.


She laid emphasis on intensifying pressure on Myanmar and said the UN Security Council could also establish a mechanism to investigate the crimes.


Patten said she will also discuss the issue with the President of the International Criminal Court during her meeting soon.


Responding to a question, she said what has happened could be crimes against humanity and it could also be genocide and others have called it ethnic cleansing, but she first wants to analyse the information she acquired.


Amid widespread “atrocities” against Rohingya people in Myanmar, the United States is stepping up pressure on Myanmar army. However, it remains cautious to avoid endangering the civilian government of Aung San Suu Kyi.


As the US takes a more active role in the region – several American delegations have passed through in recent weeks –


US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson plans to travel to Myanmar on Wednesday (Nov 15) to meet Suu Kyi, the nation’s leader, as well as army chief General Min Aung Hlaing.


We expect progress over the ongoing talks between the Myanmar authorities and the international community apart from Bangladesh-Myanmar bilateral talks. This week looks extremely important.

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