Call Myanmar persecution ‘genocide’, not ‘ethnic cleansing’: Prof Abrar

Abdur Rahman Jahangir, UNB Staff Writer
Thursday, October 19th, 2017


As the worst sufferer of its consequence, Bangladesh should describe the systematic persecution on Rohingyas and their forced displacement as ‘genocide’ instead of ‘ethnic cleansing’ to force Myanmar to resolve the crisis, said migration and refugee expert Prof CR Abrar.


He also thinks the government should give the Rohingyas, who have taken shelter in Bangladesh, the refugee status as it will help its efforts exert pressure on Myanmar to take them back with dignity.


Speaking on ‘The Rohingya Refugees and the issue of Migration’ at a recent dialogue arranged by Cosmos Foundation, CR Abrar, a professor of international relations department at Dhaka University, also warned that the relocation of Rohingyas to an island without proper education and livelihood facilities can be a ground to create new sets of ‘pirates’ like ones in Somalia.


“We need to sort out some conceptual issues if we really want to succeed in the diplomatic front and in sending back the refugees with dignity to their country of origin. The first such issue is describing the acts of Myanmar government as genocide, not ethnic cleansing,” he said.


Dr Abrar, also the executive director of the Refugee and Migratory Movements Research Unit, said the United Nations, many countries, Human Right Watch and the Bangladesh government are using ethnic cleansing term regarding the Rohingya persecution.


“But, ethnic cleansing is not a serious crime according to the international law. It sounds offensive, bad and all that but it absolves the perpetrators taking any responsibility,” he observed.


The DU Professor said the term ethnic cleansing was first used by ex-Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic in his defence. “Slobodan Milosevic used it saying I’m only performing ethnic cleansing as I want to get rid of some people by putting them other places.” So, why should we borrow the language of a perpetrator when we’re talking about a clear and straight case of genocide?


He said the Rohingya case meets all the standard and criteria of the definition of genocide. “We should take it to the international forum and argue that the denial of Rohingya identity and systematic dismantling of their citizenship and other rights are the hallmarks of acts of genocide.”


Abrar said the UN and many other countries are unwilling to call it genocide as they know its ramification. “The moment you call genocide as genocide, onus lies on you to do something about it as it’s called the mother of all crimes.”


Abrar also thinks it is an unfortunate debate whether the Rohingyas here should be call as refugees or undocumented Myanmar national or infiltrators or forcibly displaced Myanmar national. “Who are on earth can deny these people are fleeing a systematic persecution and this happened in 1978, 1991 and 1992.”


He said the Foreign Ministry of Bangladesh has so far failed to give any sort of reason why they should not be called as refugees.


The DU professor is also not willing to accept the government’s version that if the displaced people are given refugee status it may not be possible to send them back to Myanmar. “Bangladesh didn’t allow the status determination procedure for those who came from 1992 to until 25th August, 2017. But was it possible for us to send them back? We could not do that.”


The migration expert also said if Bangladesh sends Rohingyas back without any protection mechanism, it will be like “sending the sheep to the slaughter house”.


More importantly, Abrar said, if they are not given refugee status, it will undermine their right to return and also absolve the international community to share the burden of Rohingyas. “If we give them refugee status, it will help us in our bilateral negotiation and in multilateral forums to exert pressure on Myanmar to take them back.”


About the relocation of Rohingyas, he said the government should think well about relocation plan of Rohingyas to an island, and it also should revaluate whether the island is habitable at all.


“We know chars go under water during high tide, at least part of that. There’re no livelihood opportunities that can be provided to them. If we shift 5 lakh Rohingyas to the island, a huge amount of food will be needed every day to take care of them. If the number is one million, it’ll be more challenging to provide such a big amount of food grains for them daily,” the DU teacher said.


Besides, he said, the food grains will have to go through the 20km seawater, but the sea can be rough sometimes. “There’re such umpteen aspects that we need to think about before relocating them.”

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