Rohingya repatriation remains a distant dream

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File Photo: DC/UNB

Myanmar under fresh spell of int’l pressure

Today, the Myanmar military, also known as Tatmadaw, enjoys increased popularity among the Bamar-Buddhist majority. The violence, particularly the “Rohingya crisis”, has been used by the military to reaffirm itself as the protector of a nation under threat, and further cement its political role. This is remarkable considering the Tatmadaw’s appalling human rights record, and the democracy movement’s long struggle against its rule.

Myanmar has been a country of concern for the United Nations for 30 years, with resolutions condemning its human rights situation since 1991.

For three decades, according to UN document, successive Special Rapporteurs on the situation of human rights in Myanmar concluded that patterns of human rights violations were widespread and systematic, linked to State and military policy. Allegations of gross human rights violations have continued since 2011.

Myanmar has done little to improve conditions in Rakhine State for the safe return of Rohingyas in the last one year since its military crackdown forced hundreds of thousands of its nationals over the border into Bangladesh.

An estimated over 700,000 Rohingya have fled to Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh since August 25 last year, joining 400,000 of the persecuted minority who had already been living in cramped refugee camps across the district.

With Myanmar appearing to stall on the process of repatriations, officials believe the country’s leadership is likely to face a “fresh spell of pressure” from the international community in the coming days.

There will be further high-level meetings and events during the General Debate and high-level segment of the 73rd session of the UN General Assembly (UNGA) in September.

“The UN will continue to pursue meaningful implementation of the memorandum of understanding signed with the Myanmar government,” Bangladesh’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations in New York, Ambassador Masud Bin Momen, told Dhaka Courier.

“UNDP and UNHCR have recently issued a joint statement in this regard outlining their priorities and challenges ahead,” he said.

Ambassador Momen said the UNGA is likely to adopt yet another resolution during its upcoming 73rd session, in continuation of the resolution adopted last year.

The resolution will reflect the developments and challenges since its adoption in December 2017, and will ensure the continuation of the mandate of the UN chief’s special envoy, Ambassador Christine Schraner Burgener.

Burgener has visited Myanmar twice since she assumed office and is currently working on setting up an office in Naypyidaw as agreed by the country’s government.

The Human Rights Council (HRC) will also likely consider a resolution on the human rights situation in Myanmar during its next session in September, a diplomat told Dhaka Courier.

Something is Done

On August 11, a high-level Bangladesh delegation led by Foreign Minister AH Mahmood Ali and Foreign Secretary M Shahidul Haque visited Rakhine and saw the “trail of widespread devastation” suffered by the people who lived there.

They emphasized the need to accelerate efforts to create a “congenial environment” and build houses and villages for the returnees.

Following the visit, the foreign secretary reiterated that the repatriation issue in any country is a very “complex and difficult” issue that cannot be done overnight.

“They (Myanmar) have shown what preparations they’ve taken so for taking the Rohingyas back from Bangladesh,” he said while responding to a question from UNB.

“I would say at least something is done. We’re hopeful (but) it will not be wise to do things in a hurry.”

Stronger Engagement

Ambassador Masud Bin Momen said the international community, including the UN, remains actively engaged with the issue.

“The focus is on providing humanitarian assistance to the Rohingya refugees, facilitating their voluntary repatriation in safety and dignity, and ensuring accountability for the alleged atrocities against them,” he said.

“A number of member states remain bilaterally engaged with Myanmar to help create the situation conducive to the sustainable repatriation of the Rohingyas to their homes in Rakhine.”

The diplomat said that António Guterres personally remains engaged with the issue, as evidenced by his latest visit to Dhaka and Cox’s Bazar.

He said Special Envoy Burgener and other relevant UN entities are coordinating their activities towards “finding a durable solution to the crisis”.

Talking to UNB, Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner Mohammed Abul Kalam said they are waiting to see more steps as pledged by Myanmar.

Challenges for Bangladesh

Ambassador Momen said the Rohingya crisis will continue to pose certain economic, social and environmental challenges to Bangladesh, particularly to the host communities in Cox’s Bazar.

“It will be critical to keep the international community engaged to mitigate the impacts of those challenges, while ensuring the protection and assistance for the Rohingyas until they are in a position to return to Rakhine state in safety and dignity,” he said.

“However, it remains a particular challenge to ensure that the Myanmar authorities live up to their commitments and genuinely invest in creating an enabling situation.

“(This includes) assurances of sustainable livelihoods and freedom of movement and citizenship, among other issues.”

Suu Kyi’s Misleading Remarks

The first anniversary Rohingya crisis was marked on August 25 with no real progress in the repatriation drive by Bangladesh other than the continuation of dialogue with Myanmar though Rohingyas are still coming into Bangladesh due to the absence of conducive environment in Rakhine.

“So far, the only progress is that the talks with Myanmar on repatriation have not stopped. And unfortunately, Rohingyas are still coming into Bangladesh for lack of conducive environment in Rakhine State,” a senior official told Dhaka Courier reviewing the situation.

Myanmar State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi in her recent remarks in Singapore tried to convey a message it is only Bangladesh which can decide how quickly Rohingyas would return to Myanmar apparently blaming Dhaka for the delay.

“It’s not true that Bangladesh is delaying the repatriation process,” the official said adding that Rohingyas are still coming in small groups every week.

August 25 marks the first anniversary of the launching of crackdown by Myanmar’s military on Rohingyas in Rakhine State in response to what Myanmar says attacks by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army on police posts.

Security forces and their proxies killed thousands of Rohingya, burned villages to the ground, committed widespread sexual violence and drove more than 700,000 people to flee into Bangladesh.

A government official stationed on the ground said Bangladesh border still remains open which is unprecedented and shows Bangladesh’s generosity on humanitarian grounds.

Suu Kyi, in a lecture in Singapore on Tuesday, said it was difficult to say when the Rohingyas who fled will be able to return to Rakhine state because her nation needs the cooperation of Bangladesh, adding that Myanmar itself had been ready to receive them back since January.

She said Myanmar has mapped out general sites for the resettlement of returning Rohingya, but that the “timing of the repatriation also depends on Bangladesh”.

The Myanmar leader defended her government’s actions in Rakhine state, where about 700,000 Rohingya Muslims fled from a brutal counterinsurgency campaign to Bangladesh. She went on to assert that terrorism, not social discrimination or inequality, triggered the crisis.

Asked about the progress of Rohingya repatriation, Foreign Secretary M Shahidul Haque said they are very hopeful that Rohingyas will return to their homes in Rakhine through a process.

He, however, said the repatriation process is getting delayed a bit while Rohingyas want safety, security and their citizenship rights before they return to Myanmar. “There’s no doubt they’ll go back to Myanmar.”

“The entire process is a challenge. No challenge is beyond solution. We can overcome any challenge if there is a strong will between the two countries or parties. That’s important,” said the Foreign Secretary.

He said the international pressure on Myanmar sustained over the past one year as Bangladesh worked both bilaterally and multilaterally to find a peaceful solution to the crisis. “We’ve seen broader embargo...I don’t see any possibility that pressure will come down.”

Bangladesh has emphasised the need for accelerating efforts to create a congenial environment there and build houses and villages for the returnees to facilitate the repatriation.

“They (Myanmar) have shown what preparations they’ve taken so for taking Rohingyas back from Bangladesh. I would say something is done,” he said.

Make Myanmar Face ICC

More than 130 lawmakers from across Southeast Asia on Thursday demanded the international community bring officials in Myanmar to justice for atrocity crimes committed against the Rohingya population of Rakhine State.

In the joint statement, 132 sitting MPs from five countries — Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Timor-Leste - including 22 members of ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights, called on members of the UN Security Council (UNSC) to refer the situation in Myanmar to the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Since Myanmar is not a signatory to the Rome Statute, the ICC does not have jurisdiction in the country and only the UNSC can trigger an investigation by the Court, according to the statement UNB received from Jakarta.

“One year has passed since the Myanmar military launched its murderous operation in Rakhine State, yet we are no closer to seeing those responsible brought to justice. As Myanmar is clearly both unwilling and unable to investigate itself, we are now at a stage where the international community must step in to ensure accountability,” said APHR Chairperson Charles Santiago, a member of the Malaysian Parliament.

“I stand together with 131 of my elected peers in calling on the members of the UNSC to immediately refer the situation in Myanmar to the ICC. Those in Myanmar responsible for these horrific crimes must be held to account; they cannot be left free to commit the same abuses again in the future,” said Santiago.

The regional lawmakers recognised the crucial role played by their own governments in pursuing accountability. They urged members states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), including Indonesia, which will take a seat on the UNSC next year, to press the Myanmar government and military to end all forms of human rights violations against the Rohingya and other ethnic minorities.

They also urged the international community to support the calls of Yanghee Lee, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, to establish an international accountability mechanism that aims to impartially investigate human rights violations in the country.

Strong Multilateral Engagement

Bangladesh will maintain a multilateral ‘strong engagement’ to keep up pressure on Myanmar so that it takes back Rohingyas ensuring their safety and citizenship through bilateral mechanisms, said an informed source.

“Bangladesh’s multilateral engagement helped keep Myanmar under pressure resulting in some outcomes bilaterally,” the diplomatic source told UNB.

Whatever has been achieved so far, including the signing of an MoU on repatriation of Rohingyas and building some structures in Rakhine State, is the outcome of pressure through a multilateral approach, the source said.

In November last year, Bangladesh and Myanmar signed an ‘instrument’ on Rohingya repatriation with no ending deadline amid high hopes that the forcibly displaced Rohingyas will start returning to their homeland within the following two months.

However, the repatriation of Rohingyas is yet to begin as Myanmar has ‘failed’ to create conducive environment in Rakhine State for the safe return of Rohingyas.

“The conditions on the ground are still not conducive to a safe and voluntary repatriation,” Spokesman for the UN Secretary-General Stephane Dujarric told reporters on August 17 in a regular briefing. Diplomatic sources said China, India and Japan have apparently created some pressure on Myanmar for a peaceful solution to the Rohingya crisis.

Generals Should Face ‘Genocide’ Case

UN human rights investigators this week said top Myanmar military leaders should be prosecuted for “genocide” against Rohingyas.

“Unless impunity is addressed, and all ranks within the security forces are held accountable for their past, current and future actions, similar outbreaks of violence and associated atrocity crimes can be expected to continue, with further devastating domestic and regional impact,” reads a new UN report  that is remarkable for how hard it comes down on the alleged perpetrators of crimes against their own population.

The UN Security Council should adopt targeted individual sanctions, including travel bans and asset freezes, against those who appear most responsible for serious crimes under international law, reads the recommendation part of the report.

“It should also impose an arms embargo on Myanmar,” according to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

The Mission also concluded “there is sufficient information to warrant the investigation and prosecution of senior officials in the Tatmadaw chain of command, so that a competent court can determine their liability for genocide in relation to the situation in Rakhine State.”

A fuller report, containing detailed factual information and legal analysis will be published and presented to the Human Rights Council on 18 September. It will include a significant amount of satellite imagery analysis.

The call, accompanying a first report by the investigators, amounts to some of the strongest language yet from U.N. officials who have denounced alleged human rights violations in Myanmar since a bloody crackdown began last August, reports AP.

The three-member “fact-finding mission” working under a mandate from the U.N.-backed Human Rights Council meticulously assembled hundreds of accounts by expatriate Rohingya, satellite footage and other information to assemble the report.

The U.N.-backed Human Rights Council created the mission six months before a rebel attack on security posts set off the crackdown that drove hundreds of thousands of Rohingya fleeing to neighboring Bangladesh.

Impunity for gross human rights violations in Rakhine has significantly and demonstrably contributed to the validation of deeply oppressive and discriminatory conduct, enabled recurrence of human rights violations and atrocity crimes, and emboldened perpetrators and silenced victims, says the report.

The present report contains the main findings and recommendations of the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar.

“Myanmar has a heavy responsibility to remedy the situation as a matter of the utmost urgency, or risk destroying its democratic reform process. The international community also bears responsibility and must take a united stand to both condemn the violations and assist Myanmar in addressing the root causes of its recurrent problems,” said the report.

This begins by ensuring that the perpetrators of crimes are held to account, and by giving hope to victims of a future without the fear and insecurity that have characterized their existence.

Justice has remained elusive for victims in Myanmar for decades, with the authorities systematically failing to condemn, investigate and prosecute perpetrators, according to advance copy of the report from UN Human Rights Council prepared for the thirty-ninth session to be held on September 10–28.

No Effort From Suu Kyi to Prevent Crisis

Myanmar State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi has not used her de facto position as Head of Government, nor her moral authority, to stem or prevent the unfolding events in Rakhine State, says the new UN report.

The report by UN Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar has drawn up a list of alleged perpetrators as priority subjects for investigation and prosecution, whom it believes had effective control and bear the greatest responsibility.

Responsibility starts at the top, with the Tatmadaw Commander-in-Chief Senior-General Min Aung Hlaing, according to a message UNB received from Geneva.

Five other military commanders are also named in the report: the Deputy Commander-in-Chief, Vice Senior-General Soe Win; the Commander, Bureau of Special Operations-3, Lieutenant-General Aung Kyaw Zaw; the Commander, Western Regional Military Command, Major-General Maung Maung Soe; the Commander, 33rd Light Infantry Division, Brigadier-General Aung Aung; the Commander, 99th Light Infantry Division, Brigadier-General Than Oo.

A longer list of names will be kept in the custody of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and can be shared with any competent and credible body pursuing accountability in line with international norms and standards, it said.

The report noted that civilian authorities had little scope to control the actions of the Tatmadaw.

“It also finds that “through their acts and omissions, the civilian authorities have contributed to the commission of atrocity crimes.”

The Mission called for the situation in Myanmar to be referred to the International Criminal Court or for an ad hoc international criminal tribunal to be created.

In the interim, it called for an independent, impartial mechanism to collect, consolidate, preserve and analyse evidence of violations.

It also recommended targeted individual sanctions against those who appear to be most responsible.

The Mission travelled to Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and the United Kingdom.

A fuller report, containing detailed factual information and legal analysis will be published and presented to the Human Rights Council on 18 September.

It will include a significant amount of satellite imagery analysis.

Marzuki Darusman, a lawyer and human rights campaigner and former Attorney-General of Indonesia, is chair of the fact-finding mission.

The other two members of the fact-finding mission are Radhika Coomaraswamy, a lawyer and former UN Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women and UN Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict; and Christopher Sidoti, an Australian human rights consultant, specializing in the international human rights system and in national human rights institutions.

  • Rohingya repatriation remains distant a dream
  • Rohingya
  • AKM Moinuddin
  • Cover Story
  • Issue 8
  • Vol 35
  • DhakaCourier

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