Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury
The 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) will open on September 17, 2019. The first day of the high-level General Debate will be held on September 24, 2019. For Bangladesh, the upcoming UNGA session is an important event as Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is expected to make a fresh call upon the international community in exerting pressure on Myanmar authorities in resolving the crisis and letting over one million Rohingya refugees return to their homeland.
Commenting on the Rohingya refugee crisis, Tun Khin, President of the Burmese Rohingya Organization UK said, it was two years ago, on August 25, 2017, that the Myanmar military launched a murderous “clearance operation” in Rakhine State. In the space of a few months, the security forces and their proxies killed thousands of Rohingya people, torched villages to the ground, engaged in widespread sexual violence, and drove almost 750,000 women, men and children to flee into Bangladesh.
He said, “With the plight of the Rohingya fading from global headlines, international action is needed now more than ever. The very future of our community depends on it.
“Two years ago, the government of Bangladesh generously opened its border to Myanmar and allowed desperate people to flee the military’s violence. Many came with little more than the clothes on their back, literally dodging bullets as they ran from the carnage in Arakan (Rakhine) State, the region in Myanmar that is my people’s ancestral homeland”.
Tun Khin said, “Across the border in Rakhine State, Rohingya continue to live in what amounts to an open-air prison where all aspects of their lives are controlled. Decades of systematic, state-sponsored discrimination has denied Rohingya citizenship and their freedom of movement, meaning people have to apply for special permission to leave their villages, earn a living, or even to seek healthcare. Education — in particular beyond primary level — is essentially blocked to most Rohingya. Levels of poverty and malnutrition are shockingly high.
“While Myanmar’s leaders have since 2017 often promised the international community to tackle such root causes, the reality is there is no political will to do so. If anything, repression has grown more severe in the past two years. This is a humiliating system deliberately imposed by the Myanmar government to dehumanize and drive people to despair — as much part of the ongoing genocide against Rohingya as the military’s brutal violence.
“Since January this year, fighting in Rakhine State between the Myanmar military and the Arakan Army — an armed group belonging to the Rakhine ethnic minority — has also intensified. The military has again been accused of war crimes during the conflict, and tens of thousands of people have been driven from their homes. The government has imposed an Internet blackout on the region and restricted humanitarian access even further”.
Commenting on the expected role of the world leaders during the upcoming UNGA, Thailand’s most influential The Bangkok Post in an opinion editorial said, as world leaders gather in New York for the United Nations General Assembly next week, it can be expected that the intractable Rakhine situation, along with the equally intractable South China Sea situation, will feature as prominent issues that define Southeast Asia.
“On Aug 22, a second attempt to start repatriating Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh to Myanmar failed.
“Bangladesh reacted immediately, toughening its stance on the Rohingya presence and blaming the UN and the international community for not putting enough pressure on Myanmar to take the Rohingya back. On Sept 11, Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina told parliament that Myanmar had failed to win the trust of the refugees. A few days earlier, Bangladesh had cut internet access for the camps in Cox’s Bazar, severing a vital communications line for the refugees.
“The international community owes Bangladesh a debt of gratitude for welcoming over one million refugees on its territory. Their presence has caused enormous strains, while by early September only 37.8% of the funds needed for the 2019 budget for humanitarian assistance had been received”.
Evidence of genocide found
According to the prestigious newspaper The Christian Science Monitor, the United Nations mission has found evidence of genocide committed in Myanmar against the Rohingyas.
It said, “A special United Nations fact-finding mission has urged that Myanmar be held responsible in international legal forums for alleged genocide against its Muslim Rohingya minority.
“The Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar said in a report Monday wrapping up two years of documentation of human rights violations by security forces that counterinsurgency operations against Rohingya in 2017 included “genocidal acts”.
“It said the operations killed thousands of people and caused more than 740,000 Rohingya to flee to Bangladesh.
The mission said the threat of genocide continues for an estimated 600,000 Rohingya still inside Myanmar living in “deplorable” conditions and facing persecution. The situation makes the repatriation of Rohingya refugees impossible, it said.
“The threat of genocide continues for the remaining Rohingya,” mission head Marzuki Darusman said in a statement.
“The report summarized and updated six others previously issued by the mission that detailed accounts of arbitrary detention, torture, and inhuman treatment; rape and other forms of sexual violence; extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary killings; enforced disappearances, forced displacement, and unlawful destruction of property.
“It is to be presented Tuesday in Geneva to the Human Rights Council, which established the mission in 2017.
“Muslim Rohingya face heavy discrimination in Buddhist-dominated Myanmar, where they are regarded as having illegally immigrated from Bangladesh, even though many families have lived in Myanmar for generations. Most are denied citizenship and basic civil rights.
“The homes of many were destroyed during the counterinsurgency operation and there is little sign that refugees will not face the same discrimination if they return”.
The United Nations in its website UN News said “In a report detailing alleged violations in Myanmar over the last year, the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission, insists that many of the conditions that led to “killings, rapes and gang rapes, torture, forced displacement, and other grave rights violations” by the country’s military, that prompted some 700,000 Rohingya to flee to neighboring Bangladesh in 2017, are still present.
“Citing the lack of accountability for the perpetrators of these alleged crimes, as well as the failure by Myanmar “to investigate genocide and to enact effective legislation criminalizing and punishing genocide”, the UN-appointed independent panel concludes “that the evidence that infers genocidal intent on the part of the State…has strengthened, that there is a serious risk that genocidal actions may occur or recur”.
“Echoing those findings, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, Yanghee Lee told the Human Rights Council earlier on Monday that Myanmar had “done nothing to dismantle the system of violence and persecution” against the Rohingya who live in the “same dire circumstances that they did, prior to the events of August 2017”.
“Citing satellite imagery of destroyed Rohingya villages, Ms. Lee questioned Myanmar’s assertion that it rebuilt areas affected by the violence, given that there were “six military bases that have been built on the site of destroyed Rohingya villages”.
“Of nearly 400 Rohingya villages apparently destroyed, “there has been no attempt to reconstruct 320 of them”, the Special Rapporteur noted, and four in 10 villages had been “completely razed to the ground”.
“Some of that demolition occurred in 2018 and some even in 2019 “and all of this is completely antithetical to the claim that Myanmar is ready to receive the refugees (back from Bangladesh)”, Ms. Lee insisted.
“According to the International Fact-Finding Mission’s near 200-page report, the abuses it found were not on the same scale as the “clearance operations” conducted against Rohingya communities in the summer of 2017.
“Nonetheless, the 600,000 mainly-Muslim Rohingya still in Myanmar “remain the target” of Government efforts to remove them from the country, the expert panel insisted.
“The threats the Rohingya minority face include a “continuation of hate speech” and discrimination that affects their ability to work, attend school, seek medical care “or even pray and congregate”, the report notes.
Echoing those comments, Ms. Lee insisted that Myanmar “continues to be a State that commits ongoing gross violations of international law”.
“Humanitarian access remains severely restricted by the State, she went on, and all those involved in the violence – among them, the Tatmadaw State military and the Arakan separatist army – have been responsible for “indiscriminate…heavy artillery fire, gunfire, and landmines in civilian areas” linked to the displacement of some 65,000 people across northern Rakhine and southern Chin states since January.
“Highlighting information about “reprisals, surveillance and harassment” of people in Myanmar and outside the country who have cooperated with international human rights mechanisms, Ms. Lee urged the international community to continue to scrutinize events in Myanmar.
“The parties to the conflict must end their hostilities – the people of Rakhine have suffered enough,” she insisted.
“In addition to reports of up to six villages being burned deliberately since the end of June, the Special Rapporteur also noted with concern that the Government-imposed internet blackout has been in place for nearly three months in Kyauktaw, Minbya, Ponnagyun and Mrauk-U, “where the worst fighting is happening”.
“Conflict escalated on 15 August when separatists launched attacks in northern Shan and Mandalay, Ms. Lee explained, “killing and injuring soldiers, police officers, and civilians”. This sparked intense fighting between the Tatmadaw State military and the ethnic armed organizations in northern Shan which led to the death of a farmer killed when Tatmadaw “reportedly fired mortars into his village as people were fleeing military helicopters conducting airstrikes nearby”.
The necessity of massive media campaign
Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is expected to call upon the international community in coming forward in resolving the Rohingya refugee crisis. Although there is little hope that India would extend its cooperation towards Bangladesh as the policymakers in New Delhi already are too much inclined towards Myanmar’s repressive regime. One of the many reasons behind such tendency is India’s goal of getting a significant stake in the business of huge natural and mineral resources within the Arakan state. Furthermore, India’s ruling radical Hinduist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) bigwigs are in favor of any repressive acts on the Muslims.
But there also are reasons for being optimistic. It is highly anticipated that during the upcoming UNGA session, China, which is one of the top allies of Myanmar may play a decisive role in exerting the pressure of the Myanmar authorities in immediately taking back the Rohingyas and grant them citizenship. This time, US President Donald Trump may also renew his government’s support towards Bangladesh in resolving the Rohingya refugee crisis.
Commenting on the possible role of China, the United States, Britain, European Union and other influential members of the United Nations, analysts said, finding a quick solution to the Rohingya crisis maybe a daydream. Bangladesh instead should take full preparations in continuing pressure on Myanmar in resolving the matter within a stipulated timeframe. But of course, Bangladesh side should play the matter very smartly and effectively. For the sake of getting expected result and response from the international community, Bangladesh needs to immediately begin a massive campaign the international media highlighting the Rohingya issue.
Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury is a multi-award-winning journalist and editor of Blitz. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.