Rohingya crisis will put biggest security threat to South Asia: Gowher

Home > National> Rohingya crisis will put biggest security threat to South Asia: Gowher

Rohingya crisis will put biggest security threat to South Asia: Gowher

BSS > 3rd July, 2019 03:46:12

Prime Minister’s International Affairs Adviser Dr Gowher Rizvi today said the Rohingya crisis will put the biggest security threat to the South Asian countries in the coming days.

“The long-pending Rohingya crisis is now Bangladesh’s problem but it will be the entire world’s problem tomorrow,” he said, addressing the inaugural session of a seminar in the capital as the chief guest. “What is happening in Myanmar? It is something that all countries of the world should be concerned,” the adviser added.

Bangladesh Institute of International and Strategic Studies (BIISS) arranged the seminar titled ‘Bangladesh-India Cooperation in the Changing Regional and Global Context’ at its auditorium. Dr Gowher said the large migration of Rohingyas from Myanmar to Bangladesh was not the result of some localised, inter-communal or inter-sectarian conflict.

“It was deliberate, it was planned, it was genocidal….it was a part of what Myanmar visualises. Myanmar considers itself Buddhist people of Chinese-origin,” he said, adding it think the darker people of Rohingyas are Muslims, not above this.

The PM’s adviser said Myanmar has systemically worked over decades to eliminate the Muslim minorities from its soil. “They (Myanmar) have changed their constitution. They have made Rohingyas citizen-less. This did not happen overnight. But, I am saying this coldly plan was genocide and exodus occurred among the minorities in Myanmar,” he said.

“Yes, it (Rohingya crisis) is a Bangladesh’s problem today but it will be the entire world’s problem tomorrow,” Dr Gowher said, adding the exodus of the large number of Rohingyas in the borders of Bangladesh and India will also threaten the security of the both countries.

“We’ve already noticed weapons are coming in the region. And before long, if we are not careful and internationally we do not work together, this will be the biggest (reason of) instability in the region,” he added. About bilateral relations, the PM’s international affairs adviser said Bangladesh-India relations are very important as both the countries want to prosper together strengthening their existing ties.

Highlighting the regional trade, he said the value of trade is one economic indicator but many other issues are related to bilateral trade. Noting that Bangladesh always encourages Indian investment here, Dr Gowher said Bangladesh definitely wants to be a part of the Indo-Pacific initiative.

“There is no question about it. It is a win-win opportunity … At the same time, we cannot stay away from the Belt and Road Initiative because that is also an important opportunity for us,” he said. Taking part in the discussion, Director General of the Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses (IDSA), India, Ambassador Sujan R Chinoy said the existing bilateral ties between India and Bangladesh is a role model for many other countries.

Mentioning that the Indian government wants inclusive economic development not only in India but also in other countries in the region, he hoped that many Indian companies would come to Bangladesh with their investments in the future.

Chaired by BIISS chairman Ambassador Munshi Faiz Ahmed, the inaugural session of the seminar was also addressed by its director general Maj. Gen. AKM Abdur Rahman.

Tags: Rohingya crisis, Dr Gowher Rizvi


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UN envoy will ‘ring the alarm bell’ if no action on Rohingya

Home > National > UN envoy will ‘ring the alarm bell’ if no action on Rohingya

 UN envoy will ‘ring the alarm bell’ if no action on Rohingya

 AP > 2nd July, 2019 10:34:42

 UNITED NATIONS: The U.N. envoy for Myanmar said Monday that progress on alleviating the crisis that led more than 720,000 Rohingya Muslims to flee to neighboring Bangladesh has been slow and if there is no action it will be time to “ring the alarm bell.”

Christine Schraner-Burgener was responding to frustrated speeches and questions from many countries — from Bangladesh to Saudi Arabia to the United States — on the lack of progress in returning Rohingya nearly two years after they fled a violent crackdown by Myanmar’s military.

She told the General Assembly there are “not a lot of changes on the ground,” pointing to “many challenges” including Myanmar’s civilian leaders having “to navigate an extremely difficult environment in which the military continues to have considerable political influence.”

In addition, Schraner-Burgener said, “immense complexities” inside the country have been “an impediment” in addition to the Rohingya crisis. She cited Myanmar’s 70 years of isolation, 21 armed groups still operating in the country, a lack of development, drug production and human trafficking.

UN Special Envoy Christine Schraner-Burgener on Myanmar  replying at the UN General Assembly

She said her highest priority remains “ending the vicious cycle of discrimination and violence, especially in Rakhine,” the western state that was home to the Rohingya who fled — and where she said 128,000 displaced Rohingya languish in camps, many for nearly seven years.

As a first step, Schraner-Burgener called for more to be done to end fighting in Rakhine between Myanmar’s military and the Arakan Army, a well-trained guerrilla force from the Buddhist ethnic group seeking autonomy for Rakhine. She said the fighting has displaced 30,000 Buddhists and Muslims.

Buddhist-majority Myanmar has long considered the Rohingya to be “Bengalis” from Bangladesh even though their families have lived in the country for generations. Nearly all have been denied citizenship since 1982, effectively rendering them stateless, and they are also denied freedom of movement and other basic rights.

The long-simmering Rohingya crisis exploded in August 2017 when Myanmar’s military launched what it called a clearance campaign in Rakhine in response to an attack by a Rohingya insurgent group. The campaign led to the mass Rohingya exodus to Bangladesh and to accusations that security forces committed mass rapes and killings and burned thousands of homes.

Amnesty International accused Myanmar’s military in late May of a new round of widespread human rights violations in its battles against the Arakan Army since January 2019. The rights group said the military carried out indiscriminate killings of civilians as well as arbitrary arrests and torture, but it also said the Arakan rebels committed abuses against civilians including kidnappings though on a lesser scale.

Schraner-Burgener said the fighting involving the Arakan Army “is having a devastating impact on all local communities caught in the crossfire, independent of their religious or ethnic background.” And “it is also further impacting efforts toward the dignified, voluntary and safe return of refugees,” she said.

U.S. deputy political coordinator Elaine French expressed deep concern that little progress has been made in improving conditions in Rakhine, “while the military’s conflict with the Arakan Army continue to escalate and civilian casualties rise by the day.”

The United States agrees with the U.N. that conditions aren’t conducive for Rohingya refugees to return, she said, and the government’s suspension of internet service in Rakhine “casts further doubt on its commitment to creating conditions that allow people to feel they can live in safety and security.”

Schraner-Burgener said that while there have not been “a lot of changes on the ground … we have to continue because we want to see people who go back have freedom of movement” and access to health and education.

She told diplomats critical of the lack of progress: “I assure you also that I need to see action on the ground. If I don’t see action, I will raise this and will also ring the alarm bell.”

In a positive step, Schraner-Burgener said Myanmar has produced a draft national strategy to close camps for displaced Rohingya with support from international experts, the U.N. and others. But she stressed that this must be part of a larger effort that deals with their freedom to move, get jobs and receive basic services.

Myanmar’s U.N. ambassador, Hau Do Suan, said the government has approved the return of about 13,000 Rohingya from Bangladesh, from two lists totaling over 30,000 Rohingya, and plans to send a high-level delegation to Cox’s Bazar to explain arrangements for repatriation.

Despite challenges involving development, human rights and security including Arakan Army attacks, he said, Myanmar is determined to continue efforts “to build peace, stability, harmony and development in Rakhine state.”

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The Rohingya Issue: A Test of Chinese Friendship

Home > Opinion > The Rohingya Issue: A Test of Chinese Friendship

The Rohingya Issue: A Test of Chinese Friendship

Nadeem Qadir > 30th June, 2019 10:35:49

Nadeem Qadir – Eminent journalist and leading media personality of Bangladesh and also the Consulting Editor of the Daily Sun.

My first introduction to China was the mouth-watering Chinese food as my parents loved to eat out in those days of the 1960s. The other choice was tikka kebab and nan because in those days choice of food was scanty unlike the present times.

Then there was a new introduction after the 1965 India-Pakistan war in which my father fought and survived. He told us that China had supported Pakistan as a “true friend.” On that occasion he also mentioned about the world heritage – the Great Wall of China.

In the 1980s while studying in the Dhaka University, I came to know in depth about the regional politics as a student of international relations. A big part of it was of course China, but that Beijing sided with Pakistan during our 1971 Liberation War and extended its recognition only after the assassination of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman – in October 1975, to be precise.

Thus this author got a bitter taste of China from the mouth-watering Chinese food. Beijing backed general Ziaur Rahman and general Hussain Muhammad Ershad, and then Khaleda Zia’s regime in 1991 and 2001.

However, a crisis hit Dhaka-Beijing ties in 2004 with the opening of the Taiwan Representative office in Dhaka, which China immediately protested as it considered the island as part of its territory. It was later closed, but China took as a slap on its face by its trusted friend Khaleda Zia’s Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP).

However, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, then the parliamentary opposition leader, on the contrary prudently took an “ice-breaking” visit to China in 1995. If memory serves me right, she was given a rousing red-carpet welcome in Beijing which practically set off a relationship between Sheikh Hasina, Awami League and China which was seen at that time as a major diplomatic triumph for the daughter of Bangabandhu. It worried BNP.

In recent days, China has been involved in Bangladesh’s massive development works and in her upcoming visit to Beijing, Sheikh Hasina’s main focus would be economic issues, according to the foreign ministry. What is heartening to know is that the premier recently asked the Chinese envoy in Dhaka to impress upon his government the urgency of resolving the Rohingyas crisis, while Foreign Minister AKM Abdul Momen told reporters that the issue would figure in talks between the leaders of the two countries during our PM’s visit starting from 01 July.

Momen said, Bangladesh does not believe that China is backing Myanmar over the Rohingya Issue. “China has a stance that they are helping us and supporting us to resolve the problem,” he said. “They’ve repeatedly told us that they want Rohingyas to go back to their country.”

He said China wanted the problem to be solved through bilateral discussions and Dhaka would voice its concern “that an uncertainty can be created in the region if such a large number of Rohingyas stay in Bangladesh for a long time. This may also harm the development of the entire region.”

“China has made huge investments in both our country and Myanmar, and their expectation from the investment may get hampered if the Rohingya problem is not solved. So, we’ll make a strong demand for helping to send back the Rohingyas to Myanmar,” the minister said.

Few things are clear from the FM’s statements. So far it was only lip-service and there was still no guarantee from China how much it would do to ensure the return of the Rohingyas back to their homes in Myanmar “urgently” as our premier wants due to security threats. China has major investments in Myanmar which it cannot ignore and Myanmar is China’s most important foot print in the vast South to Southeast Asia regions and thus not dispensable.

So, where does Dhaka stand vis-à-vis Myanmar to China, the growing world power. Dhaka cannot afford to give China a cold shoulder or drop its economic involvement in Bangladesh as the agreements ready to be signed during the visit indicate.

It is again on the shoulder of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina who has wonderfully managed a balance in Dhaka’s relations between China and India, which has indicated its worries on Bangladesh’s growing friendship with China.

Sheikh Hasina on her part did not abandon China despite the great value she gives to the friendship with India telling New Delhi that Bangladesh’s deep and tested ties with India would never be affected and she needed China for economic reasons. This is a point that China should note compared to what BNP gave it despite its steadfast support to that party when it was in power. BNP allowed Taiwan to open its office in Dhaka whereas Awami League strengthened bilateral ties over the years.

During Sheikh Hasina’s visit to the Asian giant, the hosts are likely to press for speeding up of the Bangladesh-China- India-Myanmar (BCIM) economic corridor which has failed to take off and the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) cooperation project. The BCIM was the component of the BRI which was mooted by President Xi when he came to power in 2013. The BRI aims to link Southeast Asia, Central Asia, the Gulf region, Africa and Europe with a network of land and sea route.

The 2800-km BCIM corridor proposes to link Kunming in China’s Yunnan province with Kolkata, passing though nodes such as Mandalay in Myanmar and Dhaka in Bangladesh before heading to Kolkata. China’s investments in Bangladesh included the construction of 6-km long bridge across the Padma River costing about USD 3.7 billion and the USD 2.5 billion power plant at Payra, according to media reports.

With an estimated USD 31 billion investment, China has emerged as a major investor in Bangladesh – mainly in the infrastructure and energy sectors.

Beijing must note that regional security was already in stake with the Rohingyas joining militancy, smuggling and other crimes with automatic weapons in their hands. It would be for greater regional necessity that China has to find a way to ensure the safe return of the Rohingyas and their security at home, along with citizenship. Otherwise, China would fail to take the leadership of the region it desires to have against the growing regional power – India.

What is of utmost importance is that China must prove its “true friendship” to Sheikh Hasina as they turned a blind eye during the 1971 war when Bangabandhu was on the verge of being executed in a Pakistani jail and the genocide that was taking place in Bangladesh – more serious than the one in Rakhine to uproot Rohingyas. China needs to stand also as a supporter of basic human rights which has been denied to the Rohingyas for greater acceptance by the people in general.

Foreign Minister Momen said China honours Bangladesh as Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has a very good relation with its President. “So, we hope China will take pro-active actions in ensuring the return of Rohingyas if our Prime Minister raises the issue during the visit. We believe it will be possible to do so,” he was quoted as saying.

That says it all as far as our diplomacy is concerned – the premier has to do the job.

It is for Sheikh Hasina with her strong leadership, statesmanship and charisma to see that Beijing seriously took up the matter and the Rohingyas go back immediately – no more excuses, lies and delays by Myanmar. If China is serious, Myanmar would get going immediately to welcome back its citizens called the Rohingyas despite all its obligations.

If that help does not come from China on the Rohingya issue, it would fail in its test to prove its “true friendship” to Sheikh Hasina’s Bangladesh.

It would be best for Bangladesh to tell the world community, including the Organisation of Islamic Countries and the United Nations, to keep their mouths and eyes shut when Dhaka takes its “own course of action” in handling the crisis as it cannot allow its “security and stability” to be hurt in anyway. Humanity has been shown at great expense and now it is for Bangladesh to ensure that “its security and stability” was not hurt at any cost due to the crisis…

Good luck! Godspeed, prime minister!!

 Nadeem Qadir  is an Eminent journalist and leading media personality of Bangladesh and also the Consulting Editor of the Daily Sun.

Tags: The Rohingya Issue,  A Test of Chinese Friendship


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Prime Minister’s China Visit and Repatriation of Rohingyas

Home  > Opinion > Prime Minister’s China Visit and Repatriation of Rohingyas

Prime Minister’s China Visit and Repatriation of Rohingyas

A.K.M. Atiqur Rahman  > 28th June, 2019 11:51:44

A.K.M. Atiqur Rahman is a former Ambassador and Secretary of Bangladesh.

A few days ago, while talking to the media people after returning home from her visits to Japan, Saudi Arabia and Finland, Hon’ble Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina indicated that she might pay a visit to China in the first week of July. In addition to various issues of bilateral relations between the two countries, it is expected that the meeting will discuss international issues of mutual interest especially the Rohingya crisis. At that time, the Prime Minister of Bangladesh would request Chinese President Xi Jinping to play an effective role in repatriating Myanmar’s citizens staying in Bangladesh. We know that almost all countries of the world have stood beside Bangladesh on the Rohingya issue, but due to the lack of China’s support, the Rohingyas could not be repatriated to their homeland. In the context of the prevailing situation, Sheikh Hasina’s forthcoming China visit is very significant. We sincerely thank the Hon’ble Prime Minister for taking this long-deserved decision.

We know that more than a million Rohingya Muslims had to enter Bangladesh following an unwanted incident in October 2016 to save their lives. In fact, the Rohingyas in Rakhine were tortured, murdered, raped and their houses were burnt by the Myanmar army with the collaboration of some local extremist Buddhists. Although it was difficult for Bangladesh to provide shelter to so many people, we could not be inhuman to these Rohingyas. Sheikh Hasina, the Mother of Humanity, had not thrown the Rohingyas into death in spite of having thousands of problems and limitations; she had welcomed them and arranged shelter for them. It is true that the world conscience, except a few countries, did not remain silent regarding Myanmar’s atrocities. The regional organisations, including the United Nations, extended their hands of assistance and sympathy; they have raised their voice against the Myanmar government on Rohingya crisis. But the reality is that the Rohingyas have not found any chance to return to their own land, they are still in the shelter houses in Bangladesh. If Myanmar is not sincere to take back its nationals, we cannot force the Rohingyas to leave Bangladesh.

Besides the Rohingyas who came earlier, these Rohingyas have been in Bangladesh for more than two years. There have been many discussions about the Rohingya crisis. Leaders of different countries, especially the Foreign Ministers, have visited Bangladesh and have seen themselves the condition of the Rohingyas. In this context, we can recall the visit and the report of the Anan Commission; Indonesian Foreign Minister’s visits to Myanmar and Bangladesh twice; ten-point declaration of the OIC Foreign Ministers’ meeting in Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur; the visit of the UNHCR Chief to Myanmar, Thailand and Bangladesh; activities of the Bangladesh National Task Force on the Rohingya issue; various steps taken by the United Nations, especially the Security Council; activities of various organisations of the United Nations; Aung San Suu Kyi’s promise at the ASEAN Summit held in Manila regarding taking back Rohingyas; activities of the D-8 and OIC; attitudes and plans of the United States, the United Kingdom, Turkey, Malaysia and other countries. There are more to say, there is no end of such initiatives on the Rohingya crisis. But the situation remains the same. There is no such substantive or visible development on the Rohingya issue, particularly for their safe repatriation. Even the Rohingyas do not know whether they will, one day, be able to return to their own land.

We know, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina had presented a set of proposals at the 73rd General Assembly of the United Nations to overcome the Rohingya crisis. Besides, she has strongly been raising this issue in all her international, regional and bilateral meetings and discussions. Though the Memorandum of Understanding on the repatriation of Rohingyas was signed between Bangladesh and Myanmar in November 2017, the decision to start the repatriation process in mid-November of 2018 was taken at the Joint Working Group (JWG) meeting of October that year. However, the repatriation process could not begin once the question of safety of Rohingyas in Myanmar was raised by the UN agencies. Till date, the repatriation process remains stagnant.

Many countries and organisations have termed the atrocities of the Myanmar’s army on the Rohingyas as ‘ethnic cleansing’ or ‘genocide’. Even a week ago, the repression on Rohingyas has been described as ‘genocide’ by the US House of Representatives (Lower House) Foreign Affairs Committee. That committee has unanimously approved the draft of the ‘Burma Act’. On the other hand, the Upper House (Senate) Foreign Affairs Committee is also going to consider a proposal whether the Rohingya oppression could be defined as ‘genocide’.

On 23 June, the statement, published after the ASEAN Summit meeting held in Bangkok, has highlighted the importance of a sustainable and integrated solutions to the main causes of the Rohingya crisis. The ASEAN leaders pledged to jointly work on the repatriation of Rohingyas. They have emphasised the safety of Rohingyas in Myanmar. Also, the previous day, the ASEAN Foreign Ministers, at their meeting, have raised the issue of a specific timetable for taking back the Rohingyas from Bangladesh. It might be a door, if we use our excellent relations exist with ASEAN members, especially Malaysia and Indonesia, so that they continue their pressure on Myanmar to resolve the crisis.

The Rohingya crisis has made the peace loving world people, like us, scared and anxious. Nobody can accept the atrocities of Myanmar. We were expecting that the Rohingyas would start returning to their ancestors’ home quickly. But, at this moment, we do not see any light of hope. That’s why we need to strengthen our diplomatic efforts in bilateral, regional and international fields so that everybody in the world continues to pressurise Myanmar. We want a peaceful solution to the problem. Our only purpose is to let the Rohingyas return to their own country and live there with dignity and safety, like other communities.

China is not an important country to the world community, but also a close neighbour of Myanmar. There is no doubt that Myanmar’s relation with China has been strengthened a lot due to their economic interests. China also considers other interests in Myanmar. On the other hand, China’s relationship with Bangladesh is very friendly. We are trusted development partners. That means, both Bangladesh and Myanmar are close to China.

So, there should not be any way to deny China’s importance in solving the Rohingya crisis. If we can convince China, then the safe repatriation of Rohingas will be very easy. And in this case, the Hon’ble Prime Minister’s visit to China is undoubtedly very crucial. We also value the personal equation that exists between the two leaders. We believe that this visit of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina will not only bring positive results in the solution of the Rohingya crisis, but also widen and strengthen the cooperation between the two friendly countries. It is our expectation that China will play an important role in persuading the Myanmar government to take back the Rohingyas.

The writer is a former Ambassador and Secretary of Bangladesh.

Tags: Prime Minister Hasina’s China Visit, Repatriation of Rohingyas


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Interview: ‘I Really Think That Myanmar is Going Down a Dark Path Now’


Interview: ‘I Really Think That Myanmar is Going Down a Dark Path Now’


Ms. Yanghee Lee, the UN’s special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, discusses the Myanmar military and human rights in the Southeast Asian nation during a video call with RFA, June 26, 2019.  RFA video screenshot

Ms. Yanghee Lee, the United Nations special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, has been an outspoken critic of Myanmar’s powerful military and its brutal crackdowns on Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine state in 2016 and 2017. She has called for the prosecution of those responsible for committing suspected acts of genocide against the Rohingya, and blasted the armed forces for their treatment of other ethnic minorities in conflict zones in Kachin and northern Shan states. In late 2017, the Myanmar government barred Lee from visiting the country to assess the rights situation after it said a previous mission report she issued was biased and unfair.
 Lee’s latest outcry on Monday was directed at a move by government officials to temporarily suspend internet service in nine townships in Rakhine and neighboring Chin states, where Myanmar forces are battling the Arakan Army (AA), an ethnic armed group that seeks greater autonomy in Rakhine state. In an exclusive interview with Ye Kaung Myint Maung of RFA’s Myanmar Service, Lee discussed the internet shutdown in Rakhine state, efforts to hold the Myanmar military accountable for atrocities committed against the Rohingya, and the stalled plan to repatriate Rohingya refugees living in Bangladesh. The Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.

RFA: The military has denied accusations that it ordered the internet shutdown in Rakhine state, so why should we be concerned about the current situation?

 Lee: I’m surprised that the military is denying it. Then who ordered the internet to go down, because on the 20th of June there was a message by Telenor and other companies saying that the internet would be going down, and that the reasons were that the internet was mobilizing or creating more tensions in the region?

RFA: There is a widespread assumption that the internet shutdown is the precursor to massive human rights violations to come in the region. Are there any indications that this is the case?

 Lee: This is the first time that the government or the authorities have shut down the internet. In 2016, when the clearance operation happened in Rakhine state, the internet was not shut down. In 2017, [during the second clearance operation], it was not shut down. This time I do not know why they are shutting down the internet. We do know that during clearance operations, we saw the aftermath or the consequences of what [those] so-called clearance operations led to. I have already received reports from on the ground that there has been indiscriminate firing into villages, that three villagers have died, [and] that many have been injured over the weekend.

RFA: The Arakan Army has accused the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) party of contributing to the military violations by allowing the internet shutdown. Do you agree with that claim?

 Lee: I can’t make any judgements as to who is allowing this to happen for whatever reasons because I’m not allowed into [Myanmar], no humanitarian assistance is allowed in, and there are no international journalists, international observers, or human rights observers who are allowed in. With the internet being shut down, the information we’re getting is very limited. But all I know is that the internet is down, somebody ordered it to be shut down, and that there is a clearance operation going on right now. We have to remember that those who are involved in this clearance operation — the security forces — are the exact same people that have been involved in past clearance operations and have not been held accountable. There has been no accountability for the security forces for what they did in 2016 and 2017.

RFA: The U.N.’s Independent fact-finding mission (FFM) presented critical evidence last year that the Myanmar military committed atrocities and serious crimes under international law, and it called for military leaders to be investigated and prosecuted for genocide against the Rohingya. Why hasn’t this yet occurred, and what progress has been made?

 Lee: It is not happening yet, and I have to remind you that it was not just the FFM, but I was the first one to call for an independent investigation. The FFM and I are not saying that the military should be investigated for the crimes they had committed only in Rakhine state. We are also saying that they need to be investigated for the war crimes and crimes against humanity that they have committed in Kachin and northern Shan states and in other parts of Myanmar, going back to 2011.

RFA: What has been the roadblock?

Lee: The roadblock is, of course, the U.N. Security Council. China is backing the Myanmar government [by] objecting to a Security Council resolution for referral to the ICC [International Criminal Court]. China and Russia often work together in this kind of situation, which I think is shameful, so that the Security Council cannot move beyond this. I really wish China and Russia would revisit their decision.

RFA: It appears to be a dead end because the Myanmar military knows it can count on China and Russia, and this allows it to keep committing crimes. Is there any other way to prosecute those responsible so that they are held accountable?

 Lee: I have already called for an international tribunal to be set up to adjudicate the military — the Tamadaw — the leadership, and [other] persons who were involved.

RFA: The ICC prosecutor has tried to prosecute Myanmar military leaders, but is there an alternative effective measure to hold them accountable?

 Lee: Yes, I think they have called for the ICC president to consider this in {Trial] Chamber III of the court. We are waiting for the results of what the ICC president will decide on this particular case, but it’s not the overall crimes committed by the Tatmadaw. It will be focusing on a small part of the crimes which occurred on Bangladeshi soil while they [the Rohingya] were being forcibly deported.

RFA: What has been the impact of the Myanmar government’s decision to deny you a visa to enter the country to carry out your work?

 Lee: I’m really sorry that it has decided not to give me a visa, but it also wants me replaced by another rapporteur. [The government] did this at the end of 2017. It is really not in their interest because when I go to Myanmar, I engage with government authorities, and I provide technical assistance as well as monitor human rights abuses and violations. By denying me access, it really raises concerns among the international community as to what Myanmar has to hide.

RFA: If Myanmar fails to improve human rights conditions, how would it affect the country’s relationships with the U.N. and the international community in the worst-case scenario?

 Lee: Myanmar is now being very, very clever in picking and choosing which agency — which part of the U.N. — it will cooperate with. And so far, it has been very, very good at that. But look at what’s happening on the ground. I think this should worry the leadership of Myanmar … as to the future of the people of Myanmar by continuing to [move] along these steps by reducing the democratic spaces … and by not recognizing the ethnic minorities’ claims to their land and their livelihoods with all the different clashes going on. There are still more people being displaced. I really think that Myanmar is going down a dark path now. It’s going back to those years on the dark path in history, which I really feel sorry about. I really feel very committed to Myanmar and to the people, but the actions that the leadership is taking are very concerning and sad.

RFA: Why hasn’t the repatriation of the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh been implemented yet?

 Lee: The people I have spoken with want to go back, but it’s in the hands of Myanmar. It has to change in order for the people to come back. There are discriminatory laws and practices in an administrative directive that lasted for decades and that must be changed. They [the Rohingya refugees] have to have freedom of movement and access to services, and to regain the citizenship or the right to citizenship that many of them had previously that was revoked and taken away from them. The security forces who have driven them out and have now bulldozed the area and built [other] infrastructure took away the little property they had — their rice paddies and fields. All of this needs to be returned to the Rohingya population.

RFA: There is a widespread perception among the Myanmar people that the U.N.’s response to the refugee crisis among ethnic Rakhines, who have been displaced by fighting between the government military and the AA, has been less serious than the response to the Rohingya crisis years ago. Your thoughts?

 Lee: It’s a pity that there’s that opinion and that perception. I believe that the Rakhine people have suffered a lot too, as have all the minorities in Rakhine state. The response should be the same whether it is Rohingyas or Rakhines, because at the end of the day they are the ones that are bearing the brunt of the violations — not the authorities, not the civil servants. It’s the civilians. That perception needs to change, and perhaps the U.N. needs to do more to change it.

RFA: What message would you like to send to Aung San Suu Kyi?

 Lee: I would like her to really look and think about the people — all of the people — in Myanmar and what she had been aspiring to for decades — a free and democratic Myanmar. I wonder if she can see and look at what is happening in Myanmar and truly say to herself, “This is what I wanted for Myanmar.”

RFA: What is the message you would like to send to the Myanmar military?

 Lee: Stop your violations, stop your human rights abuses, and respect all the people of Myanmar.

RFA: And your message to the Myanmar people?

 Lee: The people of Myanmar have been really, really resilient, they have been very powerful in remaining together. Now is the time that they need not be frustrated or disappointed about things. … Please keep up your courage, please do not lose hope, and please stay united with one voice.

Reported by Ye Kaung Myint Maung for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Edited by Roseanne Gerin.

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The plight of the displaced: Are we doing enough?

Home>  Opinion > Human rights
12:00 AM, June 20, 2019 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:36 PM, June 20, 2019

World Refugee Day                                                                                     

The plight of the displaced: Are we doing enough?

Rohingya refugee children fly improvised kites at the Kutupalong refugee camp near Cox’s Bazar. PHOTO: REUTERS/DAMIR SAGOLJ

Tasneem Tayeb  – Communications Professional l Corporate Trainer

Refugee. Although the word is relatively new, appearing in the English language for the first time circa late 17th century, its story is as old as time itself. It is a story writ large on page after page of human history—a dominant, ever-present leitmotif of our pre-history, a force that has fundamentally dictated our evolution as a species.

Today, in a world that is inhabited by considerably more souls and, therefore, able to offer considerably less space, this word is too often followed by another: crisis.

According to UNHCR’s 2008 Global Trends report, the number of forcibly displaced people around the world in 2008 was 42 million, of whom 15.2 million were refugees. The number increased to 68.5 million in 2017, of whom nearly 25.4 million were refugees, more than half of whom were under the age of 18, according to the UNHCR 2017 Global Trends report. This means that over a span of nearly 10 years between 2008 and 2017, 10.2 million people had to flee their homeland because of war, violence, or, as we saw in the case of the Rohingyas, persecution.

  Most of these refugees who were forced to escape oppressive regimes, failed states, economic collapses, and natural disasters seek shelter in neighbouring countries—mostly other low-income countries—creating immeasurable humanitarian, economic, political and social pressure on the host countries. According to data released by UNHCR in 2017, it is the developing regions that host 84 percent of the world’s refugees.

Bangladesh too is facing many challenges in hosting over a million Rohingya refugees. More than half these refugees—around 723,000 according to UNHCR—fled to Bangladesh since August 2017 alone. They were lucky to escape persecution at the hands of the Myanmar military, since escalation of another bout of ethnic violence in August 2017. Although Bangladesh played an exemplary role in hosting such a large displaced population, the latter’s protracted stay in the country and the looming uncertainty about their resettlement are adding further pressure on the country’s economy. According to an UNHCR official, as of March 2019, Bangladesh has received only 14 percent of the USD 920 million, appealed through the third Joint Response Plan (JRP), needed to address the Rohingya crisis.

In addition to economic, social and political challenges, Bangladesh is facing major environmental threats as a result of hosting Rohingya refugees. According to a UNDP report, almost 4,300 acres of hills and forests were levelled in Ukhia and Teknaf alone, to make room for temporary accommodation and for cooking fuel for the Rohingyas. Leaving aside the threat this poses to the area’s ecological balance, such indiscriminate deforestation and exfoliation also exponentially increase the risk of landslides, making the refugees more vulnerable to large-scale disasters.

According to a Reuters report, Colombian President Ivan Duque Marquez said in September 2018 that Venezuelan refugees cost his country nearly 0.5 percent of its gross domestic product per year. Colombia, which shares a 2,219km border with Venezuela, is one of the largest recipients of the three million Venezuelans who have fled their country in recent years in the wake of an economic collapse and escalation of political violence.

Turkey, hosting nearly four million refugees as of August 2018, has already spent USD 33 billion for Syrian refugees. The sheer scale of the migration of refugees from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and other countries is adding more pressure to the already stressed economy of Turkey, which shoulders a big chunk of the expenditure on refugees. As a result, the country has had to impose more stringent border control measures. In 2018 alone, more than 430,000 refugees were prevented from entering the country, according to a report published by Xinhuanet.

Turkey, however, is not the only country to have tightened its policies. Some European countries have imposed arbitrary border control measures—often leaving refugees stranded on the seas or under the open sky to fend for themselves without recourse or resource.

Italy, for instance, closed its ports to refugees last year, turning away thousands. According to a Doctors Without Borders report, between July 2018 and June 2019, at least 10,000 have been forcibly returned to Libya by Italy, while another 1,151, including children, died on the seas.

Macedonia has closed its borders to refugees from Afghanistan and is only allowing Syrian and Iraqi asylum-seekers to enter its territory. The country had in the past completely sealed off its border with Greece to bar displaced communities from crossing over to other Balkan countries through its territory.

Other European countries are facing immense pressure from their own citizens to limit the influx. For instance, German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government had to face people’s wrath for its accommodative asylum and refugee policies. The results of the “Deutschlandtrend” poll conducted last year, commissioned by German broadcaster ARD, showed that 80 percent of the German population responded by saying that they were “somewhat” or “completely” dissatisfied with the performance of the government. Amidst increasing pressure, the German chancellor had to tighten border control measures. Merkel’s popularity also took a dive due to internal tensions simmering over asylum and refugee issues.

While international bodies like UNHCR, Oxfam International, WarChild International, along with many developed countries, donor agencies, and international NGOs scramble desperately to provide the humanitarian support that the refugees so badly need, the global community must ask itself: is enough being done?

Humanitarian aid, logistical support and funds to shelter the refugees are essentially stopgap measures which do not address the root causes that push refugees to flee their homelands. They do not answer the problems of exploitative regimes, terrorism, war, and economic collapse.

People living in stable, developed economies hardly ever seek refuge elsewhere. Looking at the 2017 demography of refugees, we can see that among the top five countries contributing to refugee crises are Syrian Arab Republic (6.3m), Afghanistan (2.6m), South Sudan (2.4m), Myanmar (1.2m) and Somalia (0.9m)—all low-income countries characterised by exploitative institutions and violence.

The Global Compact on Refugees, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on December 17, 2018, focuses on (among other things) the need to “support conditions in countries of origin for return in safety and dignity” of the refugees.

According to a UNHCR report titled “From Commitment to Action: Highlights of Progress Towards Comprehensive Refugee Responses Since the Adoption of the New York Declaration,” “there have been some promising developments that hold the promise of future success in this area [Objective Four: Supporting conditions in countries of origin for return in safety and dignity],” which includes supporting conditions in Somalia so that the Somalians can go back to their own land and reiteration of determination to address root causes of refugee situations. Tenuous progress, but we must take our wins where we can.

Tags: World Refugee Day , Rohingya Refugees, Tasneem Tayeb

Tasneem Tayeb works for The Daily Star. Her Twitter handle is @TayebTasneem.


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Asean: Prioritize Rohingya rights, safety

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Asean: Prioritize Rohingya rights, safety

 Tribune Desk > Published at 10:50 am June 19th, 2019

File photo: A group of Rohingya refugee people walk after crossing the Bangladesh-Myanmar border in Teknaf, Bangladesh Photo: MAHMUD HOSSAIN OPU

The organizations highlighted this as Southeast Asian leaders prepare to meet in Bangkok

Asean Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR), the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (Forum-Asia), and Progressive Voice have said the Myanmar government  must ensure that the human rights of Rohingyas are protected and respected.

In a press release issued on Wednesday, they safe conditions should be created in Rakhine State before repatriating Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh. The organizations called for this as Southeast Asian leaders prepare to meet in Bangkok, Thailand—for the 34th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) Summit—from June 20 to 23, 2019.

Earlier this month, a leaked copy of a preliminary needs assessment in Rakhine State—carried out by an Asean body—failed to acknowledge the Myanmar military’s atrocities and ongoing human rights abuses against the Rohingya.

“Asean needs to stop turning a blind eye to Myanmar’s atrocities against the Rohingya, and cease lending legitimacy to the repatriation process. We all know the Rohingya population in Bangladesh and elsewhere will not be returning home voluntarily until the situation on the ground in Rakhine State dramatically alters,” Eva Sundari, Indonesian MP and APHR board member, said.

“A huge political shift is needed for things to start moving in the right direction. Not one thing that the Rohingya themselves have identified as prerequisites for their return—and which has been echoed by rights groups and other experts—has been taken on board, in any serious way, by the Myanmar authorities,” the MP added.

On August 25, 2017, the Myanmar military launched a vicious “clearance operation” on the Rohingya minority. It killed thousands of people, burned villages, and forced over 700,000 Rohingyas to cross the border and take shelter in overcrowded refugee camps at Cox’s Bazar.

A United Nations (UN)-mandated fact-finding mission, in September 2018, called for the Myanmar military top brass to be investigated and prosecuted for genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes.

On June 7, 2019, a copy of the “Asean Preliminary Needs Assessment for Repatriation in Rakhine State” report by the Asean Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance on Disaster Management (AHA Centre) and their Emergency Response and Assessment Team (Asean -Erat) was leaked to the media.

The draft report ignores the root causes of why hundreds of thousands of Rohingya were forced to flee their homes including the atrocities committed by Myanmar security forces and their proxies, plus the institutionalized discrimination imposed by Myanmar authorities against the minority in Rakhine State for decades.

Furthermore, the draft report fails to mention the word “Rohingya,” instead calling the community “Muslims.” “Unless concrete steps towards international accountability for the genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes are taken, ongoing impunity will only embolden the Myanmar military to commit more such atrocities. Any returned refugees will be vulnerable to the same violence that caused them to flee in the first place; this will be like sending them back to the killing fields to be re-victimized,” Khin Ohmar, Chair of Progressive Voice Advisory Board, said.

Clashes between the Myanmar security forces and the Arakan Army ethnic armed organization have displaced at least 30,000 people since the beginning of the year, further underlining the precariousness of the situation in Rakhine State.

As the Asean report on the refugee repatriation process is expected to officially be released to the public in the coming weeks, the APHR, Forum-Asia, and Progressive Voice call on Asean to ensure that the bloc does not become complicit in the forced or premature repatriation of Rohingya refugees.

They have called on Asean to take meaningful steps toward the promotion and protection of the rights of the Rohingya community; including through acknowledging the Rohingya identity, restoring Rohingya’s full citizenship, and ensuring Rohingya’s participation in all decisions concerning them.

John Samuel, Executive Director of Forum-Asia, said: “Asean has so-far remained shamefully silent in the face of the serious human rights violations taking place in one of its Member States.

“With the second anniversary of Myanmar military’s latest ‘clearance operation’ approaching, continued inaction by Asean will send a dangerous signal that the bloc is indifferent to the plight of the Rohingya and that human rights violations can be carried out with impunity”.

Tags: Myanmar , Cox’s Bazar , Rohingya Refugees, Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), Asean Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR)


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Rape by Command
Pre-planned Expulsion
Witness to horror
The Rohingyas
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