Appeasing the neighbour
Kamal Ahmed | Update: 20:34, Nov 29, 2017
Bangladesh has signed a document with the Myanmar government for the ‘return of persons displaced from the Rakhine state’. Though it had been referred to as a Memorandum of Understanding, the document used the term ‘bilateral arrangement’. It is doubtful whether such an ‘arrangement’ has ever cropped up in international law or diplomatic terminology and so the concerned diplomats of Myanmar and Bangladesh deserve special thanks for coming up with this innovation!
We are also grateful to the foreign minister Abdul Hassan Mahmud Ali for his frank and honest comments to the media after signing the document. After all, honesty is not a common trait when it comes to politics. He said that they had wanted to follow the 1992 agreement and that has more or less had been done. The important issue was to send back the Rohingyas.
Bangladesh won accolades from all over the world for displaying its generosity in providing shelter to one million Rohingyas. Isn’t it only natural that they will display similar largesse of heart towards a neighbour?
According to the foreign minister, the most important matter was to send back the Rohingyas. One cannot disagree. But the fact remains that in keeping with the 1992 agreement, a large section of the Rohingyas did not return to their homeland. So if the 1992 agreement is taken as a model, how could we not realise that this means a large number of Rohingyas will remain back in Bangladesh this time too? Experience tells us that Myanmar is prone to go back on its word and so they generally don’t even sign the minutes of any bilateral discussions. If the objective of signing this document is to display one’s greatness, then we surely deserve a pat on the back. But there is no reason to believe that Naypyidaw will take the Rohingyas back and provide them with full security and dignity.The Myanmar army began its operation against the so-called Arakan Salvation Army (ARSA) militants on 25 August. The international community, particularly the UN human rights commission, was alerted about the brutality of the operation and the ethnic cleansing launched against the Rohingyas. Bangladesh had no alternative but to open its borders to the Rohingyas fleeing for their lives from their own land. And within a very short time the number of Rohingyas seeking refuge crossed 100 thousand. They continued to pour in and on 21 September the prime minister put forward a five-point proposal to resolve the crisis:
- Myanmar would have to unconditionally, immediately and permanently halt its violence and ethnic cleansing against the Rohingyas;
- The UN Secretary General should immediately send an investigation team to Myanmar;
- Rules to protect people of all race and religion would have to be drawn up and a safety zone be set up in Myanmar under UN supervision;
- Ensuring repatriation and rehabilitation of all Rohingyas forcefully driven out of Rakhine back to their own homes;
- Unconditional, complete and speedy implementation of the Kofi Annan Commission recommendations.
While presenting the proposals, the prime minister mentioned that according to UN agencies, the number of Rohingyas arriving in Bangladesh had totaled 430 thousand. Certain western countries like France, UK, Sweden and the US, stressed that this was a humanitarian crisis. The Security Council discussed the issue at least thrice and called for an immediate halt to the violence. Though no proposal could be passed due to opposition from Russia and China, everyone had called for an end to the brutality and for the Rohingyas to be returned.
The head of the Security Council would not have been able to make such a statement without the approval of Russia and China. A similar message was strongly issued by the UN human rights commission and the UN General Assembly’s Third Committee. Myanmar, however, has paid little heed to such proposals from the international community. They continue with their crackdown and in the meantime, another 225 thousand Rohingyas have entered Bangladesh. Various human rights bodies, the UN and representatives of various countries have found evidence and proof of Myanmar’s planned and cruel ethnic cleansing. US Secretary of State visited Naypyidaw and talked to the country’s military and civil leaders. Upon his return to the US, he spoke of the ethnic cleansing being carried out there. Many others in the West are demanding the trial of the military officials who perpetuated the persecution. The UN human rights commission will shortly meet to determine steps against Myanmar.
When the international community is taking stern initiative against a racist government and military, Bangladesh is speaking of friendship with this neighbour and has made no mention of the brutality against the innocent people.
The Prime Minister appealed in the UN for the brutality against the Rohingyas to be halted. Our permanent representative in the UN repeatedly highlighted the violence against the Rohingyas. Yet none of this was mentioned in the document. It was just mentioned that a large number of Muslims and other communities who resided in Myanmar came and took shelter in Bangladesh after the terrorist attacks on 9 October 2016 and 25 August 2017.
Myanmar is the source of the Rohingya crisis but Bangladesh is bearing the brunt. It is clearly stated that the Muslims and others displaced from Rakhine have come to Bangladesh because of the terrorists, not because of the Myanmar government or the security forces. What a big relief that is for Myanmar! The foreign minister may understand between whether the cries from the outside world about ethnic cleansing and crime against humanity make any difference at all. Yet just two months ago the foreign ministry had called for a UN inquiry into the matter. We have not reiterated the call for a safe zone within Myanmar. Myanmar can also be elated that the document nowhere mentions Rohingyas or even ‘citizens’ of Myanmar. They are called ‘residents’. There is no timeframe for the repatriation with a specific deadline. The role given to the court in Bangladesh regarding the repatriation may serve to create further delay.
Bangladesh signed the document on lines with the 1992 agreement because that is how Myanmar wanted it. The issue of the Rohingyas who came previously over the past two decades, has been left for discussion at a later date. A country which has suffered the anguish of genocide itself, is so silent about the genocide being carried out in a neighbouring state. All this has been done to maintain good relations with the neighbour. Is this a sign of greatness? Or aiding and abetting crime?
There are many Rohingyas in the Cox’s Bazar refugee camps who had come here before and had gone back under UNHCR supervision, with assurance from officials from both countries. They have been driven from their homes and are back in Bangladesh. Some of them have lost family members, have lost their homes. Their grief knows no bounds.
No national or international organization has been able to draw up an estimate of how many people have been killed so far. The spies of the security forces had already identified those who had secretly taken pictures and gathered evidence of the brutality and managed to send this abroad. On 27 November the Guardian reported that these informal reporters had been picked up by the army and they had not returned. It is apprehended that they have been killed.
The UN human rights commission has expressed its fears and Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have stated, that the army has used rape as a tool of ethnic cleansing. On 27 November the UK government allocated a separate fund for around 2000 victims of sexual violence. It may take some time for the actual number of rape victims to be determined.
It will not be easy to complete the list of the atrocities committed by the Myanmar army. But it is no secret that they have a propensity for cruelty. Every time the Rohingyas have had to flee, there has been evidence of indiscriminate killing, rape, looting and arson. When you hear a neighbour has been murdered, what do you do? Your first reaction will naturally be to inform the police and ensure that legal action is taken against the killer. Why will this not apply to a country too?
* Kamal Ahmed is a senior journalist and Consulting Editor of Prothom Alo. This piece, originally published in Prothom Alo Bangla print edition, has been rewritten in English by Ayesha Kabir, Consultant (Content) Prothom Alo English Online.