Repatriation of Rohingyas versus Genocide Issue


A.K.M. Atiqur Rahman

We were expecting that Rohingyas will soon start returning to their forefather’s land. But the situation seems to be very cloudy.

We know that Rohingyas started fleeing their country in the wake of the death of nine policemen in the state of Rakhine on 9 October 2016.

However, the inflow of Rohingyas into Bangladesh had increased manifold from the midnight of 24 August 2017 due to the atrocities of Myanmar military in Rakhine. And by this time, their number has crossed a million. Even, Rohingyas are entering Bangladesh every day.

Not only we, but the whole world is very much worried for the Rohingyas. Nobody can accept Myanmar’s atrocities. The world leaders and various regional and international organisations have extended their help and cooperation to solve this problem. We see the whole world beside Bangladesh. The effort of different people or organisations is remarkable.

Let’s go back to see what has happened by now. In 2016, Aung San Suu Kyi’s special envoy & Myanmar’s State Minister for Foreign Affairs came to Bangladesh to discuss the Rohingya issue. Aung San Suu Kyi also held a meeting with ASEAN Foreign Ministers on 19 December. Just after that meeting, the Foreign Minister of Indonesia came directly to Bangladesh and visited Rohingya camps.

A special meeting of OIC Foreign Ministers was held in Kuala Lumpur on 3 January 2017 and a ten-point communiqué was published after the meeting. In February, representatives of the Annan Commission visited Bangladesh to see the situation of Rohingyas staying in Bangladesh. In the same month, UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Myanmar Yanghee Lee visited the Rakhine State’s Maungdaw area and described the situation as very unfortunate. The report, submitted by the UN delegation, has mentioned the involvement of Myanmar’s military in the killing and torture of Rohingyas. However, the government of Myanmar and Aung San Suu Kyi rejected that report.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi came to Bangladesh and spoke to the Rohingyas staying in temporary camps in Kutupalong of Cox’s Bazar. On 24 August, Kofi Annan presented his final report to the government of Myanmar. The Indonesian Foreign Minister came again to Bangladesh on 5 September and discussed various aspects of the Rohingya issue. Turkey’s First Lady visited the Kutupalong camp on 4 September and distributed relief materials among the Rohingyas. The Foreign Minister of Turkey also came to Bangladesh at that time.

A meeting of the UN Security Council was held on 28 September 2017 to resolve the Rohingya crisis. The UN Secretary General appreciated Bangladesh for providing shelter to Rohingyas. In addition to emphasising the implementation of the recommendations of Annan Commission, he also urged Myanmar to stop torture and military operations on Rohingyas. But, the Council could not take any resolution against Myanmar due to China and Russia.

However, a few days after the Security Council meeting, a Minister of Aung San Suu Kyi came to Dhaka on 2 October and had a meeting with the Bangladesh Foreign Minister. At that meeting, Myanmar expressed its willingness to take back the Rohingyas. In October, the Queen of Jordan and the Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister came to Bangladesh and visited Rohingya camps. Foreign Ministers of Germany, Sweden and Japan arrived in the third week of November. EU High Representative Federica Mogherini also visited Bangladesh. On 23 November 2017, Bangladesh and Myanmar signed a Memorandum of Understanding on Repatriation of Rohingyas. Pope Francis came to Bangladesh via Myanmar to discuss the Rohingya issue. At a meeting on 12 December, members of the European Parliament accepted 12 proposals on Rohingya as well as urged imposition of sanctions against Myanmar.

In January this year, Bangladesh and Myanmar have signed the “Physical Arrangement” document following the memorandum signed earlier. But the process of repatriation still cannot be started.

Meanwhile, during the visit of the Swiss President to Bangladesh in February, the Rohingya issue got priority in the discussions. Last month, the British Foreign Minister also visited Bangladesh and Myanmar. Last week, US President’s Advisor Lisa Curtis visited Rohingya camps. Two days back, the President of Vietnam, during his visit, has assured to be with Bangladesh on the Rohingya issue. In seems, Myanmar is under pressure.

There are reports about mass graves in many places in Rakhine. It is said that thousands of Rohingya Muslims were buried after killing and rape. But the Myanmar government is not accepting that, probably will not accept. Since no local or foreign journalist or delegation is being allowed to go to that area, it is difficult to verify the truth. Already the issue of ‘genocide’ has come up in the discussions. Turkish President Recep Erdogan saw first the massacre as genocide. On 20 September 2017, terming Myanmar’s atrocities on the Rohingyas as “genocide”, French President Emmanuel Macron had urged the world community to stop it. Nigerian President Mohammad Buhari compared it with the genocide in Rwanda and Bosnia. British Prime Minister Theresa May, in her speech to the UN General Assembly, had urged the Myanmar government to stop the violence. On the same day at a press conference, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani urged the world community to pressurise Myanmar to stop the ‘ethnic cleansing’. On 12 December, the members of the European Parliament termed the Rohingya killings in Myanmar as ‘genocide’ and had urged to bring the perpetrators to the International Court of Justice. UK All Party Parliamentary delegation, while visiting Bangladesh, termed the atrocities of Myanmar military in the Rakhine state as ethnic cleansing, barbarism and violation of human rights. On 26 February 2018, three women Nobel Peace Prize winners, during their visit to Rohingya camps, have termed Myanmar’s atrocities as ‘clear genocide’. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein has described Rakhine as one of the most prolific ‘slaughter houses’ of humans in recent times. After visiting Rohinga camps, UN Assistant Secretary General for Human Rights Andrew Gilmour has also termed this as ethnic cleansing of Rohingya from Myanmar.

We know that the Hon’ble Prime Minister has been raising the issue strongly at various international, regional and bilateral meetings, in addition to her proposals to the UN General Assembly last year. Undoubtedly, Bangladesh has been putting continuous diplomatic efforts to solve this issue. People from many countries and organisations have come to Bangladesh to see the situation of the Rohingyas. Many have termed the issue as ‘ethnic cleansing’ or ‘genocide’. They have assured to stand beside Bangladesh to solve the issue. They have also appreciated Bangladesh for providing shelter to the Rohingyas.

But, the repatriation of Rohingyas could not be started even after so many efforts. An analysis of the issue predicts that- (1) the repatriation process may be delayed until a safe repatriation is guaranteed or a safe environment prevails. (2) The raising of the genocide issue would create fear among the Rohingyas and thus, they would not be interested to return. Myanmar could create tensions in border areas so that Rohingyas are afraid of returning to Myanmar. There have already been such incidents. (3) Myanmar would need adequate time to destroy the evidences of genocide in order to weaken the possibility of trial in the International Court. (4) There might be an international conspiracy to obstruct the excellent economic progress of Bangladesh by keeping one million Rohingyas on its shoulder for longer period. (5) Longer stay of the Rohingyas in Bangladesh might give birth of militant organisations like IS so that Bangladesh could easily be termed as a ‘terrorist state’. (6) Myanmar will try to avail all possible diplomatic and military means for not taking back the Rohingyas. (7) Myanmar would not care the world by keeping China and Russia in favour. Myanmar believes that the people of the world are only observers; they will not do anything or will not get the chance to do. They will try their best to keep the United Nations ineffective in this regard. (8) Myanmar is not, at all, honest and sincere for the repatriation. Too much international pressure might force Myanmar for the repatriation. If so, they might take back few thousands, who would be kept in shelter houses (not on their own land) so that they could either be sent back to Bangladesh at any opportune moment or be the prey of ‘ethnic cleansing’.

The killing of Rohingyas by Myanmar military, undoubtedly, falls under the definition of genocide. But the situation has reached such a stage that we cannot think of the trial for genocide, whereas the repatriation is uncertain. Let us start the process of repatriation first, keeping aside the genocide issue for future. We pray that the Rohingyas will soon return to their own home and start living peacefully and safely as the citizen of Myanmar.

The writer is a former Ambassador and Secretary.


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