Rohingya-condemned in their own land
15 Sep 2017, 21:49 ( 15 Sep, 2017) | updated: 15 Sep 2017, 22:06 ( 15 Sep, 2017)
After a lengthy debate over the definition of genocide the United Nations adopted the Genocide Convention on December 9, 1948 and defined genocide ‘any act committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial, or religious group.’ The Convention was adopted on the heels of the Germany’s Chancellor Adolph Hitler’s genocide caused primarily on the people of Jewish origin but also included gypsies and disabled people. Hitler wanted to create an Aryan race in Nazi Germany and to do so he unleashed a wave of genocide on the Jews of Germany and in countries which his army conquered in the early years of the WWII. It is estimated that no less than six million Jews were annihilated in the process through brutal means like gassing, burning and shooting. Hitler’s genocide is commonly known as ‘holocaust.’ Twentieth century witnessed few more genocides, notable amongst them being the Armenian Genocide, the Bangladesh genocide, East Timor genocide, the Burundi genocide, the Cambodian genocide, the Rwanda genocide and Darfur genocide. Currently there is another genocide taking place right next to the south eastern border of Bangladesh, inside Myanmar’s Rakhine State (formerly Arakan State).
The Rakhine State genocide is a staggered genocide which began in new earnest in 1978 and currently it is taking place on an unprecedented scale. The sole purpose of this genocide is to annihilate the Rakhine population, known as Rohingya, most of them Muslims by faith, who lived in the state for hundreds of years. The first Muslim settlers came from Arabia in early fifteenth century. Besides Muslims there are people of other faiths though their numbers are far less. The current spate of genocide began on August 25 and according to UN estimates 400,000 of Rohingya have so far fled to neighbouring Bangladesh, an estimated 100,000 or more have been internally displaced and perhaps 5,000 have been killed by the Myanmar Army and the local mobs let by ultra nationalist Buddhist monks. United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, described the military attacks against the Rohingya as a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing.” Not only Rohingya have been uprooted from their homes, their entire villages were raged to the ground, women raped, property looted and children and people burnt to death. This ruthless pogrom is being executed by the Myanmar army under the command of the General Min Aung Hlaing the Chief of the Myanmar Army and the Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, the country’s head of government is presiding over the genocide.
Quite a few theories are in circulation why this genocide in Rakhine state. But the most believable reason is that the Myanmar government’s current execution of genocide is part of a national policy of “Burmanisation,” an ultra-nationalist ideology based on the racial purity of Burman ethnicity and Buddhist faith, which was implemented when General Ne Win and the military junta usurped the state power in 1962. There are approximately two million Rohingya who lived in Myanmar but because of systematic ethnic cleansing drive Rohingya population continues to decline at an alarming rate. The wretched Rohingya have been uprooted from the homeland of their forefathers and found temporary refuge to Bangladesh, Thailand and Malaysia. The Myanmar government, whether military or pseudo military under Aung San Suu Kyi refuse to acknowledge that the Rohingya are their own people who have lived in the Arakan State for hundreds of years. Until 1982 they were acknowledged as inhabitants of Myanmar but in 1982 through a very controversial and draconian law promulgated by the military junta the Rohingya were stripped of all rights available to a citizen of Myanmar and they were declared as illegal ‘Bengali refugee’ who migrated to Myanmar from Bangladesh, a preposterous claim. Incidentally till 1990 the country’s parliament had seventeen elected Rohingya members in every parliament which even included women. Some went to hold ministerial positions in the government.
The free world expected that once Aung San Suu Kyi was released from her interment by the military she would fight for the rights of the Rohingya people. She was released in 2010 and her party NLD won the national election held in 2015 and formed the government with Htin Kyaw as the de jure Head of State and Head of Government while de facto Head of Government is Suu Kyi, with the title of State Counsellor of Myanmar. The military junta changed the country’s constitution to retain their control over the government reserving one-fourth of the seat in the parliament for them and incorporated a Section saying that anyone with having foreign relationship cannot become the Head of State and Head of Government. Aung San Suu Kyi’s husband was British and her children are also British citizens. Suu Kyi accepted the change as she just wanted the important post of becoming the de facto Head of the Government which she eventually did. Her craze for power has today made her one of the most controversial and hated politicians around the civilized world. Under international pressure to resolve the Rohingya crisis Aung San Suu Kyi established an Advisory Commission on Rakhine State-chaired by Kofi Anan, former Secretary General of UN on September 5, 2016. The nine member commission had six members from Myanmar, nominated by Aung San Suu Kyi and three international members including Kofi Anan. The Anan Commission submitted its final report on August 24, 2017 and included such recommendations as (a) allowing full and unimpeded humanitarian access to all areas affected by recent violence; (b) proved full and regular access for domestic and international media to all areas affected by recent violence; (c) in the light of the allegations of serious violations of human rights law, the government should-based on independent and impartial investigation ensure that perpetrators of serious human rights violations are held accountable; (d) the Government of Myanmar and Bangladesh should strengthen bilateral ties by immediately activating a joint commission, consisting of senior political and security officials from both sides; (e) those verified as citizens should enjoy all benefits, rights and freedoms associated with citizenship. Consequently-and in line with the government’s rule-of-law agenda-all who have been identified as citizens should have full freedom of movement. This will demonstrate immediate tangible benefits of the verification exercise. Ironically the day after the Kofi Anan Commission Report was submitted hell broke loose on the Rohingya population and as of now more than four hundred thousand survivors uprooted from the homestead due of the military crackdown have fled their country and crossed over the international border to Bangladesh in its southern district of Coxsbazar. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) have predicted at this rate of influx of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh the number may reach one million by the year end. Over last few decades these hapless people have also managed to find refuge in other countries like India, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and UAE whose total number may be close to half a million. Currently they are the most wretched stateless people on earth and if the international community do not act strongly soon there may not be any Rohingya left in Myanmar. The good sign is that due to diplomatic moves by Bangladesh and exposure of the atrocities of the Myanmar army and the local thugs by the UNHCR and other international human rights organizations and aid agencies the international community have started to take notice of the unprecedented happenings in Myanmar vis-à-vis their Rohingya population.
In an unprecedented move the UN Security Council met in a close-door meeting on September 12 and adopted a unanimous resolution calling Myanmar to take immediate steps to end violence in their Rakhine State. In last nine years no resolution in the Security Council was taken unanimously. The EU parliament has called for sanction against Myanmar. However no call or soft appeal may be enough to deter the Myanmar government from sponsoring the atrocities being committed on the Rohingya. Only meaningful measure taken by the UN may improve the situation. When East Timor, South Sudan, Rwanda and Kosovo flared up in ethnic violence UN stepped up their pressure and deployed UN Peace keeping troops in these countries. The NATO forces led by US bombed Kosovo when the Serbian Army under the order of its President Slobodan Milosevic began genocide on the thousands of Muslim population in its own territory. Once the genocide stopped Milosevic was tried in the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague of The Netherlands for war crimes but he died of a heart attack before the court could announce its verdict. There is no reason why Aung San Suu Kyi and General Min Aung Hlaing should not be tried at the ICC. Things to improve UN should consider deploying UN peace keepers in Rakhine State immediately. And to end the crisis the Kofi Anan recommendations must be implemented without any further delay.
As for Bangladesh it has done and is continuing doing what best it can do given its limited resources and capability. It has opened its borders letting in thousands of Rohingya refugees enter Bangladesh. It provided them basic shelter and food and in a unprecedented humanitarian move Prime Minister Sk. Hasina has visited the temporary Rohingya camps in Coxsbazar last Tuesday and assured the refugees that it will do everything possible to provide shelter and food to the refugees. Sk. Hasina’s gesture has been hailed around the world including by the UN Secretary General. But the bottom line is Myanmar must take back its last citizen staying in Bangladesh and provide them with minimum security as its citizen. Sk. Hasina is scheduled to speak soon in the General Assembly of the UN soon. People expect that her address will focus the Rohingya issue more than anything else. The world is looking towards the Bangladesh’s Prime Minister to resolve the humanitarian catastrophe taking place in Myanmar. Sk. Hasina through her recent moves and strategies in addressing different national crisis including militancy and providing leadership taking Bangladesh to newer heights in economic and social developments have proved to be one of change makers among the world leaders. Her moves in solving the Rohingya crisis will elevate her position and place her amongst the select group of world statesman who could rise to the occasion and lead the people in crisis and distress.
Notes: The writer is the Chairman of University Grants Commission of Bangladesh and a former Vice-Chancellor, University of Chittagong, Bangladesh.