We know, in October last year, thousands of Rohingya Muslims had to take shelter in neighbouring Bangladesh, India, Thailand and Malaysia to escape the torture of the Myanmar forces. Rohingya community of the Rakhine state, in any way, became the preys of severe oppression including killing and rape.
Even, Rohingya villages were burnt.
However, majority of those Rohingyas took shelter in Bangladesh.The number has already exceeded five hundred thousands including the Rohingyas previously sheltered in various camps in Bangladesh. Thousands of Rohingyas are entering Bangladesh territory everyday since last week of August. We heard for the first time that more than four hundred Hindu Rohingyas are sheltered with the new comers.
Don’t the Myanmar’s government forces and their civilian collaborators have any accountability to the world community for killing or raping the minority Rohingyas violating all norms of human rights? There are hundreds of bodies of Rohingyas lying on the ground in Myanmar, the bodies of children and women are floating in the Naf River, burning of Rohingyas villages, firing on Rohingyas fleeing. Are not these atrocities hurting humanity? Don’t the UN agencies, OIC, ASEAN, etc. have any tools to stop Myanmar’s brutality? Don’t the countries like India, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, or the world’s superpower USA, have the will and the ability to create any pressure on Myanmar in this regard? Is Myanmar so powerful that it does not care anyone? If so, will the killings of Rohingyas continue until a single Rohingya survives?
In fact, nobody seems to have any liability. It is only on Bangladesh. Everyone in the world knows how difficult it is for Bangladesh to give shelter to so many people. Bangladesh, being a country of small area, is struggling hard to carry the burden of its own people. Moreover, due to the long-staying of such huge number of Rohingya refugees, country’s environment and law and order situation are hampered, and national security issues are also threatened. Above all, no one can say that the fire of anger and deprivation presently dormant in the minds of these people will never burn others. And if such a thing happens, then why Bangladesh will take its responsibility? We certainly cannot be inhuman to the Rohingyas. But that also has a limit. If we forget that, then Bangladesh would face a number of problems from Myanmar. My fears of this are implicit in the activities and statements of the government of Myanmar. They have already termed Rohingyas as ‘extremist Bengali insurgents’. Besides, their helicopters, for special purpose, violated Bangladesh airspace on several occasions.
Rohingyas can be Bengali, Chinese, Thai or Indian. But they are all the people of Myanmar. There is no second thought in this regard. As in Malaysia, there are Chinese Malaysians or Indian Malaysians. They are comprised of Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and Christians. The Malaysian government or the Malays did not drive them out of their own ground. The architect of modern Malaysia Dr. Mahathir was Malaysian Prime Minister for a long twenty two years even though he was an Indian Malaysian. There are still many Indians or Chinese Malaysians in the Malaysian cabinet. But nobody has raised any question on this? We know that Dr. Mahathir’s great-grandfather went to Malaysia from the then British India. The history of the Rohingyas is not, in any way, newer than that. Migration of people of different religions or groups had been inevitable due to the development of human civilisation. There are thousands of such examples around the world, including Bangladesh. However, such brutal inhuman events have not occurred in any country except Myanmar.
In this context, there is another point to mention here. Burma was then a British Indian province. Burma got independence from British rule in January 1948. Rohingyas were living there on that day when the border of independent Burma was drawn. In the previous year, India and Pakistan got independence from the British. Due to the division, many people in Pakistan and India gave options to change their citizenship. Otherwise, the country where they were staying was considered as their country because a country is independent not for the land, but for the people. Rohingyas were residents of Arakan or Rakhine state during the British rule. They did not come from other countries, especially from Pakistan or India, on option. In fact, the Rohingyas are there as Burmese or present Myanmar citizen. This type of event happened in many countries of the world. They did not start living in Myanmar in 1947 or later coming from India and Pakistan or from Bangladesh in 1971.
Sayings of justice silently cry. We can found the authenticity in the eviction of Rohingyas from Myanmar. In this context, we can recall the recently placed report of Annan Commission; visits of the Foreign Minister of Indonesia to Myanmar and Bangladesh; the meeting of OIC Foreign Ministers held in Malaysia’s capital Kuala Lumpur in January this year; visits of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees Mr. Philippo Grandi to Myanmar, Thailand and Bangladesh; and the activities of the Bangladesh National Task Force on Rohingya issue. Details of their activities might not be so important to describe here. However, it would be unfair if their efforts to solve this problem are not acknowledged. I do not know why I have the feeling that a peaceful and lasting solution to the Rohingya issue will never be possible if the Myanmar government does not come forward with good intention leaveing its stubbornness.
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Philippo Grandi came to Dhaka after visiting Thailand and Myanmar. At that time, he also talked to the Rohingyas staying in refugee camps in Kutupalang of Cox’s Bazar as well as the temporary camp there. In light of the overall situation, he emphasised the importance of the basic rights of the Rohingyas including their citizenship. He said the source of the Rohingya problem is in Myanmar, so the solution is also there. According to him, a favourable environment should be created so that this minority group of the Rakhine state can return to their motherland after confirmation of their citizenship. The issue that is important here is the ‘confirmation of citizenship’ of the Rohingyas. As a citizen of Myanmar, they have their family, land and other movable and immovable properties for generations. Is there any need to verify their citizenship again? Then what will be the criteria for citizenship and who will determine? If the Myanmar authorities deny Rohingyas as the citizens of Myanmar at the time of verification, then what will be their nationality? Where they will go then? Surely their address will not be in Bangladesh. For obvious reason, it puts us into anxiety. Though historically the Rohingyas are the citizens of Myanmar and have been involved in all aspects of development activities of Myanmar since long, it is unfortunate that they are now being driven out of their motherland to flee to another country and save lives.
On 23rd of last month, the former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, who also leads the Rakhine State Affairs Advisory Commission, presented his final report to the government of Myanmar. The Commission is very unfortunate as the recommendations of that report could not get any opportunities for implementation. Only Myanmar can explain why it did this mockery. Otherwise, how the tortures, like killing, raping and burning houses, were conducted by the army on the Rohingyas living in the Rakhine state from the midnight of 24th August? Does the cold brain take on the shadow of turmoil by trampling the light of peace? Is not it clear that everything was pre-planned?
Meanwhile, the Myanmar government said that on the morning of 25 August, the rebels of the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army attacked 25 security checkposts and clashed with government forces and that caused death of more than 100 people. However, many people have doubts about the authenticity of the incident. Some people call it a reputed drama of Myanmar again. There is also no chance to verify the authencity as there is no access to journalists in that area. Obviously, if any such incident has occurred, then it can be investigated internationally. In that case, Bangladesh will certainly extend its cooperation to Myanmar. Truly speaking, treatment should be given to the root cause of such activities. It may be noted that Bangladesh does not support any terrorist activities or does not allow any terrorists to use Bangladesh’s soil. But if millions of Rohingyas are pushed into Bangladesh, then Bangladesh can not accept it.
The proposal of ‘joint operation’ as proposed by the Foreign Ministry of Bangladesh does not seem to attract the attention of Myanmar. In fact, Myanmar would have certainly agreed on Bangladesh’s proposal if there were any extremist or terrorist activities in Myanmar. That’s why no such response was received from Myanmar on that proposal. Perhaps their intention is not to root out terrorism or terrorists, but instead create fields for terrorism. Their equations are completely different. Myanmar’s original purpose might be hampered if it comes in joint operation with Bangladesh. Then they could not be able to eliminate the Rohingyas arbitrarily giving false accusation of terrorism.
Myanmar did not agree to sit for discussion on Rohingya issue as proposed by Malaysia a few days ago. Meanwhile, the Foreign Minister of Indonesia came to Dhaka on 5 September and offered to negotiate to resolve the Rohingya problem. He came last year too. Being important countries in the region, Indonesia and Malaysia can certainly play a strong role in this matter on bilateral level, though not in the ASEAN forum. In this context, diplomatic steps could also be taken to seek cooperation from neighbouring Thailand. However, these countries might not find any other options if Myanmar does not agree to sit with them for any discussion.
A few days back, the Turkish government has expressed their interest in shouldering the responsibility of the Rohingyas in Bangladesh. The killing of Rohingyas could not pierce the heart of Myanmar’s leader Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, though the heart of the people of far-off Turkey trembled once driven by the conscience and humanitarianism. Turkey has already discussed the Rohingya issue with a number of OIC member countries. In addition, the Turkish Foreign Minister came to Bangladesh on 6 September to discuss the Rohingya issue. Turkey’s First Lady visited the Kutupalang refugee camp and distributed relief materials among the Rohingya people there two days ago. Turkey can take diplomatic steps not with Muslim countries only, but also with other countries to come forward. Turkey might place a proposal on this subject at the UN, if needed. In any way, Rohingyas could not be seen as Muslims, but as human beings.
During the visit of the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Myanmar in the first week of this month, the Rohingya issue did not get any importance in the meeting held between the two countries. Narendra Modi was briefed completely differently, i.e. terming Rohingyas as extremists. Therefore, the way Myanmar briefed Mr. Modi the Rohingya issue at that time, there is no doubt that India would stand beside Myanmar. But if we can brief the Indian leadership properly, then it could be a positive move in solving the issue. It is expected that India will certainly come forward to maintain regional peace and harmony.
Besides, thousands of Rohingyas have also taken shelter in India. Above all, historically India was always vocal for fair and peaceful solution of such issues.
Another important country in this region is China, also Myanmar’s neighbour. For many reasons, China knows and understands Myanmar well. I believe Chinese initiative will bring positive results in solving Rohingya problem. So, strong diplomatic efforts could be made to convince China to come forward. We must acknowledge that the problem could be very easy to solve, if India and China agree to be involved. The government of Bangladesh may urge the cooperation of these two friendly countries. There will be no loss, at least.
A local minister has recently said that an economic zone is being developed in northern Rakhine. He has also mentioned that this would create a lot of opportunities for the residents there. This would change the destiny of the people of Rakhine especially the poors. If it is done for a noble purpose, it must be appreciated. But what do we think about what is happening there every time? Will the economic zone be built there by evicting the Rohingyas? Only Myanmar can answer, and no one else.
The United Nations has said the violence may amount to ethnic cleansing of Rohingyas. Its Secretary General has also expressed his deep concern. We expect that the UN would take immediate steps for a permanent solution of this issue. Mr. Yanghee Lee, the UN Special Rapporteur, has said that Suu Kyi should take necessary steps to stop the violence now. On 5 September, he said that the current situation is even worse than the violent situation that took place in October 2016. The United Nations hopes that the governments of all countries would come forward to protect the lives of the Rohingyas.
The Rohingya issue is now in a very critical state. If we can not stop the kiliings and eliminations of Rohingyas, we can not even guess where it will stand tommorrow. So our diplomatic efforts should be enhanced both at bilateral and multilateral levels. Hon’ble Prime Minister’s various initiatives will certainly play an important role in this regard. In addition to the United Nations, she can personally request her colleagues of China, India, Russia, the United States, etc. to cooperate her in solving this issue. If we continue our diplomatic engagements by capitalising our existing friendly relations with those countries, I am confident the outcomes would be very positive.
At the end, I would like to share with everybody that the identity of the Rohingyas is not as Muslims or Hindus. They are the members of the present world society. Above all, they are the citizens of Myanmar. But Myanmar is killing those people, killing their own citizens. In fact, they are killing the humanity. It is not desirable that only the Muslim countries will protest this heinous crime or stand beside the Rohingyas. All people of the world, irrespective of religion or caste, should come forward to stop this torture. We remember that on the anti-apartheid movement in Africa, every human being with humanitarianism expressed their solidarity on that day. As a result, racism was eradicated forever from the world. The issue of religion never came in front for a moment.
Today’s Rohingya issue should not be seen as a matter of Hindus or Muslims. We will all stand against the brutes to stop the inhuman torture of the Rohingyas. For this, we have to strengthen our diplomatic endeavours at bilateral, regional and international levels so that every person in the world continues their pressure on Myanmar. We wish a peaceful solution of the problem. Our only goal is to convince Myanmar to agree to take Rohingyas back to their homeland. We hope the world will stand by us in this regard.
The writer is a former ambassador and secretary