Thursday, 28 September, 2023

How Credible and Prospective Are the Recent Well-debated Rohingya Repatriation Initiatives?

Major General (Retd) Md. Nayeem Ashfaque Chowdhury

How Credible and Prospective Are the Recent Well-debated Rohingya Repatriation Initiatives?

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There is no denying that the Rohingya crisis was created by Myanmar, to be more specific, the military junta and the solution to the same lies there. The only solution to this crisis is a safe, secure, sustainable, dignified and voluntary repatriation and rehabilitation of the Rohingyas to their motherland where they lived for centuries. We talked a lot about the creation of an environment conducive to the repatriation of Rohingya to Myanmar. Myanmar needs to agree to implement the same. It is well understood that all the issues may not be implemented immediately or at a time. But, a legal framework under the auspices of the United Nations including a well laid out time plan for implementation of the issues needs to be done immediately. An environment conducive to Rohingya implies, not limited to:

•             Legal right to live as an honoured citizen

•             Possession of legal documents to be treated as an honoured citizen

•             Legal right to get back all the legal properties of the Rohingya

•             Legal protection from political, economic, religious, and social discrimination. The existing culture of impunity for those who inflicted the violence must be stopped

•             Enforce justice at every level irrespective of cast or creed

•             Smooth rehabilitation including the return of their properties, community facilities and religious institutions

•             Enhancement of economic activities in Rakhine and creation of opportunities for the ousted Myanmar citizens including Rohingya

•             Ensure fulfilment of health, education, shelter, food etc.

•             Social cohesion and demographic integration especially between Rohingya and Rakhine. Appropriate measures to guard against hate crime and encourage/ensure communal harmony, ethnic and religious tolerance etc.

•             Integrate Rohingya and other minorities into political processes and nation-building activities

•             On top of it, implementation of the Kofi Annan Commission’s recommendation in its entirety and acting on the Five-Point peace consensus of ASEAN

The fulfillment of all list mentioned above of a conducive environment must not be the criterion to initiate the Rohingya repatriation. Initiation of the repatriation should start immediately with minimum possible criterion fulfilment and Myanmar should pledge fulfilment of others with a specific timeline. The international community and Bangladesh should start thinking of alternative approaches and initiatives besides continuing with current diplomatic efforts.

Myanmar is now an implosive and abysmal state, especially after the coup in February 2021, posing a severe security threat to its neighbours, the Indo-Pacific region, and the world. Myanmar’s Tatmadaw committed genocide and is still committing all kinds of crimes against humanity. Myanmar security forces burnt and destroyed roughly 58,000 homes and civilian structures since the 2021 coup. More than 1.3 million people have been displaced in the past two years, and more than 3,000 civilians have been killed.  Fight between the PDF and Ethnic Armed Organisations and Tatmadaw has spread throughout the country. By 2022, the PDF was learnt to have expanded to more than 250 units with more than 65,000 troops. We do not know the progress of the agreement with FPNCC. According to R2P, each state is responsible for protecting its own population against atrocities. But, if the state itself carries out atrocities against its own people what would you say? Timely collective and decisive action is the solution. It is alleged that the Myanmar junta protects large-scale drug production to ensure stability in conflict zones as it faces a revolt against the 2021 coup. There is a surge in drug supply in Bangladesh like other neighbouring countries, and the price has dropped as admitted by the Department of Narcotic Control of Bangladesh. Bangladesh is the worst sufferer of its neighbour’s problem. Besides many worst sufferings, Bangladesh alone had to spend $1.69 billion on the Rohingya refugees till last year.

We are too late to take pragmatic steps to ensure Rohingya repatriation. We welcome the adoption of Resolution 2669 in the UN Security Council including the action of three very important stakeholders who at least abstained from veto or vote. We are encouraged to see the inclusion of the BURMA Act in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) 2023. With the international communities, we are also encouraged to see the active and just role of ICJ and all other related stakeholders. Though the number of repatriations of the Rohingya in the recent proposal is less than zero point one per cent, we welcome all kinds of initiatives for Rohingya repatriation to their motherland. Non-compliance with the November 2017 Agreement between Bangladesh and Myanmar including the initiatives of China in 2018, 2019, 2021 and 2022 makes us a little apprehensive about the current initiative. Myanmar only recognised 7% of the submitted list of 8,29,036 Rohingya by Bangladesh for further investigation. The total obliteration of 400 Rohingya villages makes us concerned about the intention of Tatmadaw. Myanmar enacted a law in 2018 saying that any vacant land if not claimed within 6 months will automatically be converted as government property. So, all the lands and properties of Rohingya are supposed to be now the Myanmar Government property as the last date for the claim of the properties expired on 11 March 2019. Even with this adverse backdrop, we don’t want to believe that the recent Kunming initiative is converted into a situation which allows Myanmar to get some leverage in ICJ, or in UN or to ASEAN, EU, OIC or any other international communities till a conducive environment in Myanmar is created and all Rohingyas are repatriated. We don’t want to believe that through this initiative Myanmar’s undemocratic military junta who have been carrying out atrocities against their own people since 1962 get recognition or legitimacy. We don’t want to believe that the increasing pressure of the UN, ICJ, USA, EU, UK, ASEAN, OIC and all international communities who are united to establish humanity, democracy and the rule of law in Myanmar will be let loose through this initiative. We would like to see an immediate ceasefire by Tatmadaw and a return to democracy as soon as possible, as we all know the military junta is planning to hold sham elections in a desperate attempt to claim legitimacy and gain international recognition. Our expectation would be to see the implementation of the BURMA Act; humanitarian assistance to the victims of violence by the Burmese military; all kinds of support, guidance, and encouragement to the Rohingya diaspora including ARNA, IDPs and refugees; assistance to political prisoners etc. We would like to see ASEAN’s more united and active effort to bring justice and democracy to Myanmar. Surprisingly, many of the Western countries that are exerting pressure on Myanmar to return to democracy are still investing in Myanmar directly or indirectly. This ultimately releases pressure on Myanmar. In fact, the international community to date could not create enough pressure which would compel Myanmar to stop atrocities and crimes against humanity. We would like to see these countries stop all kinds of support to the military junta. We are observing the weaning of donation by various donor countries which not only increase unbearable pressure on Bangladesh but also increases the miseries of the Rohingya which eventually will pose a threat to the world.

Trust and confidence of the Rohingyas are essential for voluntary repatriation. Why we cannot think of the stages of repatriation like this:

•             There are more than a million people residing in IDP camps in Myanmar. Let Myanmar create an environment conducive to these distressed people living in IDP camps to resettle on their own land. Let Myanmar start bringing these people to the Holding camps near their homes under the auspices of the UN in phases. Myanmar should rebuild their houses and other community facilities. On completion of those, let these IDP people move to their own homes subsequently in stages. Their smooth transition to their own home will encourage other refugees to return to their own land.

•             Let all the Rohingyas living in Bangladesh move to newly established protected/secured camps inside Myanmar under the auspices of the UN in phases. Let the verification and other processes be done in those camps under the supervision of the UN. From these camps, Rohingyas can move to the Holding Camps and stay there till their houses are built and other parameters of a conducive environment are met. Rohingyas are expected to be volunteers for this proposal as it will be a safe, secure and protected zone under the UN. On top of it, they will also see a positive move of IDPs towards their own home. Of course, Bangladesh can provide support for establishing logistic bases of the UN, if asked for.

If the Rohingyas are nowhere, they will be everywhere around the world. This is an urgent call of the day for all of us to put our hands together and save humanity in Myanmar which is already at stake.


The writer is a former army officer