With every passing day we come by newer reports of the nature of barbarity that the Rohingyas in Rakhine have had to endure. The latest statistics emerging from the research work on the forced migration of the Rohingyas, undertaken by a research consortium of academics, practitioners and organisation from Australia, Bangladesh, Canada, Norway and the Philippines estimate that no fewer than 25,000 Rohingyas were murdered and nearly as many women and girls raped during the military-led anti-Rohingya pogrom in the region last year.
This is the first time that a definitive figure has been arrived at, through interviews of the refugees about the volume of the casualty that might have resulted from what was very clearly an effort by the Myanmar government to depopulate Northern Rakhine of the Rohingya population. And it has been extremely successful in meeting that objective. One of the main reasons for that is the apathy of the greater part of the international community to take a firm and decisive action against the government of Myanmar. Barring some European countries and Canada, others have literally turned a blind eye to a situation that the UN had itself described as one of the greatest human catastrophes of this era. Some countries, like the USA, have imposed sanctions on Myanmar, but selectively, and that too only on military personnel, which, given Myanmar's attitude of thumbing world opinion, has no bearing on its policy at all.
One of the reasons why Myanmar has acted with such impunity and blatant disregard for human rights is that its two closest neighbours, by their open resistance to the UN's initiative for action, has in fact sanctified and endorsed Myanmar's brutality of a minority community. Repeated efforts by the UK and some European countries have been stifled by China and Russia. And China, perhaps more than Russia, has very deep economic interests in Myanmar, particularly in the region that the Myanmar government has denuded the Rohingyas off. And the UN can do only so much. After all it is only as powerful or effective, as much as its member would allow it to be. In this case blatant economic interest has triumphed over principles and rights of human beings. It brings forth the stark reality that the world order come to be faced with, and that of the double standards of the international community in addressing a humanitarian catastrophe brought upon by human beings acting as predators, the majority against the minority. One wonders whether the Rohingyas would have fared better and received more attention had they belonged to another creed than the one they belong to.
And Bangladesh seems to have fallen for the snare that Myanmar has woven. Given that it is in our interest to see the Rohingyas go back to their own country, and as quickly as possible, we were open to any suggestion and action by Myanmar. And while there has been no dearth of suggestions and assurances, Myanmar has not been forthcoming with positive actions. It has employed ploy after ploy, to procrastinate the process of repatriation, imposing newer conditions regularly. Not a single refugee has been taken back by Myanmar. And the requirement to ensure physical security of the Rohingyas and restoration of their citizenship, the two major demands of the aid agencies as well as the Rohingyas have played in favour of the Myanmar government. These are the two conditions that Myanmar is unwilling to guarantee.
Although it is in our interest to see that the refugees go back, and quickly too, it seems that we, not Myanmar, are the errant party. The newest twist in the tale has emerged after the most recent visit of our foreign minister to Myanmar. Gleaning the local media reports in Myanmar, it seems that we are willing to bend any length to accommodate Myanmar's unjustified conditions, if only that would hasten the repatriation of the refugees. We understand that the Myanmar government has broached the idea of doing away with the term, in stating the status of the Rohingyas, as “forcibly displaced Myanmar nationals” and instead use “displaced persons from Rakhine State.” This would completely dilute the gravity of the matter.
We have only the Refugee, Relief and Repatriation Commissioner's comment that Bangladesh has not taken any formal decision in this regard, but we are yet to hear from the foreign ministry. We feel that even entertaining such an idea, let alone acceding to such a request, should be anathema. No one can change the reality that the Rohingyas were forcibly displaced, persecuted and hounded out of their homeland. Repatriation of Rohingyas at any cost will not solve the problem, which demands a permanent solution. In 2012 we thought that we could shield ourselves from the problem by turning away the Rohingyas, who had tried to come over this side of the border, following an ethnic clash in northern Rakhine. We secured some relief, but only temporarily. We must see through the dubious ploys that Myanmar has been resorting to.
Brig Gen Shahedul Anam Khan ndc, psc (Retd) is Associate Editor, The Daily Star.