Only words, no action | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, August 28, 2018 / LAST MODIFIED: 11:09 AM, August 28, 2018

Only words, no action

UNSC meets again today to discuss Rohingya situation

In an unprecedented move since the 1989 Lebanon conflict, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres issued a letter to the Security Council a year ago seeking action against the ethnic cleansing of Rohingyas in Myanmar.

The plea made by Guterres on September 2 was in vain. Till date, no action has been taken against Myanmar due to strong opposition by China and Russia -- two permanent members of the Security Council.

In last one year, the two countries foiled several attempts in the UNSC to take action against Myanmar. And there is no sign of change in their stance on Myanmar. This indicates that the UN, which had termed the violence against the Rohingyas a textbook example of ethnic cleansing, will remain paralysed for a longer period and will not be able to punish the perpetrators of the violence.

Alongside Guterres, many other world leaders and human rights activists strongly condemned Myanmar State Councillor Aung San Suu Kyi and her government for carrying out a scorched-earth campaign to drive the Rohingya population out of their homes in Rakhine. The demand for taking punitive actions against Myanmar was loud.

Amid a global outcry, the Security Council sat nine times in one year to discuss the Rohingya crisis, but only expressed concern over the violence and urged Myanmar to end it. The UN General Assembly passed a resolution in last December, calling upon Myanmar to end the violence. The UN Human Rights Council repeatedly condemned the atrocities against Rohingyas.

Myanmar hardly bothered doing anything, thanks to its strong ally China that blindly supports Naypyidaw for its economic and political interests in the country.

Only the Security Council has the mandate to take punitive actions against Myanmar and bring the perpetrators to book by passing resolutions unanimously and referring the matter to the International Criminal Court. But veto by a permanent member of the council is enough to prevent the efforts.

Amid such a situation, the Security Council again sits today to discuss the Rohingya issue, one year after the beginning of the crisis. However, it will not discuss any proposal for action against the atrocities in Myanmar.

Security Council President Karen Pierce of the UK has already talked about the agenda for discussion. At a press briefing on August 1, she said the meeting would focus on implementation of the Memorandum of Understanding regarding the return of Rohingyas to their country and an unconditional access for the UN agencies to Rakhine.

The MoU was signed on June 6 by the Myanmar government, the UNHCR and the UNDP following a deal signed between Bangladesh and Myanmar in November last year over the repatriation of refugees. 

The Security Council would find no real progress in the repatriation process although the Bangladesh-Myanmar agreement mentioned that the repatriation would begin in January 2018, within two months of signing the deal.

Guterres, who wrote to the Security Council raising his concerns about the crisis, is expected to brief the council members on his last month's visit to Rohingya camps. During his visit, Guterres said he heard “unimaginable accounts of killing and rape” from Rohingya refugees.

Two months before the UN chief's visit, a delegation of the Security Council toured the refugee camps in Cox's Bazar and heard tales of horrific torture on Rohingyas. The victims sought justice from the UN's most powerful body.

On its return to New York, the Security Council team only issued a press statement on May 9 expressing commitment to holding the perpetrators of violence accountable. However, no progress was seen to fulfill the pledge in last four months.    

When Guterres sent the letter to the Security Council, the crisis was not so big. Around one lakh Rohingyas had crossed into Bangladesh by then, fleeing violence in Myanmar.

But the UNSC's inability to deliver on Guterres' plea let the Myanmar military to continue its crackdown on Rohingyas which forced around seven lakh of the ethnic minority community taking shelter in Bangladesh in just four months since August last year.  


A week after the escalation of violence in Rakhine, Guterres invoked article 90 of the UN charter and sent the letter to the UNSC urging it to take action.

This article empowers him to bring to the attention of the Security Council any matter which in his opinion may threaten international peace and security.

Since the UN's inception in 1945, its secretary generals have invoked article 90 five times on various issues, including the Korean War and crises in Congo, Tunisia and Lebanon, according to UN documents.

Unlike Guterres, none of his predecessors got lukewarm response from the Security Council after they had brought the attention of the council to any serious issues.

The UN's failure to take decisive measures to resolve the Rohingya crisis may be linked to its previous failures in Rwanda and Bosnia.

At least two former UN chiefs and some world leaders had apologised to the Rwandans after its shocking failure to act on time to prevent the Rwanda genocide in 1994 which saw more than 800,000 Tutsi being massacred by the Hutu majority.

The UN's failure to act comprehensively was again seen in Bosnia. More than 8,000 Bosnian Muslims were massacred in Srebrenica in July 1995. The then UN secretary general Kofi Annan in a report in the General Assembly in 1999 concluded “the tragedy of Srebrenica will haunt our history forever”.

Now, the UN is set to face another debacle in Maynmar. A UN panel in its latest investigation report criticised the ogranisation's role. It said while Myanmar was repeatedly identified as a situation requiring the Human Rights Up Front Action Plan's "whole of UN" human rights driven response to crises, this approach was rarely, if ever, pursued.

“Rather, many United Nations agencies continued to prioritise development goals, humanitarian access and quiet diplomacy alone. That approach has demonstrably failed; the United Nations as a whole failed to adequately address human rights concerns,” reads the report. 

Although Guterres has been outspoken against the ethnic cleansing of Rohingya, his efforts to protect them might be in vain if the Security Council cannot play its due role to uphold the human rights of the forcibly displaced Rohingyas.

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