Feb 22
Bangladesh caught in dilemma over Rohingya Issue? PDF Print E-mail

By Zafar Malik

Bangladesh seems to be caught in a dilemma over the latest spell of influx of tens of thousands of Rohingya Muslims into the country in the wake of Myanmar military’s ruthless crackdown since August 25. Bangladesh that has been hosting a huge number of Rohingya people since ‘90’s is facing a difficult choice to cope with situation—one is humanitarian issue and another is concern over a threat of internal security. Dhaka also maintains cautious move due to geopolitical and economic interests of regional powers.

Reports say unarmed innocent Rohingya people including women and children were facing unprecedented atrocities by Myanmar army, police along with Arakanese Buddhists forcing thousands of Rohingya Muslims to flee to Bangladesh. They have resorted to indiscriminately killing, burning, looting and raping characterized by human rights organizations and international media as “genocide” and “ethnic cleansing”. Although a few Muslim countries like Turkey, Indonesia, Malaysia and Muslims in Russia raised their concern and staged protest demonstrations against the Myanmar government but major world powers that are considered as champion of human rights and fundamental rights remain as silent spectators of this human tragedy may be because of their own vested interests in Myanmar.

Although the UN and other international bodies request Bangladesh government to give shelter to the persecuted Rohingya people but they shamelessly failed to put real pressure on the Myanmar authority to stop the inhuman atrocities on unarmed civilians.

A few months ago the UN Security Council failed to adopt a draft resolution on the situation in Myanmar owing to vetoes by China and the Russian Federation. The draft resolution would have called on Myanmar’s government to cease military attacks against civilians in ethnic minority regions and begin a substantive political dialogue that would lead to a genuine democratic transition. Although the US condemns the atrocities by the Myanmar government but did not yet take any concrete step to stop it. India reportedly sided with the position of the Myanmar government on the Rohingya issue. During Indian Prime Minister Narnedra Modi’s recent visit to Myanmar agreed to provide assistance for development of the Rakhine state.

In the face of growing criticism, Myanmar State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi has said her government was doing its best to protect everyone in the strife-torn state of Rakhine but did not refer specifically to the exodus of the minority Rohingya, which was sparked by insurgent attacks on Aug 25 and an army counter-offensive. It was reported that Arakan Rohingya Solidarity Army launched attacks on Myanmar police camps on August 24 and killed 12 security personnel. In retaliation the Myanmar army began the crackdown from the next day on the Rohingya people.

According to the Myanmar authority 400 people were killed in the operation but the unofficial accounts say the casualty figure as high as 3000. A senior UN representative told AFP that more than 1,000 people may already have been killed in Myanmar, mostly minority Rohingya Muslims.


Critics have accused Suu Kyi of not speaking out for the Rohingya Muslim facing persecution for a long time. Some have called for the Nobel Peace Prize she won in 1991 as a champion of democracy to be revoked.


Suu Kyi claimed the situation in Rakhine has been difficult for many decades and so it was "a little unreasonable" to expect her administration, which has been in power for only 18 months, to have resolved it already.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned there was a risk of ethnic cleansing in Myanmar that could destabilize the region. In a rare letter to the U.N. Security Council, Guterres expressed concern the violence could spiral into a “humanitarian catastrophe”.

Myanmar National Security Adviser Thaung Tun said Myanmar was counting on China and Russia, both permanent members of the Security Council, to block a fresh U.N. resolution on the crisis.

But the fresh influx appeared unbearable additional burden on Bangladesh as it has already been hosting around four hundred thousand of Myanmar nationals who had to leave their homeland in several phases over the years owing to communal violence and repeated military operations.

According to UN estimate, 270,000 affected Myanmar nationals took refuge in Bangladesh in the past two weeks since August 25 and the number is likely to reach to 300,000 shortly.

The United States expressed concern at the “troubling situation” in Rakhine state. At a regular briefing in Washington on Sept 7, spokeswoman Heather Nuert said "there has been a significant displacement of local populations following serious allegations of human rights abuses, including mass burnings of Rohingya villages and violence conducted by security forces and also armed civilians.”

On additional burden created on Bangladesh following influx of huge Rohingya people into the country, she said “I know it is a difficult situation for Bangladesh, as it is for any country, to absorb refugees.”

Nauret reiterated the US condemnation of the deadly attacks on Burmese security forces, but joined the international community in calling on those forces to prevent further violence and protect local populations in ways that are consistent with the rule of law and with full respect for human rights. "We urge all in Burma, including in the Rakhine state, to avoid actions that exacerbate tensions there."

She said the U.S. welcomed acknowledgement by the Myanmar government of the need to protect all communities, and its pledge to implement recommendations of the advisory commission on the Rakhine state aimed at addressing long-standing challenges that predate the country's democratic transition.

Nauret said the United States is working through the United Nations and other international organizations to assist tens of thousands of civilians who have fled to southeastern Bangladesh since August 25. “We are also communicating with Burma’s neighbors and other concerned international partners on efforts to end the violence and assist affected communities there”.


On September 7 after a meeting with Turkish First Lady Emine Erdogan at Ganabhaban, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina told the executive committee of Awami League central committee that her government is pressing Myanmar government to take back their people from Bangladesh.

She said people are fleeing to Bangladesh for shelter after losing everything in one incident after another. “We are trying our best to help them."

Hasina said Myanmar is bringing 'dishonour' to itself by forcing its people to become refugees in another country. "Myanmar has to understand this."

She said the most inhumane side of this situation is that the women and children are in misery; newborns are dying. Only hearing about something like this causes pain. It is unbearable.

Government officials say despite constraints, Bangladesh on humanitarian ground keeps open its border unofficially allowing this hapless humanity to take shelter and protect their lives. At the same time, Dhaka demands immediate steps from Myanmar to de-escalate the ongoing violence in the Northern state of Rakhine and immediate effective measures to stop the ongoing influx of Myanmar nationals.

A statement of the Foreign Ministry said “Bangladesh regrets that appropriate measures for protection of civilian population (Rohingyas) have not been ensured during the military operation that compelled huge number of desperate people to seek shelter in Bangladesh.

Dhaka told Myanmar that Bangladesh must not be the victim of repeated violence and instability in the Rakhine State and called for taking immediate measures of protection by Myanmar for unarmed civilians of all communities in the Rakhine State regardless of ethnicity and religion. Bangladesh also stress unfettered access of humanitarian agencies to the affected communities in need to assistance in the Rakhine state and urges Myanmar to take back all Myanmar nationals who crossed over to Bangladesh.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has also urged the UN and the international community to mount pressure on Myanmar to stop pushing its nationals into Bangladesh and take back its Rohingya nationals. She said hosting a huge number of Myanmar nationals is a big burden for Bangladesh. “We’ve given shelter to them only on humanitarian ground,” she added.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi, who recently visited Dhaka lauded Bangladesh’s efforts to help the Rohingya, and acknowledged that more assistance is needed. She pledged humanitarian aid. Turkey President’s wife Emine Erdogan and Turkey Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu flew to Dhaka and visited persecuted Rohyngyas in Cox’s Bazar camps on Sept 7 when they were shocked seeing the devastating situation of the Rohingya Muslims, the victims of the crimes against humanity. They, however, praised the Bangladesh government for giving shelter to the fleeing Rohingyas and vowed to stand beside Bangladesh at this critical hour.


Apart from the question of humanity, Bangladesh is worried over previous intelligence reports that a section of Rohingyas are engaged in terrorist and anti-social activities in Bangladesh posing a potential threat to the internal security. Moreover, reports of formation of the Arakan Rohingya Solidarity Army, currently fighting a kind of guerilla warfare with the Myanmar security forces to press for their long running demands that include granting their Myanmar citizenships, is a new concern for Dhaka which pursues a zero tolerance against all forms of violence and terrorism.

Observers say apart from a host of chemistries of regional and international politics, it is true that Bangladesh gets victimized every time due to wrong actions by the Myanmar government to deal with the situation. Moreover, people of Bangladesh in general are shocked watching the extent of brutality on the Rohingya people and ask the government to raise the issue to the international forum to stop it immediately.

As the picture of brutality by the Myanmar military started unfolding opposition political parties, pro-Islamic parties and other groups burst out in anger and staged demonstration on Dhaka streets urging the government to be more vocal against this barbarism.

The New York Times an editorial titled “Myanmar’s Persecution of the Rohingya” criticized the Myanmar military for the persecution of Muslim Rohingya minority. It says the Buddhist nation’s persecution has reached a peak with more than 100,000 people fleeing to Bangladesh, villages burning and untold numbers killed and raped, her acceptance of ethnic cleansing, and her smearing of its critics, has dashed hope for just a solution.

The editorial says Myanmar’s military has intensified scorched-earth tactics that were of such “devastating cruelty” last year and early this that the United Nations said they most likely constituted ‘crimes against humanity”. The Rohingya are denied basic rights, including citizenship in the country of their birth. Their persecution has been so egregious that hundreds of thousands have fled or languish in camps.

Troops began driving out desperate Rohingya after attacks by the insurgent Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army on Aug 25. Since then, Myanmar’s military reports that nearly 400 people have been killed, mostly insurgents, but Rohingya reaching Bangladesh report widespread atrocities by the military, including deliberate killings of civilians. The insurgents said they are reacting to abuses by the military, which reportedly moved a battalion into region about a month ago, prompting concern from the United Nations about the Rohingya’s fate.

It says the International Crisis Group warned in December that the root causes of the Rohingya insurgency were the crushing persecution and the cruelty of the military. The solution, the group emphasized, is to work to end discrimination against the Rohingya and to moderate the military’s response, precisely the opposite of what is happening now.

The editorial says the continuing persecution of the Rohingya represents a colosasal moral failure on the part of Myanmar’s democratically elected government, led by Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi. The military retains considerable powers, and she must tread carefully. But that is no excuse for ridiculous accusation that international aid groups were supporting the insurgency, a charge that puts both aid workers and the people who depend on them in danger. The United Nation’s human rights envoy for Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, said she was “astonished by the strict limitations Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi’s government placed on her July visit to the country. The government also denied visas to United Nations investigators looking into abuses by the military against Rohingya civilians, blocking independent monitors from assessing allegations of serious human rights violations.


The editorial says the United Nations has appealed to Bangladesh not to turn away desperate Rohingya reaching its border. India can help by abandoning a merciless plan to deport Rohingya who have taken refuge there.


Meanwhile, opposition BNP organized a human chain in Dhaka and elsewhere of the country on September 8 to stop atrocity on Rohingya. Its leader Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir alleged the government has failed to settle the Rohingya crisis because of its weak-kneed foreign policy.

Islami Andolon Bangladesh, Khelafat Majlis and other Islamic groups staged demonstration and declared to lay siege at the Myanmar Embassy in Dhaka on September 13.

Ganojagoron Mancha also threatened to besiege the Myanmar Embassy on September 11 if the “genocide” of Rohingya people is not stopped by the timeframe. Imran H Sarkar, spokesperson of the Gonojagoron Mancha, made the announcement at a protest procession brought out at the capital’s Shahbagh intersection Friday afternoon.

Earlier, on August 24, just a day before the latest spell of the crackdown, the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State led by former UN secretary General Kofi Annan released its final report recommending measures to find a durable solution to the Rohingya crisis. The final report called for reviews of Myanmar’s Citizenship Law and an end to restrictions on its Rohingya Muslim minority to prevent further violence in the beleaguered Arakan province. The report of the nine-member Advisory Commission focuses on the country’s citizenship verification process for Muslims, their rights and equality before the law, their freedom of movement, and the situation of those who are confined to internally displaced persons camps.

The commission, appointed by State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi in August 2016, advised Suu Kyi’s government to take concrete steps to end enforced segregation of ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims, allow unfettered humanitarian access in Rakhine, address the statelessness of the Rohingyas, hold accountable those who violate human rights, and end restrictions on the Rohingyas’ freedom of movement.

“The commission has chosen to squarely face these sensitive issues because we believe that if they are left to fester, the future of Rakhine State — and indeed Myanmar as a whole — will be irretrievably jeopardized,” Annan said at a press conference on the report on August 24 in Yangon. “This is a critical step for Rakhines and Muslims alike,” he said. “Only in this way can they break out of the hostility that leads to the violence and despair that has blighted their lives for so long.”

The report also addressed socioeconomic development in the impoverished state, the rule of law, humanitarian aid, bilateral relations with neighboring Bangladesh, drug trafficking, and cooperation between local communities, Rakhine state, and the central government.

The commission proposed a ministerial-level appointment to coordinate policy on Rakhine state and ensure the implementation of its recommendations.

The 1.1 million Rohingya who live in Rakhine are denied Myanmar citizenship though many have lived in the nation for generations. They do not have access to health care or jobs and face restrictions on freedom of movement, marriage, and childbirth.

Bangladesh welcomes the Koffi Annan Commission’s report, saying implementation of the report would be a move forward to establish a durable solution to the age-old problem