Fearful, Fighting, Forgotten? | International Inaction over the Rohingya Crisis

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P R E S S  R E L E A S E

Rohingya, an ethnic Muslim minority group in Myanmar, has faced institutionalised discriminatory policies, such as exclusionary citizenship laws, for decades, the same law which eventually ostracised all the legal rights of the Rohingyas in their home country as nationals. The 2017 military wipe-out was the last of its version to make a myriad of these human beings face inhuman maltreatment, compelling over seven hundred thousand Rohingyas to flee into Bangladesh by crossing a sea, lands and hills. With the advent of the recent military coup in Myanmar, the question is: what will be the fate of these hundreds of thousands of Rohingyas? Will they ever be able to live a stable life?

On 19 March, as a part of its year-long Rohingya advocacy programme, Youth Policy Forum (YPF) launched its much anticipated second webinar in partnership with Harvard-UNICEF, in an effort to question the international inaction over the Rohingya refugee crisis, particularly with the thoughts of recent dire situation in Myanmar. Three distinguished experts on Foreign Policy, Diplomacy and Rohingya issues were in the panel. A presentation on legal implications of the Rohingya crisis was conferred from an esteemed lawyer.

The Panel included Rumana Ahmed, in charge of President Joe Biden’s transition team’s international media team and former senior advisor to The White House; Md. Delwar Hossain, Director General (Myanmar), Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Bangladesh; Muhammad Noor, a Rohingya activist and founder of The Rohingya Project. The session was moderated by Zaheer Abbas, lead of the year-long Rohingya Advocacy Programme of Youth Policy Forum.

The floor was first given to Mr. Farhaan Ahmed, a senior lecturer of Law at Brac University and former legal professional at International Criminal Court. The presentation shed light on safe and dignified repatriation of Rohingya refugees predicted upon the assurance of non-repetition from the atrocities. The relevant international mechanisms and judicial proceedings were explained, such as the case filed by Gambia at International Court of Justice, the proceedings of International Criminal Court, the work of the Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar, and the Universal Jurisdiction proceedings in the national court of Argentina.

Further explanation was given about the alleged crimes against humanity, which has been perpetuated against the Rohingya people, and the overview of present situations. The discussion led to heart-wrenching observations and critical policy analysis with the possible solutions to mitigate the crisis in the end.

Myanmar military regime during the persecution and US leadership

Rumana Ahmed, a former senior advisor to The White House, shared her experiences when she visited Myanmar and Bangladesh. By stressing on the yet Myanmar Military hegemony back at that time, she remarked, Transition to democracy happened but it was partial at best. The Military was still holding power, they never let go of it.

She emphasised,

The recent coup in Myanmar is a lot more indicative about how the Myanmar Military is going forward for complete authoritarian control. They were the ones who led the campaign against the Rohingyas and now things are going to get even worse.

The U.S leadership during the crisis was not forthcoming which sparked the genocide even more. She added,

I don’t think enough was being done pre-2017 by the US government, or by the many countries involved, to put more pressure on Myanmar. The US leadership at that time was kept at bay.

Enough attention was not given to the Rohingyas by many countries, which actually paved the way for Militaries to continue their massacring on the Rohingyas. Majority of the people in the US and in other countries don’t know what happened, why it happened, and the actual human impact of the crisis. Looking at the US perspective, sanction is a good option, but it should be a more widespread approach.

The brutal persecution of Rohingya refugees 

The Myanmar citizenship law was the medium to formally give a name to the extreme genocide that took place. Rohingya activist, Muhammad Noor has given his remarks on this as,

In 1962, the cornerstone of Rohingya genocide has been put. After 20 years in 1982 they passed a black law which stripped our rights, birth and nationality, and everything that belonged to us including our land and properties.

Noor also explained how thousands of villages in his home territory were burnt and how thousands of people fled from Myanmar. Bangladesh has given shelter to about a million Rohingya refugees till date. He added on this, Bangladesh has been one of the most important hosting countries but also a victim of the Rohingya influx where thousands of people have fled from Arakan to Bangladesh.

Since 2012, Rohingyas has been misquoted and underquoted, fabricated in the mainstream media. So it is important to bring Rohingya voices as raw as possible. People haven’t seen how the genocide was happened but only have seen the aftermath; their plights have remained under the shadow universally. Rumana also added by her experiences, “Plethora of women were raped and pregnant. Women also witnessed their children’s get bashed in the rock, thrown into the rivers, and their husbands getting killed.

The importance of raising awareness and the key roles of other states  

Raising awareness across the Universities is important. Rumana added, “There is not enough, nowhere near enough public awareness.

Rather than people sitting at tables, fabricating the stories, it’s important to bring the actual voices of Rohingyas. This way they can share their part of the story. There needs to be more public pressure, which needs more mobilising and organising. The key role has to be played by the US, and other states must engage more promptly. This is going to require multilateral efforts. As Mr. Noor also remarked, “Rohingyas have not gotten enough platform to bring their voices in the world.

International mechanisms in ensuring safe and dignified repatriation of Rohingya people

By emphasising on the safe repatriation of Rohingya refugees, Mr. Delwar Hossain, Director General (Myanmar Wing), Ministry of Foreign affairs, Bangladesh, put his remarks,

Implementation of provisional measures still remains unaddressed. What we feel is that the international community should not shy away from their responsibilities. People should not leave everything to Bangladesh, we have limited scopes.

He added,

As a host country, we have limited opprtunities. What we are working on at the moment, we are trying to find a solution to the repatriation of these Rohingya people as far as possible. To that extent, security must need to be ensured.

He emphasised Rohingya repatriation and security as a big concern and that the Rohingya population must have the chance to send their children to schools.

The Rohingyas have lost all their rights to go back to their country by law, so no matter how democratic Myanmar becomes, they still don’t want the Rohingyas. Mr. Noor has conveyed his remark on this,

Rohingyas are not only refugees, they are stateless people. The Syrian, Yemeni refugees can go back to their country if their country gets stable. But we can’t. Burmese government does not want us back.

Noor added, “Though lots of initiatives have been taken by ICJ, ICC, Fact-Finding missions; being a Rohingya, I’m telling you that there are no ground changes for us. Implementation should take place.

He added,

Arakan is a very strategic territory. We have been persecuted not because we are Muslims or Rohingyas. It’s because we are in very important geo-political locations, for our minerals.

The panelists emphasised that Rohingyas have been forgotten by people. Every policy discussion that takes place, every initiative that takes place, every voice that raises should be converted into actions as soon as possible.

Watch full discussion here: 



Written by: Saharin Priya Shaoun, a final-year-student of Public Administration at University of Chittagong


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