AYEAR has passed and leaving aside all the proof of ethnic cleansing and genocide, nearly a lakh Rohingya babies have been born in the refugee camps of Bangladesh in the year. This has added to the one million Rohingyas who had fled their ancestral home in Rakhine State of Myanmar for their lives. And to add to the tragedy that the world has virtually forgotten, a large number of these babies have allegedly been born from rape by the brutal and inhuman Myanmar military.
The UN secretary general visited the Rohingya refugees. So did the World Bank president and many other dignitaries of the world. And yet not one refugee has gone back while more are coming. The Myanmar’s Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi has said only recently that the Rohingya refugees are not returning because of the Bangladesh government. That a Nobel peace laureate could lie so blatantly in public on a clear-cut case of genocide/ethnic cleansing by her country’s brutal military and yet continue to be a Nobel peace laureate is a sign of the absurd times we are living in.
In a sarcastic way though, Aung San Suu Kyi had a point when she blamed the Bangladesh government. When at the end of August 2017, the 26th of the month to be precise, the riff-raff Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, an apology of an extremists/terrorist organisation, had killed four members of the Myanmar military, the latter took that as an excuse and within a few days created such terror that in no time at all, a million Rohingyas had fled to Bangladesh. According to Doctors Without Borders, nearly 6,700 Rohingyas were butchered and burnt in just a month following the action of ARSA.
Facts are often stranger than fiction. India that in 1971 had stood firmly behind the people of Bangladesh during the genocide by the Pakistan army did a 360 degrees on the Rohingya genocide. Its response to the four deaths that exposed the Rohingya genocide was quicker than its response to the Bangladesh genocide but on the side of the perpetrators of the genocide. New Delhi instantly issued a statement from its external affairs ministry condemning ARSA and Narendra Modi went to Myanmar to convey India’s support for Myanmar military’s action against the Rohingyas. It had taken the Indians many months to openly act against the Bangladesh genocide. In fact, even while the Indian prime minister was in Myanmar, the Myanmar military was actively carrying out the Rohingya genocide, no doubt, encouraged by India’s action and with their knowledge as well.
The prime minister of Bangladesh saw the genocide clear as daylight. She raised it before the international community while she was in New York soon after the carnage of the Rohingyas had started. Her strong role for the Rohingyas raised world consciousness to the level that was required but the Myanmar military’s intent on genocide continued because two of the major players, more than the UN or the rest of the world, that could have stopped the massacre and the genocide, — India and China; they did not see the Rohingyas as victims. They saw, instead, extremism as the main problem that had to be contained at any cost that was, no doubt, a cover for achieving their respective and conflicting geopolitical interests in the region.
And it was the Bangladesh ministry of foreign affairs that had failed to see where to knock to deal with the humongous crisis that the influx of Rohingyas had caused to Bangladesh, let alone the genocide that was behind the influx. Instead of mounting a full-scale international imitative to cash on the fertile environment that the prime minister had created by placing the Myanmar military on the dock before the international community, it turned to the Chinese and allowed them to come out with a deal that allowed Myanmar a safe exit where after the prime minister’s strong leadership, even the US president Donald Trump was ready for the strongest sanctions against Myanmar. The foreign minister and the foreign secretary of Bangladesh hailed the China-initiated deal as a panacea for the resolution of the Rohingya crisis.
In the height of optimism, the mandarins of the Bangladesh foreign ministry welcomed the ‘deal’ as good enough to pave the way for the hundreds of thousands of Rohingyas who were still streaming to Bangladesh while this so-called deal was being signed by them with their Myanmar counterparts. Notwithstanding the grievous nature of the Myanmarese crime that had caused a million refugees to seek shelter in Bangladesh, the mandarins of the Bangladesh foreign ministry could not even get Myanmar to sign an agreement or a document or even an MoU.
It was a ‘deal’, instead, that they signed that they did not even publicise. To add insult to the injury, they thanked Myanmar for the deal and expressed optimism that Myanmar would keep the promises it had made in it in denial of the fact that there was no timetable for the repatriation in it and the Myanmar side was given all the leverages to interpret the deal anyway it liked. The worst part of the deal was that it made the Myanmar authorities both the judge and the jury about the right of the Rohingyas to return to their own homeland. And the deal did not even recognise the refugees (6,00,000 when the deal was signed) as Rohingyas, allowing Bangladesh that had sacrificed the lives of millions for its own ethnic identity to be party to a document that denied the Rohingyas their ethnic identity.
Therefore, with them in charge, it is no wonder that the 6,00,000 Rohingyas who had taken refuge in Bangladesh when the deal was signed are now a million and still coming. And why not? The foreign office mandarins had side-stepped the fact that initial cause of fear of death, rape, arson, etcetera that had caused the Rohingyas to flee is still as much a reality for the remaining Rohingyas in Rakhine State as it was when they had fled after the August massacre in 2017. And unless Suu Kyi had not been afraid of her military or suffers from dementia, she should not have lied in public by blaming the Bangladesh government for the Rohingyas not returning although sarcastically speaking, the Bangladesh government must bear a major part of the responsibility for the refugees not returning home because of the way its foreign ministry dealt with the entire matter.
A new opportunity has come before the Bangladesh government to resolve the Rohingya crisis and deliver justice to the victims of an active genocide. The UN Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar in its report delivered this week found genocidal intent in the action of the Myanmar military that forced the Rohingyas to flee to Bangladesh. It recommended prosecution against the Myanmar army chief and five generals and concluded that Aung San Suu Kyi had ‘failed to protect minorities from crimes against humanity.’ It is a strong ammunition handed to the Bangladesh government — a second chance — that it should not allow its foreign ministry to waste again.
The prime minister would be going to New York for the next UNGA session as she does every year. She should use this UN document to create renewed international pressure on Myanmar for the return of the Rohingya refugees and, meanwhile, seek international assistance for them that is at present being borne by the Bangladesh government primarily. It is now clear that the end objective of Myanmar’s military is to make Rakhine State free of the Rohingyas whose primary fault is that they are Muslims. An initiative by the prime minister for the Rohingyas not to settle them in Bangladesh but to assist them to return to their homes would earn her international recognition endowed on leaders of vision. That is what she should aspire to achieve by taking charge of dealing with the active Rohingya genocide.
Postscript: Meanwhile, the question that lingers is a pertinent one. What has happened to the ARSA terrorists whose action of killing four Myanmar soldiers had caused a million Rohingyas to flee their homeland in the wake of an active genocide?
M Serajul Islam is a former career ambassador.
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