Dhaka must mobilise opinion for Myanmar’s accountability

Published at 12:00am on August 26, 2019

EFFORTS to repatriate the Rohingyas after their large-scale influx into Bangladesh from Rakhine State in Myanmar beginning on August 25, 2017 have faltered twice — now on August 22, 2019 and earlier on November 15, 2018. The repatriation of the Rohingyas is to be safe, sustainable, dignified and voluntary but no one from the Rohingyas sheltered in Cox’s Bazar were willing, then and now, to get back to Rakhine. The unwillingness appears to have stemmed from the torture and persecution — which include violence, rape, arson attack, unbridled murder and restrictions on movement and livelihood which the United Nations then likened to ‘a textbook example of ethnic cleansing’ — that they faced at the hands of Myanmar’s ‘security forces’. Such violence against and persecution of the Rohingyas forced them to flee to Bangladesh, beginning in the late 1970s, now totalling more than a million — about 700,00, mostly women, children and the elderly, since August 2017 being added to more than 400,000 having fled to Bangladesh in phases since the 1970s. Able-bodied men of the community are said to have been killed in Arakan by Myanmar’s military, the Tatmadaw.

A UN independent fact-finding mission on Myanmar, in a situation like this, says that there will be no return of the Rohingyas and no long-term peace in Myanmar unless there is accountability for the ‘brutality’ of Myanmar’s military forces. A member of the panel is also reported to have told an informal meeting of the UN Security Council on Myanmar’s accountability that a domestic judicial process could not be possible and that the commission of inquiry that Myanmar set up could face the same challenge as there is danger to the victims and witnesses who have been threatened. The panel also refers to the case of seven soldiers who were released by Myanmar authorities ‘because of the national and political pressure’ nine months after imprisoning them for 10 years for the killing of 10 Rohingya villagers and two Reuters journalists who were imprisoned for reporting on the killings. The panel, which ruled out any chance for a domestic and a hybrid form of accountability taking place, says that an international mechanism or process could work. The UN Security Council could refer the matter to the International Criminal Court, set up an ad hoc tribunal on Myanmar or have countries with universal jurisdiction to deal with the plight of the Rohingyas in Bangladesh. In parallel, a demand through the Genocide Convention could be made to the International Court of Justice for compensation and reparations to the Rohingyas.

The repatriation of the Rohingyas cannot be forthcoming unless there is accountability of the Myanmar military and without a sustainable and secure development for the Rohingyas in the state of Rakhine or in any other regions of Myanmar, the return of the Rohingyas would not be meaningful. Bangladesh must, in such a situation, mobilise world opinion and take on board Myanmar’s other neighbours and ASEAN members for the accountability of Myanmar’s military so that the authorities there stop creating a fearful situation, which are reported to have been taking place in Rakhine at regular intervals, that could make Rohingyas return to their native land voluntarily and sustainably.