No end to Rohingya ordeal


Bill Richardson has resigned from an international panel on the Rohingya crisis. The veteran US diplomat quit as the 10-member advisory board was making its first visit to Myanmar’s Rakhine state from where nearly one million Rohingya Muslims have fled in recent months.

The Advisory Board for the Committee for Implementation of the Recommendations on Rakhine State was set up by Myanmar last year. The board is to advise the Myanmar government on enacting the findings of an earlier commission that investigated the condition of the Rohingya.

The commission was headed by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. Announcing his resignation last week, Richardson said he could not in “good conscience” sit on a panel that was only “whitewashing” the causes of the Rohingya crisis. He accused the country’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi of lacking in “moral leadership”. According to Richardson, Surakiart Sathirathai, the board chairman and a former Thai deputy prime minister, was not “genuinely committed” to implementing recommendations regarding the issues of Rohingya’s safety, citizenship, peace, stability and development.

By now everybody knows that all of Rohingya’s problems arise from the fact that they have no citizenship rights. The Buddhist-majority Myanmar considers them interlopers from India’s Bengal province during the British colonial rule. The Rohingya have no access to education or health care and their freedom of movement is severely restricted.

Although the latest wave of anti-Rohingya violence and refugee exodus began with Aug. 25 militant attacks on 30 police posts and an army base that killed 12 security officers, major attacks on Rohingya forcing them to flee to Bangladesh and other neighboring countries have occurred at least three times in the past 50 years: In 1977-78, in 1991-92 and in 2012 when hundreds of thousands fled across the borders following attacks by Buddhists.

Bangladesh’s plan to start repatriating those who entered since September 2017 has been postponed due to concerns about their safety. Repatriation was to begin last Tuesday. But doubts hang over their return to Myanmar amid warnings that conditions remain unstable in the Rakhine state. According to Bangladesh, the list of people to be sent back is yet to be prepared. But that is not the only problem.

Human rights groups think any repatriation now would be premature and dangerous. They express doubts whether repatriation will be safe, truly voluntary, and dignified. It is not even clear if the Rohingya will get to return to their original dwellings which were razed during the violence last year. Even though the UN and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) have welcomed the Bangladesh-Myanmar agreement on the return of refugees, they are not a party to the deal. So there is no guarantee that the operations will abide by international standards.

Myanmar government spokesman Zaw Htay’s statement that the returnees could apply for citizenship “after they pass the verification process” has also created doubts and confusion in the minds of the refugees and their supporters.

In this context, the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army’s (ARSA) Jan. 21 declaration that it has no choice but to fight the Myanmar government will only complicate the situation and make things harder still for the Rohingya. The entire Rohingya population had to pay a heavy price for ARSA’s Aug. 25 attacks on security posts. In the ensuing violence, scores of Rohingya were shot, killed and gang- raped. This also helped the Myanmar authorities to reframe their anti-Rohingya atrocities as part of a worldwide fight against terrorism. One can only hope that enough number of Rohingya will see through ARSA’s game and take a firm stand against the group. The Rohingya should realize that far from helping their cause, ARSA is only helping the Myanmar authorities to depict a community who are fighting for their rights as a lethal combination of criminals, illegal immigrants, terrorists, and the most dangerous kind of threat to the country’s security.