There is a greater need for an elaborate documentation of the crimes committed on the Rohingya refugees, panelists at a DLF session titled ‘Rohingyas: Landless Future’ said last week.
Held at the Cosmic tent in the Bangla Academy premise, the session moderated by Dhaka Tribune editor ZafarSobhan had a panel comprised of relevant experts who all stressed on the importance of documenting the Rohingya refugee crisis from legal points of view.
“Photographs need to be taken, evidence needs to be maintained. We need to build up a dossier about the crimes committed on the Rohingya because at some point, this issue will get greater attention and the prosecutors will take this to the international criminal court (ICC) to get justice for the Rohingyas,” said AmeerahHaq, former United Nations Under-Secretary-General for the Department of Field Support.
Haq said that when a refugee or any other crisis unfolds, the importance of documentation gets overshadowed by the immediate humanitarian needs. “As I have served in Darfur and in East Timor , I have seen how information has gotten lost. But this is very important to build up a case in the ICC.”
Myanmar is waiting for international attention to move on
DrAzeem Ibrahim, author of the book “The Rohingyas: Inside Myanmar’s Hidden Genocide”
said, the best mechanism to actually bring the case to the ICC is for Bangladesh to ‘refer itself’ to the ICC. “In that case, as a victim of this huge influx of refugees, if Bangladesh pleads, then the ICC will be forced to open up an investigation and to the origin of the crisis.”
Ibrahim believed there is no possibility of repatriating the Rohingya back to Myanmar. “I believe that the discussion that the Myanmar government is having with the Bangladeshi counterparts is simply to buy time as much time as possible until the world’s attention moves to something else and the refugees have become a permanent fixture within the Bangladesh territory.”
He said the Myanmar Army chief Min AungHlaing and his military basically undertook a “dry run of the operation” of ousting Rohingya from Myanamr back in October 2016 when they killed thousands of Rohingyas and they expelled over 1,40,000 of them.
What you are saying is that we are going to tolerate ethnic cleansing and genocide to protect this fragile and flawed democracy which is a contradiction
General Hlaing learned three things from it, said Ibrahim, “first, he learned that Aung Sung SuuKyi essentially defended him in the public domain and became a shied for his army.”
For example, there was a report by the United Nation that said that the majority of the women Rohingya were being raped. In reply to that, SuuKyi said, “This is fake rape.” When there was report of ethnic cleansing, she said, “ethnic cleansing is too strong a word to use in that situation.”
She also said that both sides are equally to blame which to Ibrahim is “the moral equivalence of saying the Jews were equally to blame for the Holocaust or the blacks were equally to blame for the apartheid in South Africa.”
The second thing General Hlaing learned, said Ibrahim, is that “that act of killing Rohingya has actually made the military extremely popular as the defenders of Buddhist values and as the defenders of the nation.”
Incidentally, the military was very unpopular in Myanmar and was forced to hold an election that brought Aung Sung SuuKyi to power, he added.
The third thing he learned is that despite all the evidences of ethnic cleansing, murder, genocide and rape, General Hliang was still invited as a VIP guest to Europe. He was invited to Austria and in Germany literally on a red carpet and he toured armament factories and weapons factories and he bought more weapons, said Ibrahim.
“I wrote to the ambassadors of Austria and Germany in May and published the letter on May 25 in Huffington Post, clearly indicating that the military is preparing for a massive offensive in the Rakhaine region. I wrote a piece in Newsweek in December 2016 predicting what was to going to unfold eight months later.”
The greatest tragedy is the lack of voicelessness of the Rohingya
One of the things that he heard from the policymakers of different nations, said Ibrahim, is that they don’t want to put too much pressure on Myanmar because that might lead to a military coup and that might hurt the fragile democracy over there.
“That to me is flawed for two reasons. First of all, what you are saying is that we are going to tolerate ethnic cleansing and genocide to protect this fragile and flawed democracy which is a contradiction.”
“Secondly, the idea of a military coup is a myth. The military is actually been in a very comfortable position right now. They are in fact in a perfect position. The military was very unpopular, now it’s actually become very popular. Aung Sung SuuKyi is defending them and I believe the military will never undertake a military cue and come back to power to expose themselves to the international community and get an international sanction.”
Speaking on the occasion, Justin Rowlatt, BBC’s South Asia Correspondent said, the hurdles of repatriating the Rohingyas are enormous. “According to WFP, there are at least 1,40,000 Rohingyas in camps that were set up in 2012. These camps have been described as concentration camps from where people aren’t allowed to get out and camps in where WFP and other aid organization are denied access to from July 15 this year.”
“Now the model Myanmar is presenting for return is based around very similar camps funded by the UN. And you have got to ask what commitment the world community would need to get from Myanmar before it would allow what happened in 2012, to happen all over again.”
MichealVatikiotis, former editor of Far Eastern Economic Review, said one of the great tragedies is that the Rohingya have almost no voice at all. “The future of this people is to blend in and become someone else.”
He said the Rohingya have struggled to find a voice. There have been attempts to set up diaspora platforms; there are multiple individuals both in Myanamr and outside who have tried to project concern. But they failed. “Partly this is because of the lack of internal cohesion between the different individuals among the Rohingya community which is particularly a divisive group of people.”
He said that started to change in 2012 with the emergence of a platform that sort of picked up the bones of the old Rohingya solidarity organization and tried to form a new platform with new leadership, led by charismatic leader Ata Ullah Abu Amar Junnuni who is known as the Amir.
“He is a man of considerable charisma who for the first time, tried to make up for the failures of the past. Under his leadership, ARSA had made multiple statements towards the international community and expressed their desire to engage with international communities.”
But the designation of ARSA as a terrorist group by the Myanmar government and other governments as well, based on very flimsy evidence, has essentially cut off the route to dialogue, he added.
Prof Jeffery Kingston of Temple University of Tokyo said, regional body like ASEAN has failed to act accordingly to address the crisis. “This is because ASEAN is divided.”