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Fresh pressure on Myanmar to take back Rohingyas

  • Published at 11:09 am June 12th, 2018
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File photo: A Rohingya family crossing into Bangladesh after violence flared up in Rakhine state of Myanmar in August last year Syed Zakir Hossain/Dhaka Tribune

Wishing to remain unnamed, a diplomat said the approach, depending only on bilateral mechanisms to resolve the Rohingya crisis, has not yet shown results

International pressure on Myanmar is mounting afresh as it remained “very slow” in creating conditions for the safe return of Rohingyas to the country from Bangladesh.

Though Bangladesh still remains committed to settle the matter bilaterally, it responded to the International Criminal Court (ICC)'s request regarding the Rohingya situation, particularly about the territorial jurisdiction of the ICC.

"Myanmar is under pressure. International pressure is mounting on Myanmar in many ways. And Bangladesh's decision to respond to the ICC's request is a welcome development," Ali Riaz, a distinguished professor of Department of Politics and Government at the Illinois State University, USA, told UNB.

Wishing to remain unnamed, a diplomat said the approach,  depending only on bilateral mechanisms to resolve the Rohingya crisis, has not yet shown results.

Bangladesh's decision to respond to the ICC request coincides with the signing of a memorandum of understandings (MoU) between UN agencies and the Myanmar government.

A diplomat in Dhaka said in 1993, when the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia was established, few believed that suspects like Bosnian Serb leaders Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic, would ever have to account for themselves.

They ended up being tried in The Hague, and this shows that it pays to prepare for the day when criminal proceedings are possible, the diplomat said referring to a recent article on it 

Analyzing the current situation, another diplomat said the time is right for history to repeat itself.

Meanwhile, Bangladesh Ambassador to the Netherlands Sheikh Mohammed Belal, who came to Dhaka for consultations a few days ago, handed over a copy of Bangladesh’s observations to the court based in The Hague, a Foreign Ministry official in Dhaka told UNB.

On June 6, UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, and UNDP, the UN Development Programme, signed a tripartite MoU with the Myanmar government in Nay Pyi Taw.

This MoU is a first, and necessary, step for establishing a framework for cooperation between the UN and the government. It isvaimed at creating conducive conditions for the: voluntary, safe, dignified, and sustainable repatriation of refugees—and for helping to create improved and resilient livelihoods for all communities living in Rakhine State, UNDP says.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, at the G7 outreach session in Canada, proposed a four-point action plan to resolve the ongoing Rohingya crisis, including persuading Myanmar to implement the bilateral agreements with Bangladesh for the safe and sustainable return of Rohingyas.

She placed the action plan seeking more support from the international community— especially from the G7countries to find a solution to the problem.

Bangladesh does not think the ongoing bilateral negotiations with Myanmar will be hurt due to Bangladesh's reply to the ICC request.

"Bilateral discussions with Myanmar, on the safe and sustainable return of Rohingyas, will remain unhurt," a senior Foreign Ministry official told UNB.

Recent developments include a statement by the national security adviser U Thaung Tun, that Myanmar is open to accepting all refugees. Recently, Myanmar State Councillor Aung San Suu Kyi met with military leaders and participated in high-level meetings between the Indian government and Myanmar.

"All these may provide an impression of a U-turn of the Myanmar government. It sounds like a new tune. But whether these are paving the road for refugee repatriation is an open question," Prof Ali Riaz said.

Diplomatic sources say that the international community is increasing its efforts to put pressure on Myanmar—although the potential threat of a veto by China or Russia has kept the UN Security Council (UNSC) paralysed for the past months.

British envoy to the UNSC, Karen Pierce, recently indicated that if Myanmar fails to investigate the actions of its military, it will face the ICC referral.

Beside the potential investigation by the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) of the ICC, other avenues of punitive measures against Myanmar are also being explored.

Human Rights Watch has said the UNSC should immediately refer  the situation in Myanmar, including the widespread and systematic abuses against ethnic Rohingya, to the ICC.

During the first week of May, senior diplomats from the 15-member UNSC visited refugee camps in Bangladesh to see the situation of the more than 700,000 Rohingya refugees who fled Myanmar military abuses since August 2017.

The diplomats pledged to take action on their return to New York. Ambassador Pierce said all council members considered the Rohingya issue to be "one of the most significant human rights cases that we have ever faced in the last decade and that something needs to be done."

Earlier, Bangladesh, as one of the States Parties to the Rome Statute, responded to the request of the ICC on the Rohingya issue as Bangladesh is seeking a "sustainable solution" to the crisis.

The Chamber invited the competent authorities of Bangladesh to submit written observations, either publicly or confidentially, on the three specific matters.

These are (i) the circumstances surrounding the presence of members of the Rohingya people from Myanmar on the territory of Bangladesh; (ii) the possibility of the Court's exercise of territorial jurisdiction over the alleged deportation of members of the Rohingya people from Myanmar into Bangladesh; and (iii) any other matter in connection with the prosecutor's request that, in the opinion of the competent authorities of Bangladesh, would assist the Chamber in its determination of this request.

"We have provided all the information they asked for and everything that we know from our experience," State Minister for Foreign Affairs M Shahriar Alam told UNB.

Terming Bangladesh a responsive and responsible State, he said: "Our actions are always guided by universal values and laws."

Foreign Ministry officials said they are working to protect Bangladesh's interests while dealing with the Rohingya issue.