The military junta in Myanmar has not only snatched away the citizenship of the Rohingyas in the country’s Rakhine state, but has been perpetuating killing and torture against them for the past four decades. The United Nations and other international institutions have been totally ineffective in addressing the problem, raising questions of their complicity.

Bangladesh, however, has displayed a positive moral stance by providing the Rohingyas with shelter. It is now time for Bangladesh to exert its position and tell the international community it is high time to come forward and do their share for the Rohingyas.

Such views were expressed by John Packer during a discussion held on the Rohingya issue at the Prothom Alo office on Wednesday. Packer is director of the Human Rights Research and Education Centre of Canada’s University of Ottawa and has past experience of working in various UN bodies. He said that what is happening to the Rohingyas is a well orchestrated violation of human rights for which the Myanmar government is responsible.

Also speaking at the discussion were Maung Zarni and retired major Emdadul Islam. Zarni, a democracy advocate and former research fellow at LSE, is the coodinator of the ‘Free Rohingya Coalition’. Major Emdad is a security expert of Bangladesh.


The discussants spoke on the prevailing situation in Myanmar, the country’s internal politics, the response of the neighbouring countries, initiatives by the United Nations and other international agencies regarding the predicament of the Rohingyas and Bangladesh’s stance. They said two issues loomed large before the Rohingya refugees - to return to their homeland in the Rakhine state with citizenship status and to seek justice for the crimes committed against them.

John Packer pointed out that 98 per cent of the Rohingyas who are being denied citizenship rights were born after the independence of Myanmar. They had been recognised as citizens up until 1982. The Myanmar rulers unilaterally snatched away their citizenship, violating all international laws in this regard.

Despite all these violations, two important countries, China and India, continue to appease Myanmar in their respective geopolitical an economic interests. Packer however, questioned the actual feasibility of investment in Myanmar, as the authorities there could at any time come down hard on the investors if they did not toe their line.

Maung Zarni strong condemned the role of the United Nations and its affiliated institutions. He said they failed to include the Rohingyas in any of their discussions about the Rohingyas.

He also criticised the recent secret MoU signed between UNDP, UNHCR and the Myanmar government which had been leaked. Nowhere in the document has the word ‘Rohingya’ been mentioned. There are also allegations against certain UN officials regarding their complicity in the actions being taken against the Rohingyas. UN secretary general Antonio Guterres has failed to initiate any investigation against these accused officials.

Zarni also strongly castigated Myanmar’s state counselor Aung San Suu Kyi. He said there was no democracy whatsoever in Myanmar, not even a fragile democracy. The military junta was using Suu Kyi as a smokescreen behind which to commit their atrocities.


Retired major Emdadul Islam felt that the present situation posed as a potential threat to regional security. He said till now the Rohingya community has not resorted to any form of violence. They have no say in Myanmar’s internal politics, they have never taken anyone hostage. Unless the repression of these people was halted immediately, the situation might give rise to regional unrest.
Presided over by Prothom Alo’s editor Matiur Rahman, the discussion was attended by senior journalists of the daily.

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