The French president described the situation as "genocide". The US vice president of behalf of the president called Myanmar’s actions "terrible savagery". The US State Department on 9 September 2017 expressed concern without action. In 2018 the US imposed sanctions on four military and police generals and two military units which had no impact on improving the situation. China and Russia called Myanmar’s actions their 'internal affair'.
In October 2017, Britain and France drafted a resolution which would call upon the Myanmar government to "immediately cease military operations" and allow refugees to return to their homes. The draft resolution had a list of demands without threat of actions. China strongly opposed the draft resolution. A UNSC diplomat said that the Chinese are not on board and wanted them “to say nothing and do nothing on this issue”.
In November 2018 Britain drafted another resolution to put a timeline on the return of refugees with a warning that “the 15-member Security Council could consider further steps, including sanctions, if there was not enough progress made by Myanmar”. Both Russia and China rebuffed the draft resolution. The Russian UN ambassador called the draft resolution “inappropriate, untimely and useless.” China boycotted all discussions on the draft. China defined Myanmar’s genocidal crime “a legitimate counter insurgency operation” and an effort to safeguard the peace and stability of the Rakhine State”.
In the backdrop of international criticism against Myanmar, China brokered a virtual meeting on 19 January 2021 between Bangladesh and Myanmar on the repatriation of Rohingya. Four months later the Chinese ambassador in Dhaka told a press conference on 10 May 2021 that he did not see any possibility of holding a tripartite meeting in the “foreseeable future” and has no plan to hold such meeting between China, Myanmar and Bangladesh. This transpires that China’s initiative was a diversionary diplomacy to keep things away from international discussion.
Both Chinese and Russian foreign policies toward Myanmar are non-ideological and motivated by self-seeking interests. Russia has military trade interests in Myanmar. It is the largest source of Myanmar air force inventory. Four months after the genocidal crime, Myanmar gave a purchase order in January 2018 to buy six Su-30SME military aircraft at a cost of USD 210 million. Purchases also included Orlan10-E UAV and Pantsir S-1 missile systems. After the coup on 1 February 2021, Russia secured sale of undisclosed quantities of Su30SME, Ka 27/28 antisubmarine helicopter and precision guided munition for YAK 130 aircraft, presumably in exchange of support to the regime in the UNSC.
On 4 October 2018 Indian handed over seven Rohingya men to Myanmar authorities at the border town of Moreh in Manipur State after “reconfirming their willingness to be repatriated.” Human Right Watch (HRW) called it “forced return”
China has classified geostrategic, economic and military trade interests in Myanmar. Military regimes have been getting China’s consistent protection but at cost. China has its second coast in Myanmar to get quick access to the Indian Ocean through the Bay of Bengal, reduces dependence on the Malacca Strait and gets preferential access to precious resources like oil, gas, jade, timber etc.
India, a geopolitical actor largely remained silent. Its support was limited to a plane load of rice for the refugees. India announced plans in September 2017 to deport Rohingya refugees living in states of Jammu and Kashmir, Telangana, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, and Rajasthan. On 4 October 2018 Indian handed over seven Rohingya men to Myanmar authorities at the border town of Moreh in Manipur State after “reconfirming their willingness to be repatriated.” Human Right Watch (HRW) called it “forced return”.
On 8 April 2021 the Indian Supreme Court cleared the deportation of another 176 Rohingyas after completing deportation formalities. Was this small number of hapless people burden for India? The deportation was rather acquiescently an act supporting Myanmar’s policy on Rohingyas. India has geostrategic interests in Myanmar and competes with China for its part. China and India are not seen on the same boat on international affairs. But both countries support Myanmar on Rohingya issue.
The World Bank (WB) in a surprise move proposed Bangladesh in July 2021 to integrate Rohingyas into the main stream of population through its Refugee Policy Review Framework globally. The World Bank’s uncanny proposal on its part tantamount to collaborating with perpetrators of ‘genocidal crime'
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) caught by its ‘principles of non-interference’ dilemma failed to respond to the crisis perpetrated by one of its member state. During the 31st Summit held on 10-14 November 2017, the regional block did not respond because of leadership failure to grasp the gravity of the situation. Philippines President, the Chair of the 31st ASEAN Summit was a maverick on refugee crisis. On 6 January 2018, he said that “genocide was taking place in Myanmar”. Then apologised to Aung San Suu Kyi on 13 April 2018 for his genocide remark. Before that, he advised Aung San Suu Kyi on 26 January 2018 to ignore criticism from right activists calling them “just a noisy bunch”.
In the post independent Burma, Rohingyas were evicted from Rakhine in cycles of violence in 1978, 1992, 2012 and 2017. In all crises UNHCR pursued Bangladesh to keep the door open for the refugees. Knowing full well that Rakhine is a troubled area, UNHCR did not seem to have taken any initiative to prevent refugee crisis from recurring in Rakhine.
International organisations undertake humanitarian assistance role in refugee crisis. But the World Bank (WB) in a surprise move proposed Bangladesh in July 2021 to integrate Rohingyas into the main stream of population through its Refugee Policy Review Framework globally. The World Bank’s uncanny proposal on its part tantamount to collaborating with perpetrators of ‘genocidal crime’. It looks to be a motivated proposal to endanger the life of remaining Rohingya population in Rakhine and preventing repatriation of Rohingyas in Bangladesh. Bangladesh has rightfully rejected the World Banks’s proposal.
Among the international organisations, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), representing Muslim-majority nations “was best positioned to undertake the cause of the Rohingya.” OIC’s response unfortunately came late. OIC Secretary General regretted on 5 May 2018 for not “responding immediately” to the Rohingya crisis. However, he committed to “play a strong role along with Bangladesh, the United Nations and the international community”.
While countries and international organisations’ responses were limited to condemnation in diplomatic niceties and humanitarian aid, the Republic of the Gambia with support from the OIC, filed a lawsuit against Myanmar in the International Court of Justice (ICJ). One of the key things The Gambia asked in the lawsuit was provisional measures to “restrain certain conduct by Myanmar that’s enabling the genocide”.
The court pending its final decision ordered provisional measures on 23 January 2020 that “Myanmar must, in accordance with its obligations under the [Genocide] Convention, in relation to the members of the Rohingya group in its territory, take all measures within its power to prevent the commission of all acts within the scope of Article II of the Convention, in particular: (a) killing members of the group; (b) causing serious bodily or mental harm to the members of the group; (c) deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; and (d) imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group.” This was a silver line on the horizon to end decades of persecution, for which the Rohingyas had been hoping.
* Mohammad Abdur Razzak is a security analyst and retired Commodore of Bangladesh Navy
He can be reached at [email protected]