Rohingya Crisis: Efforts need to be intensified to reach out to Myanmar, other societies


Bangladesh can explore more ways with much importance on 'moral diplomacy’

The Rohingya issue remains a priority one for the government of Bangladesh and everybody understands this problem will not be solved easily. And obviously, Bangladesh will have to overcome many hurdles.

The international community has a big responsibility for the repatriation and rehabilitation of Rohingyas to their place of origin in Rakhine State of Myanmar. The interest of Myanmar, India, Thailand and China, not only Bangladesh, might be affected if the Rohingya crisis remains unresolved for long.

Foreign Minister Dr AK Abdul Momen has urged the international community, including UNHCR, to put utmost efforts for the early repatriation of Rohingyas with dignity and safety. He made it clear that the protracted presence of the Rohingyas in Bangladesh might threaten the peace and stability of the region and beyond. If stability prevails, development will take place and everyone in the region will be benefited from this stable atmosphere.

Nearly 18 months on, and under the leadership of the government of Bangladesh, UNHCR and partners have collectively scaled up their response to meet the critical needs of Rohingyas, ensuring that their protection, food, health, shelter, water and sanitation needs are met.

Bangladesh and Myanmar agreed to begin the first batch of Rohingya repatriation on November 15 last year but it was halted due to lack of a conducive environment in Rakhine State, the place of origin for Rohingyas. Bangladesh is now hosting nearly 1.3 million Rohingyas from Myanmar.

Moral Diplomacy

Bangladesh can explore more ways with much importance on “moral diplomacy” reaching out to everyone in global society to put pressure on Myanmar for ending the Rohingya crisis, says a US professor.

“States and citizens of the world must engage to put such pressure on Myanmar and its supporters,” said Prof Mohammad A Auwal of Department of Communication Studies, California State University, USA.

Prof Auwal, also a senior research fellow of Bangladesh Enterprise Institute (BEI) who visited Rohingya camps recently, laid emphasis on networking with and supporting local and international human rights and church groups that seek to end the Rohingya sufferings.

He recommended organising high-profile interfaith trips to Myanmar to open opportunities for change through dialogue saying moral diplomacy with a moral consciousness is a potentially effective approach to the conflict.

Acting BEI President M Humayun Kabir said Bangladesh can do more to reach out to Myanmar society and try to influence people at policy level but noted that Myanmar’s political structure is very difficult one.

“But we can work and can make a serious effort,” he said adding that not Myanmar only, Bangladesh can intensify its efforts to reach out to India, China, Russia, Japan and even the USA.

The former Bangladesh Ambassador to the USA said this (Rohingya) is an issue which has a number dimensions -- humanitarian, rights and justice -- and from Bangladesh’s perspective it has a geopolitical challenge, too.

“This is a test case for our diplomacy. We need to solve this problem,” Kabir said adding that they also need to think of what will happen if it does not get resolved.

Prof Auwal said only pressure from the international community on Myanmar and its supporters remain a viable option. He said big powers have aligned their policies with Myanmar out of their political or economic interests.

Given the geopolitical equations, Prof Auwal said, the best or reasonable option for Bangladesh is to negotiate bilaterally.

“Moral diplomacy, as I conceive it, has three components -- conventional diplomacy, public or citizen diplomacy and focus on soft power and nonviolence approach. Everyone can be a moral diplomat,” he said adding that moral diplomacy is a strategic communicative response.

Prof Auwal said moral diplomacy has a role for everyone including the state officials and citizens who care about human rights, human dignity, liberty, and justice.

“In this world society, we can reach out to almost anyone. We must have faith in the innate human goodness. We can expose the character of the criminals or immoral powers,” he mentioned in his paper presented here recently.

The Rohingya crisis is thorny because of the recent shift in the regional or even global geopolitics over the recent decades, he observed calling on the governments to stop supporting the inhumane policies of Myanmar at the expense of their values and soft power.

Terming the Rohingya issue a very serious one, the Foreign Minister laid emphasis on further analysing economic, social and security impacts and subsequent consequences due to the Rohingya crisis.

Foreign Minister Dr Momen briefed diplomats stationed in Dhaka recently and thanked the international community for their support. He hoped the international community would continue to play a constructive role in resolving the Rohingya crisis which lies in their safe, sustainable and dignified return to Myanmar.

No hide-and-seek over Bhashan Char

Bangladesh government will take all the interested foreigners, including diplomats, to Bhashan Char Island in Noakhali to see the situation on the ground once the work is completed there.

“We’re very open. We’re not in any hide-and-seek. Let’s finish the work first,” said Foreign Minister Dr AK Abdul Momen.

He said this is “not correct” that the government is not allowing visiting UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar Yanghee Lee to go to the island where the government has planned to shift Rohingyas. Foreigners will be visiting the island once the work is completed there.

Lee, who arrived here on January 19, visited Cox’s Bazar to see for herself the Rohingya situation there amid Myanmar’s continued denial to her access to Rakhine State.

“It’s not the responsibility of Bangladesh alone to send them back and resolve their problems. But it’s a responsibility of all people and all the countries in the world,” said Minister Momen.

Asked whether he is frustrated due to delay in commencing the repatriation, he said the process is slow but he never gets frustrated.

“I’m optimistic. I believe there is a solution to every crisis. You need to have patience. There’re some tasks which are not just like turning on and off of an electric switch,” Dr Momen said adding they are thinking afresh how to find a solution.

Talking to reporters, UN expert Lee said it was a fruitful meeting and hoped that her office will collaborate and work together with the office of the Foreign Minister of Bangladesh to help address the Rohibgya crisis.

Lee, who earlier said incidents in Rakhine State bear the “hallmarks of genocide” and called for accountability in the strongest terms, also wanted to visit the island of Bhashan Char in Noakhali.

Lee will present her findings and recommendations at the 40th session of the Human Rights Council in March 2019.

The Myanmar government has maintained its decision to cease cooperation with the Special Rapporteur, and refused her entry into Myanmar.

“I still seek to engage with the Myanmar government and I remain committed to my mandate to monitor the situation of human rights in Myanmar. I’ll continue to meet with people from Myanmar and speak out about human rights issues that occur around the country,” said Lee in a statement announcing her Thailand and Bangladesh visits.

UNHCR to help find lasting solution

Newly-appointed UNHCR Representative in Bangladesh Steven Corliss has said he will devote his full efforts to support Bangladesh in protecting and finding a lasting solution to the Rohingya crisis and addressing the important impacts on the host communities in Cox’s Bazar.

“I look forward to building upon UNHCR’s historical relations with Bangladesh and becoming a trusted partner in the challenging humanitarian response for Rohingya refugees from Myanmar,” he said.

“Life in the settlements is difficult. From my initial encounters, I’m convinced that the Rohingya who came in 2017 want to return home, but they do not see that possibility yet,” Corliss mentioned during his meeting with Bangladesh Foreign Minister.

From the outset, UNHCR and the government of Bangladesh have committed to working toward solutions for Rohingya refugees, including their voluntary repatriation in a safe, dignified and sustainable manner. In this connection, both sides signed a Memorandum of Understanding relating to voluntary returns of Rohingya refugees in April 2018.

  • Rohingya Crisis: Efforts need to be intensified to reach out to Myanmar, other societies
  • Issue 29
  • AKM Moinuddin
  • Vol 35
  • DhakaCourier

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