Bangladesh can’t be left to feel alone in dealing with Rohingya crisis: Bob Rae

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s special envoy to Myanmar Bob Rae speaking on Rohingya issue Photo: AKM Moinuddin

Canada for ‘systematic’ evidence gathering to ensure justice for Rohingyas

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Special Envoy to Myanmar, Bob Rae engaged in extensive research, travel and meetings with key interlocutors from October 2017 to assess the violent events of August 2017 and afterward that led more than 700,000 Rohingyas to flee their homes in Rakhine State, Myanmar, and seek refuge in Bangladesh.

During his recent Bangladesh visit, Rae talked to UNB on July 9 at Canadian Recreation Centre in the city on what needs to be done to address the Rohingya crisis and the role of international community to support the host communities.

The special envoy has laid emphasis on gathering information of atrocities against Rohingyas in a very systemic way to hold perpetrators accountable and find a political solution to Rohingya crisis.

“There’re steps that need to be taken. We need to gather evidence, and evidence gathering has to be systematic,” Rae said.

He came up with the remarks while talking about the issue of accountability for potential “crimes against humanity” which include crimes of forcible deportation of Rohingyas which is now considered by the International Criminal Court.

Responding to a question, the envoy said the important thing is that the international community needs to stress that Bangladesh “cannot be left to feel that they’re alone in dealing with the challenge.”

He said this is too much for a single country to deal with the burden alone. “It’s a too bigger problem. We need to have assistance. Canada increased the level of assistance. Other countries need to do the same. We need to work hard to make that happen.”

Talking about greater economic sanctions on Myanmar, Rae said when it comes to the economic sanctions there are several countries -- China and Russia; and many of the neighbours -- which are not prepared to do that.

He, however, said targeted sanctions carried out by some countries are really very successful.

Rae said they have to ‘work hard’ to find the legal means by which they can hold people accountable.

“That’s not easy but I do hope it’s doable,” he said adding that it needs to be recognized whoever it is that has to be held accountable. “We’ve to find the mechanism to do that with other countries and agencies.”

Responding to another question, Rae said, “If you leave lots of young men idle with nothing to do and nowhere to go –who knows what they are watching on cellphone and what info they are getting…yes, of course it can be a place for radicalization. We need to work on this together.”

Norwegian Ambassador in Dhaka Sidsel Bleken recently said the Rohingya camps could be a breeding ground for radicalisation, although they have not seen this happening until now.

“The risks of radicalisation and human trafficking are two areas we need to follow more closely,” she said.

The Ambassador said they do not know much about what is happening in the camps at night, and that local journalists might be better placed to look into that than international journalists.

Rae recognized that it is difficult to ensure education, livelihoods and work opportunities for Rohingyas alone while they are in Bangladesh.

He said Rakhine is their home, and Myanmar does not even use the word Rohingya. “It is in the interest of Myanmar to create a climate of peace and a climate of stability because that stability is required for prosperity.”

Rae said he does not agree that by recognizing this community will cause delay in their repatriation. “There’s a solution…conditions need to be created. They won’t be able to go back if conditions are not safe and secure. We can’t morally and legally send people back to a condition that is not safe.”

He said he does not think it is an issue for Bangladesh but an issue for the region and the world, and the international community just cannot leave it up to Bangladesh to carry this burden.

 “It has been a critical issue for many decades. This is a not a new crisis. This is a continuation of the crisis. This is a challenge that has not been resolved inside Myanmar,” Rae said.

The envoy, however, said it is going to take lots of time and efforts to resolve the crisis. “It won’t be resolved overnight and quickly.”

“We’ve to recognize that this crisis involves international laws and human rights issues. It’s a matter of heart and mind. We need to think what more must be and can be done,” Rae said.

He continued, “It’s my wish that people can return (to Myanmar) as quickly as possible addressing safety, security and sustainability issues.”

Earlier, Rae said it would be ‘unconscionable’ for the member states of the UN to sanction a repatriation that was forced, or that did not include basic protections of human security and human rights.

“This is not a short-term problem with a quick fix. The fact that an agreement has been signed between the governments of Bangladesh and Myanmar, and this is a first step in a possible process of repatriation,” he said in a report.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appointed Bob Rae as a special envoy to Myanmar on October 23 and since that time Bob has travelled to Indonesia, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Vietnam, and the UN in New York and have had numerous discussions with officials, leaders, and NGOs in those countries as well as in Ottawa, and at the UN, as well as with a number of groups and individuals with an interest in the region.

In his previous report, Rae focused on the four themes: the need to combine principle and pragmatism in responding to the serious humanitarian crisis in both Myanmar and Bangladesh; the ongoing political challenges in Myanmar; the strong signals that crimes against humanity were committed in the forcible and violent displacement of Rohingyas from Rakhine State in Myanmar; and the clear need for more effective coordination of both domestic and international efforts.

With the arrival of more than 700,000 additional Rohingyas in Bangladesh since August 25, 2017, the displaced Rohingya population living in camps in Bangladesh now approaches one million. Camps are overcrowded, the population is traumatized, and the rainy season will soon be upon them.

Justice is key demand of Rohingyas

UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Myanmar Yanghee Lee, during her recent Bangladesh visit, laid emphasis on “justice” for Rohingyas and holding perpetrators accountable seeking their safe and dignified return to Myanmar.

“Enough is enough. Justice is the key demand of Rohingyas I spoke to,” she said while responding to a UNB question at a press conference in the city on July 8.

Asked about possibility of referring Myanmar to the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate atrocities committed against Rohingyas, Lee said there are two permanent members of the UN Security Council (UNSC) who are friends of Myanmar.

Without mentioning the names of the two countries, Lee said they might not make this happen.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein recently urged the UN Security Council to immediately refer Myanmar to the ICC so that all allegations of crimes against humanity and genocide perpetrated against the Rohingya as well as allegations of war crimes against other ethnic groups can be investigated.

He also requested that the Human Rights Council recommends to the General Assembly the establishment of a new international, impartial and independent mechanism, complementary to the Fact-Finding Mission to assist the criminal investigation of individual perpetrators.

Lee said she has joined the call and she has made the call too but the UNSC has to refer to the ICC.  “This is why I am recommending accountability mechanism to be established immediately,” she said.

Asked whether she communicated with China to facilitate her visit to Myanmar, she said Myanmar is a sovereign state and China is not the guardian of Myanmar.

Lee said Rohingya people are going to stay here for longer period as the repatriation is unlikely to start anytime soon and this is so sadly because conditions are not conducive yet.

She mentioned that the joint response plan is only 26 percent funded. She appealed to the donors to step up and provide the funding that is urgently needed to move to medium and longer term planning.

Lee said the international community should not forget the host community in Cox’s Bazar who have been sharing their resources with Rohingyas.

She said the Myanmar government’s failure to redress discriminatory laws against the Rohingyas made it impossible for hundreds of thousands of Rohingyas to return to their homes anytime soon.

“There must therefore be a shift to medium and longer term planning in Cox’s Bazar,” said Lee who ended her 10-day visit to Dhaka and Cox’s Bazar on Sunday.

She said the Rohingya refugees will not be returning to Myanmar in the near future as it is now clear that the government of Myanmar has made no progress or shown any real will to dismantle the system of discrimination in the country’s laws, policies and practices, and to make northern Rakhine State safe.

  • DhakaCourier
  • Vol 35
  • Issue 1

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