On the 17th of this month, for the first time, the Third Committee of the UN General Assembly unanimously adopted a resolution entitled "The Human Rights Situation of the Rohingya Muslims and Other Minorities in Myanmar". The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and the European Union (EU) have jointly raised the issue. Bangladesh, hosting more than one million Rohingyas, is pleased with this proposal; Rohingyas too. Undoubtedly, this is an overdue development, which, according to many, will put pressure on Myanmar to return Rohingyas to their homeland, Rakhine. Russia and China, two of the five most influential members of the Security Council, have been opposed to imposing any decision against Myanmar until recently; however, they also remained positive this time in favor of the Rohingya. As a result, it is understood that they also want to remove the protracted problem created in this regard. The other three countries, the United States, the United Kingdom, and France, have from the outset called for appropriate action to be taken against Myanmar's persecution of the Rohingya. As a result, it is hoped that this proposal will support all countries in the Security Council. It means that all countries in the world are now demanding a peaceful solution to the Rohingya issue. But will there be any solution to the question of Rohingyas' repatriation, the situation for their return to Rakhine, the rights are taken away, the trail of the genocide, etc., mainly when the military is now in power in Myanmar, who were the leading planners and participants in the 2017 genocide? What is the experience of Rohingya's hope? Let's verify the past experience on the raft of hope.
The other three countries, the United States, the United Kingdom, and France, have stated since the beginning that they are committed to taking appropriate action against Myanmar's persecution of the Rohingya. In other words, all countries in the world now want a peaceful solution to the protracted Rohingya issue. Is that so? Or how much of it is actually possible? What does the past experience say? Let's examine the past experiences regarding the hope and consolation of Rohingyas.
In the autumn of 2017, more than 700,000 Rohingyas from the Rakhine state of Myanmar crossed the border into Naf to cross the border to reach Ukhiya and Teknaf upazilas in the south-eastern district of Cox's Bazar in Bangladesh. They later took refuge in the newly built camps with the sympathy and cooperation of local Bangladeshis, security forces, and international organizations. In addition to the more than 400,000 Rohingyas who fled such persecution in the past, the new influx has added more than 700,000. More than one million Rohingya refugees are living in 34 camps in the Ukhiya-Teknaf hills. Many other Rohingyas are scattered outside the camps in different parts of the country, including Cox's Bazar.
After reviewing the situation of Rohingyas in Rakhine and Cox's Bazar, the UN called Myanmar's persecution of Rohingyas a "textbook example of ethnic cleansing" in 2017. Some other groups have declared the persecution of the Myanmar military and the Rakhine Buddhists as a 'crime against humanity, and 'genocidal attack' or 'slow genocide.' However, the UN's response to the Rohingya crisis has not been clear.
Several times after the genocidal attacks in August 2017, the UN failed to reach a consensus on the persecution of Rohingya. Each time, a few countries, such as Russia, China, India, have taken a stand against the Rohingya and the Myanmar government. For the first time in four years, at the November 17 meeting, 102 countries, including the Security Council, unanimously backed the resolution. In addition to the OIC and the EU, a significant number of countries in different geographical regions have supported and co-sponsored the resolution.
All are pretty happy now. However, it is difficult to say whether this will lead to a permanent end to the Rohingya refugee life. At least past experience says so. Yet it is a kind of consolation for the Rohingya. Earlier, they were comforted in January 2020, when the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled an interim verdict that it has the authority to consider a genocide case against Myanmar and approved emergency "provisional measures" compelling Myanmar to halt persecution against Rohingya, including killing, raping, and destroying homes and villages. The ICJ voted unanimously to order Myanmar to take "all measures within its power" to prevent genocide, which they said the Rohingya remained at serious risk of. This verdict has been able to provide a lot of strength and comfort to the Rohingyas. But to date, its effectiveness is not noticeable. The situation of the Rohingya remains the same in both Rakhine and Cox's Bazar. No measures have been taken so far in favor of Rohingyas in Rakhine either.
In 2017, when the Myanmar junta and the Rakhine Buddhists forcibly expelled Rohingyas from the Rakhine state, they sought refuge in neighboring Bangladesh seeking solace: 'Everything is gone, but lives are saved! But they don't even have the answer to what they've got in these four years (or the last four decades); not even to the world community. This is amid the dissatisfaction of most of the locals in Ukhiya-Teknaf alone, who are under constant pressure from over one million Rohingyas.
A vital wing of the UN is the "Genocide Convention", formed in 1948, which reviews genocide and crimes against humanity. The objective of the Convention is the prevention and punishment of genocide. Seven decades after its inception, the association decided to observe International Genocide Day in 2017 (December 9), with the main objective of commemorating the victims of genocide with dignity and preventing such crimes. The need to observe this day lies in the relative failure to build a world of human responsibility. This is very clear and significant in the question of Rohingyas. To date, no action has been taken by the international community or the UN to bring to justice, remedy or repatriate the crimes committed against the Rohingya, which is an unexpected failure of all concerned agencies collectively. The positive role of Bangladesh, the United States, United Kingdom, Gambia, Argentina, Netherlands, Canada, and other countries is undeniable.
Yet the long-neglected Rohingya still survive, largely with hope, sometimes with consolation. Fighting on the British side during the colonial period, they were hopeful that they would be given an identity and a separate territory. But ironically, Rohingyas did not find a place in the list of 135 ethnic races compiled by the British. Based on this list, the Myanmar government refers to the Rohingya as 'immigrants' or 'Bangladeshis' and finally turns them into a 'stateless' people through the 1982 Citizenship Act. It seems the Rohingya were not born in any part of the world!
Then in the middle of the last century, amid the departure of the British rulers, especially during the Indo-Pakistani partition based on religious division, many Rohingyas wanted to be part of Muslim-dominated Pakistan. However, they made part of Burma. Since 1947 many aggrieved Rohingyas started living in the eastern part of Pakistan, present-day Bangladesh. Now they are all officially Bengalis and Bangladeshis.
Following the partition, Rohingyas relied on Aung San (Aung San Suu Kyi's father), the founder of modern Burma; but he was assassinated in July 1947. Since then, the Rohingya have only been disappointed. This included losing their citizenship, lack of freedom of movement, deprivation of educational opportunities, the need for permission to marry, and even preventing them from having more than two children.
But once again, hope was instilled in them in 2016, when Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi became Myanmar's state councilor (from 2016 to 2020). The Rohingya thought that the persecution they had suffered during the military rule would come to an end under Suu Kyi's government. But, no, it didn't. They were the victims of one of the worst massacres in history during Suu Kyi's reign in August 2017. Not only did Suu Kyi deny the genocide against the Rohingya, she also took part in arguments against them in the ICJ, without uttering even the word 'Rohingya'.
It is pertinent to mention here that the Rohingyas were once again a little optimistic in 2017, on the eve of the report led by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, where he recommended strategically taking appropriate action on Rakhine Muslims (Rohingya) for peace in Rakhine State. He submitted the report on August 24, 2017, and the Rohingya were massacred on August 25. The Rohingyas did not have to hold on to hope for long.
Twice during Rohingyas' stay in Bangladesh after the 2017 persecution, the Myanmar government signed a repatriation deal with Bangladesh to repatriate Rohingyas under international pressure. They were also scheduled to return in two days, in 2018 and 2019. Buses were also sent from Rakhine without resolving the critical environmental or rights issues, but not a single Rohingya returned. The buses went back empty. This time too, although Rohingyas saw hope, they did not see its reflection, so they did not dare to go back. Despite sending buses for them, the Rakhine government continued to increase the level of persecution against the Rohingyas in Rakhine, thus preventing Rohingyas from returning from Cox's Bazar. In this way, the hopes of Rohingyas were repeatedly dashed.
The Rohingya then tried to organize themselves to create international pressure against Myanmar to take back the Rohingyas with dignity. Under the leadership of Mahibullah's Master, they sought to create a conducive environment for the repatriation of Rohingyas through communication and meetings in the international arena, including making public opinion among the Rohingyas. On August 25, 2019, they held a big meeting to celebrate the second year of their genocide. But the government did not take their massive rally well. Considered national security, their movement and mobile connection (including internet) were restricted. Again, their hopes are shattered. This time the injury is big; directly on their own body, as Mahibullah was shot dead by assassins inside the camp on September 29, 2021. Since then, Rohingyas have been afraid to hope or dream.
The coronavirus pandemic has left the Rohingya frustrated again, as if, there is no release. Ever since the coronavirus came to devour the world with the devastating message for the whole world (from March-April 2020), the Rohingyas, local communities and the humanitarian organizations have been in the throes of extinction. The unhealthy condition of the camp can only be considered as a 'time bomb'. Once the coronavirus outbreak occurred in camps, it was a serious threat not only to the Rohingyas but also to the local community. Therefore, from 2020 to the middle of 2021, Rohingyas have spent their days in extreme panic, anxiety, and fear. Because where the Bangladesh government has been struggling to provide necessary healthcare, including vaccinations for its citizens, who will look after the 'stateless' Rohingyas! But hopefully, the spread of coronavirus among the Rohingya or in the local society is still tolerable. Moreover, Rohingyas have been brought under vaccination from mid-2021.
Rehabilitation of Rohingyas in Bhasan Char is another chapter of their uncertain life. After the failure of the second repatriation process in 2019 and to alleviate the pressure of more than one million Rohingyas on the camps and the host communities, the Bangladesh government arranged to relocate 100,000 Rohingyas to the newly developed Bhasan Char along the coast of Noakhali. But initially, many did not agree to relocate to Bhasan Char, about 200 km away, leaving relatives and acquaintances behind. To them, being in Ukhiya-Teknaf means being close to their home. When they see the Naaf river or Rakhine Mountains from camps, they smell their homes and show their children their ancestral address. Moreover, the language, society, and culture of Cox's Bazar are very much in tune with their way of life. However, about twenty thousand Rohingyas migrated to Bhasanchar at different stages in the hope of surviving the misery of the camp. Although they are pretty happy in the first place in terms of accommodation, movement and other facilities, their frustration is reflected in the fact that they run away after a few days.
Hope or not; no matter how much despair is born of hope, they still want to go back to their own address. But it is unknown at this time when they will return to their home. Finding the address of this floating Rohingya nation in an unknown future: many of them may not find it; maybe many of them will remain stateless, nameless, on this earth forever! Have they ever been born in any land? What will be their place? The answer to all these questions will be found only in the future - until then, hope and consolation are the means of their survival. They will just float everywhere in Cox's Bazar and Bhasanchar. It is their destiny! Yet, 'As long as you breathe, so long you hope'! So they still dream, again and again, of going back to their lands-sometime sooner or later!
Professor, Department of Anthropology, University of Chittagong, and Researcher on Rohingya.
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