Anti-Muslim animus within the ranks of India and China’s security forces remains extreme, so how can they be called upon to protect the Muslim minority exiled from Myanmar?
On 25 August, more than 200,000 Rohingya Muslims participated in a sombre rally in Kutapalong refugee camp, Bangladesh, to mark the two-year anniversary of their forced exile from Myanmar, and to express their frustration with another failed repatriation deal.
Five days before, the United Nations’ refugee agency and Government of Bangladesh launched a new repatriation bid, which began by holding consultations with more than 3,000 Rohingya refugees to determine whether or not they are willing to return home. Unsurprisingly, they are not.
Without guarantees of security, citizenship or basic human rights, the 750,000 Rohingya who fled mass killings, torture, rape and the destruction of their homes and businesses in Myanmar remain stranded in Bangladesh, as so-called efforts to alleviate their suffering and persecution become ever more absurd and threatening.
Last week, a panel of human rights experts and diplomats met in Bangladesh’s capital Dhaka for a meeting titled The Rohingya Refugee Crisis: Towards Sustainable Solutions, which included representatives from ActionAid Bangladesh, the Centre for Peace and Justice and the Centre for Genocide Studies.
The proposed solution put forward by the panel was to encourage Bangladesh to pressure Myanmar into making amendments to its existing laws and to pressure Japan, India and China into providing security personnel to ensure that returning Rohingya are kept safe from further attacks from the military and/or Buddhist extremist groups.
But who in their right mind would ever imagine that Rohingya Muslims – or any persecuted Muslim minority for that matter – ever agree to being “protected” from anti-Muslim militants by military personnel provided by India and China, given the former is carrying out what constitutes an effort to ethnically cleanse Muslims in both Kashmir and the state of Assam, while the latter is carrying out cultural genocide of 12 million Muslims in Xinjiang?
Beyond India’s brutal military lock down in Kashmir and its construction of detention centres to house more than two million undocumented Muslim immigrants along its eastern border – and notwithstanding China’s network of concentration camps that hold three million Muslim political prisoners – anti-Muslim animus within the ranks of both countries’ security forces remains extreme.
“The security personnel should be from all countries,” Ro Nay San Lwin, a Rohingya genocide survivor and activist with the Free Rohingya Coalition, told me. “Not just from Japan, India, and China, but also US, UK, EU, and ASEAN [Association of Southeast Asian Nations] must also send their forces to protect the Rohingya.”
That the international community has stubbornly resisted any serious attempt to provide security, comfort and a long-term solution to those trapped at the border of Bangladesh and within Rakhine state is made even more tragic by the fact that an inquiry found that the United Nation’s “dysfunctional” conduct is what led to warning signs being ignored as Myanmar escalated its violence against the Rohingya prior to the launching of the genocide two years ago.
Placing the security of a persecuted Muslim minority into the hands of soldiers from two of the worst violators of human rights for Muslim minorities is a failure to appreciate what it is that the Rohingya are seeking protection from. It fails to recognise that the international aid group Doctors Without Borders estimated that at least 10,000 Rohingya were killed and 18,000 raped during the three-month period that followed 25 August, 2017.
It also overlooks the critically important point that Myanmar’s violence against the Rohingya continues today, with Mohammed Salam, chairman of a local Rohingya welfare committee, telling me that the 200,000 Rohingya who remain in Rakhine state are trapped in a “genocide zone”.
“Last Thursday, several Rohingya were killed and dozens more injured by bullets fired between Arakan Army and Myanmar military in San Thay Pyin village in Buthidaung,” said Salam, who also described to me earlier this year how a military gunship attacked his village, killing half a dozen civilians. “We have no freedom of movement. We cannot even go from one village to another village, because we are surrounded by military checkpoints and landmines.”
Amnesty International recently found “fresh evidence” that Myanmar’s security forces are still attacking Rohingya villages, while at the same time blocking all humanitarian aid, as they carry out military operations in the area against the separatist Arakan Army.
“Protection is more important than [the] citizenship issue at this moment,” said Ro Nay San Lwin. “Rohingya genocide began in 1978 and the Rohingya are continuously terrorised by [the] Myanmar military and Government because no one has protected them.”
Providing a long-term solution for the Rohingya, one which guarantees security and citizenship while also holding to account those responsible for the genocide, is not the responsibility of just one, three or a handful of countries. It is the responsibility of the United Nations and the international community.
That the UN failed to see the Rohingya genocide coming makes member states, particularly its Security Council members, places an even greater responsibility on them for finally putting in place a real long-term solution. Two years is two too many.