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Rohingya Crisis And OIC: Assessing The Role – Analysis

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1. Introduction

The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), after the United Nations (UN) is the second leading international governmental organization, with the membership of 57 states from four continents. [1] It represents the Islamic world and strives for protecting its interests. Bangladesh, a member of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), has conceded much of the socio-economic, political and security cost of providing asylum to approximately 1.2 million Rohingya refugees. The institution has so far played an important role in the Rohingya crisis through fundraising and legal support.

However, no concrete role in resolving the crisis has been seen yet. The OIC member states can play a significant role in putting adequate pressure on Myanmar to comply with the basic conditions for voluntary repatriation. Against such backdrops, the paper sheds light on the role the OIC played so far and what are the untapped areas to work on.

2. Rohingya Crisis and the OIC

The OIC is an association in which Islam plays a significant role. The member states are located primarily in North Africa, the Near East, and South Asia. They cover an area of 31.66 square kilometers with a population of approximately 1.86 billion which is roughly 24.19% of the world’s population. [2] The main objective of OIC is to promote cooperation among Muslim countries in the sectors of culture, science, economy and societal cooperation along with protecting the religious faith and sites. The institution commenced on September 25, 1969 with 25 members to liberate the Al-Aqsa Mosque from Israel’s occupation. One of the founding goals of the institutions is to uphold the rights of the Muslim community in every corner of the world where they are in distress.

Figure 1: The Geographical Location of OIC Countries in the World Map (Photo: Anadolu Agency)[6]

The Rohingya forcibly displaced Myanmar Nationals (FDMNs) are considered the most persecuted refugees around the world. The systematic discrimination against Rohingya Muslims can be traced back during the Japanese occupation of Burma in 1942. The situation deteriorated with the controversial 1982 Citizenship Law which officially excluded Rohingyas from the list of the ethnic minorities of Myanmar.[3] A continuation of state-sponsored brutal military crackdowns in August, 2017 reportedly forced over 720,000 Rohingya to cross the border and take refuge mostly in Bangladesh.[4] To deal with this cloudy and touching international issue and to protect refugees within legal frameworks, most countries and organizations have articulated various standards, frameworks, protocols, and conventions.[5] The OIC, after the UN, is the most important institution in dealing with the Rohingya crisis. So far, OIC played a crucial role in the Rohingya crisis through bringing the crisis to the forefront of international human rights issues, funding for the FDMNs in Bangladesh, providing moral and political support to Bangladesh through bilateral and multilateral mechanisms and with many other ways.

2.1 Legal support

Against the “textbook case of genocide”, Gambia, an OIC member as well, volunteered to move to International Court of Justice (ICJ) with the Rohingya issue. In November 2019, Gambia had brought the case against Myanmar to the ICJ with the backing of OIC, Canada and the Netherlands while ICJ held its first hearing on December 10-12 in that year. [7] When the International Court of Justice (ICJ) declared ground-breaking ruling on January 23, 2020 ordering Myanmar to safeguard its Rohingya minority groups and imposing emergency “provisional measures”, Rohingya community as well activists around the world were hopeful about their prospect. Besides, the OIC has created a new committee to access the crimes against Rohingya through gathering gross violation of human rights against them.[8] As its subsequent measures, Gambia submitted over 500 pages of legal and factual argumenta report, supported by over 5,000 pages of annexed materials as well as numerous videotape, satellite images, maps and statistics as evidence.[9] However, one and half years have passed since the ICJ’s ruling and the optimism has been replaced with anxiety and dread again. Given the failure of the international community to follow up with action, Myanmar has shown no sign to abide or even acknowledge the judgment of the court. [10] As a result, a single Rohingya FDMNs has not repatriated to Myanmar yet. 

2.2 Fund Raising

OIC countries have been playing an important role in bearing the cost of living of over 1.2 million Rohingya refugees staying in different camps in Bangladesh. In 2020, OIC countries i.e. Saudi Arab, Qatar, United Arab Emirates and Turkey supported Bangladesh through providing lifesaving shelter, Food Security and Non-Food Items (NFIs), improvement of living conditions and social cohesion both for the Rohingya refugees and the host communities. [11] Besides, an OIC fund raising campaign was started in December 2020 to support Gambia in its legal battle for Rohingya genocide in the ICJ. The campaign drew US $1.2 million; Bangladesh disbursed US $500,000, Saudi Arabia disbursed $300,000, Turkey, Nigeria and Malaysia each deposited $100,000 and the remaining $100,000 derived from Islamic Solidarity Fund, a special OIC fund. However, the West African nation sought an amount of at least $5 million urgently to pay the lawyers. [12] OIC has assured to continue the support for resolving the humanitarian crisis after the visit in the Bhashan Char in February this year.

2.3 Moral and Political Support

The influx of over a million refugees into a land already burdened with limited resources and a huge population. The “man-made” humanitarian crisis has already taken a huge toll on Bangladesh. During the recent visit of OIC delegation in Bangladesh in February 2021, led by its Assistant Secretary General for Political Affairs Youssef Aldobeay, OIC reiterated its full solidarity to Bangladesh for providing shelter to more than 1 million FDMNs and reaffirmed that they will continue to support Bangladesh in the ICJ case. The delegates appreciated the country for the arrangements at Bhashan Char for the Rohingyas. It particularly praised the directives of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, calling her the “Mother of Humanity”, for continued humanitarian contribution and providing temporary shelter to the persecuted Rohingyas of Myanmar. [13] 

Simultaneously, in different multilateral forums such as at the UN and D-8, OIC countries have been strongly supporting Bangladesh in favor of the Rohingya crisis. The United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) plenary adopted a resolution on the human rights situation of the Rohingya and other minority groups in Myanmar on 31 December, 2020 by a record vote of 130 for, 9 against and 25 abstentions. All the OIC members extensively voted in favor of the resolution. In the last D-8 summit on 8 April, 2021, the developing countries pledged to work together to solve international humanitarian problems, including the Rohingya crisis, by putting pressure on Myanmar and supporting Bangladesh. The OIC countries should continuously support Bangladesh until the Rohingya crisis has come to a durable solution.

2.4 Other Areas

The Foreign Ministers of the OIC member states meet once a year. Since the military crackdown in August 2017, three OIC summits have been held at the foreign ministry level. It is very rational to assess the outcomes in these summits so far. OIC has established the Department of Humanitarian Affairs in the 2008 conference exactly to come forward in cases such as the persecution of the Rohingyas. [14] The organization has been working to deal with the Rohingya issue from the beginning of the latest plight of the Rohingya crisis since 2017.

ThemePlaceDateOutcome on Rohingya Issue
45th Session of the Council of Foreign Ministers (CFM)DhakaMay 6, 2018The Prime Minister of Bangladesh sought support from the OIC member states to launch the Rohingya case at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) with voluntary funding and technical help to ensure the legal rights of Rohingyas and to address the question of accountability and justice.
46th session of CFM of OICAbu Dhabi, UAEMarch 1-2, 2019The theme was “50 years of Islamic Cooperation: Roadmap for Prosperity and Development”. Bangladesh will be gratified that a declaration was issued referring the Rohingya issue in paragraph 23. But the distinct resolution No 4/46-MM on the situation of the minority Muslims in Myanmar was meticulous in its strong criticism of Myanmar’s massacres on Rohingyas. It called upon Myanmar to take effective steps to stop the genocide and repatriate the refugees from Bangladesh.[15]
47th Session of OIC council of foreign ministers (CFM)Niamey, NigerNovember 27-28, 2020OIC welcomed the decision of ICJ in a resolution to prevent further acts of genocide against the Rohingya in Myanmar.[16] Bangladesh sought fund mobilization to support Gambia’s legal battle against Myanmar at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) over the Rohingya crisis.[17]
Table: Outcome on Rohingya crisis in the OIC CFM since 2018.

2.5 Failures and Way Forward

The OIC, likewise the rest of the international community, has become unable to involve profoundly with Myanmar in an eloquent manner to safeguard the establishment of a favorable atmosphere in Rakhine and find a durable way out for the disastrous community. At the last CMF, Bangladesh with its limited capacity, officially announced to disburse US $500,000 to the OIC to support the West African nation’s legal battle against Myanmar. [18] The Gambian justice minister Dawda A Jallow told Bangladesh Sangbad Sangstha (BSS) Diplomatic Correspondent Tanzim Anwar in an interview on the sidelines of the 47th OIC CFM last year in Niger that his country so far managed to pay the firm only $300,000, an amount which is less than 10% of the bill.[19] Most of the members of OIC are actually focusing on “naming and shaming” rather than taking concrete measures.

On the other hand, to ease the calamitous situation of Rohingya refugees in the over-congested and disaster-prone camps of the Cox’s Bazar, as of now, Bangladesh has relocated over 18,500 Rohingya FDMNs to Bhashan Char in several phases out of a planned relocation plan of 100,000 Rohingya refugees.[20] Bangladesh spent over US $350 million from its own budget to develop Bhashan Char with better quality infrastructures and amenities comparing the camps in Cox’s Bazar.[21] But, it is ironic that the basic humanitarian needs have been filled from the government exchequer of Bangladesh given that the UN or OIC have not launch their operation at the island up till now.  Why has the OIC failed to righteously address the Rohingya issue?

There are several reasons for the failure to address the Rohingya issue. Firstly, the attempt OIC has made so far to create pressure through other UN agencies such as the Human Rights Commission has failed and the Rohingya crisis is prostrating day by day. Actually, international organizations such as the OIC have weak mechanisms for implementation of their resolutions. Strong Westphalian nation states most of the time ignore demands of international organizations if they consider them against their interests. Israel has consistently snubbed United Nations resolutions and Myanmar apparently using the same maneuvers. Secondly, an age-old rivalry between the two most influential members -Saudi Arabia and Iran- has aggravated the tension with both sides steeple chasing for clout on regional politics. The treacherous interest of the US and Israel in the Arab world following “divide and rule” policies plays substantial role in worsening the unity among the OIC members. While wars rage in Syria, Yemen and Iraq, more war cries are heard galloping Iran and Saudi Arabia. [22]

OIC is among the many organizations that should be striving to protect the Rohingya. OIC is best positioned to undertake the cause of the Rohingya community not only for Muslim-majority but it also has welcomed powerful nations with Muslim minorities such as the United States, China, and Russia to have their own representatives in the organization. [23] The Muslim world needs to work collectively to address the Rohingya issue along with other issues that need collaborative efforts to work on. To solve the Rohingya issue, there is no alternative to adequately pressurize Myanmar to create a safe and sound environment for the repatriation of their Rohingya nationals. Regional politics and realist paradigm driven national interest should be avoided in the case of the Rohingya issue; humanity and Muslim brotherhood should take precedence above all other stakes.

3. Conclusion

OIC, “the collective voice of the Muslim world” [24], has got the opportunity to prove the viability of establishing the institution through taking pragmatic steps to solve the Rohingya crisis. If it fails to address the Rohingya crisis consistently, “how can it continue to have any relevance as an organization that claims to safeguard dignity and rights of the Ummah and strengthen solidarity and cooperation amongst peoples of the Muslim world?”[25] The Muslim world needs to understand the importance of collaborative actions to resolve conflicting issues. [26] Had the OIC countries been united, the Rohingya crisis would have been unraveled long ago. It is high time the Muslim world plays a proactive role in addressing the common humanitarian threat to the world peace and stability.

*Shaikh Abdur Rahman is an independent researcher. He graduated in International Relations from Rajshahi University. He is interested in Human Security issues, South Asian Politics and Economic Diplomacy of Bangladesh. He can be reached at- [email protected] 

[1]“Rohingya crisis-what is OIC’s role?”, The Daily Star, September 06, 2019, https://www.thedailystar.net/editorial/news/rohingya-crisis-what-oics-role-1796005  (Accessed May 6, 2021)

[2]World Data.Info, “OIC countries: Organization of Islamic Cooperation”, https://www.worlddata.info/alliances/oic-organization-of-islamic-cooperation.php (Accessed May 6, 2021)

[3] “The Rohingya”, Stop Genocide, n.d., https://www.stopgenocide.org/the-rohingyas/ (Accessed May 6, 2021)

[4] “Why Rohingya refugees shouldn’t be sent back to Myanmar”, Amnesty International, 15 Nov. 2018, https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2018/11/why-rohingya-refugees-shouldnt-be-sent-back-to-myanmar/ (Accessed May 7, 2021)

[5]“If the repatriation of the Rohingya is the end goal, it cannot be done in a hurry — Mae Chew,” Malay Mail, April 9, 2021, https://www.malaymail.com/news/what-you-think/2021/04/09/if-the-repatriation-of-the-rohingya-is-the-end-goal-it-cannot-be-done-in-a/1965048 (Accessed May 7, 2021)

[6]The Map is derived from the Website of Anadolu Agency. Available at- https://www.aa.com.tr/en/politics/oic-urges-humanitarian-aid-for-embattled-town-of-qusayr/240065 (Accessed May 16, 2021)

[7]“Rohingya among top agendas at OIC FMs meeting,” Dhaka Tribune, November 26, 2020, https://www.dhakatribune.com/bangladesh/foreign-affairs/2020/11/26/rohingya-among-top-agendas-at-oic-fms-meeting (Accessed May 8, 2021) 

[8]Faisal Mahmud, “OIC to assume ‘stronger role’ over Rohingya crisis,” Al Jazeera, May 6, 2018, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2018/5/6/oic-to-assume-stronger-role-over-rohingya-crisis (Accessed May 8, 2021)

[9]“OIC draws $1.2m for Gambia to run Rohingya genocide case,” Dhaka Tribune, December 6, 2020, https://www.dhakatribune.com/world/2020/12/06/oic-draws-1-2m-for-gambia-to-run-rohingya-genocide-case  (Accessed May 10, 2021)

[10]CJ Werleman, “Time Has Come for Muslim Countries to Take the Lead on the Rohingya Crisis”, Inside Arabia, February 13, 2020, https://insidearabia.com/time-has-come-for-muslim-countries-to-take-the-lead-on-the-rohingya-crisis/ (Accessed May 13, 2021) 

[11]The amount provided by Bangladesh, Turkey, Qatar, UAE and Saudi Arabia are US $34,980,000, $40,525, $1,335,267, $280,000, $1,737,116 respectively. UNOCHA, “Bangladesh: 2020 Joint Response Plan for Rohingya Humanitarian Crisis (January-December),” 2020. https://fts.unocha.org/appeals/906/flows?f%5B0%5D=sourceOrganizationIdName%3A2981%3ABangladesh%2C%20Government%20of&f%5B1%5D=sourceOrganizationIdName%3A87%3AQatar%2C%20Government%20of&f%5B2%5D=sourceOrganizationIdName%3A2998%3ASaudi%20Arabia%20%28Kingdom%20of%29%2C%20Government%20of&f%5B3%5D=sourceOrganizationIdName%3A4819%3ATurkey%2C%20Government%20of&f%5B4%5D=sourceOrganizationIdName%3A100%3AUnited%20Arab%20Emirates%2C%20Government%20of  (Accessed May 10, 2021)

[12] “OIC draws $1.2m for Gambia to run Rohingya genocide case,” Dhaka Tribune.

[13]“OIC satisfied with Bhasan Char’s infrastructure, other facilities,” The Daily Star, February 28, 2021, https://www.thedailystar.net/rohingya-crisis/news/oic-satisfied-bhasan-chars-infrastructure-other-facilities-2052565  (Accessed May 12, 2021)

[14]Inam Ahmed and Shakhawat Liton, “OIC on Rohingya Crisis: A unifying cause despite many rifts”, The Daily Star, May 03, 2018, https://www.thedailystar.net/frontpage/oic-rohingya-crisis-unifying-cause-despite-many-rifts-1570717  (Accessed 15 May, 2021)

[15]Mahmood Hasan, “46th OIC-CFM: Reform or aberration?”, The Daily Star, March 16, 2019, https://www.thedailystar.net/opinion/bystander/news/46th-oic-cfm-reform-or-aberration-1715620 (Accessed May 15, 2021)

[16]Humayun K. Bhuiyan, “OIC team arrives Saturday to see Rohingya situation,” Dhaka Tribune, February 26, 2021, https://www.dhakatribune.com/bangladesh/rohingya-crisis/2021/02/26/oic-team-to-arrive-saturday-to-see-rohingya-situation (Accessed May 8, 2021)

[17]“ Dhaka to seek OIC finance for Gambia’s legal battle over Rohingyas,” The Daily Star, November 24, 2020, https://www.thedailystar.net/rohingya-crisis/news/dhaka-seek-oic-finance-gambias-legal-battle-over-rohingyas-2000297 (Accessed May 8, 2021)

[18]“OIC’s 47th CFM ends highlighting Rohingya, Islamophobia, Palestine issues,” Dhaka Tribune, November 29, 2020, https://www.dhakatribune.com/bangladesh/rohingya-crisis/2020/11/29/oic-s-47th-cfm-ends-highlighting-rohingya-islamophobia-palestine-issues (Accessed May 9, 2021)

[19]“OIC draws $1.2m for Gambia to run Rohingya genocide case,” Dhaka Tribune.

[20]“‘No disagreement over Bhasan Char except few recommendations’,” The Financial Express, April 21, 2021, https://thefinancialexpress.com.bd/national/no-disagreement-over-bhasan-char-except-few-recommendations-1619000962 (Accessed May 7, 2021)

[21]“Shahriar: No disagreement over Bhashan Char except few recommendations,” Dhaka Tribune, April 21, 2021, https://www.dhakatribune.com/bangladesh/rohingya-crisis/2021/04/21/shahriar-no-disagreement-over-bhashan-char-except-few-recommendations (Accessed May 8, 2021)

[22]Inam Ahmed and Shakhawat Liton, “OIC on Rohingya Crisis: A unifying cause despite many rifts”, The Daily Star, May 03, 2018, https://www.thedailystar.net/frontpage/oic-rohingya-crisis-unifying-cause-despite-many-rifts-1570717  (Accessed 9 May, 2021)

[23]Abdullah al-Ahsan, “The Rohingya crisis and the role of the OIC,” Al Jazeera, February 18, 2017, https://www.aljazeera.com/opinions/2017/2/18/the-rohingya-crisis-and-the-role-of-the-oic  (Accessed May 8, 2021)

[24]CJ Werleman, “Time Has Come for Muslim Countries to Take the Lead on the Rohingya Crisis”, Inside Arabia, February 13, 2020, https://insidearabia.com/time-has-come-for-muslim-countries-to-take-the-lead-on-the-rohingya-crisis/  (Accessed May 8, 2021)

[25]“Rohingya crisis—what is OIC’s role?” The Daily Star.

[26]Inam Ahmed and Shakhawat Liton, “OIC on Rohingya Crisis: A unifying cause despite many rifts”, The Daily Star, May 03, 2018, https://www.thedailystar.net/frontpage/oic-rohingya-crisis-unifying-cause-despite-many-rifts-1570717 (Accessed 9 May, 2021)

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