ISSN 2330-717X

Ensuring Rohingya Repatriation Is A ‘Call Of Duty’ For The USA – OpEd

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Prologue: A Call of Duty

Last week, the U.S State Department released its annual report on Genocide and Atrocities Prevention in accordance with Elie Wiesel Genocide and Atrocities Prevention Act, 2018. For the first time this year, the report called out to the U.S government to take preventive measure to stop genocide and atrocities in six specific countries including Myanmar. According to the report, Since the February coup, Junta government in Myanmar is inflicting violence and committing atrocities against the pro-democracy protesters. The report also highlighted that, atrocities including ethnic cleansing and violation of religious freedom has taken place in Rakhine state in Myanmar. Moreover, the coup leaders who staged the February 1st coup, also includes many of the perpetrators of Rohingya crisis who are now inflicting violence and coercion on pro-democracy protesters. Furthermore, the report also calls for documenting the Human Rights condition to ‘advance’ accountability in Myanmar. The report also acknowledged theU.S government’s effort to uphold human rights including sanctions against the military leaders and their businesses, imposing controls over transnational businesses and transactions, condemning the coup and urging to end the violence on various global platforms. It is worth to mention that, Elie Wiesel Genocide and Atrocities Prevention Act, 2018 is a binding law for theUSA that requires updating Government’s effort every year on ongoing genocides and atrocities and assess future possibilities around the world. Under the law, as Rohingya is world’s one of the ‘most persecuted minority’ described by the U.N, it has become a ‘Call of Duty’ for the Biden Administration to enhance their effort to end conflict in Myanmar and ensure safe repatriation. 

Rohingya Crisis and Its Impacts in South Asia

Since the latest and largest exodus of 2017, the whole South Asian and South-East Asian region is facing multi-faceted and far-reaching negative impacts including new security threats, traditional and non –traditional. Apart from Bangladesh, other South Asian and South-East Asian countries including India and Thailand are facing refugee and Asylum seeker cases due to rising involuntary migrations. However, Rohingya people are now being dubbed as ‘New Boat People’ of Asia due to high rates of involuntary migrations. Even, Countries like Malaysia and Indonesia are also facing this problem for a long time. Apart from involuntary migration, Rohingya crisis have also resulted in strong Human Trafficking network in this region. On the other hand, inter-state contrabands including drugs and arms are also taking place by exploiting them. Furthermore, the Rohingya camps are also taking heavy tolls on the environment in Cox’s Bazaar, Bangladesh resulting in massive degradation. In traditional security aspect, Rohingya are highly vulnerable to extremism and transnational terrorism which may create instability in the whole region in the coming days. 

Apart from the arising impacts, the ongoing ethnic cleansing and genocidal activities in Rakine state is also posing real threat to Global Human rights standard. If things continue as it is, Rohingya as an ethnic community will perish from this earth in coming days. However, Myanmar getting away committing atrocities by dint of its geopolitical significance will be a bad example in our collective history.

Bangladesh’s Effort and Repatriation Plan

Bangladesh took 70000 Rohingya in 2017 on the ground of Humanity and placed them in camps in Cox’s Bazaar. Since then, Bangladesh is facing a lot of hurdles both in managing the camps and ensuring repatriation. After four years of lingering, the issue has emerged as a serious security threat not only for Bangladesh but also for the whole region. To ensure dignified repatriation, Bangladesh is exploring all the possibilities including bilateral, trilateral and multilateral tracks. Bangladesh had also signed bilateral agreement to repatriate the Rohingya with Myanmar back in 2017 immediately after the crisis; but it seems Myanmar has no willingness to execute the agreement rather it wants to stall the process to make the issue a protracted one. However, to reduce pressure from Cox’s Bazaar, to slow down the environmental degradation and to provide better living standard for the Rohingya, Bangladesh initiated self-finance to temporarily relocate 100000 Rohingya to Bhasan Char under Asrayan-3 projects. 

On the other hand, Bangladesh has also developed a clear repatriation plan to ensure smooth repatriation. The ‘Four Point Plan’ was presented by the Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina at the UN General Assembly in 2019. The plan includes implementations and recommendations of Koffe Anan commission and urges international community to create safe zone and appoint civilian monitors in Rakhine. Moreover, Myanmar must have clear political will to repatriate the Rohingya. Furthermore, Myanmar must guarantee safety and create trust among the Rohingya and lastly the plan calls for investigating the root causes of the crisis and atrocities that have taken place. From the mentioned points it is clear that, Bangladesh is not only looking for reducing burden from shoulder by sending back, rather wants to solve the crisis once and for all by ensuring rights and ending atrocities; and wants to uphold international Human Rights standard. 

US response in Rohingya Crisis and Scope for Further Engagement

Since the crisis, theUS response in considerable but there are always scope for further engagement. the USA condemned the atrocities in Rakhine and provided assistance worth $450 million to Bangladesh to maintain the camps with $105 million additional assistance under Joint Response Plan (JRP) in 2019 with the UN and announced latest additional $155 million in 2021. Apart from financial assistance, the US also imposed sanctions on senior military generals of Myanmar in 2019 including General Ming Aung HLaing, the current leader of Junta Government. But till now, the USA is yet to declare the atrocities as ‘Genocides’ rather is calling it ‘Ethnic Cleansing’. It is high time to declare the case as Genocide before it’s too late. The Fullerton investigation also provided reasonable grounds in 2018 that proves the genocidal intent to destroy the Rohingya. In 2019, USA appointed investigators headed by Daniel Fullerton to investigate the crisis. The investigators documented 13000 human rights violations in Rakhine and provided reasonable grounds that genocidal activity and Crime against Humanity had taken place by the military against the Rohingya. But Till now, the USA hasn’t declared the case as Genocide yet. However, many countries and organizations including Canada, Turkey, France and OIC have already declared the case as Genocide. Apart from this, as Biden Administration is emphasizing Human Rights as a pillar of Foreign Policy, USA also should provide support in International Court of Justice (ICJ) where Gambia has lodged a case against Myanmar on Genocide. Furthermore, the US should also become the ‘Voice of the Rohingya’ inthe UN Security Council also. However, the US should also keep imposing sanctions as sanctions are already biting Myanmar. Due to the latest sanctions, Generals have lost their lobbyist in Washington as sanction prevents the lobbyist to be paid by the Generals.

Epilogue: For Duty, Duty Must be Done

Including Myanmar and Rohingya atrocities in annual Genocide and Atrocities Prevention report is a milestone for the Rohingya crisis and its solution. It also reaffirms the USA’s commitment towards International Human Rights. The USA already has considerable response in the crisis. To solve the crisis, the USA should engage further in Myanmar and Rakhine. And the first step towards that can be declaring the atrocities as ‘Genocide’ which is currently under review and should not take long time as many western countries and renowned organizations have already acknowledged so. Moreover, Fullerton investigation has already provided US government with 13000 records of Human Rights Violations. Apart from that, the USA should also extend its financial, diplomatic and other measures to ensure dignified repatriation. As Elie Wiesel Act, 2018 is a binding law for the U.S government to update its measures to prevent genocide and other atrocities, it is more than a moral cause and rather is a duty for the U.S government to become more proactive in Rohingya issue in coming days to uphold global Human Rights and protect the ‘most persecuted minority’ of our time before it is too late.

*MD Mufassir Rashid, MSS in International Political Economy (Ongoing), Department of International Relations, University of Dhaka, Dhaka, Bangladesh.

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