The Rohingya Crisis: One Year On

The Rohingya crisis is one that has been ongoing for decades, seeing countless waves of violence and annexes from within their own nation by Myanmar military forces, and has recently escalated. On August 25th, 2017, a group of Rohingya were forced to flee into Bangladesh after the state begun a “Clearance Operation” on the Rakhine state, which Human rights officials called “Textbook Ethnic Cleansing.” In this operation, as many as 700,000 men, women and children were forced to flee over the border into Bangladesh. Those that remained in the invaded areas were killed, raped or captured as the Myanmar security forces raided entire villages to the ground and displaced thousands. Those who had not been attacked have still been living in terrible conditions, which have only become more treacherous since the current flooding and storms that has assailed the countryside. It has been over a year since the refugees were displaced, and they have been forced to live in squalid conditions in around 32 different camps in the Ukhiya and Teknaf sub-districts of the city of Cox’s Bazar. The city already boasted a substantial refugee population from Myanmar of 300,000 that had fled over the previous two displacements in 1978 and 1991. Last November, Myanmar and Bangladesh signed a reparation deal that would allow the Rohingya refugees to return. However, none of the displaced have yet been returned to their homeland. While many Rohingya would be happy to return to their home, they will only do so on their own terms by being acknowledged as citizens of Myanmar, being allowed the same benefits as regular Myanmar citizens, and being offered reparations for the horrors they have suffered.

The actions that the Myanmar government has undertaken towards the Rakhine state is deplorable. The treatment of the Rohingya people and the actions of those in power have been going on for decades. The Rakhine state has seen the loss of mass amounts of innocent life. Not only that, but this crisis has placed tremendous strain on the neighbouring states. Bangladesh has been forced to shoulder much of the burden of supporting the displaced citizenry of the Rakhine state, requiring them to see to living conditions and tend to the livelihoods of the people that have been driven from what was once their homes. While they have spoken of a deal that will allow the Rohingya to return to their state, the lack of any movement from either side, or in the acknowledgement of better conditions for the Rohingya from Myanmar, is concerning. Even more troubling is the inaction by the international community, who haven’t been able to act due to the fact that Myanmar is not party to the Rome Statute: An established set of rules for the International Criminal Court that stops member states from committing genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and acting first in aggression. This has stymied the ability of the United Nations to be able to successfully interact with the state of Myanmar and work towards better livelihoods for the citizens of the Rakhine state. Despite the lives that remain on the line, the longer that the military of Myanmar remains unaccountable, the International community has found itself stone-walled. There has been calls for the International Criminal Court in the Hague to approach the situation and be allowed the opportunity to bring to light the crimes committed. This is further aided by the fact that whilst Myanmar is not a member of the court, the state of Bangladesh is, and if a case can be presented that the actions against the Rohingya were carried out within the confines of Bangladesh this could be grounds to have them prosecuted for crimes against humanity. Unless the International community is prepared to do more to condemn the actions of Myanmar and hold them accountable, nothing will change.

As stated previously, one of the most noteworthy ways to get the actions of the Myanmar government to be more heavily considered will be in the form of international condemnation of the military’s actions. This will ensure that the offenses that have been committed against the Rohingya people will not be pushed out of the public’s perception and will, in turn, place further scrutiny on the leadership of Myanmar. However, condemnation alone will not be enough to sway the nation into acting in the best interests of their Rakhine population. The nations that are financially involved with Myanmar will need to be prepared to impose trade sanctions on them if they don’t act to bring about meaningful change to their states policy.

Another chief reason for the continued lack of consequences has been the ongoing interest in the developing country by other states that are seeking to develop economic ties with Myanmar. Chief among these are India and China, who have been Myanmar’s primary economic partners due to its natural resources. Last year, it was calculated that Myanmar earned US$4.3 Billion from gas exports to China and Thailand. If China and India were to impose trade sanctions on Myanmar alongside the international community, this would aid in bringing them to the table to seriously consider ending their continued assaults on the Rohingya people. One of the primary actors that would need to be brought in to discussions and help influence the ongoing issues with Myanmar will be Bangladesh, due to the vast Rohingya refugee population that they are presently supporting within their borders. Because of this, the state of Bangladesh has a vested interest in ensuring that the Rohingya people are not only able to safely return, but are no longer marginalized by the Myanmar government. The past three mass-exoduses have led the majority of the Rohingya to take up residence within Bangladesh, which has seen them require aid and take up residence in refugee encampments – which has put pressure on Bangladesh to provide for them.

If international scrutiny and trade sanctions can be upheld, this will give Bangladesh ample bargaining power to be able to bring about change. With the sanctions in place, they can bargain for the Rohingya people to not only be granted citizenship and offered reparations for the damages that were done, but work with other states to allow Myanmar to join the international community in a more meaningful capacity (such as accepting the Rome Statute). The purpose of getting Myanmar to become a party to the statute will be to ensure that the circumstances that caused the attacks on the Rohingya people not to be allowed to pass again. This means that should the Rakhine state come under attack again and its people harmed, the international community will be allowed to directly intervene and ensure that the attacks are stopped. Additionally, Myanmar will face harsher penalties for such actions from the International Criminal Court if they do so due to now being subject to its conditions. Even with all of these factors in place, and even in the event that Myanmar is convinced to recognize the citizenship of the Rohingya population, it will mean little if the perception of the Rohingya people within Myanmar is unchanged: to the people of Myanmar, the Rohingya are seen as an invading population that is seeking to overrun their homeland and destroy their way of life. This perspective has persisted for decades and has been at the core of government rhetoric, poisoning possible chances at reconciliation. Changing this mindset among native Myanmarese is key to moving forward and helping to ensure that the Rohingya won’t once again become victims within their own homeland.

Joshua Robinson