Distinguished Members of the Panel
Excellencies, Distinguished Guests,
A very good morning to you all.
I thank the Arakan Rohingya Council for organizing today’s commemorative event; and for giving me this opportunity to join today’s distinguished panel to share a few thoughts.
Mr. Solicitor General, thank you for reiterating Gambia’s and Minister Jallow’s continued strong leadership and support for the cause of the Rohingyas.
23rd January is an important day for the Rohingya and also for the international justice system. On this day last year, the International Court of Justice, for the first time in the history, recognized the Rohingya as a ‘protected community’ and presented some glimmer of hope that could lead to a dignified life for them in Myanmar. The ruling of the Court was also a reminder that such exclusionary policies that forces over a million people from their homes can never be condoned or overlooked by the international justice system. I thank you, Minister Jallow, and all others who have supported this process to ensure justice and accountability.
Bangladesh, as an immediate neighbour, has been a recurring victim of Myanmar’s discriminatory policies. We have been sheltering the forcibly displaced Rohingya for over four decades now. Although in earlier occasions, such arrivals were resolved through repatriation; however, as it is clear now, those were not sustainable. The same Rohingya individuals or families have returned to Bangladesh seeking shelter and protection over and over again. And this is so, because the situation for them continued to worsen with each passing year. The carnage that the world witnessed in 2017 is testimony to that.
There cannot be any durable solution to the Rohingya crisis without addressing the problems that continue to exist in Myanmar. Rohingyas will never have a safe and sustainable future in Myanmar unless and until they are embraced as equal members of the Myanmar society and provided with the rights, dignity and opportunities they are entitled to as the rightful citizens of their country.
We believe that the ruling of the International Court of Justice ordering provisional measures is an important step towards that direction. We are confident that the compliance of the Court’s ruling in letter and spirit by Myanmar, would eventually lead to an environment that is conducive for the return of the displaced Rohingyas from Bangladesh, and to live in peace and safety in their homeland.
Thus, what remains most important is the compliance of the provisional order. And this would require constant monitoring and international supervision. Without that, the implementation of the ICJ ruling would not bring any change in Myanmar.
It is regrettable that Myanmar continues to deny access to the UN mechanisms and other independent observers. Even the office of Special Envoy of Secretary General and other UN agencies have very limited presence in Myanmar. In such a situation, objective assessment of the compliance remains difficult.
We understand that Myanmar is submitting its periodic compliance reports to the Court. We are also encouraged by the recent decision of the ICJ to form ‘ad hoc committees’ composed of three judges, to assist the Court in monitoring the implementation of its provisional measures. We believe such an ad hoc committee would be critical in ensuring realization of provisional order issued against Myanmar.
Let me now briefly turn to the current situation.
As we have all seen, the much-awaited general election of Myanmar was held in November last year. Unfortunately, the election meant little to the Rohingyas. They were not allowed to participate in the elections; they continue to remain disenfranchised.
The security situation remains volatile, with incidents of hate speech against the Rohingya Muslims rising. No demonstrable progress is visible in amending the discriminatory laws and policies in Myanmar that makes ethnic minorities susceptible to violence and persecution. Access to humanitarian actors and other independent observers remains severely restricted.
There is no progress to report regarding the repatriation of the Rohingyas in Bangladesh. As per the bilateral arrangement of return, Bangladesh has submitted family-wise data of 830 thousand Rohingyas to the Myanmar authorities. Out of which Myanmar has responded with respect to 42 thousand only. And of this 42 thousand, only around 27 thousand have been cleared as ‘residents of Myanmar’. Even of the cleared ones, most of the families have been split, which in essence means they would never volunteer to return.
Earlier this week, we had a trilateral meeting with Myanmar and China on the implementation of the repatriation agreements. During the meeting we have proposed to begin village-wise repatriation; and we are waiting for Myanmar’s response to that. We have also proposed to include other partners in the process. Agreement has also been made to have joint working group meetings between two countries soon. As you can see, Bangladesh remains committed to any process or efforts that would lead to a resolution of this crisis.
However, it goes without saying that no process or initiative would have its impact unless and until the situation on the ground changes. For that to happen, Bangladesh continues to call for the international community’s custodianship to the bilateral process and also sustained advocacy by all stakeholders to addressing the root causes in Myanmar. And very importantly, ensuring accountability for the crimes committed against them.
In this regard, I would like to refer to the UNGA resolution that was adapted last month. This year’s resolution includes qualitative and quantitative changes, and marks an important step forward. The large number of co-sponsors and votes in support was very reassuring.
The issue of accountability featured quite strongly in the resolution, not only in respect of crimes committed against the Rohingyas but also in respect of the international community’s engagements in Myanmar, particularly those involved in trade and investment in Myanmar; they will be required to strictly adhere to the guiding principles of business and human rights.
The resolution has also extended the mandates of the UN mechanisms in Myanmar, that of the Special Rapporteur, the Special Envoy of the Secretary General, and the Independent Investigative Mechanism on Myanmar. Regrettably, we are yet to see any positive indication on the part of Myanmar to engage with these mechanisms meaningfully. International community’s continued advocacy would be critical in this regard.
To conclude I would like to stress that the importance of consistent and coordinated engagement of the international community, including of the diaspora organizations cannot be overemphasized. It is the culmination of our collective efforts that today we have the International Court of Justice hearing the stories of the sufferings of the Rohingya, and calling Myanmar to protect this population from the threats of genocide.
We need to keep this agenda in every possible discourse until the Rohingya people are assured of their rightful place in Myanmar, where they lived for centuries.
I thank you all for your continued support and engagement.