South Asians for Human Rights

Promoting Democracy, Upholding Human Rights

The world has a major role to play in the Rohingya crisis

The Rohingya crisis has been documented by the Bangladesh government, UNHCR, and many other global institutions as ethnic cleansing.

Ethnic cleansing is the concept that a minority is mistreated, killed, or forcibly removed from a territory to “cleanse” the region, so to speak. This is evidently forbidden by overflowing number of international human rights treaties and instruments.

Existing conventions and treaties

For instance, International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, adopted and opened for signature and ratification by General Assembly resolution 2106, (XX) clearly prohibits such activities when done on the basis of race or ethnicity.

The Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment prohibits the mistreatment of people when they are forcibly expelled from their homes and their possessions and property destroyed.

International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, adopted and opened for signature, ratification, and accession by General Assembly resolution 2200A (XXI) also speaks of prohibition of such immoral activities.

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, adopted and opened for signature, ratification, and accession by General Assembly resolution 2200A (XXI) of December 16, 1966, came into effect on March 23, 1976, and under Article 27 states:

“In those states in which ethnic, religious, or linguistic minorities exist, persons belonging to such minorities shall not be denied the right, in community with the other members of their group, to enjoy their own culture, to profess and practice their own religion, or to use their own language.”

Ethnic cleansing means the infringement of the right to life, the right to housing, and food — in violation to the aforementioned treaties, and many more. From this aspect, international human rights law is clearly engaged but Myanmar is not party to either the ICCPR, ICESCR, UNCAT, nor the Race Convention — although aspects of the rights in question are part of the corpus of customary international law.

The plight of Rohingya implies that the R2P-bound international community has no alternative but to intervene


The purpose of R2P

In 2005, the UN sanctioned the global political commitment of Responsibility to Protect (R2P or RtoP) with a view to prevent genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity.

R2P stresses that national governments do not take sovereignty for granted in any intent or purpose, is based on the theory that sovereignty necessitates a conscientiousness to shield all populations from mass atrocity crimes and human rights infringements.

Myanmar government’s failure to safeguard the Rohingya makes a strong case for the international community to deal with this crisis. This can be done either by way of undertaking measures acknowledged in the R2P frame or by linking regional powers.

R2P’s exposure is far-reaching because it recognises the fundamental rights of all people, regardless of citizenship — and in doing so, it recognises the fundamental rights of “aliens” or stateless people too.

The plight of the Rohingya implies that the R2P-bound international community has no alternative but to intervene. It also entails that the international community has ethical and legal obligations under international law to pressure Myanmar to take actions to end ethnic cleansing, and simultaneously support Bangladesh in her effort to ensure the survival of the refugees.

To invoke the Right to Protect (R2P) in Myanmar, the international community needs proof of all or any one of the four atrocities among ethnic cleansing, crimes against humanity, war crimes, or genocide.

Suggestions and a way forward

A report of the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect recommends several actions to be undertaken on an urgent basis to address the Rohingya crisis. It suggests that the UN Security Council immediately adopt a resolution to tackle the ongoing mass murder in Myanmar, through imposing an arms embargo and targeted sanctions directed at senior military officers in command and the key forces in ethnic cleansing in Myanmar. Individual governments and regional organisations should also impose targeted sanctions and discontinue all bilateral aids and training programs with Myanmar’s security forces.

The Myanmar authorities should allow the UN Human Rights Council-mandated Fact-Finding Mission to go into Rakhine State and expeditiously implement the recommendations of the Advisory Commission led by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan.  The authorities should also permit humanitarian and human rights organisations unimpeded right of entry to susceptible populations in Rakhine, Kachin, and Shan states.

The government of Myanmar must revoke or amend all laws and regulations that methodically discriminate against Rohingya and other minorities in Myanmar, including the Protection of Race and Religion laws and the 1982 Citizenship Law.

The government should undertake adjoining steps towards building a more general society in which the rights of Myanmar’s diverse populations are protected.

Evidence strongly indicates that the Myanmar government has failed in its duty to protect her own population, a duty it has acknowledged and accepted in the World Summit 2005 and in the General Assembly Interactive Dialogue in 2009.

Therefore, this article is aimed at presenting the proposition that due to the Myanmar government’s failure, the duty to protect the Rohingya falls on the international community.

Thus, it is crucial that the international community makes the Myanmar government understand the consequence of this atrocity and to seriously treat its population in accordance with the standard of international human rights law.

It is hoped that a long-term resolution of the Rohingya crisis can be achieved with the combined efforts of the government of Myanmar and the international community.

Rohingya have been suffering for long.

In spite of their contributions to the economy and society of Myanmar, their origin, ethnicity, and identity have been questioned.

The Myanmar government categorises them as “illegal Bengali immigrants.”

Now, after the latest influx of Rohingya into Bangladesh starting from August 2017, the government of Bangladesh has not recognised them as Rohingya refugees from Myanmar, instead identifying them as “forcefully displaced Myanmar citizens.”

Bangladesh is pushing the Rohingya agenda at the UN Security Council, even though it is doubtful that it will result in swift action, thanks to the council’s history of bureaucratic red tape and veto politics.

Nevertheless, there can be a sliver of hope. European nations have backed Bangladesh’s stance on the crisis, with UN-based organisations requesting nations for more resources and moral support towards Bangladesh. We may be on the right track.

Tasmiah Nuhiya Ahmed is Advocate, Supreme Court of Bangladesh and a research assistant at Bangladesh Institute of Law and International Affairs (BILIA) and Tahsin Noor Salim is a research assistant at Bangladesh Institute of Law and International Affairs (BILIA).

Updated On:  November 17, 2017