Democracy in Myanmar has constantly been subjected to frequent military rule, stumbled again after the military had come back into power through a coup d’etat on 1 February 2021. It was the same day as the proposed to be the commencement of a new Parliament session. Compared to the country’s military rule for nearly half a century, the Civilian Government ran less than two decades. Although 2011 to 2015 is considered a democratic transition period, it was nothing but continued military rule. The country’s constitution of 2008 reserved more power for the military than for an elected civilian government. The military-backed party, the United Solidarity Development Party (USDP), gained merely 33 out of 478 seats compared to 41 seats out of 478 seats in the previous election in 2015. Then the army brought forward the false accusation of election fraud without any evidence, which could be grounded primarily on two reasons: the sustenance of the justification of the military rule that supported the Rohingya genocide in 2016 and the sense of insecurity for the military leaders due to a change in the political system. The Rohingya Community’s fortune and their repatriation are likely to be influenced by the Coup due to the involvement of the military Government in the 2016 Genocide. Although General Hlaing, in his first speech after the Coup, said, “we will start Rohingya repatriation soon,” it is essential to identify problems and possibilities of the Rohingya repatriation from Bangladesh. (Zahed, 2021) with particular focus on the change of the Government
The essay’s objective is to identify the challenges of Rohingya repatriation after the Coup and propose some potential solutions that could be helpful to facilitate the repatriation.
- Situation Analysis:
Myanmar, a southeast Asian country, gained independence from Britain in 1948. The armed forces ruled the country from 1962 until 2011, when a new government began ushering in return to civilian rule. The country is bordered by Thailand, Laos, Bangladesh, China, and India. The country has a population of about 54 million and many ethnic groups, including Rohingya Muslims (Cuddy, 2021). Decades of isolation and persecution against the Rohingya community-led to mass displacement (highest in 2017 after massive violence over 1 million people), isolation, and resistance of innocent Rohingya civilians (Zahed, 2021). The Rohingyas, due to their bicultural and bi-ethnolinguistic ties, were pushed in Bangladesh. This country has a border of about 260 kilometers only of more than 6500 kilometers of Myanmar’s total border and has a Muslim majority of its 166 million people (Zarni, 2021). The fate of the approximately 600,000 Rohingya is currently living in Myanmar. Any possible plans for repatriating those outside the country, particularly in Bangladesh, lie in the military’s hands after the Military Coup (Westerman, 2021). The prospect for safe and swift repatriation of the camp residents has fallen under new threat for the camp residents, who closely observe and weigh each event of Myanmar Politics. Thus their lives have turned into a waiting game of years or even decades leading to more despair.
The post-coup Tatmadaw-Rohingya, senior-level meeting, aroused hope of repatriation with a bleak expectation that Tatmadaw might relieve international pressure by addressing the crisis whereby the junta government hasted to blame the previous Government. The junta government’s inactions and inertia to address the Rohingya issues has necessitated the Government’s replacement for peace and political solutions. Besides, to ensure the inclusion of the Rohingya community in the mainstream Myanmar Population and to provide them the right to justice in Myanmar and the camps necessitate the addition of a Rohingya representative to its cabinet (Olney & Ahmad, 2021). The Coup was followed by protests by teachers, lawyers, students, bank officers, and government workers in the mass reaction. The public response faced restrictions, curfews, and limits to gatherings, and water cannon, rubber bullets, and live ammunition. The use of live ammunition while dispersing the protesters has killed 100 people on 27 March 2021. Numerous countries have condemned the military takeover and subsequent crackdown and responded with sanctions on military officials. But, China blocked a UN Security Council statement condemning the Coup, although the same country has backed calls for the release of Ms. Suu Kyi and a return to democratic norms (Cuddy, 2021).
The challenges of the Rohingya repatriation are appended below:
4.1 History of Military Rule
Myanmar has seen only three elections after its independence in 1947. The Army coup held in 1972 had kept Suu Kyi arrested for 15 years and ruled the country till 2011. The next Coup again takes place just ten years in 2021. Even if there is an elected government, the military will be in power since the army occupies 25% of the seats. Therefore it can be assumed that the Government will always be significantly influenced by the Military (Abdullah, 2021).
4.2 Military Affiliation with Eviction
The military Government has historically been involved in the eviction process. It has always been associated with the creation Rohingya Problem, and therefore through them, the solution can never be expected. Apart from the carnage started in 2016 that observed its zenith in 2017 and exiled more than 1 million people, the psychological war department of the Myanmar Army has long been involved in the promotion of Anti-Rohingya sentiment and annihilation of their identity and legal right of citizenship (Olney & Ahmad, 2021). Therefore, the continued involvement in racial destruction casts serious doubt regarding the possibility of the solution by the military.
4.3 Islamophobia and Anti Rohingya Sentiment
A highly potent anti-Rohingya racism exploded in Myanmar since 2010, through the mushrooming of private media outlets by dint of top-down press and other reforms and press freedom in an anti-Muslim and, more specifically, an anti-Rohingya direction. The Burmese military’s psychological warfare department had effectively airbrushed the word Rohingya, their identity, and evidence of their historical presence from official or popular publications. They used teacher training programs, summer enhancement courses for teachers, immigration officers, other civil servants, and textbooks to disseminate anti-Rohingya racism. Besides, the access to Islamophobic signature Western news media with Facebook, smartphones and SIM cards facilitated the military’s anti-Rohingya propaganda to poison “the Burmese mind” with Islamophobic genocidal strain at the only geographic pocket with its un-integrated Muslim population that has a legitimate claim to their home or ancestral land(Zarni, 2021)
4.4 Apathy of Military Government Regarding Rohingya Issue
The military Government has observed no visible efforts in the repatriation initiative. However, the camp residents remain hopeful that international justice and accountability delivered through the ICJ and ICC will help expedite progress toward solutions and believe that the NUG’s statement of support for these international mechanisms is a positive step. But limited access to clear information regarding the legal means, their scope, and limitations leading to what many would argue are overly optimistic perceptions given the history of international justice moving at a glacial pace.
4.5 Jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice
The International Courts of Justice have limited jurisdiction to exercise on specific issues. Also, the international criminal courts can not issue any binding or must comply with orders and decisions. Also, the glacial pace of the court proceedings is a matter of concern. Also, many forms of justice that Rohingya need in their daily lives – citizenship, repatriation, access to education, and other services – will not be delivered by foreign politicians or faraway courts in Europe rather than the military’s home country Government is ruling. Therefore, apart from the court decisions, it is also essential to observe how much of the decision is being implemented (Olney & Ahmad, 2021).
4.6 Regional Geopolitics and Bangladesh
Northern Rakhine state was official and recognized as a Rohingya homeland with 70% or more inhabitants being Rohingyas. Due to the Islamophobia that has been institutionalized first within the Burmese Armed Forces and later in the other organs, including the ministries and judiciary the Burmese military rulers during General Ne Win (1962-88), the armed forces began to use the term “fortress” specifically for the 260 mile long Burmese borders with Bangladesh ( erstwhile East Pakistan). The Burmese Borders include 2,000 miles with India and China, 600-mile with Thailand where Beijing-backed Burmese communist, Thailand backed, and CIA backed insurgencies and other insurgencies funded by Thailand and, to a lesser extent, by the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). However, the Bangladesh-Burma border is merely 260 miles long and relatively free from terrorist activity or armed rebellion. However, the population’s religion is Islam and its closeness to one of the largest Muslim-majority countries globally, Bangladesh, with a population of about 166 million. Therefore, the Myanmar military has completed their “unfinished business,” criminally and tragically for the Rohingyas (Zarni, 2021). Besides, Bangladesh is also vulnerable to FDI inflow, infrastructural development projects, and international trade and development efforts led by China, India, and Japan. Although Japan and India are backed up by the USA but the influence of China cannot be ignored.
4.7 Role of the Regional pressure Groups and International Support
Although the victims and Anti-coup protestors have long called for international action to resolve the refugee crisis and hold perpetrators of war crimes and other atrocities accountable, many have been disappointed by a slow and inadequate global response (Olney & Ahmad, 2021). Noticeably, the Western leaders remembered their “responsibility to help” for democracy promotion but forgot their “Responsibility to Protect” (R2P) the Rohingya people from crimes against humanity but shockingly, the Western strategy in dealing with the Rohingya crisis was wrong. The US, UK, EU, and Canada imposed selective and comprehensive sanctions after the recent Coup in Myanmar, which ultimately had been in the best interests of China and therefore was supported by China. Besides, India has also been silent for its investment in and Trade with Myanmar and reluctance to antagonize China (Zahed, 2021).
4.8 Influence of China in the UN Security Council and collective Reform
The UN Security Council met on 2 February 2021 to issue a joint statement condemning the Myanmar Coup, but China again vetoed the collaborative idea after the 2017 incident. China has managed good relations with both military and democratic leaderships of Myanmar since it is crucial to China’s Belt and Road Initiative. Thus China has continuously provided it with international security assistance. The Myanmar military junta hardly fears international pressure with China standing firmly beside, and therefore practically nothing can be done in this regard (Zahed, 2021).
- Way Forward
The way forward for the Rohingya repatriation are mentioned below:
5.1 Exposing the Crimes against Humanity
Crimes against humanity, and possibly genocide, have taken place against the Rohingya, the evidence of which crimes should be exposed. Particularly the 15,000 pages of documentation, Fact-finding report by the Fact-Finding Mission, Independent investigation reports by Amnesty International and Fortify Rights, the words of Doctors Without Borders, the description of the UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Myanmar should be exposed and accessible to all the UN Member states and be used to promote further accountability efforts (Zahed, 2021)
5.2 Stopping the ongoing persecution of Rohingya inside Myanmar
The ongoing persecution of Rohingya inside Myanmar, frequent arbitrary arrest and abuses, and restrictions on freedom of movement, access to livelihoods, healthcare, and humanitarian aid should be stopped. The failure to address the ongoing discrimination and abuses against ethnic minorities could be met by increased international pressure, targeted sanctions, a global arms embargo, and referral to the International Criminal Court (ICC) (Zahed, 2021).
5.3 Protecting the Rohingya in Bangladesh from risk
The one million Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh continue to face significant risks due to the population density of the camps and seasonal natural disasters like floods and landslides during the monsoon. The Government of Bangladesh deserves praise for providing refuge to hundreds of thousands of Rohingya and providing land and shelter. Besides, it is also essential to provide them with uninterrupted services, delimit the NGO services (Zahed, 2021).
5.4 A Sustainable Solution through the repatriation of Rohingya to Myanmar
A safe, dignified, voluntary, and sustainable return of the Rohingya, who fled back to their homes or villages, to the lands upon which their villages stood, is a crucial determinant of the solution of the Rohingya Crisis. Despite the Myanmar Governments’ statement of willingness and signing of a Memorandum of Understanding(MOU) on the repatriation of the Rohingya Community with the Government of Bangladesh, UNHCR, and UNDP but without addressing the root causes of the crisis will only solve the problems partially. The future moves toward repatriation will require participation and input from the refugees, greater transparency, and guarantees of independent international monitoring to ensure a safe, voluntary, dignified, and sustainable process (Zahed, 2021).
5.5 Steps toward Accountability
Accountability for the crimes against humanity committed against the Rohingya would help deter future crimes and will promote confidence among the Rohingya for the possibility of safe returns. But surprisingly yet there has been little accountability for the abuses that have taken place in Myanmar. Additionally, the absence of credible domestic remedies in Myanmar would necessitate a referral to the court to open an investigation from the UN Security Council, which even vetoed will increase international pressure on the Myanmar authorities. Besides, Bangladesh could refer the situation in Myanmar to the ICC as its member. Also, rigorous evidence collection and targeted sanctions led by the UN and the other members of the UNSC would lead to a faster solution (Zahed, 2021).
5.6 Regional Diplomacy: the Double-Edged Blade
Suppose Bangladesh could increase its regional diplomacy, engage China and India and the other economic and military superpowers, and play a more strategic role in the Bay of Bengal. In that case, it is possible to ease the situation and find a solution. But Bangladesh is instead in a vulnerable condition rather than being in the hub of influence because Bangladesh has to balance the interests of the international and regional superpowers, namely: the USA, Australia, China, Japan, and India. Although Bangladesh is desperate to solve the issue with the help of pressure groups like ASEAN, the countries are collectively vulnerable to the Chinese influence. Besides, the limited engagement of Bangladesh with ASEAN in the forms of Trade and agreements has made it further vulnerable to the scenario. Bangladesh could have been stronger if they could break India’s strategic silence and get their support. Besides, the country’s engagement in the Indian Ocean Rims Association(IORA), QUAD, Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership(RCEP) Agreement could offer them a strong stance in the situation. But again, the country is still highly dependent on the Chinese raw materials for its primary export product RMG, the significant infrastructure investments, duty-free access to the Chinese market. Therefore, the tactfulness to balance between the conflicting interest groups will be the critical determinant of success in the future.
A long-lasting solution to the Rohingya crisis will require the authorities in Myanmar to address the root causes of the problem, recognize Rohingya citizenship in Myanmar, and ensure the fundamental rights of the Rohingya people. The culture of impunity enjoyed by the Myanmar military must be addressed, if necessary, through international pressure. Bangladesh also should act efficiently in regional politics to handle the crisis. Besides, the Government of Bangladesh should provide uninterrupted services with the help of the UN bodies. There must be efforts to exert a variety of options starting from the targeted sanctions to referral to the ICC by the influential states of the world by considering the crisis a global one.