Bangladesh

Annan Commission Versus 1993 Rohingya Repatriation Agreement: Suu Kyis intention and dilemma

MNA Editorial Desk: Myanmar’s State Councillor Aung San Suu Kyi, previously known as democracy leader in the years of oppressive military rule in her country, and winner of Nobel Peace Prize in 1991, has now become assn icon of hatred due to her approval and pursuance of one of history’s worst genocides against the Rohingya Muslim minority in Myanmar’s western Rakhine state, bordering Bangladesh.

Since August 25 this year around half a million Rohingyas have fled to Bangladesh to save their lives from atrocities of Myanmar military and fundamentalist Buddhists who killed thousands of men, raped scores of women, beheaded countless children and burned thousands of Rohingya homes in hundreds of villages in what the UN described as ethnic cleansing.

The extreme barbarity perpetrated against the Rohingyas have drawn the attention of the world thanks to the bold and magnanimous steps taken by Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina who decided to let the refugees take temporary shelter in overcrowded Bangladesh, arranged food for them and also raised awareness around the globe about the plight of the Rohingya people and need for its early solution.

The successive Myanmar governments have denied the citizenship of Rohingyas and other rights in their own country and instead led a vicious campaign to drive them out of the country by branding them as illegal Bengali migrants from neighbouring Bangladesh. This is a wrong allegation that the United Nations, UNHCR, and rest of the world know well but until recently they remained virtually silent against the Myanmar military junta’s illegal interpretations and abusive actions.

The Rohingyas supported and voted for Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) in the last election in Myanmar and as Suu Kyi’s party took the reign after the polls they hoped bad days of the Muslims in Myanmar would be over soon.

But unfortunately, while they were waiting for the citizenship, residency and social and economic rights to be granted, the government under Suu Kyi, still controlled by the military, launched the new phase of persecution.

***From Bangladeshs perspective, if this Rohingya problem cannot be solved as per the Annan Commission recommendations, then it will also affect all the development initiatives and activities which are taking Bangladesh towards the goal of becoming a middle income country by 2021.***

They pursued a policy to kill or clean Myanmar of all Muslims and give their land and properties to the Buddhists. In the process they did not spare the women and children from deaths and humiliation as well as robbed their sanctity of life in a ruthless manner.

At the height of such abuse, the Rohingyas started streaming into Bangladesh — in massive influx for a second time since 1992. Sheikh Haisna’s government despite initial hesitation over likely impacts of harbouring so many refugees in the already crammed country changed mind as the Prime Minister put humanitarian considerations on top of anything. She announced that the refugees are welcome and will have food and shelter for temporary living.

Now at the UN General Assembly meeting the prime minister announced once again that the Rohingyas will have to return to their own country and urged the world leaders at the conference to arrange their repatriation as soon as possible. As a result, pressure started building on Suu Kyi for taking back the Rohingya refugees, give them full citizenship and residency and other rights in Myanmar as per what is widely known as “Annan Commission” recommendations.

The commission headed by former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan was formed according to the Nobel Laureate Suu Kyi’s wish to find a permanent solution to her country’s ethnic problems, especially of the Muslim Rohingyas. But Myanmar authorities changed tone soon after the commission was set up last year as it wanted full access by the UNHCR, human rights and aid agencies to determine the extent of abuse done on the Rohingyas and mitigate their sufferings.

Suu Kyi denied them required access, refused to let aid supplies enter Rakhine and also said the Annan Commission is no longer welcome in Myanmar. This led to a stalemate in the UN’s efforts to resettle the Rohingyas who left Myanmar in 1992 but mostly returned under supervision of the UNHCR, only to flee back in the following years.

The influx of Rohingyas into Bangladesh phenomenally increased since August this year when alleged Muslim militants attacked a number of security posts in Rakhine state and killed several police men. In response to the attacks the Myanmar government sent out army to the Rakhine state with sweeping powers to kill, rape, abuse, burn and forcibly evict the Rohingyas.

Started as what UN described being ethnic cleansing, within weeks it assumed the proportion of a genocide which is still continuing despite protests and condemnations from all over the world.

However, as the world insists on the return of the Rohingyas to Myanmar, building amid pressure on Suu Kyi, she on Tuesday in a national address promised to take them back but on fulfilment of certain conditions. There lies the bone of contention.

The UN wants the refugees should be repatriated under recommendations of the Annan Commission which provided for joint review or verification of the refugees by Bangladesh, Myanmar and UNHCR to ascertain their nationality and list them for returning home. It also wanted the children be spared from scrutiny if their parents have already completed the process and that the returnees be given back their land and allowed to build homes there.

It also recommended providing full citizenship to the returned Rohingyas with all the facilities along with freedom of movement along with forming a independent commission (with no member working with the current verification process) to make the verification process easier. But Suu Kyi differs.

She wants a verification of refugees like was followed in 1993 that the Rohingyas will be scrutinized for identity by the Myanmar authorities alone as per a tripartite agreement then reached among Myanmar, Bangladesh (the then BNP government) and UNHCR. That process did not work as Myanmar refused to recognize many Rohingyas as its nationals and forced them to stay back in Bangladesh.

These Rohingyas lost the citizenship of their own country as military government in the 1980s took away their nationality. It was not possible to prove their nationality to the Myanmar government as they had no such documents. According to UNHCR, over 230,000 Rohingyas returned to Myanmar in between 1992 to 1997 but only around 9-10,000 stayed and others fled back to Bangladesh for the lack of identity proof or due to the repression of the Myanmar government. Alas! UNHCR did not recognize that.

No one including Bangladesh and the UN now want the same process to be repeated as it was agreed by the Rohingya Repatriation Agreement among Bangladesh, Myanmar and UNHCR in 1993. Rather they insist on following the recommendations of the Annan Commission which covers all necessary provisions for repatriation and resettlement of the Rohingyas.

This has put Suu Kyi and her military patrons in a quicksand that they are not willing to step on. This is the key dispute to be settled first before dialogue over repatriation of the Rohingyas from Bangladesh actually begins.

Analysts say Suu Kyi will not agree to that (Annan Commission proposals) unless the world leaders and the UN agencies exert huge pressure on her. They also feel economic and other sanctions should be re-imposed on Myanmar to force Suu Kyi to give in and walk the road as shown by the Annan Commission.

Myanmar had taken benefit of the weak sides of the 1993 Tripartite Rohingya Repatriation Agreement during the ’90s. They have pushed back thousands of Rohingyas to Bangladesh while taking the advantage of that agreement.

The then BNP government of Bangladesh had failed to properly understand that agreement and fell into its trap. This time also Suu Kyi is trying to eyewash the whole world by taking back the Rohingyas according to that 1993 agreement.

If she had any good intentions, there should not be any problem following the recommendations of Annan Commission, which only advises on steps that any government should take for the welfare of their people.

It is a basic question that how these Rohingyas will prove their identity of being Myanmar’s citizen as they are wiped off any national identity. UNHCR must play a vital role here. As well as, Bangladesh should be involved also as all these people, who are actually a great burden on the already overpopulated country, will move from their land. But Suu Kyi clearly expressed her intention to not involve Bangladesh or UNHCR.

But, while her government with the military forces had caused so much sufferings for the Rohingyas to drive them out of the soil, we cannot trust her intentions to repatriate and resettle these people.

From Bangladesh’s perspective, if this Rohingya problem cannot be solved as per the Annan Commission recommendations, then it will also affect all the development initiatives and activities which are taking Bangladesh towards the goal of becoming a middle income country by 2021.

Now we have to wait for the actions of the international community over the actions of Suu Kyi and her government. We wish all come forward to end the inhuman sufferings, pain and ill-fate of the thousands of Rohingyas living at the South-East borderline of Bangladesh.

The author is the Chairman of Mohammadi Group of Companies Ltd & Director of The Daily Observer. This article was first published in the Daily Observer.

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