ASEAN needs to take humane view of the Rohingya's crisis

15 November, 2017

International Affairs


Rohingya refugees is one of the critical issues, being faced by not only the neighboring countries, instead ASEAN as well. To find the solution of this problem, the Kofi Annan Foundation and the Office of the State Counsellor constituted an Advisory Commission on Rakhine State under the stewardship of Kofi Annan. The Commission’s submitted report (24 August 2017) had warned the government that the Rohingya had become most vulnerable to human rights abuses given the protracted conflict, statelessness, and discrimination. In the backdrop of the report, the violence and crackdown led the exodus of Rohingyas, to whom no country is ready to take them. The neighboring countries, as well as ASEAN, seem more concerned about security over the humanitarian perspective. Since the unfolding of Rohingyas crisis, the ASEAN has been failed to protect their human rights, which further dented the latter’s image as a successful organization.

In the backdrop of Advisory Commission’s report, the Arakan Rohingyas Salvation Army (ARSA) attacked the army and police posts along Bangladesh border. Crackdown over Rohingyas in the backdrop of ARSA’s attack over the army and police post led to the exodus of more than five lac people to Bangladesh till date. This violence has been going on over the Rohingyas since 2012, without any fail. Lot of discrimination, violence, and atrocities have become part and parcel of the Rohingyas life. The United Nations has called the crackdown as "ethnic cleansing." Therefore, the current situation has become more critical, given humanitarian perspective at stake.

Rohingya refugees have been facing several serious issues including the health one.Bangladesh has established about 12 health centersin refugee camps to take care of their health. During the last few days, about 400 babies have been born in Rohingya refugee camps. As per the statement of Bangladesh Health Minister Mohammad Nasim, more than 70,000 thousand Rohingyas refugees women are pregnant, who fled to Bangladesh in the recent violence in Rakhine state. To take care of the Rohingya children’s health concerns, voluntary health services have been instituted by the health ministry. As part of the voluntary health services, about 52, 605 children have been given rubella and polio vaccine. About 12,675 have been provided with vitamin A capsules in Ukhia and Teknafupazilas of Cox’s Bazar. However, diarrhoea, respiratory and skin diseases are becoming difficult to control. The people (around 2, 364) who sustained serious injuries during the violence, are being provided with the medical assistance by the Bangladesh voluntary medical teams. Although, Bangladesh had left no stone unturned to provide make-shift arrangements for Rohingyas, still, the refugees have been facing lot many problems shortage of food, drinking water, arrangement for toilets etc.

The second issue which has not only been haunting the region rather the Rohingyas as well, i.e., security, given the rationale of their links with the terrorist groups. The analysts from Centre for Strategic and International Studies have argued that the insurgency in Rakhine State goes back to the 1970s, with the establishment of the Rohingya Solidarity Organization and its splinter group, the Arakan Rohingya Islamic Front.In 1998, these two groups clubbed together as Arakan Rohingya National Organization. However, Ata Ullah had established an insurgent group- Harakah al-Yaqin (HaY), which later on rechristened as ARSA (2013). Against the background of discrimination, marginalization, violence against the Rohingyas, analysts and experts are anticipating that Myanmar inevitably could become a fertile ground for radicalization. Also, it could attract the attention of transnational terror groups such as ISIS, Tehreek-e-Taliban (TeT), and Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT). Giving this logic, the regional countries are in denial mode to accept them as refugees. Howeveron the other hand, the Rohingya refugees time and again refuted these charges. But the main question: is security bigger than humanity? Security is for humanity and if humanity is not there, then what for security? Prof.Peou (2014), has argued that for realists’ national citizens, humanity is important. The universalistic notion of achieving security for humanity is unrealistic and unachievable unless providing the security to the citizens.

The third most important issue is the humanitarian concern. Rohingyas are stateless and disenfranchised. The more importantly, these people have been deprived of the right to property. Since 2012, without any fail violence, rape, torture by state forces/police have been consistently going on. In the backdrop recent crackdown, about 400 Rohingyas have been killed. Several villages have been set on fire. Women have been raped. There are reports that the military has laid down land mines along the border with Bangladesh to ensure refugees won’t return. Among the 175 Rohingyavillages, about 30 percent of are empty ones.

An international public opinion has been becoming a betenoire for Myanmar in view of it human rights violation of the Rohingyas. Some of the countries like Malaysia, Indonesia and Turkey had condemned the Burmese government and assured on their part to extend support to these refugees. Western countries like the UK called it 'unacceptable tragedy'; France criticised it as genocide, and the US has expressed concern over the issue. France, Britain, the United States along with other four countries, have convinced the UN Security Council to discuss the ongoing violence in Myanmar. The meeting called it as the “world's fastest-developing refugee emergency, a human right and a humanitarian nightmare.” Apart from such diplomatic support, several international agencies have been extending humanitarian aid as well. StephaneDujarric, a spokesperson to the UN Secretary-General, conveyed to the reporters (2017, 13 September) that its humanitarian wing has made an emergency planto take care of 300,000 refugees. The UNHCR is putting best efforts to deliver humanitarian aid to Rohingya refugees. Additionally, some civil societies and non-governmental organizations including the Khalsa Aid have also been working untiringly to provide the basic needs.

Some commentators/scholars have argued in favour of regional cooperation to sort out the crisis, however, except Bangladesh, no other neighboring country is ready to shoulder the responsibility except the provision of paltry part of humanitarian aid. Therefore, the whole burden of the refugees lies on Bangladesh. The major irony is, except an insignificant humanitarian aid, major Islamic country/ regional organization like Pakistan, Saudi Arabia/OIC are not coming forwarded to extend help to the Rohingyas refugees.

ASEAN was established in 1967, initially having five members only. With the changing geo-economic and geostrategic dynamics, the geopolitical expansion of ASEAN took place by adding Brunei and Vietnam in 1988 and 1995 respectively, followed by Laos and Myanmar in 1997. The ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights was established in 2009. The primary focus this commission is to work for human rights among the member countries. The other effort in this direction was the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration (AHRD), unanimously adopted in November 2012. The AHRD has forty articles providing rights like civil, political; economic, social and cultural rights; development and right to peace (Art 38) etc. The most important is the promotion and protection of human rights (Art 39-40).

Myanmar is a member of the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights and AHRD. Individually,it has been failed to take care of humanitarian perspective of the ethnic crisis. Moreover, ASEAN as the regional organization has also been unable to put pressure on Myanmar to task her to implement the AHRD. On the other hand, ASEAN has neither come forward to provide adequate humanitarian help and nor gave any diplomatic support to Rohingyas. It is ethnic crisis known by various sobriquets like most persecuted and ethnic cleansing etc. in which Rohingyas lost their rights like civil, political, economic, social and cultural. Right to peace and developmentprovided under ADHR had become distant dream for these people. Though the ASEAN has been committed and reaffirmed per se to the protection and promotion of human rights, but it has been utterly failed in Rohingya’s case. At last, it is recommended that to gain it lost credibility, the ASEAN must come forward to take humane view of the ethnic crisis to fill the massive void left between it preaching and practice in respect of protection of human rights.