Myanmar misleads int’l community: Bangladesh

The following is the full and unedited text of a statement which Bangladesh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued here Thursday: “It is a matter of utter dismay to witness persistent campaign on the part of the Government of Myanmar to mislead the international community with fabricated information, misrepresentation of facts, unsubstantiated claims and undue accusations on Bangladesh in order to avoid its obligations for the sustained repatriation and reintegration of the forcibly displaced Rohingya in safety and dignity. The Government of Bangladesh recently noticed yet another round of such attempts by Myanmar Union Minister for International Cooperation Mr. U Kyaw Tin. Myanmar Minister resorted to misrepresentation of the whole issue as well as laying unjustified blames on Bangladesh in his effort to refute the well-founded remarks by the Foreign Minister of Bangladesh on Rohingya crisis at the Preparatory Ministerial Meeting of the 18th Summit of the Non-Aligned Movement on 23 October 2019 in Baku, Azerbaijan.

In his statement, Mr. Tin accused Bangladesh of mischaracterizing Rohingya crisis as “religious persecution”, “driving an ethnic group out of the country”, “ethnic cleansing” or “genocide” etc. In reality, such observations are made by international community based on documented evidence, which bear the unmistakable signs of forcible deportation of a community from its ancestral homeland in Rakhine under atrocity crimes on civilian population. The nature and extent of atrocities in 2017 surpassed all previous records.

Myanmar Minister claimed that the crisis is confined only in the northern strip of Rakhine State and people of different faiths are living in harmony in the remaining areas across the country. But it is a well-known fact that continued disenfranchisement of country’s ethnic minorities by successive Governments of Myanmar and suppression of their rights and justified demands by force rendered Myanmar as one of the world’s largest homes to Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) and a leading source of cross border displacements. A substantial number of forcibly displaced Myanmar nationals of varied ethnic and religious backgrounds are in temporary shelter in different countries for decades and only a few could return and reintegrate in their homeland.

Myanmar always portrays Rohingya as ‘illegal-migrants’ from Bangladesh during the colonial era. Now they came up with an innovation that there was a massive influx of Bangladeshis to Myanmar during the war of liberation of Bangladesh in 1971. All these claims are baseless. According to historians, Rohingya is a distinct ethnic community evolved over the centuries through mingling of migrated people of various races and cultures from different parts of the world with the local people in Rakhine. As such, on two previous occasions Myanmar recognized displaced Rohingya in Bangladesh as their lawful residents and repatriated them. After the recent influx, Myanmar signed bilateral instruments with Bangladesh identifying them as “Myanmar residents”. As far as the nationality of Rohingya is concerned, there cannot be any scope of confusion. Attempts to create controversy over their identity at this stage clearly indicate that Myanmar still pursues the policy of exclusion and marginalization of its ethnic minorities.

Rohingya crisis has been presented as a matter of inter-communal tension and development shortfall in Rakhine State during the speech. In reality, systematic discrimination and persecutions by the state are the main root causes of this protracted crisis, as recognized by Kofi Annan Commission and the international community in general. The statement blamed ARSA as usual for initiating the crisis and preventing the displaced Rohingya from returningin order to advance their political agenda. Myanmar should understand that so called ARSA attack on 25 August 2017 can never justify highly disproportionate military response, widespread human rights abuses, and atrocity crimes on a particular ethnic community.

The Government of Bangladesh reaffirms Myanmar that there are no ARSA activities at Rohingya camps. It is not possible to operate terrorist bases anywhere in Bangladesh because of high alertness and effective preventive measures by the security forces in the line with “zero tolerance policy” of the present Government under the Hon’ble Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. The Government of Bangladesh has taken adequate measures to ensure that the potential returnees are able to express their views on return without any influence or threat from any quarter. Myanmar must refrain from implicating Bangladesh into its internal political and security conundrum and may respond positively to Bangladesh’s offer for a comprehensive cooperation mechanism in the combat of terrorism.

Myanmar Government is yet to demonstrate any political-will to implement the provisions of bilateral instruments and to address the underlying political, economic, security, and social causes rooted in the problem. Hollow promises and unsubstantiated claims leaving the root causes unattended will not help convince the prospective returnees. Inordinate delay in verification of past residency of Rohingya with arbitrary rejection of substantial number of displaced people as “not included in the registered list of household” and excessive focus on technicalities are clear manifestations of their utter reluctance to resolve the crisis through dialogue and negotiation. The claim has been substantiated through their failure to effectively dismantle the IDP camps in Rakhine and resettle the people to the places of their origin or places of their choice, as well as taking back the people sheltered at the international boundary (zero line) as they require no involvement of the Government of Bangladesh.

Myanmar often complains against Bangladesh for non-cooperation in repatriation. Such accusation is totally baseless and could be guided by an ulterior motive. No one agreed to return on two previous repatriation attempts, as the Rohingya are not assured of safety, security, and sustainable livelihood in Rakhine. The Government of Bangladesh maintains its principled position of not preventing anyone, regardless of ethnic and religious identity, who intends to return to Myanmar anytime. The Government of Bangladesh always stands ready to extend all possible cooperation to those who volunteer to return. Sincerity of Bangladesh in facilitating earliest repatriation of Myanmar residents has been unquestionably established through its actions.

Myanmar’s claim of return of a handful of people out of around 1.1 million using their personal contact with Myanmar officials does not testify any improvement of the ground reality in Rakhine. A recent comprehensive report on these returnees by Radio Free Asia rather reveals total lack of preparedness on the part of Myanmar Government. While Myanmar claims that the situation in the place of return is conducive enough for repatriation, it must allow the international community and representatives of the prospective returnees to visit those places to assess the reality and help the returnees making an informed choice. They can also invite international media and UN agencies to justify their claim of creating conducive environment for safe, dignified, and voluntary return in Rakhine.

Myanmar usually tries to give a positive impression about the involvement of UN agencies and other partners in Rakhine state. Access to Rohingya villages is reportedly still highly restricted for the international community. Myanmar Government persistently denies a meaningful engagement of UN bodies and other partners in the creation of conducive environment and monitoring of return and reintegration in Rakhine.

The Government of Bangladesh has consistently been pursuing the policy of resolving this protracted problem through dialogue, maintaining friendly relations with Myanmar. Unjustifiable accusation on the part of a party who is entirely responsible for the protracted crisis is totally unacceptable. Such venture would undermine Bangladesh’s current efforts to resolve the crisis. The Government of Bangladesh rejects such baseless accusation, falsification, and misrepresentation of facts. The Government of Myanmar must stop such concocted campaign and rather concentrate on the fulfillment of its obligations. Myanmar must act decisively to address the real causes that are preventing the displaced Rohingya from going back voluntarily. Myanmar should seriously consider a comprehensive participation of the international community in the creating of an environment conducive for return as well as in the monitoring of repatriation and reintegration process. Myanmar should also cooperate with international community to eliminate the culture of impunity for the sake of a durable solution to the protracted problem.