International crimes against the Rohingya have been perpetrated for decades and continues in the status quo, even after the alarming events of August 2017 that forced 700,00+ Rohingya people to flee into Bangladesh. Since that time there has been little progress made to achieve a long term solution for the Rohingya people.
Genocide and Then What?
In its September 2018 report, the United Nations Fact Finding Mission on Myanmar indicated that the activities of the Myanmar military met the legal definition of genocide. This report, not surprisingly, was heavily criticized by the Myanmar government. However, national governments have slowly started to recognize the genocide. The slow reactions are probably attributable to the complex factual and legal issues present in genocide determinations. In addition to the determination, what happens after it is recognized as genocide? The Rohingya situation poses no exception. The Canadian House of Commons recognized the Rohingya genocide as well as the United States House of Representatives. Currently the United States Senate is continuing bipartisan efforts to build on the momentum of the House of Representatives to recognize the genocide. Hopefully, more national governments will follow suit. It will be interesting to monitor the progress on this effort; particularly within the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) to see which of those countries will recognize the genocide.
Even after the label of genocide is properly placed, what is next? The UN Office on Genocide Prevention and the Responsibility to Protect, states one of the reasons for establishing whether the crime of genocide has occurred is “for the purpose of establishing State responsibility or individual criminal responsibility for the crime of genocide.” The current United States Senate Resolution calls for imposing more sanctions on Myanmar military officials in addition asking social media platforms to curb hate speech within Myanmar. However, these actions will not be enough. In the camps, the Rohingya people have been vocal about asking for a safe return home, citizenship, and for justice and accountability.
During the Assembly of State Parties meetings (December 2018) in the Netherlands, the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court released her yearly “Preliminary Examinations” report. In her report she discussed the decision by Pre-Trial Chamber I to confirm jurisdiction over the “alleged deportation of the Rohingya people from Myanmar to Bangladesh, as well as potentially other crimes under article 7 of the Rome Statute.” Myanmar is not a party to the Rome Statute and has criticized this decision by the ICC. The Prosecutor is seeking to complete her preliminary examination within a “reasonable time.”
Despite these actions, other countries and entities, such as the European Union, are still asking the UN Security Council to refer the matter to the ICC. It is unlikely that these actions will be successful given the “no vote” that Russia and China may utilize on this particular issue (if it can even get to a vote).
There are also calls made by parties within the U.S. government and international interest groups asking for an independent or ad hoc tribunal to be created to try perpetrators for the alleged crimes of genocide and crimes against humanity. Myanmar, naturally, set up its own “Independent Commission of Enquiry” and the Chair recently stated that the “commission had found no evidence to support allegations of human rights abuses.” The questions surrounding justice and accountability will continue into 2019.
There is of course, the newly established International Impartial Independent Mechanism (IIIM) for Myanmar. The IIIM will allow for the collection of evidence in this particular case. However, Russia and China’s alleged moves in the United Nations to slash and gut human rights funding could have a detrimental impact on the IIIM.
The Return Home
The issue of repatriation has remained difficult and controversial. On one hand, it appears that all parties are actively seeking a solution for the Rohingya to return home. There are also different international entities that are trying to facilitate the repatriation.
In November 2018, China, Bangladesh, and Myanmar participated in tripartite talks about the repatriation (without any Rohingya representation). China expressed “satisfaction” over the terms of the deal. The plan would send the Rohingya back to Myanmar beginning in November 2018. However, this plan was supposedly “stalled” as a result of protests in the Bangladesh refugee camps. A more likely reason may be that Bangladesh is in the midst of election season and therefore any plans to relocate over 1 million people will need to wait until the elections are completed. Another reason may be that Myanmar is not serious about repatriation. In mid –December reports indicate that ASEAN is now playing a role in facilitating a plan for repatriation.
The UN Security Council is looking for ways to implement a successful repatriation plan. The United Kingdom recently issued a draft resolution on the topic and the talks were boycotted by Russia and China.
On December 24, 2018, Bangladesh authorities sealed off Rohingya settlements so that the Rohingya were not exploited during the election period. Troops have been deployed to the settlement areas. In the camps themselves, aside from continued issues with health care, nutrition, trafficking, and impending climate issues, beetles are causing extensive damage to shelters which can cause them to collapse. In Myanmar, one journalist reported the following situation which sums up the continued experience of the Rohingya in Myanmar:
“Last month, a Rohingya man who was outside the camp perimeters after dark was hacked in the face by a police officer after an altercation, a Rohingya witness in the camp told The Post. He had a bad gash near his eye, according to a camp resident, but refused to be transferred to Sittwe General Hospital. He sought care from a pharmacist in the camp, but his wound became infected. ‘The doctors and nurses [at Sittwe general hospital] are not only unkind to the patients, they neglect the patients,’ said one Rohingya man in a phone interview from his camp, speaking on the condition of anonymity out of fear of his safety. ‘We are scared to go there.’”
It is also important to continue to monitor and advocate for the Rohingya who are languishing in detention in various places around the world.
In 2019, efforts to assist this vulnerable population will need to be aggressive and increase tremendously if a sincere end is sought to ending genocide and crimes against humanity against the Rohingya.