The conflict in Arakan State has resulted in more than 10,000 civilian deaths and nearly 725,000 refugees, mostly in Bangladesh, for more than four years. It is imperative that the persecution of the Rohingya population is stopped and that the international community find a more effective solution than an accusation of genocide. Is this possible?
Persecuted for years, the Rohingya, a Muslim minority in Myanmar, created the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army in October 2016 to attack the Burmese state. This event marked the official start of the war, it also marks a loophole in international law and the possibility of prohibiting organizations, such as the United Nations, from protecting a persecuted people. Indeed, until the end of 2017, all organizations are forbidden to access to hide the violence, arbitrary arrests, and executions of Rohingyas.
Wanting to defend themselves, the Salvation Army of the Rohingya of Arakan launched violent attacks and killed civilians, which greatly angered the Burmese state, which embarked on strong reprisals. The only solution that presented itself was flight: at the end of October 2017, Pope Francis estimated that there were nearly 800,000 Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, which raises questions for the stability of this country. For fear of a conflict that spills over from Burma, regional powers are positioning themselves: Turkey and China are getting involved and positioning themselves, against the major NGOs and organizations, in favor of the Burmese state and accusing the Rohingya population of being terrorists.
The situation is becoming more and more critical, at the national, regional, and humanitarian levels, and a solution must be found. Although the conflict is less in the media, it has not stopped, and the issues are still relevant. Staying in Bangladesh or returning to Myanmar, neither solution seems to be sustainable and peaceful, especially since the international community does not seem to be competent to protect the Rohingyas effectively.
Potential Conflict Management Strategies
An impossible solution in Bangladesh:
By 2017, more than 120,000 Rohingya had already taken refuge in Bangladesh and today the UN High Commissioner for Refugees has registered more than 860,000 in the camps in Cox’s Bazar. Although Bangladesh has shown an exceptional humanitarian commitment to this population by ensuring their protection, this situation is not sustainable in the long term. Indeed, this country does not have the means to accommodate all these people alone, even with the help of the international community.
The situation in the refugee camps is untenable because they are too small for the number of people, leading to a situation of health and food distress. Harsh solutions are even being considered by the government to avoid a population explosion: forced sterilization of Rohingya women. To avoid this, complaints and requests have been made to the UN to find solutions or to consider repatriation.
Limited power of the international community:
Since the beginning of the crisis, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has been referring to elements of genocide and calling for international investigations. Sanctions have also been requested by several countries, such as the USA, Gambia, and Argentina: sanctions for crimes against humanity, genocide, and war crimes.
The International Criminal Court and the International Court of Justice may have jurisdiction but often do not, even if it is proven that the three crimes were committed against the Rohingya. However, other conditions regarding the place of commission of the crime and the nationality of the perpetrator are required. Because of this, there are major gaps in the evidence regarding this crisis, especially regarding crimes committed only on the territory of Myanmar. Exceptionally on this case, the International Criminal Court agrees to open investigations and the International Court of Justice is called to judge. Aung San Suu refuses before the ICJ and in 2020, the report of the investigation concludes that security personnel committed war crimes but that the army is not guilty of genocide.
Knowing the difficulties experienced by Bangladesh, the international community is aware of the imminent need to return the Rohingyas to their country of origin. The ICJ has ordered Burma to take all necessary measures to prevent genocide against the Rohingya but unfortunately can do no more.
The main problem with the possibility of repatriation is the fact that the Rohingya are seen as foreigners in Myanmar and without a national identity. Moreover, it would be difficult to live there knowing that their land is occupied by the Burmese and that they have no official papers.
Although in 2017 and 2018 there had been an agreement between Burma and Bangladesh on a return within two months, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees does not consider this return safe and this text remains dead. In 2019, Rohingyas are still allowed to return but still without a guarantee of safety.
For the major international organizations, the possible solution is a return to Myanmar with the implementation of the recommendations made to the government. But this return in complete security requires the commitment of the whole society and especially the resumption of dialogue between the two parties and other commitments that increase confidence (accessibility of citizenship, rights…).
It is imperative that the international community continues to provide support but above all that it opens to new options. With the COVID-19 crisis, the situation of the Rohingyas and the demographic crisis in Bangladesh is aggravated and above all more at the forefront. An open and conscious discussion between the Rohingyas, the Burmese state, and the Bangladeshi state must take place, and if necessary, with a neutral third party, a mediator. Negotiations and compromises must be made to stabilize the situation and avoid an even more serious humanitarian crisis than it already is.
Anna Frants, “Brimanie: les dates-clés de la crise des Rohingyas”, Le Figaro International [online], 2020. Available on: https://www.lefigaro.fr/international/birmanie-les-dates-cles-de-la-crise-des-rohingyas-20200123
Anne-Sophie Zanga, “La France et le Canada face à la crise des Rohingyas: quand agir deviant necessaire au regard de la competence limitée de la Cour pénale Internationale”, Université Laval et Université Tolouse 1 Capitole [online], Mémoire, 2019. Available on: https://corpus.ulaval.ca/jspui/bitstream/20.500.11794/38636/1/35686.pdf
Ashraful Azad and Jasmin Fareha, “Durable solutions to the protracted refugee situation: The case of Rohingyas in Bangladesh”, Journal of Indian Research, vol.1, n°4, 2013, pp.25-35.
Nehginpao Kipgen, “Conflict in Rakhine State in Myanmar: Rohingya Muslims’ Conundrum”, Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs [online], Vol.33, 2013, pp.298-310. Available on: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/13602004.2013.810117?scroll=top&needAccess=true
ONU INFO, “Le HCR prône des solutions durables à la crise des réfugiés rohingyas”, ONU INFO [online], Migrants et réfugiés, 2020. Available on: https://news.un.org/fr/story/2020/08/1075512