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The Bali Process & R2P: Who is to Protect the Rohingyas?
by Rohingya Human Rights
2009-04-04 09:16:01
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The Responsibility to Protect the populations from genocide, ethnic cleansing, war crimes and crimes against humanity is an international commitment by governments to prevent and react to grave crises, wherever they may occur. In 2005, world leaders agreed, for the first time, that states have a primary responsibility to protect their own populations and that the international community has a responsibility to act when these governments fail to protect the vulnerable populations.
There is no denying the fact that the ASEAN has failed to address the root causes of the Rohingya problem. Now the Rohingya problem is set to be discussed in the forthcoming Bali Process Meeting to be held on April 14-15,2009. The Bali Process brings together more than 50 countries, mainly Asian, to work on practical measures to help combat  transnational crime, human trafficking and smuggling in the Asia-Pacific region and beyond. Burma is not a member of the Bali Process. IOM and the UNHCR are part of the secretariat and help facilitate the group's meetings. 
But most importantly, the Rohingya problem is not simply a case of human trafficking. It is purely political. Its root causes are far beyond the issues of the Bali Process. Any effort to find out a solution to the Rohingya problem under the framework of human trafficking, will simply disappoint the entire Rohingya community and at the same time will mislead the international community about the root causes of the Rohingya problem. It will either serve as cutting the heads of Rohingyas to remove the Rohingya headache or it will be a failed effort to cure a deep rooted scar of the Rohingyas with an ointment.
The Rohingya community of Arakan, Burma is one of the most down-trodden ethnic minorities of the world. They are victim of political oppression, economic exploitation, cultural slavery and communal violence in their ancestral land Arakan where they have been living centuries after centuries and whose presence in Arakan can be historically traced back to the 7th century. The military regime has turned Arakan into a concentration camp for the Rohingyas. Their plight is one of the most under-reported humanitarian crises of the world.
In order to annihilate the entire Rohingya populations from Arakan, the Burmese regime has stripped their legitimate right to the citizenship of Burma through an amendment to the country’s citizenship law in 1982 on the pretext that the Rohingyas are the Bengali immigrants simply because they are closely related linguistically, culturally and religiously with the people of the greater Chittagong of Bangladesh which has a border of 208 km with Arakan State of Burma. The Burmese regime allege that 'In the time of the British government, it was that the British brought Bengalis and Indians of India (now Pakistan, India and Bangladesh) into the nation with various intentions. ....The British ruled Rakine State (Arakan) for 123 years from 1827 to 1948. During that period, Bengalis entered the nation en masse.'  
However, being victim of systematic genocidal operations and gross human rights violations like a ban on marriage without government permission, severe restrictions of movement, religious persecution, extortion, land confiscation, restrictions on access to education etc, the Rohingyas have been fleeing Burma everyday. Being crowded in hundreds in rickety wooden boats, they try to escape persecutions and grinding poverty and wash ashore in countries like Thailand and Indonesia. Being uprooted from their ancestral land Arakan, today over 1.5 million Rohingyas are leading a gypsy life in different countries of the world without any official recognition as refugees. Due to the lack of the official papers, they are often subject to arrest, detention, punishment for immigration offences and deportation etc. 
In an article titled “Burma's Muslim Rohingya Minority Dwell at the "Brink of Extermination", Benedict Rogers, the Deputy Chairman of the UK Conservative Party's Human Rights Commission and the Advocacy Officer of the CSW for South Asia, said, “A senior UN official, who has served in Darfur and other humanitarian crisis situations and who, in the words of a foreign diplomat, “knows human misery when he sees it", recently described the situation in northern Arakan as "as bad as anything he has seen in terms of the denial of basic human freedoms". Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), which works in northern Arakan State and has also operated in the camps for Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, has described the Rohingya as one of the ten world populations in danger of extinction.”
Mr. Benedict Rogers also writes, “If Burma as a whole is under-reported, the people on its western borders are almost unknown to the world. Journalists, activists and aid agencies who visit the region tend to head for the Thailand-Burma border, where access to refugees, displaced people and democracy groups is greatest. Few visit Burma’s borders with India, where a famine is unfolding, or with China, where women are trafficked into prostitution, and fewer still make it to the Bangladesh border where a slow, forgotten genocide is taking place.”
However, in the wake of the recent Andaman tragedy of the Rohingya boat people where hundreds of Rohingyas have perished in the deep sea after being towed by the Thai Navy to international waters, the Burmese military regime has reiterated its position not to accept the Rohingyas as the citizens of Burma. The graphic pictures of the desperate, skeletal Rohingyas aboard old boats without engines, who bobbed aimlessly at sea for weeks, without sufficient food and water, after having been beaten, towed out, and abandoned, have rocked the world conscience.
During the 14th Asean Summit in Hua Hin, Thailand, between Feb 27 and March 1, 2009, the Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya said, quoting his Burmese counterpart Nyan Win, that Burma is ready to take back the Rohingya migrants if they can prove they are of Bengali descent, even though the Burmese military regime has snatched away Rohingyas' right to citizenship of Burma simply branding them as the descendants of the Bengalis and thus denied them of their ethnic status. On March 22,2009, the Thai Foreign Minister paid a visit to Burma in an effort to solve the Rohingya problem but the outcome was status quo. On March 16-17,2009, the Burmese Prime Minister Gen Thein Sein paid an official visit to Indonesia where Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono raised the Rohingya issue with the Burmese Prime Minister, but there was no solution to the problem.
On the last February, the ASEAN secretary general, Mr Surin said in an exclusive interview."The Rohingya issue is a very complicated challenge to the entire region of Southeast Asia." The Rohingya issue featured prominently in bilateral talks in the south Asian region in February. US Secretary for State Hillary Clinton discussed it during meetings with both the Indonesian president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, and the foreign minister, Hasan Wirajuda. The Thai Army chief Anupong Paojinda reportedly raised the issue with the Burmese junta's leader General Than Shwe when he visited the Burmese capital Naypyidaw in February. The Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva also compared notes with his Indonesian counterpart during his visit to Jakarta. Addressing the issue of the stateless Rohingyas for the first time, the Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said: 'We must address this (Rohingya issue) seriously. Asean will lose credibility if we are unable to sort out a problem in our own region.'
There is no doubt that a regional solution is needed to cure this chronic humanitarian crisis of the Rohingyas. In order for it to be effective, it must be carefully designed – otherwise, it can plunge Rohingyas into deeper suffering, cause resistance amongst host societies, and fail at stemming the onward movement of Rohingyas into the region.
Firstly, Burma and all other member states of the ASEAN or the Bali Process must recognize that the Rohingya problem is purely a political problem. They must drop the idea that the Rohingya problem might have emerged from economic problems and they also must drop the use of the phrase 'Bengalis' which the Burmese regime uses for Rohingyas. They must recognize that Rohingyas are not Bengali. They are an ethnic group of Arakan of Burma who have been living in their ancestral land centuries after centuries. They did not wash ashore in Arakan from the Indian ocean or the Bay of Bengal. Until Gen Ne Win's military takeover in 1962, their ethnic status was recognized by the democratic government of U Nu. Then they had political representatives, a right to vote, a role in the Union Day Celebrations, and a Rohingya language programme on the official Burma Broadcasting Service(BBS). 
However, as a part of the Responsibilities to Protect (R2P), it is extremely important for the international community to let the Rohingyas live in this earth as the bonafide citizens of Burma enjoying their human rights through: (1) To recognize the Rohingyas as one of the ethnic indigenous groups of Burma and to restore their legitimate rights to the citizenship of the Union of Burma. (2) To abrogate all discrminatory measures taken by the Burmese authority against the Rohingyas and to take allout steps to stop all human rights violations against the Rohingyas. (3) To create a congenial atmosphere for the peaceful coexistence of all communities of Arakan particularly the Rohingyas and Rakhines. (4) To create a congenial atmosphere for the safe return of the Rohingyas in exile to their original hearths and homes with the guarantee of their all out security in Burma under a democratic government; and (5) To facilitate a tripartite agreement among three parties (a) the Rohingya representatives (b) the Burmese authority and (c) the UNHCR on the issues of the above four clauses for the protection of the Rohingyas both at home and abroad and to allow UNHCR and other international bodies to fully function in Arakan to supervise the protection of Rohingyas as long as the Rohingya representatives deem necessary.
Ahmedur Rahman Farooq, chairman, Rohingya Human Rights Council(RHRC). Address: 2975 Vang i Valdres, Norway. Email: arahman567@yahoo.com www.rohingyareview.com

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