Despite skepticism about diplomatic visits to camps for Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, there is fresh hope that the UN Security Council can be leveraged to get Russia and China to help resolve the crisis.
As most observers in Bangladesh noticed, an important aspect of the visit by a team from the Security Council was the presence of senior officials from China and Russia — two of Myanmar’s strongest allies who have veto power in the top United Nations’ key forum.
Before this trip, no government officials from China or Russia had visited the refugee camps. Over the past eight months, top officials from nearly 40 countries, including some heads of state, have visited the Rohingya camps near Cox’s Bazar.
Banking on China and Russia
Dr Imtiaz Ahmed, a professor of International Relations at Dhaka University, has termed the three-day trip by the UN Security Council delegation “a fruitful step” towards expediting an otherwise “stagnated repatriation” process.
“Senior officials from China and Russia visited the camps and met Rohingya refugees for the first time. They have witnessed what happened to them and I hope they have understood the gravity of the situation,” he told Asia Times.
Ahmed believes that China and Russia are Myanmar’s biggest allies and have “considerable influence over them”. This, he said, could be leveraged to exert pressure on both the Myanmar government and the military to ensure a safe and voluntary repatriation of Rohingya refugees. “The delegation will visit Myanmar and meet their leaders before flying back to UN headquarters. Let’s see what they [Myanmar] have to say now,” Ahmed said.
Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina also put special emphasis on getting assistance from China and Russia in expediting the Rohingya repatriation process. She stressed this while meeting with the delegation on April 30. The UN team led by Gustavo Meza-Cuadra Velásquez, Peru’s Permanent Representative at the UN, called on Sheikh Hasina at her official residence, the Gono Bhaban. “We expect China, Russia, India and Japan to play a major role in resolving the crisis. The repatriation of the Rohingya people will have to be ensured under UN supervision,” Hasina said after the meeting.
Later, while answering queries at a pre-departure press briefing at Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport in Dhaka, Kuwait’s permanent representative to UN Mansour al-Otaibi said he did not see any resistance from China and Russia.
“They are the members of the Security Council and they are with us. You heard them yesterday and today they met the prime minister and they also want a solution to the crisis,” he said.
Earlier on Sunday, while visiting the Kutupalong camp — the largest of the refugee camps — Russia’s ambassador to the UN, Dmitry Polyansky, told reporters that the diplomats would not look away from the crisis, but added that finding a solution would be no easy task. “It’s very necessary to come and see everything at place here in Bangladesh and Myanmar. But there is no magic solution, there is no magic stick to solve all these issues,” he said.
Haitao Wu, China’s deputy UN Ambassador, said that his country was working closely with Bangladesh to solve the problem via diplomatic means. “It is a very complicated issue and there is not short-cut or easy solution,” he said.
A Security Council role?
DU Professor Ahmed believed the Security Council could take “significant steps” in resolving the refugee crisis. “The UN Security Council is a very powerful body and it has the power to even refer matters to the International Criminal Court (ICC), as I believe they have heard stories of mass killings from the Rohingya refugees,” he told Asia Times.
“I have read from newspaper reports that they were overwhelmed after they met the refugees and learned about what they had gone through,” said Prof Ahmed. “So, if the Security Council puts pressure on Myanmar, then I think this deadlock over repatriation will end.”
However, in Monday’s press briefing, delegation member Al-Otaibi, when asked if they would back any move by the ICC to hold Myanmar accountable for atrocities committed against the Rohingya, said that both “Myanmar and Bangladesh are parties to many international conventions” and “there are international laws for crimes against humanity which everybody will abide by.”
“We heard that the ICC has adopted a move and they have started a fact-finding mission but the Security Council is different, as it deals with peace and security,” Al-Otaibi said.
Talking with Asia Times, Dr Azeem Ibrahim, author of the best-selling book “Rohingyas: Inside Myanmar’s Hidden Genocide”— a leading documentation of the Rohingyas’ plight, said, the UN Security Council must demand concrete action from Myanmar and refrain from issuing empty platitudes. “The Myanmar military knows full well that they have gotten away with genocide, which is why an emboldened Tatmadaw have increased persecution of other minorities like the Kachin,” he said.
Dr Ibrahim said that at the very least the UNSC should demand full citizenship for Rohingya who are returned to Myanmar, as well as full implementation of recommendations by the Kofi Annan team that reviewed circumstances in Rakhine state. “They should also be referring military chief General Min Aung Hlaing to the ICC and not sitting down for tea with him,” said Dr Ibrahim, who is also a Senior Fellow at the Centre for Global Policy in Washington.
Naturally, there is a lot of skepticism among the Rohingya over the latest diplomatic visit. But as Dhaka pushes the diplomatic levers, there is fresh hope for the refugees.