Rohingya Muslims should only return to Myanmar under UN supervision

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Global media has reported that Bangladesh has reached an agreement with the government of Myanmar that will allow hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims to return to Myanmar. Rohingya Muslims have been victims of genocide and rape and have had their property destroyed by the Myanmar military and security officers. The United Nations, the US Administration and international human rights organizations have said that these acts were tantamount to ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.

The agreement, signed by senior officials from both parties in the capital of Myanmar, is considered by Bangladesh to be a step in the right direction to resolving the Rohingya Muslim conflict. Over a million Rohingya are living in Bangladeshi camps after leaving Myanmar. Around 400,000 of them fled the country earlier while others escaped last August when the Myanmar army launched a ferocious campaign against them.

The army burned down entire villages, demolished homes and mosques, killed men and raped women. The survivors fled to nearby Bangladesh. The Bangladeshi government and non-profit organizations could not accommodate the large number of Muslims nor could they provide them with shelter, food and medication.

Media reports have said that Myanmar was ready to receive those Rohingya Muslims who wanted to return. The reports did not mention any guarantees. It is said that the Myanmar government is planning to put the returning Muslims into camps worse than those in Bangladesh. Furthermore, the Myanmar government has categorically denied that Muslims were victims of crimes against humanity and has stated that Rohingya Muslims were not killed, raped or forced to flee the country.

However, the entire world has witnessed the crimes committed against the Rohingya, which the UN and Human Rights Council have described as the most persecuted minority in the world. This happened before the ferocious attack that was launched last August under the nose of the Myanmar government led by the Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been accused of being a racist and of supporting all the crimes committed against the Rohingya by extremist Buddhists or the army.

Desmond Tutu, the South African Anglican bishop who also won the Nobel Peace Prize, has condemned Suu Kyi for remaining silent about the crimes committed against the Rohingya minority. He has called upon her to end the crimes which have claimed the lives of thousands of innocent people, destroyed dozens of villages, burned thousands of homes and caused over 600,000 to flee the country to nearby Bangladesh.

Any agreement between the government of Bangladesh and the government of Myanmar regarding the return of refugees to their country must be supervised by the United Nations. Peacekeeping forces selected by the UN should guarantee the full protection of refugees. In fact, the UN should select the countries whose military members should participate in the peacekeeping force.

The UN must force the Myanmar government to return citizenship to Rohingya Muslims and revoke all racist laws that have deprived them of their civil and human rights. A committee headed by the former UN secretary general Kofi Annan has recommended that all Rohingya Muslims should be given the citizenship that was withdrawn from them in 1982 based on unjust laws passed by the despotic military regime that had isolated the country for over half a century.

Rohingya Muslims fled the country because of the cruelty of the Myanmar regime. If they return, it would not be fair to put them in camps and subject them to ethnic cleansing. They have every right to refuse to return to Myanmar and to stay in Bangladesh until the conflict has been resolved and their identity has been returned to them, an identity which was destroyed by racist laws that permitted extremist Buddhists to attack them.

The UN and the global community must fulfill their moral and human responsibilities and do something about the crimes against humanity committed against Rohingya Muslims. The perpetrators of those crimes should be punished; condemnation is not enough. Also, sanctions should be imposed on the Myanmar racist government to force it to treat Rohingya Muslims fairly just like other members of society.

Dr. Ali Al-Ghamdi is a former Saudi diplomat who specializes in Southeast Asian affairs. He can be reached at algham@hotmail.com


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