The Rohingya Open Letter And Search For A Permanent Solution


2016 did not end completely hopelessly.

In late December,15 Nobel Laureates including Professor Mohammed Yunus and 12 global leaders wrote an Open Letter to the President of the United Nations Security Councils (UNSC) and its members decrying the Rohingya carnage in Myanmar that are“amounting to ethnic cleansing” and that the crisis has “the potential for genocide” and that it “has all the hallmarks of recent past tragedies – Rwanda, Darfur, Bosnia, Kosovo,” and therefore, the Letter warned that “If we fail to take action, people may starve to death if they are not killed with bullets.”

Criticizing Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s de facto leader the Letter stressed that “Despite repeated appeals to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi we are frustrated that she has not taken any initiative to ensure full and equal citizenship rights of the Rohingyas” and as a result, “We urge the United Nations to do everything possible to encourage the Government of Myanmar to lift all restrictions on humanitarian aid, so that people receive emergency assistance” and “we urge the members of UN Security Council to put this crisis on Security Council’s agenda as a matter of urgency, and to call upon the Secretary-General to visit Myanmar in the coming weeks as a priority.” The Letter also emphasized that in case the current outgoing Secretary General (SG) Ban Ki Moon fails to visit due to shortage of time, the incoming one (Antonio Guterres, the new SG has already assumed the position since January 1, 2017) must make the proposed visit a priority item in his agenda.

Indeed, the Letter,a much needed step in the right direction is a reminder that ethics and morality thathave been more prominent by their absence than presencein recent times have not completely deserted us and that in a case where most governments have failed to stand up for humanity, the Letter has done the job – it has internationalized the Rohingya tragedy!

Furthermore, the Letter,which is an unprecedented occurrence by itself in the sense that a group of Nobel Laureates have joined hands to berate a fellow Laureateis also a signal that Aung San Suu Kyi’s charms that once mesmerized most people seemed to have ceased to spread its spell.

Now the question is – where do we go from here?

Immediate humanitarian aid by the international aid givers in the affected areas something that the Letter itself has also asked forare important and should be done the soonest,but this is no permanent solution.

Permanent solution to Rohingya question has to dig deep. Indeed, given that Myanmar Law has disallowed citizenship to the Rohingyas who have been living in Rakhine state of country since 8th century and also that lack of citizenship itself is at the root of many vulnerabilities that the Rohingya face routinely and alsothat the Myanmar Buddhists are not particularly welcoming to (Muslim)Rohingyas(Buddhists monks have been at the forefront of numerous attacks on Rohingyas) and also that Myanmar’s leader Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyiherself is somewhat hostile to Rohingyas highlight the extent of political and racist alienation the Rohingyas face vis-à-vis the state as well as the society that a patchwork solution is no solution. TheLetter also fell short of suggesting a permanent solution, itleft the matter to the United Nations to determine.

This is fine but knowing the meandering and lengthy way UN worksand also that UN operates through member states that have conflicting interests a permanent solution that is acceptable to Rohingyas, who have no state to represent them directly, would be hard to come through UN’s known process. Ideas for a permanent solution must come from a worldwide citizen campaignthat at the end would have the capacity to influence member states to act.

Rohingya issue warrants both urgent as well as durable actions and therefore,solutions should also be both short as well as a long term.

In the short term, it is important to get the humanitarian aid to the suffering community the soonest; second, investigation of the crimes committed by the Myanmar military and others and bringingthe perpetrators to justice and most importantly, compensating those that have sufferedmust figure high in the agenda andmore crucially, creating enabling conditions for the displaced Rohingyas to return to their homes to pursue livelihoods freely without obstruction (in recent times military even barred them from fishing,their main livelihood) is a key motivator. Also during the resettlement period and given that Myanmar military’s track record is anything but confidence enhancing, provision of an international force to join the Myanmar authority to oversee theprocess may also be given serious consideration (Malaysia has already hinted at joining such an arrangement).

The long term solution has to be explored in the contexts of a state and a society that have very little tolerance and affection for a community that are racially and religiously different that has faced relentless persecution over the years and also that the continued persecution not only challenge the humanity but also endanger regional security through refugee crisis and that “like other stateless and unrepresented Muslims, [the Rohingyas] are at risk of producing a persistent terrorist threat” only an out of the ordinary solution such as what Anders Corr proposes( that “the toughest of peaceful measures, including negotiations for provision of an independent state of Rakhine to the Rohingya”may the way to go.

True, Corr solution is somewhat extreme and less practical and instead setting up an autonomous unit in Myanmar of areas where most Rohingyas  live and administering the unit within the framework Myanmar state under joint governance ofa UN peace-keeping force (or an agreed multi-national regional force), a Rohingya police (to be set up) and Myanmar authority,a one-country-two-systemsolution,could be a more viable alternative to consider.

The author is a former UN senior policy manager

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