A lasting solution to the Rohingya crisis lies in the safe, sustainable and dignified repatriation of the 1.2 million Rohingyas staying in Bangladesh to Myanmar. Dignified repatriation of Rohingyas is possible through appropriate measures and the creation of an enabling environment in Myanmar’s political and social environment, but progress in this regard is not promising.
The leading representatives of the Rohingya community, who have been persecuted and tortured since Myanmar’s independence, have belatedly realized that they need a unified representation both inside Myanmar and abroad to actively tackle this problem. From 2017 till date, there has been an absence of active, regular presence and effective role of any group or organization representing the Rohingya community in the international arena.
A larger coalition called Arakan Rohingya National Alliance (ARNA) has been formed with some of these leading organizations and senior Rohingya politicians working on the interests of the Rohingyas to secure and ensure the oppressed Rohingya community’s right to live with dignity and honour. Due to the lack of coordination among the organizations dealing with the interest of Rohingyas, these organizations failed to perform an effective role in highlighting Rohingya interests in the international arena. To secure the rights of Rohingyas in a new federal democratic union of Myanmar strong cooperation between organizations representing the Rohingyas is essential.
According to the founding member of ARNA and co-founder of the Free Rohingya Coalition Ne San Luin, the most important task for the Rohingya leadership in the coming days is to increase cooperation and coordination between organizations. It is hoped that the ARNA will unite Rohingya leaders living at home and abroad to achieve the right of self-determination for the Rohingyas within the Federal Union of Myanmar. ARNA leadership stated that the Rohingya’s are not separatists, are willing to be part of the future Federal Democratic Union of Myanmar and willing to cooperate with all parties within Myanmar.
ARNA brought together Rohingya organizations, politicians and activists on a common platform for the first time since the organized genocide and brutal military crackdown in 2017. According to ARNA, the Rohingyas are interested in living peacefully with other ethnic groups in Myanmar and want to work together with the National Unity Government (NUG) and the United League of Arakan (ULA). ARNA stated that the Rohingyas are committed to maintaining peaceful coexistence on the principle of unity in diversity. The Rohingya have also expressed their support and solidarity with other oppressed ethnic and religious minorities in the country. Alliance leaders approved the outline of the alliance on November 20, 2022. ARNA is still in its early stages and will soon include youth and women representing the Rohingya camps in Bangladesh.
After the military coup the NUG was formed. They published a policy paper titled ‘Policy Position on the Rohingya in Rakhine State’ recognizing their identity as ‘Rohingya’. This recognition gives an idea of the changing position of Myanmar’s pro-democracy parties. Earlier, the Myanmar government and military had been claiming that there was no such thing as ‘Rohingya’. Almost all the demands of the Rohingya’s are reflected in the commitments mentioned in the policy paper of the NUG. In addition to this, the commander in chief of the Arakan Army (AA), the military wing of Arakan’s ruling political party ULA said that they recognize the Rohingyas as “Muslim residents of Rakhine” and wants to ensure the human and civil rights of the Rohingyas. This acceptance is a positive step to solve the Rohingya problem and an indication of their changing attitude towards the Rohingyas.
Acceptance of the Rohingyas in the political circles of Myanmar and in the local politics of Arakan will accelerate the resolution of the crisis. ARNA can advocate for this initiative in the international arena. The participation of Rohingyas in this political initiative is an important decision. ARNA leaders can continue to communicate with the NUG, AA and take initiatives to mend the divide and bring back the long-standing coexistence and tolerance of the two communities. On September 19, the ULA announced in a statement that the world community must come to an understanding with them in any matter related to Arakan. The repatriation of Rohingya needs to be discussed with AA and then ULA will develop a roadmap for Rohingya repatriation based on mutual consent. It is also an important event in the ongoing process.
Recently, on the 75th Independence Day of Myanmar, the junta government awarded the prestigious state award to the Buddhist monk Ashin Wirathu, who was criticized for his radical nationalist sentiments and spreading hatred against the Rohingyas. It remains to be seen whether this has any negative impact on resolving the Rohingya issue. Wirathu came into the limelight by demanding that Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslim-owned businesses be boycotted and Buddhists are banned from marrying Muslims. In 2013, his photo was featured on the cover of the world-famous Time magazine and he was identified as the ‘Face of Buddhist Terror’. Wirathu is also referred to by many as the Buddhists ‘Bin Laden’.
National League for Democracy (NLD) was working to end the ethnic violence in Myanmar. NLD co-founder Win Tin visited the Wirathu’s monastery in the city of Mandalay two months before his death in 2014 to discuss the acceptance of Rohingyas by the extremist Buddhist groups, but their meeting failed to bring any positive result for the Rohingyas. International human rights groups have accused Wirathu of helping the junta to foment hatred against the Rohingya community, saying Wirathu’s anti-Muslim role helped fuel the junta’s crackdown on the Rohingya in Rakhine State in 2017. ARNA should be ready to work to make the existing situation favorable to resolve the crisis.
In December 2022, the UN Security Council adopted a resolution for the first time calling for an end to the violence in Myanmar, identifying the root causes of the Rohingya crisis and creating a favorable environment for their safe, sustainable and dignified return. The resolution adopted by the Security Council praised the government of Bangladesh for providing shelter, security and humanitarian assistance to the Rohingyas. The resolution also strongly highlights the negative impact of the current political unrest on the return of Rohingyas to Myanmar and the resulting regional security risks. According to China, there is no quick fix to the Rohingya issue. China expressed that, the ultimate solution to this crisis depends fundamentally and solely on Myanmar. Russia does not see the situation in Myanmar as a threat to international security and therefore believes it should not be addressed by the UN Security Council. India also abstained from voting on the resolution. ARNA should work with these powerful countries to create an environment conducive to speedy repatriation. Analysing the recent events, it can be seen that western countries are putting pressure on Myanmar in addition to providing humanitarian aid to solve the Rohingya crisis. Their positive attitude was expressed by passing the resolution in the UN General Assembly.
ARNA has number of challenges in future and to deal with those they need to work with the international community. Since the attitude of China, India and Russia is still not positive, ARNA has to keep in touch with these countries and donor organizations to prepare the ground for solving the issue. Efforts should be made to soften the attitude of Buddhist organizations with the support of ASEAN and friendly Buddhist countries. The Nippon Foundation is in contact with the Myanmar government and AA, ARNA should also find a way forward to resolve the crisis by maintaining contact with them.
For sustainable repatriation, the economic and social development of Rakhine state is important. This should be ensured by implementing the recommendations of the Kofi Annan Commission report with the help of donors, UN, countries investing in Myanmar and Western countries. ARNA should be active and find out measures to change the attitude of the common people in Myanmar and broadcast motivational programs aimed at hardline Buddhist organizations.
ARNA should take initiatives for a permanent solution to the Rohingya crisis by closely working and developing relationships with NUG, PDF, AA, civil society, policymakers, lawmakers and other relevant organizations. They are not yet in a position to do so much in the beginning, but if they continue with organizational strength and sincerity, it is expected that they will be able to contribute significantly to the process of resolving the crisis. It is expected that ARNA will quickly gain recognition in the international arena and speed up the solution to the Rohingya problem by addressing the root causes.
– Brig Gen (Retd) Hasan Md Shamsuddin, ndc, psc, afwc, Mphil, is a Lead Researcher for the Rohingya, Myanmar and ASEAN Affairs at the KRF Center for Bangladesh and Global Affairs (CBGA).
Published in Eurasia Review [Link]