12/09/2017 Blog 0 comment

Rohingya Crisis UPSC | IDSA Summary

Introduction –

This article presents a summary of IDSA’s release on Rohingya Crisis for UPSC. Myanmar is witnessing a brutal episode of violence since August 25, 2017 between Rohingya Muslims and Rakhine Buddhists (who reportedly enjoy support from the Myanmar state too). The ‘cleansing’ operation by the Myanmarese authorities, which has led to such a dreadful occurrence, was launched primarily against the ‘Bengalis’ or Muslims residing in Rakhine State in response to the attacks by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA). 

Background –

  • While the origin of the Rohingya crisis goes back to the 1950s, it started attracting greater attention only during the present decade because of large-scale violence and the resultant unprecedented refugee flows into neighbouring countries in South and South East Asia.
  • Immediately after Burma’s independence, a Muslim ‘mujahideen’ group emerged in Arakan State demanding equal rights and an autonomous Islamic area. Although this insurgency was subdued, it gave rise to several armed rebel groups in subsequent decades. One of the more prominent of such groups was the Rohingya Solidarity Organisation (RSO), which was active in the 1980s. More recently, the Harakat al-Yakin (HaY), later renamed as Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), came into prominence.
  • The ARSA’s aim is to ‘defend, salvage and protect’ the Rohingyas who are facing oppression by the state for decades. ARSA believes that it is working for ‘self-defence’ of Rohingyas.
  • The 2008 Constitution of the country has allotted three important ministries to the military, including home affairs, border affairs and defence, as well as almost 25 per cent seats in the parliament. This implies that the present government may not have sufficient control over the military.

Kofi Annan Panel Report –

  • To address the Rohingya crisis, the Myanmar government and its de-facto leader, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, have taken a few steps. In September 2016, Suu Kyi appointed an advisory commission, comprised of six members from Myanmar and three international members, led by former Secretary General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, to investigate the situation in Rakhine State. However, the commission was not mandated to investigate individual or specific cases of alleged human rights abuses.
  • The commission released its final report recommending the government to ‘review’ the 1982 citizenship law, ensure ‘freedom of movement for all people in Rakhine State’, ensure access to education and health care services, adopt a ‘holistic anti-drug’ approach, ensure representation of the ‘underrepresented groups’, strengthen ‘inter-communal cohesion’, train the Myanmar military to deal with the humanitarian crisis and ‘monitor their performances’ in conflict areas, amongst other things.

Implications for the Region –

  • Apart from impinging upon Myanmar’s internal security, the Rohingya crisis is also posing a security challenge to the South and Southeast Asia. The IS, in some of its public messages has stated its concern over the repression of the minority Rohingyas by the majority Burman-led governments. Although ARSA has reportedly denied any connection with the IS, suspicions persist about linkages between the two groups.
  • The systematic deprivation and gross violations of basic human rights have forced Rohingyas to flee their native land and seek refuge in neighbouring states including Bangladesh, Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia and India. They have been unable to rebuild their lives in most of these countries due to the lack of opportunities provided by the host nations to them.
  • The economic burden emanating from the huge refugee influx, the growing fear of linkages between the Rohingyas and the IS, coupled with the apathy of the countries of the region towards the problem, explains the stance of the ASEAN countries in advocating a domestic solution to the crisis.
  • Bangladesh has received the most number of refugees in the recent crisis primarily for two reasons. First, geography makes it easier for Rohingyas to cross the border into Bangladesh. And second, Rohingya Muslims are culturally and ethnically closer to the people of Bangladesh, given that they are descendants of Bengali-Muslims from the Chittagong area who had migrated to present-day Myanmar during the British Raj.

Implications for India –

  • Government of India has publicly stated that India needs to deport those Rohingyas who are illegally staying in India. The Supreme Court of India, hearing a plea by two Rohingya refugees, has instructed the government to inform it about the detailed plans with regard to the deportation of Rohingya refugees.
  • India’s tough stand on deporting Rohingyas back to Rakhine State in the midst of the ongoing violence has evoked criticism from national and international human rights activists.
  • The India-Myanmar Joint Statement, released when Prime Minister Modi visited Nay Pyi Taw, noted that the situation in Rakhine State has a ‘developmental as well as a security dimension’. India will help Myanmar under the Rakhine State Development Programme will cover infrastructure development and socio-economic projects, especially in the areas of education, health, agriculture, agro-processing, community development, construction of roads and bridges, protection of environment and so on.

What can be done?

The countries of South and Southeast Asia need to ponder whether it is rational to push Rohingya refugees back to violence-torn Myanmar. Regional countries need to take into account the fact that the Rohingya crisis is not just Myanmar’s internal problem; rather, its spill over effect into their own territories is already evident. The Rohingya crisis is a regional issue and it needs to be tackled at the regional level in a more comprehensive way.

Conclusion –

The statelessness of the Rohingyas and the lack of empathy towards the plight of the Rohingyas have contributed to the adoption of extremist methods by them. If not addressed pragmatically, the Rohingya crisis will only cause more violence, leading to more refugees and chronic instability in the region. The platforms of the regional and sub-regional institutions including ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) and the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral, Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) need to be more effectively used to address the serious crisis in the region.