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Why is most of Asia looking away from Myanmar?

Kamal Ahmed / The Daily Star Share:
Photo taken on Feb. 28, 2019 shows the United Nations Security Council holding a meeting on the situation on Myanmar, at the UN headquarters in New York. A newly-launched response plan for the Rohingya humanitarian crisis needs urgent funding, the UN envoy for Myanmar said here Thursday. (Xinhua/Li Muzi)

The latest resolution passed by the United Nations General Assembly condemning rights abuses against Rohingya Muslims and other minority groups in Myanmar was the third on the subject. It was approved by 134 votes in favour and nine against while 28 nations abstained. A vote so close to the hearing at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) over a petition seeking interim measures to prevent further killings and abuses with genocidal intent demands closer scrutiny to understand the global community’s attitude towards the Rohingya crisis.

China and Russia’s opposition to any international condemnation of Myanmar was not unexpected because both of them in the past had supported so-called security operations against alleged insurgency. Had these two veto-wielding nations allowed the UN Security Council to find a way forward to resolve the crisis or at the least refer Myanmar to the International Criminal Court (ICC), victims of those atrocities carried out by Myanmar security forces would have got some hope for justice. Apparently, there’s too little Bangladesh can do to win them over.

The other seven nations who voted against the resolution were Belarus, Cambodia, People’s Democratic Republic of Lao, the Philippines, Vietnam, Zimbabwe and Myanmar. Records show that these nations too have consistently sided with Myanmar. All these countries for decades have been criticised for their human rights records. Among them, Cambodia has bitter experience of dealing with genocide. It had cooperated fully with international jurists and experts to hold some of the perpetrators to justice. But, the current authoritarian regime’s appalling human rights records in the domestic front and reliance on China for military and economic aid explain its inability to support international actions against Myanmar.

Nations that abstained in the vote were even more surprising – India, Japan, Bhutan, Burundi, Cameroon, the central , North Korea, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Kenya, Lesotho, Mongolia, Mozambique, Namibia, Nauru, Nepal, Palau, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Serbia, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Timor-Leste, Tonga, Trinidad & Tobago, Tanzania, Venezuela and Zambia. Among those abstentions, names of Nepal, Bhutan and Sri Lanka along with India – all members of the South Asian club, Saarc – raise serious questions about our relations with our closest neighbours.

Another notable factor is the high number of Asian nations that either opposed the resolution or abstained from voting. Can these abstentions in a vote condemning gross violations of international law and obligations be called anything other than abetting such heinous crimes? If anyone makes a map of genocide abettors, it will certainly put Asia to shame.

The resolution approved by the General Assembly condemned human rights abuses against Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslims and other minorities, including arbitrary arrests, torture, rape and deaths in detention. It called for an immediate cessation of fighting and hostilities. It also expressed alarm at an independent international fact-finding mission’s finding “of gross human rights violations and abuses suffered by Rohingya Muslims and other minorities” by the security forces, which the mission said “undoubtedly amount to the gravest crimes under international law.” These gravest crimes according to the UN fact-finding mission were committed with a “genocidal intent” and the immediate past UN Human Rights Commissioner described it as a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.

Certainly, repatriation of more than one million refugees should be our top priority. But it is increasingly becoming clear that unless the international community takes a firm stand against the regime that committed such heinous crimes against its own people and ensures that justice is served, no meaningful negotiation for repatriation of the persecuted Rohingyas is possible.


Kamal Ahmed is a freelance journalist based in London. The Daily Star (Dhaka)

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