Diplomacy with compassion

Sheikh Hasina's approach to Rohingya crisis

Professor Bashir Ahmed | Friday, 28 August 2020

The Rohingya ethnic people living in Myanmar had crossed into neighbouring Bangladesh over decades due to persecution. Bangladesh is apparently hosting more than a million Rohingya people and this highlights the serious aspect of basic needs. Since the very beginning of their influx, the government of Bangladesh under the leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is providing basic provisions of their life like food, shelter and healthcare in a coordinated approach where UNHCR is actively engaged. Despite the robust diplomatic endeavours of the government regarding repatriation Myanmar has been very reluctant to take back their nationals, the Rohingya.

Let me explain in a word the essence of the diplomacy with the motto of compassion. The fundamental aim of this policy is to establish humanitarian diplomacy as a permanent mindset. This sort of diplomatic approach includes advocacy, negotiation, communication, formal agreements and other measures. The decision to engage in humanitarian diplomacy is not a choice, but a responsibility. It flows from the breadth of humanitarian activities across the globe. Sheikh Hasina is managing this evolving crisis with empathy and she is appreciated at home and abroad therefore. She is making every effort in a professional fashion to persuade regional and global powers to come up with an amicable solution to this crisis despite China and India on the side of Myanmar on the Rohingya issue. Unfortunately, both countries are having huge strategic and economic interest in Myanmar. Even Russia seems like compassionate to Myanmar on this issue.

The government of Bangladesh has been experienced enough over the months putting their diplomatic efforts in persuading Myanmar to repatriate the refugees. The international community is working closely with both Bangladesh and Myanmar to assist them in working towards voluntary, safe and dignified return of the Rohingya. They believe only harmonious return can break the decades-long cycle of displacement the Rohingya community is experiencing. A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed in 2018 between the government of Myanmar, UNHCR and UNDP is intended to ensure that refugees receive information on the situation in their places of origin and this MoU keeps a provision allowing Rohingya refugees to visit their home villages and other areas where they may choose to return.  It also stands for extending transit facilities in Myanmar. A recent resolution adopted by UNHCR speaks about the beauty of her dynamic leadership towards managing this crisis in an amicable manner.

UN agencies, international and national NGOs and government bodies are putting collective efforts aimed at delivering protection to the refugee women, men, girls and boys, provide life-saving assistance and foster social cohesion. If this problem lingers for a longer time, it may encourage creating pockets of radicalism and that may create problems of uncertainty and instability not only for Myanmar and Bangladesh but also for the entire region.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres highly appreciated the kindness of the Prime Minister of Bangladesh in responding to the crisis. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in April 2018 sought an affirmative role of China, Russia, India and Japan in resolving the Rohingya crisis. The visit of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in early July in 2019 to China was productive as China assured Bangladesh of standing beside it in repatriation of the Rohingya people. They expressed their interest to help Bangladesh in resolving the crisis by convincing the Myanmar government and its leaders through bilateral discussions. Even PM Sheikh Hasina again sought cooperation of the government of India for repatriation of the Rohingya refugees during her visit to India in early October 2019. Apart from her speech in the UN General Assembly in 2019, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina had joined a high-level side-event on the state of Rohingya in Myanmar. It was organised by the Permanent Mission of Bangladesh and the OIC Secretariat at the Conference. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina had placed a four-point proposal in the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) to resolve the Rohingya crisis mentioning this as a regional threat. She rightly uttered this crisis as a potential threat to human security for its increasing congestion, environmental degradation, health hazards and food insecurity.

As Bangladesh and India have continued to consolidate their political, economic, trade and cultural relations as well as have built a comprehensive institutional framework to promote bilateral cooperation over the decades, this scribe opines that India must come forward to join hands with Bangladesh government for swift repatriation of the Rohingya people. We also expect China beside Bangladesh to resolve this prolonged crisis. We request countries in this region and beyond to show solidarity with Bangladesh and persuade Myanmar to start creating conditions for voluntary, safe and dignified return of the Rohingya.

The government of Myanmar should be compelled to take an urgent action to address the root causes of the crisis which has been persisting for decades so that the people are no longer forced to flee and the refugees can eventually return home safe with dignity. The UN should be more active to enforce the recommendation of the Annan Commission by putting diplomatic pressure on Myanmar. The UN Security Council must bring a resolution to facilitate the investigation into violation of human rights and thus ensure an international supervision for safe repatriation as well as initiate a visit to the Rohingya refugee camps by the Security Council again to force the government of Myanmar to set up "safe zones" for people of all backgrounds in conflict-torn parts of Myanmar as proposed by our Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

Bashir Ahmed is a professor of Government and Politics and the Provost of Sheikh Hasina Hall at Jahangirnagar University. He previously held the position of Director to the TSC and Dean of the Faculty of Law at Jahangirnagar University. Email: [email protected]