Burma Human Rights Network mentions a leaked report from ASEAN’s Emergency Response and Assessment Team which predicted an easy process returning 500,000 Rohingya to Myanmar (Burma) in the next two years and downplayed the severity of abuses carried out by national security forces against the minority.
While most Rohingya are extremely apprehensive to return to Myanmar without assurances and mechanisms to protect their rights and safety, the team failed to take this into account.
The report does not seem to have consulted with any Rohingya leaders or organisations, despite their being the key stakeholders.
“ASEAN should be playing a key role in advancing human rights and protecting the life and dignity of minorities living in member states, but instead they have covered for the crimes of Burma in this report and vastly underestimated the obstacles which face safe and equitable repatriation of the Rohingya to Burma. It is a clear failure of duty by the organisation, seemingly done to protect a member state instead of holding them to an appropriate standard and most importantly ASEAN has failed to protect its population (Rohingya) from Genocide,” said BHRN’s Executive Director, Kyaw Win.
In explaining the roots of the current refugee crisis, the report only references attack by insurgents and not the abuses committed by Burmese security forces which resulted in nearly a million people fleeing the country. This assessment fails to understand that any plan to repatriate the Rohingya must consider why they fled in the first place in order to ensure that those who are to return can do so voluntarily and feel safe doing so. To plan without considering this, as ASEAN is now doing, is to pursue a path which has no chance to succeed.
The report praised Myanmar’s efforts towards repatriation and predicted a timeline of two years to relocate 500,000 refugees, despite refusals by refugees to return, Myanmar’s continued human rights abuses against Rohingya and failure to produce any advancements for the rights of the Rohingya still living in Rakhine State. The report serves more to whitewash genocide which the Burmese military was accused of by the UN Fact Finding Mission in its report last year.
The report also fails to account for the fact that conflict in Rakhine State is ongoing, though now with an ethnic Rakhine rebel group. It is illogical and immoral to think that it would be appropriate to return refugees to a worsening conflict zone where there is no sign of peace in the immediate future. The internationally recognised principle of “do no harm” obliges ASEAN or any party to prevent and mitigate any negative impact of their actions on affected population.
BHRN calls on the member states of ASEAN to reject this plan and insist upon a thorough, ethical, and realistic evaluation of the conflicts in Myanmar and to seek out a viable and just plan to resettle all refugees and displaced people which will also ensure that all rights are guaranteed for all residents in the country regardless of religion or ethnicity.
While ASEAN nations often claim that non-interference principles keep them from acting against Myanmar, they should not allow themselves to participate in programs which further human rights abuses or help to make excuses for them, BHRN says.
According to the BHRN any viable repatriation plan must first resettle the 120,000 Rohingya who have been living in IDP camps inside of Myanmar since 2012. This is necessary for the lives and well-being of residents and could be a test for the Burmese government to demonstrate their sincerity and effectiveness in resolving the issue.